Sunday, January 1. 2017
However you look at it, 2016 has been a crappy year. Every year has its deaths and with all sympathies to his family, the death of Richard Adams at 96 is hardly shocking news. But when it comes on the same day as the death of Carrie Fisher at 60 and after a year where so many celebrities that shaped my childhood and my adult life have died it feels like one kick too many.
You can take your pick from the musicians, the TV personalities and actors, the film actors and the sports stars who have died and for every one like Adams where you feel “well 96 is a decent age” there’s one who died and you’re thinking “that’s way too young” or, in my case “shit, that’s only a year older than me.” Although it’s a crude measure, it’s not just our imagination, more famous people died in 2016 than in previous years according to the BBC.
Politically it hasn’t been much better. We knew racism, sexism and various forms of homophobia and transphobia were major issues in the US, but ￼#BlackLivesMatter￼ and the shooting in Orlando and the numbers of trans people shot in the US this year beggars belief. With the election of Trump it seems like it's going to get worse, not better. Having a racist, misogynist as POTUS and a Bible-belt GOP-hard-liner as VPOTUS doesn't really bode well. Hopefully the muppets we're led by here won't look to the US for leadership on this as they do for so much else.
Here, of course, we led the way in shock, populist election results. Voting to leave the EU was a shock to pretty much everyone and while I think we need to knuckle down and get on with it, it’s pretty clear that no one has a fucking clue what Brexit actually means. It’s likely that even the Three Brexiteers, the three ministers trying to thrash out our negotiating position, can’t agree. Whether that’s because their positions are antithetical to each other (there’s hard brexit, soft brexit, red-white-and-blue brexit after all) or (some or all of) their ideas are just so half-arsed the civil servants are telling them they’re just crazy and can’t be made to work or a combination of both isn’t being made public - our glorious new leader is keeping everything very close to her chest probably because it’s such a mess. And, of course, most of the journalists that are meant to be holding our politicians to scrutiny and finding this stuff out work for so-called newspapers that are too busy crowing about the joys of brexit to ever run the story.
While today’s news from Bagdad and Istanbul might make you doubt it, we’ve also seen a worrying change in terrorist tactics, at least in Europe. In some ways, although the news sources and the politicians won’t ever say it, the change of Da’esh and the like to driving trucks into crowds instead of using bombs and guns is a good thing. Of course it’s not good if you or your family are affected and the death tolls can still be horribly high, but the processes to stop them getting access to explosives are clearly working. The downside? Stealing a truck and finding someone that can drive is a lot easier and a lot harder to prevent.
I hope 2017 is better than 2016. To be honest I’m not holding my breath. It’s really not unthinkable that Marine Le Pen could win in France and the AfD could hold the balance of power in Germany by the end of 2017. Happy New Year!
Saturday, December 31. 2016
This year was a bad year for the movies I saw and passing the Russo test. In fact only one of them did and that was ambiguous (Love and Friendship). Rogue One can also be read as passing but it was ambiguous whether the potentially gay characters felt erotic love or agape or filial love for each other and my impression through 99% of the movie was that it was not erotic and for the other 1% that I wasn’t sure so I scored it as a fail. The Killing Joke was the only other film to get any steps along the way towards passing the test. It was also a fairly bad year for going to the movies though, in terms of numbers, which may not have helped. I don’t really go to the cinema to see specifically LGBT movies (if I did, I could easily have more movies and a higher count that pass the Russo test) and perhaps by chance the “extra” films I didn’t see this year were the ones with the LGBT characters that I did see last year and the year before.
43% of the films I saw failed the Bechdel test, that’s an increase on previous years where it was more typically in the 30%’s. Although the count of films is down, it’s not down enough to account for that. As usual, passing the Bechdel test tends to suggest I’ll like the film more. That could simply be a case that I like films with better rounded female characters but it’s not always true - some sink low in the list - I think it reflects that, in general, if you write all your characters well you tend to write a good story on all the levels too. Dead Pool and Doctor Strange both failed to pass the Bechdel test but both wrote their female characters well (even if it didn’t draw them strongly in Dead Pool), just failed to let them have conversations for various reasons.
It’s hard to draw many conclusions from the counts of characters by gender. Most films, even Ghostbusters somehow, have more named male roles than female. Sometimes spectacularly so. Rogue One is more than 5:1, The Magnificent Seven was nearly 13:1! But a couple of films (including The Huntsman: Winter’s Warwhich could easily have been a testosterone party) were even and one (P&P&Z) had more female roles than male. No films had 0 named female characters but 1 had no strongly drawn female characters in my opinion, and one I wasn’t sure about (The Hateful Eight where I felt none of the women were strongly drawn but Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character wasn’t worse drawn than the men’s character either - they were all ciphers). Given it’s not clear what I’m able to learn from it, I’m going to discontinue this measure. You will notice for two late entries on this list I’ve already stopped doing this because I’d already done the analysis.
If you go back and read the review of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children you might be surprised to see it this high. I think my memories of the film have acquired a sort of rosy glow because since watching it, I’ve read the book it was based on and in fact, the whole trilogy of them. The first book is somewhat different and the series has some issues but they’re rather more charming and address some of the real issues I had with the film, so I think they’ve retrospectively made me forgiving of the flaws and willing to accept the good parts of the film because I know more about some of the unspoken parts.
Wednesday, December 28. 2016
I am posting this a little early because while the year hasn't ended, I'm building up to a migraine and I'm not going to see enough TV in the rest of the year for any of it to break into the list.
As usual, unlike my films, I don’t particularly routinely blog about my TV watching. That is, to some extent, because I don’t actively watch a lot of TV outside rugby. I’ll have it on (although it’s as likely to be playing the radio as an actual TV station) but watching it is less likely.
In addition, although the US is talking a lot about phrases like “peak TV” and so on, for me 2016 has been a year of stepping away from shows whose time has, at least for me, finally come. Add to that only one Sherlock episode, one Doctor Who special and the like and it feels like it hasn’t been a particularly great year. That said, when I came to write my list (as you’ll see below) it turns out to be longer than last year’s list so perhaps there is more to it than it really feels whilst going through the year.
This year was also the year that Bury Your Gays broke out into the mainstream and became a rallying cry, a shout that perhaps the screenwriters will listen to. It did become so bad that I wrote a piece calling for a moratorium on killing dead lesbian and bisexual women characters Bury Your Gays - Eloise’s thoughts and fancies. I stand by that call - I’m generally opposed to restricting writers and their creative juices but in this case it’s become so lazy and easy they need a little while to think of other ways to handle their gay characters properly that a bit of a restriction so they do better in future would be a good thing™.
Before I start to write a list, one thing that has changed is that Netflix has started to seriously become the source of quite a chunk of the TV I actually watch, rather than have on in the background. It doesn’t make appointment TV in the way a show like Orphan Black still does for me but it still makes for an important time commitment. Netflix is making some of it’s own original content (Stranger Things, Sense8 which didn’t make the list with only a Christmas special, but I certainly watched that avidly enough, and Orange is the New Black which fell off my watch list this year) but is also bringing great TV from around the world. 3% and Travellers are both on this list and shows I almost certainly wouldn’t have seen (Travellers, being Canadian I might have seen, 3% being Brazilian no chance) but they’re both in my best of TV list thanks to Netflix.
So, without further ado, what was the TV that made appointment or binge viewing must-see for me in 2016?
I’m going to decline to pick a favourite from this list, although I will say The Magicians is the one that nearly didn’t make it. But I did watch it regularly, despite my doubts, and I’ve got the date for the start of season 2 in my reminders so it qualifies to be on this list. The reason I’m not going to pick a favourite is I’ve got some 4, 6 and 8 episode seasons, quite a few in the 10-13 US cable season and one 22 episode US network TV format season. I’ve got shows that have finished this week and shows I haven’t seen since about March. I’ve got two shows about AI, one of which is small, intimate and about the heart of it, one of which is huge, quite cold and about the intellectual nature of it. I’ve got three shows that are quite light weight and fun, several that are more dark in tone, one that followed the decline and death of the anti-hero. One that relied on nostalgia and brilliant child actors, several that rely on heavy adult themes, one that is an updated cold war thriller for the new millennium.
I am going to give some notional awards though:
There were more shows that I watched from here and there, these were the shows I would go out of my way to watch, not read while I was watching them and so on. Some had huge budgets, some had tiny budgets. Some had huge LGBT presence some really didn’t have any. Some were deeply serious, at least one is just frothy fun.
One of my cinema-going friends complains (in fact of Orphan Black amongst other things) that “making a character have a tough background doesn’t automatically make them sympathetic” and I whole-heartedly agree. But I don’t necessarily need a sympathetic character in a TV show (I’m really not going to recommend she watches Good Behaviour you have the choice of the junkie, ex-con grifter or the assassin. Actually she might think the assassin is hot and watch for that. But he’s also controlling tending to more than borderline abusive.) . I want characters in a TV show that I’m interested in finding out more about. Making them sympathetic is certainly one way to do that but, in both Orphan Black and Good Behaviour despite the fact I don’t really like Sarah, Letty or Javier (I like Letty’s motivational app more than Letty) but I want to know more about all three of them from the get go. And I don’t hate them, I’m intrigued by them, and I find other characters whom I like as well. Helena, poor abused Felix and Donnie (very much not the trio I’d have said in S1 but where i am now for Orphan Black) and, rather surprisingly, Christian for Good Behaviour. That’s not to say I want all my TV shows to go down this route - I like variety in characters as well as shows and, for example, 12 Monkeys, iZombie, Killjoys and Wynonna Earp all do a wonderful job of making their good guys interesting and sympathetic while avoiding that terribly anodyne “nice.”(￼#RaviIsTheBest￼)
Next year will have both Sherlock and Doctor Who and I expect they’ll both be on the list again. I’ve also put the start of Series 2 of Sense8 in my reminders list. Quite a few of the shows above will be back, at least two of them for their last seasons.
Wednesday, December 28. 2016
I am one of those rare lovers of English literature who came to Jane Austen through choice rather than being forced in school or by well-intentioned relatives. Perhaps because of that, I find I still really enjoy most of her works. Unlike Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which is a deliberate mashup, Love and Friendship is based on one of her very early (and unpublished) works Lady Susan.
If you’re at all familiar with Jane Austen there will be a lot here that you’re familiar with and if you’re a fan there is a lot to be delighted with. There are not, as you would expect, a lot of laugh out loud moments although I will admit a few of the lines had me howling and practically crying with laughter as various pompous fools were skewered with sharp, cruel but insightful words. But the humour as well as the sharp observation that so characterises Austen at her best shines through.
This is a film or book that you could easily imagine being written today, as Lady Susan schemes and manipulates her way through society, never admitting fault. For a book probably written in 1794 this is a radical character as is the fact she seems to get away with being so immoral - although the moral characters get their reward too. She's also the active character in her own seduction and romance scenes, which is still somewhat unusual but has a much more 21st Century than 18th Century feel.
Watching her scheme and manipulate and play the rules of society to her benefit will not be to everyone’s delight but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Bechdel test: There are a swathe of named female characters and they do have long conversations with each other. A LOT of these conversations are about men. However there are scenes where they talk about other things, so a definite pass.
Russo test: This is trickier. In the novel and the film Lady Susan has a close friend and confidante Alicia Johnson. But we never see a sex scene, it’s all implied (the book is an epistolary novel) and the way Lady Susan acts with Alicia is pretty much identical to the way she acts with the men we know she’s having sex with. Given how immoral Lady Susan and Alicia are, although they’re both involved with men for status and money, I kept circling back to the impression that they were lovers as well as confidantes so I’m going to say yes on all three counts.
Monday, December 26. 2016
2016 seems determined to finish as is started.
First we had news of the death of Rick Parfitt on Christmas Eve. If you’re not familiar with that name, you’re probably more familiar with Status Quo, with their almost unchanging faded blue denim, long hair and “twelve gold bars” old-school hard rock.
Then, two days later, we have the news that George Michael has died. As part of Wham! he produced some of the poppiest music we’ve seen but he crossed over and produced such a range of music that just about everyone has a song of his that they like. I was musing to someone recently (Last Christmas was playing) just how different his career and his videos would have been if he’d been starting now, where being gay wouldn’t have been the issue he perceived it to be in the 1980’s (although fellow 80’s starts The Communards who evolved from Bronski Beat and others managed just fine).
I’m going to finish with the Quo in their pomp at Live Aid. Rick Parfitt is the guy in the horrid pink shirt. And then to keep the denim theme going, a bit of Faith.
Monday, December 26. 2016
This film really demands an antonym for synergy, except we don’t have one. When you have a synergy the total effect is greater than the sum of its parts but with Fantastic Beasts the opposite is true.
Looking at the parts in isolation it's hard at first to say why I'm left feeling a bit 'meh' by the whole but that is my overall impression. After a little reflection a few things start to emerge, in no particular order:
However, I rewatched Frozen (on the BBC) after watching this. Sadly the rewatch of Frozen was, for me, loads better. I don't have small kids so I haven't been subjected to 1,000 repeats on DVD over the years, which may bias the attitude of other people to being subjected to Frozen for the 1,000st time.
Bechdel Test: I don't think so. There were plenty of named female characters, some had a conversation, but I think they were always about men.
Russo Test: no. New York has no one gay in any decade in film.
Thursday, December 22. 2016
A couple of week’s ago George North was apparently knocked out on the pitch after he jumped for a high ball and landed awkwardly. He passed his HIA and was allowed to return to the match, to the consternation of the commentators.
Yesterday the official inquiry said that Northampton and their medical team got it wrong but will escape sanction.
At the same time, World Rugby has changed the interpretation of various bits of the laws of rugby, particularly concerning high tackles and players in the air so that harsher sanctions are the new standard. This has already led to one coach whose team benefitted from a red card to their opponents saying words to the effect of “While the referee completely correctly applied the laws, and you have to support moves to improve player welfare, you have to wonder if they’ve got the line in the right place. There was no malice, no attempt to play [our player] in the air. He was trying to catch the ball from the kick, eyes on the ball.”
On one hand, players are facing increasing sanctions and are being penalised for playing the game in ways that until recently would have been considered by one and all within the rules. We’re not talking thuggery like Dylan Hartley’s swinging arm to the head - that deserved a red card and a ban and it got both. We’re not talking a dangerous tackle on a player in the air, or lifting and dumping a player head first. We’re not even talking the newly introduced (but logical extension to the existing rules) neck roll. We’re talking a player on the ground or who doesn’t need to jump as high as the other because of position being red-carded while trying to play the ball not the other player because the other player lands badly.
I don’t want to see players injured, killed or forced to leave the game early because of concussions. But the game has to be contest and surely the player jumping has a duty of care to himself (or herself) as well as the player on the ground? If you tackle the player in the air, if you pick them up and drive them into the ground, all those things, then all bets are off - but they’ve been illegal for a long time anyway. Raising the sanction level I don’t mind, but getting that balance right is important to let rugby continue as a game where there is a contest at each point.
And talking of getting the balance right, if Northampton and their staff got it wrong, while I applaud the recommendations to improve the situation in future, why are there no sanctions? Actually WHY THE FUCK are there no sanctions? Players would be banned, fined, suspended from play and the like for this. They might, as Dylan Hartley did, get a week off the suspension for pleading guilty, or fully cooperating with the investigation. I don’t have a problem with that. But a fine seems appropriate, or saying ‘there is a fine that was reduced 50% for the full cooperation and 50% for the extended advice in drawing up guidelines to prevent this happening again’ would, to steal a phrase from a different arena “give this better optics” than saying no sanction, even though the net effect is the same.
Wednesday, December 21. 2016
3% is set in an unspecified but fairly near-future dystopia. If you’ve watched The Hunger Games, Divergent or The Maze Runners or more particularly Elysium you’ll spot some familiar themes: there is a distinct underclass, who live in The Inland, and an idyllic place, The Offshore, they hope to reach. However, it is clear from the start that human politics makes The Offshore rather less than the utopia that those from the rest of society believe.
The title refers to The Process by which everyone, at 20, can attempt to leave behind the hell of life in The Inland and become part of the elite on The Offshore. Only 3% of those who undertake The Process are successful. The tests start simple, assemble some cubes from little 3-D Tetris-like blocks and if you don’t make nine cubes in the time limit, you’re out. Most of the episodes focus on a single test and if you think this isn’t going to be a fun hour of TV, the character drama around how some of the characters pass and fail the test, plus the fact they’re introducing the world more than fill the time in this first episode.
Later tests become more compelling in terms of their psychology and so on, while the other parts of the drama swirl and build entertainingly as well. There is at least one apparent flaw in the society, beyond the divide between the haves and have-nots, but even that is neatly wrapped up.
It would be easy to dismiss this as just hanging on the coat-tails of The Hunger Games although both the world and the testing is rather different. It’s probably fair to say that 3% wouldn’t have been pitched without the success of Katniss Everdeen and President Snow. However, where 3% really shines is in that mirror-on-society thing that good SF gives us simply because, for most of us, the society it’s reflecting is one we’re not very familiar with. 3% is Brazilian.
The Brazilian origin shows with the look and feel of both what makes a “bad” society and what makes a “good” one - both critical to this show and absolutely fascinating - simply because Brazilian values and culture is so different to ours. Probably as interesting, is how the characters change and develop as they move from one to the other, from living in a favela to living the Brazilian high-life - a take on the journey to adulthood that is definitely distinct in tone to anything recent I remember although certain of the episodes certainly hark back to other stories (which I won’t list here because of spoilers) well away from both the modern and the classic dystopian areas.
3% might not be the flashiest 8 hours of TV you’ll see, and it’s almost certainly near the bottom of nominally SF TV for CGI, but it’s possibly the most interesting 8 hours of SF, maybe the most interesting 8 hours of TV I’ve seen this year.
Monday, December 19. 2016
Rogue One is a film that runs parallel to the main Star Wars sequence. Unlike *The Force Awakens* it’s also, at least for the Star Wars universe, a new story rather than a rehash of an old film. Being old, I remember a number of “commando raid” type war films, from The Dirty Dozen to The Guns of Navarone and their ilk. I probably wouldn't watch any of those films again, let's be honest, I probably wouldn't watch any early 70's film again, and while Rogue One is not a direct steal from any of those films it certainly hits similar beats. However, there is a place for gritty, wartime, action-adventure movies, and the Star Wars universe can cope with it as well as any other.
The actual plot is hard to write about in detail because unlike far too many trailers, the trailers for Rogue One were not spoiler heavy. I will say, unlike the prequels in the main arc, although we know where this story is going as the plot unfolds, because it's centred around new characters we don't know how it's going to get there. That means we're spared a lot of 'well he's going to turn evil, she's going to die, she's going to live' and so the drama remains fresh and compelling.
If I may wax philosophical a moment, and it’s my blog so I’m going to, the original Star Wars films didn’t introduce any exactly new stories but they did give us a fresh look, a new angle, and a new setting for old stories and made them exciting and vibrant again. The other four films, for a variety of reasons, struggled to deliver that sense of freshness and excitement, at least in me. Rogue One has a slightly harder job - there are odd moments where there’s a strong feeling of “I’ve seen that shot before,” but they are moments rather than huge chunks and partly because of that, for me, they evoked nostalgia rather than ennui - and really this film is the first of the Star Wars franchise since Return of the Jedi to have that fresh new look and that sense of excitement and vibrant new hope.
In my opinion this is a film well worth seeing. The Force Awakens, as I said it probably would, has slipped from actually quite moderate 9th place in the end of year rankings for 2015 and I’d now rank it lower than The Water Diviner which was 15th originally. I haven’t really started on this year’s list yet but I imagine Rogue One will be in the top few films of the year.
Bechdel Test: There are certainly a few named female roles. There are a couple of conversations between named female characters as well and at least one of them is not about a man, so yes. There are 7 named female roles (I’ve made the decision that Blue Three and the like are titles, not named roles, but the three ages of Jyn Urso are listed separately and counted separately), and 37 named male roles. There are three named androids, all voiced by males. Of the female roles, only Jyn is strongly drawn. There are powerful female roles (senators and the like) but we know nothing of the character except she’s a senator and rebel leader. Jyn, however, is really the only fully rounded character we meet, even Cassian is shaded in rather than fully drawn.
Russo Test: This is tricky. I think the answer is no. However there are two monks who are male and clearly love each other. I think it’s in either a form akin to agape (love for god) or philia (love for brother) rather than an erotic sense but there was one (distinctly non-erotic) scene that made me think they might be life-partners and lovers. If that’s the case, this would be a clear pass of all three steps of the test. I’m going to mark this as unsure.
Saturday, December 17. 2016
Although I’m late to the party, Bear is a note-taking or a writing app (probably not heavy-duty enough for the serious novelist) that is worth consideration.
I’m considering it to replace my beloved nvALT. Why you may ask?
Well the free version is nice enough.
If you fork out for the (cheap) subscription (which comes with a free trial) you get extra themes (so you can escape from the tyranny of black text on a white background) and you can also seamlessly sync between your devices. That, alone, makes the subscription worthwhile for me.
This was basically enough to sell me but Bear offers a few more nice features:
Friday, December 16. 2016
Universities in Britain, particularly those in the Russell Group (which is not quite the same as the Ivy League but a similar sort of idea) have a terrible and worsening record for taking students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is despite the government shouting, for years, that “More must me done!”
Yesterday Bristol University, one of the Russell Group, announced its new initiative to try and change this. In partnership with all the local schools and colleges with a sixth form, each head teacher will have up to five places for students who do not have the normal exam grades required but should flourish in the academic environment because they have a good reason for that related to their background. They will be able to flag to those students to Bristol who will waive, or lower, their entrance requirements. This initiative will result in about 200 students from deprived backgrounds being at Bristol once it’s run through and their students through the whole 3-4 years.
Is this a magic bullet? No. What happens if you grow up in a town or city that doesn’t have a university, so you can’t be offered a place on this scheme? I wasn’t in the deprived background category, but I did grow up 30 miles or so from the nearest university city. My sister still lives there and if she had children and they were living in deprivation, they wouldn’t be eligible for this scheme /as it stands/ if every university rolled it out, simply by an accident of geography.
However, as a pilot scheme, it is relatively easy for Bristol to administer and see how it works and it is absolutely a clear and positive step to increase the numbers of students from deprived backgrounds. The head teachers know these children in a way that they universities can’t - they had the children around for at least two, possibly seven years. It will increase their numbers and, as long as it’s not their only measure, I think it’s a step in the right direction.
I hope it works, maybe not in exactly this but as a basic idea, I hope the other universities adopt it, and I hope they roll it out to cover the whole country in time.
Tuesday, December 13. 2016
I finally got around to watching this film. I have to say, after all the bad reviews I'd read, I was pleasantly surprised. This is not a perfect film (what is?) but despite its flaws, I found it was largely lots of fun.
Because I found the beginning was the worst part, I'll start with the flaws. Suicide Squad starts with the assembly of the squad. However, we haven't met Amanda Waller/Argus, Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Diablo, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc or Flag so they all need their little intro clips. Ok, if you know much about comics or superhero movies, or you've watched Arrow or Flash you might know some of these characters but they all need their introductions in the film which is fair enough. I didn't find these elements were badly done, some of them were quite a lot of fun in fact, but it was quite a big chunk of time which I spent looking at the film thinking "but you're going to get arrested and thrown in jail, and recruited into the suicide squad, get on with it" which really isn't ideal. On top of that, just as they rolled out for action, they introduced two new characters. Surprise, surprise, one is the quintessential red-shirt and is dead within 5 minutes. That was also dull and predictable.
Once they got going and actually started to face up against their foe, there were a number of set piece battles. These, generally, went well I thought. Hollywood knows how to do this kind of spectacle and laid it on here completely competently. In fact, they went above and beyond mere competence, most of the fights had nice little call-backs to character moments in the film added in as well. Yes, they were big special effects sequences but they added a little bit of character work, sometimes humorous, sometimes character development as well which is all too often missing in this kind of thing. The push towards the final set piece was a bit predictable but the actual confrontation was nicely played.
Through this series of fight scenes there were various moments when the various members of the Suicide Squad did villainous things as well as heroic things. This largely worked for Harley, who was well portrayed as both mad and bad, but for the others, not so much - they appeared to be more like slightly naughty boys than villains deserving of being enrolled in the suicide squad.
More than one review I've come across compared this film (all of them unfavourably) to the 1967 film The Dirty Dozen. I can see the comparison quite easily, and I understand why the comparisons are unfavourable. Lots of the elements that were slow here went much faster in The Dirty Dozen simply because if you've got soldiers in jail, you don't need complex super-villain type backstories. The bad guys were allowed to remain badder too, because they weren't making the film desperate to retain the PG-13 or 12A certificate. Would I rather have watched The Dirty Dozen again? No, not really. But, this time next year if I'm offered the choice between rewatching the two of them, I'll probably opt to watch something else to be honest and if I have to choose one of these to watch again I think I'll go for the old one... the effects might not be as good but as a film I remember it basically having the same quality pay off but better pacing and story structure vs better effects. Better story and pacing will win every time, certainly to watch a film again.
I enjoyed the depiction of Harley Quinn but I was watching it and thinking it was going to cause a lot of comment. The reason I was OK with it was a particular scene where she actively consented to what The Joker asked of her and committed to it for life, so it hit a particular set of D/s buttons for me, where she consensually submits to him. I don't regard M/f D/s as inherently sexist because I know of plenty of F/m counterexamples, and F/f and M/m too for that matter. However, without that particular slant, it watches like torture and sexual display of a woman on behalf of a man and we're right into straight-up sexism territory. I think The Joker is a pretty equal opportunities hater really, but if you don't read this as a very twisted but loving relationship, between this depiction and The Killing Joke the way The Joker is shown interacting with women is really in need of some work.
Bechdel test. There were a surprising number of named female characters for a superhero-type movie, but I think no. They fail to have conversations, there are some one-direction interactions, for example Waller orders Moone around and there are some one-liners to include a woman from a woman as part of a group but no actual conversations. There are 8 named female roles (1 uncredited, 2 played by the same actor) and 21 named male roles (1 uncredited). Of the 7 credited roles, really only Harley, Amanda Waller and the Enchantress are strongly drawn, and Waller is questionable - we're in no doubt about what she does and so forth but she's really just defined as "the head of Argus" rather than anything more than that.
Russo test. No. Not a flicker anywhere.
Monday, December 12. 2016
Moana is, hopefully the first of, a new breed of Disney princess - one that quite distinctly doesn't need a love interest. In fact there's no romance in the film at all. She's also not sexualised and not white - I'm not sure which of the Polynesian cultures the myths are based in, at least not without looking it up - but the bits I know (which are Maori) are clearly different in how they treat Maui but share enough common heritage that it's clear there's been some serious research about the culture and the legends in developing this story.
The story itself is a fairly straight hero's quest, with Moana as the hero, it's all the trappings, the ocean voyaging, the wayfinding, Maui, the angry volcano goddess and so on that make it feel distinctly Polynesian in flavour but also make it quite fresh partly because we're not hugely used to those legends but partly because the voyage is so fundamentally built in to the story and the culture. Like most stories based in a hero's quest, this one works well - they didn't drift away from the basic structure and so the story itself is nicely paced and builds to a suitable climax.
Like a lot of Disney films, there's a lot of singing here, and in some ways, like Frozen, this is really a musical because some of the songs are really intrinsic to the plot. If that's not your cup of tea, you might not like it but otherwise you should be fine. I would say there's nothing here that's an anthemic as Let It Go but I'm old and I was caught up in the story rather than analysing the music that way at the time to be honest (which is a reflection of how good the film was).
Having mentioned Frozen, it's worth saying that although this doesn't explore family dynamics in anything like the same depth that Frozen looked at sisters, there are a few times the story really looks at family dynamics in some interesting ways.
As Pixar usually does, there are (clean, but off-kilter) jokes for the adults alongside jokes for the children but I would think there's nothing really too scary here except for maybe the very youngest.
Bechdel test: perhaps surprisingly in a film that's so heavily based around Moana and Maui on a canoe, yes. There are several scenes between Moana and her grandmother, most of which pass the Bechdel test in their entirety. The film only has three named female and three named male characters. It's hard to say any of them aren't fully drawn given there are so few of them, although Moana's mother is the least well drawn of the three women by quite some distance. The irony of Moana's name - it means Ocean - is that the sea is a significant but unspeaking character.
Russo test: I'm going to score this as null. We do see Moana's parents, so we can assume they're probably straight but it's an assumption, but this film is basically without sexuality. There is no LGBT representation, true, but there's no heterosexual representation either, except in the background.
Wednesday, November 30. 2016
In this 21st Century we all too often want a simple description for everything. We describe Divergent as like The Hunger Games because they're both Young Adult and set in dystopian futures, despite rather a lot of differences between the two.
The death of Fidel Castro is proving another such divisive issue. People want to describe him as a hero or a villain. The reality is, of course, he was both and neither.
He fought against an oppressive regime and brought massive educational and healthcare improvements to Cuba, whilst fending off the attentions, invasion attempts and assassination attempts of the USA and others. Parts of what he did became the model for the developing world in how to institute healthcare and education systems in a post-colonial country. He should be lauded for that.
At the same time, once he came to power, he instituted a repressive one-party state with all the tools of a dictatorship, including a strong secret police, disappearances his opponents and more. There's a famous quote from Churchill "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." While I'm very critical of our democracy, I can be critical without fearing the police will come knocking on the door and drag me away and shoot me. If that had happened to a member of my family, I think I'd ignore anyone who was trying to suggest there was a single good thing Castro had ever done.
The truth is, of course, that anyone who has lived has good and bad things they've done. Anyone who held the levers of power for their country for 77 years will have those things painted large, particularly when your country of about 11 million is facing off against the third most populous country in the world from a distance of 90 miles or so. History will be the final arbiter but it seems most likely that, unlike a lot of dictators, there really will be a struggle to decide whether the positives outweigh the negatives for Castro.
I lean towards yes, the positives will outweigh the negatives. I am not ignoring the personal tragedies, the deaths and the terror he caused. However, trying to balance those against establishing a successful model for developing countries around the world to establish education and healthcare for their populations after colonialism and overthrowing their own dictators - that's a legacy that has improved the lives of millions, possibly billions, of people around the world in dozens of countries.
Certainly not just a hero, definitely not just a villain. But a man who somewhat surprisingly had a disproportionate influence on world politics for longer than the Queen. Perhaps fortunately the world he's withdrawn, largely if not wholly, from public life over the last few years and this isn't the seismic shock it would have been if he'd gone out while still in office. Whether or not you agree with that assessment, how many former leaders of countries in the 70's in the most populous in the world (Cuba is 78th according to Wikipedia) would feature in the news cycle in the UK for five days? That, if nothing else, is truly a mark of just how important a figure in world history Fidel Castro was.
Wednesday, November 9. 2016
Under Obama, despite evidence to the contrary, there was some hope that America might be staggering into the early twentieth century and finally having some concept of equality for people of colour, for women, for people of different sexualities and more. Despite terrible issues and opposition there was a start towards a fairer social and health care system where you stood a chance to get decent health care even if you were poor.
Yesterday the white men, particularly the old white men that didn't go to college because older white men now dead told them they didn't need to and now they feel betrayed, said "Fuck you" to the women, the people of colour, the LGBT people and everyone else and kicked America back into the 19th Century.
In an online community I know, I heard several people say "I voted Trump because I couldn't bring myself to vote for a woman." It's the 21st Century FFS and you can't vote for a woman to lead your country? Really?! But it appears this was not a minority view. As an American commentator remarked "America is far more sexist than it is racist, and it's pretty fucking racist."
I was very sad with my fellow Brits when I recovered after my migraine and the Brexit vote. I never wanted to move to America but I'm really pleased I don't live there. I'd be really scared if I did today and I'd be seriously looking to move before January if I possibly good.
Someone needs to stop the world so we can get off - the angry white men that want to tear it down and rebuild it in their image are scaring me. I think the world is need of a major reform but they're going to reform it into a worse state, not a better one.
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