Category Archives: Movies/TV

The Force Is Strong in This One

I’ve been sidelined this week by a physical therapy issue, but in the meantime, here is one of the most adorable and powerful kids on the planet. Only wish Carrie Fisher could still be with us to receive the plans directly.

 

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An Annoyed Rant (Put the Warning Right There in the Title for You)

Kyle Davies, Paramount’s domestic distribution chief, had this to say about Ghost in the Shell, which white-washed its lead role and failed at the box office: “You’ve got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it’s based on a Japanese anime movie. So you’re always trying to thread that needle between honoring the source material and [making] a movie for a mass audience.”

This quote is everything that is wrong with the people (mostly white guys,) running Hollywood. 1) First off, calling the fans of this long-running franchise “fanboys” — this reflects the demographically incorrect belief that the fans for SFF and in particular for Japanese manga/anime are mainly young white males, and that those white males are interested in the material only for the sexy babes, so you have to have a sexy actress. In actuality, the majority of western fans for manga and much of anime tend to be young women and female teens and have been for over twenty years. There is a huge number of Asians and non-whites in the West who are big anime fans. And white male fans are actually usually more interested in the action sequences, noir violence and special effects than they are in sexy women. Paramount literally had no idea who their audiences was, in the East or the West. They cared nothing for the source material that was giving them that audience. They engaged in rampant sexism on a feminist-positive franchise, and it helped tanked their film.

2) The belief that the source material — Japanese Asian anime/manga — could not have “mass appeal” in the West if fully honored. Anime/manga has been huge in the West, a mainstream phenomena particularly with young people for well over thirty years. Some of the biggest global franchises, including merchandising and fashion, are from anime and manga. And yet, because most of it is created from East Asia, and because Hollywood is convinced the global and particularly U.S. audiences are rabid bigots, Hollywood continues to pretend, ignoring actual statistical numbers, that “Asian” material cannot sell unless you place a white, preferably American or American-sounding actor at the center.

Only with a white lead does Hollywood believe a film has “mass appeal.” It is a fairy tale based on the fact that working with a white actor, particularly a male one, boosts the social status of executives in the industry and their financial backers. It’s a drug they don’t easily give up, and instead blame the audience — the “masses” are bigots and must be cosseted to supposedly lower the risk. And yet, no matter how many flops this idea currently produces, they refuse to change the bigoted narrative. No matter how many movies do really well without white leads or white-washing, they refuse to change the bigoted narrative. It’s not about money, but fear of power shifts and an inability to believe that all white people don’t want only stories of whiteness, whatever the cultural source material, and a belief that non-white audiences are small and niche and unimportant. Because that’s the world they were taught and think should stay in place, even if it’s not real.

Dr. Strange from Marvel succeeded but benefited from only white-washing a supporting character and mainly from being part of the Marvel-Avengers franchise that places puzzle clues to the bigger overall story in each of its movies, encouraging people to keep up with all of them. But most big action movies don’t have those incentives. The Last Airbender, Gods of Egypt, etc. have not fared well.

Kyle Davies is a clueless, mediocre, incompetent white guy who if not for systemic institutionalized bigotry, would be out of a job for that quote alone. Throwing up one’s hands and murmuring that they were forced to make changes to white-wash is a lie. It’s always been a lie, and most of the time now, it’s going to fail. And that goes as well for the folks at Marvel who played the same game recently about their comic books. They’ve been strategic in their roll-outs, but individual films can still start failing if they don’t get a lot smarter.

This thinking is dinosaur thinking. It’s poor marketing and stagnated vision. If you are in any kind of industry, and you start spouting this same kind of drivel about mass or mainstream appeal of products, by which you mean supposed white people appeal, you’re wearing your prejudices on your sleeve and no amount of hand waving is going to spare you. So stop acting so surprised or pretending to be exasperated when you get angry push-back. We know what “mass appeal” means — and there’s nothing appealing to the masses in it.

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Women in Film – Part 2 – 2017 Analysis

So if women built on momentum in 2016, what is happening this year? A fair amount, given that the “summer blockbuster” season for 2017 started in early March with Fox’s Marvel X-Men entry Logan and reboot film Kong: Skull Island. Women play principle roles in both those movies – young Dafne Keen playing a mutant girl with Wolverine-like abilities, and rising player Brie Larson is in the new Vietnam-era set Kong as an intrepid war photo-journalist, along with Tian Jing playing a biologist.

Some other action movies have already rolled out in the last two and a half months as well, as the former dumping ground of the new year has become a potentially fertile time period. The two reigning queens of the horror action films, Kate Beckinsale and Milla Jovovich, have returned with Underworld: Blood Wars (which was pushed forward from its original October 2016 release date,) and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Jovovich’s final film for the game tie-in franchise. The new Resident Evil racked in $307+ millions on only a $40 million budget and still going, for an all-time high for the franchise. Underworld: Blood Wars has had a slower start, but brought in over $81 million on an even smaller budget and still going globally. The two actresses together also got some extra press for their work in these successful but often dismissed franchises, since media has noticed that women are now taking point just a tiny bit more in hit action and SFF films.

On a slightly different spoke of the action wheel, Disney’s live action musical version of Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson, had a record-breaking opening weekend with over $170 million domestically and has earned over $392 million in world box office. That’s good since the budget for the film was quite huge with the motion capture effects, and they estimate it might reach the billion dollar mark. Disney doing live action alt versions of its animated princess classics has so far been nothing but extremely popular, so more transformation of the vault properties are planned, as well as things like the up-coming 2018 Mary Poppins sequel. That’s going to give quite a few up and coming actresses spotlight roles backed by Disney’s machine.

The horror franchise of The Ring finally got its new one out, Rings starring Matilda Lutz. Rings has brought in over $81 million on a $25 million budget. And on a smaller scale, Before I Fall, adapted from the hit YA novel, stars Zoey Deutch and a female-heavy cast with a story of a teenager who relives the day of her death over and over, trying to change things. It hasn’t brought much money in yet, but has had a limited release.

In addition to Fifty Shades Darker bringing in audiences for nearly $375 million on the psychodrama front, women have so far this year played key roles in hits xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, The Great Wall, The LEGO Batman Movie, horror thriller Split, John Wick: Chapter Two, sleeper horror hit Get Out, and kid-friendly adventure Monster Truck. There’s also been a cluster of high grossing global Asian films, such as Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu Yoga and the animated film Your Name, in which women are doing major leads.

But what are the big up-coming films for the rest of the year with women leads? Chief among these for 2017 is first off Wonder Woman, out in June, starring Gal Gadot — the movie we’d come to believe would never actually happen as nervous studio executives just weren’t sure about risking big budget girl cooties. But DC Comics is in a film franchise arms race with Marvel/Disney, with The Justice League of which Wonder Woman is an integral part to be its answer to The Avengers. And DC is getting to beat Marvel to the punch with having the first woman-led film in their franchise, since Marvel’s Captain Marvel movie got pushed back to make room for Spider-Man being incorporated into their schedule and the Black Widow movie isn’t yet on the timetable. So they’ve poured quite a lot into promoting the film, with appealing trailers, and expectations are high for the first live action film of the most famous female superhero. Which of course raises the specter of studios possibly again blaming all actresses if Wonder Woman isn’t a blockbuster, and using that to try and nix future woman-led superhero movies as too risky. At this point, however, the momentum seems unstoppable – the machines of these comics franchises are just too big to risk leaving out the women. So Wonder Woman gets her movie shot and that’s a high water-mark for actresses in action.

No, I don’t know why they went with her kneeling either.

 

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Women in Film – Part 1: 2016 Review

It’s time to get back into the topic I’ve been trying to do annually for a few years now on how female actresses are doing in box office power in the big budget action, SFF, thriller, action comedies and horror films of each year – the mostly bigger money, bigger press or “cool” films that can catapult actors into a very high tax bracket. In the previous year of 2015, women packed a lot of punch in their roles in franchises and led in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and several other quite successful films, so 2015 ended up being a bigger year for the actresses than expected. 2016 did not quite match it, perhaps, in buzz, but at the same time, it marked a genuine shift and momentum that has been developing since 2012. Actresses are still struggling with blocks to their participation in film, but have firmly established themselves in action and big budget, a trend much less likely to reverse at this point.

A good chunk of that is again due to the folks at Star Wars/Disney. Needing a placeholder movie for 2016 to tide people over till Star Wars: The Last Jedi at the end of this year, the Star Wars machine planned their first supplementary prequel film for December 2016 — Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which covers the desperate mission to obtain the plans for the Death Star taken out in the very first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. That was a bit special and the filmmakers did some rather special things with it. They first off made the story a grimmer, tragic, bitter war flick along the lines of The Dirty Dozen or The Guns of Navarone (which let’s face it, always pleases critics and fanboys.) They CGI-wizarded one of the late great actors of the original Star Wars films, Peter Cushing, into a useful cameo and made excellent use of Darth Vader, (nice to hear James Earl Jones having fun with the voice again.) They came up with my now favorite robot, K2, voiced by the beloved Alan Tudyk in full snarky form.

And they decided, even though Force Awakens had been a woman-led story, to have Rogue One be one too, with Felicity Jones playing Jyn Erso, daughter of the designer of the Death Star, who leads a rogue platoon to go get the plans and try to reach her father. They expected the film to do well in December but not quite in Force Awakens territory. But the dramatic caper was a huge hit, coming in as the second most successful movie of the year, with over a billion worldwide box office and still going. Even if you argue that Star Wars has a bit of a built-in safety factor as a franchise, that the new SW movies have both been women led and done phenomenally does more than trickle, trickle erode the argument that women can’t open big movies well. And Rogue One is also set up to have solidified the change in the toy industry after Rey in Force Awakens forced the issue – lots of Jyn action figures and related merchandise, doing very well.

“I rebel.”

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The Internet Amuses Me

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Tired of This

No, not the other bigger political and life stuff, though I’m more than tired of that too. I’m tired of the nitpicky stuff. I’m tired of Hollywood and western film white supremacy and how deeply ingrained it is.

Also not so long ago, I read the best-selling SF novel The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey. The novel is a post-apocalyptic zombie novel, set in the ruins of Britain, and it takes the time-honored SF approach of evolution, kind of like the original I Am Legend novel by Richard Matheson. It’s a well-written book with some interesting dynamics, although it feels a bit like what would normally be a novella dragged out to be longer. The novel centers around an unusual girl named Melanie and other children kept at a bunkered school where a woman named Helen Justineau is their teacher.

The novel has been made into a film in a joint UK/US production. (Don’t know if they changed the setting to the U.S. or not.) It’s starring Sennia Nanua as Melanie and Gemma Arterton as Ms. Justineau. The movie is scheduled to come out this year in September, which means I missed it in my round-up of women-led films and such for 2016, but you know, yay for another one!

In the book, Melanie’s exact appearance is a bit unclear. It seems like she is somewhat pale but also has kind of golden toned skin, so she might be a white girl or a black Briton or have Mediterranean or South Asian ethnicity. So any young actress might have played her and Sennia Nanua is a black actress. But also in the book it is quite clear that Helen Justineau is a black woman. It is in fact a key undercurrent in the story, related to some of the themes of the story. I like Gemma Arterton quite a lot, but that didn’t change the fact that it was ridiculous that she was playing a Persian princess in the game-based movie The Prince of Persia, and it doesn’t change the deliberateness of this switch here in The Girl with all the Gifts.

Now the filmmakers and the studios I’m sure can claim that they are just shifting things around, since they took a main character, Kieran, a soldier who in the book is a red-haired Irishman, and instead are having him played by black actor Fisayo Akinade. They also took another minor character who is indicated as South Asian in ethnicity and have her being played by black actress Dominique Tipper. But Kieran is mainly a sidekick character, so essentially it’s just having the black actor play support to the four leads, who except for Melanie, are played by white actors. Helen Justineau is a main hero/focus of the story. She is its questioning moral center. And what the film is putting forth is that such a hero role needs to be played by a white woman, not a black woman.

Add to that fact that Melanie, played by a young black girl in the film, spends the first part of the story strapped to a mobile chair with a mask on her face, controlled mainly by white people, and it gets more than a little symbolically problematic. You could say that it’s meant to function as a symbol of historic slavery related to the story, but so is switching out a black role for a white actress. The very strong possibility is that having decided to cast Nanua as Melanie because they liked her for the role, the filmmakers probably felt that they could not have two black acting leads in their movie. Because that’s how this kind of thinking works as well. Justineau also in the book has something of a romance with another lead character, a white British military commander played in the movie by Paddy Considine. While films have had inter-racial romances and it might not have been an additional factor, it does again contribute to the regular Hollywood approach of having only two white people bonding together as leads.

The reality is that white people play 80% of the roles in film, even though that’s not near their percentage of the population. It’s hard enough for actors of colors to get on screen at all, even when filmmakers are willing occasionally to racially change a white character in an adapted work. When lead and key roles in adaptations or that fit ethnically for non-white people are then given to white actors, it continues an industry-wide discrimination that visually helps fuel discrimination in the wider world, certainly in the Western world.

The logic that filmmakers use to apply to these things has slightly improved (trickle, trickle,) after lots of screaming, but they still regularly switch heroic roles, major and minor, of non-white characters to white actors and will now switch out other non-white roles of one ethnicity or race for another for seemingly strange reasons.

Take the film adaptation of the best-selling novel The Martian by Andy Weir. The film was a good adaptation of the novel overall and had a number of non-white actors playing key roles. But one very pivotal supporting role, Mindy Park, the technician who spots that the protagonist astronaut is still alive on Mars and who is one of his main contacts, would seem by her name and slight indications in the story to be Korean American and instead in the film is played by a white actress, Mackenzie Davis. Again, I like Davis as an actress, but it’s hard not to see this as switching the heroic role to a white actress to be on the safe side.

On the slightly brighter side, the character of Venkat Kapoor, her supervisor, a South Asian American, was replaced, but by a black actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor. But that may have been because the filmmakers decided that they had too many Asian characters — the chief engineer played by Benedict Wong and several Chinese characters who help NASA, to have another Asian actor in a main role, and that they figured a white actor couldn’t pull off the last name of Kapoor (the character’s first name was changed to the less South Asian moniker of Vincent.) So yay, that increased the presence of black actors in the movie, but only because they didn’t want the number of Asian actors to outshine the number of white ones who play most of the leading roles.

The author of the novel, Andy Weir, pointed out that he doesn’t do a lot of physical character descriptions or had prescribed notions of their appearances, including of his protagonist astronaut, so technically Mindy Park could be a white American and “Vincent” Kapoor could be a black American, though he had thought of Park as Korean American. But if that’s the case, then the lead astronaut didn’t need to be played by a white actor like Matt Damon either. Mark Watney could have been a black man, multi-racial or any variety of ethnicity. But that would have made some people quite upset — that the character wasn’t a square-jawed white guy as they no doubt imagined him to be because they’ve been trained to imagine the hero as white, even when there are no physical descriptions.

This is not a problem that is going to be easily solved, given the old, ingrained myths by which we treat each other (see the anger at The Hunger Games movie having black actors play heroic characters who were described as black people in the book, by those with poor reading comprehension who assumed such heroes had to be white children.) Hollywood is deeply uncertain about whether they can get away with giving the global audience a regular diet of non-white leads, given that they’ve force fed us white leads from the beginning of film’s existence. And despite ample evidence to the contrary, they have clung to white and mainly male leads like a security blanket, even though numerous movies with such leads tank and the income stats are actually better for women leads and lead actors of color. It is, again, partly a social status issue for industry bosses as well.

Regardless, it has in recent years taken a good chunk of enjoyment out of certain films for me when they do this stuff and has influenced my movie watching choices. I love old movies. I mean, I really love them. I’ve grown up on them. I’ve seen probably thousands of movies in my life. But the white supremacy can go now, as quickly as possible. And a good start would be to take characters who are already not white people in the original material and not turn them into white people for current and future films.

Because we don’t need them. We really don’t. Much as I like many white actors, they aren’t the only ones I like, and they don’t always need to be the heroes or the majority group in an ensemble movie. And that’s my big sigh for today.

 

 

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A Passel of Web Series

Greetings new followers! I’ll try to have actual content for you.

Recently I got introduced to some web series work by actress, writer and producer Joanne Gaskell that I believe one could call geekerrific. (Don’t hurt me.)

The biggest, best known one is Standard Action, a satirical fantasy series that takes place in a world that is D&D-ish, down to characters talking about experience points and charisma scores, makes fun of its own low budget by using light-based special effectgs and puppets with remarkable effectiveness, and throws in reference points from everything from The Princess Bride to Doctor Who. The first season follows the formation of an adventuring party of outcasts that set about on a rescue effort. The second season involves what happens when the adventurers meet the entity behind what happened in the first season, and the last, third season (so far,) ventures into a multi-verse. There may also be an online comic attached to the series. Here’s the first episode of the first season:

 

The second web series is One Hit Die. It is similar to Standard Action, and can be said to take place in the same universe, but the style is a little different as the series breaks the fourth wall and has the characters periodically talk to the camera about their thoughts, like a reality show or fake documentary shows like The Office. One Hit Die has a short, introductory first season, an additional two part short called Crushmas and then a longer second season entitled One Hit Die: Legend of the Lich Lord. Here’s the first episode of season one:

And lastly, Gaskell was part of producing a three-part short story for The Gamers web series, a series which has been going on for some time now. The short entry is called The Gamers: Natural One, and involves a non-gamer put to the test by his girlfriend’s family. Here’s the first episode:

Not every joke is a hit or a great choice, but they are creative, fun, with enjoyable characters and a good attitude. Enjoy!

 

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