Words, words, words, art.

The Blatherings Of A Blitherer

Book reviews? What book reviews?

September18

Oh hey, guys! Remember when I used to do reviews of books I’ve read? Those were some good times, huh? Yeah. I have like 20 reviews I need to write and put up, but I’ve been really lazy lately. Among those books have been Scott Lynch’s “Red Seas Under Red Skies,” Sarah Monette’s “The Mirador,” and Philip Pullman’s “The Golden Compass.”

Lots of good books.

I’ve been spoiled by good books lately.

I also read a book about private life in medieval Europe and ancient Rome, and about Little People, and about “The Science of Vampires” (this one sucked), and some other stuff. So! Reviews to come. Possibly tonight.

But I do want to briefly mention/natter on about “The Golden Compass.” Some people might smirk at me and say “Aw, Brigid, you’re only reading that because there’s a movie coming out based on it.” The sad truth is, people have been recommending the books to me for YEARS, and also there’s a moving coming out based on it so the first book was on sale pretty cheaply.  And I liked it! A lot! It’s a good book, and very solidly what I think Young Adult literature should be– exciting, compelling, well written, with fully realized characters and an interesting world and mythology. It’s the kind of book an adult can pick up and read and enjoy and also the kind of book a kid or teen can pick up and identify with. Good stuff.

So I started wondering why I hadn’t run across this book when I was a kid. Because I was a huge reader and, duh, still am. Moreover, I’m one of those types of readers who will go to the library and just pull books randomly off the shelves, which is how I’ve found some really great stuff. So how’d I manage to miss “The Golden Compass”?  Frankly, the first book came out in the USA when I was 16. And at that point, I’d moved pretty solidly beyond YA literature. Too bad it didn’t come out ten years earlier; it would have been one of those books that entered my psyche, like Zelazny’s “Amber” series, or the Damar books, or “The Dark is Rising” series.

Speaking of Amber, and this is a total tangent which is partially inspired by reading Monette’s “Doctrines of the Labyrinth” series,  but the Great Pattern? Is totally a labyrinth. Go ahead and laugh, I’m sure you all came to that realization a decade or two ago. Whatever. It’s amusing that some of my favorite books/series involve labyrinths given my history with them.

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31 Days of Horror: Hiatus

October29

I have a sick kid, so haven’t been able to watch movies lately.

He’s not worryingly sick, just sick enough to stay home from school (first with a stomach bug, then with a cold).

If he were 10 or older I’d try to find movies to watch with him/around him. But he’s 5, and my review of “Curious George And The Big Halloween Boo Fest Of Ridiculous Circumstances” would only devolve into a rant about colonization and the 1%.

I’ll finish up reviewing 31 movies total, but alas, it might not happen until after October is finished.

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31 Days of Horror: “V/H/S”

October19

“V/H/S” is a movie that exists in the world.

One of the problems with “V/H/S,” and there are many, is that it came out in 2012 and features people recording things on digital cameras (or directly onto a laptop), but then other people watch those recordings on VHS tapes. Like, what? Really? Seriously? These folks couldn’t have found a DVD or website or something? It’s a conceit that would have worked 10 or so years ago, but now? One of the video vignettes is specifically dated in the 1990s, and it makes sense that it’d be on video tape. But it’s hard to find excuses to have people continuing to record while horrific things are happening around them, so two different vignettes use a headcam… one of which is disguised as a pair of glasses.

If you’re unfamiliar with “V/H/S,” it’s an anthology of 5 short horror films within a framework of a bunch of dickbags robbing a house looking for a special VHS tape. “You’ll know it when you see it,” they’re told. Why do I say they’re dickbags? They make a living assaulting women in parking garages and restraining them while they pull their shirts up and videotape them struggling, naked breasts exposed, and selling the footage to “reality porn” websites. They also record sexual encounters without the partners being aware of the recording. And they record themselves smashing up peoples’ homes for larks or whatever. I don’t know what any of their names are. They’re violent, they’re sexual predators, and I don’t give a fuck about them. I don’t care that they broke into a creepy dark house with a dead body in it and continued to faff about watching VHS tapes in the presence of the dead body and gathering up all the other VHS tapes that were stored in the basement far away from the multiple television screens for whatever ridiculous reason. Each vignette (watched by one of the B&E dudes) is framed by spooky stuff happening to the guys. But… I don’t care about them. So big deal.

The first vignette is about a group of dudebros who have made a pair of fake glasses that takes digital video and sound. They decide to go pick up a woman and have sex with her and record it, without telling her. Again, this is the second time “videoing a woman having sex without her permission” comes up as a plausible, possible, good choice of action. They go to a bar, get super drunk, take two young women back to a hotel. One of them passes out while a guy is trying to initiate sex. His friends laughingly advise him not to rape her. He turns his attention onto the other young woman, who is pretty creepy. She turns into some kind of vampire ghoul thing and eats everyone. This is actually an interesting idea, and I’d love to watch a movie about a freaky vampire ghoul thing that looks like a human woman and eats dudes. But about 75% of the vignette is the dudes wobbling around getting drunk and bro-ing it up and just generally boring the piss out of me. Also, there’s the troubling idea that a group of men try to take advantage of a woman but she is a violent monster who eats them so everything’s ok.

The second vignette is a video of a young couple on a second honeymoon road trip. You know how people groan about other folks’ vacation photos? Remember how old sitcoms used to feature vacation photo slides as like the most horrific boring thing in existence? Imagine watching an excruciatingly dull video of two strangers on a road trip as they record the scenery dribbling past and make small talk. It was like experiencing death. There’s a creepy part where the couple goes to bed and then at night the camera clicks on and pans over the dude asleep in his bed and then it continues panning over to the gal asleep in HER bed, and the videographer strokes her ass (clad, of course, in a lace thong) with a switch blade. It was a very creepy scene, very fantastically done. Later on the same videographer comes into the room at night and records herself killing the dude and then making out with the gal, because they planned this murder-thing for whatever reason. Killer records herself making out with New Widow, and we hear New Widow asking for reassurances that the footage had been erased. Earlier, her husband tried hard to coerce her into getting naked on camera for him. I mean, he really put the pressure on. He also recorded her changing her clothing without her knowledge/permission. So again, this is the third piece that involves filming a woman without consent.

The third vignette is about a young woman who lures a group of people to an isolated vacation spot to act as bait for the serial killer/boogeyman that killed her friends previously, so he’ll come out and she can kill him. She fails. The special effects were good– he (she? it?) didn’t show up on the recording except as glitchy static-y artifacts. There was a LOT of wasted time, irritating characters, and general bad acting. As with the previous two vignettes, a woman is a predator. The guys also take close up video shots of the breasts of the other woman in the group, and constantly refer to her as a slut.

The fourth vignette is a skype/webcam exchange recorded directly to a laptop. Why the fuck would it be on a VHS tape? It’s about a guy pretending to be the long distance boyfriend (and almost a doctor!) of a young woman he’s known since childhood. She is concerned about a lump on (in) her arm, and possible ghosts in her apartment. The lump is a tracking device and the ghosts are actually aliens who’ve been using her body to host alien/human hybrids… one of which we see the fake doctor boyfriend carve out of her body. Although the fetus is pretty big, she didn’t look pregnant at all. He arranges things to have her fake-diagnosed– and medicated– as shizoaffective, leaving her even more emotionally reliant on him. She was unaware he recorded all of their conversations, including her taking off her shirt and playing with her breasts. As he closes a conversation with her, he opens another one with a different woman that plays out exactly the same way: she takes off her shirt and plays with her breasts, then picks at her arm while complaining of a lump. This is actually an interesting story with serious pacing issues, mediocre acting, and a very low believability. The set up is too complicated, the removed fetus is too big, etc. And, again, this is the fourth vignette… the fifth piece over all… that records and displays a woman’s breasts without her consent.

The fifth vignette is about a group of guys who are headed out to a Halloween party, in costume. They wander into the wrong house and although it’s extremely obvious they’re in the wrong place they explore all the rooms and then head upstairs where they see some kind of ritual involving a tied-up woman and a knife. There’s some great scary special effects, but the set up (dudes in costume wandering around what is obviously the wrong house) is so ridiculous and the guys so bland and boring not even the effects could save it. To their credit, they try to save the woman, but it turns out she’s evil and kills them. Again, woman as predator.

I watch these movies and I take notes on them as I watch. I’ve noticed that the more I like a movie, the fewer notes I take. I took 2 pages of notes for “John Dies at the End,” and 3 pages of notes for “Pontypool,” but most of those notes were ruminations on the nature of fear and zombie movies, not the actual movie. “V/H/S” resulted in six pages of notes, including notes in the margins. This is time of my life, both watching and reviewing this movie, that I’ll never get back. This time has been utterly wasted.

The acting throughout the anthology is very uneven. Characterization is almost entirely absent. When it’s present, the characters are unrepentant assholes who sexually assault women for money or fun. The editing is very poor… most of the vignettes could have stood to be half as long, literally, as they were. I get establishing a sense of normalcy and complacency before whipping out the big horror guns, but tedium is not the way to do it. “Pontypool” handled this really well, and the contrast is striking. Women are overwhelmingly treated as sexual objects, victims, or monster predators (often all three) and not human beings. A lot of the special effects are great and there’s some genuinely creepy/scary moments, but they are overwhelmingly lost in utter tedium and banality. There’s a lot of really great things like this on YouTube, but for free, and better in every possible way.

I give this movie 1 out of 5 stars.

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31 Days of Horror: Apartment 1303

October12

“Apartment 1303” is a remake of a Japanese movie, set in Detroit, about very sad white people.

The movie opens with a young white woman (Janet) walking down a city street enthusing over the phone about the super great awesome apartment she just rented. The young white woman she’s speaking to (Lara) scolds her for taking the very first apartment she sees. Janet is undeterred, and apparently using Lara’s money for the deposit, even though she’s got a full time job that pays her money. Janet, without enough money of her own to pay her own deposit + first month’s rent, hires a moving company to pack and move her stuff for her. She hauls her own little wheeled suitcase into her building, which is covered in graffiti and has abandoned, trashed furniture littering the lobby. What a GREAT apartment! Janet, you make the BEST life choices. Did you actually visit the apartment building, or just hear about what it looked like from the leasing agent? Do decrepit buildings filled with abandoned furniture and graffiti usually HAVE leasing agents? She sees a white girl in a school-type uniform in the lobby as she’s taking the elevator up to the 13th floor (her floor). As she gets off the elevator she sees the same girl, who she hails as “little girl.” The girl, Emily, tells her to clear out.

If you’re wondering why I’m harping on race in this review, it’s because Detroit is over 80% Black, with most white people living in the affluent suburbs and not in down town. However, most movies set in Detroit feature predominantly white casts, just as most news articles about Brave Bold Gentrifiers and Urban Gardeners etc focus on white people and not the Black folks who’ve lived in Detroit for generations. The folks who made this movie made a choice to 1) set it in Detroit and 2) center the story on white people. They made a lot of other frankly baffling choices as well.

Janet dismisses this and lets herself into her apartment, which is incredibly Japanese-looking (paper screened walls, etc), has appliances from the 1970s, and a view of an industrial corridor (“a great view!!!”). She puts some framed photographs of herself and Lara (her sister) onto the kitchen counter/island and tries to open a bottle of wine but doesn’t know how to use a corkscrew. She eventually sorts her shit out and gulps down a massive glass of wine while crying.

Janet spends most of her time in the movie whimpering or crying.

The lights go out twice her first night, her landlord tries to creep on her and force his way into her apartment, her boyfriend is nasty to her. She has nightmares, takes sleeping pills, dreams that she’s literally thrown around the apartment. The next day she talks about “all her bruises” and a coworker/friend comments on facial bruising and accuses her boyfriend of abusing her, and her of lying about the abuse which is… not a tactful or effective way of speaking to someone dealing with Intimate Partner Violence, y’know? Janet denies it all, and calls her sister to cry and talk about how she’s going to stay in a hotel. Lara says not to, because she (Lara) doesn’t have any money/has maxed out her credit card. Again, Janet is a grown woman with a job, relying on her sister to pay her bills.

I should note, here, that Janet and Lara’s mom (Maddie) is an abusive, alcoholic musician whose career is apparently on the decline. She’s had a DUI and is unable to drive, so Lara runs errands for her. Janet moved out because Maddie, while drunk, assaulted her… although Maddie claims Janet walked into her while she (Maddie) was playing guitar and got hit with the guitar. There is literally no reason for there to be an abusive back story for Janet and Lara. Like, Janet is a young woman living in a depressed economy. It would be totally normal for her to want to go out, rent her first apartment on her own, and not want to be some gross sad sack who goes running home when she gets creeped out living on her own. Nope! Women can’t exist in movies unless they are being abused in some ways. Right? Additionally, Maddie asks Lara if she’s been taking her medication because “you can do some sick things when you’re not on your medication.” So we’ve got a GREAT dose of lolcrazycaeks going on.

Long story short, Janet is killed by the ghost, her boyfriend is secretly an undercover cop, and Lara moves into Jan’s old place. A police detective dressed in street clothes who doesn’t bother showing her a badge leaves a file about the apartment with Lara, which is a totally realistic thing to do. He talks about the history of the apartment, implying there’s ghosts, except he totally doesn’t believe in ghosts. Secret-Cop-Boyfriend-Mark who was AT BEST distant towards Jan is incredibly concerned about Lara and spends the night with her several times “to protect her,” blowing off his ex-wife and his kid. Lara’s mom takes out a restraining order against her, yet continues to call her and also visits her. The ghost kills both Mark and Maddie, leaving Lara to get blamed for it. Emily and the superintendent are both ghosts. Blah blah blah. The end.

There’s no charm or subtlety to this movie, there’s a lot of ACTING, and all the women are weak sobbing victims or abusive and insane. I have a feeling the Japanese movie (and book) this is based on is a lot better.

I give this movie 1 out of 5 stars and will keep an eye out for the Japanese version.

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31 Days of Horror: “The Uninvited”

October8

“The Uninvited” is a serviceable American remake of “A Tale of 2 Sisters.”

The last two reviews are pretty negative, I admit it. I like horror movies, horror books, horror comics. It’s a genre I love, especially ghost stories. Unfortunately, it’s a genre that’s often incredibly hostile toward people who aren’t white dudes. It’s a sexist and racist genre and creators tend to cling to the most harmful tropes. I’m not a huge fan of gore/torture porn and tend to avoid it, preferring psychological horror. So I’m a pretty big fan of Asian horror, even though it involves reading subtitles with my shitty eyes, and I’m aware that I’m missing a lot of cultural references. “A Tale of Two Sisters” is a fantastic South Korean movie that I watched over 5 years ago and is still with me. When I read the little blurb for “the Uninvited” I thought it sounded familiar, and sure enough, it’s a remake of “2 Sisters.” American remakes of Asian films tend to be pretty shitty (“The Grudge,” I’m looking sternly in your direction) so I was braced for that… and pleasantly surprised.

“The Uninvited” follows Anna, released from a psychiatric ward after a suicide attempt following the accidental death by fire of her ill mother. Her writer-father Steven takes her home, where she greets her sister Alex and discovers that her mother’s nurse is still hanging around. Her father’s affair with her while their mother was still alive has now moved into more permanent territory, and Rachel is very comfortable in their home, and making changes to things. It’s a tense, uncomfortable situation to be in, and the personality clash and resentment is handled well. Anna has visions, jarring and disturbing, and discusses them with Alex. The girls decide they’re being haunted by their mother, blaming Rachel for her murder.

If you’ve seen “A Tale of Two Sisters,” the big twist isn’t much of a twist at all. But the ride there is still an interesting one, and the acting is pretty good. There’s fantastic tension between Anna and Rachel. The original, as usual, is far superior. But I enjoyed “The Uninvited” on its own merits.

I’d give this movie 3 out of 5 stars.

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31 Days of Horror: “Stoker”

October6

“Stoker” is one of the worst movies I have ever seen.

This review is rife with spoilers.

For starters, although it’s called “Stoker” there is no reference to Bram Stoker and/or Draculas, which should be a crime. An absolute crime.

Like a lot of horror, the movie is intensely exploitative of female sexuality, and dismissive of female characters. The protagonist, India, is defined primarily by the fact that she has acute senses and knows how to handle a gun. What are her hobbies and interests? They’re never really gone into. Her mother is a spoiled, wealthy woman who does none of the work associated with being a wife or mother. She doesn’t cook or clean, she despises her husband and seems to actively hate and resent her daughter. She speaks fluent French and plays piano and wears fancy, expensive clothing and probably went to finishing school and hates living in the rural mansion staffed with paid help. Her eighteen year old daughter plays piano, but seemingly shares none of her other refinements.

The movie opens with India exploring the immense and well manicured grounds of her large and well appointed home, looking for her hidden birthday present. When she finds it, stashed in a tree, it’s not the pair of saddle shoes she normally gets. Rather, it’s a mysterious key. Conversation with her grandmother confirms that it wasn’t the grandma who stashed the presents every year, as India had assumed. Nor was it her distant mother, nor her recently dead father. Perhaps it’s because this is a horror movie, perhaps it’s because India is surrounded by negligent jerks, but nobody questions who it is that’s been stashing shoes in her size in various hidden places around the house for her entire life. Some people would find that creepy, but not India or her family. It’s just a thing that happens. Perhaps this is a symptom of wealth, to simply take for granted that perfect gifts appear at times from invisible hands?

At her architect father’s funeral, India meets her uncle Charlie for the first time. She didn’t know he existed until that point, but he’s come to help “support” the family. He claims to be a world traveler who’s been too busy traveling to visit the family. Or call. Or email. Or anything. India’s mom doesn’t second guess any of this, because she’s too busy fucking him with her eyes over the newly dug grave. Charlie moves into their enormous house. India sees him arguing with the head housekeeper (they have so much staff they need someone to manage the staff) who later vanishes, which isn’t at all suspicious or unusual. India’s mother reacts with anger. She’s so put upon! How dare the person who’s worked for them for 18 years not show up for work. Doesn’t anyone know how she suffers? Charlie cooks then dinner and sits there, plate full of still-bleeding meat, and watches them eat without eating any himself.

India’s mother discovers that Charlie is staying with them and tells India’s mother that she needs to speak with her about Charlie. Mummy assumes that Granny is an old hag out to split her from her One True Love and refuses to talk to her.

India discovers the housekeeper’s body in the freezer, but doesn’t tell anyone.

Charlie kills India’s grandmother– his mother– who India is close to, and burries her in the back yard.

Charlie lies and tells India’s mom he doesn’t know how to play piano and she “gives him lessons.” Later he plays a grope-y, panting duet with India, his niece, who is only a few days over the age of 18. And I assume she recently celebrated her 18th birthday so everyone involved with the movie can point their fingers and say LOOK. SEE. SHE IS 18. IT’S OK. SHE IS AN ADULT. IT’S ALL GOOD. India doesn’t like to be touched, except by her creepy uncle. India is sexually harassed by bullies at school. A male classmate tries to rape India and Charlie murders him. India helps Charlie bury the kid in the backyard. India realizes Charlie murdered and buried her grandmother.

India, filthy and sobbing, jerks off in the shower as she pictures Charlie murdering her rapist.

This is the kind of movie “Stoker” is. It’s a movie that takes a female character and, professing to be about her sexual awakening or whatever, exploits teen girls, teen sexuality. “Stoker” is a movie comfortable with an adult male predating upon his blood relative. “Stoker” is a movie in love with rape as motivation, as plot piece, as random thing that happens.

India doesn’t tell anyone.

When the Sheriff comes by to question her about her rapist’s disappearance, she lies to protect her uncle, who killed her grandmother.

India realizes the key opens a locked door in her father’s desk. In it, she discovers a cache of photographs of her father and Charlie… and another boy. She discovers a huge stack of letters Charlie wrote to her from her infancy, never delivered to her. They are adoring love letters, love letters written by an adult man to an infant, a toddler, a child, a pre-teen, a teen-ager. Letters of love and sensuality written to a minor, to a blood relative. This is what the movie is. This is what “Stoker” presents to us, the viewer: sexual predation and exploitation as voyeuristic titillation.

India is pleased with and aroused by the letters, because she was written by a Lizard Person who has no concept of how human beings actually work, think, function.

Then she realizes they came not from Africa and Europe and Asia but all originated in the local mental asylum, where Charlie’s been a patient.

She confronts him and he fesses up. He had a younger brother. He killed his younger brother, fairly gruesomely. His parents dumped a bunch of money on the local mental hospital and he’s been living a cushy life there learning French and playing piano and writing fantasy letters to his minor niece and imagining fucking her. He’s been dealing with the head housekeeper, who was giving him India’s shoe size and stashing the gifts and keeping tabs on her and reporting on her to Charlie… and one might ask WHY she did this, what was her motivation, was Charlie paying her and if so where did he get the money, and how did India’s parents, who were receiving the letters, deal with this? How did they not figure out someone in their employ was a super fucking creeper? Charlie gives India a pair of Laboutins, red soles and all, her first pair of high heels.

It’s symbolism, you know. She sticks her dainty feet in those high heels just like he wants to stick his dick in her. She trades her childish saddleshoes for the sexy high heels her uncle gives her. She puts away her childish things.

She decides she’s going to take off with Charlie. Her mom spills bile across her, speaks words of rage and anger and jealousy. Of course.

Charlie tries to rape her mom.

India shoots Charlie.

IT TURNS OUT: her father took her hunting so often so she’d know how to handle a gun so she could shoot Charlie. Because that’s the best way for him to protect her. Not to tell her about Charlie. Not to get Charlie committed some place (he apparently was just hanging out in the asylum because he wanted to and was free to leave at any time). Not to actually deal with the problem. Just teach her how to shoot a gun.

She’s figured out that Charlie killed her father, bashed his head in with a rock, and made it look like a car accident… something nobody questioned. Nobody at all. Because getting your head bashed in with a rock looks exactly like a car crash, and nobody questioned that daddy dearest picked up his insane murderous brother from the mental institute before having his “accident” and brother was nowhere to be found.

She buries Charlie in the backyard.

She doesn’t go to the cops. She doesn’t show them the letters, the photos. She doesn’t tell them that Charlie killed her dad, the house keeper, her grandma, the boy. She doesn’t pin all the blame on him, claim she was terrified for her life, escape scot free.

No. She gets Charlie’s wallet which has money and keys and a map to his pre-paid for one year apartment in New York and speeds away. She gets pulled over and inexplicably, for no reason, murders the Sheriff who pulls her over.

Just because.

Bitches, man.

The only thing in this movie’s defense is that it’s pretty. There’s a scene where blood sprays across a flower, changing its color, and its elegant and beautiful. But everything else about this movie is crap unless you firmly believe that women are vague ciphers who flip out and do murder at no provocation and incest is totes normal and cool PS let’s have some more guilty murderbation in the shower.

I’m trying really hard to figure out why so many people like this movie and I just can’t. It enraged me. It’s all about a girl, a girl barely 18, being preyed upon by her uncle and ignored by almost all the other adults in her life. She doesn’t tell anyone that bad things are happening. There’s hardly any HER there. She has very little personality, very little that defines her. She barely exists, except as a thing for men to prey on, and then to “snap” and murder men. She’s a barely fleshed out male fantasy/fear: the docile naive sex-toy who, it turns out, has teeth. I’m surprised she didn’t castrate anyone.

I originally started a 1-5 star system for these movies. I would give this movie negative stars if I could. This movie is so awful that I went back and bumped up the ratings of other movies because, while they had their flaws, at least they weren’t THIS movie.

I’m really tired of movies, horror or not, that hold women in such contempt.

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Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!

January31

Nesko’s mom called him on Friday and told him to drop the baby off with her, which was AMAZING and AWESOME and means Nesko and I totally went on a DATE. Oh my GOSH can you believe it? We actually left the house together and went to do a fun thing. And then went grocery shopping after. A THRILL A MINUTE RIDE, YOU GUYS. When he called me to tell me he was on his way home and I needed to get myself and the baby ready, I was all “I don’t know, I have no clean pants! they are all in the wash!” I somehow managed to forget that… wait for it… I WAS WEARING CLEAN PANTS. I mean, they were actual trousers, not pyjama pants, and they had a working zip and everything.

We managed to get ready to go, drop off Niko, and squeak into the theater with just enough time to get popcorn. What magical movie did we see? Why TRUE GRIT of course! A movie I’ve been wanting to see for quite some time now.

The first movie, the 1969 version with John Wayne, is one of my favorite movies and my absolute favorite John Wayne movie. The book is excellent. I hadn’t seen the movie or read the book in a while, but I remembered good big chunks of both and I was very excited about the new version of the movie AND the reviews I’d read about it.

Bearing in mind that I was already primed to love this movie, oh my WORD, this is basically one of the most perfect movies I’ve seen in a long time. There were some weird additions to the movie, and some events were moved around, but in all it’s very faithful to both the events and tone of the original book. Did I talk along with some of the dialog (quietly)? You bet your ass I did. Jeff Bridges was great as Rooster Cogburn (and managed to play Rooster Cogburn and not John Wayne, a remarkable feat) and Hailee Steinfeld was exquisite as Mattie Ross.

Oh, Mattie Ross. Along with Tamora Pierce, one of my first introductions to feminism.

What’s that, you say? A movie based on a book written in 1968, a Western no less, is feminist? Let me lay this out for you, if you are unfamiliar with the awesomeness of the story.

Mattie Ross, 14 years old and female, is the oldest daughter of hard working, relatively affluent land holders. She is smart, well educated, and knows her mind– her mother can’t “do sums or spell the word cat,” and it’s possible that Mattie’s status as only (or only surviving) child for so long (there’s a considerable gap between her and her brother, Little Frank) is why she is so highly educated. Not that no women were ever educated at the time, but at the age of 14 she’s essentially her father’s business manager and book keeper, and handles legal matters with the family lawyer. In many ways, she’s been groomed as the heir to the family business, the “man” of the house when her father is away. When her father is murdered and robbed in Fort Smith by a tenant farmer, it’s Mattie (again at the age of 14, alone and female) who travels far from home to take care of his business and get justice/revenge. Adults in Fort Smith are quick to underestimate her due to her age and her gender, but she shows a quick wit and steady head for business. She’s calculating, cold when she needs to be. She’s stubborn and persistent and insists on getting her due. She earns the respect of both Rooster Cogburn, the Marshall she hires to go after Tom Chaney, the coward her shot her father, and LeBoef (pronounced “LeBeef”), the Texas Ranger who is also after him for shooting a senator.

The novel– and both movies– are told in flashback. They’re narrated 25 years after the events of the story by an older Mattie– one who elected not to marry, one who is wealthy and powerful and knows her own worth and was not interested in marriage or being reliant on a husband. She refuses offers to write newspaper articles about her experiences for low pay, and also refuses to give her story away for free to journalists looking to interview her (although she’s willing to throw scraps to aspiring young journos, since she knows how hard they work and how rough the news industry can be). She speaks the truth without sugar coating it, and demands respect. Although her younger brother teases her about being in love with Rooster Cogburn, Mattie’s complex relationship with the man who saved her life and helped her avenge her father is not one about romantic love.

Mattie Ross, in short, kicks all kinds of ass.

I’ve always felt that “True Grit” referred to Mattie, although she tells Rooster that she’s heard he has grit and is looking for that in the man she wants to hire. It’s Mattie who goes into the unknown; it’s Mattie who changes and is challenged and grows; it’s Mattie who uses a dead man’s arm bones to keep herself from falling down a hole and uses a dead man’s hand as a flail to keep snakes from biting her; it’s Mattie who steps outside of her very narrowly defined role to take on a man’s business of money and justice.

It’s Mattie Ross who is my hero.

posted under books, feminism, life, movies | Comments Off on Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!

Geek Culture and Inclusivity

December16

I’m female, fairly geeky, and in my (early) 30s. Like a lot of geeky women my age, most of my friends are male. This isn’t because men are more awesome than women, or because I’m uncomfortable around women. It’s because for people my age, nerdy geeky interests were more heavily discouraged in women than in men, so when I found people who were, say, really into Star Wars and science fiction and role playing games, they skewed heavily toward the male. Thanks to the internet (I LOVE YOU INTERNET) I now have a lot more ladygeek friends and oh my GOSH, ladies, I love you so much. But this is because I can easily chat with people in different states and countries. If I want a face to face get together, most of my friends are still dudes. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Dudes are pretty rockin! I love my friends a lot. But, unlikes a lot of older female geeks, I’m very lucky. My guy friends are pretty feminist and don’t treat me like crap.

That’s sad, isn’t it? I’m LUCKY that my friends TREAT ME LIKE A HUMAN BEING. Isn’t that sick and gross? But for a lot of female geeks, that’s just how life is. Geek demographics are changing and more women are joining the club. But the social hierarchy is still heavily male, and young female geeks face a hell of a lot of prejudice and discrimination and outright hate (hdu invade our boysclub with your tits and opinions! Go make a sandwich!) even while there are more of them. Will their greater numbers turn the tide? Will some measure of equality be achieved? Or will young geeky girls just get turned off by the geek macho posturing and turn their interests elsewhere? No idea.

But there is a reason that the face of geekdom is overwhelmingly male (and white and able bodied).

I’m not saying that every geeky/nerdy guy is a misogynist or a dickhole or evil. I’m just saying that we all live in a culture that privileges (white, straight, able bodied) men over everyone else and subcultures by and large reflect that.

So what’s a guy to do in a subculture that contains The Open Source Boob Project, Big Name Authors Sexually Assaulting Women, Developers not understanding (caring?) just how very real Rape Threats and Violence Against Women are, the overwhelming majority of published authors being white and male, industry editors and publishers sexually harassing (female) employees and potential authors, enough incidents of sexual harassment/casual misogyny that a wiki is needed to keep them all straight, and more? I mean, this is just stuff I found in like 5 minutes of google searching/remembered personally. And this doesn’t touch on racism, ablism, homophobia, or the million other ways predominantly straight white able bodied dudes actively and passively (whether meaning to or not) make it clear that other people aren’t welcome in their social group.

I have male friends who’ve asked just that question. A lot of them have leadership roles in their friend groups. They run games, they’re the ones who have the house everyone visits, they’re the ones who organize movie outings, etc. Most social groups have at least one person like that. So they’re poised to help guide and shape social mores or at the very least speak up when someone’s out of line.

Here’s a post on the effects of making rape jokes or dismissing rape/assault allegations. It’s a good starting point. You can apply those points to any sexist commentary or “jokes.” 1 in 6 women has been raped or assaulted, according to statistics. Almost every woman I know has been raped or assaulted. When people in your social group use “rape” to mean “killed” or “cheated” or “beat me at something” or “stole” or “unfair,” the women in your group hear that you consider a relatively major crime that mostly happens to other people (women) on par with relatively minor inconveniences in your own life. Some women are cool with this but a lot of women aren’t, and unless you know that woman well you won’t know where she falls on the spectrum. 1 in 12 women will be stalked in their lifetime and 25% of women (1 in 4) report being physically assaulted or raped by a domestic partner, which makes jokes about beating your girlfriend/a female NPC kind of tasteless. (And FYI, 1 in 33 men are raped per year. I know two guys who have been the recipients of domestic assault, one who was in a homosexual relationship and one who was in a heterosexual relationship. Male reporting rates of domestic violence are really, really low and a society that mocks and belittles men who are the recipients of violence/have been raped is part of that. If you care about your friends, don’t make them feel bad because someone acted violently towards them. Men, especially, are less likely to talk about having been raped or beaten, so you’re really unlikely to know if one of your male friends has experienced this.)

So purging rape and abuse jokes is a good start.

The next step is purging unwanted attention. Ladies! They are pretty awesome, right? They smell good and have nice hair and they have tits and everything. Wow! How great are ladies? Here is a clue: while many ladies enjoy flirting and being sexy on their own terms, ladies were not put on earth for you to claim as your very own. Which means don’t flirt with a woman who doesn’t seem interested, don’t “hit on” a woman who is anything less than encouraging/enthusiastic, don’t stare at a woman’s body parts or tell her/tell other people how hot she is. If you are a straight dude, think about how a gay dude might act around you. Would he corner you and talk about how great your ass is and how you should totally get together and not give up that line of thought ever? Probably not. If he did, how would you feel? Kind of gross and used? Frustrated? Bored? Threatened? A little flattered but uninterested? Part of why gay dudes don’t do this in mixed company is because it’s considered incredibly socially wrong, but it’s somehow totally ok for straight dudes to do this to (presumably) straight ladies. Why is that? Because straight dudes have power and control that gay dudes and ladies do not have. Don’t do that. It’s really gross and off putting and a lady who had to deal with that in social setting will eventually find a new social setting. Perhaps that social setting will consist of non-geeky people. Perhaps it will consist of people on IRC. Perhaps it will consist of a group of totally awesome geeks that she will never invite you to join because ew, you have terrible manners. WHO CAN SAY.

If you see someone harassing a woman– commenting on her, staring at her, flirting aggressively with her even though she’s tried to turn him down, cornering her, dominating the conversation, step in. On the one hand, women don’t need to be “saved” by men. On the other hand, women are often taught to be “nice” and to avoid confrontation (and you seriously never know when a woman’s tried to turn aside a dude who’s flirting with her and it escalated to violence and so she learned not to escalate or take a stand because she likes having her face bones unbroken). So step in. Go over there. Ask the woman if everything’s ok. Distract the guy. Don’t go in with the idea of saving her– or of claiming her as your own! God no!– go in with an offer of help that she may or may accept.

So that’s another pretty basic socializing thing. What’s a more sophisticated one?

Consume– and discuss– media by and featuring women. I have actually heard actual men who I thought were intelligent up until they said this thing, say that they don’t read books by or about women because they are not worth reading. Oh HO! Apparently women, the gender stereotypically known as the communicative/chatty/talkative gender can’t write books. OH NO THAT IS FOR MEN TO DO. Also: women are just not that interesting! Yes, yes. That’s right. The gender that makes up literally half the population of this earth, the gender that men are told they want to spend their sexy lives with, is not interesting and has nothing important/fun to say. OH WOW THAT IS NOT SEXIST AT ALL. When you say that you don’t read books, watch movies, listen to music, etc when they are by or feature women because they are inherently bad for featuring women, you are saying that women are inherently bad and there’s no reason to talk to them or be around them ever. Which, ok, if you really believe that, please say it loudly enough and often enough that everyone who thinks otherwise can easily pick up on that and start avoiding you. But if you think women are actual human beings whose thoughts and words are worth something, consume media by women and featuring women. Discuss that media. Talk about it with your friends. Review it online. And while you’re talking about books and movies and stuff, talk about the problematic stuff. Like female characters who do nothing but get rescued or give the (male) hero sexual relief or who are killed off quickly so the hero has something to avenge. Or how often rape is the sole defining character trait of a female character.

When someone in your social group makes jokes about rape or makes jokes about how women are stupid or unfunny or whatever, shut him down. Tell him it isn’t funny. Don’t put up with that shit. It’s really easy to sit back in silence and let one person bloviate about how women are inferior or they just can’t do math or drive or they need to make more sandwiches while giving him head. But your silence tacitly supports his sexist/misogynist comments. When you don’t say you disagree, he assumes you agree with him, and everyone else assumes that everyone in the social set holds the same views. Be prepared for backlash, for being called PC or “overly” PC, for being called “butthurt” or “a girl” or “a pussy” (NOTE: the worse thing you can call someone is a feminine designation. SEXIST? NOT AT ALL.). This is pretty much nothing compared to the backlash women get when they point out sexism, which generally starts out with allegations that the woman is “overly sensitive,” “lacking a sense of humor,” “hysterical,” or the like and often ramps up into threats. Why is asking someone not to make comments/jokes that make you feel uncomfortable or safe such a big deal? Because there is power and status in being able to unquestionably put other people in their place. Being called on that is an erosion of power and status,and some people take it as a personal attack. What fun!

If someone in your group consistently makes sexist comments and jokes and acts inappropriately despite interventions, ask them to leave. Stop inviting them to things. Tell them why. If a friend came to your house and was cruel to your dog or urinated in the sink every time he used the bathroom or constantly insulted your dad’s political views/appearance/whatever you’d step in and say something. If they kept doing it, would you keep them around? Probably not, yet people are very willing to sit back and tacitly encourage folks in hateful and harmful behavior toward women.

Remember that the goal of this is not to treat women as “special” or “put them on pedestals.” It’s to treat them with respect and consideration. It’s to leave them feeling welcomed and safe and part of the group, not like an outsider being allowed in and granted a small measure of acceptance which can be revoked at any moment if she doesn’t behave appropriately (laugh at the jokes, endure the tit-staring, tidy up after get-togethers, etc). For some reason, a lot of people think that “not verbally berating someone” means “condescendingly treating someone like a special princess on a pedestal.” If there’s someone like that in your social group, dump them. They’re toxic.

Women have been geeks and nerds all throughout history, and for big chunks of history have been denied, stifled, excluded, or not given credit. We are in the 21st century and it’s time for women to stop being excluded from society and instead welcomed. Do your part.

(a lot of this can be applied to racism, homophobia, ablism, cisexism, etc but I’m taking a lot of my responses and advice from what I know personally, so have focused mainly on sexism. Yes, my privilege is showing. Please feel free to comment on that, as well as offer other advice on this topic.)

(edited to change some mildly problematic wording)

Oh, hey, “The View;” your ignorance is showing

May28

Since having a baby I’ve spent a LOT more time watching really damn boring and frequently offensive daytime tv. I was watching “The View” today while cuddling a very cranky post-vaccine baby when Justin Long came on as guest to promote his new movie “Drag me to Hell.” “Drag me to Hell” is a simply HILARIOUS movie about a woman who is cursed by a disgusting, toothless, greedy Gypsy. Oh ho ho! Those Gypsies! They are almost human! Look at how ugly and backwards they are, tossing about their magical demonic curses! In fact, they are so non-human that most reviews don’t even bother to capitalize the “G” in “Gypsy.” Well, you know. It’s not like gypsies can READ or anything. Well, anything other than chicken entrails. HAW HAW HAW it sure is fun to mock a frequently maligned minority and set them up as the constant villain! Then, of course, there’s also the question of why Long was featured as a guest since apparently he does next to nothing in the movie.

While interviewing him, someone (Whoopi?) asked if he believed in curses. He says that no, of course not, he doesn’t! But he was raised Catholic (lolcatholiclol) and they have ALL SORTS of curses! Uh… what? Seriously? What flavor of Catholicism would that be? Because I was raised Roman Catholic, went to religious schools and everything, and I don’t remember any mention of curses. I have to admit, that caught me by surprise; I was waiting for some cannibalism or vampire joke (loltransubstantiationlol) so the whole “hot bed of curses” allegation really came out of left field.

Of course none of this was questioned. Because Gypsies aren’t a real group of people; they are fantasy caricatures who toss off curses left and right and are non-Christian and animalistic and ugly and thus it’s totally valid to have them be the odious villain. And I’m not trying to claim that Catholics are sooooo discriminated against, OMG you guys, you just don’t UNDERSTAND what it’s like to be a persecuted religious minority! But seriously. Curses? I don’t really get people who mock Catholicism in that way (because dudes, there is so much that deserves deriding). I would never ever EVER make fun of Judaism or Islam or most sects of Christianity and claim they are all about the curses and crazy times. But then, maybe I’m just classier than a gaggle of douchebags on tv.

Oh, that’s scary.

posted under religion, review, social responsibility, TV | Comments Off on Oh, hey, “The View;” your ignorance is showing

How was your weekend?

June18

Our central air is not working, which means that on Saturday our apartment reached 90 degrees. And that was with all windows open and fans going. I was sucking down water like it was going out of style, and I wasn’t so much sweating as constantly forming a thin film of greasy condensation. When Nesko came home from work we escaped to the lovingly cooled darkness of our local theater, where we saw Knocked Up. When I saw previews for that movie, I snorted and assumed it would be really stupid. However, reviews I read lead off with that line (“I thought this was going to be dumb, but…”) and then took a turn for the positive. It was an hilarious movie and I laughed a lot. We got back home around 10pm and went right to bed because we are horrible old people with no lives.

At 10 pm the apartment was less hot than it had been, but it was far from cool. I tossed and turned sweatily all night, cranky with the heat, dozing more than sleeping. In the small hours of the morning I had a series of bad dreams featuring horrible smells. I finally dragged awake and thought to myself “well, it’s a good thing I’m awake. I no longer have to smell that horrible WHAT THE FUCK DUDE WHAT THE FUCK.” I believe a skunk sprayed outside, the odor wafting in through our open windows. I was tempted to close those windows, despite the oppressive heat. It smelled bad. Nesko, of course, didn’t notice anything because he sleeps like a champ and also has virtually no sense of smell. I don’t think he really knows how lucky he is.

Nesko had to work on Sunday, which was sad because I was meeting my parents and one of my brothers at Greek Islands, on Halsted. He cried a little, salty tears, both at not seeing my parents and also at not eating yummy food. He dropped me off at the train on his way in to work.

The train was PACKED, and worse, it was packed with people who don’t normally take the train and so have no idea of basic commuting protocol or courtesy. Like Sunday Drivers, but they’re on the train. There was lots of “standing in the doorway preventing people from exiting or entering,” lots of “panicked OH MY GOD what stop is our stop,” and a little too much “HOLY GOD PEOPLE I’M GETTING OFF THE TRAIN GET OUT OF MY WAY I DO NOT COMPREHEND THAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE ALSO DISEMBARKING AND WISH TO SHOVE MY WAY THROUGH ALL OF THEM LIKE A RAMPAGING ASSHOLE.” I shouldn’t be too snotty, though, because I wound up getting off at the wrong stop myself. I had about half an hour to kill and thought I might restock at the library, but got off at Monroe instead of Jackson. That half hour to kill? Spent walking around down town a bit. I got back on the train, sans library jaunt, and rode to the UIC-Halsted stop and walked over to the restaurant.

The meal was uneventful, save for its excellence. Oh, Greek Islands, how I love you. I’m on a half-assed diet (already put to shame by me being forced –FORCED– by the heat to eat 2 ice cream cones on Saturday) that completely went to hell and back at Greek Islands, topped off with a simply dreamy slab of their version of Tiramisu. After lunch, I waddled back to the train, got off at Jackson, browsed through the library, and as usual was unable to find anything I was looking for because the Harold Washington Library doesn’t believe in helpful signs. I’m sorry, but “Fiction and Literature– floors 7 and 8” is not super helpful when said Fiction and Literature is subdivided into sections on those two floors and… oh yeah… is also on two seperate floors. Also I couldn’t find “non fiction” that wasn’t “business and technology.” But hey, at least most of the library is clad in marble! Like a giant mausoleum! That has to count for something, right? I did manage to stumble across the next two books in the “His Majesty’s Dragons” series and checked out just as the library was closing. As I walked through the chilly, dimly lit, twisting marble coated hallways I had two ideas. One was to write a short piece about people finding a hidden library, and the other was to see what Gerry was up to. He was still at The Urban Tea Lounge with some other people, so I met them over there. I took the red line to Wilson, got further directions from them, only walked the wrong way for a short time, and eventually made it. I “borrowed” (is it borrowing if you don’t give it back? No.) paper from Gerry and also gaffled drawing supplies from him, and soon had done some art for the story in my head. It’s not finished– I’ll post it when it is.

We found out that the tea lounge is for sale. I have a long running day dream of owning a coffee shop/cafe type place, so of course I was all “OMG must make huge fantasy plans!!!” The selling price includes all fixtures, appliances, stock, etc as well as staff, clientèle, recipes, list of suppliers, etc. I don’t know why they’re selling. I assume that rent is skyrocketing (the area is being really gentrified… there’s a freaking colonic hydrotherapy place, for crying out loud) and business isn’t doing super great. But man, if I had $15,000 to throw around? I’d throw it at that place.

We got back home and found that Nesko had closed the apartment up and had the AC on in another desperate attempt to cool the place down. Apparently he thinks that if one simply wishes hard enough central air will fix itself. The next morning, the temperature had dropped a whole five degrees, from 89 to 84. I had another clammy, sweaty night full of weird heat dreams, and my back and legs are really stiff from fans blowing on them, and also from walking about two miles yesterday. My feet and legs are all “HEY FATTY! what the hell?” which is obviously a sign that I need to do more of this walking thing.

Anyway. That’s how my weekend was. Very sweaty and lots of walking. How was yours?

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