“Moana” gets Mixed Reviews

by Danny Stout and Gunnar Christensen

The much-promoted Moana debuted this week with fodder for film critics and giddy kids alike. Disney animation delivers a bouquet of folding color, and a clear moral message; parents and youngsters content with Saturday afternoon euphoria on the way to the post-theater ice cream cone. Directors Ron Clements and John Musker deserve modest praise. Unique in film history, millions will see a version of Polynesian culture for the first time. There’s a lot at stake for Pacific Islanders if Moana is the only introduction to Oceana. Tēvita O. Kaʻili, Indigenous Oceanian Cultural Anthropologist at Brigham Young University-Hawaii said in the The Huffington Post, “Minutes into Disney’s Moana, it became obvious that despite its important girl-power message, the film had a major flaw. It lacked symmetry by its omission of a heroic goddess. By failing to do this, Disney resorted to reducing the mighty god Māui to a one-dimensional selfish borderline abusive buffoon to foreground the strength of the movie’s protagonist Moana.”

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As Ka’ili points out, whimsy overrides the integral message; Disney’s versions are usually dilutions of the engaging age-old truth tales even children long to see (See reviews of Krampus, and The Real Beauty and the Beast on this site ). Again, a swing and a miss despite the cerulean ocean and lush green mountains interjected with upbeat music by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, especially the snappy tune, “You’re Welcome.”

Despite underlying values of family, following your calling, and taking risks, Moana shows that even a Pixar movie with all its technological trappings, can miss and even offend Polynesian audience members.

Looking at it from a superficialmoana-movie perspective, there’s continuity of emotion— laughing, then sadness, and optimal tension  appropriate for children. It personifies various parts of the earth, as does Hawaiian belief. You see a sassy and loving side of the ocean, the earth’s anger at its mistreatment, and its gratitude when honored with love and respect.

Moana is a colorful joyful ride, but an immature view of Polynesian culture. Despite its inaccuracies and stereotypes, however,  it places Oceana on the media map so to speak. Polynesia has entered the popular discourse, and it is up to audience members to clarify for misguided fans what they missed in this perfunctory effort.

 

 

 

Mormons and Las Vegas Media

by Danny Stout

Las Vegas has always been enigmatic for Mormons. When Brigham Young dispatched Hosea Stout (a very distant cousin) to settle the area, the project failed for lack of water and prospects for farming. The abandoned Mormon fort stands as a state monument and tourist attraction. Ironic, some say, that Mormons were the original settlers of the area known as the entertainment capitol of the world. The Mormon-Vegas paradox has evolved through time, with many iterations. The Donnie and Marie Show on one side of the Strip with Gentleman strip clubs on the other, exemplifies these conflicts of values. In the 1940’s, Las Vegas was a crass gambling town; in the mob-era sixties, it was a fount of organized crime and prostitution. The LDS population grew nevertheless, many working in casinos and other businesses. When Las Vegas mogul Howard Hughes wrestled gambling away from the mafia, giving it lawful legitimacy, LDS executives (i.e., “The Mormon Mafia”) arranged for loans from Utah’s First Security Bank.

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A study published by this author in the journal, Mass Media and Society, describes a growing and devout Mormon population; a temple was dedicated in 1989. About five per cent (105,000) of Las Vegas is LDS. The city, while not the coarse off-color place it was in the sixties, retains its culture of excess, something-for-nothing mindset, and promiscuous flare for the erotic. The Cirque de Solei show “Zumanity” and “Absinthe” at Caesar’s Palace are examples. Yet some of the first-rate Broadway shows, fine art museums, and aquariums blend the commendable with the deleterious. Today, Mormon tourists visit the city annually by the hundreds of thousands. It’s a vacation destination for Utahns. When BYU sports teams compete in the city, Latter-day Saints check in to casino resorts. Like the city itself, which built the elegant Smith Center for the Performing Arts in 2009, and boasts an expanding art district exceeding many cities in the west, media attractive to LDS audiences have sprouted.

 Using the term, “religion” in the same sentence as “Las Vegas” is disquieting for a myriad of Mormons. Yet it’s a city of simulacra, an idea developed by the French philosopher Jean Beaudrillard. A simulacrum is something artificial that displaces the real. When the Belagio Hotel serves the same purpose as an Italian five-star resort, and the replication of the Eifel Tower in the Paris resort feels real, the experience has legitimacy. Simulacra is ubiquitous, making Las Vegas the quintessential postmodern city. The “real” and the “articicial” have blended. So has the old and new, traditional and nontraditional as well as the sacred and the secular.

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Music is a prime example. Every Sunday morning in the Mandalay Casino the “Gospel Brunch” is held. When I attended, the house lights came up and a singer, announced, “I know you’re here in Las Vegas to win money, but now it’s time to praise the Lord! Stand up and clap your hands in praise of Jesus!” The event was more like an Evangelical church than a casino. The gospel music was both spiritual and astoundingly performed. There is also the best of Broadway from “Phantom of the Opera” to “Jersey Boys” to “The Blue Man Group.” Fine art museums are abundant featuring the world’s great paintings and sculpture in the Bellagio Gallery as well that in the Winn Resort. Experimental, classical, impressionism, and abstract expressionism works are ubiquitous on the Strip.

Despite plenty of kitsch, the Strip has architectural works of note including the Renaissance Armillary Sphere, a creation of gold and marble eliciting awe and wonder. The oval stained glass piece in the Tropicana is one of the largest in the world, creating unique filters of light rays. Similarly, the Chihuli glass flower blossoms in the Belaggio lobby has 2,000 hand-blown glass blossoms created at a cost of $10 million. The gold shrine combining Hindu and Buddhist elements attracts thousands each day becoming a regular place for prayer.

While LDS visitors are not likely to attend, the wedding chapels at the mega-resorts have fine crafted wood features and appear much like Protestant churches without religious iconography. The MGM chapel has stone statuary simulating a European cathedral entrance. Unlike the tacky wedding chapels on Fremont Street, these facilities allow parties to bring in their own clergy, thus transporting congregations into the Las Vegas Strip.

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The complex interplay between Mormon and Las Vegas cultures is difficult to assess. Cities are not static, and the values of their visitors and citizens advance in multiple directions. Increasing popularity of Las Vegas among Mormons implies that cities are not homogenous, that visitors select various sites and reject others. For this reason, some hotels have kosher floors for Jewish guests. Las Vegas and America have blurred. The Luxor Resort has Egyptian exhibits for local school children, as does the Aquarium at the Mandalay Bay. Virtually all movie theaters and bowling alleys are now in casinos. Neighborhood casinos are primarily for locals, and are the community centers of the past. The question is whether Las Vegas is becoming more like the rest of the U.S., or if other cities are beginning to resemble Sin City. One thing that is relatively certain, Las Vegas and its media are no longer easily categorized in the black-white, either-or fashion of the past. The city has many greys.

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“Hamilton,” Continues to move and mesmorize Broadway audiences

By Stephanie Soto

With Lin-Manuel Miranda hosting “Saturday Night Live,” he deserves a review of his record-breaking show Hamilton. 07hamilton-slide-dr5r-superjumboMiranda breathes life into a mostly forgotten Revolutionary War figure through a creative synthesis of traditional and contemporary  music and acting styles. Hooray that Hamilton has young people reading American history again. After all, Hamilton, with others, planted the foundation for contemporary U.S. society.

Nominated for 16 Tony awards, it claimed 11, one of the most award -nominated shows to date, just shy of the The Producers and Billy Elliot.   Hamilton it is a Rap/Hip Hop musical.  Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, a founding father, is not your typical teen icon. Few young people recall his historical role nor significance.

Characters have distinct personalities, a notable feature of the musical. Actors play multiple roles, raising the talent bar even higher. Daveed Diggs delivers the fastest raps I’ve heard, with an accent no less. The ensemble wears mostly white costumes.

Women vocalists are superb.  Angelica, played by Renee Goldsberry is the more confident voice, until she meets her match in Hamilton.

Playing Hamilton, Lin Manuel Miranda is in most scenes demanding an exhaustingplaybill_from_the_original_broadway_production_of_hamilton performance. How can he rap for that many numbers and not forget a word?  Despite living 200 years ago, Miranda projects himself into the enigmatic Hamilton.

Several songs made the Billboard Top-Ten List, a great feat for musicals. A riveting score tells the story while simultaneously  projecting the viewer into the character’s stressed mind. Add in clever  wordplay, and we have a new form of Broadway art. Nuances such as movable props and sets moves the drama at the tense pace demanded. Stairs, a catwalk, and meticulous lighting provide the frosting on the cake.

Miranda’s Hamilton leaves us pondering issues of democracy equality, and economics.  See the show.  A musical with a multi-racial cast singing hip hop, while inviting us to critique our government present and past,  may not come along again soon.

 

New sitcom on heaven: “The Good Place” (but what if you’re there by mistake?)

By Kayna Kemp Stout

“The Good Place” (NBC) starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson is a new sitcom about what happens in the afterlife. Mormon viewers will chuckle, squirm, and nod their heads in unison at the portrayal of the grand beyond.

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THE GOOD PLACE — “Tahani Al-Jamil” Episode 103 — Pictured: (l-r) Ted Danson as Michael, D’Arcy Carden as Janet, William Jackson Harper as Chidi — (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)

For starters, we believe the afterlife is a busy place with comings and goings as we know it now, which is how The Good Place portrays it. We LDS adherents also believe we will be with like minded souls who have a similar goodness quotient. This also is a commonality with the show. However, the show has a twist. A few mistakes are made in the admissions process; there are unworthy clandestine members of the righteous neighborhood who were accidentally admitted. This creates havoc in an otherwise perfectly functioning afterlife. Can heaven or kingdoms as we Mormons say have flaws in them? After viewing three episodes, there are six main characters orchestrating the shenanigans in the holy neighborhood.

 

Ted Danson is the architect of the community with a human-like robotic assistant that knows everything, and can procure whatever is needed instantly. A modern-day version of 50001417Samantha without the nose-twitching from Bewitched. Add to the cast the two interlopers who are each paired with a benevolent member of the community, and you have the basis for many scripts about honesty, authenticity, and consequences. One of the amusing consequences of the misfits is their inability to swear in the good place. “Fork” substitutes for other four-letter word involuntarily replacing what they intended to say. I also enjoy informative lectures about ethics from the character whose former life was a college philosophy professor. He is tutoring the misfits in doing what’s best for the others in the neighborhood instead of just selfishly caring about themselves as they were accustomed to on earth. This makes for some good Sunday School lessons, which most Mormons would appreciate.

 

 

 

In Hawaii, it’s beaches, waves, and Kahuku High School football!

by Jasmine Weng

Football is immensely popular in the U.S., but few in the Mainland know its cultural role on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Kahuku High School football draws thousands to Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, and on September 17 more than 2,000 “Red Raider” fans flew to Las Vegas for a game against Bishop Gorman, the number one high school in the nation. Gorman prevailed, but not the Kahuku spirit that is traced to ancient traditions of family, community, and excellent gamesmanship.

For those born in the North Shore towns, Kahuku football is the center of gravity. It owns the most championships, and sends the most players to the NFL. Red Raider fansweb1_20160822_kahuku_touchdown purchased the 2,000 available tickets for the Las Vegas game within an hour. The stadium holds 5,000 people and the Kahuku faithful had a huge presence in their red t-shirts as they waved Red Raider flags. Fans back on the island watched the game on TV or online in ritual gatherings in homes and eateries. Pounders Restaurant at the Polynesian Cultural Center streamed the contest for Kahuku fans while providing Kalua pork and other game “grinds.”

Pounders was packed that night with red t-shirt clad supporters, some wearing the classic Red Raider headband. Beyond Pounders, thousands found somewhere to watch the live stream. Fans rarely watch games alone as TV broadcasts become ignite luaus up and down Kamehameha Highway.

Although Bishop Gorman has a big budget and superior equipment, they’re no match for Kahuku spirit that echoes the ancient warrior legends; Devotion to the game may derive from ancient dance rituals. Service activities and community fundraising is often tied to football.

web1_spt-kahuku-spirit-1-300x200Aofaga Wily, a 21 year old Kahuku alumnus and football player says he felt like a celebrity while on the team. Even as a high school player, people sought his autograph and photo. “The attention did not make me big-headed or conceited, but made me humble and willing to be a good example for the younger generation”, said Wily. He expressed how football is a big influence on other players’ lives; it teaches hardwork, humility, and how to build a family with teammates. While Kahuku lost the game, they gained great experience by playing Bishop Gorman. Red Raiders of the North shore always hold their heads high; they are “Red Raiders for life.”

The Black Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love?”…Again!

by Daniel LeBaron

This reviewer was disappointed with a first listening of The Black Eyed Peas’ 2016 remake of “Where Is The Love?” known as “#WHERESTHELOVE ft. The World.” It was bland and lacked the energy of the original. If nothing else, it was “catchy” through techniques of technology. Later that day I couldn’t get the song out of my head, and since, it has grown on me.

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Although in theory it would be best to review this new release on its own merits there is no black-eyed-peas-where-is-the-loveescape from comparing it to its predecessor. Indeed, a knowledge of the original gives this new remake more significance. One can hear in this rendition a more somber tone. There is a weariness as if the artists are being tempted towards jadedness. Still they state bluntly the same questions as before reframed with greater recency. They want the world to wake up, look at themselves, and return to love.

The music integrates silence effectively. At times it is monotonous, at others funky. The diction of the lyrics is very clear. They have been updated along with images to reflect recent issues from police shootings to Syria. The message gets a bit more to a real, personal level than the original.

The new lyrics comment on the election “looking like a joke.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks recently echoed these sentiments at a BYU devotional when he called for more civility, mutual understanding, and a love for all. He said “The few months preceding an election have always been times of serious political divisions, but the divisions and meanness we are experiencing in this election, especially at the presidential level, seem to be unusually wide and ugly.”

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The song begins with a computer voice asking “Where is the Love?” This might represent the distance from our own humanity that has been the result of our digital age. Instead of using technology’s potential to spread understanding, mankind often uses it to argue and become more rigid in a preferred worldview.

Elder Oaks, continuing to speak about the ugliness of the current political climate said, “Partly this results from modern technology, which expands the audience for conflicts and the speed of dissemination. Today, dubious charges, misrepresentations, and ugly innuendos are instantly flashed around the world, and the effects instantly widen and intensify the gaps between different positions. TV, the internet, and the emboldened anonymity of the blogosphere have facilitated the current ugliness and have replaced whatever remained of the measured discourse of the past.” This sense that social and other new media has separated ourselves more from love truly informs the style of “#WHERESTHELOVE.”

Even if a listener prefers the classic they surely can appreciate the artistry behind this “update.”

Dancing with the Stars: “Lochte, look out!”

by Stephanie Soto

Ryan Lochte, a famed Olympic swimmer, got blindsided by two protesters during the first night of TV’s Dancing with the Stars. The protesters were protesting against Lochte due to Lochte’s lie he made during the 2016 Rio Olympics about being held at gunpoint at a Rio gas station. Lochte has now been banned from swimming professionally for the next ten months.

Lochte has been known for being a large partier athlete with his short lived reality show on E network and pictures of his extreme lifestyle popping up over the internet. The young thirty-two year old’s money and fame has been causing controversy for some time, but not on such a world scale.

Lochte had signed up to do Dancing with the Stars before the incident in Rio even happened. ryan_lochte_set_to_join-f87afebdba100f992fee5d2bff2884d3The protestors luckily never touched Lochte, but got all the way on stage to where Lochte was standing until tackled by security guards. This is not all, female protesters stood in the stands yelling boo and liar to Lochte on stage until fellow dancer, Derek Hough, told them to leave. Although the protest was a non-violent one, it still made a statement. Interviews from the cast and Lochte himself show that some thought it was a stunt, while others were upset that the protesters decided to make a fun family show about politics.

The protesters have gone on record saying they did it for America and wanted to show that Lochte is a liar and a criminal.

Lochte has gone on record apologizing for the incident in Rio, but people are quick to judge and not so quick to forgive. This makes me think of the verse Luke 6:37 “Judge not and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; forgive and ye shall be forgiven.”

Did Lochte do wrong, yes. Does he deserve to be harassed forever, no. People makect-ryan-lochte-protesters-dancing-with-the-stars-20160912 mistakes all the time, not on such grand a scale, but people make mistakes. Unfortunately, the money and fame does not make you any smarter or help you deal with situations more. Most seem to think it does – it is usually opposite the case.

Lochte will and has been reprimanded for what he did, but going onto Dancing with the Stars is not only putting Lochte in a difficult spot, but his partner and the rest of the dancing with the stars cast and crew too. This is not the best way to go about doing things.

We, as human beings, need to show forgiveness and compassion to those who have wronged us. Not to make them feel worse than they already do.

New Film on the Greatest Costume Designer, Orry-Kelly

by Kayna Kemp Stout

“Women He’s Undressed,” a documentary about Hollywood costume designer Orry-Kelly, may sound scandalous, but it’s a film that can be enjoyed by diverse audiences. Those who womenhesundressed3are fans of classic films will take notice of the many clips from among the 285 movies that Australian born Kelly has designed including Casablanca, Some Like It Hot, Auntie Mame, and Oklahoma. He left his small seaside village in the early 1920’s for New York City and landed in Greenwich Village and the bohemian lifestyle of an artist who hand painted ties to make ends meet. He got a toe hold on Broadway, which led to his first costume designing jobs for the lavish musicals popular at the time. He moved to Hollywood to be a part of the burgeoning film industry. He was hired by the Warner Brothers Studio and began living a lavish lifestyle.

For audiences who enjoy costume design, this documentary rewards with many behindveda-ann-borg-and-orry-kelly-ca-1937-in-women-hes-undressed-courtesy-of-wolfe-video-1 the scenes details about costume choices for a litany of stars during the golden age of Hollywood, such as Bette Davis, Greta Garbo, Barbara Stanwyck, Angela Lansbury, Ingrid Bergman, Marilyn Monroe, Katharine Hepburn, and Jane Fonda. Orry-Kelly possessed a masterful eye for choosing colors, draping fabric, and disguising the figure flaws and assets of the starlets who became his friends. His personal life as an out of the closet gay man had its share of drama during a time when that was expected to be kept hidden. His early co-habitation with Cary Grant was a carefully guarded secret even in his autobiography. Grant played by the Hollywood rules and requested that their liaison not be written about and Kelly obliged.  Grant was a pallbearer at Kelly’s funeral in 1954. The years of his life 1897-1954 provide a time capsule that illuminates Hollywood in its hay days. Interviews include Jane Fonda, Angela Lansbury, Catherine Martin, Leonard Maltin and Ann Roth.

“Chef’s Table” TV Series: Is Food God’s Greatest Gift?

By Stephanie Soto

Netflix Original Series’ Chef’s Table tells stories of exceptionally gifted chefs that shatter expectations and demonstrate struggle, success, and unbelievable perseverance.

Chef’s Table is a documentary series on  chefs from all over the world exhibiting their groundbreaking if not radical culinary delights.  Season Two features six different chefs, a few from America, with amazing stories.

Grant Achatz, the chef behind the mind blowing restaurant Alinea in Chicago, mixes science and food into a gorgeous work of art with floating sugar, tomatoes in the shape of chef-atala-chefs-table-1024x871strawberries, and endless innovative creations. Being in a position to create pursue his vision was the struggle, and a compelling part of the story. Achatz grew up in his family’s diner, and fell in love with food while studying with the best chefs in the country. Then, he defied ordinary fine dining, becoming a great artist of the dining world.  His dream met road blocks, such as stage-four cancer of the mouth. Doctors said he would likely die from the cancer or the subsequent surgery. He nearly gave up hope, until the University of Chicago offered a different solution to chemotherapy, but Achatz lost his sense of taste. This hurdle didn’t stop him; it spawned the idea to let others assist him in creating innovative dishes until he regained partial tasting ability.   This story of one man’s dream to defy the odds with his cooking and perseverance is an inspiration to us all. Perseverance shapes who we are and urges us on when things get hard. God is there as we push through the darkness toward a brighter day.

Dominique Creen, an adopted woman from France, made her mark in San Francisco becoming the first female chef to win two Michelin stars in America with her restaurant Atelier Crenn, named after her father. Her food is a different take on traditional French birthday_treatfood, that incorporates her childhood memories and feelings; it takes you back to times held most dearly. She wants her restaurants to help people feel at home, to bring them to her home, and make them family. Her menu is not traditional; it is a poem, that within each line, incorporates each dish in a new way. Success comes with a price, and while running her restaurant her father developed cancer. Due to her job, she could not see him until he passed away. Later, when her mother got sick, she went immediately to France to care for her. Creen’s dedication to her craft is admirable, but chasing your dream can not take over what really matters and that is family; a balance of the two helps you achieve your goals better than doing it alone.

There are more chefs in the series, each with a jaw-dropping amazing food to savor; each with a story of how they scratched and climbed their way to the top. Just remember, Mathew 19: “With man this is impossible; with God all things are possible.”

In “Sully,” worries are set aside for a miracle.

By Kayna Kemp Stout

The word miracle gets tossed around lightly these days in reference to diet pills, wrinkle creams, and even football victories. So there is always reason to be cynical when the media dubs something a miracle. However, after viewing the film “Sully”, I believe the media got it right when they called the incident, “The Miracle on the Hudson”.

The film, expertly directed by Clint Eastwood, gives viewers an insiders look into why the unnamed1emergency landing of the airliner by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is nothing short of miraculous. Much of the film focuses on the National Transportation Safety Board investigation of the emergency landing on the Hudson River after both engines are hit by a flock of birds shortly after take off from LaGuardia) Airport in NYC.

Could the disaster have been averted if Captain Sully had returned to LaGuardia? Computer simulations seemed to say yes. Sully’s training of 30 years as a pilot said no. The investigation hearings are stressful for Sully because he could lose his retirement pension if found negligent. While the 155 saved passengers and crew are hailing him as a hero, and the national media is touting him as a savior and miracle maker, the behind the scenes drama feels much different with so much at stake for Sully, including personal financial challenges concerning an outside business. He simply puts these worries aside, and focuses on the goal. Averting distractions is a God-given talent, or perhaps should be better developed in us.

1408319_1280x720-1Tom Hanks portrayal as a calm professional airline pilot is spot on as are the other leading performances by Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, Autumn Reeser, Holt McCallany, Jamey Sheridan and Jerry Ferrara. The film is not over when the credits begin to roll, so stay seated until you’ve witnessed the entire miracle.