Movie Essays Weekend Linkspam

Here’s a collection of some of the better themed movie essays from the  last few weeks:

The Last Jedi

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The Last jedi was a very polarizing film, apparently. It’s one of those films that seem to have no middle ground. Either you hate it for ruining your childhood, or you love it because it was some fun and  unpredictable filmmaking. On the other hand there’s some really wrong character shit going on in this movie, that is completely at odds with what happened in the last one. And then there’s the emphasis on Space Fuckbwoy, Kylo Ren. That was just deeply, deeply 🙄 Meh!

Despite all of the above, I actually enjoyed the movie, though. I went into it expecting a lot of action, some laughs, and a little bit of depth, and that’s mostly what I got. There were definitely parts I didn’t care for (I thought the Rey and Kylo scenes were  cringeworthy, and the movie could have used more Rose, Finn and Poe, acting like normal people, the way they did in the first movie,) but overall, the movie was watchable, with lots of action, some moments of pathos, and bravery, and just plain awesomeness, and many people seem to really love it. I’m giving those people the side eye, just a tiny bit 😳but they love it, so okay. I think it measures up to the first trilogy pretty well, (but with better acting from Mark Hamill, who I loved.

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

https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/12/18/16791844/star-wars-last-jedi-backlash-controversy

https://www.wired.com/story/star-wars-last-jedi-the-resistance-tactical-mistake/

https://theconcourse.deadspin.com/a-list-of-some-of-the-times-the-last-jedi-told-the-olde-1821396631

“This is Not Going to Go the Way You Think”: The Last Jedi Is Subversive AF, and I Am Here for It

https://www.theringer.com/2017/12/23/16812542/the-last-jedi-still-speciesist

https://io9.gizmodo.com/the-last-jedi-killed-my-childhood-and-thats-exactly-wh-1821429836

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/12/star-wars-the-last-jedi-backlash-negative-fan-reactions-rotten-tomatoes-score

http://blacknerdproblems.com/star-wars-last-jedi-rebel-yell-fans-rebel-scum/

Media and Race

 

Image result for hallmark xmas movies *A post about how White those Hallmark Xmas movies are. There are a handful of movies with African-Americans in them, that are about Xmas, but this post questions why Hallmark movies are so alike, as to be interchangeable.

https://thewalrus.ca/the-unwatchable-whiteness-of-holiday-movies/ strong>

Posts about the Whitewashing of the Old West:

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/10/how-the-west-was-lost/502850/ strong>

 

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*Whenever possible, I like to read reviews by PoC, especially when the movies they’re reviewing have prominent people of color in the casts. I intend to do this for Black Panther, just as I did for Luke Cage, and Beyonce’s Lemonade, not because White people don’t have anything to say, but because reviews by White critics will be easily accessible, and I want to signal boost the opinions of the people these movies are about.

The latest Star Wars movie features three MoC,  and finally, a WoC , and I want to hear what those critics have to say about them. Coco is a Spanish language cartoon centered in Mexican culture and I want to hear what actual Latinx critics have to say about the movie.

http://remezcla.com/lists/film/latino-film-critics-review-pixar-coco/

http://remezcla.com/lists/film/latino-film-critics-star-wars-last-jedi/ strong>On the consumption of Black pain as entertainment:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/detroit-and-the-problem-with-watching-black-pain-through-a-white-lens_us_597f8907e4b08e143004bbf1

 

*A lot of Asian Americans were not happy with the depiction , and treatment, of Mantis in this movie, and I have to agree. I found the character’s  treatment the absolutely cringiest part of the film:

http://www.bitchmedia.org/article/asian-women-abuse-in-science-fiction

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*Why are there so few WoC in the horror genre, as supernatural beings, and the handful of times they are, they’re treated badly?

http://www.vulture.com/2017/10/black-witches-why-cant-they-get-respect-in-pop-culture.html

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We’re getting so many posts about Black Panther long before the movie is released. Expect a flood of them afterwards.

http://www.theroot.com/wakanda-forever-on-the-importance-of-black-panther-1820459283

‘A Wrinkle in Time’ Is Just As Important As Black Panther

 

Media and Gender

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Star Trek Discovery successfully tackled the subject of male rape and trauma, in its first season, while Brooklyn 99 tackled the subject of bi-sexuality, when one of its most prominent characters, Rosa Diaz, came out, paralleling the  decision of the real life actress.

http://www.theverge.com/2017/11/13/16644468/star-trek-discovery-rape

https://www.autostraddle.com/rosa-diazs-big-coming-out-on-brooklyn-nine-nine-was-bittersweet-and-specifically-bisexual-404571/#comments

https://www.autostraddle.com/autostraddles-favorite-and-least-favorite-lgbtq-tv-characters-of-2017-404976/

https://shadowandact.com/hyper-tokenism-ii-othering-the-black-female-body-in-star-wars-the-force-awakens/

View story at Medium.com

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Westworld Epis. 3: The Stray

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This particular episode of Westworld was helmed by one of my favorite directors, Neil Marshall, the director of The Descent and Doomsday, two of the best female oriented action/horror movies made in the past ten years, and Dog Soldiers, the only werewolf vs.soldier movie worth looking at.

The information  is flying fast and fierce, and if you blink, or get up to go to the bathroom, you will have to re-watch, because you’ll have missed some crucial element of the plot that will pay off later. We get answers to some nagging little questions, and backstories for the humans and the Hosts.

James Marsden’s character, Teddy Flood,  finally gets a backstory, courtesy of Robert Ford, which is loosely connected to the origin of Westworld. It involves Teddy’s  pursuit of an evil character named Wyatt (not the MIB, as far as I can tell, but I could be wrong). Teddy has things to say about Wyatt, an old friend of his he used to serve under in the military, who deserted his career, went out into the landscape, and came back with what Teddy calls “strange ideas”. Wyatt claimed to hear “The Voice of God” and we’ll get back to that in a moment.

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Dolores’ and Teddy’s story is  deepened as we are shown their budding romance, and their plans to  ride off into the sunset together, one day. Its funny and interesting to watch the Hosts interacting with each other like regular people because I have to keep reminding myself they’ve been programmed to do this.

Dolores is still adjusting to her new state of consciousness, and Wright’s character, Bernard, is fascinated with it. He still hasn’t had Dolores re-coded, or decommissioned, and it became obvious last episode that the consciousness she possesses is contagious, (so it won’t take long until Teddy is also infected I’m guessing.)  Bernard’s head programmer, Elsie, is becoming increasingly suspicious of why he refuses to correct this problem.

I did kind of get tired of seeing Dolores be  bossed around as anybody’s meat. The creators of the park have made her nothing more than a perpetual victim and it was kind of nice to see her take charge and defend herself for the first time.

Teddy tries to teach her how to shoot but it turns out that the weapons  use protocol is something  given only to specific Hosts, like Teddy, and the stray mentioned in the title. Dolores is  incapable of pulling the trigger. But thanks to her secret conversations with Bernard, and reading a specific passage in Alice in Wonderland that he’d given to her, she is able to transcend her programming and shoot one of the Hosts who’d been intending to rape her. Bernard would be proud of her. Its a great scene, where Dolores memories, of what happened to her, save her life, as the camera flips back and forth between the past and the present.

About all those rape threats: The creators were questioned about this before the show aired and they assured viewers that it exists in the show for a reason, and that there would be payoff. I was initially dubious of this claim because it’s HBO. and known for its depictions of violence against women, but I’ve changed my mind since then. I think it is serving a purpose in showing the evolution of the hosts, and of Dolores, in particular.

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Its also nice to see what I talked about in my last review. During this episode, Teddy has been accompanied by an unnamed female Guest, only ever referred to as his “dickless associate”, who has decided to go for the gunslinger experience. This is her adventure happening simultaneous with William’s and his boorish friend, Logan, and a couple of other Guests, and she turns out to be both tougher and braver than all of them. You can also tell she’s having the time of her life as she shoots down men, and cozies up to Clementine, for a discount. (I also want to point out that Clementine is absolutely gorgeous and a lot of Hosts and Guests seem to have crushes on her. Apparently she is a Park favorite.)

Interestingly, the adventure they’re all on, hunting down Wyatt along the river, with cannibals and Natives, is pretty much the exact scenario of the narrative that Ford gave short shrift to in the last episode. I was under the impression that the Red River narrative had been stalled, but the adventure we see in this episode contains all the narrative elements that Sizemore discussed in his pitch last week, and I wonder if he introduced that narrative without anyone’s  permission. Notice that all the Hosts in this scene are holding weapons.

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William decides to go on an adventure to hunt down some other outlaw, and Logan reluctantly decides to tag along.William, who has just been firmly confirmed as a White Hat, has just saved the life of Clementine, and was shot for his trouble. Apparently Guests can be shot, and it does hurt, I guess, because he falls down, but Guests can’t be killed. What he was hit with, I don’t know. Its also said by Logan that their adventures in Westworld cost some 40 thousand dollars a day. So yeah, you have to be making some nice dough to afford regular visits.

We get  more backstory on Bernard. He lost his  young son at some point in the last year and Ford is concerned that he is using the Hosts as a substitute. Bernard is still in touch with his wife (ex-wife), Lauren, played by the Goddess Gina Torres, while sleeping with Cullen, (Westworld’s operations director), on the downlow. He goes to Ford to express concerns about the Hosts, concerns brought to him by Elsie. Ford explains that he used to have a partner named Arnold, and this is where the “voice of God” idea comes in, which also ties in the philosophy of “bicameralism”.

(Bicameralism (the philosophy of “two-chamberedness”) is a hypothesis in psychology that argues that the human mind once assumed a state in which cognitive functions were divided between one part of the brain which appears to be “speaking”, and a second part which listens and obeys—a bicameral mind. The term was coined by Julian Jaynes, who presented the idea in his 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, wherein he made the case that a bicameral mentality was the normal and ubiquitous state of the human mind as recently as 3000 years ago.   Wikipedia)

At some point, Arnold was going to program the Hosts with this feature, which would allow the Hosts to overcome their basic programming, and interact in any situation, but Arnold killed himself before it could be implemented. There’s the implication here that Ford may have had something to do with Arnold’s death as the two of them disagreed about this endeavor. The new programming that Ford has implemented “The Reveries” that allows Dolores to overcome her inability to use weapons, comes to her as the Voice of God, but only after she remembers being tortured by the MIB. The Host that went batshit last episode, and killed a bunch of Hosts before pouring milk on them,  was seen speaking to a voice only he could hear, named Arnold.

Image result for westworld the stray

Ford shows Bernard a picture of Arnold, and no, he doesn’t look like Ed Harris character, but he does look sorta like Wyatt. (Not saying he is Wyatt, just that they look alike to me.)

The Stray of the title refers to a lost Host who has wandered off and gotten trapped in some gulch in, the desert. Hilariously, the group of outlaws he was with, have been caught in a kind of feedback loop, unable to move forward in the narrative because none of them possess the “weapons protocol “, and that Stray is the one Host in their group that  is allowed to handle the ax. So they have been sitting in the same place for two days, staring at a decaying jackrabbit, because there’s no fire, arguing about who is going to cut the firewood, as none of them can pick up the ax, but they don’t understand why.

Image result for westworld the stray

Ashley, Westworld’s Head of Security, played by Luke Hemsworth, (the brother of the taller, and prettier Liam) and Elsie go hunting for the Stray, and this is  quite a pairing, as Elsie is a master of the snarky putdown and deploys some of  her best at Ashley, who grows increasingly irritated. When they find the Host, Ashley goes down into the gulch to take its head (to decommission it), it attacks and climbs free, but rather than bludgeoning Elsie with a large rock, it kills itself instead.

So there was a lot of information packed into this episode, and the mystery of the Maze and the Man in Black is slowly unfolding as viewers speculate if he is actually Arnold. Ford did say Arnold had gone insane and died in the park and Ed Harris character says he was born there. We find the Stray has gone haywire in the same manner, as Elsie finds a small stone version of the maze in his tent. She pockets it and doesn’t tell Ashley.

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And here’s another perspective from Tumblr:

The above actor’s performance (Louis Herthum seriously shook me) , Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton, and Anthony Hopkins being in this sold me in the pilot.

Haven’t had a bit of genre haunt me like that since the second episode of Black Mirror.

On to my bulleted thoughts on it, so far:

  • As a black viewer, I couldn’t help comparing how the Hosts are used as entertainment, fun props to use to make the Guest “feel something new”  while they themselves are seen as non-entities.  In fact, it is mandated that they be dehumanized in every non-Westworld setting.  Reminds me, specifically of how black entertainment is used in a similar way by non-blacks, while the people are often seen as disposable.
  • Likewise, Dolores and Maeve’s narratives,  I see as apt metaphors of aspects of misogyny and misogynoir.  Dolores and Maeve both embody the perfect Virgin/Whore dichotomy, and their casting, in terms of race  and look are incredibly on the nose with casting and viewer constantly placing women like them in those roles;  exotic” unbreakable whore and virginal damsel.
  • Jeffrey Wright is my absolute favorite working actor.  Period.  Ever since, of all things, the remake of Shaft and then going back to watch him in Basquiat.  I adore his precision.  He’s one if I hear he’s in it, I will watch it, right along with Michael Shannon.  …I think Bernard may be a Host.
  • The Man in Black was there for the last “accident” 30 years ago and that is the reason for obsession with the ultimate quest.  That is a definite hat-tip to the original movie, which I am also a fan of, despite it being very different from this incarnation.  I also think that’s why it “isn’t for him.”  despite his loyal patronage.
  • The actual purpose of the Hosts, which Theresa Cullen hinted at, I think both she and Bernard are doing their best to coax from the Hosts as comes from orders above Ford’s head.
  • Maeve’s awakening on the table along with Dolores’ original father’s glitch and subsequent shelving were absolutely the most heartbreaking parts of the show for me, thus far.
  • LOL @ Teddy, the man who “has to lose”  in order for the Guests to feel like winners being played by James (Perpetual Second Fiddle in EVERYTHING) Marsden.
  • This show has been blessed by that cameo by GINA TORRES  ❤
  • I have seen Jimmi Simpson shine in so many day player roles over the years,  I’m happy to see him getting bigger featured roles.
  • All the gamer stereotypes are on this show, the newbie,  the pro,  the troll, the filthy casual, the girl gamer (my favorite so far, she’s the only one who  is actually in full rp mode actually enjoying playing”) and on and on.
  • OMG!!!! this show is chock full scenery porn, both western and speculative.  Lord, the details.  ❤
  • I am thoroughly intrigued and here for this show until it’s end or quality dips.
  • The diversity of Hosts and Guests in both race and sexual orientation is much appreciated.
  • I also can’t wait to see Tessa Thompson show up.

Geeking Out About: The Hateful Eight

I’m not here to defend this movie from its critics. The movie is what it is, and despite plenty of people NOT liking something, I have never let that stop me from liking a movie, although that doesn’t mean my opinion can’t/ wont change later.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am a Quentin Tarantino fan. I’ve been a fan since I was devastated by  a late night showing of Reservoir Dogs, so I’m viewing Hateful Eight through the lens of  “fan girl”. Its not that I feel his films are perfect and he can do no wrong. I’m perfectly willing to debate the merits and demerits of Jackie Brown, a movie I can’t stand.  I do  feel the good points of his movies often outweigh or outnumber the bad and I don’t want to be one of those people who don’t like a movie because I got hung up on some detail.

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And lets get this part out of the way now. I don’t have a problem with Tarantino’s use of the N* word in his movies, because I don’t feel as if the use of the word is entirely gratuitous in his films, as has been argued. Let’s just agree to disagree on that.   I don’t think the characters are stand ins for what Tarantino actually thinks or feels about black people, as has been argued, too.  I’m not surprised, or put out, by some  character’s use of the word. Tarantino writes  about just the kind of low-life people that would sprinkle that word into all of their conversations, and it is difficult to get any lower than the characters in Hateful Eight. Beatrix Kiddo was an assassin, the guys from Reservoir dogs were professional thieves, and nearly the entire cast of Pulp Fiction is made up of various sorts  of criminals. Everyone’s degree of badness is relative.

I don’t think you’re really  meant to  like any of  the  characters in his films. They’re all inherently unlikeable people, and by that I mean, not the kind of people you would ever want as real life friends, unless you were also a criminal or low-life, and if so, you’d certainly not object to the use of the N* word in anyone’s vocabulary. As a general rule, unlikeable  characters do and say unlikeable  things.

As an artist myself, I can and do make the distinction between the artist and the art (until I feel like not doing that). Do I wish he would use the word a little less? Sure. Mostly because  people find that word too distracting and can’t get past it to the meat of his films. I try not to let it distract me.  I think this is some of the best writing that Tarantino has done in years and Django Unchained had some seriously fine writing.

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Tarantino is known for dealing in tropes, homages, and stereotypes. Its not until you reach the end of his films, that you realize just how many of these he has turned on their  heads, throughout the course of the movie. Essentially The Hateful Eight is a filmic retread of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None”, set in the Old West, with more gunfire. Keep in mind this also the basic plot of every horror movie with victims in an isolated location, and the main plot point of Joss Whedon’s 2011 Cabin in the Woods. So this is a narrative that gets a lot of mileage in movies, and Tarantino, not being anybody’s fool, has decided to try his hand at it.

Some of my favorite icons are in attendance. There’s Kurt Russell as a bounty hunter named John Ruth. He’s just captured the sister of Jordan Domergue, named Daisy, played with spunk by  Jenifer Jason Leigh, and is taking her into town to collect the bounty and see her hanged. I’ve never seen Leigh behave quite the way she does in this movie. It turns out that I must be some sort of fan of hers as I’ve inadvertently  seen a lot of her films. Or she just happens to be in a lot of movies I like.

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The two of them are accosted on a snowy trail by one of  my favorite actors, fresh off the TV show Justified, Walton Goggins, who embodies the trope of the “New Sheriff in Town”, and Major Marquise Warren, played by Samuel L. Jackson. He’s an ex-soldier, carrying three bounties to the town of  Red Rock.  Of the four, you’d think Goggins’ character, Chris Mannix, would be the most likeable  because he’s the good guy, but you’d be wrong. They are all headed to Minnie’s Haberdashery, as that’s the only pit stop available, to wait out a coming blizzard.

Minnie’s already has several inhabitants. Bob, a Mexican man who says Minnie left him in charge while she  went out of town for a while,Oswaldo Mobray played by another favorite of mine, Tim Roth, Joe Gage is played by Michael Madsen. He’s  a staple of any Tarantino movie. Bruce Dern rounds out the cast as Colonel Sanford Smithers, an ex-Confederate soldier. You may as well understand that almost none of these characters are truly who they say they are, or are present for the purposes which they state. Later ,there’s an unexpected cameo by Daisy’s brother, and I won’t  tell you who plays him, but a quick Google search will easily get you his name.

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It really is like Ten Little Indians in the Old West, only complicated by the characters  suspicions, alliances and enmities. Ruth is intent on protecting Daisy from anyone who might steal her from him and take his bounty, but manages to bond with Warren, who claims to have received personal letters from Abraham Lincoln.Warren and Mannix, having been on opposite sides of the war, almost immediately hate each other, but manage to bond later, after a contentious, but philosophical, conversation about their roles in the war.

The Civil War and Warren’s letter feature prominently in the plot and most of the dialogue,  but don’t actually affect the outcome, as alliances and enmities are switched, and then as the bodies begin to fall, are switched again.

Samuel L Jackson knocks it out of the park in this movie, though. He really should have been given some awards. There’s one moment where he gives a devastatingly emotional speech to Smithers, about how he assassinated the man’s son, which prompts Smithers to kill Warren, thereby setting off the bloodbath to follow.

Its a hideously gorgeous speech, on par with The Sicilian Speech in True Romance, between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper (and if you haven’t seen that movie you need to see it just for that speech.) Tarantino wrote the dialogue for True Romance too, so this can be thought of as an homage to his own writing, as both serve the same purpose, to prompt the killing of its speaker, only in Warren’s case he survives. Like I said, none of these characters are likable and Jackson’s character becomes a lot less likable after his story, but that shouldn’t stop you from liking the movie.

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I can’t go too much further into the plot but surely you know what to expect from a Tarantino movie. There will be violence. There will be blood. There will be lots of cussin’. There’s also some betrayals, poisonings, and Daisy has a surprisingly good singing voice.

I can’t say I “enjoyed” this,  as that’s a very strong word. The movie is  just slightly to the left of my comfort zone to say it was enjoyable. I didn’t enjoy it as much a Django Unchained, for example, which spoke to me on a visceral level. This film didn’t have that level of resonance, but it does have interesting philosophical discussions about the Civil War and the role played by the average Confederate soldier. There are some times when a writer’s thinking on an issue becomes clear, based on things characters say beyond the usual  expletives. Its  obvious that Tarantino’s big brain has been thinking deeply about race, lately. He doesn’t offer answers or conclusions, though. These are just thoughts he wants to put out into the world, I guess. It  got me to think about that war in a different way than I had before, so his efforts were successful, even if I disagreed.

Some people are  saying that making these movies means he’s trying to cozy up to Black people, or get us to like him, or maybe trying to atone for using the N* word so often, but I don’t think its that dramatic. I think Tarantino genuinely likes black culture, is interested in these topics, and now is his chance to say something about something, which is fine with me, as he does his best writing when he’s pondering the nature of things. He’s older now and starting to think about things more and this is to the benefit of his writing skills and his fans.

Note:

Tarantino should round out his Western duo of movies, Django Unchained, and Hateful 8 , with a third movie. I’d love it if he did for Native Americans what he did for Jewish people in Inglorious Basterds. Why leave out any group of people, when he can be an equal opportunity  offender, in that regard? If Tarantino does another Western, what do you think it should be? A Spaghetti Western, like Clint Eastwood? A remake of  The Magnificent Seven? Give your suggestions in the comments.