heron61: (Emphasis and strong feeling)
I remain impressed at how terrible Zach Synder is at making superhero films, I saw Man of Steel, and found it mediocre, and I actively avoided Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad, because they both sounded deeply terrible.

Now we have two very different supers films coming out this November: Justice League, and Thor: Ragnarok. I haven't loved all of the Marvel supers films, but they've all been watchable and at least mildly fun (even, shockingly Ant-Man, and some have been excellent. The difference in sensibility could not be more clearly revealed than by watching these trailers for the two upcoming films. I'm putting the trailer for Thor: Ragnarok second as a chaser to clear the grime of the first trailer out of your mind.

Justice League

Thor: Ragnarok


For me, one of these films looks like a lot of fun and the other looks ponderous, grim, and simply bad.
I also am fairly certain I know the reason Zach Synder's supers films suck so much – Batman, or (as [personal profile] teaotter, who is a big fan of Batman was quick to point out, specifically Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, a graphic novel that I failed to finish when it came out because I have never been impressed with Frank Miller, but I read enough of it to understand that this particularly grim and ultra-gritty view of Batman has informed far too many movie and TV portrayals of Batman (the IMHO impressively terrible TV show Gotham leaps to mind), but no one has taken Miller's ideas as much to heart as Zach Snyder – as I see it, Man of Steel looked and felt like it did both because Snyder was setting Superman up to meet Batman, and more importantly because like too many other, he has decided that if supers media doesn't both look exceptionally bleak and come with extra helpings of grim ultra-violence, then it's "just embarrassing kid stuff", and that any trace of fun is some sort of admission of weakness and (worst of all) immaturity.

Contrast that with all of the Marvel films, from the more serious and impressively excellent films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, to fun goodness like Guardians of the Galaxy. These are films made by people who aren't embarrassed by superheroes and who don't think fun is bad.
heron61: (Default)
I have no words about the current madness in the US that others haven't said better, but I can perhaps speak more eloquently about recent TV. [personal profile] teaotter and I tried the new CW show Riverdale, based on the Archie comics, but with a dark brooding sensibility. The premier was surprisingly good and also simply surprising. When was the last time you saw a (well done) reference to Truman Capote's work on any TV drama, but less a teen show on the CW? Also, unsurprisingly for the CW, but a feature I quite like, the plot seems to be moving rapidly along. I have no idea where the show is going or even what it's mostly going to be about, but the first episode was interesting and well done. It was also very surprising in an unexpected way – it felt exceedingly and quite deliberately mid 20th century, from the Truman Capote reference, to the look at feel (which was both definitely modern day and also had touches of the mid 1950s), to one character who was very much the Serious Young Novelist of precisely the 1950s young intellectual author stereotype.

All of this was all clearly done by conscious choice, and the show was trying very hard to get a particular feel and mood, and mostly succeeded. The mid-century feel was also pleasantly and well modernized with the inclusion of a canonical queer character who is openly and cheerfully gay, as well as the female characters being clearly important, treated seriously, and at least a numerous as the male ones.

However, there was also one rather obvious and major downside to the 1950s feel – the mythic/cinematic 1950s being evoked is exceedingly white and while it may include some black characters, it's a milieu largely devoid of any other people of color, and that was sadly also true of the show. There were two black characters with speaking parts, two other black characters who may be important later, and a vast sea of whiteness. Of course, it was also the first episode and there's plenty of opportunity for them to introduce additional characters. Definitely worth looking at, but also not without problems.
heron61: (Emphasis and strong feeling)
Thoughts on 2 Films - Passengers (2016) & The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959)
I was initially interested in seeing the new SF film Passengers, but from what I've read it is both highly formulaic and also reinforces misogynist and racist tropes, and thus I won't be seeing it.

However, reading about it reminded me of a film [personal profile] teaotter & I saw last year, The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959). It was (at least as far as everything I've been able to find) the very first last man in the world film, and served as a precursor and model for many others, later films. However, unlike almost all the rest, this last man was black and was brilliantly played by Harry Belafonte. This film starts out with a degree of confidence in skilled acting uncommon in modern film making - Harry Belafonte's character alone, in a dark chamber in a coal mine, and Belafonte wonderfully carries this scene for more than 10 minutes.

Naturally, like many later films, the protagonist heads to NYC, and like all of them, he isn't actually the last person alive. Instead, we have what seemed to me (especially 4 years before the Supreme Court struck down US miscegenation laws in Loving vs. Virginia) some fairly daring and well-handled romantic tension and the suggestion of an eventual romance with a young white woman, with further tension introduced by the arrival of a white man. I first heard of this film in an article about a phrase that has thankfully vanished from film, and had one of its last uses in this one - "I'm free, white, and 21" (said thoughtlessly by the white woman to Belafonte's character, with predictably uncomfortable results).

As I said, I haven't seen Passengers, but from what I read, it more misogynistic and far more racially problematic than a film made almost 60 years ago. What also fascinated me was reading reviews and reactions to The World The Flesh & The Devil - modern discussions of this film (like this excellent and detailed review ) seemed much like my own reaction, impressed with the films ideas, bravery, and treatment of race. Then, I saw a New York Times review of the film from 1959, which was was very different indeed, and not at all how I suspected it might be, and included lines like:
The evidence is that a good idea, good direction and good performances—at least by Mr. Belafonte and Miss Stevens, to a lesser degree—have been sacrificed here to the Hollywood caution of treating the question of race with continuing evasion of more delicate issues and in polite, beaming generalities.
I suppose that review should remind us all that hopeful progressives who want more out of media have been around rather longer than I expected.

In any case, we live in an era when TV is (as a whole at least) notably better than it has been in any previous decade, concerns for money and an overall fossilization of the film industry have made most films by large studios considerably less daring, interesting, and worthwhile than many older ones.
heron61: (Default)
Today, [personal profile] teaotter and I went to see Arrival, which was very good indeed. My first thought about this film is in large theaters, it's now clearly a requirement to purchase tickets online, so as to avoid having to sit in the front row ever again.

My next thought is that it was a remarkably faithful and well done adaptation of Ted Chiang's Nebula Award winning novella "Story of Your Life". For me, it's right up there with the 1980 PBS adaptation of Ursula K. LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven in terms of excellent adaptations, but in this case there was a fair amount added that worked quite well. I highly recommend it as a well-done thoughtful SF film, which is a rare thing indeed. My one quibble gets into mild spoiler territory a bit.

Continued here )
One less pleasant thing [personal profile] teaotter and I both thought about during the film was now alien contact would go with our upcoming government.
heron61: (Emphasis and strong feeling)
When I wrote my previous post about current TV, I hadn't watched the new season of Supergirl yet. It started off vastly better than last season, with Tyler Hoechlin being the best Superman I've ever seen on movies or TV, and Calista Flockhart playing a more interesting and nuanced Cat Grant than last season. However, both leave after the second episode, and Snapper Carr has been annoying, but it's still good and I'm enjoying it. I'm very pleased to see both a supers show that is not grim and also one which is strongly (second wave) feminist.

Then, there's Doctor Strange, [personal profile] teaotter and I saw it today. It's a lot of fun, and I really like the fact that someone put some at least mildly careful thought on how magic works in the MCU, the magic system is interesting, is far more than simply a random collection of spells, and has nifty limitations and advantages. Benedict Cumberbatch remains fun and gorgeous, and my only criticism of him is that he's doing a bit too much Tony Stark, which makes sense at the beginning, but less so near the end. I'm hoping that tones down a bit, but it's not grating.

However (and this is not a small however), while Tilda Swinton was quite good, there were only two women with speaking parts in the entire film and only one with a major part, while there were two prominent people of color, having one of them (entirely unsurprisingly if you've ever read or read about Doctor Strange) be evil in the next film, makes this a very white and very male film. It was good, but dear gods I'm tired of this.

I hope Captain Marvel is at least as good and also breaks box-office records in 2018 and that this causes studio execs to take notice. The Wonder Woman trailer looks interesting, but given how utterly horrible and also vile all of the recent spate DC movies have been, I'm assuming it will be dreadful and likely offensive as well. I'd love to be wrong, but suspect I won't be.
heron61: (Default)
So, new TV has arrived and most of the existing shows we watch are back. Since I'm most interested in them, I'll concentrate on the SF&F & supers shows.

New Shows

Timeless: It's fun fluff, it's clear it won't ever be more than that, but I like the fact that time is changing in small to moderate ways. I hate "time patrol" type media where changing the past possible but the protagonists prevent all such changes. It's about the same level of quality as Dark Matter, but more light hearted.

Falling Water: This very much looks like the network rip-off of Sense8. The acting is excellent, but that's about it. It has the dual problems of looking very much like the sort of show where the creators are making up what's going on as they go along and facilitate this by throwing up lots of oddities and then only coming back to some of them (a technique that I'm told Lost used a lot). The result is sloppy, slapdash storytelling. Also, the ultra-rich white guy (Bill Boerg) who looks to be completely creepy and vile initially seems to be set up like he might be helpful and a source of correct information rather than being the villain he so clearly should be. The acting is good enough that if both problems turn out to be untrue, I'll watch it, but I expect both will be true.

Frequency: It's based on an OK 2000 film of the same name, but with the protagonist changed from female to male and more characters of color. It's also pretty good. I expected it to suck and it really didn't. I'm shocked that roughly 1/5 as many people watched it as watched Timeless (both shows are on the CW). I hope it isn't cancelled and very much look forward to watching more of it. Like the film, it's a show where the past changes and thus the present does to, which I'm definitely a sucker for, but it's also (so far) well done.

Returning Shows

Lucifer: It remains much fun and surprisingly well done.

The Flash: I watched the first new episode of The Flash, and am done with that show unless I hear remarkably different information about the rest of the season. I thought most of the 2nd season was good, with the exception of the dull and stereotypical crazed serial killer villain (Zoom). However, doing Flashpoint for season 3, (where Barry Allen goes and changes the timeline to save his mother from being murdered) sounded interesting, and I was only concerned that they might make the timeline changes too grim. Then, in the course of the first episode of the season, for reasons that made little sense, Barry does not merely decide to go back in time again to reverse the changes, but has to beg a villain to kill his mother (in the past). Then, the (mostly) restored timeline turns out to be notably crappier than his original one. This was a show I was watching because it was fun and lighter than Arrow. When a show simultaneously chickens out of an interesting premise, reverses the changes for nonsensical reasons, and also goes for being as absolutely grim as possible, I'm done.

Arrow also looks to be getting grimmer, but I'm used to that with Arrow, and while it's less good than before, it's not (yet) vastly so. I'm not hopeful, but will keep watching (for now).

Supergirl: I stopped watching halfway through the first season because it was both not very well done, and completely unimaginative and unwilling to make interesting choices. I'll likely watch the start of this season, but I'm very far from hopeful.

Legends of Tomorrow: It isn't back yet, but it was dreadful enough that if it's not either more fun or better, I'm not watching more. OTOH, unlike Supergirl, I quite like some of the characters, and it was less unimaginative than Supergirl, so maybe

The best show I'm not watching

Luke Cage. I watched the first episode and that's it. I thought Jessica Jones was brilliant, but difficult to watch. However, there's a bit more distance to watching a struggle against a single super-powered abuser than there is in a struggle against entrenched crime and injustice committed by ordinary, utterly vile, human beings. I didn't watch The Wire, because while clearly excellent (I watched one episode), it was too brutally violent for me. I was up for all of the first episode of Luke Cage, except for seeing someone beaten to death. I thought about this episode for a while, and decided both that if the first episode is a bit too violent for me, this guarantees the rest of the show will on average be worse, and also that I really don't have any interest in watching a show quite that violent and grim.
heron61: (Gryphon - emphasis and strong feelings)
[livejournal.com profile] teaotter & I continue to watch The Tomorrow People, which has gone from being unwatchable, to barely watchable, to OK, but it is also still very much a tv show of this era. I'd long ago watched a few episodes of the 1970s version, and while I'm not certain, I think that I remember that the fact that the psychic kids can't knowingly kill people was presented as a difficult but ultimately good thing.  Here, they kept the fact that psychics can't kill, and while a few of the psychics declare that this is a good thing, it's not presented as such.  Instead, when the villain talks about this limitation as a weakness to be cured, our protagonist recoils in horror, but then later in that episode and also in the next one, the one psychic who was modified by the villain so that he could kill, did so, once to eliminate a large-scale threat, and the second time to keep a thug from killing to other characters, and in both cases this killing was clearly shown as the only useful choice.

I find this sad, but also unsurprising.  We live in an era when President Obama finding a peaceful solution to the problem of chemical weapons in Syria is widely seen as weakness and when negotiating with Iran to stop them from making nuclear weapons is frequently denounced as foolish and useless. Mao's famous quote "power grows out of the barrel of a gun", is widely believed in the US, in a way that it wasn't 40 years ago.  In large part, I see this as yet another legacy of the spreading of libertarian ideas by the far right for the past 30+ years, and I'm very tired of it.  Today, many, and likely most people in the US look at the idealism of the 1970s as foolish and doomed, I look forward to eventually seeing an ideological swing in the other direction, where the brutal cynicism that passes  for "realism" today is widely seen to hideous and wrong.
heron61: (Hat)
I read a modicum of fanfiction, which usually involves glancing at and avoiding a wealth of fanfiction that is not to my taste, sometimes because it's dreadful, but just as often because it's about subjects and involves tropes that I have no interest in.  One of these is the alpha, beta, omega trope, which is also explained in rather graphic NSFW detail here.  So, this is clearly a BDSM-related trope and it often involves werewolves (typically in fandoms where the characters are not normally werewolves)[1].  However, I was talking with [livejournal.com profile] teaotter about a story she read that subverted this trope in interesting ways, and realized that it was about more than BDSM & werewolves, it was also a fetishized version of stereotypical 1950s male/female gender roles.  I'm still not into it, but I now think that its existence is awesome, because that implies that at least for the audience of most fanfiction, these sorts of ideas are starting to drift far enough outside of the mainstream that they can enter the realm of exotic fetishization, and that's actually very cool.

[1] When I was reading X-Men: First Class fanfiction, I remember when the trope hit big there, and I was confronted with a surfiet of stories about the X-Men as a pack of werewolves, where I just wanted to read about mutants.
heron61: (Hat)
I've been watching the new TV series Hannibal, it's a very odd show. The first episode was horrific and violent in a way I'd not seen on network TV before and left me certain that wouldn't be able to watch more of it, if it remained like that. However, [livejournal.com profile] teaotter was really into it (being a big fan of the novels) and often shows are very different from their pilot.

This case was no exception, but I wasn't prepared for just how different it was. The second episode had one of the most laughably ludicrous serial killers ever found in fiction, and the trend continued – serial killers who grow mushrooms on their victims, who sculpt their skin and bones to make them look like bloody angels, one who turned his 17 victims from 4 decades of killing into a "totem pole" of body parts, and another who tanned his victim's vocal chords so he could stick a cello neck down the victim's throat and play him as a musical instrument (which is utterly impossible on several levels, as well as silly).

In short, the show went from visceral and grim to something far too bizarre to take remotely seriously. The writers and director also don't take the serial killers at all seriously – the killers merely exist to in some fashion or other highlight the main cast's emotional tensions. There a degree to which using mass murder as an emotional accent is morally bankrupt, but it's equally clear that this show takes place in a bizarrely stylized world (which seems the hallmark of all of show-runner Bryan Fuller's work.

Although the show superficially looks like it's about the FBI catching serial killers, the killers and their victims are pretty much entirely irrelevant. Also, in most episodes the FBI doesn't save anyone, and in some they only find the killer after the killer is dead - the police procedural part (like the killers and their victims) is a minor setting detail.

I've found other shows Fuller did completely unwatchable because they were too stylized, but perhaps because I'd find this show unwatchable is it wasn't so stylized, Hannibal works for me – the acting of the main cast is brilliant, the interactions between Hannibal Lector and Will Graham are wonderful, the visual treatment of the food is lovely (there's always at least one elaborate dish (and often and entire meal) prepared by Hannibal in pretty much every episode), and one the whole it's emotionally complex character-focused fun with a side-order of artistically shot, thematically appropriate mass murder.

The over-the-top stylization of the show, and the fact that Will Graham is gradually going completely insane and his "ability at profiling" is just as obviously some form of magic or psychic power also gave me a lovely fan theory about the show. Every PC in the wonderful New World of Darkness RPG Changeling: The Lost is a human who was taken off to faerieland as a pet or slave to some inhuman fae creature.

So, Hannibal Lector is clearly a Fae noble, and the stylized Virginia and Maryland of the show is his domain. Will Graham is a changeling abducted by Lector, and he, like the other humans, have been magically convinced that they are still in the real world. Hannibal is both interested in Will, and also enjoys using him to learn more about Fae nobles in other domains (at least some of the serial killers in other parts of the country that the show deals with). Also, Hannibal helps maintain control over his human pets by feeding them. This explanation works far too well, both [livejournal.com profile] teaotter & [livejournal.com profile] amberite agree.
heron61: (Gryphon - emphasis and strong feelings)
I saw X-Men: First Class over the weekend with[livejournal.com profile] teaotter, [livejournal.com profile] hereville, and [livejournal.com profile] xtricks, and it was both wonderful and frustrating. It by far was one of the superhero films that I've seen, at least equal to Spiderman II (my top favorite), and possible better. It had excellent acting by the two leads (playing Charles and Erik), a very tight and well done script, and the entire feel of the X-Men felt better and more real taken back to the early 1960s (which is when the comic first came out). While The Hellfire Club was originally introduced to the X-Men in 1980, their look and feel fit the 60s perfectly – Emma Frost's costume was always very 60s, and fit perfectly here. I also liked the degree to which the film was a (barely) unspoken love story between Charles and Erik.

However, it had a number of problems, the most obvious being that a film that was essentially about civil rights and the struggle between assimilationism and open rebellion for the mutants, and yet there was no mention of the real world events of the day, involving the efforts of Dr. King or Malcolm X along these exact same lines. This was also only one of the films racial problems. As my good friend [livejournal.com profile] hereville mentioned, it was so much better than other supers films, but that also made clear how much further it had to go to be a really good film. A few changes and it could have been. However, while decidedly imperfect, it was both fun and good, and is worth seeing.

Nevertheless, seeing it also brought to mind my problems with the entire superhero genre, especially with regards to the X-Men. I'm more than happy to see spandex battles with characters like The Avengers, Batman, Superman, or the Justice League, that's what they exist for. However, I dearly wish that supers comics could be about more than fighting muggers, terrorists, or megalomaniacs. I'd love to see a version of the Fantastic Four which looked like an updated and more gonzo version of E.E. Smith's Skylark novels (with the addition of some of the feel of original series Star) where the characters explore the multiverse and have various pulp SF adventure plots. Give the characters the background and feel of the Warren Ellis' Ultimate Fantastic Four, and I'd be very happy indeed.

Similarly, I'd love to see stories about X-Men and the mutants that were not about fighting Magneto, or Satan, or whatever, and were instead about a world where an increasing (but still small) percentage of the population were born different and with unique and sometimes (and sometimes not) very powerful abilities. Grant Morrison did much of this during his run of New X-Men, which dealt with both low powered and ugly mutants, and also with growing mutant ghettos and neighborhoods (as did the generally good District X comic). You could have plots with mutants with useful powers who were enslaved by criminal gangs ( or perhaps just their abusive family) being freed, soap opera & more serious drama interactions at Professor X's academy, slice of (mutant) life and cop stories in District X, and many similar issues. Grant Morrison and many others have done this with the X-Men, but even Morrison's version of the X-Men eventually returned to over-the-top supervillians, alien menaces, and suchlike.

Personally, I'd also prefer to see the entire X-Men universe cut off from the rest of the Marvel Universe (thus removing the gods, invading aliens, and suchlike), but still leaving a whole lot of awesomeness, including a world that by the modern day has tens of millions of mutants and everything that would imply about the world. In all of these non-traditional comics, I would want good world-building, especially including dealing with the impact of mutants (or in the case of the Fantastic Four powered people and wondrous inventions) on the society. In any case, I'd love to see comics, movies, and most of all novels like this, but at most we see bits of this in between spandex battles. Perhaps in a decade or two someone will reinvent supers comics to be something more than it is today.
heron61: (Default)
So, I recently saw both The Adjustment Bureau, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and both (in very different ways) made me think of the old White Wolf RPG Mage: The Ascension . However, before I go into that connection, I think it's worth mentioning that The Adjustment Bureau is moderately well acted, beautifully filmed, and vacuously empty. The clichéd man barging in to see the woman he loves minutes before her wedding, to convince her not to marry the man she is about to marry was old and tired 30 years ago, and now is laughably dull and more than a bit offensive. It has some interesting points, but is mostly dismal and more than a bit offensive in a variety of ways (not least of which being the fact that literally the only woman in the film is the protagonist's love interest).

In thankfully vivid contrast, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is quite a good film. It's also a very odd film, in addition to being the only Disney film I know of where the protagonist a syphilis lesion on his face (or at least that's what Johnny Depp claims the sore is), it's also significantly more brutal than the previous films. Back in the 80s, I read and loved Tim Powers' novel On Stranger Tides and it's my second favorite of his novels (after Last Call). I can also definitely say that with the exception to two brief, but lovely visuals, this film has absolutely nothing to do with that novel. Yes, both are about a journey to the fountain of youth, but the fountain, and everything else are all very, very different. If you see a nifty concept in the film, it came from the people working on the film, not the novel, they are impressively unrelated. It was also a good, if somewhat odd film. Captain Jack Sparrow's motivation was pretty darn murky, but everything else worked fairly well. No, where were not enough women or people of color in the film, but it was fun fluff and avoided being stupid. On to Mage: The Ascension musings: )
heron61: (Default)
A bit over a month ago, I started hearing more about the tv series Glee, mostly surrounding a continuing storyline about two young queer men who become involved, which is not something one sees much of on US TV, and especially not on a major station like Fox. I'd heard a bit about the show before, but hadn't been interested, and in looking into more about the show, I also ran into comments about how the storyline with those two characters was excellent (and in fact based on the teenage experiences of one of the writers), but the rest of the show was rather meh, and so I put it on a mental list of shows to check out someday. Today, there was a Glee marathon, and Becca and I watched around half an episode.

Sadly, for me, that was it for any thoughts of watching the show. I was unhappy with exactly how much of a soap opera it was, and that it seemed solely a soap opera, rather than (like similar shows that I tend to like) having both soap operaesque personal relationship plots and other sorts of plots – good examples being both The Vampire Diaries (which is shockingly excellent), and Hellcats (which I quite liked and was sadly canceled recently).

So, my interest was already waning, but I was still potentially interested, until I saw some of what I can only describe as the highly stylized "quirky" parts, with several utterly ludicrous minor characters. I honestly cannot watch shows with such elements, and was immediately reminded of the only other example that I've seen (which was admittedly considerably more extreme), a truly bizarre show called Pushing Daisies, which had an extreme stylization (often described by people who liked it as either "storybook-like" or "quirky"). While not (to me) as cringe-worthy as Pushing Daisies, at this point I simply lost all interest Glee, which is a shame, since the plotline with Kurt & Blaine looked interesting, but I simply couldn't handle some of the rest of the show at all.

I suspect that it's both a combination of a seriously dislike for that sort of stylization, and also the fact that what I've seen of this sort of stylization has been in the service of comedy, and any movie or TV show (other than a few old movies made before the 1960s) that heads too much in the direction of comedy drastically turns me off. Buffy and Angel were (to me) on the correct side of the comedy/drama line, but something about Glee isn't - or it may simply be that I dislike the stylization too much to enjoy the show and assume that it's being done for comedic effect - I remain utterly baffled as to why anyone would deliberately choose to create stories using those stylizations. The sort of somewhat surreal comedic stylization found in both Pushing Daisies & Glee seems at least moderately popular, but I simply do not understand the appeal of this approach to storytelling, well beyond my dislike of much modern comedy.

In any case, given that there is now at least one openly queer minor character in more than half of the US shows that I regularly watch, with luck there will be more LGBT romance storylines in shows that I am interested in watching within a year or two.
heron61: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] teaotter and I saw Fast Five over the weekend. It's the 5th Fast and Furious film, or so I'm told, I've never seen any of them. Most of them looked in previews like movies about racing cars – the previews of Fast Five made it look like a classic caper movie, and so it was.

First off, don't expect too much – there's a truly vast amount of action, no emotional depth, and the laws of physics are clearly not those of our world. For example, humans seem essentially indestructible, except when hit by bullets. However, it was fun and pretty, and interestingly non-offensive. There were two female characters on the caper crew, which is doing better than a number of recent caper movies, like Ocean's Eleven, Twelve… Both were competent, and despite having the typical trope of motivating the heroes by killing people close to them, no female characters were kidnapped or "fridged", instead the female characters were competent and mostly got to do cool things.

However, the most interesting aspect of the film was race – as Becca mentioned when we were talking about it – racially the cast resembled an average of the Western hemisphere. Vin Diesel both considers himself to be and is considered by many fans to be a person of color, leaving three white characters in a cast of 14 (assuming you count Hispanic characters as non-white). This was quite noticeable compared to most of the TV I currently watch. The show watch now have gotten better than those in the late 90s, with one black character on B5 or DS:9 or people of color coming to Sunnydale to swiftly die, but not by all that much.

Beyond that, it was a fun and formulaic caper movie with all the gonzo wackiness that this implies. The one downside was a truly vast amount of violence, but none of it was particularly gory, and if you are seeing an action/caper movie with Vin Diesel in it, lots of violence is rather inevitable. It was also fairly slashy wrt Vin Diesel's character and Paul Walker's character (which is something that this franchise is famous for, and includes the rather classic bit of one of them falling for the other's sister).

I was interested in one minor fact, at the end of the film, all of the male characters in the caper crew had paired off with women either on or off the caper crew, with the exception of two characters – who were the most minor characters on the crew (but who seem to have appeared in the other movies), and who read to me like a gay couple – not in a slash or subtext sense, but like the film deliberately portrayed the two characters as a gay couple but simply didn't come out and have them kiss. I have no idea if this is an accurate reading, but it was nifty and interesting.

In any case, if you want mindless entertainment with chase sequences, explosions, and gonzo capers, you could definitely do worse. I've seen far too many such films that have me leaving the theater in disgust at racism &/or misogyny – this had me smiling.
heron61: (Default)
One of the older tropes of Western fiction is the young man who becomes a great warrior at a young age. King Arthur is one such tale – the original stories have him becoming a great warrior and war-leader at 15. So, as our era slouches gradually towards greater equality for women, it's worth considering young female heroes and how they are treated in mass media. The first positive portrayal of a young (as opposed to adult) female hero on movies or TV that I can think of is Buffy, who was also 15 and was an absolutely classic hero called to a destiny.

Of course, in far too many ways, Joss Whedon was a lone voice in US media. So what's happened since then? One disturbing trend I've seen a lot of recently is I think related to the popularity of rather ludicrous female characters in video games - the use of young female heroes are either cheesecake or shock value – trends that are (at least from my PoV) clearly expressed in the character of Babydoll from Sucker Punch and Hit Girl from Kick Ass respectively. Even just from the trailers, it was clear that both films were far more about the exploitation rather than the empowerment of young women.

However, a couple days ago [livejournal.com profile] teaotter and I saw the recent thriller Hanna, which is all about a young woman learning about her power and herself. It was an interesting and beautifully made film, with both deliberate fairy-tale elements and an obvious similarity to the first (and truly excellent) Jason Bourne film. It wasn't a perfect movie by any means, the ending was both rushed and formulaic, but its faults were typical faults of the genre and had nothing to do with the fact that the protagonist was a young woman as opposed to a man, young or older. One of the most surprising aspects of this film was that that fact that the protagonist was a 16 year old girl was an important plot element, but it wasn't used for shock or novelty value or in any sort of exploitative manner.

When Buffy first came on, and through its entire run, the fact that the superhuman action hero was a young woman was treated in much of the publicity and commentary about it was surprising and unusual. In contrast, some of the reviews I'm seen about Hanna focus on the protagonist's age and others on the exotic and disturbing way she was raised, the fact that the protagonist is female is much less of an big deal, and that's impressive and cool. Perhaps there is indeed progress in gender attitudes – it's difficult to say.
heron61: (Default)
We saw Source Code yesterday, and all really liked it. When I first saw the trailer late last year, I assumed that this would be an incredibly stupid movie. I revised my opinion when I saw that it was directed by Duncan Jones, who last year released the brilliant, but impressively depressing film Moon. I then assumed that it would be a very good but also really depressing film. It managed to be both very good and not depressing. What was most interesting about it was how well it held together. This is exactly the sort of film & premise that is normally made in a remarkably haphazard and slipshod manner, where the writer and director care far more about building tension, tugging on viewer emotions, and flashy effects than about creating a film that hangs together after you think about it for more than 3 seconds. Source Code managed to hold together well enough to be worth discussing from a conceptual level, and while the technology involved is Hollywood nonsense, it is nonsense that is treated in a consistent and thoughtful manner. Handling an unlikely or impossible premise in this manner is one of the better definitions of SF that I've read, and so I would consider it to be an SF film. Minor spoilers + more discussion follows )
heron61: (Default)
I saw Catch Me If You Can today. It is a truly excellent film that I deeply loved. It managed to avoid being either The Fugitive or a film like Silence of the Lambs, where the focus is on a hero tracking down a villain. Instead both the kid and the FBI agent were deeply real characters who were both rivals and friends. Best of all, there was no emphasis at all on what the kid did being wrong (which I liked, since defrauding large corporations is at worst a very minor wrong in my book :) Instead, it was far more about a contest between the two people.

[livejournal.com profile] reive has suggested that a new trend in films is for them to focus on the emotions of men. I now agree completely. In the 80s to the mid 90s there were films about the emotions of women and films about men that were either comedies or action/violence flicks. This film is neither. I'm uncertain how I feel about this trend, because allowing men to have emotions on film is obviously a good thing, but it's always straight white men and the examples I've seen (like this one) effectively had no women in it. Between that trend and the new and equally wretched series of trailers (ranging from a deeply horrid and juvenile comedy called Old School to some seriously wretched-looking horror films, I worry that we're headed back to the regressive nastiness 80s at a fast clip, only this time we are coming off of the pseudo-liberal 90s and not the actual liberality of the 70s, ugh.

In any case, I've only seen a handful of films that treated men and women's emotions equally and well and far too many of these were queer or otherwise seriously fringe films. Once again, TV manages to be more progressive - I definitely agree with various critiques that suggest that television often contains some of the cutting edge of modern thought while film is far more mainstream, simply because of the far greater risks involved in making an unsuccessful film, while TV programing is a never-ending quest to find something new and interesting to fill up the schedule.

After the film, [livejournal.com profile] imester and I talked more about The Two Towers, the more I think about that film, the more morally repugnant I find it. In the 70s, Sauron and his allies were interpreted as evil industrialists intent on conquering the world, destroying all beauty in their never-ending quest to destroy the natural world and turn all living things to their own purposes. Christopher Lee did a wonderful job of portraying that, but the rest of the film went completely against that. Instead, this is a books about total war and the other side has no motives other than genocide. This makes them both less interesting and (for me) makes the conflict seem far more like a cardboard construct. Then again, imester made the point that in the modern era, someone who wishes to conquer a land to enslave the people and wring everything of value out of the land is not an evil darklord, it's the CEO of a multinational corporation (which IMHO is generally a sub-species of darklord, but this was clearly not the message any of the large corporations putting up money for this film wished to see).

Instead, we have evil for evil's sake and armies of testosterone-filled men intent on protecting their women and children instead of the people and nature itself rising up against those who would despoil the land. I can definitely see why the war-mongers and right-wing zealots love this film. It clearly wasn't made by right-wing zealots, but it fits into their agenda quite nicely.

In any case, go see Catch Me If You Can, Tom Hanks does a typically wonderful job and Leonardo DiCaprio is actually very good. One odd note, was realizing about halfway through the film, that I'd actually seen the main character (Frank) speak on a talk show (Tonight Show) back in the late 70s. I remembered some of the stories he told on that show, when I saw versions of the same story in the film. Given that he only ended up doing 4 years in prison, he did quite well for himself. It deeply pleases me to know that non-violent crime against the system can pay extremely well.

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