“Girls” vs. “One Girl”: Moviefone, Tokenism, “The Avengers,” and the “Fake Geek Girl”

Yesterday around noon, something happened that happens every single day. A woman said something disparaging about other women* in order to ingratiate herself to men*. Or perhaps to convince herself that she is not as worthless as her lesser female* counterparts. Either way she saw fit to explain to us, her fellow penis enviers, how to talk about Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. The original title of the article was “Girls’ Guide to ‘The Avengers’.” It’s now been changed to “One Girl’s Guide To ‘The Avengers’: What You Need to Know If You Know Nothing,” but it’s still really, really marginalizing and offensive.

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Outsider’s Guide to Action Movies: Gamer

“The time has come” the Lemon said, “to talk of many things. Of men and games and high concept. Of Logan L and pings. And why Gerard Butler’s smoking hot. And what the future brings.”

Gamer is pretty high concept for an action movie. Not exactly Virtuosity high concept but we can’t all be virtual serial killer films can we?

Gamer tells the story of ex-soldier death row inmate John Tillman, alias Kable, who is forced to act as a living avatar in a Halo type death match. Controlled by a teenage gamer, Kable has to last 30 fights to earn his freedom. But rivals, society, and a very creepy Michael C. Hall stand in his way.

Let me first off say that Gamer has a dream cast. Butler plays the gruff Tillman and his controller is none other than Percy Jackson himself, Logan Lerman. Kyra Sedgwick takes a surprising turn as a talk show host who sides with the anti-cyberpunk revolutionaries (led by Ludacris) against Michael C. Hall’s creepy mind control technology.

Gamer‘s strongest element is its premise, a cyberpunk nightmare where Second Life and Halo avatars are flesh and blood people with special software in their brains that allows them to be controlled by their player. Tillman participates hoping to escape his death sentence, but his wife Angie rents out her body to a disgustingly voyeuristic gamer to earn enough money to get her daughter back. (One of the most upsetting parts of the film is the way that Angie’s player uses her with a lurid fascination and terrifying lack of empathy.)

Michael C. Hall has somehow found a character that’s scarier than Dexter Morgan in this system’s terrifying architect. As the creator of said mind control technology, Hall outfits all his guards with the software as well. With his Texas drawl and vocabulary borrowed from the most obnoxious multiplayer mockers, he is having much too much fun using people as playthings. (Did I neglect to mention that he can control everyone who has the software no matter where they are?) This all culminates in a creepy dance/fight sequence that has to be seen to be believed.

The social critique is powerful, and it’s a sobering prediction of where gamer culture could take us when the technology inevitably becomes more sophisticated. The privileged manboy voices of gaming can be heard in both Hall and Lerman’s dialogue, standing in sharp contrast with working class Butler and his family, pointing out the sad truth that gaming (and movies) are for the leisure class. With its class conscious approach, Gamer was part of the vanguard of vaguely Marxist sci-fi films like the more recent In Time. 

The sad thing is that the film never quite sizzles as wonderfully as the premise and the dance sequence suggests. The pacing’s always a bit off and it feels like an 80 meter dash with a trip at the end of the course. It also doesn’t help that no character’s through-line is very well maintained. They final boss is defeated and well, that’s the end.

How to Fake Having Seen It: “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” right dude? Say no more. Creeeeeepy.

Line That Sums the Film Up: 

Kable: What are you, twelve?
Simon: I’m seventeen, thank you.
Kable: This is unbelievable! Why am I not dead yet?
Simon: Because I am a bad-ass motherf*cker.

Verdict: See it if you’re a fan of the cast. Otherwise Skip It and read some cyberpunk fiction. (I heartily recommend Richard K. Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs novels.)

Bonus Round: In the future Cable is spelled with a K. Also there is pistachio butter. PISTACHIO BUTTER. (Yes I know it exists now but PISTACHIO BUTTER.)

Why You Should Care About Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark

 

I must first off agree that it is unfair to review a show without seeing it. This is not a review. This is an attempt to make sense of what is really a very sad situation.

In light of the terrifying and tragic recent accident in which one of the actors who plays Spider-man fell into the pit, comments about the quality of the writing (most reviewers say laughable, lacking the humor and wit that is Spidey’s trademark), music and lyrics (judging by the preview performance: lazy and unintelligible in terms of both content and aural comprehension), and costumes (you’ve seen them right?) are immaterial. It’s not even a question of pleasing an audience any more. It’s about protecting actors and examining how we got to this point.

It’s easy to rag on Julie Taymor. She’s one of those directors who has a very distinctive visual style, best summed up by this clip from that compilation of amazing music videos, Across the Universe (To be fair this is supposed to be an acid trip) :

Taymor has brought her touch to obscure Shakespeare (Titus Andronicus and now Tempest), to the aforementioned Beatles, to beloved Disney animated films (The Lion King), to opera (her stunning Magic Flute is up at the Met right now) and now to the wisecracking photographer who’s often described as the “populist superhero.” Her vision is often beautiful and always interesting, if no longer entirely unexpected. But that can be a good thing. You recognize a Taymor production the way you would recognize a Fellini film. The look is distinct, and the same themes re-emerge and become more complex.

Let it be known that I enjoy and respect Julie Taymor, but I say this as both a theatergoer and a comics fan: Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark is the worst thing to happen to two industries that are already in jeopardy. It reflects its audience, and that’s what makes it vital that we examine what this show means for theatergoers, comics fans, and Americans in general. Continue reading

I’m So Over Apathy

It takes courage to say what you like. Maybe more than it takes to say you don’t like something. Saying “I don’t like that.” puts you at risk of being called negative, but when you like something that’s unpopular you are at risk of having bad taste, of being seen as complacent. Just look at the language that’s tied to both ideas.

People who tend to dislike things can be seen as negative, snobbish, a wet blanket. On the positive side we say they have discerning taste. They’re a critic, a skeptic. There’s a perception of higher intelligence. On the other side we have terms like easily pleased, Pollyanna, positive, optimist. There is an undercurrent of condescension to this term, a feeling of simplicity. When did we decide that intelligence was tied to negativity, that positive people are somehow missing something?

Kelli O’Hara can explain it better:

In Nellie’s case, her optimism is also a stand-in for naivete, and she can’t seem to find the bright side of finding out that her true love has two biracial children. Apparently privileged white women leave their optimism outside the plantation gate.

In Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events he says

“Optimist” is a word which here refers to a person…who thinks pleasant thoughts about nearly everything. For instance, if an optimist had his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say, in a pleasant and hopeful voice, “Well, this isn’t too bad. I don’t have my arm anymore, but at least nobody will ever ask me if I am right-handed or left-handed”, but most of us would say something more along the lines of “Aaaaah! My arm! My arm!”

So maybe optimism doesn’t always require intelligence, but it certainly requires courage. As a director, one of your most important skills is to inspire your team, to make them feel like you’re on the right track. I don’t know if you can somehow run out of positivity. One of my fellow directors hasn’t run out of it yet, and she’s still producing absolutely beautiful work. Though she is certainly an optimist, she’s by no means unintelligent, and she can critique performances more articulately than many of the more negative directors I know.

I wonder sometimes if we forget that seeing the good doesn’t mean not seeing the bad. In one of the Fourth Doctor episodes of Doctor Who, K-9 defines optimism as

Optimism: belief that everything will work out well. Irrational, bordering on insane.

Though Doctor Who characters’ optimism may seem irrational, but much like in Shakespeare in Love, it usually turns out quite well in the long run.

See what I mean by turning out well?

Quite well indeed.

Ultimately optimism comes from believing the best in people, truly caring about them. It’s hard to do that all the time. It’s tiring, and ultimately it’s depressing.

This is the continuation of the conversation with K-9 in “The Armageddon Factor”:

The Doctor: Oh do shut up K-9! Listen Romana: Whenever you go into a new situation, you must always believe the best until you find out exactly what the situation’s all about. Then believe the worst.

Romana: Ah. But what happens if it turns out to not be the worst after all?

Doctor: Don’t be ridiculous. It always is. Isn’t it, K-9?

K-9: Master?

Seems like even two Time Lords and a tin dog can’t reconcile optimism in the real world, but it’s certainly what keeps all of them going.

Fountain of wisdom.

On Death, Alcestis, and Hiatuses

Hey Nerds! Very long time, no see. Some of the delays have been the good kind: opening Alcestis, workshopping my dear friend Olivia’s new play Those Whom the Gods Love, and enjoying my last few days in New York. Some of the delays were bad: preparing to leave the city and dealing with a family member’s health crisis, as well as some tragedies in my own friends’ lives.

Ideally I wanted this post to be an Alcestis post-mortem, but I think I’m going to wait for our pictures to come through and for a time when I don’t feel like I’m living in the play. (And Death is not nearly as kind and funny as our wonderful Holly Kay Roberts. Or as anthropomorphized.)

Holly is more awesome than this. Really.

So I thought I’d give you a brief glimpse into some things I’ve realized as a result of working on this play while confronting Death in my family and friends’ lives. So this is a change of pace from my usual pop culture reference, feminist-y self. Apologies.

The first and most obvious thing I’ve begun to accept is that we do stupid things when people die, or are dying. We lose control. We rage. We freeze. We feel nothing. This is not because the deceased was nothing to us, but because it hurts too much to feel. Or maybe, we really do feel nothing for them. What is worse?

It has all happened before. There is nothing new in this. But that fact doesn’t help the pain. In fact, it makes it worse because we begin to beat ourselves up for thinking we were special. That we’d escape or that our suffering is somehow profound or meaningful. And yet it is meaningful because it is universal. Because we are joined in our ignorance, our failure to deal with mortality in some hypothetical, unattainable “healthy” way.

No one knows what to say, how to act. “My condolences.” “When I lost my…” The words begin to bleed together into a big sad late Monet painting, all reds and greens, the subject indiscernible until the words, the hugs, the cards mean nothing.

This was a footbridge once…

That doesn’t mean that we should stop giving them. But once you’ve lost someone, you know that those gestures are Spongebob band-aids at the doctor’s. It’s kind of you to give them out but it doesn’t make the shot hurt less. It’s being there that matters, if at all.  Continue reading

“I’m not trying to be rude, but you died.” : Hercules, Buffy, The Doctor, and The Problem with Immortality

[Note: This post contains spoilers for the Doctor Who episodes “The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone” and “The Pandorica Opens.” And a few Superman storylines. You have been warned.]

Lillian, you might say, you’re just trying to tie Doctor Who into Hercules, because you want to put in a plug for Alcestis. And you’re partly right. So myths yadda yadda come see my show in New York that is influenced by Neil Gaiman, Batman, and Gladiator, written by Euripides. That’s a plug for Alcestis. Buy tickets now!

But let’s talk for a second about why the villains imprisoned the Doctor rather than killing him in “The Pandorica Opens.” The Doctor is not exactly as invulnerable as Superman (though they share several other similarities), but his regenerations give him a kind of immortality. This flawed invincibility connects him to a much more ancient hero, Hercules/Heracles.

Now Hercules’ list of adventures is about as long as the Doctor’s. (One of those adventures includes the myth that Euripides’ Alcestis is based on.) Heracles is the son of Zeus so he’s supernaturally strong and he can solve most problems by hugging them to death. But he’s also immortal, so the whole dying thing was never an issue for him.

….until his wife Deianira accidentally poisoned his robe with the blood of a Hydra he’d killed, and he couldn’t wash the acidic blood off, and he was in such huge amounts of pain that he wished he could die. Continue reading

How to Destroy Superman: The Doctor, Batman, Senility, and the Pandorica

[Note: This post contains spoilers for the DC Comics’ The Death of Superman storyline, and The Dark Knight Returns (among others), and Doctor Who Series 4 and Series 5 including the episode “The Pandorica Opens.” It has not yet aired in the United States. You have been warned.]

I am going to tell you right now that Batman is the greatest superhero of all time, precisely because his only superpowers are a bank account and psychological trauma. He is the superhero that is closest to the reader, even more so than Stan Lee’s everyboy Spiderman, who fulfills all of our empowerment fantasies, but always shows us the best in ourselves. Batman is a triumph of the human will to fight back in the face of unbearable pain in order to inflict that pain on others. He is our darkest fantasies brought to life.

The Ninth Doctor bears a strong resemblance to the pre-Frank Miller era Batman, a man who has found new purpose as a result of losing almost everyone he loves, and he slowly creeps toward the darkness and thirst for vengeance that belongs to both the Tenth Doctor and The Dark Knight we see in The Killing Joke, The Long Halloween, and The Dark Knight Returns.

Dark Knight Returns is an interesting topic to bring up, because it shares so many connections with the Doctor’s current [Eleventh] incarnation. The Dark Knight Returns is set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world where a formerly retired, middle-aged Batman dons the cowl once again to bring down Two-Face after the treatment Bruce Wayne funded fails to cure him of his psychopathic tendencies. But the Gotham police force is a little less grateful than usual. They’re not sure Batman’s vigilantism has a place in this world anymore. He’s become outdated. (Remember Eleven’s “I’m stupid.” statement? How often has he been missing things lately, making the wrong calls?)

Batman’s reappearance also pulls the Joker out of a catatonic state in Arkham, suggesting that the hero attracts, even rebuilds his villains unintentionally. (iDaleks anyone?)

“You’re like iPods. One in every color.”

(Dark Knight Returns also sports a female Robin who rivals Amy Pond in terms of quips and needing to be rescued.)

The interesting thing about the Doctor is that he is both Batman and Superman. As of the 2005 revival, he has a dark trauma in his past that gives him the purpose and drive to save the universe again and again (because he failed to save his own people.) Like Superman, he is an orphan of a dead culture, and grew into the individual we know and love as a result of his “adoption” by humans. (I know it’s hard to think of William Hartnell as a baby Clark Kent, but just go with me on this one.) The Doctor’s companions softened him from a persnickety old man to a formidable clown whose cartoonishly long scarf or piece of celery in his lapel hid a dangerous brand of competence. (We are going to ignore Colin Baker’s silly costume.)

Pay no attention to the man in the tacky outfit. 

This paradox of the Doctor as both Batman and Superman was brought to a head with the most recent episode of Moffat’s new series. Continue reading

The Five Stages of Mourning the Tenth Doctor

So’s you know, (and frankly, if you’re reading this blog, I have a feeling you do), David Tennant is no longer the star of Doctor Who. As a fan, this is really depressing for me. As someone who has had a crush that verges on obsession on David Tennant ever since I recognized the new face of Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor as the simultaneously magnetic and repulsive Barty Crouch, Jr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it is devastating. I had also seen a random episode of Taking Over the Asylum at that point, but couldn’t reconcile the wild-eyed cockatoo that was the Tenth Doctor and Barty Crouch

See what I mean. Wild eyes.

with the sleek haired manic-depressive kid from the obscure British TV show.

Oh 1994. You make even David Tennant look awkward.

The point is, David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor was one of the most powerful characters on television, mostly thanks to the combination of Tennant’s comprehensive RSC training and his good-natured love of all things geek. D10 is tragic, witty, charismatic, and terrifying. Mercurial in the truest sense.

I’ll admit my crush is stupid, a combination of my love for anyone who can handle Shakespeare well and my love for sci-fi, but there’s a real sense of loss here, and I’m not the only one feeling it.

As evidenced by the current trends in this poll in The Guardian, as much as io9 wants to say that we’ve forgotten D10, a lot of us are still recovering. So, without further ado, here are the Five Stages of Grief for Doctor Who.

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