Category Archives: Film Reviews

Popcorn, Bosom Friends, and Solemn Vows

List of U.S. state foods

List of U.S. state foods (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you were floating around Twitter for the bulk of last night, you may have seen some odd things. For instance, a single tweet that just said “Prawns.”

Anne of Green Gables, Anne Shirley, Diana Barry

Anne and Diana after the concert at White Sands.

Or a hashtag #bosomfiend.

These things came about because my friend Kristin McFarland (who, on a much more serious note, interviewed me on Wednesday for her Why Write project) and I have been reading through the Anne of Green Gables books. She came across them between undergrad and grad school; I found Anne when my grandmother gave me the Canadian films when I was a kid. I somehow made it to adulthood having never read the books, but I can’t say that anymore.

Kristin got me to read the books, so I thought it was only fair I get her to see the movies.

Last night we settled in, three states apart, to watch them.

Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert Blythe in Anne of ...

Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We sighed over Gilbert Blythe, tried to hug Matthew Cuthbert through the screen, and fell in love with that little redhead all over again.

It made me wonder how a rather simple story about an orphan girl finding family and love could affect me as much as it did when I was a kid. I remember seeing Anne shriek at Rachel Lynde and calling her fat and wishing I had the guts to stand up to the people who were mean to me. I remember seeing her break a slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head and knowing that I was learning to take no shit.

Anne rapturously declares to Marilla that she wishes to have a bosom friend, and Marilla chuckles, “A what kind of friend?” But Anne finds in Diana Barry the truest kind of friendship most of us only hope to share with another person.

If you’re truly curious about the public side of our screening for these films, check out the Twitter hashtags #solemnvow and #bosomfriends.

We even made our own solemn vow.

We even made our own solemn vow.

As we were watching, I got to thinking. It’s always a bit funny to watch something you loved as a child with an adult perspective. Some things you’ll watch and wonder where you ever got the idea that it was a good use of your time. Other times, you’re struck by the layers of meaning, the hidden purpose, and the power that remains, turning memory to new discovery.

Anne_and_gilbert_3

Anne and Gilbert at school, image from Anne of Green Gables

That’s how it’s been with me for Anne of Green Gables.

Reading the books was like diving into a richer world, learning and growing alongside Anne. There were new characters to meet who I could tell had been distilled and shifted, combined and compressed into characters in the film. There were familiar moments of fear and trepidation and love.

Watching the films as a child, I don’t think I ever quite understood the fullness of what happened when Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert decided to keep Anne Shirley even though they’d sent for a boy.

As a child, I just wanted Anne to be able to stay at Green Gables because she loved the place so. She seemed so self-sufficient to me that I never questioned her ability to survive elsewhere. Through the years, though, and now having read the books as an adult, that moment is something more altogether.

English: The “Anne of Green Gables Bridge” on ...

English: The “Anne of Green Gables Bridge” on the EICanada headquarters property in Stouffville, Ontario. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She arrives at Green Gables with more adult experiences than a child should have. Caretaking, housekeeping, even medicinal knowledge. She’s capable, intelligent, independent. She’s a dreamy little kid, who escaped the harsh reality around her by fleeing into the boundless wealth of imagination.

More and more, when I relive this story, I see myself. Just like Anne, I fled poverty and chores and cruelty at school and the stress of many, many moves by fleeing into my imagination. Into countless books and worlds. When something didn’t exist, like Anne, I made it up. And I yearned for a bosom friend, just as she did.

Anne greeted the world with a sense of awe and wonder, allowing it to thrill her in a way most people don’t. She showed Marilla and Matthew that in spite of her misfortunes, the world was still a beautiful place. And when she arrived, they knew that sending her back could end up breaking her, snuffing out that light that she allowed to shine so brightly.

They made the decision to take that child and give her love. To give her love and family and an education and an opportunity. An elderly pair of unmarried siblings wanted to give Anne Shirley more scope for her imagination.

And oh, the love.

Anne Shirley is a veritable magnet for it. She wins Matthew over the first time she speaks to him. And Marilla the first time Anne tucks her trusting hand into that of the older woman’s. She dazzles Gilbert with her resolve, her perseverance, and her intelligence. And, of course, there’s Diana, Anne’s bosom friend.

Matthew Cuthbert, Marilla Cuthbert, Anne of Green Gables, Anne Shirley, Lucy Maud Montgomery

Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert

When I think about the love this child found, it’s made even more poignant fully understanding from an adult perspective what exactly Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert did for her. It reminds me that it’s what I got from my second mom and later, my stepdad. The ability of an adult to raise a strange child as his or her own. I benefited from that kind of love as well. And like Anne, I’ve continually reaped the blessings of love in this life. From finding Jordan and Julia (MY first real bosom friends, who walked me down the aisle) to my loving husband, who is a true partner in life.

Kristin and I spent several hours last night watching these films a couple hundred miles apart from her. At one point, we were discussing another film we both love and Capclave (which she is joining me for), and Kristin said, “Plus, we’ll have known each other for like two years by then and NO MEETING. It’s outrageous.” And it’s true. We’ve been chatting on almost a daily basis for a year and a half. We watched Anne and Diana skip about the beaches of Prince Edward Island, and that struck me all over again. Technology has made it possible to form friendships with people hundreds or thousands of miles away. We’ve done Google hangouts and talked on the phone. We’ve “introduced” our husbands via video and shown each other our critters.

For all our rather goofy tweets about Miss Fortune and bosom fiends  last night, we really are friends.

This world still holds wonder.

The best thing about watching something like Anne of Green Gables with someone who loves the story as much as you do is that it’s a nice reminder to be grateful.

I’ll be damned if that Anne Girl didn’t work her magic again.

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Fight Back: The Hills Have Eyes

The Hills Have Eyes (2006 film)

The Hills Have Eyes (2006 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hello, reader. If you’re here now, months after I posted this initially, it means you found this post via search engine. I see the terms that lead here, and one I see more and more often is “Hills Have Eyes sex scene.” If that’s how you found this post, know that there ARE no sex scenes in that film. There is a rape scene. Rape is not sex. It is violence. It’s not consensual. It’s a violation. Read on, but perhaps question your definition of sex and why you would apply a benign word to a horrific act. You’ll find no glorification of rape here.

This month, Spouse and I are watching a horror movie a day (or he is, and I join in when I can). Last night was Hocus Pocus, and tonight we watched The Hills Have Eyes.

I can handle a lot of gore and violence in movies. I grew up on R.L. Stine and his descriptions of purple rotting flesh and bodies swinging like pendulums from ceilings. All the decaying cheerleaders and crazed sisters poisoning each other. I can take a lot of it before it gives me a wiggins.

But there is one thing that got old long ago, and that’s seeing women in horror movies get raped.

A lot of films do it for shock value. I suspect most of the world’s sane people don’t wake up in the morning and think, “Gee, you know what my life is missing? Victimised women.”

(Short disclaimer, anyone to leave an insensitive comment like, “Oh, I sure do!” even in jest will have their comment deleted and will lose 10,000 points of my esteem. These things aren’t funny, and I’ve heard a couple lately. This is not the forum for rape jokes of any kind. ANY AND ALL rape jokes or insensitive comments on this particular subject are not welcome out of respect for my readers, who trust me not to get more triggery than necessary.)

Wes Craven films, as my friend the Mad Gay Man pointed out, often do show women fighting back. In the Scream franchise, Sidney has some badassery skills to be sure, and there are counterexamples to this trope.

Counterexamples do not lessen the effects, the severity, or the wrongness of this trope’s prevalence in the horror genre, even if they aren’t propagating it themselves.

The Hills Have Eyes had one of the most protracted and disturbing rape scenes that I’ve come across in a film. If you don’t want to read the next paragraph, skip it. It triggered me a bit writing it. Be warned.

The youngest female character, Brenda, is sleeping in the family’s stranded trailer when a mutant comes in. Her entire family is watching her father burn to death while the mutant wakes her, terrorises her, and tries to rape her until another mutant arrives. This whole scene seemed to take ten minutes, and it very well might have. The other mutant proceeds to rape Brenda himself. Her sister comes in (FINALLY), only to have her sister’s rapist point a gun at her baby to coerce her into holding still for him while he fondles her and his friend fondles Brenda.

What was worst about all of it was the way Brenda was ignored after what happened to her.

Her mother and sister and father are dead, but her brother and brother-in-law completely ignore Brenda’s existence as she sobs, traumatised in the trailer. Then she’s treated as hysterical by the men.

I’m not sure the last time I was so disgusted by the portrayal of women in film. At one point I yelled at the screen, “Every single woman so far is a fucking victim! Fight back already!”

The reason things like this bother me so much has less to do with my own experience with sexual violence and more with the continuing acceptance of images like this in pop culture. What was shocking wasn’t necessarily that Brenda was brutalised — though I found it intensely disturbing throughout the entire, drawn-out ordeal — but the way her ordeal was subsequently minimised.

As long as Hollywood continues to perpetuate these images, people will be used to seeing women as victims. As a rape survivor, I take that to heart.

Seanan McGuire wrote a very poignant post last week after a commenter had the gall to ask when (not if, mind you, note the definitive certainty) her characters would be raped.

That anyone would even ask that question phrased that way only illustrates what I’m saying: we’re so used to seeing women victimised, abused, sexually assaulted, and violated, that it has become an inevitability. An expectation.

This is why I’ve been hosting the #SuperWomen Live Chats. Because what the world needs isn’t more damseling, and I could do without seeing another Brenda scene as long as I live. What the world needs to see is women being women.

Women are not spineless weaklings incapable of defending ourselves. We’re not hysterical shrews. The kitchen is not our natural habitat, and we don’t have to have children if we don’t want them. Women are capable of extraordinary things. Women are strong. Women are powerful. Women overcome — and not only after being victimised.

Our insecurities aren’t always about our looks or our weight, and being sexually attractive does not indicate a desire to be groped, grabbed, or hit on.

If we’re going to see less Brenda situations and more SuperWomen, it starts with the creatives. It starts with you, and it starts with me. It starts with people like Joss Whedon and Marti Noxon and Jane Espenson, and it starts with all of us who create media making a conscious effort to build exceptional stories with women and men portrayed as equals.

If you think media can’t have an effect, look at how Will and Grace and Ellen DeGeneres started shifting the cultural attitudes of an entire generation. Seeing gay people, both fictional and in real life, and putting faces in the place of labels — it has a far-reaching and powerful effect.

By creating culture that doesn’t victimise women, by showing the strength and ingenuity of women in film, art, literature, and music — we can change the way the world sees women.

This is my challenge to every creative to stop by this blog entry: look critically at your own work. Ask yourself how you have portrayed women, even subconsciously, throughout your stories.

I will admit, when I first read Seanan McGuire’s post, I felt tremendously guilty for a scene involving attempted rape in my novel. I’ve been contemplating its worthiness ever since. The rapist doesn’t succeed because my female superhero stops him, but even so — I have wondered if I could have developed this another way. I’m not exempt from my own admonition, and this topic has caused me to change WIPs because of certain themes in the adult dystopian I had planned to write this autumn.

After watching The Hills Have Eyes tonight, I have bitterness in my throat. Creatives, we’re better than that. Our characters deserve better than that. Challenge them, push them, conflict them — but it’s not always necessary to violate them.

What are your thoughts on this subject? 

Prometheus

First off, here be spoilers. If you haven’t seen Prometheus, go away unless you don’t mind hearing about what happens. You’ve been warned.

Prometheus-Star Effects

Prometheus-Star Effects (Photo credit: Filmstalker)

I haven’t seen any of the Alien movies. It’s been one of those things that I always mean to do that just hasn’t happened. Like flossing. Regardless, when I saw the trailer for Prometheus, I knew I had to see it. Sci-fi, crazed science, and space? Yes, please. Factor in some goo, and I’m yours. And goo there is.

From the trailer, I expected protagonist Elizabeth Shaw (portrayed by Noomi Rapace) to be borderline schizophrenic and psychotic, mostly because they seemed to edit together the clips of her looking feverish and ever-so-slightly possessed.

The film opens with a god-like biped reverently destroying himself down to the DNA by drinking sludge from a ceremonial vessel and plunging into a river, where we as the super-special viewers get to zoom in on the view of his double-helices breaking down and restructuring into new forms of life. I had a serious “Oh…huh” moment after trying to deconstruct that scene with friends to little avail when I read an article that identified it as the origin of our planet’s evolution — so the first thing we see in the film is one of the “Engineers” giving his life for the creation of ours. But just one. Which is important.

Did you get that? I felt rather thick that I didn’t.

Next, the camera panned through some familiar-looking scenery (to me), landing on the Isle of Skye in Scotland much to my momentary delight. There Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway discover the cave painting that launched the Prometheus, and we see that they’re just two archaeologists digging around.

Once in the ship, we meet David, the android who needs to dye his hair. His development throughout the film is one of the more interesting. He’s a robot, but there is some dissonance in his accepting of that fact. He knows he is, but he watches Lawrence of Arabia and touches up his roots and creeps around in Shaw’s memories while she sleeps. He’s intrigued by humanity and plays at it, while knowing fully who and what he is.

To me, most of the characters are rather forgettable. Charlie Holloway is hard to like, both because of his childish pouting and the way he pokes at David — which most likely leads to David choosing Charlie as the conduit for his little experiment. Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers is made complex too little, too late, and most of the crew don’t have anything going for them. I think they missed the ability to make some of those doomed crew members interesting, and most of the real poignant moments centered around Elizabeth Shaw’s uterus.

Noomi Rapace was, I think, the shining star in this film. Her guttural reaction to Holloway’s comment about creating life touched on the primal fears of many women, even those who don’t want children, and later her pure panic and resolve to rid her body of the alien hybrid fetus inside of her only made that scene more dynamic and destructive than a self-inflicted cesarean is standing alone. Which, by the way, jeeeebus.

Far from the sycophantic awe I expected from the trailers, both Shaw and Dr. Ford (played by the fabulous Kate Dickie) showed believable apprehension that gave way to the same pulse-pounding fear I would have encountering a structure built by an alien species. As they delve deeper into the pyramid, that apprehension grows, and if it had been left to the humans, their caution might have forestalled the progression of the plot.

Not so, says David, as he pockets a ginormous cylinder and its oozing goo. (I told you there was goo.)

That and Fifield and Millburn (Sean Harris and Rafe Spall, respectively) have some navigational issues that turn their fleeing into lost-dom. We get to see an interesting interaction between Millburn and a very phallic alien that jumps down his throat, and I’ll be honest and say that part of me laughed at that because it occurred right after he spent a few minutes telling it how beautiful it was.

The crew gets picked off, starting with those two and combusting with a very infected Charlie taking a flamethrower to the face for the team, which would all be well and good if Fifield didn’t turn up outside Prometheus’s door in the shape of a pretzel and pulverize most of the nameless engineers and mechanics in the hold.

Aside from the obvious themes of humankind’s origins and Freudian parental complexes, this film seems to share the message that going on a hunt for our creators will get us raped in the face and/or impregnated by alien spawn. I found myself rather thankful that I will not be alive when technology progresses enough for human silliness to find some other lifeform in space that will kill us all. I’ve seen Independence Day too many times to think anything venturing by would fancy a cuddle.

And yet the formerly holographic Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce in a lot of makeup) shows up in a tucked-away corner of the ship and seems to think the Engineers will help him stave off the impending culmination of his mortality. Puh. The Engineer found by David in stasis has no such plan. He rips off David’s head and kills Weyland, but doesn’t seem to think Shaw is a threat.

Whoever this guy is, he’s either a very abusive daddy or didn’t care much for the creation of humanity. All he wants is to take his ship full of oozing, DNA-ripping goo back to Earth and wipe it out.

The remaining crew of Prometheus decides to crash their ship into his as it tries to fly away, and both Vickers and Shaw attempt to outrun it as it tumbles around the distorted landscape. When Shaw manages to get back into the escape pod, she finds her offspring has grown into a tentacled monster and lucks out when the Engineer (who survived his own crash) tries to take it on and fails.

Elizabeth Shaw doesn’t have much going for her at this point, but she gets a lucky call from Head of David. If I were in her painful and banged up position, I would probably make the same decision she does: take a different ship and the android and go off to find more Engineers. Because, you know, why not? She’s not going to go back to Earth and risk bringing goo with her. Even though she records a warning message, we all know what people do when you tell them not to. So she skedaddles with David’s parts, and I really, really wanted to follow her.

That’s the mark of a pretty good movie. While there were some plot holes and dangling scenes with little or no development, I enjoyed Prometheus immensely. Critics of genre film (and books, for that matter) don’t like it when genre films address Big Questions, but I love seeing Big Questions addressed through a fantastical lens. To me, it doesn’t make it any less valid. And Prometheus addresses many questions, some better than others.

Should we quest for the origin of our species, and how far should we take it? When (and I believe it’s a when, not an if) we find intelligent life on other planets, should we try to interact with them? Could we deal with the idea of our species being nothing more than a cosmic experiment?

Overall, I’ll give Prometheus a 75%. I enjoyed it, and it left me wanting more. It also sated my craving for seat-squirming, cringe-worthy human desperation at its finest. It exceeded my expectations in regards to protagonist Elizabeth Shaw, who I found to be strong, convincing, and rather spectacular. It’s a movie I’d recommend and see again, and overall, I’d put this prequel on par with The Thing. I can deal with a few minor plot inconsistencies if you have a strong character arc, and that was present in both films.

Now. If you’ll excuse me, I think it’s high time I flossed.

What did you think of Prometheus? Have you seen Alien? Discuss!

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