Archive for the ‘TV/Movies’ Category

Thoughts on “Dallas” at the half-way point …

January 27, 2016

So, I’ve been watching “Dallas”, and at this point — remember, this is being written a bit ahead of when it gets posted — I’m just starting season 8, so a bit over half-way through. I actually am quite enjoying it. At the start of a season, things may move a bit slowly, but the machinations and plots are still interesting, and it does work like soap operas in that it builds at the end of the season so that you really want to see what’s going to happen next, leading up to the season-ending cliff-hanger. As a soap-opera, it’s also the case that I can watch it while doing other things, or even while I’m winding down before sleeping, because if I fall asleep or don’t pay attention to something the show will, in fact, let me know what I missed at some point if it’s at all important. That being said, there does seem to be some foreshadowing and plot threads dropped that can be picked up again (or not) later, which is a sign of good soap-opera plotting; a lot of the later plot threads don’t really come out of nowhere, but out of things that could be utterly unimportant if they don’t fit, but can be critical hints if they do.

Anyway, some other thoughts on the series:

1) When I recalled this series, I remember being mostly sympathetic to Pam, and she is seen as one of the “better” characters in the show. Watching it this time, however, I’m utterly unsympathetic to her … although she’s getting a little better in late season 7 and season 8. The reason is that she’s turned into a “I’m always right” character, which is what I hate about Leanne on Coronation Street: Pam can do things that be considered right and also get upset about other people who do similar things (but not as bad) and also be considered right. It actually ends up worse for Pam because one of her big foils is Bobby, who is probably the most genuinely good character on the entire show. From the start, Pam had to insist on having her own job, even when the demands of that job meant that she and Bobby didn’t get to spend time together. And Bobby was just so completely reasonable about that, reasonably upset and maybe commenting on her not really needing a job, but being understanding the in first place. Then he had to put up with her not wanting a child, then heading for a nervous breakdown without one, leading him to desperate measures — and an accident — to get one to make her happy. Then Jock dies and put J.R. and Bobby into competition for Ewing Oil, which means that it takes up more of Bobby’s time. And then she’s upset with Bobby for spending that much time there, and also notes that he’s changed to become more like J.R. when, really, he hasn’t (and, in fact, one of the reasons he bowed out of running Ewing Oil the first time was that he understood that it required him to do things that he didn’t want to do). Bobby’s biggest sin is putting the screws to the Cartel in that they either have to pump oil or buy him out, which offends them — and Pam — greatly … except that all of them would have done the same things if not worse to him for far less motivation. Bobby points out at one point that while Pam thinks he’s changing, he’s always been this competitive and ambitious, and it’s true. Even when he bowed out of Ewing Oil at the start of the series, he immediately went into development, and worked to win. Despite his changes, he’s still genuinely good most of the time, as his deal with the Canadians revealed (that’s why they wanted to work with him, and he treated them fairly when he went in with them). So Pam’s objections are far too strong there.

It gets worse when they separate. Pam almost immediately ends up with Mark Grayson, and even while they are supposed to be trying to save the marriage is going places and “dating” someone who is obviously and openly trying to break up the marriage so that he can have her, while Bobby is remaining focused on rebuilding the marriage. That doesn’t make us want to be on Pam’s side. But when Pam is in Paris and her and Mark are supposedly about to sleep together, Pam gets a phone call from Afton saying that Bobby and Katherine, Pam’s sister, might be up to something, so she storms home and angrily confronts both of them for doing … at worst, what she was doing with Mark. And there was nothing going on, not even to the extent of her and Mark, which she never really apologizes for, and when Bobby confronts her about Mark, she doesn’t seem to realize that he ought to be feeling what she was feeling, but instead expresses it as if this is such a hard thing for her to have to deal with, as opposed to him. While, sure, it’d be hard for her to decide between them she shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place. The show should be showing her as being not really pure and Bobby as being hard put upon, but it seems to frame it as the other way around, which makes me dislike Pam.

She gets a bit better when she decides to marry Mark because he doesn’t have long to live, but for the most part she’s irrational and self-absorbed, and yet we’re supposed to think that she’s a great and good character. The fact that she most commonly plays against Bobby who is not that irrational and self-absorbed only makes it worse.

2) At this point, there really is nothing for Lucy to do in the show. When the show was focused on Pam, their relationship and how it evolved over time would be interesting, but when J.R. got more focus, there was little for her to do. She wasn’t in any way smart or powerful enough to be any threat to J.R., and knew nothing about and had no interest in Ewing Oil, and the focus had to switch to that because that was just so important to J.R.. Even when she was managing her father’s voting rights in the company, all she ever did was vote against J.R., which, honestly, is what her father would do anyway. Even the plot where she was raped and then had to learn to allow someone else to be romantic with her would have been done better with Pam or Donna, where how that impacted their husbands could have been explored. There’s really nothing for her to do in the show anymore.

3) Katherine Wentworth’s actress can’t really handle the role she was in, or she’s gotten bad direction. She’s supposed to be manipulative, but how she presents her plans makes you really think that she is up to something, because a lot of the time what she says seems artificial. You have to wonder what she’s up to because she doesn’t seem genuine in her words, unlike how Larry Hagman plays J.R.. I also don’t think that the obsession she ends up with for Bobby is all that believable; he’s certainly a good catch, but that she’d fall that strongly in love with him that quickly, and think that she can win him over? It comes up too quickly, mostly I think because she’s a minor character early in the show and the obsession is already full-blown when she returns. I think the actress is attractive and that the character has potential, but as J.R. said she really is just not as smart as him … or any of the great manipulators on the show, which would include Sue Ellen and probably Pam.

4) Afton Cooper started out as a very manipulative person, but by this point is another one of the genuinely good people in the show, which is a nice progression. It also ends up hurting our view of Cliff, because he really does treat her badly most of the time. I ended up really disliking him — which makes me want J.R. to crush him — and wanted to see her find someone better than him, not being able to understand what she saw in him at that point. What’s good about this is that the show can be seen, instead of as a big clash between J.R. and Cliff, as a clash between J.R. and Bobby, which is a much more interesting relationship to explore, especially considering that they both do seem to actually love each other when they aren’t fighting over something. Cliff, then, is the puppy yapping at J.R.’s heels … which doesn’t make me happy that at the end of season 7 he actually succeeds.

So far I’m enjoying the show, and I only have a few more months to get through all 14 seasons.

Dallas …

December 16, 2015

So, I’ve recently started watching the entire series of the original run of “Dallas”. Amazon recommended it to me at one point, and I remembered that I had always kinda wanted to watch it, but it ran on the cable stations that I didn’t have and I couldn’t find it on DVD. Given the massive amount of hours of the show, the price fit well into my normal “Worth it?” calculations (it’s under $1 an hour if I get through the whole thing), but the worry was that I wouldn’t want to watch it now. After much consideration, I decided to try it anyway.

I’m actually really enjoying it so far.

The set starts off with the original miniseries, but doesn’t actually tell you that, and it starts right in the middle of the story, with Bobby and Pam having gotten married and returning to Southfork to give everyone the “good news”. Obviously, it’s not taken very well, especially by J.R., and this animosity so far is driving most of the first season. From the miniseries, the focus was more on Pam — and her character is actually really interesting — but as it goes along we’re getting into more of J.R.’s machinations, because even in the miniseries he really did steal the show, and developed into the classic soap villain that he’d become.

Acting wise, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, Steve Kanaly and Barbara Bel Geddes turn in very good performances. Victoria Principal and Charlene Tilton, at least at the start, unfortunately don’t. But what I noticed in the early episodes is that Principal’s acting ability improves when she plays against stronger actors, like Duffy or Hagman. When she’s interacting mostly with Tilton or on her own — there’s one scene where she’s talking on the phone with Bobby that is massively stilted and awkward — she struggles. That being said, she does manage to pull off facial expressions and the like quite well and believably, which is plus. That being said, it definitely seems like the casting of these two, at least, was based primarily on their looks, especially considering just how gorgeous Principal is in the early episodes. I always thought she was attractive, but my memories were based on the later seasons. I’d say she used to look good to me, but now I find her simply irresistible, except that she always more than looked good.

For the other principles in the series, none of them really stand out; they’re generally okay. Linda Gray is a little awkward, but whether that’s due to her acting or to the character is hard to say.

I’m not even into the really interesting storylines yet, and the storylines right now are moving very quickly with little development, which I’m sure changes in the later seasons. “Who Shot J.R.?” is actually quite early in the run — Season Three — so it’s coming up soon. Over the next six months or so, I’ll probably manage to get through the entire run.

Ghostly Intentions …

August 10, 2015

So, I came across an article entitled The real reason some men still can’t handle the all-female ‘Ghostbusters’ by Anne Theriault. But here’s the actual link: http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/all-female-ghostbusters-backlash-male-tears.

This … is not promising. Ultimately, the article is about the “backlash” over the new Ghostbusters movie with the all-female Ghostbusting crew, and Theriault ultimately describes it as:

Part of the problem is, of course, straight-up misogyny (not to mention unfounded fears about Fake Geek Girls co-opting everything nerdy men love), but it’s also the fact that men are genuinely unaccustomed to seeing women in films.

The last part, presumably, is her real reason, since she focuses on some studies and an ad-hoc theory from Gina Davis to demonstrate this. But since this paragraph follows a number of tweets, presumably those tweets demonstrate the problem and provide evidence for her contentions of misogyny, fears of Fake Geek Girls, and being unaccustomed to seeing women in films. So let’s look at those tweets, shall we?

Melissa McCarthy will ruin ghostbusters, always typecast into the same bad/annoying role

Translation: I feel that Melissa McCarthy is a one-note comedienne and I don’t like that note.

@Ghostbusters not the new ghostbusters. Look like the biggest jokers going. Way to ruin a franchise

Well, this could refer to them being all-female, or it could just refer to them not looking the part like the original Ghostbusters did. Kinda like I feel thinking about Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson as “Starsky and Hutch”, or the guys who played the lead roles in “21 Jump Street”. Or the “A-Team”, for that matter.

I will not be watching the new Ghostbusters in 2016. Nothing against the all female cast but why ruin a classic. There’s no more talent

In this one he explicitly says that he has nothing against the all female cast, but that the original movie was a classic — which implies that he feels that there’s no reason to remake it — and that there just isn’t the comedic talent out there to do it properly. There’s no reason to think that he thinks that there’s male talent out there that could do the role justice either.

New Ghostbusters cast being all female is just Hollywood pandering

This is the only one that actually talks about the all female cast … and it isn’t misogyny or fear or not being used to seeing women in movies if he’s right that it’s pandering. And considering that there seems to be no reason to have an all-female Ghostbusters line-up — at least the original idea, from what I heard, would have had Venkeman running things and so it might have been reasonable that he might have skewed his selection process to young, attractive women — it seems that there’s a fairly good case to be made that this is, in fact, just pandering to liberal and Social Justice considerations.

Now, Theriault’s — and Davis’ — theory is that the reaction is at least in part due to the fact that we don’t see a lot of women on-screen, and so our idea of how many women is a majority, say, is skewed. We see 17% women and think that equality, when it isn’t, and 33% women is seen as dominating. And she’d almost have a point right up until she tries to link that theory — which, again, is ad hoc and under-evidenced — back to the Ghostbusters movie:

Going back to that 33 percent figure that Davis cited, it’s interesting to note that it can be applied directly to the Ghostbusters franchise. Including the film that’s still in production, only a third of the representation in the films has been female: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson each acted in two entries in the series (that’s eight male entries), while Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kristen Wiig fill out the new cast (four for women).

However, that ratio still feels like over-representation to some men—because in a way it is, based on their ingrained notions of how and how often a woman should be represented.

Um … does anyone think that we should be counting the total representation across all of the movies, and not the representation in this one? Tell ya what. I’ll redo “Sailor Moon”, and I’ll make it an all male cast. And when feminists complain that I’ve taken a cartoon that represented women and girls and turned it into one that represents men and boys instead, I’ll reply that if you take the two series the representation is precisely 50-50, so it’s perfectly fair. Do you really think that reasoning would work? So why does anyone think it would work or have meaning here?

If we just consider this as a question of equal representation, the new Ghostbusters movie fails miserably, as there is no reason to have an all anything cast. If we look at the history of the franchise, there is even less reason to have an all male or all female cast. Starting from the original, we could easily see Egon deciding that active Ghostbusting was getting in the way of his research, and Winston deciding that he wanted more steady work. Then we could take the thread from “The Real Ghostbusters” and add Janine as a Ghostbuster, and then fill the other slot with another woman, and likely one that’s very attractive but is actually the brains of the group (Why very attractive? So that Peter would hire her, and so that she has a subplot of people not taking her seriously because of her looks that she has to overcome by the end). This gives us an even split, but is an organic even split, and is one that maintains the original franchise while simply adding to it. There is no reason to have an all female cast, particularly if you’re going to argue for that on the basis of equal representation. Given all of this, the charge of “pandering” seems quite legitimate; it sounds like they want female Ghostbusters just to have female Ghostbusters, not because they’re going to do anything with them beyond being able to tout their wonderous equal representation.

We need media that, thus, features a diverse cast of women—because the only way to correct our perceptions about gender parity is to make sure we’re exposed to films, books, and TV shows that represent the people we often pretend don’t exist.

Actually, the way to correct our perceptions about gender parity is to have media that has gender parity. I don’t know about you, but to me an all female cast does not show gender parity any more than an all male cast would. No, it’s about women becoming the dominant representation, in an attempt to make up for the sexism of the past. There may be cases where that’s needed, but not in representation where your stated goal is to show gender parity.

The new Ghostbusters movie won’t ruin anyone’s fond memories of adolescence—in fact, they might make a lot of peoples’ childhoods a little better. For the young women who might not be used to seeing themselves on screen—or to being told that their stories matter—Wiig, McCarthy, and company aren’t just battling the supernatural. They’re fighting to give us a new generation of heroes.

Because, obviously, having a gender parity Ghostbusters wouldn’t give women female heroes. They can’t be female heroes if they work alongside men as equals right? That’s clearly not what we want, right? Right?

I never thought this would happen to me …

July 27, 2015

… but I just rejected watching a half-hour show — an anime — because it automatically played the episodes in order.

Now, this might not seem all that dramatic to anyone; perhaps a little strange, but not really a big deal. But when it came to the TV series Alf I rejected watching it again because it didn’t do a “Play All”. Here, the show did that automatically for you and I’m not going to watch it. What gives? Am I just never satisfied?

Well, the thing is that I still do usually prefer “Play All” options, especially for half-hour shows. The only time that not having that works is for shows that I, in fact, want to just sit down and watch, like I did recently for “Ned’s Newt” and “X-Men Evolution”, which I watched in the evenings while I was ramping down to go to sleep. Normally, however, I don’t just watch TV. Instead, I typically read or play games or write posts while watching TV, and only certain shows and at certain times do I actually just watch the shows. As I said in the post on “Alf”, having to stop that stuff and select the next episode every 20 minutes can be a bit annoying.

Now, it’s summer here, and it’s been relatively hot over the past few weeks. And it’s gotten dark enough early enough lately that in order to read — my favourite thing to do while watching TV — I’d have to have my big light on in the living room. But whether it does give off heat or whether I just feel that it does, I don’t like having it on in the summer in the evenings, even with air conditioning. So in general what I did was watch something that I could just watch and enjoy. “The World at War” was something that I ran pretty well every year, and this year I ran “Sledge Hammer!” and “Black Adder” after that, which all worked pretty well.

After I finished them, I decided to try “Babylon 5”, it being a show that I’d definitely be able to just watch without doing anything else. But the problem with that is that my evening time is going to have to be pretty flexible, as depending on what I’m doing I might have anywhere from a half-hour to two hours to time to sit and watch TV. A 45 minute show just isn’t flexible enough for that, as I found out when I tried to cut the lawn after work last week and had to wait for fifteen minutes or so before watching just to have it so that one episode ended reasonably close to when I wanted to stop for the night.

Hence, the anime, a series that I had seen some episodes of before, liked, bought, and then never watched. And then when it ended it jumped to the next episode, which doesn’t really work; I want to be able to select the ones I want to watch, and don’t want to have to worry about it running ahead if I fall asleep while watching. Selection is actually important here because I want to be able to skip episodes that I don’t want to watch, since I’ll actually have to watch them.

So, that leaves that out. And why don’t I watch “Alf”? Because I don’t think that I’d want to just watch those episodes, which is the same issue I have with “Hogan’s Heroes”, for example.

I’ll figure something out, of course. I just find it odd that I who is generally so insistent on getting and using the “Play All” option am now turning up my nose at watching something because it uses the most convenient “Play All” option possible [grin].

Inheritance of the Old Republic

July 13, 2015

I just added a new page, a fanfic I wrote a long time ago that took some elements from the Sith Lords game and wove it into the end of the prequel trilogy. Not long after that, I was reading some of the EU books (it was either the ones right before or right after “The Dark Nest Trilogy”, which I maintain is the absolute worst of the EU, so bad that I’ve only ever read them once) and noted that they went from having a potential interesting conflict to resolve with Kyp Durron and Corran Horn holding diametrically opposed philosophies and Luke wondering how to keep the Jedi together without simply taking control to having him pretty much simply be the one running the whole show without any problem, which irritated me to no end. I had around that time thought of a bit of a story arc that played on that conflict — although wouldn’t necessarily resolve it — that revisited the Knights of the Old Republic games, and I think I briefly started writing it … and then, as is usual for me, just ditched it. The reason to add the story here is two-fold. First, it is a story that is complete and so does work in the vein of the other stories I’ve posted to, well, post some writing here, and second, I want to actually try to write that story now, as pure fan fiction.

So, why do I want to do this? Well, the overarching reason is that I’m looking to focus more on the outside, hobby-type work things that I’ve always wanted to do but never found the time to do, like writing and programming AI and programming games and all of that good stuff, mostly for interest but also to see if maybe it could turn into something that could generate some income in the future. Or not. The reason I’m trying to do this fanfic is because as a fanfic I don’t have to care about getting it all that good or putting a ton of effort into it, and if I fail at it it won’t matter at all, and as fan fiction it can give me something to post on the blog, and so something that has some benefit to me regardless, and in doing it I’m hoping to get myself into the habit of doing that sort of work on a regular basis so that it’ll be easier to slide it into more serious pursuits.

Anyway, that’s what I hope to do, anyway. Hopefully, I’ll be able to and some people will enjoy it. I can’t make any schedule for when you’ll see anything for it, but you won’t get anything this week for certain.

The Modern “Nale” Plot …

March 18, 2015

So, I started watching the new “Beauty and the Beast” through shomi. At the time I write this, I’ve seen two episodes. And it got me thinking of what seems to be the tendency in modern American television, at least, towards what I’ll call a “Nale” plot, plots that are needlessly complicated.

Let’s compare the new Beauty and the Beast to the original to see what I mean (spoilers ahead):

(more…)

Guilty Pleasures

January 8, 2015

I think all of us have some kind of guilty pleasure when it comes to what we watch on TV (if we watch TV), from reality shows to soap operas to, well, whatever. Essentially, there are shows that we watch that we wonder why in the world we watch them, and are kinda embarrassed to admit to others that we watch them.

For me, right now, I guess my guilty pleasures are … poker and darts. I did sometimes watch poker when I had cable before, mostly when there was nothing else on, and found myself wondering why I watched it at all, or why I was having such a hard time changing the channel. But this time around, I find myself actually seeing that poker is on and deciding to watch it directly, potentially even if there might be something else on. That being said, I’m not alone, as the ratings for poker on ESPN used to be higher than that of hockey.

But what I’m finding most amazing is darts. Not the ratings, necessarily, but the reception it gets in Great Britain, where it plays/broadcasts from. It’s really big business. The matches, from what I’ve been seeing, move from venue to venue … and are packed. And they don’t look like tiny clubs either; they may not be stadiums, but they certainly hold a good number of people. And there’s a lot of trappings involved in darts, too. They have intro walks, intro music, nicknames, cheerleaders, and all sorts of other things. The World Championships had a 250,000 pound top prize. It’s amazing that a sport like darts can get that much attention.

As sports, the poker that you generally see is the game that, in my opinion, requires the least skill: Texas Hold ‘Em. But it’s all about reading players, knowing the percentages of your hand, what draws you have, and what hands your opponent could have based on that hand, and how likely they are to call a bluff or bluff themselves. So there is some strategy there that makes it interesting.

As for darts, it’s a fairly interesting high-scoring sport, because you have to be the first to get to 0 from (usually) 501 … and you have to get there exactly. Which means that you do want to get as high a score on each set of throws as you can … but also want to set up easier finishes, since you have to end on a double or a bullseye to win, so it involves sometimes taking lower scores that leave you with a more even remainder.

I’m not sure how long this will last, as my interest in poker is already flagging a bit (I only really pay attention now when interesting players are on) and I think that the same will happen soon to darts. And then it will be on to the next guilty pleasure …

Political Correctness, Diversity, and Changing with the Times …

December 25, 2014

So, I read on Pharyngula that there was some discussion about having a black James Bond, and some people reacted badly to that suggestion. One of the common complaints was about this being a “PC” — politically correct — move, and the comments are puzzling over what politically correct means, anyway. There were also a number of suggestions for other substitutions that they’d love to see, alarmingly often justified with nothing more than it would annoy the people who would be annoyed by them, which is hardly an artistic justification that I can get behind. I’ll outline and deal with them a little later, but right now let me talk a bit about how I see politically correct and why that sort of political correctness is a bad thing in my opinion.

I’m not going to bother checking the history of the phrase to see if I’m using the words right, but I see political correctness as exactly that: the sort of correctness that politicians do. Which means, to me, that it’s not about promoting real equality or real diversity, but is instead about looking the part. So regardless of the actual impact that the change has on the world or the work, the decision or change is made to look like you’re doing something and to avoid people complaining that you aren’t doing anything. In the world of TV and film, that usually means essentially “tokenizing” the work, by inserting “token” minorities but either not inserting them in any meaningful or important role — ie diversifying the supporting cast but not the main cast — and/or running the same sort of story and making the diversity meaningless when it wouldn’t be, and/or inserting that token character and driving their characterization by their stereotypes instead of as a full character. For me, in a TV or film role, there are two main conditions that make it a politically correct role:

1) The role is explicitly aimed at a specific group, be it black, Asian, female, gay, whatever in order to aim at diversity
2) But at the end of the day, the diversity is in name only: nothing about the role requires that it go to that group and they don’t rely on anything about that group in the characterization.

This wouldn’t count roles that are gender and race neutral that pick the best actor/actress for that role, and wouldn’t count roles where exploring the at least potentially different perspective is a key point of the character.

So now let me list the various suggestions:

1) A black James Bond.
2) The already done in the recent remake black Annie.
3) A female James Bond.
4) A female Doctor.
5) A female Doctor Strange in the upcoming movie.
6) Making Johnny Storm black in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie.

Now, the first thing to note about all of these suggestions is that they aren’t talking about roles. This isn’t about creating, say, a new Time Lord that is a woman and basing a series on that. Or making a female spy in the vein of James Bond in a new movie series, or even a spin off. No, this is all about taking an existing character in an existing popular series and making them black or female in order to add diversity (and, from the comments, piss off “bigots”). But two things strike me about this:

1) Changing anything in an existing franchise will always tick off the fans of that franchise, especially if you do it in an adaptation of a long-running franchise and not as a continuation of it (like the Marvel examples).

2) My cynicism sense is tingling, because this then really looks like an attempt to explore issues that people want explored or to add diversity that they want to have added in a case where they have a guaranteed audience, by attaching themselves to a popular franchise. So you get to make the points you want to make when people will watch, rather than building a franchise up yourself. It seems like trying to take the easy way to get what you want and not caring about ticking off the people who already liked the franchise and are the audience that you are exploiting to make your point.

Now, to make this work in an existing franchise, you have to make sure that you aren’t changing what made the franchise interesting in the first place, or to put it better you have to make sure that you don’t take away the things that make the audience want to watch it in the first place. If you’re going to change it that radically, then you might as well use a completely new franchise, or a spin off, instead of changing the main franchise. This goes double if you are doing an adaptation. And if you aren’t changing anything at all, then you definitely hit the bad kind of PC; introducing diversity for the sake of having it, not for the sake of doing anything with it. This works if you aren’t trying to add diversity, but if you’re doing it just to do it then at best you’re missing out on an opportunity and at worst you’re tokenizing.

So let’s look at the various suggestions in detail:

1) James Bond. I think that a black James Bond would work, if they simply decided to throw it open and look for the best person for the job, no matter what race it is. It wouldn’t change anything about the series, but that would be perfectly fine. But I would reasonably object to people saying something like “It’s time for a black James Bond”. No, it’s not. If the actor that they think works best in the traditional James Bond role happens to be black, that’s great. If not, that’s fine, too. There is nothing in James Bond that requires that he be black or any issues that we’d really want explored that require that he ever be black. So, if Idris Elba is the current actor that is best suited for Bond, then I say go for it, but if he isn’t and some white actor is better, then go for that.

That being said, I think that having a female James Bond is a very, very bad idea. The main premise of James Bond has been about this masculine ideal living the masculine ideal life, as we even saw in the “Our Man Bashir” parody of it. James Bond is supposed to be the guy that women want and men want to be. Making that a woman radically changes what I think is a fundamental part of the franchise and its popularity. Doing that is likely to reasonably alienate your audience. I have no problem with strong female leads — and tend to prefer them — but when I put on a James Bond movie that’s not what I’m after, just like when I put on a WWII documentary I’m not after action scenes with great special effects and when I watch the Transformers cartoons I’m not after a well-crafted and detailed story.

This is not to say that there aren’t interesting things that can be best explored in the action-spy game genre with a female protagonist. There are. But they can be best explored through new series that aim at that. Heck, you can even easily spin one off from the James Bond franchise, with a “The Spy Who Loved Me” kind of competition and then a new movie series that spins off from that to follow the female spy as she does her thing. And I’d love to see some of the suggested actresses do that. But I think it a bad idea to make James Bond that, as that takes away why people like James Bond in the first place.

While writing this, I thought of something interesting: I’m much less open to a female James Bond than I’d be to a female Maxwell Smart. The reason, though, is that Maxwell Smart being male isn’t as critical to the character, and changing Smart to be female adds a lot of new humour and parody opportunities that wouldn’t have to rely on the ones that Don Adams did so well. For example, you could start with the claim about James Bond that it’s the number and name that get reused, and give her the name “Maxwell Smart”, with the Chief apologetically saying that it’s what they do now and she’s the person best qualified for the job, which opens up a brand new running gag about people reacting to that fairly obviously male name. And there are a lot of different ways to translate the typical Smart traits to her, which would lead to a new and interestingly funny take on the issue. So I think doing that would lead to a traditional yet fresh take on Get Smart that could be very good, and I’d say better than the Carrell movie was, all because of the opportunities it affords.

The thing to note is that I suspect that a lot of the people crowing about how great a female James Bond would be would dislike the idea of making Maxwell Smart female (although, I haven’t looked at the reaction to the “Get Smart” movie, so I might be wrong). The reason I suspect this is because to make Smart Smart, you have to follow the traditional Smart traits, of essentially him being incompetent and yet competent just enough to make you believe that he’s a master spy in spite of his incompetence. This would mean putting a woman in a role where she’s incompetent, which a lot of the people who push for diversity don’t like. But if you make her competent and only play up that people think she’s incompetent, then you don’t have Get Smart anymore. And if you make her incompetent only because she’s inexperienced, you lose the semi-justified arrogance that Smart displayed. Making her Smart doesn’t mean making her a bimbo — because Adams’ smart wasn’t a “bimbo” — but it does mean making her less than competent. It’d be interesting to see if those calling for a female James Bond are willing to have a female incompetent Maxwell Smart as well.

2) Doctor Who. I also don’t see any problem with a black Doctor, treating that exactly the same way as I’d treat a black James Bond: if the best interested actor happens to be black, go with it. The issues around a female Doctor are a bit more complicated. My first thought was that we had seen female Time Lords in the past, and had had no real reason to think that the Doctor’s regenerations could change gender, and so then we didn’t want to turn this into another “Dax” thing with male and female memories in the same body and all of the issues around then when we’ve gone for decades without having to worry about it. But then in some random surfing I found that it is possible that one of the Master’s incarnations was female, which means that that’s already there. I’m still not convinced it’s something worth exploring in Doctor Who, though, especially considering the shortness of those series.

3) Annie. I’m not a big Annie fan, and so don’t have much to say. The purportedly clever move of making her black to reflect the least desirable adoption trait is clever if intended, but I think a lot was lost then in making Daddy Warbucks black to match, as that would add to the undesirability and allow an exploration of that sort of interracial type of situation. That being said, I can also see people being reasonably upset if they felt that red hair specifically was an important trait of Annie. I don’t think it is for Annie, but if they had done that in a remake, say, of “Anne of Green Gables” then I could understand people saying that the trait itself was important, and not just for what it reflected in the story. But I don’t know enough to say here.

4) Johnny Storm. Making Johnny Storm black raises the immediate question of him and Sue being siblings and how you handle that. In the comments, most people react dismissively to that by citing adoption or interracial marriage, but these are very, very risky. In the adoption case, since they are supposed to have such a close bond it developing through adoption puts that, at least, at risk. Remember, Sue is supposed to have raised him after their mother died (if I’m recalling correctly) and this way it says more about her than about their relationship. And them not being close in terms of race is something that cries out for an explanation, even if some assert that it happens. All that making Johnny black and not making Sue black does is raise issues and problems that likely need to be addressed for even a non-bigoted audience, and what is most damning about it is that all of these problems go away with one solution that almost no one suggests: making them both black. Why can’t they make Sue black as well and maintain all of those relationships and solve all those problems? It’s a sign of rank, PC cowardice to diversify Johnny and not take the obvious next step of doing the same thing to Sue. This is the sort of tokenizing that no one should want.

If they aren’t willing to make both Sue and Johnny black, why not make one of the other characters black? I suspect that many happy about Johnny being black would not be happy with making Ben Grimm black, since he’d end up going to orange and so not “really” being black. But this would be looking at the outside appearance and not the heart of the character. Surely there are interesting things you can do with a character whose outward appearance might have caused problems as well as benefits in the past now in a radically different appearance that has similar issues, and tie that even better in to the psychological issues that kept the Thing the Thing in canon. It’s only if you are shallow and advocate for tokens and not real characters that you can think that a black person in the Thing’s make-up has to end up as not really being black at all. But if you want to play it safe, why not make Reed black? It avoids almost all of the issues, makes him visible, and only has an interracial marriage angle to even be a bit of a problem, which probably isn’t. So, then, why Johnny, even as a token?

The key differentiator in FF is that they are a family. That family relationship starts from Sue and Johnny. There is no reason to risk convoluting that here, especially since there are other options. This is a bad idea and is tokenizing at best.

6) Doctor Strange. Why? Why a female Doctor Strange? You’d have to change a lot to make it work — like, potentially, Clea — and what does it add? Remember, this is an adaptation here, so why change this for the sake of changing it? What do you gain? If you want to explore a female Sorcerer Supreme type, why not introduce Clea and spin her off into her own movie to do that? All this will do is annoy people who wanted to see a Doctor Strange movie and do nothing else.

The last thing we should want is PC diversity, where it is done for show and not for substance. Either you go neutral or you go with what you have. Opposing PC diversity is not bigotry, but is something that we all should do, whether we are interested in Social Justice or just in a good movie.

You are not worthy …

November 6, 2014

So, a friend of mine sent me a link to this preview of Age of Ultron. It starts with a scene where all of the Avengers are sitting around, and then they all try to lift Thor’s hammer, which can only be lifted by someone who’s worthy. Everyone who tries fails … including Captain America. Now, initially this bugged me a little bit because, in comics canon, Cap is one of the heroes who can indeed wield it (see this description). But this was a bit of a throwaway scene before introducing the serious issue (at least by the video) and the movies don’t have to stick to comics canon, so that’s not that big a deal. But the more I thought about it, the more it bugged me, and I eventually realized that that was because the scene would have completely destroyed the characterization of both Cap and Thor as established in the movies.

Let’s start with Captain America … in fact, the movie Captain America. Why was it that Erskine pushed for the 98 pound weakling Steve Rogers over all of the other candidates? Why did Erskine think that Rogers could actually use the serum without going nuts like so many of the others did? What was it that Erskine say in Rogers that he didn’t see in any of the other candidates? His internal character. Steve Rogers was, without the serum, a generally good and virtuous person. And Erskine said that the serum enhanced what you already had, so bad qualities were magnified … but so were good qualities. So taking the serum should have made Cap a better person, and in fact almost a paragon of virtue. So would such a paragon not be worthy of wielding the hammer? Especially since Thor isn’t, in fact, that sort of paragon?

That’s the real issue here: based on their movie characterizations, there is no way that Cap is less worthy — on the basis of character — than Thor is. Cap may have changed through his movies, but Thor is still deeply flawed, as evidenced by his reaction to the others not being able to lift the hammer. Cap has already learned the lessons that Thor needed to learn in order to be worthy of the hammer. So in order to have Cap not being worthy while Thor still is make sense, there are really only two ways to go: either Stark is right that the hammer really is tied to Thor as a person — which makes the statement misleading and hurts the implication that Thor needs to prove himself or someone else might — or it’s judging on different criteria than overall character, which would need to be explained and is difficult to pull off.

So, as one part of a joke scene, it has rather startling implications. It probably would have been better to have Cap refuse to try instead of Black Widow … unless you use Cap trying to demonstrate something. And to do that, I suggest that Cap didn’t fail to lift the hammer because he wasn’t worthy, but because once he clearly knew that he could lift it — with that first attempt — he, himself, refused to wield it and pretended that he couldn’t. Why would he do this? Because he didn’t know what would happen to Thor if he actually took it up. Would Thor lose his powers? Would they be able to share it? Doing so could greatly impact Thor’s life, and all Cap would get out of it is avoiding looking “unworthy” to Thor and the others, and access to some power. Since Cap wasn’t even interested in power when he joined the Super Soldier program, it’s perfectly consistent with his character that getting the power of Thor wouldn’t really interest him, and that he’d be able to ignore what the others thought of his worthiness, and didn’t want to impact Thor that way. This is why his saying “No, thanks” works better than Widow’s, since these sorts of things are in his character.

But doing it this way could lead to — and I hope things do work out that way — a really cool later scene. We’re at the climax of the movie (or movies, I guess). Ultron is about to win. Thor is out. Cap needs a weapon. His shield isn’t handy, but Mjolnir is. He hesitates for a second, grabs it, and uses it. He wins the day (or at least the moment). Thor recovers and sees him holding it. The following conversation happens:

Thor (a little regretfully, perhaps): So you’re worthy now.
Cap: I was worthy then.
Thor: But then why …?
Cap: You being the only one able to wield it meant the world to you. I didn’t want to take that away.
Thor: And now?
Cap: It meant the world to everyone else.

I’m not sure if this is where they’re going. I hope something like this is where they’re going, because if not this manages to wipe out their own characterizations in a really bad way … over a silly, fun, little scene. Well, you’d have to give them credit for efficiency [grin].

The Artistic Problem with Copyright …

September 1, 2014

So, when I was looking for as many episodes of “Just the Ten of Us” as I could find and enjoying all of them, and also reading comments people made about the show, and noting the critical reception that it received — which was generally good — and that it was a show cut short way before its time for business reasons that didn’t include “its ratings are too low”, a real problem with copyright became evident to me. See, from what I read Warner Brothers, who controls the rights to the show, were fairly aggressive in getting videos that were posted of the show removed from youtube through copyright appeals. Which is their right. But the problem is this: without that … no one can watch the show. There are no DVD releases of the show, and no indication that there were ever be DVD releases of the show. The cable channels that show old shows that are syndicated seem to have no interest in showing it (or, well, anything beyond a few really, really popular shows, which is another problem). Warner Brothers doesn’t seem to have any way for people who would like to watch the show and who might well be willing to pay for that privilege to actually do that.

The problem is that, in general, works like this are always in at least some sense artistic works. Acting and writing, even cheap and cheesy sitcoms, is art. Sure, the primary purpose of the work is to make money — which would make it not really “art” by my definition — but there’s no doubt that it has artistic elements, at least, in the sense that the writing is trying to tell a story and elicit certain emotions and the acting is trying to do the same thing. And when a work is simply no longer available anymore, all of that is lost. Whether worthy of praise or worthy of derision, you simply don’t get it anymore. You can’t use it to compare generations and how people thought, you can’t use it to trace progressions of, say, sitcoms from that time to now, you can’t use it to point out things that it might have done that more shows could use today … it’s gone. It’d be like refusing to allow even libraries to loan out books that are out of print, no matter how classic they might have been if they aren’t deemed “popular” enough.

Now, I completely understand the desire of companies to preserve their ability to make money on the products they own, and support them in doing so. But this always fails in cases where the product simply isn’t available for sale. If the company isn’t willing to sell me the product if I was willing to pay for it, on what grounds can they complain if I try to get it in any way possible, even if that means that I get it for free? Especially in relation to youtube videos, as almost everyone will still prefer it as a download or a DVD than as a youtube video. The focus on preserving their ability to make money even when they aren’t making money on the product and are unwilling to try to make money on the product only makes it so that some really good shows, games, and so on are lost. That seems to be somewhat tragic, and certainly frustrating.

As an aside, it seems cosmically unjust that “Pink Lady and Jeff” got a DVD release, and “Just the Ten of Us” likely never will.


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