Friday, October 3, 2014

Some Thoughts On The Ladies Of Gotham

So, I really really really want to like Gotham. I've loved Batman since I was a kid, and I've been a huge fan of The Mentalist for years. And parts of the show are really great. It's a fun perspective on Gotham, with great design and moments of fantastic writing. Donal Logue steals the show as the Bullock we never knew we wanted, and let's be real, I've always loved Jim Gordon.

But.

But through the whole first episode, I found myself instinctively disliking almost all of the female characters. I was happy to see that there was, proportionally, a pretty good number of them, but for some reason, I found a lot of them really grating. It took me until the end of the second episode to be able to articulate to myself why, exactly, I felt this way, and it's this: the female characters feel like set pieces and stereotypes. 

I read somewhere that Jada Pinkett Smith's part was originally written for a man, and when I heard that, I was positively delighted. A straight gender swap is one of the easiest ways to get a compelling female character, and Smith seemed so enthusiastic about getting to "prove" herself in the role that (as much as that phrasing should have been a red flag) I was pretty intrigued to see how her character would play out. But the swap almost definitely wasn't a straight sex change. Fish Mooney is defined by her sexuality and sensuality, and her power is a very stereotypically "female" power. Don't get me wrong - Jada Pinkett Smith rocks the role, and it's obvious that Mooney is a very powerful woman in her own right. But something about it doesn't sit right.

I'd much rather see Jada Pinkett Smith playing Falcone as written and John Doman (or as Dave calls him, Mobster #1) recast as Mooney, as written. Wouldn't that be vastly more interesting? A flamboyant, aging mobster prancing around in silk clothes in a fancy nightclub. His straitlaced, old-school, black female boss double speaking all over him, then beating up his boyfriend to make him cry and lose his temper. That whole scene (as written) was just bizarre to me. The only reason Mooney's fuck buddy mattered to Falcone was because he assumes the guy matters to her because she's slept with him. Of course, because she's a woman and women can't have casual sex, he's right, despite the fact that, elsewhere, Mooney seems to have little loyalty or attachment to any of her conquests (or, really, anyone but herself). Sexes swapped, Falcone probably wouldn't have thought twice about his male subordinate's sexual partners. Yet, Falcone exploits this "weakness," and cool, composed Mooney totally loses her shit over it, before Falcone is even out the door. Why does she care so much about this no-name waiter we just saw for the first time? Oh right, because she's a woman.

The other female characters don't fare much better. Barbara, another character I was very interested to see represented on this show, has drifted between being a plot device (tell Gordon it was a setup! Get word to the papers!) and... a recap machine? I almost said sounding board, but Gordon never really shares any of what's ACTUALLY going on with her; even two episodes in, he's keeping some pretty big secrets. Barbara is also one half of the only two females that have had a conversation with each other on screen, and it was to talk around their (implied?) shameful, possibly sexual history that SHE'S hiding from HIM, while the guys are all extremely nonchalant about their sexual histories. Hm.

What really drove it home for me, though, was Selena Kyle, who, towards the end of the second episode, threatens to cry rape against a police officer if he doesn't do what she tells him to. This is maybe the worst and most upsetting thing this show has done, because - let's pretend for a moment this is the real world and not Gotham, where the cops openly execute criminals and generally do whatever the fuck they want without any consequences(oh wait...). In the real world, no girl would ever do this, because no one would ever believe her, even if it were true, and no cop would come to her defense against another cop, even if it were true. And this is Gotham. And yet, the cop hops to it and does what she says. This isn't giving a (let's remember, 13 year old) girl sexual power, it's perpetuating the belief that women lie about rape to get what they want, when in actuality it's astronomically unlikely for any woman to lie about rape, because it's so painful, personally dangerous, and often pointless to tell the truth about rape. This doesn't make Selena the sassy spitfire she's supposed to be, it just gives us a little glimpse into the fact that every single writer for this show is a man. And don't get me started on the fact that this dirty, down on her luck, totally broke, homeless urchin living on the rough streets of Gotham is perpetually slathered in makeup. 

Guh. I'm so frustrated with these ghastly missteps, in no small part because this show comes so close to being good. Fox has made it a priority to add diversity to their programming, and though it's mostly among the secondary and tertiary cast members, this is probably the most diverse Batman we've seen on film, both in terms of race and sex makeup. But where Sleepy Hollow effortlessly creates three dimensional, interesting women who are invested in the main plot of the show, have their own agency, and who aren't prized for or defined by their sexuality, and who are important beyond the context of the men around them? Gotham misses again and again. I hope it gets better, but I have a sad feeling it won't, and that this lack of well-rounded female characters isn't going to do the show any favors in terms of ratings.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hunted (The Iron Druid Chronicles #6)

I'm a big fan of Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid Chronicles. In my Quest for Male Protagonist Urban Fantasy, this was one series that I picked up and instantly latched on to, and have been reading pretty devoutly ever since (though this review has been a long while coming). Atticus is a sassy, witty, protagonist with a fantastic supporting cast, and Hearne does really fun and unique things with mythology and mythological characters, which makes the world of the books both really fun to explore and amusingly familiar if you know your mythology. On the whole, the books are a lot more lighthearted than others I've read in the genre, and Oberon in particular just cracks me up whenever he opens his mouth. And, really: if you can get me to like a book with a talking dog, you've accomplished something.
Amazon   B&N   Goodreads
All that said, Hunted is a bit of a weird addition to the series. It picks up immediately where the epilogue of the previous book (Trapped) leaves off, which was a bit disorienting because of the real-life time gap between the two (both between publication dates and my reading of them). From there, the book takes off at a blistering pace, as Atticus and Granuaile spend the whole book sprinting through Europe while being pursued by some very angry gods. The pace of the book doesn't give you a ton of room to settle back into the series or warm back up to the characters, and for the first 100ish pages everything feels very frantic in a way that's not entirely pleasant. This is also the first book written in part from Granuaile's perspective. Initially, that was pretty jarring - she's a very different character from Atticus, and while I think Hearne captures the inside of her head very well, it makes for a very abrupt and dramatic change from the narrative tone of the previous five books. Shifting back and forth between them was especially weird, but thankfully her voice started to grow on me more and more as the book went on.

In fact, once I got past the aforementioned 100ish page mark, I really started getting into it - the breakneck pace of the book, Granuaile's head space - and felt like I'd gotten back to the roots of the series: that perfect combination of banter, mythos, and very well written action. Though it took me a while to get into the swing of things, I was ultimately really happy to be back. As I said before, the entire supporting cast is lovely, the baddies are fun to hate, and Hearne's fantastic sense of humor permeates the entire book, even when things get pretty grim. 

There's a lot more about this book I wish I could talk about, but not much more I can say without spoiling things. Ironically, one thing I can mention without spoilage is the ending: like Trapped, Hunted ends on a note that gets us geared up for the next book. It certainly whetted my appetite for more (though Shattered won't be out until June 2014), but I'm not sure how I feel about it as a strategy, especially if the next book starts, like this one did, right where the epilogue leaves off. While it makes me want to read more, it also makes it harder to keep up with the continuity of the books for people who read one of them a year right when they come out, and a bit harder to get settled in to the new books, whether you've read the previous ones or not. 

I also want to mention that I only discovered once I got to the end of this book (which includes the short story Two Ravens and One Crow) that there are plot-important short stories that happen in between many of the books. That explained why I felt, at times, like I was missing or not remembering some of the (albeit minor) details that got brought up throughout the book. It certainly didn't ruin the story, but it left me feeling a bit disoriented at times, so if you're planning on reading the series straight through, it's worth keeping an eye out for the in between bits to make sure you read everything in the intended order.

Which I suppose is my final recommendation about this series: Read it. My goodness, read it. But read it back to back, and in the right order!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hooray For Spring!

Despite the fact that there have been crazed flurries of snow swirling outside my window since I woke up this morning, I think I'm ready to call it spring. The life-altering effects of Daylight Savings Time and the spring equinox took a little while to kick in, but kick in they have, leaving me willing to ignore the lingering chill in the air and simply appreciate the flood of sunlight streaming into my office.

It took me somewhere near a decade after leaving California to realize that I have something of a Seasonal Thing, probably because I went home every winter to soak up some sun for as long as I was in college, and spent the few years after either back in CA or traveling through similarly warm climates. But two solid years and two long winters here in the frozen north, and sho'nuff, Seasonal Thing. It's meant an outrageously frustrating block to my productivity over the last few months, which has just as suddenly evaporated in the last week or so. I've done more editing and revision in the last three days than I have in the last three months, and god does it feel good to be stretching those brain muscles again.

I actually read an article written by another writer about her Seasonal Writing Disorder that was particularly reassuring. This past fall was one of the most productive writing seasons for me ever, period, and having it abruptly halt almost as soon as December hit, for the second year in a row, was devastating. It's hard not to feel like something has gotten broken, or to let that feeling make the Seasonal Thing worse, but as I'm entering this, my second real spring here, I'm starting to get a handle on the way my brain works, in particular the cycles of my productivity. I'm hoping that knowing that the inspiration and ability will come back as the seasons change will make it a little easier to take when they go away next winter. Or, you know, that we move somewhere with sunshine.

For now, I'm getting ready to make one last big editorial push on The Book so I can tackle the second half of The Sequel in April. With any luck, I'll have both done and polished before I get smacked in the face with more SAD. Also, I have a bountiful backlog of books to review, but no promises. I have editing to do!

Friday, January 31, 2014

New Sherlock!

Just a quick thought tonight. Light Sherlock S3E1 Spoilers ahead. I finally talked Muscles into sitting down and watching the new Sherlock with me. I loved it unreservedly - it was everything I wanted, which was essentially more of what I loved about the first two seasons. I laughed, I gasped, I raged, and I was happy to be back. But something struck me a few hours later: I think I finally understand why people are complaining about Moffat re: Doctor Who. Now, I say this as someone who has watched barely a handful of Eccleston-era Who and nothing since, but who hangs around a lot of Whovians. And the buzz on my radar lately - especially right after the big anniversary episode - is that Moffat is ruining Doctor Who by eliminating the emotional stakes. I've read a few compelling rants and blog posts to that tune, but having no context, it was just people venting on the internet.

But I think he did it with Sherlock, too. And I don't even mean the fact that Sherlock doesn't really die, because we knew that, and in the episode the emotional stakes are extremely high when it's revealed that he ISN'T dead. And I don't even mean the return to status quo and forgiveness for his deception, because the show couldn't really move forward without it. But everyone gets forgiven or in some way backhandedly vindicated. At the end of last season, there was this great moment where we see Mycroft get hit with the realization that he's responsible for his brother's death. It's a half second, but a powerful one, where we see this smart, detached guy facing a huge consequence for his meddling.

But that great moment is just as quickly erased in the first episode of the new season. The context of what happened is subtly rewritten, just a quip, but it takes away Mycroft's guilt completely. It's an easy way to bring their relationship back to the way it was, sure, and the relationship looks to be developing in interesting ways. But erasing that moment in retrospect, I think, dos a disservice to the show. Neither Sherlock nor Mycroft ever really have to pay for the consequences of their game-playing, and the people who do pay the heftiest price (namely John) never really get vindicated. The closest Sherlock gets to genuinely apologizing is a gag, and that's agonizing. Martin Freeman plays Watson's inarticulate rage so perfectly that it's almost painful to watch, and yet, without honest apology or explanation (and only the barest hint of remorse on Sherlock's part), we're back to the status quo.

Now, do I think this ruined the show? No, because really it's all perfectly in step with Sherlock's character (and, really, to a certain extent John's). But even with only a few episodes of Doctor Who under my belt, I realize that show is a different beast, where Sherlock's asocial anticking would be out of place, and the value of empathy is higher - where devaluing emotional impact and eliminating consequences would undermine the whole point of the show.

Which is interesting, to me - that what ostensibly makes one highly beloved show so successful is maybe the same thing that's ruining another one. Thoughts?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

R.I.P.D.

When I first saw the trailer for R.I.P.D., I experienced more squee than I could handle. Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges in a supernatural buddy cop movie? It was like someone had reached into my brain and pulled out a dream I didn't even know I had, crafted it lovingly, and passed it back to me with a bow on top. Unfortunately, apparently the target audience consisted of me and only me, and after I was unable to go see it on opening night because Reasons, I was subsequently unable to get anyone to go because, well, no one else had gone. 
Netflix   IMDB
Part of me grew to believe that the movie probably was not actually all that good, given that it was one of the year's biggest flops, but that small, eager voice inside persisted, so when the movie showed up on Netflix, I put it in my queue. I got the disc in the mail and convinced a moderately willing friend to sit and watch it with me (there may have been free pizza involved). And...

...I can't remember the last time I laughed that hard at a movie. And I mean genuine comedy laughing, not this-is-so-bad laughing. A lot of people complained that R.I.P.D. was just a MIB ripoff, derivative drivel that never should have happened. Now, I can admit that R.I.P.D. probably never would have existed, in film form, without MIB as a predecessor. But I ask you this: what was the last movie that was like MIB since MIB? And the answer is there hasn't really been one, but personally I don't think it's because the concept is a one-shot (though evidently the American viewing public seems to disagree).

Jeff Bridges is pitch perfect, essentially reprising his role from True Grit - or rather what Rooster Cogburn would be like 200 odd years and a pinch of crazy after his death. And I still think Ryan Reynolds is one of the best straight men in Hollywood, which only accentuates the greatness of Bridges' performance. The alternate personas of the two characters (i.e. how they appear to the living) were probably featured a little too heavily in the preview - I know at least one person that didn't go see the movie because of them. But Reynolds and Bridges appear as themselves for the vast majority of the film. The alternates are used only for the gag - sparingly and with impeccable comedic timing.

The special effects are over the top, sure, and a lot of the CG isn't exactly going to win any awards, but the writing is spot on and the cast plays very, very well together, INCLUDING KEVIN BACON who I would be shocked if anyone realized was even in this movie unless they saw it. Really, I think the loudest critics of this movie are probably the people that didn't bother to go see it, because it takes maybe five minutes for Ryan Reynolds to shine, and I was basically in stitches from the second Jeff Bridges walks on screen until the end credits rolled. If you loved MIB, or if you love Jeff Bridges or Ryan Reynolds, this flick definitely deserves a watch. I just hope Ryan Reynolds' career can survive all the people that didn't go see it.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Redemption

So, this was the final entry in this week's Stathamithon because I'm all out of Statham movies streaming on Netflix that aren't In The Name Of The King and I don't hate myself enough to ever watch another Uwe Boll movie. Redemption was actually a bit of a surprise - there was emotional intensity, which is something generally lacking from these sorts of revenge-y action flicks, and the movie actually had moments that were quite dark, and not even in the blown off limbs sort of way. It was a nice portrait of a problematic society (London, in particular) where immense wealth is sharply contrasted with terrible poverty, the two walking side by side but rarely interacting.
IMDB   Netflix   Amazon
But while the movie was pretty good, what I want to talk about is actually the Netflix description of the movie. Now, for anyone that has Netflix, it probably isn't new news that their descriptions aren't always on the money. But the one for Redemption was staggeringly, almost comically inaccurate. Reproduced for your convenience:
Back home after a harrowing tour in Afghanistan and haunted by his dark past, veteran Joey Jones takes on an assumed identity and tries to atone. But when his pregnant girlfriend is murdered, he must risk stepping into the light to get revenge.
The only portion of this description that is remotely accurate is that Statham plays a haunted veteran, but even that's a bit misleading. The movie starts with a sweeping overhead intro, a shot of, presumably Afghanistan with some vaguely garbled military-ish voice over. We know that something has gone terribly wrong, but not what. From there, the movie takes place entirely in London. We cut to a bedraggled, long haired (?!), homeless Statham and a homeless woman getting shaken down for.. drugs? He fights back and ends up having to make a run for it, and ultimately crawls through a skylight on a high-rise building to get away from his attackers. The apartment he crawls into turns out to belong to a very wealthy man on a nearly year-long vacation, and Statham's character takes up residence there in an attempt to pull his life together.

The movie really takes off from there, with Statham battling his demons in a sort of partnership with a nun who has some emotional baggage of her own. The homeless woman from the first 5 minutes isn't Statham's girlfriend, and she certainly isn't pregnant - while she's someone he initially cares about, her death is really just a plot device to present to him a choice: does he want to be a good man in the sense the nun wants him to be (as in, honest and merciful) or does he want to be good on his own terms (as in, righteously vengeful). The movie delves into questions of the impact of military service on the human psyche, and, as the title implies, if and how one can find redemption from past horrors, especially murder.

The movie is designed so that all the disparate plot lines are engineered to resolve on the same date, which feels more artificial than elegant, but the ending has a pleasant grim resonance that again has more emotional impact than I'd expect from the spectacularly inadequate description. The movie takes a little while to find its feet, but Statham and Agata Buzek, the nun, have a really lovely chemistry that makes the tragic elements of this movie shine.

IMDB's description...
 Homeless and on the run from a military court martial, a damaged ex-special forces soldier navigating London's criminal underworld seizes an opportunity to assume another man's identity -- transforming into an avenging angel in the process.
...is somewhat more accurate, but still, I would argue, inadequate, as it entirely ignores Buzek's role as a powerful shaping force in the movie, specifically of presenting the fragility and inadequacy (and, perhaps, necessity) of traditional morality in a morally bankrupt modern world.

"Better than it sounds!" isn't typically a resounding commendation, but for a movie that is tragically misrepresented almost everywhere (Amazon calls it a "high-octane action-thriller!"), I feel like it's worth saying. Expect a quieter, thinkier movie than you'd expect from Statham, and give it a good 20 minutes in to get started - things really start to pick up once Statham's character starts to pull himself together.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Blitz (And Some Thoughts On Actor Name Action Movies)

I'm suffering from a particularly intense NaNo hangover this year, probably because I've been writing intensely nearly every day for about three months. I have a book and a half written now, but am feeling more than a little burnt out. On December 1, I peeked open my little eyes and looked out at the world and wasn't quite sure how I got here. I've had other stressors, too, like my ongoing battle with healthcare.gov, but for the last few days I haven't really known what to do with myself. I know I need a little time away from writing, but it felt like it had been so long, I found myself wondering - what do normal people do for fun? I feel like I'm in a sort of suspended state - a combination of malaise and maybe something akin to shock: Where am I? What's happening? How did I get here? What am I supposed to do now? Why don't I want to do anything?

IMDB    Netflix
I admit I've been self medicating with action movies and baking. Thoroughly cleaning the kitchen for the first time since probably October and baking something for fun was nearly as cathartic as getting to eat what I baked, and I find that action movies never fail to improve my mood. Coconut Oil Brownies in hand, I set on a quest to watch all the Jason Statham movies on Netflix that I hadn't already seen. First up was Safe, which was A Jason Statham movie - Statham playing an honorable killer, a plot that was more like a net loosely holding together action sequences and slightly too many characters, Nothing too unusual.

But last night I watched Blitz. I got a little teasing from Muscles on his way to bed for my Stathamithon, and went into the movie with the expectation of watching a lot of people get the tar beaten out of them for an hour and a half, and not really much more than that. But I actually ended up really enjoying the movie. Now, I'm not saying the movie is a masterpiece, or even that it's particularly noteworthy. But it was one of those great movie experiences where I magically recognize basically every actor in the entire movie including all the walk-ons an bit parts (Thanks, Lionsgate UK!), which is something I really enjoy, and the whole movie was very British which, again, something I really enjoy. I won't say it was like Snatch or Lock Stock, because it lacks the twisty elegance of Guy Ritchie's film making and storytelling, but it was much more like Statham's early work, which I appreciate.

But maybe my favorite part was watching the dynamic between Jason Statham and Aidan Gillen (henceforth: Littlefinger). I love Littlefinger in Game of Thrones but hadn't actually seen him in anything else (Dark Knight Rises doesn't count!), and it was cool to see him amp up the creepiness in this movie - and to see this lithe, svelte, intelligent-but-crazy guy pinned against Statham's brute force musclehead. I honestly wish the movie had given them a little more time to play against each other, but was really just pleased to see Statham across from something other than a musclier-head.

Statham is certainly one of those actors that you go to for consistency: you go into a Stathamn movie expecting to find Statham playing Statham in much the same way, I would argue, you go to see a Bruce Willis movie to see Bruce Willis play Bruce Willis, or a Jason Momoa movie/show to see him grunt and punch things, or a Karl Urban movie to watch him hack and shoot his way through a sf/f world. Muscles would go so far as to argue that none of them (especially Statham, who is actually an MMA guy apparently) are really actors at all, just stunt men with enough personality to carry a movie. And certainly that's part of the appeal for me: I like the down-on-his-luck badass-with-a-heart of-gold-character that Willis and Statham deliver with such consistency, and it's nice to be able to pick a movie and know more or less for sure what you're getting.

Even so, it's refreshing to get a little twist on the expected, and Blitz was a nice little surprise that, combined with a rather excellent brownie and a tall glass of milk, did wonders to lift my spirits and help drag me out of my post NaNo funk.