Thursday, July 29, 2010

Promethea: A Review

Promethea is amazing because it is a story about women, about strong women. There is no husband chasing or love interest (and the one "romance" that appears is positively tragic and portrayed in a negative light). The threat to the women, who have all embodied Promethea, a character made of stories, an idea given flesh, are masculine. There is no Eve syndrome, no Virgin-Whore dichotomy, damsel of distress - none of the typical stereotypes you see in a lot of mainstream entertainment.

As a woman, I found it unbelievably refreshing to have such a breaking of gender roles.

Many of the times when I watch/read a lot of mainstream literature, I feel that women are often portrayed in very simplistic ways, that they rarely achieve the depths of a male protagonist. However, in Promethea, we have different women playing off different aspects of Promethea, making Promethea possibly one of the most complex characters I've ever encountered.

Besides the gender dynamics, I think the story is ultimately about ideas and how they construct reality. Thus, on one side, certain people (usually male) fear that Promethea will bring about the end of the world. Others, usually women, believe that the end of the world is simply the fall of old ideas and old perceptions to new ideas, newer perceptions that forge forward into realms unknown.

One of my favorite images in the novel is when Promethea/Sophie runs into Little Red Riding-hood as she had imagined her earlier: smoking, a take-no-bullshit attitude, and oh, a machine gun. Such a transformation from the origins of the myth as a cautionary tale for young women. It's also very meta in that Sophie created this idea of Red Riding-hood "just after this movie Reservoir Dogs came out. It had you holding a gun, and this caption saying 'Let's go to Grandma's!" Now, it's been a while since I've seen Reservoir Dogs, but I do remember it as being extremely masculine. And it appears that Sophie's applied ideas that are usually seen as a male gender role and applied them to a female, creating not only a new, bad ass version of Red Riding Hood, but a spectacular feat of gender-bending as she breaks down and deconstructs the ideas that shape the world into a new world of "no limits."

I particularly liked Moore's commentary on how women, even when they're thrust into a role of so-called empowerment, are still overtly sexualized from a hetero point of view (ie, women fighting in stilettos and leather corsets).

To the Promethea of the Sword, whose kingdom was usurped by masculine authors under one identity, she was written in a sexualized fashion:

All that drivel he wrote about my taut thighs and heaving bosom...I mean, I don't think I can remember my bosom ever having heaved. Has yours?

Or, from the Author himself:

What a PICTURE you are, with thine flashing BLADE, thine rippling THEWS.

"Rippling thews?" Oh, you ridiculous creature."

I just like that Alan Moore points it out and deconstructs it. He dispels a conceptualized gender role ideal and replaces it with something more real (even though the character he uses to do so is essentially an idea herself, really, quite fascinating).

So because most of the protagonists in this book are women, a lot of the women do things that are typically attributed to men in most mainstream fiction:

They save other women (but even the women they save are not pathetic, doll-like creatures)

they guide and protect and heal people (but that is not their sole function),

(also, note the red poppies) (also note, this is the most "sexualized" form of Promethea in that she is the one that wears the least amount of clothes, yet, no attention is called to it - it is neither celebrated nor denounced - she simply is allowed to be; she also takes on a "motherly"-ish role as she helps guide Sophie and, from that point of view, it's very rare to see the body of a mother portrayed in such a fashion - to me, it acknowledges the fact that women are three dimensional, complex, and full of depth)

and sometimes, the saved becomes the savior.

And I just find that - absolutely beautiful. The gender bending, the empowerment.

There was one little niggle I had - there seemed to be an anxiety regarding lesbianism running through the book. I'm not sure how it'll be resolved, but I thought it interesting that it was there. I look forward to seeing where it goes throughout the later books with fingers crossed.

I leave you with one of my favorite images from the novel and with the sincere hope that you will read it, whenever you have the chance.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I Am Legend: A Review

Here's the thing. I believe that Science Fiction (even the kind that has a bit of horror thrown in for a bit of spice) needs to be progressive. It needs to look forward, not backward.

And I am Legend fails utterly and completely.

But first - the positives. I love the movie with Will Smith, but they really shouldn't have changed the ending. The book ending was complicated, full of switched around perspectives, and absolutely brilliant (possibly the only thing that was brilliant in the novel). But really, the movie and the book are like two different universes - I guess, the movie would be like an alternate reality or something, where people were bearded (but not evil)...okay, nevermind, Star Trek references aside.

I think my biggest beef with I am Legend the book was its representation of women. And boy, did it leave a lot to be desired.

It begins with the vampire women doing this Sexy Dance in order to lure him out of his house. Naturally, he hates and despises them for this and describes them as "lewd puppets." He also targets the women vampires for his research methods, and he even asks himself why he only targets the women for his tests but then the issue is never really addressed When he meets Ruth (another problem entirely), he treats her cruelly, harshly, while imposing his own set of gender preconceptions on her that the story itself does not complicate or even question.

For example,

He had forgotten about sobbing women.

He grunted, getting the uncomfortable feeling that she was playing with him. That's ridiculous, he argued. She's just a woman.

How can she look at them so calmly, he wondered, ask me questions, make comments, when only a week ago she saw their kind tear her husband to pieces?

As he sat looking at her, she arranged the folds of the robe around her legs and he got a momentary glimpse of a brown thigh. Far from being attracted, he felt irritated. It was a typical feminine gesture, he thought, an artificial movement.

"Tell me about yourself," she said. Another typical feminine question, he thought.

It irritates me because the author highlights the emotions of women -- it's not just women he forgets, a woman's strength, a woman's resourcefulness, a woman as a person, but it's their sobbing. The idea is reinforced when he doesn't understand how she could just stand there calmly, asking him questions about the vampires outside his doorstep because she had just, supposedly, lost her husband to them a week before. Here, he expects her to be an emotional mess, incapable of reasonable thought, a being of pure emotions simply because she is a woman (in juxtaposition, Robert himself had to kill his vampired wife and survive on his own for three years; naturally, because he was a man, he never wondered to himself how he could still rationally function so soon after the tragedy of his wife and daughter).

The author also heightens the artificiality of women - her gestures simply cannot be...curiosity, they must be womanly and, because they are womanly and meaningless (which no...the bastard kidnapped her, why wouldn't she want to know more about him), Robert also labels them as artificial.

The story itself does not undermine Robert's own prejudices and hypocrisy (meaning, I don't care if a character is a misogynist pig, but if the story backs him up and says yes, he's right in his perception of women, that pisses me the hell off) because Ruth ultimately is a "fake" - she's not a woman, she's a bloody vampire. And even as a female vampire, she's still completely emotional ("She must have been startled by his cry then, even though she'd been expecting it, and forgotten all about her job [to spy on him]...")

A few months ago, I wrote an entry about Avatar and Pocahontas, how the idea of a woman falling in love with an outsider is a popular theme in American literature. I am Legend is no exception. Ruth, the vampire, falls in love with Robert.

She warns him of the vampires coming to execute him, she tells him that she was going to warn him again, that she was going to help him escape, and is glad that he is so brave before she gives him a kiss.

What. The. Fuck.

Even if Robert was afraid that Ruth was a vampire and thus was treating her so cruelly, that doesn't excuse the savagery of it. And why should she fall in love with someone so deeply she'd be willing to betray her people? She knew him less than a day. He killed her husband.

The way the author portrayed her "love" in the story - I'm not buying it. I find it mildly insulting. Perhaps if she believed that his execution was wrong, perhaps if she wanted to not birth their new society with violence -- and yet, despite the thousands of living vampires Robert has massacred he's giving HER a lecture about violence! -- and wanted to save him out of principle instead of out of love - that, I could understand. That I could respect.

But no. A kiss in the dark and she suddenly loves him. She's not even a person - she's always and completely a tool: used to spy on him, used to love him. Again, her emotions are highlighted - she is incapable of reason (even her decision to help try to minimize the violence of the new society is because Neville asks her to, not because she believes it's wrong). His perception that she is a "brainless convert" is never really refuted by her actions...she simply, always succumbs to her emotions. Instead of complicating stereotypes, it simply reinforces them.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Man in the High Castle: A Discourse

I didn't really get a lot of it, which is embarrassing since I'm a senior in college, majoring in English. So you'd think I could put on my collegiate hat and spout off some academic jargon. Yeah, not so much.

So, I will instead explore my first impressions before I go on about my hap-hazard visit to Wikipedia that revealed some other interesting themes.

First Impressions

I really like What If It Had Happened This Way books, which is what The Man in the High Castle is (another example of which I was quite fond was Superman: Red Son). I think these books help us put things in perspective - instead of whites being empowered and privileged, other empowered people view them with prejudice, as lower "placed" individuals.

I also like the idea of "place" Dick explored - it reminded me of how empowered individuals would tell other, supposedly "inferior" individuals to "learn your place." And it's really disgusting, forcing people into these hierarchies that don't exist - or shouldn't exist. I think people who don't realize their privilege need to be able to see themselves in somebody else's shoes, and I believe this fostering of empathy is one of the greatest functions that literature serves.

It also tickled me that the titular character (oddly enough not one of the protagonists) was an author. Not only that, but his book, which revealed another alternate reality where the Allies won instead of the Axis powers, was banned. Yeah, that's right. Ban literature all you want - it just means people are going to read it and see the things you don't want them to see - perspectives will break upon them as a new dawn of realization. Literature is a weapon - the greatest weapon because it appeals to the intellect, to the brain - it wields ideas instead of fire and metal. And it is beautiful that, with all the might at their disposal, the Germans feared this book.

As I said above, the reader doesn't actually meet the author of the book, the man in the high castle, until the very last few pages, which only heightens how powerful ideas and literature and words really are. Quite elegant, really.

The Question Marks Form

Though I like the idea of this book, I must be utterly truthful: I had a difficult time feeling anything for the characters - I had difficulties relating to any one of them. It wasn't until the very end when something struck me:

And what will that leave, that Third World Insanity? Will that put an end to all life, of every kind, everywhere? When our planet becomes a dead planet, by our own hands?

He could not believe that. Even if all life on our planet is destroyed, there must be other life somewhere which we know nothing. It is impossible that ours is the only world; there must be world after world unseen by us, in some region or dimension that we simply do not perceive.

[. . .]

Whatever happens, it is evil beyond compare. Why struggle, then? Why choose? If all alternatives are the same...

Evidently we go on, as we always have. From day to day. At this moment, we work against Operation Dandelion [nuclear warfare]. Later on, at another moment, we work to defeat the police. But we cannot do it all at once; it is a sequence. An unfolding process. We can only control the end by making a choice at each step.

He thought, We can only hope. And try.

This was like -- Doctor Who, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and Angel all mixed together like a Reeses Peanutbutter with an Additional Very-Delicious-But-as-of-Yet Undiscovered Component. And then, it grieved me that those different stories in different mediums from different cultures from different time periods still address the same flaws of the human condition in a different language each time -- hoping, hoping, perhaps, that eventually we'll catch on and start being magnificent instead of "eat[ing] one another."

Double grr argh.

The idea of the alternate world connected with both Dick and the Man writing alternate versions of history reminded me of a fancy I had as a child: writers discover worlds, alternate dimensions (something kinda/sorta explored in the film Stranger than Fiction). Thus, writers are excavators, mining and discovering and exploring new entire worlds - perhaps gods themselves or simply rediscovering that which already existed (it really depended on my views of inspiration at the time).

But, I never really connected this idea with the rest of the novel until I read the wiki article about the themes of the text.

Which was highly embarrassing and discomfiting because I just saw Inception on Friday and I've been thinking about it nonstop over the weekend and I should have been wondering in bright, neon green, blinking signs if Nolan had been sleeping with Dick under his pillow. And that's not even mentioning the fact that I also just finished Life on Mars over the weekend which also explores reality vs. unreal worlds.

Because seriously. With all that hovering in the brain, you'd think the implications would have hit me like a bitch-slap but it did not!

Summer is not an excuse to take off one's thinking cap, but yet I apparently did. I do humbly apologize and swear to never do it again.

So, as can be seen in the link above, the reader is presented with these various scenes of authenticity verses fraud. There are fake artifacts and there are real artifacts. There is authentic history and alternative histories (ie, both the novel within the novel and the text itself) -- and there are even examples of this within the text (when Mr. Tagomi stumbles into a restaurant where the whites won't give up their seats as Mr. Wikipedia Article informs my furiously blushing ears). And then, of course, there is the scene where Julianna discovers through the I Ching or the Oracle that the Germans and the Japanese had actually lost the war. Before I read the wiki article, I had instead considered that the definitions of "winning" and "losing" were relative - perhaps the material measurement of land or power did not equate to "winning" -- or, perhaps, that in war everybody loses. However, by connecting their discovery (that the Axis had lost) to this idea of fake vs authentic universes/dimensions/experiences really heightens the complexity of the text for me (while also increasing my pique that I hadn't formulated the connection myself).

Which means that the Novel Within the Novel of the Text is just as true as the reality in which they live and that there are other worlds - each just as true as the other - or perhaps false as the other.

Truly mind-bending.

Guildenstern: There must have been a moment at the beginning, where we could have said no. Somehow we missed it. Well, we'll know better next time.

Angel: If nothing we do matters, then the only thing that matters is what we do.

Doctor: The future pivots around you - here, now. So do good. For humanity, and for earth.

Rudolf Wegener: We can only hope. And try.

Even if there aren't other universes, even if we can't be blessed like Mr. Tagomino with a glimpse of an alternative dimension to truly give us some perspective, even if we won't have an Oracle telling us that our world isn't the real world, we still have to construct our reality. With every choice we make, every idea we believe, every word we speak or write, we construct something with lasting consequences.

Still...we should all be like Juliana:

"How strange," Juliana said. "I never would have thought the truth would make you angry." Truth, she thought. As terrible as death. But harder to find. I'm lucky. "I thought you'd be as pleased and excited as I am. It's a misunderstanding, isn't it?"

Also, very Rosencrantz and Guildenstern...

I fear that I am not being very articulate at the moment so I shall end this. Very thoughtful book, I highly recommend it. And if you want your mind reeling under this exploration of authenticity vs. non-authenticity, read it after watching Inception and Life on Mars.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Hitchhiker's Trilogy: A Discourse

I've never actually read The Hitchhiker's Trilogy before and, due to the fact they are library books, I wasn't able to give them the attention I would have liked to have given them. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed reading them for the most part because

1. The style is wonderful
2. Marvin the Paranoid Android
3. I "get it" when 10 said that he was very Arthur Dent in that Christmas special.

Yes, toddling onwards....

The Universe, as has been observed before, is an unsettling big place, a fact which for the sake of a quiet life most people tend to ignore [. . .] For when you are put into the [Total Perspective] Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little marker, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot which says, "You are here." -- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

Very Doctor Who, I thought.

The Universe -- some information to help you live in it.

1. AREA: Infinite.

The Hithhiker's Guide to the Galaxy offers this definition of the word "Infinite."

Infinite: Bigger than the biggest thing ever and then some. Much bigger than that in fact, really amazingly immense, a totally stunning size, real "wow, that's big," time. Infinity is just so big that by comparison, bigness itself looks really titchy. Gigantic multiplied by colossal multiplied by staggeringly huge is the sort concept we're trying to get across here.



It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination. -- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

Which, in turn, was very Life on Mars.

It is worth repeating at this point the theories that Ford had come up with, on his first encounter with human beings, to account for their peculiar habit of continually stating and restating the very very obvious, as in "It's a nice day," or "you're very tall," or "So this is it, we're going to die."

His first theory was that if human beings didn't keep exercising their lips, their mouths probably shriveled up.

After a few months of observation he had come up with a second theory, which was this -- "If human beings don't keep exercising their lips, their brains start working." -- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Besides generally precipitating a further loss of faith in humanity, this actually reminded me of The Screwtape Letters, in which one of the writers (the titular character probably) recommended that his young apprentice fill the world with noise, noise, NOISE so that a body could scarce hear one's self think. And sometimes, I just wonder if both Adams and Lewis actually had a point as I once more valiantly determine to no longer utter inane, mundane platitudes.

I feel that pointing out similarities in one work of fiction to three other works of fiction ought to depress me. Where is the inspiration, I ought to ask, wringing my hands. I ought to follow through with with a general bewailment over the lack of true originality, shaded with a hint of hysterics to emphasize the tragic importance of this discovery. But no. It was like running into an old friend. Hello, Sam. Fancy meeting you here on this end of the Universe. Are you surprised to see me -- if works of fiction are real, do storybook characters perhaps, somewhere deep in their subconscious, harbor suspicions that their audience is simply the delusion of overblown egos in desperate need of some perspective? Ah look - there's Lewis. Let's give him a bit of a wave and then firmly turn our backs on him for what he did to poor Susan. I say, do you remember that time you popped into the red phone box to make a call? Ever fancy it was a TARDIS in disguise?

And then, I imagine, we all could have hooked arms with each other and gallivanted all over the Universe together - because that's what friends they do.

Number Two's eyes narrowed and became what are known in the Shouting and Killing People trade as cold slits, the idea presumably being to give your opponent the impression that you have lost your glasses or are having difficulty keeping awake. Why this is frightening is an, as yet, unresolved problem.

He advanced upon the Captain, his (Number Two's) mouth a thin hard line. Again, tricky to know why this is understood as fighting behavior. If, while wandering through the jungle of Traal, you were suddenly to come upon the fabled Ravenous Bugblatter Beast, you would have reason to be grateful if its mouth was a thin hard line rather than, as it usually is, a gaping mass of slavering fangs. -- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

It was generally inconvenient to read this because I happened to be sitting in the doctor's office, waiting an obscene amount of time, and everybody knows it's impolite to laugh out loud (wildly and uncontrollably) in such a dour establishment.

But believe me, I was in hysterics on the inside. Especially since it seemed he was poking fun at all the body language tropes so many writers fall prey to (such as The Nod, the Turning-on-the-Heel, and the Biting of the Lip, etc).

It is worth mentioning at this point that I did read the Trilogy (though, due to an impending due date and a mess of other books to read, skimmed the last two and a half), I only had a pen handy for, well, only one of the five.

However, I did sally forth to find a pen when a certain passage in So Long and Thanks for all the Fish caused me to nearly cry:

A crash of sorrow on the shores of earth. [. . .] A fugue of voices now, clamoring explanations, of a diasaster unavertable, a world to be destroyed, a surge of helplessness, a spasm of despair, a dying fall, again the break of words.

And then the fling of hope, the finding of a shadow Earth in the implications of enfolded time, submerged dimensions, the pull of parallels, the deep pull, the spin of will, the hurl and split of it, the fight. A new Earth pulled into replacement, the dolphins gone.

Then stunningly a single voice, quite clear.

"This bowl was brought to you by the Campaign to Save the Humans. We bid you farewell."

And then the sound of long, heavy, perfectly gray bodies rolling away into an unknown fathomless deep, quietly giggling.

I don't understand why - perhaps it's because dolphins understand the human condition (plight?) and seem to be more aware that we are in desperate need of saving or that we ought to just buckle down and save ourselves or something.

It was, simply, unexpectedly poignant.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hot Men in Science Fiction (Vaguely Spoilerish)

Sam Tyler from Life on Mars (BBC)

In one of my English classes, we talked about something called cultural estrangement, which is, in a nutshell, what happens to civilized people when stuck in uncivilized places. A good example of this is Heart of Darkness, "Outpost of Progress," Lord of the Flies etc. It explores what makes a person really human -- science fiction actually provides a lot of tropes to explore this idea of humanity in inhuman situations, and Life on Mars explores it with Sam Tyler.

1973 was a different world than the 21st century. Women and minorities weren't treated like individuals, civil rights were disregarded as seen fit, etc. Yet, Sam Tyler is always fighting against this. In 1973, he's placed in a position where he could give in to his baser, darker instincts and probably not suffer any sort of negative consequences. After all, he'd just be going with the flow, doing what everybody else does. Instead, he sticks up for what's right -- sometimes to his humiliation (honestly, I've never seen a protagonist physically put down so often in a single series) and usually to his slight alienation from the rest of the team. He's one of those rare human beings who struggles to say no, to do the right thing, while, at the same time, he's not unrealistically (and annoyingly) good. He's human - intensely so. He doesn't assimilate well to 1973, he encounters his breaking points in a realistic and utterly believable fashion, and he makes mistakes. I honestly believe that the character of Sam Tyler was (is?) one of the most intensely human characters I've ever encountered in fiction. It's beautiful and painful and exquisite all at the same time.

I liked the way they played with the time travel aspect of it (even though it was revealed to be more dream than weird funky time travel, which honestly put me off so it's a good thing it was only of secondary importance) -- a lot of times, shows will have a time travel episode and people just seem to assimilate naturally - or when the few times they do something not quite timeworthy, they're moments of comic relief instead of moments of any real significance. But Simm, as Tyler, played the timey-wimey aspects of this situation beautifully and significantly.

Gorgeous. Absolutely Gorgeous.

And just for the pure hilarity of it (no spoilers, just an opening for an episode in series 2):

Friday, July 16, 2010

Inception (SPOILERS): A Review

Inception was so brilliant. It was so amazing that I wanted even more of it after the credits started to roll. Two hours wasn't enough to fully explore the character and the implications of the plot (unfortunately, we don't live in a world where we can pop into a new dimension, where time is bigger on the inside than the outside).

I think this would have been spectacular as a novel (except we wouldn't have been able to see the excellent performances of the excellent actors) or as a mini series on television.

But, regardless of the untapped potential literally crying out to come into being, this was amazing, and very multi-genred to me. There was science fiction, action, suspense, a little romance, and, most importantly of all, meta --

An Idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules

That is brilliant - that is beautiful - that, there are no words.

However, despite the intellectual brilliance of it, I do believe that, especially from a writer's perspective, the film failed on an emotional level for several reasons which I detail below. Oddly enough, the weaknesses of the film don't turn me off from it - instead, it heightens my enjoyment of it (similar to the way Rowling's dismal mistakes in HP only fuels my love for the books instead of squelching it dead). I still don't understand why certain faults in certain stories only increase their appeal to me...perhaps one day I will understand.

Regardless -- further up, further in!

The Plot's Implicated Themes

One of the reasons I think Inception is a brilliant film despite its faults is that it is very complicated. It's not really a summer popcorn flick - it's like a really amazing pie that's not really pie at all.

Most of the ideas revolved around the meta aspect of the film: ideas and where they come from and how they change people. It almost makes me wish that the story hadn't been about thieving and corporate empires but revolved instead around artists of the future.

Anyway, the idea of Cobb stealing ideas is like plagiarism on steroids because I imagine that once an idea has been stolen from someone that poor unfortunate soul probably won't even remember having had the idea in the first place. However, this theme is left woefully under-explored in the film, which is alright, I suppose, since it's about inception not extraction (still, the writer bit of me twitched a lot at the implications of such an ability). Of course, inception is even more horrifying than extraction. The film attempts to explore the underlying themes of inception, its consequences, what it actually means, but the very notion is so -- multidimensional, it is impossible to fully explore it in the detail I crave, and I'm afraid that what the film does attempt to explore is undermined by both the ending and the characters.

While the movie is about where ideas come from, I think it failed a little about demonstrating how ideas can change people (ironically, also because of the characters). I believe Cobb's wife was intended to demonstrate this - but considering that the audience knows nothing of her before her changed state, it lacks emotional punch. I also find the depiction of her changed nature rather simplistic -- as I said before, everybody dies eventually -- how did the inception of an idea that wasn't really hers change her as a unique individual? Unfortunately, we simply receive a woman who's rather obsessed about growing old with Cobb - which is sweet, but it is a story I've seen before. In other words, it's a tame, rather dull idea in the midst of a wildly imaginative plot. It's like someone intermittently forgot to color in the storyboards in what otherwise was a brilliantly stunning graphic novel.

The Characters

I found the characters to have so much unfulfilled potential, especially -- well, especially all of the ones who weren't Cobb. My favorite moments in the film were when the characters interacted with each other instead of with Cobb because then you could actually see glimpses of their personality when they weren't being a prop to propel either Cobb or the plot along. (Confession: I did not believe that Joseph Gordon-Levitt had enough screen time. Carrying on.)

Besides the fact that the supporting characters mainly...well, supported instead of grew (which is, admittedly, a fine line to draw, especially in films), I disliked the Fischer plot -- there was this cathartic moment between himself and his father, and I found myself simply not caring. Cillian Murphy is a brilliant actor, yet I found his character to be a bit clumsy with little nuance. His father issues were something I've seen before and it wasn't remotely individualized. Because Fischer was such an important character to the film, I think he would have been far better suited to explore the way ideas can change people instead of the dead wife...which is why this needed to be a series at the very least. ;)

The Ending

I don't like trick endings, especially when there are a whole lot of other issues that weren't fully explored enough. From a one time viewing, I think there are, in general, two ways to interpret the ending:

1. Cobb never woke up from the shoals of subconsciousness.
2. The whole movie was a dream.

If number 1, I honestly don't care. I found him to be the least interesting of all the other characters and would have preferred an ending that at least alluded to the myriad of issues and themes evoked throughout the film.

I need to re-watch it before concluding against number 2. I thought the top stopped spinning at least once (and I believe some of the previews confirm this), but perhaps he simply dropped it. Also, I'm more inclined to go with number 1 because, throughout the film, it is stressed that dreams don't have a beginning, dreamers simply pop up in medias res. The film itself reveals how Cobb landed on the shoals (the beginning of the dream, in other words), but the viewer is never shown how Cobb (or even Saito) supposedly "wakes up" after conversing with Saito-As-An-Old-Man. He's simply there - in the plane, in the middle of things.

But either way - dreams aren't real - and if Cobb didn't wake up - so what? If the story was about Cobb and his wife, then they should have kept it about Cobb and his wife without dragging Fischer into it. If the entire movie was a dream, well, it should be the biggest No-No in Literature ever (until someone comes along and breaks the rule in a work of stunning magnificence).

Other Thoughts:

The film itself was absolutely gorgeous cinematically speaking. The citing crushing in on itself, the scene with the mirrors, the free-fall scenes at the hotel -- stunning. Absolutely stunning.

So, the story had its faults. In some ways, it was deeply unsatisfying. But ultimately - it was so intellectually compelling I can't help but adore it. And determine to watch it again as soon as time allows.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl: A Review

Let us take a moment to analyze the title of this work of fiction.

Titles are tricky beasts -- you have to be careful with them. Titles, much like first sentences and paragraphs, make promises to the readers. Now readers, as everyone should know, are demanding little three year olds who want those promises kept, gosh darnit. As a reader, I demand (petulantly) that those promises be kept.

Astonishing -- that's a big word with lots of baggage that promises to be absolutely amazing and fantastic. For example, finding something that's big and little at the same time is astonishing. Going through a star gate and transcending to a higher plane of existence -- that's astonishing.

Lusting after a the gorgeous senior with the killer legs? The tantalizing boobage? Hoping the girl who sits across from you will open her legs even wider, giving you even a better a glimpse of her crotch? These are not astonishing. This is cliche and, despite the fact that the narrator is like the smartest guy in the school with the greatest graphic novel idea in the history of ever, is not astonishing.

It's just a pathetic cliche. So he gets punched in gymn class. Why should I, as a woman, give a frack?

So, the adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl are not astonishing. Fine. People have relative units of measurement when it comes to the human experience.

Fanboy and Goth Girl, Adventures of. So, we get to see Fanboy somehow reconcile his bitter existence with his parents, take off a graphic novel idol of his List of Everybody in the World He Hates. Great. Personal development - except he's still treating girls like objects for his gazing pleasure -- but never mind that. Boys will be boys after all.

So how does Goth Girl grow? What's her great adventure? What's her character development? Oh that's right --


She's just there to teach what's his face an important lesson. And to show off her titties not once, but twice, to make an Important Point (tm). Because a girl's worth is only defined by her sexuality.

No Thank You, Mr. Author Man.

Obviously, there is a limited understanding of female sexuality here. The sad part? Goth Girl gets it - she even attempts to nail it into the narrator's head. But then the ball is dropped - it's gone, and instead, as Fanboy -- poor little fanboy who can't get a girl or keep a friend, boo hoo -- is having one of his wettest dreams fulfilled as the Hot Girl bemoans the fact that guys just want to have a good lay with her, he wonders:

Then why dress like that? why make it so we can't help looking at you? I don't get it. I don't understand.

Frak that bantha poo.

Men are uncontrollable hormone monsters. Women are vestal virgins when they're not being whores by dressing like sluts (and either two can become hormonally driven bitches if they happen to be pregnant or just having a bad day).

This is the antithesis of astonishing. This is a reaffirmation of the tired old gender roles that poison people's concepts of men and women and everything in between. This is not an adventure. This is just a re-treatment of the tired old ground that boxes women and men away in these tiny, little stereotypes that are too small for earth, let alone the gigantic expanse of a universe just waiting to be explored.

It is utterly wearisome.

And I want my five dollars back.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hot Women in Science Fiction

One of the reasons I love Doctor Who is because it has a plethora of strong female characters. Such as Amy Pond:

Amelia - Amy - Pond. Newest companion to the Doctor. I liked her first off because she was so brave - even as a kid she wasn't put off by this mad raggedy doctor man. As an adult, she whacked him over the head with a cricket bat and then slammed his tie in a door! And I liked her because she thinks like the Doctor, which was demonstrated in episodes one and two (as evidenced the weird filming techniques). Brave and intelligent!

All that, of course, are only components of her most amazing quality: her self-assuredness. She's not afraid of her sexuality, which I really respect. I find it utterly refreshing that, though Amy is sexual (more so than the other companions I think, as evidenced by her snogging the Doctor and wanting to snog him later), it doesn't define her. She is so much more than the female companion/eye candy - she saves the day, she understands humanity in a way the Doctor can't because he's not human. She's bold and daring, insatiably curious (which isn't shown as a "bad" quality or fault -- ie, curiosity killed the cat, the Eve syndrome, etc).

From a slightly more English-Student point of view:

1. She's not a damsel in distress. As a woman, she's not there to be protected.

2. She's not the prop the big wigs use to say: Look at this cool woman who is so bad ass and not at all stereotypical. Let's make sure everybody gets it by having other characters (or even the female character herself) marvel how a woman could be so awesome (Butcher, I'm glaring at you). (I think the only show I've seen that actually pulled this off with any amount of success was Stargate SG-1, when Samantha said something along the lines of just because my genitals are on the inside than the outside doesn't make me less than any one of you or words to that affect.)

3. She's complicated. She's not just there to support the Doctor (though she does support him as he does her) - but she's on her own journey as well. She's grown as a character from the first episode to the last episode: in a nutshell, before she was running, and now she's not.

Like with Donna and Martha, the Doctor and Amy and even Rory are equally individuals and their relationship together fosters that instead of inhibits it. It's not like she has a gender role -- she's simply, beautifully herself.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Doctor Who: Fairy Tale From Space

I said at the end of the previous episode that I was going to be waiting for the Duckless Duck Ponds to appear.

And I think they did.

After all - in the first episode, the Doctor asks how Amy can know it's a duck pond if there are no ducks in them. And yet - Amy knows of the Doctor's existence even though there is no Doctor.

Beautiful really - the way the whole thing has been set up since the beginning - including the revisitation of my favorite scene from "Flesh and Stone" or how, even in that episode, the Doctor knew that a complicated time-space event such as himself would shut up the crack - and what does he do but go hurtling into the heart of the exploding TARDIS like a big damn hero.

This was a really big episode - I have so much to say that I'm not really quite sure where to begin exactly.

Fairy Tale or Science Fiction

I read an excellent blog entry the other day that really resonated with me (basically, the author concludes that Doctor Who is "A good fairytale"). And I agree - to a certain extent.

I've always considered Science Fiction to be an exploration of the soul - and I believe that Doctor Who, especially this season, has been all about that.

Except. There is one small problem with my definition of Science Fiction and that is that measure of quality should apply to all fiction, regardless of genre. I believe that Science Fiction is deeply more introspective than the typical fairy tale (not necessarily revisions of said fairy tales which, I think, is a sub genre all on its own but I could be wrong) - and I believe that Doctor Who fulfills this criteria as well. However, an introspective nature is not enough to make science fiction Science Fiction -- I think that a presence of technology is necessary to make science fiction SF, integral to the revelation of the human condition. To borrow the blog author's comparison, in BSG we have the idea of humanity presented in mechanic parts vs. organic parts, in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress we have the human condition acting out a what if question on the moon; in A Space Odyssey a mysterious obelisk provides commentary and a vision of humanity (along with some Romantic themes thrown in for good measure) -- when I was considering this, I realized that sure, Doctor Who's got a TARDIS and a nifty Golex sonic screwdriver, but technology doesn't often play a crucial role, or not as big a role as the stories listed above.

But the element is still there - the most striking of which was in "The Eleventh Hour" when the Doctor saved the day not with the usual futuristic what-if-we-had-this-sort-of-technology, but with technology we have right now. With a cellphone. A computer. The internet. This realization came to me in the shower - and it floored me.

We are really quite advanced -- we could do so much good -- we could be so magnificent.

More technology appeared in the second episode (along with a nursery rhyme - I love the folklore that threads its way through this series, absolutely glorious). A space ship exploiting a space whale - the relevance of this simple imagery is staggering and can be applied not only environmentally but to all sorts of things (humans exploiting nature, humans exploiting humans, and so on).

And those are the two major premises - I'm not counting Bracewell because - fairy tale.

So - what's my point? I think this series of Doctor Who is something new - I think it's both fairy tale and science fiction.

And honestly, I think that's what appeals to me so, so, so incredibly much with this Season of Doctor Who. It's Different. It's New.

(It's Blue.)

Fairy Tale Elements I Really Really Really Liked

Almost too obviously...

Rory. The boy who waited. And not even as a real boy - but as a plastic thing-gummy with delusions of humanity.

Oh Rory. My poor little Pinocchio given life by a good fairy. But Amy's better than any blue fairy, isn't she. Yeah.

Amy crying over the journal-Tardis was so evocative of Rapunzel for me. In the non-watered down tale, Rapunzel is cast from the tower and eventually finds her poor blinded Prince -- and Amy's "prince," Rory, is blind along with almost the entire Universe. They don't remember the Doctor. They don't realize how incredibly huge and fantastic and big the Universe really is. They don't really see.

And she weeps on that TARDIS, the air shakes with the sound of the universe and -- Rory remembers the Doctor. The wedding guests see that her imaginary friend was real and whole and brought back from memory into flesh.


I liked the tweaked Creation Myth too:

River:The TARDIS is still burning - it's exploding at every point in history - if you threw the Pandorica into the explosion right into the heart of the fire - then let there be light.

I especially liked the juxtaposition of this idea of Judeo-Christian imagery with the idea of the Big Bang -- very cool.


Dalek: Records indicate you will show mercy. You are an associate of the Doctor's.

River: I'm Riversong. Check your records again.

Dalek: Mercy.

River: Say it again.

Dalek: Mercy.

River: One more time.

Dalek: Merrrcccyyyy!

My god, Riversong! Who are you? What would make a dalek beg for mercy? Answers, Moffat, answers!

River: Rule One: the Doctor lies.

Rule 2: Riversong lies.

She told Amy that nobody would remember the Doctor (Amy, of course, having a crack in time on her wall, makes her an exception) -- but why did River remember the Doctor? And more to the point, how did she get to earth in that time without her time-vortex manipulator?

Yeah. I think she's cool as hell -- possibly one of the coolest women in all of the space-time continuum -- but I do not trust her. One bit.

Memory/the Big Reset

Memory's more powerful than you think - and Amy Pond is not an ordinary girl -- grew up with a time crack in her wall, the universe pouring through her dreams every night.

I am not bothered that Amy was able to remember the Doctor back home. In fact, I believe that Moffat has been sleeping with some Vonnegut under his pillow. This idea of memory -- it reminds me so much of Tralfamadorian philosophy:

All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and once that moment is gone it is gone forever. - Kurt Vonnetgut, Slaughterhouse V

Moments of Amber.

To me, Amy remembering the Doctor back into existence is just an extension of this kind of philosophy, an abstract idea made flesh.

It also reminded me a lot of some of the Romantic or Modernist writers who believed that the mind - that memory - could recreate experiences (a la the Lime-Tree Bower my Prison and A Midsummer's Evening). Again, it seems Moffat's furthered this particular idea beyond the mind and into the universe.


Meta Aspect

Funny -- I thought if you could hear me, I could hang on somehow. Silly, silly old Doctor. When you wake up, you'll have a mum and dad and you won't even remember me. Well, you'll remember me a little - I'll be a story in your head. That's okay. We're all stories in the end. Just make it a good one eh - 'cause it was you know - it was the best! The daft old man who stole a magic box and ran away - did I ever tell you that I stole it? Well I borrowed it, I was always gonna take it back. Oh that box, Amy - you'll dream about that box. It'll never leave you - big and little at the same time. Brand new and ancient and the bluest blue ever. And the times we had, eh? Will had. Never had. In your dreams, they'll still be there. The Doctor and Amy Pond and the days that never came. I don't belong here anymore. I think I'll skip the rest of the rewind - I hate repeats. Live well - love Rory. Bye bye, Pond.

This quote just about broke my heart as a writer. Wouldn't it be amazing and tragic if all those stories we want to tell, those stories bubbling and percolating and brewing, just waiting to come out - had really happened to us, and now they're only barely remembered, a dim shadow of what Could Have Been but will now Never Be?

Or even when Amy is remembering the Doctor:

There's someone missing - someone important, someone so, so important. Sorry, sorry everyone. But when I was a kid, I had an imaginary friend. The Raggedy Doctor - my raggedy doctor - but he wasn't imaginary. He was real. I remember you! I remember! I brought the others back, I can bring you home too! Raggedy man, I remember you and you are late for my wedding! I found you - I found you in words like you knew I would. That why's you told me the story - the brand new, ancient blue box! Oh, clever, very clever.

Words. Stories. Language. The most powerful things in the universe.

Remarkable Moments

I really loved the use of art in this series. I know they weren't like major plot points or anything - but with the Van Gough episode (especially because of the Van Gough episode), they just seemed so appropriate - added that little touch of Something.

I love how Amelia slurped her drink in front of the Dalek. So irreverent.

And speaking of the museum --

I really, really liked the Doctor's handwriting. Bold, forward, strong.

Doctor: Me from the future. I've got a future - that's nice!

I really like Moffat's dialogue.

Rory is magnificent:

Doctor: All of creation has just been wiped from the sky - do you know how many lives now have never happened, all the people who never lived? Your girlfriend isn't more important than the whole universe.

[Rory punches the Doctor]

Rory: She is to me!

Doctor: HAHA! Welcome back RORY WILLIAMS!

Doctor: Why do you have to be so ...human?

Rory: Because right now I'm not.


Something old. Something new. Something borrowed. Something blue.

I love how Moffat plays with these traditional, folklore-ish things -- it's so...I just would never have thought to compare the TARDIS in such a way. Brilliant.

And, as Amy is clambering over the table (loved that, btw) - is Rory saying that he was plastic? I think that's awesome because, even though it's a reset, it's not really a character reset which is the absolute worst.

Amy: You may absolutely, definitely kiss the bride.

Doctor: Amelia - from now on I shall be leaving the kissing to the brand new Mr. Pond.

Rory: No, I'm not Mr. Pond - that's not how it works.

Doctor: Yes it is.

Rory: Yeah it is.

Besides the nice little nod to "Vampires of Venice," hello Gender-Bender alert.


Oy! Where are you off to - we haven't even had a snog in the shrubbery yet.

I really like that, even though Amy's married, it's not like she can't acknowledge her attraction to other men -- while still not pidgeoning that kind of attraction into a romantic, let's-be-married-forever-and-ever kind of relationship. As I said back in "Amy's Choice," I like the new perceptions of friendship and family that seem to be at work here.

Also, when Amy entered the TARDIS first without Rory, I was terrified for a moment that Rory wouldn't be coming with her but then there he was - and I clapped and cheered because finally! Finally! he seems to be an official companion - providing even more new aspects to the show (I know that Classic Who has had more than one companion on occasion, but, besides that brief stint with Mickey, New Who hasn't so much), which will be fascinating and interesting and utterly lovely.

Doctor: Sorry, something's come up - this will have to be goodbye.

Amy: Yeah I think it's goodbye - do you think it's goodbye?

Rory: Definitely goodbye.


To days to come...