Choosing to Float.

IT came as a surprise. Literally. Much like Georgie in his yellow raincoat unexpectedly confronting a grimacing clown in a sewer, no one saw the 2017 film adaptation of Stephen King’s hit novel, IT, becoming the highest grossing horror movie of all time. It’s overtaken a huge number of horror classics – including The Exorcist – and has continued to float on the top spot, beating new releases week after week, including new horror movies in Halloween season.

Admittedly, we weren’t treated to the strongest summer for new releases at the cinema. Stats show August was particularly terrible in drawing audiences to the big screen, so perhaps people were hungry for a thrill. But I think there’s something more behind IT and why the movie seems to be sticking with audiences.

Some spoilers may follow.

Horror tends to have resurgences during times of political and social crisis. It allows us to experience terror in a safe environment, whether it be in film, books, or video games. It speaks to our deepest, darkest fears, but allows us to turn on the lights, cover our eyes, and walk away from it once it’s over or if it all gets a bit too much. It’s fair to say that the past eighteen months or so have not been the easiest for the world. Political tensions are rising as Britain prepares to leave the EU, and Trump Tweets threats to a dictator with his finger on a nuclear trigger. Our world is being heavily impacted by natural disasters, which many in power still refuse to believe is happening. Neo-Nazis and the KKK are openly rallying in the United States, emboldening others around the globe. Terrorist attacks are occurring regularly. Civilians are not even safe to go to a country music festival without the threat of being gunned down. We now read the news with a heavy heart on an almost daily basis.

In King’s novel (and I presume the IT sequel, coming September 2019), Pennywise the Dancing Clown is revealed to be an ancient, shape-shifting being from the outer regions of space. This means IT can take on any form it pleases, and given that it feeds upon fear, of course it would change into whatever IT’s prey is most afraid of. Both the novel and the movie do a chillingly brilliant job of portraying the deep-seated fears held by children: the sheltered child being afraid of disease, or the one who suffered a great loss and is haunted by his feeling of negligence. IT also impacts the behaviour of the town’s citizens. Adults become crueller, and bullies even become murderers. It’s no wonder, then, in our current climate, that audiences will fear an evil entity which can morph into whatever shape it pleases, and negatively control the thoughts, actions and attitudes of those who are meant to keep us safe. How else can we explain what’s going on?

Likewise, it’s hard for audiences not to gravitate towards the child heroes of IT. There’s been a great resurgence of ‘kids on bicycles’ in pop culture, inspired by the great movies of the 1980s. The 80s and nostalgia have come back strong in recent years, and as an 80s movie fan myself, this trope brings back fond memories of kids racing off into adventure, and it’s oddly comforting. Brushing against danger, but never enveloped by it, we know our heroes are safe. Goonies never say die, after all. The 80s is a decade we can’t seem to let go of, and I believe it has an odd sense of security that we attach to it. Heroes are now cycling through the pages of Brian K Vaughan’s Paper Girls, speeding through the Upside Down in Stranger Things, and now tackling a monster which can take any form or feeling in IT.

The kids in IT are all average. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about them, but IT is certainly a coming of age story. The monster manifests itself in Beverly’s house as a literal bloodbath, not long after we see her buying period products and hear her abusive father’s repulsive comments about her no longer being his little girl. But they are still children, still naïve and learning about the real dangers of the world, which is what makes their battle with IT so compelling. The Loser’s Club, as they affectionately call themselves, portray innocence, and their confrontation with Pennywise and his apparitions force them to face the true horrors of the world, making it impossible not to root for them.

So, yes. Timing has been critical in IT’s cinematic success, but I don’t mean the release date. We are going through some really terrible and toxic times, and most will likely be looking for a brief escape from the horrors of real life. Instead of a creepy doll terrorising a family; or a graphic art piece about God, earth and humans; we have chosen to latch onto a group of loveable, dorky heroes this autumn. We have chosen the side of innocence fighting against a monster in hope that if they defeat IT, perhaps we can too. And if a spooky clown-fest with the odd jump scare, tender friendships, and great humour can allow audiences a brief moment of respite, I’ll gladly float down there too.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Opinion

Bustin’ makes the Internet Mad.

I love Ghostbusters. The original movies are some of my all-time favourite films (with “I collect spores, moles, and fungus” being one of my favourite quotes in any film ever.) I grew up adoring The Real Ghostbusters cartoon, and grew to love everyone’s favourite ghoul, Slimer. I’ve bought the merch and t-shirts, Ray Parker Jr’s hit theme song was my alarm tone for a looooong time. I was genuinely devastated when comedy legend, Harold Ramis, passed. I completely respect the franchise.

When the news of a reboot was announced in January 2015, I was hugely skeptical. We live in an era of reboots. There’s a distinct lack of originality in Hollywood today. A Ghostbusters update is neither something I wanted or needed – it’s completely unnecessary. However, with the rebooting of pretty much every movie ever (see: Robocop, Terminator, Fant4stic, Godzilla, Mad Max, Star Wars – the list goes on…), I was hardly surprised to hear that Ghostbusters would be added to the line-up. With an all-female cast announced, I was particularly intrigued to see how this would work. A reboot with a twist – instead of bringing the original cast back after 30 years, they’re switching things up.

So it was with an open mind I watched the trailer yesterday. A trailer that, I was surprised to find, caused such venomous division.

The trailer wasn’t terrible. It didn’t build fist-pumping excitement, but it certainly wasn’t the biggest crime in cinematic history. Yes, the jokes were flat, misguided, and clichéd. The CGI wasn’t outstanding, especially considering the budget Sony poured into this. And yes, Patty is probably way more stereotyped than she should be in a movie that is making a conscious effort to break new ground. A female-fronted sci-fi/action/comedy is totally new. And this is where the pros kick in: the leads look bad-ass. Their aesthetic is cool, and the way Wiig and McKinnon carry themselves is classy and confident. They’re in no way sexualised -and neither is the ‘hot male’ side-kick. Wow! A comedy, where four female leads are fighting ghosts, and not fighting each other over dresses and Chris Hemsworth? Let’s immediately toss the “Ghostbusters is ruined – this is a chick flick” argument out the window.

But this is exactly why I’m confused. Usually, highly anticipated trailers get people really excited, or just create a disappointed murmur of indifference. Just look at Zoolander 2, or the Total Recall remake (which we will never speak of again), or even the first two BvS trailers. Not great introductory trailers, but there was no aggressively outraged reaction either. So why the passionate hate for Ghostbusters?

Argument 1: It’s ruining the franchise!

Ghostbusters is probably one of the best loved franchises from the 80s. It’s held dearly in the hearts of many – myself included. A reboot of a classic such as this, particularly when we’re stuck in a reboot rut, is frustrating and unnecessary. However, nothing from the trailer gave me the impression that the franchise would be forever ruined. The main cast are an SNL four-piece that work well together (like the original). The humour is deadpan, silly, and in the same vein as the originals, albeit with more slapstick. They bust ghosts, which is what – if I remember correctly –Ghostbusters do. Plus, Slimer is there! There’s a whole bunch of respectful easter eggs paying homage to the original. (The “That’s a big Twinkie” bill-board in Times Square is my personal favourite.) I don’t see anything in the trailer that’s setting the franchise to ‘crash-and-burn’, other than the furious response. There’s an angry mob with pitchforks waiting to destroy the very thing they adore.

Argument 2: Women Can’t.

Ghostbusters is a non-gendered word.

There’s a shocking amount of toys being thrown from the pram due to the fact the gender roles in this version have swapped. The leads are female, Janine is male, and Slimer is still up for debate. In 2016, gender should not matter, but the backlash here proves that it does – and that there’s still a problem. If we’re living in a world where people are so enraged that four FICTIONAL females are Ghostbusters – a FICTIONAL job – there’s no wonder that we still have such a problem with real life sexism today.

The cast is compiled of solid comic talent. Admittedly, Leslie Jones’ comedy style doesn’t tickle my funny bone, but it does for some folk. And that’s what’s great about this cast: it’s diverse, and is turning (some) Hollywood conventions on its head. From the few short snippets we’ve seen, the women seem real – they’re not overly-sexualised supermodels, or bimbos who can’t hold their own. They’re normal, street-smart, nerdy, flawed, scientifically-minded girls. It’s clear from the trailer that they are all different too – individual personalities uniting to fight ghosts. If anyone can give me a reason as to why exactly a group of smart women shouldn’t be allowed to fight ghosts, I’d be delighted to hear it.

I can’t help but wonder if the same trailer had been released with the original cast (with respect to Harold Ramis and his family), OR with today’s favourite lad comedy team-ups: James Franco, Seth Rogan, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, etc – would the reaction be quite so hostile? It still wouldn’t be a good trailer, but would it be something swept under the rug with mediocre reviews and attention, alongside steady box-office ratings like the other reboots, with everyone in silent mutual agreement to pretend that it didn’t happen and carry on with our lives? Similarly, if, 30 years ago, the unthinkable happened and Ghostbusters didn’t exist – would the trailer be so widely despised if this was a brand new concept?

Looking at the trailer as an homage to the original, rather than a reboot or remake, I’d say ‘Ghostbustin’? Yes she can!’

Argument 3: Race.

I fully understand why there is so much outrage here. Patty being a subway worker with access to a hearse may well be a reflection of Winston’s history of feeling left out for not being a scientist throughout most of the franchise. However, from the trailer, she’s a huge walking stereotype in a movie clearly trying to make a point and break new ground. The team definitely could have worked harder to incorporate a new, well-rounded character rather than the age-old version of the loud, sassy WoC we’re all so familiar with thanks to Hollywood. If white women of various backgrounds, appearance, and talents are being represented, it’s only fair women of other races have that same opportunity.

I have no arguments to support the trailer here. With her character being described by Sony as a qualified Historian, perhaps the movie will turn that cliché around. It’s well known by now that Paul Feig’s trailers can be misleading.

So while I’m not going to be first in line to see Ghostbusters, I am a little excited by it. It may be more forgettable than the originals and the cartoon, but I’m certain it’ll be a good time. We have to remember, this is just a trailer. It has a solid creative team behind it, too – many of whom probably wouldn’t have signed up for it unless they saw it as a risk worth taking. And no, it’s not the original – because that’s exactly what refreshes are meant to be: an updated twist on a classic to introduce new audiences to a franchise: something both Star Wars and Mad Max have done incredibly well. It’s probably not going to please the old-timers, or the die-hard loyal fans, or those who probably decided they were going to hate it long before the trailer came out. It may not induce the belly-laughs we got from the originals, but there’ll be a few chuckles. What it probably will do, which is fantastic, is open a world of action-fantasy film to young girls across the globe who will learn that they don’t have to be afraid of no ghosts either – and that’s what really matters.

Watch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3ugHP-yZXw

Leave a comment

Filed under Opinion, Uncategorized

Fear the Walking Dead

It’s not always easy accepting newcomers with open arms. There’s an uncertainty, a fear of the unknown.

As an avid fan of The Walking Dead – the comics, the TV show, the TellTale Games – I approached Fear the Walking Dead with a great sense of unease. Perfectly content with my monthly comic purchase and the stress of a new season every October completely satisfies my Kirkman-centred zombie craving. This new show – the spin off, with no roots in the original material – is something I did not want, but felt a duty to the fandom to watch it.

Fear-the-Walking-Dead-poster

The Walking Dead is set in a universe where pop-culture zombies did not exist. The Romero films hadn’t been made; Shaun didn’t go round mums, get Liz back, and sort his life out; and no-one was Left 4 Dead. In the comics, “zombies” is uttered only by accident, as pointed out in the occasional letters page where it’s accidentally slipped from the lips of a character. There were no zombies before the first zombie: the one that started it all. And that’s what makes Fear the Walking Dead so very creepy.

In a world where the dead stay dead, in fiction and reality, it’s hard to understand what exactly is going on when you witness people tearing and clawing one another apart, or defying mortal injury. Surely, if you were to witness these things, you must be crazy – an inventive, and dark imagination, delightfully overactive, particularly if, say, you were a heroin addict.

The premier episode of Fear the Walking Dead focuses on precisely that. Nick, a young adult sleeping rough and battling drug addiction, wakes up to find his friend Gloria snacking on another of their camp-mates. Running, afraid, he’s taken to hospital and questioned by the police. Sure, something bad clearly happened in the church they were hiding in, but people don’t just eat other people. The drugs have rotted his brain, right?

The remainder of the episode works to unsettle this notion of normality. It can’t be anything as crazy as Nick proclaims, but something’s clearly not right. We follow Nick’s family in California: his mother, Madison, his sister, Alicia, and his mother’s new partner, Travis. It’s nice to see a zombie outbreak which focuses on a family unit, rather than randy teenagers or helpless victims. There’s a strong unit at play here, and it will be interesting to see how it develops. These people aren’t looking to save themselves, but each other – on levels much deeper than fleeing flesh-eaters.

Barely any walkers make an appearance in this first episode, which plays to the overall strength of the Walking Dead franchise. It’s about the destruction of an old world and the creation of new community; fight or flight; survival of the fittest – and usually the scariest monsters are the ones who are still breathing.

The cinematography is gorgeous, with some truly stunning shots. The grotesque paradox of the blood-stained drug den within a collapsed church was disturbingly wonderful. Like the Walking Dead, everything is deliberate, with the smallest of details serving significance.

Fear the Walking Dead has kicked off on a high note. The pathway leading to the explosive new season of the Walking Dead, it has big shoes to fill, and a vocal audience to appease, but it looks as if Fear the Walking Dead can measure up. Developed and flawed characters we can care about; seeds of Government deception sown, and a morbid foreshadowing as the audience is only too aware of the future that awaits any characters capable enough to survive, this new installment holds plenty of promise. So, maybe it’s okay to accept these newcomers – to follow new stories down the dark rabbit hole of the apocalypse.

Leave a comment

Filed under Popcorn Tuesdays

The Gift

Occasionally, hidden among the brash blockbusters of summer, comes a film so brilliantly inspired and original that it deserves a fairer chance than it will inevitably get. Such is the case for Joel Edgerton’s thriller/mystery, The Gift – unfortunately left lurking in the shadows of Mission Impossible and Fantastic Four.

This review will be as spoiler-free as possible, as I urge you all to check it out for yourselves.

gift_xlg

When I first saw the trailer, I wasn’t in the slightest bit interested. I love a good thriller, but the story looked laughable, and highly predictable. But as reviews rolled in, my intrigue grew. Something about this seemed special, and the thought of seeing it played heavily on my mind.

For the first twenty minutes or so, my heart sank as I believed I’d been drawn into the run-of-the-mill predictable home-invasion thriller. A well-to-do husband (Jason Bateman) and wife (Rebecca Hall) move to a new home to start a new life and family. They run into an old acquaintance (Joel Edgerton), one of the husband’s old, estranged classmates, and an awkward friendship quickly turns into unwelcome company.

But as quickly as the original set ups are established, they’re torn down again. Completely enthralling, it’s impossible to tell where the next twist will come from – or where it will lead. There’s no chase through the house, with the heroine crouched in a dark corner desperately trying to call the police – only for her battery to die; there’s no ignorant character curiosity, where they can’t even turn lights on to check a weird noise; there isn’t an axe-wielding, knife-waving maniac chasing anyone. No. The Gift is a slow, subtle unravelling – a true edge-of-the-seat psychological thriller that Hitchcock himself would be proud of.

The performances are fantastic, with Bateman arguably giving the performance of his career. Far from the brilliantly blundering comedy of the Bluth family in Arrested Development, Bateman (as Simon) creates a truly believable character, becoming increasingly unsettling as we delve deeper into the rabbit hole. Rebecca Hall (as Robyn) was so engaging that she frequently stole the scene: a fascinating heroine of modern suburban imprisonment, trapped by fear and anxiety. And with The Gift, Joel Edgerton firmly establishes himself as a cinematic triple threat: writer, director, and actor. Edgerton created such an enthralling and weird character in Gordo that it was difficult not to feel empathy for him whilst also shifting uncomfortably at his presence.

As The Gift unravels, it pushes beyond the unexpected. The twists and turns become inevitably darker, blurring the boundaries between right and wrong, good and bad, demonstrating the true destructive power of suggestion. It questions of the cost of (what we perceive to be) power. The grand life, good job, beautiful wife. The true price is perfectly connoted in the motif of the glass house. Glass goes two ways: everyone can look into your perfect life, but you’re enclosed: trapped, left isolated – looking out at the rest of the world.

Every action has a consequence, with the past catching up to us all eventually. Tremendous and troubling, The Gift is not to be missed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Popcorn Tuesdays

Refresh: Fantastic Fail

In 2005, Marvel’s oldest superhero team made their transition to the big screen. Sure, the story was cheesy, the dialogue clunky, and the whole thing was just plain goofy – but, hey, at least when it was bad, there was a (literally) smokin’ hot Chris Evans to keep you entertained for that half hour it’s on in the background while channel hopping at Christmas. That attempt and the sequel probably should have been more aptly titled: Mediocre Four.

So, surely, ten years later Fox will have learned from their mistakes – a reboot of the super team is absolutely justified. Everyone deserves a second chance, right?! …Right…?

Wrong.

The Fantastic Four do deserve a second chance. Very much so. But only if the entire creative team are willing to create something genuinely rewarding – a true homage to the source material. I mean, there’s half a century’s worth of ideas to play with – and there’s some true gold in there. This means Fox did not deserve the redeeming opportunity with this property, given that their primary drive was to crank something – anything! – out before their license expired.

This is a reboot we did not need and, upon seeing it, I definitely didn’t want it. Lazy, uninspired, and dull, Fant4stic was more of a fizzle out than a flame on. Yet another origin story, it’s filled with awkward references to who our lead characters are to become, which became instantly infuriating.

The sheer laziness of the film was frustrating. I believe the majority of reboots are due to creative idleness, but this one really takes the biscuit. The plot was mediocre, and didn’t really go anywhere. The entire film felt like one long build up to something, but that climatic event never happened – other than the blessed release of the credits finally rolling after a very long hour and a half. In fact, their powers were barely used, with it taking a whole fifty minutes of the hour and thirty run time to make their voyage into time/space.

Even the excuses for action were half-cocked. ‘Hey guys, we’ve shared a small hip flask of alcohol between three fully-grown-adult-men. We’re definitely wasted. We should try that dimensional teleporter ourselves. We won’t have sobered up by the time my friend gets here from out of town.’ Or, my personal favourite (paraphrased), “Let me go back to that dimension. I belong there, I don’t want to be on earth. Let me go back, or I will destroy this planet.” ‘No, you belong here, with us. We’re family blah blah blah.” *moral compass dies and a great big black hole is opened as revenge.* Just let him go back to the damn dimension. Good lord.

To make matters worse, the actors looked plain bored 99% of the time, barely interacting with each other, and usually sounding overwhelmingly uninterested in what the others had to say. Even the edits and reshoots were lazy – there were more holes in this than a worn out sieve. For instance, Sue’s wig continuously changed colour, and Reed had the opportunity to suddenly shave walking along a corridor to see to a very urgent matter. No one cared about this movie. It was so unabashedly, infuriatingly obvious.

The dialogue also could’ve undergone a major rework. I spent the majority of the film grimacing uncomfortably. It was filled with ‘this isn’t relevant to what’s going on right now, but we need to squeeze it in somewhere for the plot to progress’ moments. Not to mention the sheer tactlessness when confronting the fact Sue is adopted, which has to be one of the more awkward conversation exchanges I’ve witnessed. There is absolutely no lead into Reed bringing up the topic, he just does, then goes on to sympathise with her experience. He obviously knows how it feels, because, as he tells Sue, he wishes he had been adopted: he just doesn’t get on with his parents. Gosh darn, Richards – what a tough life you lead.

Talking of dialogue, I’ve had a lingering bad taste in my mouth since the closing exchange in which they discuss their team name. As soon as I realised where it was going, I recoiled in genuine horror and embarrassment. Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do i– oh no… they did it. Sigh.

I didn’t hate Fantastic Four. It just wasn’t good. It was a waste of huge potential, as if Fox resigned to the “it’ll make a ton of money ‘cause it’s superheroes” mind-set. But that’s not how it works. Each of Marvel’s most popular films have a serious dose of heart behind them – even DC isn’t as lazy as this. There isn’t a reasonable excuse for just how bland this film is: if films about a space-Raccoon and an ANTman (for crying out loud!) can be enthralling, moving, and genuinely entertaining, so can a movie about the world’s oldest superhero team! For instance, I would like to see Ultimate Richards unravelling to become the antagonist of recent years – the megalomaniac scientist of the FF.

You know it has gone wrong when the movie takes such a critical clobbering that it’s rated lower than the Green Lantern and Batman and Robin. But we have the sequel to look forward to in a couple of years – surely it can’t be worse than this… right?

Leave a comment

Filed under Refresh

Refresh: Hilarity and Horror

We live in the age of the reboot. Out of fresh ideas, Hollywood are hitting the big red refresh button on as many properties as they can. In this new segment, I want to focus on the reboot, and try to look further inside our latest culture trend. Are we obsessed with nostalgia, or do these familiar characters fit with the now? Do we really need it or, in fact, want it? And, most importantly – is it any good?

I’ll be kicking things off with two cult classic movies which have returned to our small screens as original television series: Wet Hot American Summer and Scream.

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

Our return to Camp Firewood was relatively unexpected. The initial visit to Firewood where we witnessed the camp’s last day in Wet Hot American Summer (2001) was a critical and commercial flop, continuing on to become a cult comedy classic. Mocking the American Pies, Road Trips, and Dude, Where’s My Cars college-film craze of the late 90s and early 2000s, WHAS was a wacky, unabashed parody of the state of teen cinema, relying on being clever rather than crass.

wet-hot-american-summer-first-day-of-camp-poster

 I enjoyed WHAS, but a prequel certainly didn’t occur to me as something I desperately wanted. Although wildly entertaining, witnessing one day at Camp Firewood was quite enough – or so I thought.

Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp is eight episodes long, covering a total of one day at camp – at 30 minutes each, that’s easily a committed evenings viewing. Focusing on the back stories of each of the characters, a whole new level is added to the movie – delightful easter eggs for fans of the original. Where did the talking vegetables come from? What’s happened to Gail? What is Lindsay’s deal? Why is scientist Henry Newman hanging about the camp? How did Gene become, well, Gene? These were questions I didn’t even realise I wanted answers to until I began lapping up Netflix’s latest offering. Add into that a mysterious cabin, a Government conspiracy, and Ronald Reagan, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for laughter.

Genuinely funny, First Day of Camp had me laughing the whole way through. The entire cast was triumphant: every wonderfully executed line from Rudd and Cera had me cackling; Cooper and Poehler’s awkward relationship had me gleefully cringing; even the new-comers to the season fit in perfectly, with Chris Pine being the biggest surprise. And there really is nothing funnier than seeing a group of 40-year-olds play a bunch of hormone driven teens, particularly when the cast themselves are aware of the joke.

For fans of the movie, or newcomers to the show, the weirdly wonderful and witty group at Camp Firewood will have you chuckling from beginning to end. Heartwarming and hilarious, Netflix have taken a classic and kept the fire burning

Scream: The TV Series

Potentially the most notorious slasher film of the 1990s, Scream is a soaring success. Ridiculous enough to keep you chuckling, but also tense enough to make you check each room twice before bed, it rightfully tops thriller/horror/home-invasion movie charts to this day. It wouldn’t be Halloween if you didn’t spot at least five ghostface masks skulking through the streets. And with the sequels continuing to gross relatively well, it’s unsurprising MTV have cashed in on making a TV series of the franchise.

scream_the_tv_series_poster_22_fan_by_diablito_666_by_tibubcn-d8zelik

Building upon Scream 4’s success in hauling the franchise into the modern world, the series setting works quite well. Jumping straight into our self-obsessed culture centred round social media, where documenting and sharing our every move has become our most important concern – in Scream, it really is life or death. A commentary on our self-absorbed, increasingly fake society, the show tries to show you who your real friends are, weeding out the poison from a cluttered contacts list in a brutal game of unfriending.

Dragging the slasher genre out over ten episodes works well for the first couple of 40-minute shows. Then it becomes drastically over-indulgent – so meta that Community probably has a hard time keeping up. The time granted for a ten-part series also allows more time for classic horror stupidity and serious plot-holes to form. My list from just five episodes stands (Warning: Spoilers):

-Why is there no one in the police station at night when there’s a murderer at large?

– Why is it that Riley’s piercing screams, desperate yelling, and continuous knocking was too quiet for a man in a silent building to hear, but her cell phone ringing once was loud enough to hear through the roof of a building, busy with police officers?

– Why would you skulk around a dark, creepy area with a hood up, when there’s a masked HOODED killer on the loose?

– Why would you walk into – and proceed to meddle with – a potential crime scene?

– Why wouldn’t you just grab the laptop and run?

– Why would you talk loudly about keeping secrets from someone in a coffee shop where said person works – and not look around to see if they were nearby first?

– How dumb do you have to be to spill any gossip you have to the nosey podcast reporter?

– Did they hire any actors, or just planks of wood?

The characterisation began to bother me after a couple of episodes. The only likeable ones are the nerds and the bitch – probably because she’s just as fed up as the audience. The others are collateral damage. The lead is lazy. By playing the ‘I don’t care’ stone-cold card, I consequently couldn’t care that some deranged psychopath is stalking her every move, trying to out her family’s secret. Surely if a weirdo had your number and was tormenting you, you’d be a little shaken up? A solid female lead is also allowed to have a soul.

The characters are so turbulent, it’s like flying through a hurricane and landing in a tsunami. Our lead, Ems, continually jumps between taking things into her own hands and letting the police deal with it – then proceeds to criticise the police for doing terrible work when they do. And Will jumps on and off the mayor-conning bandwagon so often he could probably compete in professional athletics. When I start groaning at a TV series I go into knowing it’ll be cheesy – warning bells start ringing. Perhaps this itself is a commentary on our generation’s fleeting attention span, where we can no longer commit to anything for a long period of time? Or perhaps I’m hoping for something more than moody teens to keep the plot rolling.

Do we need a Scream TV reboot? No. The films are ample fun on their own – successfully doing everything the show has in just under two hours a piece. Do we want a Scream TV reboot? I, for one, could live without it. But considering it’s been signed for a second season already, it looks like a lot of others do! And I get it – thrillers are compelling. I know I’ll stick out the remaining five episodes. Not because I care about the characters, or am rooting for the lead to survive. But because I like the mystery: the whodunit.

So, do reboots work as television shows?

Yes and no. Wet Hot American Summer is a roaring success, adding to the original source material. Its short format means it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, but instead leaves you longing for Second Day of Camp. Scream, however, is an unnecessary piece of fun. It’s unoriginal, formulaic, and too self-aware. It would be much simpler to watch the original movies over and over again – but I guess there’s nothing like the thrill of the chase!

Leave a comment

Filed under Refresh

We Need to Talk About Furiosa.

My weekend blogs are usually a collective of thoughts on the comics I’ve read since my last rundown, but this week I want to focus on one, and one alone. We need to talk about Furiosa.

If you follow my blog, or have read any of my past posts, you will know I was among the many who highly sung the praises of Mad Max: Fury Road (which I argued should really be titled Furiosa’s Road), primarily for its fantastic Hollywood-shattering portrayal of women: fully developed characters in an action-packed movie so scarce on dialogue – never weak or purely plot devices. You can read my full appreciation of George Miller’s return here: https://faceittiger.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/mad-max-furiosas-road/. Surely, then, my excitement that the release a Furiosa spin off comic, to coincide with Vertigo’s new Mad Max franchise series, is understandable – and one voice in a chorus of many.

Oh boy.

Be careful what you wish for.

I’d like to begin by stating that, whilst obviously trying to remain in canon with Fury Road, it does not. This is not smoothly linked in, and it’s certainly not the prequel we deserve.

The beauty and brilliance of Fury Road is that we understood the background these women were escaping from without having to actually see it. The implication was enough, and the clipping of the belts added that extra nod just to make sure everyone was keeping up. And the women, each driven to gain their freedom, were so diverse: a shared goal from unique perspectives, each bringing something different to the team. It’s surprising, then, that Furiosa #1 has completely ignored these fantastic characteristics. Most shocking of all, although disappointingly unsurprising in the comics industry, is that almost every plot point is driven by rape. And not just the implication: graphic, brutal, disgusting, unnecessary rape. The powerful subtlety of Fury Road has been completely besmirched by Furiosa #1. Let’s take a closer look at just how wrong it went.

MAD_MAX_FR_FURIOSA_1_5500d3e1bc2963.56286572

The Wives

When we first meet the wives, we learn that Immortan Joe has gifted them with education: books, music, history lessons. Indeed, we’re told that giving these women a teacher was his “one fatal error”, because we all know how dangerous a group of educated women can be. Anyone else’s alarm bells ringing? And we’re only on page two…

The issue of education is brought up repeatedly throughout the 40-page book, and really makes each of the wives look like ignorant little flowers that desperately need protection. Rather than pulling from the implications in the movie that each of these women were interesting and led their own lives before being captured by Immortan Joe, they rely on Joe’s kindness of giving them a teacher. It doesn’t matter that Toast knew how to load a gun, and what ammunition to pair with each weapon when the other girls didn’t; or The Dag knew a thing or two about seeds (there’s one condescending page in the comic where they’re learning about peaches, their pits, and ‘oh, wow, seeds help things grow’). These women didn’t learn things through experience and share their knowledge with each other while held captive; they’re not interesting individuals: they’re lambs wrapped in blankets. The extent of focus on education is unnecessary, and could easily have been replaced by the women swapping stories from their life before. As Ana Mardoll stated in her fantastic post on Shakesville, “to me (and I’m guessing other women in theatres), it was no ‘mystery’ as to why the women knew things; they knew things because they were people.”

But it’s okay, you know. Immortan Joe really is a good guy, because he gives them such nice things. Books, music, knowledge, water. Surely being held captive, beaten, raped, held for a man’s pleasure is much better than freedom. Pfft. Who needs free will, amirite?!

I’m not joking when I say this is genuinely the attitude the majority of characters have in this comic. Furiosa tells the women just how good they have it; Joe asks “WHERE’S MY GRATITUDE?!”; and teacher, Miss Giddy, tells them to just “Stay calm within your core. In that place, he cannot reach you.” Great, because suppressing trauma is definitely the healthy and normal thing to do. I can have a bath, so please, continue to treat me as property!

The wives are treated as idiots by both the creative team and the other characters. They’ve just to put up and shut up, because it’s a lot better than anything else. They certainly aren’t capable of surviving outside by themselves, as Furiosa venomously reminds them. Miss Giddy also confides in Furiosa, telling her that the girls need a leader since they’re incapable of surviving alone. They’re reduced to nothing more than whimpering damsels, reading about peach pits.

To make it worse, the majority of their interaction with each other is when they’re being bitchy or emotional – but not, as Mardoll explains, genuinely emotional and deep, but “girly emotional”. They’re catty and cruel. Capable lashes out at Furiosa for not protecting them from Joe, and then apologises because she’s jealous. That’s right – she’s not mad because Joe’s raping them and keeping them against their will – that would be ridiculous! She’s got the red-headed temperament and is green with envy; “The moment you walked through the door… I was filled with envy. You looked so strong. Proud and Independent. A warrior magnificent.”

Am I the only one banging my head off the wall here?! The wives have been stripped of every single trope that made them so fantastic and interesting in Fury Road, and have been turned into dribbling children who need to be wrapped in cotton wool, and whose lives really aren’t that bad because they have baths and books. And to make things worse, their motivation for change isn’t the rape, or forced child bearing, or being held against their will – IT’S BECAUSE FURIOSA HAS TAUGHT THEM AND THEY SHOULD TRY TO BE LIKE HER.

The writers have well and truly created women who can barely tie their own shoes without guidance, never mind fight for their own freedom. They can’t think for themselves, apparently can’t survive themselves, can’t educate themselves. Urgh, I can’t even…

Furiosa

Oh my goodness, guys. We’re about to learn the back story of one of the most kick-ass women in cinema history. I bet it’s good! Okay, here we go, time to find out what happened to her to make her into the badass monster she is today. Ready?

Oh.

She was raped.

Great…

The creators have seriously missed an amazing opportunity. This could have been the chance to explore just what makes a female heroine, who is adored by male and female audiences, so intriguing, so mysterious, so awe inspiring. But no. I wish I’d been at the creative round-table:

‘So, guys, what motivates women? Where did Furiosa come from? How did she become a war-rig driver? And what about robo-arm?! The possibilities!’

“She used to be one of Joe’s wives, she was raped, and why not hint that she’s probably barren – so a rejected wife?”

‘GENIUS! We know how well that kind of approach worked out for Whedon!’

I held my head in my hands for a good ten minutes after reading Furiosa’s backstory reveal. I can’t get past the poor plotting. It’s like being presented with the Golden Ticket to Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, but cashing it in to buy a life supply of advent calendar chocolate. But even then, surely Furiosa should have been more determined to help the wives rather than encourage their compliance? The narrative is weak, the writing lazy, and the opportunity wasted.

Their Bodies

One of my biggest problems with Furiosa #1 was the way in which pregnancy and women’s bodies were treated. On page three, we’re treated to a very graphic vaginal exam, in which the panel is framed by female legs. I’m sure this seemed like a fantastic creative idea, but as a woman who is now being forced to look through the eyes of an abused woman in a hugely intimate scenario with three slobbering guys in my vision, it’s unbelievably insensitive, and kind of insulting. Way to make a woman into a literal framing device, team. *slow claps*

We learn that these exams are so Joe knows when peak ovulation times are, which suggests his raping of these women is to repopulate with his teeny army of warlords. Haha, what suckers we are! They pulled us in with that trick, didn’t they?! It seems that the women are required to regularly ‘perform’ for Joe, and Toast’s disgusted sigh of, “where he puts it, there’ll be no babies” tells us that it’s as much for pleasure as it is for repopulation.

The list goes on and on with where the creative team totally missed the mark here. The girls are angry that Joe decides it’s finally time to rape Cheedo – the girl who is so young, she’s not ovulating yet – because she’s the only one not “infected by your poison”. Way to exploit the guilt felt by victims of sexual abuse, guys. There’s an attempt at abortion with a coat hanger which is overly graphic. Abortion is compared to war – I don’t think I need to expand on the idiocy and insensitivity of that. The writers can’t seem to grasp that, sometimes, women don’t want babies. Again, Mardoll brilliantly summarises the situation; “The movie narrative felt inclusive to me of differences between the wives: whether they wanted to abort or adopt out of their current pregnancy and have children, they were united in not wanting to bear warlords. Now the comic has twisted that to be a statement about a specific child, making the women’s flight for freedom just as much about ‘protecting’ that child from warlord-training as it was about making reproductive choices on their own.” And she’s right – in Fury Road, the women wanted total freedom: of their bodies, of their minds, of their choices – and they’d do anything to get it. In the comic, they are 100% objects. Their bodies, their minds, and their children and choices belong to Joe.

The Creative Team

The narrative structure of Furiosa #1 is almost an ironic paradox. When we come in to the story on page one, we’re met by a male storyteller, recounting the events of their tale to a captive audience, acting as an uncanny mirror of the comics’ entirely male creative team expressing the experiences of a female centred comic to their readers. I’m not saying men can’t write women – there are so many examples to shut that kind of argument down immediately. However, it’s important to remember that Miller was so desperate to get his sense of how women would respond in certain situations right in Fury Road, he enlisted the help of Eve Ensler (author of The Vagina Monologues) – and it certainly worked in everyone’s favour. So why not do the same for the comic?

In investigating unique female voices further, it’s necessary to draw upon genuine female experience. By ignoring the female voice, the creators of Furiosa #1 have resorted to the lazy writing tropes that have haunted women in comics – and blockbuster media – for decades, and that’s what completely destroys this comic. For example, as I stated already, rape is used repeatedly as the motivation for the plot to move forward, as well as providing “character development” (if you can call it that). Shall we count the excuses? 1. Furiosa is enlisted as protector of the women after Rictus attempted to rape Anghard; 2. Furiosa doesn’t stop Joe from raping the girls on page 10, because he’s the boss, and he’s giving them a nice life, right?!; 3. Furiosa’s a badass because she was raped herself; 4. Furiosa holds the girls back once more from Joe during the Cheedo incident; 5. Furiosa finally decides to help the girls, after seeing them repeatedly raped and abused. That is FIVE excuses in FORTY pages – technically, thirty-eight pages. That’s more than once every ten pages!

The handling of characterisation is so poor, it’s embarrassing. Gone are the women from the screen, replaced by whimpering idiots who need to be led. And even when they do begin their escape, it’s not as the team we saw in the movie, but as bubble wrapped ornaments, bullied by a condescending Furiosa. Theron’s depiction of Furiosa was determined and hard, but never cold nor hurtful to the girls. She was maternal rather than monstrous: a militant mother on a mission, and hugely likeable. It took me a long time to snap out of wanting to shave my head and drive around the desert. But here, she’s just as guilty as treating the wives as inferior idiots as Joe and the comics’ creative team are.

URGH!

Reviews and Responses

If the content of the comic didn’t make you angry enough, the response by the creative team and DC/Vertigo has been just as sickening.

When contacted by Rebecca Vipond Brink, asking for a comment on the Furiosa #1 issue (in all senses of the word), DC responded with “Thanks for reaching out, we appreciate it! We have no comment to provide and are declining the request.” In other words, “we couldn’t care less.” Great – thanks for caring so much about change, fan response, and female representation in comics, DC!

To make matters worse, when called out on Twitter, Furiosa #1’s co-creator Mark Sexton responded with:

“Best answer is that the use of institutionalised rape by Immortan Joe is not only central to the story but without it, the story could be viewed merely as a bunch of young girls whining about being kept in relative luxury by an older man who’s concerned with their safety. Not really much room for dramatic tension there…!”

Erm… Am I missing something here? It’s okay to keep people captive as long as you’re not raping them? Well, alright then. I’m sorry, Immortan Joe – you are a stand-up guy! Please, continue to lock up women to your hearts content!

Sexton has totally missed the point here. We all knew rape was a part of the back story. We’re not idiots – give your audience some credit. But it does not have to be the root cause of everything. It does not have to be the sole reason these women are fighting for freedom. It does not need to be the reason Furiosa is a mysterious soldier. It does not need to be shown so obviously, and played upon FIVE TIMES. It does not need to be the reason for appointing Furiosa protector of the wives, and it certainly doesn’t need to be the motivation for her finally helping the women.

In Furiosa #1, these women have lost themselves, reduced to little more than wombs and a robotic arm. I am so disappointed in the rich pool of opportunity which has clearly been ignored, only for comics to return to the static state of using women as little more than plot devices – but that’s where the problem lies: it’s a comic about these women – using them as plot devices in their own story doesn’t work. It makes it dull and even more infuriating that thought hasn’t gone in to establishing strong backstories in which these characters can be defined as different, interesting individuals.

I, for one, will be boycotting the book from here on out, and am disappointed that Vertigo agreed to print it in the first place. I would urge those of you with any interest in a Furiosa comic, and in learning more about her backstory, to stick to the fan-fic online and keep the fond memories of the powerful, developed women of Fury Road fully intact.

Leave a comment

Filed under My Week in Comics, Opinion, Wonder Women