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Or, why I finally decided to watch The Help and what I thought of it.

I had originally thought that I would not bother watching The Help. I'd read enough reviews to think that the whole thing was pretty problematic in terms of the framing of the generally unvoiced lives of black women within a story about a white woman finding her voice and getting a cool job.

But then I watched the Oscars - one of my little vices - and realised from her speech how proud Oscar winner Octavia Spencer was of her work in the film, and decided to honour her and the other black actors in the cast who had chosen to devote their talents to this less-than-ideal vehicle.

And I am glad that i did, because Spencer, and Oscar nominee Viola Davis did very good work in this film. And it is a film about women's lives and thus passed the Bechdel test with flying colours, always a good thing.

But I still would rather have watched these fine actors in a film about black women working as domestics in the southern US during the early days of the civil rights movement, and their relationships with the white women they worked for and the white children they cared for, without the framing story about a white woman's aspirations.

Not that we don't need more films about women of all races, situations and backgrounds following their dreams and succeeding, because we do. But to frame the story of black women with a story about a white woman who gives them voice, catalyses their actions... nah, we don't need any more of that.

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OK, I have finally seen Iron Man, and while there was certainly lots of cool comic book geekery and a pretty, if superficial message about greedy corporate merchants of death, I'm tempted to suggest that the movie should be subtitled "A white American hero's adventures in the land of swarthy threatening people."

There are a lot of swarthy threatening people in this movie. They seem to be living in caves somewhere in Afghanistan, and have international connections that allow them to obtain weapons from the afore mentioned greedy corporate merchants of death (specifically, our wastrel hero's business partner at Stark Industries, the biggest and sexiest purveyor of weapons of almost mass destruction around). I guess that means that they are Taliban fighters, or maybe Al-Queda, even though they seem to be a gang who use ten rings as a symbol, and there's some throwaway lines about them being nasty swarthy people from all over the world, not just from Muslim countries. Hey, maybe they're some of the warlords, who were well known for terrorising the people... oops, no I forgot, the remaining warlords are good guys now that they're in Karzai's government.

Basically, the point I'm trying to make here is that the situation in Afghanistan, the real country, is very complex, and pretending it's as simple as frightened villagers, swarthy frightening terrorists and noble heroic American soldiers really does a massive disservice to a tragic situation.

Anyway, whoever they are, the villains kidnap our soon-to-be great white hero Tony Stark who is in Afghanistan showing off his latest weapon of not quite mass destruction to the American army, who he wants to sell it to. And here's where the movie really annoyed me.

Because here is where we meet Yinsin, a character who apparently was East Asian in the comic books but who is portrayed as Central Asian and Muslim in the movie. In this relatively short sequence, we learn that Yinsin really has no plotline of his own. He is Tony Stark's fellow prisoner so that he can save Tony's life, help Tony communicate with his kidnappers, assist Tony in his escape (note to some extent it is Yinsin's method of preserving Tony's life that gives Tony the idea for the super-powered suit), and then nobly and courageously sacrifices his life for Tony, surviving just long enough to assuage Tony's fleeting moments of guilt by assuring Tony that he always knew the escape attempt would end in his death, and he was willing to do that, because Tony is a great man and all Yinsin wants to do is rejoin his family in Paradise.

Now I may be wrong, but doesn't Yinsin seem an awful lot like the Muslim cousin of the Magical Negro?

And I know that this movie has been praised for its stand against the arms trade, but I found myself thinking that for a movie that purports to be about how war is evil, it was very convenient for the conscience of the Western audience that it was only the nasty men hiding out in those caves who used weapons against helpless civilian villagers, and not, as has been the case far too often, the Western forces currently in Afghanistan.

So, yeah, the action sequences were cool and there's nothing like watching two CGI
Transformers fighting it out in the streets of LA, and the noble sacrifice of Yinsin made it possible for Robert Downey Jr. to skillfully portray Tony Stark's character development into a post-modern superhero with flaws and a suspect past as well as a conscience and a desire to do right (permit me, though, to express some doubts as to whether working with a shadowy organ of the American government that calls itself Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division is going to do the world as a whole all that much good).

But despite the frothy geeky goodness, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

morgan_dhu: (Default)

I am getting so bloody sick of mainstream North American entertainment deciding that I, as a white person, am so empathy-challenged that I can't possibly identify with a person who is not white.

I assure you it's not true. I've watched dozens of movies (I'd watch more, but they're not all that easy to find) where the characters aren't white, and you know what - I've understood the characters' motivations, I've felt that I could identify with their struggles and their triumphs - in fact, I've enjoyed all those movies just as much as - and sometimes even more than - movies with all-white casts that are supposed to - what? reassure me? make me think "my people" run the universe? protect me from seeing difference?

And I bet you have, too. Even those of you who are also white like me.

So why do things like this keep happening? Who decides that if the source material, which is popular enough that you want to make a movie out of it in the first place, happens to have most or all of the characters be people of colour, that has to be changed for a North American audience?

When are we going to start having real-life casting? When will the people doing their thing in the movies and television shows I watch look like the streets of the city I live on, where there's more than just one black person, one Asian person, and maybe one Aboriginal person at a time?

I've got an idea.

Why don't we decide that for just one year, no movies or TV shows will be made that have white actors in them unless you can "justify" why the person playing the character is white. Let's have people of colour as the default, and only cast white people because it's a major plot point and there's no way to avoid it without making the piece meaningless, or because, well, you have to have one token white person. Who is, of course, either the sidekick or the mentor, and who of course sacrifices hirself heroically to save the non-white hero. Oh, maybe we'll allow two or three big-name white actors to make a movie, just to prove we aren't racist.

Let's see what our most popular forms of entertainment look like to those of us who are white, once we're the ones you hardly ever see. It might actually, you know, teach us something about being the person who's defined as the Other.

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Seeing as it was the weekend before Hallowe’en, and we had a bunch of coupons for free or half-price movies from our local purveyor of movie rentals that are due to expire end of the month, we had ourselves a horror flick bash.

First thing you have to realise is that I’m a sucker for women who kick ass, especially when they’re kicking zombie ass, vampire ass, or other assorted nasty creepy ghoulie and ghostie ass. Even if they’re doing so in completely inappropriate clothing or high heels. As long as the obligatory sidekick goat-boys* don’t take up too much screen time, I can deal with chainmail/leather/spandex bikinis and non-sensible shoes.

So that mostly explains my choices of Resident Evil, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, in which Mila Jovovich kicks mutant zombie ass and soulless corporate mercenary butt all over the place, assisted by assorted goat-boys and, in the second movie, the equally kick-ass Sienna Guillory. I also enjoyed the implicit criticism of global capitalism.

Rise: Blood Hunter casts Lucy Liu as a reporter whose investigations of strange doings in the Goth scene lead to her gruesome transformation to a vampire and her quest to hunt down and kill the family of vampires responsible for her death. Liu kicks vampire ass superlatively. For the record, Michael Chicklis, who co-stars as an alcoholic cop searching for the same gang of blood-suckers for reasons of his own, may be Liu’s sidekick, but he is more than a goat-boy. This film got mixed reviews, but I enjoyed it a lot. I admit to a particular weakness for watching vampires try to be ethical about blood-sucking while they kick butt. I also admit to a weakness for Lucy Liu.

28 Weeks Later picks up some months after 28 days Later left off. England is almost completely depopulated, and the zombies, er, Rage Virus victims have all died of hunger. The rebuilding of London has commenced, with the assistance of the U.S. Army. Refugees from the continent are being repatriated. The countryside is being scoured for the few survivors. But unbeknownst to the reconstruction teams, the virus is still lurking…

'Ware serious spoilers, including how the movie ends )

The last flick of the weekend was 1408. A stylish ghost story about belief and self-delusion, with a bravura performance by John Cusack as a debunker of ghost stories who is writing a book about haunted hotel rooms, and insists on staying the night in Room 1408 at The Dolphin Hotel, where more than 50 people have died over the years from a variety of causes, and it is implied that even more have gone mad. The movie was visually very creepy, emotionally powerful in parts, but faded toward the end. The conclusion, I thought, wasn’t quite “big” enough to justify the intensity and complexity of what had gone before. My favourite part was actually the build-up, in which hotel manager Samuel L. Jackson tries to persuade Cusack’s character not to stay in the room by recounting all of the horrors that have happened there, part of which is a wonderful set-up for Jackson, well-known for playing action heroes with a bit of a twist, to explain why he avoids Room 1408 unless it’s that time of the month. I admit to a weakness for Samuel L. Jackson.

And that, Gentle Reader, was how I spent my weekend.

* I call ‘em goat-boys because they almost always seem to be sporting about a day and a half’s worth of unshaven facial hair, which gives them the appearance of being young goats. Also add puns on goatees, goat’s head soup, devil-may-care attitudes, and goatish behaviour as you wish.

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I’ve been watching movies on DVD lately, because I am on vacation and have the time. A few of the one’s I’ve watched have been, I think, worth commenting on.

Stranger than Fiction: This was not only funny – which I expected – but highly thought-provoking (which I had thought it might be but wasn’t too sure, given the state of much North American cinema today). It’s an exploration of the relationship between art and life, the creator and the created. Of power and responsibility. Of ethics and aesthetics, and the long debate over which should take precedence. Of predestination and free will. It’s narrative and metanarrative and discussion of the relationship between the two all at once. It’s also a touching love story with some truly side-splitting comedic moments that ends up delivering a profound and serious message.

Twilight Samurai: A beautiful film set in the period of transition between the Tokugawa shogunate and the Meiji restoration – the end of feudal Japan and consequently the end of the traditional samurai. The main protagonist is Seibei, a very junior retainer to the head of his clan, a widower trying to support his dying mother and two young daughters on the minimal income of a samurai at the bottom of his social class. There is little fighting (though what there is, is wonderfully choreographed) but much examination of the winding down of a way of life. Seibei is called the Twilight samurai by his associates, because he always goes home in the evenings to take care of his family rather than going out drinking with them, but he is also living in the twilight of the samurai way of life, trying to uphold traditional ideas of honour in a time where the codes of social conduct he has learned to revere are unravelling. The focus of the film is his developing relationship with Tomoe – a childhood playmate who has fled an abusive relationship with a powerful samurai of his clan – and his struggle to be true to his sense of what is right as the world he knows crumbles around him.

Keeping Mum: This is a delightfully dark British comedy about family values gone very wrong, with deadly hilarious results. It’s hard to review without giving away the crucial plot twists, but the plot centres on the family of a sincere but oblivious country vicar (Rowan Atkinson in an uncharacteristically underplayed role) who pays more attentions to his sermons than his family. His wife is lonely, bored and spending way too much time with her obnoxious American golf pro, his daughter is rebellious and determined to find a partner who is everything her father is not, his son is being harassed by the school bullies, and his new housekeeper (the brilliant Maggie Smith) has some very unconventional approaches to taking care of problems. And that’s just the set-up.

The Curse of the Golden Flower: Some reviewers have dismissed this film as visually stunning but ultimately “hollow spectacle.” I must disagree. It is true, I think, that the film is not the gorgeous action genre film that viewers of House of the Flying Daggers might have been expecting. To be sure, there are some delightful fight sequences, but this is not an action film. Rather, it has to me a similar feel and power to that of the great familial/dynastic tragedies of Sophocles – with themes and conceits that are Confucian (given my limited understanding of Confucianism) rather than Hellenic.

It is set during the end of the Tang dynasty, during the rule of a fictional emperor. The turmoil, corruption and reversals of the proper relationships between husband and wife, father and son, mother and child, brother and sister are a microcosm of the confusion, corruption and rebellion consonant with the disintegration of a great dynasty. The chorus of palace officials sounding out the hours counts down the destruction of a royal family as surely as the passing of months and years leads toward the fall of an empire. At its heart, the movie seems a profoundly moral tale – the relationships and rituals that would otherwise lead humans to harmonious living, with all members of the family/society in their proper places and giving to each other the proper respect and duty, have been corrupted, and all is disharmony, leading to destruction.

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Well, it didn't get any Academy Award nominations, but the other night I saw a really good movie: Saving Face. I understand it made somewhat of a name for itself at the Sundance and Toronto International Film Festivals, and deservedly so.

The focal characters are Wil, a single, Chinese-American woman who is a doctor and a closeted lesbian and her mother, a widow who has lived her life exclusively within the Chinese community. The film revolves around their relationships with each other, and with the members of their family and community - including an aspiring dancer, Vivien, who seems determined to get Wil out of the closet and into her life.

Delightful story with several quite unexpected plot developments, well acted, with several relative newcomers and the divine Joan Chen playing the part of Wil's mother, with powerful but subtle direction from Alice Wu, who also wrote the script. And lots of fun.

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Well, it was an interesting night.

By the time the show started, I was more than a little amused at Heath Ledger's repeated panegyrics to his WIFE and their NEW BABY, just in case anyone thought that just because he played a GAY COWBOY in THAT MOVIE there might be something a little off about his MANLINESS. I mean, really, every time I saw an entertainment reporter ask him what he thought about his experiences doing the movie, he didn't seem to think of much to say about the acting process, just how wonderful it was that he has a WIFE and a NEW BABY. OK, Heath, I hear you, you're an actor, not a gay cowboy.

And then there was Reese. Lovely acceptance speech, Reese. Would you mind telling us what was on your mind when you kept repeating the words REAL WOMAN over and over again?

I want to say thank you to so many people who helped me create this role. Everyone at Fox, Cathy Konrad, James Keach, for producing the film. A very special thank you to Jim Mangold who directed the film and also wrote this character. Who is a real woman. Who has dignity and honor, and fear, and courage, and she's a real woman.

Right, Reese, your character was a real woman. That's not unusual in a biopic, Reese, you didn't have to shout it from the rooftops. Oh, what's that, it's not just your character that's a real woman, you are too?

And I want to say that my grandmother was one of the biggest inspirations in my life. She taught me how to be a real woman, to have strength and self respect, and to never give those things away. And those are a lot of qualities I saw in June Carter.

Reese, dear, if you keep on making a fuss about real women, someone might think that you're trying to make some kind of point. And we know you weren't trying to do that, now, were you?

Thanks for being so open about yourself, Reese. By the way, I'm really looking forward to seeing Transamerica.

September 2017

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