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Saturday, October 29, 2016

What if the 2016 Presidential Candidates Had Devil Fruit Powers?

            I don’t know how many of you are aware of this, but there’s a Presidential election coming up.  Did you know????  I certainly didn’t!!!!

            Okay, facetiousness aside, there’s no getting around the fact that this has been a very stressful year for anyone who would rather the world not burn down.  Between the Flaming Racist Cheeto on the GOP side and all the people STILL not sure they aren’t capable of voting for an overwhelmingly qualified woman over said KKK Cheezit Stand-In on the other, the rest of us residing in Sane World are stressed, worried, angry, upset, depressed, and more.  You name it, I’ve felt it over the last 10 months, and I’m sure most of you have as well. 

            So I figured, with nary two weeks to go before the battle ends and the war begins, we could all use a little levity in our lives.  With that, I wish to present to you a useful little looking glass through which to view the events of the 2016 Election; what if all the major candidates, be they primary or general, were living in the world of One Piece and had their own Devil Fruit powers? 

            The list that follows is by no means complete, but it should serve as a decent starter set for anyone looking for a little fantastical escapism to make the next week and the years of aftermath we will all have to deal with a little more palatable.  Enjoy! 

Gary Johnson- Bara Bara no Mi (The Section Fruit)

            Much like the Sectioning power of Buggy the Clown, Gary Johnson and Libertarianism may seem actually quite intriguing and useful from a distance.  However, it soon becomes apparent that simply dividing yourself up into tiny, separated sections to avoid actual harm inevitably results in nothing more than a pile of hapless body parts scattered across the sand, flopping uselessly in the wind. 

Carly Fiorino- Sube Sube no Mi (The Slip-Slip Fruit)

            What better power for this former business exec to have than the ability to make anything and everything, even serious allegations of being terrible at business, just slip off her like they never even happened? 

John Kasich- Moku Moku no Mi (The Smoke Fruit)

            Like having the power to turn yourself into smoke, John Kasich seemed like he could be quite formidable, but, as we all learned, it only takes a few puffs of wind to make smoke dissipate forever into the atmosphere.   

Ben Carson- Nemu Nemu no Mi (The Sleepy Fruit)

            Be honest- what else would you expect Ben Carson’s power to be?   

Martin O’Malley- Iro Iro no Mi (The Camouflage Fruit)

            O’Malley may actually have already acquired this Fruit ability in real life, as he displayed an extraordinary tendency during the DNC primary debates to blend seamlessly into the backgrounds behind him.  And like a camouflaged chameleon in the jungle, everyone promptly forgot he was there. 

Jeb Bush- Doru Doru no Mi (The Wax-Wax Fruit)

            Much like the wax figures at Madame Tussauds, Jeb looks great from a distance, but get closer and you soon notice the unreal, plastic sheen covering his body.  He also quickly starts to melt when directly exposed to heat. 

Chris Christie- Gasu Gasu no Mi (The Poison Gas Fruit)

            This one requires bystanders to exercise a particularly high level of caution.  Get too close, and a mere breath from Christie is enough to infuse your lungs with his deadly, contagious poison, from which there is no recovery. 

Marco Rubio- Suna Suna no Mi (The Sand Fruit)

            Like the sand this Fruit allows you to control, Marco Rubio hails from Florida, is irritatingly dry, gets everywhere (since he’s never present in the Senate), and his one, true weakness….is water. 

Ted Cruz- Awa Awa no Mi (The Soap-Soap Fruit)


            Like a bar of soap in shower, this man is slippery as fuck.  And if he gets out of hand and ricochets off the wall hard enough, he may kill you. 

Bernie Sanders- Bomu Bomu no Mi (The Bomb-Bomb Fruit)

            What other power could I have given The Bern?  Cross him, and he will strike by making any part of his body, even his boogers, or his wild, wind-strewn hair, swell and explode with his righteous fury. 

Donald Trump- Yami Yami no Mi (The Darkness Fruit)

            There are a lot of terrifying and horrid powers in the One Piece world that would be a good fit for this pusillanimous, pulsing, pitiful excuse for a human, but for this list, I settled on the Darkness Fruit, with its destructive Black Hole-like powers.  For like the wretched Blackbeard himself, Trump has already evinced time and again his horrific capacity to absorb everything he touches into the nothingness of his being, and then spew it back out as a garbled, shit-filled mess. 

Hillary Clinton- Naiya Naiya no Mi (The Diamond Fruit)

            You ain’t gonna leave no scratches on this woman, because there ain’t nothing in the world harder than a diamond.  And if you don’t watch out, you gonna get cut, cuz diamonds are NASTY sharp. 

-Noah Franc 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review: Swiss Army Man

Swiss Army Man (2016): Written and directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan.  Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.  Running Time: 97 minutes. 

Rating: 4/4

            This movie begins with Paul Dano riding Daniel Radcliffe across the ocean like a literal human motorboat, propelled across the breaking waves by Radcliffe’s seemingly endless supply of explosive flatulence. 

            If that sentence was enough to convince you that you can never meet this film on its own terms, turn back now, for you shall not be warned again.  Yep, it’s one of those. 

            Alright, I should probably back up a bit first.  Hank (Paul Dano) has apparently been stranded on a deserted island for some time, and is at the point of preparing to hang himself from a branch, when the waves suddenly toss a human corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) onto the beach in front of him.  Despite his disappointment that it is, indeed, a corpse, and not a fellow survivor (for so it seems, at first), he recognizes an opportunity for escape when the body begins to fart incessantly, pushing itself back out to sea.  This is the lead-in to the motorboat scene, which doubles as the opening credits.  They do reach land, but are clearly still very far from civilization. 

            Unsure of what to do next, Hank decides to keep dragging the corpse along with him, and gets the shock of his life later on when it actually does start moving and speaking.  He affectionately dubs his new friend “Manny,” and soon realizes that this strange body has a variety of powers perfectly suited to his efforts to survive.  In addition to the aforementioned flatulence, Manny can spew fresh water out of his mouth like a geyser at will, is super flexible and has the strength to chop wood, stones, and other materials, can have anything shoved into his mouth and shot out of him like a cannonball, can create sparks to start fires with his hands, and also periodically gets massive erections capable of sensing the way through the woods back home, like some sort of erotic compass (I did warn you). 

            This is that rare film so wholly unique as to be truly beyond classification.  Many of the adventures Hank and Manny have together could be broadly described as survival tales (they are, after all, lost in the woods for most of the film’s running time), but it’s also a love story, an exploration of friendship and dealing with questions of self-worth, and a musing on the general weirdness of life itself.  It’s also a rip-roaringly good comedy, so committed to its own zaniness that laughter is pretty much the only appropriate response.  I haven’t seen a movie so unapologetically committed to its disregard for the laws of natural science since Mood Indigo.

            This really only works because the movie absolutely refuses to explain the rules of its world.  What is Manny?  A human?  An angel?  Something else?  Is he actually a corpse, or is he biologically alive?  Where do his powers come from and how do they work?  We never know, and we’re so much better off for that, because getting bogged down in those sorts of details would ruin the fun.  Whoever (or whatever) he is, he seems to have no memories regarding where he came from, so once he wakes up and starts talking, Hank quickly realizes he has to basically teach Manny about life, the world, and people from scratch, as if he were a newborn infant with the body and language ability of an adult. 

            The montages where this is addressed are what may make or break the film for many viewers- some will find it unbearably cheesy, perhaps too earnest or naïve for its own good, others will find it tearfully heartwarming, and many will likely just find them weird and without purpose.  It’s also a ready excuse for the film to go off on tangents about farting, pooping, and masturbating without feeling like a pandering reach for the 12-year-old-boy demographic.  That being said, it might be sound for me to make a general proclamation here that anyone seriously put off by any sort of discussion about genitals and their various functions would do well to avoid this movie, because truly, there will be no mercy. 

            For all the clear passion that goes into the film’s ecstatic editing and the fascination of seeing how weirdly they use CGI to bring the film’s most bizarre moments to life, what anchors this movie and makes it rise above its inherently pulpy nature are its two leads.  Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe achieve a perfect symbiosis between their performances, a balance that allows the strange, STRANGE things they talk about to be both funny and serious without ever veering into being too ridiculous.  A single misstep by either of them would probably have brought the whole affair crashing down around their feet, but by God, like a nude high-wire act over Niagara Falls, somehow they pulled this crazy stunt off.  Radcliffe in particular has made odd, offbeat projects like this his calling card since Harry Potter ended, and this just might be his best performance in his best film yet. 

            Swiss Army Man is fun, intelligent, daring, bizarre, challenging, and unrelentingly in-your-face, and I love it for that.  There are a great many people who will see this movie, hate it, read this review praising it, and then stand ready to proclaim me a lunatic.  But as the great and wise Horton the Elephant once sang;  

They all call me a lunatic/
Okay, call me a lunatic/
But I have wings, and I can fly/
Around the moon and far beyond the sky. 

            And after seeing this movie, I certainly intend to fly, my friends.  Possibly with the aid of Eternal Magic Farts, but I’ll never tell. 

-Noah Franc 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Review: Frantz

Frantz (2016): written by Francois Ozon and Philippe Piazzo, directed by Francois Ozon.  Starring: Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Ernst Stoetzner, and Marie Gruber.  Running Time: 113 minutes. 

Rating: 4/4

            Francois Ozon’s latest work is almost surreal in how traditional it is in its storytelling and style, unusual for someone more known for featuring bizarre psychological or sexual twists in his films.  Much like its characters, set adrift in time by their suffering, the movie feels like a relic from another era of cinema; this is helped in no small part by its mostly black-and-white ascetic.  It feels like the sort of the classical drama most current historical Oscar-bait works wish they could be, quietly complex in how it balances handling its historical setting, its characters, and the strained emotional ties that bind them to each other in ways both heartbreakingly sad and beautifully profound.   

            The setting is Germany in 1919, right as the continent as a whole was struggling to come to terms with the full scale of the senseless tragedy that was then called, rather naively, “The War to End All Wars.”  Within Germany, many are already beginning to angrily reject their status as national “losers” and the harsh terms dictated by the Treaty of Versailles.  Not that any of these larger geopolitical matters are of any importance to Anna (Paula Beer)- she only has thoughts of her fiancé, Frantz, (with whose parents she now lives), one of millions lost in the fighting, buried in an anonymous pit somewhere in France.  Wrapped in her grief, she has lost her interest in just about everything in life, including the repeated marriage proposals of one of the older men in town. 

            The quiet, daily grieving of Anna and Frantz’s elderly parents, the Hoffmeisters, is suddenly made far more acute when a strange Frenchman named Adrien (Pierre Niney) appears at their doorstep, claiming to have known Frantz before the war.  Anna and Mrs. Hoffmeister are happy to receive any new recollections of their lost loved one they can get, but Frantz’s father can barely stand being in the same room with him, since, as he himself puts it, “Every Frenchman is to me the murderer of my son.” 

            Despite his initial resistance to speaking with the man, and despite a general attitude of hostility Adrien elicits in nearly all of the townspeople (the raw emotional wounds of war are never far beneath the surface in this film), they decide anyway to try and overcome the pain and awkwardness of their first meeting.  Soon, in small ways, powerful ways, they start bringing the color back into each other’s world (literally!), as if they are all finally giving themselves permission to heal and move forward.  That is, until Anna begins to suspect that there may be more to Adrien’s story about his relationship with Frantz than he first let on. 

            While there is, obviously, a LOT of potent emotional material to unpack here (and nearly all of it is), that is, amazingly, only the first half of the movie.  After a first part that could have stood as a great film all its own, the second part develops everything further into a quasi-mystery yarn- Adrien seems to disappear after he returns to Paris, and Anna resolves to go there herself to track him down.  I lost count of the number of times I thought the story was going to break a certain way, only to have it take an abrupt turn down another road I hadn’t even considered before.  There are so many ways Ozon could have decided to make things play out, but the paths he ultimately chooses and the various fates he selects for these people feel decidedly fitting.   

            The key visual trick of the movie is a simple one, the use of color-as-metaphor, but it’s expertly executed.  Nearly the entirety of the film is in black-and-white, especially the cities and towns, as if war truly had sucked out all the variety of life.  Nature, however, is often in color, as if distance from human dwellings allows better detachment from the daily pains of life.  Moments of music or brevity in conversation occasionally break through the veil and restore life to the world’s pallet, a wonderful silent commentary on the power of art to aid in overcoming grief.  It’s the sort of basic, elemental technique that could easily lend itself to overuse, but Ozon never allows this card to be overplayed. 

            Much of the film’s thematic subtlety can be found in the ways in which Adrien and Anna’s separate journeys, each one taking them out of their comfort zones and into a world strange to them, mirror each other.  It is an unfortunately consistent side effect of war that it leaves bitter feelings on every side.  Not only does Adrien have to face barely-concealed contempt from everyone he meets in Germany, Anna and the parents soon start to get their share of angry looks from the townspeople just for associating with him.  Anna then experiences her own version of this when she travels to France, getting a sharp glance from a mother in a train when the conductor loudly announces she’s German.  One of the most enduring shots in the entire film is of her face through the train glass, watching a ruined shell of a town fly by, its empty destruction reflected on her features.  Anna doesn’t actually face that much in the way of in-her-face discrimination once she arrives in Paris, so it’s an idea that I wish could have been more fully fleshed out, but that may have bogged down the film in unnecessary asides.   

            Frantz has the potential to be its own kind of classic, a work that’s quiet and humble, but still quite confident in itself as it moves us through the strange, winding, paths of recovery and renewal that Anna and Adrien experience in their individual ways.  It is a marvelous work, one that I hope to see talked about and remembered for years to come. 

-Noah Franc 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Review: Queen of Katwe

Queen of Katwe (2016): Written by William Wheeler, directed by Mira Nair.  Starring: Madina Nalwanga, Lupita Nyong’o, and David Oyelowo.  Running Time: 124 minutes.  Based on the book of the same name by Tim Crothers. 

Rating: 3/4

            In many ways, Queen of Katwe hails from a long tradition of dime-a-dozen biopic pics, a story of a person with a prodigal talent who, through a combination of smart mentorship and good luck, rises out of obscurity (and often depravation to boot) to gain the sort of fame and fortune they otherwise could only have dreamed of.  This particular film never really rises above the kind of storytelling formula this entails, which does hold it back from being genuinely groundbreaking.  However, it is anchored by so many powerful and indelibly charming performances by its sprawling cast that it still holds its own, and makes for an extremely compelling watch. 

            Our setting is the small (and extremely poor) Ugandan village of Katwe, where a single mother, Harriet, (played by legend-to-be Lupita Nyong’o), fights tooth and nail to clothe, feed, and raise her four surviving children following the death of their father and another child.  It’s a living that demands endless resourcefulness and a tough hide, especially with the oldest daughter, Night, being courted by the sort of man Harriet refers to with contempt as a “hyena.”  Their days mostly consist of selling corn in the marketplace, with all members of the family taking part, but the middle children, Phiona and Theo, are soon distracted from their usual tasks when they are drawn to a local chess club organized by Robert (David Oyelowo), an aspiring engineer forced to make ends meet for his young family by working for a local ministry in youth outreach. 

            While hardly a master of the game himself, he quickly realizes he has a potential prodigy on his hands in Phiona, who learns the ins and outs of the game very rapidly despite having no formal education of any kind.  He soon starts pushing more and more for her and her fellow chess players (most of whom, not just Phiona, are indeed extremely talented) to attend various national and even international tournaments, and this quiet, unassuming, soft-spoken girl from a forgotten corner of Uganda soon becomes a beloved icon in her hometown and indeed throughout her country when she begins to win a number of prestigious awards. 

            A big strength for this film, especially in light of certain recurring tendencies in Western cinema, is that no white savior to be found.  This is a movie by and about Africans, and while that may seem like something rather sad to make a point out of in the 21st century, I couldn’t help but feel a certain relief when this struck me.  By preventing any distracting focus on white vs black racism, the movie is able to focus its nuances on more subtle differences within many African communities, especially between the more wealthy, cosmopolitan cities and the slums; some of the boys first agree to join the club only after Robert dangles the prospect of them getting the chance to show up “those city boys.” 

            Indeed, the movie never really does go for an overarching “message,” but its undertones about how mutual dislike and stereotyping- of ALL sorts- can affect relationships and hold people back from being their best selves.  One of the film’s most powerful moments occurs when, on their way to their first big tournament, the children first see King’s College.  Despite it being just a short drive from their village, it may as well be another planet for how strange, new, and alien it is to them. 

            There are many aspects of the narrative that don’t work- the beginning is very choppy and it takes a while to establish who is who, and what their relationships to each other are- and while there is some second-act examination of how burgeoning stardom starts to go to Phiona’s head, it’s never really developed in a way that’s more than perfunctory.  Nonetheless, Madina Nalwanga is a revelation in the title role, and she is more than adequately backed up by powerhouses David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o (both as remarkable as always) as the adults with the most influence over her life.  Lupita’s ability to convey the acute pains of a loving (yet demanding!) parent forced to face the limits of her ability to teach her child, and the need to, eventually, allow her to find her own way, is sweet and poignant and heartbreaking all at once, often captured in a mere glance.  I’ve missed seeing her on the big screen so, so much.  
            Much to its credit, Queen of Katwe avoids going for soaring music, loud oratory, or big, overblown emotional scenes with its characters to get its remarkable story across.  It relies on the immense talent of its cast and their ability to reveal the human spirit that ebbs and flows and thrives even in the midst of despair, and that is always ready to peak out and shine when given the right opportunity.  It is, above else, heartwarming and inspirational, which is all it ever needed to be. 

-Noah Franc