Ever Just The Same, Ever A Surprise

Beauty And The Beast

Beauty And The Beast is not my favorite Disney movie. I love it a lot, and I still think it’s one of the greatest examples of a film musical. (Right behind Singin In The Rain and The Sound Of Music.)  So I had similar if not the same expectations as everyone going into the movie last weekend.

I wasn’t disappointed. Baffled, unsure, and impressed, for sure, but never disappointed.

The basics of Beauty And The Beast remain as they always have been, but the new film manages to add wrinkles and twists to the story you know that are surprising enough to make watching the film engrossing. The characters we know and love are given turns in their paths and depths revealed in their wake.

If I sound a little too poetic I’m sorry, but I was very happy with this movie. I’m obsessed with this cast, with the decision made in it’s screen play, and I could babble on for days about the visual, but I guess I have to focus on one thing at a time.

Let’s start with the cast. Emma Watson is delightful as Belle. There’s none of Hermione’s intensity or bossiness in her quiet thoughtful French village girl, and that’s something of a relief. Watson’s voice is noticeably autotuned in spots, but when it isn’t has a lovely sing song quality that I think suits the piece quite well. Dan Stevens brings a mournful heartbreak to the Beast and “For Evermore” is an excellent addition to the canon of Howard Ashman penned Disney songs. These two were also wonderful together. Kevin Kline. I wish Kevin Kline were in more movies. The only reason I can think that he isn’t is that he is not inclined to be, because he’s ALWAYS SO GOOD! Ian McKellan is wonderful if underused. There’s a lot of comedy to Cogsworth that I think got lost in the more serious tone taken on the overall film, but both he and Emma Thomspson do exceedingly well with their limited scope. I would watch Audra McDonald read the phone book as long as she got to hit a few above the staff notes and the movie grants her that and then some. Ewan McGregor acquits himself well with Lumiere, the one of the servants who I think gets to maintain their original charm. This is probably because Lumiere is the most *ahem* flamboyant, (pun  not intended) his light (Damn, keep walking into those) is harder to dampen.

Luke Evans and Josh Gad are flawless and I want more of them doing musical theater. I hope this movie shows the mainstream what theater people have known about Gad for a long time. There’s more to him than Olaf, not that mainstream comedy has the kind of roles that really suit Gad, but he’s really great here, and Evans makes Gaston’s particular brand of masculine menace chilling.

The screenplays new wrinkles would constitute spoilers if I talked about them too deeply, but I will talk about the deepening characterizations, starting with Gaston and LeFou! The codifying of LeFou’s queerness is interesting, especially as it dawns on him that his adoration of Gaston is both troubling and misplaced, giving a comic sidekick an actual arc is something that I always support and it’s executed well here. Gaston is shown here as a soldier and returning golden boy who finds the provincial town dull after the horror and glory of war. Which is way more interesting than a blustering hunter and a good deal more frightening. He’s enamored of Belle not just because she’s beautiful (though that helps) but because she’s, well, disinterested. There’s an undercurrent of “yes, you and I are above this place” to his attempts to woo her, and that’s fascinating to me.

Maurice also gets a makeover, made less of a buffoon and more of an eccentric and it works. Belle and The Beast, both become wounded motherless children, searching for a connection anywhere they can find it, and it makes their romance deeper, sweeter and sadder all at once.

I didn’t love all of the changes. It seemed strange to turn the village from a quiet, sleepy, slightly backward hamlet to some kind of patriarchal hellscape a la The Republic of Gilead where women aren’t allowed to learn to read and if they’re unmarried or without a father’s protection they’re thrown out into the streets to beg. This seems extreme for a fairytale that’s about seeing past first impressions and I did feel the loss of some of the comedy.

But there’s something deeply instinctual about fairy tales, and Disney’s take on these stories that have been with us forever is so deep in the company’s roots, I’m not surprised that they’re able to execute things well.

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I know.: RIP Carrie Fisher

A lot of people died in 2016. A lot of them were really famous and inspiring, but two of them were my great aunt and grandmother, so that’s keeping the celebrity deaths in perspective. (Seriously, the angel of death seemed really cruel this year.)

But I guess we couldn’t be left very well alone in the last 4 days of the years, because now Carrie Fisher is among them.

Back in the early, early days of starting this blog, I wrote about Princess Leia, and the blurry lines between second and third wave feminism as I saw it then. (I’ve grown a lot in the past five years.) Leia has meant a lot to me as a writer, a fan, a critic and a woman. Carrie Fisher’s writing means more. (I’ve got kind of a thing about acerbic troubled ladies from that generation. I’m also deeply into Norah Ephron, who is also gone. Well, SHIT.) I’ve spent a lot of time in the past decade trying to decide what kind of writer I wanted to be, and it was in finding memoir that it all finally clicked, and Wishful Drinking was a huge part of that.

I didn’t read the book but I watched the one woman show and was blown away by it’s bizarre mix of depressing self disclosure and hilarious self deprication. It was one large step towards the realization that “This is what I want to do.” I still had far to go, and I wound up a good deal less confessional, but my life is also a whole lot less interesting than hers was.

Her fearlessness in the face of aging and mental illness and addiction was remarkable and her wit and strength was incredible.

I’m writing this while watching When Harry Met Sally, because I want to remember that this woman, this indomitable woman was so much more than the one character who defined her. But I do want to talk about Princess Leia Organa, General Organa, the icon the light in every nerd girls life. Yes, we’ve dealt with fridging and Gamergate and being Smurfettes and damsels, but we had Leia. We had this beacon of strength and fire and fight and compassion and joy and love. Leia the Hutt slayer, Leia the princess, Leia the senator, Leia the general.

Every time I write a female character I make sure that she lives up to Leia. Not in the same ways, but she has to have at least as much agency, plot impact and personality. Otherwise, what’s the point?

2016 wasn’t the worst year of my life, but it wasn’t great. I fought through a baseline of depression, a job that I hated and the loss of two of the women who’d inspired me my whole life, right in my own small world. And now the world at large has lost yet another shining light that had meant so much to so many of us.

Yesterday I wrote the following: May the Force Be With You. We Know.

“I know” symbolizes “I love you” second only to “As You Wish” in my book. So that’s what I’m going with to say goodbye to Carrie Fisher, We Know. We love you. Thank you for all of it.

Rest in Peace, drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.

 Stranger Things: Late Watching and Why Nancy Wheeler Is Important

I waited a little while to watch Stranger Things, for a lot of reason, I wanted to wait until the hype died down, I wasn’t feeling well, and I didn’t have a lot of time, and I was a little worried about it freaking me out (it did, but in the good way.)

Once I finally dug myself out of the self imposed “One Tree Hill is the only thing I can watch, because I have doomed myself to a life of sadness” hole. (I am almost done with it though! I’m very excited!) I started watching an episode here and there and on Saturday I finally finished!

But since I was late to the party, I also missed a lot of the think pieces. Which makes me both sad and relieved. Anyway, I’m going to talk about Nancy Wheeler, the 16(?) year old sister of Mike Wheeler, our story’s hero, who sort of becomes a hero in her own right at one point.

Nancy begins the show in the early dating stages with a popular dick-bag named Steve, and in fact her best friend, Barb (poor Barb) is dragged into the Upside-Down and killed by the demi-gorgon while Nancy has sex with Steve at a party, thus abandoning her and beginning Nancy’s arc.

Nancy then teams up with Jonathan Byers to find his brother Will and Barb, (they find Will, but Barb is dead), and still, for reasons passing my understanding, ends up with Steve. Season 2, will, hopefully, repair this grave injustice. (I am not saying that I want Nancy with Jonathan…I mean, I kind of do, but not by default. I’d be perfectly OK with Nancy going to college and not being with some dude from high school…)

Anyway, this piece is about why I think Nancy is an important character for female representation. (As is Eleven, by the way, and Joyce) But Nancy is not the kind of character that you get to see in a teenage girl very often. Nancy is clearly popular, she’s a good student, she’s pretty, she’s girly, she has a crush on a less than worthy boy, and those things aren’t portrayed as making her shallow, unrelateable or incapable of being a hero.

Teen girl heroines, particularly in genre stories, are supposed to be strong, they’re supposed to be selfless, and most of all they are not supposed to be like those girls. You know the girls I mean. They’re not supposed to worry if the popular boy actually cares about them or is just trying to get into their pants. They’re supposed to be above even liking that popular boy. They’re not supposed to wear pastel cardigans, or peter pan collars or ballet slipper necklaces.

But Nancy Wheeler is one of those girls.

They’re not supposed to be simply avenging their friend, there must be a grand purpose to what they’re doing. They’re not supposed to get annoyed at their families, or get scared when confronting the monster, or not know what to say when they’re publicly humiliated.

But all of these things describe Nancy, but she’s still a hero. And I think that’s important and worth discussing.

 

Is He Your Friend?

Ex-machina-uk-poster

A big thing that I’ve wanted to do for 2016 to help keep my head on straight and to keep myself from feeling overwhelmed (here and in other areas of my life) is to get around to things I’ve been putting off. Whether that’s real life things, like prioritizing my finances, cleaning out my closets, running every day, not just every other day, or fandom related things like catching up on comics and prose reading, or social things like making an effort to see my friends and leave the house (this WHILE managing the finances is probably the most interesting.) So, if you’ll notice over on Facebook, every week I’m prioritizing “things I’m getting around to,” and this week’s big one was “watching Ex Machina.”

I haven’t stopped thinking about the movie since I finished it on Friday night.

Ex Machina is a film I should have seen earlier, but I just kept putting it off. So, I decided to just watch it and I’m really glad I did. The movie asks uncomfortable questions about human, technology, consciouness and in case you were wondering, the way men see women.

It’s not a coincidence that the only two human characters in this film are men. It’s not a coincidence that Nathan, the tech mogul played by Oscar Isaac has chosen to create an AI in the form of a beautiful young woman. It’s not a coincidence that Caleb, the programmer played by Dohmnall Gleeson, brought in to Turing Test the “system” (known as Ava and played wonderfully by Alicia Vikander) falls for her so quickly. This film is saying something about control, about fantasy, about how men want to control women. About how women refuse to be controlled.

I still don’t know exactly what it’s saying and I definitely want to revisit it…but not yet.

The best parts of Ex Machina are the twists and surprises, so I won’t say much more. It’s a fascinating and unsettling film. And it is masterfully acted, the performances (particularly Gleeson and Isaac) are natural and engrossing at the same time. You believe that these are men who might exist. And Vikander is stunning, engaging and just a hair over into inhuman as Ava. It’s an exceptional performance.

Overall, I was impressed, and glad I decided to check it out. Ex Machina is not in my usual line up of stuff I like or would check out, but expanding my horizons and pushing out of my comfort zone isn’t just going to apply to travel, food and exercise this year for me, it’s also applying to the kind of media I’m consuming. I figured this was a good place to start (genre trappings I’m comfortable with, themes that fascinate me and an actor I have a massive crush on…you know safe things for an outside the box choice…)

Catching Up: Non-Compliance, Megaton and Everything Else

Bitch Planet

I was 3 issues behind on Bitch Planet, because I’d mostly given up on reading comics, wanted to re-teach myself to read prose, and a lot of other justifications.

I read all three issues, their back essays, their letters and Kelly Sue’s meditations on whatever it is that she’s thinking about these days.

As usual as I read through I think about myself, my life, my principals and how I compromise. The times I do comply to make my life easier, the times I don’t. The ways I am protected, the ways I am vulnerable, the things I get to say because of my privilege. Because of my race, because of my socio-economic class, my comforts, my education, my family.

I think of how frustrated I get that I have all of these things and still find myself feeling like everyone I work with looks at me like a silly girl who doesn’t know what she’s doing. I still look in the mirror and think that I’m not pretty enough, not thin enough. I still think I’m not smart enough. Not strong enough. Not enough.

Maybe that’s why I stayed away for a while. Because Bitch Planet always makes me ask these questions and look at these issues and lately I just haven’t felt like it, and then I feel guilty for not feeling like it and the cycle begins anew.

I’d given up comics because I felt myself losing engagement, and now I’m picking one up again to feel engaged.

It’s a weird oxymoron, I know.

But if there’s one thing that I’ve taken away from this reading it’s the following. I’m not radical. I just am not. I never have been and I’m not sure I ever will be. I am, in my deepest most private nature, a conservative person. I like routines and sameness, and warmth and home. I like waking up in the morning and knowing what my day has in store.

But here’s where I differ from what the mainline narrative of a person like me goes. Here’s where my non compliance comes into play. There is nothing in me, ever, that feels like everyone should want those things.  I hate that anyone should be forced into a box.That anyone should be denied the chance to find the life that feels right to them. I also feel like anyone should have a shot at those things. Not just people who look, love and act like me.

Pushed into this run of Bitch Planet was a family that was trying to fight The Protectorate and The Council of Fathers and who’s oldest daughter was punished for it. It presents us with, as far as I can remember, the first man who’s actively working against the current system. And it’s cool to see.

Like I said, reading this book makes me feel weird and philosophical which I know is the point.

Anyway, I’m off to Nashville for the weekend with my family. Which means that I may have to keep a lid on all my patriarchy stamping, as I prefer my dad’s head unexploded, thanks.

Here’s The Sitch: Kim Possible Season 3 Episodes 3 & 4

Hey guys! Remember last week when I couldn’t believe how good the animation was? More of that this week. Also so funny. These are hilarious episodes.

Kim Ron Rufus

Season 3: Episode 3 “Bonding”

Dr. Dementor steals a thing, and while at the lab, Ron accidentally picks up a glowing orb that contains a strange agent that causes unbreakable sticking.

Kim gets stuck to Bonnie. Ron gets stuck to Barkin. Shenanigans ensue.

Of course having to live with Bonnie’s stupid shallow life drives Kim crazy, but after interacting with her frienemy’s truly heinous older sisters, Kim understands Bonnie’s attitude a little bit more. Also, Bonnie proves to be very helpful in fighting Dementor, and just taking the wind out of his sails.

Meanwhile, Ron gets pulled into Barkin’s life, which includes a girl scout troop called “The Pixies” and a muffin sale. It is adorable.

Everyone learns not to judge one another and to be themselves.

Also so many jokes.

Season 3: Episode 4 “Bad Boy”

An episode has made me laugh out loud like “Bad Boy” in a while. Ron is worried about attending a family wedding, due to his seven year old cousin Sean’s terror personality. Kim offers to go with him as a date to get him away from the kids’ table and though they fear it will be “awkweird” they decide to do it.

But first the mission, which is monitoring a villain convention, where Jack Hench’s latest invention, “the attitudinator” goes haywire and Ron gets all of Drakken’s evil energy. So we get evil Ron and God Drakken.

Once again, Shenanigans. Just, all over the place. Ron is really good at being evil, so he and Shego team up and Drakken decides to do the right thing and switch back, because Ron is better at being evil than him, so it’s better if he’s bad than Ron. The syntax is really complicated but in general it’s a hilarious exchange between Drakken and Kim making this decision.

Boo-Yas and Nacos

  • Bonnie and Brick go out on a date. Kim is horrified that she’s stuck on it. It’s a real problem.
  • Meanwhile Ron and Barkin’s pixie troop goes on the adventure to save Kim and Bonnie and it’s all pretty great. Also, let’s talk about killing gender norms in this plot. They get killed all over the place.
  • “Awkweird” is my new favorite KP slang word. Replacing “Baddical.”
  • When he’s good, Drakken creates the perfect glass of chocolate milk which he calls “Coco moo.” COCO MOO, it’s brilliant and hilarious.
  • Every word out of John Dimaggio’s mouth in this episode is gold, but the line, “No one told me there would be no evil fun times with new mole rat buddy” is my absolute favorite Drakken line of all time.
  • But also man, “Coco moo,” this will make my entire week.
  • Also, Ron and Kim are obsessed with a Teen Soap called “Agony County,” and the main guy in it, Danny is a misunderstood jerk, who says ridiculous things like, “I like when you hurts,” and it’s delightful. When Ron tries to ape this behavior, he loses the “misunderstood,” and jumps right to “jerk.”

We Are Not Things

Mad Max

There are a million things that have already been said about Mad Max: Fury Road, and I don’t know that I want to add to the din.

But it’s wonderful.

I don’t know how to describe it or recommend it highly enough. It’s a two hour long car chase through the desert, done with mostly practical effects. (Whether you like the movie or not is based on whether you like the idea of a two hour long car chase through the desert. I happen to think that’s awesome.)

It’s surprisingly feminist, reenforcing the idea that no one belongs to anyone else, and delving into themes of human trafficking, without, well, actually talking about human trafficking at all. It’s pretty, pretty great.

Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is a remarkable character who will hopefully live on through the ages.

Tom Hardy as Max is servicable. What’s cool here is that it’s not really his story, but he’s certainly a large agent in it. Hardy is talented and charismatic. He is not Mel Gibson. This is not his fault and should not really be held against him. But I mean, it’s Mad Max…this is complicated in my brain.

George Miller spent over 10 years of his life making this movie. It shows.

SEE THIS MOVIE. At all costs, just do it. It’s so, so, so, so very worth it.

Rankings:

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. Tomorrowland
  3. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  4. Pitch Perfect: 2

Trailers:

Jurrasic World: OK WE GET IT THE MOVIE IS GOING TO BE AWESOME! I’m actually really excited about this. Who else?

Ant-Man: Starting to get a little hyped, but still not really into it. Will still see it.

Fantastic Four: I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY I’M SO EXCITED! I DON’T EVEN LIKE THE FANTASTIC FOUR!

Vacation: Might be awesome, might completely suck? There will be no in between.

Entourage: Dude? Seriously? VINNIE IS DIRECTING THE MOVIE? This is going to be terrible. I’ll report back tomorrow!