Walter vs. Jimmy: Whose Fall Will Be More Tragic?

The entire premise of Breaking Bad was that life is like chemistry; changes happen all of the time, and sometimes they occur faster than you realize. A seemingly normal, likeable man snaps and becomes a cold, calculating, merciless crime lord, and yet you could also argue that maybe he was never that great of a guy in the first place. It could be that he was just waiting for the last straw to bring his demons out into the open.

It could also be a cautionary tale about society’s lauding of hyper-masculinity (and the derision of anything that differs form it), and how unchecked greed and pride can lead to bad, stupid choices.

Rewind now to the events of Better Call Saul. We saw a fully realized Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad (selfish, hollow, but immensely intelligent and crafty), and at the start of this prequel series, we saw Jimmy McGill, the man who will become Saul. Not the greatest guy, certainly, but still a likeable, charismatic, scrappy little defense lawyer trying to do what he thought was right.

Now, we are finally approaching the point of no return, as Jimmy’s disillusionment with his brother and society as a whole builds and he struggles to earn money and hold onto the love of his life, Kim, who is clearly stressed by the trial and Jimmy’s shady behavior. And in this week’s episode, right before the season finale, Jimmy does something that cannot be defended or spun in any sort of positive light: he convinces his former clients, a bunch of little old ladies, to turn against each other to force a settlement of their lawsuit, which gives him a quick and substantial payout.

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill; group†- Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 9 – Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Fall” was the most painful episode to watch this season, other than “Chicanery.” Watching a sweet old lady get bullied by her friends as Jimmy played puppet master was, as another review put it, “like watching a puppy get kicked.” There was nothing noble about it whatsoever, and while the episode “Expenses” showed Jimmy at his emotional low point, “Fall” shows him at his moral low point so far. I feel bad for him, but that just makes this character degradation feel all the more tragic and wrong.

I watched the show entirely because of this eventual change, and now part of me is really regretting it. Not enough to quit Saul or denounce it, by any means, but I grew to really like Jimmy, despite his numerous flaws. Objectively, in just about every way, he was a better person than Saul Goodman.

 

Walter White, Jimmy McGill, and their respective criminal personas are intelligent in different ways. It’s clear that the two men could not switch places and succeed at one another’s jobs. They are also both brash and prideful, easily swayed by powerful emotions, and their sense of morality and justice often battle for dominance as they plan the way forward. Saul Goodman is a tamer but also more subtle kind of evil than Heisenberg; the latter breaks the law and hurts people directly and personally, while the former uses the law itself to his advantage. You can more readily guess and grasp at the consequences of Heisenberg’s actions, and yet Saul doubtlessly has his fingers (or ass, if you’d prefer) in way more pies.

Put that way, maybe Saul Goodman is worse than Heisenberg. How many criminals go free because of him? How many injustices are allowed to continue, all so this guy can make money?

For me, I think the tragedy comes from Jimmy’s fate already being known. Walter could have gone anywhere and done anything in Breaking Bad, and while his moral fall was inevitable, we couldn’t know to what extent or where it would ultimately lead him without following the show all the way to the end. We also saw how selfish he could be, and how minor snubs and hurts could lead to ridiculously stupid outbursts from him. Looking back now, I think Walter might actually have a lot in common with Chuck; maybe even more than he does with Jimmy.

 

But the audience of Better Call Saul has (more than likely) seen Breaking Bad, and knows what Saul Goodman is like. They may have liked his sleazy charm and the creative resolutions he had for various problems that popped up during Heisenberg’s reign, but now there is a sweeter, more naive version with a sad family backstory with which we can compare him. We have followed him as a protagonist, not a side character; we’ve seen his personal struggles, and identified with him on some level. His love and loyalty have been severely tested, and while you don’t want him to give up hope, you could conceivably understand why he’s losing the strength to care.

It’s genuinely hard to see Jimmy crossing over to the dark side in strides, and I didn’t realize just how hard it would be until Monday night. I’ve been losing track of things on and off throughout this series, because as I said, the fact that it’s prequel is not all that overt or distracting once you get into it. I knew from the very beginning where Jimmy would end up, both morally and the fate of his general person; I just didn’t know how or why, and I didn’t expect to like him as much as I do.

The tragedy of exploring the past is that you see, by various degrees, how it could have been prevented. By contrast, the tragedy of seeing the future is that you (but more relevantly, the other characters) can’t do anything to prevent it. The sensation fills you with helplessness, because the situation gains more depth, more meaning, in the context of the original story/character. It adds to the weight of the loss of a man who might have been an asset to society, had he not taken this path.

 

Contrast this with someone like Mike, a smart man who had every opportunity to help people as a police officer, but fell pray to a corrupt community and let his morals be corroded by greed and self-preservation. He toes the line between right and wrong across both series, but with his added backstory in Saul, I have no doubt that, above all else, he does whatever he thinks is necessary to protect himself and his family. He utilizes the training and knowledge from his previous life, but his personal pride generally knows when to take a back seat (unlike Walter’s, for example).

Neither Walter nor Jimmy had enviable lifestyles, but at least in the latter’s case, he had a woman he loved who supported and challenged him, and he could find some degree of passion, even as a low-rate public defender. He had stress and discontent, sure, but he also had a seemingly loving and supportive brother, despite Chuck’s debatable illness. Walter, meanwhile, needlessly drove all of his friends and family away, all because he was disappointed with himself, too proud to seek help, and rendered reckless by the first real excitement he had ever felt in his life.

 

Walter’s situation seems more tragic…but only because of the countless (seen and unseen) victims of Heisenberg. He may never have had the capacity to help people, because deep down, he was proud, bitter, and greedy. Jimmy was no peach back in Season 1, but at least he seemed to genuinely want to help people. And his less legal antics were mostly harmless; they either backfired, netted him some minor success, or they screwed over people like the Kettlemans, who seemed to deserve it.

 

Plus, in the end, Walter admits that he liked being a meth lord and was good at it. Jimmy didn’t want any of the nonsense that tore him and his brother apart.

Losing Kim will probably be the final push for Jimmy, whether it’s by her death or social departure from his life. I can’t say for sure how it will happen, but just the idea of the latter makes me think of A Christmas Carol, in which Ebenezer Scrooge lets his fiancé walk out of his life with hardly a protest, and he subconsciously regrets that choice for the rest of his life. That is the impression I get from the brief scenes of future Saul, as he quietly manages some middle-of-nowhere Cinnabon.

I’d rather not have Kim die, but if they don’t do that, I’m sure the writers will make it feel as painful as if she had.

 

I’m eager to see what happens with Mike, Gus, Nacho, and Don Hector – even Howard and Chuck, if only because I want to latter to get knocked down a few pegs further – but now, anything involving Kim or Jimmy just fills me with dread. How crazy will this season finale be?

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Wonder Woman: The Most Baffling Movie of the Year

Wonder Woman…is the definition of “okay.” Not good, not great, not “the worst thing I have ever seen in my life.” Just “okay.”

Actually, no. It’s also a sad testament to the low bar that is modern female empowerment. It is too aware of itself, feels the need to make you constantly aware of it, and thus lacks any kind of subtlety in its execution.

 

To tell you that DC is trying to be Marvel is the equivalent of telling an Olympic swimmer that water is wet, so let’s not even dwell on that. But no, they still haven’t figured out the formula, let alone how to make it their own. 

As a main character, Diana of Themyscira…doesn’t really have one. She’s a classic fish out of water, much like Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in his first movie (or Crocodile Dundee, He-Man, Tarzan, etc. for that matter), but the only dimension they added to her is that she’s extremely naïve about mankind and the world he inhabits. She thinks that humans are only corrupted by presence of Aries, the Greek God of War, so it comes as quite a shock when she explores London for the first time and realizes that good and evil are not so black and white after all.

We’ll have to come back to that plot element later. Other than that, Diana’s job is to be a “strong, confident woman” who shakes up 1910’s society with her outspokenness, strength, and passion. Oh, and to fall in love with a guy, of course, because we can’t have prominent female characters who don’t hook up or are heavily motivated by a man in some capacity.

 

Oh wait…

Gal Gadot is pretty and plays the role well…such as it is. But she deserves a better character with better writing, and a cast that actually compliments her personality-wise, in addition to needlessly covering her in fights.

Speaking of men and other characters, nobody else in this movie has much of a character either. They’re just kind of walking stereotypes with barely-mentioned backstories, mostly there to gawk at Diana for being hot, powerful, and generally unorthodox. The fat, comic-relief secretary is introduced and then quickly disappears for the rest of the movie, and you wonder why the writers even came up with her at all. Chris Pine cares a lot about marriage and propriety in some scenes, and then in others, he’s awkwardly joking about his penis for agonizingly long moments with Diana. 

The cool Amazonian women feature heavily in the beginning, but only get mentioned once in the second half of the film, basically so that one of the male characters can creepily wish that he could go to “an island full of women like Diana and not a single man among them.”

 

Umm….Ewww and good luck with that, Buddy.

Some of the fight scenes are hilariously nonsensical, and the forced slow-mo moments don’t highlight how badass Diana is to me. They’re just annoying and gratuitous and, as you might imagine, slow things down. Keep the scene moving, Zack Snyder! I know it’s hard, but you can do this!

Along those same lines, at one point, Diana remarks that her new man friend Chris Pine (who can’t hold a German accent if his life depended on it. Just throwing that out there…) should take her straight to the war so she can kill Aries. It’s not a great sign when my boyfriend and I are both sitting there thinking, “Yeah, can we get to the action now? Please?”

The plot is extremely predictable. The writing and dialogue within it can be absolutely cringe-worthy, especially when it comes to Chris Pine and Gal Gadot being alone in a room together. I have so many unanswered Greek Mythology questions, and yet I never even studied the subject that hard in school. Character motivations make no sense when presented the way they are, particularly for Diana’s mother; she is implied to be extremely world-weary, but we never figure out how it happened, and her approach to “protecting” her daughter from Aries is illogical and flip-flops within about ten minutes anyway.

 

Speaking of Aries (MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS INCOMING), wouldn’t it have been much more interesting if he was proven to be a myth after all? Diana builds him up as this scapegoat for why human beings do bad things to themselves and to each other, and then there’s a fake-out where she thinks she killed Aries, but nothing stops or changes after the fact. Instead of focusing on that, which would have strengthened the movie’s message so much more, Aries turns out to be some other guy who was barely in the movie at all, who we didn’t have a fair shake at figuring out in the first place. The writers threw in a red herring and third-act twist, but couldn’t be assed to set it up in a way that would make it feel poignant or clever.

And, more importantly, it weakens the idea that a man has agency and responsibility for his own destructive behavior. They try to hand-wave this away during the epic final battle, with Aries spouting off a bunch of bullcrap about how “he didn’t make men this way! They did it themselves!” But come on! You still could have made a cool final battle scene without this silly, monologuing supervillain, and instead exploring a different direction. One in which Diana doesn’t have a five-minute existential crisis, but instead has to wrestle with it for the rest of the movie and come to terms with the loss of her childhood innocence.

That would be really relatable and interesting, but I guess we can’t ask for too much depth in beat-em-up summer blockbusters.

 

At the very least, if I can’t have smart or competent writing, I would settle for less shallow, meaningless feminist pandering. Reminding me constantly that Wonder Woman is – gasp! – a woman, and yet look at how awesome she is…it’s like listening to a guy explain a joke over and over again and demand that his listeners laugh at it, rather than just telling it and letting it speak for itself. It loses its impact and just comes across as forced, and the fact that I still felt empowered by it is…kind of sad, really.

Fair representation is a tricky thing. A person’s womanhood (or race, sexuality, etc.) tends to look good when it’s incidental to her greater character, because it implies that this is – or should be – the norm. A woman kicking ass shouldn’t be all that surprising or noteworthy, at least not to the point where it requires constant acknowledgement.

But at the same time, making a bigger deal about such a character can also be truly groundbreaking, pointing a purposeful finger at our current societal flaws and status quo, as if to say, “@$%& that! We’re running the show now!”

So there’s no easy or concrete approach to female characters and their framing (personally speaking, I tend to prefer the former option), but I hope we can at least agree that how this movie approached the subject was clumsy, awkward, and unintentionally insulting. It’s damn-near insecure.

 

There is so much more to say about Wonder Woman, but while it was similar to Beauty and the Beast with its hollow simplicity, I didn’t take it nearly as personally because I didn’t care about Wonder Woman at all prior to seeing this film. I did really enjoy moments of it, unlike with Beauty and the Beast, but I can’t point to any deep or compelling reason why for any of them. I relate to being told “you can’t do (insert activity here).” I like watching a girl kick ass and prove nay-sayers wrong. That’s about it. I can get pretty much the exact same feeling out of watching A League of Their Own.

One thing that I like that is fairly unique to Wonder Woman is that Diana isn’t embarrassed by the attention of guys, and has a blasé, almost amusedly detached attitude towards sex when it’s first brought up. Sadly, a lot of female characters in media have one of two settings when it comes to sex and romance: “ultra-virgin” or “ultra-slut,” so it’s nice to see some middle ground in that regard, outside of something like I Spit on Your Grave. But the rest of the romance subplot is predictable and cliché, and it’s too bad the majority of the scene I mentioned is awkward as hell and drags on for forever.

One last thing before we go: at one point, Pine and his secretary are trying to get Diana to wear normal, human clothes so that she will blend in more. Makes sense, right? But besides being confident and forward, she is also (admittedly) gorgeous, so much so that men everywhere become brain-dead protoplasm at the very sight of her.

Pine’s solution? He puts glasses on her to minimize and dim down her distracting beauty.

 

THERE IS NO MIDDLE FINGER BIG ENOUGH, ZACK SNYDER.

 

*5/10

*None of the images used in this post belong to me.

Love Potions: The Worst Concept Ever Created By Humans

As I said in my Pepé Le Pew post, times are constantly changing, and so too are our perceptions of their subjects. Pointing to derision, mocking, and stalking as evidence that a guy likes a girl is more readily scorned than in previous decades, and, more relevant to today’s discussion, the concept of the love potion becomes less charming and more…creepy, shall we say? Possibly even…the dreaded “R” word?

 

Some might say that the whole idea of love potions was never that great to begin with. After all, romance as a whole is hard to write well, and portraying two people hopeless infatuated with one another often becomes sickening, simplistic, saccharine drivel. It puts one, both, or even multiple characters into a kind of trance, which looks closer to lust than our modern concept of what love is supposed to be, and they digress into illogical, stupid beings with no sense of boundaries.

I would agree there. If a love potion “plot” could be written well, I have yet to see it for myself. But worse still is the still newly-emerging revelation that a character who would willing overlook the thoughts and feelings of another person and simply force them into being with them (explicitly in a sexual way or not) is, quite frankly, a terrible scumbag of a human being.

Think about it: it’s rape in a meta-ethical sense, if not a literal one. A person thinks to himself (or herself), “Gee, I really like this person, but they don’t like me for whatever reason. Let me see if I can override that, whether they like it or not.”

It’s never phrased that way, of course, but that’s the basic subtext.

To keep things even, let’s look at a few notable female examples of this thing being romanticized:

 

Look at something like The Craft. Robin Tunney’s character, Sarah, casts a spell on a guy she likes named Chris, in order to get him to fall in love with her. At one point, Chris becomes so obsessed that he tries to rape her, only for Sarah to escape and her fellow witch and then friend Nancy (played by Fairuza Balk) to come to exact revenge. But despite the despicable nature of this act he tried to commit, no one ever pauses to think that he had limited agency in the overall situation. And I don’t say that to be apologetic; he was literally forced into ‘loving’ Sarah, and the magic just escalated it too far. Chris is punished and killed for something he probably had no control over, but we probably instinctively root for the former (if not the latter) because of our visceral loathing for the act of rape.

 

Let me just say here that I don’t think that having an attraction (physically, emotionally, etc.) to someone is inherently bad or wrong. It’s what you do about it and how you treat that person as a result of it that can cause problems, and the fact that enough people fantasize about forcing someone to fall in love with them that it’s a popular trope in the media makes me very glad that love potions don’t actually exist. Our society would fall into chaos and debauchery, probably just like the golden calf scene in The Ten Commandments.

 

Let’s take another magic movie: Practical Magic. Sandra Bullock’s Sally has a curse that all men who truly love the women of her family will die before their time, and so, as a young girl, she casts a spell that seals her feelings entirely on a man that “doesn’t exist.” She gives him what she thinks are impossible and ridiculous qualities, just so they will never meet and fall in love. But, lo and behold, such a man does meet her over the course of the movie.

 

The idea that Gary is under the influence of a spell and may or may not actually love Sally is never really satisfyingly resolved; at one point, she reveals the truth about her curse and spell to him, and, despite everything he has seen, replies that curses are only real if people believe in them. Sally is still supposed to be likeable, if flawed, but she just decides to take their love on faith, and embraces the man whose agency she took away. He embraces her as well, and they all live happily ever after. The curse did get broken, no doubt allowing Gary to live to a ripe old age, but the spell that binds him to Sally is never really mentioned again. And it’s constantly implied to be romantic because of how sweet and tragic it is!

 

I have some issues with Practical Magic’s overall execution, but that is a review for another time.

In Ancient Athens, stories about infatuation and Aphrodite were regarded as a kind of madness, and the love was basically an object to be acted upon by the “lover.” Gods and other mythical beings mostly got involved with “love” to be dicks and mess with people

 

or because they were arrogant enough to think that they knew better than the people themselves (see A Midsummer Night’s Dream). And yet today, we still see a lot of love potion stories in which we are meant to sympathize with the instigator, for kids no less! (see Breadwinners “Love Loaf” episode and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for just three random but recent examples)

The “safest” method of execution is to have one or more characters try to bring two other characters together, because he/she/they think they should be.

 

Personally, I prefer Garnet’s approach to love in Steven Universe:

 

The gist:

“Love at first sight doesn’t exist. Love takes time and love takes work. At the very least you have to know the other person…”           

I think that’s a much healthier attitude to teach kids, and I wish it would catch on more in the adult world as well. The idea that love always has to be dramatic or turbulent, but “don’t worry because it’s all worth it in the end” frustrates me, but still more is the idea that wanting to control someone else to such a ludicrous extent isn’t abusive, sociopathic, or just straight up objectification. You don’t have to know the person; you just have to want them badly enough, and thus they deserve to be yours, especially if you’re the protagonist. And if you have a way to make it happen, you’ll do so with no second thoughts.

At least having those would be better than just thoughtlessly making it happen in two seconds.

 

Even the most mindless entertainment can actually change the way we view the world, if its messages are constantly reinforced and we don’t get any variation. Somebody has to challenge the current notions if they are ever going to change, and I know it’s difficult. It’s hard to be different, and it’s hard to discern between what you may be overthinking and what’s actually a problem.

Believe me, I know, but ultimately, thinking about it and demanding more from your entertainment can make things better.

In Defense of Cinderella

I’m not saying it’s the greatest movie ever made. I’m not even saying that Cinderella is that strong of a character. She isn’t, and that’s okay. Not every female character needs to be Gloria Steinem.

What I am saying is Cinderella (1950) and its eponymous character are not nearly as bad as people claim, and the 2015 live action remakes ultimately “updates” very little from it.

Keep in mind that I do still like the remake (for the most part), but much like with the new Beauty and the Beast, I think it gets praised more than it really deserves, especially in contrast to the hate heaped upon its predecessor.

To start off, let’s get a few things out of the way here:

 

Yes, the animated prince gets maybe 4 complete lines in the whole movie, one of which is, “Yawn.” And yes, he has no character.

 

Yes, the mice take up too much time. And yes, a female mouse does in fact say, “Leave the sewing to the women,” and isn’t that so anti-feminist?

 

Got that out of your system? Great. On we go then.

Here is my interpretation of animated Cinderella, backed up by quotes from the opening narration: Her father died when she was very young, and suddenly it’s revealed that her stepmother and stepsisters, her only remaining family, are self-centered, sadistic bitches; “it was upon the untimely death of this good gentleman, however, that the stepmother’s true nature was revealed. Cold, cruel, and bitterly jealous of Cinderella’s charm and beauty.” She is put to work as their house servant soon after, but their house still falls apart because the stepmother is too cheap to hire more help. To quote the movie again, “The chateau fell into disrepair, for the family fortune was squandered upon the vain and selfish stepsisters”.

 

So it can be reasonably inferred that Cinderella was brainwashed and manipulated from a young age. The fact that she hasn’t left home probably means that she can’t, as it would probably leave her homeless and starving (which can sadly happen to runaways in the real world as well, even in modern day). The movie supports this theory with its framing of shots, showing Cinderella constantly inside or at the very least confined to the surrounding property. Aside from the panning shot over the castle, town, and chateau during the opening, we virtually never see the rest of the land (unlike in the remake, if you’ll remember).

It surprises me how many people fail to see the logical flow of events like these. They would prefer to call Cinderella stupid or weak, but I wonder if they could comfortably say the same of abuse victims in the real world, especially children raised in such environments? Think about it.

Anyway, the next thing people love to criticize Cindy for is being boring and simple. A helpless waif with no character and no drive to better herself. Well, aside from referring you back to my interpretation above, let’s look at Cinderella in the movie. She is forced to do every chore in the house every single day of her life, but while she doesn’t let it twist her into someone bitter and truly unkind, she clearly strains her patience very often. Just look at how the animators drew her face, albeit in brief moments:

 

Cinderella doesn’t say much sometimes, and she tends to be pretty reserved, but much like Belle, she conveys a surprising amount through her expressions. You can also hear frustration and determination in her voice, such as when she’s trying to convince herself that the prince’s ball wouldn’t have been that much fun anyway.

I also like how she not-so-subtlety mocks her stepsisters’ performances at their music lesson.

 

See guys? She’s not a complete goody-two-shoes doormat after all. She just copes like every other woman does….quietly and bitchily.

The classic Cinderella moral has always been “work hard and be good and good things will come to you;” essentially “don’t give up.” But I think an even better lesson would be, “don’t let bad experiences change you negatively as a person,” which incidentally would have been a better moral for the new Cinderella as well, retroactively-speaking. Cinderella as a character doesn’t just work hard; she saves the mice, who are even lower on the social food chain than she is, and unlike the rest of her family, she treats those who are lower than her with respect and humanity.

 

She does try to argue with the stepmother (however futile that might ultimately be), so it’s not like she has no backbone. She’s trying to make the best of a bad situation, whether by trying to assert herself, trying to stay positive, or just being silly.

 

In a world of talking mice, horrible relatives, and fairy godmothers, what else can you do but yell at your alarm clock like it’s a person?

When Cinderella talks about the ball prior to going, at no point does she mention the prince or the opportunity to get with him aside from when she was reading the invitation. It sounds more like she just really wanted the excuse to put on a nice dress and have a fun night out. Even after she runs away at midnight, she doesn’t think that the man she danced with was the prince, and later, she is so startled by that revelation that she drops a tea tray.

 

Face it: Cinderella just wanted to get pretty and go to a party. She met a guy while she was there, somehow not realizing he was the prince, and that just made the evening better. Unlike in the remake, the writers don’t explicitly say that Cinderella has no chance with the man she danced with, but I feel like Cinderella would already know that and just have quietly appreciated the experience.

Then, the next day, when she finds out that not only can she be with him, but he’s the prince of the entire country, her first thought is to go clean up and make herself presentable. Her daydreaming blinds her to caution, sure, but she’s clearly elated to be able to marry the man she “fell in love with” (it’s a fairytale. Whatever) and escape her abusive, exploitative family.

And last but not least, do you remember her reaction when the stepmother locks her in her room? She gets upset. She beats on her door and tries to pull it open.

 

When she sees that her mice friends are coming to help and bringing her the key, she encourages them, and despite her usual policy of trying to be nice to Lucifer, she asks the birds to get Bruno the dog just to scare him away.

What was remake Cinderella’s reaction again?…Oh yeah, I remember. She twirled around her room daydreaming about the prince and the ball, singing to herself and totally not caring about what the stepmother might be planning to do to her. Because that’s really smart and empowering, right?

 

Remake Cinderella could ride a horse, speak several languages fluently, was an adult when the step family came into her life, and was shown numerous times to be able to leave the chateau and visit friends, who would probably take her in for a little bit if she asked them to. Hello! The filmmakers love to talk her up like she’s some feminist paragon, and by implication how backwards and weak old Cinderella is, but the climax of the movie completely ruins the image of the former for multiple reasons. The most relevant of which is that she doesn’t even try to get out or help herself, unlike the animated Cinderella. Just because 1950’s Cindy failed to get out on her own doesn’t negate the fact that she actually tried to.

 

That’s all I’m trying to say here. Both movies have their respective flaws and strengths, but the older version is not as bad for little girls as many people would have you believe. And as I always say, you could help your children understand context by watching it with them and talking to them about it, letting them know that it was made 70 years ago and lots of things change in all that time. It’s a little magical thing called context, and it works wonders.

Except maybe things don’t change much over 70+ years, because the remake updates so little and creates more issues than it ultimately fixes, all so that Disney could cash in on nostalgia and modern sensibilities simultaneously.

 

That’s what it’s all about; dress porn for little girls and girls at heart. At least 50’s Cinderella’s was less gratuitous…and way shorter. And less radioactive-looking.

 

You can still like something while admitting it has problematic elements to it. That’s how I can comfortably like both versions of this story. I just see so many people trying to pretend that one Cinderella is way worse than the other, when really, it’s two halves of the same whole. It’s too much selective outrage and modern sensibility, without actually addressing any of the problems they claim so deeply upset them.

Cindy’s not a bad person. Maybe all we need to do is see her in full light.

 

*None of the gifs or pictures in this post belong to me. They all belong to Disney. 

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Alien Covenant: A Step Forward After Three Steps Back

Warning: Plot Spoilers Below

Alien: Covenant. As a prequel to Alien, it’s more of what Prometheus should have been, but it hoists that film’s astounding lack of subtlety and thought with much the same vigor whenever it thinks you aren’t paying attention.

And spoiler alert: I was.

Prometheus had head-scratching, downright insulting simplicity while trying to appear scientific and weighty. Alien: Covenant leaves the poor, abused subject mostly alone, in favor of the tried and true Alien formula: a bunch of bozos in space receive a distress signal, go to investigate it, touch something dangerous and/or infectious, and then horror ensues, as the crew gets whittled down by a rapidly-growing Xenomorph or equivalent. Prometheus changed a few small elements of the formula (where the crew is headed, no distress call, they touch something different for a different reason, etc.), but the stupid writing and poorly-cast, poorly-acted characters relegates those alterations to the background.

 

Thus, Covenant is instantly a way better movie; the acting and casting both fit, and I’m not left wondering what real “scientist” readily, repeatedly disregards basic, commonplace safety and testing precautions just “because.”

The ending of this second sequel is also chilling because it ties into Aliens masterfully, using an established and foreshadowed character that they expanded upon in the movie’s opening sequence. Sure, a few plotholes are carried over, and I’m annoyed that Prometheus was so bad yet can’t really be skipped over if you want to fully understand what happens in Covenant, but it gives me some hope that Ridley Scott is actually learning from some past mistakes, and that he’s learned that there can be more to suspense and horror than quick cuts, darkness, and tight quarters.

Note: those elements are still better than almost everything you see in most modern horror movies.

That said…

It’s the same old Aliens plot, which was starting to stink by Alien 3. And that foreshadowed character I mentioned? The handling is about as subtle as being struck by a wrecking ball, complete with a naked, gyrating Miley Cyrus clinging to the chain.

When will horror writers learn that making a character obviously evil and suspicious just makes the other characters look exceedingly stupid for trusting them? I know that in this case, the crew members don’t have much choice if they want to survive, but they trust everything he says and spread out across his “secured” area like they’re waiting to get picked off.

 

Prometheus actually makes this a bit of a plothole, as the character is a robot (Michael Fassbender’s “David” character) and the events of the movie he originally appeared in happened about 10 years prior to this one. It’s heavily implied by the crew of the Prometheus that synthetic beings are generally distrusted, and this particular model is so lifelike that they find him to be disturbing and uncanny. Even if things have changed during the passage of time, the Covenant crew should be way more wary of David initially than they actually are, especially given their emotional distress at just having been attacked with no warning and having lost several close friends.

 

As with the previous prequel, the dialogue can feel a bit too “exposition-y” at times, but at worst, it just makes you roll your eyes. I wish Daniels had more to do, because I think that as a strong, active female character, she was closer to Ripley than Elizabeth Shaw, both physically and mentally. The scenes where she mourns her husband are touching, even though they happen at the beginning when we don’t really know her yet. And they distinguish her as being more emotionally open than Ripley, but still able to woman up and take charge when the situation requires it of her. There is complexity and balance there, which is at least as admirable, if not more so, than Ripley’s stone-cold bad-assery.

I also like that there’s pretty much no random, out-of-place fanservice moment of Daniels in her underwear. At least not that I can remember.

 

I mostly went to see this film because the effects would allow the Xenomorph to have more fluid motion and scare potential, and I was favorably pleased with what I got. I saw plenty of reveals coming, but the execution was still pretty decent, and as I said before, downright chilling. I don’t get the point Scott seems to be trying to make about peoples’ faith or lack thereof, but it’s extremely clunky and ham-fisted and detracts from an otherwise interesting antagonist. The finger-wagging is not as idiotic and nonsensical as it was in Prometheus, but it’s still pretty obnoxious.

I can’t quite explain how it should have been phrased or emphasized different; all I can say is it broaches Captain Planet levels of condescension and simplicity, and in a film for adults, you’ve got to do better than that.

 

*6.5/10

None of the images used in this post belong to me.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2: Even Better than the First

Two major spoilers below. Be warned. 

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 fixes a lot of issues I had with the first movie. Now that the origin story is out of the way, we can focus more on character development for more of the characters.

I like that Gamora has more to do beyond being the pretty tsundere arm candy for Peter, and that the nature of her relationship with Nebula is more fleshed out. I like that Nebula herself is made more “human,” giving a better explanation for her cold exterior and her desire for vengeance against both Gamora and Thanos. I like that Rocket has to come to terms with being a raging asshole. I even like that Yondu, a character that I barely registered or cared about in Movie 1, got a backstory that was just shallow enough to not take up too much time, but just deep enough that I actually really started to like him, and I actually cried when he sacrificed himself in the end.

I even like that the aliens look by-and-large more convincing this time around. They seem a lot less like humans in cheap body paint, because now they have expense-looking body paint. Probably a bigger budget for smaller-scale CG effects.

 

The only thing I like better about Guardians of the Galaxy (the first one) is the oldies playlist. This time around, it wasn’t quite as catchy and epic, but it was still pretty good. The regular soundtrack fit the scenes they were set to…I know that seems pretty basic and obvious, but is actually more commonly screwed up than you would think. It’s less deserving of special mention and more like showing up to work on time every day; expected, but appreciated, especially when others around you don’t do so.

Most of the jokes seem to come from Drax and his usual lacking comprehension of nuance and tact, but they always hit home runs. I can’t think of a single joke in the movie that fell flat or otherwise went unnoticed, and it was all-around a good time at the movies. It’s still not the deepest masterpiece of storytelling, of course (the villain’s name is Ego, for Pete’s sake!), but it’s good fun that doesn’t spend a lot of time talking down to its audience, and I really appreciate that. I like not having to go in expecting high art, but neither expecting cheap, boring, or insulting crap, and I walk away perfectly satisfied. It’s almost like watching a more serious Deadpool, which is great as long as the comedy and dramatic tones aren’t constantly at odds with each other.

Go see it. It’s really fun.

 

7/10

*None of the images in this post belong to me. 

 

Is Pepé Le Pew a Rapist?

Pepé Le Pew was always my least favorite Looney Tunes character, followed closely by Speedy Gonzalez. Introduced in the mid 1940’s, he’s a skunk obsessed with love, and he always looks for it in all of the wrong places, particularly with the ever-unfortunate Penelope Pussycat.

 

It’s interesting to see how cultural and social attitudes change over the years. While as a kid, I never thought of Pepé as a rapist or sexual harasser, I never found his shtick all that funny. He chases around a poor cat who somehow gets a stripe of white paint down her back in every cartoon, and she gags and squirms violently every time he pulls her close enough to smooch. It’s all the fun of a “will-they-won’t-they” story with none of the suspense or appeal, but three times the annoyance.

I asked a few people from previous generations to explain the “joke,” so to speak, and all of them seemed to give me some variation of, “He’s funny because he’s outrageous and clueless.” …Okay, so he’s a sort of proto-Max Bialystock from The Producers? 

…Yeah, I’m still not buying it.

As I mentioned in my review/comparison of The Producers, the reason we should be laughing (as opposed to horrifyingly shaking our heads in dismay) at Max’s machinations is because they highlight what a pathetic scumbag of a human being he is. There is no question about the wrongness of his actions, and no one person that he hurts or uses (other than the comically neurotic Leo Bloom) is too dragged out or overemphasized. They mostly come and go, or at least provide him with some obstacle or frustration in exchange.

 

What is also very important to remember is that while he has clearly not given up his conman ways by the end of the movie, he failed. He got nothing! He lost! Good day, sir!

However likable he may be, he’s still a louse and a jerk and he gets exactly what he deserves. It’s cathartic, funny, and even contains the slightest bit of commentary.

For a closer comparison, look at Daffy Duck, a fellow Merrie Melody/Looney Tune. He’s a self-proclaimed louse and is often greedy, jealous, and arrogant, but he’s funny because he never succeeds. Bugs Bunny and the other characters always outsmart him, which is good, because he’s usually trying to use or harm them to save himself (see Chuck Jones’s classic hunting trilogy of shorts: Rabbit Fire, Rabbit Seasoning, and Duck! Rabbit, Duck!).

Meanwhile, Pepé Le Pew is meant to be a lovable dolt, and with the exception of a few cartoons, he wins or gets away unscathed in the end. Say what you want about Johnny Bravo; he may never have learned his lesson, but at least he got pummeled repeatedly and painfully by every woman within a 15 yard radius!

Newsflash: a guy who won’t take no for an answer is NOT charming. Harassment (whether it be a singular incident or repeated pattern) is an issue that is very real, terrifying, and traumatizing for a lot of women. In some form or another, it all boils down to one basic point; either explicitly or implicitly, a man tells you that you are an object for him to use and act upon. Your personal comfort and feelings are secondary to his whims, if he even acknowledges them at all.

 

Not that I would wish this upon anyone, but men as a group don’t get consistently told the same thing by women. And I’m not meaning to imply that men can’t go through something similar, that all men do this, or that comments about looks are always meant to be hurtful or derogatory. By no means! But it’s the thoughtless nature of a lot of comments and actions that belie these attitudes; this idea that a man is entitled to treat a woman he fancies any way he wants, or lay a claim on her when romantic feelings are not mutually held. And these kinds of attitudes are reinforced over time, typically by peers, family, and media that normalize them…

 

One cartoon in which the tables get turned on our loathsome little skunk friend is the 1949 short Scent-imental Reasons, which is admittedly satisfying, but has, in my opinion, one of the most horrifying sequences in his entire history as a character:

Finding that Penelope has locked herself in an air-tight box, Pepé silently begs her to open it and come back to him. First of all, if this purposeful action of hers isn’t a big enough sign that she doesn’t return his feelings, I don’t know what would be. There is such a thing as too stupid, you know?

Second of all, he clearly throws a tantrum at one point and keeps demanding that she open the box with stern, down-pointing gestures.

Third, when these “charming” and “hilarious” tactics don’t work, he proceeds to pull out a gun and threaten to kill himself, even going so far as to walk off-screen and pull the trigger!

 

Good Lord, what is wrong with you?! I don’t know why suicide was ever considered funny in the first place, 1940’s and 50’s, but what the hell?!!!!

Penelope, like a reasonable person, would clearly want to stop someone from trying to commit suicide in front of her. She unlocks the box and races out to see Pepé, only to be caught in his arms and told, “I missed. Fortunately for you.”

I know it’s a silly cartoon and not an actual situation between two actual people, but I can only forget reality to a certain extent, no matter what I’m watching. It’s suspension of disbelief, or willingness to forgive a character’s flaws because he or she is funny or likable in other ways.

There is nothing funny or likable about this moment. Maybe there used to be something to it, but frankly, I’m happy to not be living in that world anymore. This is a despicably low, manipulative move on Pepé’s part; it’s way more screwed up than people realize. If a character like Pepé were created in the modern day, there would be a justifiably loud outcry of protest.

But to swing back around to my question above, no, Pepé Le Pew is not a rapist. Like, at all. Seriously, people on the Internet throw this word around without knowing its meaning, which is “one who commits the act of rape”.

But he certainly is a harasser and a skillful, downright sinister manipulator. I don’t even care that Penelope technically “wins” in the end (and she does so in a few other shorts as well); simply getting a taste of his own medicine doesn’t give this stinker the punishment he truly deserves.

 

Gee, dude, it’s almost like unwelcome advances are unwelcome!

Adults who know better might still get a kick out of Pepé, but kids definitely shouldn’t be watching and laughing at his antics. He’s a flimsy, unlikable character who has been framed poorly since his conception. Penelope doesn’t invite his advances – and in fact she very obviously tries to get away from him – but still he persists, all because he thinks she’s a hot piece of skunk ass. And maybe his smell is her only objection, and maybe it isn’t; these days, someone can refuse a romantic relationship for any number of reasons, and that’s cool. Penelope shouldn’t pursue him if he doesn’t want her to, although through sheer karma and catharsis, I find myself applauding when she gets all pushy back.

Even if new, tamer versions of him come and go (and why not? Speedy Gonzalez is a lot less of a racist caricature these days), I’m glad to see he’s mostly being retired. Arrogance, pushiness, and stupidity are not attractive separately and they are potentially dangerous when put together and labelled “charming” and “funny.” Much like D.W. Read and post-movie Patrick Star, I think Pepé Le Pew is a bad character that should just go away.

 

*None of the images and clips in this post belong to me. Pepé Le Pew is owned by Warner Bros. 

 

 

 

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Movies, media, and what make them MASSIVE.