Thursday, November 27, 2014

Feminism: The Argument From Pure Shit

There are lots of good reasons to engage in and discuss feminism in society, and lots of benefits to applying feminist theory to creative works. I'm going to ignore most of those reasons today and focus in on one of the less important ones: Without feminism, a lot of creative property is pure shit.

Let's take video games for a quick example. Despite the fact that video games are now more-or-less universally enjoyed by all segments of the population (especially after widening the definition of "video games" to things beyond FPS games on X-Box), and despite the fact that women are half the population all over the place and white people are only 80% of the US population, the vast majority of protagonists in video games are straight, white, 30-something males  who usually have brown hair and some sort of facial hair. Personality-wise, these schmucks are usually all the same as well: Batman-esque brooding and grit. Aside from the personality thing, this actually perfectly describes me, but I still get bored of seeing the same fucking character in every video game I see. Maybe you disagree that women are not in a position equal to men in American society. Fine, whatever. But I find it hard to believe that anybody who claims to love video games wouldn't want to improve on that by asking for a bit of variety in their characters every once in a while.

Like I said, that's a quick example, and honestly, low-hanging fruit. Everyone knows that video game protagonists are all the same, and hopefully we can all agree that it's boring as shit. How about comic book art though? This gets a little bit harder to see, but I recently read Spider-Woman #1 by Hopeless and Land, and it shows how shitty, sexist art can and will ruin a good book.

There are four things I should acknowledge before we dig in:
1) I like Dennis Hopeless's writing, and I've liked it for quite a while. You can take that however you want to mean it: either I was eager to like this book regardless of the contents and was therefore easier to please than most, or that I'm a Hopeless fanboy who gets upset when his work gets "ruined".

2) I'm still embarrassed that I read comics. One of the ways that I like to judge whether a comic is "good" or not is how ashamed I would be if one of my coworkers caught me reading it. If I can hold up a copy of Scott Pilgrim or Blankets or Pride of Baghdad without embarrassment -- and I can -- then I would qualify that as a "good" comic. You start throwing sophomoric bullshit on the page like women with impossibly sexy bodies in revealing clothing and I sure as fuck don't want my work colleagues seeing me with that.

3) Yes, suspension of disbelief is a real thing, even in comic books. If you're watching a movie and you get reminded that you're watching a movie, somebody somewhere fucked up. It's easy to break the suspension disbelief in film, and really, really hard to do so in comics. Their ridiculous nature makes it easy to believe just about anything, and that's a good thing. (I just read a story about a giant lion with a sword fighting superman and a group of sentient insects and I loved it. Only just this second did I realize how weird that is.) However, if I have to stop reading and ask "huh?" or more eloquently "huh what?" my experience is ruined. If you're the type of person who has a swimsuit model poster on your wall or a Victoria's Secret catalog under your bed, you might not stop and think about what you're looking at if it's sexy enough to distract you.

4) Spider-Woman #1 is not the worst example of sexist, shitty art in the world, nor is it even Greg Land's worst art (Examples below.) Land is somewhat restrained here, and having not gone full-retard, I have to give him credit for that. Good job, Land.

Alright, onto the art.

This strikes me as being one of the most needlessly sexy scenes. Take a look at this page and try to guess what the script said. Maybe something like "Spider-Woman kicks a guy off a bike and then steals it." What is up with the design of this bike where she has to lean allllll the way forward to use it? Who would make a bike like this? By the way, I didn't leave anything out here, the first appearance of this floating motorcycle and its driver is that picture of his foot and the bottom of the bike. Then he's kicked off (somehow. I don't fucking understand the motions involved there one bit.) and you see Spider-Woman with her ass as far out as it can go, in all its back-pain glory. Do you know why you never see the male driver? Because that would look even more fucking ridiculous than Spider-Woman doing it. Do you see what I mean about suspension of disbelief? Who can look at that and not think about how weird and unnecessary it is?

I don't understand this kick.

This scene was, I guess, designed to show off Cindy Moon's ass and legs, but I have no idea how this position can result in physically harming anyone. Can you? I guess she came from the left side of the panel, with her left leg held out and that...hurts people? I don't understand, Land.

Same problem here. If you're not familiar with this character (which is fine, she's brand new) let me quickly explain that she has the exact same powers as Spider-Man. That said, what is the pink shit emerging from her hands? Land drew her diving into this robot VAGINA FIRST LIKE A BADASS because I guess that's kinda hot, but then forget to include an actual attack here. She's either webbing up the robot's face, or pulling something out, or punched it so hard it turned to strawberry quik.

Credit given where credit is due. This issue features several important characters, but besides Cindy, they all wear masks. I'm not sure whose idea this was or if it was even intentional, but think about it: If everyone but one character is wearing a mask, to whom do you relate to the most? It's naturally going to Cindy, and that's great. She even keeps her scarf off her face unlike how she normally does for this comic, and that's cool. And, in defense of the writing here, her and Peter Parker have some sort of special bond that makes them want to constantly bone each other. (Because Comics!) The problem here is not with the dialogue, but that face. Who makes that face? Pornstars. Pornstars make that face.

Also, I feel like I should point out that the very Asian-American Cindy Moon never once looks Asian.

Again, you have a character without a mask, who can emote all the time, but you still managed to fuck up her facial expressions. Take a look at this small section of a picture and tell me what you think Cindy's feeling right now. What is she about to do? When I see this, I can't help but think she's looking longingly into someone's eyes, maybe even ready to kiss somebody with those pouty-ass lips of hers. Now look at the whole panel:

Oh, she's getting scolded. She is in the middle of getting yelled at, and I guess that turns her on? Whatever you're into, Cindy, but I think that doesn't make a lick of sense.

I call this picture TITS-A-HANGIN.

Seriously, who asks questions like that? With their elbows touching behind their back and leaning past a 45-degree angle forward? Why would you do that unless you wanted your boobies to flop around? Is this becoming clear yet? Greg Land sat at a desk, his own dick firmly in hand, and drew a young lady with super big boobies leaning forward because he likes that sort of thing, regardless of the fact that no human being would ever do that.

Alright, I think you guys get it by now. Does that face look like panic or surprise to you? Does that face look like something someone would ever do? I even tried this myself:

I mean, you get how dumb that looks, right? I don't have to explain it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Best Years of Our Lives

Classics become classics for a reason, and afterwards, what made them great gets duplicated and reproduced for years to come. There was one little movie that had a few scenes of torture porn in it that made a lot of money, and for the next fucking decade the only thing we saw were Saw sequels.

It's not worth our time to discuss whether this whole process is good or bad, but instead just accept that this is how the way movies get made. The worst part about this though, is that the classics, the movies that inspired the somewhat repetitive things you'll see for years and years, don't appear as fresh or innovative as they were when they first came out. Bart Simpson actually said it best talking about horror movies back in the 90s: The originals seem pretty tame by today's standards.

I've been slowly making my way through the IMDb Top 250 list, in an attempt to increase my general film knowledge, and I've been doing it in chronological order, in an attempt to diminish that "duplication effect" that some innovative movies create. It has had mixed results.

For example, all modern romantic comedies stem from the same movie: It Happened One Night. It stars a guy and girl, who start off the movie hating each other, but due to wacky circumstances, are forced to spend a lot of time together. In they end, they go their separate ways, only to discover that they love each other and return to each other's arms. This movie came out in 1934. 1934! And yet the formula has been reproduced for over 80 years. Again, mixed results: I'm glad I saw this movie that worked so well it has yet to go out of style, but it was also the most painful, boring watching experience that I've had in a long time. I've seen this story play out dozens of times in the modern era, usually to greater effect than this one film from the 30s could ever accomplish. The net result is that I recognize the importance of It Happened One Night, but cannot bring myself to enjoy watching it. Depending upon your own personal philosophy for watching movies, this can be counted as a success or a waste of time.

Another example of this is the films of Hitchcock, which dominate the IMDb Top 250 list for a few decades and whose films I have never enjoyed watching, save one. I can see where Hitchcock uses a specific style of shot (he usually only has one special "trick" shot per film) and I know that this was the first time this shot was ever made. For example, that "zoom in focus out" thing that you see all the time in films came from Hitchcock, so when I see it Psycho, it just doesn't have the same effect on me that it did on audiences back then.

Anyway, what I'm getting to in a roundabout sort of way is that the 1946 film, The Best Years of Our Lives somehow avoided this "duplication effect", which made for a very pleasant watching experience. It is a war movie in perhaps the best possible way, that focuses on the effects World War II had on three soldiers who all came from the same town, but didn't meet until they're sharing a trip back home. In general, the three soldiers are no longer fully acquainted with the world from which they came, and instead find more solace and comfort with each other, despite the fact that they didn't know each other until now. It's tragic, but in a light-hearted way, like watching a virgin have fun playing World of Warcraft.

This is, truthfully, the first film I've seen that is entirely about war, but doesn't show a single scene of it. The only thing that I can even compare it to in the creative realm is The Sun Also Rises, where all the characters are suffering from the results of a war never once directly described in the book. The oldest soldier here, with a wife and kids, returns home and says hi. Later on, when he stumbles across his fellow soldiers that he just met yesterday, greets them as though were lifelong friends, and really, the movie is trying to tell us that they are. The conflict posed in this movie is whether the bond of war and its effects are stronger than the bonds of family and love. After greeting his soldier buddies and drinking too much, the oldest soldier dances with his wife, and it's not quite clear whether he recognizes her or not. She may as well be a stranger at this point.

The youngest soldier isn't even a "soldier" in a strict sense of the word; he spent his time during the war below deck, repairing ships. And yet the youngest of them, with no battle experience loses both his hands and has them replaced with hooks. He starts off the movie with no remorse or shame of this fact however, in one of the best scenes in the movie: One character hands him a pen, which reveals the hook for the first time. He looks visibly shaken, but the young soldier doesn't seem to mind, putting him at ease. And then the second hook comes out for the first time, and the weight of the sacrifice this young man made becomes fully clear. After returning home, it becomes clear that the hooks don't bother him, but he knows that they bother everyone else. He knows that he's a burden, despite his fiancee constantly reassuring him that he is not. He lives under the impression that his army friends understand him, yet the love of his life does not and can not.

The final soldier became a decorated war hero during his time overseas, and yet comes home to a wife eager to go out and party all the time, with no concept of the immense amount of growing up he did during the war. He always faces no real job prospects, and in fact, is working the same job he had when he left. The people who used to work with him are now his bosses, while he's still working the same lowly position he was years ago. Not only did the war pause his life for years, it actually left him in a position worse off than if he would have stayed in his hometown making sandwiches.

While the film does eventually conclude that the bonds of family and love are stronger than the experiences of war, and that hope does exist for soldiers returning from active duty, it doesn't explicitly say what the best years of their lives actually are. The war hero's wife, understandably frustrated at being suddenly broke and married to a struggling husband, comments that she gave him the best years of her life, but I don't think that's what the title is in reference to. It may be a tongue-and-cheek reference to the time at war, that perhaps once you enter into that world, everything else fades away and you can't be anything other than a soldier. War is the only place where soldiers' lives make sense, and these years are therefore the best they'll ever have. I tend to think the answer is more optimistic than this, however, as all the returning soldiers receive fairly happy endings. Perhaps the time spent directly after the war are the hardest, and the best years of their lives are the ones taking place after the movie ends.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Few Thoughts On Ferguson

It's hard to really get one completely coherent thought regarding Ferguson written down, partly because the whole ordeal hurts my heart and makes physically difficult to do so, and partly because there are so many issues at play here, there is not one single statement that can fully summarize everything. Here's a few semi-understandable things I would like to say about Ferguson:

1) The killing of Michael Brown is an absolute tragedy. No matter if you believe he was a dangerous youth, fought with the police officer, was a legitimate or lethal threat to Officer Wilson, or whatever, the fact that in one moment an actual living breathing human being's life was ended should make you sad. I don't care who you want to blame for the killing, but the fact that it happened and was completely preventable should pain you, I hope.

2) This particular incident, while completely awful, is not the issue here.  This may be what frustrates me the most about Ferguson. If we learn tomorrow that Michael Brown was a legitimate, mortal threat to Officer Wilson, and the shooting was completely justified to save his life, even if we learn without a doubt that this shooting was 100% on the level, the core issue remains. To hear about a situation such as the shooting of Michael Brown and immediate equate it with systematic abuse of black men and boys by police is a good sign that something bad is going on. I noticed a few people on social media bringing up the shooting of unarmed white men by police officers and were asking why we weren't discussing that in addition to or instead of the events in Ferguson. Why indeed? If changing one simple detail such as the color of the dead person's skin is enough to invoke a completely different emotion in some people, then that feelings warrants some sort of investigation and discussion. Why are black Americans under the impression that police officers discriminate against them and whites don't seem to feel the same? This cannot be the result of some sort of shared delusion by all black Americans, nor can it be a completely invented problem. Even if you believe that somebody is drumming up anger over this incident, the fact that it's even possible to drum up anger for such a thing is a clear sign that something is going on, and that something needs to be looked at.

I don't want to skim over this point. It's as though someone noticed smoke billowing from someone's house and suggested that it may be on fire. Even if the smoke isn't bothering anybody, it's still a good idea to make sure nobody's burning inside.

3) The decision to not indict Officer Wilson is wrong. Look, I wasn't in Ferguson, and neither were you, probably. We don't know what happened there, so we can't say whether or not Wilson is guilty. A lot of us are going into this thing with preconceived notions about what happened, including myself. That's why a trial is a good idea. Even if the result doesn't go the way you or I want it to, or believe it should go, it restores trust in the rule of law, and the idea that if a police officer shoots someone unarmed, it will at least be scrutinized, evidence will be presented, and a grand jury will decide based on that scrutiny and that evidence. To summarize, an indictment would
A) Show people, especially the citizens of Ferguson, that the killing of unarmed citizens will be duly investigated
B) Show people, especially the citizens of Ferguson, that the system can work as long as it is allowed to
C) Establish a precedent for the behavior of police officers. They do in fact have the right to shoot and even kill someone if their life or someone else's life is in danger. That is indisputable. However, it is a right that should only be employed in the most dire of circumstances. An indictment would at the very least reinforce the idea that shooting an unarmed citizen is a unique situation that cannot be glossed over very quickly.

4) He's kinda already indicted. I want to get into the current situation re: riots/protests in a second, but one of the reasons this "no indictment" business is getting people riled up is because he was already "indicted" in the public eye anyway. An indictment is not a death or jail sentence; it isn't even acknowledgement of wrongdoing. The only thing it is is an accusation. Whether that accusation is correct or not is for someone else to decide, but I feel safe saying that Officer Wilson was accused of exercising poor judgment by shooting Michael Brown, at least. A great many people would be satisfied if all evidence presented in a trial pointed to a legitimate shooting or if the evidence was insufficient to convince a jury that Wilson was in the wrong. However, not being formally indicted after being informally accused by the public is incomprehensible for those eager to learn the truth of the situation.

5) Riots are not the answer if you believe the system works. I'm such a movie nerd that even when I'm talking about current events, my mind can't help but think about movies. In this case, I'm thinking about Mookie from Do the Right Thing, specifically the moment when he throws a trashcan through the restaurant window. When I first saw this movie, I didn't understand that decision. To this day, I still don't fully comprehend this movie and this reminds me that I will never, ever understand what it's like to be black in America. But the events in Ferguson remind me of that seen, and maybe I have at least a tiny bit of insight into Mookie's mindset now. Riots occur when lawfulness and lawlessness are equated. That is, if you believe that your lawful actions will be negatively punished as though there were unlawful actions, then a riot has no effect on your status. Conversely, if your unlawful actions are still interpreted to be lawful in whatever system your in, you're unafraid of breaking the law.

Couple examples of this: If you have a black teenager who buys Skittles and then gets killed, his lawfulness is still regarded as lawlessness. Belief in the system weakens or even fails. I remember a story from Tim Wise's White Like Me, where he recounts smoking marijuana in college. The white people would flaunt it openly while the black students were scared of getting caught. In this case, unlawful actions are the same as lawful ones for the white students, so there was no change in behavior. Perhaps I'm oversimplifying here quite a bit, but I'm pretty sure people who have a strong belief that the system works for them will be hesitant to tarnish their legal records.

6) Comments about rioters justify the anger rioters feel. Black citizens of the US are feeling like less than people right now. People who deride them as "savages" or "just looking for an excuse to steal" are helping to reinforce a terrible, terrible idea. Do you believe that these riots are unjustified? Well then say that instead of dropping the n-bomb, because if you do, you're just making it worse.

 7) Please don't hurt anyone or anything. The death of a single person is a tragedy. The death of another person because of that is a tragedy greater than the sum of its parts. I know, I know. The system is broken, and I can't tell you not to be angry about that, and I can't tell you to do nothing, and I can't even tell you not to walk out onto the streets and express that anger. All I can do is sit here and hope that nobody dies.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Babadook - Part One

Let's talk about dicks.

The Babadook is a great little Australian film, and I suppose if you were so inclined, you could call it a horror movie. I'll get into what kind of film it is later, but first, I really want to get into these dicks.

To understand the dick factor in this movie, you need to know a bit of the plot. There is a woman named Amelia whose husband dies in a car crash on the way to the hospital to deliver her firstborn child, Samuel. The movie begins 6 or 7 years after the simultaneous death/birthday, and Samuel is a weird-ass kid, prone to make weapons to defend himself and his mother against monsters and cannot sleep without being read a bedtime story. Amelia's not really handling the whole thing too well, and then some horror stuff happens and then it ends.

I want to preface what I'm about to say by pointing out that I don't think anything super icky is going on between the mother and the son, but there is definitely a lot of imagery and scripting to suggest that the son who entered into the world on the same day the father left is partly trying to fill a void left behind. "Fill a void"...did I really just write that? I meant "plug a hole". No, wait, that's much worse. You get what I'm trying to say. Onto the dicks!

First off, there is a lot of evidence suggesting that Samuel is or wants to fulfill the "father/husband" role that is absent in Amelia's life. For one, since the movie focuses a lot on Samuel's inability to sleep at night without a story being read to him, roughly half the time he and his mother are on screen together, they're in bed. "Well, yeah, she's a mother reading a story to her young child. Nothing weird there." Yes, you're absolutely right, but please remember movies are not life. This film was intentionally made to have these two characters interact primarily atop a bed together at night, and that happened for no reason other than someone wrote it down. After reading the story, the pair always sleep in the same bed. Again, not that unusual to happen in real and definitely definitely  doesn't mean that something weird is going on, but in a movie, that becomes significant.

Then, you have the weapons, which are not only shaped like dicks, but according to the creator himself, were designed to protect his mother. Granted, this can be written off as being the delusions of a child, but it is awfully interesting that Samuel continuously states their purpose in this way. You would think a more child-like approach to the matter of monsters would be for the 1st grader to suggest that his mother be protecting him.

There are a number of interactions that seem a touch off as well. Towards the beginning of the movie, the mother is kneeling on the floor with Samuel standing in front of her, looking into her eyes. He then reaches out, strokes her cheek with one hand, and then they embrace tightly. Again, kids being kids and all that, but I dare you to try this with your mother and see how she reacts.

Once the troubles begin starting, mother and son are in separate rooms. Samuel is discovering that there is a monster in his closet, and Amelia is masturbating with a dildo-shaped object. At the moment of or perhaps right before climaxes (but who can tell? Amiright fellas?) the son bursts into the room and jumps onto the bed. On one level, this is might to show the extreme frustration at raising this child, that Amelia can't even get her rocks off because she has to take care of him 24/7. On another level though, it is interesting that the decision was made to have her masturbating instead of literally anything else. She could have been doing a crossword puzzle or reading a book. Hell, she could have been making a city out of legos or playing X-Box. But no, someone made the decision that she was jerking it. Movies are not real life.

Finally, I want to point to some promotional material that is based on a scene in the movie:

Let's play a little game I like to call Spot the Penis. Can you see the penis in the picture above? Trick question because there's like a billion penises in that one shot.

Ignoring the stairwell for a moment, take a look at that violin, with its long, sleek, sexy neck. Without seeing the movie, you may wonder if the violin has a special significance, like maybe she's a musician or the instrument belonged to her dead husband. Nope. I just watched this movie less than a week ago and the significance of the violin is never addressed. As an afterthought, I assume that it did belong to the dead husband, but that's not the important part. She grabs this thing when she gets frightened. She grabs it and clutches onto it in the manner you see above. Think I'm reading too much into things? Maybe, but imagine that instead of a mother here, you had a father, a scared father that grabs onto a big ole phallus with both hands when he gets scared. Try to make your brain imagine that.

This is only aspect of this film, and it's not even a big part of it. There's a lot more to this amazing movie than just dicks.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


I wanted to finish up talking about Interstellar today, with spoilers. If you want to read my initial, spoiler-free thoughts, they happened yesterday. Not only does this contain spoilers, but I think you may not even enjoy this posting unless you've already seen the movie.

I had a chance to let Interstellar weigh on my mind a bit, and I'm left with one question: How bad does a flaw have to be before it overshadows everything good in a movie? Interstellar is unfortunately cursed with three big flaws, but either they're not bad enough to ruin the movie for me or the rest of the movie is good enough for me to ignore it. I'm not sure which.

The first major flaw comes from Anne Hathaway's character when she starts talking about love as a quantifiable thing. That there is actually some sort of love force acting throughout the universe. I was hoping that when she started talking like this that it was a sign that she was going crazy, being stuck in space for so long. Sadly no. When Cooper ends up in the black hole, somehow his love energy is able to contact his daughter in the past. This sucks for two reasons. One, because the movie had built up a lot of hard science in its story, and the inclusion of something purely fucking magical ruined all of it. And two, because, c'mon. The power of love saved the world? How lame is that?

The second flaw came in the form of the idiot ball. Towards the end, a lot of tension is created by having Dr. Man go crazy and try to kill Cooper just to stay alive a little bit longer. This part of the plot was awful for so many reasons. First, having your plot advance because someone is acting stupidly is not lazy, but boring to watch. The movie was exciting when the characters were all acting rationally and facing impossible odds, but when it turns into "fight the crazy guy" it just comes off as dull. Second, Dr. Man knows that nobody is coming to get him. He is in the room when they discover that "Plan A" does not exist. He should understand that the only way to stay alive is either to go back to Earth, like Cooper says he's going to do, or go on to the next planet with the other two scientists. He gains nothing from trying to kill these three people.

The final flaw is the last twenty minutes of the film, where everything is tied up neatly with a bow. I'm wondering why Nolan missed that one of the great things about Inception was the ending, and why all of his movie since then had the ending spelled out too clearly and too neatly for the audience. Really, if The Dark Knight Rises would have ended without seeing Bruce Wayne alive and well, and instead just revealed that he fixed the autopilot issue, it would have been nice and open-ended and not ruined. If this movie would have ended with Cooper falling into the black hole, it would have been perfect.

To expand on this, imagine what the film would look like. We know that if Murphy can receive information from inside the black hole, she can save humanity. We believe that to be true, even if we don't know it. If they drop Tars into the black hole, and he transmits data, that's enough for the audience to connect the dots that humanity is probably okie-dokie. We know that the "ghost" appears in Murphy's room when she's a child, and we also know that the key to the work that she's been doing lies in the revelation that time is mutable. Also, just from knowing that this film is about time and space, and that the final message from the bookshelf is "STAY", I think your average moviegoer was not surprised that it was Cooper himself sending the messages back in time. Why not let the audience assume this after the credits roll? Or, leave the mystery of the five-dimensional beings even more open-ended and debatable?

The ending also upsets me because it seems proof that Nolan is afraid to pull the trigger on his own ideas. The same thing happened in the Batman trilogy, where throughout the franchise we are told that symbols are more important than individuals, and that people can be corrupted and it's better to die a hero. And yet the individual is given a place of importance at the end of Dark Knight Rises, and left alive. The same thing happens here where the audience is repeatedly told that humanity should disregard its selfish instincts and instead act for the greater good. Cooper does this by diving into a black hole, so Brand can carry on the mission and repopulate the human species on a new planet. Through his sacrifice he transcends his human nature for the sake of humanity. He becomes more than a man or Dr. Man. By giving this character his own desire at the end -- no matter how noble and touching it may be -- he is once more brought down to being a simple human. His courage deserved more than that.

And yet...I still don't hate this movie. There's enough good ideas here that it makes me forget the flaws, and I can still recommend it. Weird, huh?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Interstellar - First Impressions

So, I just got back from the theater, and I wanted to jot down a few initial impressions about Interstellar before I dive into the real meat of the plot. It is definitely Nolan-esque in its scripting and in the way that plot and time moves, so it needs a close look before being able to dissect it. It also needs to be spoiler-filled, so I wanted to get in a few spoiler-free words in first. Also, at some point, I need to bring in The Dark Knight Rises into this. I'll explain later.

First of all, you should see this movie. I walked out of the theater with my friend, we concluded that it was Nolan's third best movie to date. (First and Second being The Dark Knight and Inception, although I personally have no idea which one of those is actually first.) In other words, this movie didn't exactly floor me, but I think it can easily be said to better than most movies I've seen.

I consider myself to be a pretty big of Nolan movies, and so hearing this movie was about space travel, I thought it would stand out as being way too different from his other movies. Before today, if you would have asked me what Nolan's wheelhouse is, I would have told you "crime". However, I think this places him so squarely and so comfortably in the science fiction, that I may have to take a second look at some of his other movies.

Speaking of his other movies, Interstellar is something of a mishmash of themes Nolan has touched upon in other films. You might be able to go through this movie and point out the Dark Knight section or the Inception section. With so many themes at play -- and don't get me wrong, all of them executed well -- it's really sad to know that this isn't his masterpiece. That is, after drawing in influences from all his other works, you would think this film would be better than all of them individually. Like I said, you should go see it, and it's better than most films, but this is not Nolan's masterwork.

I was lucky enough to see it on film, having the option of seeing it on digital, in imax and in 4D. Of course, I haven't seen the other formats yet, but I'm glad I saw this on film. The special effects in this film are very stunning at times...

"You rang?" -Black Hole

...but Nolan always has been a practical effects type of guy. I can see the argument for watching the movie in imax and even in 4D, as there are some scenes that would have been a lot of fun to see in those formats. However, at the end of the day, this movie isn't about effects or even action sequences. The grittier format of film lent itself to the understand that this movie was a story more about reality than it was fantasy, and more about people than shit blowing up. The asshole sitting next to me couldn't sit still throughout the film because he was waiting for lasers or something dumb, and a few people in the audience complained that the movie was "too difficult" after the screening, so I just want to make sure this clear: This movie is about people talking and having emotions and junk. There are no space lasers.

There are robots though. And the robots are great.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Good, The Bad and the Weird

I'm sure I must have mentioned this before, but I'm certain that the absolute worst grade for anything to get is a B+, where it's almost really great, but due to a few certain flaws, gets completely ruined. I would rather watch a completely incompetent movie than a movie with a lot of great ideas with poor execution, like The Good, The Bad and The Weird.

The Good, The Bad and The Weird was directed by one of my favorite Korean directors, Kim Tae-woon, and is steeped both in the cowboy culture for which it was named after and early 20th century Korean culture. The director actually has a prominent place in my own personal history, because it was after watching A Tale of Two Sisters in the states sometime in the winter of 2008, I decided that Korea seemed like a cool place to go, and I've spent the better part of a decade here since then. So, needless to say, I had somewhat high expectations for this.

One of the things that I think should be highly valued in movies is "world-building". By that, I mean that whenever you make a movie, if it contains only horrific things, then it creates a world where only horrific things exist. This is one of the reasons that I argue that Se7en is one of the greatest films ever made: Fincher creates an entire world of sickening crime. If there are pretty things in that world, we never get to see them, and they therefore don't even exist.

The world that The Good, The Bad and The Weird creates is pretty great, combining the grit and dirt of a traditional western with the culture of Korea at the turn of the 20th century, which itself was a mix of several different cultures at the time. It is a world that I wish I could spend more time in, and if there's ever a similar movie, I would be sure to see it.

But there never will be another Korean movie similar to this one, because of the way Korean audiences are. For one, the trend in Korean movies, especially lately is more towards gritty crime movies, and there seems to be no love for the fun, shoot-em-up, tongue-in-cheek style of this film. The creators of this film (and, I hesitant to blame Kim Tae-woon for these problems) decided to also propagandize it a bit, which is also a trend in Korean movies. Towards the end, the Japanese army makes an appearance that comes entirely out of left field, simply to make them the bad guys and watch them die by the dozens in an extended action scene that carries positively zero emotional weight to it unless you just naturally hate Japanese people.

It was really frustrating to see the movie take a turn like that, partly because it was the final nail in the coffin of a script that had a lot of problems with pacing and plot, and partly because it started out so. good. Taking a look at some of the character designs, you can see that there was certainly some coolness to this movie, and if you couple that with a fast pacing and a prevailing sense of distrust between every character, it's easy to see why this film had potential. Sadly, it just peters out into nationalistic garbage about how Korea is because something something.

1) Well made? - Aside from a failure of a script, the sets and character designs are superb
2) Contributed?  - Had this movie succeeded in either America or Korea, we could be talking about the start of a new genre with this film. It just wasn't good to warrant copycats or sequels though.
3) Good time? - For about 75% of the time I love this film
4) Watch again? - Definitely not
5) Worth it?  - Also no. I think you can feel safe skipping this
6) Who should watch this? - If you're a fan of Kim Tae-woon, you may consider watching this, but know that it's not one of his best. If you're interested in Korean movies, I can certainly recommend worse movies, but there are so many other good Korean movies out there, even then it's not even really worth your time.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

To be honest, I really hate talking about or writing about "classic" movies.

First of all, it's not really fair to watch a movie made decades (or almost a full century) ago and expect it to have the same effect on me as it did when audiences first saw it. This is 90% of the problem I had when watching Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

The movie is fine. It's fine. It tells the story of two aging movie star sisters, one of whom was famous at a young age, turning her into an absolute monster, and the other famous in her 20s, keeping her relatively grounded. The one who peaked early (the aforementioned "Baby Jane") starts slipping into madness and eventually traps her now paraplegic sister in her room to torture her.

Part of the reason that I think this movie had such an impact back in the 60s when it came out was because the leading actresses actually were faded movie stars. That is still interesting today, but it doesn't carry the same weight as someone in the 60s watching who might actually be familiar with the actresses's prior work. I imagine I would be at least a little bit intrigued if someone like, Macaulay Culkin made a movie about a former child star doing a fuckton of cocaine or something. However, again, I just can't get the same effect that someone who saw this movie in the 60s got.

Part of the problem with the time difference between then and now is the shock factor of it. I wrote "torture" two paragraphs up, but that barely describes what happens in this movie. The crazy sister kills the paraplegic's sister's bird and puts it on a plate. Then doesn't make and serve her breakfast. This is the torture in the movie. It's not really traumatic in any sense of the word. Part of the reason for this is that I don't think it's meant to be a horrifying type of torture, and part of it is that, having been born in the 80s and lived through (living through?) the torture porn era, there's not much here to make me worry about this old lady.

The other thing when discussing classic movies is that you always have be conscious of the fact that without films like this, even if they don't hold up today, directly contributed to other films that have come out recently. Without this movie, a whole string of horror movies would never have existed. That doesn't mean the movie is still good, but it does mean that it holds a place in film history.

In all, that means this movie only appeals to people studying the art of film. If you're looking for a horror movie or a good way to spend a Friday night, this isn't terrible; but there are a lot of other movies I would recommend you watch before getting to this one.

1) Well made? - Shot well, lit well, and the two lead actresses acted the hell out of this.
2) Contributed?  - Without this movie, the entire horror landscape would be changed for the worse
3) Good time? - Sadly, no. I couldn't get creeped out by the crazy sister, and I couldn't get over how dumb some of the people in this movie act
4) Watch again? - I can almost guarantee that I won't
5) Worth it?  - For me, it did shed some light on more recent horror movies, but if you're not reviewing films on the internet or trying to watch every movie on the IMDb 250 list, you can skip this easily
6) Who should watch this? - Anyone wanting to educate themselves on horror movies of the past or wanting to examine the origins of psychological horror films

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I try not to get too personal with my movie reviews, partly because I don't imagine that many people care about me personally, but mainly because I think a movie critique should be as objective as possible. I can't maintain that position when I talk about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

For the past year now, I've been studying diplomacy at the post-graduate level, and it's interesting to compare my thoughts on things like world peace (not a punchline) with my thoughts on them now. For example, for a long while I thought that if wealthy nations just set aside a little bit of their vast resources and gave them to poorer countries, poverty would be eliminated. Dipping a bit into macroeconomics shows us that this is sadly incorrect, and it takes a bit more than throwing money at a situation to solve it.

Studying this for the past year, it's been easy to get discouraged hearing about some of the tragedies in world history. It makes me want to go back in time, shake a few people by the shoulders and yell, "Cut it the fuck out, asshole. Can't you see people are dying?" But I know that this would be useless, partly because my weak arms are not fit for the task of shaking anything, and partly because I know the circumstances that lead up to these tragedies, and how complicatedly difficult it would be to avert them, how dangerous mob-rule and in-crowd thinking can be, and how outstandingly complex a simple discussion of peace can be.

Watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is like watching a car crash in slow motion for a couple of hours, except instead of a carful of people, you're watching two societies crash into each other. You almost can't even blame the antagonists in this movie, as they have well-justified ideas in their head about the enemy society, and only want what's best for their own people. I see this all the time throughout history, but it's the first time I think it's ever been shown in film.

It's tragic to watch Caesar and Malcom attempt to alter the seemingly inevitable fate of their two worlds. Although the ends seem unfairly stacked against them at every turn, and despite being two reasonable characters with enough influence to create peace, they are destined to fail. However, I don't think the movie offers us a nihilistic view of the world we live in. There was a chain of events that led to war, but had everyone stopped at just one of those links in the chain, tragedy might have been avoided. Instead of suggesting that we give in to our animal nature, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes suggest with a dire warning that we stop on our chain links and take a deep breath.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Gone Girl

I was really hesitant to say anything about this movie for three good reasons. One, spoilers. This movie is just spoilers and spoilers. I'm pretty sure I expressed my thoughts on spoilers before, in that if I mention that there are spoilers, even without saying what they are, I have already essentially spoiled the movie. (Because you're expecting a twist, you see? So that's the only thing you focus on and chances are, you're not surprised by any of it.) However, it's good and almost necessary to mention that this movie is full of spoilers because you are made to distrust every bit of information that comes your way, all the way through to the end. Not only does this distrust work for the movie, I would argue that personal distrust and especially distrust of the media is the backbone of this movie.

Number two, I feel like I can't add much to the discussion of the movie that hasn't already occurred with people more talented than I am. (Here, here, and here.) In short: The performances, amazing. The music, awesome all the time. The script, a little nonsensical but forgivable. Tyler Perry, surprising really fucking good.

Finally, I'm a little bit torn on how I feel about it. The movie itself, judged as a movie, is A+. The movie's portrayal of women is not great though, maybe. I'm not sure. A lot of women in this film are really terrible people, which is important, because that means that in the world that the movie resides all women are awful. Kinda. On the other hand, pretty much all the people in the movie are awful. But still, the idea that this movie reinforces some truly awful and harmful stereotypes about women is something that is hard to get over. If that is what this movie is doing. And I'm not sure that it is. Maybe, you can say that I have hazy reservations less than an actual criticism? You see why I was not eager to share my brain fart with the internet.

1) Well made? - Every shot is fucking gorgeous, and I'm convinced that Trent Reznor should be in the "background music" business all the time. Plus, this movie has some of the best performances of the actors that I have ever seen
2) Contributed?  - Sadly, I can't say that this does anything really new or innovative either with film or with the genre. Plus, it's not even David Fincher's best film
3) Good time? - I was certainly captivated for the entirety of this film's length, which is 72 hours
4) Watch again? - The length is a bit daunting, but I'm certain if I watch this again, I will notice something small that I didn't see the first time
5) Worth it?  - Yeah, I think so. Especially right now when it seems to be the best thing in theaters (at least where I live, and at least until Interstellar comes out later this week)
6) Who should watch this? - Fans of David Fincher for sure, and I know you're out there. I think this film is actually pretty appropriate for a general audience, as long as you're ok with adult themes like WITCHCRAFT. Am I saying that witchcraft is in the movie? Maybe I am.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Little Bit About Feminism

Feminism is, put into the simplest terms, actively establishing gender equality, achieved by elevating the role of women in a society. Typically this is usually fought for in the areas of media portrayal of women and gender equality in the workplace.  In a post-conflict situation, however, women and girls may be placed in a more vulnerable situation, leaving them susceptible to income disparity and economic handicaps at best, and rape, violence and forced prostitution at worst.  A post-conflict reconstruction project that keeps feminism and gender equality a priority will not only prevent human rights violations from occurring in the chaotic post-war haze, but also help establish a state that is more economically viable than those with great income disparity and more politically stable than those with inequality and a lack of female voices in government.  

            Even under relatively normal circumstances, women worldwide are subject to further physical and sexual violence and are in further danger of being trafficked or sold.  According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), over 120 million girls – representing over 10% of the global population of girls worldwide -- are forced into sexual encounters prior to adulthood.  This number is reversely correlated with GDP, and occurs more often in poorer states (“Hidden in Plain Sight” 4).  According to the International Labor Organization, over 4.275 million women are forced into sexual exploitation (“Forced Labor” 14).  Once again, this form of sexual exploitation is negatively correlated with GDP, and occurs over twice as often in poorer states as it does in developed countries (15).  Additionally, 35% of all women worldwide experience violence in some form at some point in their lives (“Violence” 2).  This number again increases as institutions and the economy weakens (16).  We see that the rate is highest in Africa (over 36%) and lowest in high income countries (17).  Finally, women are uniquely subjugated to genital mutilation, which may cause a number of dangerous effects on one’s health.  Currently, 39,000 girls each day are mutilated genitally, taking place almost entirely in poor countries (“Female Genital Mutilation” 2).  From this, it is clear that women are disproportionately targeted worldwide, but are especially vulnerable in areas that have weaker economies and less stable governments.  More alarmingly, we know that these numbers are also lower than they really are.  In the EU alone, only 13-14% of the most serious cases were reported (“Violence Against Women” 3).  It is likely that the number of cases unreported also increases with a lack of strong governments and adequate law enforcement.

            Sadly, the United Nations has not done enough with feminism or for women in the post-conflict or peace-making sectors.  As of 2011, there were no female head negotiators at United Nations sponsored peace processes, and in a study of 24 peace processes, women only served as representatives 8% of the time.  Further, in a study of 585 peace agreements, only 16% even mentioned women and 3% mentioned sexual or gender-based violence.  Also, women are given only 8% of all jobs in the post-conflict environment, leaving them economically weaker than their male counterparts (Bachelet).  Not only are women in a worse position worldwide, but it is evident that they are underrepresented in the peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction processes.  A country at its weakest point should strive to empower all of its citizens for the greater good of the country overall.  Leaving certain members of a state weaker and more vulnerable than others only worsens the economic and political environment, and starts a post-conflict reconstruction state off on the wrong foot.

Works Cited
Bachelet, Michelle. “2011 Phyllis Kossoff Policy Lecture”. 3 Mar 2011. Web. 2 Nov 2014.

“Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: What Might the Future Hold?”. UNICEF. 2014. Web. 2
Nov 2014.
“Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women: Prevalence and Health Effects
of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-Partner Sexual Violence”. World Health
Organization. 2013. Web. 2 Nov 2014.
“Hidden in Plain Sight: A Statistical Analysis of Violence Against Children”. UNICEF.
2014. Web. 2 Nov 2014.
“ILO Global Estimate of Forced Labour: Results and Methodology”. International Labour
Office. 2012. Web. 2 Nov 2014.
“Violence Against Women: an EU-wide Survey”. European Union. 2014. Web. 2 Nov 2014.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Les Diaboliques

Twist endings should be good. I know this is a contentious position, but I'm sticking by it, dammit.

There are three key components to a good twist ending. They are that it should be unexpected, and it should force the audience to reevaluate what they've just been shown, and that reevaluation should be as good as or better than what they just watched.

Take a look at the twist ending in Psycho, where we discover that the mother has been dead all along and that her son Norman has been committing murders. This is unexpected, because nobody really expected Norman to dress up like an old woman, because who the hell would expect that? This forces the audience to reevaluate what they've been shown, as every scene where the "mother" had been shown killing someone now has to be mentally replaced with a guy wearing a wig and a dress. And finally, this reevaluation makes the movie much, much creepier than just an old woman killing people, as we are shown the depth of Norman's psychosis.

An example of a bad twist ending would be The Village. Towards the end, we discover that what was thought to be a small town in the 19th century is actually part of a nature reserve in the modern era. This is unexpected (if you had no prior knowledge of the director), this causes us to reevaluate the movie, but the problem is that this reevaluation has no bearing on the story whatsoever. It is a twist without consequences.

Les Diaboliques has a twist ending that is actually somehow worse than the one in The Village, in that instead of the reevaluation being utterly useless, it is also nonsensical. In this film, a wife and a mistress team to murder a detestable husband. They lure him to a tiny village, drug and drown him, bring the body back to his place of work, and leave it in a swimming pool to be found later. After a few days of the body not being discovered, they drain the pool and find the body missing. Afterward, the wife has a nervous breakdown. One night, she sees the image of the dead husband in her bathtub, has a heart attack and dies.

The twist ending is revealed right after the she dies, when we see that the husband was alive all along, working with the mistress to scare the wife to death. This is dumb. At no point in moving the body --  wrapping it up, loading it into the car, unloading it from the car, dumping it into the pool -- did the wife see him breathe or move, nor felt his body heat. Also, this means that he somehow survived being left submerged in water, like a dead body, and didn't actually drown. And to what effect? To trick the wife into thinking the husband died so that they could scare her to death? If the original murder plan for the husband was sufficient, why not just do that to her? And this serves as a really shitty alibi for the police, who knew that the husband was missing for a few days. Sir, where have you been for the past few days? Why is your wife dead under suspicious circumstances with a clear motive on your part? Why were you sitting in a bathtub fully clothed in the same room where your wife just died? This shit doesn't make any sense.

Twist endings can be great, but they can also be really, really fucking awful.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

My Favorite Superheroes - Quicksilver

It is important that characters in a superhero comic never become overindulgent. Yes, under most circumstances, it would be amazing to have superpowers or an indestructible suit of armor or all the monies, but to just throw awesome shit onto a blank slate is not creating a character; it's creating a fantasy. This is why I'm never going to get into Batman. He is a dark, brooding character for no reason, with a bunch of money, and a handsome, genius ninja. His superhero persona is more of an escape from the overly-awesome regular life he leads.

Quicksilver, on the other hand, is living in constant pain.

Let's back up. Again, it is pretty awesome to have superpowers, but those powers have to come at a price. Quicksilver of course has super speed, but instead of this being dressed up as being totally awesome, it is a curse, and it makes him miserable.

One of the best Quicksilver scenes I ever read was him talking to a psychiatrist about how awful it is to be him, even though it really never came up in the comics before. He was always kind of a dick on the one hand, and constantly crossing the line between hero and villain. This becomes apparent in almost every "alternate reality" version of Quicksilver, where he always has a 50/50 chance of being a hero or a villain. In the newest X-Men film, he's an amoral asshole. In some TV shows, he's a total asshole and an antagonist. In some of the alternate realities, he's a bastion of hope. In others, a complete psychopath. Even in the main Marvel comic universe, he starts off as a villain, and only later becomes a hero. Even now, his attitude towards heroism is more apathetic than anything else.

But that's really nothing, there's a lot of characters who are dicks and a lot of character who play the anti-hero role, and even a lot of characters who skirt back and forth between heroism and villainy. What makes Quicksilver special is that this is a direct consequence of his powers. Going back to that conversation he had with the psychiatrist, he mentions that his life is like waiting in line at the bank. People wonder why he has such a hard time connecting with everyone, and why he's a total asshole to everyone he meets, and he explains that it's because he is spending his entire life waiting. His super speed makes it so that moving at a normal person's pace is agony for him.