Category Archives: movies

Star Wars: The Force Awakens and My Thoughts Which Might Be Spoilers If You Haven’t Seen It Yet

I saw The Force Awakens for my birthday (December 24) and now that I’ve had a few days to digest and think about it, I’m ready to render a poorly organized list containing my thoughts in no particular order. I’m not planning on revealing any major details or plot twists, but the rest of the post will be hidden by a jump, just in case, as I will be talking about the characters and their personalities.

If you haven’t seen it yet, probably best to move along and come back when you have.

Spoiler warning.

With that said . . .

Continue reading Star Wars: The Force Awakens and My Thoughts Which Might Be Spoilers If You Haven’t Seen It Yet

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Age Of Ultron And That One Joke

So the new Avengers movie has been out for a while and holy shit, has it created a lot of talking points. But strangely, I haven’t heard anyone talking about the point that feel is the most salient, which is, “was it better than the first one?”

Nope, instead we need to discuss Tony Stark and his rape joke and thus the continuation of rape culture. Here’s the clip if you haven’t seen it, starts around the 40 second mark. If you didn’t watch it, basically, everyone is hanging out at a party trying to lift Thor’s magical hammer Mjolnir, which can only be wielded by one worthy of its power. Before Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man tries, he quips, “so, if I lift it, I then rule Asgard?” Thor dryly responds, “yes, of course.” Tony then says, “I will be reinstituting prima nocta.”

I have three points I wish to make:

1: Characterization. Tony Stark’s entire characterization is that he is a jerk. He’s funny, he’s witty, he’s insanely smart, and he frequently helps save the world . . . but he is an asshole. He’s on a heroic journey not to transition from asshole to good person but from asshole who used to make weapons that killed everyone to asshole trying to fix the mess he made.”I will be reinstituting prima nocta” is something an asshole would say. In fact, that’s one of the ways we know he’s an asshole!

If Captain “Language, please!” America had talked about the good ol’ days of America before women were people, yes, that would be considerably worse. That would be an indication that the creators of this story want us to think along those lines, want us to agree with that idea. We’re supposed to look up to Cap. He’s the icon, the standard, even if he’s not “the coolest” or the most powerful or the funniest.

But Tony is a dick. He insults everyone around him, often at the same time; I think it’s fair to say his word choice “reinsituting” rather than “instituting” was meant as a dig at Thor’s people.

2: Well, let’s say it’s not okay to make jokes about rape. I actually disagree with that point philosophically as I think humor is a powerful force for social change, but let’s save that for another post. Let’s imagine a different version of this scene: after Tony makes a joke about prima nocta, everyone laughs and nods, not in the audience, but on screen. Thor smiles and says, “yes, those were good times,” and Cap says something charmingly old timey about smacking secretaries on the ass as they walked by. Everyone has a good old laugh about it. Rape culture for everyone! This is a universe where that’s okay, what does it say about our universe and about us?!

Except that doesn’t happen. If you listen closely to the clip, none of the other Avengers even chuckle. No one agrees with him.

Instead, right after making his joke, right after reminding us that he’s a dick, the literal goddamn forces of the universe also point out that Tony Stark is not worthy. The universe itself, in the form of a magical hammer, tells Tony Star that he is an asshole. He does not get a cosmic pat on the back and a vindication of everything he does. He does not get approval. The hammer stays put. He cannot lift it.

God (well, a god) is telling him, Tony, that he is not good enough. Is his misogynist nature be part of that? COULD BE.

This wouldn’t be as noteworthy on its own initially, as no one seems able to lift the hammer, although there are hints that Captain America can and pretends not to, likely to spare Thor’s ego. But later on . . . potential spoilers if you haven’t seen the movie, although I’ll try to avoid specific names: later in the movie, there is a character that can lift the hammer aside from Thor and the fact that he can proves his worthiness to the team. So we know that people other than Thor can lift the hammer if it judges them worthy of it.

Does this mean that the hammer rejected him because of his joke? What about the other characters who also couldn’t lift it? Should we take this to mean they’re also assholes? I don’t think so; there’s enough to suggest that each character who tries to lift the hammer can’t for their own reasons: Banner, because in his heart, he doesn’t want to. Hawkeye and Cap (assuming Cap wasn’t faking) likely can’t because they’re soldiers rather than warriors; to them, the fight is a job, not a way of life as it is for Thor’s people. For Hawkeye, at least, given the choice, it’s obvious he’d rather be hanging out at home (which we do see later).

But Tony does want power in a way that Banner doesn’t. He isn’t fighting out of a sense of duty like Cap and Hawkeye. But Tony still cannot lift the hammer. He is not worthy. If “we” want to be worthy (in the sense that we learn values and ideas from stories), we need to consider that point. If we want to be worthy, we need to be better. Not just funnier, not just wittier, but better.

3: Won’t someone please think of the children? Kids shouldn’t hear this kind of stuff. First of all, the movie is PG-13. If your kid is thirteen, they already know. Secondly, how many children know what prima nocta actually is? Do you realize that the entire point of children’s entertainment (well, one of them, at least; merchandise was the main point) in the 90s was to see how many filthy references one could slip by the kids, because kids don’t know what that stuff means? Seriously, this joke is downright brilliant in its subtlety compared to the cartoons I grew up on.

A closing thought: Why is everyone freaking out about this, but no one seemed to seemed to really care when Loki called Natasha a whiny cunt in the previous film? Why is that?

Thoughts On Frozen

I’m old and set in my ways, so it takes a lot for me to react when something is “the next big thing.” I’d been hearing a lot about Frozen through my job at the library, mostly in the form of parents asking for the movie and kids asking for the books. What intrigured me, though, was that little girls and little boys were both asking me to find things about it.

That was a surprise, since we’re talking about a movie that has not one but two princesses. Intrigued by the widespread appeal and wanting to know what the hell everyone was talking about, I reserved it from the library . . . back in March. It finally arrived a few days ago. Yes, it really is that popular.

Overall? I liked it. I liked it a lot, actually, far more than I was anticipating or expecting. I really appreciated the deconstruction of Disney’s tropes about love at first sight and that romantic love is the only kind of love that matters. I especially enjoyed the self-awareness and I freely admit that “wait, what?” might just be my current favorite phrase.

One other thing!

So, there’s this one scene, right? It’s just after Elsa’s powers are revealed to her entire kingdom and everyone’s all gasp she’s got magical ice powers and she’s running away, telling everyone to leave her alone. And there’s that one little guy, the shrimpy Duke of Weasel Town, who shouts “GET HER” or something along those lines. And of course Elsa is afraid and she runs from everyone.

And my first reaction was: “whoa, whoa, whoa, buddy. You’re a visiting official from a foreign land. You’re here in a kingdom that is a hereditary monarchy and you’re shouting GET HER at the lawfully coronated queen? A Queen who, aside from the sudden reveal of ice powers, is well liked enough and popular enough that everyone had a huge party to celebrate her coronation? Really?

Who exactly are you hoping will do this, exactly? As far as I can tell, you have two freaking dudes with you. The Queen in question has, ah, her entire kingdom at her disposal.

Because, really, Elsa could have turned around and pointed out that foreign dignataries do not shout GET HER at the ruling monarch, at least not without a peasant insurrection backing them up and the peasants weren’t exactly engaging in insurrection. They mostly just looked confused.

Yes, I realize that it’s part of her character that she was afraid and insecure, which is why she ran rather than stopping and facing everyone. I get that. But it still stuck in my mind and it was still a funny mental image when I reflected on it later.

And Now For Some Good News

Nope, nothing good yet on the “politics of Arizona” front. Our state legislature is still bigoted, removed from the actual desires of its constituents, and dominated by fringe elements. But there’s good news on other fronts!

There’s going to be a new FarScape movie! FarScape was one of my favorite shows of all time, so this is very exciting news for me. It’s nice to be able to return to one of my favorite sci-fi universes, especially since a new anything for Firefly seems more and more remote with each passing year. But new FarScape? That’ll soothe my fandom wounds nicely.

How To Make The Phantom Menace Not Suck

The Observation Deck blog on IO9 is asking a thought provoking question: what would it take to make Star Wars: Episode I not suck? I have a few thoughts on how one of the most anticipated movies in cinematic history could have ended up being one of the most beloved.

First, if you have the time and you don’t mind the NSFW language, the Mr. Plinkett review for The Phantom Menace actually delivers some really good commentary on why the film does not succeed from the perspective of a filmmaker. The video is worth watching, but the points are boiled down thus:

  • Too much exposition/not enough explanation: A lot of exposition comes from dialogue and characters talking about important things rather than showing them, such as was done in the original trilogy. Even with this over reliance on talking heads, core concepts like what the Trade Federation is are never explained. The blockade of Naboo is over vague “trade disputes.” Darth Maul has zero depth as an antagonist. We don’t really know why any of the events are happening.
  • No Every-Man Character: it’s important for the audience to have a character that is a surrogate for the audience’s own lack of knowledge and can ask questions like “what are the Jedi” and “what is the Force?”
  • No central protagonist: who’s the main character of Episode I? It’s not Anakin, considering how late he appears in the movie and his inability to control events around him. Things just happen to him.
  • Too much reliance on special effects.
  • Dissolution of tension: scenes that should be exciting aren’t, because the audience doesn’t know what’s going on or they don’t care. Compare the lightsaber duel with Darth Maul to the ones in Episodes 5 and 6 against Darth Vader.

It’s too late now, of course, but how could it have been done differently? Let’s assume that we need to keep the core movie the same, so we can’t just throw out the entire script and start fresh. Is the Phantom Menace salvageable under those conditions?

I think so. I think we could fix Episode I (and the prequels in general) in just two steps.

Step 1: Make the main character likable (and figure out who the main character is).

If the prequels are supposed to be Anakin’s story, it’s sort of problematic that he’s a nine year old kid in this one. It really limits his ability to have any sort of agency. If the idea is supposed to establish his callow youth and relative innocence to contrast his dark fall later, that can be done with an older Anakin. You’ll notice that Luke Skywalker is a naive, somewhat whiny wet-behind-the-ears kid in Episode 4, but still has the age and agency to be the protagonist.

Since that deviates too much from the established script, I think the protagonist lens needs to shift to Obi-Wan.  We’ll keep Kid Anakin, but focus on Obi-Wan. He’s the protagonist for this movie. What does that mean?

Qui-Gon Jinn needs to go. Let’s set aside the fact that I liked Liam Neeson as a Jedi Master. Dropping Qui-Gon removes a lot of the problems with Obi-Wan’s narrative arc in this movie. It eliminates the inconsistency from the original trilogy, in that Obi-Wan was supposed to be trained by Yoda and failed to mention the man that actually taught him how to be a Jedi.

For the purposes of the prequel, we don’t need to see Obi-Wan as a padawan, let’s just say he’s already a Jedi Knight. If we need a supporting character for him to play off, we can give him an apprentice of his own. That would do a lot for Obi-Wan’s narrative. It would fill the need for a supporting character.

We wouldn’t worry about why Obi-Wan might not have mentioned to Luke that Anakin wasn’t his only apprentice since that apprentice will end up getting killed by Darth Maul. We already know that Obi-Wan is a big fan of the “certain point of view” style of neglecting to mention relevant details when it comes to his own failures. It doesn’t make sense that he’d neglect to ever mention to Luke the name of the man who “really” trained him, but would would he cover up an apprentice that he failed to protect from the Sith? Yeah, I think so.

We need to do this for Obi-Wan because in the current version, it’s Qui-Gon who ultimately ends up getting all of the character development that would have made Obi-Wan more likable. It’s Qui-Gon who believes in the young Skywalker, it’s Qui-Gon who effectively tells the council to “eff off” when it comes to training the boy, and it’s Qui-Gon who takes action and gets things done throughout the movie.

Obi-Wan, in contrast, is the by-the-book guy who does what the council says and stays with the ship.

Hmm, imagine this; the maverick Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi trains an apprentice against the wishes of the council and that apprentice grows up to be reckless, headstrong, and ultimately falls, because although Skywalker makes his own choices down the road, the man who trained him had many of those same flaws.

We also need Obi-Wan to actually like Anakin so that when they duel to the death two movies from now, it’s heartbreaking rather than unsurprising. We need the Obi-Wan that doesn’t scoff at Anakin Skywalker and quip that they’ve picked up “another pathetic life form.” Imagine an Obi-Wan who believes in Anakin so strongly he’ll do anything to make the boy a Jedi. It’s an Obi-Wan who is a surrogate father figure to the boy who never had a father of his own. It’s an Obi-Wan who actually loves Anakin like a son, rather than just some unfortunate burden that he’s stuck with and has to train, ’cause my dead Master was gonna, so why not.

Qui-Gon ultimately serves to muddle the narrative arc for Obi-Wan’s own character. He gets the best developmental moments (such as they are) which are then wastefully spent upon his demise because he never matters to the narrative again.

What if it was Obi-Wan the Jedi Master who watched his first apprentice die to Darth Maul? Couldn’t you imagine how that would drive him to not fail with Anakin? Wouldn’t that create exactly the kind of passion and fear that leads to the dark side?

Remember, when we see Obi-Wan later in Episode 4, he might be the wise old mentor figure, but he’s also having to deal with the fact that he failed Luke’s father and created the monster that is Darth Vader. He done fucked up. 

It would fit his arc to show that Anakin wasn’t his first failure and it would make him that much more tragic as a result, but also that much more vindicated when Luke (his final apprentice) turns out okay.

Step 2: Create a compelling villain

Boba Fett might get away with being a fan favorite despite having only four lines of dialogue, but he’s not the main antagonist of his films. Your antagonist has to have a presence that fills the movie in a classic “good vs. evil” struggle like Star Wars. Episode 1’s dependency on the “ominous figure lurking in the background” means that we have no real idea who he is or why he’s scary. He’s never developed. Thus, he’s boring from a narrative perspective, even if he looks cool.

Vader goes through several stages of development. In the first boarding scene, he picks up a Rebel by the neck and chokes him, thus establishing his raw physical power. Later on, when he demonstrates the Force, we see that he’s also some kind of sorcerer and more than just a big brute. And so it goes. Scene by scene, Vader is constructed as a character. We see that he’s physically dominating and he also has magic. He takes care of matters personally. He kills people on his own side. And so on.

The entire prequel trilogy seems to be searching for its antagonist by creating one character and then disposing of him before he can really do anything meaningful. We go from Darth Maul to Count Dooku to General Grievous, with each character getting introduced and dispatched before they can develop into a meaningful threat.

The argument could be that it’s Darth Sidious who is the real antagonist all along, but he’s in the background for too long to fill that role. He’s the man behind the man, not the primary antagonist in terms of narrative structure. Which, you’ll notice, is exactly what he did in the original trilogy. He was the man holding Darth Vader’s leash. He’s the Emperor, but we don’t see him (aside from one brief discussion) until the last movie. But rather than search vaguely for a threat to fill the void created by the Emperor’s absence from the action, we have Darth Vader stomping around, choking dudes and scary-breathing and just generally being badass and terrifying.

Our antagonist has to be a Sith Lord, of course, so let’s go back to Darth Maul. Let’s rebuild the character like we did for Obi-Wan. We’ll keep his insane lightsaber skills and lethal agility as well as the scary appearance. Those things are good; they make him a physical and visual threat.

Let’s remove the borderline-mute characteristic. Sure, it worked for making Boba Fett cool, but it won’t work here for our antagonist. Instead, let’s give Darth Maul the charismatic presence that Count Dooku was supposed to project. What? You can’t imagine a guy with yellow teeth and scary face tattoos being charismatic? This is Star Wars! There are weird looking aliens all over the place. I’m willing to believe that in a universe filled with so many strange aliens that obese, immobile slugs can rule criminal empires, no one would look askance at a guy with tattoos and horns.

In fact, let’s not even worry about the physical appearance, because we already know it doesn’t contribute to a character’s charisma on the screen. We know this because Darth Vader wears a mask for almost the entire trilogy and his presence still dominates every scene he’s in.

I should note that I’m using charisma to define one’s force of personality, rather than just how likable the character is. Vader isn’t kind, he isn’t charming, and he isn’t likable, but he has a presence on the screen. He fills a scene both visually and vocally. Maul . . . doesn’t.

Hell, if Ray Park can’t deliver the lines with a forceful presence, just overdub him with someone who can. Let Park be Maul’s physical presence and a skilled voice actor be his vocal one. Once again, it worked for Vader.

Let’s give Maul all the scenes where he’s the one working the angles, driving the Trade Federation into conflict, terrorizing the Viceroy with what will happen if they fail. We will show Maul to be the driving force rather than the silent enforcer. Let him demonstrate his own power as a Sith Lord somewhere along the lines.

We won’t establish that he’s working for someone else yet. Let us speculate that he’s the true Sith Lord. We know that Palpatine is eventually going to be the Emperor, but let us wonder about how that will happen. We won’t reveal a “Darth Sidious” who just happens to wear a creepy hood just like the Emperor does/will. We’ll  make it a mystery. We know it’s eventually Palplatine who will become the Emperor and command the dark side, not Darth Maul, but how? How does Palpatine fit into this? Does he learn from Maul?

Let’s imagine the lightsaber duel with our rewritten characters Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi and Sith Lord Darth Maul. They have their first duel and Qui-Gon (the young apprentice version, not the older Jedi Master version) is killed. Obi-Wan is heartbroken that he failed his first apprentice.  Obi-Wan wins the duel, but Maul escapes.

The Jedi are spooked by the emergence of a new Sith Lord. Where did he come from? Clearly, he has to be hunted, setting up the next movie.

Obi-Wan vows to train Anakin in defiance of the council, partly motivated by his own failure to prepare his first apprentice for the fight against Maul. His own need to absolve himself as well as bring Maul down gives him a drive that causes him to overlook the flaws in Anakin’s training later on. From Obi-Wan, Anakin will eventually learn to pursue the greater good at all costs.

This creates a narrative structure that will pay off dividends across the next two films. Eventually, when Darth Maul is killed in Episode III, we learn the horrifying truth: that he wasn’t the Sith Lord at all, but the Sith Apprentice. Oh shit.

Episode I tried to dangle this tantalizing thought at us during the funeral scene when the Jedi speculate whether it was the master or the apprentice that was destroyed. The mystery is wasted, though because the audience already knows that Maul was just the apprentice, just like we know that Sidious is the Emperor.

But what if we thought Maul was the true Sith Lord? It would fulfill the premise of there being a “phantom menace” since everybody would be focused on Maul even though he’s really still working for Sidious. It would fix the problem of escalation that occurs in the prequels, when you try to go from Maul to Dooku to Grievous. After the double-bladed lightsaber and the scary face, Dooku is almost disappointing as a visual threat, even with the dark side lightning. And then you have Grievous and his four lightsabers and you can just see they’re trying to top themselves from what Maul did, and not really succeeding at it.

The prequels need an antagonist with as much power and lethality as Vader, but isn’t a carbon-copy of Vader. Maul could have been that. He was agile rather than hulking. Vader might have been able to strangle dudes with both his hands and his Force power, but Maul is practically a ninja with his movements. Vader was strength; Maul is speed. In this way, we create a character that establishes himself while still playing to the archetype created by his predecessor.

Maul already has a lot going for him. He has a unique visual appearance. His double-bladed lightsaber is exciting. All he needs is a voice and an actual presence within the narrative the way Vader has and you have a solid character.

Would this fix everything? Of course not. But it’s important to remember that there are a lot of flaws with the original trilogy as well. From silly lines like “scruffy nerfherder” to Luke and Leia kissing, not everything about the original trilogy is perfect. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t need to be perfect, so long as the characters are fun and interesting to watch. That’s how I’d go about fixing Episode I.

MBTI in Fiction

I came across this Tumblr page while looking up an (unrelated) book title and when I had a spare moment, I read through a few of the posts. Needless to say, I was hooked and have since read all of the author’s posts. In a continuation of my interest in using the MBTI as a tool to discuss fantasy and character archetypes and as a stopgap since I haven’t had time to write my MMO class psychology post yet, I invite you to take a look at the author’s analysis.

Here are a few of my personal favorites:

I like Loki’s analysis because, aside from the fact that I just flat out love Loki (especially after watching Thor: the Dark World last night), I like how it disproves a trend I’ve noticed is distressingly common among typing discussions. Many typing discussions seem to equate all villainous and/or clever, intelligent characters with T, while heroes and other “good guys” end up as F. I think this description of Loki shows a different side of what F can be. Despite the warm, feel-good description offered by Keirsey when he called the NFs the Idealists, a villain can be NF and can be very, very dangerous as a result.

I like Snape and Luna’s typing for a similar reason. Almost every chart I’ve seen places Snape as a T and Luna as an F. Snape is cold, distant and calculating, while Luna is dreamy and a little scattered. But we actually see that it’s Snape who is acting for emotional reasons (seriously, the dude does everything he does because of his feelings) and Luna is very focused on her own ideas, pursuing them regardless of how it makes others feel about her. Luna makes an excellent comparison to Loki and Snape too as a counter-example to “nice people are F and mean people are T.”

Type isn’t meant to be an indicator of what you do, but why you do it. You can be a hero or a villain with any of the types. You can be brilliant or naive with any type. With Loki, we see a very villainous “this makes me feel this way and so I shall act” personality that goes counter to the common perception of what F is supposed to be. The fact that he’s clever doesn’t make him a T, because T doesn’t equal cleverness. T equals objectivity. A T says “regardless of how I feel, this is what is best.” If Loki was T, he’d be more likely to recognize Thor’s personal growth and be able to accept him as a good king. “I may hate my brother, but logically, he’s a good choice.” Instead, Loki feels that he should be king, regardless of the fact that his track record isn’t very good at any of his attempts at ruling thus far. Thus, he’s F and his cleverness and intelligence having nothing to do with it.

Finally, I also like the author’s usage of each of the Hogwarts houses are a further distinction. In this usage, the Hogwarts houses represent your aspirations and desires rather than your type. Again, you can be heroic or villainous with any goal. Rowling may not have created many heroic Slytherins (even Snape and Slughorn are right on the border) but Sam Winchester and Tony Stark certainly qualify. Tony in particular is a great example of how House represents what he desires; he might have the clever  wit and brilliant genius that would make him Ravenclaw but satisfying his curiosity isn’t his true desire. The things that drive Tony Stark are ambition and the desire for achievements and legacy, which are very Slytherin goals.

This is also why I like the Joker’s analysis. It might seem like he’d be a Slytherin, but when you think about his stated goal, it really seems to have more to do with satisfying his morbid curiosity (watch the world burn, can I push this city into insanity) which makes him Ravenclaw. Thus, we see that not all ambition is malevolent and not all curiosity is benign.

Gravity

A message posted to Twitter earlier today: “I’m thinking tonight should be a movie night. Been wanting to see Gravity. Anybody interested in joining me?”

It doesn’t seem like much, just one more social invitation in a digital world that is already overflowing with events, shares, likes, and retweets. And yet it was also something else; to me, it was the attempt to continue a small, personal tradition that had gone unbroken for as long as I can remember. That tradition was this: I never go to the movie theater alone.

I’ve gone to restaurants alone. Bars. Museums. Hikes. Motorcycle rides. So many things. I am an introvert, no matter what my ability to be both loud and gregarious may indicate otherwise. Being alone is my preference most of the time. It’s easier to think when you’re alone.

Movies, however.

There was something about going to the movies that seemed to me a requirement that it be a social event. Part of it was habit; I have a little brother, which means that until a certain age, you always go to the movies with somebody else. Later on, it was one girlfriend or another, because going to movies was what one did on dates, especially in the age before legal drinking was an option.

Even after that, there are so many movies that encourage going with friends. With a comedy, it’s practically a requirement, but even a good epic sci fi or fantasy film is better when viewed with a friend.

I think it was the social component of going to a movie that made it different than watching a DVD. After the movie, there was drinks at a nearby pub or bar. There was a discussion of the movie, assuming it had enough content worth discussing. If not, there was other discussion.

My tweet was an attempt to continue a tradition. It didn’t work. If tonight was to be a “movie night” and not a “Netflix-or-Red-Box” night, I would be breaking my little streak and going it solo.

I’m glad that I did.

Gravity is a movie about being alone. It’s a movie about the powerful inexorability of the most fundamental forces of life and how they absolutely do not give a shit about our existence. Momentum doesn’t care about us. Newton’s laws don’t care about us. You get the idea. Human desire and will doesn’t matter. In space, there is only the ironclad certainty of physics.

Unless (tiny spoiler warning) you’re clever enough to bring Chekov’s gun, or in this case, Chekov’s fire extinguisher. Then you can argue with physics a little bit.

Gravity is a beautiful movie. It may or may not be a satisfyingly feminist movie; our heroine requires rescue early on, although by the end, she’s taking care of herself. It didn’t feel particularly patriarchal to me. It felt real. Others may disagree, which is fair.

More than anything, though, Gravity is a movie about being alone. Alone in space. Alone, helpless, adrift. Sometimes life feels that way, too. Not always, but sometimes.

This is a movie to see by yourself. It’s a movie that you should think about on your way back to the car. On your drive home, without music or cell phone. It’s almost impossible to find silence in today’s world and yet silence is as much the core of Gravity’s theme as solitude and desolation are.

Gravity doesn’t lend itself well to a rousing post-theater discussion over beers at the bar. It’s a movie that needs time to think and reflect: on life, on the laws of the universe, and on being alone.

Is it worth seeing?

Yes, I believe it absolutely is, although keep in mind this endorsement is coming from a guy who loves 127 Hours and gets choked up on almost any survival story. In my opinion, however, it’s worth your time, though, and your consideration.

See it by yourself, if you can. I think it’ll be better that way. And if you feel the need to talk about it, as I do, maybe write it down. Even if it’s a blog post, writing is still the most lonely form of communication we have. For this, I think that’s fitting.

Witches Waiting For Wizards

I watched Oz the Great and Powerful last night and had a few thoughts.

A few notes of preface: I realize that it’s a Disney movie which brings with it an entire host of gender conventions, not all of them positive. I realize, too, that it’s a children’s movie, even considering the efforts of director Sam Raimi to push the movie’s scare factor to the very limit of what was appropriate for its target audience. Seriously, Evanora’s true face? Looks just like the evil gypsy woman from Drag Me to Hell. Also, the shot of the Wicked Witch of the West’s arm reaching up and clawing the table? Classic Raimi.

The mixed reviews kept me from going to the movie theater when it was playing, although to be honest, these days I’ll avoid movie theaters even for movies I really want to see. I just don’t like movie theaters anymore; too expensive, too many irritating people, my favorite theater is still closed, etc. etc, somebody call the wambulance. Also, my home theater set up is pretty kick-ass, and I can drink beer without having to smuggle it in, and I can pause the movie when I need to expel that beer from my system. So, really, home theater is where it’s at these days. Apologies for the digression, let’s talk about the movie.

After I’d finished watching it, I couldn’t quite decide how I felt about it. Did I like it? Was it a good movie? Such indecision is usually a sign for me that there were high points being held back by other issues.

The highlights for me, aside from the visual effects, was Mila Kunis’s performance as Theodora, who (spoilers) manages to combine a little of Wicked’s sympathy of Elphaba as well as Margaret Hamilton’s iconic, delightfully over the top performance as the Wicked Witch in the original movie. Sure, in this movie, Theodora goes from 0 to crazy in about 0.5 seconds and has all the subtlety of a rabid wolverine, but she was still fun to watch.

So, the basic plot in one paragraph or less is that Oscar is a stage magician who lands in Oz. It turns out his stage name is Oz, which means he fulfills a prophecy made by the old, now-deceased king where a wizard will appear and save the land of Oz from the Wicked Witch. Theodora the Good Witch tells all of this to Oscar when they meet. Hilarity ensues since Oscar is more con artist than competent sorcerer.

I think my uncertainty about the movie is that I never really bought into this prophecy thing or why Theodora believed in it so fervently. She’s a true idealist and believes that the prophecied Wizard will make Oz safe from the Wicked Witch. But why is she waiting for a wizard at all? She’s a witch, one of the most powerful beings in Oz! Why isn’t she out fighting the Wicked Witch?

At first, I thought her reluctance to fight was because she didn’t have the same level of power as the other witches, but that notion is very clearly dispelled (hah) when she’s shown throwing a fireball while angry. She definitely has the magical strength. Furthermore, she’s one of two witches in the Emerald City. She and her sister outnumber the alleged Wicked Witch, so they’ve got numbers on their side.

Even though the plot reason is that Theodora isn’t aware that (spoiler) the actual Wicked Witch is her sister, she still thinks she knows who the enemy is. She could and should be out hunting Glinda, who is the alleged Wicked Witch initially.

I kept hoping for some explanation for why Theodora needed the Wizard to save Oz. A scene of Evanora manipulating her or some indication that she doubts her own strength would indicate why she’s not fixing the problem herself, or at least trying to do so. Theodora clearly wants to help and is shown to have the power to do so, since she can throw fireballs around (“as the size of an explosion increases, the number of social situations it is incapable of solving approaches zero“). She doesn’t gain any real agency, however, until she transforms into the Wicked Witch of the West.

Of course, once she turns green, she immediately  flies out and starts kicking ass, exposing Oscar’s lack of actual power for all to see. Why didn’t she have that motivation prior to her fall? Is this a Space Balls-esque “good is dumb” situation?

In the end, I came away feeling that, while the movie was entertaining, it fell short of its own potential. I love, love, love a good tragic villain. I love fallen hero stories. I love redemption arcs and I love villains that throw offers of redemption right back in the hero’s face. There’s so much potential here to do all of those things. Why wasn’t Theodora with Oscar when he went witch-hunting? The movie poster made it seem like it would be Oscar and the three witches on a journey together, but you actually never see all three of them in the same place at any point (other than the end, sort of).

In Black Swan, Mila Kunis proved she has serious acting chops. I think the success of Wicked (both the book and the musical) have shown that, as a culture, we are fascinated by the Wicked Witch of the West. She’s as iconic a character as Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, and so many other great movie villains. This movie could have, and should have, been as much about her as it was about Oscar himself.

Instead, she’s . . . well, she doesn’t really even do enough to qualify as a sidekick. Glinda gets that role later in the movie. It’s disappointing. The bones were in place for a great story, but so much of the screen time was spent on Oscar, the reluctant hero (apparently the new heroic archetype of this decade, much as the anti-hero was for the 90s).

Sam Raimi and his cast still delivered a decent movie . . . but I feel like the potential was here to do a truly great one.