Talking about my thoughts on Mulan (2020)

Warning: This post includes spoilers for Mulan (2020), if you care about that, go watch it before reading. If not, carry on.

Mulan was one of my favourite Disney movies as a kid, and still is. The songs are amazing, I love the storyline, I love the way tonal and visual shifts are used, I love the characters. So when it was announced that they were making a live-action version of Mulan, I was apprehensive. Could they make a movie as magical as the cartoon? The fact that they weren’t making it a musical gave me mixed feelings–I love the songs and always love a musical, but maybe this would allow the movie to stand on it’s own instead of trying to replicate the cartoon.

The trailer was fine when it was released–the cast seemed good, it was aesthetically pleasing–but nothing that made me want to spend $30 on top of my Disney+ subscription to watch it when it was released on the platform a few months ago. Now that the fee has been lifted, I settled down to see for myself what Mulan (2020) was all about.

So like, it wasn’t terrible.

I’ve seen most of the recent live action versions of Disney films, and in my opinion, they vary in quality. The Lion King (2019) does not need to exist and I’m not sure why it does, but it’s still mostly enjoyable because…it’s still The Lion King. Aladdin (2019) made some puzzling changes and I don’t think the casting choice for Jafar was great, but it was charming overall. Beauty and the Beast (2017) was pretty good, and the music was probably the best out of all of these. They’re all fun, and watchable, although my very biased self doesn’t think any of them surpass the cartoons.

Mulan (2020), in my opinion, was watchable, I didn’t turn it off. The cast was good–especially Donnie Yen and Jason Scott Lee–and there were some very cool visuals and action sequences. In terms of plot, it was less of a direct live-action remake than the films I listed above, and it tries to do more of it’s own thing and take inspiration and influence from the original legend (in this way it’s similar to Peter Pan (2003), which I think is a brilliant movie and I absolutely love).

Except.

For me, where I think Mulan (2020) fails is where it is trying to be Mulan (1998).

In parts, Mulan (2020) wants to stand on it’s own as a film and as a story. But in other parts, it makes such direct references to elements of the cartoon that are not present in this movie that it completely took me out of the story. They do this most obviously with the missing musical numbers. The first time it happens it’s fine; they play an instrumental version of “Honor to Us All” over the matchmaker scene and it feels like a fun wink, even though it did make me turn to my brother and say “this would be a great time for a musical number.” But then they just keep doing it.

They quote lines directly from “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You”–I sat there blinking for several seconds when a character completely seriously says “tranquil as the forest, but a fire within”–and they also recreate a lot of the imagery from the scene in the cartoon. There is a randomly placed conversation made up of lines from “A Girl Worth Fighting For,” which again just felt like they SHOULD be breaking out into song in that moment. They start playing an instrumental version of “Reflection” as a musical motif over some of Mulan’s key moments–which only works if you have never heard the words of “Reflection.” As it is, as someone who did a competitive dance to that song as a kid on top of watching the movie many times, I found myself thinking “this is an odd song to be playing over this moment.”

There are some other references that work or don’t work to various degrees. They call one of Mulan’s fellow soldiers “Cricket” as a reference to the actual cricket character in the cartoon, for example, and that’s fine. The phoenix spirit she sees is similar in colour to Mushu from the cartoon (who doesn’t exist in this film), and that’s also fine, although the phoenix itself is a bit random and not fully explained. There’s a few shot remakes that would probably be cool subtle references if all of the other references didn’t exist.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this movie would be a masterpiece if I had never seen Mulan (1998). There are some pacing problems around the middle, there’s a scene involving an avalanche that is very weirdly edited, the way one of the characters dies feels like a cop-out. There’s also been some criticisms about how they handle some aspects of Chinese culture that as a non-Chinese person I do not feel equipped to talk about. There are issues beyond the clunky references. But I think the references welcome more constant comparisons than would have already been made.

As I said before, it’s not terrible. I don’t think I would seek it out to watch again, but I still watched the whole thing and I can think of scenes and elements of it I genuinely liked. I just wish that if the filmmakers wanted to create a film based on the original legend of Mulan while making references to the cartoon most people are familiar with, it was done more gracefully.

It’s christmas time, again

I’ve not been feeling particularly festive this year.

I don’t think that’s very surprising considering everything that’s been going on this year. I haven’t been able to go to the Toronto Christmas Market. I haven’t had any dinner parties with friends. I haven’t been taking or teaching classes where we choreograph dances to festive music. We haven’t put up a tree this year. I won’t be able to have Christmas with my whole family like we always do.

I know all of these are things that I am privileged to have and to be able to do, I know this. But knowing this doesn’t mean I suddenly feel festive or Christmassy anyway. Knowing this doesn’t make me miss these things any less.

Today I settled down in a polar bear onesie and watched Dance Dreams: The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker on Netflix. It didn’t make me feel more like it’s Christmas, but it did make me smile, and it made me miss dance classes fiercely. It made me wish I could go to LA and watch this version of the Nutcracker in person.

Feeling festive or feeling like it’s Christmas isn’t some magical emotion that just pops up in December. Maybe it’s just the feeling of joy that comes with seeing family or doing fun things with friends, maybe it’s the beauty of Christmas lights when I can walk past them, maybe it’s the feeling of togetherness and connection I feel when everyone is dancing to the same Christmas song together. I just have to deal with the fact that that feeling isn’t going to be the same this year, it’s impossible for it to feel the same. So what else can I do but have some chocolate with the family members I live with, and watch my ballets and Christmas specials, and dance to some Christmas songs in my room, and capture some snippets of that feeling, some snapshots of those holiday emotions, and as many moments of festivity as I can.

Here are a few of my favourite Christmas songs, ranging from dark to quirky to worldwide classics. I hope you like at least one, one you can listen to alone in your room, or while cuddling with your cat, or dancing around with whatever family you can see this year. Happy Holidays.

Fave Movies I saw in 2020

It’s December 20th and you know what time of year that is…the time of year end lists. I was in the mood for a list, and so I thought I would share some of my favourite movies that I watched in 2020. They didn’t all come out in 2020, but I watched them all for the first time this year. This also definitely isn’t every single movie I watched this year–as you can probably tell from earlier posts, I have spend a lot of time in 2020 watching film and television. But these are some that stand out in my mind as I look back at the year.

Emma (2020)

I love Jane Austen’s novel Emma, I love the modern adaptation Clueless, and I love period pieces in general. So it’s no surprise that the 2020 Emma was one of the highlights of the year. The movie is an aesthetic feast between the colours, the cinematography, the historically accurate costumes, and the beautiful cast. But every single one of those aspects is more than just there for aesthetic purposes. The shots, the lighting, and the costuming all are integral parts of the story. The cast is perfect, finding the perfect balance of emotion and humour. I absolutely loved this film.

The Half of It (2020)

This was a Netflix original movie that I watched with no knowledge because I thought it looked interesting. I cried on and off for half an hour when it was finished. That sounds like an exaggeration, but it isn’t. Something about this movie just hit me hard in the chest that day. It isn’t a romantic love story as much as it’s about friendship and identity and belonging, as much as it’s about different kinds of love.

Parasite (2019)

If you paid even a little attention to movies or awards show last year, you heard about Parasite. Everyone everywhere was talking about it. And they were absolutely right to do so. This thriller is genuinely amazing. There’s so many layers to it, so many universal concepts of class and money and family and fear. It 100% deserved all of the praise and accolades it received. Go watch it if you haven’t–don’t be scared of subtitles!

Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Another big name on the awards circuit this year, it’s a bit hard to describe the plot of Jojo Rabbit without sounding absolutely insane. But this was one of the most unexpectedly powerful and heartfelt movies I watched in recent years. It’s not always an easy watch, in places, but it’s worth it. This movie is also hilarious–not surprising when it’s directed by and co-starring Taika Waititi, who I love (Thor Ragnarok is one of my fave Marvel movies, and if you haven’t seen his film What We Do In The Shadows, give it a shot, it’s one of the funniest movies I have ever seen). This is another one absolutely deserving of the accolades it got.

Coraline (2009)

It’s surprising even to me that I hadn’t watched this movie before this year–it has an animation style and aesthetic that I love, is kind of creepy, and based on a book by Neil Gaiman, whose work I really enjoy. But I hadn’t, so I took the opportunity this year around Halloween to finally sit down and watch. I did not regret it! Even though this is made for kids, I think the imagery, animation, and storyline is still enjoyable for adults. There’s also some genuinely creepy images and concepts, especially in the latter half of the film.

But I’m a Cheerleader! (1999)

This is another movie I was surprised I hadn’t watched yet. It’s a cult classic that I had seen on recommendation lists for years and years, but never really got around to watching. Despite seeing it often recommended, other than a basic idea of the plot, I had no idea what to expect. But it was quirky, fun, funny, and also genuinely heartwarming. If like me you have missed out on this movie, give it a watch!

Frozen 2 (2019)

Okay HEAR ME OUT. This was the last movie I saw in theatres before the pandemic. I have such a vivid memory of me and my (fellow adult) cousins driving home from the theatre and immediately turning on one of the major songs, “Into the Unknown” because it was just that great a song. And also in general…I love Disney movies, and I loved this one. The animation was beautiful, there was more of an intense story than the first (which I also saw in theatres, for the record), and the songs are all great.

Honourable Mentions

Buffaloed (2020)

Quirky, weird, and held up by the performance of lead Zoey Deutch, who I absolutely adore.

Work it (2020)

As a dancer I am legally obligated to include a dance movie on this list, no matter how cheesy, especially when there is actually good dancing and actual dancers in it.

Enola Holmes (2020)

Another one for a slightly younger demographic and the costumes are not very accurate but it’s fun and fluffy and has absolute brick house Henry Cavill as Sherlock Holmes so that’s fun.

These Aren‘t Movies but Close Enough

Hannah Gadsby: Douglas (2020)

If you haven’t watched this comedy special, what are you even doing? It’s hilarious and touching and clever and hard-hitting.

Hamilton (2020)

I was supposed to see this in theatres this year, and sadly couldn’t. Luckily I have this original cast recording and soundtrack to watch and listen to on repeat now.

Dashing in December

I was a bit unsure of what to write about this week, with both topics I considered feeling a bit more personal or a bit more maudlin than I felt like going in depth. But then, last night, I watched the cheesy Paramount Christmas movie, Dashing In December, and I knew I wanted to write about that instead.

If you didn’t know, tis the season for cheesy holiday movies. Hallmark, Lifetime, and Paramount all fill up their schedules with cheesy, fluffy, formulaic, holiday themed romance movies. And of course, I watch too many of them. While some are better than others, these movies are notorious for being predictable, very clean and PG-rated, and overwhelmingly white and heterosexual. While they have made a few tiny steps towards being less white in the past few years (and I mean tiny, it will be like 2/25 with a non-white lead), there’s yet to be one with a non-straight lead pairing. But in 2020, both Lifetime and Paramount came forward with gay versions of their cheesy Christmas movies.

When I saw the trailer for Dashing in December, I could tell it was more or less the exact formulaic set up as the typical movie of this genre, but it starred two men instead of a man and a woman. So of course, I knew I had to watch it. I was not disappointed; this movie contained many of the Key Elements of the genre and Common Plot Beats that I recognized from watching movies of this kind over and over again.

(I guess I should warn for spoilers ahead, even though I won’t be recapping this movie moment by moment. So now you know!)

The leads: While of course this time around, the leads are both men, they both embody some of the classic archetypes of this kind of movie. Wyatt is a big city man with a busy office job, living in Manhattan and working as some kind of financial planner. You know he’s busy and important because his boss reminds him to bring his laptop home for the holidays, and also because when he started describing his job I just heard static in my brain. We also know he is busy and important because he hasn’t been back home to his small town for Christmas for years, but he is going back this year (a very important staple plot beat). We are informed of this when we meet his mom, who owns a ranch. It is there that we meet our other lead, Heath, who works as a farmhand on the farm and has never met Wyatt before (because Wyatt never comes home), and doesn’t even know Wyatt is gay. He’s handsome, he loves horses, he cares a lot about the ranch, he is loved by everyone but a bit of a loner romantically (this is very important). He isn’t perfect because he is kind of judgmental of the Big City and over idealistic, but he is generally Good. Meanwhile Wyatt is well intentioned and good at heart but can be a jerk sometimes and often prideful.

Secondary Characters: Other important characters include 1. Wyatt’s mom (who is played by Andie Mcdowell from Four Weddings and a Funeral) who is a kind southern woman whose husband died fifteen years ago and is just trying to make ends meet and maybe have a second chance at love, 2. Blake, Wyatt’s high school girlfriend turned best friend and also I guess Heath’s best friend, she’s mostly there to be a sounding board and exposit things and miss her husband, I liked her, 3. Blonde couple who were both friends with Wyatt and Blake in high school, I do not remember their names.

The first meeting: They have a really awkward first meeting, immediately rubbing each other the wrong way for reasons that honestly make more sense when they are both men. I feel like Heath is more in the right because Wyatt is rude right away and ALSO we learn that he’s trying to convince his mom to sell the ranch, which Heath does not appreciate at all. I know this nearly sounds like Wyatt is the villain here, but it’s very important to note that in these movies, things like wanting to sell the family ranch always come from a well meaning place. Wyatt has been quietly helping his mom make payments on the ranch for the last few years and worries that this isn’t enjoyable or affordable for her anymore. They also fight because Heath says his horse and Wyatt’s horse (Dash, get it?) are in love, and Wyatt just disagrees with that on like a philosophical level.

Bonding Moments: Heath accidentally burns his hand on a kettle and we then experience a KEY MOMENT in these films–the moment when the characters who have been antagonistic towards each other up until this point find common ground. In lighter films this can be a shared super specific interest or habit, and in those with more drama, like this one, it can get more serious. Dashing in December includes bonding over the loss of a parent (pretty common trope), bonding over loving horses, and bonding over the love of the ranch. A brand new addition to this oeuvre of films though? Bonding over being gay in a small town. I know I keep calling these movies cheesy, but it was honestly a touching moment of understanding between two people.

Random scene with dancing in it: As a dancer, dancing scenes are always welcome. But as a seasoned watcher of cheesy holiday movies, I can admit there are an abnormal amount of dancing scenes thrown in for no reason. In this film, it’s line dancing at a country bar, because horses. I haven’t been line dancing before but it did look like a good time. These scenes are often used to help bring the romantic leads closer together, often with forced physical affection. I give Dashing in December points for subverting this the tiniest bit because Wyatt and Heath don’t dance together at this time, as Wyatt is uncomfortable doing so at a straight bar in a small town. More extra points get awarded from me personally because the actor who plays Heath was on Dancing with the Stars and is a genuinely good dancer.

Awkward moment that doesn’t actually lead anywhere: Wyatt, in his boxers, walks in on Heath getting out of the shower, also in his boxers. The camera lingering on their chiseled bodies and reindeer underwear is about as risque as you get with these movies. It leads to nothing and exists to remind you that they are both hot and attracted to each other, just in case you forgot.

Callbacks for romantic purposes with varying results: Because these movies are only about an hour and a half and they assume you won’t forget anything, there is always a romantic call back or full circle moment. And reader, I love that. In this film, Heath sets up a makeshift homecoming dance floor to dance with Wyatt. This is a double callback, because not only could they not dance together at the bar, but Wyatt had said he had never danced with a boy like he would have wanted to. It’s really cute. Wyatt attempts to do similar by setting up a projector movie night which calls back to a story Heath told him. However this is less cute because Wyatt messes it up and says something stupid and they fight and march away instead of talking about it like adults. This is a very common occurrence.

The music: Dramatic music over the third act angst and conflict! Shania Twain! Guitar twangs of romance! A Sam Smith Christmas song in the background!

Animals: No this is not in every one of them, but cheesy holiday movies LOVE including some cute animals. In this case of course, it’s horses. Honestly I wish there were more horses.

Happy Ending: There is nothing more important to a movie like this than a happy ending. Maybe this is why I watch them so much. No matter what, you know Wyatt is going to come up with a big idea to save the ranch, and you know a happy Christmas song will play, and you know Heath and Wyatt will make up and kiss in the snow. It’s all cheesy and predictable and it’s not “high art.” But I don’t need it to be.

In conclusion, if you love Hallmark or Lifetime Christmas movies, give Dashing in December a shot. I think it does a really good job of being a gay version of the typical tropes.

And if you have never seen a Hallmark or Lifetime or Paramount holiday movie? Well, it’s not like you have anything else to do this 2020 holiday season.

Why was my high school trying to play matchmaker?

Today I was doing a bit of cleaning and came across a repressed memory–my high school matchmaker sheet.

I don’t know if any of your high schools did this, it likely depends on when and where you went to school. I went to high school between 2005 and 2009, for the record, and this sheet is from spring of my grade 10 year.

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The concept was simple; students would fill out scantrons, answering questions about our likes and dislikes and general personality test type things. A few weeks later, we would pick up a sheet that revealed our “best matches” based on those quizzes. There would be a section for “best matches” in your same grade, the best in other grades, most compatible friends, and your most opposite. It was very heteronormative from what I remember–as a girl my romantic matches were all boys and the most compatible friends were all girls, and vice versa for the boys, and that’s how it was regardless of anyone’s sexuality. There were also a few zodiac based sections, including your horoscope, your best “zodiac” match in your grade, and this quite funny section for best celebrity horoscope match:

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Looking back, I find it so odd that this was even a thing. Did people actually go on dates based on their matches?? I didn’t have any friends who did. I certainly didn’t. There were guys on my best matches list who I was friends with and we joked about it, and others who I barely knew and didn’t even look in the eye if they were at the top of my list.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t dating anyone in high school anyway, matchmaker list or not. The few times I did get asked out I mostly remember as deeply awkward moments. No shade to most of the guys who did the asking–I spoke to several of them for years afterwards–but I just didn’t want to date any of them. Being a teenage girl was hard enough without adding dating to it. I know I wasn’t the only one that felt that way. On top of that, as much as it was meant to be lighthearted fun, I remember people getting teased for who was on their matches list, I remember people being bullies and gossips about it, and I remember people feeling pressured to participate.

Again, it was also just so damn STRANGE. This was high school, why were we doing personality quizzes to find our “matches” and then paying a dollar to get the matches (I can’t remember what it was fundraising for, but I’m pretty sure that was the reason we paid)? Why did some of the percentages not add up? Did they know people would probably use each other’s awkward yearbook pictures to find their match when they didn’t recognize the name, and did anyone think that would work out well? Why was the number one celebrity match for me, a then 15 year old girl, Mike Myers? Does my former high school still do this, or is it a relic of the 2000s? What other high schools did this? Does everyone remember this as being as weird and awkward as I do?

If your school did this, let me know. If they did something equally awkward, I would love to hear about it.

A Quick List of Some Songs of my 2020

This wasn’t the post I planned to write this week, and it won’t be the only one I post, but Spotify Wrapped dropped today (for those of you who don’t know, it gives you, among other things, your most listened to songs of the year). While I won’t be telling you what every song or even artist at the top of my list is, I thought I would share links to a few of my most listened to songs here.

My number one most listened to song of 2020, because I guess I really love an angry break up song: You Should Be Sad by Halsey

This song makes my heart beat faster: Slip Away by Perfume Genius

I’m surprised my whole list isn’t just songs from this musical: Wait For It from Hamilton

For the summer we were supposed to have: 3 Nights by Dominic Fike

Because sometimes this is just how you’re feeling that day: Young and Sad by Noah Cyrus

Sometimes I put this on and stare at the ceiling: Seven by Taylor Swift

Makes me feel sunny and I don’t know how else to put that: Sunflower Vol 6 by Harry Styles

For when it’s raining: You’re Somebody Else by flora cash

I have a memory from February of dancing to this with a bunch of people, and it makes me smile: Blinding Lights by The Weeknd

Even if our tastes in music differ wildly, it feels good to say “hey, here are songs that make me happy, I hope you have songs that make you happy too.”