Mala’s Best of 2017 Pop Culture Round-Up

2017 was a year where I really needed the escape into pop culture. I buried myself in books and TV as much as possible (gee, I wonder why?) — but it didn’t always work out! I tried and then tapped out of The CW’s Riverdale. Despite all of the X-Men connections, something about The Gifted on FOX just puts me to sleep. I bailed on Showtime’s highly anticipated revival of Twin Peaks after four episodes. There’s only so much self-indulgence and [ominous whooshing] a gal can take (and I don’t buy the ’18-hour movie’ defense). I changed cable packages and lost access to OWN, so I’m behind on Queen Sugar. Plus, I had to put one of my favorite soaps — The Bold and the Beautiful — on pause because it stopped being fun to watch.

But, thankfully, there was still more than enough media to keep me engaged! Check out my faves and raves.

Favorite Books
White Hot by Ilona Andrews
Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop
Stillhouse Lake and Killman Creek by Rachel Caine
An Unnatural Vice by KJ Charles
An Extraordinary Union and A Hope Divided by Alyssa Cole
Take the Lead by Alexis Daria
Girl on the Verge by Pintip Dunn
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
Hate To Want You by Alisha Rai
The Red by Tiffany Reisz
American Prince by Sierra Simone
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Favorite Shows
Days of our Lives (NBC)
The Exorcist (FOX)
The Get Down (canceled by Netflix)
Good Behavior (TNT)
The Good Place (NBC)
The Originals (The CW)
The Punisher (Netflix)
Underground (canceled by those assholes at WGN)
Wynonna Earp (SyFy)

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Rock On 2 Is Just One Guy Getting His Rocks Off

Rock On!! is one of my favorite Bollywood films of all time, so when I heard a sequel was in the works I was thrilled. That elation turned to horror as I found myself watching 2016’s Rock On 2 on a cross-country flight. A piece of self-indulgent, masturbatory rot that nearly destroyed all of the warm fuzzies the first film instilled in me, Rock On 2 is glorified fan fiction, centering Farhan Akhtar’s character, Aditya Shroff, as an anguished, self-involved hero figure. Gone is the relatable human Adi from the first film, who sacrifices music to become a corporate drone and must find his way back to his dreams and his friends. In his place is a guy with so much manufactured manpain that he can’t be bothered to pay attention to his wife and child. Instead, he has to go work in a remote village in the far northeastern state of Meghalaya to atone for his perceived sins. Why is a businessman/rock musician opening schools and farm cooperatives and neglecting to wash his hair? Beats the hell out of me.

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Aladdin’s Casting Isn’t One Jump Ahead—It’s Steps Behind

Earlier this month, Disney announced the cast of their upcoming live-action Aladdin: Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Jasmine, with previously announced Will Smith as Genie. We need a lamp and a genie of our own to wish this travesty away.

When I was a kid, the only Barbies I had were the Hawaiian one and the random Asian one that came wearing leopard print and had some sort of sidekick animal. Because those were the Barbies that looked the most like me. Keychains with my name on it…? Forget about it. As for movies…? Well, my parents took me to Octopussy and Gandhi because they took place in India. Yes, reader, that was the option available to me. Enter 1992’s Aladdin. Enter 1998’s Mulan. Two films with strong women, strong people of color and strong love stories. made exclusively for kids! Sure, they weren’t Indian stories — and both are stacked to the gills with painful racial and religious stereotypes — but for me at the time they were close enough.

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Dirty Dancing’s Johnny and Baby Last Forever (Fight Me!)

Baby and Johnny live happily ever after. Sure, it’s easy to write off the events of 1987’s beloved Dirty Dancing as a beautiful summer fling set to a kickass 1960s soundtrack — most people do — but I’m here to tell you that they make it. They survive past the credits and the last strains of “The Time of My Life.”

The basic plot of the movie involves a privileged, sheltered, college-bound girl, played by Jennifer Grey, falling for Patrick Swayze’s blue-collar dance instructor. But like so many romance novels we’ve devoured and loved, the emotional core is that they connect despite their differences — and they admire each other because of them. I’ve read summaries that describe Johnny as the worldly one in the relationship — and maybe he is sexually, but in all other ways…? Baby holds the power. Yes, she’s wealthy and educated, but she’s also fearless and brave and strong in her convictions. She goes after what she wants — and who she wants. That floors Johnny. Ultimately, he’s the one seduced, not her.

Johnny: “I’ve never known anyone like you. You think you can make the world better. Somebody’s lost, you find them. Somebody’s bleeding—”

Baby: “I go get my daddy. That’s really brave, like you said.”

Johnny: “That took a lot of guts to go to him! You are not scared of anything.”

Baby learns to dance so that Penny can keep her job. She goes to her father for medical help when Penny’s back-alley abortion goes wrong. She faces down her family and the Kellermans to exonerate Johnny when he’s accused of stealing from guests. Why wouldn’t she fight for an HEA with that exact same passion?

Baby: “I hurt my family, you lost your job anyway — I did it for nothing!”

Johnny: “No, not for nothing. Nobody has ever done anything like that for me before.”

Baby: “You were right. You can’t win no matter what you do.”

Johnny: “Listen to me. I don’t want to hear that from you. You can.”

And I believe she does. Past the summer. Into fall at Mount Holyoke. Baby keeps winning — with Johnny by her side. There is nothing to suggest otherwise. In Baby’s opening voiceover, she notes that she met Johnny “before President Kennedy was shot, before the Beatles came.” Who’s to say they didn’t experience those milestones together? That they weren’t huddled in front of the TV together, stunned and clutching hands, as Walter Cronkite interrupted As the World Turns? Who’s to say they didn’t dance to “Something” at their wedding?

Let’s face it, we’ve taken bigger leaps in fiction — and in life. Opposites attracting and then making a marriage work isn’t a huge hop. And, of course, there’s fanfic that covers all those pesky little skips and jumps that end with Johnny and Baby as a long-term couple. Here are a few that stand out:

A Real Grown-Up Name, by fairy_tale_echo. (Trigger Warning: contains an antisemitic slur.)

Through Every Open Door, by mjules

Waiting Room, by Missy

by any other name, by FreshBrains

Waiting For a Voice to Come, by Arsenic

As far I’m concerned, this is what happens after that fateful, forbidden, fantastic summer at Kellerman’s: They make it. They survive. They continue to help people in need. And they keep dancing.

(And, most importantly, they aren’t remade into a soulless, money-grab TV movie by ABC.)

 

Originally published on HeroesandHeartbreakers.com

Horror’s Best Romances—Yes, You Read that Correctly

Something author Tiffany Reisz once said has always stuck with me — that, to her, the closest genre to BDSM romance is horror. Presumably because they both involve facing and conquering fear. As a horror movie junkie, I totally acknowledge that if there’s a shippable pair thrown together against the threat — or maybe it’s the protagonist and the threat — I am all for it. Because there’s nothing like the combination of passion and terror. Everything is heightened. The stakes are astronomical. It’s not just hearts on the line — it’s lives, too.

Horror also tackles so many fascinating tropes — taboo relationships, us-against-the-world, lovers-on-the-run. But, unlike most mainstream romances, horror happily exposes the creepy underbelly of those plots. Just look at 2013’s Stoker, written by Prison Breaks Wentworth Miller and gorgeously directed by Park Chan-wook. Mia Wasikowska stars as India Stoker, a young woman who develops an intense attachment to her charismatic uncle, Charlie (Matthew Goode). The incestuous elements are the least troubling bits of the film — and I could not look away! I don’t know what this says about Mia’s career choices, but she’s also in two other films I’d recommend to romance readers: 2015’s Crimson Peak and 2013’s Only Lovers Left Alive. (Both co-star Tom Hiddleston, which is a huge selling point for me). Guillermo del Toro and Jim Jarmusch’s respective aesthetics are gorgeous. Just like a good romance zeroes in on the protagonists, so does horror — to an almost claustrophobic extent. These are both films about being stuck — and, honestly, I’m never going to complain about being trapped with Tom Hiddleston, whether he’s an incestuous gold-digger or an emo vampire.

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Rogue One’s Chirrut and Baze: A Romantic Force to Be Reckoned With

This post contains spoilers for Rogue One. Proceed with caution!

Are they, or aren’t they? A lot has already been written about whether Rogue One’s Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus qualify as the Star Wars universe’s first official gay couple. Given that heterosexual romance didn’t get much traction in the film either, who’s to say, right? But what I know for damn sure is that Chirrut and Baze are love ― great, sweeping, epic, love that is the both the stuff of romance novels and that of your parents bickering at each other across the dinner table.

It’s a dynamic we’ve seen already in the Star Wars franchise ― from Han Solo and Princess Leia to C-3PO and R2-D2 (that’s a ‘shipper manifesto for another time). It’s a partnership that transcends everything else, the constant that gets you through in the trenches. And Donnie Yen’s Force-devout, Chirrut and Jiang Wen’s gruff mercenary Baze are already a rock-solid team when viewers meet them on the desert planet of Jedha. They’re the last remnants of the Guardians of the Whills ― followers of the Force but not actual Jedis. Chirrut is still a believer, and Baze has become a cynic, more trusting of his gun than what Han Solo would call “simple tricks and nonsense.” But our very first glimpse of him is as Chirrut’s backup, behind him, protective and suspicious when heroine Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) approaches them. Chirrut later notes that Baze used to be the most devoted Guardian of them all…and it’s clear that, now, he’s a devoted Guardian to just one person.

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Mala’s Best of 2016 Pop Culture Round-Up

It’s amazing how much of 2016 is a blur. I barely remember the beginning of it — what I watched, what I read. I’ve done a lot of “Wait, that happened THIS year?” as I look back on what media made an impact on me.

Winona Ryder made a jaw-dropping comeback in Netflix’s Stranger Things, and I was blown away by Millie Bobbie Brown as Eleven, but the show overall didn’t rank as one of my year-end faves. I binge-watched the first season of The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend but bailed on season two. I also gave up on Jane the Virgin season three — and I dumped several of last year’s faves: Quantico, UnREAL and The 100!

Perhaps the most blasphemous development of all: I totally forgot The X-Files came back this year! The revival was so underwhelming and half-assed, with Gillian Anderson the only bright spot, that all my years of fannish nostalgia couldn’t save it.

Here’s a look back at my 2016!

Favorite Books
Marked in Flesh by Anne Bishop
A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev
Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins
The Edge of the Blade by Jeffe Kennedy
Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
Hold Me by Courtney Milan
The Bourbon Thief by Tiffany Reisz
Beyond Surrender by Kit Rocha
The Young Blood by Erin Satie

Favorite Shows
The Get Down (Netflix)
Daredevil (Netflix)
Jessica Jones (Netflix)
Luke Cage (Netflix)
Queen Sugar (OWN)
Pitch (FOX)
Good Behavior (TNT)

Favorite Movies
Captain America: Civil War
Deadpool
Rogue One
Zootopia

Favorite Guilty Pleasures
The Exorcist (FOX)
Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party (VH1)
Peanut butter Clif bars

MVA (Most Valuable Author): Molly O’Keefe. I honestly couldn’t pick my favorite O’Keefe book of the year. She had so much great stuff come out, and I glommed it ALL. And she even got a cover shout-out in Suicide Squad!

Best TV Comeback: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The introduction of Gabriel Luna’s Ghost Rider revitalized the show after a meh third season.