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.

 

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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

Random Conversations on Tumblr

 Just some of the conversations I’ve been reading, and sometimes participating in, on Tumblr. Incidentally, you should check out my Tumblr page. It’s a bit different from this one, in that I post more about politics, and social issues, along with more casual things like goofy animals, and silly discussions.

Robots and Race

* The TV Series Humans has just finished its third season, and quite a number of fans are unhappy. I watched the second season and noticed that race wasn’t much talked about, although since many of the robots featured depict different races, it should have.
The star character for some of the major plotlines was Gemma Chan’s, Mia. She was killed in the season finale, and fans felt some type of way about that. I didn’t watch the third season because I had gotten bored with the show.
But something in EAWS’s essay, about how Mia was treated on the show, and the third season’s approach to racial issues, prompted thoughts from me about how the subject of racism is depicted in science fiction/fantasy shows, especially when the writers are White. I’ve noticed that they are often not honest about White culpability in the invention of modern racism.
I’ve been noticing this trend, and I had some things to say about.
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Humans is one of those shows that is racially diverse on the surface, but in reality is very safe, very white-centric (yes, even with having Mia and Max in the main cast).

“Äkta människor”, the original Swedish show had its own problems with writing the characters of color,  but it was always very clear that the in-universe “Real Humans” (”We are People”) movement was a direct parallel to the white supremacist, anti-immigrant alt right groups / political parties, and all their members were portrayed by the white actors.

Humans, however, while also pretending to be a sci fi allegory of real life racism and xenophobia, makes sure that for each bigoted white character there’s always a Bigoted Character of Color. Just a few examples –

  • a random Black man, a member of alt-right “We Are People” movement, in s1 holding an anti-synth banner and shouting anti-synth propaganda;
  • Thusitha Jayasundera’s Neha in s2 was leading a case against Niska, yes, she went through massive character development in s3, and became an active synth rights supporter, but in her own words, she changed her views mainly because of Laura (a white woman);
  • a xenophobic anti-synth cameo character played by Naoko Mori in s2;
  • Ed’s bigoted Black friend, who persuaded Ed to sell Mia (which in turn made it easier for the writers to redeem Ed in s3 – “Ed wasn’t a racist who dehumanized his girlfriend of color, he was just a weak man, who followed an advice from his Black friend, it’s the Black friend, who is the /real/ racist” – that’s the writers’ message here);
  • a Black woman police officer, who profiled Mia in s3;
  • a random Angry Black Woman on the street, that attacked Mia in s3;
  • a Brown Muslim politician on the Synth commission, that was presented more anti-synth, than a white guy, who lead the commission (s3);
  • an anti-synth Brown Head of the Police, member of the commission;
  • an unnamed Black man leading the human supremacist group against the synth compound, targeting Max and Mia (3×08).

Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, third time is a pattern, as they say.

  Keep reading

What was the point in changing what was basically a white nationalist into a Black xenophobe? Intersectional bigotry exists, yes. But white writers of Äkta människor managed to show intersectional bigotry through white characters – they had xenophobic white gay character and a homophobic white hubot/synth, they even had a weeb. Brown writers of Cleverman showed intersectional bigotry through Koen (in s1) and Waruu West in s2. But when white writers prefer to show Black and Brown characters as the “real” racists (like Sense8the only reason for that is that the writers don’t want to touch the subject of white supremacy because it makes them uncomfortable. *

I love this, and I just want to piggyback a little bit off this post for a minute:

This is one of the major reasons why I dislike racism allegories written by White writers. They often, and very deliberately, get these allegories wrong by trying to equate racism and white nationalism, with “reverse racism” (which is not a thing, btw). They often do this by casting PoC as virulent racists against whatever out-group is the stand-in for a marginalized group in the narrative, whether its robots, supernatural creatures, or aliens.

I’ve seen this happen in a lot of fantasy, and sci-fi narratives written by White writers, who are attempting to lecture their audience on how bad racism is, all while trying never to acknowledge the elephant in the room: That our current model of racism, they are riffing on, was invented by White people.

They often make these virulently racist characters Black as well. In Heroes, the nasty racist, who wanted to kill all heroes, was a Black woman, who actually killed children. In District 9, the African characters were racist against the aliens, monetarily prostituting them, exploiting them, and even cannibalizing them, (which is a whole other nastily racist trope about people from the African continent, that I simply cannot believe no one caught.) In the X-Men/New Mutants TV Series, The Gifted, you have a Black man, as a member of the government, hunting down the mutants, to put them in concentration camps, and in Teen Wolf, you have a Black woman who wants to destroy all supernatural creatures, and yet again, advocates killing children to accomplish her goal.

It’s even worse when sometimes these are the only Black characters in the entire narrative, or worse yet, Black women.

There is already a dearth of Black women in fantasy and sci-fi media, so Black women being cast in these roles (of killing children) is an especially nasty trope, that needs to fucking die, especially when you consider that it is real life Black women, who know, above all else, what it is like to lose their children to violence, and are working hard right now to protect their children from things like gang violence and police brutality. Real life Black women work damn hard to counter the very narratives these characters are advocating in these shows. To then cast these (always dark-skinned, with natural hair, because its simply not enough that they be Black) women as the advocates and killers of children, in these shows, is an especially insulting slap in the face to Black fans, as Black women are some of the hardest fighters against racism and sexism, being so often on the receiving end of both, and to keep seeing them cast in these roles is more than a little enraging.

I know the point the writers are trying to make is that there’s racism on all sides and that anybody can be racist, but that message is more than a little self-serving, especially when you consider that it is only White writers who tout this message, in their allegories about bigotry. So, not only are they appropriating our stories of oppression (all things that have been done by Whites to everyone else) to use for non-human beings, but casting PoC in these roles as the oppressors, because they want to express the idea that that type of racism and bigotry is an equal opportunity position. By doing that, they thereby remove themselves from collusion with the issue and relieve their own guilt.

 

Source: 

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*And then there’s this problem, which is seen in every scifi/ fantasy racial allegory from True Blood, to Zootopia, to Bladerunner, to Bright, to The X-Men……… 
Yet it’s the kind of parable that turns up over and over again in science fiction and fantasy stories that are reportedly trying to convey a message of tolerance. “Look, we get that you’re having trouble seeing minorities as humans, so perhaps it would help if you imagined them as something that is A) objectively not human and B) inherently dangerous.”…
…What makes it worse — and weirder — is that writers can’t resist giving these marginalized groups some kind of superpowers, which in turn actually gives the fictional society a legitimate reason to fear them.

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Science Fiction Genre and Race

 *White writers also have a tendency to be lacking when it comes to imagining futuristic depictions of race, often simply reproducing the same racial issues (and many of the same stereotypes) that exist right now. The situations of various PoC simply never changed. We’re still sassy sidekicks, living in poverty, model minorities, or just erased.

https://psmag.com/social-justice/welcome-to-the-post-racial-future-its-still-pretty-racist

Altered Carbon presents a world that looks post-racial, and in which humanity has escaped from identity, and identity politics, once and for all. But even when bodies are interchangeable commodities, certain bodies are treated as having more value than others. for the greater profit of rich people and white people, and especially of rich white people.

 

I’m surprised a film of this magnitude and of this scale decided to show one of the most regressive and most racially-charged images I’d seen in a while; replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), the replicant assistant to Niander Wallace (Jared Leto)  is shown getting her nails electronically altered by a small Asian man, whose hunched over, deep in his work.

The stereotype of the Asian nail salon tech has made its way into the future.

 

 

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/03/-em-star-wars-em-and-the-4-ways-science-fiction-handles-race/359507/

 Sci-fi likes to believe it can imagine anything, but, especially in its mainstream incarnations, it’s clearly a lot more comfortable imagining race in contexts where the topic is dealt with obliquely or simply not mentioned or foregrounded. In this area, Hollywood adventures are strikingly timid. 

 

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Black Feminism

*Discussion of Black women as love interests. By saying that Thor is only interested in Valkyrie, as a heroic figure, it  is akin to saying she’s a strong, independent, Black woman, who don’t need no man, and how this does not take into account intersectional femininity:

Image result for black women saviors
The Problem with Valkyrie Being Simply a “Hero” to Thor

So…I get not everyone is going to understand this, especially if someone is not a Black woman and doesn’t have our experiences, so I’m going to try to lay this out as nicely as possible and try not to come off too harsh.

I’m going to start off with a quote from Alice Walker:

“Black women are called, in the folklore that so aptly indentifies one’s status in society, ‘the mule of the world,’ because we have been handed the burdens that everyone else–everyone else–refused to carry. We have also been called ‘Matriarchs,’ ‘Superwomen,’ and ‘Mean and Evil Bitches.’ Not to mention ‘Castraters’ and ‘Sapphire’s Mama.’“

You see, Black women are expected to be the “hero” of someone else’s story. We’re expected to be “the help.” The “mystical hero.” The “sassy friend.” We’re always there to help out the lead, but we’re never the love interest.

Chris Hemsworth has said himself that Thor is “smitten” by Valkyrie…when you disregard that and say she’s simply his hero and that it’s refreshing that he’s not admiring her in a romantic way, you are confusing your experience as a non-Black woman with ours.

Black women have historically been masculinized and fetishized. We’re either seen as too unattractive for love or too sexual to be romanticized. So, when we are put on a pedestal as a hero, it’s not at all refreshing. It’s the same ol’ same ol’. Now, being adored and loved? That’s something Black women never get to see for themselves.

It’s something that has slowly been changing, but the more it changes, the more pushback is given in response. CW’s Iris West is nitpicked as a character for the silliest things while the fandom constantly ships Barry with Caitlin, a white character who has shown no interest in him or vice versa. Even the actress cannot escape the anger from fans who prefer the lead be paired with a white woman. She faces constant harassment on her social media on a regular basis.

So, while it might be revolutionary for white female leads and other non-Black female leads to be looked at like heroes rather than love interests, it’s not so much for Black women. So rarely are we given the message that we too can be worthy of love. Please tread carefully when you suggest that a Black woman being seen as a man’s hero rather than love interest is “refreshing.”

 

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Humorous Interlude

 

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*The discussion, on the adoption and care of the Roomba, continues: 

 gaymilesedgeworth

after i move i really wanna get a used roomba

 

gaymilesedgeworth

biggest-gaudiest-patronuses

just remember they’re social animals and should always be kept in pairs, don’t get a roomba if you aren’t prepared for that responsibility

 

fireheartedkaratepup

That’s a common misconception. Roombas do perfectly fine on their own if you spend quality time with them! They group together in the wild for protection, but when they have no natural predators in the area they often choose to live alone.

 

biggest-gaudiest-patronuses

i didn’t know that! do you have any advice on roomba breeding and the problem with parent roombas’ tendency towards eating their young?

 

ironbite4

……..I’m nuking this entire hell planet from orbit.

 

biggest-gaudiest-patronuses

even the roombas?

 

ironbite4

The roombas are coming with me.  Can’t let them stay with you crazy people.

 

Source: gaymilesedgeworth

 

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Representation

*I loved this speech about the importance of representation and inclusion:

Rick Riordan won a Stonewall for 2017

rosetintmyworld84

 

Rick Riordan was awarded the Stonewall Book Award for his second Magnus Chase book, due to the inclusion of the character Alex Fierro who is gender fluid. This was the speech he gave, and it really distills why I love this author and his works so much, and why I will always recommend his works to anyone and everyone.

“Thank you for inviting me here today. As I told the Stonewall Award Committee, this is an honor both humbling and unexpected.

So, what is an old cis straight white male doing up here? Where did I get the nerve to write Alex Fierro, a transgender, gender fluid child of Loki in The Hammer of Thor, and why should I get cookies for that?

These are all fair and valid questions, which I have been asking myself a lot.

I think, to support young LGBTQ readers, the most important thing publishing can do is to publish and promote more stories by LGBTQ authors, authentic experiences by authentic voices. We have to keep pushing for this. The Stonewall committee’s work is a critical part of that effort. I can only accept the Stonewall Award in the sense that I accept a call to action – firstly, to do more myself to read and promote books by LGBTQ authors.

But also, it’s a call to do better in my own writing. As one of my genderqueer readers told me recently, “Hey, thanks for Alex. You didn’t do a terrible job!” I thought: Yes! Not doing a terrible job was my goal!

As important as it is to offer authentic voices and empower authors and role models from within LGBTQ community, it’s is also important that LGBTQ kids see themselves reflected and valued in the larger world of mass media, including my books. I know this because my non-heteronormative readers tell me so. They actively lobby to see characters like themselves in my books. They like the universe I’ve created. They want to be part of it. They deserve that opportunity. It’s important that I, as a mainstream author, say, “I see you. You matter. Your life experience may not be like mine, but it is no less valid and no less real. I will do whatever I can to understand and accurately include you in my stories, in my world. I will not erase you.”

People all over the political spectrum often ask me, “Why can’t you just stay silent on these issues? Just don’t include LGBTQ material and everybody will be happy.” This assumes that silence is the natural neutral position. But silence is not neutral. It’s an active choice. Silence is great when you are listening. Silence is not so great when you are using it to ignore or exclude.

But that’s all macro, ‘big picture’ stuff. Yes, I think the principles are important. Yes, in the abstract, I feel an obligation to write the world as I see it: beautiful because of its variations. Where I can’t draw on personal experience, I listen, I read a lot – in particular I want to credit Beyond Magenta and Gender Outlaws for helping me understand more about the perspective of my character Alex Fierro – and I trust that much of the human experience is universal. You can’t go too far wrong if you use empathy as your lens. But the reason I wrote Alex Fierro, or Nico di Angelo, or any of my characters, is much more personal.

I was a teacher for many years, in public and private school, California and Texas. During those years, I taught all kinds of kids. I want them all to know that I see them. They matter. I write characters to honor my students, and to make up for what I wished I could have done for them in the classroom.

I think about my former student Adrian (a pseudonym), back in the 90s in San Francisco. Adrian used the pronouns he and him, so I will call him that, but I suspect Adrian might have had more freedom and more options as to how he self-identified in school were he growing up today. His peers, his teachers, his family all understood that Adrian was female, despite his birth designation. Since kindergarten, he had self-selected to be among the girls – socially, athletically, academically. He was one of our girls. And although he got support and acceptance at the school, I don’t know that I helped him as much as I could, or that I tried to understand his needs and his journey. At that time in my life, I didn’t have the experience, the vocabulary, or frankly the emotional capacity to have that conversation. When we broke into social skills groups, for instance, boys apart from girls, he came into my group with the boys, I think because he felt it was required, but I feel like I missed the opportunity to sit with him and ask him what he wanted. And to assure him it was okay, whichever choice he made. I learned more from Adrian than I taught him. Twenty years later, Alex Fierro is for Adrian.

I think about Jane (pseudonym), another one of my students who was a straight cis-female with two fantastic moms. Again, for LGBTQ families, San Francisco was a pretty good place to live in the 90s, but as we know, prejudice has no geographical border. You cannot build a wall high enough to keep it out. I know Jane got flack about her family. I did what I could to support her, but I don’t think I did enough. I remember the day Jane’s drama class was happening in my classroom. The teacher was new – our first African American male teacher, which we were all really excited about – and this was only his third week. I was sitting at my desk, grading papers, while the teacher did a free association exercise. One of his examples was ‘fruit – gay.’ I think he did it because he thought it would be funny to middle schoolers. After the class, I asked to see the teacher one on one. I asked him to be aware of what he was saying and how that might be hurtful. I know. Me, a white guy, lecturing this Black teacher about hurtful words. He got defensive and quit because he said he could not promise to not use that language again. At the time, I felt like I needed to do something, to stand up especially for Jane and her family. But did I make things better handling it as I did? I think I missed an opportunity to open a dialogue about how different people experience hurtful labels. Emmie and Josephine and their daughter Georgina, the family I introduced in The Dark Prophecy, are for Jane.

I think about Amy, and Mark, and Nicholas … All former students who have come out as gay since I taught them in middle school. All have gone on to have successful careers and happy families. When I taught them, I knew they were different. Their struggles were greater, their perspectives more divergent than some of my other students. I tried to provide a safe space for them, to model respect, but in retrospect, I don’t think I supported them as well as I could have, or reached out as much as they might have needed. I was too busy preparing lessons on Shakespeare or adjectives, and not focusing enough on my students’ emotional health. Adjectives were a lot easier for me to reconcile than feelings. Would they have felt comfortable coming out earlier than college or high school if they had found more support in middle school? Would they have wanted to? I don’t know. But I don’t think they felt it was a safe option, which leaves me thinking that I did not do enough for them at that critical middle school time. I do not want any kid to feel alone, invisible, misunderstood. Nico di Angelo is for Amy, and Mark and Nicholas.

I am trying to do more. Percy Jackson started as a way to empower kids, in particular, my son, who had learning differences. As my platform grew, I felt obliged to use it to empower all kids who are struggling through middle school for whatever reason. I don’t always do enough. I don’t always get it right. Good intentions are wonderful things, but at the end of a manuscript, the text has to stand on its own. What I meant ceases to matter. Kids just see what I wrote. But I have to keep trying. My kids are counting on me.

So thank you, above all, to my former students who taught me. Alex Fierro is for you.

To you, I pledge myself to do better – to apologize when I screw up, to learn from my mistakes, to be there for LGBTQ youth and make sure they know that in my books, they are included. They matter. I am going to stop talking now, but I promise you I won’t stop listening.”

 

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Dinosaurs

Image result for mosasaur gif

*This entire review is basically the only reason people got to see these films. We’re certainly not watching them for the people in them.

Now, I’ve told you guys how much my Mom loves movies about people being eaten by things, so if she says something was a bad movie, take what she says as the truth. This woman will watch almost anything with giant creatures chasing and eating people, and she hated this movie!

I’m probably one of the few people that didn’t actually hate this movie, although I hated most of the people in it, and spent some amount of time rooting for my three favorite dinosaurs: the T-Rex(which I have named Sue), the velociraptor named Blue, and the mosasaur from the last movie, which I have, henceforth, named Molly.

 

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The Apocalypse

*I had to leave a response to this because the whole idea of the zombie apocalypse has now become nothing more than power a fantasy for White men, who all imagine they’re gonna be Negan, from The Walking Dead. 

I’m not watching any more shows, or reading any more zombie apocalypse novels, with White men in the center of the story. Most zombie novels and movies only feature White, middle-class people, and focus on their reactions to the loss of electricity, I guess.  Despite the existence of most of the world’s infrastructure, and the clear examples of what human beings would actually do when encountering catastrophe, in places like Puerto Rico and  Katrina, apparently one’s immediate reaction is to run amok in the streets, trying to kill each other for food.

I’m ready for some stories featuring unconventional heroes, in diverse environments. This is why I enjoyed World War Z (the book). How does the zombie apocalypse affect the plains of Africa or the mountains of Tibet? The slums of India? Or the favelas of Brazil?

Its also interesting to note that none of the pop culture we know, exists in any of these universe created by the zombie apocalypse. It’s always a surprise to the inhabitants of these stories as if they’d never heard of zombies. They always have to start from scratch. What if we just didn’t? I want to read a story (or watch a show) where all the Black, and Latinx people, in the ‘hood,  lived, because we’ve all been watching movies about the zombie apocalypse for decades, and we know all the rules and the tropes.

why is there no electricity after the apocalypse?

jumpingjacktrash

 

something people writing post-apocalyptic fiction always seem to forget is how extremely easy basic 20th century technology is to achieve if you have a high school education (or the equivalent books from an abandoned library), a few tools (of the type that take 20 years to rust away even if left out in the elements), and the kind of metal scrap you can strip out of a trashed building.

if you want an 18th century tech level, you really need to somehow explain the total failure of humanity as a whole to rebuild their basic tech infrastructure in the decade after your apocalypse event.

i am not a scientist or an engineer, i’m just a house husband with about the level of tech know-how it takes to troubleshoot a lawn mower engine, but i could set up a series of wind turbines and storage batteries for a survivor compound with a few weeks of trial and error out of the stuff my neighbors could loot from the wreckage of the menards out on highway 3. hell, chances are the menards has a couple roof turbines in stock right now. or you could retrofit some from ceiling fans; electric motors and electric generators are the same thing, basically.

radio is garage-tinkering level tech too. so are electric/mechanical medical devices like ventilators and blood pressure cuffs. internal combustion’s trickiest engineering challenge is maintaining your seals without a good source of replacement parts, so after a few years you’re going to be experimenting with o-rings cut out of hot water bottles, but fuel is nbd. you can use alcohol. you can make bio diesel in your back yard. you can use left-over cooking oil, ffs.

what i’m saying is, we really have to stop doing the thing where after the meteor/zombies/alien invasion/whatever everyone is suddenly doing ‘little house on the prairie’ cosplay. unless every bit of metal or every bit of knowlege is somehow erased, folks are going to get set back to 1950 at the most. and you need to account somehow for stopping them from rebuilding the modern world, because that’s going to be a lot of people’s main life goal from the moment the apocalypse lets them have a minute to breathe.

nobody who remembers flush toilets will ever be content with living the medieval life, is what i’m saying. let’s stop writing the No Tech World scenario.

 

lkeke35

As a corollary to the above:

I’ve been saying this about the Zombie apocalypse for years. What city dwellers do you know are gonna immediately drop everything, run out to the woods, and live at a subsistence level, just because dead people are walking around? People with disabilities, allergies, or elderly parents to care for, ain’t going to be doing any such thing. Why is the advice given to people, that they need a “bug out” plan just because the dead are walking? I’m not buying it.

I live in the hood. Do you know how many handymen we have in the hood? How many military personnel? Or even homebody engineers? Do you have any clue how resourceful and cooperative poor people are, and have to be, to survive even with electricity? And how many of us have been trained to expect the best, but plan for the worst case scenario. No, you don’t, because that idea of poverty is never represented in popular culture. Shit! A zombie apocalypse won’t even ruffle our fucking hair. We’ll come up with ways to kill the zombies while keeping it moving. Hell, my brother, all by himself, could have the electricity up and running, a defensive tower, a moat, schooling, and gardening, all in the space of two weeks, and entirely organized by my mother.

It’s also interesting to me that all zombie apocalypse narratives only seem to consist of middle-class, white, suburbanites trying to survive, with a handful of PoC thrown in like confetti. The most that White writers can imagine, for PoC, even during the apocalypse, is that we all die? Really! That seems to be their only scenario. They don’t take into account that poor Black people have been taking care of each other since the invention of poor people. The poor have never believed in an isolationist, go it alone, ruggedly individual attitude, when it comes to surviving, because we couldn’t afford that! That’s the kind of attitude that only people, with all of their basic needs met, could adopt as a life strategy. Poor people are not lazy, and of everyone, they would be the most likely to survive the apocalypse, because we have experience with surviving hardship and insecurity!

On the other hand, the middle-class white guys who invent these types of stories are obsessed with that attitude. They really think that as soon as the electricity stops, people are gonna lose their gotdamn minds, and start trying to kill their neighbors for fun and food, or planning a long journey to go find their wife, son, daughter, lost somewhere in the pre-tech Badlands! Not even taking into account that we have real-life scenarios right here, right now, that we can look at and figure out that most people aren’t gonna act like that. (*cough, ahem! Puerto Rico! Cough*).

I have long come to understand that apocalypse scenario are just wish fulfillment fantasies for middle-class white guys who think that the end of the world will make them the heroes they always wanted to be. As a result, I’m no longer interested in apocalypse scenarios with white men in the center of them as the heroes, and yes, I’m also talking about a certain TV show, too.

 

Source: jumpingjacktrash
Actually, I’ve noticed one staple of almost all apocalyptic fiction written by White people: In everything, from those Purge movies, to alien invasion, and zombie apocalypse movies, the White Western reaction seems to be “go out and kill each other”.
I’m mostly talking about the Purge films, where the premise is that all crime is free for 12 or 24 hours, but all people can think of to do is kill each other. Are you kidding me? Can we get an Oceans 11 version of The Purge, where someone has been planning the perfect heist, all year long? Actually,  I hate the Purge movies because the movies create more questions than they answer, and my super-villain brain keeps trying to organize the cultural, social, and legal implications of such an arrangement.
In a lot of American apocalyptic fiction, we never get any idea how the rest of the world is handling the destruction of the “civilized” world, or even if the rest of the world is experiencing it at all. For all we know, it’s only the Americans and Europeans who have lost their damn minds, and the Canadians are doing just fine! How do we know the Aussies haven’t just all gone punchy from the heat,  put on some fetish gear,  and decide to ride around in the desert?
When White men write about the apocalypse, they often seem to write about destroying whatever, and whoever is left.  Now contrast all that with how Women and PoC write about the apocalypse:
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/olivia-cole/people-of-color-do-surviv_b_5126206.html
https://www.indiewire.com/2016/03/women-and-poc-survive-the-apocalypse-march-2016s-vod-and-web-series-picks-202649/

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Fandom

Image result for fandom gif

*Advice on how to NOT be a shitty fanfiction writer:

There IS such a thing as a bad premise. A story that relies on accepting racism, sexism, homophobia etc as valid or justifiable or not something that needs to be contested, like any story that can not exist or function as is if you take those elements out…is a fundamentally bad fucking premise.

Nobody questions the existence of good ideas. Why do some people fight so damn hard to deny that there is such a thing as a bad idea?

Every idea a person has ever had does not NEED to be put out there. Not every idea leads somewhere good.

And each and everyone of us is capable of evaluating whether an idea we have is good or not. If it’ll do harm or not. We each have the capacity to look at an idea we have and say…yeah that’s not really workable. And just….not share it.

This isn’t an imposition. This isn’t censorship. This is basic human awareness of the fact that ideas in our brain impact us and us alone. Ideas we make the choice to enact in the world in some fashion impact others as well as us.

So fucking many of you resort to crying censorship when all that’s being asked of you is applying some scrutiny to what ideas you decide to share, because you can’t seem to wrap your heads around the idea that someone else telling you what you can and can’t write isn’t the only conclusion to be made from conversations about creative responsibility.

Because you just can’t seem to fathom the concept that you could just decide for yourself…oh, huh, I don’t actually HAVE to do this thing I’m digging my heels in about. It’s not a binary equation. It’s not either I do this or I do nothing at all and I might as well just have no rights or freedoms whatsoever gawd.

It’s almost like it’s actually….hmmm when examining the endless array of possibilities that go into crafting ideas and honing them and all the variables that act as search filters to narrow down my selection process of what areas to focus on, what elements to include….what if ‘hey is this idea one that appropriates shit that’s outside my lane or perpetuates harmful and toxic tropes’ was just an added search filter used in that process?

 

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 Post-lude

moami

if you find bones in the forest, sit a bit and listen. they are old and have some good stories to tell. maybe they’ll teach you a spell or two, or explain where the water on our planet came from.

if you find bones by the ocean, run. don’t look back. run, faster, faster. the sea may love you but there are nights where she knows neither mercy nor science, and the bones warn you only once.

deseng

boi if you find bones call the police i hate this website so much

moami

this is a piece of creative writing, in case you couldn’t tell from the fact that real bones don’t usually go hey lil’ mama lemme whisper bony secrets in your ear or warn you of the incoming tides like a calcified weather frog.

Source: moami

For The Weekend: On Diversity

 

Criticism

Image result for film criticism

*This is an idea, that I spoke about some time ago, that is slowly starting to gain some traction, after it was widely dispersed that the vast majority of film critics are White men, and after the actresses of Oceans 8 spoke out on why they felt their movie received lukewarm reviews. I have been saying that we need more reviewers of color because more and more movies, books, and TV shows are being released that are not specifically created for White audiences, and I think it’s important that we hear from reviewers who are members of the audiences at which this type of media is aimed, not just White men.

https://variety.com/video/brie-larson-crystal-lucy-awards-critics/

 “[Audiences] are not allowed enough chances to read public discourse on these films by the people that the films were made for. I do not need a 40-year-old white dude to tell me what didn’t work for him about ‘[A] Wrinkle in Time.’ It wasn’t made for him. I want to know what it meant to women of color, to biracial women, to teen women of color, to teens that are biracial.”

Black Mirror and Critical Diversity

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2018/01/10/black-mirror-and-critical-diversity/

The Problem with White Critics

https://wordpress.com/post/tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/73012

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See I think A Wrinkle in Time just proves we need more female critics and more critics of color because…okay, let me see if I can explain this.

I saw the latest Blade Runner movie and I was bored to tears yet on the movies subreddit, everyone said I either didn’t get it or didn’t give the movie a chance. And when I gave my reasons as to why I didn’t like the movie, I was called close-minded. The movie wasn’t just dull but it had this creepy obsession with women yet didn’t respect women in any way and I found it ironic that a movie all about women and their rights to reproduce had the main character be a male. But obviously, I’m not smart enough to understand this movie.

Now with Wrinkle in Time, I enjoyed this movie and I do honestly feel like a lot of white, male critics are tearing the movie apart because they don’t get it or don’t try to get it. There is also a lot of callous talk concerning this movie.

“Oh, it’s too emotional! It’s too focused on self love!”

How…how are those bad things!?

Like I’m sorry but I am tired of every movie that is dark and gritty being hailed as something thought provoking and deep. Not every single piece of entertainment has to be depressing 24/7. I’ve also noticed that when it comes to movies that are dumb fun, if it doesn’t feature a man, it’s torn apart too. I liked Maleficent. It’s fun but if I like it, I’m an idiot apparently.

What I’m getting to is this. The job of the critic is to tell people if they would like a piece of media or if they would enjoy it. I’m able to see a movie and sometimes say, “This movie was not meant for me but someone else might like it.” I feel like a vast majority of today’s critics can’t do that and I think it’s important that critics be made up of more than just white dudes.

 

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Image result for film criticism/brie larson

*In some ways I agree with the following article. But my point is not that straight, white, 40 year old, men don’t have anything at all to say about films not aimed at them, like A Wrinkle In Time, (which is aimed at bi-racial teenage girls), but that they don’t have anything, of real authentic relevance, to say to any of the bi-racial teenage girls who are going to see the movie, or read the reviews. As a straight white man, there are certain aspects of authenticity, in a movie not aimed at him, that he’s simply not going  to see, and therefor speak about, and his viewpoint shouldn’t be the only one expressed about a film.

This isn’t about whether or not a movie is good or bad, or whether or not White men can  see a movie. Movies are meant to be seen, and are for whoever will go see them, but a bi-racial teenager may have specific insights into A Wrinkle In Time, which is directly aimed at her as its audience. What did she get out it? Did the movie accomplish its goal for her?

We need more diverse film critics because I do want to know what someone of Mexican descent thinks about Coco,  what women think about Wonder Woman, and what a Black person thinks of Black Panther and Luke Cage. Its not that white men have no insight about movies they are not the audience for, but that their insight might be somewhat limited, because they’re not part of the group, or culture.

At the same time I can also acknowledge there are plenty of movies that are aimed at straight, White guys, that they may have insight into, that I just don’t have, like Fight Club, and Taxi Driver. I’ve seen those movies, and can comment on them from a film school essay point of view, but I’m not a a part of the group those films are specifically aimed at. There are things about being a straight White guy that I just don’t know about. I can see the thematic aspects of those movies, but I can’t say a whole lot about their authenticity, and what messages I get from them may be completely different than what the creator intended, (although arguably, I can probably do a better job of it, than any white guy, on movies aimed at women, black people, and Latinx).

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-film-criticism-diversity-20180620-htmlstory.html

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Publishing:

Image result for diversity/publishing/penguin books

Last year, an author named Lionel Shriver went on a public rant about diversity in publishing. She has since doubled down on her views, which has prompted a scathing response form the author, Hanif Kureishi. And once again this backlash against diversity in publishing is entirely predictable, according to Samuel R. Delaney, (and can also be applied to many areas of media that seek to branch out to different audiences). I will reprint this link as many times as I have to to make my point:

http://www.nyrsf.com/racism-and-science-fiction-.html

As long as there are only one, two, or a handful of us, however, I presume in a field such as science fiction, where many of its writers come out of the liberal-Jewish tradition, prejudice will most likely remain a slight force—until, say, black writers start to number thirteen, fifteen, twenty percent of the total. At that point, where the competition might be perceived as having some economic heft, chances are we will have as much racism and prejudice here as in any other field.

Penguin’s response:

:https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/penguin-publishers-diversity-inclusion-scheme-writers-queer-lgbtq-race-class-disability-women-a8393796.html

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jun/11/publisher-defends-diversity-drive-after-lionel-shrivers-attack

 

Image result for hanif kureishi

Kureishi’s response:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/15/diversity-publishing-culture-minority-writers-penguin

The British creativity I grew up with – in pop, fashion, poetry, the visual arts and the novel – has almost always come from outside the mainstream: from clubs, gay subcultures, the working class and from the street. Many of the instigators may have been white, but they were not from the middle class – a class that lacks, in my experience, the imagination, fearlessness and talent to be truly subversive.

 

Movies

Related image

 

 

*An article on how the current crop of horror movies  are a reflection of America’s greatest fears, and always have been. I spoke on this briefly, when I reviewed the Bodysnatchers movies, and how each iteration was a reflection of America’s greatest fears, during the time in which they were made. 

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2018/01/10/invasion-of-the-body-snatchers-1956-vs-all-the-rest/

https://www.vox.com/culture/2016/12/21/13737476/horror-movies-2016-invasion

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/04/why-sci-fi-keeps-imagining-the-enslavement-of-white-people/361173/

But it’s worth remembering that in sci-fi, the future actually isn’t safe or sterile at all. On the contrary, with its alien invasions, evil empires, authoritarian dystopia, and new lands discovered and pacified, the genre can look as much like the past as the future. In particular, sci-fi is often obsessed with colonialism and imperial adventure, the kind that made the British Empire an empire and that still sustains America’s might worldwide.

TV

Image result for brooklyn 99/propaganda

There was a long discussion, on Tumblr,  of what constitutes police propaganda, because some people were confused, and wanted to disregard Brooklyn 99 as propaganda, based solely on the idea that  the show was progressive and enjoyable. My argument, and the argument of many others was, this is exactly the reasons why the show is a form of  propaganda for law enforcement.  My argument was that it was the impact of the show, and not the writers intentions which make it propaganda.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2015/05/18/brooklyn_nine_nine_s_fantasy_world_doesn_t_stop_me_from_loving_it_video.html

 It’s a well-crafted fantasy, with hardly any discernible connection to current cultural attitudes about law enforcement. On the surface, the show is really not so different from that subway ad. Does the fact that I love one and feel displeasure for the other make me a hypocrite?

@adhighdefinition

I don’t want to be That Person ™ who adds meaningless noise to discourse, but…

Who in the world thinks that B99 is police propaganda?

Police propaganda is shows like SWAT (which I enjoy immensely, except for the preachiness) or Blue Bloods or NCIS LA, in which law enforcement is glorified and the main characters can do no harm.

B99 focuses on cops, yes, and addresses cop-related issues, yes. But it never portrays policing as anything other than a normal profession, or the characters as more moral than anyone else. You could change the setting to an amusement park or a college or a law firm and the basic setup would stay the same.

Recently in B99, Jake tells Captain Holt that he’s not ready to come back to work, because he has a “little voice in his head saying, ‘but what if [the suspect] innocent’.” And Holt tells him that the voice is a strength. Jake shouldn’t think lightly of throwing people behind bars or accusing them of crimes. It’s a serious matter. “I wish more cops thought that way,” says Holt.

HOW IS THAT PROPAGANDA????

 

Actually the argument you just made for why it isn’t propaganda is exactly why the show is propaganda The series does not show the Brooklyn 99 crew as just regular citizens. The main characters are glorified as being more progressive than the police actually are,  occasionally shown to do no wrong, and when they do wrong, they  correct their mistakes by the end of an episode.

So it actually is. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love this show and all it’s characters, but that’s what makes it propaganda. Any cop show that is set up for you to think of the characters as likable, dutiful, and most importantly “good” is propaganda. I think the creators  intent is to be funny, with great characters, and tackle a couple of  social issues, but it is still propaganda, not because, not just because of their intent, but because of the effect of the series in this particular social landscape.

The “effect” is that you end up liking these very liberal, open minded, “woke” cops,  and in real life, cops are generally very conservative. Also, the police are employees of the state, so ANY show that makes us feel some type of way about them (good or bad) automatically makes the show (even unintentionally) political, making it propaganda.

So yes, as wonderful and lovable as the characters are, as nice as they are,   that is the reason that it qualifies as propaganda. Technically, even if all the cops on the show were evil and corrupt, it would still be propaganda, because the net “effect” is that you watch this show, and feel some type of way about the state-run, political entity of law enforcement.  The side effect is that the show makes the police look good, and makes you feel good about them.

Just because it’s a comedy doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an effect on the net accumulation  of people’s thinking about the police. In the end ,it’s not about the “intention” of the creators. It’s about the “effect” the show has in the landscape of television, along with the 15-20 other cop shows airing at the time.

Brooklyn 99 qualifies.

 

Source:

Fandom

Image result for racism in fandom

Once again, we need to discuss the racism that has heavily infested the fandom. Why? Because its  merely a reflection of the everyday microaggressions and racism that White people practice on the daily. I’m also going to argue that this racism is informed by decades of television viewing in which White audiences were never given any alternative narratives about PoC, women, and gender, and sexual orientation.

https://fanlore.org/wiki/Race_and_Fandom#Racism_in_Slash_Fandom

Race and ethnicity has been an issue in the canons of fannish source texts for almost as long as fandom has been around. Because most entertainment is created and produced by white males, particularly in Hollywood, it tends to reflect the mindset and experiences of the majority of its creators.

 

http://www.blackenterprise.com/the-power-of-black-women-in-fandom/

As a black women who are fans of black female characters, we are constantly reminded how much hate there is for black women and how voraciously people in fandoms dig for reasons to justify it. Oftentimes white female characters are lauded for doing the same things that white fan bases hate black female characters for.

http://www.vulture.com/2018/06/kelly-marie-tran-star-wars-hollywood-enabled-toxicity.html

The lack of ethnic and gender diversity in the first three films is an original sin that allows toxic fans to point to the Original Trilogy the way gun nuts point to the Second Amendment. There’s no productive argument to be had when anti-inclusivity extremism is at play. These people want what they want, and they’re not disappearing.

 

Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1978): The Loss of Self

 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) 115 min – Horror | Sci-Fi

As a general rule, I like to avoid reviewing and analyzing  horror movies that are already heavily reviewed. My thinking is that there is little for me to add to the discussion, beyond what’s already been said. I think this year I may make an exception, and cover some of my favorites, and I can at least explain why it is I like them so much. Sometimes, in examining my tastes in visual media, I realize I have a type of film that I gravitate to, or find out what it is that is really scaring me, and such is the case with Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

 

In order to understand why this movie works so much better on me, than the others, I have to put things into historical context. America was just coming out of a period in the 60s, where people were greatly consumed by the idea of community. People had this idea that world peace could be brought about by a lessening of the concern for the individual, and more concern for those outside of oneself, something which  could only be achieved by living communally, also known as communitarianism. But this was a failure, and as a result, there were many  failed communities, with the most infamous being The Jonestown Massacre, in the late 70s, which marked the end of that particular era of thinking.

https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/jonestown-massacre-what-you-should-know-about-cult-murder-suicide-w512052

The Jonestown Massacre took place in 1978, and really was the last gasp of the Hippie/Free Love Generation, cementing the idea that communitarianism was a complete failure. By the time of the massacre, most of the hippies had given up that lifestyle, and America was fully enmeshed in the Me Decade. I was old enough to understand what happened at Jonestown, and  have the distinct memory of watching the news stories about it. A few years later, I watched, with horrified fascination, the Made-for-TV movie, while my mother explained the details of it to me, in ways than I was more able to understand, than when I was 8.

Image result for narcissism gifs

In the Me Decade of the 70s, the focus was on the improvement of the individual self, the development of, and getting in touch with, one’s better nature. People took up esoteric hobbies like Chinese cooking, in order to better themselves, they went to see psychiatrists for fun, and they joined movements, like transcendentalism, to reach their higher mental self. Dr. Kibner, a psychiatrist played by Leonard Nimoy, is the embodiment of this idea. But you can see elements of it in Matthew Bennell’s lifestyle, as he darts around his kitchen, frying up dinner in a wok, and in the everyday life of the Bellicec’s, who run a mudbath/spa.

https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/culture-magazines/1970s-me-decade

Economic and political shifts help to explain much of the change. From the end of the World War II (1939–45) until the end of the 1960s, the American economy had enjoyed one of its longest extended periods of growth. That growth came screeching to a halt in the 1970s, and matters got worse as the decade continued. An Arab oil embargo halted shipments of oil to the United States, forcing gas prices to raise dramatically and forcing rationing. Another oil crisis in 1979 continued the economic shock…. Many Americans turned inward and focused their attention on their economic problems rather than on problems of politics or social justice.

This version of The Bodysnatchers sits squarely  in the center of the Me Decade, with its insular focus on the self, and captures all  the dread and fear  in losing that sense of individuality, which the aliens represent. This movie could not have happened in the 80s, in the same way,  as  self development had advanced into narcissistic self involvement, by that time, and was called the Me First Decade, or Decade of Greed.

Several times in the movie, characters state, that when a person is duplicated, all the person’s memories are left intact, but since the fibrous bodies of the pod people are not organic, in the same way that human bodies are, the chemical rush of emotional connections are missing. You’re still an individual, but lack any ability to care, and there is no emotional connection to anything, which  would have seemed nightmarish to people who had spent the past decade caring very, very, deeply about everything.

Image result for its me gifs/miss piggy

I have spent a lot of time and effort in developing who I am as a person. As a young girl, I decided there was a type of woman that I wanted to be, (a combination of Grace Jones, Nyota Uhura, a dash of Ellen Ripley, and my Mom), and pointed myself towards being that person, with varying degrees of success. So developing and understanding who I was, am, and meant to be, is of huge importance to me. My formative years were during the 70s and 80s, when self discovery and enlightenment was of primary importance in popular culture. It helps that I saw this movie during that ten year time period, when I was discovering  what qualities I considered important for being my best self. I definitely think all of that  informs my reaction to this movie.

I have lost track of how many times I’ve watched this movie, and it has never NOT been scary to me. Unlike the first movie, where the emphasis was on the fear of  sameness, and conformity, the primary theme, of this story, is the loss of the  self, a loss of the uniqueness of self. A subtle, but important difference, although both movies contain elements of both themes. The 1978 version is able to  capture this better than any of the other versions, because it’s so well situated in the center of  the ME Decade, in the original city of self love, San Francisco.

The opening credits are interesting. It’s one of my favorite parts of the movie, because its one of the more unique versions, depicted on screen, of an alien invasion. And also because later in the movie, Nancy Belicec acknowledges this, by asking, “Why do we always expect metal ships?” And she’s  right. There’s no reason to assume that aliens cannot transport themselves through the vacuum of space in some other manner. In this movie, it happens in the form of spores, that travel along solar winds.

https://www.space.com/5843-legged-space-survivor-panspermia-life.html

The revelation that tiny eight-legged animals survived exposure to the harsh environment of space on an Earth-orbiting mission is further support for the idea that simple life forms could travel between planets.

This idea, called panspermia, is not new. It holds that the seeds of life are everywhere, and that microbial life on Earth could have traveled here from Mars or even from another star system, and then evolved into the plethora of species seen today.

 

 

Image result for invasion of the body snatchers gifs

The Bodysnatchers is horrifying, not just because of the inevitability of the invasion, but because its horrifying to watch this happen to the funny, quirky, vibrant individuals in this movie. For as little screen time as we get to spend with Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Geoffrey, we still  get an idea of what a vibrant, and energetic, person he is. The actor, Art Hindle, imbues him with such an  amount of character, in such a short time, (he’s an asshole), that his change after his duplication, (into a completely different type of asshole), is as jarring for us, as it is for Elizabeth, and we start to identify with her through her anxiety over this change.

Elizabeth becomes increasingly suspicious that Geoffrey is not Geoffrey, as she follows him to his appointments, stalking him through the city. There’s a scene of her striding swiftly through the downtown streets of San Francisco, the swish of traffic, and the low rumble of human chatter, the only sounds, as the camera pans jerkily around, illustrating her wound up emotional state, her paranoia, and her disconnect from the rest of humanity. The first part of the movie is full of such scenes of chaotic city life, as the camera jitters and shakes. The city is energetic, and loud, and vibrant, and these scenes show the disconnection between people, that city life encourages. People don’t actually know each other in the city, the population is too transient, and no one is really close to anyone. Well, the duplication process,  simply amps this quality up to eleven. As a Pod Person, you aren’t just disconnected from others, you’re no longer connected to yourself either.

Matthew Bennell works for the city health department, and is very obviously in love with Elizabeth, although it is unclear if she is aware of his feelings, his friends are certainly aware of his feelings, (including Dr.  Kibner). Elizabeth is either unaware of what he feels, or unaware of her own feelings. One of the more tragic moments, for me is, after Kibner has been duplicated, he declares  love to be irrelevant, and Elizabeth’s immediate response is to turn to Matthew, look him in the eye, and matter of factly state that she loves him, because she knows  she’ll be incapable of saying so, after her duplication. She knows that not only will she not love him, she won’t be capable of loving him, and what’s more, she won’t even care. According to the Pod people, she will remember that she once loved him, but she won’t be capable of caring that they used to care about each other.

Image result for invasion of the body snatchers 1978

Part of the horror is watching these friends fight against their inevitable duplication, as they argue, and love, and laugh. Then, as they are duplicated, one by one, we can see that the duplication process is not as peaceful as the Bodysnatchers would have their victims believe. They are alive, in that they appear to be who they once were,  but that essential part of who they were, what made their life worth living, is all gone. (I think this is where the other movies fell flat for me. I was not invested in the characters, or what happened to them.)

The aliens keep emphasizing that the process is painless, and that all the memories are left intact, and you can tell by this statement, that they lack  any ability to understand why the  humans are defiant, or why they might be afraid of the process, attributing their fear to pain, or loss of memory. The aliens are often puzzled by the emotional defiance of the humans around them, and  incapable of  understanding  that memories, without any emotional context, are  meaningless, and are an erasure of the “self”. Kibner flatly states, “We don’t hate you.” None of this is a personal thing for the aliens, and they are often mildly baffled at the personal reactions of the humans, to being duplicated.

In the scene where Elizabeth first meets Kibner, they are at a party, and a woman is having an emotional breakdown, as she insists that her husband isn’t her husband. She knows this because he got his hair cut short. He has a scar on the back of his neck that he always used to cover up by growing his hair out, but now, he no longer cares about the scar. There’s no emotional context for a habit he kept up for, possibly, decades. He simply doesn’t care. He can’t. That is the tiny erasure of a personality quirk that his wife understood, and possibly found endearing,  and that itty-bitty erasure of self, is for her, the clearest indicator that he is not who he claims to be.

During this woman’s  breakdown, the other party goers look on with detachment, some of them with faint distaste. These are Pod people. They don’t know, care, or begin to understand this woman’s hysteria, and just want her to stop making a scene. Actually, the aliens do have emotions…of a sort, but they are very faint, and very far away, a distant  memory of what they used to be. They all  display a faint,  muted, (as if through a thick wad of cotton batting), contempt for humanity.

 

Ironically, contempt for other people is such a part of Kibner’s natural human state, that one can see little change in his behavior after his duplication.When Kibner first meets Elizabeth, he engages in the worst sort of psychiatric practices, telling her what she’s feeling and thinking, instead of listening to what she says. This entire scene is infuriating  to me, having been on the receiving end of more than a few armchair psychiatric diagnoses, of whatever pathology that someone decided to slap on me, because I was doing something unexpected.

Image result for bodysnatchers 1978/belicecs

When Kibner is  counseling Elizabeth, he interrupts her,  and doesn’t  listen to what she’s trying to tell him, as if he knows better than she does, what she’s feeling, and why. Instead of helping her to explore why she thinks what she thinks, he already has a theory handy, and applies it to her circumstances. He tells her  she wants to get out of her relationship with Geoffrey because she’s frightened of having one, and that what she’s saying about Geoffrey is just an excuse to do so. It’s  the  same advice he gives to the hysterical woman at the party,  diagnosing their problems as  societal ones, rather than  personal ones, based on his newest book.

The scene where Kibner is counseling Bennell’s  group of friends is fascinating, because you don’t realize Kibner has been duplicated. He comes across as just a more sedate version of the man we saw at he party the night before, and it is not until after he leaves the meeting, that we realize he is an alien. This makes  sense of how uniquely unhelpful he is to the Bellicecs during that scene. Calming them down is not his objective, because, as a Pod person, he can’t do that. He has no understanding of their emotions, so can’t possibly counsel them. He only causes them to become more upset, and he is, once again, mildly baffled by their hysteria. Afterwards, Kibner says to the Geoffrey duplicate, that the duplication of Bennell, and his friends, can’t happen soon enough, and says it in  a mildly disdainful way. Those messy emotional humans!

The Belicecs are my favorite characters in the film because they really do seem like a quirky, odd couple, who also happen to be deeply devoted to one another. After they thwart the duplication of their entire group at Bennell’s home, they are pursued into the streets by Pod people. It is Jack who uses himself as a distraction so that his wife and the others can escape the crowd. Nancy, however, is having none of that and, refusing to be parted from her husband, chases after him.

Image result for bodysnatchers 1978/nancy

Surprisingly, it is Nancy (played by a superb Veronica Cartwright) who turns out to be the most resourceful. Its surprising only because  you are not invited to think this way about her during certain scenes,  although in hindsight, all the signs of her pragmatism are there. She runs a successful business, and compassionately, but firmly interacts with the customers. As one of them pressures her to turn off the spa’s music, she resists, saying its good for the plants (a tongue-in-cheek reference to the pods, I think). She may have a head full of fringe ideas, and her reactions are a bit extreme, but she knows how to take care of herself, and is the only one who figures out how to successfully trick the aliens into thinking she’s one of them.

We spend the rest of the movie with Matthew and Elizabeth, as they  attempt to outrun the invaders, getting caught and drugged by Kibner at one point. They escape Kibner, and a duplicated Jack Belicec, but the drug eventually kicks in. Elizabeth falls asleep, and  gets duplicated. The pointlessness of all that fighting and running, their defiance of the inevitable, is what fuels the horror, because everyone has to sleep, eventually. Matthew, in a fit of spite after Elizabeth’s death, manages to burn down a couple of warehouses full of pods, but that act is meaningless. The pods and their caregivers have had at least a couple of days to ship them everywhere. Eventually Matthew is himself captured, and duplicated.

The first time I saw this movie, I still held out hope that maybe Matthew had  managed to escape his fate. Part of the reason I got my hopes up, was at the end of the movie, he is seen walking aimlessly around the the areas he frequented when he was human, quietly observing the activity around him, engaging in his usual hobby of cutting up newspaper articles, or going to work, and I remember Nancy’s ability to fool the aliens. I hope that’s all Matthew is doing but how realistic is that?

Image result for bodysnatchers 1978/party

We can see what life is like in Pod-land, when Matthew goes to work. At the beginning of the film, he started his day with newspaper clipping, and he does so at the end of the movie as well. This is just a habit he remembers doing, and it makes me wonder if the articles he clips, when he is a pod-person, are different from the ones he clipped, when he was human, and it’s also sad, because without any emotional tie to what he’s doing, it’s just as pointless as his fight against being duplicated.  After all, whatever he’s clipping can have no emotional resonance for him. He wanders into Elizabeth’s department, and the two of them look at each other, through each other,  and don’t acknowledge each other’s presence. Elizabeth slowly reaches over and turns off a Bunsen burner, as if in dismissal of Matthew’s presence, and he slowly walks away, as if he’d forgotten why he stopped there. The  clicking of the burner, as it slows and stops, feels like an acknowledgment of the death of their relationship. There’s nothing to see here! Move along!

Ironically, Kibner’s theory about people moving in and out of relationships too fast, and searching for excuses to get out of them, has actually come to pass. Being duplicated is the ultimate relationship killer, and it also perfectly illustrates one of the movie’s premises about living in the city. People really are disconnected from each other now. Imagine the horror of  not being able to feel anything for your kids, although you certainly remember they’re your kids. Or your spouse. Or your parents. You remember that you have relationships with these people, but you don’t care. No one  acknowledges anyone else’s presence, as they all glide slowly through their routines, with the blank expressions of robots. A bell rings and everyone rises in unison for the exits. It’s time to go home, and do what? They are all just going through the motions of living.

This brings up a point that was well illustrated in a scene from the 2007 version of the movie. In that scene, several pod-people are having dinner, as  television news reports are heard of the Middle East Peace Agreements, and the de-nuclearization of other countries.  In such a world, everything that arises out of human emotions is meaningless. Jobs, money, bills, all of the usual anxieties of life are gone, but then so are all of life’s biggest issues. There are no wars, no pogroms, no rape, no domestic abuse, no violence of any kind. For what reason do people have to harm one another, in a world in which nobody feels anything for,or about, anyone? Kimberly says it best, it is a peaceful world, a world without strife or anxiety.

Recall what I said in my last review of these films, that the next remake of this movie should be done from the point of view of those right in the middle of some crisis, and not, yet again, from the  point of view of comfortable, middle-class, white Americans. What happens in an environment, (or to protagonists), who actually welcome the alien invasion, because it means an end to their suffering. The war has suddenly stopped. No more police brutality. No more racism. The prisoners have all  been freed. Your husband no longer hits you. Can you still make a horror movie out of such a theme? What if there’s world peace, and your personal crisis is over, but you don’t feel relief or happiness, because you  no longer care. What price to pay for this? This is part of the horror.  What if the revolution occurred and nobody cared?

Image result for invasion of the body snatchers gifs

 

 

*(Hey! You there! I love, love, love this movie, and writing this was a labor of love, so let me know if you loved it, too. Like it and leave a comment (if you’re not too shy!) let me know if I should keep doing these long form film essays. The topic for this series is The Foundations of Fear.)

Mini Reviews From Firestick TV

I got an Amazon FireStick for Christmas, and so far, I’m having good fun with it. I’ve been doing this thing, where I go to random apps, and try them, or just watch whatever movies or shows get recommended to me on Amazon Prime, Netflix, or Hulu. I’ve watched movies on Terrarium TV, and and an app called Showbox, but I’m not gonna talk about those today. I’m sticking with Netflix, and Hulu, for now.

 

Kill Order

One of the  fun things to watching movies on the Firestick, is you get to watch low budget, never heard of, movies, and this is the case with Kill Order. I knew absolutely nothing about this movie before watching it. Had never even heard of it. Although some elements of the plot are somewhat confusing (requiring you to pay close attention to some horrible acting), the plot is fairly straightforward.

The plot involves a superhuman teenager, David Lee, played by Chris  Mark, on the run from the shadowy scientific Organization that  experimented on him. David is prone to nightmares and anxiety attacks. When he’s attacked in his classroom and his home by assassins, and his adopted parent is killed, he has to outrun more of them,  sent after him by The Organization.

There’s shades of Logan in the plot, because David is an experiment, who was freed by one of the doctors working on the program. He’s been infused with some type of elemental energy from another  world, and when he becomes stressed, or concentrates hard enough, he can access this energy to be faster and stronger than human. Unfortunately, many of the assassins out to kill him are also successful experiments and can access this energy too.

I thought the acting was atrocious, but I loved the kinetic energy in this movie. I think it was worth watching, for the action scenes, although a couple of them lasted just a tad longer than they should have. The action is really fast, brutal, and bloody. My major complaint about that, was that so many of the fights took place in public spaces, well within view of spectators, who did not seem at all puzzled to see black garbed killers flailing swords around, at the park. I mean it is a fairly unusual sight in this world but I guess maybe not so much in David’s.

Kill Order is available on Hulu, and is not related to the Maze Runner series, by James Dashner, as far as I know.

 

Pose

I heard about this show on The Root, and thought I’d give it a try. It’s a new show, from the creator of American Horror Story, Ryan Murphy, and is loosely based on the 1990 movie, Paris is Burning, about the gay Ballroom scene in 1980s New York. I enjoyed that movie, and have been fascinated with Ballroom culture ever since, and this show is an interesting glimpse into the lifestyle, that comes from a place of authenticity, as many of the actors are actually transgender.

I was a little put out by the opening of the movie, as I don’t particularly enjoy watching characters be mean and bitchy to one another, but apparently that was just  setting up the (loosely named) villains of the show, House Abundance, which is the rival to House Evangelista. There’s also a B plot involving the economic boom issues going on in NY at the time, involving the rise of  Donald Trump, (although he is not featured in the series).

House Abundance is run by Dominique, who was once the House mother for Blanca, who left her (becasue she wasn’t getting any respect), to start her own House, and we get to watch as the two Houses compete in various shows, how Blanca builds her own house, and the contrast between how the two houses are run. The show also tackles issues of teen/LGBTQ homelessness, as Blanca adopts a young man from the street, whose family abandoned him.

For those of you unfamiliar with all this, here’s are some  brief primers on  Ballroom culture and voguing. You’ll hear about the two Houses, La Beija, Xtravaganza, and Ninja, which were the focus of the movie, Paris is Burning, and some of the dance moves, like The Duck Walk, and the Death Drop. The New York Black and Latinx LGBTQ Ballroom culture is where the original meaning of “Shade” and “Reading” people came from. (None of this has anything to do with the dance form which was co-opted by Madonna in the 90s.)

I’ve only spent some time watching the various clips from this move, because it just hurts too much, to watch it, in its entirety, multiple times. The stories really move you. You start to root for certain characters, only to find out they were murdered in a hate crime, a few months later, or died of Aids. it can be hard to watch, but its worth it to glimpse a culture you may have never seen before. I try to be respectful, and keep in mind, that I’m not a part of this culture, and  a spectator to all it. I just admire it from afar.

 

Here is one of my favorite moments in Paris is Burning, about the philosophy behind voguing, realness, and authenticity:

 

I enjoyed the first episode a lot, and I made a promise to myself to catch some  more episodes, although I’m not yet devoted to it. But I do love the idea that this even managed to make its way to Primetime TV. I can actually see something like this being made in the 80s for  television, but not in the 90s, which was a lot more conservative. If you have been wishing for more LGBTQ content on TV then this is your show, this is your hour, this is you! The show discusses a lot of transgender issues, which makes this show absolutely groundbreaking!

This show wasn’t recommended to me from my Firestick, although I think you can watch it on Hulu, if you don’t have cable, or satellite TV.

 

The Outsider

I was prepared not to like this movie, which is newly available on Netflix. Netflix recommended I watch this, because I’d watched several Chinese Action movies (?), and put several more on my watchlist. So, even though I was dubious, because it starred Jared Leto, I took a chance, and gave it a try.

For the record,  I am, apparently,  one of the five people on the entire planet, who does not hate Jared Leto. I’m just occasionally wary of his presence in something, mostly  based on the stories I’ve heard about him, that I should, but I’ve always been contrary. I think he’s a perfectly okay actor, and I’ve liked him ever since he got his ass beat by Brad Pitt in Fight Club. I even liked him in this movie, although he turns in, what is for him, a rather subdued performance, which is also completely unnecessary to the plot of this movie.

I have a confession to make. I am a fan of historical movies, and books, about Westerners travelling, and living, in Japan. I will watch, or read, just about anything on that subject. That said, though, I have never understood Hollywood’s need to add White men to stories that do not actually require their presence. I don’t  object to  such things per se, but sometimes, I don’t feel like looking at White guys in Asian media. I’m told this is an economic choice, because White Americans are too stupid to watch movies without any White men in them. Personally, I think that’s a grave insult to the reasonably smart White people who actually watch foreign films, with nary a White guy in sight, (and if the American school system hadn’t spent so many decades turning its citizens brains into ignorant mush about the rest of the world, this would never have created a problem, that needed to be pandered to.)

This is an acceptable movie, and Jared Leto is fine in it, as an American criminal, imprisoned in Japan, just after WW2. While there, he meets, and saves the life of, a Yakuza member. When the two of them break out of prison, he goes to work for the man whose life he saved, the son of a Yakuza leader, and gets accepted as a low ranking member of the clan, despite the protestations of his friend’s brother, who is set to inherit the title of clan leader. He meets a girl, and gets involved in some drama, that results in the entire clan being killed, after which he’s exiled.

This story could just as easily have been told without him, because the politics and infighting of Yakuza clans is fascinating, all on its own. I don’t know if the director is Japanese, but I didn’t get much of a sense of Japan in this movie, beyond the usual surface signifiers, like Sumo scenes, neon city streets, and  dancing geisha. If you’re looking for some depth of setting, like a travelogue, this is not that movie. Leto looks distinctly out of place, but I guess that’s the point of putting him in this movie.

The setting felt more like the industrial wasteland of 80s Chicago, than 50s Japan, so there could’ve definitely been some more work done on the time setting. The trailer looks more Japanese than the actual movie, and I have no idea how a director manages to accomplish such a thing.  It’s a very dark film. It’s very gloomy. There’s a lot of sitting around in bars, gambling, and drinking, while giving people shifty looks, talking smack about the American, some macho grandstanding, and some short, brutal, fight scenes, which Leto performs satisfactorily, without ever seeming as if he is a dangerous person. I think it’s because he has this wide eyed innocent look, (he is exceptionally pretty), that works against what he’s trying to portray. He really needs to work on looking more shifty eyed, unless of course,  that was the point of his character.

It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not a spectacular one either. I liked the visuals, but I like the visuals of any movie set in Japan, so that’s a very low bar. There’s nothing in it that stands out in particular, beyond the mood, and setting, and this one White guy, that the other characters keep saying doesn’t belong where he is. If you’ve got some time to spend on a Saturday evening, with nothing much to do, and you don’t mind watching Jared Leto, and some Japanese imagery, for 90 minutes or so, then it’s an engaging enough film, but if you choose not to watch it, don’t beat yourself up over that decision, too much.

 

 

Travels With My Dad

I have a pretty close relationship to my Mom, so I’m always fascinated by other peoples real life, adult, relationships with their parents. I actually really liked this show. It wasn’t recommended to me by Netflix, but eventually it would have, because I like travel shows, and I enjoyed watching the show, An Idiot Abroad.

Jack Whitehall is a British comedian that I know nothing about. I’ve never seen any of his performances, so I came into this completely clear of any expectations beyond the show’s premise. The show is about him taking his dad,Michael, along with him on a world tour. The two of them do some father/son bonding, and have some mildly amusing adventures, as Jack attempts to connect with his dad. I would say his objective is successful, and occasionally deeply amusing, as his dad is not the kind of man who minces words, makes it clear the things he will, and will not do, while still having a sense of whimsy, and being game enough to try new things.

In fact, I really loved the show, and I’m not sure what this says about me other than I’m older than Jack or American or a woman or something, but I kinda identified with Michael for most of the show. Like his dad, I was often exasperated at Jack’s attitudes about things. When they first get to somewhere in SE Asia, Jack wants to stay at a hostel, but Michael is having none of that shit, and I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t either. I would not travel halfway around the world, to live in a small room,with a bunch of strange White people, who look none too clean, or trustworthy. (Also, I have a phobia about falling asleep in the presence of White people, because apparently,  I’ve watched far too many bad comedies.) Like Jack’s dad, I’m gonna stay at a nice hotel, like a civilized human being. If I’m gonna be robbed, I want that shit done James Bond style, with class.

Michael and Jack visit a temple, and a house of dolls. Or is it the same thing? The idea behind the dollhouse is that people have these very realistic dolls made, that are supposed to House the souls of actual children. Well, they get a doll, and Michael carries this little doll around, for the rest of the show. The point is that you’re supposed to treat the doll like an actual child. I thought this was both creepy and cute. Jack just thought it was creepy. Michael named the doll, carried him openly everywhere, and doted on it, just like he was supposed to, but eventually lost the doll, when he gave it to another little boy to hold,when he went on a sort of train ride. That’s something you really have to see because it’s not actually a train, and is a deeply inefficient form of travel, that Michael absolutely hated.

But it was a very  fun show. I adored Jack’s parents. His mom has got a bit of salt in her too, which I liked. Michael would call her every evening, and they’d talk about what he’d done that day, and she would give him no nonsense advice on things to say and do with Jack. If you’ve got parents, (especially if you’re their primary caregiver), you should probably watch this show with them. I didn’t watch this with my mom, but I’m thinking about it.

 

Kalynn's Korner

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ― Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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