Tag Archives: film

When you’re trying hard to be your best, could you be a little less?

Hello there, neglected blog. So, during my big awesome winter holiday (of which today is the last day, boo), I’ve been enjoying lazing around in pyjamas and watching tons of excellent films old and new: from It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) and West Side Story (1961), via some 1980s gems (Footloose, Weird Science, the Back to the Future trilogy) all the way to Tron: Legacy (2010), which I finally got around to seeing yesterday, in 3D, directly after watching the first instalment (Tron, 1982) for the first time.

I really enjoyed both the films, actually, but for today let’s focus on Tron: Legacy. It left me with a number of impressions, roughly as follows:

  • I love Daft Punk
  • I love shiny things
  • I love Michael Sheen
  • I love bikes
  • I love very pretty girls in very tight outfits
  • Seriously, I wish my job was Daft Punk
  • But… why so sexist?
Cindy Morgan in Tron

Whoa, wait. Tron: Legacy is about a million times more sexist than the one I was in 30 years ago? FFFFUUUU-

Seriously. I find it really difficult to write coherently about things like this, I get very conflicted on multiple levels. As a feminist (sorta, kinda, I think), is it okay for me to enjoy films with terrible gender politics as much as I do? As a bro (sorta, kinda, honorary), and as someone who’s never made a film, is it okay for me to criticise films with excellent direction and acting and photography and music? Can I voice what I actually feel, and have it both ways? It’s a difficult tightrope to tread, for me; I’m very aware that I run the risk of sounding like a humourless killjoy or a brainless ladette, neither of which, I’m fairly sure, are accurate at all.

This issue is pretty much why I never got around to writing down my feelings about another of my favourite films of last year, Inception, and Christopher Nolan’s work in general, of which I have been a longstanding, faithful fangirl (Memento, Insomnia and The Prestige are all magnificent, and I got more excited about each of the new Batman movies than… well, than is at all normal for an adult woman, Christian Bale notwithstanding). I remember that I tried to talk to my (lovely, intelligent, and very film-critical) partner about it on the way home from the cinema, opening gently with something like ‘Um… do you think Christopher Nolan maybe had some kind of bad experience with a woman at some formative point in his life?’, and getting a surprising ‘THOU SHALT NOT QUESTION NOLAN’ stonewall in response. I believe ‘you can’t have everything’, ‘you’re overthinking it’ (NB: Ha. That was before I even knew there was an overthinkingit.com), ‘not every film is about feminism and equality’ and ‘SIGH, BORING’ came up in the ensuing discussion, along with ‘ARG there were two women in that film out of a large ensemble cast with about 8 strong male characters, both the women are very pretty, but one is a crutch and exists solely to spur the male lead’s ‘character arc’, and the other one is NAMED ‘EVIL’  (subtle!) and literally the entire time she’s on screen she’s either killing herself, crying, being killed or trying to kill someone, and she kills herself because her weak female brain can’t handle an idea although his is fine with it, and everything she ever does revolves around DiCaprio up to and including coming back from the dead solely to fuck with him and get killed again and also this is not the first time I have noticed that a disproportionately large number of Nolan’s female characters either kill themselves because of a man or get killed, by a man, because of another man’ on my side of the table. But apparently I didn’t win that round. (Other people have also noticed and done a really good job of writing about it, though!)

So, yeah, back to the SHINY THING in question. I thought the first Tron had a pretty balanced, sensible approach to gender for a film that is older than I am and set mainly in a video game arcade, a software company and inside a computer. There are three major male protagonists (and their programs), a male antagonist, and one female programmer (Cindy Morgan as Dr. Laura Baines/Yori, pictured above), who is beautiful, sassy, and spirited. She does admittedly spend quite a bit of time hugging the male leads, and disappear for a good while and for no particular reason when Flynn first enters the mainframe and meets Tron and Ram, but she survives the film without her life or limbs being sacrificed, knows what time it is, and as the ex of Jeff Bridges’ character at the start she provides a likeable and realistic foil to his boyish, charismatic arrogance.

Let’s compare that with Tron: Legacy (while trying not to spoil what little plot there is too badly – I would definitely still recommend everyone who likes AWESOME THINGS to go see it, and don’t want to ruin anyone’s enjoyment!). It opens with the revelation that Flynn (Bridges’ character) now has a child – it’s a son. This development must entail the involvement of a woman, right? Wrong. She’s dead, she doesn’t have a name, that’s dealt with in the first 5 or 10 minutes and never mentioned again. Apparently the tragically early death of a partner/mother doesn’t affect either of the central male protagonists much – once he’s all grown up, the son in question (Sam Flynn, played by Garrett Hedlund) even says something to Alan/Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) about how he no longer needs a ‘surrogate father’ to play catch with, after his real father disappeared, which was after the unexplained death of his mother. Unspoken: he never needed a surrogate mother, because female role models = lol no. (His paternal grandparents looked after him; you get to see them looking pretty sprightly briefly in the first scene but in The Future, you guessed it, they’ve joined Mum in the nameless’n’dead fridge.) We also get a glimpse of the board at Encom, now a huge multinational software company that may or may not rhyme with ‘bicrosoft’ and that Sam Flynn is rebelling against by not giving a shit about. The board are largely male (my sister has pointed out that I fail on this point, apparently there is a sassy black lady in this scene who I managed to instantly forget about because shortly afterwards my MIND WAS BLOWN BY AWESOME LIGHT BIKES BEING AWESOME).

So, that’s Tron: Legacy‘s version of the real world of 2010. How about the futuristic, super-shiny virtual world which Flynn Senior intended to be perfect and which Flynn Junior inevitably enters? Is it an egalitarian paradise, I wonder? Look, here are some women! Four of them in fact. They are all very pretty, wearing very tight shiny white outfits, and they literally emerge from tomb-like boxes in the walls to undress and redress the male lead and then go back in their boxes. Oh, and the black ones stay in the background of all the shots. Oh dear.

After some completely awesome fighting and Daft Punk, we finally get to meet the film’s real ‘leading’ woman in the pleasing shape of Olivia Wilde (Quorra). She saves the Flynnlet and drives a sweet vehicle like a total badass. So far, so good! I remember seeing this interview (let’s not talk about the bit in the preamble where it assumes everyone reading has a ‘girlfriend’…) where Wilde says she ‘didn’t want her to be this slinky, sexy thing who looks hot in the suit, and [who] the boys like but the girls feel alienated from, and they don’t understand. I wanted her to inspire young women to feel tough and embrace both their intelligence and sexiness.‘ Woot!
She’s… very pretty and wearing a very tight shiny outfit. Okay! She sits around looking pretty while The Menfolk Are Talking (and expositioning – as my heterosexual male partner commented, the lingering shots of her stretching out on a futuristic chaise apparently improve the ‘boring exposition scene’ no end. I have to admit that I was also enjoying the interior design). Hmm! Then we find out her actual story, such as it is. She’s a naive wee soul who’s learned everything she knows from Jeff Bridges and looks to him for direction on everything throughout the film. She’s super important and precious and special because of what she is, not what she does, and both Flynns must save and protect and ooh-and-ah over her so that Daddy Flynn can show-and-tell her IRL later. And she dies and gets brought back to life in order to inject a bit of angst (and awesome special effects) into a travelling scene. So in other words, she is a perfect Disney princess, in fact one with significantly less balls (fewer balls? smaller balls?) than Belle. FAIL.

Olivia Wilde in Tron: Legacy

I'm inspiring young women to feel tough and intelligent! Yay!

Gah. Oh, the shiniest and whitest of the shiny-white women pops out of her boob-lidded coffin again as well, just in time to flutter her eyelashes a bit more and then die by virtue of being in the same place as her far-more-interesting, far-more-talkative, ambitious male partner. Brilliant.

I guess I just find all this, Hollywood’s bizarre view of gender and gender roles… fucking baffling, to be honest. Am I right in thinking that in general terms, mainstream films are making no progress towards equality, in many cases actually seemingly more ‘backward’ and dated in their presentation of gender roles than they were decades ago when second-wave feminism was fresh and relevant – is a backlash happening, or is recuperation taking place as rights movements become equality movements? (To revisit some of the classic films I mentioned at the start: West Side Story is from 1961 and is an adaptation of Shakespeare, and it has a genderqueer character and doesn’t make a big deal of it (truth! They’re called Anybodys. Watch and learn!) as well as headstrong, sensitive women like Anita, kicking ass and looking awesome at the same time; as we’ve seen, Tron was doing pretty well in 1982; Weird Science (pictured below) is a 1985 film about teenage boys connecting a Barbie doll to a computer and it has more interesting gender politics than Tron: Legacy. Hell, Madonna (as quoted above) has on occasion had better gender politics than Tron: Legacy, and she’s Madonna, for fuck’s sake.) Is it okay? Should I just be accepting it, sitting back and enjoying the explosions? (Or worse, should I be leaving the boys to their explosions and watching rom-coms and Sex and the City instead? ERGH). Do stereotypes really affect people’s perception of real-life people – real-life women, gay people, people of other faiths? Or are they some kind of shorthand that everyone accepts as dated and unrealistic?

Kelly LeBrock in Weird Science

I mean, to take myself as an example, I consume a lot of mainstream entertainment, and it doesn’t seem to have screwed my understanding of gender (or sexuality or race, for that matter) up all that badly; I know that gender is fluid and complex and that it’s not, we’re not opposite or binary. I love shoes and make-up and fashion. I love football and comics and video games. I love art and music and philosophy. I refuse to be defined by any one of those characteristics. And I can recognise when things – films, games, musicians – have poor gender politics and call them on it and still enjoy them on a more aesthetic level. Should I just have more faith in everyone else to be equally unaffected by Hollywood bullshit?

Does it not matter any more? Should I be more ‘gender-blind’; should I trust the little girls who’re growing up watching stuff like this to understand that their role models don’t have to be female, to know that of course they can grow up to be computer programmers and pirates and robots and warriors and superheroes, even if women in films don’t, just like how I always wanted to be Panthro and not Cheetara in Thundercats when I was a kid? Are parents still making that clear to their female and male kids? What do y’all think?

It’s been a long, long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.

I don’t do this often, but this is important:

Please, please, please go to the cinema and watch this film this weekend.

The Age of Stupid

If you’re in Edinburgh, it’s showing at the Filmhouse for a week from this Friday, with a bunch of events around the screenings in association with the lovely people of Take One: Action, and on this page you can find local screenings throughout the UK. I watched the premiere on Sunday night, and apart from anything else, it’s bloody brilliant – it really is the most thought-provoking, outlook-changing, unmissable, oddly life-affirming £6 you’ll spend in a good while.

There are terrifying, horrifying moments – as stomach-lurching and spine-shivering as anything from War of the Worlds or 28 Days Later – but this isn’t science fiction. Instead, you find yourself shuddering at things like the realisation that about 40% of natural gas is still being burned off at source across Nigeria‘s 1000 onshore oil wells. Yes, that’s the same natural gas that we use to cook and heat our homes: according to the World Bank, over 100 billion cubic metres of it – that’s the combined annual gas consumption of Germany and France – are ‘flared’, uselessly spewing filthy, toxic smoke into the air, every year, apparently because it’s not easy enough for oil companies to make a profit storing and exporting the fuel. In Nigeria, the practice continues despite the new law prohibiting it from 1 January 2009. Much like the High Court ruling that prohibited it from 2005, then.

It’s difficult not to feel appalled at moments like this – but that’s not the whole story. The Age of Stupid, like our world itself, is beautifully put together, inspiring and frightening by turns; part-disaster movie, part-cautionary tale. There’s no knight in shining armour, no fairy godmother, and no straightforward way to a happy ending, but for me, some of the most thought-provoking moments are genuinely uplifting. Watch the excellently named Alvin DuVernay III – the Shell employee who lost his home and everything he owned, but saved the lives of more than 100 of his neighbours in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina – sitting in a jazz bar and reflecting on what he’s learned from the experience about materialism and the way Americans use energy, the way we all live, and tell me you’ve seen a more – good GOD I hate this word and can’t believe I’m about to use it – heartwarming scene in a film this year.

Incidentally, from filmmaker Franny Armstrong’s fascinating backstage diary: [Alvin] is haunted by all the people he didn’t save. He said he “lost his humanity” that day – because he was so focused on getting as many people as possible that sometimes he snapped when people asked if they could bring lots of luggage or go back for something they forgot. Now he says he wants to find all those people and apologise for being short with them.

If that dude has lost his humanity, there’s a lot of us could really do with finding some of it.

Anyway, got distracted there, my point is: it’s pretty easy to feel tiny in the face of climate change. It’s easy to feel terrified, to feel there’s nothing you can do to help avert the forthcoming catastrophe – in short, to freak out. Easy, but certainly not logical – this is our world, our generation, and this is real change that’s happening now, to us. This is why Age of Stupid media producer, brilliant animator and all-round mensch Leo Murray wants you to

Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip

Very seriously, if you don’t see The Age of Stupid (which would be, well, stupid), if you don’t even read this whole post, then please, please DO take 10 minutes to watch Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip. It’s short, it’s easy, it’s free, it’s got some ace artwork, and it might just change your life. On peut le voir en français ici, and it’s also available in Deutsch, Español, Nederlands, Türkçe and English with subtitles.

Another of the most resonant moments in The Age of Stupid, for me, was a quiet reflection from an Englishman. Piers Guy, a windfarm developer who’s struggling to achieve positive change against the disturbingly blinkered ‘not in my back yard’-ism of a snobbish, Home Counties tweed-wearing set, stands in Airfield Farm, near Bedfordshire, and is reminded of the war and how the land got its name: “You only have to look at the terrible things in our history, which everyone regrets now”, he muses, “massacres, the Holocaust, and a lot of that was just going along with what was the predominant thinking at the time.”

And this is it, this is what I needed: the reminder that yes, massive social, economic and political changes for the better can happen. More than that, they do happen, must happen, and will happen, and relatively fast.24.358

A hundred years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to vote, and it’d be massively unlikely for me to go to university – but as early as the 70s the UK had a female Prime Minister (granted, she was a shit one, but that’s beside the point here). Sixty years ago, black children in the USA were segregated into ‘Negro’ schools, and couldn’t ride buses or trains, use drinking fountains, or play sports with their white peers; today the President is black. These changes have happened within living memory, and there’s more – the film goes into the (rather exciting) possibilities for going forward into a cleaner, greener future and working to achieve a position of global energy equality, which will unsurprisingly involve the US and Europe seriously (though gradually) downsizing our fossil fuel consumption. (Al Gore: ‘They’re seeing the writing on every wall’).

My grandparents, probably some of your parents, remember life during wartime – living in fear through Blitzkrieg over London, and worse in Poland and the former USSR; losing brothers to the fighting, watching children die from treatable diseases. And they remember dealing with serious shortages – they remember the rationing of clothes, petrol, soap, sugar, meat, fat, then bread, then potatoes. Nobody’s asking our generation to give up our lives for our freedom and principles, and we’re not even talking about rationing bread, more like rationing the time we spend with big-screen TVs, XBoxes, cheap flights. Unquestionably we can face this fight. It’s started in the Maldives, it’s coming to Copenhagen this year.

We can do this, we can survive – and more than that, we can and we will live low impact.

Newsflash: Bikes are still amazing!

Who’s with me (pictured)?

Pete Postlethwaite is with me.

And finally, bonus fun, whimsical and actually rather beautiful link by way of a reward for having read this far: check out Leo and Bill’s creation of the universe with milk and a fishbowl.

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This is not the future my mother warned me about.

Important things:

  • Winter food
  • Terminator: Salvation

So, winter food is a super important part of making winter livable through, bearable. Adrian Chiles always says ‘have a bearable week’ in his sign off thing on MOTD2, and now every time I hear the word it reminds me of him, could be worse I suppose, but it’s still a bit odd, yo.

The main winter things I pride myself on doing well are soups (which often turn out more like stews, which are many cookiesamazing) and cookies (pictured). I did make some pretty fantastic chocolate chip gingerbread one time as well, mind. I’ll not bother writing out a recipe for stew because everyone knows how to make stew, it’s like ‘put tasty things in pot, stir, cook well’, but I will put this one for cookies here mainly because it took me a little time and effort to translate it from weird American measurements, improve it, think of the glaze and all that. Also because it is ace, being really really easy to do and yielding damn fine results which are highly praised by all who munch them (lots of people, I took the last two batches to a seasonal tea-party the other day, and previous ones have measured up to the exacting treat-eating standards of both Dollface and P).

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