Things Are Gonna Be Fun II: Electric Bugaloo

I wrote a version of this post, earlier this year, in which I listed all the movies I was interested in watching, and I just want to offer a sequel to that post, with mini reviews of movies I, did indeed, watch, and one I didn’t get to see, even though I wanted to.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2018/12/10/things-are-gonna-be-fun/

I’ve noticed a pattern of saying I’m not gonna see something, because I wasn’t interested, but later I rent the movie, or watch it on cable, so obviously I’m an unreliable narrator, when it comes to determining which movies I’ll be watching in a given year. So, you can take me at my word, at your own risk. Plus my track record of movie watching has been thrown off by my mom’s insistence that we go see every killer animal movie that gets released! I don’t dislike those types of movies, but I told her she’s messin’ up my movie schedule. (Note: No, she does not care about that, and just finds the whole thing deeply funny.)

Anyway these were the movies I showed some interest for, and ended up actually watching.

Glass

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Unlike a lot of  people, who saw this,  I actually liked this movie. Yes, there was a bit of a twist n the movie, in the sense that things do not play out in any way you think they’re going to play out, but it still did have a satisfying ending. I was interested to see how David Dunn ended up in the asylum with Mr. Glass and The Beast, and I though  the team up between Glass and Beast was interesting to watch. In a lot of ways the story plays out exactly the way such stories work in comic books, and I think the twist really threw a lot of people off, especially if they were expecting the movie to go on that way to the end. About halfway through the movie, there’s  a monkey wrench thrown into the story that changes it to be about something else entirely,  and while I was initially dismayed by the change, it ultimately proved to be satisfying for me.

 

Akita Battle Angel

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I read the manga a few years ago, before the movie was announced, and it was okay, but I found this movie rather disappointing. There are a few elements in it that I liked, but ultimately I didn’t finish the movie, and it was mostly  because of the acting, which is both restrained in some places, and over the top in others. And yeah, I did have a problem with the big eyes. They were distracting, even though big eyes are not distracting in anime. I also loathe sports movies, and about halfway through this movie, this turns into one of those made-up sports movies, that’s supposed to be an analogy for revolution, or something.

Sports movies are absolutely the one genre of movie I will not happily watch. I will watch a cop movie before I sit down to watch a sports movie. On the other hand, I did enjoy the world-building, and the special effects were excellent, but ultimately, those two things were not enough to keep my interest.

 

Captain Marvel

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I liked this movie far more than I thought I would. I wasn’t greatly enthusiastic about it, preferring to see her in Avengers Endgame first, before watching this, but it turned out to be okay. I thought its messaging was a bit ham-handed, but I loved the characters most of all, especially the Rambeaus, and the cat loving Nick Fury, and it was  unexpectedly funny, and deeply emotional in some spots. Is it as good as some of my MCU favorites, that I’ve watched multiple times? Nah. This movie doesn’t even break my top ten, but it also doesn’t land in the bottom ten either. Its a good, solid, competent, middle of the road, action movie, with a feminist message, and some acceptable special effects. If I watch  it again, it will be for the character relationships and action scenes.

 

Shazam

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I wasn’t expecting a whole lot out of this movie, but it turned out to be a heckuva lot of fun. The ads for it lead you to believe the kids in the movie are kind of obnoxious, and at first the are, but they quickly grow on you, and I started to really like the lead character ,and the movie is actually pretty funny, in a cringey, covering my eyes sort of way.

I’ve always been fascinated by Billy Batson, not because I thought of him as a power fantasy for children, though. Frankly, and this is where being a PoC, and a woman, comes into me having a very different opinion about movies, I was kinda horrified by Billy’s story. This isn’t a whole lot like the TV show I watched as a child. For one thing, Billy Batson is actually a little kid in this, unlike the teenager in the show, and no kid should ever be put in that sort of position. Billy fucks up a lot, and its really frustrating, and mildly upsetting to watch the villain beat his ass because he has the physical/mental sensibilities of a child. I don’t know how to explain it, but Shazam has always struck me as more of a horror story than a fantasy.

On the other hand, despite my anxiety, this movie was a lot of fun, and I liked the other kids in it, because they were really cute, and they all defeat the villain through teamwork, and superpowers, and stuff. Its a good, lightweight, piece of fluff to watch, on some Saturday afternoon, with your nieces and nephews.

 

Hellboy

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Whoo boy! I have a lot to say about this movie, so watch for my post comparing the Del Toro movies with this version, and the graphic novels. I didn’t hate this movie like a lot of people did. In fact this movie may prove to be better liked at some later date, but I didn’t love it either. It had a lot of problems which are outweighed by how incredibly gorgeous it is.

 

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu

As I said in the original post, I only know as much about Pokemon as raising my sisters would allow me to know, so I was kind of walking into this clean. I didn’t know that the various Pokemon had personalities and stuff, so I didn’t know what to expect. I knew some of the character names, and I liked the premise, and heard that Ryan Reynolds was doing the voice of Pikachu, who is, naturally, my favorite.This movie was as cute as you think it is. Its a nice, funny, piece of fluff. Its got a couple of dark moments, but is mostly safe to watch with kids, as its not that deep, so you can enjoy it without too much anxiety.

I was mostly distracted by the kind of world in which Pokemon live side by side with people. Where do the Pokemon got to  the bathroom? How do the largest Pokemon navigate through the society, and did the biggest ones I saw belong to anyone, or were they just hanging out in the city? Some of the Pokemon were pretty dangerous, so are there humans who hunt them down and exterminate them when they get out of hand? Or do they lock them in jail, like people?

Well, I had questions!

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John Wick 3: Parabellum

This movie was every bit as wild and crazy as it looks from the trailer. I’ve been watching this franchise, and really the entire thing is ridiculous, with Assassin’s guilds, mobsters, dog attacks. Its kind of unrelenting and you may need to have a rest about halfway through it. This time there’s some type of regulatory organization involved, and its purpose is to weed out everyone who helped John in the first two movies. So, not only is John still being hunted by all the top assassins in the world, (namely Mark Dacascos, who it was nice to see again), his friends are in danger too, and this all  escalated from the killing of John’s dog, left to him by his late wife, by a no-account mobster’s son.

I loved Halle’s character, with her two guard dogs. She talked in interviews about the training for the dogs, and what it was like being on set with them, and that was fascinating. In fact the entire thing is fascinating because the creators have no qualms saying the movies are just stunt showcases, with a loose plot attached to it, and going into detail about how they do everything. Its fun to watch, not just the film itself, but the making of it, as well.

Halle Berry plays a character named Sophia, who owns two Belgian Malinois. She is fifty three years old. This is a very demanding film and most of its stars are older men and women, so that’s interesting.

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Men in Black International

I was ultimately so disappointed in this movie, that I didn’t even finish it. I mean Thor and Valkyrie team up to save the world from aliens but there’s really not much of a plot, the acting was a little lackluster. It wasn’t as funny as the first two movies. it was really just lacking Will Smith.

I wouldn’t mind seeing more stories set in this universe, and Tessa and Chris were really cute, but it really does need to have the imagery and the humor, and with actually funny actors, which is something that started to go wrong in the second film. Tessa and Chris are funny, from time to time, but they are not known for their comedy, and it showed, because the writing simply wasn’t there. Its been diminishing returns on the humor ever since that second film, really, but I  expected a lot from this, because the trailer made it look like fun. The wild enthusiasm I had for several other films, that were released around the same time, wasn’t there, but I thought this would be okay. Ultimately, I’m glad I  didn’t spend money to see this in the theater.

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Spider-Man: Far From Home

I missed this one in the theater becasue I was broke around the time this movie got released, but I rented it as soon as the it started streaming ,and I was not disappointed. it has a few slow moments, or moments I didn’t particularly care for, but those moments were not enough to stop me from overall likage. Its not as good as the first film, which had that element of novelty, but its very satisfactory.

I loved a lot of things about it, but mostly it was the relationships between the characters.  I liked the cuteness between Peter ,and MJ. They really did sell the idea of them being awkward teens beginning a romantic relationship. Peter’s friends, and co-stars also get some nice story arcs, too. The action was a lot of fun and didn’t go on interminably long, which is something that always makes me start to squirm, as I get easily  distracted. I’ve watched this about three times since then, and I keep discovering new things ,and its been fun each time.

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I don’t often do sequels to my forthcoming movies posts, but I was going back through some of my older posts, and I saw that I’d watched nearly all the movies in it, and had not given even mini-reviews. so here are some of my  mini-mini-reviews.

Horror Movie Themes: Women Directors And Monster Women

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Women who direct horror movies are few and far between. They are simply not telling stories in significant numbers in the genre for critics to say there’s an overwhelming theme being tackled, but there are enough of them that a pattern is beginning to emerge.

 

Ostensibly, the stories women tell cover the same subjects as male directors,  but there are sometimes subtle differences, and most of that has to do with women’s perspective on the same topics. There is plenty of vengeance, serial killers, and  ultra violence, but where movies with male directors often focus on the spectacle of violence  against women, without questioning it, female directors often make women the total focus of the plot, as both victims and perpetrators. There are also  fewer otherworldly monsters in female directed movies. Often, in such films, the monsters are very  human, and sometimes those monsters are, in fact, the women.

There are exceptionally few horror movies directed by women of color, and the bare handful of movies that were, like Beloved, fall into the category of personal hauntings, that tackle issues that resonate with other women of color. The majority of women horror filmmakers, are White women, and they tend to focus on issues that are of importance to them, and one starts to notice a pattern in the themes of the movies they make.

If White men work out their personal anxieties through the types of horror they create, then so do White women. It is not that women of color cannot relate to these themes, it’s just that for them, such themes may not be a priority, and tend to carry less resonance for them.

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In movies like Carrie by Kimberly Pierce, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, by Ana Lily Amirpour,  and Jennifer’s Body by Karyn Kusama, the theme is not just the Monstrous Feminine, but femaleness itself as monster. There is no coding of femininity as  horrific in these movies. It is a  woman who is a horrible monster, who feeds on men, or  destroys the human body, with a thought, and she is like this, because she is female, as that is an integral part of the horror in the film.

Carrie and Jennifer’s Body  also tackle issues that are of specific relevance to women, like puberty, menstruation,  friendship, and sexual trauma. In female directed films, there is less emphasis on the disruption and restoration of order, or the status quo. Often, their films don’t actually have any resolution, or the emphasis is on the disruption, and restoration, of relationships, or cathartic punishments, instead.

Themes about monstrosity, in such movies, often revolve around body horror, and consumption, as dieting, and the non/consumption of food, and women’s relationships to food, make up the bulk of the personal anxieties in the privileged classes of women who sometimes make these films. In Julia Decournau’s Raw (2016),  a vegetarian girl develops a craving for meat after she undergoes a hazing ritual involving the eating of raw animals. In the 1999 Ravenous,  by the late Antonia Bird, Guy Pierce develops a taste for raw meat after he is nearly killed during the Mexican – American War, and in Jennifer’s Body, a young woman has to save her high school friend, after she realizes her friend has become a flesh eating demon. (There is a lot to unpack, in the movie Jennifer’s Body, which we will discuss later.) Many middle-class, White, Western women have a love/hate , and a fear/disgust, relationship with food, dieting, and  consumption, and we see that play out in these films, as eating, (usually blood and meat), becomes the primary focus of the horror.

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Female directed movies often tend to be more intimate, focusing on the horror of relationships, or the topic of motherhood. What mothers are willing to do for, or sometimes to, their families is the subject of the 2014 movie, The Babadook, where a mother fears she may kill her son, when she is haunted,  and then possessed, after reading about the titular character.

In the anthology XX, many of the stories revolve around the horrific circumstances that can occur when a mother loves her family. Motherhood, already a source of real world anxiety, is a frequent topic in films made by women. In The Box, the themes are also loss, helplessness, and non/consumption, as a woman loses her entire family, when they starve themselves, after her son views the contents of a mysterious box. It is a secret that kills them, and which they refuse to share with her, so that when they are gone, she spends the rest of her life riding the subway, hoping to encounter the man with the box again. The story, Her only Living Son, directly tackles sacrificial motherhood, as a woman sacrifices her life to save her son from his Satanic destiny.

Sex is a huge component of female directed horror movies, but unlike films directed by men, that mostly just feature the spectacle of  women having sex,  or being raped, the focus from women directors is on the danger, and vulnerability of intimacy, and often based on a young woman’s fear of sexual activity, and fear of the loss of innocence, that may be the result. In the film, A Girl Walks Home Alone, a nameless female, Iraqi  vampire hunts men. This movie is groundbreaking, not just because of its setting, and plot, but character. The sexual forwardness of Iraqi women isn’t often featured in film, let alone as a night-stalking blood drinker. The director, Amirpour, is not White, but the themes of consumption, and blood as a euphemism for sex, still find a way into the story.

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Blood plays a huge part in a lot of the stories told by women, from Carrie, to Raw, to Jennifer’s Body, with the theme being  linked to  femininity, fertility, and/or sex. The movie, Carrie, begins and ends with blood. Based on the novel by Stephen King, it chronicles a young woman’s perilous navigation through high school. At the beginning of the story, the onset of her menses signals her introduction to adulthood, and heightens her telekinetic abilities. The story ends with the killing of her entire graduating class, after a bucket of pig’s blood is dumped over her during the school prom, an act which was informed by the opening events of the story, when she has her first period in front of her bullying classmates.

Blood and flesh are especially popular topics of these films, in that many of them contain cannibalism and/or vampirism. In the movie Raw, relationships, and adulthood rites take center stage, as a young woman, who has a contentious relationship with her sister, gets turned into a cannibal after an initial hazing at her sister’s college, that turns out to be an initiation, not just into a sorority, but also adulthood. In Blood and Donuts (1995), a vampire who has just awakened from a long sleep, is introduced to the modern world, via the night shift worker at a local bakery. Over the course of the evening, the young lady figures out who and what he is, and the two of them engage in a push and pull attraction, as he decides whether or not he should prey on her.

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In the 1987 movie, Near dark, a young man is inducted into a nightmare lifestyle, where he has to kill to live, when he meets a pretty blonde girl, at a bar one night. Vampires, since they, like blood, are often a euphemism for sex and adulthood, are the focus of women’s stories, such as Fran Rubel Kazui’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Buffy went on to answer deeper questions about girlhood and monsters, in the TV series, which lasted from 1997 to 2003. In fact, these themes are so prevalent, that they often seem to be having a dialogue with each other, or with movies of the same genre, made by men.

There is a lot of narrative overlap, for example, between Near Dark, Ravenous, and the movie, Afflicted, which cover not just the same themes, but sometimes the same talking points, of the male protagonist’s empathy making them unfit to live the kind of lifestyle that requires killing others. There is also a great deal of narrative overlap in the movies Carrie, Raw, and Ginger Snaps, more films in which menstruation, and flesh eating, are the signals that a young woman has reached full adulthood.

Now let’s talk about Jennifer’s Body.

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Jennifer’s body is a great encapsulation of some of the themes and topics that women address through horror. The themes of friendship, female ally-ship and support, revenge, sexuality,  and patriarchy are part of this narrative.

Jennifer’s Body was released in 2009, written by Diablo Cody, and directed by Karen Kusama. Jennifer Check, as played by Megan Fox, is the high school hot girl. She is the sassy, beautiful, popular, cheerleader, that all the  high school boys lust after. Amanda Seyfried plays Amanda “Needy” Lesnicki,  her quiet, bookish,  best friend, since elementary school. Jennifer gets possessed by a demon, after she is sacrificed to Satan by a local rock band, in exchange for fame.

Already there are themes of the sexuality of women being exploited for male gain. The band, called Low Shoulder, thinks she is a virgin, and their sacrifice was successful, but since she was not actually a virgin, she became possessed instead. After she has killed two young men, Amanda figures out that she is a succubus that is impervious to harm after feeding on her victims. Jennifer attacks Amanda’s boyfriend, who then attacks and eventually kills her. However, bitten by Jennifer, Amanda has now developed some of the Demon Jennifer’s abilities. At the end of the movie, she hunts down  the band Low Shoulder, and kills them.

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Throughout the movie, we are  privy to some of the more interesting conversations that women have when men are not present, and this is something that will only happen in a movie that is written and controlled by women. Not only will there often be more than one woman in a movie, but their relationships and conversations often have more depth. The film is informed by two women in front of the camera as well as the two women behind it. It is the relationship between Amanda and Jennifer that is integral to the plot of the film. If we don’t buy their friendship, we cannot become emotionally invested in their plight, most especially in Amanda’s dilemma at having to kill her best friend.

https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2018/08/206237/jennifers-body-review-defense-female-revenge-movie

Amanda isn’t just killing Jennifer to save the lives of the young men she might feed on, but to save Jennifer. too. I talked in an earlier post about how Horror is basically the disruption of the status quo by the unknown, often the paranormal, and yes, Jennifer as a demon is a disruption of the status quo,  but the status quo, does not necessarily mean “good”. The status quo is Jennifer’s humanity being disregarded  by  men who were willing to  sacrifice her life for their own gain. That Jennifer, and then Amanda, become demons is a necessary disruption, especially as part of the revenge narratives that are also prominent in women’s horror. Not only are revenge narratives common for women directors, they are often very cathartic for the creators and audiences.

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https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/nov/03/carrie-stephen-king-brian-de-palma-horror-films-feminism

Kimberly Pierce’s Carrie, from 2011, is another movie that appears to be having a dialogue with Jennifer’s Body, as it covers many of the same themes, of women’s relationships, both supportive and toxic, and the revenge narrative. Although the story was originally written by Stephen King, and the original movie was directed Brian De Palma, I talked at length about how the mood and emphasis of the film is changed, as Pierce  focuses more on the women’s tangled relationships with each other, rather than on spectacle.

So for female horror directors, there seems to be less emphasis on spectacle (although that’s definitively present becasue these are horror movies), and more focus on symbolism, and the relationships between the characters. For me, this supports my supposition that the type of moves that get made are a reflection of the types of people who make them. If this is true of the Japanese, or British, then its equally true for the White men who run Hollywood, and are the primary creators in the horror genre. So, yes, I think that the types of films being made by White women (as these directors are primarily White) are a reflection of the things that are important to them.

There have not been enough Black and Asian-American filmmakers, in the horror genre, for certain patterns to emerge, but I’m going to give it a try in a follow-up post.

Movie Disease Vectors: Pass It on

I mentioned in an earlier post that one  of the primary staples of the Horror genre is the fear of disease, or loss of bodily autonomy. The Fly is a perfect encapsulation of this theme. The Horror genre also likes to combine the two fears, as in the movie, Slither, and part of the fun of watching such films is figuring out how you would, or could, survive the fate of the film’s characters.

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I was revisiting some commentary I’d left on another website, and  discussing disease vectors. I was specifically discussing zombification, and where and how such a disease would get started. I mentioned a game I was playing called Plague Inc.

I don’t know if any of you have heard of Plague Inc., but it’s a fascinating way of learning how disease works, and the CDC itself approves of the game, and offers suggestions. The objective of the game is to kill  the human race, anything less than that and you lose. You must kill off all humanity. I’ve only won the game once on the easy setting, and trust me, it’s not a triumphant feeling.

Plague Inc. is a strategy title in which you take control of a deadly pathogen and, beginning with patient zero, attempt to spread the plague across the entire world and wipe out the human race — which does its best to adapt and stop you in your tracks at every turn.

You have to factor, not just where the disease begins, but how fast it travels, based on how its victims contract it, how the disease gets spread to different locations, and carefully calculate how fast it works on its victims bodies. You receive points on how effective your disease is, and you can use those points to buy specific attributes it, like new vectors, that can slow it down, or speed it up. If the disease kills its victims too fast, then it dies out before it can infect enough people. If it works on its victims too slowly, then the disease will be cured before it can infect enough people. What you want is a disease that spreads quickly, through as many vectors as possible, while leaving its patients alive just long enough that scientists don’t realize how fatal the disease is.

Horror movies base a lot of their plots off diseases, some of them pretty rare, and some of them entirely  fictional, but they all operate from the same basis. Diseases need to be spread somehow, and just like other living organisms, the virus or bacteria, or whatever the disease is based on, wants to survive and multiply, and can only do that by infecting as many people as possible. Horror movie diseases echo real world versions in that they need to have vectors.

 

28 Days Later (2002)/Train to Busan (2016)/World War Z

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These three movies are too similar in their depictions of zombification not to be compared. The only differences are that in 28 Days Later, the victims are still alive, and slowly starve to death, while in Train to Busan, the victims are the reanimated dead. The diseases are spread very much the same,with humans as the transport vector. and these diseases spread very quickly because the victims are fast, chasing and infecting, more victims.

Much like  Rabies, both diseases are spread through contact with infected saliva, like a bite, or interaction with bodily fluids. The diseases in the movies are spread so fast because the victims are compelled to seek out new hosts, and because it works on the body much faster than any known real life diseases, so its not very realistic in the depictions of the diseases themselves.These diseases work too fast on the bodies of the victims, but the vectors for them are realistic enough.

 

 

World War Z (2013)/The Invasion (2007)

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The vector for the zombification in World War Z is similar to the the one used in The Invasion, which is kind of a slick remake of The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. The vector, in both cases, is humans, but one extra thing these two diseases have in common is how they react to the human body, in that a previous infection of some other disease, can render a person immune to the current one.

I think World War Z got this idea from the science of immunology.h I have it on good authority that that is not how  disease works in real life, and in World War Z,  it is more how predator/prey relationships sometimes work. In the real world, what would happen is one kind of disease suppressing one’s immune system, and  making a person vulnerable to other infections. One of the things that World War Z gets right, however are that boats and planes are two of the vectors for transport of the disease.

In The Invasion, the “disease’, which is really a kind of sentient virus, is passed via bodily fluids. The victims produce a milky saliva that they use to infect more victims, usually by adulterating beverages. This is another disease that spreads quickly, as the first victims are compelled to seek out more.  A person becomes a “podded” after they fall asleep, and a brief period in which the body tries to fight off the infection through other means, like a fever. In 1400’s England, there was a brief epidemic of something called The Sweating Sickness, that could kill a person within hours of infection. The name, and cause, of the diseases is still unknown, but it is similar to The Invasion, in that the victims suffer “night sweats” which coats their body in a gelatinous like “pod”.

Any … form of sensing the presence of infected prey, unless they just kind of know it preternaturally or something, would require methods we’re not currently aware of.

https://www.vulture.com/2013/06/biophysicist-assesses-world-war-z.html

 

The Stand – Stephen King (1978)

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The disease chronicled in The Stand is not fictional. It is very  real. Called the Superflu, it is spread the same way regular colds and flu is spread, with the only difference between it and the regular flu, is  that the Superflu was genetically modified to be a weapon. Scientists hardly needed to make a super version, as there have been several times that the flu has wiped out whole populations of people. There here have been several of these over the past 300 years. The last major Flu pandemic happened in 1918, called the Spanish Flu, it killed some 50 to 100 million people worldwide. Because the flu is easily transmitted,  it is capable of infecting a lot of people, without their knowledge. The description of the Superflu, or as its called in the book, Captain Trips, closely resembles descriptions of The Spanish Flu.

One of the most interesting chapters in King’s novel, chronicles the transmission of the disease from patient zero, to the rest of the population, illustrating the futility in trying to contain it. The disease travels just fast enough, and kills just slow enough, that no one realizes they have been infected, and are able to pass it along to many unknowingly, by touch. Just like the real flu Captain Trips is contagious before they show any symptoms, after which the disease is airborne, in infected droplets from  mucus.The only difference is that Captain Trips had a 100% mortality rate. If you caught it, you died.

The flu is transmitted through droplet, so if you catch it it’s because you have someone else’s spit in you. So if you do think you have the flu, you should wear a mask when you go outside. And if you refuse to get your flu shot, you should also wear a mask. Droplet range is about three feet. People can sneeze as far as 20 feet but about 3 feet is the contagious range.

That’s what made The Stand so scary. People would go through their days coughing and sneezing, thinking they were just suffering from a light head cold. But as they were going throughout their day, they were infecting everyone they had come across. And then a week later they were dead.

https://factandsciencefiction.com/the-flu-stephen-king-the-stand/

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The Black Death (2010)

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The tile of this movie is a reference to the  Bubonic Plague, AKA The Black Plague. In the mid 1300s, the Black Death was responsible for killing a third of Europe’s population, and parts of the Mediterranean and Africa. The disease still exists today, even here in the US. One of the vectors for Bubonic plague are rats, (and other small rodents), which carry the infected fleas, which can carry the disease quickly and quietly into populated areas. One of the other vectors is humanity. People infected with the plague are highly contagious, and can pass it on, much like the flu.

The bacteria that cause plague, Yersinia pestis, maintain their existence in a cycle involving rodents and their fleas. Plague occurs in rural and semi-rural areas of the western United States, primarily in semi-arid upland forests and grasslands where many types of rodent species can be involved. Many types of animals, such as rock squirrels, wood rats, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, chipmunks, mice, voles, and rabbits can be affected by plague. Wild carnivores can become infected by eating other infected animals.

https://www.cdc.gov/plague/transmission/index.html

 

Cabin Fever (2002)

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Just as in The Invasion , this disease can be passed on by human beings coming into contact with the bodily fluids of the infected.  In the movie, several college students come in contact with  water that’s been contaminated by an infected  body. As the disease progresses they begin to bleed profusely, and the skin begins to slough away. The basis for the disease in the movie is called necrotizing fasciitis,, aka Flesh Eating Bacteria. (I caution you to not Google images of this disease, unless you have a strong stomach. For the record,  it looks exactly like the disease in the movie.)

 If you have necrotizing fasciitis you have a life threatening condition that could spread to kill you within hours. Once you have it you can go from swollen calf to death’s door within a period of days.

https://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2003-09/catching-cabin-fever/

 

Pontypool (2009)

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This is a unique and  interesting movie in that the vector of contamination here is speech. The use of certain words must be said and heard in a specific arrangement in English, which creates an infection that takes over the brain, and turns the victim into a living zombie.

The disease in the movie mimics some actual speech disorders, like “spasmodic dysphonia”, the speech disorder most famous for its use in the movie Us by Lupita Nyongo, who got into  some small  trouble for it.

“There are three stages to this virus. The first stage is you might begin to repeat a word. Something gets stuck. And usually it’s words that are terms of endearment like sweetheart or honey. The second stage is your language becomes scrambled and you can’t express yourself properly. The third stage you become so distraught at your condition that the only way out of the situation you feel, as an infected person, is to try and chew your way through the mouth of another person.”

https://longsworde.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/the-zombies-of-pontypool-language-as-a-virus/

 

Afflicted (2013)

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The basis for much of the mythology of vampirism is a disease  called Porphyria, a set of several inherited, blood disorders, that result in the body being unable to create hemoglobin. Some of the symptoms of  porphyria are paleness, lethargy, and extreme photsensitivity, all symptoms displayed by the character in the movie. Porphyria, however , is not infectious.

In The Afflicted,  Derek, begins to exhibit all the symptoms of vampirism, after an encounter with a pretty girl at a nightclub. He first exhibits flu like symptoms, before the disease is offset  by the other  symptoms of vamprism,  super strength, and speed. In the movies, vampirism is contagious through contact with saliva, in much the same way as rabies, to which it also bears a similarity. For example, animals with rabies often display “hydrophobia”, an aversion to water, which might have given rise to the belief, that vampires could not abide running water.

The different genetic variations that affect heme production give rise to different clinical presentations of porphyria — including one form that may be responsible for vampire folklore.

https://vector.childrenshospital.org/2017/09/gene-protoporphyria-blood-disorder/

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Rabies is a deadly virus that is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected animal. Globally, it kills an estimated 59,000 people each year — that equates to almost one death every 9 minutes. Initial symptoms are only flu-like, but once they appear, rabies is almost always fatal.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321780.php

 

Slither (2006)

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The alien in this movie doesn’t resemble any kind of human disease, but it does resemble the actions of a particular fungus. The cordyceps fungus operates in much the same fashion as the alien in the movie: infect, zombify, repeat. In that way, the creature, also called The Long One,  grows to consume the life of an entire planet. The alien mimics the life cycle of cordyceps by controlling the hosts to infect more hosts, through the use of mobile spores, which look like worms.

The cordyceps fungus also infects an ant or other insect through spores. After the host is infected, it is instructed by the spores to climb to a high point, before more of the spores burst from its body, infecting the rest of the colony. In the movie, after a person is directly infected  by the primary host, their bodies are instructed to feed until they grow to enormous size, after which their bodies burst, releasing the spore-like worms.

After patient zero, Grant Grant, is infected by an initial spore (in the shape of a needle), he is instructed to feed, and impregnate more hosts. The alien takes on the intelligence level of its hosts, although it does have its own  memories, which are shared among its hosts, and  is specifically referenced, in the film, as a “Conscious Disease”.

Exploring Horror Movie Themes

Earlier, I talked about how, since most of the American Horror genre is run by White men, what we’re really getting is a glimpse into the minds of what scares straight, middle class, White men, and the themes they like to visit , and re-visit, over and over. These large scale patterns give us some idea what they consider to be important to have, or even to lose, and their close felt anxieties. Its not that other people don’t feel these anxieties, but these are movies told from a particular Western  male framework, while movies in other cultures  have a different set of tropes and patterns, that are reflective of the anxieties of those people.

Western style Horror movies are often about the loss of control, stability, and/or order, in that a status quo  is established at the beginning of the story, then some “thing” comes along to disrupt that status quo, a loss of control, and/or disorder soon follows, after which control and order is re-established, with the defeat of the disruption. The disruption could be anything from a comet (Night of the Comet) , to the return of a long lost brother, (Hellraiser), to malevolent frogs (Frogs), or zombies (Night of the Living Dead). This is white western men’s greatest fear: the disruption of the natural order from a malevolent other.

There are   few movies in which disorder wins, (The Mist), the status quo is not re-instated, (Dawn of the Dead), or there is the threat of more disorder at some point in the future, (Slither), but that too becomes part of the horror. Disorder often takes the form of “the Other”, usually a  monster, which is really just another version of death, something which is relentless, inevitable, and just like in the real world, deeply personal,  but usually the monster is just representative of change ,and a loss of order.

Here are some of the most common versions and themes about change, death, and disorder, found in Horror movies.

 

Grant Grant: Slither

Loss of Bodily Autonomy

Most of these films fall into the Body Horror category, where a person literally loses control of their body, and/or cannot stop what’s happening to it. In the movie Slither, a town is terrorized by an alien consciousness that proceeds to take over people’s bodies, using them for reproduction, food, and to grow itself. The top three horrors: extraterrestrial rape, being eaten, and the loss of bodily autonomy, are all covered in this movie, which encompasses every body horror film, from Invasion of the Bodysnatchers to The Thing

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Zombies: Train to Busan

Being Eaten

Being eaten is always a popular topic, and is a classic “status quo does not get restored” type of film. In such films, the world has been so horribly overturned, that nothing will ever be normal again, and even those who don’t become flesh eating zombies,  are forever changed. These types of movies are often not about the zombies themselves, but how regular citizens cope with the disruption of civilization.

There’s more to this type of movie than zombies, though, which always includes elements of  “being hunted”,  such as any film where people get eaten by animals (Jaws), aliens (Under the Skin), and yes,  non-zombie people, (Ravenous).

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The Xenomorph: Alien

Women

We can conclude, with the success of this entire series of movies, that men are deeply afraid of women.  The Alien films are an example of what psychologist,  Barbara Creed, called The Monstrous Feminine. One aspect of the Alien films which is not addressed in other monstrous feminine films, like Teeth, and Ginger Snaps, is the treatment of the male characters as non-consenting incubators, by the alien.

http://fourteeneastmag.com/index.php/2019/05/31/celebrating-the-monstrous-feminine-the-legacy-of-alien/

https://www.swantower.com/essays/craft/the-monstrous-feminine/

This type of film, where female bodies are coded as sinful, painful,  and symbols of death, and/or castration for men, are fairly numerous, and include movies like The Exorcist, Hereditary, The Brood, Teeth, Jennifer’s Body, and Ginger Snaps.

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The Pods: Invasion of the Bodysnatchers

Losing Yourself

I wrote about this in an earlier post about Invasion of the Body snatchers, about how the movie isn’t just about conformity, but the loss of one’s unique sense of self. All of the Invasion movie remakes have subtle themes outside of this, but it’s a thread that can be seen throughout all of them. This theme includes any number of movies where a person’s mind is taken over, or controlled, by some outside force, which includes movies like Upgrade, Get Out, Scanners, A Clockwork Orange, and The Manchurian Candidate.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2018/06/26/invasion-of-the-bodysnatchers-1978-the-loss-of-self/

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Jack: The Shining

Family

That your home could become a source of pain and harm for you is also a very real fear illustrated in countless home invasion films, like Breaking In, Straw Dogs, Don’t Breathe, and The Strangers. But what if the danger doesn’t come from the outside, but is already living with you. What if the call is coming from inside the house?

Two of the biggest family themes in Horror is danger to the family, and danger from the family. The Shining is an example of both. Family is supposed to be the one group of people who  protect and nurture you. The fear that a family member might deliberately seek to cause you harm is what permeates The Shining. Jack engaged in domestic abuse (drinking and violence) long before he encountered the malevolent beings of the Overlook Hotel. The danger was always present. The  family’s isolated conditions, and the spirits in the hotel, just exacerbated it.

The danger from the family has been a common theme since The Shining’s release in 1980, in movies like Hereditary, The Amityville Horror, Hellraiser, and The Babadook.

https://www.playbuzz.com/roreyomalley10/21-things-people-get-completely-wrong-about-domestic-abuse

 

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What if the person who’s supposed to look after you became a threat, one that slowly isolates, intimidates, harms, and ultimately kills you? 

http://msenscene.com/2017/12/19/merry-scary-shining/

 

Seth Brundle: The Fly

Sickness

 

This fear is also closely tied to the fear of loss of bodily autonomy, as these are both fears that what is happening to one’s body is outside of one’s control. In the case of loss of autonomy, the fear is that an outside force controls your body, and is making it do disgusting, or abnormal things, like changing shape, or harming the people you love. In the fear of sickness, the fear is of one’s body going horribly wrong, or the body attacking itself from within, or just changing for some unknown reason.

That is a kind of fear that is seemingly universal. There’s not one person alive whose body has not undergone some change that they couldn’t understand, or which frightened them, starting with puberty, and this is especially true for women, becasue even when you know some change is going to occur, is occurring, the symptoms can still produce a great deal of anxiety.

In The Fly, Seth Brundle’s body starts to undergo changes he doesn’t understand, after an experiment in transporting objects goes horribly wrong. At first its a gift, and he feels wonderful, but we get the full immersion treatment of his emotions as his body begins to deteriorate. We experience his fear when he believes he has some form of cancer or leprosy, sadness when he realizes he is too far gone to ever be saved, the mordant humor of having his body parts drop off, and even that feeling of relief, when he discovers what’s happening to him. Anyone who has ever had a chronic/serious illness can resonate with Seth’s journey. His illness may be fictional, but the emotions evoked are all very real.

 

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 The Grey Widower: The Mist

Arachnophobia

I think this is a special category all its own, and I put this here becasue it happens to be one of my personal phobias. I don’t know what the cause of this particular phobia is, but I have experienced recurrent reinforcement of it over the years. Once when I was in college, I had a spider egg hatch in my bedroom, and I totally freaked the fuck out for three days. Luckily, I had friends who didn’t simply make fun of me, but took great efforts to calm my fears. Its been over twenty five years, and I still don’t think I ever fully recovered from that, judging by the number of times per year I have   bug bombed my house, in order to prevent just such a re-occurence.

Nevertheless, I will still watch movies about this particular phobia, and some of them have even become favorites, like The Mist,  Eight Legged Freaks, and my personal favorite, Big Ass Spider! And yeah, my all-time favorite superhero is indeed Spiderman. Obviously spiders and I have a complicated love/hate relationship.

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A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder that causes an individual to experience extreme, irrational fear about a situation, living creature, place, or object.

When a person has a phobia, they will often shape their lives to avoid what they consider to be dangerous. The imagined threat is greater than any actual threat posed by the cause of terror.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/249347.php

Phobias are a really easy theme to make a horror movie from because the fear is already built into the movie. All you have to do is put your audience in a place where the phobia can have free reign. From clowns (Killer Klowns from Outer Space), to enclosed spaces (Buried), to snakes (Anaconda), all the film maker has to do is introduce the situation with the phobia, and you’ve got a scary movie.

 

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The Monster: It Follows

Growing Old

I talked about this movie’s monster at some length, discussing why the movies theme was about aging, and not necessarily the surface level theme of sexually transmitted disease.

This movie is not just about sexuality and STDs. That’s just a surface-level description, and the one most easily accessed by the viewer. Those  two subjects are merely the vehicles through which the meaning of the story is being imparted. The movie is actually about the existential fear of growing up, growing old, and death.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/it-follows-2014-more-thoughts/

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He Who Kills: Trilogy of Terror

Being Hunted

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This is a theme closely related to being eaten, although being eaten is not always the result of a “hunt” movie. Most of these types of movies involve humans hunting other humans (Race with the Devil), or animals, (Jaws), but this nasty little short from the movie Trilogy of Terror has an altogether different goal, and involves a woman being chased through her home, by an avatar of the hunt, a killer doll called He Who Hunts.

This is also  another example of how some films can have multiple themes, as this is also a  home invasion movie, and we’re not about to get into the racial connotations behind the images of a pretty, urban, White woman being chased by a savage, nonsense chattering, black doll, who eventually possesses her.

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Non Western Film

The H-Man: The H-Men

The Unexpected

One of the other easy themes  featured in Horror movies is when people encounter the unexpected. Trilogy of Terror’s Prey is an example of this, as are movies like, Friday the 13th, Us, and Annihilation.

I debated whether or not to add this movie, for a long time, because this movie still scares the absolute chittering bejeezus out of me. I made the mistake of watching this late one night, a few years ago, and I kept on my room light for at least a week. That should have been a lesson to me, but I tried to watch this movie again, in broad daylight, and couldn’t even get past the opening credits. There is an enduring and deep level of  creepiness about this movie that isn’t like The Blob, where everybody knows something horrible is happening and then they all take steps to remedy the issue.

This is a Japanese horror movie, and it’s a perfect example of what I meant about foreign horror movies having very different goals in their themes beyond the disruption of the natural order. Order and stability are not restored at the end of this movie by the killing of the monster. The goal here seems to be understanding what happened.  In fact, it is posited in the film that what has happened is part of the natural evolution of humanity, which gives it a close thematic resemblance to the 1988 movie Akira.

. In this movie, none of the characters are at all aware that anything untoward is happening until its far too late. I think the creepiness  factor is that the characters are all engaged in their rather sordid, but  mundane, criminal activities, until they unexpectedly encounter one of these blob men, walking around in a room, or office,  which promptly eats them. In some cases, the victims are unaware of its presence, or can see it, but don’t know what it is. And what’s even worse, these creatures are not entirely unaware of what they are, as they actively strategize to kill some, while deliberately skipping others, and may not actually be malevolent.

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The H-Man rates as one of the most genuinely frightening Japanese horror films of the 1950s. When a minor-league drug runner completely vanishes, leaving only his clothes behind, detective Tominaga (Akihiko Hirata) investigates. Along the way, Tominaga makes the acquaintance of scientist Masada (Kenji Sahara), who theorizes that the missing doper was melted into a liquid “H-Man” as a result of being exposed to nuclear radiation. Sure enough, the H-Man soon resurfaces, seeking out victims to “dissolve” so that he can continue to survive. 
 https://www.allmovie.com/movie/the-h-man-v21230#OYzMaYBVpgL7kGcx.99

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Oh hey! Its October, AKA Halloween Month, so expect lots more scary essays and posts for the rest of this month!

 

The Truman Show (1998): Questioning Reality

During the late 90’s there was a spate of existentialist movies, that asked questions about the nature of reality, the self,  and questioned our sense of who we were. Movies like Dark City, The 13th Floor, Pleasantville, The Matrix, Existenz, and yes, The Truman Show, all questioned if the world we lived in was truly real, if we were real, and if nothing is real, does anything we experience matter.

The Truman Show didn’t just question reality. It asked questions about freedom, and self determination, as well. Truman is a man who has been imprisoned in a pleasant middle class, artificial, bubble his entire life, with a pretty blond wife, a non-descript job, one close friend, and a tragic past that’s specifically designed to hold him in place, and keep him from moving forward. His life is comfortable and certain. It is difficult not to see parallels to our own lives in Truman and his circumstances.

Truman has a daily routine. He does the same thing every day, with the same catchphrases, ordering the same food, the same magazines at the newsstand, driving the same route to and from work. Truman is mostly happy with his life, but its not an exciting life, so he fantasizes a lot.

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One of the first images we get of Truman is his childlike fantasy of being an astronaut. Truman longs to do something different, go somewhere else, be someone else, but he is trapped in place, as so many of us are, by our jobs, our circumstances, monetary concerns, our families, and other obligations, that we consider more important than our freedom to do as we please. Like Truman many of us fantasize about being  someone else, someplace else, and for most of us, fantastical visions of riding dragons, or pretending to be a favorite cartoon character, are enough.

Many of us live in comfortable bubbles, occasionally  chafing at our restrictions, and any attempts to break free of those restrictions can get you branded with labels like mentally ill,  mid-life crisis, or hysteria. Your desire to  break free, can often make other people deeply uncomfortable, and can prompt them to deploy tactics that will get you back into your bubble, to be quiet, and complacent, once again.

Truman is a man who has been held in captivity, since he was born, by an avant-garde filmmaker, named  Christof, who adopted him, kept him imprisoned in a fake world, with actors and actresses as friends and family, and put his entire life on live television. Everything in Truman’s life is manufactured, his job isn’t real, his marriage was carefully orchestrated, his best friend is an actor, his father was conveniently killed when he was a child, and he has been socialized with a number of phobias (aqua-phobia) that make it near impossible for him to leave the fake set.  In other words, his world is carefully designed to keep him in place, keep him from questioning it, and keep him from growing, changing , or progressing.

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Many of us live the kinds of lives we are reluctant to leave, it can be difficult for us to grow and move forward because we’ve become used to how our life is. It can be difficult to try new things, or make big changes in our lives, even changes we need to have, because we fear the unknown future. If you’re someone who has a great fear of the unknown, then moving into a future you cannot see, would be very difficult. This is how Truman engages with the world in the first half of his life, until a monkey-wrench called “first love” throws everything he knows into question. He falls in love with a young woman named Sylvia, who wasn’t chosen for him, and she is, rather traumatically, removed from his world. Truman developed such a special longing for her, that she came to represent the one thing in his life he didn’t have, uncertainty, and the unknown.

He begins to question the world he lives in. In other words, he starts to wake up, especially after  he experiences a series of strange events. like seeing his supposedly dead father, chunks of sky falling on his car, a photo of his wife with her fingers crossed behind her back (which indicates that she was lying). Truman attempts to express his nascent suspicions to his wife, mother, and best friend, who only try  to gaslight him, with temporary success. Over time, Truman begins to test his theory, and finally reaches the conclusion that the world he lives in, and the people he knows, is not real.

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Truman only begins to ask the right questions, after he sees the patterns around him, and starts putting those patterns in the correct order. When he sees his dead father on the street, the man is immediately whisked away by a group of strangers. Later that week, there is a radio mix up, where he hears one of the camera men narrating what he is doing. He notices a pattern in the people who cross in front of his house. He notices  patterns and reaches proper conclusions. He begins to see the artificiality.

For example, he suspects that he is being watched, that the people in his world are fake, and  don’t know what to do when he does  unexpected things. So he disrupts his routine in small ways, like walking into a different building, or deciding to accompany his wife (a nurse) to a surgery that was made up in an attempt to explain something he saw earlier that day. By behaving unpredictably, he has introduced uncertainty, and the unknown to the set, which disrupts everyone else’s routine, as well.

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Ironically, many of us suspect that the world we live in is a facade, as we seek to explain the uncertainty of our life, rather than the certainties. This theory was especially popular during the last years of the 20th century, which accounts for the popularity of  films, in which the protagonists question the randomness of their lived experiences. In the Matrix, Neo tells Trinity about a number of events that happened to him when he was unaware he was in the matrix, and asks her what that means. Trinity’s answer is that the matrix cannot tell you who you are. She is in essence telling him that when he lived in the matrix, that he was not his true self.

Since the events that occurred to Neo can be said to have been contrived by computer programs, his reactions to those events were inauthentic, and not evidence of his true self.  Another argument that can be made, however, is that such contrived events are not any different than random events contrived by a god, and if we can accept that our authentic self is in evidence when under the aegis of a mythological figure, than why can we not accept the authenticity of self while under the control of an AI?

One of the reasons that Truman gives for desperately trying to escape Christof’s prison, is that he wants a real life, an authentic life. Christof tries to talk him into staying in his artificial world by telling him that life is no more authentic, in the “real” world, than it is in his fake one. he tells Truman that there is no truth, thereby  illustrating a fundamental misunderstanding of Truman’s motives. Truman is not searching for truth. He is searching for “the real”, which is not the same thing.

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But, as we all must do, if we hope to move forward, to progress in our lives, Truman takes a leap of faith, into the unknown. At some point, if we hope to meet our real selves, we must all walk through a mysterious door, into an uncertain future. Truman has no idea what is on the other side of the door he’s about to walk through, but like Red, from the Shawshank Redemption, he hopes to see Sylvia, and take her hand. He hopes to find himself. He hopes to be happy. He hopes to find love.

He hopes.

And so must we all.

 

Jet Li Unleashed (2005): Surviving Abuse

 

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One of the more unusual martial arts films I’ve  seen, is one which stars Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption), and Jet Li. Yeah, I said it. Morgan Freeman starred in a martial arts film. Okay he didn’t do any martial arts, which I definitely would have watched. He was a piano tuner, but that’s okay, because Jet Li engaged in enough rock’em, sock’em for everyone in the movie. This is an unusual movie, not just because of its dissimilar cast, but because it is as much of a drama, as it is an action movie.

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The movie’s first title was Danny the Dog, when it was released overseas in 2004. When it was released in the US, in 2005, it was renamed Unleashed, and received moderate reviews, probably because most people didn’t get to see it, and the ones who did see it didn’t quite know what to make of it. Its not a bad film, but it is a tonally odd movie, that somehow manages to work, and that is entirely due to the acting, and what mindset you bring to it.

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Morgan Freeman, as Sam, is his usual excellent self, and so is Bob Hoskins as an abusive gangster named Bart. Jet Li is Danny the Dog, and  does surprisingly well, as an emotionally stunted and abused young man, They are joined by Kerry Condon, as Danny’s bubbly love interest, Victoria. I actually enjoyed this movie, but then I walked in not really knowing what to expect, even though I had heard of the movie with its previous title.

Bart has been raising Danny, the son of a young woman he exploited and killed, as a beast who wears a metal collar, which, when it’s removed, is Danny’s cue to kill whoever  Bart has pointed his finger, first as one of Bart’s enforcers, and then in  underground fight clubs. Bart styles himself as a kindly uncle, who is just taking care of the helpless Danny, but he is horrifically abusive, treating Danny like an animal, putting him on a leash, making him eat out of dog dishes, and live in a  cage in the basement. He is a cartoonish example of abusive parenting, and clothes himself in virtue, by calling it love.

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One day Danny accidentally stumbles across Sam, fixing a piano in an antique shop, and the blind Sam, is kind and friendly to him, something Danny has never experienced. He becomes fascinated by the piano, and later, asks for one from Bart, but a rival gangster takes Bart out of the equation, via car crash. Danny is injured in the attack, but manages to find his way back to the antique shop where Sam works. Sam takes Danny in, and patches him up.

So thirty minutes into the movie, it turns into a found family story, that’s rather endearing, carried mostly on the strength of the acting. Danny is from a highly abusive, even life threatening, relationship with the man who raised him, while Victoria and Sam have an open, loving, and healthy relationship, with more than enough room to welcome Danny. A significant portion of the film is taken up with montages, and scenes, of Danny discovering the joys of ice cream, kissing, and both familial and romantic love, learning to cook with Sam, and  play the piano with Vic, and just be happy. He starts to regain memories of his mother and begins investigating his origins.

Victoria is also an adopted child, but she had the good luck to be raised by Sam instead of  someone like Bart. Victoria’s biological father died when she was small, and her mother married Sam. After her mother died, Sam became her father, and moved them both to France, so that she could go to music school. Sam’s love for his child, is as it should be, sacrificial, and supportive. They are a  family that prays before each meal, and fully embody the Christian principles of charity and kindness, and become a model for Danny for how a healthy family behaves.

Sam and Victoria are the stellar opposite  of  Bart, and the various flunkies who surround, and obey him, who all witness Danny being treated abusively, and say and do nothing. Bart is a man with many pretensions. He is a user who pretends  at kindness, a gangster with pretensions to class and upbringing, and a bully, who pretends to be a father figure. Thanks to Bart, Danny is emotionally underdeveloped, withdrawn, anxious, and extremely focused on any given task.

The first time Danny wakes up in Sam’s and Victoria’s home, he is frightened and nervous, and hides under the bed. At dinner, he doesn’t know to use a spoon for his soup, and he is still wearing his metal collar. But Sam and Victoria adapt to him as he adapts to them, and are as loving and supportive to him, as they are to each other. They suspect that he comes from a violent situation, and are sensitive about how they treat him, by not asking questions they think would cause traumatic memories ,and they teach him how to live a normal life, as Danny has never been taught to do anything but kill and is completely inured to violence.

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At one point, a fight breaks out in a local store that Sam and Danny frequent, which Danny entirely ignores, saying he was unconcerned because the fight didn’t involve him. This is how well trained Danny is with his collar on. Later, when Victoria reaches to take the collar off, saying its the last vestige of his old life he needs to get rid of, he is terrified that when she does so,  he will attack her, because the only times it was ever removed, he would kill. You can see his adrenaline spike just thinking about it, but he allows her to remove it, and when nothing happens you can see the relief on his face. He trusts himself now, in a way that would not have been possible, earlier in their relationship. As it turns out, he is not the natural born killer Bart trained him to be.

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https://www.loyola.edu/department/counseling-center/students/concerns/abuse

When children are exposed to abuse, they learn to protect themselves through denial, withdrawal, approval-seeking, turning off their feelings, acting out, and self-blame. Using these coping mechanisms during childhood has long-term consequences, which can include lack of trust, a fear of change and resultant difficulty in adjusting, difficulty knowing or showing one’s own feelings, being easily stressed and acting on that by abusing substances, food, and one’s own body, and feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth.

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Sam and Victoria model for Danny how a loving relationship between a stepparent and child is supposed to work.When Sam and Victoria have a disagreement, they argue, come to a truce, and then make up. They disagreed, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still love each other. Contrast that with Danny’s relationship to his evil stepfather  Bart, who gives the orders, and, according to Bart, “the dog obeys!” There can be no disagreement with Bart. When Danny insists that he wants a piano, Bart is angry, manipulative, and cajoling. He screams and/or lies, to Danny, to get what HE wants.

Later, Danny refuses to fight, deciding he doesn’t want to kill people anymore, and Bart becomes increasingly angry and more violent, but is unable to force Danny to do what he wants him to do. Danny sees this powerlessness, and finally connects his mother’s death (which he witnessed as a child) to Bart. He rebels completely and leaves him. This move may or may not be especially cathartic to abuse survivors, but its was certainly good to watch Danny reject Bart. After experiencing so much happiness with Sam and Victoria, he can’t possibly make himself go back to that life.

Bart follows him to his home, with Sam and Victoria, and attempts to kill them, because threatening Danny’s new family is the only leverage he has to make him obey. Danny nearly kills Bart, but is stopped by Sam and Victoria who tell him that he cannot begin his commitment to peace by killing Bart. Bart’s life isn’t saved because Sam and Victoria care about him. Its saved because they love Danny and believe, as he does,  that he should stop killing.

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https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/03/survivors-child-abuse-remind/

#3. You Are Still Loved, Even When It’s Uncomfortable to Accept Love from Others

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At the end of the movie, Victoria tells Danny  his life was saved by music, and this may be true, but really Danny saves himself, by the choices he makes. Like a lot of abuse survivors, he is presented with the option of staying, as the abuser tries to sweet talk him into coming back, and how everything will better, and the abuser will be a nicer person, who really loves them. Classic abuser speak, basically.

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Danny realizes he actually has choices. He chooses to stop killing and commits to it,  he chooses to leave Bart, and sets the terms of it, and finally chooses not to kill Bart, not because he cares about Bart’s  life, but because he cares about his own. But one of the biggest choices Danny makes is the choice to accept  love and support, which is healing for him. With Sam and Victoria, Danny starts to do things he never contemplated when he was with Bart. He makes plans for his future, sets goals, and claims what he desires.

This is not a completely accurate depiction of surviving child abuse, because this is, after all, an action film, but it makes some interesting points about  it. I’m pretty sure  most of the people who walked into the theater to see this, had no idea this would turn into a movie about surviving domestic abuse, but I found it uplifting and fun to watch. True, not all martial arts movies have this level of  depth, but like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, they sometimes have messages, and deal with  serious issues.

 

 

  • Next up on martial arts movies: Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and  Colonialism

 

 

Avengers Endgame: Thoughts

You know how I roll on this blog.

Damn right there are going to be spoilers.

I cannot talk about how much I loved this movie without spoilers. So, if you have not seen the movie, get thee the fuck outta here, go watch it, and only then, will you be welcome in this space. (If I’m cussing, it’s  a sign that I’m extremely happy!)

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I spoke about my history of comic book reading, in a previous post, about how the first Marvel books I remember reading, were Conan the Barbarian, and Red Sonja, which I probably should not have been reading, since I was about 9 or 10 years old, but I’d found a stash of these books in the basement of a house we’d just moved into, and since no book ever passed by me without going unread, there I was. I got away from Marvel comics when I was about 12, as I was reading Horror comics by that time. I started reading superhero comics, in earnest, when I was about 14, or 15, starting with The New Mutants, moving on to The X-Men, Spiderman, Doctor Strange, and finally, The Avengers.

Of all The Avengers characters, Doctor Strange is one of the few standalone character books I ever read, along with Thor, and Spiderman. They were the only superheroes I truly stanned, having read nearly all of their different iterations. I never read a single Captain America, Incredible Hulk (I knew him only from the TV series), Iron Man, Antman, Hawkeye, or  Black Widow stand alone book. I knew nothing about the Guardians of the Galaxy.

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That said, I’ve seen all the MCU movies, and of all the films, and I’ve  only seen a handful of them in the theater; The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spiderman Homecoming, Captain America Civil War, and Black Panther. The rest I watched on TV, sometimes when I didn’t particularly feel like watching them, like Antman and Thor: The Dark World, and I’m going to continue to talk shit about Antman, despite the fact that I really enjoyed both movies. I  reserve the right to talk shit about movies and characters I love.

Of all the movies, the some of the most fun ones were the Iron Man films. Despite me trash talking Tony Stark at every opportunity, I actually like the character, a lot. The Captain America movies were a surprise favorite, as I had not one ounce of interest in that character beyond his being the leader of The Avengers, in the comic books. As the leader of The Avengers, I’d read Cap say those famous words countless times, and I knew Cap’s history because they talked about it in other comic  books, that were not about him. Black Widow made no impression on me in the comic books. I have never found Russian spies to be interesting  in even my best moods.

All this to explain how incredibly geeked out I was while watching this movie. I can’t wait to see this at home, when it comes out on DVD, so I can dance around the house in my bunny slippers. I loved, loved, loved, the end of this movie, and I’ve been trying really hard to avoid the whiners and complainers (and some of the more hysterical people) on Tumblr, while I read  the reviews. I will not allow any fan wankery to harsh my buzz!

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The Movie:

This is going to be a very long post. First of all, there aren’t any social justice issues to be made of this movie, despite people trying really hard to do so. Most of this movie is just pure fan service, and since I’m a fan of the comic books,, I’m perfectly okay with that. This movie throws the viewer right into the deep end. If you didn’t see any of the other MCU movies, or haven’t read any of the comic books, you probably won’t care about any of the things on the screen, and will probably just be bored, although I have come across people who did none of those things, yet still enjoyed the movie just for itself. If non-fans can still totally get into it, that is the mark of a well written film. For fans of the books and movies though, it hits all the right emotional notes, at all the right times. It has great action scenes, great callbacks to stuff that happened in the other twenty or so films, and the hundreds of comic books, and even a few tears were shed.

 

Now I’ve done some reading, and its my understanding that because of the all the time traveling in the movie, what the characters did was create alternate universes, and the one we end with is a brand new universe, in which a lot of things didn’t happen. Every time they removed one of the stones from some past event, they changed a time line, and created another universe. Steve remaining in the past with Peggy created a new timeline as well. At least that was how it was explained to me, but often  I care little about such plot details. Unlike a lot of people, I didnt get myself too worked up about it.

I did appreciate the way the movie handled the aftermath of Thanos’ Snap. Its been several years, and humanity is still in recovery mode and dealing with its grief. We get a micro look at this trauma through Hawkeye, when his family disappears. Now imagine Hawkeye’s scene happening everywhere, and remember most people wouldn’t know what had happened, or why, or how.  This is  like the TV show The Leftovers, which deal with the aftermath of The Rapture, and how the survivors deal with the disappearance of half of humanity, over its three seasons.

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This movie doesn’t  have time to go into too much detail,  as it’s three hours long already, but it does handle a lot of character, and personality issues effectively. About the first thirty minutes of the movie is just watching these characters deal with their loss. Humanity is pretty resilient, and you can see that most people are holding on by their fingernails. You got Natasha crying in the office, Steve looking more lost than usual, and Imma talk about Thor in a moment.

What was not taken into account by Thanos in his megalomania, is that there would be planets and cultures, (the Snap happened everywhere, but we only see Earth), that because of the way they were set up, they would not only be devastated by such an event, they would never recover from it. (I’m pretty certain that on at least some  planets, everyone is dead.) The Snap most likely killed more than half of humanity anyway, because there would be tens of millions of residual deaths in the aftermath. All of the sick, the very young, and the very old, the suicides, and  basically anybody who couldn’t fend for themselves, would probably die in the weeks after the Snap.

I was reminded of this by the book, The Stand by Stephen King, in which a pandemic wipes out most of humanity. There’s a chapter in the book that chronicles  the deaths of all those who didn’t die from the pandemic itself. The residual deaths, like accidents, other infections, and  illnesses and suicides. I was also reminded of reading stories about the aftermath of the Black Plague and how that so thoroughly changed the social and economic systems in Europe afterward. The Snap was infinitely worse.

Thanos is a megalomaniacal, psychotic, selfish,  dumbass, who really didn’t think any of this shit through, and caused psychological and emotional trauma on an untold massive scale, so huge it  can’t  be imagined. I do not think of Thanos as the greatest villain in the MCU, because I have no respect for a dumb villain. He’s the not even the greatest on the scale of power, and/or amount of damage he caused, because that title belongs to Galactus. This is a fanboys idea of a villain. I am always suspect of people who claim to want to do good for the world, but can only do so by killing as many people as possible. King Leopold, Hitler, Pol Pot, and Josef Stalin all held similar philosophies. Only in Thanos’  case, we’re supposed to be okay with what he did, because it was random, and not personal.

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There’s’ no depth to Thanos’ philosophies. There’s no nuance to his character, either,  despite the Russos trying to shoehorn in some pathos, to make him seem more sympathetic.  He’s just another big, dumb, brute, with the ability to kill more people than the men named above. Like most villains , he simply  wants to kill, and he invented some  reasons for doing just that. reason he invented so that he wouldn’t have to face the idea that he is, in fact,  a monster.

You wanna know how I know this?

Because Thanos didn’t Snap himself. He destroyed the Gauntlet after the Snap, but he didn’t destroy himself, and when The Avengers showed up to beat his ass. he wanted them to affirm his goodness, and be grateful to him.

I knew the movie was going to hit some emotional hot points during the scene where The Avengers track down Thanos, and try to get him to change things back, only to discover that he destroyed the Gauntlet. He starts to go into his usual villain monologuing, but Thor cuts that shit short by suddenly chopping off his head. I wasn’t expecting that, because I’ d, once again,  resigned myself to listening to, yet another, psychopath’s self -serving justification for evil.

Of all the characters, Thor was the most sympathetic, and the most  obviously affected by everything that happened. In the entirety of the MCU, with the exception of Hawkeye,  Thor  lost his entire family, most of the people he was supposed to protect, and his planet. He’s also suffering from a great deal of survivor’s guilt. You can tell he spent a lot of time dreaming of having the opportunity to kill Thanos, because the last time he had it, as he said, he didn’t go for the head. He didn’t prevent the Snap, and his last gesture is utterly futile.

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I like the way the movie handles Thor’s depression and PTSD. This is what  depressed people do. They stop caring about what they look like (and Thor was always rather vain about his looks, so his getting fat was  significant), or they drink a lot, or just stop moving forward, and become very passive. But once he is given the opportunity to go back into the past and change events, he jumps at it. Thor is depressed, but it is never shown to be a weakness. He is never bothered by his size. He owns it, and is still the Lord of Thunder, and he would thank  you to remember that he can still kick ass. I didn’t like the other characters making fun of him for being fat, though. The humor felt forced and out of place (except for his Mom, because that’s such an incredibly Mom thing to say, and she was very obviously worried about him).

The different pair-ups in the movie are fun and interesting.  The writers pair Thor with Rocket, the only other  Avenger, besides Hawkeye, who has lost his  family. I hated Thor: The Dark World because that’s the movie where Thor’s mother dies, so one of the  tearful moments I was talking about earlier, is  when he goes back to the past and sees her again. He also gets some tough love from Rocket about losing loved ones.

Natasha dies the same way Gamora did, only her death was voluntary. I’m not a huge Black Widow fan. I mean she’s okay, and she gets some good moments in the movie, (throughout the entire MCU actually), but I was largely unaffected by her death, because she was not a character that resonated with me, although I recognize she meant a lot to other people. That said, I still wish it had been Hawkeye who died, because I care less about him than I do Natasha, and she deserved a better send off. I understand why he was allowed to live, but I still wish he’d died in her place. I’m also not a fan of Hawkeye because in the wake of the Snap he decided it would be a good idea to travel the world killing Brown men, as the comic book character Ronin. His answer to his grief at so much death, is to go out and  cause even more death, and I had an issue with that.

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Tony goes out like a boss, tho’. I’m actually okay with Tony dying, I was long ready for it, and think that’s a fitting end to his character arc. I was one of the few people, who liked Tony, who was unbothered by his death. Yes, contrary to me always talking shit about Tony, I actually loved that character, and I’m gonna miss him. Thanks to Downey, he was a consistent asshole, and I kind of liked that Tony fucked up about as much as he saved, and had to constantly be put back in line by his friends and co-workers. Sometimes heroes have unlikable personalities. He didn’t resonate with me, but I really like Robert Downey, I loved the way he portrayed the character, and Tony’s passing marked the end of an era.

I loved Steve’s character arc too. I did see some grumbling from the more hysterical members of Tumblr, about how Steve choosing to live out his life with Peggy was a selfish gesture, but those people can shut the fuck up, because they very obviously do not care about Steve’s emotional well being. If anyone deserved to live out his selfish fantasy, it was Steve Rogers. I loved the end scene with him getting that dance from Peggy, and I hope they danced a lot, and had lots of fat babies.

Of all the characters, I would say that Nebula is definitely one of my favorites, because she has such a satisfying character arc. I love how her character came full circle from wanting to kill her sister, to protecting Gamora’s life by killing her alternate self.

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Also, I just like her personality, and her interactions with Tony. Of All the Guardians, she seems the one I’d most likely end up being friends with because she seems most like me in real life, which is literal minded, and very strong and  serious looking, but with a heart like a marshmallow. I love how Guardians of the Galaxy laid the groundwork for her being able to convince the Gamora of the past to help her defeat Thanos. Without that groundwork, without Gamora’s loss, she would never have been in that position, and I’m glad the Russos chose to honor what James Gunn did with her character.

I was also very touched by Rocket’s growth as a character too, for which Gunn is also responsible for laying the groundwork. Rocket is still an asshole, but he’s like Nebula and Tony, an asshole with a heart. Its interesting to watch him move to a point in his character where he offers solace to others  (Nebula) and, tough love styles of advice, (Thor).

My other favorite was Hulk. He managed somehow to fuse the two halves of his personality into a whole, and I liked that. He did come across as somebody’s corny dad, and I really enjoyed how happy he seemed to be with his life. The complete opposite of Thor, and Hawkeye. People seem to forget that Hulk was the one to bring everyone back with his own Snap, and spent the rest of the movie injured because of that, (because he was the only one left alive who could survive using  the Gauntlet).

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Favorite Moments:

I had loads of favorite moments.

  • The opening scene where Hawkeye loses his entire family. Its just very emotionally moving to watch it from the point of view of someone who has no fucking clue what just happened.
  • After five years, most cities are overgrown with vegetation. It reminded me of the documentary Life After People. Check it out if you haven’t seen it.
  • Tony and Nebula playing paper football. Nebula wins, but since she can’t smile, we can’t tell if she’s actually happy.
  • Rocket and Nebula bonding over their shared loss.
  • Steve Rogers kicking his own ass. In the five years since he worked for Shield he developed a lot more skills and we have finally answered the question, at least in the MCU, who would win in a fight between Steve and Mr. I Can Do This All Day.
  • Tony meets and makes peace with his father.
  • Bruce looking embarrassed about his behavior during the first Avengers movie, and trying to fake being angry.
  • The Hulk having to use the stairs because none of the others would let him get on the elevator. There  were a helluva lot of stairs, so I’d be angry about that too.
  • The final boss fight was every comic book splash page ever created. Its why so many of us loved these movies. We’ve been reading about these events and characters our whole lives, and to see this, larger than life, on a movie screen, well…words cannot express.
  • When the wizards showed up at the final battle, I think I openly cheered.
  • The Guardians of the Galaxy and The Ravagers all show up to kick Thanos’ ass. It took me a minute to place where all those spaceships came from. They didn’t all come from Wakanda.
  • The moment in the movie that made the whole audience cheer is when Captain America picked up Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, and the two of them trade weapons back and forth, throughout the fight, until Thor decides that Steve gets the little weapon.
  • The audience’s second favorite moment is when Steve utters the famous words: Avengers Assemble! which is not something he got to do in any of the other movies.
  • Sam Wilson’s quietly stated, “On your left.” into Steve’s ear! This just made me grin so hard, since I really love Captain America Winter Soldier.
  • The arrival of Black Panther/ the arrival of everybody really.
  • Tony hugging Peter, and Peter being perfectly okay with it and saying,  “This is kinda nice.”
  • Pepper Potts has her own Iron Man suit.
  • Carol Danvers and Scarlet Witch   get to put their shit down, and go toe to toe with Thanos.
  • That look on Tony’s face when Doctor Strange gestures at him. Tony knows what he has to do. He knows the gauntlet will kill him, but picks it up anyway.
  • We get an A Force moment of all the women Avengers, (although I’m gonna be seriously pissed if we never get an A Force movie, since they have been treating a lot of the women of the MCU like afterthoughts, including Black Widow). Let me go on the record as stating I want an A Force movie!
  • Basically, the entire battle scene was awesome!
  • Pepper telling Tony that he could rest, just brought all the feels.
  • The disintegration of Thanos and his army!
  • Sam Wilson gets the Captain America shield. Y’all know I’m a Sam Wilson stan so yeah, I totally geeked out at that moment.
  • Thor and Peter Quill arguing over who gets to be in charge of the Guardians.

So yeah, while I thoroughly enjoyed myself, if you’re not a fan of the MCU, or superhero movies in particular, your mileage may vary.

I know a lot of people wanted to see other things happen in the movie, but at three hours and with so many characters, some of them had little room to do anything more than stand still, for a second, and pose for the camera. The movie simply couldn’t cover everyone, and didn’t. But what it did do, for the characters and the emotions, was exactly what it should have done. The trailers promised a certain type of movie, and that’s exactly what  was given.

Favorite Character:

I have a lot of favorite characters, across the entirety of the MCU, but my top three are Spiderman, Drax (of all beings!), and oddly enough, Captain America.

I’ve always been a Spiderman fan, since I was a kid, watching the TV show during the 70s. I like Drax because he’s simply ridiculous. There’s just something about his character that just speaks to my inner silliness, and I always enjoy seeing him on screen. I was surprised Captain America made any part of the top ten because I had no interest in the comic book character, but Chris Evans just tore it up!, and there’s a part of me that just loves the noble warrior hero.

 

Favorite Movie:

Its really hard to pick a favorite, so I have once again, a top ten of favorites. I have no choice but to rank them, and the ranking could change based entirely on my mood. Of all the MCU films, the movie that remains consistently at  number one would be Spiderman Homecoming. I know everyone thinks I’d choose Black Panther, which is definitely in my top ten, but that’s somewhere around number five, because the number two movie on my list is Captain America Winter Soldier. and another surprise movie is Doctor Strange, coming in at third place. I was not at all prepared to like Doctor Strange. In fact, I was prepared to hate it, but I’ve found that I love the MCU magic users.

I’m very much looking forward to the next ten years. We’ve got more sequels coming up, and some new characters like The Eternals, who I know nothing about, so that will be brand new for me, and Shang Chi, because I love martial arts movies.

So until the next phase,

Make Mine Marvel!

 

 

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’

Weekend Reading/ Feb. 22nd, 2019

The Matrix

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

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

 

 

Romantic Tropes

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Racist Vigilantism

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

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

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

 

 

Film Criticism Diversity

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

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

 

 

The Apocalypse

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

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

 

 

 

Misogyny

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

White Nationalism’s Nightmare

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

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

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

Horror Noire: Black History, Horror (A Review) — Stitch’s Media Mix

Black history is Black horror. – Tananarive Due One of Tananrive Due’s comments early on in the Shudder’s Horror Noire documentary will live on in my mind forever because of how it gets right to the meat of the relationship between Blackness and the horror genre. I love learning things and I spend a […]

via Horror Noire: Black History, Horror (A Review) — Stitch’s Media Mix

If you are at all interested in the history of Horror, and Eli Roth’s History of Horror documentary just didn’t work for you, (and it didn’t for me because it erased almost the entire history of Black people’s relationship to the genre), then you have to watch this doc called Horror Noire. It has interviews and clips from every important Black Horror film star and director from the past 60 -70 years, what those movies meant to Black people, and how we participated in the making if this genre. You have to watch it just for the interview with Jordan Peele, whose new movie, US, is set to debut in March,looks scary as shit, and which I am very, very, excited about.

Its especially enlightening for the review of a classic vampire movie titled Ganja and Hess, which seems to have been remade by Spike Lee, which he titled Taste Da Blood Of Jesus. Ganja and Hess is also available on the Firestick app called Tubi. There are also interviews of the stars of Dawn of the Dead, Blacula, and Candyman. Basically everytrinhg that should have been covered in Eli Roth’s series, but wasn’t.

Essential viewing:

King Kong

Creature From the Black Lagoon

Get Out

Night of the Living Dead

Candyman

The People Under the Stairs

Blacula

Ganja and Hess

Blade

The Girl with All the Gifts – A must see

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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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.

Mad Max: Women and Civilization

In Part One of my critique of the Mad Max franchise I talked about the use of the Triple Goddess Myth from Pagan folklore in the movie’s narratives. In this post, I’m going  to tie the Triple Goddess mythology to the idea of women as literally the  keepers/ carriers  of human civilization, throughout the entire franchise.

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For some reason, people see the social messages of Mad Max Fury Road as either a fluke, or some sort of SJW plot. This is not the case. George Miller has always referenced women in his movies in ways that made statements not just about their humanity, but their role in the creation of a civilized world. Miller’s feminist sensibilities are  not new, and his movies have always been about people losing their humanity at the end of the world, and then  regaining their humanity (and civilization) through cooperation. These ideas are usually represented through women. Except for the first movie, all of Miller’s films end with a new beginning for civilization to reassert itself.

In most of the Mad Max films, it is women who hold the keys to restarting civilization. Even  in the first Mad Max movie, women are depicted as the last bastion of stability, before mankind’s descent into the  barbarism, rape, and pillaging, represented by men. This premise is made more explicit in  The Road Warrior, and Thunderdome, and clearly stated in Fury Road, as if the other movies had been leading up to the message of Fury Road.

In Mad Max, civilization has not yet been destroyed, and Max’s boss tries to talk him into staying on the police force, after his partner is brutally murdered by  members of a biker gang. Max’s excuse for quitting is that he wants to hold on to the last shreds of his sanity, and can only do so by leaving the force to spend time with his wife and child. This implies that it is parenthood and marriage that are the holders of Max’s sanity, (not the  law and order he represents), and after their loss at the hands of the same biker gang that killed his partner, Max does indeed go mad. The message here is that his wife Jessie, and their child Sprog, were Max’s emotional anchors, after which, just like society itself, he  descends into insanity and violence, as he kills the gang in a murderous spree. The loss of his wife and child  represents of the total loss of civilization, so it isn’t just Max who descends into barbarity, but all of society.

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By the release of The Road Warrior,  all men have gone mad, and it is their madness that has made the world a funhouse mirror, where the Triple Goddess myth has been twisted and corrupted. because the women of this world have had to adopt to new roles to survive it in it.  In each of Miller’s films, the lack of civilization is represented by men behaving badly, as it  is primarily men who are rampaging through towns, raping random strangers, and killing and stealing at will. The men of this universe are a force of destruction and entropy. This is an idea explicitly stated in Fury Road, when Immortan’s wives ask the question,”Who killed the world?!” The answer, of course, is…

The first movie is setup for the next three films, where we see the world attempting to recover from the madness inflicted on it by men. Society is held and remembered by the women of these films, who are attempting to rebuild it,  in fits and starts, while being harried by the men.

In The Road Warrior, there are three women of note. I discussed this in my post about the use of the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone archetypes of the Wiccan belief system, in Miller’s movies. The women are not  the genesis of civilization, at this time, because they are still in the process of survival, but they are tied to that concept by their roles in the film. One of the nameless women is a warrior, a corrupted Mother, who in this world is not wise and nurturing, but traffics in violence, and she dies by violence, just like the Vuvulini from Fury Road. There is the equally nameless Maiden, who is  a symbol of new beginnings, who finds love, and  rides off into the sunset with the new leader of the compound, and there is the nameless Crone, rendered irrelevant, as her counsel is not heeded as it is sure to get them all killed.

The Road Warrior is also a story told in flashback, from a future world of safety and stability by the “Feral Child”, the wild, orphaned, boy that Max encounters in the wastes. It is a future that can only occur because of Max’s actions and the presence of the two women.

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Thunderdome is, next to Fury Road, Miller’s most explicit message that women are the holders of civilization. Aunty Entity, (this is the Crone motif again), played by Tina Turner, is the leader and chieftain of Bartertown. In her backstory, she says she was a nobody without power, but after the world ended, she somehow managed to scratch a town out of the desert. She is a maker of civilization, or at the very least, the foundation of it, as this is not unlike how actual civilization began. She  hopes to rebuild society as it once was. But it is not to be, as her attitude isn’t any different from the old one that caused the world’s destruction. Bartertown is ultimately destroyed by her greed, her ego, and her inability to share leadership with her male counterpart, Master Blaster, and also perhaps because that is not the direction in which a future society should go. She cannot begin a new society because she is too beholden to the old one.

It is interesting to note that none of the people in Thuunderdome are  outright villains,  as was depicted in Road Warrior (and even in that movie the bad guys were capable of love and reason, ulike the villains of the first movie, or the ones in Fury Road). The bad guys and women are  deeply flawed individuals, who survive to the end of the movie. Aunty Entity is not a bad woman, but a regular woman who does bad things, due to the flaws in her character.. This is also true of Master Blaster, as it is his urge to put Aunty in her place as subordinate to him is what prompts their feud. Master Blaster seeks to assert his authority against a woman that he thinks disdains him, while Aunty refuses to be cowled by him. It is their inability to find common ground, to treat each other as equals, or  share leadership, that destroys Bartertown. These are the same attitudes that destroyed civilization.

Once again, in Thunderdome, we have the Triple Goddess figures at odds with each other. It is Savannah’s belief that civilization still exists, called Tomorrow-Morrow Land, that motivates the secondary plot of the film, and sets her on a collision course with the other female leader, Aunty Entity. All of the primary roles in this movie, the characters who set the plot in motion, are either marginalized men, like Master Blaster, (a team up between a mentally disabled young man, and an older man with a physical disability), or women and girls. At the end of the movie, we see that Savannah has become the the leader of a new society being built amid the ruins of the old. Civilization no longer exists, so Savannah, like Aunty will have to make it herself. However, unlike Aunty, she is successful, as once again, the movie is told in flashback, from a more prosperous future.

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The Triple Goddess motif plays out again in Fury Road. Immortan’s wives are the holders of civilization, as they are the only members of Immortan Joe’s society that are educated, so they are the ones who know the real history of the world,  unlike the Warboys  who only know the world by  what has been passed down to them by word of mouth. The wives espouse the philosophies they learned from  the books they’ve read, that is distinctly anti-consumerist: that people are not things to be used. They hold within them the memories of civilization, while  the Vuvulini carry the seeds of it, which are later passed to the wives, as the Vuvulini, murderous crones all,  are too corrupt, (too much a part of the old world), to play a role in any new beginning. The wives have remained pure in their compassion, and have knowledge of the mistakes of the past. Unlike the Vuvulini, they  have grown up in the aftermath of the old world, and were not a part of its fall. Like the maidens in the other two movies, they get to be the ones to rebuild.

After the release of Fury Road, I saw plenty of complaints about what a shame it was that Max was sidelined in his own movie. This isn’t new either. Except for the first film, which is meant to establish  his character, Max has always played a peripheral role in his own movies. By the time of the making of Fury Road, we are to understand that Max himself is  but an archetype. A myth. He is  a legendary figure told in the stories of the civilization that came after, as  all of these movies are flashbacks from that time,  and he may or may not be a real person. Of the three movies that hold this theme Fury road is the only one told in present time.

In Fury Road  the wives ask Nux, “Who killed the world?” the answer of course is men. Men killed civilization, and most of the men in these movies are the embodiment of all that is destroying civilization,  greed, and consumption, and hoarding. But these movies are not just a rebuke of male authoritarianism, although in neither Mad Max nor The Road Warrior, are women part of any of the anarchic pillagers traveling the wastelands, each film contains  the possibility for redemption for any man who rejects the rampantly and consumerist lifestyle being led by the other men in the film.

The overall message of all the Mad Max films is that when men and women work together, society flourishes, and when they don’t, when women are not accepted as equals, or treated as consumables, society devolves. In The Road Warrior, the women of the compound, the counselor, and the warrior woman in particular, are treated as equals. They are allowed to speak, be heard, and make their own decisions regarding how to survive in the wastes.

In Thunderdome, Master Blaster is so intent on getting Aunty to submit to his authority, (because he believes she disdains him because of his disability), that it forces her hand. They are both people from marginalized groups, who should come together to create a new society but they do not. Instead, a disabled man, and a Black woman, fight over who gets to be in charge. Their inability to treat each other as equals,  results in Bartertown’s destruction.

And in Fury Road, Max and Furiosa  learn to accept each other as equals, and trust in each other’s strengths,  to survive Immortan Joe’s army. Once again you have two marginalized individuals, the mentally unstable Max, and the disabled Furiosa, but unlike in Thunderdome, the two of them manage to reach an accord where they work together, and respect one another, resulting in the survival of the group.

Along for the ride, and equally important, is the Warboy, Nux, who has one of the strongest redemption arcs in the movie. In each movie we get to see at least one other male character’s atonement. The overall message is not that men are so flawed they can never find redemption, but that only by giving up toxic forms of masculinity, and working together with women as equals, can they achieve anything close to it.

In The Road Warrior, the gryocopter man gets a redemption arc, too. At the beginning of the film, he tried to rob Max, was captured by him, and ended up in the compound.  This only occurred because Max chose not to kill him in retaliation. Later, because Max chose not to kill him, the gyrocopter man is then in a position to save Max’s life.This is another one of several threads in common between all the films. Max’s compassion prompts him to spare the life of another, which results not just  in the redemption of that character, but sometimes Max’s salvation, at a later moment in the film.

In Thunderdome he spares the life of Master Blaster, having been manipulated into a deathmatch against them by Aunty Entity. When Max discovers that Blaster is just a  mentally disabled manchild, he spares his life, but  is exiled to the desert for his choice. Max saving the life of Master Blaster  eventually saves everyone’s lives, as it provides an opportunity for him, the children from Crack in the Earth, and Master  to escape Aunty’s wrath after  destroying Bartertown.

In Fury Road, this redemption character is Nux. Max had the opportunity to kill him twice, and each time chose to spare him. If  Max not done saved him, Nux wouldn’t have been in a position  to meet the wives, or sacrifice his life to save the them later. Through both Max, the wives, and Furiosa, Nux is given the opportunity to reject Immortan Joe’s philosophy of rampant consumerism,  and adopt a new one, that of respect cooperation, love, and friendship, something he had never known among the Warboys. At the beginning of the movie, his only goal is to die in service to Joe, but he eventually dies in service to something far greater than Joe, because of experiences he never dreamed he would have, like Capable’s love.

Immortan’s wives treat each other, and Furiosa, with care and respect, work together to achieve their goals, and the Vuvulini fight and die, to protect each other, and the group. This is the definition of civilization, disparate groups of human beings working towards the goals of social progress and enlightenment. Across the Mad Max franchise, George Miller has placed the burden of this endeavor squarely in the hands of women.

In the films of Mad Max, women may not rule the wasteland, but they are its ultimate destruction.

 

*In the third part of my critical look at the Mad Max movies, we’ll  talk about The Promised Land myth that is used throughout the franchise. 

Carrie Vs. Carrie (Part Two)

 

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I re-read Stephen King’s 1974 book, and I want to compare the 1976 movie version, which stars Sissy Spacek, and the the 2013 version, starring Chloe Grace Moretz, to the book version, because there are some significant changes from book to film. I’m going to argue that the book version still has not really been filmed yet. All of the significant high points are in the movies but there is also much that is absent.

One thing I’m unclear on is if King was trying to write a feminist manifesto. He says he wasn’t, and I don’t think he was, despite that he was writing his novel during feminism’s early years. His women aren’t perfect, and that’s the point. They don’t seem to be just some guy’s idea of women. They’re intelligent and decisive women,and King has a good grasp of their characters.The weakest character is Margaret White, but King has always had trouble writing about religious women. The caricature of Margaret White would eventually find her way into his novella, The Mist, as Mrs. Carmody, another murderously insane woman who wears a mask of religious piety.

One of the changes between the book and the films, and its something which always seems to surprise readers who come to the book after watching them, is that the entire novel is told in flashback, in the form of newspaper articles, interviews, and book excerpts. Even more surprising are the few chapters where Carrie gets to speak for herself, and we’re privy to her thoughts and feelings about her life, how she feels about her mother, her abilities, and her plans for the future.

Neither of the movie versions interpret Carrie, (Carrietta), entirely the way she is in the book. I hadn’t read this book for many years and I was struck by her self-awareness, and how vengeful she is, compared to the movie versions,(although the Moretz version seems smarter than the Spacek version of her, and is more deliberate in her intent), and I think this was an attempt to make the movie versions more sympathetic. The book version of Carrie is a harder, more vengeful, and more spiteful version than seen in either of the two films, although the remake comes close.

In neither movie do we get a sense that Carrie believes the way her mother believes, so I was surprised to note that in the book she does share at least some of her mother’s beliefs about religion. She hates her mother , the students who have always bullied her, and is a lot less nice a character than I remembered. Part of what motivates her vengeance, and her destruction of the town of Chamberlain, is her justifiable anger at years of being bullied by her classmates, coupled with Margaret’s teachings of a vengeful god.

The opening scene remains as depicted in the book in both films, except there is the addition of modern technology to the remake, as Carrie’s humiliation is filmed on Chris’ phone. In the original, Chris Hargensen seemed to be trying to make a statement by dumping blood on Carrie, although as played by Nancy Allen, she doesn’t seem quite bright enough to come up with that idea. In the remake, Chris (played by Portia Doubleday), does seem smart enough to come up with the idea, and makes the point of linking the two events by airing the shower scene to the Prom goers, in the aftermath of the blood dump. The newer version of Chris has less personality than the original version, however, coming across as just another generic “mean girl”. The Allen version seems to have more of an interior life, while the new version just seems mean and spoiled. In King’s book, Chris does have an interior life, but not much depth, and she and her boyfriend, Billy, come across as especially dimwitted.

The book goes into some detail about how often, and in what ways Carrie was bullied, and how she tried to break free of her situation from time to time, echoing King’s introduction, in which he tells the story of a girl he knew in High School who, like Carrie, fell at the bottom of the pecking order, and how that girl made an attempt to get free of it, only to be put back in her place by her classmates when her attempt failed. That is the foundation of the book, as this is exactly what happens to Carrie. She jumps at an opportunity to move out of the damned place into which she’s been cast by her peers. The Prom is Carrie’s last attempt to break free of her mother’s influence, and as she says, live a normal life, only to be humiliated once again. King also goes into some detail about Carrie’s thoughts on the intensely restrictive, and infantilizing existence her mother wants for her. Carrie imagines living the rest of her life that way, slowly becoming as frightened and bitter as her mother.

In DePalma’s movie, Carrie briefly mentions this to her mother only to be abused. This is another issue that doesn’t get a lot of play in the movies, the sheer depth of the physical and emotional abuse heaped on Carrie by her mother, and just how deep her mother’s insanity goes, although the first film comes the closest. There are a couple of scenes in the movie where her mother slaps her, and one where she throws tea in her face, but the horrible physical abuse, where her mother kicks her, at one point grabbing her by the back of her neck and flinging her into the closet, has been toned down, and is almost absent from the remake.

In the remake, Peirce has elected to show a very loving version of Carrie and Margaret’s relationship. Julianne Moore’s Margaret isn’t crazy just to seem crazy, and seems to genuinely love and care for her daughter. Even when she’s trying to kill her there’s no sense of the mad glee with which Piper approached the role. Moore’s Margaret seems regretful that she didn’t kill Carrie earlier, and takes no joy in harming her daughter. The result is that Carrie is genuinely surprised that her mother is trying to kill her as her mother had given no indication that she was considering it. This is not the same Margaret in the book, or the first movie, where Carrie and Margaret rarely touched, or showed affection for each other. They didn’t have normal conversations. Margaret threatened, and made pronouncements, to which Carrie acquiesced. Margaret gave orders, and Carrie followed them.

Another thing that’s been toned down for the movies is the depth Margaret’s madness. King’s version sees nothing positive in the world, and is obsessed with the sin of sex, and anything related to it. Carrie argues to her that everything isn’t a sin, but to Piper’s Margaret, everything is a sin. For Margaret, life itself is a sin. Even having sex with her husband is a sin. In the remake, this attitude is interpreted by the director as proof that Margaret experienced some horrific sexual trauma as a child. In the original film no reason for it is even implied.

The details of Carrie’s physical abuse are important because of an event from the book that has never been captured in either of the movies. The idea that Carrie was born with her abilities, that she had been suppressing them until a stressor occurred, and that her mother knew about her powers, and was afraid of her. The fall of the stones is an event recounted twice in the books. Once from a neighbor’s point of view and the second from Carrie’s point of view.

The fall of stones is precipitated by four year old Carrie seeing the neighbor’s daughter sunbathing in her front yard. Margaret, who had been feuding with the neighbors about it, saw Carrie talking to the neighbor, and lost it. She grabbed Carrie, hauled her into the house, beat her mercilessly, and threatened the little girl with a knife. Carrie, in her terror, causes a rain of rocks and ice to fall only on their house. The event is recounted in the local newspaper, and later, Carrie recollects the event herself, including the moment when she threw the dining room table through one of the windows of the house. Carrie wonders if her mother remembers the events, thinks she might, and knows her mother is afraid of her. The remake has an extended scene of Carrie’s remembrance of this event. This was cut from the theatrical release, and the mood of it is very different from the book version, as Margaret White’s reaction is much less extreme, and she is fully aware that Carrie is responsible for the golf ball sized hailstones, as she pleads with her to stop.

Carrie’s mother “seems” to know about her powers before Carrie uses them on her, but this is unclear. (This would have been made more clear, in the remake, had the excised scene been kept.) In the original, Margaret mentions wanting to kill Carrie when she was a child, but why is also not made clear. In neither movie are we given any indication that Carrie has used her powers before “discovering” them, at the onset of her menses.

One scene that did not make it into Depalma ’s movie is the confrontation between Chris’ father, and the school principal, who has threatened to suspend Chris from school. I enjoyed that scene from the book, and I’m glad it made its way into the remake. It’s also indicative of how much sympathy in which Carrie was held by many of the adults around her, and about which, Carrie is unaware. Ms. Desjardin, the gym teacher, genuinely cares about her well being, and the principal shows real backbone in his fight with Chris father, in seeing that justice is done on Carrie’s behalf. There is a scene in the original film where one of Carrie’s teacher’s is an asshole to Carrie, for no apparent reason, and I thought that was a bit much, but that scene is there to show Tommy’s character. That same scene is present in the remake, but the actor who plays Tommy is such a non-entity, that there is no illumination of the character.

In the book, Billy is just some thug that Chris is dating, and he cares not one wit about her, although in both movie versions, we are given to believe that he and Chris are involved in some grand, Bonnie and Clyde style, love affair. This is meant to contrast the sweet respectfulness between Tommy and Sue Snell.

The book version of Margaret White gets more backstory. The remake adds the idea of some sort of sexual trauma, making her a much more sympathetic character, while the 1974 version is more of a caricature than a real person. In King’s version, Margaret White was always a religious fanatic, who was estranged from her mother and father, and was prone to hysterics.The 2013 version of her depicts Carrie’s birth scene, and Margaret’s indecision about killing her, while none of these things are mentioned in the first film. As I said in my review of the first movie, it is mostly spectacle with not much understanding of the why of the characters. This makes sense since it was written and directed by men. There’s a bit more emotional depth in the remake ,and I believe that’s, in part, because of its female director.

The book consists of excerpts from a book written by Sue Snell, called My Name is Sue Snell, interviews of several town folk who survived Carrie’s rampage through Chamberlain, by something called The White Commission, a body of professionals who were convened to determine what happened during what the nation called The Black Prom. Sue and Tommy’s motivations are called into question by The White Commission, and there is some argument that Tommy was involved in the plans to humiliate Carrie.The movies mention none of the aftermath of these events. They both end with Carrie’s death, and the seismic impact of what Carrie did, the sheer amount of death and destruction is not captured in either film, although the remake comes closest to the images from the book.

The depiction of Carrie’s powers, is a little more accurate in DePalma’s version. She does appear to be in a kind of fugue state, and the book goes into detail about how the use of her powers affects her physically. She is mostly aware of what she’s doing, but becomes increasingly unhinged the longer she uses her powers, until by the end she is mostly delirious, and only half aware of where she is, let alone what she’s doing. After Carrie kills her mother, her powers are simply functioning on automatic. In the first film, the house falls down around her, while she holds her mother’s body, and DePalma makes it unclear if Carrie is doing it , or if it’s God’s retribution. In the remake, Chloe’s Carrie is very deliberately using her abilities, and has complete control right up until the end. Its not until the end of the 2013 version that we see the rain of stones, and this moment would have had more impact, if that earlier scene of Carrie remembering that event, had not been cut.

Margaret’s death in the original is all spectacle as she, pinned to a wall by kitchen knives, loudly moans like she’s having an orgasm. The book is more subtle, as Carrie gently stops her mother’s heart. The remake is not without spectacle itself, but I found it more moving than all the hollering in the earlier film. The first film isn’t particularly interested in the emotional relationships between all these women. Margaret White is a terrifying, but ridiculous caricature, and receives the kind of death that befits such an over the top portrayal. Julianne Moore’s Margaret is more subtle. She’s almost too subtle, and I have to admit, I prefer the jovial batshittery of Piper’s version, to Moore’s quietly morose insanity, even if I was more emotionally moved by Moore’s version.

Peirce’s version is also true to the book, as there is a last confrontation between Carrie and Sue. In the book, Carrie’s thoughts and feelings are being broadcast to anyone in the town. Sue is able to follow Carrie’s meandering progress through the town by following Carrie’s thoughts. She finds Carrie, exhausted and delirious, lying next to a tree, and holds her hand as Carrie’s thoughts spiral down into death.

In the original film, Sue’s act of compassion is jettisoned in favor of that jump scare this movie is famous for. Once again, DePalma chooses spectacle over substance. He seems to prefer camera trickery, something especially apparent during the Prom, when he goes to a split screen during Carrie’s devastation. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the camera work has the unintended side effect of distancing the viewer from the horror of the moment, something which Peirce took care to avoid.

Peirce wants the viewer to sit with their discomfort. Her camera doesn’t look away from what’s happening on the screen. In the remake, Sue finds Carrie just after Carrie has killed her mother. Carrie is distraught, and starts to attack Sue, who pleads with Carrie for her life. For me, this was a more moving moment than the jump scare at the end of the original. Note that Chris Hargensen also pleads with Carrie for her life, but because she has always tormented Carrie without mercy, she receives none in return. I think Sue’s one act of atonement is probably what saved her life, just as Ms. Desjardin’s compassion saved hers.

I don’t want to give the impression that I dislike the first movie because it really is one of my favorite King films. It’s a beautiful looking film with an iconic soundtrack by Pino Donaggio. The newer version has nothing like it, and is mostly unmemorable. I don’t even have a problem with the eroticism of the teenage girls in that movie. It was the 70’s and that was to be expected in filmmaking at that time. Also, that sort of thing was considered liberating for women at that time in American film, as everyone was just coming out of a repressive studio system that only allowed certain types of nudity. The DePalma version also has a superior cast. Spacek, Irving, Laurie and Allen were simply much better actors, who were capable of selling all that spectacle without looking ridiculous. The best actor in the remake is Julianne Moore. Grace-Moretz and the others are just too young, and do not have the acting chops of those powerhouses from the 70s, but I forgive them because Peirce’s movie has a different, more emotional, agenda, which remains true to the spirit of the source material.

Now, if we could only get a happy medium between these three sources, we’d have the perfect Carrie.

Weekend Reading: On History and Pop Culture

Appropriation of  History

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Discussions on the appropriation of Medievalist history by various pseudo- Nazi organizations throughout, and how historians are fighting back against their livelihoods being associated with it.

https://newrepublic.com/article/144320/racism-medievalism-white-supremacists-charlottesville

http://www.inthemedievalmiddle.com/2017/08/teaching-medieval-studies-in-time-of.html

https://eidolon.pub/why-i-teach-about-race-and-ethnicity-in-the-classical-world-ade379722170

The Popularity of Vikings

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Discussions about the appropriation of Viking culture by neo Nazi groups, and how historians and the descendents of that culture  are fighting against it.

https://cjadrien.com/vikings-popular/

https://www.thelocal.se/20171006/we-cant-let-racists-re-define-viking-culture-far-right-runes-swedish

https://www.tampabay.com/opinion/columns/column-white-supremacists-love-vikings-but-theyve-got-history-all-wrong/2325755

https://www.juancole.com/2017/10/supremacists-vikings-muslims.html

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/ywqn3j/photos-of-modern-vikings-keeping-their-traditions-alive

Star Wars and Fandom

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I have a post coming soon about a version of gamergate, that happened in the seventies, against disco. Rock music, Gamergate, Star Wars, Ghostbusters…white straight men throwing this type of tantrum because of a changing media landscape is not new, and follows the same formula every time it happens.

This is often reactionary behavior. By the time White men (and it is almost always White men) start protesting something it’s too late to do anything about it.  When it happened in the past, especially when the internet didn’t exist,  whatever they were protesting against simply went underground and emerged in a new form. Gamergate didn’t stop companies from developing diverse games, The Disco Sucks movement did not destroy that particular musical style, protests against rap music didn’t stop it from mainstreaming, and these new ass showings around PoC in scifi/ fantasy movies, isnt going to stop movies from being diverse, and women and PoC are still on the internet. So far, all they’ve managed to accomplish is a handful of celebrities closing themselves off from their fans by limiting their social media accounts.  

So what really is the point of such things?

https://www.dailydot.com/parsec/star-wars-last-jedi-gamergate/

The Beautiful, Ugly, and Possessive Hearts of Star Wars

Racism, Misogyny & Death Threats: How Star Wars Fans Turned to the Dark Side

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/star-wars-fandom-toxicity-problem

 

The latest victim of racist ass-showing is the star of the upcoming DC series Titans, Anna Diop, who closed down the comments on her Instagram page when they racist vitriol got to be a bit much. Of course she’d started to receive this commentary the moment her casting was announced, and issued this statement:

https://www.theroot.com/racist-comic-fans-run-titans-star-off-instagram-for-not-1827809010

 

https://www.themarysue.com/candice-patton-asleigh-murray-racist-backlash/

What is really upsetting to me about this is that both actresses were told to prepare themselves for this backlash, and when coming face-to-face with it, the advice they got was to ignore it. That they’re expected to just take it to lay down the foundation for other women of color, when there are so many women who have laid the down foundation for them already, is truly exhausting.

Thinking Critically

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This first article is about this writer’s long road to adjusting his attitude to current media, and learning how to feel and think about it critically, without engaging in racism, and homophobia, something I think a lot of people, who consider themselves fans, need to do.

https://birthmoviesdeath.com/2017/08/04/film-crit-hulk-smash-on-criticism-in-the-intersectional-age

 

For Huck magazine Anthony Lorenzo does not mince words about how Hollywood perpetuates racism both in front of and behind the camera:

https://www.huckmag.com/perspectives/need-talk-race-film-industry/

It isn’t difficult to imagine why white writers don’t want to tackle characters they probably wouldn’t get right and get flack for. How a character might talk, might walk, the music they’d listen to and where they’d head on a messy night out. There’s a subtlety to the art of creating a character that requires knowledge of a relevant culture to accurately depict their nuances. Getting this wrong forces characters into two dimensions, leaving the writer a failure. 

 

At some point, I need to do a post on how media audiences have changed over the decades. There was a time when the primary audience that most media aimed for was the family. Over time, that changed to teenagers with disposable income, which at some point, metastasized into White males, aged 18-34.

http://www.houstonpress.com/arts/dear-straight-white-men-you-are-being-pandered-to-as-well-7652399

Random Movies

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Zombies, Race, and Gender

Dr Zuleyka Zevallos

I don’t entirely agree with this article, as it hasn’t been my experience of the fandom, who seem to all want to be Negan, but nevertheless, it was an interesting read.

https://www.wired.com/2013/06/world-war-z-zombie-messages/

That shift towards a lone-white-man-triumphing-against-the-hordes mentality goes against the dominant manifestations of zombie fandom, where often fans want to join zombie swarms rather than be lone-wolf heroes. As Lauro explains, the group mentality that has proven successful in the past is the one fans share.

 

Bladerunner 2049 and Race

The movie definitely has some racist and sexist issues:

http://colorwebmag.com/2018/03/27/the-racial-flaws-of-blade-runner-2049/

 

The Magnificent Seven: Racial History

On the erasure of PoC from the Western narrative:

<em>The Magnificent Seven</em> vs. The Historical Negationism of Westerns

 

Ready Player One

Ready Player One has several issues wrong with it but I think for me one of the biggest issues is outlined in the first article. In this movie there is almost no acknowledgment that Black culture is American culture:

http://www.okayplayer.com/originals/ready-player-one-black-culture-erasure-harmful-opinion.html

https://inews.co.uk/culture/film/ready-player-one-panders-to-a-lame-sexist-nerd-culture-that-needs-to-die/

 

Analyzing The Purge

An analysis of everything wrong with the plot of The Purge, and an analysis of how poverty would affect the outcome of such a plot.

http://www.plotpedant.com/the-purge/

https://filmschoolrejects.com/the-purge-and-politics-of-poverty-c23e94449e4/

The Purge — the event, not the film — is for white people, specifically rich white people. They are the beneficiaries, the ones who can afford the security systems to keep them safe, the ones wanting to thin the population for the sake of conserving resources, and the ones whose bloodlust is least in check. The victims are minorities, largely, and economically disadvantaged to the point some even resort to selling themselves to wealthy people on Purge Night in exchange for their surviving family’s financial security. That’s another idea that only a couple of weeks ago sounded like pure fiction, and now….well, not as much.

 

Snowpiercer and The White Savior

An analysis of the use of the White Savior trope in the movie Snowpiercer. This is one of my favorite movies. It has a lot of messages in it about the hierarchy of inequality, and stars Chris Evans. It also has an unconventional ending that makes the use of the trope a lot more complicated.

https://alanw2000.wordpress.com/2014/11/29/snowpiercer-analysis-bong-joon-hos-sci-fi-masterpiece-by-alan/

http://mumpsimus.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-decay-of-white-savior.html

 

Avatar: The White Savior Trope

https://io9.gizmodo.com/5422666/when-will-white-people-stop-making-movies-like-avatar

 

Mad Max: Fury Road/Disability

https://womenwriteaboutcomics.com/2015/05/disability-in-the-dystopian-future-of-mad-max-fury-road/

https://www.inverse.com/article/15806-one-year-later-fury-road-resonates-on-disability-sexuality-and-the-end-of-days

 

Logan: On Violence, Death, and Dying

Logan: A Film Fighting With Itself

http://www.btchflcks.com/2017/03/logan-on-death-and-dying-and-mutants.html#.W1JVgjpKgnR