As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

What’s Making Me Happy this week – Week 30

Posted by Hedwig on July 29, 2012

I’d originally planned to talk about comedy in this post (I’ve been watching a lot of COMMUNITY and PARKS AND RECREATION lately), but I just got home from BRAVE, and well, it made me very happy.

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On the one hand, I can understand that the reviews were a bit more muted than usual with Pixar: the film doesn’t have anything comparing to WALL-E watching HELLO, DOLLY, the silent montage at the beginning of UP or the toys facing their doom together in TOY STORY 3. Despite the fact that this story has actual magic in it, it doesn’t quite get to the magical level that some moments in previous Pixar films achieved. It does, unfortunately, suffer from the same flaw as most Pixars, devolving into a fairly generic action movie in the third act.

 

Still, it made me positively giddy. Merida, to start with, is a great character, rising above the tomboy stereotype: she looks down on girly stuff, but that’s mostly because its constraining her. It’s not so much that she wants to be a boy, but that she wants the freedom granted only to boys in her world. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Dark Knight Rises, comics, and… Magic Mike?

Posted by Hedwig on July 22, 2012

No “what’s making me happy” this week, since what I really want to talk about is the new Batman movie, and it unfortunately didn’t make me very happy. I hesitated to write this post because of the violent response to early negative (or not positive enough) reviews, but by now the virulent fan boys have seen the movie, and they’ve been much quieter since…

Note: a minor spoiler for The Dark Knight occurs further in the text. I’ll warn beforehand.

For me, the film illustrated how valuable film criticism can be. See, I liked, but didn’t love, the first two batman films, BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT. There was plenty to admire – many of the performances, with Heath Ledger’s joker as a stand-out; the fact that Gotham became a tangible place; the sheer scope of the thing, the epic scale. But I never really got into them, never really managed to lose myself in the films, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on the why. I knew that part of it was that the themes were stated over and over, and that the film mistook being dour and “dark” for being intellectual and deep, but that wasn’t everything.

Then I read many of Jim Emerson‘s many pieces about the films, and it clicked. Read the rest of this entry »

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What’s making me happy this week – week 28

Posted by Hedwig on July 15, 2012

In this post: The Wire season 1, TV recaps, A Clash of Kings, Locke Lamora, A.S. Byatt, comics, Joseph Campbell and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.

The main thing making me happy this week is not pop culture related: it’s that the good stress has finally kicked in for my dissertation. I’ve been stressed about it for a while, but it was mostly the diffuse, abstract kind of stress, the kind that makes everything feel overwhelming but doesn’t stop you from wasting time (the internet, especially, being both the best and the worst procrastinatory tool ever created by man). Now, however, it’s finally the focused, propulsive kind of stress, the kind that allows you to write 14 pages of introduction in a week. Granted, it’s a first draft at best, still missing some crucial elements, confused about its audience and with some structural issues that need to be worked out, but it sure feels great to see the page number creep upward.

I did still manage to consume some media, however. I finished the first season of THE WIRE, for instance, and it’s finally starting to click. Read the rest of this entry »

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On rape jokes

Posted by Hedwig on July 11, 2012

I don’t really want to get specifically into the whole Daniel Tosh thing, because a) I’d never heard of him before this and b) it’s been covered well elsewhere, for instance by Alyssa Rosenberg. However, the incident has made me think about rape jokes, and whether they’re even funny.

First of all, a disclaimer: I’m lucky enough never to have been raped. Some boob gropage aside, I’ve never even been sexually assaulted. This means I can’t speak as to how triggering jokes can be, and I won’t attempt to. I’ll stick to analyzing some jokes and the messages behind them. I also feel like I should place a TW here: I’ll describe a fairly violent visual rape joke from a movie later on, so adjust accordingly.

Thing is, I don’t think a blanket “rape jokes are never funny” is true. Nor do I think declaring rape jokes taboo is a good thing. I think rape jokes can be funny. In fact, just this weekend, a friend showed me Wanda Sykes’ “detachable vagina” bit:

Now, to me, that’s funny. And a big chunk of it falls under the qualifier “rape joke”. Likewise the “Here’s your rape!”-bit I came across recently – I’m not a big fan of the execution of that one, but the premise is good.

What distinguished both these examples is that instead of feeding back into rape culture, they expose it. For the jokes to work, you need to be aware of just how pervasive the idea of rape is in a girls education, in a woman’s life.  I’m stubborn enough that I don’t let it affect me much in my daily life – I often bike home alone late at night, for instance, and dress however the hell I please – but I’m aware that this means that if anything happens to me, people are likely to shake their heads and think I should have been more careful. And I’m aware it’s not so easy to shrug of for everyone: I have a friend who doesn’t want to come over to watch a movie if it means biking home alone after dark. These jokes acknowledge this reality, and manage to make it darkly funny.

Talking the issue over with BF, he mentioned another rape joke, in the Dutch movie NEW KIDS NITRO, that’s in a very different category.

Background about the New Kids thing (more here): originally a series of online sketches, it’s about a group of decidedly lower-class, none-too-bright guys from Brabant, speaking an exaggerated version of the local dialect, and swearing a lot, with “kut” as their preferred insult (guess what english word that’s etymologically related to…). I watched the first movie made from the show, NEW KIDS TURBO, and thought it was very funny: the makers have an impeccable of timing, and their strength lies in repetition and exaggeration, taking jokes to absurd extremes. As an example: remember the moment in MEAN GIRLS where Regina George is suddenly hit by a bus? Well, NEW KIDS NITRO has not one or two but four (4!) of those, with progressively bigger vehicles, and progressively bigger laughs, too.

According to BF, at a certain point in the sequel, in the middle of a battle, a lady from the (admittedly easy to ridicule) “bond tegen het vloeken” (“association against swearing”) shows up, and lectures them. Now, there’s a way to make this funny: the “do you have to use so many cuss words?” “The fuck you talking about?” exchange from THE BIG LEBOWSKI comes to mind. The “joke” in NKN, however, involves the woman getting bent over and raped with a pool cue.

Yeah. See, I get that one of their things it to push limits. The movie also involved zombies, which are put on a train to Germany as an “endlösing” – clearly,  shock is their objective. But aside from being tasteless, the pool cue thing is just… lazy. It’s not just an easy target, but it’s hit with the least amount of creativity possible.  Echoing “let’s teach that uptight bitch a lesson” – original thought, there. Worst of all, it’s simply not funny – unless you think upsetting/annoying women if funny in and of itself.

It’s not like it would have been difficult to think of something better, even. For instance, wouldn’t it have been unexpected to have one of the New Kids (or all) suddenly turn around, and lecture the woman in extremely posh and articulate Dutch about the importance of swearing for language? And then show a reaction shot of the woman looking shocked, and then saying, after just the right length of pauze “kut…”*?  It may not be comedy brilliance, but if I can come up with a funnier alternative in ten minutes as an amateur, professional comedians should have no trouble finding something better. Something that doesn’t depict rape as a deserved comeuppance for being a prude, preferably.

There is one obvious difference, of course, between these jokes: the first two were made by women, the latter by men. I don’t necessarily think that only women can make good rape jokes, or that they can never make an unfunny or unacceptable one. I just think the lived experience of men and women is very different, so it might require a bit more empathy from men – just like I’d really have to think before I ever made a joke about, say, what it’s like to be a black person. In fact, I’d probably just reconsider telling the joke. So guys: unless you’re willing to put yourself in women’s shoes, and I mean really make an effort, I’d probably just stay away from that particular topic.**

“It’s just a joke!”, you might say. Sure, just like “it’s just a movie!”, “it’s just a saying!”, “it’s just a word” etc. These things all reflect and shape society, and as such are worth examining. And the fact that the most “shock-jock” or “anti-PC” jokes tend to reinforce the status-quo, tend to uphold existing hierarchies? Well, that’s just very fascinating.

*while the New Kids (and, apparently, much of Brabant) uses the term as an equivalent of “cunt”, it can also be more of an exclamation in the same way as “shit” or “fuck”. It can also become a preposition: a “kutdag” is a shitty day. Versatile word, really, and one I kind of like despite its gendered nature. The hard “k” makes it very satisfying to say.

** for those tempted to invoke the first amendment, or call this “censorship”… please.

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What’s making me happy this week – week 26

Posted by Hedwig on July 1, 2012

A friend of mine got his PhD this week – cum laude, even! And he’s such a cool guy, he had a party at a cinema, and showed John Carpenter’s THE THING. On the big screen. So yeah, that made me pretty happy – and jump, a few times. Especially during that re-animation: I’d managed to forget about that particular scare, somehow.

And then there’s a another thing, that’s not making me happy necessarily (it’s a bit callous to be happy about a relationship you don’t have real insight in) but that’s absolutely fascinating: the TomKat divorce. Read the rest of this entry »

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What was making me happy last week – geeky things in week 25

Posted by Hedwig on July 1, 2012

(I started writing this post last sunday, but didn’t finish and then got crazy busy. As in, the only night I didn’t have anything planned was Wednesday, and I picked sleeping over the other things I wanted/needed to do. Belatedly, then, last week’s post, about DOCTOR WHO and A GAME OF THRONES. Oh, and note to potential employers: I swear I’m much better at keeping to externally imposed deadlines. I never want to disappoint other people – but disappointing myself, eh. Been there, etc.)

Two geeky things were making me happy last week, a sci-fi show and a fantasy book: DOCTOR WHO and A Game of Thrones.

Doctor Who because I watched the last three episodes of the first season (of New Who) this week, and can’t wait to see the rest, even if it’s too bad Eccleston will not be returning. Read the rest of this entry »

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What’s making me happy this week – week 24

Posted by Hedwig on June 17, 2012

A change of name for this feature – I felt like the previous title obliged me to at least try to mention a bit of everything, and I’d rather just mention one or two things. So: new title, borrowed from NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, a podcast I definitely recommend.

What’s making me happy this week? Well, the TRUE BLOOD theme song, for one. I wish I could say the return of the show is making me happy, but it shows no signs of improvement, and looked especially poor compared to the great shows we’ve been getting lately. And yet? I still watch, and maybe that’s partly because the theme song is so perfect, putting you in the exact right mood for a large dose of campy fun – whether the fun actually follows or not. Jonathan Coulton played it on NPR’s fun new quiz, Ask Me Another, this week, and it made me feel like today’s episode despite the fact that there’s little to look forward to – except perhaps some Jason shenanigans.

Yup, that’s two NPR mentions above. It feels so obvious - of course someone like me would like public radio – but I don’t care: I love many of their shows, and quizzes with answers like “CinnaBonfire of the Vanities” definitely fall in the category of “things that make me happy”.

Also making me happy? Two genre novels I’m reading: RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES (the second Locke Lamora novel) by Scott Lynch on the e-book reader, and Jonathan Lethem’s GIRL IN LANDSCAPE in print. I’m only halfway through both, but the former continues and expands a fun fantasy universe with a STING-like plot, and the latter creates a sci-fi world that’s completely out there, but with a central character that keeps it grounded. Continuing a theme that’s been re-occuring lately (with Sansa in GoT and Sally in Man Men), the main character gets her period, and it’s described kind of perfectly.

Not making me so happy? The Dutch soccer team. But I might have to keep thoughts about that for another post… and at least I have a good excuse not to have to watch the probably-excruciating match tonight: i’m going to see ORFEO  ED EURIDICE, which apparently is quite the spectacle.

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My week in Pop Culture – week 22 & 23

Posted by Hedwig on June 10, 2012

I was away all day last Sunday, so I’m afraid my weekly post slipped through the cracks. Here, then, a post for not just last week but the week before that. It was heavy on film, with 4 cinema visits (COSMOPOLIS, PROMETHEUS, MOONRISE KINGDOM and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN), 3 of them interesting and one of them charming (that would be MK), listened to some new music for the first time in a while (new albums by Regina Spektor, Metric, The Hives), and read quite a bit (finished COSMOPOLIS the book and the stories included with I AM LEGEND, read TARZAN OF THE APES by Edgar Rice Burroughs and THE HEDGE KNIGHT by George R.R. Martin.

What I really want to talk about, however, is the final two episodes of this season of GAME OF THRONES. This afternoon, I listened to an interview with the director of episode 2.9, Neil Marshall*, and was disappointed but not particularly surprised to find out he’d been urged by an executive producer to up the pointless nudity. “You can do full frontal, you know!”, the man apparently said, adding that he represented the “pervert” side of the audience.

Look - I have nothing against nudity. The main reason HBO goes so over the top with it (and with swearing, too) is because the rest of American TV is so ridiculously prudish. I don’t even necessarily see a problem with people finding the nudity an incentive to watch something (the reason I’m going to see MAGIC MIKE in the cinema has little to do with plot or characterization), or with producers adding nudity with the express purpose of appealing to the “pervert side”. But GAME OF THRONES is taking it to a rather ridiculous level, and the nudity in that specific episode felt even more tacked on that usual, especially since the girl was a non-entity, never seen before and probably never to be seen again.

Still, I can’t help but wonder: maybe there’s a sneakier plan at work here. Read the rest of this entry »

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Snow White and the Huntsman

Posted by Hedwig on June 9, 2012

Note: I’ll keep it spoiler-free above the fold, but I would like to discuss the ending below it.

Updating fairy-tales is all the rage these days, with not just two Snow White movies but even a Jack & the Beanstalk one, but they’ve really never left the public consciousness. It can be safely assumed that like vampires and Frankenstein’s, they will never truly disappear, since the bare bones of the stories can so easily be adapted to the times, the core elements familiar but the subtext fluid. The stories of princesses might all look the same, and seem to embody only the most antiquated of gender roles, but their messages and lessons still ring strong.

Snow White, of course, has always been about beauty and youth. “Who is the fairest of them all?”, the queen asks, eager to hear her own name, and furious when it turns out she is fairest no longer, surpassed by a raven-haired pale beauty with crimson lips. In the fairy tale and in the new action-movie adaptation SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, Snow White “wins” the contest because she has inner as well as outer beauty. But the movie makes implicit that the queen’s desperate desire to retain her youth and beauty is not vanity alone – she fiercely defends herself because her beauty is the source of her power, perhaps even the only power she has. She’s a monster, but a monster made by the system, and this explains why Snow White can’t help but feel sorry for her. Charlize Theron clearly relishes playing such a grandiose, evil part, but she never forgets that her queen Ravenna is at heart a pitiful creature.

It’s too bad they haven’t found a Snow White to match her. Just to clarify: I’m no Kristen Stewart hater. The Twilight movies are easy targets, but she managed to give Bella something completely absent in the books: a personality. I can understand why she was cast: she projects a certain authenticity – carefully cultivated in her public image, too – that helps her play wide-eyed wonder and innocence without it going into maudlin territory. But this Snow White is a warrior too, and when called upon to give a St. Crispin’s day speech, she can’t quite pull it off. She shouts, and her chest heaves with labored breathing, but she lacks the authority Theron has no problem summoning.

Overall, though, I thought this adaptation was both visually stunning and thematically interesting. And what really sold me on it, the thing that made sure I left the cinema not just satisfied but elated, was the ending (and here be spoilers) Read the rest of this entry »

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Prometheus

Posted by Hedwig on June 1, 2012

cross-posted on tumblr.

PROMETHEUS (Scott, 2012) – I was planning to unleash some snark about how inconsistent and poorly thought-through the science in PROMETHEUS was, but someone’s already done that for me (warning: VERY spoilery). I was going to refer to one of the actors as “a poor man’s Tom Hardy”, but that’s apparently not very original either.

Read the rest of this entry »

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