Friday, June 27, 2014

MINI-BREAK - I'm on Vacation, Dudes.

Yeah, so I know that I should be writing those two recaps of Orphan Black episodes, and also probably writing about Queen Catherine from Reign, because she is amazing. Also, brewing some fun stuff on a couple of kids' movies and the always entertaining world of comics. 

But for the moment, all of that is taking a backseat to my visit home, where I am chilling with my family, enjoying the sun, and generally wondering why on Earth I moved away from such a wonderful place.

Be jealous.

I'll be back with a review of Snowpiercer on Monday, which you should all watch over the weekend because yes.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

RECAP: Game of Thrones 4x10 - The Rise of the Murder Child

At last, at last I have finally gotten around to recapping this episode. Oddly, it's not because I hadn't seen it. I saw it a few days ago, but it's more because I've gotten so in depth with my recapping here (don't lie, you've noticed), that it takes me for-freaking-ever to finish a single episode recap. I'm not really saying that's a bad thing, since I do appreciate the ability to parse every single minute detail of the episode, but it is, well, time consuming.

Also I'm on vacation, and it's weirdly hard to find a couple hours to sit down and write when you're couch-surfing. Funny thing.

But here it is! Done at last. The recap of the finale of the fourth season of Game of Thrones. Oh yes. 

When it comes to the season as a whole, I feel like this was a season of very high highs and very low lows, particularly as regards female character development. On the one hand you have Arya and Sansa's developments into two very different but both incredibly formidable women. Arya has grown ever more bloodthirsty, while Sansa has learned the truth of political machinations. Daenerys has had her own thing going on, which seems to be neither particularly bad or good, and Brienne has been Brienne, because she never really changes that much and that's okay.

On the bad side, however, we have seen the destruction of Shae's character, which is problematic at best, as well as Cersei's rape and character assassination. Margaery Tyrell was retconned as a naive adorable little princess, while Lysa Arron was basically a psychopathic shrew from every misogynist's nightmares. There was bad and there was good. But, tragically, mostly bad.

I mean, this season had an incredibly high level of sexualized violence even for this show, going so far as to show casual rape in the background of exposition scenes. It featured a teenage girl being blamed for her sexual harassment, and was chock-a-brick full of male characters demanding control of female characters' sexuality. All deeply and meaningfully problematic. The show couldn't and didn't go a single episode without a reference to sexual violence. Just in general? Not a great year.

Which is really sad when you consider that a lot of this isn't from the books. A lot of this is new, added into the story to create "color" and "depth" and "realism" by the television adaptation. It unfortunately takes a relatively feminist book series (relatively) that deals explicitly with the bad implications of a patriarchal ruling structure, and turns it into a sexist fairy tale.

But that's enough ranting for now. What actually happened in the episode?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Think of the Children! Tuesday: Sailor Moon and Feminine Diversity

I don't know if you know this, guys, but Sailor Moon has been remastered and is being re-released on Hulu. Possibly on other non-internet channels as well, but I'm less up on that. The exciting bit is that this Sailor Moon is the original Japanese version with freshly translated subtitles, cleaned up images, and no weird story changes in order to make it more "palatable" for an American audience. 

What we're left with is the pure, unfiltered show as it was always meant to be, and that's amazing. I've been watching it because of course I have (only the first season is up on Hulu so far), and I have to say that it's wonderful. Also, though, I'm finding that there is a lot more going on in this show than I remember. Probably because I was a little kid myself when it was first airing in the US.

The thing is, sometime in the past fifteen years or so, I kind of forgot what the show is actually like. I remembered the plot, of course, because how could you forget a plot like this? But I didn't remember precisely how the show manages to show a complex understanding of feminine strength in various forms and how it never privileges one form of strength over another. In other words, I forgot precisely how much this show rules and needs to be watched by everyone ever.

There's no angst. Like, I feel like it's hard to remember why that's a big deal, but it is. Just think about it. When else have we seen a portrayal of a teenage girl who gains magical superpowers, and who doesn't immediately start angsting about what this means and how she can no longer live a normal life and being all sad. It's become an incredibly accepted trope, that one cannot have superpowers without being conflicted about how they impact your life. I mean, Buffy was always buried under the weight of her chosen-ness. She loved being a "hot chick with superpowers", but she also worried about how it led to a lonely road and how it changed her life.

Usagi does not have that problem. Usagi does not think that having superpowers negatively affects her life. Usagi really liked having magic powers that help her solve problems, and even when they don't help her in an obvious way, she still doesn't mind them. Usagi, and this is the most important bit for me, is excited to have powers and even more excited to meet other girls who also have powers. In other words, this show is incredibly progressive because it's doesn't just feature a teenage girl with magic abilities saving the world, it also shows her teaming up with other super-powered teenagers and being friends with them.

Monday, June 23, 2014

There's An Easy Solution: Just Add More Ladies (Edge of Tomorrow)

I wasn't originally going to write about this movie, Edge of Tomorrow, because I wasn't originally going to see it. It's got Tom Cruise in it, being all Tom Cruise and things, and also there were aliens and an invasion of Europe, and I just wasn't super enthused about the concept. Mostly because it looked like a videogame, and while I have the greatest of respect for videogames as a storytelling medium, I just don't get them. No idea why, I just don't.

However, as you may have gathered from the existence of this article, I did go see Edge of Tomorrow, and I am reasonably glad I did. It's a good movie. It's fun and interesting and raises some really cool philosophical questions. Mostly, the movie is about the cost of survival and the importance of selflessness, which is rad. Tom Cruise's character goes on a great journey of emotional development, and that development happens to be facilitated by well-shot and pretty funny action sequences, so that's nice.

It's not the thing that stuck out most to me in the movie, though. Nope, that honor goes to the female lead, Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a kickass action chick who kind of falls into Trinity Syndrome but also kind of doesn't, and it's complicated. I would therefore like to take today to talk about the complications inherent in Rita Vrataski and her character and her role in the narrative. So strap in guys, today we're going to talk about tropes, stereotypes, and "strong female characters".

Friday, June 20, 2014

Rom.Com - The Truth About Online Dating (And Love)

New class: Scaring Off Guys 101
I am gritting my teeth with the story I am about to share, but it has to be done. I’m writing about a webseries called Rom.Com that deals with dating websites. I have to come clean.

I, your faithful reviewer, have experimented with online dating. No, I will not say which site, and no, it’s not going well. I mean, I didn’t really think it was going to go well. I mostly joined because I had a paper due, and a long weekend off, and at some point I realized that creating an online dating profile was hands down the fastest and most entertaining way to procrastinate my butt off. 

Effective too. The paper was nearly late.

And I made a pretty kickass profile too. Very snazzy, and reasonably true to life. I’ve gotten messages, and I’ve replied. I even went on one date (got stood up). But the reason I’m telling you all of this is because the morning after I made the profile, I woke up in a cold sweat. Why? Well, I’d just realized that I had done what I swore I wasn’t going to do: I set up that profile because I wanted the validation of random people on the internet.

That’s a terrible reason to do anything, but it’s especially a bad premise on which to base a romantic relationship. And on some level I knew that. I knew that I wasn’t going to really do anything about this. But that made it even worse. Because either I was trying to date people purely because they thought I sounded cool and fun in a highly edited and manufactured profile, or I had no intention of ever dating those people and was using them for external validation. Both of which are super crappy.

I logged back on and re-read my profile. Looked at the pictures. Tried to see it like someone else would. And I realized something: that profile? Not me. Not actually. What it is is the me that I want people to see. It’s the person I want people to want to date. In a real sense, and I’m still working on this, I don’t want people to want to date me, I want them to want to date awesome me. You know?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Robot Chicken and the Normalization of Rape

Like any nerd who went to college in the 2000's, I've watched a lot of Robot Chicken. It was a thing, just as Adult Swim was getting going, and we would all crowd into my dorm room (my roommate and I were the only ones with a good TV) to watch episodes of Robot Chicken, Lucy - Daughter of the Devil, Drawn Together, and other such quality entertainments. It was funny. I have good memories of that.

So obviously when I got a notification saying that season two of Robot Chicken has fiiiiiinally been added to Netflix, I popped right over there for some nostalgia and laughs while I cleaned.

Only, come to realize, this show is not the show I remember. I mean, it's clearly the same show I was watching - even the same season. I remember the episodes and their jokes and all that, I just...I didn't remember it being so obsessed with rape. And so mean. And kind of really horrible.

What I remembered about the show was the sketches that I did (and still do) find absolutely hilarious. Like the one about Optimus Prime getting checked for prostate cancer. Or the one where Emperor Palpatine yells at Darth Vader over the phone, then orders a sandwich. Any number of other sketches they've done that highlighted the absurd in our favorite nostalgic pop culture vehicles. Those are great.

But what I'd forgotten was that the sketches I love are in the fierce minority. Much more common are sketches about sex and rape and justifications of racism and gratuitous sexual violence. It was pretty awful. I had to stop what I was doing and sit down to take a minute and wonder why I ever thought this was funny. Because it isn't. I don't find rape funny. But apparently I used to?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Maleficent: How To Explain The Cycle of Abuse To Children

Maleficent is a lovely, sweet fairy tale film. It has a happy ending, phenomenal performances, a story that manages to be both original and close to the Disney Sleeping Beauty, and altogether it's a joy to watch. It is also, and I say this with no contradiction in my heart, a story about rape.

I know, right? How does that work?

I figured it out while I was watching the movie, sitting in a theater full of children and parents, the only lone adult there, wondering if maybe this movie was too childish for me or too adult for them, when I realized that it is both. And neither. You see, this is most definitely a kids' movie. It's about a fairy and it's full of magic and there are multiple mud fights and the whole thing is a bit silly sometimes. And it is also decidedly an adult film. The movie examines how the chain of abuse can poison relationships for generations, and how choices reverberate throughout our lives and the lives of those around us. It is both a perfectly acceptable movie for children, and a deep and emotional film for adults.

And it's wonderful and amazing and makes me so incredibly happy. Also, incidentally, it does something few films even think to attempt: it gives children a vocabulary with which to talk about feelings of violation and fear, without traumatizing them. That's pretty important.

How does the movie do that, though? Allow me to tell you. SPOILERS from here on.

Monday, June 16, 2014

I Want My Nine Dollars Back (A Million Ways To Die In The West)

If any of you are reading this really quickly before you have to go somewhere, I will give you gist of the review right here and now: Do not go see A Million Ways to Die in the West. It is not funny, and painfully long, and I wish I had done something more productive with those nine dollars and two hours. Like bought a really expensive sandwich and stepped on it. Like a lot.

Suffice to say that I did not appreciate this film. The interesting part here is why I didn't like this movie. I mean, I could probably write a solid five thousand words of exactly what about this film I don't like, and it would probably be pretty funny, but it would, like this film, be completely wasting your time. No, the reason I don't like this movie is actually bigger than the fact that it was racist and sexist and profoundly not funny. 

I didn't like it because it was completely pointless.

I mean, it was also racist and sexist and not funny. And that's not just the easily annoyed film critic in me coming out. I was sitting in the theater with at least ten other people, presumably from very different walks of life, and I swear to you, the most laughter this movie got was a smattering of chuckles during a scene of prolonged pooping. That's it. The theater was dead silent for about 95% of the film. And might I remind you, this is supposed to be a comedy. This is actually supposed to be the next Blazing Saddles. It isn't.

The reason this movie is not the next Blazing Saddles, or really the next anything other than a massive flop, is because it's not actually saying anything. It sets itself up as satire, or a parody, but as far as I can tell, the entire point of the film is that living in the Old West must have been terrible. And also that Seth MacFarlane really wanted to make out with Charlize Theron. That's it. I can find no other motivation for the existence of this film.

Allow me to break it down for you, angry nerd style.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Strong Female Character Friday: Augustus Waters (TFIOS)

Augustus Waters is a movie girlfriend. And that is totally okay.

This is a topic I've touched on before (with Raleigh Becket in Pacific Rim and Sam Wilson in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), the male character who occupies a traditionally female role. Apparently this is a series of articles now. Just go with it.

Now, obviously, these aren't actually female characters, but they are characters with traditionally feminine traits and roles in the story. Raleigh takes the role of a supportive, "I believe in you!" female character from traditional action movies. Sam is basically Captain America's love interest. And Augustus Waters? He's a movie girlfriend.

Actually, if you want to be really technical about this (and I see no reason why not to be), Augustus Waters is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Or a Manic Pixie Dream Boy if you want to be pedantic. He comes into the story as a breath of fresh air, revitalizing Hazel and teaching her to appreciate life with his wacky, untraditional ways. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself. If you're not already aware, the character in question here, Gus, is main male character in this summer's blockbuster weepfest, The Fault in Our Stars. The movie, based on the novel of the same name by John Green, follows Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), a seventeen year old girl with terminal cancer, as she falls in love with Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a cancer survivor she meets in group therapy. It's a very sweet story, and also quite sad, for reasons that should be apparent.

SPOILERS from here on out. If you don't want spoilers, read this review.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

RECAP: Orphan Black 2x08 - I've Got Sisters

So, last episode ended kind of abruptly, and also with my realization that I am a potentially not very nice person because I thought that it was hilarious. No, seriously. All of this buildup. All of this, “Dr. Leekie is going to be the ultimate villain of this season!” and then a sharp “Nope!” and some brains splattered all over the windshield.


Anyway, this episode starts with a big car chase and some criminals that we presumably don’t actually know. The criminals drive their crime van into a garage and proceed to book it away. One of them has a bandana over his face. Suspicious. The other one has been shot, and they bicker over what just happened. It was an ambush. Were they set up? The guys shooting at them weren’t cops…

I have the sudden fear that two low-level criminals just tried to rob the DYAD Institute. That would be both terrible and absolutely hilarious. Because, you know, DYAD is terrifying.

The shot one is getting worse fast, and the bandana one takes off his bandana to reveal that he is…Tatiana Maslany. Because of course he is. I’m starting to suspect various furniture items of being Tatiana Maslany. Also the shot criminal tells the clone one that they were set up months ago. “That cop” called him. She wanted clone dude for some reason. The cop? Beth Childs. And the shot criminal has a message for her. Well, this should be entertaining and not at all super confusing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What If Teen Wolf Were Actually About The Grownups?

A few weeks ago we had a nice little "What If?" moment about the ladies in the Marvel universe getting center stage for a bit. Well, today I want to keep that momentum going with another never gonna happen moment: What if Teen Wolf were actually about the grownups? You know, Melissa McCall and Sheriff John Stilinski and Chris Argent and Peter Hale and Derek Hale and Ms. Morrell and Ms. Martin and Deputy Parrish and Dr. Deaton and Finstock and the Yukimuras and all those other interesting folks?

What would that show be like?

To my mind, it would be better. That's pretty much my bias talking, but here is how I personally think the show would go down. First off, it would be way better than what we've currently got. That's not to say that I don't enjoy the show as it is right now, because I definitely do. I enjoy the heckity heck out of it. It's just that I feel like we could do better. Scott is an awesome little puppy dog of amazing, and Stiles is cute, and Lydia is a fierce goddess, but I feel like the show honest to good ness would work better and be more compelling if the adults were the main characters. Here's why.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

RECAP: Game of Thrones 4x09 - The Premise Finally Pays Off

This is it, guys. The buildup to the no doubt devastating finale. Very exciting. But more than that, I guess I’m still curious as to whether or not a blisteringly good ending to the season can make up for the raging awfulness that was the beginning. I don’t know if you remember (I haven’t reminded you in a couple of weeks, so…), but the first few episodes of the season featured a level of sexualized violence that made me uncomfortable. More than that. It made me super pissed off. Because it was unnecessary and gross and offensive and terrible writing.

But in the past couple of episodes, we’ve gotten past that a little bit. There’s been less of it, at least. You know, just a couple of characters getting sexually assaulted per episode. We’re down in the quotas. So I guess what I’m saying is that I still like Game of Thrones, and I would desperately like for this season to end without the degradation of any more characters. No rape, please. Please stop it with the rape. 

Also, I have to say, this is the episode where the premise of the show, what we've been waiting for freaking seasons to see, with the fantasy elements facing up against some brutally honest storytelling, finally comes to fruition. It's been a while coming, and I am very excited for this.

Okay, we can start now.

The episode begins with Jon and Sam at the top of the Wall, as per their punishment for speaking out against Ser Thorne at the last meeting of the Night’s Watch. It’s been interesting how while last season had Jon Snow on an adventure quest, this season has seen him battling bureaucracy and incompetent leadership. I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just a shift.

Think of the Children! Tuesday: Mulan

It's surprising that it's taken me this long to write about Mulan, because when it comes down to it, this is probably my favorite children's movie. Or, well, that might be overstating it a bit (there's still Balto and Babe and the movies I genuinely watched most as a child, Endless Summer and Chariots of Fire). It's definitely one of my favorites, though, and of the movies from the Disney renaissance, this one is tops.

I love it for a lot of reasons, not all of which are academic. First off, it's just a fun cool adventure story with a kickass female lead and a lot of great songs. Tell me you can listen to "Make a Man Out of You" without singing along at the top of your lungs, and I'll call you a liar while starting to sing the song myself because it is exactly that catchy. 

I mean, there are definitely weird things in this movie (like why a Chinese guardian spirit is voiced by Eddie Murphy), but I love those weird things and everything about this whole film. It's feminist without feeling forced, and it actually has really good messages for kids in there. Plus, hey, it's always nice to watch a Disney movie that isn't super duper white-washed.

Those are the real reasons I love this movie, but I also appreciate it on an intellectual level. It's not just a good movie, it also has some really interesting things to say about a very prickly subject: gender performativity. Awww yes, that's where we're going today. Strap in, it's gonna be great.

Monday, June 9, 2014

RECAP: Orphan Black 2x07 - Alison Would Do Well in Prison

I'm not going to lie (I rarely do lie on here, because that would be silly - I don't have to tell you anything so lying would be just weird), the reason this recap is a week late is that I just plain didn't want to watch this episode. Not because I was worried it was going to suck or anything. It's Orphan Black. I'm never worried about that. It's just that last week's episode made me sad. It had Helena and Sarah finally getting a chance to be sisters, only for Sarah's obsession with discovering the truth and Helena's deepseated abandonment issues to come between them.

I don't want that to come between them! I want them to be happy and sisters and fight evil together!

Basically what I'm saying is that I was too emotionally fragile to keep watching. And I'm not exactly saying that I'm any better now, but, you know, I have to do it sometime (I do not actually have to do it, but I will anyway), and now is as good a time as any. So, with that ringing enthusiasm, what happens this episode?

The episode starts off with Alison and her new bff, Vic, doing arts and crafts at the rehab center. Vic, as you may recall, is Sarah's ex-boyfriend, a former drug dealer who is now allegedly reformed, and who happens to be spying on Alison and cozying up to her for the cop, Angie, who is looking into this whole weirdness with Sarah and her lookalikes. Just so we're all caught up.

Well, It's Very Faithful to the Book... (The Fault In Our Stars)

I am not a particularly sentimental person. That shouldn't come as a shock to anyone. So, when I say that I didn't cry at the end of The Fault In Our Stars, I hope you understand that this doesn't mean the ending was unaffecting or unemotional or not good, it just means that it didn't make me, personally, cry. And that means crap.

It does, however, mean a little something that I did cry when I read the book. I cried a lot. Ugly crying, just like you're supposed to. And I was kind of miffed as I walked out of the theater, trying to figure out why, when I so clearly had a strong emotional reaction to the book, I didn't have a commensurate one for the movie. I think I know why.

You see, the movie of The Fault In Our Stars (which is obviously what we're discussing today), is faithful to the book. Very faithful. Actually, I would argue, possibly faithful to its detriment. No, it's not a bad movie. It's a very good one, actually. But I think it might have been a great movie if it hadn't been so blatantly terrified of offending its fanbase, so scared that it didn't even dare change one little line of dialogue.

It was faithful to such an extreme, that I actually didn't have any strong feelings while watching the movie, because nothing in the movie surprised me. At all. I already knew everything that was going to happen, but not just in the way that I am ready for any spoilers on Game of Thrones but still anticipate seeing them and am still freaked the hell out when they happen. No, it was more like this movie was just the filmed version of the book with literally no changes made, and while that's nice, and certainly gratifying for John Green, it left me in the audience feeling a little, I don't know, cheated?

Just kind of meh, I guess. Because I already knew the story, and that meant that there wasn't anything to discover. Nothing was added when they adapted this story to film, and in the lack of anything being added, I think something was actually lost.

Friday, June 6, 2014

In Her Own Words: First Person Storytelling in YA Lit

So, like I said a few times, I spent the early part of this week (and several weeks before that) working on a paper on young adult dystopian fiction. It's a fascinating topic, and one of my favorites. In fact, I like it so much that I'm currently writing another paper on the subject, because I just can't help myself.

But while I've been doing research (which mostly consists of reading and re-reading every young adult dystopian novel I can get my hands on, whoo!), I've noticed something. Not really something particularly weird or bizarre, but more something universal and accepted, that I think we should take a second to recognize. So.

Hey, guys, did you ever notice that almost all young adult novels are written in first person?

I assume that you did. It's kind of noticeable. It's even more noticeable when you factor in how this is true of almost no other genre (except like detective novels, I think). Nope. Just young adult fiction. And of young adult fiction, it's not quite universal, but it is very common. And it is most common in stories with a female protagonist. I'm going to name a few, and stop me when you start to see a pattern:

The Hunger Games, Divergent, Matched, The Selection, The Fault In Our Stars*, The Only Alien on the Planet, Percy Jackson, Ella Enchanted, The Beka Cooper Series, Speak, The Lovely Bones, etc. I could go on, but you get the picture.

Now, admittedly, not all of those are female protagonist stories, but the majority are. And in a couple of those, the story eventually goes to a multiple first person narration system - but it does that later in the series, and starts out just in the head of our lead girl. Why is this? This is weirdly specific, right? Why is it so particularly common in this one genre to have the protagonist narrating the action?

Well, I'm not an expert (not yet, anyway) on the subject, but I would like to hazard a guess. An extremely well educated guess. My hunch is that the reason first person narrative is so popular in young adult fiction because it gives the readers a chance they get almost nowhere else: the opportunity to hear the story of what is happening to their teenage, female hero in her own words.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

RECAP: Game of Thrones 4x08 - Only the Good Die Young

While I am happy to be back to blogging (yay!), it's totally bumming me out that the two episodes to be recapped this week are so overwhelmingly depressing. And sad. And miserable. Guh. Seriously. Convincing myself to recap this is like when you've left the bandaid on for too long and your leg hair is grown in and you know you have to rip it off because it's starting to smell but it's going to huuuuuuurt.

Anyway. Might as well get this over with.

The episode picks up in mucky wet sadness, aka that random town in the North where Sam left Gilly in a brothel. Gilly is not happy. Gilly does not like working in a brothel. The whores aren't very nice to her, because nice people are in scarce supply in Westeros. Probably because they keep getting murdered. Someone should look into that.

Gilly stops their argument when she hears an owl cooing. Except it's not an owl and Gilly knows it. It's the Wildlings, who after like three episodes of doing things off screen are finally back and sacking a town. They appear to be looking for something specific, or else they're just clumping together because it's a good fighting strategy (which it is). Ygritte goes into the whorehouse and kills a bunch of the whores. But not Gilly. She lets Gilly and her son, Sam, live. Probably because she recognizes something in Gilly's cold dead eyes - the North.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Miss Officer and Mr. Truffles Kickstarter is LIVE!

Source [x]
Hey everyone, guess what! I'm not dead! Nope, it was just yet another case of having an important deadline on an important paper. This is the summer of academic writing, I guess. So far I've written papers for a book on popular culture post-9.11 and another book on dystopian fiction. Fun times. And still coming up, I'll be working on papers for Divergent and Philosophy and Doctor Who and Philosophy: Regenerated. So, you know, exciting stuff!

I hope to be back to writing normal articles by tomorrow, but for now, check out this super awesome kickstarter for a really wonderful project: Miss Officer and Mr. Truffles, a heartwarming animated show about a Canadian Mountie and her bear sidekick. (It's based off of the cutest picture in the world, and has the full support of the people seen in said picture, though the real Mr. Truffles was busy being a bear and therefore could not comment.)

Anyway, it's a really cute project, and it's exactly the sort of kids' media we want, right? So support them!

And we'll be back with some much desired recaps tomorrow.