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Author: Michelle

West Side Story (2021)

West Side Story (2021)

I finally got to watch Spielberg’s West Side Story (available on both Disney + and HBO Max, thanks to the vagaries of streaming rights) and wow. Wow. WOW. WoW.

I am, as the parlance goes, a theater kid at heart, and yes, West Side Story is one of my favorites. The melody to America will probably be stuck in my head forever. The original 1961 movie version of the musical is also considered a classic and not to be messed with. Still, I was extremely excited to see another take on this titan of the Broadway stage. After all, theater is a living art form that gets reinterpreted and reinvented with the times. Despite some people’s misgivings about another film version of WSS, I really wanted this new version to do well. As beloved as the original is, it has some glaring flaws, like the brownface. Oh that brownface. Oh and that stomach-churning thing they did to Rita Moreno, who had to endure darkening makeup so she’d match with the rest of the “Puerto Ricans” even though she herself is Puerto Rican and pointed out that they could be light skinned too.

As I mentioned, theater is a living art form, open to interpretation by more than one creative mind. We don’t, after all, bemoan the fact that modern stagings of Shakespeare lack the glorious details of 16th century Elizabethan England. It’s silly to think that WSS can’t be touched, that it’s perfect as it is. Theater touches upon the emotional threads that we as humans experience, and we will still find new things to pull away from WSS even now.

The race war between the Jets and Sharks is given needed context in the new version. We see the titular West Side of Manhattan getting gentrified, working class folks being paid off for their apartments and pushed out in favor of progress. The gangs are fighting over scraps, little pieces of turf they could still call theirs, even when in a few years, none of what they call “home” will exist and Lincoln Center (of all things) will rise in its place.

So this is the backdrop where Spielberg’s version takes place. One of America’s greatest film directors takes on one of America’s best loved musicals and what a glorious result. I loved it. I loved the new version. I actually didn’t mind Ansel Elgort’s Tony, though he was the weakest out of the cast. I had expected Russell Crowe in Les Mis level of “singing” but he was pretty serviceable and held his own during the dance sequences. (There is a pall over his appearance, however, since I already knew about the sexual conduct allegations made about him.) But Rachel Zegler is a fucking delight as Maria, and I loved that “I Feel Pretty” is staged in Gimbal’s, as a group of Latina custodial workers take care to clean up the spoils of rich American life. Maria, in the throes of young love, play acts at being rich and it works.

Rita Moreno. My god. Rita Moreno. She plays a new character, Valentina, created just for her, as the voice of reason and empathy and compassion. She’s seen what can happen when cultures clash, and she’s helpless to stop the violence from happening again but she’ll still be there to help pick up the pieces. I loved her.

Another interesting add-on to the 2021 film is the re-framing of the character Anybodys. Once a tomboy who is dismissed by the rest of the Jets for being a girl who wants to be one of the boys, he’s now most definitely trans. He’s still an outsider who wants to be a part of the gang, but that need echoes a wider need for him to be accepted for who he is. He and Valentina serve as the moral compasses of the piece, even as emotions bubble over and there’s the inevitable deaths.

But, I love the entire cast, mostly because of the authentic casting. Ariana DeBose is an electric Anita, and probably the best actor out of the lot, as she juggles her wants of a better life for herself and her loved ones even as racists threaten to take all of that away. What I find most interesting is that because Spielberg cast the movie authentically (with actual Latino actors playing the Puerto Ricans), he’s lent his movie a timelessness that the original ’61 version lacks with its brownface. I also adore that the Latino characters slip in and out between English and Spanish so effortlessly (and no subtitles needed, I think. Audiences get the gist.). It also lends to the authenticity and timelessness.

So yes, Spielberg’s West Side Story is a welcome and wonderful addition to the pantheon of great movie musicals and should be watched. Preferably multiple times.

I think…I’m fine

I think…I’m fine

My boyfriend’s mother has passed on.

I’m trying to get a sense of the timeline. J and I had just returned from a week in L.A. Going to Disneyland and Gallifrey One (the Doctor Who con). We’d met up with some friends we hadn’t seen in two years, and that was wonderful. We returned on Monday evening, Feb. 21. I returned to work on the 23rd. I actually had to go into work early because I’m taking some virtual classes/career advancement training and I needed to go in the morning rather than doing my closing shifts. On the 24th, I went into work at 10am and came home around 7. Took a shower, had a light dinner, and went to play Horizon Forbidden West. Around 8:30pm, J’s dad told J that something was wrong with J’s mom. She sat on her couch and fell asleep (it seemed) and wasn’t responding to anything. The ambulance came, took her to the hospital that night. J’s dad  followed in his car, J stayed with me at home. J’s dad returned from the hospital around 1 am. And that was that. J’s mom was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm, placed on a ventilator. There was just too much blood to operate on her, and her advanced age was also a factor. Even if they did it, there was a very slim chance that she’d recover anyway.

And then on Mar. 1st, some part of her brain broke its connection to the body (not a full on seizure, but a spasm? is how it was described to me afterwards). At that point, her body could not breathe on its own, the ventilator was breathing for her, and she was technically brain dead. They called the family to the hospital (as I was not family, I stayed home) and they made the decision to pull the plug. And that was it.

The sense of relief from her passing is ebbing, and now it’s being replaced by that gaping void that dead people leave behind. I really do wish we had more time with her. She was a wonderful woman, when her brain didn’t betray her and turn her into a raging monster. I had written her off when, a couple of years ago, she effectively ruined J’s birthday by complaining about the hush puppy J had given her after making a batch of chicken katsu. She suddenly snapped, angry that he’d given her bread instead of meat, unaware that she’d already finished off her chicken cutlet (and also shared a lot of it with the dog). She also was the woman who opened her house to me when I needed a place to stay, without requiring me to pay an exorbitant amount of rent, just utilities and high-speed internet.

I won’t lie, there were many times in the course of her life where I’d wished her dead, that when she was gone, everything would be better. I wouldn’t have to use earplugs at night anymore. I wouldn’t have to clench my stomach every time I came home from work, terrified that she’d be in the middle of one of her hours-long rants. And that’s where my relief comes from. But now she is gone, and the house is quieter, and I still feel loss.

Now, to deal with all the things she left behind. She had a penchant for buying things from catalogs, ill-fitting sweaters and oversized jeans, jackets and all manner of strange gadgets which supposedly make one’s life better. She’d purchase them, then never use them. Then sometimes forget she bought them when they arrived, then became angry at the companies which sent her these items that she never chose in the first place. It’s all the detritus of living nearly a century. And now it’s all just useless…stuff.

Happy merry, or something

Happy merry, or something

Another holiday season in the rear-view. Shoutout to my fellow retail worker warriors who had to navigate a normal buying season during a time when nothing was normal, juggling overtime hours and understaffed schedules and also trying to still make quotas. Many Americans seem to think that the pandemic is over and that it should be business as usual. Y’all are dumbasses.

I will not miss the constant questions of how long to cook our food for (it’s all precooked so you can reheat to 165 degrees however you wish, think how you’d reheat leftovers). I will not miss the phone calls to our front of house phone demanding to know if they can still order dinners because “it says sold out online and I was wondering if I could still order from you directly”. Each store was given an allotment of dinners to sell and we can’t sell any more. A ham recall severely curtailed the number of orders we could fulfill.

Shoutout to the person who ordered a $165 platter of sushi and never picked it up on Thanksgiving. We at the store appreciated that. Maybe there was a reason. There’s always a reason but I hope it wasn’t just that they forgot about it. Because if you can just brush that off if it were nothing then…I wish I had that amount of money.

For all the weirdness I will also remember the good. I’ll remember the customer who called asking if we still had our vegan gravy in stock because they’d called all over and no other WF store had them. I said that we had 1 tub left and I could pull it from the fridge for them if they’d come over (also we had more of our vegan gravy on our hot bar). So it was nice to help out someone like that.

Anyway, Happy Merry. But I’m so glad this year is almost over.

y tho…?

y tho…?

This morning I put a couple of slices of leftover pizza on the stove in a skillet in order to heat them up. I usually do it in the toaster oven but I was in a hurry. Had to catch an early screening of Encanto. Anyway, I walked out of the kitchen for a few minutes to allow the pizza to heat up. When I returned to my breakfast, one slice had gone missing from the pan. J’s mom was sitting at the table, munching on a slice of pizza. Not a word to me. And I was too tired to mention anything (what do you say to someone whom you’re suspecting is teetering from normal forgetfulness to dementia?) so I just tossed another slice of pizza in the pan.

Like, I would’ve happily shared the pizza if she’d asked. Sometimes I imagine that she dosn’t even notice I’m here. My workdays keep me out of the house until 10pm so I suppose it’s an out of sight, out of mind thing.

I’m just thinking about how much it felt like a scene from a bad sitcom. Mother-in-law steals piece of pizza from harried daughter-in-law. Hilarity ensues. *cue laugh track*

I need to find the humor in it because the real truth is that her mind is slipping and no one wants to do a damn thing about it. What did she think was the origins of the pizza? That she put it on the stove herself? That the pizza fairy decided to gift her with free hot pizza? 

So yeah…now I’m going to use the toaster oven no matter what. Damn the time constraints. She’s never used the toaster oven for anything so whatever I cook in there will be mine. 

See you, space cowboy…

See you, space cowboy…

I finished watching Netflix’s live-action version of Cowboy Bebop, and…I didn’t hate it! In fact, there were many many things that I enjoyed about it, which really outweighed any misgivings I had at the beginning. Cowboy Bebop is one of my favorite anime series. It’s many people’s gateway into the genre, but i sometimes think that it’s exactly the wrong title for this. Nothing else is quite like Cowboy Bebop, a show as eclectic as the jazz form pieces which partially inspired it. It has elements of noir, western, sci-fi, kung-fu, comedy, and tragedy. If you want shows like Cowboy Bebop, you won’t find them. No other show even comes close to being what Bebop was. And now, there’s a live-action version of it. I, like many others, had hated the idea of live action Bebop at first. There are many things about really good animation which can’t be duplicated in any other medium. So I’m glad that the 2021 version has decided to go for something new.

Remember, I once did an article giving a blueprint of how to make a “good” anime remake. 

Good lord, I think the new one hits all of the suggestions I gave. The egotistical side of me wonders whether some of the production team actually read my ramblings and decided to address every one, to great effect. Probably not but it’s nice to think about.

Yes, this is not a shot by shot remake of the anime. It doesn’t have to be. The anime already exists. It is not perfect. I sort of love that the new show takes some of the details from the original and redoes them into something new. A remix. Gren, a character whose gender was framed as horror in the original (It’s really clear that the storyline was influenced by the “shocking” twist in The Crying Game), is now a proud (and GORGEOUS) queer, and their queerness has nothing to do with their storyline. Characters who were white are now POC. It’s effortlessly diverse, from the main cast, down to the background characters and I adore it. Faye might even have gotten herself a hot mechanic girlfriend and I’m all for that. Faye is even the one who saves the guys’ asses in the finale.

Julia, once the Femme Fatale who felt only like a prize to be won in the original, is given agency in the new version. She even might be more ruthless than Vicious. I’m not a Vicious fan by any means. I think his story was the weakest in the Netflix show. But I do appreciate giving him a backstory and reasons why he’s the way he is. (even if it feels more like the Malfoys at times.) Faye’s backstory seems even more poignant when seen in live-action, at least to me. Watching a pre-teen Faye cheering on her future self, it…it just punched me in the feels in a way that the anime didn’t. Maybe I’m a monster. Don’t know. I am all for Jet as an absent father trying to do right by his daughter. It just feels so Jet, who has always been the father figure for the crew. Mufasa Shakir as has the Jet voice down pat. 

But this adaptation rests on its Spike and Jesus Christ John Cho delivers. He IS Spike Spiegel. He’s snarky and cocksure and pained and haunted. He is the one putting on a brave front while protecting his broken heart. Always a few steps ahead of his past and yet always looking back. (As an aside, I’m a little sad that Spike’s speech about his fake eye which only sees the past is not present in the new version. But I’m nitpicking. Not every beloved detail has to get translated into live action). It’s ridiculous that it took 20 years for John Cho to become a romantic/action/sci-fi lead but it works goddamn it and I’m thankful I’m alive to witness it. I remember back in the day, when rumbling of a live-action Bebop first came bubbling up, that Keanu Reeves was being considered. Which is FINE but I’m so grateful we got John Cho instead.

I also sorta dig how more connected this universe is. Ein has a literal one to Pierre LeFou. I’m fascinated that they switched out his fear of cats in the anime to fear of dogs, and Ein might have the traumatic memories of LeFou. (Also Faye’s reaction to LeFou’s message to Spike is wonderful and I love Faye.) My heart was only slightly disappointed that the climactic battle for this story wasn’t in a gigantic amusement park. Only a rinky-dink one, but it made ABSOLUTE SENSE that LeFou would remember this sad little park as his only happiness. It makes his regression to childhood so much more tragic. (Also, his read of the “Mommy it hurts!” line is another punch in the gut moment that hits harder in live-action than animation.) 

Then there’s the Edward in the room. Yes, Ed’s intro is pure Ed! Ed talking a mile a minute and only making sense about half the time. There’s truth in the ramblings, but you have to clear-headed in order to hear it, and since our POV character for this is Spike (and he seems to be in the middle of a weeklong bender after the finale events and in no shape to understand much of anything) Ed comes across as grating and weird and cartoonish. But guess what? Ed IS grating and weird and cartoonish. The goofy tonal shifts is also very Bebop, and I’m actually looking forward to seeing more of Ed and also Ed plus Faye!

So, yes, I enjoyed it, and I understand why some might not. It IS a very well done fan film. But I woudn’t say that that’s a bad thing neccessarily. Better a fan film than a piece of work that completely misunderstood the original. (Hey live-action GiTS, I’m talking about you!) The Netflix series definitely comes from a place of love and reverence for the original. Them going out of their way to get Yoko Kanno to compose new music for the series cements that for me. And my take is, if live-action versions of anime must exist (and in this age of CONTENT, it must) then Cowboy Bebop is the best of the lot by far. I liked it. A lot. So there.



In an effort to make the most use out of my library card, even when I don’t really have time to go to the library, I’ve been using the Libby app to check out e-books and read them on my Kindle. Or at least I’ve been trying to. Work has been difficult lately. 5 coworkers out on leave at basically the same time meant that I’ve been doing 6 day work weeks for the past month or so. The extra money on every paycheck is kind of nice but the tiredness I’ve felt is astronomical. Anyway, my brain is gravitating back towards a mindset of “well you’re not enjoying a lot of the other things that usually make you happy so why not read more?”. And at least with reading I can sit down and read a chapter in about 10 or 15 minutes (according to my Kindle reading rate anyway) and I can budget my time very easily. My first dive into borrowing an e-book is Jo Koy’s memoir, Mixed Plate.

I think, as a first gen Filipino-American, I’m predisposed to like Jo Koy. It’s in our cultural DNA to celebrate any Filipino who becomes successful. I first heard of Jo Koy when he said how much he loved Zippy’s when he was on tour and doing a gig in Hawai’i. Ahaha, I thought, a plate lunch expert. I like it. The more I looked into his career, the more I responded. Here was a man, half-Filipino, who took the cultural specificity of growing up Filipino in America and turned it into relatable comedy. 

also this video where he jokes about the ubiquity of Toyota Tacomas in Hawai’i.

What I didn’t realize was how much of a hustle trying to become a POC comedian became. Begging his mom to get HBO so he could study the greats. Making his own way in the comedy world because no one could figure out how to market him so he had to do it all himself. Doing open mics and gaining a reputation in Vegas. His Comedy Central breakout special and all that came afterward. It’s a Filipino story. It’s an American story. And I sort of love him for recording his own life in such a frank, candid, and laugh-out-loud funny way. For, as much as his mom and the rest of his family are a part of his act, he’s kept a large part of his personal life hidden from public scrutiny. His brother Robert, diagnosed with schizophrenia and always drifting in and out of the family view. Jo Koy idolized his cool older brother until mental illness took everything he ever loved about him and replaced it with a violent stranger. The nightly fights to try to calm Robert down took a toll on the family. Jo Koy’s biological father left the house one night after a particularly bad fight and never came back. It’s harrowing to read the passages about Robert, and it got me to thinking about the stuff all families try to hide from the world. It was relatable, everything was relatable. His relationship with his hard-working Filipino mom, who had to raise 3 kids (plus the one who bumped in and out of mental institutions and jail for decades) on her own and the toll it took. Resiliency is an immigrant trait, and I see shades of my own mom in Jo Koy’s mom, which, I guess goes for all Filipino moms.

And to imagine that if this one person could make it, achieve his dream, and try to make his family’s life better as a result, we then, I think there’s a lot of hope for the rest of us. 

All through the day I, Me, Mine…

All through the day I, Me, Mine…

I heard through the Twitter grapevine that has deleted all of its journalistic content prior to 2019, which means that all of the articles I wrote for Syfy Fangrrls have disappeared from that site. Thankfully I previously backed everything up on another website, so they haven’t gone from the Internet entirely. But yes, no more me on

I have very mixed feelings. I mean, I hadn’t written for them in a while, partly because of burn-out and partly because I really needed to hunker down and get a job that paid more. And then after a while, I learned that the vertical itself was going to go away, all the editors and writers scattered into the winds. Maybe it became too much to keep the site active while web standards were changing. Maybe it was getting harder to format the site to work with mobile phones. Maybe it was something else. Maybe the syfy bosses are petty. I have no idea. I still think it’s hilarious that some naysayers believe that Fangrrls was dropped because it was too woke.

I think my biggest claim to fame from my time at Syfy was when I made a bunch of weebs mad by claiming that there is just way too much Nazi imagery in anime to be just a coincidence. I was accused of being racist (by pointing out Japan’s xenophobia and weird blind spot when it comes to the country’s role as an Axis power) and of hating anime (even when I mentioned that most of the titles in that article are among my favorites). Apparently the article’s been shared on FB over 20,000 times. I never got into any fracas with anyone personally. I locked up my Twitter account for a few days as a precaution but never saw much of a dustup. I suppose I was lucky, or perhaps the people I offended were just too toothless to confront me. Or maybe Twitter’s filter function worked well enough so that I didn’t have to argue with bots? Who knows?

So, yes, my Syfy articles are still here.

Farewell to Evangelion

Farewell to Evangelion

Goodbye, Evangelion.

I finished watching the final Evangelion movie: Evangelion 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time last night, and I’m still in the middle of processing my reaction to it. Neon Genesis Evangelion was one of the first true “anime” series I remember watching. I spent late summers in the ’90s in California, and one summer the local PBS station KTEH began airing this show. I’d only watched a few episodes of it, but dammit I was hooked. The weirdness. The giant robot battles. The angst. I loved it. When I returned to Hawaii, I decided that I should watch the entire thing. And thanks to a very geeky video rental service run by a local comic book shop, I eventually finished the anime.

The story, on the surface about a last ditch effort to protect the Earth from rampaging giant monsters called Angels, but actually about very real, very human trauma, rang true with me. I saw bits of myself in every character. All of them strugging to prove themselves worthy of life. Shinji, the reluctant pilot who only “gets in the robot” because he wants his father’s approval. Rei, the mysterious soft-spoken girl who’s questioning her entire existence. Asuka, a forceful personality hiding a fragile heart. Misato, wanting to prove humanity is still worth protecting. And so on and so on and so on. The series is widely known as the work of one man, Hideaki Anno, who decided to use the show as therapy for his own struggles with depression and self-worth. It’s a deeply personal work that resonates with so many people, including me. 

So what do I think of the new Rebuild movies and the Ultimate ending? Let’s keep going. Spoilers abound.

Overall I’m glad the story ended how it did. There’s a timeskip, we see all the kids as adults, and they seem to exist in a world with no Evas or no Angels. They’ve earned it after all the shit they’ve gone through. Shinji seems to have broken the loop of suffering. I wonder if this is because Mari, the only Eva pilot who seems to have no hang-ups about piloting them, exists in this world. Or because this is the only iteration of the story where Shinji’s father finally opens up about his feelings for his dead wife and the true reasons behind the Human Instrumentality Project. Transforming humans into an all-knowing entity and breaking down the painful barriers that keep us separated would mean that Gendo could reunite with Yui. It turns out that Gendo isn’t that different from his son after all. Surprise surprise, breakthrough. 

I’m also fascinated with how the final movie portrayed Asuka. She’s much more confident in this version, less hung up about her past and her own trauma. She seems to have gotten over her mother’s suicide. But I have to wonder about some of Asuka’s final moments, where a slew of Asuka “series” pictures is shown on a wall. Also when Asuka comes in contact with someone who calls herself her “mother”, she looks exactly like her. Is Asuka here a clone of the original? Just like Rei? It would mean that both these girls are clones in search of identity. The Asuka of NGE hated Rei because she saw in her the perfect girl that she could never be.

And speaking of Rei, how great is her ending? The clone who finds purpose and learns emotions like love and joy and regret. I’m quite satisfied with her growth and in her “death”, Shinji starts to realize that letting go is okay. His father also learns that learning to let go is okay. One doesn’t need to suffer if you lose someone. One has to move on.

I loved that the final movie ends hopefully, versus the terrifyingly lonely world that Shinji found himself in during the ENd of Evangelion movie. Yes relationships hurt, but so does being alone, and the relationships are definitely worth the pain. That is human and I think that is the final message of Evangelion. 

Still not sure what was up with Mari though. She doesn’t seem to have any backstory other than what we see in the movies. Was she neccessary? In a way, she was. Her presence meant the story could go in a new direction because she’s an unknown quanitity. The fly in the ointment. Otherwise, she’s just a cute girl with glasses and a pink plug suit and pink Evangelion and that’s…different. I guess.