Saturday, December 26, 2009

Why Avatar Didn't Suck Like I Thought It Would (A Review)

Okay, first things first: go see Avatar and go see it in 3D (IMAX optional).

Good. Done? Great.

This entry will contain spoilers though, honestly, if the entire concept of this movie didn't give it away, go read more. Or watch more movies. Or both.

I think by now that the entire population of the world with access to movies knows about Avatar, probably knows the general gist of what it's about, and knows it's supposed to be a game changer. All the reviews pretty much ejaculate their praise all over it, pooh-poohing the idea that the rehashed, heavy-handed plot could, in any way, detract from the awesomeness of the tech that created this movie.

Dammit, they're sort of right.

I was one of the cynical, and a friend of mine begged me to go see it so that she could talk about it with me, because we talk about movies similarly. So I went, and I loved it.

Didn't just like it. Loved it.

I've been thinking about why on my car ride home. (A few of us from various points went to see it, and the most central location is about 35 minutes from me.)

Here's what I've got.

The Story

This wasn't the first time that I've encountered a story (I will use the word "story" to refer to pretty much any and all media... book, movie, comic, tv, video game, etc.) that was about a handicapped character (usually male) using some sort of tech to escape life. Sometimes that's into a computer, into a network, into another body, into a robot. Whatever. This wasn't the first time I've encountered a story where a member of the oppressing group (usually male) "goes native" and saves the more-complex-than-the-oppressors-think population, usually melting the heart of an icy, tough native (usually female) along the way, while butting heads with the don't-want-change voices of the group (usually the competitor for said female's affections), and completes that saviorness through some feat even the natives can't do, and usually be introducing them to his weapons and/or tactics. This wasn't even the first time I've encountered a thinly (or not-at-all) veiled allegory for the BS that conquering nations have pulled against indigenous peoples and the planet we all have to share (usually for money). Hell, it's not the first time I've encountered a story about a Great Tree with someone called Navi in it (hey hey, Ocarina of Time, 'sup?).

A lot of people have compared this to Dances With Wolves. I think it's more like Dune, another very ecological-minded story (well, the books anyway).

That's just it, right? This has all happened before and it'll all happen again. There aren't really any new stories, just new ways to tell the old stories.

So. This way rocked. And it rocked because of the 3D, which I'll get to in a sec.

Now, here are a few of my story-related quibbles, all of which I think were overshadowed by the finished product:

- Why, on this planet with a different atmosphere and a different gravity, where plants and animals developed very very differently to our planet, did the Na'vi develop as bigendered bipeds that can only reproduce through heterosexual intercourse?

- WHY NOT A FEMALE PROTAGONIST? Come on, Cameron. You made Ripley awesome. You wrote Sarah Connor. ! Exclamation! While it was great that Neytiri's dad handed her his bow and left her in charge of the people... uh, why didn't it end that way? I almost expected her to get to be People Leader and Jake to be the Tree Talker, in a gender-reversed ending. Which would have made sense and been satisfying within the narrative of the story. But, hey. Whatever. Notably, the only two females that We Care About that get to live are the protagonist's mate and her mother. Yeah.

- Did we really have to cast the voices of the Na'vi using only Native American and black actors? Really?

I think James Cameron is a smart guy. An I think he very very purposefully cast the parts the way he did, and very very purposefully made certain shots. Like Michelle Rodriguez (god I love her) as the only Marine to stand up to the scary white guy with muscles and scars. Or the long lingering shot over the collected Marines during the "kill 'em all" speech. The camera stopped on a group that was made up of a black man, a woman, and a couple of people who could definitely be classified, by our race-driven society, as "of color". Here's the best message, the most subtle one, the one that's beneath even the "don't kill our planet, assholes" message: for eff's sake, teach history, teach it right, and don't let corporations or the military run things.

The message of the story isn't really "stop killing our planet", it's stop putting people in charge and giving weapons to people who think it's okay to do these kinds of things.

That's pretty bad ass. Too bad most people mostly notice the SFX.

The SFX/3D

Okay, it's a game changer. There, I said it. I asked my friend why she thought this would be applicable to genres outside of science fiction or action, where we're in it for the "ooh" factor. The answer, which I figured out about ten minutes into the movie, is: because this type of 3D immerses us. This isn't about bringing the action out to our seats, it's about bringing us into the world of the movie. This can work for an alien landscape like Pandora or for a back alley in 1940's LA. Seriously, could you imagine a good noir in this kind of 3D? Really awesome.

She told me that by a few minutes into the movie, the alien landscape is no longer even alien because the effects are so good. True. The only thing that kept me from complete immersion was the alienness of the plants and animals, which went away after a little while spent with the Na'vi (so I get why they're a blue mix of cats, Native Americans, and tribal Africans, but I still don't like it). But what sold me on this was the shot right at the beginning, where Jake is sitting on the drop ship with a row of people, and I felt like I could reach out and if I did... I'd be reaching down the row. And it was reinforced everytime we panned through a room and it felt like looking at an actual room that I was standing in. A few times, I lifted my glasses up just to see the difference.

So the 3D blew my mind more in environments I could intellectually process than the alien world of Pandora.

But, you know, it still blew my mind.

Inna Final Analysis

This story had a lot of issues, as someone viewing it from a non-majority lens (i.e. the viewpoint of someone aware of the negativity of colonization, oppression, and marginalization who doesn't think that we're done doing this stuff yet... aka someone that's read Howard Zinn), with a bit of a critical view to directorial choices such as casting. It wasn't the best use of allegory ever, unless you peel back a few layers. It was cliché in all the wrong places (gender, racial politics) and the right ones (the deaths were correct, satisfyingish ending).

But for 2 1/2 hours I didn't just watch Avatar, I wandered the planet with the characters.

Now that's immersion

That's a game changer.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Fresh New Bats for Gotham. [Detective Comics #860 and World's Finest 3/4]

This week Detective Comics #860 came out, wrapping up the origin story of Kate-as-Batwoman (And possibly ending Greg Ruck and JH3's run on the title? I guess she's getting her on ongoing or something. I don't know, I've fallen out of following rumors.)

It's not like my feelings on TEC have been unclear over the past few months. Despite a few quibbles, it's effing awesome.

This issue wasn't any different. I read a great explanation of why the art was so damn awesome at iFanboy. So go read that, because I agree and it makes more sense than I could.

What I love about this is the reason Kate becomes Batwoman. Not because of her trauma. Not because she's got a chip on her shoulder or something to prove to someone. She does it because she's a soldier.

A good one.

You know what that reminds me of? Carrie Kelly. And the more I think about Kate Kane, the more I'm reminded of Carrie Kelly. Carrie has literally zero trauma in her past, other than the trauma of being a teenager in a really nasty version of Gotham. Her parents are both alive, if inattentive. Her friends are around. She does well in school. And then one night she decides to throw on a Robin costume and go be a hero. This is one of the reasons I've always liked Carrie as Robin, and one of the reasons that I've always disliked Bruce as Batman and Dick as Robin. It's probably one of the reason I kind of like Damian, ass that he is. Bruce, Dick, and Tim later on... they were all forced to wear the symbol because they couldn't deal with their demons. Carrie, Babs, Damian, Kate, Steph... they want it. I like when the hero knows what they're getting into but makes that choice anyway. Bruce did it because he was broken. It was interesting the first time, with him, but it's been 80 years. Having new reasons is totally okay.

The difference between Kate and Carrie is that Kate knows what she's getting herself into. She's a soldier from way back. Carrie becomes a soldier through her life with Bruce. Bruce is the old soldier, like Kate's dad. Bruce turns Carrie into something special. But he couldn't do it if she didn't want it.

Kate wants it. (I think I'm getting repetitive.)

Kate wasn't forced into being a Bat. The splash page of her going through training is brilliant for just that reason. It shows us that she's had it drilled into her over years: vengeance is pointless. You've already lost. Bringing them back won't work (erm). Do this to save one life. One night, one life. Another night, another life. That's victory. That's war. You kill to save.

The Bat becomes Kate's insignia. Not of fear or vengeance, but of war. And I may be a quasi-realistic pacifist (I understand but dislike the need for war), but it's damn nice to see a Bat start out for reasons like that. And in this world, in 2009, it rings absolutely, one-hundred percent true.


(Which reminds me that I enjoy the irony of her getting booted from the military only to go on and be a superhero. Suck it again, DADT.)

And then there was World's Finest #3 (of 4). I've been following this mostly for the next-gen team ups. Specifically Red Robin/Nightwing and now, the issue I've been waiting for, Batgirl/Supergirl.

I've talked before about why I love Steph Brown as Batgirl, right? LOVE. HER. And her team-up with Supergirl was both kick-ass and fun. I want to see them team up more often. After the battle of the Supermen, or wtf ever is going on with the Supes next year, let them be the World's Finest front-runners. Neither of them are going anywhere, probably, and the fate of all the other Bats and Supes is still up in the air.

What I loved about this was that it was two teenage superheroes going forth and bonding and kicking but. They were clearly having fun together without losing out on the point of why they were together: to save people. (Scene with Catwoman in the crate? Priceless.) They were both trained by Batman, to some extent. They both mourned his loss.

They both knew they had to move on.

(If only DC got that hint. You know, over in Marvel, Captain America just handed his shield to the guy who was wielding it while he was dead, his old sidekick, Bucky, and while it was totally awesome, it was underscored by the fact that there's this stupid Siege thing coming up and he'll probably just end up as Cap again anyway. But maybe I'm wrong and, if I am, I hope DC does something similar and Bruce Wayne finally moves on from being the Batman.)

Every issue that Steph is in is fun. She's like Power Girl, with a proportionate breast-to-body ratio. I don't feel guilty reading her title though, because it's just flat out awesome. And throwing a somewhat-snarky Supergirl into the mix makes it more fun.

Kon and Tim's friendship was great, back in the day (and made for some good drama after Kon died). Let's have a new Super/Bat friendship! I'm all for it. (Thumbs up from Kara, yo.)

Props, also, to Babs getting annoyed at Dick listening in. Because. Really. C'mon now. Also, Kara questioning Oracle's omniscience after an unknown answer... classic! I love it when smart, young women are smart and strong. It's so nice to see. Comics is really one of the few places to actually see that sort of thing, so I'm glad that, even with some of the bumps in the road, they keep on going.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sports, Kick-Ass Women, MMA, and those creepy Female Force comics. Oh my.

Okay, something different: I like sports.

Yeah, I know.

Get ready for one of my anecdotes.

I grew up watching baseball and hockey with my dad, and playing little league during the summers. Back where I lived in Illinois, girls and boys both played baseball. Then I moved to Massachusetts, good ol' progressive Massachusetts, where girls had to play softball.

WTF, Title 9? Softball =/= baseball. Yeah, it's a sport, yeah it's hard, yeah it takes skill. But I spent 6 years playing baseball and then was told I had to play softball instead.

So I didn't, I tried out for the boy's little league and I made the team. And then my coaches wouldn't tell me how to get to the field. Or how to get my uniform. See, I made Babe Ruth. I was one of the youngest kids on the team and the only girl in the whole league.

I was 10 or 11, so I didn't understand why my mom was so angry about what they were doing. And I was shy, so I didn't push it.

If I could go back now, I'd sue their asses. Or something. And I'd play baseball.

When I hit puberty, with relatively little activity in my life and relatively large amounts of depression (puberty sucks, puberty for a gay kid in the early nineties doubley so, puberty for a gender queer gay kid in the early nineties tripley so) I put on about five billion pounds. It took me about fifteen years and some therapy to feel ready to get back into athletic activities.

So I did. I started going to Tae Kwon Do. This was something else I'd done as a kid in Illinois that stopped when I moved to Massachusetts. I've been going to an awesome TKD school for a little over a month. And twice a month this school has a teacher come in to teach students grappling. I went to the first class, had a TKD black belt as my partner, and held my own.

It was awesome.

Grappling is a big part of Mixed Martial Arts, which is a sport I got into thanks to my old room mate. I watch a lot of UFC. A lot. And one of the things about the UFC is that there are no women fighters. The only women involved (besides judges you don't see) are wives, girlfriends, and the girls in bikinis who hold the round cards. The UFC is the fastest growing sports franchise in the world, or something like that, and its president, Dana White, went on record saying he didn't see women fighting in the UFC any time soon (that was a few years ago, andI don't think his stance has changed, but who knows).

I just assumed that women weren't involved in MMA.

What a dumb assumption. After all, women are involved in boxing (more prominently now, thanks to Girlfight, Million Dollar Baby, and Laila Ali). Women are involved in martial arts (certainly at the Olympic level). So why not MMA? After all, one of the main tenets of Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, a premiere ground game technique and the one that changed MMA forever back in the day, is that the smaller, physically weaker opponent can still win with the right strategy and technique. Seems like a perfect venue for women, right?

And I found some. 'Cause I flipped on American gladiators and I saw Crush. And when I went to look up more info on Crush, I found out that she's an MMA fighter.

And she's hot. Over the next year or so, as I got more into MMA in general, I started trying to find events where women were involved as fighters. Usually I just googled Gina Carano's name, because she was The female MMA fighter. The thing is that to be a bankable female MMA fighter, you have to be hot. To be a bankable male MMA fighter, you have to kick ass.

This is the guy that just won the most recent season of The Ultimate Fighter, the male version of a reality show, where 16 guys live in a house together, act homophobic and stereotypically masculine to prove that they're Real Men, and then fight each other for a chance at a contract with the UFC.

Basically it's a show that would be on Oxygen if it weren't about fighting, not that any of the MMA fanboys would admit that. (Seriously, I know professional sports are ragingly homophobic, but the UFC is like something special. I hope one day some dude kicks a lot of ass, wins a title, then comes out of the closet. Then defends his title.)

Oh, right, I was talking about Big Country.

Now, there's a lot of talk on MMA forums about how the UFC is basically going to try to drum this guy out as soon as possible because he looks like a fat hick. The fact is, he's a super-skilled ground fighter that uses his giant belly to his advantage and still has knockout power. That means he's a good fighter. And if he's drummed out of the UFC for not looking right, I'll feel a little better about the UFC as a whole, because at least they're consistent. Not that I like to look at Nogueira's face a whole lot.

But the deal is that they cast this dude in the first place, gave him weeks of screen time, and eventually a really big contract (which he did earn, yes).

And they won't give women a shot.

This goes back to what I was talking about in my last post, about female action heroes. You have to be hot to be an action hero, male or female. We're just willing to make more exceptions for the males. Would people think Daniel Craig was good looking if he didn't have a great body? Probably not. But no one calls him a "but his face" (you know, like a "butter face"?). Or makes remarks about it.

And when those male MMA fighters get in the octagon to square off, no one's commenting on how hot they are (or if they are, they're doing it in private). But it's pretty standard for female MMA fighters.

For the record, Gina Carano was recently beaten by a woman nicknamed Cyborg, who is significantly less traditionally attractive. And the female MMA buzz fell silent for a little while until a recent fight between the wife and ex-wife of some male fighters.

It's hard to find this stuff on TV, and it's hard to find a discussion of this stuff anywhere that doesn't involve comments on the attractiveness of the fighters.

So WTF does this have to do with comics?

Yeah, sorry. So remember that weird comic series Female Force? The biographical sketches of real women? Well, you know, they did a Barbara Walters one. So she mentioned it on her show The View.

Does anyone remember another time when a comic got a mention on a daytime, women-oriented television show? Anyone?


The deal is, this isn't a comic about female superheroes. It's a comic about real women doing real things. And it's "super" because it's effing hard to be a woman doing real things in this world sometimes. So, yeah, they deserve a bit of a shout out.

But maybe Barbara would like to show Detective Comics on her show. Or even the old standby Wonder Woman. Though at least Batwoman wears a full body suit, even if it has pointy nipples.

Or maybe they'd like to talk about how Batgirl (the current one) is juggling being a young woman, going to college, and being a superhero, under the tutelage of the old Batgirl, current Oracle, who is a woman with a disability.

Granted, it's not like male superheroes really get a lot of shout outs on national television. Not unless they're in the movies, anyway. Except, you know. They're in the movies.

Let me repeat that:

They're in the movies.

The women are few and far between, and usually relegated to the love-interested, ingenue roles.


No idea. Here's a thought.

So Robert Downy Jr. is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and brought Iron Man (the character) and Iron Man (the title) to national prominence. Hugh Jackman did the same thing for Marvel in the first place, back with the first X-Men. Meanwhile, check out the cleavage:


Sorry, I'm rapidly losing focus.

I suppose my point is that I'd like to see The View (or Ellen, since she's getting a Female Force comic too) take some time to put a spotlight on the positive women being written about and doing the writing/drawing in comics. So, mostly DC I guess. Though Black Widow: Origins and Spider-Woman have been pretty good.

Get some focus on those interesting character, make the companies and studios realize that women a) care and b) spend money on these things, and get them to do some decent, female-led superhero movies. Preferably written by Greg Rucka, Gail Simone, Amanda Conner, or Paul Cornell. Or me. I'll take the job!

Heh, so I guess in the end the whole point is: give me a job writing a female superhero movie.

Anyone listening?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Why Hancock Didn't Suck Like I Thought it Would (Hint: Charlize Theron)

Hancock should be taught in marketing classes as an example of how not to market a movie.

When the trailers were released, I basically thought it was going to be a knock-off superhero movie that had the "original" twists of 1) a black superhero and 2) a bum superhero turned good. I use "original" in quotes because, well, I read comics. Also I watched Superman 3. Remember Superman 3? I loved bum Superman. I don't know, there was something about him being all fake-five o'clock-shadowy and seeing Christopher Reeves play surly that I just was into. As a ten year old. Yeah I don't know.

By the way. Kryptonite laced with tobacco tar? You know the cigarette companies freaked when they found that out. Hilarious! Why confuse everyone with red kryptonite when you can demonize tobacco? (For the record, smoking is gross, and obviously Superman agrees. He seems to be a fan of the whiskey, though.) Remember back in the day when we admitted that everyone smoked by showing it on movies all the time? Way to take a stand, Supes. Way to take a stand.

So Hancock. I'll admit it, I giggle a little every time I say or write the word. I'm secretly a twelve year old.

Based on the trailers, I thought this movie would be fairly predictable. And in a lot of ways it was. But then Charlize Theron popped up. Now, I'd seen her in one of the trailers, walking next to Will Smith and Jason Bateman, and again in a dinner scene, and I was like "why is she not even billed in this"?

Except she is. Billed second.


Obviously they were keeping a Big Secret under wraps.

Yeah, the big secret is that there's also a female superhero (or god or angel, more on that in a bit) and she's more powerful than the male superhero.

Also all she wants to do in life is have a family.


Okay, so I know I said I liked the movie. And I did, because the existence of Charlize Theron's character was a pleasant surprise, and the ending was an even more pleasant one. I like the idea of immortals that understand that, while they may be fated for each other, they don't have to constantly be together every single lifetime. And sometimes, maybe, they shouldn't be.

Suck it, Stefanie Meyer. Stefenie? Whatever.

It made me wonder why they couldn't market this with Charlize Theron as the number two. And then I remember: oh yeah, the mass consumer doesn't buy female super heroes. There are no female Avengers in the upcoming movie, we'll be lucky if Black Widow doesn't fall in love with Iron Man in the upcoming sequel, and Wonder Woman will probably never be made.

Meanwhile Ryan Reynolds has been tapped to play every single wise-cracking superhero ever written.

Right now, there are some really really awesome women in comics. They're still sort of bumping up against the glass ceiling insofar as they wear the most ridiculous costumes ever, tend to use sex appeal more to get what they want, and have disproportional breast-to-body ratios, but they're still there kicking ass. I don't think I need to list them here.

But these women won't sell movies.

Why not?

I don't know. Lots of reasons, I'm sure. But male viewers appreciate female superheroes, and female viewers generate a lot of box office (hello, Twilight and every Sandra Bullock movie ever?), and I bet they'd be interested in female superheroes. There's this base assumption that women don't like action movies. I think women like intelligent action movies just fine. Listen, Iron Man and Lord of the Rings didn't make bajillions of dollars on male ticket sales alone.

Back to Hancock. So Mary was interesting (so was the name of Mary). I also liked the whole "we could be gods, angels, superheroes, the name changes" thing. It's an interesting idea, one which I recently bumped up against while playing Assassin's Creed 2 (play that game, the story is fantastic). According to imdb trivia, the eagle may represent that Hancock is Zeus, making Mary Hera. (Backed up by her brother/sister comment from the ridiculous Jiffy Pop scene. Jiffy Pop? Really?) That would explain her sudden bitchiness (for lack of better term), since Hera's generally not known for her pleasantness.

Would it explain her sudden heavy make-up and revealing all-black clothing, though? Yeah, no. That really got me. As much as I enjoyed the fight scene between the two of them, particularly where she was clearly much more powerful than he was, it seemed sort of random and weird.

She did look pretty awesome, though.


But the hospital stuff really won me over. If you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about. Predictable, but really well done from the actors and the director.

Now, I had my quibbles. The random revealing clothing, the female superhero who only wants to be a wife and mom, the fact that Jason Bateman's character axes a dude to death and apparently is okay with that (I hope he and the kid are in therapy, because... really). Will Smith pursing his lips when he's playing drunk/bad as an acting technique, and the calling of every comic superhero a "homo" (though of course Hancock ends up in a tight outfit that looks like an X-Men movie cast-off... at least they throw the joke in).

The funny thing was that in the end I enjoyed this movie. It was almost nothing like what the trailers promised, and it was a far better finished product than I expected. Even with my quibbles, this was a superhero movie about not just a superhero guy but a superhero woman, too. That's rare enough to get me interested and it was handled well enough, despite some missteps, to make me like it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Whoa whoa whoa, back the Speedy truck up.

I don't really feel like writing about Blackest Night: Flash until it's over, and I can't find where I put my Blackest Night: Wonder Woman (so for now I'll pretend Manhunter is in it), and I enjoy Red Tornado for its randomness (what's he doing during the zombification of the DC verse?) but it was a pretty slow week as far as comics go. For me, anyway. I hear things were happening over in Marvel or something. Eh.

Right, so I find out form the internet that Speedy is back (making me suddenly interested in the Black Canary/GA books). I went and picked up issue 24 (her triumphant return) and then I got confused.

'Cause, like, Ms. Marvel was hanging out on a yellow crotch rocket asking if anyone missed her.

Okay, not really. Ms. Marvel doesn't cover her legs, wear a hood, or use a bow. But I submit to you the exhibits:

I rest my case! They're really freakishly similar. Maybe I have Ms. Marvel on the brain lately (thanks, Anika), but... y'know?

The shop didn't have issue 25, so I'll get it at the other store next week. Looks like I've got another title on my pull list, because I love me some Speedy.

Even if she looks like Ms. Marvel Jr.


I sort of want her and Steph Brown's Batgirl to hang out. (How excited am I for the next World's Finest, with Steph and Supergirl? WICKED EXCITED.) I think that would be awesome.

Someone get on that.