kristenmchugh22

kristenmchugh22

(19 comments, 52 posts)

Kristen McHugh is a poet, blogger, and former music major who discovered the joys of geekdom at the age of 4, and never looked back.
Kristen frequently describes her brain as, "The Carnival of The Random," because she's likely to be occupied with at least one and more likely - all three of her Holy Trinity: pop culture, politics, and science. Art, music, (from the baroque to pop,) literature, theoretical physics, and nearly anything Anglophile-related will likely draw an exclamation of, "SHINY!" Kristen's favorite instrument is the cello, and her day job is using her powers for good in the non-profit sector.

Posts by kristenmchugh22
jet

Let's Talk About Comics, Consent, and THAT issue of Captain America

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Originally posted via The Carnival of The Random the author’s personal tumblr. Opinions contained within are the viewpoint of the author and may not represent those of other members of NiB staff. 

jet
We’re going to talk about this now. My original response, not to Cap #22, but to the response to the response to Cap #22, is HERE and CBR’s article with links from a variety of viewpoints, is HERE.

I’m going to preface this by saying, (as it says in my About section) I’m a Marvel gal for life. Have been since I was a wee-me getting grubby fingerprints on my comics and grubby newsprint on my face after that. Ah, the days of literal pulp.

(Image description: Panel from Captain America #22 featuring Jet Zola, a young white woman in a black dress that is several bands covering her breasts, part of her abdomen, and groin/upper thighs sitting on a sofa with Sam Wilson aka the Falcon, in a black shirt/grey trousers, they are drinking wine and there is a background image that indicates Miles Davis music overlays the scene.)

Before ANYONE starts yelling, read what I have to say because it’s not going to be what you think.

TW: discussion of definition of rape, rape culture.

1. I don’t particularly like Rick Remender. I think he’s hostile to audience readings and assumes word of god means anything. It doesn’t. I don’t particularly dislike him in general, either. I think it’d be awesome if he (among others) learned to say, “Help me understand, because I’m not seeing it and you obviously feel strongly,” rather than jumping to rejecting the premise.

2. I don’t, and never have past reading the text, think that Jet was in any way coerced, assaulted, raped, or that her age was in question but I do get where other people might feel like it was shoe-horned in and I don’t judge them for that read.

3. I have never thought firing Remender was a good way to solve the problem of consent or hypersexualizing in comics. It’s a BIGGER problem than one person. Rape culture is as pervasive as air, we have to deal with that.

4. I view his remarks (and those of his supporters who used the same language,) of the questioning and crit regarding this scene as, “Libellous,” usually with something insulting tacked on, as not only overkill but the word choice of people who don’t understand what those words mean or are sending a message that dissent will not be tolerated. This is NOT productive, from a PR standpoint. Really.

Nobody accused Rick Remender of statutory rape, and people weren’t making things up. They just had a different point of view. One that might have lead to a spectacular leap forward in comics’ portrayal of consent if people would have listened.

So, let’s talk about the larger issues, shall we?

While a lot of the shouting may be borne out of the post-CATWS surge in Cap and Falcon’s popularity, it’s not without merit as a wholesale response even from non-readers. Historically, the portrayal of Falcon has had some highly stereotyped and racist features (whether intentional or not.) Portraying a black man as a pimp and thug is so entrenched that it is our dominant media narrative about black men in urban areas, rather than the socioeconomic factors at play or whether it’s even TRUE. If someone says a crime was committed by a black man, white people will believe it. The Susan Smith case is a prime example. (There is so much data on race and perception that I’m not even gonna dig up the links for you. GOOGLE IT.)

The matter of representation, in terms of both accuracy and quality is a major one in 2014. Whether we like it or not. And trust me, most of us who are doing a lot of talking about representation in media are NOT all that fond of having to do so. We’d much rather be able to enjoy media without worrying that something will make us want to tear our hair out.

As far as the text is concerned, Jet’s age is clearly established here. Alternate dimension or no, it’s part of the text. A cursory read might miss it, so I make room for alternate interpretations including that she’s LYING. Because I’m pretty sure most of us lied about our age at some point to seem cool, and one of the most frequently used excuses for statutory rape is, “I thought they were (over the age of consent.)”

It’s disingenuous to dismiss the potential to read this in ways that are not what the author intended, it’s there and authorial intent means doodly-squat when all’s said and done. Fundamental rule: We cannot determine how the message is received because intent is not magic and the audience isn’t psychic.

Moving on: the thing that had me hitting the mental brakes and spinning out here, is what’s in the text itself, specifically, the boldface, “ONE glass is enough for me… ” “Oh, C’MON, Falcon, live a little… I really like the effect that it produced.”

That set my flashing neon, nuclear accident alarms off. It’s so very much like tactics used by rapists to render their targets pliable or incapacitated. And that impression is not in any way ameliorated by the rest of the issue.

So the biggest question I had, factoring this in with Lorelei having sex with Grant Ward in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., is: Why are we not talking about men in the Marvel Universe being sexually assaulted? It may not be what’s intended, but that’s what’s happening.

If someone is unable to give consent by a legal definition, (and if you can’t legally drive due to intoxication, you can’t legally give consent to sex,) including due to magical mind-control, then having sex with them is legally rape.

Let that sink in for a moment, because this is me as a feminist and a survivor of rape saying that we are letting what reads to me and what in at least one case meets the legal definition of rape, slide because it’s happening to men. Whether that’s because we’re exhausted by trying to be heard about rape culture as it applies to women and the salmon-upstream nature of it, or that we’re being terrified and threatened on a daily basis and we’re overwhelmed at the task of emptying the ocean of male-dominant perpetrator/female victim apologism and rape culture, I don’t know.

Rape culture is excusing rape and harassment of men because we’re inculcated with the idea that men want sex all the time and that therefore any sex will be welcome, or that men can’t be raped because of physical strength, or that it’s impossible to rape a man because a man has to be physically aroused to engage in penetrative sex.

No. That’s not how it works.

And it is exhausting having to explain this, especially because during the, “Fire Rick Remender,” uproar, people were not listening to anything that might not toe the Marvel line on this.

Considering the subsequent announcement of Sam Wilson taking up the mantle of Captain America the following week, I get the united front and hardline, “Falcon is not a rapist,” stance. It doesn’t change the fact that there are nuanced discussions we need to have about not just representation and optics, but about the concepts of portraying consent, particularly in the context of drinking or other substances. Consent isn’t just saying, “No,” or fighting off advances. Consent isn’t just saying, “Yes,” either. It’s informed, aware, enthusiastic, “Yes’s” coupled with the ability to say, “No,” without fear. Adopting that in model in media could change EVERYTHING.

We need to talk about these things because in the real world, they happen and we can’t just say, “But it’s right there in the text.”

And I think we CAN have those conversations but there has to be a willingness of the people in power (writers, artists, publishers, and film/tv producers) to have that discussion even if it makes them uncomfortable.

I keep coming back again and again to the fact that what we see in media has the power to build empathy, to make us question the status quo, and inspire us to make changes in the real world or it can reinforce the status quo ad infinitum.

And don’t tell me it’s just a comic book. How often have comics been used to convey a message to readers like say, Spider-Man and the dangers of drugs? Facile arguments that reinforce the idea that comics are an infantile art form are not welcome here.

Superheroes have always given me hope for our capacity to do better, no matter how dark the circumstance or how fragile we may be, we can keep fighting with our last breath if it means making the world better and helping someone else.

I have faith that there are a lot of people making comics who want to do the best that they can to make them something that tells stories in the most authentic and inclusive way possible. I also know that learning the things we need to know to do that, is a little like having to battle our dark half while absorbing an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge.

It takes time, and it’s not comfortable or easy to dismantle the parts of ourselves that have become things we consciously detest. It’s worth it, though.

The absolute, unfettered, screaming joy I felt at seeing an image of Sam Wilson as Captain America and knowing how much that means to kids who don’t often get to see heroes who look like them and what it means for people who may not think of themselves as consciously racist when they reacted poorly to that image but then started to ask themselves why, or even just for people who are fighting to see a world in media that looks like the world we occupy and are so often told isn’t what’s, “Real,” was practically an air raid siren.

It’s every step, you see. Every step we take towards the light, towards equality, and every step towards media reflecting the world back at us in a way that doesn’t erase people is a step towards being better in the physical reality we occupy.

Representation matters. Conscious awareness of how what we do in narrative media can halt, subvert, or feed into our actual culture and toxic bias, matters. Listening to each other, whether audience or creators, matters.

Can we do that?

*NB: Author would like to add that this is an issue that affects all media, and Marvel is simply the case in point at this moment in time. 

Sherlock 2×1: A Scandal in Belgravia

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Warning: May contain mild spoilers

 

More than a year has passed for audiences since the wrenching cliffhanger of “The Great Game,” and it’s fair to say that expectations have been running high.

Picking up where we left off, co-creator/screenwriter Steven Moffat wastes no time in exceeding those expectations. The stand-off is resolved with an audacity that firmly establishes the tone of the episode. There is an irrepressible cheekiness standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the darkness in “A Scandal in Belgravia,” as Moffat gives Moriarty (Andrew Scott) what is easily the creepiest line in the episode, “If you have what you say you have, I will make you rich. If you don’t, I’ll make you into shoes.” Then we get a brief, tantalizing glimpse of “The Woman.” Irene Adler (Lara Pulver,) a royal, blackmail and Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch), these are the basics that any Holmesian/Sherlockian knows. It’s the execution that’s full of surprises. There are enough nods to canon, the show’s fans, and pop culture in the first five minutes to delight any viewer. “The Geek Interpreter” and “Hatman and Robin”  are the tip of the iceberg, as Moffat uses time-compression to move things along while cementing Sherlock and John as a professional unit.

It is a summons from an “Illustrious” client that brings about the duo’s meeting with Ms. Adler. From that encounter it’s clear that Irene and Sherlock fascinate each other. Watching this simultaneous duel and dance of intellects provides much of the episode’s zing. Yet is is Adler who sums up their dynamic, as well as the appeal of the show itself, “Brainy’s the new sexy” she declares shortly after leaving Sherlock speechless by greeting him in “Battle dress.”

Brainy is sexy, and this is television at its sexiest. While the plot unfolds, crammed to bursting with snappy dialogue and canon references, the core of the narrative is how Sherlock deals with matters of the heart. This is nothing as simple as a love story between Irene and Sherlock. Despite all denials Sherlock Holmes is an emotional creature. Choosing to subsume those emotions into intellectual pursuits just makes him that much more vulnerable to being blindsided. The primary relationship in Sherlock’s life is with his blogger, and if his fascination with “The Woman” eclipses that for a moment it’s to illuminate that Sherlock’s emotions are far more complex than he’s given credit for. His relationships with his brother, Dr. Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) and Lestrade (Rupert Graves) are as planets orbiting a star. Yet we also see a deep devotion to Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) and the nascent understanding of his own cruelty during a Christmas gathering at 221B Baker Street. By the end of the episode nearly every character has been stripped raw in one way or another without completely breaking them. Everyone has an Achilles heel, and those are exploited with ruthless efficiency.

The key to the episode, to the show in its entirety, is in the performances. Cumberbatch completely embodies Sherlock as an intellectual force of nature who is nonetheless flummoxed by his own emotions. Martin Freeman’s John Watson is simply the bedrock that Sherlock stands on. Freeman’s performance is quiet ferocity at its finest, yet puckish enough to take the arrogant wind out of Sherlock’s sails. A supporting cast that hits all the right notes makes “A Scandal in Belgravia” sing like traditional portrayals of Irene, and it is Pulver’s Adler who is the catalyst in Belgravia.

By turns brazen and uncompromising, cruel and vulnerable Pulver plays Adler as a mirror image of Sherlock. It is something that we don’t quite expect, to have “The Woman” illustrate precisely how flawed and brilliant Sherlock is by showing us her own brilliance and flaws.  “A Scandal in Belgravia” is only marred by a resolution to the episode which muddies the Sherlock/Irene dynamic by being overly subtle. Audiences are used to seeing a clear-cut victory over Holmes, and Moffat’s decision to follow a particularly vicious battle of wits with ambiguity is sure to disappoint some viewers.

Overall, the episode succeeds as adaptation and long-awaited return to the universe Moffat and Gatiss transposed Doyle into. A sharper ending would have been more welcome, but much like Doyle, Moffat has left plenty of room for the audience to solve the puzzles themselves. (Episode 2 “The Hounds of Baskerville” airs Sunday, May 13th at 9pm on PBS.)

News: Doctor Who’s Katherine Jenkins joins the cast of Dancing with the Stars

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Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins (courtesy of abc.go.com)

Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins, familiar to Doctor Who fans from her role as Abigail Pettigrew opposite Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor and Michael Gambon’s Kazran Sardick in 2010’s “A Christmas Carol” has joined the cast of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.

Michael Gambon, Matt Smith, and Katherine Jenkins in A Christmas Carol

Michael Gambon, Matt Smith, and Katherine Jenkins in promo still from A Christmas Carol (courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Jenkins, 31, will be partnered with dancer/musician Mark Ballas, 24. Ballas has won the competition twice, with partners Shawn Johnson and Kristi Yamaguchi. Could we see Doctor Who composer Murray Gold join Ms. Jenkins for a performance of Abigail’s Song?

ABC is enjoying genre success with Once Upon A Time and mid-season supernatural offering, The River, could they be courting the Whovian fandom with the addition of Ms. Jenkins to the cast?
Will fans of Doctor Who come out in force to support Jenkins in the online voting?
Katherine Jenkins will be joining athletes Donald Driver and Martina Navretilova, actors Jaleel White, Melissa Gilbert, William Levy and Jack Wagner, singers Gavin DeGraw and Gladys Knight, and television hosts Maria Mennounos and Sherri Shepard when season 14 of Dancing with the Stars premiers on ABC on March 19th at 8pm EST.

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opening sequence (Courtesy of Sony Pictures' dragontattoo.com)

Warning: Spoilers

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, adapted from Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy and the Swedish-language films adaptations, is a film that does not make it easy on the audience. While comparisons between the original film and novel abound, they do David Fincher’s direction and Steven Zaillian’s script a disservice.

Yes, it’s an adaptation. Things will be different. Unlike some remakes of foreign-language films, Zaillian’s script may translate, but doesn’t soften the narrative.

(Author’s Note: I have to include a strenuous warning for anyone who has experienced sexual abuse or rape. If you’re not familiar with the books or films, be very cautious about seeing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There are scenes which are incredibly unnerving and brutal, and a main theme is crimes perpetrated against women. Both the Swedish-language and US releases have included participation from organizations like RAINN.org, to provide resources to audiences.)

Fincher has kept the locale and narrative intact. Using a tonally opposed cold open and title sequence, he establishes the focus of the film on Lisbeth Salander and the underlying mystery. Daniel Craig, although nominally the star of the film as Mikael Blomkvist, is merely a subtle audience proxy in the event that the audience needs it. It is Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth Salander, much like Noomi Rapace in the original, who is the protagonist and anti-hero at the heart of the film.The film is quiet in a way that fits the tradition of Scandinavian films. Dialogue is spare throughout the first half of the film, and the building tension is amplified by a score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross which manages to be simultaneously present and unobtrusive.

These are people living damaged lives. Blomkvist’s ego, reputation and bank account shattered by a slander trial. Salander living on the fringes by choice and necessity. Add Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) and his obsession with who murdered his niece Harriet forty years earlier, and mix well. Presented as a mystery, the novels and films are a heavily cloaked treatise on violence against women at an intimate and societal level. Lisbeth’s behavior and gender presentation make her a target. In refusing to conform to expectation, she is a target for everything from being labeled incompetent and antisocial by the state, leading to further presumptive victimization by agents of the state. Blomkvist is the observer, cataloging the parallel horrors experienced by other women in another time.
Fincher presents the sequences of Salander’s abuse and rape, along with her subsequent re-establishment of her own power and agency, without frills. It is a gauntlet thrown down to the viewer. To view events as something that could just as easily be happening to themselves or someone they know, to choose whether Lisbeth is justified in her actions and to understand that surviving sexual brutality does not mean that a survivor’s agency is abandoned, is discomfiting at best. Fincher’s choice to present even consensual sex and nudity in a way that isn’t overtly sexualized, fits the tone of continual confrontation embodied by Lisbeth Salander, extremely well.
This is a film that could have been remade for English-speaking audiences in a way that felt easy and familiar, and wasn’t. While surrounded by a strong supporting cast including Robin Wright and Stellan Skarsgard, the heart of the film remains the shifting dynamics between its two leads. There is an uneasy respect, and an eventual affection between Blomkvist and Salander,but they aren’t likeable, easy characters. Fincher gets the audience from point A to point B in the plot without pulling any punches, while wisely resting the weight of the film squarely on Rooney Mara’s shoulders.
Familiar to audiences from Fincher’s The Social Network as Erica Albright, and her role as Nancy Holbrooke in the reboot of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Mara is a revelation as Lisbeth Salander. To play a character who is so unsympathetic on the surface without trying to offer any excuse or justification, shows a remarkable amount of restraint. She is who she is, what happens to her happens, she does what she does, and she does it without breaking stride. Mara inhabits that skin without hesitation. While Mara and Craig both bring a remarkable sangfroid to their roles, Craig also plays against type, as Blomkvist is suprisingly naifish. The contrasts and subverted expectation make the characters compelling even when the narrative loses its intensity.

Resolving the mystery, revealing the murderer(s), and salvaging Blomkivst’s reputation in the final act are where the narrative becomes too convenient. Limited by Larsson’s plot and leaving an opening for the planned sequels, Zaillian and Fincher seem to run out of steam, and it’s all too evident to the audience and the only completely flat notes in an otherwise taut and necessarily disturbing film.

 

 

Review: Red Tails

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Aerial combat in Red Tails (courtesy of redtails2012.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The following review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily that of all Nerds in Babeland staff

 

This winter’s second significant war movie, Red Tails, is a film that is objectively important but horrendously executed. The screenplay from John Ridley and Aaron McGruder from Ridley’s book, follows a standard WWII flyboy motif, with all the tropes that implies. Red Tails gives the audience dialogue that ranges from the rousing rallying cry, “From the last plane, to the last bullet, to the last minute, to the last man: WE FIGHT,” to the caricatured mumblings of Andrew “Smoky” Salem (Ne-Yo) which seem so dissonant within the narrative context as to be cringe-inducing. This is the film’s primary failing, it can’t decide who the characters are. Are they the Tuskegee-educated men history tells us they were: future lawyers, engineers, educators and scientists, or are they the standard flyboys chasing glory and girls that the film type requires?

In spite of the flawed script and heavy-handed direction, Red Tails succeeds as a historical action film. The battle sequences have a grainy authenticity, a period-appropriate newsreel flicker that is familiar to the eye. The dialogue leaves much to be desired, but David Oyelowo as Joe “Lightning” Little, Nate Parker as Marty”Easy”Julian, Tristan Wilds as Ray “Raygun”Gannon and Terence Howard as Col. Bullard, bring a sense of dignity and the struggle of the era.

Hindsight tells us that in 2012, with a bi-racial President, we have come a long way from the legally enshrined racism of the Jim Crow era. The fact that since President Obama took office, there have been an onslaught of requests for him to prove he is a natural-born citizen, tells us we haven’t come far enough. The resonance in Red Tails comes from both a history denied too long in mainstream film and the knowledge that even this film would not have been made if George Lucas hadn’t put up his own money.

Placing the heroism of the pilots front and center, without requiring them to be any more or less perfect than any other heroes; if nothing else, Red Tails says to the audience and to Hollywood, “There are so many stories to be told,” about people of color in any era. It is a direct statement that limiting audiences who want to see themselves reflected onscreen to just Tyler Perry, or slapstick-comedy, or gang-violence genres, is its own brand of institutionalized racism. The gamble taken on getting a broad audience to show up for what is actually a mainstream action-drama that just happens to be about the black experience in WWII, is also a leap of faith in that audience. George Lucas decided to bet on people showing up. I like the optimism in that.

Red Tails is not a particularly visionary film in style or execution. Anthony Hemingway seems to have a much better grasp on the aerial sequences than painting a picture of life on the ground for pilots who may have been more segregated within the military than they were as Americans in Europe during the war. Hemingway, Ridley and McGruder falter in walking the line between making the depths of the era’s racism clear, and treating the characters as pilots who were just as, if not more qualified than their white colleagues. I can’t say this is a film that will hold up to scrutiny either historically or as a film, but it is an important everyday film that offers its audience a chance to view a turning point in history through different eyes.

Review: Haywire

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Warning: Spoilers

 

Haywire looks and feels like someone with a film degree made a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. This is not actually a bad thing. Former MMA fighter Gina Carano has charisma on camera, and is more than capable of dishing out and taking a beating. As a woman, watching her go toe-to-toe with Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, and Ewan McGregor is a thrill. Being a fan of action movies while being a girl can often feel like there’s never a chance to truly identify with the protagonist. Angelina Jolie’s Salt was a much glossier spy-thriller/action film, but was hampered by the fact that watching the fight sequences required an extreme suspension of disbelief because Jolie looked like any one of her opponents could pick her up and snap her in half. Carano gives the audience solid muscle and an authentic physicality that isn’t compromised by putting on a dress. One of the small costuming details that hit home is that none of the sparingly-seen heels she wears are stilettos, and she doesn’t fight in heels at all.

No, this is not a reinvention of the genre. Lem Dobbs’ script is bare-bones on plot and heavy on scenes with very little dialogue or narrative continuity. Carano, as mercenary Mallory Kane, is a former Marine working for a private contractor to the US Government. The narrative jumps back and forth between present and flashback to show the audience a recounting of where things went wrong for Mallory and why people are trying to kill her. The duplicity of every character but Mallory, is laid out in plain-text for the audience to read. What Soderbergh does to great effect, is mine 1970’s era low-budget caper films for a narrative veneer, while filling in the rest with a spare and evocative score by David Holmes, Carano’s ability to be appealing and natural with cheesy dialogue, a top-notch roster of leading men, and fight sequences that look like they really hurt.

Dropping out everything but ambient (and for the savvy audience, obviously foley-supplied) sound during the fight scenes enhances the guerilla-filmmaking effect. Most of these scenes are able to continue the paper-thin plot’s momentum, but the climactic fights lack oomph. Once you’ve had your heroine strangle Michael Fassbender between her thighs, and bounce around Dublin rooftops, unless you’ve got something truly extraordinary up your sleeve, it’s going to fall short of expectations. Soderbergh has been swinging between the very stylized (Out of Sight, the Ocean’s franchise) and the subversively authentic ( Sex, Lies and Videotape,The Girlfriend Experience) for decades. To be a truly memorable action film, Haywire needed just a touch more of the stylization. In taking the desire for authenticity too far, Soderbergh undercuts the direct subversion of having a leading lady who really can deliver a knockout punch.

Carano is a find, and with a director who isn’t content to leave her carrying an entire film without a net, we may have a brand-new action star on our hands.


Review: War Horse

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Warning: Spoilers

Benedict Cumberbatch, Patrick Kennedy and Tom Hiddleston (still from War Horse courtesy of warhorsemovie.com)

War Horse, directed by Spielberg and scripted by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, faces the challenge of illustrating the horrors of war through a horse’s eyes. Adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s children’s book and subsequent theatrical adaptation, the film follows the titular horse, Joey from his birth in the Devon countryside, to the muddy trenches of the front lines in France.

It is a cinematically beautiful film, courtesy of longtime Spielberg cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, but there are too few moments when the audience truly feels like they’re seeing events through the horse’s eyes and the humans are too thinly or too stereotypically drawn to effectively provide a window into the WWI experience.

Unlike Spielberg’s previous war films, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, War Horse seems to gloss over the reality of war. WWI being the turning point from wars fought on horseback, to the industrialized warfare that carried on through the twentieth century, and now being replaced by an even more detached form of battle in the twenty-first with unmanned drones leveling attacks in faraway lands. It’s a family-friendly version of The Great War, where no one bleeds, and a boy and his horse will be reunited at the end.

Relying on the audience knowing just how doomed so many who fought were is the biggest error the film makes. While there is an admirable effort to show those affected: Young officers drawn from the upper-classes who made their charge, swords drawn and with God and Country in their hearts, never knowing they were literally outgunned by the German forces. The young conscripts who fled the fight. The civilians whose homes and farms were decimated by both battle and the constant pillaging to feed armies. The infantrymen in the trenches who had no personal investment in the war, but who fought and died anyway. The film offers fleeting glimpses, but never gives the characters a chance to be more than props to the message, “War is bad.”

The first forty-five minutes establish the relationship between Joey and Albert (Jeremy Irvine) but weigh the film down in a mawkish, bucolic atmosphere. The sub-plot of an alcoholic father (Peter Mullan) who recklessly purchases Joey, and the threat of losing the family farm to an arrogant landlord (David Thewlis) would have benefitted from a ruthless hand in the editing room and allowed for expansion of the more directly relevant scenes of the war. Emily Watson, as Albert’s long-suffering mother, is tragically wasted in the sequence.

Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and Joey (still courtesy of warhorsemovie.com)

Tasked with illustrating the blithe valor and nihilistic realism of a cavalry composed of men who were more used to playing polo than being at the sharp end of history, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch and Patrick Kennedy deliver lean, quiet performances that seem out of step with the rest of the film. For fifteen minutes, War Horse is a film about a war that nobody really won.

In one of the most economical sequences in the film, the English officers’ journey is shown as mundane tasks imbued with swaggering bravado, a rousing speech to, “Be Brave, fear God, honor the King,” and poignantly, the cavalry’s charge intercut with German soldiers at their guns, and riderless horses galloping into the forest. Unfortunately, it isn’t until the final reel, that we see that economy again. As Joey confronts a German tank, the change in the meaning of a cavalry division from horse to armored machinery is writ large, but the horse’s desperate run through the trenches and barbed wire of no-man’s land is beautifully brutal. The denouement of the film plays out much as the audience expects, even without a familiarity with the source material.

There is a sense of War Horse as paint-by-numbers filmmaking. All of the parts are well-made, but they don’t quite blend together. What should be a stirring homage to a generation of warriors that are all but forgotten, instead feels like a deliberate attempt to manipulate the audience. Instead of reining in the obvious emotional cues and trusting the gravitas of the narrative, Spielberg pulls out one too many tropes and cliché shots. With a final shot that is oversaturated in more ways than one, Spielberg undermines the homage and sense of historical significance he intended.

War Horse is a a beautiful film and successful Oscar bait, (judging by recent nominations) but it’s not the great film about The Great War, that it should be.

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Review Chicks Dig Time Lords

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Cover photo

Chicks Dig Time Lords, A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It, edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O’Shea, is a collection of essays and interviews that does exactly what it says on the tin. It also does quite a bit more, providing insight into fandom and what makes it tick, from a female perspective.

In the 21st century, anyone with a computer and an internet connection has an idea that fandom exists. Films have been made about the Star Trek and Star Wars fandoms. While everyone is familiar with the concept of the “Fanboy” it’s “Fangirls” who often get short shrift. The assumption being that women are only in it for the eye candy, and can’t possibly be into genre content the way men are. That there is no evidence for that assumption, hasn’t stopped it from being trotted out everywhere from Comics-oriented forums to the New York Times.

Chicks Dig Time Lords blows that assumption out of the water. In Time is Relative, Carole Barrowman shares a surreal journey that takes her from tormenting her baby brother with imaginary Autons in front of a Glasgow department store to being charged by a Dalek as payback, on the set of Torchwood. Novelist Elizabeth Bear takes on the concept of fandom tarnishing with time, in We’ll Make Great Pets and in Two Steps Forward, One Step Back, by Shoshana Magnet and Robert Smith? (yes, the punctuation is part of the name,) tackle the issues of sex and sexuality

There are practical anecdotes about cons and costuming, making fanzines and what it was really like trying to get one’s hands on Doctor Who back in the days before the internet. Yet it is the focus on critical analysis that drew me into the book. Chicks Dig Time Lords does some of the heavy lifting of deconstructing fandom, female fandom specifically, and reading the show from a feminist perspective. It’s easy to forget that Leela was a warrior, Nyssa was a scientific genius, Ace was incredibly good at blowing things up and even in the modern era of who, there are numerous ways that women are presented, nearly all of them controversial to some part of the fanbase. The book doesn’t cheat on presenting a homogenous point of view about whether or not Doctor Who is reflecting the concept of women as equals and directly takes on the questions of sexism and racism in both the writer’s room and fandom.

As an exploration of the Whoniverse, Chicks Dig Time Lords offers plenty of food for thought, while maintaining a fairly breezy tone that makes it a quick and easy read. As an exploration of female fandom, it is fascinating to see behind the mask of what’s expected of fangirls, even from each other. Be it ‘ship wars or the controversy over injecting smut into a universe that many fans see as being above all that, female fandom has begun flexing muscles we didn’t know we had.

That we’re demanding a seat at the table of fandom and conventions, that we’re synthesizing our concerns over presentation of women and LGBTQ characters in ways that might make creators uncomfortable at times, is becoming more and more evident. As an artifact of female, feminist, and completely unpredictable fandom, Chicks Dig Time Lords succeeds beyond expectation. Where it falls a little bit flat is in the included interviews. It diffuses the focus of the book in favor of very standard questions that don’t expand on what Sophie Aldred, India Fisher, or Laura Doddington’s experiences as women of the Doctor Who universe meant to them as women. The break in tone brings the momentum of the book to a screeching halt. Additionally, since the book only covers the Classic through Tenth Doctor eras, the reader who is looking for discussion of the Moffat era is going to be sorely disappointed.

It’s not a definitive analysis of Doctor Who, even from a female point of view, and it falters in presenting clearly defined sections between general fandom experience, puff-piece interviews and the more critical essays, but Chicks Dig Time Lords does offer an important window into how women view fandom and the object of that fandom. It is, in fact: bigger on the inside.

Author’s note: The reviewer is firmly New Who, considers Eleven to be her definitive Doctor and if given a choice, would go to the future so she could see how the human race turns out.

Once Upon A Time 1×9-1×10 True North and 7:15 A.M.

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Hansel and Gretel (Still courtesy of abc.go.com

Warning: Spoilers

Once Upon A Time is fun to watch, if you’re a fan of Lost. It has beautiful production values, Robert Carlyle, and great guest stars. The only problem is that, like Lost, it’s a narrative mess. The split between Storybrooke and the Fairy Tale Land is less like watching parallel stories that inform and drive each other, and more like watching a set of back-to-back Fun House mirrors. Roughly the same plot playing out in both the, “Real,” and Fairy Tale worlds, leaving the audience interested but stuck. While Lost had the advantage of being completely unknown and using the flashback format to inform a motley group of characters, Once Upon A Time is already dealing in mostly known characters and it’s simply become repetitive.

Snow White and the Dwarfs ( Still courtesy of abc.go.com)

True North and 7:15 A. M., are entertaining hours of television that don’t bring any depth to the show’s narrative as a whole. We already know that Emma Swan ( Jennifer Morrison) grew up an orphan in the foster system. We already know that Mary-Margaret and David (Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas) are replaying the Snow White/Prince (James) Charming narrative. We know these things.

The thematic focus of the show is maternal/parental relationships. Emma, Regina (Lana Parilla) Snow, Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle), Archie Hopper/Jiminy Cricket (Raphael Sbarge), even James/Charming/David are treated to the parental loss/abuse/failure plotline.

Losing a parent, or losing a child is painful: we get it. There are bad parents and parents who do their best but fail anyway: we get it.

In its last two outings, Once Upon A Time has cemented the fact that it does an amazing job of making fairy tales fresh and it has no idea of how to make the lives of Storybrooke’s residents more than a cheap soap opera.

Hansel and Gretel ( Quinn Lord and Harley Scott Collins) and the Evil Queen’s machinations to exploit their separation from their Woodsman (Nicholas Lea) father to steal from the Blind Witch ( Emma Caulfield) is far more interesting than the Storybrooke side of True North, which is simply Emma Swann replaying her inner child’s issues and trying to protect the children.

The Blind Witch (Emma Caulfield still courtesy of abc.go.com)

Showing the audience a warped version of how Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs came about, through a deal with Rumplestiltskin, the Prince’s venal father (Alan Dale) and true love’s sacrifice, has more depth and meaning than the triangle of Mary-Margaret/David/Kathryn, and 7:15 A.M. suffers from the contrast.

Red Riding Hood and Snow White (still courtesy of abc.go.com)

Once Upon A Time has the potential to be great genre television, and great television full stop, but until the Storybrooke narrative is as strong as the fairy tale, it continues to fall flat. The addition of a meta-fictional element in the form of The Stranger (Eion Bailey) as a writer in a town where a book holds the key to reality, could prove interesting if the show’s writers don’t leave the obvious trail of breadcrumbs we’re expecting.

Recap Grimm 1×8 Game Ogre

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Warning: Spoilers

Grimm’s return after the holiday hiatus, Game Ogre, seems to be the episode where the series has solidified its identity as a supernatural procedural.

 

A series of brutal murders lay a trail leading to Detective Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby) and an escaped convict Oleg Stark (Eric Edelstein) bent on revenge. Oh, and the escaped convict happens to be a Siegebarste. The kicker: Siegebarstes don’t feel pain and have incredibly dense bones.

 

 

Scripted by Cameron Litvak and Thania St. John, the episode draws together the different threads of Nick Burkhardt’s professional, private, and Grimm lives. As Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) asks Eddie Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) for help with evidence, fianceé Juliet (Bitsie Tulloch) has to intervene when Nick (and their home) are being destroyed by the Siegebarste, and Monroe has to act as a Grimm-by-proxy when Nick is hospitalized, it becomes very clear that it’s impossible to keep those lives separate.

Hank (Russell Hornsby) resists protective custody (courtesy of nbc.com)

Game Ogre is a straightforward cop-confronting-murderous thug plot, but it works within the context of the series, which has often suffered from a lack of balance in its narrative. Hornsby is given a little more screentime, although his dialogue is trite, he delivers it with a sense of urgency that makes it believable. Silas Weir Mitchell’s Monroe is unmistakeably the breakout character of Grimm, fast becoming the pivotal audience proxy, exposition mouthpiece and the ethical heart of the show.

Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) (courtesy of nbc.com)

The further Monroe is drawn into Nick’s activities as both cop and Grimm, the more we see the moral grey areas that should be part of Nick’s narrative, handed over to the series’ resident Blutbad.

Can Grimm maintain the sense of itself that this episode establishes? We’ll see.

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