Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Saga of Wonder Woman

I’ve apparently had some visitors from the DC Comics discussion boards re female action pictures from a conversation about the saga of Wonder Woman in media. So, since Wonder Woman has made a few appearances in this blog, I thought I’d throw those up for them in case they’re interested.

Here are my commentaries:

And here are News items that covered the saga of Wonder Woman getting rebooted to the screen:


The saga of Wonder Woman does continue. The latest news is that Warner/DC Comics is still planning a Justice League movie some time in the next few years and that this movie should include Wonder Woman in it, with a potential spin-off film if it goes well. That probably, oddly enough, depends on how the Green Lantern sequel movie does in relation to the first, pretty flawed Green Lantern movie starring Ryan Reynolds. That movie, while basically considered a dud, still managed to barely break even on its big budget. Now that they’ve dispensed with their version of an origin story, they can re-structure, I would assume the thinking is. So Wonder Woman may have her day, some time. Marvel, which has successfully so far launched the sort of platform Warner really wants to have, has hinted that they will do female superhero features in the future, but so far, no announcements have been forthcoming. It’s unlikely that Scarlet Johansen’s Black Widow character in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers will get her own film. So help us, Wonder Woman, you’re our only hope! (Well that, and many graphic novels about women characters that seem to be now in the works.)




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No Really, I am So Lucky Upon This Earth

Oh and buy Harry Turtledove’s books please,  (he’s got like 80 of them, so you’ll have lots to choose from.) Plus, he’s quite good and the master of alternate history.

As for young Alice, she is ailing but still alive and has been steadily raising money for charities from the attention given to her blog:

As for me, when my kid gets home tonight, I’m going to hug her very tightly until she whines.

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A Little Train Music, Part 2

A number of articles have been popping up as links lately, passed around by people I know, about an “experiment” that took place actually all the way back in January 2007 in the D.C. Metro during commuter rush hour. (Before the Gilded Age financiers took down the economies of the world.) The experiment was not conducted by scientists, which is why it was a crappy social science experiment. It was put together by one of the Washington Post journalists, who talked Grammy-winning virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell into taking his incredibly valuable violin into the D.C. Metro at rush hour and playing classical music — a concert people pay hundreds for ordinarily — for about forty-five minutes. The “idea” of this venture was to see if the unwashed masses,  the little people, in a plain, pedestrian venue, at an inconvenient time, would be able to distinguish this master musician from your common street player and stop and perhaps give money or recognize his famous face, which would therefore somehow prove that they were able to understand art and appreciate beauty. In other words, the confirmation bias of the endeavor was as large as a horse.

The journalist wanted the people in the Metro, people already cast as peasants interested only in their labors, to fail so that it could be announced that the general public, unlike educated elites who could afford expensive concert tickets, were clearly mostly unable to appreciate real art and beauty. And fail they did. Only a few people stopped, some more threw money as they passed (which came to $32 dollars which isn’t bad for a subway performance in a 45 minute time period,) and most rushed on by.

The notion that only if people could tell Bell was a famous, master musician despite him playing in the subway as a way to determine people’s ability to appreciate beauty is of course fundamentally flawed.  The reality is that numerous street performers are professional musicians, technically skilled and highly artistic in their playing. There have been many cases of famous, praised musicians trying out a subway performance for the acoustics and to interact with the public in a unique experience. (Witness the music video by singer Aloe Blacc performing in the New York subway station with a supporting band that I put up a few months ago. ) As a consequence, the people who rushed by and did not stop were not necessarily ignoring Bell’s skill or even discounting the possibility that he was a famous professional musician just because they were in a subway.

Music is an auditory experience; it can be heard for quite a distance and does not require listeners enjoying the music to stand and watch the performer. So insisting that only if the commuters looked at Bell for more than a second and stopped to watch him were they appreciating the beauty of his music is not an accurate measurement either. (Noting whether people looked at a visual painting,  complete or being painted, as they passed would have yielded clearer results.) The notion that real appreciation of beauty occurred only if the commuters overcame the “inconvenience” of having to get to work on trains whose schedules they don’t control and the pressure of a large moving crowd shows a level of cluelessness about the reality of people’s lives that boggles the mind. Added to that is that the DC Metro has far less frequent trains that run for shorter hours than other larger urban centers like New York or Chicago, creating an “inconvenience” during commuting hours that is considerably more critical. Not only that, but unlike many older urban train systems, the Metro has strong anti-loitering policies that encourage traffic movement. By equating willingness to sacrifice for a chance concert with appreciation of beauty, the reporter created a completely spurious correlation.

I feel sorry for Joshua Bell that he was part of this game, not because people didn’t stop in listening to him, but because he and his historic violin were used to sneer and make fun of people in the press. It’s especially disturbing because Bell has gone on to be a strong participant in Music Unites, a charity dedicated to supporting disadvantaged emerging musical talents and bringing music of all different styles to people and students in under-served communities — a charity that believes in the exact opposite of what the Post was presenting about people.

The Washington Post was my newspaper growing up, one of the best in the world. It’s been sad for me to see how frequently it’s fallen into this sort of journalism in the last few years.  Regardless, as we can see from the videos in Part 1, people are often exposed to musical beauty on the train systems, they often appreciate it in its many forms and that appreciation is perhaps more honest than people who have ponied up hundreds for the status of saying they’d been at an exclusive concert. The relationship between humans and musical sound is long and complex and profound, as documented in the book This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin. To say that the people in the train systems are not touched by music is to truly ignore the beauty that occurs in those places every day.




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A Little Train Music, Part 1

One of the best things about cities is that when you gather large groups of people together in one locale, you get musicians playing. No one knows this better than the riders of the New York Subways. Dark, grimy, smelling of pee they may be, but there’s always a show. Here are some brief clips from some fun performers:

And here is a bit of serendipity that has gone viral:  Back in January, NYC Singer and musician Jessica Latshaw, coming home from a class on the train, was approached by a man on the train with Conga drums, Quoom “Q-Dot,” a musician and music teacher who frequently performs with his drums on the subways, because he’d seen her ukele case. He talked her into getting the ukele out and playing it. Another guy on the train, Matt Schwartz, recorded on his phone Latshaw playing and singing, with Quoom accompanying her on his drums and his drummer and DJ pal MC Boogie playing master of ceremonies. The performance was completely unrehearsed and spontaneous and the video took off once Schwartz put it up on YouTube:

Overwhelmed by the response to the video, a couple of weeks later, Latshaw, Quoom and MC Boogie all got together for another unrehearsed concert at a place called The Local. That version was a bit faster and funkier:

Thanks to Matt Schwartz for capturing the moment, and good luck to all of them and to the rest of the musicians who ply their trade or burst into song in the dim tunnels and stations where sometimes the lights go out, but a flame of beauty still keeps life alive.


Filed under Life, Music

“Ask A Goblin” Goes Live

Oh that Jim C. Hines! He’s been amusing me a lot lately.  First, the fantasy author showed how women are tortured on SFF book covers by trying to capture their poses himself:

And now on Tumblr, he’s set up a new advice blog: Ask A Goblin.

In this blog, Jig, the main character from Jim’s terrific Jig the Goblin trilogy:  Goblin Quest, Goblin Hero and Goblin War, (and the short story collection Goblin Tales,) and his fellow goblin friends attempt to answer your requests for help. If you haven’t tried the Jig books,  about a goblin press-ganged into a quest and his subsequent trials and tribulations, you really are missing out. At least go try to  get some good advice from Jig for your own trials and tribulations. You’ll be glad you did.

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Filed under Humor, SFFH, SFFH Novels to Check Out

I do not think that word means what you think it means

Excerpted from Suzanne Mettler’s “Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenge of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era,” published in Perspectives on Politics, September 2010 (pdf)

And then there are the roads, bridges, public schools, public libraries, trash pick-up, subsidized public pools, subsidized community services, health services, subsidized emergency room services, police, firefighters, power and sewage, coroner’s office, work assistance, disability assistance, government services, and on and on that people avail themselves of, for free, in the U.S. without understanding that these are government social programs. I was aware of cognitive dissonance in this area, but had no idea it was that large.  So, it’s an interesting article.

Percentage of Program Beneficiaries Who Report They “Have Not Used a Government Social Program”
Program “No, Have Not Used a Government Social Program”
529 or Coverdell 64.3
Home Mortgage Interest Deduction 60.0
Hope or Lifetime Learning Tax Credit 59.6
Student Loans 53.3
Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit 51.7
Earned Income Tax Credit 47.1
Social Security—Retirement & Survivors 44.1
Pell Grants 43.1
Unemployment Insurance 43.0
Veterans Benefits (other than G.I. Bill) 41.7
G.I. Bill 40.3
Medicare 39.8
Head Start 37.2
Social Security Disability 28.7
Supplemental Security Income 28.2
Medicaid 27.8
Welfare/Public Assistance 27.4
Government Subsidized Housing 27.4
Food Stamps 25.4


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The Most Special Valentine’s Day of All

A long time ago that doesn’t seem like very long at all, I spent a Valentine’s Day producing another life form. So I’m allowed to be sappy about it. Happy Birthday, daughter!

Credit The National Zoo, Washington, D.C.

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Some Smiles from the Sea

A short but wild video of a surfer and some kayakers nearly swamped by breaching humpback whales eating anchovies. The footage was taken by another kayaker who almost got taken out as well:

Dolphins like to surf boat wakes. When there’s a wakeboard surfer behind the boat doing the same, they like to show off. Wait for the jump!




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SFFWorld Author Roundtable — Carol Berg, Teresa Edgerton, Michael J. Sullivan, Myke Cole

So much going on! Over at SFFWorld, we have our fifth Author Roundtable and it’s author lapalooza with four authors at different stages of their  careers: Carol Berg, Teresa Edgerton, Michael J. Sullivan, Myke Cole, plus a few more like Mark Lawrence and Jon Sprunk joining in the questioning. To check out the conversation, click on the link below:

Me, I will be back here buried in boxes and emptying closets, which is my life these days. The Roundtable is much more interesting.



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Death of the Female Movie Star? We’re Just Getting Started, Part 2

So let’s look at the current landscape:

Women’s roles in action movies have been sporadic in their type and prominence over the decades, often depending on economic issues of the time. While big budget projects featuring women have been rare, on the small and mid-size budget front, women have made significant progress. Often these action films are in science fiction, fantasy and particularly horror, a direct result of a shift in the 1980’s – which includes Terminator and Alien – to bring the female slice and dice victims more regularly front and center and also able to strike back at the monsters instead of just being rescued or killed.

Resident Evil, the zombie franchise based on the popular game, has become the venerable reliable of this on the B-movie action front. Starring Milla Jovovich, the first film had a decent budget cost for 2002 of $33 million and earned $40 million in the U.S. and over $100 million worldwide. The sequel increased the budget and did even more in the U.S. and $129 million worldwide, the third movie upping that to $147 worldwide. The fourth movie, which also increased the role of female sidekick Ali Larter, got a budget increase to $60 million, and did that in domestic sales with a whopping $236 million in foreign box office for a total take of nearly $300 million. The fifth movie, Resident Evil: Retribution, is due out this year.

Joining RE was Underworld in 2003, starring Kate Beckinsale. The elaborate vampire-werewolf film cost $22 million to make and took in $52 million in the States and $95 million worldwide. The sequel built on that for a $111 million world take. The third movie in the franchise, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, was a prequel and did not star Beckinsale in the main role. That movie had a bigger budget of $35 million. It made a healthy profit, but the domestic take was only $45 million in the U.S. and $91 million worldwide. So they brought Beckinsale back this year to star in Underworld Awakening with a much bigger budget invested — $70 million. In the only two weeks it’s been out in theaters, the film has earned over $48 million in the U.S. and a world take of over $88 million.

It’s tempting for many people to ignore these numbers and to dismiss these franchises as unimportant and small impact in the sea of testosterone action films, their budgets not large enough to value and their appeal credited to the hormones of young men for sex and violence and the special effects. But this is exactly how the war of attrition is waged – films that get made on easier, less risky terms, create profit and establish having a female action lead as perfectly normal, even desirable. The numbers aren’t unimportant to Hollywood, especially when merchandising is factored in. Replication occurs and so in the strange but successful low budget mash-up Alien Vs. Predator, for instance, the lead character is a non-white actress named Sanaa Lathan, something that is not seen as remarkable at all. Even when women aren’t the leads, they have become a requirement for team characters in bigger budget films.

And Hollywood is then willing to increase the risk somewhat by trying female leads on martial arts thrillers, with less of a safeguard of merchandising, the cult followings of SFF and game adaptation profits than something like Underworld. We saw that when in the dog days of last summer when they drop the small fry action films, we got Colombiana, starring Zoe Saldana, a non-white actress again, cashing in on her Star Trek capital, a revenge thriller that cost $40 million to make. It grossed $10 million in its opening weekend, almost made its budget in domestic take and made a respectable if not exciting profit of nearly $61 million worldwide. Also in 2011, the film Hanna, starring Saoirse Ronan, made a splash. It cost $30 million, took in $43 million in the U.S. and nearly $64 million worldwide. Recently, we then had Haywire, starring Gina Carano in the quiet release zone of January-February. The spy film, coming from venerated auteur Steven Soderbergh, had a $23 million budget and in its first two weeks has made over $16 million in the U.S. and over $19 million worldwide with a long lead time to earn more. And then there is One For the Money, a throwaway film adapted from the bestselling mystery series and starring Catherine Hegel. While not likely to be a real success, given its poor marketing support, that the film managed to get made at all after over a decade in development hell shows an interest, and the film did take in a solid $11 million its opening weekend. Individually, you might not notice these films much. Collectively, they mark a sea change.

The real fun, however, is set to come over the course of 2012. In the up-coming months, including in the blockbuster summer, we’ll be getting films like Gone, a low budget kidnapping thriller starring Amanda Seyfried as a kickass former victim saving her sister; Brave, Pixar’s first animated feature with a female lead (by which they will make up for the disastrous male-centered ad campaign for Disney’s Tangled; ) and Gemma Arterton sharing the spotlight with Jeremy Renner for Hansel and Gretal: Witch Hunters. We’re getting two highly talked about views of Snow White – the comic Mirror, Mirror with Julia Roberts and Lily Collins, and the dark war epic Snow White and the Huntsman starring Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron.

Chris Hemsworth, bringing his appeal as the star of Thor, plays the Huntsman in that film, but he doesn’t even rate an appearance on the main poster, which features the dwarves behind an armored and besworded Stewart, whose Twilight following is expected to be the bigger draw, and media publicity has concentrated on playing up Theron as the evil queen. While Stewart shared the spotlight in Twilight with boy candy Robert Paterson and Tyler Lautner, her Bella was still the woman in the center of the action and the financial success of those films has led to a keen interest in Hollywood on making YA adaptations and teen friendly films with female leads.



The big movie, however, is The Hunger Games, adapted from Suzanne Collins’ bestselling YA series. The film, starring Jennifer Lawrence (already a big contributor to women’s action through the acclaimed Winter’s Bone thriller and a key role in X-Men: First Class,) is probably going to be seen by many – and sometimes marketed as such – as another Twilight romance, and thus, as the property of teenage girls, dismissed as important. In reality, The Hunger Games is a post-apocalyptic SF war epic with a substantial following of young male readers. With a more substantial budget of $75 million and already a fairly extensive marketing campaign, it’s a bigger gamble, but early response to the trailer by largely happy fans suggests the film is going to do well, generate a ton of media over its Mad Max: Thunderdome set-up and vault Lawrence up the casting lists into at least Stewart territory.

With women also having sizable, if not lead, kickass roles in action movies like This Means War, Battleship, The Avengers, Prometheus, Batman 3 and World War Z, the up-tick has been enough to get media attention pondering a “new” trend of women in action, rather than just expressing the routine astonishment that an individual woman-led picture makes any money. And the process is set to continue with future movies like John Carpenter’s Darkchylde, based on the comic series, Dorothy of Oz, J.J. Abrams’ The Invisible Woman, Sandra Bullock in the SF film Gravity, and James Cameron – who arguably has contributed substantially to increasing the power of female actresses in action and female filmmakers – will do so again in the SF Battle Angel, based on the graphic novel about a female cyborg – a project that may have put more of the kabash on Shepherd’s film option chances. And outside of action, women will be prominent in films as diverse as What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Anna Karenina and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, hitting more markets than just male driven films and following in the wake of The Help’s so far $200 million plus grosses and likely Oscar boost, plus the usual slate of horror films which are still gaining business.

When Tomb Raider came out and made Angelina Jolie a star in 2001, the common belief was that the film had not done spectacularly enough for the hype, because, after all, she was a girl and video game movies don’t do well. But Tomb Raider made nearly $275 million worldwide, quite good for the time, and its weaker, less supported sequel made over $156 million. And nine years later, Salt starring Jolie raked in nearly $300 million. Even Sucker Punch, which drew Shepherd’s ire — a complicated, surreal, Inception-like movie criticized for over-sexualizing its largely female cast in ways that were little different from your average Bond film — managed to break even worldwide. Women led films are bringing in regular revenue and have absolutely no societal problems attracting diverse audiences.

And in television, watched by millions more regularly than films, women have become a staple of action and suspense, helming more and more shows as more cable channels develop original programming, as well as taking prominent roles in ensemble casts and finding more opportunities for female directors and producer/screenwriters. Some shows tank, some soar, just like all shows, but the slow attrition that began way back with shows like The Mod Squad, Police Woman and Charlie’s Angels – happy female form exploiters all – has developed into too many shows to comfortably list. Such gains are sometimes dismissed as making women the second class citizens given t.v. but denied movies, but that’s the sneaky envelope pushing once again. T.V. is becoming an effective launch pad and career enhancer. Just ask the cast of the hit Bridesmaids.

It is a slow and patient slog – a gliding Titanic iceberg if you will – but women do slow and patient well. And the newest generation of young actresses aren’t interested in just doing romcoms and selling fashion and perfume. They are also making their mark in action, from Hermione Granger to a militant Snow White, they’re producing indies, and the holes in the glass ceiling they’re carving are getting substantially larger. Does Hollywood want this? Not particularly, as then they have to share in a wider pool. They certainly don’t trust it. But the money is there and the audiences will happily watch. In an uncertain yet growing world of entertainment, Hollywood will try anything a few times, even if it complains with old excuses. And once they do, women will jam open the doorway, wearing a catsuit, and there’s no going back.


Filed under Movies/TV, SFFH