Category: Movies


The Misandrists: It’s… interesting…

The Misandrists by director Bruce LaBruce is… interesting. I’ve been mulling it over in my head for a few days now and I think in a way it needs to be taken more as an experience than a traditional story-driven film. By virtue of its director alone it is a transgressive film and an almost conceptual one. The closest analogy that comes to mind is Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void, which was about the death dream of a dying drug dealer. Both films are intense, visual, helmed by extremely creative outside-the-box artists and films I have no intention of ever seeing again. This is not so much because I don’t think highly of the films. Rather it is because now that I’ve seen each once, I just don’t need to do it again. I think for those, like myself, who are raised on a relatively mainstream diet of cinema, watching these kinds of films is a good exercise. It is a way to view the world of cinematic storytelling through a new lens and be exposed to new ideas. A nice place to visit, but perhaps you don’t want to live there.

What follows in this article is a breakdown of things I noticed as I was watching the film, supplemented a bit by an after-film interview by the director himself. Because I came to the theater expecting a more traditional work, I kept trying to figure out how everything fit together. If the film is understood as a more abstract work, however, perhaps the traditional complaints will fall away. It will still be an intense experience, but there might be fewer questions about what is going on.

Storytelling

Dancing Nun

My issues really revolve around choices in scenes that appear during the film. These choices, for me, amounted to a lot of unnecessary misdirection. This might be partially my fault as I tried to understand where the film was going. As I mentioned before, a better strategy might have been to just absorb the film and mull the overall meaning later. That said, the first scene to take note of was the “Dancing Nun” scene. This was a moment when a nun, whose face isn’t seen, walks very purposefully and slowly before looking around and then breaking into dance. This happens for a moment, then the nun returns to walking purposefully and slowly again.

A couple things to note here. First of all, it’s established earlier in the film that the nun outfits are mostly just ruses. Unless there’s someone in authority nearby, the outfits are never worn. Secondly, there’s no real connection in this scene to the rest of the film. It’s just a strange non-sequiter. Perhaps it could be taken as a symbolic moment (perhaps some idea of being reserved and disciplined, but being unable to prevent loosening up once in a while.) Even if that were true, however, there seems to be no immediate connection to the rest of the film. As mentioned earlier, the very idea of wearing a nun’s outfit on a regular basis seems odd given that it was clearly initially worn by characters in the film as disguise.

Secret Nun

The next issue revolves around a cameo by the director himself. In one scene, a nun’s face appears and looks out into a courtyard where an event is taking place. That “nun” is the director in a nun’s outfit. The pupose of this moment made sense in the interview after the film, but it completely misled me prior to that point. In the interview after the film, Bruce LaBruce mentioned that he liked to make the audience part of the film. This “secret nun” moment was part of that. Essentially, the camera watches the nun look out the window and then cuts to view the courtyard from the nun’s perspective. The problem here is that, without the benefit of the after-film interview, it appears as if the secret nun is an actual character. I certainly took it that way. Until the interview, I really kept trying to figure out who this nun character was. I kept expecting to find out that this secret character was in fact controlling the events of the film while hidden way. Watching the film in this context made me feel there was a real unresolved storyline.

Big Mother

Speaking about unresolved, I feel there were some issues surrounding the character of Big Mother that were not properly laid to rest. In particular, there were a number of cues that seemed to me to indicate that Big Mother was heading towards failure. The first indication is very early in the film when one of the girls, Isolde, openly voices opposition to Big Mother’s policies. Doing this so early in the film sets the tone for a tale of authority versus resistance. This thread continues on with a discussion of rules about smoking. This is forbidden by Big Mother in the film, but everyone, including Big Mother herself breaks the rules casually. Thus Big Mother’s authority is false, even to herself.

To be honest, the whole environment Big Mother has set up feels cultish and artificial. The girls are regularly told stories that revolve around mythology and could easily have been made up. The exercise regimen includes pseudo-militarized chanting. Educational material is delivered with such heavy modification that it is reduced to propaganda. In a replay of the false authority issues mentioned earlier, the girls are shown as not even listening to the teacher. In the meantime Big Mother is extolling the virtues of prostitution as she prepares to enact a plan to create a pornographic film. One she admits needs to be done for money while declaring that it will also be her group’s manifesto.

The Ending

The above issues seem to mean the film is headed to an ending of disappointment for Big Mother. In reality, the plan ends in complete victory. Big Mother makes her film resulting, among other thigs, an ending scene showing the audience of her film inspired into an orgy. This didn’t make much sense to me from the standpoint of a logical plot, but the reasoning behind it was made clear in the after-film interview. The interviewer noted that Bruce LaBruce tends to end his films with orgies. LaBruce confirmed this and indicated that he likes to end films on a positive note, which for him would be an orgy. This is fine, but it is a significant break from all the cues being delivered throughout the film. This more than anything else brings the film into the world of magic reality. Essentially, it is a confirmation that the film is a conceptual exercise rather than a more conventional tale. Were I so inclined to see the film a second time (I really don’t think I will be), I would try to view the film through that perspective.

Conclusion

None of the above should promote the idea that I think the film is bad. It’s certainly the product of strong creative vision. I also think it was worthwhile to see the film if for no other reason than to step outside my regular diet of cinema. It’s important to be exposed to new and alternative ideas once in a while. For purveyors of mainstream films, I would recommend taking The Misandrists as a magic reality film. I feel, after some thought on the subject, that it is more of a presentation of a particular idea or theme rather than any traditional narrative. Audiences, particularly mainstream audiences, should absorb the film as an experience and try to understand the events seen in a somewhat symbolic or non-literal manner.

Please be aware, however, that no matter how you approach the film, it will be an intense and, in some parts, deeply unsettling experience. If you’ve seen Bruce LaBruce films before, you know what to expect. If you haven’t, well… good luck.

A Late Review of Black Panther

Mea Culpa

Black Panther has been out for weeks now, so all the worthwhile reviews have already been posted and read. I can’t imagine I’m adding anything new to the mix, but I’m going to do it anyway, just because. In my defense, I was busy with a lot of stuff outside of movie-going. I do admit I was a bit worried going into the theatre about how I’d feel about the film. I had heard it was good, but the hype was building so fast I was worried I’d be let down. Sometimes I’ll just skip watching a film based on hype. Either I’ll have too high an expectation going in, or, as was the case with the Ghostbusters remake, the level of polarization on the film will be enough to drive me off. In the case of Black Panther, though, I was very pleasantly surprised. I really do think it’s one of the best movies Marvel has put out.

Overall Impressions

The cinematography is beautiful. I never once got the impression I was viewing a green screen backdrop. The film was incredibly colorful and I felt like I really had stepped into a world that was simultaneously urban and rural, technological and traditional. It was clear a lot of careful thought had been put into the world of the film.

Set designs were likewise impressive. I especially liked Shuri’s lab. One of the interesting things about portraying a technologically advanced lab is the use of a visually sterile set (as if tech mean medical-grade cleanliness). Another stereotypical portrayal is the messy lab with lots of tubes and pipes and gadgets lying around in a general mess. What was great about Shuri’s lab was that it went with fashionable look. It was clear immediately that this was her domain because of all the painted walls. It was kind of hip and cool and artsy. Kind of like how a lot of Silicon Valley startups like to portray themselves. I liked this because it showed how the filmmakers didn’t want to rely on convention, even in the smaller details.

The acting was top notch. There were some great talents brought to the film and it showed. Just one example is the relationship between T’Challa and Shuri. It’s established as soon as Shuri appears onscreen and felt very authentic and unforced. I enjoyed watching them interact with each other and I feel it’s a good representation of all the acting in the film. These were pros who knew how to pull the authenticity out of the text in the script.

This authenticity helped a great deal with events in the film. In the fight between T’Challa and his rival M’Baku, I logically knew it was too early for T’Challa to be dealt a serious blow. The film still had to establish his character. Despite this, however, I really found myself concerned about T’Challa’s fate. It did feel like he was going to lose his kingdom to M’Baku. When he did not, I felt relief. Of course, when Killmonger challenged T’Challa, that earlier victory made it clear he was going to lose, which in turn set up anticipation in the rest of the film. In addition to this, I was really invested in the scene between Killmonger and his father. This was a scene that would be easy to cut out in other films, but is so critical to showing how Killmonger has lost his way and the failure of his father. Mostly what struck me was the quiet emotion. This could easily have been a scene-chewing moment, but the script, the director and the actors correctly went for a subdued interpretation that spoke to the emotional struggle of the moment.

Quibbles

As much as I liked the film overall, there were a few minor points that broke me out of the film. For one thing, the final fight sequence was relatively hard to be invested in. The primary culprit was the fact that I could tell very easily that I was watching a CGI battle. When W’kabi runs through his opponents in a giant rhino, I could see very clearly that this was a digital effect. The smoothness of motion, the speed, the blur to hide any artifacts, it was all very clear what was happening. In addition, the battle between T’Challa and Killmonger screamed CGI, especially as they fell down into the underground subway system. Again, it was all about the motion, the smoothness and the attempts to provide a cool shot. All this did was make me think “Huh, CGI” and wait for it to be over.

Speaking of the subway, I’d like to point out a small logical error. Earlier in the film, Shuri explains that sonic generators are used to weaken or neutralize vibranium. If that’s true, then both T’Challa and Killmonger would have become permamently deaf. If the sonic generators are strong enough to visibly warp light around them (there were visible ripples whenever they turned on) the they were more than powerful enough to blow out eardrums. The fact that T’Chall and Killmonger were both enhanced by the heart-shaped herb is meaningless. At the end of the fight it’s clear that either can be harmed by bladed weapons. It stands to reason that sensitive organs like eardrums would be just a susceptible to damage. So, basically, T’Challa should be deaf right about now. Thank movie magic for that one.

One final quibble. I really didn’t believe that the CIA operative, Everett Ross, was in any trouble in the final battle. I just didn’t believe that the enemy aircraft was going to shoot through the windows in time to stop him. That meant his decision to stay in the simulator to remote-fly his aircraft felt hollow. The whole moment really just felt forced. It might have been better to just let him fly the simulator without anything attacking him as he did so.

Themes

There were a variety of themes in this movie, all of them worthy of discussion. For the sake of time, however, I would like to point out one interesting theme of inherited guilt. Just prior to watching the film I had been reading up on articles analysing H.P. Lovecraft. These articles pointed out that one of the themes of Lovecraft’s works is the concept of inherited guilt. That is, disaster coming to one through the sins of ancestors. This must have influenced how I saw the film, because I noticed similar lines of thought as the story wore on. The first notable instance was when Killmonger raided the museum, pointedly blaming the museum artifact expert for the sins of British imperialism that resulted in slavery and exploitation of natives on the African continent. Killmonger shows another aspect of inherited guilt in his battle with T’Challa at the waterfall. He points out his desire for revenge because T’Challa’s father, T’Chaka killed Killmonger’s father N’Jobu. In other words, T’Challa is receiving punishment for the sins of his father. Outside of Killmonger, we see this in Shuri as she refers to Everett Ross as “colonist”. It’s a casual reference, and not necessarily meant as a profanity, but it carries a history of guilt with it nonetheless. Finally, we see M’Baku air his grievances at T’Challa over an ancestral rivalry. This rivalry is based on the feeling of being snubbed by the ruling clans of Wakanda, which in turn caused M’Baku’s tribe be antagonistic towards T’Challa’s clan, thus creating a cycle of retribution.

Apart from the general “good guy/bad guy” dichotomy, it’s really this cycle of retribution that separates T’Challa from Killmonger. Killmonger is heavily tied to this cycle, mostly because he feels he can end it with enough violence and bloodshed. If he can kill enough people, he can suppress resistance and create a new world order. T’Challa goes the other way. In a critical scene M’Baku points out that for hundreds of years, no ruler of Wakanda has ever come to visit M’Baku’s tribe. T’Challa acknowleges this, but also points out that he is not his ancestors. One of the last scenes showing M’Baku among T’Challa’s circle of advisors completes the message; we all have guilt in our ancestry, but we are not our ancestors. Every generation has the chance to forge a new path. Furthermore, acknowledging the past while forging a new future leads to a more peaceful society. Killmonger’s way results in in near indiscriminate destruction. He instantly tears apart a stable political hierarchy and destroys the respository of the heart-shaped herb. This is an act that not only destroys an artifact of religious and cultural significance, but also serves the dual purpose of reinforcing Killmonger as the undefeatable leader of Wakanda and cutting off Wakandans from their heritage, thus making them easier to manipulate as a society. Killmonger isn’t interested in improving the world in any way. He just wants war and revenge, something that is destructive to all parties, not just a select few.

Wakanda as an influence on world politics

At the end of the film, T’Challa decides to unveil Wakanda to the world. Although there was a carefully constructed narrative of Wakanda as a poor country, T’Challa decides to throw this away in an attempt to lead by example. Since this is a movie, T’Challa’s decision is clearly scene as upbeat and positive. That said, and I know I’m doing more quibbling with this, I wonder just how effective T’Challa would be. I would argue that Wakanda, if anything, would become just another player in the great game of International Politics.

First of all, let’s broach the question of exactly how Wakanda would interact with the outside world. It can’t possibly be through any form of immigration. Wakanda has spent centuries as a highly insular country and would therefore not have the social, political, or logistical infrastructure to handle immigrants. There is evidence to suggest the population in general would resist this. W’Kabi, for example, early in the film states that immigrants bring their problems with them. I can’t believe he would be alone in thinking this.

So, Wakanda can’t build bridges through immigration. That part is out. The only other option is through outreach. This is in fact what happens. T’Challa, at the end of the film, points out that he’s purchased numerous buildings in order to build a Wakandan outreach center. But what effect will this have? First, let’s remember that it is stated early on that Wakanda has spies in every country. As long as Wakanda was thought of as a poor country, no politician would suspect espionage. Now that T’Challa has unveiled Wakanda as the most technologically advanced society on the planet, espionage must be at the top of everyone’s mind. The outreach centers just add to the problems. When the British landed in Africa, India, the Americas and Canada, they were the most advanced technological society of their time. We all know how that panned out for the natives. Wakanda will, in effect, be very susceptible to accusations of cultural imperialism.

Claims of cultural imperialism won’t just be used as general utterings of paranoia. These claims will be used as leverage for access to Wakandan technology. For all of Shuri’s brilliance, it’s absurd to think that Wakandan tech couldn’t be reverse engineered given enough time, enough resources and enough hardware to study. At the very least Wakanda and any representative will be the subject of hacking attempts, theft attempts, or other methods to obtain Wakandan technology, knowledge and resources. A couple things are inevitable from this. First, Wakandan representatives would demand a halt to the activities and, when it is clear nothing will stop, would probably start demanding concessions in the form of trade, treaties and so forth to offset the loss of Wakandan property. Second, the Wakandan tech would inevitably be used to harm others. This would give other countries the leveage they need to demand international regulations on Wakanda and possibly an opening of Wakandan society to outsiders.

This kind of behavior would put incredible pressure on the Wakandan leadership due to both internal and external pressures. On top of that, T’Challa is a superhero and is spending significant time saving the world. T’Challa might bow to pressure to close off Wakanda from the world again, but this would be a mistake. China already witnessed first-hand the results of being exposed to the outside world. In centuries past, the British wanted to trade with the Chinese who in turn just wanted the British to go away. Because of this, the British engaged in something called “Gunboat Diplomacy”. That is, “trade with us or we’ll attack you”. Wakanda would engage in devastating damage on its attackers, but no one country can stand against all the others forever. This means that Wakanda’s only option is to stay open and play the game of International Politics. Wakanda doesn’t become a leader of the world so much as one of the crowd. There isn’t enough vibranium in the universe to solve that problem.

Summary

Keep in mind, of course, that all this is pure conjecture. It’s just something fun to do after watching a good movie. In all, Black Panther really was a good movie. It was well-acted, had excellent visuals and it was clear that a lot of thought and care went into the story and the world the story inhabited. As I mentioned earlier, one of the top level Marvel films. For the Marvel films that focus on individual characters, I hope they keep it up. Infinity War is coming out this weekend, but that might be a different type of creature what with all the characters that have been crammed into it. We’ll see!

More Bride.

arthuradamsart@twitter.com 2017-10-31 02:21:17:

More Bride.

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Got some SUPER RAD #StarWars #Halloween stickers!

nerdmost@twitter.com 2017-09-18 20:09:52:

Got some SUPER RAD #StarWars #Halloween stickers!

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Ghost in the Shell is a pile of garbage

What an execrable mess. It’s so embarrassing when a well-respected piece of storytelling is remade under the Hollywood banner and thoroughly butchered. You would think with so much access to talent and resources, a Hollywood film would take the work to the next level. Instead, it shoves it to the depths. This film is not worth anyone’s money. View full article »

Wolverine and Shakespearean Tragedy

Still from the movie Logan

Logan has been out for a while now, and all the reviews have been posted, so I’m very late to the party on this one. I actually saw the film opening weekend, but was too busy to get around to putting my thoughts down until now. While many reviewers enjoyed the story, the action and Hugh Jackman’s last hurrah as the titular character, I noted something a little different. Wolverine is actually a Shakespearean tragedy. Or, at least, very close.

Just as a quick warning to those who haven’t seen it: there are going to be spoilers.

The Shakespearean Tragedy

First, let’s go over the basic plot points of a Shakespearean tragedy. In essence (and I’m glossing over a lot, here), the Shakespearean tragedy involves a character of major social importance. In Shakespeare’s time, this would be a king or a prince. The character has a fall from grace, usually through a personal flaw. This character then undergoes a kind of tortured reformation or redemption that sets the wrong things right, but also kills the character in the end.

Logan fits this almost to a T. It’s established early on that Wolverine’s reputation has survived the death of mutantkind. Even one of the antagonists, Donald Pierce, turns to Logan with a smile and says “I’m a big fan!”. The filmmakers were, in fact, relying on Wolverine’s history not only in the films but in the comics as well. This was a film for fans of both worlds. The audience was expected to come in knowing something about the character.

The fall from grace is slightly more nuanced. In Logan the days of the legendary Wolverine are long gone. Logan has no pride or hope left and is reduced to driving people around while drinking his pain away and buying drugs in back alleys. Logan’s personal flaw, if one can even call it that, is that he’s exhausted. A lifetime of warfare and age in general has reduced his healing factor. The adamantium that made him invulnerable is now poisoning him. There hasn’t been a new mutant born in over twenty years and Professor Xavier, who is now suffering from a neuro-degenerative disorder and generates uncontrolled psychic bursts that need medication to stop. It’s strongly implied that Xavier inadvertently killed the X-Men during one such episode. Logan has lost hope, which means he’s no longer a fighter or a survior; he’s just trying to keep his head above water.

The rest of the film takes Logan on his tortured path to redemption, ultimately killing him as the plot recipe demands. The discovery of Laura (or X-23 to comic book fans) builds to a late-blooming realization that there is something worth fighting for. Broken, beaten and with nothing to lose, he sacrifices his life to set things right just one more time.

The only real deviation here is the ending. In Shakespeare’s works, the character that takes control of the kingdom in the end of the play is the one who truly restores order to the universe. There is no such character in Logan, although spiritually, Laura is his successor. Imbued with the same powers and adamantium skeleton, she is just a younger female version of Logan. Further, in the comics she dons a similar outfit and is declared the new Wolverine. If a sequel to the film were to follow this line, then Laura is destined, one way or another, bring order back to the world she lives in. As it is, she merely survives to become her own person rather than a living weapon.

Logan and King Lear

In addition to its general overall bleakness, one very notable aspect of King Lear is the use of the Fool. In King Lear, Lear’s arrogance and perhaps mental instability result in his daughters throwing him out of the castle. Destitute and driven to insanity, Lear’s only companion is the court jester.

The Fool is important in King Lear because without the Fool, the play would descend in self-indulgent misery. The Fool challenges Lear to pull himself out of his madness and become again the man he was. Professor Xavier is no different in this regard. In Logan he is the Fool both metaphorically and literally. Suffering from his disease, he has episodes that range from absurdity to intense danger. In his lucid moments, however, the old Xavier comes back. Like King Lear’s Fool, Professor Xavier is the truth-teller that Logan needs to drive him forward into a better state of being. He operates as Logan’s conscience, convincing him to help Laura in her desperate moments, but also as a guide, reminding Logan that there is still a path to peace and love if he would just take the time to recognize it. Unlike Lear’s Fool, however, Xavier does not surive to the end. His passing makes way for a darker force that Logan must face.

Logan and Hamlet

Hamlet demonstrated one of the critical tools in Shakespeare’s literary arsenal; the use of multiple characters all of whom mirror each other’s traits. This is most obvious in Hamlet. First, there is Hamlet himself. Hamlet’s father, the former King, was murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, now the current king of Denmark. Second, there is Laertes, Hamlet’s friend. Laertes’ father was killed by Hamlet who, once he kills the newly crowned Claudius, will become the king of Denmark. Finally, there is Fortinbras, a prince of Norway. Fortinbras’ father, the king of Norway, was killed prior to the start of the play by King Hamlet, Hamlet’s father. All three swear revenge on those who murdered their kin.

The comparison goes beyond this, however. Their flaws can be compared against each other as well. Hamlet, throughout the play, would rather wax poetic than actually kill his uncle. Laertes, however, seems to act without thinking at all. The moment he’s told that Hamlet has killed his father he accepts the information without further inquiry. He also reveals he purchased poison while travelling abroad even though there is no reason given why he should want to do it or why the audience should think there would be a logical reason to have it. He just kind of does things. Finally there is Fortinbras. Fortinbras swears revenge on his father’s murderer (Hamlet’s father), raises an army, invades Poland at some point and from there moves into Denmark just after Hamlet has finally killed his father’s murderer. Fortinbras is established as a balance between Hamlet and Laertes. He both thinks and acts while the other two are extremes.

Logan fits this model quite well. Laura, Logan and X-24 (Logan’s weaponized clone) are all products of the Weapon X super soldier program. All three sport enhanced senses, a healing factor and an adamantium-laced skeleton complete with razor sharp claws. Just like in Hamlet, the three mutants can also be compared by their differences. Age is the obvious starting point. Laura is just a child. X-24 is a grown adult and Logan himself is centuries old. The differences continue, however. Logan talks throughout the film, mostly in an effort to drive people away. Laura speaks only when it is most important to do so. X-24 doesn’t speak at all. He just grunts, growls and roars. Laura has an active plan that she is seeking to implement while Logan seems to be running mostly off of improvisation and desperation. X-24 doesn’t appear to think or plan at all; he just does whatever he’s told to do. Finally, Laura represents a life almost untouched by the Weapon X program, while X-24 is completed controlled by it. Logan is the uncomfortable balance in between, having to deal with trauma of the program while at the same time having escaped it.

The End

As with Hamlet and Laertes, Logan and X-24 fight and as with Hamlet and Laertes, both die in the process, leaving Laura, who might go on to be the hero of the next generation. As mentioned above, the similarities between Logan and Shakespearean tragedy end here because Laura heads off towards a hopeful but uncertain future. Overall, however, I think adhering this form of storytelling really elevated the film above standard superhero fare. There wasn’t action for the sake of action and the emotional stakes resonated quite well. Not every superhero film can be like this, of course. The film was far too grim to be regular superhero fare, but its adherence to such a classic storytelling structure made it quite a refreshing change. It would be a good thing to see more films like this in the future.

Concerns About Ghost In The Shell

Ghost in the Shell Live Action FilmThe upcoming live-action Ghost in the Shell film captures the look of the anime films, but does it capture the soul? View full article »

Godzilla’s Nuclear Fury

Shin Godzilla Nuclear FuryShin Godzilla isn’t just a monster movie, it’s about one man’s revenge on humanity. View full article »

Dark Seduction is a terrible film the story of which should be an inspiration to filmmakers. View full article »

Doctor Strange and International Politics

Recently, Comic Book Resources broke a story about how Chinese concerns are what led to Tilda Swinton being cast as The Ancient One. The Ancient One, for those not familiar with Doctor Strange mythology, was a male Tibetan monk of ancient knowledge and power who teach Stephen Strange to be come the Sorcerer Supreme (the magical guardian of Earth). For the film, however, a white female (Swinton) was cast. Why? Read on for more View full article »