maanantai, 15. heinäkuu 2019

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

Nah, they said. Don’t bother watching X-men: the Dark Phoenix. It has the emotional intensity of a wet sock. It is soulless and has nothing to offer. And I was chuckling inside, smugly certain I could uncover the soul and emotions from under whatever fluff and dross they were buried, since how could a movie based on the Dark Phoenix Saga be completely useless?

I was actually physically shaking with irritation after seeing the movie. So yeah, in a sense it was an emotional experience, just not a positive one. I really really disliked what was done to Dark Phoenix’s story. Well, I did not like the recent reincarnation of X-Men films to begin with. Not the teenage personas and not the actors. Not the lack of epic feels and not… well, ehh, apparently I only watch these X-men movies because of some sort of misplaced loyalty to my younger X-men fangirl self, who would have been so delighted to hear there are going to be popular superhero movies by the dozens in the 21st century.

As I remember it – though it’s been many a year since I read the Dark phoenix saga – it was a great study in the superhero comics maxim best put into words in Spiderman “with great power comes great responsibility”. We have telepath Jean Grey, who accidentally acquires cosmic powers. But the cosmic powers dwarf the human perspective, and she among other things destroys a planet with a population of millions. A creature of cosmic or even just galactic scale is by necessity rather solipsistic, human and humanoid lives not much registering in their considerations. After various eventually unsuccessful attempts to restrict her powers to a human-compatible level, Jean makes the sacrifice and destroys herself, and we readers know it is a sacrifice and not an escape, because we’ve been shown the alluring si

de of Dark Phoenix’s powers. And she does all these decisions herself, not being led by some mys

terious alien foe / personification of vindictive revenge, as in the movie. This is with bothers me the most in this remake. Jean Grey does not have much agency in her own movie. In fact, to borrow a quote from a friend with whom I watched it, “How the titular character manages to be just a statist?”. 


Yeppp. The movie is only very superficially about Jean Grey / Dark Phoenix. It is actually all about Professor Xavier. His mistakes, his intentions, his revelation, his redemption. Jean Grey’s story is but an accessory to this end. The pivotal line in the movie, around which it appears to be spun, is Jean Grey telling Prof X “I forgive you. I understand you did it because of love.” (Or something to that effect.) Precisely what the jealous or controlling or abusive person would love to hear, being (in their own eyes) misguided or over-eager but ultimately well-meaning, and if the other one would just see it was love, pure love that made them restrict or lie or hit… 

I’m also rather resentful that Jean Grey does not get to actually enjoy her powers. She gains them, is happy for like 2 minutes – and not that much happier than your run-of-the-mill teenager going to a house party – and then starts vacillating between anger and distress. So many tears, so much anguish, mostly just because she’s experiencing anger. Like that’s the worst, most unnatural thing for a girl to experience! Like she’s completely unprepared for such a perverse emotion! Oh anger, soooo nasty, that’s not very girly at all! 

(I would like to see a superhero movie about some guy superhero who gains amazing superpowers and immediately freaks out, not actually having fun with them at all. Hides and whimpers, terrified of his super-ability. But no-one in their right mind would script such a movie, since it makes psychologically zero sense. And to be fair I would not, actually, like to see that movie. So I take that back.)

It amazes me that some comic industry dudes in the 1980’s managed to create a storyline which does not raise immediate questions regarding their understanding of female agency, while some movie industry dudes – and this was pretty much an all-male panel – in our enlightened times manage to be such idiots and mess the same storyline so badly. Just, how?!?!? And, why?!?! This story does not appeal to woke women after getting a taste of Captain Marvel, and on the other hand also not trad guys, since it’s on the surface level about some weepy girl. 

I did appreciate Dazzler’s well-deserved appearance on the silver screen, I hope she’ll pop up in later Marvel movies. The villain was quite cool, if psychologically near-parodically clumsy. And other than my irritation and these few good points, the whole movie is just fading from my memory, like nightly fog after dawn.

tiistai, 9. heinäkuu 2019

Grace Livingston Hill: Marcia Schuyler

Grace Livingston Hill wrote sweet, rather unexceptional ‘inspirational’ romances, with one unique ingredient: all her stories feature pretty clothes, wanting to dress up in pretty clothes and clothes as a vehicle for emotional fulfilment. In her books, dressing up is not a sign of sinful vanity, but something wholesome and natural, one of the feminine virtues and a necessary ingredient of a happy marriage. She is also a connoisseur of fine lace – I can tell, since I’m one myself and we recognise each other even across centuries. 

In Marcia Schuyler, published originally in 1908, the pretty clothes are made for our titular heroine’s sister Kate, as she’s about to get married. The book opens with a mouth-watering, sensual description of minute stitches and delicate fabrics. Marcia admires the fine things in Kate’s trousseau just as she admires the groom-to-be David, not enviously, just happy to see her capricious, beautiful sister to get what’s best in life. But oh! At the very last moment, Kate escapes with her secret lover, leaving her groom just hours before they are supposed to be wed. Marcia, David and the reader are all equally dumbfounded that David ends up marrying Marcia instead of his absent bride-to-be – it just sort of happens and we will accept it, just to get the story started. Maybe this kind of stuff happened all the time in 19th century America, who knows? 

Marcia gets the trousseau and the husband, but neither are truly her own. The emotional pivot is the moment when David decides to buy a new, own bonnet for Marcia. He recognises her need to have a wardrobe of her own – emotionally intelligent – and ventures outside his comfort zone to buy one – a small but meaningful sacrifice to signal he’s about to become Marcia’s beloved. 

Both the groom and the accidental bride are pleasant, agreeable people, trying to make the awkward situation bearable for each other. If one were to be accidentally married, or let’s say stuck on an deserted (though well-stocked) island, or just roommates, either of these two would be quite nice to share the predicament with. Marcia feels some distress over her sister’s shameful conduct, but does not wallow in it in excess, and David comes to terms with his betrothed’s betrayal with perfectly balanced amount of angst. Not so much he’d come across as prone to dramatics and not so little he’d appear cold-hearted. 

Marcia is the perfect companion: sweet-natured, unselfish, supportive and intelligent. She embodies all the feminine virtues, including natural pretty looks and girlish enjoyment of dress. The only criticism which applies is that in her complete innocence she’s helpless when encountering her foes (vengeful village girls, lusty men, critical in-laws). Any trace of aggression, even for self-preservation, would compromise her perfect meek and innocent girlishness. But she does not need to be able to stand up for herself. Her goodness and unselfconscious beauty charm less gifted but good-natured girls to act as her allies and protectors. Her childhood friend Mary Ann would lay herself down for Marcia to walk over if necessary, and neighbour girl Miranda who takes a liking to Marcia as soon as she sees her, becomes the third protagonist. Where Marcia is passive and reactive, and as such embodies the perfect feminine ideal of the time, Hill acknowledges the necessity of a more active approach in Miranda. Miranda has none of the charms of Marcia – she’s ugly, lacks all aesthetic refinement, is disobedient etc. But her heart is in the right place and when the necessity arises, she acts decisively. Marcia and Miranda are two sides of a coin, the adored and the adorer, the helpless and the helper. Helpless Marcia would end up molested if left on her own, not so well brought-up Miranda spies and even lies to find out if Marcia is in danger and then heroically sweeps in to save her from the advances of the story’s secondary antagonist, Hill’s typical lusty man Harry Temple. As her reward, she gets to kiss sleeping Marcia on the cheek. Apparently Miranda got her very own book, I’ll definitely read it to find out if she ever got a chance to express her girl love!

A remarkable portion of western romance books describe a situation akin to arranged marriage. Two people are thrust together, not due to personal choice but external circumstances, and during the storyline develop a romantic bond. It is a bit strange how the lack of choice is considered as a great premise for love, especially considering how very atypical and actually difficult it is to end up married to a complete stranger in Europe or US in the last two hundred years. Romance writers have to come up with the most absurd plot twists to produce these arranged-marriage-like situations. Think as I may, I haven’t yet figured out what makes this set-up so popular. It seemingly goes against the whole ideology of romantic love, where the only thing that matters is the feeling of the love-pair for each other. But there must be some hidden pay-off, some emotional fulfilment in this scenario. What is it? Will I ever find out? Is it going to be in any way useful if I do solve this riddle?

Follow our heroine Auroora Lamminlaine on her quest to figure out the entire human experience from early 20th century romance novels for more exciting insights!

keskiviikko, 26. kesäkuu 2019

Oblivion (2014) - with spoilers

Much-maligned movie which has supplied me with my go-to soundtrack for writing heroic scifi fiction. At last watched it, and it was quite interesting with fabulous design. Architecture, costumes, machine design - all very well though out. It was nearly a good movie. Or a good movie unfortunately constrained by Hollywood stupid action movie expectations. If a few lame one-liners had been cut, chase scenes shortened, and one scene where the obvious is explained to the slowest people in the audience completely obliterated, it would have been… but what’s the use of speculating like that. It is what it is. Close call with greatness and still so far from it.


Oh! if you watch it, better be prepared for it being male-centric in the unselfconscious, innocent way of action and scifi movies before 2017 or so. But it is so earnestly a guy movie, not pretending in the least to be equal opportunity, that I can’t be upset at it. 


The protagonist Jack (Tom Cruise) is a hard-working simple guy, who reminisces of baseball and fixes machines. Earth has been ruined in a war with aliens, and he’s helping the rest of the humanity to escape to Saturn’s moon Titan by keeping sea-water distilling machines working. Or so he’s been told. Just as in the Matrix, our hero finds out all his life has been a lie. 


Wouldn’t that be great! 


It’s our tragedy and pain that we’ve been told the truth. The world is just as we’ve known all along. There is no excuse, no ethical pillow for soft landing, we are in falling and falling and falling - failing and failing and failing to act according to our moral beliefs or even in the best interest of our own species. Is there going to be a terrible impact at some point, splattering blood and skull shards around? Probably not. In real life changes are gradual and payouts delivered unfairly, those who have the most power to ruin the world will suffer from it the least. But still, the instinctual feeling of dread need to be resolved, a plausible explanation found, in the dream world of cinema if nowhere else. 


It would be so nice if Morgan Freeman father figure delivered us of our personal responsibility, accepted our pleas: But I didn’t know! I had no idea, in my lovely penthouse apartment, on the top of the world, going to work every day in my cool vehicle, that I was working for the enemy destroying our world! I’m just a simple dude, naive though hard-working, longing for the good life in the country, hoping my stuck-up wife was a little more spontaneous and she and her boss always micro-managing my time. It’s not my fault, none of it! 


He would nod, reassuring, approving, certain that now that you know what’s right, you’ll do it. Like a hero, one of thousands and yet special. Ready to sacrifice anything for the right cause. Even life itself. If only it was a simple single task and not a million inconveniences, like in reality.


Well, saving the world is a million inconveniences, and not many of us bother with them, so we need movies like Oblivion to resolve the stress caused by knowing the right thing and not doing it. Thank you Oblivion, the catharsis you provided was good, and the emotions it made me feel were real.

perjantai, 8. maaliskuu 2019

Captain Marvel (2019)

First, my short history of disappointments with popcorn action flicks aimed at women:
1) Ghostbusters. I so, so much wanted to like that movie. I went in fully prepared to laugh and cheer. Unfortunately, it just was not very good. I did neither, or maybe a little chuckle somewhere. On the other hand, it was also not so bad as internet dudes would angrily claim. But it left me with a longing for a good, solid action movie with a female lead, made for woman moviegoers in mind, no stupid stereotypes, not concerned whether some lame dudes who can only tolerate women in fiction if they satisfy their infantile fantasies like it or not. Like, I have money here, look, and it's just as good money as those dudes' money is, and I'm ready to throw it at any movie that even wants to try to be for me. Why are there no takers???

2) Wonder Woman. Marketed as a feminist superhero movie, I was sure it would be awesome. Gal Gadot kicking ass! Woohoo! In fact, I sort of expected the film to heal not only the disappointment caused by Ghostbusters but also the resentment caused by 5000 years of patriarchy. While the latter was admittedly a bit far-fetched and even unfair demand on a Hollywood action film, it did not even fulfill the first expectation.

Yes, Wonder Woman portrayed as physically strong, but what does it help when she's hopelessly naive, in need of constant handholding and guidance from her all-male squad, and goes through the whole movie with her mouth irritatingly half-open in child-like wonder, as the camera presents her delectable body from every angle. There's no feeling of sisterhood, no connections between women, as Diana is safely flanked by guys on all sides.
One bird does not summer make, and one girl does not a satisfactory woman-relevant film make.
WW was directed by Patty Jenkins, but the story was by Zack Snyder and it shows. I can't decide if Wonder Woman was a half-hearted and timid attempt to appease the female audience of superhero movies, but without actually committing to it, or was it a cynical and calculated marketing move?

But whatever. We have Captain Marvel now, and don't need to concern ourselves with half-baked substitutes. Truly, all my longings have been satisfied, and I am content. The third attempt to fulfill my movie needs was successful, and as an extra special treat I did not even have the imagination to wish for, it struck smack in the middle of 90's riot grrl nostalgia too. I've been on a Garbage-Hole-No Doubt-Belly-Tori Amos-PJ Harvey etc etc loop for two days now, remembering my teen days or at least the most exciting musical bits.

Like probably every woman who has seen Captain Marvel, I've been basking in the glorious feeling of *finally* having watched a superhero movie that was MADE FOR ME. FOR ME, a middle aged woman, damnit! My needs catered to, my nostalgia, my hero! This has never happened before. And I am a multitude, there are millions and millions of me. We are all smiling now.
It feels good. A feeling of finally getting to sit in the best seat of the movie theatre, in the middle of the row, looking at the screen without having to crane my neck uncomfortably, and just simply enjoying the movie. Not being pushed to the side, not having to perform some weird choreographies to placate the fragile dudes, not being reminded every few seconds that I am not the core audience of this film.

As for the movie itself, it's a solid 8,5 stars out of ten – in the alternate universe where superhero movies have always been made equally for all genders. Here it's ten thousand shiny Hala stars out of ten. I will now squee a bit, because I can.

Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel is, sigh, I can't even begin to describe. She's everything.
Carol Danvers is the coolest and most amazing girl friend anyone could want, ready for crazy adventures, there for you in hard times, and regular times too. There's no stupid romantic plot, but instead there is friendship, which I argue is the most basic and most important building block of female experience and one that seems to elude  – or scare? – male script writers. Carol's bestie Maria Rambeau is very relatable. At Marvel cinematic universe female friendships are far and few between, which is of course no wonder since female characters are so rare (except for in Black Panther). In MCU, that is, there are literally hundreds of female characters to be mined in Marvel archives. I grew up with X-men comics, and despite the name there was no shortage of female heroes there, so it's been extra annoying having to deal with Avengers where the perhaps most boring female hero Black Widow has been completely overshadowed by her cool, charismatic male colleagues.

Carol Danvers is also hot. In a realistic way, if such a thing can be said of anything in superhero genre. So cool and so hot at the same time. I lose coherence because she's so cool-hot in her leather jacket and NIN t-shirt driving her motorcycle. I want to hang out with Carol, I want to marry Carol, I want to *be* Carol, I want Carol. Everything at once.
While she's personally confused about the weird memories surfacing in her brain, she's not professionally confused, even when crashing on an alien planet. She's up for banter with Nick Fury right away, no standing uncertainly mouth open with Carol Danvers and constantly shifting weight like poor Diana / Wonder Woman. Captain Marvel gains control of her cosmic-scale powers and delights in them, and it's wonderful and fun, not a cause for freaking out and having to impale that dangerous threat to universal order as with Dark Phoenix in some X-men flick whose name I forget. Captain Marvel's powers are not the stereotypical "girl superhero powers" ie. telepathy, invisibility, seductive poses or what have you remaining at the bottom of the basket after guy superheroes have first picked all the cool powers. No, Captain Marvel blasts baddies with the force of suns, and don't we all feel a crackle of force around our fists when she does it!

Young Nick Fury is delightful, as is the cat. 90's tech and style nostalgia is on point. Some things could have been better foreshadowed, but all in all, TEN THOUSAND STARS for Captain Marvel!

keskiviikko, 27. helmikuu 2019

It's so different in space

Nightflyer Netflix series - otherwise quite good, but it bothers me a spaceship is named Nightflyer! There's no night in space, or day or evening for that matter. Why call a spaceship something specifically pertaining to planetside experience? I've watched only a few chapters so far, and maybe there will be a reasonable explanation later. Meanwhile, I'm thinking about other things besides night which are meaningless or don't exist in space. Come to think of it, should there be another wor for moving around in space besides flying? Flying naturally calls to mind the surface above which the flying thing moves. But perhaps the original meaning will be forgotten. Flying will mean the same as moving, and there will be a special term for moving in a gravity well, whether by foot or machine, on ground, in air or under water.

There is no time in space, or more specifically, no cyclic time. Days, months and years have no meaning. Those are all planet-bound units of time. Perhaps the Galaxy doing a full rotation is cause for celebrations, but that happens so rarely entire species evolve, gain intellect, launch into space, accomplish amazing things, then go extinct, before a whole galactic rotation is completed. Seconds are the same as ever, but where to start counting them?

There are no seasons. Never does spring arrive in space. Or it would be spatial instead of chronological; getting closer to a star is spring, going further from it autumn. Winter in deep space between stars. It's so lovely and optimistic when moving towards a free energy source. Mineral-rich asteroids keep popping up. The long austere winter of cold and empty void is over! Then it's stable summer in orbit around the star for as long as you want, basking in the warmth and light. But eventually, you have to move again, it's time for melancholy goodbyes and diminishing energy. Perhaps going into deep storage and leaving only the essential systems running, or utilising some other energy conservation measures. Autumn is seeing the star you just recently orbited growing smaller and dimmer, until it's not distinguishable from the background starfield anymore.