Oz the Great and Powerful

This movie was a monumental disappointment.  Its plot was so devoid of any substance it can be summarized spoiler-free, simply by reciting a list of gender offensive stereotypes:

-Blonde girls are good, dark haired ones are bad.

-Women who show initiative and take charge are evil, those who wait around for a man to come and take charge are good.

-Any sexual impurities utterly ruin the female’s character for the rest of her life, while the male party has no need to acknowledge responsibility or take part in shame, but on the contrary has his personality confirmed as good and he is awarded the “good,” pure girl.

-Little white girls are saviors who refine character, particularly when they’re in pain.

-Everything with women comes down to looks.

 

So much for what the plot entailed.  What it did not contain also harmed it, as it failed to answer any questions or add any unpredictable story layers to its cannon.  There is no mention of ruby slippers or where they came from, no explanation for why water is the Wicked Witch of the West’s kryptonite, no description of the flying monkey’s relationship with people…..nothing interesting.

 

Even from a visual standpoint, “Oz the Great and Powerful” disappointed.  In a world littered with iconic visuals like the chilling appearance of the Wicked Witch in the Emerald City and the first time Dorothy sees Oz’s projection, this movie offered: bright colors, a stunning visual of China Town they put onscreen for all of 10 seconds, and visually interesting opening credits.  That’s it.  Even the costumes were decidedly unmemorable, except for what color they were.

 

In short, “Oz the Great and Powerful” contains absolutely nothing worth seeing, let alone paying for.

Inner Mermaids, Greek Myths, and a Voice

The Little Mermaid’s link to Greek mythology.

One Rune

Lately I’ve been pondering the similarities between the Little Mermaid and the Greek Lara.

 

“Lara, (also known as Larunda, Larunde and Mater Larum) was a naiad or a nymph and was the daughter of the river Almo.  She was incapable of keeping secrets, and so revealed to Jupiter‘s wife Juno his affair with Juturna (Lara’s fellow nymph, and the wife of Janus); hence Her name is connected with lalein. For betraying his trust, Jupiter cut out Lara’s tongue and ordered Mercury, the psychopomp, to take Her to Avernus, the gateway to the Underworld and realm of Pluto. Mercury, however, fell in love with Larunda and made love to Her on the way; this act has also been interpreted as a rape. Lara thereby became mother to two children, referred to as the Lares, invisible household gods, who were as silent and speechless as She…

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Women’s Sexuality in “Firefly” and “Serenity”

Realization: the female characters in Firefly and Serenity have personalities that can be defined by their sexuality as seen through the heteronormative gaze.

 

How is Kaylie sexually?  Open, enthusiastic, available, nonassertive.  What is Kaylie like?  Open/friendly, enthusiastic/cheerful, available/helpful-she does the most work on that ship, and nonassertive.  She wants Simon right away, but it’s never really her choice whether they actually have sex or not.  In her line of work-she knows her stuff from the start, but nothing she does is really her decision-she takes orders from others.  How are we told to see this character?  As nice, likeable.  Why?  Because sexually available, while not officially considered the best way to live, is seen as a desirable thing in a woman by the patriarchal culture.  Hence, we are shown that Kaylie can be happy, deserves happiness, but she rarely fully achieves it since, after all, officially she is judged as a slut.

 

How is Inara sexually?  In control, independent, calculated, dramatic, and confident.  What is Inara’s personality like?  She’s highly independent, confident, she calculates her moves/picks her clients and location, has the ultimate say in her life instead of listening even to Mal, and her presence tends to be dramatic in the show-sexual tension, exotic stories, having a large presence.  Yet, as basically a courtesan, we are shown that she will never achieve happiness-this calculating, independent way of life/sexuality stands between her and Mal, and basically Inara and happiness.  Why?  Because the current culture frowns on courtesans.

 

How is Saffron sexually?  Manipulative, calculating, opportunistic, and dangerous insomuch as she uses seduction as a weapon.  What is Saffron like?  Manipulative, calculating, opportunistic, and dangerous inasmuch as she uses everything in her arsenal as a weapon.  Does Saffron ever really win?  Nope, she always ends up the worse for wear.  After all, can’t have a woman who uses sex to her own gain, or as a weapon, ever be happy, unless it’s proved to be an illusion.

 

How is Zoe sexually?  As a married woman with a clearly active sex life she’s loyal, athletic, private, and always working in a relationship.  How does Zoe function as a character?  She’s loyal, athletic, private inasmuch as whenever Zoe tells a story from the past it’s a big deal, and always working within a relationship-even when she’s apart from Mal she’s generally operating within orders given by him or previously worked out with him.  This is not to say she’s the lesser partner in her relationships-she’s often the commander, the more dominant one, but still-always within relationships instead of on her own.  Is Zoe happy?  As the woman in the heteronormatively approved marriage relationship, yes, Zoe is generally seen as happy (dangerous exploits notwithstanding).

 

River, naturally, is harder to talk about but basically is seen as a nonsexual entity, just as she’s viewed as something-other-than-normal-human category in life, so the trend continues.

 

This is not meant to detract from the show, but rather the sharing of a sudden realization I had while looking at Firefly paraphernalia.  Any thoughts yea/nay?

La Belle or Le Clueless?

During my visit this past week I watched two movies.  The first was a rewatch of Clueless.  The second was new to me, the cult classic La Belle et Le Bete (Jean Cocteau’s French film of Beauty and the Beast).  Unexpectedly, I discovered that these two films-American and French, modern and black-and-white-have much in common!

List of Similarities between Clueless and La Belle et Le Bete (some spoilers may apply):

1) Both protagonists have lost their mothers.

2) Neither Cher nor Belle can bear to leave their fathers.

3) Smoke causes a great deal of shame in both stories, by marking Travis as running in inferior circles and humiliating the beast for his beastly eating habits.

4) Makeovers are absolutely essential! (Tai, Cher’s soul, Belle’s clothing transformation, the Beast’s change…)

5) Both heroines put up with a man who’s constantly in their home and with their family, even though there’s no real family tie. (WHY is Avenant always there???  He doesn’t need to marry Belle to enjoy any money her father gets, he’ll be there enjoying whatever they’ve got anyhow.)

6) The role of lighting plays a huge part in dealing with the opposite sex. (Cher’s lighting plan, arms with torches…)

7) Both girls take it upon themselves to rehabilitate a social pariah. (Cher with Tai and Belle with the Beast, of course.)

8) Neither Cher nor Belle has any difficulty getting blunt and contemptuous with suitors. (“Clean yourself up!” “As if!”-Now, imagine those being used interchangeably with Cher ordering the greasy high school boys to ‘clean up, already!’ and Belle answering the Beast with ‘As if!’)

9) Neither are at all responsible when it comes to the practical things in life. (Cher’s driving, Belle’s failure to keep track of the key or to return on time.)

10) When they feel guilty, they both play sick. (Cher saying she’s physically unwell because her masseuse said she had a lot of tension after the encounter with Elton.  Belle lying in bed claiming illness from worry over her father while wearing a freaking crown-and-veil combo!)

The more I think about it the more this version of Beauty and the Beast seems like Emma-where the person you end up with is that one who’s been around, getting under your skin for ages.  Only the more modern tale made the male’s righteousness idealistic instead of arrogant or creepy.  (Can we talk about how absurd it is to hug someone to your chest by pulling an arrow across them?  I know I can’t, I can only stare agog.  Avenant is totally the Elton of the fairy tale universe.)  The other major difference is, of course, the posing.  The French classic takes posing literally and extremely seriously.  The Austen modernization interprets it more loosely as projecting a certain lifestyle over yourself.  So much else seems the same-a magic mirror would probably work exactly the same as the phone connection between Cher and Dionne.  Amber dressing in the same clothes as Cher effects her just the way Belle’s sister reacted to seeing herself reflected as a monkey.  Cher’s computerized clothing system and moving closet is akin to being dressed by invisible hands-though thankfully Cher has nothing as creepy as Belle’s moving blankets.  Belle’s feeling of power that the beast drinks from her hands, in spite of how clearly the event pales compared to his wild-animal instincts, is akin to Cher’s entitlement when she calls Josh to rescue her after being abandoned by Elton.  She assumes he will come when she calls, even though he has no real motivation.  Josh’s interest in the law and therefore Cher’s circle due to his own parents’ disinterest in him could arguably be akin to the Beast getting pushed into magic due to his parents’ angering of the spirits.  Now, if only I can figure out how this connection can explain the flying at the end of La Belle and Le Bete…

Belle is “a strange girl.”  On the other hand, Emma/Cher actually end up with their brother-types, instead of just getting stuck with someone in their body (though I’m sure the symbolism there means more in its lesson to girls about who the best man to end up with is).  In any event, it all ends with a big kiss frightfully soon after the switch from brother-type to suitor is made.    In really frilly clothes.  Because the girl will “get used to” the man telling her how to think and act, whether he’s a beast, prince, or college kid.  Because clearly, the man must know what is best for the woman.  Perhaps because he has the power of movement: Josh can drive.  The beast had all sorts of transportation devices.  That must be why he can fly at the end!  To show that in spite of losing his magical objects, he still has the power to move, to make his way in the world.  That is why he’s still acceptable-even if he’s a bit too familiar, Belle won’t be stuck in the same place again.  (Avenant offering to take Belle away didn’t work because he had no magic/power to back it up.  The man had no driver’s license!)

Well…smoke my statues’ faces and send myself flowers and chocolates: I know why the ex-beast can fly!  Now…why did the father seem more upset about riding through fog than the fact that he just lost his entire fortune?

Sexily Dressed on the Subway? Expect Sexual Harassment

Shanghai Subway Publishes Photo Of Sexily Dressed Woman, Tells Her To Expect Sexual Harassment PHOTO.

 

Okay, I’m going to skip right over the implications that the harassment of women is okay if her clothes “ask for it” and the opposing point that the particular outfit in the photo is impractical for most locations.  There are lots of people talking about these things already.  What I want to talk about is how condescending this ad is:

“Dressing like that, it would be unusual for a lady not to be harassed.  There can be perverts on the subway and it’s hard to get rid of them.  Please have self respect, ladies.”

Before you even get to the politics surrounding sexual harassment, you have the Shanghai Subway system telling women what to wear.  When was the last time in your life that someone felt the need to point out to you the appropriate choice of wardrobe?  Mind you, not what outfit is appropriate for a date or a certain dress code, but what things you just shouldn’t wear out?  Because they would show a lack of “self-respect.”  As adults, I’m pretty sure the answer is “A long time ago.”  Until now, if you’re a woman, obviously.  We need to be told.   Part of the subway’s defense was that it is part of their job to warn women about sexual harassment.  That sounds fine…until they presume to tell us what we should do about it.  Until they patronize us by assuming they know best how women can show respect for themselves and thinking it’s their job to inform women of it.  After all, women couldn’t possibly have self-respect without being told what that means, could they?

 

Whatever you think about how people should dress in public, do you really believe that systems should be able to blatantly patronize women?  Women as sex objects should be clamped down, but infantalizing women to the position of children who need guidance in such simple daily tasks as getting dressed is alright?  I can get dressed by myself, thank you.  Because I have my self-respect, and it is not defined by you.

Merida vs. Cinderella

The more I hear/read people talking about Brave, the more I feel she’s still getting too much credit, particularly when it comes to being empowered.  Cinderella seems the obvious person to compare her to as her situation was also dominated by her relationship with her mother-figure.  Cinderella is often viewed as one of the weakest female characters in fairy tales, while Merida was supposed to be a new, more feminist princess.  The more I think about them together, the more I feel Merida makes Cinderella look good.

First off, I have to say that I have never been as down on Cinderella as many people are.  I always felt she developed relationships with mice and birds in order to preserve her sanity and keep from growing embittered.  As a young girl thrust into a lonely, tough situation, choosing to put forth extra effort (which the mice clothes show she clearly does) for these reasons shows foresight, self-awareness, and resourcefulness.  Add to that, she is forced to work long hours, do many manual jobs, and clearly isn’t allowed enough sleep.  In this situation, putting forth the energy to do that much for yourself and to better your circumstances is incredible.  I think it’s courageous of her to try and hold onto her happiness.  It shows that she doesn’t internalize the messages she gets from her family, she still believes in her own self-worth.  The fact that she is doing so while trying not to vilify her family any more than she must is an added effort of will to keep her sane and from the trap of being bittered, again-lots of foresight, lots of willpower.  Many people have a down on her for not getting out and making her own way in the world, or not doing more.  I think Cinderella was already doing more than many real people would.  Compare her to someone in a dead-end job that they hate-they don’t get along with their coworkers, there’s barely any time for them to have a social life, there’s a lot of pressure and demands.  Sure, they’d rather be somewhere else but finding a job is tough-at least they have a place to sleep and enough to eat, and they know enough to appreciate that.  At least they’re better than these rich, lolly-gagging idlers who just do nothing all day.  You have satisfaction in knowing you can get stuff done, even if it’s not stuff you’d particularly like to do.  People might wish these people into better circumstances, but does it really reflect badly on them that they keep going on and doing their job because they feel that they must?  Particularly if they are still working to keep up a rewarding social life and to not become embittered?  That person is the common hero or heroine of today, and Cinderella is a wonderful guiding light from them.

 

To get back to the comparison, look at Merida’s position.  She’s already a princess, she’s clearly well taken care of physically, she has a family who clearly loves her, days of total freedom, and her biggest complaint is that her mom is trying to control her.  Yeah, tell Cinderella about it.  Now, for the crucial point: how they handle their one magic wish.  To be fair, Merida does show more spirit in needing to insist on receiving a wish instead of simply being given magic like Cinderella, but then Merida also had magical wisps giving her the hint to claim something important.  On to the actual magic.  Cinderella wishes for the equipment to get to the ball.  This may seem shallow or short-sighted.  However, after seeingBrave, I see Cinderella’s wish as more self-assured.  She asked for the equipment to accomplish a certain task-she trusted herself to actually see that task through.  Merida, on the other hand, in spite of starting out with a huge advantage over Cinderella, didn’t think she could “change her fate” on her own, even with a little help.  No, Merida only saw that her mother was in charge, not that Merida herself could take control of her own fate.  In terms of control, I think we can all agree Cinderella’s mother figure had far more control over her than Queen Elinor does of Merida, but Cinderella still managed to think of something she herself could do, if just given the opportunity.  Moreover, Merida was entitled enough to put her wish on someone else.  Cinderella, at least, takes all the consequences of her magic to herself, not using the moment to put something unwanted on her family or trying to change them to make her life easier.  That gives Cinderella’s magic the moral high ground, especially considering how much more Lady Tremain deserved a magical alteration compared to Queen Elinor.  This is even before considering that Merida’s desire to change that particular event shows that the educated princess totally missed the big picture and failed to consider the consequences her actions would take.

 

Who would you rather have running your kingdom?  The resourceful princess who was always forward-thinking and only experiments with magic on herself? Or the entitled princess who’s willing to magically ‘change’ family members and doesn’t wonder about the consequences?

I declare Cinderella the victor.  Merida’s a new, more empowered spin on a princess, my ass.

Wild Locks and the three Brave movies

There are too many differing things about this film.  You see, there’s really three different movies all packed inside Pixar’s latest release (expect non-specific spoilers):

The Good Kid-Flick: Brave is a beautiful film.  The soundtrack is lovely.  The attention paid to bringing out the Celtic flavor makes me smile.  The humor with Merida’s triplet brothers gets a bit half-assed at times, but it works for the intended audience, so who am I to knock it?  The family/clan humor works better, if through cliches.  The scene with the witch is wonderful, particularly her old-time voicemail system.  Disney’s trend of making horse companions increasingly helpful until they became the horse/dog/craziness that galloped through Tangled came back to the lovable realm, which I deem very important.  The overall story is cute and the main characters are likable.  Plus, King Fergus is just a really cool dude.

The Bad(ly) Anticipated Movie: My issues with this film began retroactively with the trailers, it turns out.  They clearly misled people to believe that Brave involves a great adventure.  The phrase “A Hero Will Rise” was clear claptrap to draw people in.  This story was about family, teenage/parent relationships, and vaguely one could argue it was about tradition.  What Brave is not about?  What people think of as a magical adventure with a young girl pitted against great forces in order to take charge of her own life.  If I’d known more of what the real plot was I probably would have seen it, but I certainly wouldn’t have been so excited or seen it so soon.  My next issue is the name itself.  Bravery is nobody’s issue here.  It’s not even a big theme.  You could argue that you need different kinds of bravery to do many of the things that happened in this film, but then you could also make that argument about maybe half the movies out there.  It just seems like one more ploy to direct audience expectations along more adventurous routes than what Brave actually delivers.

I also had trouble with a lot of aspects in the film itself.  First and foremost, I hated the way they invoked “fate.”  Frankly, there was no reason to bring fate into any of this-so a typical family squabble got a bit magical, it’s still a simple family trouble.  My main reason for disliking it though, is that it framed the whole story as if this is Merida taking charge of her fate.  I’m sorry, if running to a witch for a spell when you get frustrated and asking her to change circumstances for you is the same as getting empowered or taking charge of your own life, than I quit.  Nothing Merida did after that really had to do with deciding her own life, either.  Those actions had to do with other uplifting messages about relationships, but not freedom, empowerment, or “fate.”  Even at the ending Merida never really thought anything through or stepped up to the front herself, as far as her destiny goes.  Ultimately, that stupid spell thing worked and that, I cannot forgive.  Second, the whole storyline with the actual “villain” was so sketchily done it could lift right out.  It seemed like one of at least a hundred things they could have added to the plot to amp up the drama, that it was drawn out of a hat and none of the film makers really cared about that part.  There was never any real suspense, he’s barely there, and the movie expends no effort on getting us to really care.  Third, I felt like the characters didn’t develop enough.  Only three of them were fleshed out at all.  The two females evolved a little, but it felt like the end just brought them back to versions of themselves they’d been before and the whole thing was nothing but effects of a stressful time.  Fourth, I really did love Merida…as a rebellious fourteen-year-old.  Any older than that and her beginning choices seem so irresponsible and brattish that it’s hard to take seriously.  Particularly for the time period, when even fourteen was old enough to be married and pregnant.  On the other hand, at fourteen for the modern audience the idea of marriage would be alarming enough to appropriately invoke these reactions, but then the queen’s stance would be disturbing.  Merida is a princess, no matter how she feels about acting like a lady, it shouldn’t take so much for her to at least glimpse the big picture here.  Fifth, everything that happened felt like a cliche.  Princess unhappy with life, botched magic wish, family turmoil, princess causes political problems…what’s new?  Not that everything has to be new, but it should at least feel more fresh than stale.  Particularly if it is being marketed as a unique, new brand of princess tale.

The Ugly Feminist Film: As Pixar’s first female lead and a movie claimed to possess a new kind of princess story, Brave has a lot to say about gender issues in our society.  First off, is Merida really a new type of princess?  Chapman’s original idea was to make a new type this way: “Merida is not upset about being a princess or being a girl. She knows what her role is. She just wants to do it her way, and not her mother’s way.”  Well, in the film I saw living under the pressures of being a princess and conforming to the role of a girl/”lady” is pretty much what Merida was upset about.  Moving on, a lot was made of the fact that there is no love story.  The fact that this is a big deal says a wealth about society, already.  While it’s true there’s no romance, did it really leave the building?  The suitors are important, traditional gender roles are upheld, and love is upheld and promoted as the key to Merida’s ending.  Is Merida really an empowered, strong, female protagonist?  In physical prowess, she certainly is.  She’s very strong and stubborn in her choices, but I have doubts as to whether they show real empowerment or independence rather than simple teenage frustration and immaturity.  Bringing “fate” into the equation lends every doubt I have about Merida’s learning and sense of freedom more weight.  If this is the best Merida can do to grab hold of her own life, than I don’t really think so.

On the other hand, Queen Elinor’s habitual control over herself , her husband, and her kingdom demonstrates what a strong heroine can do.  Her relationship with her husband stayed practical and believable instead of being just a stereotype.  Her love of tradition and conventional roles never stops her from doing what needs to be done.  She is a woman of her time and a feminist who believes that a strong woman doesn’t need to break out of anything, she can simply be who she is and still get everything her way.  That, to me, is a much more powerful feminist statement than anything that happens with Merida.  Merida needs things to change around her in order to “change her fate.”  Elinor just makes hers, no matter what.  I really hope that after the events of Brave, she’s able to pass that on to her daughter.  If she’d done so in the movie, perhaps the talk of seeing your own “fate” would have fit in.

After reading http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/movies/pixars-brave-how-the-character-merida-was-developed.html?_r=1 I think I’ve figured out why they had such a hard time trying to make a “new” kind of princess tale.  First Pixar heroine and what do they seem to have spent most of their time on to get across the aspects of “freedom” and “wildness”?  Merida’s hair.  I rest my case.  (Well…at least that hair was awesome.)

The Horns of Ruin

The Horns of Ruin

By: Tim Akers

(shadoth.blogspot.com)

Pyr 2010

A fantasy action steampunk review

Eva Forge lives to kick ass and honor the name of the warrior god Morgan.  The fact that Morgan is dead, betrayed, means that she is the last of Morgan’s paladins.  The fact that her cult now faces deadly, mysterious attackers means that Eva will have to face not just weapons, but secrets, politics, and panic on her own.

 

Eva’s strong voice carries The Horns of Ruin at a good, action-filled pace from cover to cover.  Her supporting cast offers intrigue and humorous relief.  However, no one, not even Eva, can claim a fully developed character.  Akers is particularly short on backstory.  While a couple protagonists do receive some growth, it is more hinted at than realized in the writing.  Arguably, this book has enough to do with explaining the city’s history, current layout, and the workings of the various factions.  The combination of steampunk devices with sword-and-sorcery action adds to the confusion.  The city of Ash contains many complicated details and these are relayed to the reader in a kind of rhythm-chorusing what we already know and steadily adding new verses without losing pace with the action.  This method is not as smooth as it could be, but it’s serviceable and won’t bore or overwhelm.

 

The plot of The Horns of Ruin contains large twists that are actually quite predictable and many small points that are not.  The use of history and knowledge in this world’s logistics is clever without forcing messages on anyone.  Everything builds on a fight scene.  These are written with aesthetics in mind; it’s a shame this story isn’t visual.  As it is, these grew rather repetitive to me towards the end, but it could be a matter of taste.  Nevertheless, the true core of the story is simple: Eva kicks ass.  As such, this is a fun, quick read with cool images thrown in.  The cover image by Benjamin Carré and the chapter fonts are definitely awesome.  But I doubt I’d read any sequels.