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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Gods Season Two: House on the Rock

American Gods began its second season last week.

Let’s talk about it!

But first we need to have some behind the scenes discussion, just like in the show itself. Bryan Fuller is no longer the show runner for this season. He was let go after writing a couple of this season’s episodes.

American Gods is taking new steps forward today, though; Jesse Alexander, who worked with Fuller on Hannibal and Star Trek: Discovery, has been officially named as its new showrunner. Meanwhile, the six scripts Green and Fuller had already written for the show’s second season are allegedly set to be tossed out, with Alexander and Gaiman returning to square one as they fight to get the series back up and running for its anticipated January 2019 return.

  ——  https://www.avclub.com/the-bryan-fuller-american-gods-breakup-was-apparently-e-1822682450

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The new show runners are the author of the book, Neil Gaiman, and Jessie Alexander (who is also now out). I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’ve never watched a show run by Gaiman before, but I am familiar with Fuller’s output. Those of you who watched last season are going to notice some differences in how the story gets told, and I am not confident that Gaiman will keep that same in your face attitude that was such a great part of the first season. Its possible the show may end up being little more than a lovely spectacle, but I’m not going to give up on the series just because Fuller isn’t on it. I’m really curious about what’s going to happen this season, and the show has already been renewed for a third, so even though I have some doubts that it won’t be as good as Fuller’s version, there might be other compensations. I’m sticking with it.

That Fuller is an openly gay man had a lot of influence on what was depicted on screen, most especially in the episode Head Full of Snow, where we met Salim and the Djinn. Fuller was also responsible for the many subtle layers throughout the season, as he is a master of subtext. There have already been some dramatic changes, because Kristen Chenoweth and Gillian Anderson left the show on Fuller’s heels, and the writers have had to accommodate that. So  we do not pick up where we left off at the end of season one, and Ostara’s actions at the end of that season seems to have had little effect on the world.

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Aside from a brief background news piece, this action has no clear impact on the world, and Easter has apparently turned her back on Wednesday because he ran over some of her bunnies.

And to explain Anderson’s absence from the show:

Meanwhile, the New God Media, who Anderson played with an overabundance of confidence as she threatened and cajoled heroes and villains alike, was apparently so shaken by Wednesday’s display of power that she’s gone into hiding to reinvent herself. 

——-   https://www.theverge.com/2019/3/10/18258816/american-gods-review-season-2-ian-macshane-gillian-anderson-kristin-chenoweth-starz

The story opens with Mr World bruised and battered, being ferried to a secret location by Technical Boy. Media has disappeared, after her run in with Easter, and TB is  tasked with finding her by Mr. World. Mr. World is in this secret location to visit Argus, a secret surveillance site (and an old god of some kind, which is the reason Technical Boy is not allowed to meet him. Mr. World can spy  on the old gods, thanks to the presence of Bilquis, and her tracking device.

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In the meantime, all the gods we saw from the first season make their way to the House on the Rock, along with a couple of hangers on. Sweeney, Laura, Wednesday, and Shadow all travel in the same car and their proximity to each other is not easy. Sweeney hates everyone, and Shadow and Laura are not comfortable with each other.There’s a lot more of the book dialogue in the episode, as Nancy ,and Wednesday talk about the history of the House on the Rock. Neil Gaiman wanted more of the book to be on the screen and he has somewhat got his wish.

We are  introduced to Kali, also known as Mama Ji who is one of my favorite characters from the book, even though she doesn’t get a lot to do beyond some ass kicking, and her speech in this episode.  I hope we get to see more of her this season. As a human, she works in a local hotel, in the humble position of a housemaid. She argues that she doesn’t need a war because her position as an Indian deity is pretty strong, due to the influx of Indian immigrants to America. As am extremely powerful True God, in her own right, she argues that she is in no danger of being forgotten. Whiskey Jack and John Henry also get name checked.

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Bilquis was sent by Mr. World to spy on the meeting of the old gods, and according to Mr. World, make her complicit in his act of betrayal later in the movie, which we’ll get to in a moment. Bilquis was chosen for this because she owes Technical Boy a favor for creating the dating app that has given her new worshipers, and she is definitely feeling her own power, (as we saw last season when she tried to seduce TB), and she is reluctant to do anything for the new gods. They need a way to keep her in line, and one their side, otherwise she is too powerful to control. So ironically, Bilquis ends up in exactly the situation that was talked about in the first season when she was exiled from her homeland, her sexuality now under the control of a men, to be unleashed when they only with their permission.

At the House, the Djinn, who is working security, is confronted by Salim, who tells him that he is following his heart and wants to stay with him. The Djinn wants him to go away because its too dangerous for him to get involved in this war. The Djinn issues everyone coins to a mechanical oracle as a kind of reverse entry fee to the meeting. Bilquis prophecy has something to do with Shadow because when she receives hers, she glances sharply in his direction. Notice the very warm greeting between her and Mr. Nancy vs. the one between her and Wednesday which is decidedly cooler, as she chastises  him that she is older than him, and he neglected to invite her.

Sweeney, Salim, and Laura are not invited to the meeting, and must wait outside, but Shadow gets a ticket and his prophecy is interesting:

Every ending is a new beginning
Your lucky number is none
Your lucky color is dead
Motto: Like father, like son”

If you’ve read the book, then YOU know what that prophecy means but Shadow is mystified.

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The gods all meet up just before the meeting which involves riding the Carousel. Bilquis expresses some interest in who Shadow is. Everyone is always curious about Shadow and what he’s doing hanging out with Wednesday. Bilquis and Nancy admire Shadow’s physique although of course Nancy takes every opportunity to belittle him. Nancy’s son gets a shout out, too. If you haven’t read Anansi Boys, then check it out. Its not directly related to American Gods,  but is related thematically for its theme of  relationships between fathers and sons.

Laura, even though she’s not invited, demands a coin for a prophecy too ,and the Djinn tries to refuse her but is warned away from making Laura angry by Salim and Sweeney. Her prophecy is blank, because she’s already dead. She has no future. Wednesday meets with the eldest Zoraya, The Evening Star, who looks lovely and is played by the magnificent Cloris Leachman, and her brother Czernobog, who is his usual profane self.

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The old gods all meet to ride the Carousel and invite Shadow to ride as well. As I mentioned last season, there are a lot of things the gods do that is related to their worship, like smoking, and prophecy. The act of or the idea of spinning is a theme across several religions, with the most famous being Sufi Whirling, or Whirling Dervishes of Turkey. Whirling in circles is a form of active meditation used  to touch the divine. Even some of the fundamentalist Christian regions mention spinning in circles as a way to connect with God, or a sign that one has connected with God.

This is the purpose of the carousel, as Shadow is connected to the gods by the whirl of the machine, he wakes up in a mental state in which he can see the gods true forms.  The old gods are reluctant to join Wednesday in his war against the new gods, but Shadow gives a rallying speech ,which Wednesday believes will sway some of them.

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After the meeting the old gods meet at a local diner where Shadow get gaslighted by the gods, who pretend the carousel event didn’t occur, and will not answer his question about whether or not they are all gods. Technically, some of the them are just Personages, not gods. I would call them Powers, like Mad Sweeney, and the Djinn. Shadow also  tries to ignore Laura exists, but she is somewhat compensated by Bilquis’ attention to her.

I have no idea if Bilquis has the ability to turn her seduction powers on and off, or if they are simply innate to her, or if they work, or don’t work, on some people. Certainly many of the gods, both old and new, seem able to resists her charms, but ordinary humans cannot. It’s hard to tell if her powers are working on them. First she tries to guess if Laura is some sort of god, because she recognizes that Laura is different from an ordinary human, and seems attracted to her, until she finds out that Laura is married to Shadow, and then kisses her. Beyond looking bashful Laura doesn’t really respond.

 

Bilquis leaves but has signaled the location to Mr. World , who has sent an assassin to take out as many of the old gods as possible. The primary casualty is Zoraya, The Evening Star, who dies in Wednesday arms. Her brother goes on a long rant about what he pans to do to the killer, and its an interesting speech. You  will recognize the prophetic content of it if you’ve read the book.

I really do hope we get to see the Zoraya sister again. Cloris Leachman is a favorite of mine, and her character was hilarious, and played to perfection.

Shadow runs outside to beat up the assassin, but gets abducted by what appears to be a UFO. This is the introduction of another character I do not remember from the book, Mr. Town. He works for the new gods and wants to get to the bottom of who Shadow is, and why he is with Wednesday.

So in the second episode we get to find out a lot about Shadow along with some new questions as well.

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*I am very late with these reviews, but life has a way of delaying one’s well laid out plans and that’s what happened this week.  So for the next couple of weeks, it’s just going to be reviews of shows I’ve been watching, rather than my usual essays. Next week is the premiere of the last episodes of the last season of Into the Badlands, and I’ll be focusing on those, and I have  reviews of Doom Patrol, Upgrade vs. Venom, and  Siren, coming soon.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Making The Chosen Family

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I love ensemble movies that are done well, and James Gunn is exceptionally good at writing, not just the characters, but the relationships between the characters. GOTG isn’t just a movie about blowing shit up real good, it’s about the creation of a family, specifically the family that one chooses for oneself, something which is layered, threaded, and  referenced repeatedly, throughout both movies. The character’s adoptive families have proven to  be either unreliable, or openly abusive, and  it is  their chosen family, their found family (each other) that  turn out to be more trustworthy, and caring.

But they cannot truly be a part of their chosen family until they deal with their traumas, learn to take care of themselves, learn how to treat the others, and in a couple of cases, atone for past misdeeds.

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In the first movie, we meet all the characters separately. We get to know their flaws and issues. We are to understand  that these characters are assholes, who can’t get along with themselves, let alone each other. They each have personal issues that prevent them from  being close to others. Peter Quill is an arrogant, immature, and reckless man, who is also a carefree womanizer. We later learn that he was kidnapped from Earth, and raised by an emotionally abusive alien, named Yondu. Peter is still suffering the trauma of his mother’s death, some twenty years before, which he has never truly dealt with. All of the characters, except for Groot, are suffering from some parental trauma that prohibits them from forming healthy relationships with the others.

Peter is immediately smitten with Gamora, but she is too beset by her own issues, and he is inadequate as a partner, so the two of them cannot be together. The two of them are too damaged. Their issues need to be brought out into the open and dealt with first.

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Gamora is the adopted daughter of an abusive father, Thanos, the villain from Infinity War. She hates Thanos for good reason,  but she is also estranged from her adopted sister, Nebula, because of Thanos’ abusive upbringing, which pitted the two of them against each other. One of the most telling moments about the nature of their relationship, is Thanos, while in conference with the movie’s villain, referring to Gamora as his favorite daughter, as Nebula is standing directly in front of him, while  we get a closeup of her facial expression. Gamora was so caught up in surviving being Thanos’ daughter, that she never had time to protect her little sister from him, and the two of them never formed bonds.

This is a staple dynamic of siblings that have abusive parents, especially if one of them is considered to be  favored over another. I would wager that that was very probably Thanos’ agenda in treating them the way he did, to keep them from finding solace in each other, so as to keep them from turning on him. Both Nebula and Gamora  are icy in their demeanor, stiff, closed off , and unapproachable. Nebula spends most of the movie trying to kill her sister, although after having reluctantly spent some time with the Guardians, we realize her hatred of Gamora may not be as deep as she thinks, or reciprocated.

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Drax is suffering from the loss of his wife and child through the machinations of the movie’s villain, Ronan the Accuser. Drax is, paradoxically, the most emotionally open character in the film, as he frankly discusses the love he had for his wife and child, and how much their deaths pained  him. Of all of the team, Drax is the one who is at least willing to acknowledge that he has trauma, but Drax spends most of the movie in revenge mode, as he tries to attract Ronan’s attention, often endangering his team mates in the process. Drax is not malevolent, however, he is deeply insensitive to the feelings of others, and somewhat clueless. After Groot saves his life, and  Rocket  calls him to task for his reckless actions, Drax is contrite and apologetic. It is he and Groot, (with Rocket’s reluctant agreement), who make the decision to save their teammates (who have been taken by Yondu).

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Of all the characters though, it is Rocket who has the deepest trauma. Rocket is an experimental animal subject, who was abandoned by his creators, (i.e. his parents), when his usefulness to them was over, and most of his negative personality traits stem from that events. He is impatient, mistrustful, arrogant, callous, hurtful, aloof. He pushes people away because he fears getting close to anyone he thinks may leave him. Many of Rocket’s worst character traits also come from the   crippling insecurity of being what he is, and being the only one of his kind in existence. Outside of his relationship with Groot, who is non- judgmental, he is profoundly alone, with no family, no culture, and no race that he belongs to. He is very sensitive to being spoken down to or treated as less than he is. These are things he is only willing to acknowledge when he’s drunk.

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Groot is the most well adjusted of the team. He is a fierce and awesome fighter, but he is also gentle and giving, when the occasion presents itself. We first notice this when we see him offer a small flower to a little girl. He  is the most “even tempered” of the all characters, and is usually unperturbed by the events around him.  His most altruistic moment is when he knowingly gives his life to save his teammates.  It is through his act of love that the other character become aware  that they are indeed a family. Like Drax, he is emotionally open, the one most willing to admit these others into his  life, care about them, and admit they are his family.

James Gunn, the director and writer of GOTG, and its sequel, does us one better. Not only does he introduce each one of these characters with their traumas, but he shows them moving past them to acceptance of each other, working together as an effective team, and then finally trusting each other, across the two films. Slowly, bit by bit, Gunn builds each  moment between the characters, until the  end of the movie, when we see all of them come together to save Peter, and the galaxy,  by managing the Power Stone.

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At first, they are together because its convenient. The other characters have something they want. Later, they are together because they want to be.  The action scenes don’t just serve to blow things up real good, but to help tell the story of the development of their relationships.

At the beginning of the first movie, the action scenes show all the characters pitted against themselves, or each other. By the time the characters land in prison, they are in the second stage of, at least, being willing to work together to accomplish the goal of getting out of prison, at which they are successful. But  they do not yet realize they are a real  team.They’re not friends yet, and  are still very selfish individuals, who are only together because of what they can do for each other. At this point in the action, they are at least  in a place where they are willing to acknowledge they need each other, but not where they trust and like each other. By the time they fight with the Nova Corp against Ronan at the end of the movie, they are together because they want to be, they actually trust each other, and realize they can accomplish more with each other, than against each other, which culminates in Groot’s sacrifice for his friends, which he makes clear is an act of love. His statement, “We are Groot.”, is his declaration that he loves them, they are his family, and he is willing to do this to save them.

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There is a quiet, but beautiful, moment when Drax comforts Rocket, in the aftermath of Groot’s death, while Rocket is mourning the loss of his friend. At first, Rocket is surprised, but eventually gives in to Drax petting him. No one has ever shown affection to him before. It is a mark of their friendship, not just that Rocket accepts this comfort, but that Drax offers it, because until this moment he has been deeply insensitive to the feelings of others having  referred to Rocket as “vermin”, and Gamora as a “green whore”. Rocket has not endeared himself to anyone, and has been openly exasperated with Drax for much of the film. In this one gesture, James Gunn deepens both their characters. Drax learns to recognize another’s pain, and not disregard it, and Rocket learns to accept comfort, when he’s in pain.

But Gunn doesn’t stop there, because that’s not the end of these character’s personal journeys. In the second movie, he builds on the idea of found family by adding the themes of understanding, forgiveness,  reconciliation, and atonement, to the character’s relationships. It’s not enough for them to trust each other, work together, and understand their choice to be a family, each one of them must admit their own pain,  recognize and understand  each other’s pain, and atone for past mistakes. Gunn does this by pairing specific characters together, like Yondu and Rocket, Nebula and Gamora, and Peter with his biological father, Ego.

At the opening of the second film, they are seen together as a team. They’ve been lauded as heroes of the galaxy, and have been together for some time, long enough for them to have grown to like Peter’s musical tastes, and crack jokes at each other. There is still some tension that is mostly resolved through bickering, but they  have accepted each other, even if they don’t understand each other. They cannot be at peace with each other though, because they are not at peace individually, but the title song, Blue Skies, indicates they’re in a good place from which to start the process.

The first action sequence exists to show them acting as a successful team, and parenting baby Groot.  Notice that each one of them gets a moment with Groot. (I especially liked Gamora’s hurried “Hi!”, after Groot waves at her, and Rocket’s diligence in making sure he doesn’t eat bugs.). Groot is still the warm center of the team. Later, we see Gamora reassuring Groot that she will return from an errand and that everything will be okay. As the group separates to go on different errands, the song, The Chain by Fleetwood Mac plays over that scene. No matter how far apart they are, the chain that binds then will never be broken. They will always be a family.

Over the course of the last movie, we witnessed Gamora being willing to show a softer, more caring, side of herself. Her sister, Nebula, isn’t in that place yet, but Gamora is in a an emotional place where she can finally hear Nebula’s pain. We saw the estranged relationship between Gamora and her sister, and we get some understanding of why.   Nebula attempts to kill her sister again, (although  we can see that she isn’t trying especially hard). At the end of their fight, she declares that she has has beaten Gamora, and this makes her the better daughter to Thanos. All we have seen of Nebula is that she is hard, cold, and jealous of Gamora, because every time she lost a contest to her sister, Thanos would forcibly replace one of her body parts with machinery, as  punishment. Gamora realizes she was so busy surviving  her own trauma, that she failed to see her little sister’s need for protection. It is her relationship with her chosen family that lets her realize she has failed to be a big sister. It is Nebula who turns out to be the sensitive one, who longed for a relationship with her sister, she could not have, because of their  shared trauma.

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Later, Gamora expresses the first real affection towards her that Nebula has ever experienced. Gamora has listened to her sister, and is ready to atone for her past mistake of not protecting her, (something we see play out in Infinity War) and Nebula, having had her pain recognized and acknowledged, is now in a place where she can forgive and trust.  Nebula’s acceptance of Gamora’s affection parallels Rocket’s acceptance of comfort from Drax in the first movie. Nebula and Gamora are not friends yet, because there is too much trauma between them, but they have reconciled, and have, at least, agreed to stop trying to kill each other. Gamora extends the idea  to Nebula that if she wants a family,  she and the rest of the Guardians will accept her.

Another moment of character growth occurs between Rocket and Yondu. A lot of people have expressed the idea that Yondu’s change of character comes out of nowhere, but I disagree. We are given subtle hints, throughout the first movie, that Yondu is not actually evil. He is a flawed man who has done bad things for money, and  is not actually malevolent. For example, our first indication that Yondu might not be all he seems, is his adoption of Peter, when he was meant to deliver him to Ego. In the first movie, he is given plenty of opportunities to punish or kill Peter, but keeps making excuses not to do so. Over the course of the movie, you begin to realize he actually likes him. At the end of the movie, Peter betrays him yet again, but Yondu just smiles, as if he  not only expected Peter to do it, but was proud of him for it.

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At the opening of the sequel, we see Yondu in a vulnerable moment, pensively looking out a window. He is perhaps haunted by his past, which a few moments later, comes back to bite him in the ass, as he is dressed down by his superior, a father figure that he has always looked up to, and he is  excommunicated from The Ravagers, for trafficking children like Peter, which goes against their rules. Later, his own gang overthrows him, because he treats Peter as his favorite, over them. Yondu eventually acknowledges  that he was wrong to abuse him, that he loved Peter, and atones for his past transgressions by sacrificing  his life, to save his chosen son. (Note: One of the biggest differences between Yondu, Ego, and Thanos is when Yondu lost everything, he apologized and atoned. Thanos and Ego did neither, made excuses, and then sacrificed their children for their goals.)

We finally come to Rocket, who is very probably the most damaged member of the team, who has not dealt with any of his trauma, in any satisfactory manner. His character arc is not fully realized until the end of the second movie, after Yondu’s death,  but it is the relationship he develops with Yondu that forces him to rethink himself. This revelation could not have occurred were it not for the relationship he developed with his chosen family, and Groot in particular.

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After Groot’s sacrifice in the first movie, Rocket saves a fragment of his friend, and grows an offshoot baby Groot. All of the team take turns nurturing and caring for Groot, but Rocket is the closest thing Groot has to a mother, having essentially grew and birthed him. It is through his relationship with his chosen son, and Peter calling out his behavior earlier in the movie, that Rocket is set up to be able to hear Yondu’s words about himself, as Yondu accurately reads him, understanding  Rocket’s behavior through his own motivation. Fear.

Rocket is afraid people will abandon him, the way his creators did, so he is constantly  pushing them away, so that when and if they reject, him he will be ready. It will be what is expected because he doesn’t think highly of himself, and  feels he does not deserve love and acceptance. His family gets angry with him, but they don’t leave him, or push him out, so the meaner he behaves. Them rejecting him will prove that he is correct about himself, that he is worthless and should be alone. (Note: Of all the characters in Avengers Infinity War, it is Rocket’s predicament that is the most tragic. Having finally accepted  that the team is his family, and will not abandon him, Thanos snaps his fingers, his family is destroyed, and he is as entirely alone as he terribly feared. With a snap of his fingers Thanos has set back Rocket’s entire character arc.)

Rocket is not healed by Yondu’s words, but he reaches an  understanding, that he is taking his unhappiness with himself, out on his family, and if he does not change, he will end up alienated from  his child,  like Yondu was with Peter. The last time we saw Rocket cry, it was for losing his friend. This time it’s for himself. For all the time he wasted being mean to the the people who accepted him, despite that he kept pushing them away. The movie ends with a shot of Rocket’s tears, after Peter’s acknowledgment of his pain. Peter’s recognition and acceptance of Rocket’s pain is important, not just for Rocket, but for Peter’s character arc, too. It is a sign of Peter’s growing maturity.

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The foundation of the movie  is Peter’s relationship with his two fathers, Ego, and Yondu, and his maturation into an adult. Two of Peter’s biggest issues is his arrogance (Ego), and his immaturity. Peter has been living a kind of extended childhood,with responsibilities to no one but himself, as if he stopped growing up after his mother’s death. His immature nostalgia for the past is the reason he cannot have a relationship with Gamora, and it made him easily manipulated by Ego, who appealed to that nostalgia. Ego is a planet sized creature that wishes to make over the galaxy in his own image, has tricked Peter into being a conduit for his power, and is another in a line of abusive father figures, throughout both movies.

Peter grows up when he rejects his father’s false promises of an idyllic past, he rejects “Ego” (his arrogance), and humbles himself to accept the help to destroy him. A key sign of Peter’s maturity is the loss of the Walkman music player that he was ready to kill for in the first movie. The music player represented his mother. When Ego destroys it, its as if he is killing Peter’s mother again, ( since Ego was the one responsible for her actual death). Killing Ego is also an act of closure for his mother’s death.  Notice how Peter’s character trajectory closely  parallels Gamora’s relationship with her abusive father.

The second major emotional turning point in the film is Peter’s reconciliation with Yondu. Yondu’s history is complicated, so I have to spend a moment discussing that. Yondu is the alien that kidnapped Peter when he was twelve, (just after the death of Peter’s mother, which is the reason why Peter has never had closure about that.) Yondu was supposed to give Peter to Ego, who has been collecting the children he seeded throughout the universe. When his children proved useless to him he killed them, and has killed thousands of these children, whose bones fill up a cavern in his planet sized interior.

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Yondu, while not an evil man, has been complicit in the deaths of hundreds, possibly thousands of children he kidnapped and took to Ego for money. After his kidnapping of Peter, he had an attack of conscience, and  stopped working for Ego. Keeping Peter was an act of rebellion, and an attempt to atone for the other children, because The Ravagers, the union of thieves he belongs to, disapproved of what he did. He justifies keeping Peter by claiming Peter’s usefulness to them and, afraid of looking weak to his men, he emotionally abuses Peter in front of them, while quietly approving of Peter’s behavior.

The Ravagers (lead by a man he greatly admires) kick him out of the group, and then his own personal team turns against him, captures Rocket, and imprisons the two of them together, which is how he gets to know Rocket so well.

In Rocket, Yondu sees a reflection of himself, and he tells Rocket as much. Everything has been taken from him, even though he followed all the rules of how to be a man. He was cool, and tough, and ruthless. He sublimated his love for Peter into saving his life time, and time, again, but otherwise failed to impress upon Peter that he was loved, choosing to threaten, and emotionally traumatize Peter instead, because he was afraid of being seen as weak. The very behavior he thought would save him from being condemned by his team is what makes his team condemn him. And with the return of Peter’s bio-father, he realizes that he lost out on the relationship he could have had with Peter, and he may be in danger of being replaced by Peter’s biological father, because he was too afraid. Not only is Yondu’s character arc one of atonement for past misdeeds, but is a rebuke of the toxic version of masculinity.

When Peter rejects his biological father, he is aided in this act by Yondu and the others. Yondu gives him some crucial words of advice at just the right time, which helps defeat Ego. Afterwards, Yondu and Peter are trapped on the dying planet, and Yondu sacrifices his life to get Peter to safety, but not before he lets Peter know how much he loved him, referring to himself as Peter’s daddy. He gives Peter his survival suit and, like Groot before him,  goes to his death, at peace with his actions. Since he is indirectly responsible for the deaths of possibly hundreds of children, giving up his life for Peter is not just to show Peter how much he loves him, but to atone for the deaths he helped to cause.

 

After Ego’s death, and Yondu’s sacrifice, Peter realizes that he has been less of a proper father figure for his own adopted child – Groot. For the first time in the movie we see him have a loving moment with Baby Groot, as he shares some music with him, gently cradling him with affection when Groot comes to him for reassurance. We did not get a chance to see this behavior earlier, as he mostly just barked orders at Groot.  In Infinity War we see him taking a more firm parenting role with him. We also see him taking a more mature stance with his family, not just recognizing Rocket’s pain at the end of the movie,  but understanding why.

James Gunn does a masterful job of showing us the dynamics behind the creation of a found family. We start off with individuals so damaged they cannot be a family, and we watch as they learn to forgive, accept, and understand  their own and each other’s flaws, recognize each other’s pain and trauma, and seek reconciliation and atonement for their past hurts. In the end, the members of the team CHOOSE to be a family, and in order to do so they must grow and change within themselves, and towards each other.

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What Fandom Racism Looks Like – When White Characters (Somehow) Aren’t White

Let’s keep this short and salty: did y’all know that there are people – thankfully a minority in their respective fandoms – that will claim a white male character or actor isn’t white for some reason or another. Well, if you didn’t know before reading that sentence, I’m willing to be that you’ve figured out […]

via What Fandom Racism Looks Like – When White Characters (Somehow) Aren’t White — Stitch’s Media Mix

Stitch is considered something of an expert on the subject of fandom racism dynamics, since this is something she has intensely studied. I never argue with her findings, but I am constantly surprised by the ways in which fandom seeks to revert to a certain status quo. What I’d  like to do  is build on this by  tying fandom racism back to how its been learned from the source material,  and fan’s understanding of how racism works, through the material they’ve been consuming, because their performance of  these forms of racism  don’t exist in a vacuum. White people (all races really) have been unconsciously inundated with decades of racist messaging in American films, books, and TV,   and  fandom often becomes nothing more than  the act of regurgitating what was consumed, especially if these things have never been critically examined.

I don’t think we can fight against how fandom racism is performed without acknowledgment, or understanding, of how its performance is tied to the decades old, racist narratives in Popular media.

There’s also a new angle to this as well. Since the source material being consumed has become more diverse and inclusive than ever, what I’ve been witnessing, is  fans trying to  bend these narratives to fit their world view – worldviews that have been informed by years of racist narratives. This is just as much an attempt to keep things the way they’ve always been, and they are no less different, from  the harassment campaigns against PoC actors, in an attempt to center Whiteness in Geek media, and reassert the status quo of PoC, and other marginalized groups, on the fringe of narratives that center White characters. This is what such fans are used to, and this is what they twist these stories to reflect. This particular form of fandom racism is often engaged in (but not necessarily exclusive to) White women in fandom, while the more public and aggressive forms of racism are usually engaged in by White men.

I’m going to reiterate that the reason fandom acts this way is that fandom isn’t the slightest bit progressive or woke. In fact, its fairly conservative, and quite a lot of them are thoroughly unimaginative, as well, as the participants do nothing but reproduce the same narratives they’ve seen over, and over, and over, from the  source material (and sometimes other parts of fandom, which accounts for the sheer numbers of coffee shop AUs in fanfiction), – narratives that have been overwhelmingly written, and helmed, by straight white men, who themselves have only the most rudimentary idea of what its like to be a member of a marginalized group.

That’s another reason I’m against racial allegories in fiction, especially the ones referenced above by Stitch. Such narratives do nothing to further dialogue, or deepen understanding of racial issues, because the writers of these narratives do not live, or understand, race in any personal capacity.  All fans get out of these stories is a foundational understanding that “racism is bad”. The Handmaid’s Tale, Zootopia, The Gifted, Teen Wolf, and Bright, are bad racial allegories because they get the depiction of racism wrong, have suspect intentions, borrow the oppression of Poc, while not including them, or  take little to no account of the systemic and institutionalized nature of racism, often showing it as a problem of individuals simply not liking some people.

Contrast those stories to Jordan Peel’s discussion of racism in the movie Get Out, or the music video, This Is America, by Childish Gambino, or the discussions surrounding the movie Black Panther. The understanding of racism is  different when written by those who have  actual knowledge of the subject, something which most fans of the media listed above,  do not have, so all they can do is reproduce the media they’ve been given, and can only  approach these subjects in their meta and fictions with  the performative wokeness  that they are engaging in now.

Movies That Did Not Impress Me

I saw an article on Medium.com discussing movies that guys are always trying to get their girlfriends to watch, while their girlfriends refuse to cooperate.  I wanted to add to the discussion with my own list of movies, that if my boyfriend tried to get me to watch multiple times, I’d probably  punch them in the side of the neck, (in the most loving manner possible, of course).

Here are some movies that men seem to absolutely love, that simply didn’t impress me very much. I’ve been told again and again, in movie list after movie list, that these are great films, and that I’m supposed to like them, but I just don’t. It’s not that I’m unmoved by them, though. Some of them are fun, or pretty, or have some feels, but for whatever reason, (and sometimes I’m not at all sure what that reason is), I was never inspired to watch some of them not more than once, nor were any of them life changing events for me. I don’t look back on them with nostalgia, or think my childhood is ruined, if one of them gets remade. Some of them I simply fell asleep on, and never felt any pressing need to try to watch them again, and some of them I have an almost visceral dislike of. This is an example of how subjective movie watching can sometimes be, and how much of yourself you bring to an interpretation of  a movie.

In some cases, I think the critics of these movies are mostly impressed by the technical aspects, like the editing, or camera movements. I’m less impressed by such things because sometimes my criteria for liking a film is just as a member of the audience, rather than as a professional film critic, or student. Don’t get me wrong. I notice the technical aspects of certain movies, but those things are not what I’m looking for in whether or not a film becomes a favorite.

 

Citizen Kane (1941)

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I have heard one hell of a lot about this movie. I even know the surprising, not so surprising ending, because this movie has been lauded to within an inch of it’s life. I have no idea if the movie is good or bad because I’ve never been moved to watch it, even though I’m sure it’s as technically brilliant as the critics (mostly all men) claim it to be. It’s true that it could be the greatest movie ever made, but that’s probably something I’ll never know, because I have remained consistently uninterested in watching it.

 

Back to the Future (1985)

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I have watched all of the movies in this series, and except for the Wild West entry, I remain unimpressed. I wasnt greatly impressed with that one either, but it’s the one I remember most positively. I consider the first and second films to be highly over-rated,  and never watched them more than once. Once was enough.

I’m going to talk a minute about seeing this movie through the lens of race, though. There are all kinds of movies about time travel, and I try to steer clear of most of them, because its a subject that seems wholly of interest only to White men. Like most Black people, I don’t fantasize about visiting some romanticized era of the past. There isn’t any place in America’s past that would have been good for me to visit, so I, and a lot of other Black people, are less interested in movies that explore time traveling to America’s good ‘ol days. The fifties that’s visited by McFly in the first movie, while a period of nostalgia for him, (and the men who wrote this movie),  it means something completely different for us.

One of the scenes from the first movie, that I found the most irritating, (and clueless), was when Marty performs the song Johnny B Goode, at a school dance. Now this scene takes place in 1955, and that song was first performed by Chuck Berry in 1958. When Marty leaves the stage, he says that song is a little before everyone’s time, when he doesn’t get the reaction from his White, teen audience that he wanted. What’s distasteful about it? There is a Black man standing behind Marty when he says that.  Marty doesn’t take credit for inventing the song or anything, but I’m pretty sure the Black members of his band were well aware of that type of music, (maybe not that specific song, though. Its a moment that pulled me out of the movie.

I think I mentioned, in another post, that when White people imagine the future, there is absolutely no sign of the influence of other cultures in those futures, and when PoC do appear in the future, most creators don’t imagine them in any way that’s  different from our present. Whiteness remains hegemonic in these futures, and PoC, gay ,and lesbian, Muslims, etc. are all still serving in the same servile capacities, or absent entirely from them. The futures the creators imagine are still bland, white , straight, Christian, conventionally thin, suburban middle class, and of course, male. So no, I don’t get too excited about most of these types of movies, beyond Star Trek, and Star Wars.

 

The Godfather (1972)

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I have been told by popular media that I’m supposed to watch this movie and love it. I have to confess that not only have I not watched this movie, but I have a complete lack of interest in rectifying that situation. It probably is pretty good. It certainly can’t be that bad. I like Al Pacino. I like movies made in the 70’s. I have watched lots of movies about the Mob, including The Godfather 2, and 3, movies I actually enjoyed, but the enthusiasm for this one just ain’t there. Not only do I not care about this movie, I don’t really care that I don’t care. Movie purists  would say I’m supposed to feel some sort of shame at not having seen it. That I can’t actually be a film lover unless I have, but I can’t seem get worked up about that either.

I suppose at some point in the future, could be this weekend, or twenty years from now, I’ll sit down and watch it, but I have no particular plans to do so. Sometimes, I’m  just a contrary little shit, and I think this is one of those instances, where a large number of people want me to like something, but my brain rebels against it, just for the hell of doing so.

 

Scarface (1983)

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I have actually watched Scarface about 5  times, and the movie is certainly interesting, but I’m not particularly wild about it. I haven’t watched this movie in a really, really,  long time. I have  heard people talk about this movie a lot, and they all seem to be really impressed with it. I do remember the last time I watched it, I thought the performances were overdone, Al Pacino’s accent was atrocious, Mastrantonio’s hair was so incredible that it needed it’s own backstory, and I kept laughing at everyone’s outfits.

 

The Big Lebowski (1998)

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Nah.

I think you have to be a Stoner to like this movie. I am unimpressed by The Dude and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

Okay, let’s be frank. There are some movies that are, for lack of a better term, strictly a White guy thing. Movies like Back to the Future, and this one, are the type of movies I have never heard a single Black person even mention in my presence, or talk about online. I’ve spent my whole life around Black people, and I have heard guys mention The Godfather and Scarface, but not those two movies. It’s as if Black men don’t know that these movies exist. If I mentioned this to any random Black guy on the street, he might know about it, but he’d be hard pressed to tell you anything about the plot, beyond The Dude’s catchphrase. I’m sure there is, somewhere, a Black man or woman who likes this movie, but I have never met them, and I’d like to, because I have questions.

I’ve seen gifs, and stills, and heard the movie’s catchphrases, and I’m still not particularly interested in watching it. I don’t dislike the movie. In fact, from what I’ve seen, it looks kinda funny. I like all the actors, too. I also don’t think I’m being especially contrary in not watching it. I just think I’m not the audience for this movie, (I’m not the audience for most movies), and I’m okay with that. I may get around to watching it one day, but maybe not.

 

Heat (1995)

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I watched this movie once on cable. It was okay, in the sense that I didn’t hate it. Actually, I barely remember the details of it. I haven’t seen it since, so it must not have made much of an impression on me, I guess, although for a good while after its release, it was all anyone wanted to talk about ,especially that scene between Pacino, and DeNiro, as being the first time those two had ever starred in a movie together, although I understand they were both in The Godfather sequel. I like both of these actors, but I was not particularly impressed with that scene, not becasue of the acting, which was fine, but probably because the dialogue was not especially inspiring.

 

The Goonies (1985)

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This movie was released in 1985, and I think by that time I had aged out of any chance at being the audience for this movie, so it was not one of those movies, at least not for me, that other people claim to have been an influential part of their childhood. Since that time, I haven’t had any particular interest in watching this, despite that a lot of men love to talk about what an incredible part of their childhood this was. This movie wasn’t part of my childhood. I think the movie was aimed at little boys, and while I watched plenty of stuff for which the audience was young boys, this was one that didn’t appeal to me.

There are a lot of things I look back on with fondness, but I’m not an especially nostalgic person, at least not in the sense of wanting to hold onto, and  relive, the past. Nor do I think things were better then, than  right now, and that goes for this movie.

 

E.T. (1982)

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I feel the same way about this movie that I feel about The Goonies, except I actually watched this movie exactly twice. It was really cute and I liked E.T., and Elliot. My biggest memory was of a very young Drew Barrymore, who I remember really liking. Mostly, though, this was just a cute kids movie, over which people, inexplicably  lost their shit.  By the time this movie was released, I was firmly into my horror movie phase, and was more  impressed with The Thing, which got released around the same time.

 

And Movies That Did:

It’s not that I don’t have an appreciation of classic films. I like a lot of musicals, (Singin in the Rain), Marilyn Monroe (Some Like It Hot) and Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl, Yentl), crime movies made after 1980, and anything by Terence Malick. I’ve watched The Seven Samurai a few times, and I like the  work of Toshiro Mifune.

There were other movies on that guy’s  list that I have actually watched and enjoyed, and are some of my favorites. Here are five movies that men seem to love, that I happen to love too, although, now that I think about it, maybe not for the same reasons.

 

Taxi Driver (1976)

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Taxi Driver was not the first movie I ever saw which starred Jodi Foster. The first Jodi Foster movie I ever watched was The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, in which she plays a young girl whose parents have mysteriously disappeared, and she spends the rest of the movie trying to keep any other adults from figuring out that she is alone. I remember my mom letting me watch it late one evening, and how impressed I was with her acting. My mom could tell I was a fan.

My mom would not let me watch Taxi Driver until I was a little older, probably because of the sexual elements. I was about 15 or 16 when I finally watched it, and I remember thinking, at the time, that there wasn’t enough Jodi Foster in it, and how harrowing the ending of the movie was. I think I may have been in just a bit of shock. I had watched violent movies before, but not something like Taxi Driver.

 

No Country For Old Men (2007)

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I’m going to have to talk about this movie at a later date. I was really impressed with the performances and the movie’s themes.

 

Apocalypse Now (1979)

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This movie was released in 1979, but I didn’t see it until I was an adult. It simply wasn’t on my radar until I got to college. Ironically, I read the the book about how it was made before watching the movie, and I picked up the book because, at the time, I was reading books about jungle explorers. So, I read the book, but I still didn’t watch the movie, instead I read the book by Joseph Conrad called Heart of Darkness on which the movie is loosely based.

 

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

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This was the first Tarantino movie I ever saw, and I distinctly remember having watched this in 1994. It was on TV late one night and I was intrigued because it had the word “dogs” in the title. I hadn’t read anything about it because the bulk of my movie reading consisted of  horror magazines, and this was a crime movie. I also  remember seeing the trailer once or twice before its release, though. I remember being impressed by the music, acting, and dialogue, feeling exasperated about the characters themselves, and devastated by the ending I saw coming.

Over the years, I’ve heard the criticism that the movie is all style with no substance, but I disagree. The movie does have substance which is largely emotional. Later I’ll have to talk about that in a review.

Hannibal Season Three: Contorno (5)

Yes, I’m still writing these. I’m not finished. We are  coming up on the initial episodes of the third season, that I wrote reviews for, which were part of the Red Dragon arc. I’m going to rewrite those reviews in light of my new viewpoints.

When the season first aired, I wasn’t particularly interested in the first half. Like a lot of people, I stopped watching after the second season, and didn’t pick up the show again until the middle of season three, when the Red Dragon arc began. I missed all the stuff about Chiyoh, how Hannibal left Bedelia, and how Lecter was captured by Mason Verger, which in hindsight, was probably the most dramatic part of the season, as it reunites him with two of the people he most wronged last season, Alana and Mason Verger. That may have been the reason why some of the last part of the season was baffling to me. But I’m about to go through the process of re-reading those reviews, and see if my current thoughts line up with what I said back then.

 

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This episode begins with three separate threads, and ends with all those threads converging on Hannibal’s location. This starts out as one of those quiet episodes that you don’t think will have much relevance and is merely setup for the next, after all Contorno means side dish. But side dishes can be very filling too, and this was a satisfying episode.

Will Graham has left Lithuania with Chiyo in tow, both of them headed to Florence by train, where Hannibal is holed up with Bedelia. Chiyo and Will discuss what they will do when they finally reach Florence. Will says something that alarms Chiyo, and she pushes him off the train. She has  appointed herself to be Hannibal’s protector, since she no longer guards his prisoner, and doesn’t seem to bear him any ill will for having put her in such a position. I do remember being initially confused as to why Will kept trying to kill Hannibal, even after he supposedly forgave him for killing Abigail. Chiyoh’s understanding of Will is very direct. She states that Will is afraid he will become like Hannibal, which means, of course, that Chiyoh knows exactly what Hannibal is, and seemingly doesn’t mind.

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Chiyoh seems utterly devoted to Lecter, which is something I have a problem with because you have this submissive Asian woman, this stereotype, following around, and protecting, a White male serial killer. Certainly she is deadly, but she is so passive in her interactions that she almost seems like she’s asleep. The most active thing she does is killing, so maybe she’s as much like Hannibal as Will , and that’s the reason she understands Will so well. I do wish the series had played that up more than it did, and established her as someone who, like Will, is trying hard to resist becoming like Hannibal, because this is not something made explicitly clear, and its also something which is at odds with how we are first introduced to her. When we first met her ,she had managed to resist killing Hannibal’s prisoner for years, but once Will sets her free by killing the prisoner himself, she is shooting people left and right, on Hannibal’s behalf.

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Jack Crawford makes his way to Florence as well, where he releases his wife’s ashes into the river, and  relinquishes his wedding ring. Its as if, in the hunt for Hannibal, he is divesting himself of everything that makes him Jack Crawford. Jack is a straigt up “manhunter” now, with no distractions, and he is on the path of vengeance, something that wouldn’t be condoned in polite society, (or by his late wife), and he doesn’t want any vestiges of his old life, or the man he used to be, to interfere in that mission. He meets Reinaldo Pazzi, who tries to talk him into arresting Hannibal with him, but Jack demurs. He doesn’t want Hannibal arrested. He wants him dead.

Hannibal, heeding Bedelia’s warning that he is being hunted, is waiting for all these people to arrive, so he can get all this killing done. He knows Pazzi, Jack, and Will, are closing in on him.  Of the three men, Will is the one of which he is least certain, but then Will has always been a wild card for Hannibal, and difficult for him to predict his actions. Will could just as easily come into the situation and help him, as try to kill him.

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Alana Bloom proves to the audience why she is who she is, as she figures out where Hannibal is, using “psychology”. She knows Hannibal  better than most, and uses her intimate knowledge of his tastes and habits to determine that he is in Florence, tracking him through Bedelia’s purchases of fine goods. In the meantime, it appears that Bedelia is trying to get caught, or get help ,or something. She makes a purchase, and then, wearing a very distinctive outfit, goes to the train station, so she can be caught on the station’s cameras. She wants someone, somewhere, to notice her. She is either asking for help, or concocting an alibi.

Mason Verger, having discovered where Hannibal lays his hat, puts out a bounty on him, which Pazzi accepts. Its illegal for a  member of law enforcement to take money in exchange for an arrest, (even in Italy), so Pazzi doesn’t inform any of his colleagues that he has found the Beast of Florence. Mason gives Pazzi instructions on how to collect the bounty. He must provide a fingerprint as proof that its Hannibal, and Pazzi meets with Hannibal to trick him into giving one. Hannibal kills Pazzi by gutting him and stringing him up outside a window, the way one of Pazzi’s ancestors was killed during the Medici era.

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This particular scene is from the sequel to Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, in which Clarice Starling has tracked Hannibal to Italy attempting to capture him. In fact, some of the dialogue between Chiyoh and Will Graham,  is taken directly from that book. There are also several parallels, in the next two episodes, of scenes from the book, only with Will Graham and Jack in place of  Starling.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pazzi_conspiracy

Most of the conspirators were soon caught and summarily executed; five, including Francesco de’ Pazzi and Salviati, were hanged from the windows of the Palazzo della Signoria.[2]:140 Jacopo de’ Pazzi, head of the family, escaped from Florence but was caught and brought back. He was tortured, then hanged from the Palazzo della Signoria next to the decomposing corpse of Salviati. 

Pazzi is the descendant of one of the most notorious Italian families of the Renaissance. His ancestor, Francesco de’ Pazzi, was hanged during something called The Pazzi Conspiracy, in which a plot was contrived by several individuals, to assassinate Lorenzo and Giuliano de Medici. There are parallels to this story of people converging  to assassinate Hannibal, and there will be parallels to this history later in the series, as Jack, Will, Alana, and Frederick Chilton come together to take out both  Hannibal Lecter and The Red Dragon.

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Hannibal’s killing of Pazzi is interrupted by Jack Crawford, who followed Pazzi to their meeting, and there is a continuation of that fight that Jack lost in season two. Only this time, Hannibal gets his ass kicked, because Jack came prepared to fight dirty, and gives Hannibal no quarter. This is the first time we’ve really seen Hannibal  fighting for his life and on the defensive like this.. All the other times when we had seen him in danger, it was usually because of a stealth attack. Hannibal barely survives by using the disemboweled body of Pazzi to break his fall out of a window. Thoroughly chastened, Hannibal limps off to lick his wounds. He knows its just a matter of time before he gets caught, and that all he’s doing is postponing the inevitable, but he is determined to go down fighting.

My Favorite Smart Films

Inspired by my recent viewing of Annihilation, I wanted to take a look  at some films I really, really, liked. The kind that most inspired thoughtful reflection, confounded the hell out of me, or just made me smile with joy at the sheer talent involved in the making of it. Here are just eight of some of the smartest movies of the past thirty years, divided into four categories, movies for The Mind, The Body, The Spirit, and finally, Just For Fun.

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The Mind

Some movies are satisfying on an intellectual level. The plot, the  characters, or the design, and look of the film is mentally stimulating. The movie makes you ask questions, provokes thoughtful consideration of its themes , and leaves you puzzling over its message.

 

Dark City (1998)

One day I’m going to have a do a full review of this movie, because it really doesn’t get enough love. Released in 1998, and written by Alex Proyas, who also wrote The Crow, this movie so inspired  Roger Ebert, that he did three different commentaries for the DVDs. Proyas has credited the  look of the film as based off of the film noir of the 40s, most specifically, The Maltese Falcon. The film stars Rufus Sewell as an accused murderer, William Hurt as the detective who hunts him down, Jennifer Connolly as his wife, and Keifer Sutherland, as the mysterious Dr.Schreiber.

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Most of the film takes place at night and has a mysterious and ominous feel to it. The story is winding and circular, referenced by the Fibonacci spirals we see in the opening credits sequence, and again, when one of the characters paints the walls of his bedroom with repeated versions of the symbol. As a viewer, you enter into the outer rim of the  story, just like in the symbol above, knowing no more than its protagonist, John Murdock, who wakes up naked, with amnesia, in a bathtub, in room 314. (Look up Job 3:14 in the KJ version of the bible for the significance.) He is  forced on his journey, through the darkness of this cityscape, by a mysterious phone call, and the arrival of a group of malevolent Men in Black (a classic Scifi trope). As he follows the clues to his identity, so do we, slowly spiraling inward to the heart of the mystery of who John Murdock really is, and the existence of the nameless city in which he lives.

What I love about this movie is that viewers know exactly as much about what’s happening as Murdock. We don’t know his name until he does. We don’t know where he is until he finds out. We are definitely on a journey of discovery with him, and what he finds shakes the foundations of his world. Literally!

 

Inception (2010)

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This movie wasn’t difficult for me to understand, although a lot of other people seemed confounded by it. It’s definitely one of those movies where you are given all the facts and the rules of its universe, and are then left to your own thoughts, to make of it what you will. If that is something you’re not used to doing, then the movie will only be confusing for you.

It is very well possible that almost the entire movie is no more than a dream, within a dream, within  dreams, and I’m inclined to think that way about it, if for no other reason than it explains much about Cobb and his crew, and some of the odd phrases and coincidences that occur in the film. My personal theory is that Cobb falls asleep on the airplane ride home to  see his children. I think the entire movie is  Cobb having a weird dream about dreaming, at least partially brought about by grief at his wife’s passing, and guilt at having spent so much time away from his children on a business trip. He has just heard the news of the death of Michael Fischer’s father, and has probably met him on the plane, and so his dream is bound up in all these elements. Here’s why I think this:

Ariadne: A mythical figure that is associated with mazes and labyrinths because of her involvement in the myths of the Minotaur and Theseus. Her father put her in charge of the labyrinth where sacrifices were made as part of reparations 

Ariadne, played by Ellen Page, is tasked with creating the mazes that the crew will be dreaming through during the inception of Fischer’s mind.

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When I heard her name, I knew I might not be watching what I  thought I might be watching, and there are a number of odd moments, (his wife’s suicide while perched on the ledge of the building opposite him, his unwillingness to look at his children’s faces, and the fact that the children do not age, and no timeline is ever given for when certain things happen). There are bits of information, and other clues, that have lead to all manner of theories about this film. The overarching  feeling of all of these theories is that the entire movie is Cobb’s dream. Some people speculate that there is no purpose to his dream, some say it’s to alleviate his anxiety and guilt for going on a business trip and leaving his kids alone, after his wife’s suicide, and others say that the purpose of Cobb’s dream is to extract the truth of his wife’s death, and that it’s Ariadne’s purpose (like any good therapist) to help him do that. I do believe his story that he planted the idea of the world not being real in his wife’s mind.

When I first saw the movie, and Cobb claimed to have killed his wife, I  didn’t believe him. My very first thought was that it was just an expression of his guilt, and grief that he couldn’t stop her from killing herself, that he was the one who planted the thought in her mind that made her suicidal, and now he has left his children all alone to deal with their confusion. It is also not out of bounds to believe that the information of his wife’s death is being extracted from him for therapeutic purposes, in the real world, by Ariadne, and I like that idea, because it parallels the  emotional inception that he’s engaged in with Fischer, who is  dealing with guilt and grief over the death of his father. Fisher’s inception involves reconciling with with his father’s death, and Cobb’s dream involves reconciling with his wife’s.

One could argue that the thought incepted to Cobb is that his wife’s death is not his fault, so that he can free her projection from his dreams. Ariadne specifically states that his wife is trapped in his subconscious, and until he lets go of  his guilt and grief, his wife can’t leave. To that end, he and Ariadne have to make their way through the maze of Cobb’s mind, to the vault at his center, and release her.

Honorable Mention: Paprika by Satoshi Kon

 

The Body

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These movies cannot, technically, be called body horror movies in the same way as movies directed by David Cronenberg, (who seems to have a lock on that subject), but they do involve thinking  about the body, and how we move through the world, of how we intellectualize our physical self, and what purpose we have, in the bodies we possess. These movies are opposites in a sense. In The Addiction, the lead character’s body betrays her attempts to control it, and she fights as hard as she can to reach some kind of equilibrium with what her body wants. In the second film, the lead character must learn to embrace his physical self. If he wants to be complete, to feel whole, he can’t simply ignore what he is,  but must accept all of it,  and to that end, he leans into himself, and learns to trust and control his body, much as his nemesis, Mr. Glass, had no choice to do, at a very early age.

 

The Addiction (1995)

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I am still confounded by this movie. I have some vague idea what the purpose of it was, but I think that, unless you’re a student of philosophy, you probably won’t have any idea what the Hell the point of this movie was either.

The Addiction is a 1995 vampire movie directed by Abel Ferrara. In it, a college student, named Kathleen,  played by one of my favorite actresses, Lili Taylor, gets attacked by a vampire played by Annabella Sciorra, who blames her for her attack. Kathleen then has to try to understand what’s happened to her, and how to deal with her new addiction to blood, without letting it destroy her life. She meets Christopher Walken’s character ,who tries to wean her off blood, claiming that he has conquered his addiction, but he is unsuccessful, and Kathleen goes on to infect several  people in her neighborhood. Looked at closely, it can seem like the movie is an an allegory about sexual assault, and how the survivors are permanently changed by what happened to them. But it can also be seen through the lens of infectious disease.

The most intriguing aspect, for me, is that Kathleen lives in a mixed neighborhood, and  infects one of the homeboys who live down the street from her. I would watch an entire movie about a Black guy from the ‘hood, who gets infected with vampirism, and how that might play out, especially if it were done in the same style as this. What’s interesting is the soundtrack reflects the environment too, featuring Cypress Hill, Rick Rubin, and Onyx.

At a party to celebrate  Kathleen’s dissertation, she and the other vampires stage a bloody attack on her faculty, and friends. Kathleen longs for death, and we find out at the end of the film, that she died over a year ago, when she visits her grave at a nearby cemetery.

It’s an uncomfortable movie, filmed entirely in black and white.  It’s unlike a lot of horror movies. There are no jump scares here, and the  mood of the film is melancholy. It feels harrowing, even though there’s not that much action, or gore, because the images are so stark. There are long interludes of dialogue, as characters attempt to come to terms with what’s happening to them, as Kathleen blames them for her addiction, and several scenes of Kathleen unsuccessfully fighting against her compulsion to feed. Much of the movie involves scenes of Katherine fighting against her need for blood, giving in to it, or trying to reason,  or come to terms with it somehow.

The film has been considered an allegory about drug addiction, as well as an allegory of the theological concept of sin.[1] It contains philosophical, theological and other intellectual content, including references to HusserlNietzscheFeuerbach, and Descartes. The film also features a vampire quoting theologian R. C. Sproul, who is a critic of Roman Catholicism.

 

 

Unbreakable (2000)

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There is something viscerally satisfying about watching this movie, and discovering, as we go along, that we are watching a superhero origin story. The story is told in such a lowkey manner that, for at least the first half of the movie, you believe that characters are simply delusional. This is a more philosophical approach to a genre that’s usually more physically oriented, but it does follow the classic superhero origin story tropes. The protagonist discovers he  has abilities, he practices learning how to use them, and then an enemy presents to challenge him. Where this movie differs is that it is the antagonist who helps the hero discover his abilities, and the final confrontation between them doesn’t result in a fistfight, but is sad and horrifying because they have become friends.

Superhero movies are essentially about people dealing with physical power, in that almost all of them are about someone discovering they have such power. They have to relearn how to use their body, how it works, and then use that knowledge to find their purpose. This movie explores the same themes but in a much quieter way. The lead character is discovering his power, but he is a grown man who supposedly leads a full life, that he feels is empty, having given up the use of that power, for his future wife, when he was a teenager.

His nemesis is a man with almost no physical power, suffering from the disease, osteogenesis imperfecta. Unable to overcome his disease, he has spent his life concentrating his power into his intellect, and the only way he can experience a sense of worth is by having a foe, the kind of foe outlined in the comic books he’s read all his life, the physically perfect, unbreakable man, versus the fragile, but mentally superior enemy, something that is illuminated in the film’s dialogue. He doesn’t just have the task of discovering his enemy, but  has to make him realize his purpose. What they are to each other. Mr. Glass came to grips with his physical limitations when he was a very young child. He was admonished by his mother to not choose fear, or being afraid would become his go-to choice for  the rest of his life, and Mr. Glass is indeed fearless.

David must go through the same process as an adult, because earlier in his life,  he chose fear. Afraid he would lose his then girlfriend, he chose to ignore and suppress his abilities, and fear became such a habit for him that he was living an unfulfilling life where he could  find no joy in his family. That choice, to be afraid, ironically, almost results in the loss of his wife anyway, and an emotionally distant relationship with a son who is trying, desperately, to connect with his father.

Honorable Mention: Mad Max Fury Road and Akira

 

The Spirit

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Some movies are satisfying on a spiritual level. It just feels good to watch them, as if you had eaten a very good steak dinner for the soul. This is the spiritual version of comfort food. The movie Tree of Life can be viewed from so many different angles, from the religious to the secular, that it could just as easily fit into the The Mind category, but for me the message of the movie is spiritual, mostly because of the music.

Tree of Life (2011)

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I am not a religious person, in the sense that I’m not a believer in any particular belief system, but I do think about religion, and religious messages, a lot, and I’m not immune to media with a well thought out emotional, and spiritual message. This movie also subscribes to no particular version of Christianity, but its spiritual message seems evident.

You have to be prepared that most of the movie contains voiceover, and there is not much dialogue. Tree of Life is about a man looking back on his childhood, with his overbearing father, and his angelic mother, after receiving news of the death of his younger brother. That’s the basic plot. All else is gravy.

Tree of Life is a gorgeous looking movie, a perfect marriage of theme, visuals, and sound, and very possibly Malick’s best film to date. I have never been able to watch this movie without tears, or a sense of awe. Even if you’re not an especially religious person, the movie is worth seeing because its transcendent, evocative, and philosophical.  I would have put this movie under The Mind but the music propels it to a level beyond thought to one of deep feeling. One day I’m going to have to review this movie, because I have my own ideas about what  it means, but for now:

Here’s Bishop Fr. Robert Barron explaining the religious message behind Terence Malick’s Tree of Life:

 

The music of Tree of Life is a treat for the senses. Ethereal, epic, awesome. If you have not seen this movie, and you love larger than life drama, with cosmic set-pieces, and if you like movies by Bertolucci, Herzog , or  Kubrick, you will enjoy this movie.

 

 

Spirited Away (2001)

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This movie is spiritually satisfying on multiple levels and a little hard to describe. On the surface this about a frightened, lonely and uncontent little girl, dealing with moving to a new village. Chihiro is whiny, frightened, and clingy in the beginning of the movie, but by the end of the film, she has discovered her power, her confidence, her self assurance.

There is something about this movie that so  deftly speaks to the spirit of little girls, that they all want to return to this world over, and over, again. This movie was released in 2001, when my youngest sister was ten years old. She immediately fell in love with it, and watched it at every opportunity, and so did her sister, who is a year older. Neither of them ever seemed to get tired of it.

Five years later, her daughter, hereinafter referred to as The Potato, was born, and I introduced her to this movie, when she was about five or six. She still watches this movie today. She has a sister, (nicknamed, Lil’ Mama) , who is six years her junior, who is also thoroughly enamored of this movie. At this point the movie has become a family tradition, (along with My Neighbor Totoro), and I expect to be around to introduce this movie to their daughters.

I’m uncertain what essence of  little girl in me is attracted to this movie, but I’ve never seen anime more wholesome than a Studio Ghibli film. Most of the primary characters in this movie are women, of all ages, body types, and  emotional demeanors.

 

 

Just Plain Fun

 

Some movies are just really, really fun, and therefor good for all three aspects of the self. They feel good, they sound good, and they look good. You never get tired of watching them because there’s always some tiny details to discover.

 

Pulp Fiction (1994)

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There’s a lot to love about this movie, beyond its nontraditional structure, which is what first captured me about this movie. I loved the intellectual exercise of piecing together the linear plot of the movie after it was over, and I loved the dialogue, the side stories, and all the little details and sights that you miss if you’re not paying proper attention, and are a nice reward on subsequent viewings.

Ostensibly its about some odd adventures during the course 48 hours in the life of Jules and Vincent, who are hitmen for a local gangster named Marcellus Wallace, but there are several stories and sideplots, some of which are only tangentially related to Jules and Vincent’s day. The movie starts off in a perfectly normal gangster/hitman,  comedy type manner, with some banter and some killings between the two men, but as it moves forward, the feel of the plot starts to shift, to become more  discordant, until the end, when you’re left with a deep disquiet, as the  movie turns out not to be as  light weight, or “feel good” as you first thought. As the plot moves forward, things start to go horribly wrong, to go off key, and ultimately ends in tragedy.

In the meantime though, the subplots are very interesting, like the opening one, where Vincent accidentally kills an informant (wrong note number one), and he and Jules need to call in a Cleaner, called The Wolf, played by Harvey Keitel. Then there’s Vincent’s dance off that evening, with Mia Wallace, the wife of the gangster he works for. The dialogue is also a lot of fun too, showcasing Tarantino as a force to be reckoned with in that department. There’s the now famous conversation between Jules and Vincent about the names of burgers in Amsterdam, and a  conversation with Jules teasing Vincent about the significance of the foot massage, after he finds out about Vincent’s date with Mia. But the standout scene  is Christopher Walken’s character, a former military man, who tells a story about a pocket watch.

Yes, there are parts of the movie that are, to put it mildly, cringeworthy, but those parts don’t outweigh the sections of the movie that are the most fun, or nerve wracking.

 

Goodfellas (1990)

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This, too, is one of my all-time favorite movies, (and  completely different animal from Pulp Fiction), that I never get tired of watching, but not for the reasons a lot of people like it. I see it as chronicling  the decades long relationship, the rise and fall, of people who are supposed to be friends, Tommy, Jimmy, and Henry. For me, this movie is a fascinating dive into  these three very different personalities, and how all of them eventually come to a sad, and in one case horrible, ending because of the kinds of decisions they made in life.

Henry made the decision early in life to always be a follower. We follow Henry from his childhood fascination with the mobster life, through his initiation, his introduction to Tommy, his marriage, and his several falls from grace due to paranoia and drugs. Along for the ride is his wife, Karen, loyal to the end, his boss Paulie, a father figure who abandons him in his time of need, to protect himself, and Tommy, a psychotic rageaholic, who is as likely to kill a man as look at him.

The performances are superb, with Joe Pesci’s Tommy being, very probably, the most pants-shittingly scary gangster I’ve ever watched. Every moment he’s on screen is filled with tension because he is entirely unpredictable. Even Henry treads lightly around him, and Jimmy, who is also known as Gentlemen Jim, uses Tommy as his nuclear option whenever he doesn’t want to get his hands dirty. At one point, Tommy accidentally kills a boy not much older than Henry was when he decided to be a gangster, without even a hint of remorse, and then there’s that classic scene between Henry and Tommy, ta scene that’s been spoofed in dozens of movies and standup routines  since then, when Henry, rightly, thinks Tommy might actually be capable of killing him, for thinking he’s a funny guy.

The camera work is extraordinary, the long traveling shots of Henry moving in and out of covert spaces at the beginning of the movie, and the busy shifts in  camerawork, and rapid  shifts in music, towards the end of the film, that parallel Henry’s paranoid, coke induced, freefall which  presages his capture by the police.

While we’re doing that, we get to listen to some of the greatest music of the twentieth century, showcasing scenes which have since become iconic feats of filmmaking, from Henry and Karen’s first date, serenaded by The Crystal’s Then He Kissed Me, to  the Lufthansa scenes, shot to the tune of Eric Clapton’s Piano Exit from Layla, followed by the death of Tommy:

The music in this movie could almost be considered another character. This is Scorcese’s masterpiece, and he has never topped it, (although Casino came pretty close  by reiterating the tropes created in this one). It’s Scorcese’s musical choices that make this one of the most incredible films of his career. This was a director at the top of his game. Its not a surprise that this movie won for Best Picture that year.