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Monday, October 12, 2009

Go west, young lady

  Did you ever see Xiu Xiu, the Sent Down Girl? I have film festivals for myself, and during my Asian Women in Bad Situations mini-festival, I watched this drama about an idealistic Communist girl who was eager to share her ideals with the undeveloped western regions of China, only to find herself trapped and hopeless. The film alluded to the "sending down" and "down to the countryside" programs in China, in which the government managed urban youth and political dissidents by sending them far away on supposedly short term rural development projects... and never allowing them to return.

Art can be so educational: you read about things you wouldn't have heard of otherwise.

Now the BBC has an upbeat article about urban youth being sent to the countryside to share their ideals with the undeveloped western regions. Which sounds so... familiar. BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | China's reverse migration (10/11/09) is ostensibly about having the government organize a little time in the country for the heavily-educated.
Since 2003 more than 1,400 young people from Shanghai have been sent by the Communist Youth League to the interior of China.
In the media we should have, there would be a nice comment in this article noting that this is nothing like those other, creepy, earlier projects, and that no one even worries about that sort of thing anymore. Or, otherwise, if the case is otherwise. Anything but pretending that sending urban youth to the countryside to share their ideals with the undeveloped western regions is a completely new idea.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)7:11 AM

Friday, October 09, 2009

Best Use of Architecture In an Action Film

  The award goes to... [riiiippppppp!] The International. [wild applause]

Yes, it is an action film. Yes, it is about how international banking corporations can be evil. Yes, we all know that the whole point of corporations is to be amoral entities slavishly devoted to making money. Yes, we all know that the whole point of banks is to separate you from your money and to benefit from your money in ways that you never could, because it is a rigged system. We all KNOW this. We just don't usually get to discuss it in the context of tall Danish and Italian men in outrageously expensive suits having gunfights in stylish modern art museums or across the rooftops of scenic villas after watching breathtaking flyovers of gorgeously composed views of perfectly lit cities.

The gunfight in the Guggenheim is my favorite movie gunfight of all time. I don't even like gunfights in movies, nor movies with this poor of a male-to-female ratio! This really just means it doesn't have much competition, but still.

As a still photographer and fan of architecture, this film was stellar.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:10 PM

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Answer: it turns out that many people watch the Watchmen

  Have you ever found yourself saying something like, "He's a great chess player: it's a real shame that he speaks so highly of Mussolini?" Or "Aside from his advocacy of white supremacy, he's a good poet." Or "It was a great book, until he blamed everything on the Jews."

That's how I feel about the Watchmen movie.

I'm not the target audience for Watchmen. Not so much because I was focused on Japanese manga in the 80s and early 90s, and had little patience for the muscle-bound American hero comics. Though there is also that. I'm not in the target audience despite my high tolerance and frequent fondness for dystopian fiction, which I do have. My sci-fi fandom and tendency to see sci-fi movies doesn't count, either. The fact that I saw the film on opening weekend is no indicator. No, the target audience is male viewers who kindly overlook micrometer-thick characterizations of women.

Ladies: if you are not sleeping with a major male character, you cannot be in this film. Of course, there are other requirements, mostly involving parading around in your underwear, but you only exist to sleep with others. There is one exception available to a one hot lipstick lesbian, but she must both appeal to men and die in the opening credits. Sorry.


It's perfectly dystopian for the heroes of the film to all be flawed, to have moral and ethical lapses, to be personally loathsome in some instances, to be a bit mentally off. That was part of the 80s re-evaluation of being American, right? Good people doing bad things with "good" justifications they can't articulate - that was pure Reagan Administration. That works well. But these flaws are only acceptable if you are male, because those kind of flaws could lend too much depth to any female character in this world.

Name a personality trait that any of the women in the film had. See? Sad, no?

If you were in the target audience of the film, you may not have noticed this, or may have forgiven it in exchange for the latex suit and sex scene, which were the primary memorable actions by the young lead actress. You may have also glossed over the lack of sexuality in the male characters who weren't sleeping with the latex lead or her bustier-clad mom. This happens - there are so many freakishly abstract depictions of women in film, that it all may have seemed normal to you, depending on the kinds of films you see. And it happens in other media.


Related digression: when I went back to college on weekends to complete my degree, we were in the second or third semester or so when one of the members of my cohort complained that every book we were currently reading was authored by a woman. He didn't think this was balanced, and he wanted this to be corrected. After a brief pause, another male student took him to task: we had already been through months of material, and without exception, everything else in the class had been male-authored. Why hadn't he complained about the lack of balance then? The first student said he hadn't noticed. It had all seemed normal, these all-male, male-centric points of view.

I'm not saying it's just Watchmen; I'm just saying this was especially tedious in Watchmen.

At least in X-Men, the female characters had abilities not limited to wearing latex or having shiny hair.


The only real novelty in the film to me was the unrelenting frontal nudity of Dr. Manhattan. This is not something hetero-boy-oriented media usually depict(s).

Those of us who watched lots of anime in the 80s often noticed a trend: the women may have been exploring space in bikinis or doing battle in chain mail thongs, but the boys were as covered as priests of most Western faiths: arms covered to the wrists, legs covered to the ankles, necks covered at least midway, sometimes all the way to the base of the head. Once you notice that in manga, you start noticing that "western" contexts feature more muscle-bound displays of male upper bodies, but only for fight scenes. But men are often stunningly modest.

Not here.

It was also novel that, with the screamingly blue exception of Dr. Manhattan, the heroes were really just normal people who were about 20 percent tougher than normal folks. They were brawlers, really. They evolved from fist-based vigilantism, but didn't evolve far. That was nearly... democratic.

Do I need to write about how Dr. M's martian clock-hovercraft-thing made no sense at all, even if it was pretty? Or how awesomely 80s some of the background details were? Oh, you know that already. Well then: this film could have had some more depth, though I think it wasn't supposed to - I think the flaws of the (male) heroes were supposed to spread to a flat, ambiguous view of a world that they didn't really spend enough time thinking about, a view that we shared with them. It succeeded at that. But I can't imagine watching this again, or recommending it to anyone.


posted by Arlene (Beth)1:06 PM

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Strangeness on the movie screen.

We wound up seeing Dark Knight, the latest installment in the Batman franchise. We hadn't planned on it: but we were passing the theater, and it was going to start in 15 minutes, and so we went.

The film was typical: big budget, pretty to look at, taught us that violence solves all problems, etc. It barely hit my "minimum named female" qualification - barely. I don't really have much to say about the film: mostly, I was intrigued by the previews and pre-film ads.

There was a recruiting ad for... the Border Patrol. Seriously. And until about halfway through, I thought it was a parody. I wasn't alone: a woman walking into the theater, who couldn't even see the screen yet, was making comically sour faces just at the voice over that went with it. When we realized it was a REAL ad, intended to actually inspire people to want to join the border patrol... I was baffled. I don't think that was their goal.

Then there was the least sensible cross-promotion I have yet seen in this life: a special-effects filled extravaganza combining a promo for the latest Mummy film The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor with... the Beijing Olympic Games!! YES! Yes! Yes! Running mummies... turned into running Olympic athletes!! Diving monsters... turned into gymnasts!! A fight scene... turned into Olympic boxing! I am not making this up!!

A mild wave of hysteria broke out through the audience. No one could figure out WHAT, precisely, the message was. I came up with a few possibilities:

-The Olympics would actually be a lot more interesting if the undead could participate.

-The Olympics could currently be staged entirely in CGI, and we might not notice.

-China is currently being run by the evil undead, and this spot was intended as commentary.

-Brendan Frasier is good at playing masculine, hapless heroes... and might also make a good, goofy commentator at some of the more dry Olympic events. He does hapless well.

-I am uncertain if advertisers are being infiltrated by bitter, cynical, deadpan subversives, or if they are just so desperate that they do ads like this unintentionally.

To top it all off, there was a preview that I don't think I even need to describe. I'll just tell you the name. The name is... Jurassic Fight Club.

How could Dark Knight live up to all of this?


posted by Arlene (Beth)3:47 PM

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