Game of Thrones: Season 7, Episodes 4-5

Last year, during the first season of Westworld, I made an attempt at writing episode by episode reviews which was a mistake. It was a great writing exercise, however, in the sense that I had to learn how to write about nothing, to stretch incremental narrative progress into a 1000 word piece but I ended up failing to complete the season out of sheer boredom. I wanted to avoid that mistake with the most recent season of Game of Thrones and only do a halfway point observation and end of the year wrap up, but after Sunday's episode Eastwatch, I felt the need to check in again. I came down pretty hard on the show a week or so ago, and I stand by that criticism, I still don't understand the need to rush through so many plot lines so quickly, but this weeks episode Eastwatch actually had shades of earlier seasons. It got me excited as it was more about conversations and setting the stage rather than wowing the audience and was surprise, surprise, the first episode of the series not written by D.B. Weiss and David Benioff in a long while. No, aside from the termination of House Tarly, who have gotten their comeuppance for betraying longtime ally House Tyrell quicker than is usual for Thrones, there was more maneuvering than anything else and it pleased me enough to share some thoughts.

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First, though, some complaints. One thing that used to be GoT's greatest strength as a narrative was the fact that it did not cheat the viewer. If a character was in a hopeless situation and the ax was about to fall….the ax fell. No one saved the day because like in real life, no one usually does. But as the seasons wore on and we moved away from George R.R. Martin's source material, the show started to feel more like conventional TV. Brienne rescues Sansa at the last second, Benjen rescues Bran at the last second, Arya gets stabbed and falls into a putrid canal….but is perfectly fine and there are no ill effects, even though Khal Drogo died from a scratch on his chest. And this week opened with a cheat. Jaime should be a roast kebab right about now, right along with Bronn, however, the ankle deep water that he had been sprinting his horse through a second earlier suddenly turned into a bottomless lake when he was tackled into it. And, fully armored, the two of them swam a half a mile underwater to escape Daenerys and Drogon and emerged unscathed. Really? I get that they are both fan favorites by now but that used to be what this show was all about: getting your heart broken/mind blown. I'm sure this is a 'careful what you wish for' situation but, come on, man. Game of Thrones used to trade in credulity but it's been nearly bankrupt in that category for some time now.

Aside from that, it's nice to finally get a glimpse of Littlefinger's gameplan: so far, creating a rift between Arya and Sansa. To what end? I have no idea but sewing chaos seems to be his weapon of choice and he's going to have the North off-balance in no time as the new Lady Stark seems to be unsure of her own intentions. In case anyone hasn't googled it or jumped on Reddit, the content of the message was Sansa's original message condemning Ned Stark and supporting King Joffrey which is going to make Arya even more wary. I don't know if everyone was nearly unsettled enough when Sansa admitted to learning a lot from Cersei in an earlier episode but that is cause for concern. Having recently rewatched much of the earlier seasons, one thing becomes perfectly clear and it's that she is a terrible human being with no sympathy or kindness in her of any kind. Other characters are more vile in overt ways but they almost always have some tenderness hidden away or understandable pathos about them, Cersei is simply coldness layered upon spite layered upon ego. She may currently be the technical winner of the game but she had to step over the bodies of every one of her children to get to the throne and if that isn't a Pyrrhic victory I don't know what is.

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As has been noted in other publications, young Gilly, who couldn't read when we first met her at Craster's Keep, has uncovered the bombshell secret that can flip the tables completely in this war for Westeros. If you aren't a lore junky or tuned her out for whatever reason, it sounded like while keeping Sam company she discovered an account of a marriage annulment between Rheagar Targaryen and his wife and a secret wedding to someone new. This is a huge deal because, up until now, we have all been thinking we were clever for figuring out that Rheagar and Lyanna Stark had a secret love child who turned into the most handsomest and bravest bastard to be crowned King in the North. BUT. If they were secretly married, this changes everything. It means that Jon is not, in fact, a bastard, but rather the ranking Targaryen and rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Over Daenerys. Now, I don't think he wants the throne and I do not think he'll take it but it remains to be seen how this is ever going to be revealed. So far only Bran is fully aware of this and we don't know if Gilly took the book with her when the two of them absconded from Oldtown so it might not be revealed at all. If only we had more than two episodes left in the season to find out.

The sparks are really flying between Jon and Dany, aren't they? I kept shouting "MAKE OUT" at my television, frightening my dog. As much as a dumb reference as this is, I know that silent exchange between the two of them when she discovers Drogon making friends with him. It's that same feeling when you start dating a girl and her cat, who usually hates people, curls up on your lap and goes to sleep. As a guy, you know you've just scored major points so you just sit back and enjoy it. And you can bet when Dany and Missandei sit up at night gossiping that's coming up first thing. Well. Maybe after the whole Grey Worm situation. I mean, shit I want to hear about that. And I don't like that they are trying to make Jorah seem like he has a shot. I like Jorah. I like him just fine. But there was definitely a weird love-triangle like thing that happened twice, where they had to stop talking and look awkwardly around and I don't like it one bit. Dany was clearly a little heartbroken when Jon decided to leave, major props to Emilia Clarke for that oh so subtle break and recovery that shows on her face. She may not love Jon yet but she undoubtedly has come to respect him in a very short time, as anyone does who hangs out with the guy but his bravery and insistence on leading the way beyond the wall has clearly given her the vapors. Speaking of which…

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What a stupid fucking plan Jon has come up with. This is like something out of a sitcom where the gang has really gotten themselves into a tight spot this time and only a desperate Hail Mary idea can save the day. Like capturing a wight/zambie and bringing it to court in King's Landing, instead of doing the smart thing and just kicking the ever-living shit out of Cersei Lannister and company. This whole desperate need to wear kids gloves while conquering the kingdoms of Westeros is absolutely going to bite Dany and her allies in the ass at some point. Just do the thing and then worry about the White Walkers. The major problem with that whole plot line is that those fuckers have been about to attack for six years now. There is zero sense of urgency no matter how many spectacular shots of undead hordes marching towards the wall they give us because they've been showing us that since the second season.

I am no fool, by the way. I can't also say it's not thrilling to see such a wacky line-up of characters walking off into the north together like some bizarre Medieval Magnificent Seven. It's nice to see Gendry again, even though he looks like Christian Bale's anemic little brother lately but the instant bonding between him and Jon was worth his rushed return back to the story. Over/under on who is making it back from the great white north? Beric Dondarrion? Nope. Thoros of Myr. Nope. Jon? Duh, of course. The Hound? Probably. He still has too much potential and seeing him alongside Dany and Jon against the Lannisters is too sweet of an idea to spoil. Plus CleganeBowl. Jorah Mormont? (casually averts eye contact) Gendry? Dude. You might as well have thrown on a red shirt before heading out. Who is left….Tormund? Don't you fucking dare.

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Game of Thrones: Season 7, Episodes 1-3

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I'm going to say what most other publications have been tip-toeing around while having the gall to hand out "B+" ratings (I'm looking at you, A.V. Club) to the current season of Game of Thrones: it's not very good. I won't go so far as to say it's bad, but it is not very good. Most of the characters who were once thoughtfully developed and three dimensional no longer appear to know what they are doing and a couple of characters who have no substance or depth to speak of are omniscient and magically teleporting around with gigantic fleets of ships, fully anticipating the moves of their adversaries because….no one knows. Remember when Game of Thrones was really that? A game? A strategic maneuvering of resources and loyalties? A chess match between cunning and vicious rivals? This ain't that anymore. Now that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are fully off book, we're watching a beautiful, talented ensemble cast with cutting edge special effects on an international stage essentially playing checkers.

Euron Greyjoy, as the apparent Big Bad of the season so far, is the worst villain of GoT and not because he's more hateful than Joffrey or more sadistic than Ramsay. It's because he's just annoying. We hated those other characters while at the same time desperately wanted to see more of them, eagerly anticipating the point when they would get their comeuppance but with Euron, as an audience, we just want him to go away. Never mind the fact that other, more capable publications have pointed out that the MacGuffin fleet built by the Ironborn would have taken decades in ideal circumstances and with near infinite resources to complete but seems to have come together in maybe a month or two, just enough time to be manned and deployed against Dany's now completely useless Iron Fleet. How is Euron such a masterful tactician and god of the seas? Because he was a pirate for 15 years somewhere. That's how. Just like being a fry cook for a decade or so fully prepares you to run a fast food empire.

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Daenerys, despite having a dozen or so awesome titles and the council of Tyrion, Missandei, Grey Worm, Olenna Tyrell, Varys, Yara Greyjoy, and the Dornish ladies, has gotten her ass kicked three episodes in a row, now. The only logical conclusion is that she has a traitor in her midst but if that's the case there has been zero allusion or foreshadowing of this, which would be frustrating but at least somewhat logical. In fact, if this is not the case that will be even worse because the absence of believable logic is reaching epic proportions of late. More so, the meeting between Jon and Dany, something fans (myself included) have been slobbering for for years now has finally taken place and it had all the fireworks and excitement of a weekly board meeting. If this is supposed to start out like some kind of When Harry Met Sally situation where they hate each other at first and slowly fall in love, I GUESS, but so far the absolutely tepid and stiff interactions are a massive disappointment. This is the center of my argument regarding the pacing of the season, or complete lack thereof, it strongly gives the impression that David and D.B simply don't give a fuck and are only sprinting for the finish line at this point. And if you're wondering, yes, I know Dany and Jon are technically Aunt and Nephew but you know what, I don't give a shit. Weirder things have happened in this show. Why can't we have ONE nice, if technically incestuous, thing?!

Sansa and Littlefinger are still hanging out. That seems like a fantastic idea, especially since he seems to have perfected his leering/conniving/shiftiness like it's his freaking job. Like, has no one gotten weary of how this dude is constantly leaning against walls watching everyone do shit with that creepy look on his face? And I may never forgive this show for almost getting me excited about a scene where Sansa is rushed to the front gate because it's (my thought process, "Please be Arya, please be Arya, please be…..ah, it's FUCKING Bran…") the Three Eyed Raven who is apparently full on Neo-in-the-Matrix-sequels now, full of cryptic weirdness and robotic delivery, has safely returned to Winterfell. Maybe it's the combination of the writing and the actor but I'm not buying all seeing, all knowing Bran here, he just seems like that guy in college who discovered Siddartha and LSD and decided he was Buddhist all of a sudden. How he's going to factor into the last ten (!) episodes of the show is anyone's guess but if I had to venture a theory, it's probably to ruin something/everything somehow. After all, none of this shit would have happened if he had managed to stay off the fucking rooftops in the first place. You killed your parents, Bran.

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I was a reader from an early age and, in waiting rooms, I occasionally skipped Highlights magazine and went straight for Reader's Digest. To anyone not familiar, it was essentially a stripped down cliff notes type periodical that shared random stories and biographies in the most efficient manner possible. Who/what/where/when/why and then onto the next anecdote. The closest contemporary comparison I could make is Wikipedia. Game of Thrones, in all of it's scale and scope and horror and beauty, has been reduced to the storytelling conciseness of a Wikipedia article, with no style or pacing or atmosphere. There's a reason GRRM's novels were so damn long, he was world-building, creating a detailed, living, breathing place that fans of the genre flocked to. It's why the show was so damned good in the first place, because it was faithful to the patient storytelling techniques of a novel. It was about interactions, Arya and Tywin Lannister unknowingly stalking each other throughout a scene,  Ramsay methodically destroying Theon Greyjoy's body and mind, Jon and Tyrion getting to know and respect each other on the journey to The Wall, and that's what is ultimately the problem since season six: the literal and figurative absence of the journey. The much commented on absence of travel time for, well, anyone at this point is why there is no meat on the bone anymore, no substance to what's happening. Weiss and Benioff have quite simply forgotten that, although we want to know what happens to these characters we have gotten to know so well, we also want to hang out with them. We like them. We like the way they talk and interact. And in their big ol' rush to get to the exciting bits, the journey itself has been all but forgotten. Which is a damn shame.

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Dunkirk: The Blood-Dimmed Tide

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That it's taken me almost a full week to process my reaction to Dunkirk should say a lot about the effect of the film. I'll usually watch a movie like this twice, once for the experience, a second time for the craft but my first thoughts after exiting the theater was that it was going to be a long time before I am prepared for that repeat viewing. No, I went in thinking this was going to be another war flick, another Nolan vehicle with some clever structure or idea that would engage my brain but about a third of the way into the story a thought surfaced like an enemy submarine in my mind: I am not prepared for this. And then it got worse. This is not to say it's bad or torturous, just that it's the most mature, relentless, grueling film that Chris Nolan has made so far, it fully establishes him as one of the preeminent writer/directors working today and if it doesn't snag him his Oscar in one of the two big categories I'm burning the whole building down to the ground.

Part of the reason I wasn't prepared for Dunkirk is that it's been a long time since I went to the theater to see an actual film film, as opposed to a Marvel movie or a popcorn summer comedy blah blah blah. I watch the heavier stuff at home where I can pause and control the pace or take a minute to distance myself from the ending of, let's say, Okja, that had me blubbering like a small child whose balloon had floated away. Instead, Nolan takes one of his greatest skills, building and compounding tension until it reaches some breathless, seemingly unending stress test, that he normally reserves for the second or third act of his movies and just does that from frame one of Dunkirk. The entire movie is an escalation of suspense that is a little difficult to watch at times as the existential nightmare relentlessly closes in on these laconic, defeated soldiers waiting on the beaches of France. Stylistically, this is going to be called a minimalist masterpiece in visual storytelling, deservedly so, but the real literal unseen champion of the film is also in the sound design which is fucking terrifying.

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The other thing that left me unprepared was my familiarity with both the history of the event and with war films in general. How much suspense could a movie create if you already know how it's going to end? A lot, it turns out. Particularly if there is no grand or epic score from James Horner or John Williams to tell you what to feel and when. Dunkirk is unique in that sense, it hits none of the normal beats that a war movie will do. No one is in charge, not really. There's no funny guy, or tough guy, or a hero type. To be completely honest, there really is very little actual combat that takes place outside of the aerial dogfights and nary a word of exposition or personal history from any of the principle characters. We never actually see the German army, which I found incredibly refreshing, too many WWII films turn into Nazi fetishism. Instead, the audience is left with the grim realities of the world coming apart at the seams. Something I like to keep in mind whenever I start a new book or a show on the subject, is that we view the second World War from the perspective of the victors. But, at the time, success, and as in Dunkirk, even survival, was far from certain. Before the events of The Miracle of Dunkirk, as Nolan points out, it was truly the darkest hour of Western Civilization to this point in history. If a killing blow had been struck, as it almost certainly was about to be, England and the rest of the United Kingdom have no standing army to defend against invasion. If England falls there is no need for legitimate defenses on the Western Front and Nazi Germany turns the full brunt of its forces on Russia and, instead of being stopped within sight of Moscow's towers, rolls on through, potentially knocking their last remaining foe out of the fight, thus completely securing Fortress Europa. This is assuming the North African campaign takes on a lower priority since the oil fields needed by the Reich would be supplemented by the Caucuses regions in….

Anyway. After a few days I changed my mind, I will be seeing Dunkirk again in the near future, specifically, in the theater because that's what the movie is designed for. Nolan is a film purist, a snob in the right kind of way who is keeping the actual medium (as opposed to digital) alive, and who rails against Netflix's distribution model or lack thereof. His theater is a sacred place and this is perfectly true of his latest. It feels important and it was difficult trying to start a review of a movie that just needs to be experienced, because that's what it was, an experience. Afterwards, I felt like I'd been through some shit, as opposed to having just sat in a comfortable chair eating a soft baked pretzel with a beer. The best description and compliment I can give Dunkirk is that after a good movie, I can talk about it freely, I like selling people on something that deserves to be seen. A really good movie will make me think and I'll compose some pretentious think piece on the themes and concepts explored. But this film left me speechless. I was sobbing a little with all kinds of emotions while I tried to remember where I parked my car and I made it about five minutes up the road before I broke down into an ugly cry. And what followed was that remarkable release of emotions, of, again, that tension, and it was as cathartic of a feeling as I've had at the theater in a long time. After years of being coddled and tickled by summer blockbuster fare and tentpole franchises, it feels good to be reminded what cinema and Christopher Nolan are capable of. Is this my favorite film of his? No. I probably won't throw it on in the background while I fold laundry or nurse a hangover some day. Is this his best film so far? Almost certainly, and that's saying quite a bit. Just. Be prepared.

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Chester Bennington: The Sun Will Set

I love writing and I love writing about things I love, even if it's a eulogy about someone who meant a lot to me. On the other hand, it's genuinely difficult to eulogize someone who meant a lot when it comes to suicide. There's this sense of betrayal, an undeniable anger, particularly if that someone has created such a cathartic and honest testimony with their art form in defiance of those feelings of hopelessness and despair that visits anyone with a heart and a head on their shoulders and although Linkin Park has been often maligned in the metal and rock community for committing the unforgivable sin of being accessible, I'll stand up and proudly admit to loving their music. I'll die on that hill. Because any music that is as unabashedly vulnerable and earnest about depression and rage and insecurity as loud and passionately as possible is music that I can relate to because, well, I've been there. And I curl up with a bottle instead of trying to share that pain with a million strangers. I don't have the courage or talent to turn those feelings into something productive and beautiful but Chester Bennington did that. And as mad as I am at him for checking out early, I'm so grateful a friend handed me a copy of Hybrid Theory when I was a kid. And although my first impulse is to be pissed, at the end of the day, I'd rather be thankful.
So, thanks, Chester, for letting me know I wasn't alone when I needed it the most. Thanks for doing what you loved. Thanks for turning your pain into fight. I wish you hadn't used it up showing us how it's done. I wish you'd saved some for yourself.
Thank you, and Godspeed.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming- Feels Like Summer

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This is going to be a less popular opinion than most and I usually don’t like taking a superior position to mainstream reviews but Spider-Man: Homecoming, in its perfectly safe, Marvel-approved, inoffensive, and un-challenging little package, feels much closer to a big budget special series of Agents of SHIELD than an actual addition to the Cinematic Universe. In fact, Spidey feels completely relegated to the JV squad throughout and, for an OG fan from back in the day, this is enormously disappointing. There are major issues with both of the previous film incarnations but one thing that they both did very well, that I now realize was taken for granted, is depict that sense of independence, ingenuity, and self-reliance Peter Parker has always had in the face of adversity and in Homecoming all those things are removed. Instead, this is once again Tony Stark’s world and we’re all just living in it and for Spider-Man to practically require permission and approval from Iron Man to be a superhero on a constant basis was massively frustrating. That aside, Tom Holland is more than capable and a real joy to watch and I get they are trying to reboot the character from scratch but this literal Marvel fanboy, this bumbling, insecure goof, this ain’t my Spider-Man.

Holy Blogpost McBloggington is this movie meta. Like. So meta. There are shots at all kinds of things from the previous Spider-Man movies to the unusual new hotness of Aunt May to Ferris Bueller (?!) to Donald Glover being…. weird Donald Glover. It’s self-aware to the point that I was starting to worry the post-credits sequence would just be a camera view from inside the theater just behind our heads. But this also allows the filmmakers and all six of the credited screenwriters to really have fun with the material which translates really well to the audience Marvel is aiming for: the casual summer blockbuster crowd. More devoted fans of the franchise (i.e. nerds and geeks and me) are going to call out Homecoming for being a big glowing pastiche of what has worked 17 or so times before, minus the stakes. To reference it again, the unfairly maligned Agents of SHIELD has plotlines that easily outmatch this film in terms of scale and scope and the final battle that takes place could have easily been lifted from the small screen. To put a finer point on it, nothing that happens in Spider-Man: Homecoming was an experience unique to the character in particular. To put an even finer point on it, any of the B-List heroes in the Marvel oeuvre could have substituted for Spider-Man at any point in this story and it wouldn’t have mattered. In fact, his actual powers, when not absent entirely, are occasionally inadequate or mocked throughout the movie which brings me to another complaint.

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At some point RDJ is going to bow out of the role and although I will certainly miss the actor’s undeniable charm and wit, my goodness, is Iron Man becoming the deus ex machina of the MCU. He really has turned into the Marvel equivalent of Superman crossed with a Swiss Army Knife where the question becomes, “Why bother have any other superheros show up, Tony Stark probably has an Iron Man suit that can handle it.” His suit is now some combination of Inspector Gadget and the original ’66 Batman utility belt which, luckily, has shark-repellent spray equipped because of course it does. When there are no restrictions on a character’s abilities there is no sense of suspense, no tension and Iron Man has become the screenwriter’s foil; it’s a lazy way to resolve any situation and making Peter Parker basically dependent on one of those suits to do everything is tragic beyond description. Okay, maybe not that bad, but this, again, ain’t my Spider-Man. This also presents the opportunity to make the same AI jokes all over again with a female version of JARVIS, this time voiced by Jennifer Connelly who is, in real life, married to Paul Bettany who voiced the actual JARVIS and is now Vision because META.

Okay, all kvetching aside, where Spider-Man: Homecoming undeniably succeeds is off the clock. The high school setting, this time around with convincing teenage actors as opposed to 30 year old men wearing backpacks, is as much fun as you’re going to have at the theater this summer. The whole cast is a joy, even the bully Flash Thompson, now Guatemalan instead of white and Thor-like, is kind of funny while being a jerk to Penis Peter. A particular surprise was one of my primary objections when the film was first being cast and it’s a complaint that got me in a lot of trouble with some female friends on social media. Up until the announcement of her role, I had never heard of nor did I know what was a ‘Zendaya’ and when I looked her up I recoiled in disbelief. I understand that she is a talented performer and actress, that I get, but my first impression was that she looked like someone had taken a Bratz doll and magically brought it to life. This is not a shot at her to be insulting, she’s undeniably beautiful but she’s also, in my mind, unrealistically beautiful. She’s a product of the fashion world, which is a world that I have no place in or love of, and I could not comprehend her existing alongside Peter Parker, who is destined to be a lowly newspaper photographer struggling to make ends meet. Lo the wrath I took on Facebook for objecting to unrealistic beauty standards. However, I will freely admit to judging a book by its cover, unfairly so, because this ‘Zendaya’ has some comedic timing. She was interesting and weird, if in a Disney Channel kind of way, and I look forward to whatever direction they are going with her, even if we have to wait for the sequel to find out what that is going to be. Plus, Michael Keaton is a national treasure. Seriously, just… be in more movies, dude.

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Is Spider-Man: Homecoming the Spider-Man movie we’ve been waiting for? The one we deserve? The redeemer of the franchise and the character? Sure, if you want it to be. I, however, will be waiting on the rest of the movies to find out. Because, as I’ve said before, this is not my Spider-Man but it’s not really supposed to be. The Web-Head I looked up to was closer to the kind of man that I wanted to be like: funny, independent, maybe a little bit lonely but certain of his responsibility. And seeing this nascent version of that man is okay, I forget that it’s not always my turn. Hopefully, the darker, more mature themes that made the Wallcrawler so compelling will find their way back into this version someday, but until then this will do just fine, in fact, it sincerely is an absolute blast from start to finish and is probably the funniest film in the entire canon. That being said, I really hope that Kevin Feige and company stop painting by numbers at some point and let these characters films grow up. The one thing that kept nagging at me from the beginning was the quaint, solitary SONY logo that appears before the opening sequence of the movie. After the scene plays out the MARVEL fanfare begins with it’s massive logo and hero cutaways and a jaunty version of the 80s Spider-Man theme plays, and you realize who is really in charge. These movies can continue to be a lot of fun without saying anything or taking any chances and if that’s what Marvel wants to keep doing, that’s certainly within their now considerable influence and power. But even though they left the man out with only so much as a passing mention, I remember what a certain someone had to say about great power.

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The Red Pill: Us Versus Them

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I went into The Red Pill, a documentary on the Men’s Right’s Movement directed by self-identifying Feminist Cassie Jaye, fully expecting my eyes to roll right out of the side of my head halfway through as I was largely prepared for the vitriolic, infantile babble that can often be found on Reddit, the comments section of YouTube, Facebook, and elsewhere whenever there is some women only screening of a movie or a female actress cast in a traditionally male role but something odd happened about five minutes in that I did not anticipate and it’s the same thing that seems to have happened to Ms. Jaye herself; I found they were making some interesting and often valid points.

*ducks incoming projectiles*

To be clear, a lot of the metaphors being used by some of the MRAs were inherently flawed, if well-intentioned. The first had to do with lumping all MRAs into the same group being similar to judging a snowdrift by analyzing one individual flake within it. Now. I understand the comparison, there is clearly a broad spectrum within this relatively fringe group and a few of the men interviewed were obviously educated and rational but when they start giving examples of, let’s say, gender inequality within the justice system with regard to custody battles and alimony, they end up using personal and, therefore, anecdotal evidence to describe a very large and complex system (like a snowdrift) that is unarguably flawed. This doesn’t necessarily invalidate their entire argument, as much as it encourages a necessary conversation on how gender biases can create injustices for all parties involved. And this is where Cassie Jaye does the thing that has not, to my knowledge or on a large enough scale, been practiced yet with regard to this movement: she listens. Rather than debate or try to deconstruct the logic of the men (and women) she interviews who identify and support this idea of Men’s Rights, she just sits back and pays attention to what they are trying to say. 

Having grown up with Michael Moore’s “documentary” style and The Daily Show since the Kilborn days, I can’t recall the last time I saw a piece on such a controversial and polarizing subject that was not in any way antagonistic or combative. If that’s the one thing that Cassie Jaye does best and most effectively in The Red Pill she also presents an undeniably skewed perspective that heavily favors the MRA side of the discourse. The men and women on the side of the movement are invariably its most grounded, well-spoken, educated supporters whereas the Feminist movement is represented by its most aggressive, shrill, disruptive agitators, the folks that carry signs to speaking engagements and chant ‘fuck this person’ on public streets and pull fire alarms as an act of civil disobedience. And this is an unfair representation of both sides because not all Feminists are total assholes, as the examples shown absolutely are, and not all MRAs are grounded, well-spoken, and educated; a whole lot of them are exactly as misogynistic, vile, and rape culture-y as they are depicted. But the idea that I think Cassie Jaye is trying to get across, and understand herself over the progress of the documentary, is that this concept of ‘sides’ is the first mistake that everyone is making, in particular with regard to Feminism.

At a later point in the documentary, Cassie interviews a woman who identifies as ‘Big Red’ who is, for all intents and purposes, an offensive caricature of an Angry Feminist/Social Justice Warrior come to life, she’s the embodiment of everything that the movements are known and, often, hated for and there’s a good reason for this: she’s a fucking idiot. Big Red is loud and curses a lot and not in a cool way, in a ‘Will you shut the fuck up while I’m talking again for, like, the billion-jillionth time…‘ (actual quote) and refers to the person she’s debating as a ‘dipshit’ among other things. After she tries to make the case that her Feminism is about gender equality across the board, her defense of why women are disproportionately favored in custody battles regardless of extenuating circumstances consists of, essentially, ‘Well, uhm, women have vaginas so, of course, their going to almost always be the more appropriate choice to be the caregiver.” Which is an argument in support of gender roles.

The point that is trying to be made, and something I am 100 percent guilty of contributing to, is that when the phrase Men’s Rights is used it is immediately perceived as being an attack on everyone who is not a man, it has a inherently aggressive connotation, and when I first heard it I thought the same thing as some of the more intelligible Feminists in The Red Pill. I thought, PATRIARCHY, and ‘men make more money than women’, and ‘oh boo hoo men are getting their feelings hurt’. Which is insensitive and reductive. And while I’m not agreeing with the entire premise of the movement itself, I failed to recognize the simple fact that I was perpetuating the ultimate problem behind, well, pretty much everything wrong with humanity; I was refusing to listen first and then formulate a thought. Because the assumption that I was making is that the MRA movement was somehow about fighting back against rights that were being taken away by the Feminist movement. I assumed that it was an attempt to reverse the progress that has been made to get everyone on equal footing and I incorrectly associated internet trolls with an actual message that was trying to be shared.

That message is just this: gender inequality is bad, period. And some times it swings the other way with regard to domestic violence, false paternity, alimony, child custody, and the odd circumstance where women are always evacuated from a sinking ship first. And that while it’s absolutely important to continue trying to advance equality for both genders it’s not exactly fair to say my issues matter and yours do not. Or more accurately as it is almost always phrased, my issues matter so fuck you, you little crybaby for bringing up your own, how dare you complain at all. The Red Pill also does not explore the darker side of the Men’s Rights Movement, the doxxing, the rape and death threats, the truly misogynistic crazies that misappropriate the entire concept who are sincerely afraid some kind of Amazonian Matriarchy is coming for our video games (absolutely fuck Gamergate while we’re on the subject) and if not acknowledging them was a conscious decision to avoid validating that aspect of it, I understand, however in not doing so the documentary fails to be as illuminating as it could have been. Instead, it feels cherry-picked which is not the worst thing considering how polarizing the subject matter is, it’s not meant to be the definitive article on MRA. Rather, it’s an introduction, the beginning of a conversation, one that I’m surprised to be more interested in and much more prepared for, now that I remembered how to stop trying to win every argument and just listen to what the other side has to say, even if, at first glance, they seem like a bunch of nut jobs. 

Wonder Woman: All The World’s Waiting

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Going into Wonder Woman, as I occasionally do, I was preparing an introduction or opening ahead of time that would address whatever rumors or controversy happened to be affecting a film at the time of its release which, here in Austin anyway, is this bunch of stupidity.  I had some snappy riposte, some witty insult prepared because I absolutely cannot stand this nonsense “Men’s Right’s” movement on the internet, I have nothing but contempt for it and its perpetrators. “Hmm, ….maybe not everything is about me.” – A quote from none of the people protesting a women-only screening of Wonder Woman.

But those thoughts and preparations evaporated from my mind about ten or fifteen minutes into the film for one simple and satisfying reason: I was having too much fun. Who cares what those folks think, the important thing is that DC and Warner Bros. have finally broken their streak of tepid, uninspired, soulless comic book adaptations and discovered the real joy that can be found in these stories and they did it with an unproven lead, an Academy recognized indie director, and a whole lot of moxie.

One of my favorite criticisms of Batman 5 Superman: Decolletage of Jurisprudence that perfectly and effectively cuts to the core problem with that film comes from comic book nerd, podcaster, and occasional filmmaker Kevin Smith, saying, “There seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding of what these characters are about. It’s almost like Zack Snyder didn’t read a bunch of comics, he read one comic once, and it was The Dark Knight Returns, and his favorite part was the last part where Batman and Superman fight.” Not being a particular fan of DC myself,  I was shocked to discover the animated incarnations of the Justice League on Netflix, such as Justice League: War and The Flashpoint Paradox were really fun and entertaining (here’s a lovely moment in the former that is directly lifted by the movie and is not a spoiler). The characters in DC comics actually have personalities and pathos and I wanted to see more. And unlike the Snyder interpretations, I didn’t feel depressed and exhausted after spending time with them. This is where Patty Jenkins, screenwriter Allan Heinberg, and Gal Gadot truly succeed with Wonder Woman: they figured out what makes her tick, what makes her naive optimism incredibly charming without it making her weak or foolish and that, despite being something of a fish out of water, her constitution or agency are in no way affected. She is, in some ways, analogous to Captain America in that way and the same thing I love about him I love about her. In an era of anti-heroes and tragic origin stories it’s incredibly refreshing to find a hero who does the right thing because it’s the right thing, who aren’t essentially trying to save themselves out of some misbegotten guilt complex but rather want to save the world simply because it needs saving.

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There is undeniably an undercurrent of inclusiveness running through Wonder Woman with an ethnically diverse cast that stands out anachronistically the same way as Steve Roger’s troupe did in Captain America: The First Avenger but there is also a casual self-awareness to it. The character Sameer (portrayed by Moroccan actor Saïd Taghmaoui) points out to Diana after her observation about gender roles, “I wanted to be an actor but… I am the wrong color (shrug). Everyone is fighting their own battle.” It also feels like the film wanted to say a lot more on the subject but was streamlined for wide release, which is understandable however I am hoping there will be an extended or Director’s cut that explores these characters in more detail. Ironically, although the inclusion of people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds is a nice gesture, without taking the time to flesh them out they end up seeming to be exactly what was trying to be avoid: two dimensional stereotypes. Points for the effort, though.

Now for the bad, because make no mistake, there is bad and it’s all in the third act. Anyone familiar with the other films in the series, at this point, is going be able to precisely mark the line of demarcation where the unique, endearing origin story is awkwardly and forcibly shunted into the rest of the DC Cinematic Universe, where Zach Snyder (thoughts and prayers with his family, by the way, all commentary aside) gets his dumb, clumsy hands all over the story and turns it into a murky, smoky, noisy exercise in smashing CGI actors together in front of a green screen. Don’t get me wrong, the heart and soul remain intact but are largely pushed into the background so that the movie can turn into everything that was dull and visually exhausting about the final battle in BvS:DoJ. There is also a completely nonsensical and unexplained head-fake in the final act that really has no place or necessity that I can come up with other than to simply have a twist of the sake of itself. This doesn’t entirely ruin anything since the whole last act feels so incongruous with the rest of the film anyway, but it does somewhat distract from the real emotional impact of the finale during which someone in the theater was inexplicably chopping onions near or around my vicinity. Which was weird, but hey, that’s what Austin is all about, right.

I’m just kidding, I cried like a little boy whose balloon floated away. Because movie. 

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Bottom line, what is good about Wonder Woman more than makes up for its deficiencies, it is without a doubt DC’s best extended universe offering and a sign that Warner and company’s course corrections seem to be in the right direction. There is a real concern for me, however, that the Diana, Princess of the Amazons, the sweet, sincere warrior with the mega-watt smile and an indefatigable sense of duty I found in this film is not going to be the Wonder Woman we get in the upcoming Justice League, that she will be replaced by some grizzled, bitter, steely-eyed grimace in a superhero outfit without any of the charm or personality. And if that’s the case, I’ll be severely disappointed. And then I’ll go back and watch Wonder Woman again because there’s this one part where she FLYING KNEE KICKS THIS DUDE THROUGH A DAMN WALL and it’s like KABLOOOOOM and she goes flying out after him and the music is like BWAOOWEDDDY BWAAAAAAAAOOOOW and you’re like, “HELL, YEAH.” Girl power.