In Defense of After Earth (2013)

Only straight, White men have the luxury of being lazy about watching a movie. The rest of us always seem to have to be on guard, just in case whatever White guy who wrote the movie, fucks up and traumatizes us with surprise images he didn’t give any thought to showing. Sometimes, when watching films, we have to constantly be wary of either being freshly traumatized by something on the screen,  or desperately clinging to whatever tiny nuggets are in the film, that we can apply to our lived experiences, in order for us to like it.

Not that White male reviewers are all particularly lazy, but there’s a very shallow sort of film critique that a lot of them engage in, that’s only about whether the movie is objectively good or bad, or the technical details. (And ranking movies seems to be really popular with such people, too.) There’s nothing inherently wrong with those kinds of reviews, but often people from marginalized groups require reviews that are a little more in-depth.

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White men don’t get a lot of  practice of thinking about movies through different lenses, the way marginalized people often have to do. Many of them only have one lens, because most movies are made with them in mind as the audience, so they don’t NEED to look further into a movie, in order to like or dislike it. I’m not particularly interested in  a shallow review, or in ranking things from best to worst. If the word “suck” is mentioned anywhere in their critique, I  automatically dismiss anything else they might have to say about the movie. I want more from a critique than “It sucked!”

Yes. This is yet another essay on how White male film geeks review movies which star people of color!

After Earth (2013)

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I have a real issue with how badly this movie was treated by everyone. The critics made it very clear that this was an awful film. It was not. And when this movie was released, Black people were not in the social position we’re in right now, where we could see how groundbreaking this was, (it was released just before BLM), and we were not in a position to provide pushback to the narrative that this was the worst film ever made.

No!

What it was, was a  film that was attacked with the agenda of demonizing  M. Night Shyamalan and Scientology. Will  and Jaden Smith were simply caught in the crossfire. This movie, while not a masterpiece, was vilified entirely out of proportion to its effect on the landscape. At any other time, especially any time after 2014, it would have been recognized as a middle-of-the-road, Summer blockbuster.

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After Earth can be seen through both a thematic and racial lens, as  an example of Afrofuturism. Seeing this movie through a racial lens means that I need to put on my Black filmgoers glasses, and view the movie through the historical depictions of Black people in film, and whether or not the film has any messages in it that are about racial stereotyping, or agency, for example. This movie contains these things, not because it contains overt messages about race, but because it stars Black characters, and  our mere presence in the source material is enough to make whatever we say and do a political issue.

 

In After Earth, which stars Will Smith and his son Jaden, a father and son reconcile their feelings about each other, as the son comes of age, while set against the backdrop of planetary survival. A thousand years after Earth has been abandoned, their ship crashes, and  an alien predator the ship was carrying, called the Ursa, is set loose. Will and Jaden Smith are both Black men. The movie has no White characters in it. There are spaceships, alien/human cityscapes, and futuristic weaponry. This is as much Afrofuturism as Black Panther, and there is definitely some sort of dialogue occuring between the two films, though they were released several years apart, because they both involve sons dealing with the emotional legacies of  powerful fathers.

https://drmillerjr.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/after-earth-is-afrofuturism/

Traditionally, Black people have been erased from futuristic narratives, and Afrofuturism is an attempt to center us, and our cultures, and priorities, in those narratives. Will Smith, in particular, has a long history of starring in Science fiction films like Men in Black, Enemy of the State, and I Am Legend, movies that tackle the subjects of alien immigration, dystopian state surveillance, and the apocalypse, all features of what is, traditionally, White futurism.

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After Earth has much to say about the relationships between fathers and sons, how sons want to live up (or down) their father’s legacies, and how father’s must reach out and connect with their children. Cypher Raige is a man who is cut off from his emotions because that is what has helped him to survive. In our world, it would be said that he suffers from a toxic form of masculinity, but Cypher’s ability to cut himself off from his feelings has made him one of Earth’s greatest soldiers against an alien race  that uses human fear to hunt and kill human beings. Cypher has gotten rid of fear, but in the process he’s also gotten rid of some of the  more positive emotions. He is a controlling, authoritative, and grim father figure, without much humor or warmth.

This lack of fear has made him a great Ranger, but it has made him an indifferent father to his son, Kitai, (a name which means “Hope” or “Prince of the Air”). Kitai wants not just to be like his father, follow in his footsteps, and become a great soldier, but to emotionally connect with his father. He wants desperately to know his father loves and supports him, especially after he fails his last exam to become a Ranger. He believes his father thinks he’s a failure because its what he himself believes. He is also suffering from the trauma of the death of his sister, who sacrificed her life to protect him from one of the Ursas, his guilt at being unable to save her, and his father for not being there when it happened. These are the motivations behind many of the decisions Kitai makes after he and his father crash on a long abandoned Earth, and Cypher is too injured to walk.

This set up puts the two of them in a position where they are required to rely on each other, not just physically, but emotionally. Kitai’s character arc involves learning that he is as capable a soldier as his father, and does not need to carry all these emotional burdens,  and Cypher’s character arc means having to open up to his son emotionally, and expressing how he really feels, and that that will be the only way his son can save both their lives. And all of this is an allegory about the emotional connections between Black men,  living in a White supremacist society, that is intrinsically dangerous to them, and requires that they be  hypermasculine, and emotionally cut off in order to survive it.

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Cypher Raige Everything on this planet has evolved to kill humans. Do you know where we are?

Kitai Raige No, sir.

Cypher Raige This is Earth.

Viewing a movie through a racial lens requires that I provide some historical context to my opinions. I could discuss how the American version of the performance of toxic masculinity is based on a White supremacist dominance hierarchy, that requires violent domination and oppression of non-Whites, and that to survive this oppression, Black men have have felt the need to “out man” their oppressors. To essentially be more dominant, and more manly, than the White men who established this hierarchy to keep them in their place, and that their emotional disconnect with each other is not only what is ultimately desired by this dynamic, but leads to worse oppression, because attempting to compete with White men, to be more manly, dehumanizes them, and doesn’t allow them to unite against a system created just for that purpose.

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https://oliviaacole.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/black-children-and-after-earth/

This movie had messages, moments, and dialogue,  that greatly resonated with me. The scene in which Cypher believes he has lost his son, in the same manner in which he lost his daughter, (both of them trying to win their emotionally distant, father’s approval),  was deep for me, as I suspect it was for many of  the Black men who watched it, and  who considered  their relationships with their own fathers, or their sons.

I watched After Earth several times, and it’s one of my favorite movies, which is why I was interested in why so many critics hated this movie,

 

(https://news.usc.edu/144379/usc-study-finds-film-critics-like-filmmakers-are-largely-white-and-male/)

and while there are a few legitimate criticisms that can be made about this movie, most of the criticism I saw wasn’t any different than the criticism I could lob at films with White stars. There is nothing wrong with the acting in this movie that is wrong in any of the other movies Will Smith has made, nor is there anything wrong with Will Smith making a movie with his son as the star, as he did in The Pursuit of Happyness, nor is this movie Scientology propaganda, any more than the other movies in which Smith was the star. (Will and Jada Smith have clearly, and emphatically, stated that they are not Scientologists, only sympathizers.)

I believe a lot of non-professional critics didn’t approach criticism of this movie in good faith, and I believe more than a few of them used the flaws in this movie as an excuse to express their racial resentment about the fact that there were no White men centered in this movie. There are also plenty of White people who felt some type of discomfort at not being centered, or even depicted, in the movie at all, and unwilling to attribute their discomfort to their narcissism, attributed their discomfort to the film being bad. The message of the movie, the relationship between young men and their fathers, is a universal one, (and I’m certain that many White men understood and enjoyed it, but then they’re not film critics), and it is well documented that  White audiences have always had trouble identifying with Black characters on screen.

https://www.salon.com/2016/10/05/luke-cage-and-the-racial-empathy-gap-why-do-they-talk-about-being-black-all-the-time/

https://www.indiewire.com/2014/01/why-white-people-dont-like-black-movies-162548/

https://mic.com/articles/74291/why-white-people-won-t-see-black-movies#.J55x1mpgF

 

Will Smith is an especially beloved actor, so many critics would not attack him directly, but they can get away with tossing insults at Shyamalan, and questioning his motivations for making the movie. One of the major criticisms I encountered were White critics who said the movie was a thinly veiled attempt to recruit viewers to Scientology. Why? Because Will Smith and Shyamalan are Scientologists. This is suspicious to me since none of these critics have ever given one thought to Smith being a follower of Scientology in any of his other Scifi movies.

And sometimes people will express racial resentment towards individual people that they don’t feel they can express against an entire group of people. So rather than saying “All ____ are ______.” , what they will do is vehemently call out the mistakes of individuals from those groups, in order to disguise their loathing for the entire group. The individual becomes a stand-in for racial sentiments they are reluctant, for whatever reasons, to express out loud. (And since they only ever attack individuals of that group, they never have to admit whatever phobia or -ism there is, to themselves.)

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For example, witness some of the more  interesting criticism that White male film critics have said about Captain Marvel being military propaganda, when the same could be said of nearly every other movie in the MCU, at which none of them lobbed this complaint. And one can witnesses the same dynamic play out in the Jussie Smollett case, where people tried to hide their homophobia by expressing deeply vehement criticism of him, and his circumstances.

This type of criticism is dishonest, and disingenuous, and serves to protect the critic from backlash if they state their actual reasons for not liking some film, which is really ,  “I didn’t like this movie because there were no White men in it for me to identify with.” (This is not a hard and fast rule, all the time,  because plenty of White people liked Get Out, Black Panther, and other Afro-centered movies, but it is far too common, and there are too many, who  think they’re not being racist because they liked two or three highly popular movies that starred Black actors. It’s  basically, the critical equivalent of, “I have Black friends!”

I’m not the only person to notice this type of bullshittery either:

https://heraldiccriticism.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/when-criticism-becomes-agenda-setting-in-defense-of-after-earth/

 …but when you’re trashing a film based on its star’s belief system, you’ve ceased to criticize. You’re now spearheading an agenda.

Fred Harris touched on some of my suspicions, here:

Did a perception that this is somehow a “Black film” have anything to do with its poor opening? I know that this is a question that Hollywood producers (black and white) must be asking as they prepare for a summer of Black films.

https://newsone.com/2530136/after-earth-movie-review-racism/

And if you are wondering why I haven’t brought up “The Pursuit of Happyness” just yet, which was given 4 out of 5 stars by IMDB, it’s because Jaden was cute and fuzzy back then — and it was his debut. But the moment it seems that the Smiths are actually on to something, meaning leaving a life-long legacy for their children, now all bets are off.

Now we will call Jaden’s acting with his blockbuster dad an exercise in “vanity,” now we are disgusted with the apparent nepotism that this type of pairing suggests.

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This movie was nominated for a Razzie, and was panned by almost every White male critic with a pen and an ax to grind. All of them questioned whether or not Will Smith had lost his Star power, and what that would mean for his future films. Even Bright, a film I intensely hated, wasn’t panned as badly as this movie.

Outside of my usual critical ranting, I also want to shine a light on why my opinions on a lot of movies can sometimes diverge from that of critics, what criteria I  use, what lenses  through which I can,and will, see a movie,  and how I approach watching and critiquing movies and TV shows, vs how White film critics might view movies I happen to love, and how these two ways of seeing a movie are sometimes not compatible.

This is a mindset I have had no choice but to develop though, because, as a Black woman,  I am generally not the audience  that a lot of these movies of are made for. I have had to look beyond surface issues, like whether or not it was better than some other film in a franchise, to find reasons to like movies that White people love, and sometimes I’m successful, but sometimes, I also get tired of making the effort to care, and skip the movie altogether, as I did with Ready Player One, and Back to the Future.

White men have never had to look deeper than the technical aspects of cinematography, plot, pacing, or whether or not the hero of the movie looked like them, and what that might mean if he did. For them, the movies they love don’t even need to have any meaning. When you hear them complaining about entertainment being political this is what mean. For such men, movies and TV really are not political, because they don’t need to have any deeper meaning to enjoy a movie. They can just be flatly judgmental about whether or not a movie is just “good” or “bad”, because traditionally, the movies, which are aimed at them as the audience, are supposedly universal, and  appealing  to everyone. Too many critics never go beyond the mindset of ,”I liked this movie, so naturally, everyone else must like it, and here’s why it’s so great.” I can  critique a movie from that angle but its shallow, and  “unsatisfying” for me.

It has always been my rule since I was a teenager, really, to only rely on myself to determine whether or not a movie is any good, but after examining this for some time,  I have come to the conclusion that I most definitely cannot rely on  the opinions of White men to determine if a movie is bad or good for me, or indeed, anyone, other than themselves.

I have always tried to be honest about why I did or didn’t like something. Even if I don’t know why  I feel the way I do, I’m willing to say that too, and state that, where I found nothing in the movie to intrigue me, the movie may be of interest to someone else. I will flat out state, I’m not interested in a movie because it lacks racial nuance, or because its not feminist enough, the way I did for Wonder Woman.

This is not a mindset I’ve seen, from some critics, that a movie simply might not be made for them. One of the key warning signs that you are with a bad critic, is their insistence that a movie is objectively bad or good, and that if you disagree with them, then something is wrong with you. I’ve seen far too many critics assert that, because they liked a movie, it was good, and that a movie was bad, because they didn’t like it, and then, on top of that, say that that they gave an objective review. I have hated plenty of movies that are, in fact, very good and cohesive films. But I’ve also loved plenty of movies that just aren’t great movies. Just like After Earth.

No! There’s nothing wrong with you. You are simply looking at the film through a different lens, and using different criteria than them. and you must be confident that YOU know what you like in a film.

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Side note: I do not believe in “guilty pleasures”. I am never ashamed of loving or liking  a movie, or television show. I have my reasons for why I like something, I have actually thought it through, and I’m secure enough in my tastes that I know what my reasons are, even if the only reason is that it makes me feel happy, or that it looks pretty! I may occasionally be ashamed that I didn’t catch something seriously wrong with a movie, in my zeal to praise it, but I  am generally not ashamed when I like something, or to admit that I do, nor will I feel guilty about it.

And you shouldn’t either.

As a corollary to that general rule, I refuse to shame people for their own tastes, even if I find those tastes “puzzling”… If you can explain to me in a coherent manner why you love something (even if your only explanation is it makes you happy, or its just pretty), I can get with that. Your feelings about a movie are entirely valid, and you will never hear me describe anything on this blog as a “guilty” pleasure, and I would prefer that you don’t either.

Own your feelings!

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https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/after-earth-2013

https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/in-defense-of-after-earth-the-m-night-shyamalan-movie-we-misunderstood

*Coming Soon: Why We Loved Suicide Squad and Venom, and Why They Didnt’

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In Defense of The Village

 

 

For the me, there’s more than a movie just being good or bad, whatever that means, because,  as a Black woman, I am not the audience for a lot of movies that get made, so I have to find different ways of connecting to a movie. In doing so, I  sometimes  find gems where others don’t, or end up liking  movies others are set on hating (and yeah, sometimes a movie just stinks.) On this blog, I’m not necessarily here to tell you what to like. That’s a reviewers job, and I’m not actually a reviewer, although I do reviews. I consider my job to provide a fresh perspective on a movie, a way you may not have thought of before, so that the next time you come across it on TV or Netflix, you’ll remember ,and give the movie a try, maybe see it with fresh eyes.

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I’m going to talk about two films that were hated by its critics, M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, and (in the next post) Shyamalan’s After Earth. I see value in these films that other critics don’t because they are not looking at these films through the same lens that I’m using. (Caveat: Some of them don’t have the luxury. They are film reviewers and must go see movies I can happily reject. I can pick what I want to see, so I can remain positive about a lot of movies, in a way they may not be able to.

These movies resonated with me on an emotional level, and because of that, I am reluctant to say that they are “objectively” bad or good, which is a favorite word for armchair movie reviewers on Youtube. I’m not saying movies can’t be considered bad or good, but often that those words are sometimes wrongly used to describe movies that just did or didn’t emotionally resonate with the viewer, or did or didn’t do whatever the viewer wanted the movies to do. This doesn’t always mean the movie was bad. Sometimes it just means the viewer wasn’t the audience for that movie, or just didn’t get what they wanted out of it because of the critical lens through which they watched it. I have sometimes found that a movie isn’t actually  bad, but that the reviewer had very different criteria for liking it, or viewed it through a very different lens than I did.

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For that reason, I generally avoid hate- watching movies and shows. I want to like what I see, and if I dislike something, I try to have a concrete reason behind why I didn’t. But sometimes I don’t have a reason. Sometimes, I simply wasn’t in the mood to watch it at that time, and when I come back wearing a different emotional, or critical lenses, I may enjoy it, as was the case with  the movies Ravenous,  The Descent, and My Cousin Vinny.

Sometimes, I will develop an undying hatred of a movie, such that no amount of lens polishing will allow me to enjoy it, like the movie Prometheus. This doesn’t mean that Prometheus was a bad film. It just means it was exasperating for me to watch it, and someone else might get enjoyment out of it. If you like it that’s great. If you can clearly explain to me why you do, I’ll watch it again, with your lenses on, and try to see what you saw in it. On the other hand, and as I’ve said before, just because critics hate something doesn’t mean I’m not going to like it, such was the case with Suicide Squad, and just about any movie by Zack Snyder.

I have also seen  situations where public opinion on a movie changes over a length of time. Movies that were panned when released were, in time, lauded as being the best whatever of their genre, and I have found that I’m usually correct in having loved the film at that time. As a result, I’ve gotten pretty confident about my taste in movies, (and dismissive of critics ideas about movies I happened to enjoy), because I usually get proven right, at some later date. This happened with a number of eighties films, (The Thing, and  Bladerunner, for example), that were disliked at the time, only to be considered Classics of the genre, twenty and thirty years later. (No, I didn’t hate E. T. I was indifferent to it, at the time, and still mostly am.)

 

The Village

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I love stories and characters, and movies are just another way to tell stories. I  get into a movie through its characters. I have to like them. I’m also attracted to certain types of stories, but it’s not the minutiae of the story, like pacing and technical aspects, so much as what type of story, and if it’s an appealing story to me. I tend to love GRAND ROMANTIC stories. Not stories with romance in them , but stories with huge, grand, idealized philosophies, and if I see that in the story, chances are I will probably love the movie.

And this was the case with The Village. Yes, it does have a romance in it, but it also contained wider, broader themes about the human condition, that just appealed to me personally, (because ultimately, any movie experience is deeply personal). When this movie was released, it was panned by everyone, with some people jumping on that bandwagon because they hated the director, who started his career as a media darling, but public opinion  turned on him, after a series of failed films.

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When I’m watching a movie, I’m mostly concentrating on how the movie made me FEEL. When I’m reviewing a movie, I ask myself different questions that help me evaluate what the movie means to me, what did I like in the movie, what was it about the movie that resonated with me, and why did I feel that way. From the micro, to the macro.

What is the point of the story? What is the theme of the movie?

Things can get complicated, just at this one point. According to the trailers for The Village, most of the people walking into the film expected it to be a horror movie, and they focused on the idea of monsters because that’s what the trailer told them to focus on. But the movie was not about scary monsters, and a lot of the audience walked away disappointed. Rather than accepting what was given to them, they focused on what they were not given: monsters. I wanted monsters too, because that’s what I was told would be in the movie, but finding out there was no monster was a pleasant surprise for me.

The Village is not a horror movie, in the strictest sense of the word, and apparently,  I was one of the few people who were okay with that at the time. I didn’t leave the theater upset because  I didn’t get to see monsters. Would I have liked the monsters in the movie to be real? Sure. But The Village turned out to be deeper than I expected. It had a grand, overarching, theme that resonated with me. It’s a meditation on unrequited love, grief, and loss, and I was pleased that I got that instead. If one disregards the trailer, than the movie accomplishes exactly what it set out to accomplish.

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I  try to walk into a movie viewing experience with only loose expectations, like, “What type of story is it?” and “Will this be entertaining?” Based on what I think the movie may be about, I try to go in open to anything that may happen in it, without trying to place my agenda (what I want the story to do for me) onto the movie. But I do want to feel something, while I try to keep in the forefront of my mind, what is the creator trying to tell me, what do they want me to know, and what purpose might that serve.

What I  expect, on the most basic level, is to be emotionally moved by the characters, and entertained by the plot. I’m going to go wherever the movie wants to take me, and accept whatever scenery I’m given. I don’t worry about plot holes, or pacing, or musical cues, and stuff, (although, if I notice them and like them, that’s a huge plus, like with the movie Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse). Was the movie entertaining? Did I stay engaged the entire time? Was there a point to the story? Later, I can ask myself deeper questions like why was it entertaining for me, or what was it about the movie that made it fun for me, or scary, or funny.

What you should always ask yourself is: What did the story do for you?

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The story in a movie is like being on a driving tour. That tour has a theme,  sometimes several. The driver is the storyteller, and he/she directs the action, decides where we’re going to go, and what we’ll be seeing on the tour. The characters onscreen are the other passengers on the tour, or just some people on the scene.  I like the other passengers, and  I enjoy watching them do things I didn’t expect, and see things I wouldn’t have found on my own. Sometimes the other passengers are terrifying, but it’s okay because they can’t actually hurt me.

If I think it’s a Horror movie, (if the driver has told me I’m going to be scared on my trip), I expect the journey to scare me. If I wasn’t scared, then the driver lied to me, but if I was given more than  just a scare, I consider that a bonus. That was the case with The Village. I was told (although I was not told that by M. Night Shyamalan/The Driver, himself, but a third uninvolved party, the people who made the trailer and marketed the movie), that I would be scared, and I was a little bit, but at the same time, the journey was worthwhile because of the movie’s other elements. I got something deeper, and much more unexpected, than just a scare. As I said before, I like Horror movies to have something extra, whether its romance, or comedy, or intellectual depth.

If I have been lead to believe it’s an Action movie, then I expect to see thrills, and spills. If a movie delivers on its basic foundation, but adds something extra, I can and will overlook all manner of faults, like plot points, pacing,  bad characters,  timing, or even whether or not it delivered on what I expected.This was the case with Suicide Squad, a movie critics absolutely hated, but I (and a bunch of other people) really enjoyed. Why? Because I genuinely liked the characters, who did exciting and interesting things on screen. I enjoyed their interactions with each other, and I liked a lot of the action scenes, which were just plain fun. There are a lot of perfectly legitimate criticisms of this movie, but the reason I love it is because it was a really fun trip, and other people’s problems with the movie were not enough to keep me from enjoying it.

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What is the theme of the film? What is its message?

Understanding the message of a film often requires multiple viewings. There’s the initial impression, and based on whether or not I liked my initial impression, there will be multiple viewings, which will allow for greater insight. My mind is just really, really, good at recognizing patterns. That’s all it is, and anybody can develop that skill. I do it through lots of repetition.You cannot gain greater insight into a movie with only one viewing, because the insights  are often in the details you didn’t notice that first time. If there is something  I didn’t care for in my initial impression (like all the characters being unlikable), there are unlikely to be repeat viewings.

This also ties into how my mind works as a visual artist/illustrator.  When I first watch a movie, its from a kind of  overhead viewpoint. I get into the emotions of the movie, the characters, and the overall plot. Subsequent viewings allow me to focus on the finer details. Later, I will fit those tiny details into larger and larger patterns. It’s really like putting together a puzzle. You see the finished picture on the box,  and you like it. You sort the pieces and then  put them together to create that final picture, (sometimes that final picture may be part of an even larger picture, as well.)

The messages I got from The Village were about love, sacrifice, and grief. It’s  a story about LOVE, with parallel tracks chronicling different types of love, such as romantic,unrequited, sacrificial, and possessive.. There’s the romantic type of love between Lucius and Ivy, the tragic love between their parents, Walker and Alice, and the possessive love that Noah feels for Ivy.  Ivy and Walker are examples of sacrificial love, as they are both willing to sacrifice their peace to save Lucius’ life. Ivy endangers her life for Lucius, and Walker is willing to allow Ivy to leave (and possibly lose her) because he loves Alice, Lucius’ mother.

At the beginning of the movie, Ivy’s sister declares her love for Lucius, but is rebuffed because Lucius prefers Ivy. There is a contrast in how Ivy’s sister reacts to unrequited love, which is sacrifice and moving on vs. Noah’s reaction, which is possessive violence. And then there is the unspoken love between Ivy’s father, and Alice. This is unrealized love. The two are in love, and according to the rules of the society they created, can never  be together.

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There is familial love between Ivy and Walker, and  Lucius and Alice. This type of love is emphasized through the character’s reactions to loss and grief. There are also  all the missing family members that the other characters mention, the loss of family that spurred them to run away from the world, to form a “utopian” society where they believed grief could not touch them. The movie opens with a funeral, and the death of a child. Grief can still access their lives. The pain is still going to happen, for example, witness how many times we see  shots of empty chairs throughout the movie.

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An empty chair in a movie scene is often meant to represent a space where someone should be. In this movie, the empty chairs, usually situated on porches, (or at dinner tables), which are, traditionally the site of familial gatherings, are meant to represent  the absence of loved ones. The entire movie carries a mood of unspoken grief and melancholy, which is only alleviated by its hopeful ending. The Elders of the community fled to The Village because each one of them has experienced the tragic loss of a family member, and  the point of the movie is that they cannot run away from loss or pain. The scattered, empty chairs are a constant reminder of their loss.

Critics and audiences completely turned against Shyamalan and started denigrating all of his films for not being as good as his first film, The Sixth Sense. They went into his next movies expecting all of them to have  surprise twists, and they do have surprise twists, just not the kinds of twists that were expected. (To be absolutely fair, Shyamalan definitely made some questionable film choices, though.) In the case of The Village, audiences were expecting a Horror movie, but since the monsters turned out to be false, some people decided that the movie was no good, because the trailer fooled them into thinking the monsters should’ve been real.

Many of these people failed to realize that the surface levels of Shyamalan’s movies are often not the point of the film, anyway. What appears to be the primary plot is often simply a backdrop for the telling of a different story altogether. The point of this movie isn’t the monsters. The  basic plot is just a backdrop for the examination of love and grief, just as the point of the movie Signs, isn’t the alien invasion. The alien invasion is simply a backdrop against which is being told the story of Reverend Graham regaining his faith in God. The story of Unbreakable isn’t about superheroes, but  about the disbelief in the modern mythology of superheroes, and one man overcoming that disbelief to take a leap of faith, and believe in himself.

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Now, I also must discuss here, the disturbing racial angle of some people’s criticism. Shyamalan is one of the few men of color directing big budget Hollywood movies. True, they are not always successful movies,  but audiences and critics did not seem willing to give his movies any chances after The Sixth Sense. They kept wanting him to repeat that first film, and some of them seemed to look no deeper into the motivations behind his stories beyond “the twist”. The Twist seemed to be all they wanted from him, and when he stepped away from that, to make other types of films, they vilified him for it.

I bring this up because I see the same thing happening in real time to Jordan Peele, especially after his comments in which he voiced the idea, that being a filmmaker gave him a platform, by which he could showcase actors of color, as leads. Its as if having been successful twice, there are people waiting in the wings for him to make a mistake, any mistake, which they can use to vilify his character, and bring him down. When men and women of color are highly successful, there is a contingent of White people who wait for them to make even the most minor of miscues, so that they can attempt to humble them. I witnessed this with Barack Obama, Beyonce, and I’m seeing it now with Ocasio – Cortez, and Jordan Peele. And I believe this is what happened with Shyamalan.

White film directors are given numerous opportunities to make bad films, some of them, have entire careers that consist of little more than mediocre flops, and yet the filmmakers have never received the sheer levels of vitriol that was leveled at Shyamalan by film critics. Some of them still manage to have great careers, or be considered critical darlings. Yes, he still manages to have a career, (so somebody is going to see Shyamalan’s movies), but critics insist on tearing apart all of his films, on the most minor details, no matter their quality, while sometimes excusing  just as shoddy work from some White filmmakers. And as I said before, some people use the failures and mistakes of PoC as an excuse to openly express the racism they’ve been taught not to express against an entire group of people.

 

‘Love, Death & Robots’ suffers from blatant sexism

https://www.dailydot.com/parsec/netflix-love-death-robots-review/

Short films can find it hard to attract a wider audience, so it’s cool to see Netflix promote a big, splashy showcase of animated sci-fi shorts. Sadly, Love, Death & Robots feels much less cool and boundary-pushing when you take a closer look. Curated by Tim Miller (Deadpool) and David Fincher (Fight Club), this anthology is full of gratuitous onscreen sexism—and blatant gender discrimination behind the camera.

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I did watch this on Netflix,  and I actually enjoyed a few of the shorts featured as they were written by one of my favorite authors, John Scalzi. John Scalzi is not known as an especially “edgy” type of writer. In fact, he’s very progressive, so those shorts seem incongruous next to some of the other, more violent, shorts in the anthology. But this article is correct in stating that in every short that featured violence, female sexuality and nudity was associated with it, and in every instance of female nudity or sexuality, there was an extreme amount of violence involved in that story. In some of the stories the two occur simultaneously.

In all fairness though, not all of the short films feature either topic, and some of them are actually worth watching. Most notable were:

The Day the Yogurt Took Over was written by Scalzi from his anthology titled Miniatures. It’s hilarious.

Ice Age was very interesting. I enjoyed it a lot.

Fish Night is a story I remember reading, in another anthology, a couple of decades ago, and the story just stuck with me.

Lucky 13 was one of the better Scifi stories, and has a Black woman as the lead character.

Three Robots was really cute and it has cats, so some of you will definitely like it, and Suits was frantic and suspenseful.

But the story that affected me the most was Zima Blue, which I consider one of the best stories in the entire anthology. It was emotional and though provoking.

 

The Wired is a lot more damning of the show than I am though:

Netflix’s Love, Death & Robots is sexist sci-fi at its most tedious

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/love-death-and-robots-review-netflix

It’s not just a male gaze that ruins Love, Death & Robots, it’s an adolescent male gaze. The sex scenes are so bad they’re funny. At times, the dialogue is borderline farcical. All too often the series leans precariously on visual tricks – and while the worlds created here are vast and vivid, the plots are often non-existent.

Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting In The Twilight Zone

 

Sadly, this is the final season for Into the Badlands. It was not renewed for a fourth season on AMC, and surprisingly, I’m okay with that. Into the Badlands was groundbreaking in so many different ways, and I really did love the show, despite how it treated its one Black female character in season two, (and I explained in a previous post why that didn’t stop me from watching the show), but most especially in its representation. It had an Asian male lead, adequate representation of women and Black people, in an alternate future timeline, and the show has the distinction of having the only Black/Chinese- American woman, Chipo Chung,  kicking ass on this show.

I’m okay/ not okay with the cancellation, because it will be followed by a first class runner up: Warrior, which is airing on Cinemax. I gotta get my Martial Arts fix! Warrior is an homage to Bruce Lee, featuring a concept he came up with early in his career (and eventually became the show Kung Fu),  but was not allowed to implement, because Hollywood had no fucking idea what to do with Asian men back then, except mock them or erase them.  I’m a huge Bruce Lee fan, so I’m here for it. The representation is beautiful and accurate for the time period, and its just nice to see more Asian people in TV shows, (although now we probably need to see fewer of them doing something besides Martial Arts and Comedies. Hi, Sandra!)

Warrior

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Warrior is a complicated show, with a lot of depth and detail. Its based on an early idea Bruce Lee had for a story about a man from China, wandering  the  American old West. This was basically the premise of the show Kung Fu, which starred David Carradine, about a Shaolin Monk named Caine. Actually that idea was stolen from Lee,  it generally lacked Asians, and when they were present, it was only in supporting roles, in a show that was supposedly about Chinese immigrants. David Carradine is not Asian, btw.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kung_Fu_(TV_series)

This show is produced and directed by Justin Lin, of Fast and Furious and Star Trek fame, so I expect the most out of this, since I like Lin, and think he’s a good director, and he mostly does not disappoint, The show is very dense with meaning and action scenes. You don’t need to know anything about the history of San Francisco, Chinatown, or what was going on in China, to watch the show, but it helps if you have a little bit of grounding, and pay close attention to what the people say on the show, because they talk about things, even though all the ass kicking is distracting. It also helps if you’ve religiously watched any of Bruce Lee’s movies, because there are  more than a few very nice Easter Eggs. That outfit, for example, that Ah Sahm wears below is a callback to the outfit Lee wore in The Big Boss, (although in all his movies, Lee’s shirt gets artfully torn off. Later, Ah Sahm’s shirt gets artfully torn off, too.) I don’t know if that actor is deliberately channeling Lee’s  acting/ fighting stances, but he looks great doing it, and it made me smile.

 

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Check the stance!

The series is based on the real life events of the late 1880s, in Chinatown, when there were a series of Tong wars, mostly over the Opium Trade. At the time, in China there was the aftermath of the Opium Wars, and the beginning of the Boxer Rebellion (against the Qin dynasty). Into this stew of rivalries, steps Ah Sahm, a Martial Arts champion of some kind, who is in America looking for his sister. He finds her in the first episode, so that mystery is out of the way, but she wants nothing to do with him. She has a traumatic past,  and current secrets, like being married to the leader of a rival Tong than Ah Sahm works for, secretly working behind her husband’s back with an American, who wants to keep Chinatown destabilized, and going out at night as a vigilante to kill White men who harm Chinatown citizens. (At least I think this is her, or perhaps a character we haven’t met yet.) Her dance card is pretty full, and the last thing she needs is an appearance from her wayward brother, trying to save her. Plus, she hates him.

In fact, a lot of the women in this show live in complicated circumstances. The pretty blond wife of the town Mayor, (I think her name is Buckley), hates her husband, has compassion for the Chinese,  and is having a very open relationship with his secretary, or brother, or somebody , who lives in their house with them. It is unclear if he approves of their relationship, although he most certainly knows about it. Oh yeah, there are a lot of bare  titties in this show, so be aware of that, if you’re letting your kids watch this, although I suppose if you’re letting them watch all the hyper-violence and cussing, you should not have a problem with female presenting nipples. (There’s equity, too, as plenty of male presenting nipples are also on display. Okay, it’s mostly Ah Sahm.)

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The show starts off with everyone speaking Cantonese, and gradually, during one long take, they start speaking English. That was done so smoothly, that I  missed it the first time. The residents of Chinatown have their own English language terms, their own slang, and it can be hard to know what some things mean. You pretty much get thrown into the deep end on this show, and if you’re not of Chinese descent, it can be a little overwhelming. Even though I know a little  something something about Chinese history, I was still having trouble keeping up, having to watch the  episode multiple times.

https://www.geek.com/television/the-story-of-warrior-bruce-lees-long-delayed-tv-series-1781391/

The title of the epis. is called The Itchy Onion, and I’m not sure what Onion means, except it’s a slur that some Chinese people were calling one another in the show. I know a slur when I hear one, and that’s exactly what it is. An “itchy” one is the equivalent of the Black people version of the word “froggy”.  As in , “Do you feel froggy? Then you just jump!”. Its a call out to a fight. And conveniently, Ah Sahm kept getting called out by everyone he meets. Some challenges he backed down from, but others he just jumped right in with gusto. Most especially, the first fight of the show, when he first gets off the boat, as he totally thrashes a trio of bullying White bigots. I stood and I applauded, because that is such a Bruce Lee thing to do, he could have written that scene himself. If you’ve watched any of his movies, then you know he hated bullies, and always stood up for the underdog.

And what glorious fight scenes we get! I’m telling you, I was tired after watching this show. Ah Sahm has several fights, all of them well done, and very cinematic, rivaling any scene in Into the Badlands. He also kinda has a big mouth and is well aware of his skills.

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Where the show falls flat is in the depiction of its female characters ,and some of the White characters are less than compelling. One of the most interesting of that group is a White police officer, who emigrated from Georgia after the Civil War, named Richard Lee, and played with a very  genuine sounding Georgian accent, by the very British Tom Weston-Jones. What is is with English men and Southern American accents? Anyway, he volunteers to be amember of a Chinatown Detective Squad after several of the residents are murdered by angry Irishmen, who are concerned about losing their jobs to foreigners. He is the only cop on the force with integrity apparently, and he does have some ass kicking skills himself. I’m looking forward to watching him team up with or face off against Ah Sahm, cuz you know it’s coming. They will probably team up though, because while Bruce was angry about a lot of things people did, he also believed that cooperation and unity between the races was a good thing, and he championed that in several of his movies, (most notably, Enter the Dragon.)

There’s a wealth of information out there about Bruce Lee, and an 8 part video series about the making of  the show. Each video is only about five to ten minutes long, but if you want to know more about Bruce Lee’s ideas about life and the show, there are several documentaries floating about Youtube, so check those out:

 

Further Reading:

Tao of Jeet Kune Do by [Lee, Bruce]

Bruce Lee Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee's Wisdom for Daily Living (Bruce Lee Library) by [Lee, Bruce]

Bruce Lee: Letters of the Dragon: An Anthology of Bruce Lee's Correspondence with Family, Friends, and Fans 1958-1973 (The Bruce Lee Library) by [Lee, Bruce]

The Twilight Zone

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I mostly skipped the first episode of this season, which seemed to have a The Shining vibe to it, as a man, Kumail Nanjiani, sells his soul and life in a comedy club. Its creepy and haunting, but didn’t really hit me much, even though Tracy Morgan gives a great performance, 0009199119299

and I’m not particularly interested in shows about comedians. I did watch the second episode, and I really enjoyed it, although I think it went on a wee  bit longer than it needed to.

https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2019/04/with-the-comedian-the-twilight-zone-addresses-some.html

The second episode of the Twilight Zone, Nightmare at 30,000 Feet, is an homage to one of the every first episodes of the original series, and Jordan manages to pull this off very well, without me being able to predict what’s going to actually happen until a few minutes from the end, even though you’re told what’s going to happen at the end. The original story,  Nightmare at 20, 000 Feet was written by Richard Matheson and starred William Shatner, and I thought this episode would be a retread of that story. In the original story, one of the passengers sees a gremlin tearing apart the wing of the plane. He  has a panic attack, while trying to convince everyone on board that there is a monster on the  wing. This episode also managed to make its way into the Twilight Zone (one of my favorite) movie and starred John Lithgow.

In this remake, they change the story up a bit. Just as in the original, you  sort of travel around the cabin meeting various odd characters, as the lead character slowly loses his shit,  as he becomes aware that something is wrong with the plane.

Justin Sanderson tries to avoid Fate when he finds a listening device on the plane that is cued up to a podcast that discusses the loss/crash of the flight. He spends the rest of the episode trying to convince people that the flight is doomed, or trying to stop it, which, when you think about it, isn’t really his responsibility. This was more than a little frustrating to me, because I know the rules. In trying his best to stop it, he ends up causing the problem, and I could have told him that’s how Fate works.

Before this,  we get treated to some nice foreshadowing on the number 015, and he argues with his wife about the PTSD he’s been experiencing, after witnessing some shit go down in Tel Aviv. This gets the audience to question his sanity. So we learn a lot about him through dialogue, and he’s not an unlikable character, but there were times I wanted him to just sit his ass down, and stop trying to help, because I just knew HE was going to be the reason the plane crashed, and I also knew it would have something to do with that “extra” character on the plane, with speaking lines, who appears to have no actual purpose. But none of this weakened my enjoyment of the episode becasue it was just fun.

The character that does end up crashing the plane, a drunken ex-pilot named Bob, was someone who felt really off to me the moment I saw him. I was immediately suspicious of his presence on the plane, especially since he was so friendly with Justin, for no reason, and most especially after he said he was a pilot.

There’s a funny little moment when Justin confronts a couple of Sikhs, and tries to get them to stop speaking their language out loud,  or people would get suspicious. They just  roll their eyes at him and tell him they’re not Muslim, and to go away somewhere, which I thought was funny/but not funny. Jordan always makes sure to mention some social issue we’re currently dealing with in all his horror stories, and Muslims on airplanes is something (White) people are  still freaking out about in the US.

Jordan is very successful at upping the tension, especially in such a confined space, so in that sense, its as good as the original episodes, and well worth giving it a watch. And if you know little factoids about the original episode there’s some nice Easter Eggs in it.

10 Non-Spoiler Things We've Learned From Jordan Peele's 'Get Out'

But what stood out for me is Jordan’s summation at the end of these  episodes, in which he seems to be channeling the full spirit of Rod Serling. Standing there in a suit, holding either a glass of wine or champagne, with Serling’s vocal mannerisms intact,  this is more than a little creepy, and kind of funny. I’m so used to him being a comedian that I just expect him to burst into laughter at any second, as if he was just putting me on. I couldn’t help a nervous giggle.

For some reason people are so surprised at Peele’s turn towards Horror, and how he is so successful at it, but these must be people who didn’t watch Key and Peele. Peele has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Horror movies, and he was forever referencing them on the show.

In fact, a lot of the comedy on the show was clearly  horrific, with a punch line tacked onto them , like the episode, Das Negros,  where two Black men in whiteface pretend to be Nazis in order to hide from a Nazi officer looking for victims of the Reich. It’s a terrifying idea by itself, and it’s full of tension, but made hilarious by the idea that the officer is dumb enough to fall for their bad makeup jobs, and his silly stereotypes of Black people. Peele seemed to fully understand the idea that fear and laughter both spring from the same fountain, and can be turned towards one or the other by  the addition of the ridiculous. In the Twilight Zone remake, the tension and horror are still there, but the ridiculous has been removed, leaving a distinct unease.

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https://www.okayplayer.com/culture/jordan-peele-series-of-horror-films-get-out.html

I have four other social thrillers that I want to unveil in the next decade…The best and scariest monsters in the world are human beings and what we are capable of especially when we get together,” Peele said. “I’ve been working on these premises about these different social demons, these innately human monsters that are woven into the fabric of how we think and how we interact, and each one of my movies is going to be about a different one of these social demons.”

I’m so looking forward to Peele’s next work and the rest of his career. I’m also looking to the far future when he starts making those Dramas, that, like with  Cronenberg, I know live somewhere in his mind.

Breaking News

I am officially no longer reviewing or watching The Walking Dead.

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I’ve been standing up for this show through all eight seasons, through all the shows racial problems, and through all the death, but I simply can’t take this show anymore. Don’t get me wrong. The show is still compelling. It’s still addictive. But I gotta find something else to watch.

I’m a very emotional viewer. When I watch a show, I really get involved with the characters, and plots, and settings. Yes, I’m one of those people who yell at the screen. I look for attachments to certain characters, (I still love Michonne and Carol, btw), and checking in, to see what some character is doing, is a large part of what keeps me watching a show. But I think last week broke me. I think perhaps this was simply not the kind of show I should ever have been watching in the first place. I got presented with characters adventures, and I wondered about their futures, and I cared about them, and too many times, I’ve had those imagined futures cut short because a character got brutally killed.

I’ve never re-watched a single episode of this series.

NOT IN NINE SEASONS!

That says something.

When I don’t want to revisit a show I’ve been watching, for eight years, that means something . I’ve re-watched episodes of X-Files, Star Trek, Farscape, Firefly, and Supernatural numerous times. I love to go back and revisit favorite episodes, as if they were the first time I’ve seen them. They’re fun, and I like visiting with the characters, and remembering why I liked them the first time.

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I don’t do that with this show. There’s no point in remembering the fun times with a character knowing that their future is a brutal and pointless death.

I managed to get through so many deaths on this show. I realize that’s almost the point of the show, but when you’re going through personal shit, and political shit (as a Black woman both can take its toll on you) when you watch a TV show, that can sometimes be a respite from your anxiety producing life.

The Walking Dead ain’t it.

Last week the show killed off so many characters, it was just emotionally devastating, in a way that the singular deaths weren’t. And it really did feel like something that was done for the spectacle. The show keeps increasing the number of deaths per season, sometimes pointlessly. The characters, all of them, their deaths were utterly meaningless, their deaths fixed nothing. The people who did it, did it on a whim, for some nebulous purpose I barely understand, because I don’t exactly know what The Whisperers philosophy is.

But Negan is still alive though….

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This is a world that produces more than enough stress in my everyday life. I don’t need that type of stress from a TV show, too. I’ve found myself gravitating to more innocuous, lighthearted, less anxiety producing shows, comedy stand ups, and reality cooking documentaries. I’m just not emotionally equipped right now to be watching shows that are going to hammer my emotions every week. I gotta stop watching it just for my emotional health.

I knows some you been quit this show, and you had your reasons. I supported all of your reasons for that, because when a person quits a show, it’s personal to them.

I think, just like for a lot of other people, it’s  time for me to leave the show alone.

The Meanings of Us (2019)

Spoilers Spoilers Spoilers Spoilers

 

If you have not seen this movie, know that this review will contain plenty of spoilers.

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I went to see this and guess what? I got thinky thoughts!

 

The Personal

This movie was a very emotional experience for me. I really got into the characters and situations presented here, and I’m baffled that some people were baffled by this movie, but then I’ve had many years of practice trying to understand the plots of weird horror  movies. Most of the puzzlement I’ve read comes from people who don’t regularly watch horror movies. If you’re not a fan of horror movies, and don’t watch them all the time, its best to go in thinking of this film as if it were a dream. There’s a lot of what we call “Dream Logic”. and some of the imagery will fly right over the heads of people who have never thought about movies this way.

This movie has been really polarizing, with people loving it or hating it, and that’s understandable. Peele made the decision to add a lot of depth to Us. Its a movie that addresses many issues, and is meant to be heavily analyzed, but how you look at it says a lot about what you feel, and what your priorities are. Peele  also doesn’t tell you how to feel about the movie, or its characters, and some people hated that. The end of the movie was unsettling for a lot of people. My Mom didn’t care for the movie, saying it ended badly, but she is one of those people who likes her horror to be very clear and straightforward. She likes a clear case of who the heroes and villains are in a movie, and she disliked having rooted for the protagonist for the entire movie, only to have that turned on its head at the end.

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On the other hand, I’m okay with ambiguity. I’m uncomfortable with having rooted for what I thought was the hero of the movie, but I’m going to sit with that feeling,  process it, and figure out what I think about it. There were a lot of moments in the movie that had an unexpected affect on me. One of the most horrific moments in the movie is when the Tethered child died in flames, echoing Red’s statement that he had been born in flames. (But I have some serious  fire fear, so…). The movie felt unfinished, because usually at the end of horror movies, the evil has been vanquished, and the status quo, which had been disrupted by the monster, has been restored. This movie doesn’t really have a monster, or a villain or even a hero. Things do not go back to the way the movie began.

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2019/03/lupita-nyongo-in-jordan-peeles-us-terrifying/585649/

Because of the ending, the movie felt melancholy and tragic, reminding me heavily of  Annihilation, a movie that produced much the same feeling.. But Us also had moments of real humor, where we (the audience) just laughed out loud. I’ve often asserted that laughter lies on one  side of a coin, with terror on the other. Peele himself has said he likes to take innocent, innocuous things, and imbue them with dread and horror, and he succeeded. I expect that I will never hear the song, “I Got Five On It”, or “Fuck the Police”, ever again, without thinking of this movie, and I’ll never look at rabbits the way I used to.

I described this movie as a cross between CHUD, a movie about Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers coming up from below, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, as it deals with cloning, and identity, and Halloween, because of the red jumpsuits  and sharp pointy weapons, which remind me of Michael Myers. Well, lets just say, I have a different set of references to this movie.

 

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Here’s an interesting video from Latasha about the significance of some of the symbols, colors, and moments, in the movie. There are far too many to catch all of them after just one viewing.  She discusses the movie in great detail, though, especially the idea of trauma and mirroring: 

 

 

 

 

The Movie

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The movie opens in the 80s, with little  Adelaide watching an ad for the 1986 charity event, Hands Across America, which I’m old enough to remember. This is a key component of the film. In fact, everything you need to know is laid out at the beginning of the movie, just without any context, so you don’t put the whole puzzle together until somewhere in the middle of the film. Adelaide attends a carnival on the beach with her family. She wanders away from her bickering parents, into a mirrored funhouse, that has the proclamation : Find Yourself Inside, which she unexpectedly does, to her detriment. One of the most interesting clues is that Adelaide  whistles Itsy Bitsy Spider on key, but her double can’t. I think the Itsy Bitsy Spider is a reference to Adelaide’s double, who has climbed up from below, to capture her.

Adelaide gets kidnapped by her double, another key component of this movie, and the motivation behind every decision that gets made, and  she gets trapped in the underground hell  where her double used to live. Her double is actually a clone of her, but without a soul. Because she has no soul, Adelaide has no sense of rhythm, (or beat), which I find hilarious, because in American culture, Black people joke about people who cannot dance on the beat, or have no rhythm, and are said to lack “Soul“.

There’s an old  sketch I’m reminded of from the movie, Amazon Women on The Moon, which is also from a Black filmmaker, Robert Townsend. I know for an absolute certainty that Jordan Peele has seen this, and included just this tiny bit of this element into his depiction of the Tethered. Notice that neither Adelaide, nor her son Jason are capable of snapping their fingers to the beat of the song, snapping instead on the 1 and the 3, instead of the 2 and the 4.

 

The underworld Red comes from is  full of the clones of the people who live above ground, and who  are the failed result of a  government experiment to control the American people. It’s left for the audience to decide if all Americans were cloned, or just half, or just enough of them to be dangerous. The clones have no souls, hence they have no vision, imagination, ambitions, or  sense of self. They don’t even have language, and Adelaide, because she is human, and remembers the world above (the other clones have no knowledge of the above world), becomes their leader. Over the next thirty years, using her childhood memories of Hands Across America, and Michael Jackson, along with a great deal of rage,  she organizes The Tethered to invade the above world, and kill their counterparts. It’s a literal uprising.  Adelaide is so enraged at what was done to her, the Tethered have adopted some of that.

Adelaide, Red, (and their families), spend the rest of the movie playing a murderous game of cat and mouse, against the apocalyptic event of The Tethered coming from underground to kill their doubles, and stage their version of Hands Across America. I  specifically remember this event, including the theme song in the ads. I was a teenager at the time, and  distinctly remember scoffing at the idea that it would be at all helpful, or useful. And guess what? It wasn’t! The event was kind of a failure although it turned out to be the high point of the life of the person  who orchestrated the event.

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In the end, Adelaide, the character we’ve been rooting for the entire  movie, turns out to be the double from the underworld, while Red is that long ago human girl, who dreamed of getting out of the hell her life had become, through Adelaide’s actions. According to Red, life underground is pretty bleak. Because they have no sense of self, the Tethered are forced to mimic the actions of their doubles, and none of them have ever had cooked food, feeding exclusively on the rabbits that have overbred in that environment. (This explains why Adelaide is a vegetarian.)

In other words, the Tethered are uncivilized, barbaric mirrors of their above ground counterparts, (through no fault of their own.) They act like animals, running on all fours, howling and grunting.They don’t know enough to know what or where they are, until Red teaches them, which she is only able to do because she came from above ground. She  is their M.L.K. She is their Malcolm X. She had  a “vision”.

This movie looks absolutely gorgeous. Lupita Nyongo really carries this movie, and does it very well. Her speech, body language, and facial expressions, just her all around physicality, was astonishing to watch. People forget that she is playing both Red, and Adelaide, and she makes the two so distinctive that you often forget its the same actress. Winston DUke is his usual fine self in the acting department. I understand some people were disappointed in his role here, but I understood why he was shown the way he was shown, and he did do a couple of heroic things that people seem to have forgotten.

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There are already a lot of people out there tagging all the Easter Eggs, the various connections, and parallels in the movie. I’m only going to talk about those things a little bit. If you want more of that sort of thing, there are a billion Youtube videos for it, but I want to talk about the themes, and subtext occurring in the movie, because that’s what I find the most interesting. The movie has so much depth, so many things are addressed, and have real life parallels, that the movie can be viewed through almost any lens,  I want to talk about some of the top themes through which the movie can be understood:

Folklore

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There is the German construct of the Doppelganger, which is an apparition, or double, of a living person. There is a significant body of folklore that deal with people seeing their own double. Traditionally, seeing one’s double was often a portent of death, and that piece of folklore is what’s being applied in Us. It is said that everyone in the world has a twin somewhere, and in some cultures, it’s said  should you meet your double, you should kill it, because there can be only one of you.

Legend has it that if you come face to face with your doppelganger, it’s an omen or warning of death, for both you and your twin. Because of this, if you see a replica of yourself, run for your life. … Often, a person does not actually see their own doppelganger, but someone else does.

There is a lot of doubling and mirroring in the movie, from Adelaide’s and Red’s reflections, to the neighbors twin girls, who speak in unison, to the numbers 11:11, which is a “palindrome”, a word or set of numbers that reads the same in either direction. (There are several articles on  the significance of those numbers. 11:11 is a bible verse about God forsaking those whose sins have come back to destroy them.)

In Celtic folklore, the doppelganger was known as a Fetch, and its purpose was to alert people that someone’s death was imminent, but the concept of the alter ego, and the “double spirit” is part of the lore of  most cultures, and not always in a negative way, just as in the movie, some of the mirror images are benign.

 

Books and Movies

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It’s also an idea that has found its way into  many movies and literature, the most famous of which are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Prince and the Pauper, The Man in the Iron Mask, Dave, Moon Over Parador, and the 1985 Ran. In The Prince and the Pauper type stories, the original ruler is often incapable or dead, and is then replaced by a twin of low birth, who sometimes triumphs in the originals place, which is basically the plot of Us.

Another popular trope is the Evil Twin, which has found its way into everything from Star Trek to Gilligan’s Island, where one of them is unaware of the existence of their double, and their differences in upbringing is what accounts for their different characters. In Us, we are meant to attribute Red’s murderous sensibilities, and difficulty speaking, to her upbringing among the Tethered, and there are distinct parallels between the Jekyll and Hyde narrative.

Adelaide is meant to reflect innocence, as evidenced by her white and neutrally colored wardrobe, at the beginning of the movie. As the movie  progresses,  as Adelaide keeps killing,  violently defending the life she usurped from the original, her clothes get redder and redder, to reflect her true nature. We watch as she becomes more and more her true self. But where Jekyll’s story ends in suicide, Adelaide’s ends in triumph.

One thing I’ve not seen discussed is  Lewis Carroll’s 1865  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as a theme. The symbol of the white rabbit (which is in the movie’s logo) is meaningful because it is one of the few types of animals that have ever been cloned, and is often experimented on. Also, in the original  tale, Alice follows a rabbit into a hole in the Earth, where she finds a hall with many locked doors. This is what happens in the movie when Adelaide, chasing her doppelganger underground, finds a hall of locked doors, and rabbits everywhere. The rictus grins of the Tethered remind me of the Cheshire Cat’s phantom grin from Alice’s adventures. These are grins  that do not indicate humor, but menace.

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There’s also the  parallel to the numerous mythological themes of people visiting the underworld to rescue (or destroy) something, called a Katabasis. In  a Katabasis myth, the protagonist travels through the underworld, on a mission of retrieval, and this is featured in everything from The Ring of the Nibelung, to The Aeneid, to The Odyssey,  persisting across many cultures, from Egypt, to Greece, and even  South America, which features the myth of the Hero Twins of the Popol Vuh, who go into the underworld and win a ballgame, to avenge the death of their father.

After Adelaide’s son, Jason,  is kidnapped by Red, she must go underground to rescue him, echoing the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Jason’s  doppelganger is named Pluto,  the  Greek King of the Underworld. It  is also theorized by some that Jason is actually a Tethered. That Pluto switched places with him at least a year before the events of the film, so Adelaide is really rescuing her actual son.

 

 Socio-economic/Political

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https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/us-movies-hidden-meaning-black-identity-explained-1196687

Race

The movie can also be seen through the lens of socio-politics, and race.  Peele says the movie isn’t specifically about any racial issue, but the subtext is there, because  the story involves a Black family, and introduces the idea of “double consciousness”. Double consciousness is a term coined by the writer W.E.B. DuBois in his 1903 literary work, The Souls of Black Folk, a series of essays about the psychology of Black people. It is a state of mind specific to people of color, whose thinking is divided between who they think are, and what White people think they are.

Double consciousness describes the individual sensation of feeling as though your identity is divided into several parts, making it difficult or impossible to have one unified identity.

Understanding W.E.B. Du Bois’ Concept of Double Consciousness …

There’s who I think I am, which is settled, often uncomfortably, next to how I know I’m viewed by White people.

Adelaide is an example of this in that she knows who she is, and wants to be, vs the above ground world’s perception of her. She dresses to  not draw attention to herself, to seem just like everyone else and  blend in. Adelaide, like  many immigrants, or those from a different social class, tries to hide her impoverished background by  assimilating into her adopted culture. As she fights Red to keep the status to which she’d become accustomed, more of her true background  reveals itself.

Economics

 Adelaide has moved up in the world by violently condemning her counterpart to a life of hell. (There is the strong implication in the film that Red was raped/impregnated by Gabriel’s counterpart, Abraham.) There is also some amount of survivor’s guilt for Adelaide, as she did nothing to rescue any of the other Tethered, and lived a life of luxury, knowing that her comfortable life was built on someone else’s misery. This is a question that successful Black people, from humble circumstances, often wrestle with. How much responsibility do they have to the community they left behind on their way out of poverty? Are they truly their brother’s keeper? Red seemed to have no problem answering this question, as she organized the release of all the Tethered from below, but then her ambitions were fueled by rage at what had been done to her. What was Adelaide’s excuse for leaving the other Tethered behind?

 

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In fact, the Tethered are an allegory for those who most people consider  “beneath” us. The laborers and workers who are invisible to us,  but help our society run more smoothly, and who we often think of as less than, often not even bothering to learn their names. In the movie, the Tethered don’t have names, with the members of Red’s family being the only ones with names she gave them.

Those who live above ground (the privileged) can pass their sins on to some other group of people and thereby declare their innocence, and ignorance, to the misery which sustains their lifestyles,  to be justifiable. In America, White people often project their worst qualities onto other races of people. In declaring that some sin is a problem for some other group, they don’t actually have to look at their own behavior, acknowledge the pain they have caused, or fix the problem. Black and Indigenous people have often been the scapegoats of White pathology, as they stereotype us in terms of actions they  have committed themselves.

Red isn’t just angry because her life (her agency) was stolen from her. She  tells Adelaide that for every good thing Adelaide  experienced above ground, Red experienced some hardship, or misery, in equal measure down below. The Tethered represent the “laborers” of modern society, the people  who take care of the minutiae of our day to day lives, freeing us up to pay attention to those jobs we think are more important, because we went through more years of schooling, or get paid more money to do. We place our burdens on their backs, so we don’t have to carry them, and then refuse to think about how the comforts of our lives are built on their impoverishment.

 

https://www.popsugar.com/entertainment/Why-Do-Tethe red-Wear-Brown-Gloves-Us-45958045

This theme of mistreated laborers is reflected in the Tethered manner of dress, and I can see parallels to themes from the 1927 film, Metropolis, in which the workers of a technological society all live in ceaseless, dangerous, labor in the bowels of the city, while the rulers have lives of  luxury oblivious to what’s happening beneath them. One of the rulers son’s trades places with one of the workers in the underground, and with the help of a robot named Maria, causes a rebellion.

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Most Americans don’t think about the uniformed maids, janitors, maintenance, and sanitation workers,  until something stops working. If you have ever visited a large public venue, like a theme park or a zoo, you might or might not notice the uniformed housekeepers and  maintenance workers who slip in and out of disguised doors to keep the place clean,  and make our stay comfortable, and this is very much a statement on how Americans live everyday.

On a larger scale, most Americans don’t think of the many wars, that never reach our backyards,   and the underhanded behavior that this country has engaged in, to steal other country’s resources, to  make American lives comfortable. Our government has engaged in a great deal of global destruction, which we rarely we think about because we don’t have to worry about a drone strike hitting our Wedding party.  Even when we do worry about such things, we  have often been completely misinformed as to the true causes, and do little or nothing to resolve it. Just as the Tethered are Shadows of us, they exist in a Shadow America, where their lives are controlled by mysterious others who live above them.

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/us-was-movies-biggest-twist-hiding-plain-sight-1196584

But really, all the characters are Us,  as no matter how we behave, we can always justify our behavior by telling ourselves we are the hero of the story.  Us is a movie in which everyone is committing justified violence against the other. As righteously brutal as the Tethered are in their revolution, The Wilsons are every bit as  brutal as  the Tethered in the protection of their family and  privileged lifestyles. One can make the argument that the Tethered started it,  and that the Wilsons were just defending themselves, but that stance does not take into account the decades of misery the Tethered had to endure, so that people like the Wilsons could live free.

 

Psychological

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When you think about it, Adelaide’s development stopped at around age twelve, so she has all the rage, planning, and mindset, of a child. Children in their early development often focus on a sense of fairness, and equality,  something Red specifically states to Adelaide. That what happened to her was not fair.

Americans cherish their ideals of fairness. And American children can be especially strident—some might say loud—advocates for equality. Anyone who has ever painstakingly cut and distributed a child’s birthday cake knows how closely those little eyes watch for injustice. And when they see it, especially in their ever-so-slightly-smaller slice, they protest with the anguished cry: “No fair!”

https://www.bu.edu/research/articles/child-development-fairness/

In Jungian psychology there is the idea of the Shadow Self, that dark part of oneself that one tries to ignore or bury.  The Shadow is everything about yourself you try  hard to forget is there. The Tethered represent our worst selves. They are our dark side. Adelaide has worked very hard to forget where she came from, but it turns out that Adelaide is actually the Shadow of Red. It is not until after you’ve watched the movie that you realize that it was Adelaide who was trying to ignore her original sin of trapping Red in the underworld. Sooner or later she knew this would come back on her. The message seems to be that every sin you commit will eventually come to back to bite you in the ass.

https://www.thefourohfive.com/film/article/us-review-what-happens-when-our-shadows-run-free-and-what-the-hell-is-with-the-rabbits-155

The logo for the movie features an example of a Rorschach Test, a test in which a therapy patient interprets meaning from inkblot images. The meanings determined gives the therapist clues to your character or personal issues. This is a reference to the film itself, which is a kind of Rorschach test for the viewer. The movie has so many facets, so many themes,  which ones the audience focuses on tells  a lot more about the audience.

Here take the Us rorschach Test, and see what your responses tell you about you:

 

Movies to Watch After Seeing Us:

Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1978)

Single White Female (1992)

Metropolis (1927)

CHUD (1984)

The Nightbreed (1990)

Donnie Darko   (2001)

 

Us is being written about and discussed as much as Get Out. This is what we all do now. Analyze movies, I guess!

https://www.elle.com/culture/movies-tv/a26988747/us-movie-review-horror-tropes/

https://www.polygon.com/2019/3/22/18274732/us-twist-ending-explained-spoilers

 

https://www.polygon.com/2019/3/27/18284361/us-movie-spoilers-tethered

 Umbrae (Shahidi Wright Joseph), is referred to as a “little monster” by her mother, Red (Lupita Nyong’o); though she shares her double’s talent for running, it’s the addition of a permanent, eerie grin that brings up shades of how young women in particular are always expected (and instructed) to smile. She’s manifesting the image that’s projected onto her in the same way that her father is.

 

**In Part Two of The Meanings of Us let’s talk about the invasion plot in movies, what it really means, what its a stand in for, and how its applied in this movie.

Star Trek Discovery Season Two – Midseason Update

This season has become a very interesting blend of the personal moments interlocking with the overarching plot, for a lot of the characters. We are re-introduced to Phillipa Gheorghiu , Doctor Culber, and Ash Tyler, as well.

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In the first season we dealt with Michael’s personal traumas and how those traumas impacted the decisions she made throughout the season. Her life isn’t perfect, now. There still needs to be resolution on some of the issues of her childhood, and choices she made last season, so the writers are getting started on working on some of her childhood issues with Spock and her parents, and how these relationships intersect with the Red Angels in the series main plot.

We’re also dealing with the traumas and issues related to other characters and the show has experienced its first real death in the form of Airiam, the cyborg-like being who was a member of the ship’s bridge crew. We get a little bit of backstory on her, who she was, what happened to her.

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The show has gotten a lot better at integrating all these plots into the greater plot of the show because last season some of the themes felt a little separated, to the point where some people were very confused about what the show was about, saying that it felt disjointed. Well, they’ve gotten better at it, because it’s impossible to talk about the other characters, and other themes, without relating them to events which happen in the main plot involving the Red Angels.

 

The Discovery is still on the trail of the Red Angels who keep sending them to different places in the galaxy, usually to resolve some issue that needs Starfleet’s immediate attention. Spock has had visions of the Angels since he was a small child. When we first met Spock he was a cute little six or seven year old, and his first meeting with Michael was not promising, as he closed his bedroom door in the face of the new sister his parents introduced him to. Later, through flashbacks, we find that he and Michael closely bonded, but after several murder attempts from Vulcan radicals Michael decided to run away from home to protect her family, and she emotionally hurt Spock to get him to leave her alone, an event which altered Spock’s perception of her and his own humanity.

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In the first season we dealt with Michael’s  emotional fall out of the Klingons having killed her immediate family, but this season we are dealing with the fallout of Michael having been attacked several times by Vulcan radicals, who were trying to rid Vulcan of humans, and destroy the diplomatic bonds between the two planets. This was mentioned somewhat in the first season in Sarek, and Michael’s flashbacks to her childhood while we dealt with the emotional repercussions of Sarek’s life choices regarding her and Spock, and the reparation of their estranged relationship. it turns out though that Michael’s actions are completely meaningless, as Spock explains to her that she is not the focus of the Vulcan terrorist’s  anger. Its Spock, because he’s half human, and they are opposed to miscegenation.

This season we are watching Michael try to fix the relationship between her and Spock, and hopefully the two will be reconciled. Meanwhile, Spock is of major importance to Starfleet,  (and a clandestine organization in Starfleet called Section 31), as he is the only being who has any knowledge of the Red Angels. Spock is on the run, after escaping from an asylum, after being accused of killing several doctors. When Michael finds him, he is mentally incapacitated by his visions, and it is up to her to decipher them, (and with the help of the Talosians) figure out how they are connected to current events. The Talosians are a race of strong telepaths, who are directly tied to Pike’s past and future, and are referenced in the original Star Trek episode, The Cage. I am really loving how the writers have fleshed out his character, because he has almost none in the original series. I really like him now, so when I went back and watched The Cage, it hit me especially hard.

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I have a theory about the Red Angel that may have some impact on Spock’s relationship with Michael, and why they appeared to Spock, and only Spock, in the first place. It turns out that the Red Angels (at least one of them) is a woman, wearing a special suit from the future. A couple of episodes ago, the Discovery encounters a  dying creature that the Red Angels led them to, whose explosive death creates some time repercussions for the crew, and Captain Pike, with many other  characters receiving visions and information of the past and future, including Airiam, a cybernetic being who regularly uploads her memories to the ship’s core computer.

I think the Red Angel that Spock has known for most of his life, and nearly drove him insane, is probably some future version of Michael. The Red Angels always appear at the moment of some future catastrophe that the Discovery is supposed to prevent, which sounds exactly like the kind of thing Michael would do – trying to help the galaxy by heading off catastrophes, before they can happen, or save people during and after them. (At this point in the show, I have been proven both right and wrong about who the Red Angel is.)

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As of this review, Michael and Spock have had some severely uneasy conversations regarding Michael’s selfish tendencies to shoulder responsibility for things that are not her fault, like her parents deaths, the terrorist attacks against her as a child, and the danger to Sarek’s family because of that,  or fix problems that are not hers to fix, like Spock’s emotional issues. Needless to say, Michael does not like hearing these things about herself, but I agree with Spock.

From the beginning of the show, we’ve watched Michael try to solve everyone else’s problems, and fix everyone, in favor of ignoring her own needs. This is most telling in an earlier episode where Tilly is going through some extreme emotional event, but so is Michael as she has just had a fight with her mother, and rather than focus on her own problem, Michael tries to fix Tilly’s problem. his is a constant that can get a little frustrating at times, becomes it skirts too closely to the Mammy trope, (where a Black female character focuses her attention on solving the problems of the White characters around her rather than focusing on her own issues.) I understand why they are showing Michael like this. They are presenting Michael’s focus on saving other people as a character flaw that Michael needs to work on, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

Spock confronts Michael, saying she is a martyr, who is always trying to save everyone, like Spock, Sarek, and her parents, even though she is not responsible for the situations they  find themselves in. Michael has to acknowledge this when she is given the decision to kill Airiam, to stop her from uploading information that will bring sentience to an AI that wants to destroy the galaxy. Michael desperately resists killing her friend, and is saved from having to do so, by the security officer who opens an airlock to destroy her. But we can see in that scene of Michael desperately trying to save Airiam’s life, everything that Spock said about her, because not only was she disobeying a direct order from both Pike and Airiam, she was endangering her own life, and the lives of the entire ship’s crew.

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There is also the subplot of Dr. Culber being alive again, and Ash Tyler, now a member of Section 31, being back on the ship. If you remember from season one, Ash discovered he was a Klingon (Voq) who had been genetically altered to look human, with Ash Tyler’s human personality as an overlay. The human Ash is dead, and this is who is left behind, the Voq personality having been expunged from the body. When he was Voq he killed Dr. Culber. Through the assistance of his  lover, Stamets, and Tilly, and the spores (which is an entirely different subplot connected to Culber) he is alive and again and reconciling his after life experience with who he is and what happened to him. This is a situation that is not helped by having his killer on board. Culber does try to work out his grievance by kicking Ash’s ass, but that doesn’t work, and he is still very …discombobulated, I guess. As of the last episode, thanks to some counseling from several friends, (and Gheorgiu), he is beginning to grasp some idea of who he is,  and what he meant to Stamets, but the two of them are still not yet reconciled.

As of the writing of this review, Discovery has been issued a renewal and we will be getting a Season three! I expect there to be a bigger ratings bump after the debut of Jordan Peele’s new version of The Twilight Zone, especially after the success of his new movie, Us.

This review is a little bit late because I’ve had some life interfering in my leisure time, but hey! better late than never, huh? I will be back at the end of the season to give an overview of what happened and my thoughts about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Passage: Season One Finale

 

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So The Passage finally finished up it’s ten episode run with a two hour finale, and there is a lot to talk about. I was going to start with a recap of the season, but I’m going to do something a little different by discussing the key characters in the show. I know a lot of you may have more access to the books, than the show, which airs on American network TV, and may or may not be available on an app somewhere.

We’re going to start with the second episode of the finale because the first hour felt like more filler. The vampires do finally escape, but we knew that would happen, and its somewhat anticlimactic. All season long we’ve been seemingly sitting still, with everyone running back and forth inside the facility, without anyone actually leaving.  It’s all moot anyway because by the time of the final 15 minutes of the last episode, all of that is rendered pointless, and in the second season, we’ll get to the meat of the book, as all of this first season is basically set up for what we’ll be dealing with from the middle section of the book onwards.

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All season we have focused very heavily on the relationship between Amy Bellafonte and Agent  Brad Wolgast because that is the key relationship to who Amy is, and what she becomes. It is her relationship with Brad that sets her future in motion, determines how she reacts to that future, and even that she has a future.This is why we spent so much time with the two of them in the first three episodes. Our investment in their relationship is important to understanding Amy’s motivations. We have watched as Brad adopts her as his own daughter, after the loss of his biological child, and we have watched as the two of them bonded, loved ,and supported each other.

In the first episodes, we watch the two bond as they attempt to escape the government agents who want to use Amy for medical experimentation. They eventually get caught, and Amy is  infected with the vampire virus, and unwillingly forms a relationship with the lead vampire, Fanning, who attempts, repeatedly, to undermine her relationship with Brad, so that he can replace him. Amy resists all his attempts because she received a slightly different, (less virulent), strain of vampirism, and because Brad has supported her unconditionally, no matter how much she changed. She is able to withstand Fanning’s control in a way the other 11 vampires cannot. She is also able to walk about during the day, unlike Fanning and his kind. In other words, like Blade from the Marvel comics movie, she has all the strengths of the vampires, and none of their weaknesses.

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Of all the vampires, though, it is Babcock who is the most sympathetic, and the most charming. Fanning has a very compelling manner, in that he is able to talk people into doing things they are initially resistant to, but Babcock has the ability to be very likable, and open with everyone. This works especially well, since most of the time we see these characters from inside the mental landscapes they’ve created to communicate with the  human beings in their orbit, and with each other. Their actual physical bodies dont speak or even acknowledge human beings except as food.

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Amy and Brad spend most of the finale escaping from the facility, and  living in an abandoned cabin in the woods, while the US is quickly overtaken by the vampires, who also, finally, escape the facility, after having planned to do so since their creation. We seemed to spend an inordinate amount of this season waiting for the vampires to break free, and even I was going tired of just watching all the players run around in the facility for three to four episodes, but really, what we were doing was setting up Brad and Amy’s relationship, and the reason for the enmity between Fanning and Amy. Fanning refused to escape from the facility without Amy because he was waiting for her to turn into a full vampire, and give him her allegiance, which she refused to do. We get several moments of foreshadowing that Fanning is not infallible, when a woman he wanted for himself, rejects him to die in the arms of her husband, and when Amy rejects Babcock’s overtures of friendship. Fanning isn’t always in control, and Amy  has a strong will of her own.

Make no mistake, Amy is a full vampire, but unlike the other vampires, she refused to give into the dual choices that were given to her by Fanning. Whenever any of the other vampires turned, they had been given the option of dying, or becoming full vampires under Fanning’s control. Amy created a third option. She chose to live and become a vampire on her own terms, and it is Brad’s love and support that aided her in that choice.

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Amy vowed repeatedly to Brad, Fanning, and herself that she would not kill, or make other vampires, but Fanning uses her connection to Brad as her weakness, and in the tragic finale, he successfully forces her hand by infecting Brad. She only kills to protect Brad from being shot by  his two friends who happen to be present. Having killed to protect Brad, she  infects him with a different version of the vampirism virus, so that he will be more like her, and not the mindless minions created by the other vampires under Fanning, since he’s going to turn regardless. She leaves, after saying goodbye to him, to try to make it on her own, having been taught various survival skills, like archery, and hunting, by Brad during their interlude in the cabin.

During their time at the cabin, the cities are slowly being overrun by vampires that are all offshoots of the initial vampires created by the experiment. The initial vampires (which include Amy) are known as The Twelve. In the books, they are not all sympatico, or even all in league with each other. Some of them are allies, a couple are rivals, and a couple are loners, like Anthony. In the TV series, the end of the world is brought about when the other countries, witnessing what is happening in the US, decide to nuke all the cities where they have taken up residence.

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The reason the first season is narrated by Amy is because we’ve been watching a flashback from some 100 years in the future. Humanity is almost extinct, and the land is populated by mostly starving vampires, that can’t die. We see Amy, still a child 97 years later, her hair in long braids, bow and arrow in hand, shooting down the lesser vampires, as she searches the US for Brad, whom she feels is still alive. In the final scene she is seen approaching The Colony. In the second season we’ll hopefully be meeting those characters, who are all the human beings left after the nuclear (and vampire) apocalypse. The other books, The Twelve and City of Mirrors are also being jumbled in as well, since some of the first season comes from the second book.

I have to admit, I was mostly distracted by the question of who braided Amy’s hair, because she is wearing these long box braids. This is a something that probably wouldn’t have occurred to me to ask if I hadn’t earlier seen Brad braiding Amy’s hair in that Black momma ritual that had resonance for a lot of Black women watching the show. Nearly all of us have some memory of sitting at our mother’s feet, getting our hair braided, while discussing the day’s important issues. In Amy’s case, she confesses to Brad that she can see the future. She foresees Brad’s death, and the death of most of humanity.

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Another admission I have to make is that I did not find the middle section of the book, The Passage,  especially interesting, as most of it takes place inside The Colony, and involves a lot of personal politicking among characters I didn’t care about. The characters were not interesting, and nothing of real import occured in that section. I had to push really hard through that section of the book, because I kept being told it was worth it to get to the end, and that’s true, the last 100 or so pages were much better.

So, I’m hoping we get a second season, and it does look promising to get one. Unlike some people, who refused to engage with the show because it airs on network television, and were afraid of having it be canceled once they fell in love with it, I considered this show to be well worth getting burned. This show is everything that The Strain, a show I had high hopes for,  should have been.

An Old Man Filled With Regret: Men, Masculinity, and Atonement

Saito: Do you want to take a leap of faith? Or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone!  

-Inception

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In the movie Inception, this is a mantra shared between two  of the primary characters, Saito and Cobb. At the beginning of the film Saito asks Cobb if he wants to take a leap of faith, or die an old man filled with regret, and that question is enough to move Cobb to accept his offer. He is asking for Cobb’s trust because the two of them need each other. This is paralleled at the end of the movie, when Cobb repeats these words back to Saito.

Dying old, alone, and filed with regrets is the nightmare scenario  of the Action and Western film genres, as ex- killers, full of the guilt and shame of what they’ve done, seek redemption through killing for a good cause. This can take the form of revenge for a life lost, or the saving of a life that has meaning to them. Some of  its most famous incarnations are William Munny from Clint Eastwood’s 1992  movie, The Unforgiven, Robert McCall from the 2018 Equalizer franchise, Walt Kowalski from the 2008  Gran Turino, the 2017 Logan, Liam Neeson’s Taken trilogy,  John Creasy, from the 2004 version of  Man On Fire, and the 1953 Shane, starring Alan Ladd.

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Movie history is full of old men,  filled with the regrets, waiting to die alone, until something, or someone, moves them enough to risk coming out of retirement, often to attempt atonement for their past misdeeds. These are men beset with trauma. They are damaged killers who have committed questionable behavior.. Because of that, they are emotionally disconnected from other people, and sometimes  from themselves, until fate provides one last opportunity for personal connection, that gets taken from them. Often the person they’re trying to save is a stand in for their more innocent self, which is why this is often a child. The child is a stand-in for their lost innocence ,so in saving that person, the killer can symbolically save their former self.

Taking a leap of faith to form that emotional connection is the key. Often the former killers have locked themselves away from personal connections, feeling that they do not deserve to have love, or trust, or any human attachment, because they are bad men, who have done horrible things. They believe they are separate from the rest of humanity, and that they are unworthy of being a part of it, until someone (often a child) makes them realize there may be hope for them after all, and that they are not irredeemable.The child’s love and trust is a sign that they are salvageable. That they are “good  “men.  An innocent’s hand is offered to them, and they can take that leap of faith, one of the bravest acts a person can perform, or they can continue to dwell in their emotional abyss, and die alone, and unloved.

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Sometimes it is the innocent’s belief that the main character is a good person who will save them, that is enough to spur them into action. This is the basic plot of the 1953 movie, Shane, which is heavily paralleled, and referenced, in the 2017 movie, Logan, although the outcomes of these movies are very different. In Shane, Joey is a little boy who is drawn to Shane and idolizes his lifestyle as a gunslinger. In Logan, Laura is Logan’s genetic daughter, who idolizes his life as a comic book hero.

At the end of some of these movies, the ex-killer must go into exile, because they feel they cannot live with “normal “people. Alan Ladd plays a gunslinger who wants to retire from killing, to  become a farmer, but is called back into battle, when the woman and child he comes to care for, are endangered by an unscrupulous land baron. The townsfolk know he is a killer, but they look up to him, and think of him as heroic, but at the end of the movie, Shane cannot live in the valley with the farmers. He leaves because he feels he does not deserve to live a life of peace among normal people. He is a killer and is not the type of man who can live with people who have never lived that lifestyle, because he is too corrupt. Sacrificing the life he hoped to have is his punishment for having taken up the violence he’d previously rejected.

In the movie Serenity, the Assassin sent by the Council to collect River Tam, says that he kills to make a better world, but he knows he will never be allowed to live in that better world, because such a world has no place in it for the corruption he represents, and this is Shane’s predicament.

More often, at the end of these stories, the killers must die, because that is the price for having  picked up the sword again, although they are often happy to die, because they killed (and died) for a good reason, rather than whatever reasons they  feel regretful for. Many of them were ruthless killers in the  past, killing people for money, sport, or war. Some of these characters share more than a passing resemblance to the men they are trying to kill, because these bad men represent their past selves, and in killing them, they destroy their own evil past,  and can die at peace, knowing they did at least one “good” thing before they died.

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In Logan, the Wolverine has “retired” from a life of killing. He isn’t The Wolverine any more, and no longer “saves” people, but he is forced back onto the killing  field, to protect the “daughter”, to whom he has become emotionally attached. He dies in Laura’s arms, having redeemed himself for, as he once said, “…being the best there is at what I do.” Throughout his long life Logan had been the personification of death, relentless, inevitable, and unstoppable, as we see in the scene in the hotel, when Logan kills an entire room of armed men to save Charles Xavier. Logan also encounters a  younger, stronger, and more ruthless version of himself, that was made from his DNA. Logan must  literally kill his evil, past self, only then can he die at peace.

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In Man on Fire, Denzel Washington plays John Creasy, a former government assassin, who is so haunted by his past deeds that he has become suicidal. He has killed a lot of people in service to his country, feeling shame,  guilt, remorse, believing himself a monster, but  his soul is saved when  he falls in love with a little girl he was hired to protect. When Lupita’s life is endangered, he comes out of retirement, and uses his former killing skills to take revenge on the people who took away his one chance at happiness. Lupita entered his life as a reward for giving up his old one, showing  him that it was okay for him to live and love again

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For Creasy, Lupita’s love is a sign that he is worth saving, and that he is a good man. Her unconditional love and trust redeems him. When she is taken from him, he has the option of letting it go, and walking away, but  without Lupita there can be no redemption, and if he is going to die, then he wishes to do so in a blaze of glory, punishing the men who took his life, both literally and figuratively. In the end, rescuing Lupita from her captors will be his atonement for a life of sin, but his death is the price  he must pay for killing again, no matter how deserving his victims, or righteous his cause.

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During the movie Creasy has several conversations with his friend Rayburn, and with one of Lupita’s teachers, on the nature of sin ,and atonement. He asks Rayburn if he thinks God will forgive them for the things they’ve done, and he tells Lupita’s teacher that he was the sheep that got lost, when she asks if he sees the hand of God in what he does, quoting  the scripture: ‘Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with goodness.’ In Creasy’s final killing spree, he  is righteousness personified. He has become the hand of God, a Christlike figure, (even to the point of having a stigmata like wound in his side), who once saw nothing good in his ability to ruthlessly  take lives.The man who, early in the film, wanted to take his own life, willingly sacrifices that life to save his chosen daughter.

In the movie The Unforgiven William Munny, a famous gunslinger, has retired to a country life, but he is goaded back onto the stage when a young man who idolizes him, puts his life in danger by trying to emulate him. In The Dark Tower, Roland Deschain, the famous Gunslinger of Eld, has given up hunting The Man in Black, until he is pulled from “retirement” by a young boy he befriends, whose life is endangered by the MIB. In the movie John Wick, however, the spur out of retirement is the death of his dog, (the last remembrance of his late wife), caused by a local mobster’s son who came to rob his house. The dog is his last link to his old peaceful life, and with it gone, there is no point to trying to live peacefully. Like John Creasy, he aims to go out in a blaze of glory to avenge his wife’s memory.

If these men are lucky, they get to ride off into the sunset, but that is no relief either, as they may yet die in their beds, as old men filled with regret, but more often than not, there is a price to be paid for picking up weapons and taking lives again. They must sacrifice their life for taking up a lifestyle they’d rejected, and this is seen by these men as better than dying alone, and unloved, regretting all the evil they’d done.

“Life is too short to wake up with regrets. So love the people who treat you right. Forget about those who don’t. Believe everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would most likely be worth it.” 
― Harvey MacKay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Gods Season One

The second season of American Gods airs this Sunday, and Starz has been showing season one non-stop since January. The show is available for streaming on Amazon Prime, Youtube, and Vudu, or the Starz app.

So here, for those of you who missed the first season, are all my reviews and recaps in one spot.

 

The Bone Orchard

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https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2017/05/03/american-%EF%BB%BFgods-season-one-the-bone-orchard%EF%BB%BF/

 

The Secret of the Spoons

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https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2017/05/12/american-gods-season-one-the-secret-of-spoons%EF%BB%BF/

Head Full of Snow

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https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2017/05/19/american-gods-season-one-head-full-of-snow/

 

Git Gone

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https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2017/05/27/american-gods-season-one-git-gone/

Lemon Scented You

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https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/american-gods-season-one-lemon-scented-you/

A Murder of Gods

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https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/american-gods-season-one-a-murder-of-gods/

A Prayer For Mad Sweeney

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https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/a-prayer-for-mad-sweeney/

Come to Jesus

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2017/06/23/american-gods-season-one-come-to-jesus-part-one/

American Gods: Of Gods and Shadow Moon (Come To Jesus – Pt. 2)

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https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/american-gods-of-gods-and-shadow-moon/

What Fandom Racism Looks Like: Misogynoir – Black Women in the Way — Stitch’s Media Mix

Don’t forget to check out last month’s post and the introduction! I may later eat my words because I haven’t seen more than season 1 of ToS or any of the movies but I hate that Uhura in the reboot is just a love sick puppy that follows Spock around. Like she doesn’t even resemble […]

via What Fandom Racism Looks Like: Misogynoir – Black Women in the Way — Stitch’s Media Mix

 

As I mentioned before, (and keep mentioning, because, above everything else), I want the reader to keep in the forefront of their minds, that fandom is not practiced in a vacuum. A lot of fandom tropes, and misbehavior comes directly from real life, and the fans own personal experiences, and knowledge, of race, gender, and sexuality, often imparted to them by a media that is by, for, and about White ,straight men, even if its on a subconscious level.

Fandom has been taught, by decades of media consumption, that Black women CANNOT be love interests. The media has not only taught White women, but has also taught Black women, that we are unloved, unlovable, and not capable of love, which is the foundation behind a lot of arguments that we are “strong, so we don’t need a man”. The foundation of this argument is the Mammy stereotype, who is often defemenized, or sometimes even masculinized, (as a sign of her strength), and who cares so much for her White patron, that she has no concerns for her own life.

https://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/mammies/

The caricature portrayed an obese, coarse, maternal figure. She had great love for her white “family,” but often treated her own family with disdain. Although she had children, sometimes many, she was completely desexualized. She “belonged” to the white family, though it was rarely stated. Unlike Sambo, she was a faithful worker. She had no black friends; the white family was her entire world.

This stereotype is especially recognizable in arguments about how Uhura is too strong to need a man. Instead, she is meant to be background support of a mlm relationship, that has absolutely no chance, whatsoever, of becoming canon. It is interesting to me that in their erasure and denigration of Black characters, that so many fans (especially the ones who consider themselves feminists), tend to fall back on Black stereotypes they’ve consumed from media. To me, it shows the insidiousness of racism. That media that goes unexamined is media that has filled one’s mind with beliefs one may not actually “believe”.

It took me many years to root out some of the more damaging beliefs, about being a Black woman, from my own consumption of Pop culture, and this happened despite my mother’s vigilance in making sure that I consumed messages in other forms of media (Black media, for example), that did not reinforce stereotypes, so I know how sneaky this sort of  racist messaging can be.

As I always say, please visit Snitch’s Media blog, where she discusses the how and what of fandom, on the intersection of  race and Queer issues. That’s her area of expertise and I always go to her blog when I need to know what kind of fu**ery  the fandom has been engaging, and I like to riff on her posts, rather than subjecting her to one of my long winded comments on her blog.

My agenda isn’t so much what the fans are doing, so much as why fandom does it, and to tie her posts to wider media and Pop cultural narratives. There’s a reason why the fandom does what it does, and much of it can be laid at the feet of examined White supremacy that so many of us, (because I’m a fan too), have consumed.

Later, we’ll discuss how the consumption of racist narratives in Pop culture affects the self-esteem of Black girls and women, and how, due to the resurgence of source material created by, for, and about Black women, that’s slowly starting to change.

 

Weekend Reading/ Feb. 22nd, 2019

The Matrix

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This isn’t a new theme, but I liked this little essay about how to enjoy movies with so much gunfire in them, in this age of daily mass shootings. How can we enjoy such scenes, and what makes these scenes different from the kinds of scenes we’ve see on our TV screens, on  a regular basis? And what type of role does such a scene have on the prevalence of mass shootings? Not in causing them, but in inspiring how they’re committed.

https://www.vulture.com/2019/02/reckoning-with-the-matrixs-gun-problem.html

 

 

Romantic Tropes

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There is however a real link between how Hollywood depicts romance, and men’s ideas of how romance is meant to be performed, and what’s considered romantic rather than abusive.

To be fair,women also receive toxic messages about romance, outside of what’s discussed in this essay, like the idea that women  can fix broken men, an idea so normalized in Hollywood, that it even shows up in romantic fiction written by women.

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/01/when-pop-culture-sells-dangerous-myths-about-romance/549749/

http://www.collegehumor.com/post/7038172/hey-movies-this-isnt-romantic

 

 

 

Racist Vigilantism

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As to the event that happened with Liam Neeson a couple of weeks ago, in which he confessed to an event of racial vigilantism in his youth,  I think Roland Martin, from TVOne News, says it best. But the point also needs to be made that Liam Neeson was only doing what countless numbers of Hollywood films have encouraged White men to do in the protection of White women’s bodies, which is go out and harm men of color, beginning with Birth of a Nation.  Endless Action movies and Westerns are  predicated on the basic plot of : White man goes out and shoots people he thinks  are bad.

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Liam himself has starred in countless numbers of films in which he avenges the sacrilege, or deaths, of female characters. I’m disappointed, but not angry, at Liam, for doing exactly what he’s been told to do, since the invention of film media. White woman been hurt? Go out and terrorize some Black people!

https://www.thedailybeast.com/black-america-knows-white-avengers-like-liam-neeson-all-too-well?via=newsletter&source=DDAfternoon

 

 

Film Criticism Diversity

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Yeah, we’ve been talking about this for a minute.

https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/6/22/17466246/criticism-film-movie-diversity-annenberg-study-larson-blanchett-bullock-kaling

 

 

The Apocalypse

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The basic idea of this article is that common depictions of the apocalypse are just wrong. We already have examples of how people react in the event of massive life-changing events in places that have experienced natural disasters. So why don’t we ever see any of that in Apoclaypse style movies? In fact the people in those movies, especially Western films, all react the same, running trough the streets, burning, killing and pillaging. Along with the lack of bicycles after the apocalypse, showing people acting a fool, during the end of the world, just makes for more dramatic screen images, I guess.

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https://www.tor.com/2018/11/14/what-really-happens-after-the-apocalypse/

 

 

 

Misogyny

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This one discusses how the disparaging of romance novels, and Chic-Lit, is really just another form of devaluing women’s interests and hobbies, and I agree. I think there’s something to this. Anytime women show an interest in some thing, or engage in an activity, there’s a contingent of gatekeepers, and intelligentsia, who crawl out from under the world’s baseboards, to take a shit on everything from romance novels and coloring books, to scrapbooking and fanfiction, to TV shows and Ugg boots.

In fact, this very much pertains to all Pop culture media, for which women are the audience. Pay close attention to criticism of the kinds of hobbies and interests women engage in, vs, the kinds of interests engaged in by men, and see that you don’t find that much of it is negative.

 

https://thetempest.co/2018/03/09/entertainment/chick-lit-romance-bias/

 

 

 

White Nationalism’s Nightmare

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If you haven’t seen the movie The Girl with All the Gifts, then you need to check it out. This is an interesting analysis of what this movie means to those arguing that White Genocide is a thing. I gave a review of it on this blog.

https://racebaitr.com/2017/07/25/girl-gifts-nightmare-white-supremacy/

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/the-girl-with-all-the-gifts-2016/

Kingdom (Korean Zombie Series)

 

I cannot speak highly enough about this show, and I want to watch it again before the 15th (before I’ll be binging Umbrella Academy). If you’re a fan of historical fiction, zombies, and political intrigue, then this is your show. The fact that all the political intrigue takes place in Korea’s past is completely irrelevant, because you will enjoy the ride. You will especially enjoy it if you watched the movies, Train to Busan, or Seoul Station, because this is from the same creators, although it is unknown if the movies are part of a trilogy, with the show.

Now, I can’t say for certain, but it is possible that Kingdom is a prequel to Seoul Station, which takes place in present day  Korea, and involves a zombie contagion spreading among the homeless. Train to Busan is about a zombie contagion that takes place among a crowd of middle class commuters, in the present day, in another area of Korea, simultaneous to Seoul Station.

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Kingdom takes place in Korea’s ancient past and is about a zombie contagion that spreads among the populace, after the King becomes infected. While the peasants fight for their lives, the Crown Prince attempts to do his best to help save them while the rest of the nobility fight among themselves for access to the throne.There’s some neat character arcs in the series. When we first meet the Prince, he is attempting to see his father, who has been incognito. What he doesn’t know is The King had been turned into a zombie by  the medicinal use of a small purple flower, that grows in the mountains.

The current Prince is next in line to the throne, and he is indolent and kind of lazy. He’s spent most of his time enjoying himself rather than learning statecraft. There is a rival clan that wishes to put one of their own on the throne because a daughter of that clan is the King’s pregnant wife. Most of the time at court, is spent driving away the Prince, and pretending the King is still alive, but in seclusion, until that woman’s child is born, as that child will have precedence to the throne over the current Prince.

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As the crisis with the zombies deepens, we watch as  the Prince steps up to care for his people in their time of need, which parallels the journey made by the lead character in Train to Busan, who goes from a selfish man, who nearly gets one of the other passengers killed, to sacrificing his life to protect them. Several times the Prince risks his life to save peasants, including several children. He steps up to be as courageous, and smart, as the peasants believe him to be. The other officials, whose job it is to take care of the villagers, turn out to be a lot less so.

Each iteration of these stories addresses the  issues of classism and poverty from three differing points of view, so I can’t talk about Kingdom without talking about the previous two films, because even if the films are not part of a trilogy, they are connected by their themes. In Seoul Station, the entire contagion begins among the homeless , when one of the men in that community, dies  and resurrects. His brother tried get help for him, but kept getting rebuffed  by people who had nothing but contempt for him. If he had been able to get medical help for his brother, the situation would not have evolved the way it did.

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In Kingdom, the villagers in the outlying areas are starving to death because the local officials are neglectful in their duties, being more concerned with their pleasant lives, than if people are dying. When one of the bodies the King has fed on, is shipped home to one of the villages, someone chops up the body, and puts it in a stew, which the starving peasants eat. For the record, most of the bodies the king has fed on, don’t resurrect because they have been immersed in a pond on the castle grounds.

One of the interesting things about these zombies is they only resurrect during the day. It isn’t until later that we find out why that is, but until then, since no one believes in their existence until its too late, no one takes the opportunity to get rid of the bodies before nightfall.  As soon as the sun rises, the zombies fall down, and appear to be dead. The bodies that have been dumped into  the palace’s pond have also not resurrected, for some reason.

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The homeless man, in Seoul Station, spends nearly the entire  movie running for his life, after having met, and saved, the life of the young woman at the center of the film. She too is a member of the underclass,  a sex worker with no real home of her own, after she breaks up with her boyfriend. Neither of them have anywhere to go, so must stay out in the streets, trying to avoid the zombies. At one point, she and the old man have simultaneous emotional breakdowns about wanting to go home, and not having one to go to.

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Every opportunity people have to help them, they don’t,  including the police. The two of them get attacked or turned away. Some of the characters declare that the old man smells bad. The young lady makes a less than favorable impression, as she spends most of the movie in her bare feet, after she loses her impractical shoes. No one will help either of them because they are considered smelly, or  dirty, or  worthless. The movie isn’t just an indictment against the existence of homelessness, but an indictment against the classist snobbery that does nothing to help them.

In Train to Busan, you have another class of people, the middle class, riding a train, when a contagion occurs. You have businessmen, grandmothers, high school students. In other words, respectable people. The kind who were looking down on the primary characters of Seoul Station. Trapped in an environment no one can escape, they are shown as being selfish, full of contempt for those they think are less than, having no loyalty to one another, yet  acquiescent to any form of authority.

The man with the most power and respect is openly malicious  towards the other characters, at one point, expressing a rage filled rant towards a teenage  girl he regards as stupid. At several points in the story, he gets people killed because he wants what he wants, and in his mind that takes priority over whatever those “lesser” people want. So once again we have the themes of classicism and selfishness and snobbery. All the other characters learn to be selfless too late to save themselves, as they really get  the chance to band together. The lowest person on the class scale is the wrestler and his wife, both of whom start the story as giving and altruistic people. There is also a homeless man in this movie as well. He dies too, but he does so giving his life to save others, just as the wrestler does. This same level of personal growth is shown in The Kingdom, when  the Prince rises to the occasion, to become a true leader who makes smart, brave  decisions for the welfare of the villagers, and  always from a place of empathy.

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In Train to Busan, two old women, sisters, are watching news footage of the zombie attacks on TV and, mistaking the attackers for rioters, they both express disdain for “those people”. After one sister gets infected, the other gets everyone in her train car killed, after she opens a door to let her sister inside. Her selfishness, (because she certainly isn’t thinking of the welfare of the others in the car), is what gets everyone killed, which is an interesting turnabout, as it was the people of that train car who selfishly kicked  some of the other survivors out of that car, at the commandments of the selfish businessman.

In Kingdom, the ruling officials in the area, at every opportunity to save the villagers, elect to save themselves. During an uprising of zombies, a fleet of boats is burned, leaving only one boat left. The officials and members of the local nobility, decide to take the one boat for themselves, after promising to evacuate the villagers. Unknown to them, one of  the infected has made its way onto the boat. They are all killed, and their boat destroyed, when the contagion breaks out.

While the movie is full of Game of Thrones style intrigue, its still fairly easy to follow, although you will probably not remember any of the character’s names. Even though its a series, rather than a film, it’s every bit as intense as the first two films, with the quiet moments only serving to build up the tension before the next attack, which everyone knows is coming, so a lot of daytime events have time limits on them. It is a very intense show, with lots of running, fighting, and bare escapes. Yes, children are endangered in this movie, some of them are killed (offscreen) and there are child zombies.There are also some really good plot surprises, as well, so if you’re watching this  because you find the plot intriguing, you will be satisfied. The movie is both subbed and dubbed, so those of you who hate reading subtitles can listen in English, and vice versa.

I cannot recommend this movie hard enough to anyone who is a fan of zombie movies and shows.

Kingdom is a six part TV series available on Netflix.

Titans (DCEU) Season One

 

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I actually liked this series, although I was more than a little dubious about it from looking at the trailer. The trailer for this show should just be ignored. The show has a few problems, but those problems can be overcome.

The show starts with Raven, and her superpowers, being pursued by some unknown agents. She ends up in jail where she meets Dick Grayson. She knows who he is and pleads with him to help her. There are several suspenseful escapes from the people pursuing her. Along the way, she meets Garth (Beast Boy) and his family, the Doom Patrol, in episode four, and eventually, she encounters a superteam duo, called Hawk and Dove, who were also in the comic books, but I don’t remember them, which shows you how little of an impression they made on me. I don’t know if they’re going to have a  spin off show of their own.

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It turns out the people pursuing her are the members of a cult that worship her demon father, Trigun, and are trying to procure her to work for them, so they can summon him to Earth. They are unsuccessful for the most part but then, of course, her mother (who she thought was dead), reappears, claiming to want to take care of her, or something. Naturally, since she was the one who slept with Trigun she’s on his side, which is a plot point you can see coming a mile away, but Rachel doesn’t even think about asking her mother why she slept with a demon. So yeah, her mother tricks her into summoning her father, even though Rachel knows she’s probably  not supposed to do that.

And let’s just say the comic book version of Trigun made a huge impression on me as a kid. Yeah, this show version was  deeply underwhelming. I was not whelmed at all.

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I think one of the main problems, with this show, is the focus on Raven as a character. The actress makes this character  less than compelling because she simply isn’t a very good actress. I mean she is an adequate actress, who is not good enough to pull off this role,  and I found myself more interested in Beast Boy’s story because Ryan Potter is just better. At every opportunity, the other actors outshine her, and are much more interesting as characters. Yes, even Dick.

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There’s also the small sideplot point of Beast Boy having  trouble controlling himself  (along with some PTSD) after he kills (and eats) a man in the form of a tiger, which seems to be his go-to animal. I found Garth’s questions about the nature of his abilities to be much more interesting than anything Raven was getting up to. On the other hand, watching  the two of them  bonding as friends, was really sweet, and Beast Boy is very quickly becoming one of my favorite characters. He was mostly just annoying in the comic books but Ryan Potter’s incredibly expressive face perfectly captures both the sunniness, and the menace, of this character. Most of the time Garth is a friendly and open person, but when he goes to his animal form, he can be pretty terrifying, which is not necessarily something that can be conveyed in illustrations.

Seeing certain characters brought to life, seeing their powers manifest for real, rather than on a page,  has a different effect on how you think of them sometimes. I thought the idea of all his animals being green would be kind of silly, but the way its shown isn’t silly, at all. Potter’s body language really sells it, and you get some idea of how much power this  guy has (especially if you just ignored him in the books.)

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I am reasonably  familiar with the Teen Titans comic books, (even though I’m not a DC fan, in general), and the Teen Titans Go TV show. In the comic books, my favorite character was Raven.  I found her backstory, as the daughter of the world destroying demon, Trigun, very fascinating. If you’re a fan of the cartoon, that Raven isn’t all that different from the comic book version, except for being funnier and snarkier. Oddly, the Starfire from the cartoon isn’t all that different either, at least in temperament, from the comic book version either, except in the comic book, she’s a lot sexier, which brings us to Ana Diop as Starfire.

My least favorite character from the comic books  is Starfire, although my niece, The Potato, loves her. I mostly found the character uninteresting, and occasionally, annoying.  I  thought of her as “chirpy”, but then I was a lot younger when I read those. In the show, as portrayed by Ana Diop, she’s a much more interesting character, who, at first, isn’t much like her comic book version at all. She’s kind of broody and dark, but there’s a reason for that.  Its only towards the end of the season that she starts to get more snarky, but she still lacks the sunny, happy go lucky, problem free attitude, of the woman from the comic books ,although she has an incredible smile, that when she bothers to use it, just makes you smile too.

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She’s one of my favorite characters on the show. I especially love that everytime we see her, just like in the comic books, she’s wearing purple, and unlike the comic books, her scenes  are always accompanied by disco music, which I thought was hilarious. Of all the characters, she’s the most knowing and mature, while paradoxically, knowing the least.

The Starfire from the comic books is an exceptionally powerful character. which is something people tend to forget. She is a very visually distracting character, because  she barely wears any clothes, (she really does love the color purple, though). She does things in the comic books that I didn’t think about seeing on the screen because I got caught up in how she looks too. I didn’t like her hair. I didn’t like her outfits. Her attitude is different. When she uses those massive force blasts in the show, literally incinerating a roomful of men into a pile of charcoal briquets, that shit is… let’s just say, I was a bit taken aback. This was not what I’d thought about when I thought about her. Like I said, it’s different when you see it brought to life, in this manner.

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When we first meet Starfire, or Kory , as the show refers to her, she has lost all her memory, which accounts for the change in attitude, at least. She encounters Rachel and adopts her as a little sister, and   vows to protect her. It isn’t until near the end of the season that she gets her memory back, and her relationship with Rachel suffers for it, which is really tragic because you could see that the four of them, Beast Boy,  Robin, Kory and Rachel were beginning to form a family. I was not impressed by the comic book version of the character but the onscreen version is truly impressive and Ana Diop is doing a wonderful job with it. I can see why she was chosen for this role. (We’re not about to address the racist wtf*ery from the fandom, and  which has surrounded the  character, from the moment the actress was announced. Ain’t nobody got time for that!)

This is not a great show, but I’m interested in the family dynamics at play, and the relationships between the characters, as they develop. Kory and Dick develop a relationship which is canon to some of the comic books, and I liked seeing that. Brendan Thwaites, I have no idea who he is, is an adequate Robin, and it was a lot of fun watching him interact with Jason Todd, the Robin who replaced him.

Dick has some anger issues, and a chip on his shoulder with Batman, which is also kind of true to the comic books, despite that silliness  in the trailer. I have to admit I mostly think of Batman’s various kids as a huge, squabbling bunch of emos, and I would love to see some of the other Batkids in the show. I find it amusing to watch them fight amongst themselves, but they will  still kick the asses of anyone who messes with  their siblings. (Batman has, like, a dozen kids! I have never found that NOT funny.)

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I wish the show had been a little more focused and not sort of all over the place, though. Its not that the plot points are not resolved, its that characters (Hawk, Dove, The Nuclear Family,  Doom Patrol, Jason Todd, Donna Troy) are introduced, and disappeared, so fast we barely get to know them, and the characters keep moving from place to place. The show appears to be both moving too fast and meandering slowly towards its conclusion. The pacing needs to be better. It just felt like the writers were trying to squeeze in as many cameos from the comic books as possible.

Marvel and DC seem to have carved out their respective territories with Marvel tearing it up on the big screen, while  the Prime Time TV market  is seems well settled by DC, with 7 to 8 shows airing now, and some 8 more on the way, most of which will be on the DCEU app. (Marvel and DC both  have a f**kton of animated works too.)

Titans is available on the DC app. Ignore the awful trailer and give it try if you can.

Star Trek: Discovery; Season Two

Star Trek: Discovery

I watched the second season premiere of this, and I’m sensing a theme. If the first two episodes are any indication then the overarching theme for this season will be Faith vs. Science. In the first episode, the Discovery is sent to investigate several light flares throughout the galaxy, as people claim to have seen “Red Angels” figures at those sites. Micheal is hoping to meet with Spock, from whom she has been estranged, but learns from Captain Pike that Spock checked himself into a mental institution just before the Enterprise met up with Discovery. (The series is set about ten years before the original series. Pike is the Capt. of the Enterprise, at this time, and Spock is his Science Officer.)

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In the second episode, the Discovery follows one of these flares to a planet humans were brought to just before WW3, by some unknown alien benefactors. There’s not a lot of discussion surrounding who these mysterious benefactors are, which is the part of the show I was most interested in. There are some long discussions about having religious faith versus faith in science, which would be a lot more convincing if the writers made clear exactly what they meant by religion, and faith.

The underlying themes of the season will be watching the crew actually become a crew, after Lorca’s betrayal last season, and Pike is just the Captain they need to regain their equilibrium, as he is much more relaxed in his captaining style, slightly looser in his interpretation of the rules, and also “not evil”. This season’s focus, while not taking the main camera off Michael’s journey, will also be the viewers getting to know the rest of the crew. We’ll be getting to know the bridge crew, following Tilly’s and Saru’s development as officers, and following Stamets’ journey as he mourns his late partner, Dr. Culber. Not every episode is going to centered on Michael, but just as with last season, she’s in nearly every scene, and we’re always well informed about where she is physically and emotionally during any episode, even if that episode isn’t strictly about her.

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Tilly gets into some physical trouble after which she begins to see the ghost of a former high school friend. This “ghost” may or may not be related to the return of Dr. Culber, as fans have been very upset at his fridging, and we were promised his return. I’m inclined to believe the creators because they very emphatically promised the return of Phillipa, and she did return, just not in a manner we thought she would.

We also get some more backstory on Michael’s relationship with her adoptive family, and her first meeting with Sarek’s wife Amanda, who took to this little girl as if she were her own, and I loved seeing their relationship. Spock was less welcoming to her, so he, for sure, had some feelings about her living in the house.

On the away team mission of the second episode, we get some interesting backstory on the bridge crewmember, Owesekun (pronounced Owe-WAY-sha-kun). We discover she is from a community of Luddites, so I can’t help but think that her making it to Starfleet had to be an interesting journey, and I hope we get an episode devoted to her past. We get a statement from Detmer that she got her pilot’s licence when she was 12 years old, which I find intriguing. Piloting what? So we have started getting these intriguing little glimpses of the bridge crew’s personal lives. There’s an Asian man on the bridge who we know nothing about, and a Black man, with no backstory, so yeah, we’ve got plenty of stories to be told. I think I noted before that outside of Pike there are no White men in the bridge crew at all. (No, Saru does not count.)

But I think the most intriguing character on the bridge is this person. Is she like Robocop? What is she/he/they? We havent even gotten a hint yet, and she hasn’t said a whole lot, but I hope we find out this season.

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http://trekcore.com/blog/2017/12/meet-the-star-trek-discovery-bridge-crew-cast/

 

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For some reason, this iteration of Star Trek has been successfully hiring comedians as extras on the show, and I just want to shout out to the woman above, Tig Notaro. if you haven’t heard any of her stand up, go take a listen. She’s hilarious on stage and she’s very refreshing here, and  I hope she stays on the ship. I’d like to see a more of her.

In the first episode, we get this awesome look at he crew working like a well oiled machine. They are simply fantastic, and it was a real joy to watch,  as they worked to save Michael’s life, when she is injured on an away mission. Now this is the Star Trek I remember, (only everyone talks a lot faster). My advice for those complaining that the show didn’t feel very Trek-like in that first season was to give it time, because the show had to get its main character’s  primary backstory out of the way, after which we could actually focus on the mission, and their  characters.

A lot of the feel of the first season was due to the presence of Lorca, who had a heavier, more intense persona, and this episode really shows how a Captain influences the mood of the bridge, and it’s crew. With the addition of Pike, the show feels lighter, and well…happier. Probably because that’s how he is, and while I actually did like Lorca, I definitely prefer Pike, even though he’s not much like the original series Pike. It’s not that the show lacks drama. It just doesn’t feel as dark and heavy. Starfleet isn’t involved in a war, and the Captain isn’t secretly evil. Yay!

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Now, I have to talk about something really quick here. I’m having some kind of emotional reaction to Michael, that for some reason, I did not foresee, and part of it is because there has never been a character like Michael in a mainstream scifi show. I knew she was a groundbreaking character, but I didn’t give it deep thought, and really, the closest we fans have ever gotten is Uhura, and it took decades to start fleshing her character out, even a little bit. (We won’t mention Abby from Sleepy Hollow.)

I really cannot think of  a Black female character that has been, not just the emotional focus of a Scifi show,  but one who has been given so much backstory, and depth, and I’m having some trouble articulating how I feel about that level of representation. What’s even more interesting, for me, is that we are getting this type of character development, that isn’t centered around her race. Its not that there have never been Black women in such shows, there are a few I’ve greatly admired, including Uhura, Guinan, Auntie Entity from Thunderdome, Grace Jones, Martha from Doctor Who, but none like Michael. (There are other Black female characters in other shows, and I love them too, but they usually are not the center or focus of the entire show. The show isn’t exactly about them. I think the closest we get to such characters are Thunder from Black Lightning, and Iris West from The Flash.)

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I want to say I like Michael, but it goes far beyond liking her. I want to love her, but I am nervous about getting too close to her, (not because she’s a bad character, but because I cannot trust the writers to do right by her. I fully expect them to fuck this up because that has always been the pattern). I cannot imagine what it must be like for Black women, younger than me, to see themselves so represented, so closely, in one of the most iconic television shows in  history. I can’t imagine it for them, because I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for me, although I knew what I wanted. One of the very first posts I ever wrote for this blog was called “Black Women like to have adventures too”. I didn’t for-see, nor could I have possibly known, that I would (or even could) get this kind of representation when I wrote that. I got exactly what I asked for, and I’m really happy, but the moment is somewhat bittersweet, because I wish I had gotten it sooner, and because I’m not entirely sure I knew exactly what I was asking for, and now I don’t know how to handle it. (Probably, I should just act a fool! Whaddaya think?!)

One of the most moving videos I ever watched was a young man looking at a Black Panther poster and he started yelling, and he said something like, “This is what it must feel like for White people all the time!” In the past ten years this is the first time we’ve gotten any kind of representation in popular culture, like this. My mom has actually become interested in comic book characters, (she’s never read a superhero comic in her life. My biggest highlight as an adult was arguing with her, in the car, about whether or not Superman could beat the Hulk!) and started watching different TV shows, and movies. that she mostly would have ignored, because they only starred white people.

I have always had firm reasons for loving Star Trek, despite its issues. Star Trek has done right by me in ways no other show has, even when I didn’t particularly care for some of them, and I’m always gonna stan for this franchise. Even if the creators never do another show correctly, there is at least this one. I will never (nor do I want to) listen to any White man’s idea of what this specific show is about, or what he thinks of the characters. I  just don’t give a flying cooch what anybody who is White and male thinks of this show, or Michael, or Pike even. I won’t look for the reviews, or opinion pieces, and I don’t need their affirmation either. I made up my mind about this a long time ago.

Am I biased? Sure!

But I don’t care.