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Mr. Robot Season 2: Dislocation and Alienation, the Misogyny Hack

Spoilers Ahoy and throughout!

 

The sophomore slump, in many art forms is pernicious, second albums and television seasons, second films, something about a stunning debut leaves the expectations almost impossible to equal. The divisive second season of Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot, both fell victim to this narrative and brilliantly transcended it, and the key to both the antipathy of mainstream critics and audiences and those who found it smarter, sharper, and deeper than its inaugural season leans heavily on Esmail hacking the misogyny of his home boys and passionate viewers. Those who would treat his audacious and deeply emotional tale of alienation as merely a series of Rubik’s cubes and Easter eggs to be solved, and who embraced the plot driven story of a very MALE cyber punk folk hero who will smack down the corporate military technology complex, and were annoyed by a very character driven season dominated by women characters.

The first season was a delight, a taut kaleidoscope of cinematic homages in service of a paranoid narrative of a male folk hero who most often recalled the disassociated lead in the film Fight Club. Esmail certainly embraced these allusions, but from the get seemed interested in something far more philosophically and emotionally fraught: a constant interrogation of “reality” itself, and how much we can know of it through our senses is deeply traumatizing shit as Cisco might say. The very first homage he makes is to Blade Runner (often lighting and shooting his actors with a glowing sheen on their eyes, much like the androids were filmed/lit in BR) a science fiction film about androids, and the show is of course called Mr. ROBOT. I don’t think Elliot et all will be revealed as robots, but I think like BR we are meant to process they ways the human mind and body is like an organic machine, with code that can fracture or be hacked.

Few viewers chafed at the obvious unreliability of Elliott as our narrator, and indeed thrilled at figuring out quite quickly that the Mr. Robot he interacts with all season is but a figment of his fractured identity. For these viewers the first seasons most palpable weakness, its marginalization of the women within Elliot’s orbit, (his co-hacker sister who he holds at a distance, his childhood crush who he manipulates and uses to carry off his mammoth hack of Evil Corps, and poor Shayla who is fridged to advance his inner turmoil and moral conflict with Mr. Robot) barely even registered.  I was a huge fan of S1 despite this treatment of women, I had faith that these characters didn’t just exist to be on the periphery of the action, and that they would be given real development, I saw enough evidence in the finale of S1’s society changing hack such as the duped Angela leveraging the opportunity to take some control in her life back by working at Evil Corps to undo Evil Corps, Darlene asserting control of F Society when Elliot’s degree of psychosis is revealed, and Joanna Wellick insisting Tyrell clean up the mess he’s made of their mutual ambitions and life.

What I could not have anticipated was the commitment Esmail had to dislocating and alienating his viewers so completely by marginalizing his male lead in S2, walling him off both literally and figuratively from the “action”. Giving Elliot and the views the space to work through who he is and what future he wants for himself, while the women in his life and his adversaries carry the torch of the technological war of the worlds forward.

Darlene attempts to lead in his absence with mixed results as she also submits to the demons of alienation and distrust as well as a thirst for vengeance and how that differs from Justice.  Angela struggles along a similar path how to attain some measure of justice for her family and friends, without losing herself to the temptations around her, the legitimate scent and taste of power she now has access to.

We are introduced to new adversary in the form of Agent Dom Dipiero, who, on mostly smarts and instinct nibbles around the edges of cracking the 5/9 hack Elliot and F Society instituted, we get to know both her confident public face, the person who wants to make a difference for the better of the world, and the more alienated woman, who barely manages her social anxiety and frustrated sexual desires and doesn’t even dream.

Finally there is Joanna Wellick the most terrifying and opaque woman in Elliott’s universe. Joanna is nakedly and proudly selfish and greedy, but, also malevolent and dangerous. Her life with Tyrell has been stolen from her and from their child so she will stop at nothing to restore the order that Elliott (and Scott Knowles) have smashed from her world. Keeping Tyrell off screen for 10 of 12 episodes was also ballsy as fuck by Esmail. He robbed those who would see the story he’s telling as that of a singular martyr/anti-hero and his mirror image, of all the misogyny oxygen in the room. He demanded that we see how women are alienated too, and how inflected that alienation is with sexism. He insisted that the viewer via Elliot feel dislocated too, mired in this type of alienation, this inability to decipher reality as they see and hear it. It was unconventional, experimental, and incredibly brilliant to watch.

As for the much maligned lack of plot, I believe we received quite a bit of that as well. White Rose’s designs became central to the narrative, her project in Washington Township, her interest in and protection of Elliott, her courting of Angela and instance she is part of the a plan that will make the world a different place , and perhaps give everyone a  different life, and an alternate path. This season made it clear that White Rose = The Dark Army and that Elliot, Darlene, and F Society are “keys” to unlock the doors she wants to open, whether she’s  opened them or not is the question, but I assume Phase II is the next step.

There is also the cat/mouse aspect of Dom’s investigation, watching her grasp all the threads and still miss the center was fascinating and thrilling, she is so close and yet so far away, but I can’t believe that will last long, and to what degree she will remain on the side of traditional justice or be won over to F Society and White Rose herself. I like that Dom, Angela, Elliott are all on the same trajectory, how do you change/save the world without BREAKING the world, can you break the world/rules and still be doing the “right” thing?

I believe we ended the season with the edges of reality (or at least polite society) fraying even for the average citizen, the brown outs, Angela’s seeming buy-in to White Rose’s narrative of sliding doors/alt realities, potential for a different life and identity, Elliott pushing the edges of his reality only to have it shoot him for real this time, Darlene discovering just how off the mark the FBI is about F Society, and how close they are as well. Part of me thinks Esmail will just go full sci fi in S3, but also full allegory with Phillip and 45, and I’m just so excited to see where he pushes this story next, I adore his total lack of fucks about plot and his consistent reliance on cinematic homage to tell a totally ballsy story that is a road to who knows where!

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Fincher, Flynn, and Feminism: Gone Girl, Through a Glass Darkly

Having finally seen the movie I can say unequivocally it’s a near perfect adaptation, and that I enjoyed it far more than enjoyed the novel itself, but while I think it’s really, a very good movie, it’s not quite great, down mostly to my continuing issues with the source material. But one of the best surprises of the film is that Gone Girl is the funniest Fincher has been since Fight Club.

I know, you’re thinking, Fight Club was funny? But it really kinda was, and Gone Girl really does feel like a flip side to this, there’s even a think piece that equates Tyler’s Ethos to Amy’s The Cool Girl. I could almost interpret it as an apology from Fincher for missing the point of Pahlinuk’s novel, which is more or less about Marla, while his film minimizes her to practically nothing. But Amy is the Tyler of the Gone Girl piece and she gets her due, she is allowed to be gloriously anti-heroic, not unlike one of my most favorite, and IMO feminist characters of all time: Mona DeMarkov.

There is huge bone of contention between and betwixt feminist readers of Flynn’s novel and the film about how successfully “feminist” her narrative is, or alternately how misogynist it is especially in the context of her other work (Sharp Objects). Which brings me back to the film’s deftness with the dark humor (my favorite bit is Nick smiling at the make up artist). Gone Girl the novel, is set up as a pretty great mystery wrapped in a decaying marriage, a marriage we learn about via the unreliable narratives of Nick and Amy Dunne, but it’s also a satire of a very specific class of people middle class white writers in the internet age, how when their professional fortunes turn fallow, they have the privilege and the power to play these kinds of games.

Nick starts the book, and Amy finishes it, but it’s all distinctly first person, as readers we are locked inside their heads, as the narratives move forward and intermingle, the two reveal themselves to be really, just awful, awful people, and you’re hungry for a resolution just to be free of their insufferable thoughts and stupid behaviors. You are fairly desperate for some sense of comeuppance for them both, because Nick is a nasty, cheating piece of work, who really has inherited a healthy streak of hatred of woman from his father. And Amy? Well Amy is Amy, she’ s sociopath/psychopath, she murders people and toys with the lives of everyone she meets, no one is real human being to her.

The ending of the book is frustrating in the extreme, Amy secure and blissfully happy she has been victorious over Nick, has cowed him and brung him to heel by impregnating herself, knowing he will never abandon his child to her. Book Nick generally buys into her madness that his infidelity and dickishness, justified her framing him for kidnapping/murder. There are also a lot of hints throughout his POV chapters that indicate he was well aware of Amy’s capacity for cold calculating crazy even when things were good between them. That he actively chose to ignore that, because his attraction to Amy is very tied up in class and status. He can be the Manhattan writer, married to older, smarter, glamorous, UES sophisticated, literate, academic, AMAZING Amy. Missouri Nick can really *become* all those things, *acquire* all that status, and become New York Nick forever simply by marrying it. Nick is a frat boy with a pretense toward being an arty intellectual.

This is an important thing to grok, because there has been a lot made of Flynn via Amy’s searing explanation of The Cool Girl, the post-feminist dystopian archetype modern woman are constantly under pressure to embody. It is a great piece of writing, and feminist insight into what makes being a woman, and particularly a woman in a relationship so difficult. But it’s also important to remember that when Amy says that, that she successfully performed The Cool Girl for Nick, that Amy is, in fact, CRAZY. Amy is brilliant, but her actual human insight is painfully faulty. After all, she’s in the tizzy she is in because she didn’t know NICK was *pretending*. So as a reader I never believed she understood what Nick really wanted, nor did she successfully embody/portray The Cool Girl to him. Nick wanted the opposite of The Cool Girl, he left a town FULL of cool girls to go find something else in Manhattan.

It’s the part that makes Nick so damn annoying he chooses Amy because she’s the perfect Ice Queen, he’s just wholly unprepared for what that means, and how little payoff he gets out of it: he and Amy lose their status as “writers”, and then they lose their “wealth” when Amy returns her trust fund to her conveniently broke parents. Without the automatic privilege, without the status, without the money, he’s just stuck with an Ice Queen. Nick is a pathetic dumb douche, a whiner, and eventually revealed as a liar and cheater, with really nasty thoughts/feelings about women generally. The final twist is that he’s a masochistic moron willing to subject a child to Amy as a mother.

Another surprising disconnect I’ve run into in think pieces on the book v. movie is that somehow both Nick and Amy are *equally* awful people. This simply isn’t even remotely true either in the book, or in Fincher’s film. Amy is a sociopath, she has been toying with people’s lives since she discovered she could. I have seen arguments that the feminist reading of Amy hangs entirely on her performance of The Cool Girl for Nick, because without the stark relief of her Cool Girl performance she is reduced to being merely one dimensional Crazy Bitch.

At the end of the day though, in the book or the movie, Amy IS a not particularly nuanced Crazy Bitch, and I think the film definitely gives us the frame work of her psychosis: the constant hamster wheel of expectation/performing she has been doing since she was born, to compete with Amazing Amy. Clearly a novel will always have more nuance than a film, information almost always has to be elided for cinematic purposes, but in this case the kernel of goodness represented by her Cool Girl diatribe still functions as an effective call out of patriarchal pressures and sexism, and Amy like Mona, is the avenging anti-heroine that patriarchy deserves. The only response to a mad world, is madness, and I think that is what Amy represents, which is not to say I think she’s a shining feminist example, but if there is any feminist read that’s it.

I will say that Amy is a little bit crazier (Desi’s murder is far more graphic, but I can’t pretend it didn’t remind me of Mona cackling while she strangles Jack with her ankles) than she reads in the book, and movie Nick definitely seems more grounded, but he still comes of like a total and wholly unsympathetic asshole, who’s just as caught up in Amy’s games/treasure hunt, that he does choose to *participate* and always has.

I realized the real key to why enjoyed the film so much though is the lack of first person. It is incredibly freeing and hugely enriching to experience of the story via character who are not Nick or Amy. The most satisfying thing about the movie, is that the constellation of characters outside of Amy/Nick have real life in them. The viewer isn’t trapped inside the minds of two singularly unpleasant individuals. It may make sense for them to be stuck with each other, but in the book the READER feels like they’ve been punished by being asked to identify with them. In the movie there is a collective side eye from everyone NOT Nick and Amy: Go, Boney, Tanner, Patrick Fugit, neighbors and the groupies, the homeless and the hillbillies. There is silent steady refrain of you two are fucking crazy, and let us all just get out of your way.

I really loved Boney’s line about looking Inside the House v. Outside the House as a metaphor for the viewer, the viewer can always retreat outside of the house when Nick/Amy become too unpleasant, too bonkers to relate to anymore, and I think for me that’s where Flynn’s real satire comes in. Nick/Amy are targets and I think they are targets of race, class, and privilege. I think Flynn is really slamming her own kind here, only writers would concoct something so delightfully convoluted a method of revenge, in the end of the book indeed they having warring manuscripts and narratives of her kidnapping, they eat their own tails. Only upper middle class white people have the *power* to mold their own narratives so successfully. Only white upper middle class white people can get away with this kind of murder.

I do wonder how much more I would have enjoyed the book if Nick had actually been an equal adversary to Amy, Valmont to her Marquise, Rhett to her Scarlett. That’s where the feminist championing of Amy breaks down for me. Is being victorious over a schmuck like Nick really that much of an accomplishment? You don’t feel bad for Nick, but I’m certainly not cool with murderous and insane Amy, and masochistic Nick subjecting a child to such a household just to spite one another. I hope Go kidnaps the baby and finds it a good home.

Sci-Fi Sequel Suckage: The Trinity Syndrome Abides

A recent excellent piece by Tasha Robinson at The Dissolve , brings up a pernicious problem in the present and past landscapes of what I’ll call the ComiCon genre (action/horror/sci-fi-fantasy), of being populated by Strong Female Characters (trademark). Characters who present as strong, smart, supposedly useful, but who only exist to….exist, and not to contribute to the narrative or resolve the plot of a film, instead they are nearly as fundamentally ornamental as The Girlfriend/The Love Interest in a comedy/drama film.

While I’d quibble with Robinson in the details, I think she’s absolutely on the money about this Strong Female character nonsense, often represented as masculine coded/physically strong, intelligence, emotional or otherwise, doesn’t rate. Strong Female Characters are merely defined by literally kicking ass. They wear leather pants and big boots, they can throw punches, they have witty comebacks, all while still being “hot”. My own personal critique of this was something I called the James Cameron-ification of women. It shows women as tough bitches but still HOT and buried by ever present maternal instinct, as if to balance out or justify that tough bitchery. The Cool Girl of Sci Fi Fantasy, thus perhaps the very first Cool Girl.

It’s troubling because so often the ComiCon Genre gives cinema, the very best of female characters who broke with the more stultified stereotyping in mainstream drama/comedy films. Women in Sci-Fi in particular have lead the charge for in fact, DRIVING narrative and resolving plot, whilst being complicated and flawed, smart and strong, if never less than completely HAWT.

It made me think critically about so many of the great ComiCon genre movies I’ve loved, and how at their core they presented women or female characters who absolutely did drive narrative and resolve plot, those who defied the onset of this Trinity Syndrome, but also given the propensity for sequels in the genre how often the lesson taken from the success of these films was that these truly unique/great female characters had ZERO to do with that success. That in fact, it is the male hero/anti-hero’s milkshake who brought them to the yard. I wanted to focus on two such characters and the subsequent miss that the sequels to these films perpetuated. As it happens, both are also good examples of intersectional movies, as interested in racial diversity as they are in busting feminine tropes.

Pitch Black – Carolyn Fry

Robinson, in her piece, singles out the second sequel to this film from 2000, Riddick, which perfectly portrays the ways in which sequels miss the boat. In this case the original movie, while certainly marketed as a vehicle for a peaking and charismatic Vin Diesel, was in point of fact not really ABOUT his character Richard B. Riddick at all. One of the reasons I love the movie is because it is for all intents and purposes an incredibly well executed piece of B Movie film making, mixing up a disaster movie, with an alien/sci-fi movie, with a monster/horror movie.

A decidedly and surprisingly diverse group of people, are stranded together in an seemingly impossible situation, and have to find a way to survive. An interstellar accident leaves docking officer Carolyn Fry (a wonderfully morally riddled Radha Mitchell) as the defacto captain and leader of group of survivors stuck on a planet with three suns, thin air, questionable water, and the stone cold killer Richard B. Riddick, the bounty of the resident merc Lawrence Johns.

Amongst the survivors are a group of Muslims lead by Imam Keith David, an Aboriginal/White couple, half of which is played by the most badass of badass non Trinity character actors Claudia Black, a refined merchant named Paris, and a young stowaway masquerading as a boy named Jack. What the audience, Johns, and Riddick know, but most of the survivors don’t, is that Fry was all to willing to sacrifice all their lives to save her own in the chaos of the ships crash landing.

Throughout the beats of the films wonderfully economic monster plot, Carolyn is consistently struggling with the mantle of leadership being thrust upon her, the guilt she has for having been willing to kill them all, the strong desire to still save her own ass most of all, and slowly, but surely the willingness to sacrifice herself for all of those she was prepared to kill, even a stone cold killer, like Richard B. Riddick.

It is for large parts of the film an ensemble, as so many disaster/horror/sci-fi films often are, but the main narrative is most assuredly that of Carolyn Fry. There is a framing device/narration in the opening that I would bet a million dollars was added post production, that could be read to imply that Carolyn’s example and sacrifice existed solely to make Riddick a better man, but the other 99% of the film doesn’t support that interpretation at all , since Carolyn herself must first become the best version of herself. The self that she’s not even sure exists, not until she has to face down horrors, and lead people, and comfort them in the darkest of hours. She makes all the decisions, she drives that damn narrative, she resolves the damn plot to her last dying breath.

One of the very best scenes in the film is when she and Riddick are alone towards the end, he tempts her weakness, he is cocky and sure that self preservation will win out and that she will abandon what precious few of her band survive and leave them to the winged beasts of the pitch black planet. But, in that moment, she fights Riddick physically, and conquers her own demons/weakness and insists they both return to finish the job. These sorts of heroics are not the stuff of lady parts, either literal or figurative in the movies, seeing Carolyn Fry be both heroic, and human, and more heroic for that conflicted flawed humanness was a pretty huge boon to what was already a tightly made, exceptionally well done B movie sci-fi horror film.

That the film is also populated with a multi-racial male lead in the form of Diesel/Riddick, a black male Imam, a young gender queer girl in the form of Jack/Kira, one who’s menstruation is actually a plot point, as well as more traditional Strong Female Character in Black’s Shazza, and an Aboriginal man in her partner Zeke is just another important part of what made Pitch Black stand out so strongly, and made it so unique, and quite frankly so popular and financially successful.

One of my favorite pieces of this movies puzzle is that toward the end it looks like the only survivors will be two women and a black man, and then it’s two “black” men and a woman. It’s the kind of thing that seemed entirely intentional, and yet also not in any demonstrably remarkable way, because the story, and the characters, and the writing, all came together to make a kick ass movie and you simply didn’t have to NOTICE how diverse it was, or what it was saying about women characters (aka that they are as interesting and relatable as any male one). Unfortunately that was taken so far as to completely miss how much those aspects contributed to it being a great movie, thus subsequent sequels became more and more about Riddick, and increasingly marginalized women’s roles in the narrative, and tipped over into unadulterated misogyny with the last sequel. It is one of my great disappointments in an actor (Diesel), a director (Twohy), and Hollywood in general.

Blade – Karen Jenson

The second female character who I feel defies the Trinity trope is importantly NOT a protagonist, something that many pointed out was the problematic factor in female Trinity roles, that they are often “supporting” and therefore can not be expected to impact the narrative and plot in the way protagonists female or male do.

I am talking about Hematologist Karen Jenson, in the action/vampire movie Blade. Blade is of course, the protagonist, he is the Day Walker, half vamp/half human uniquely weaponized to fight The Vampire culture that constantly threatens humanity.

When we first meet Karen she is at work in the hospital, but also arguing with her ex, a white male lover, a fellow doctor of hematology. They are both attacked by the vampire “corpse” they are investigating, he perishes, she is bitten, but otherwise “saved” by Blade, though important to me is, Blade is there to kill the specific vampire that eluded him, not to “save” her which is kind of incidental. He attempts to abandon her to her fate as a future vampire he will most assuredly kill, but she reminds him of his mother, and subsequently his “birth”, and he takes her with him.

Karen consequently demands to know WTF just happened to her ex, to herself, and how she can protect herself going forward, following him even when he tries to ditch her. When she learns that she will most likely become a vampire, and that Blade’s mentor Whistler has devised a way for him to combat the thirst/hunger that come with his bi-species vampire physiology she is determined both to figure out a cure for herself and consequently for Blade himself. Along the way she also contributes ways to better kill the vampire hordes he has dedicated his life to vanquishing. I love the way their goals overlap, but that she is yet and still fairly selfishly motivated, she doesn’t want to be a vampire, she doesn’t want to “die” or be undead. And she’s a fucking SCIENTIST, and she is a dark skinned black woman in the form of N’bushe Wright, a freaking great actress.

The other aspect I loved about Karen is that she at no point ever becomes Blade’s love interest, this is partly because Blade, as portrayed by Wesley Snipes, considers himself some kind of ascetic and is thus an emotional cripple, and Karen never seems more than a purely platonic sister to Blade. Even more than that symbolically, I felt, she was a sister in the political identification sense. This is particularly important because I read a take down of the film and Karen in Bitch Media that claims Karen is Blade’s girlfriend. That is simply not at all factual. Certainly in the penultimate scene of the film, at the most crucial moment Karen willingly sacrifices her life’s blood to enable Blade to take on the now super-powered Vamp God Deacon Frost has become, but in the immediate prologue and aftermath of that event, Karen saves her own ass! She doesn’t do so like a Strong Female Character, she does it in the way women often make do, with their instinctual wits.

By the end of the film Karen has solved the riddle of her own vampire curse and cured herself, but Blade’s situation is still something she needs to work on, though he is ambivalent about giving up his cross species powers and the ability to kill vamps like breathing.

I also think it’s telling that while Whistler is Blade’s mentor, Karen is way more complex and developed, and concretely more impactful to the overall narrative of the film. All this from a character who is not a protagonist, it’s really all around awesome.

Again, in the subsequent sequels women don’t fair nearly as well, in the first he does have a non-white actual born vampire partner, but she is distinctly not Black, and she is mostly there “kick ass” and then die in service of his narrative, in adherence to the Trinity Trope.

Another aspect of Blade that made me love it was the ways it tackles race, Blade is both figuratively and literally bi-racial. He is half human/half vampire, as his mother portrayed by Sanaa Lathan is vamped in the last stages of her pregnancy, but also she is a black woman turned by a white male vampire, there is a LOT there to unpack while none of it is explicitly dealt with it’s all sub-textually and metaphorically on the table. Similarly there is the divide between the Vampire race, those who are born Vampires represented by the FANTABULOS Udo Kier, and those vampires like Deacon who are “made”.

Overall while Blade did better job in subsequent sequels paying attention to how well they handled female characters, making them still strong and smart and contributing nominally to the plot, (although Blade 3 mostly services that in the form of a freaking great yet EVIL, Parker Posey), than say the subsequent Riddick films did, in both cases I think the misogyny of Hollywood is fully on display, as neither managed to capitalize on what made their initial outings so compelling and resonant, ergo that they were able to give audiences fully formed nuanced female characters who contributed to the narrative and plot, that were able to present or foreground diversity as huge piece of their story, and were well written and well made BECAUSE of those reasons.

There is reason to take heart in the success of recent ComiCon genre YA based successes in The Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies, both centered on women who are protagonists, but like so many women driven narratives before them I fear they will be considered “niche” successes, flukes, isolated incidents and not indicative of just the kind of everyday stories most of American and World cinema goers want to see all day, every day.

Riding Hard for Ke$ha and Kesha

I’m not sure how or when I started to love Ke$ha, but I sure do know why. Ke$ha, like Beyonce before her, stood out as body positive. She was a woman of healthy and normal body weight, strong, and curvy which in real world parlance is great, but in Hollywood parlance is EXCEPTIONAL. The body politics of KeSha’s success stood out for me. Which made it all the more depressing when she entered rehab to address an eating disorder, one reportedly spurred on by her svengali, Dr. Luke’s admonishments that she lose weight. But even in this she was, I thought, exceptional. Open and honest about needing help despite a personal philosophy about self esteem. That she could sing it, and believe it, but found it difficult to practice in life.

But there was also something unbelievably, unapologetically unfinished about her. She dressed in tatters and glitter, feathers and paint of appropriation, I’ve never seen a pop princess allowed to drink/fuck so openly, and brag about it, without some tragic tinge (RIP Winehouse). Ke$ha was Lita Ford fuck you in the face of Britters, and Katie, and TayTay’s robotic pristine candylands and cupcakes. Her seeming lack of talent/professionalism was more Sid Vicious than Milli Vanilli. She performed not being able to perform. AHP on Facebook argues her work is neither transgressive, nor progressive, but I think relative to her peers? She totally is. Katie Perry and her kissing girls and cupcake tits speak for themselves. TayTay’s million and one songs about the boy who done her wrong, and the bitches who stole that boy do as well. To say nothing of Britter’s playing to pedophilia and her choreographed to an inch of her life style that literally placed her on psych hold. In that stark relief, YES, Kesha is both trans/progressive, in that she isn’t selling actively retrograde messages.

Ke$ha largely choose to sing about partying hard, having sex, and hanging with her girls, and I’d never ignore the problematic aspects of her career and image: she, like so many other ‘no talent’ popsters before her (male and female), had ceded so much of her image and music creation to a controlling white dude. The hunger for fame/success forever primary to artistic expression and ability. Ironically I think Ke$ha possesses both, but knew that possessing both was wholly incidental to success in the music industry. Her class too, is a powerful part of why I embrace her. This is not a middle class white twit, hungering for fame/money, this is poor girl from Nashville on welfare, who needed money. Her hunger for that feels more authentic, and as it happens she does write her own stuff, such as it is, and she CAN sing.

It’s that kind of authenticity I think you can sense even in the middle of her half assed half lip synched performance of an autotuned song on SNL. There is something about the way she draws attention to the fact of her own creation, like Courtney Love before her, I’m so fake, I’m beyond fake. It is this thread of punk rock attitude I almost certainly respond to. Perhaps blindingly so. What I am most excited about is if this is how Ke$ha did while being just a sexualized package marketed by Dr. Luke, I can not wait to see what Kesha Rose does when she’s wholly in charge of what she creates. Go girl.

Drunk B-Movie Theater: Ghosts of Mars

I’m DRuNK, SPOILERS duh.

 

How do I list the loves of the fantabulous B-movie that is John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars? It is quite possibly the most womanist and intersectional of sci-fi horror films? Quite possibly.  Myself and the Malibu Rum cocktail tell no lies.

1. The films setting is a futuristic Mars run by a “Matronage” and mysterious Cartel. AKA it’s matriarchal up in this bitch. Women are smart, tough, and in control/power, while men are fragile liabilities to any given operative.

2. Melanie Ballard the main character is a drug addict and played by Natasha Henstridge. She is almost unilaterally described as “wooden”. Bullshit, she is exactly as wooden as Harrison fucking Ford in…anything, which is to say she’s totally as believable to me as Cole Hauser was as the butch yet gay hypehead in Pitch Black, she’s a misanthropic soldier, if not actual mercenary. She makes out with Jason Stratham *just to fuck with him*.  She connects most completely with her opposite equal in Desolation, a black male criminal, but in fairly no sexualized, platonic way. If it were a Hal Hartley movie they’d be in love, but since it’s not they merely respect/admire each other, w/o actually *trusting* one another.*

3. Four of the  main six roles are women. Sure Pam Grier dies an inauspicious death, but part of me admires films that mock the “black person dies first” trope, especially when that black person is a older black lesbian in charge. Because so many of them make it on screen at all.

4. One of the four is Joanna Cassidy, aka Zhora, and plays a character/scientest who uses SCIENCE to figure out the ALIEN GHOSTS are possessing humans to destroy humans. Kinda POIGNANT when you think about it. REALLY. SCIENCE=ALIEN GHOSTS, it’s as simple as geometry folks.

5. Baby Dike is in it. Yeah I have no excuse I just dig Clea Duvall. She is SO cute!

6. “Maybe I’d sleep with you, if you were the last man on Earth. But, we’re not on Earth.” BWHAHAHA.

7. Joss Whedon loved it so much he ripped it off. Mars Ghosts = Reavers, in every respect expect motivation/explication.

8.”You just got the Wo Man behind your bullshit.” Another *great* line. Because yeah it’s about POWER.

9. But seriously y’all, how can you not love a movie that uses literal gibberish and heavy metal, and a Marilyn Manson-esque stand in for “horror” HOW?! Metal Heads are Murders AND Meat. Think about, IT.

10. Flashbacks WITHIN flashbacks.

11. Relative to mainstream movies in general: CRAZYY amounts of POC. No really, beside Pam and Ice, and there’s Wanda de Jesus, and the characters of Uno, Dos, Tres portrayed by: a Black man, a biracial Latino-Black, and a Native American. As long as I am supposed to thin the characterization in Jack and Jill is helping ANYONE  or ANYTHING in the universe than something is better than NO thing.

12. Did I say how awesome Ice Cube is? Because yes.”I didn’t say I was innocent, I said I didn’t kill nobody.”  Double negatives aside, this is IMPORTANT. No really, cause ain’t nobody innocent. So not only is Desolation “not bad” he is beyond actively good.  Like Dustin Hoffman in Hero, or Jean Valjean in Les Miz (suck it LAINEY), a black man is portrayed as ACTIVELY heroic, and noble despite having running afoul of the “laws”. I heart Ice Cube.

13. Lucky  number 13, my aboslute favorite part of this movie is when Desolation frees Melanie to partner with her in the face of supernatural superiority. Their bond is gold and true,  their reluctant bond is the most edifying thing about the movie. Wooden my ass. Also the black dude survives. Maybe one day the black woman will survive too. Baby steps.

 

*All lies on my drunk ass part, she and Desolation looooove each other and want to kiss.

Top Ten Movies 2012: Some You’ve Never Heard Of…

To be fair I haven’t seen all the “best of” movies this year. No Zero Dark Thirty. No Django Unchained. No Life of Pi. No Amour. But I actually have no interest in half of those, Michael Haneke’s work leaves me cold and bored, and while I love Ang Lee, I was profoundly eh about Life of Pi the novel. I will probably eventually watch it on demand/video, but I’m not pressed I didn’t see it before the Oscars happened. I’m more disappointed I didn’t see ZDT or DU, as I’m big fans of both directors work. But I can only speak to what I did see and of those these were the ones that entertained me the most, and often times I also thought they were objectively the best I’d seen all year.

I didn’t set out to pick moves by women, it just happened that they made the most interesting stuff, and the stuff that resonated most with me, but on the whole it was in general a pretty good year to be female at the movies. Even in my list of also rans women were strongly represented, Prometheus had a female Protagonist and female Antagonist, End of Watch was a fairly brotastic enterprise, but women on the force and at home were given at least some perspective. Seth McFarlane just got done delivering a super misogynist performance at the Oscars, but I can’t lie Ted made me laugh my ass off, and I did think Mila Kunis as the girlfriend was given a lot of solid perspective within a juvenile comedy narrative. And I actually think I liked The Future as much as I liked The Five Year Engagement, which I guess makes Emily Blunt my favorite actress of the year, since every movie she made in 2012 I loved.

Anyway on to the list.

1. Silver Linings Playbook – Easily my favorite movie of the year, but then David O. Russell is my favorite contemporary director working in America. Like Miranda July, what I’ve always loved about Russell is how far out on a limb of his own making he’s willing to go. He’s the kind of guy who makes a movie about screwing your mother and says it’s autobiographical. His talent has always been in breathing life and humor into the everyday dark dysfunctions we try to hide, particularly familial dysfunction. He’s done it both in his indie work and his more recent Hollywood produced fare. He’s fascinated by the ugly bumps of emotional acne we all break out from time to time, the scars we carry from those break outs. In anyone else’s hands in Hollywood this movie would have been a trite mess,  but with Russell at the helm, it became instantly grounded in family, the ones we’re born into and those we make for ourselves.  And it also became about place, a particular and well defined Philly neighborhood, where everybody knows each others  business, and everybody has an opinion on that business.  Pat and Tiffany, with their shared emotional instability are set up on a sort of blind date that doesn’t go terribly well, but keeps them in the same orbit for the rest of the movie. It is a funny, poignant, and transformative orbit, but never less than authentic. The movie is absolutely about healing and love and the way they can be intertwined, but it is not about one being the sole and complete source of the other.

2. Lincoln – It would be easy to mistake this for a boring dirge on history, but it is far, far from it. From DDL’s beautifully, humanly rendered portrayal of the icon, to Sally Fields multi-layered Mary Todd, to James Spader/John Hawkes doing whatever they can to buy votes for the 13th Amendment, and Tommy Lee Jones passionate pursuit of the same on the floor of the congress, while exchanging biting wit with his fellow congressman, the cast is  uniformly great. I found it as magically entertaining as anything Spielberg has done before, and a whole lot less manipulative.

3. Bachelorette – While I loved Bridesmaids a ton, this movie is more the Female Hangover that movie was advertised as. A bitchy brew of very funny mean-girling and misbehaving, it highlights and lowlights the complex knot of female friendships, especially those forged in adolescence. I’m a huge fan of Kiki, plus Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan from Party Down reunited? It’s all good, and is without a doubt the year’s best smart comedy.

4. Friends With Kids – And if Bachelorette is the best smart straight comedy, this movie is the best smart romantic comedy. It made me laugh all the way through, and I thought it was really great look at relationships and the way expectations play into them working or not.  I loved Westfelt’s ear for dialogue and how believably she portrayed that friendship you don’t want to breach with sex/romance for fear of losing it.

5. Beasts of the Southern Wild – This movie was an absolute joy to watch, even if I believe it’s been attributed a depth it doesn’t quite possess. I found it dovetails a bit with Les Miserables, in that it uses passionately politically charged mileu of class/race, to show how people can be crushed by it, or with luck and fortitude personally transcend it. I also appreciate that one of the biggest movies of the year has a fierce 6 year old girl as its heroine. We need more of these stories, with girls at the center of the narrative.

6. Take This Waltz – Another great relationship movie, this sweet romantic drama about infidelity is sort of the flip side of Friends with Kids, instead of a romance mistakenly stranded in a friendship, we have a friendship mistakenly stranded in a marriage. Twenty minutes could have been sliced off the end of this movie, as it circles back to weird AA subplot, but otherwise it is heartfelt and thoughtful.

7. Your Sister’s Sister – I have a weird response to Mark Duplass, I always feel he’s about 10 energy units under whatever a movie needs to really feel alive, but his flat rude hapless affect is also often amusing.  This movie is what happens when you take the average Judd Apatow storyline and tell it with a woman’s voice/eye, in the form of director Lynn Shelton, and exploits Duplass’ Duplassness to best effect. Unlike an Apatow dude, this hapless unemployed guy has a bit more depth and layers, thus less inexplicably attractive to a smart and together girl. The other thing is although the movie initially feels rooted in his perspective, it quickly shifts and becomes about the world of the two sisters at its heart. Unlike a lot of indie film I think it comes by its laconic offbeat feel effortlessly, and like Friends with Kids entertains alternative ways to be/have a family.

8.  John Carter – I surprised myself by how much I loved this movie, and the movie surprised me by doing a lot of things movies like this (Big, Male Hero, Adventure Movie) don’t do: Giving women thoughtful and indeed vital roles to play at every level of the story. The book the movie is based on was actually titled A Princess of Mars, and his love interest is not just his love interest but an active partner in saving the day. Dejah Thoris is hot and skimpily clad, but she’s smart and the future leader of her people. In many ways John Carter feels like the side dish to Dejah and Sola, also a future leader of a tribe of fighting creatures from Mars called Tharks, who takes John Carter under her wing. The end result is ironically, a movie that is a throwback to the best of adventure movies like Sinbad, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones, all movies the book series influenced and/or inspired. Honestly, it shouldn’t be a surprise its so good, it was written in part by Michael Chabon, and was directed by Andrew Stanton, a Pixar wizard.

9.  Looper – This is a rare movie indeed, in that I’m not crazy about plot driven movies, even something as plot driven as the Terminator series was still for me all about the characters and relationships. I enjoyed completely a movie where the characters are remote, and not fully fleshed out, but I think it was saved by some really great ideas, great actors, and one hell of a mind bending plot. I like the way Rian Johnson world builds without getting super specific, and takes the same tact when approaching his stories time travel logic. The movie won me over when a character explains he’s not going to waste time (hee) explaining time travel shit to you. He teasingly tempts you to TRY to figure things out, all while reminding you there is no way to figure it out because time travel doesn’t exist! Like the best philosophy discussions, he acknowledges we’re just having fun shooting the shit. And on top of that what if time travel were a real thing idea, he layers in the concept of morality and fate, free will and determinism.  And THEN, right in the middle of all that wizbang ideated action, he decides to slow it down and bring it to human terms and emotional connections.

10. The Future – Miranda July is not for everybody, she is twee, and pretentious, and works entirely from her own tiny kingdom of the mind. In that mind was a movie narrated  by cat with a wounded paw.  And it totally works, I could listen to that cat all day long, and look at it’s cute little paws, talking about the couple who may or may not adopt her. That couple is composed of Miranda July and Hamish Linklater, a couple of ambling thirtysomethings with uncertain goals and ambitions, that suddenly come into clarity when confronted with the responsibility of owning said cat. They decide to give themselves a month to do all these things they’ve never done, and won’t have time to do if they commit to the ailing cat. For a lot of people this is too much indie film hoo ha/cutesiness, but I find July so earnestly genuine about all her artistic choices, that it’s kind of beautiful. Her characters are so fragile and open, and that is what makes her so interesting to me,  all that cloying twee stuff is just so much set decoration to the real emotional depth underneath.

Special Sauce

So last week in an upper class enclave of Boston an English teacher gave this http://www.myfoxboston.com/story/18720284/2012/06/06/full-transcript-youre-not-special-speech.

It was controversial because he attempted to address something  quite anecdotally evident to me, that  for the last twenty years or so we have become a Culture of Entitlement. Perhaps it’s just the natural culmination of multiple generations who did “better” than their parents raising children who had to struggle less and less.

This subject was also given a stage within the last year when Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was released. A book whose thesis is that Western parenting, particularly of the helicopter variety, where every kid is told how special they are, creates unremarkable children who achieve little and harsh strict parenting is the best way to raise a child who achieves and attains.

I have still not read it to my regret, but I have seen the ethos echoed by gossip columnist Lainey Liu, who works within an industry that is all about the breeding/exercise of entitlement. One of Liu’s frequent laments about Celebrity is that it doesn’t mean anything anymore because the market is flooded with reality tv/tabloid news “stars”, and that fame is increasingly divorced from talent or ability or accomplishment.

Jon Stewart spoke to it in during President Obama’s 2008 campaign, one in which the then Senator Obama, insisted the American people don’t like “the easy way” to which Jon Stewart asked, “Have you met America?” and produced a jar of Baconaise, a product that exists because the American consumer is too lazy to make a sandwich with both bacon AND mayonaise and needs the convenience of them smooshed into one step.

The most recent Mad Men also spoke to it (which I guess shows how far back the seeds of it go) when Megan’s admittedly jaundiced and potentially bitter mother told aspiring actress Megan that not everyone was meant to get what they want, if so then the world would be filled with a lot more ballerinas.

But I’ll get back to the speech, as refreshing as it was  I thought it sent a lot of typically confusing messages about American values, specifically about higher education and the value of knowledge.

At times the speech emphasizes IMO rightly that higher education, learning and knowledge are achievements in their own right, that wisdom is it’s own reward and getting a trophy is besides the point.

At other times he (and Amy Chua too) seems to be speaking to Life as a Darwinian and quite essentially capitalistic competition in which attainment/achievement are still the top of the pyramid, and if you  not out there sucking the marrow, or being the ballerina than your life will be unaccomplished and unfulfilling. He even points out one of my least favorite things about the constitution, that we have the right to *pursue* happiness, but not actually *enjoy* happiness. And in that  I think he ends up validating the “glitz of materialism” and his  privileged students narcoleptically paralyzing sense of self-satisfaction.

There has to be a better way to critique the  value on competition/material reward, while still encouraging kids to work hard, do *their* best in life, even if it’s not THE best. It’s disappointing because  I think a thesis can/should/probably is being written about Millenials relationship with expectation, achievement, and reward v. disappointment, failure, and punishment.