December 31, 2013

Queer Review: Rare Exports: A Christmas Story (2010)

Rare Exports: A Christmas Story
Director: Jalmari Helander
Writers: Jalmari Helander, Juuso Helander, Petri Jokiranta, and Sami Parkkinen.
Cast: Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommila, Tommi Korpela, Rauno Juvonen, Per Christian Ellefsen, Ilmari Järvenpää, Peeter Jakobi

Rarely has there existed a greater gap between a film's concept/premise and it's execution, than the one that exists in Rare Exports: A Christmas Story. For here in this film we have an absolutely brilliant idea that sours during a turgid middle and then just when things look like they're about to kick into high gear, the blink and you'll miss it climax flashes by quicker than the speed Santa needs to deliver presents to every good little boy, girl, and non-binary gender kid.

When Pietari (Onni Tommila) and his friend Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) overhear the plans of an eccentric billionaire Riley (Per Christian Ellefsen) to dig up the grave of the "real" Santa Claus, Pietari hits the books to dig up the story behind the legend. What he finds is that the original Santa Clause was a frightening creature, and the modern holly, jolly version is an invention of retail outlets and soft drink makers. (Sidenote: with regards to Finnish mythology, this actually has a historical basis.) Soon afterwards, the family Reindeer herd is found dead and eaten, while Pietari spots mysterious footprints on the rooftop of their home. When the locals wake up on Christmas day, they find their homes burglarized and their children missing. Even more worrisome, Pietari's father finds a naked man dead in an illegal wolf trap he had set. However, when it is discovered that the stranger is still alive, the possibility is raised that this could be the real Santa Clause of ancient legend.

The Queering
Suspense is a delicate balancing act. It requires that the filmmakers show somethings and hide others. I am not the worlds biggest fan of Jaws but the tactic of showing as little of the big bad as possible on screen is a popular and effective for a reason. Generating really gut wrenching suspense also requires some degree of attachment with the characters. Nothing too deep, but there needs to be something. With regards to Rare Exports, the filmmakers took the lesson of Jaws a little too much to heart, showing us too little, too late. There's also the issue of once the captured "Santa" shows up, he spends too much time lying around lethargically to feel like much of a threat.

Furthermore, none of the characters are terribly well developed. Outside of Pietari and his father, I'm not sure it's fair to say that any of the characters even rise to the level of caricature, as that would require them to have personalities. What we have here are more like stick figures that are primarily on hand to do whatever it is the script requires.

Even more problematic is the way the bizare way the characters react to the weirdness of Christmas Day. And by bizarre, I mean in the way in which the adults (at least the ones we are shown) show far more concern over some missing burlap bags and a hair dryer, than they do over their missing children. I am not joking, there is literally a scene that plays out approximately as follows:

Adult Character: "Oh noes, all our radiators have been stolen! We're all going to DIE!"

Other Adult: "And they took every burlap bag! Now all our potatoes are naked and cold! WAH!"

Another Adult: "They took my hairdryer! That's premo tech in Russia! LETS INVADE!"

Pietari: "Uh where's Juuso? I just found this weird creepy doll in his bed."

Adult: "He's probably out chasing girls. Don't bother us with trivialities!"

I am not a parent, but if I woke up to find my house broken into, my stuff taken, and my kids bed containing only a creepy doll, I doubt my reaction would be "oh no! Who stole my burlap bags!" Do Finnish facebook pages feature numerous pictures of hairdryers with captions like "Missing since April. Last seen in Bathroom. Large reward for information leading to return of, + bonus if power cord is still intact."? If the characters cannot care about their missing kids, why should I?

Getting back to the line about Juuso "being out chasing girls", the context troubles me for several reasons. One, because the actor who plays Juuso does not appear to be much older than 10 years of age.. Two, outside of that reference (and another to the owner of the hairdryer) it appears as if no females exist in the films universe. That's right folks, apparently universal heterosexuality can still exist and be applied to pre-teens in a man only world. Do NOT ask me to come up with an explanation for this.

When the Bechdel test was first developed, it was to illustrate how female characters exist in fictional narratives only in relation to male characters. In Rare Exports they simply appear not to exist, and given the two lines referenced, they're still reduced to sex objects or as seen solely through their relationships to freaking hairdryers. I don't think this is a case of all of the filmmakers being raging misogynists or even particularly sexist, I think it's more of a glaring oversight, like so many other glaring oversights that exist in the film.

One glaring oversight would be the fact that Pietari's mom is never referenced, ever. Did she die? Leave the country? Have an affair? Get gender reassignment surgery and is now one of the indistinguishable male characters that his dad hangs out with? The fact that there are only male character makes it feel like the whole film should be ripe for queering, but it isn't. It's just another situation which the filmmakers failed to develop properly.

Overall, it is difficult to describe just how frustrating it is to watch a movie like Rare Exports, which starts out strong with a highly promising premise, only to quickly devolve into tedium. This is not a bad movie, nor is it trying to be a "so-bad-it's good" type of projects, as one might think given the premise. There is some gorgeous cinematography of frozen mountain landscapes and there are times when the project manages to develop a subtle, yet powerful, hypnotic quality. But a series of poor choices, such as an almost complete lack of explanation for certain characters motives, causes the film to stall and freeze more thoroughly then the frozen tundra that the story is set in. Why is the industrialist/scientist/entrepreneur trying to dig up Santa Claus anyways? How did he come by the knowledge of where the "real" Santa Claus was buried and why is he so convinced that the legend is true to begin with? What is his backstory?

For those who like off beat pictures with dark humor, there are worse options out there. Otherwise, this is one sleeping Santa that should rarely be exported.

The Rating
2 and 1/2 stars out of 4.


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

December 27, 2013

Review: The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro. Allegedly based on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mikael Persbrandt, Sylvester McCoy, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage

Padding The Hobbit out to 3 movies causes this middle entry to feel bloated and unfocused, with more than a few absurd sequences managing to jack up the running time to almost unbearable lengths.

In his continued attempt to take back the dwarven homeland, the exhiled King Thorin (Richard Armitage) finds himself and his gang of dwarves pursued by Orcs, spiders, and other dangers. After they enter Mirkwood and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) leaves to do battle with Sauron, the group is captured by the dangerous Wood Elves who are led by King Thranduil (Lee Pace) and his henchmen Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). The group manages to escape and make their way to Laketown with the aid of the Bard (Luke Evans) whose ancestor once fought the dragon Smaug, but not without one of their own being gravely injured. After resting in Lake Town, they continue on to the Misty Mountain and the final battle with the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Throughout it all, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) manages to make a few cameo appearances here and there.

The Queering
The Hobbit who? One of the consequences of expanding Tolkien's novel to three films is that an abundance of additional material has managed to find itself onto the big screen. While some of it is effective, a great deal more of it feels like it would have been questionable to be shown even in an uncut/extended edition on home video. Worse, the result of so much additional material causes Bilbo to come across as a supporting character in a film where title supposedly refers to him. Without an effective character arc, he frequently feels like a hairy footed deus ex machina who shows up to help the rest of the group out of whatever jam they happen to be in.

When the filmmakers pull from Tolkien's work to create additional material, they are on somewhat solid ground. It's when they stray from what Tolkien created that everything comes apart. I did not mind the addition of Tauriel, who is effectively played by Evangeline Lily channeling Liv Tyler, but the love triangle feels forced and the possibility of a relationship between her and one of Thorin's dwarves strains the films' already shaky credibility.

Then there is the more buffoonish elements, such as the barrel chase sequence following the groups escape from the Wood Elves that simply don't work. The heavier reliance here on CGI (compared to the Lord of the Rings films) is a mistake, transferring many of the battles into what feel like extended demos for a video game. I get that the films are aiming for a lighter tone then Lord of the Rings but I do not recall as many extended fight sequences with orcs in the novel as there are in the film.

I would never suggest that anything with Stephen Fry is completely useless, but the sub-plot with the Lake Town Master and his henchmen nipping at the heels of the Bard and the main protagonists could have been cut without too much being lost. Even more problematic, these two characters feel like their aping the relationship between Sauromon and Wormtongue from the original films. Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens far too often. Not only does most of the material feel overstretched, but stale to boot.

The climactic battle between Smaug and Bilbo starts out effectively before descending into the over top shenanigans that plague the rest of film. When it's just Bilbo and Smaug, the film manages to capture that ethereal sense of danger and wonder so desperately missing from everything that came before. The thing is, once the dwarves show up, it becomes a ridiculous special effects extravaganza that serves little purpose besides lowering the unemployment rate for computer animators.

The parallels between the dwarven culture and the history of the Hebrew peoplem - being exhiled from their homeland and other cultural motifs - are still present in the story but not a lot of attention is paid to it. Unlike all of the previous Lord of the Rings films by Peter Jackson, there are no real queer subtexts to speak of. I'm reviewing this pretty much because I'm a completest. However, on a more interesting note, the first person of color shows her face in Lake Town. Brief, but it's there and it now feels much less likely that Middle Earth will have the KKK show up and declare that their quest for racial purity has been successful.

At the end of the day, this is not the worst possible adaptation of The Hobbit but there is a sense that not only have the filmmakers sprained themselves trying to stretch the material out to the lengths that they did here. The material setting up the main Lord of the Rings Films, such as showing Bilbo starting to be corrupted by the one ring, is mostly effective. It's just that too often that The Hobbit films feel like their mimicking them, rather than standing on the two large hairy feet of Bilbo Baggins.

Not worth enduring the entirely desolate running length if one is merely a casual fan of the series, although the climactic scenes with Smaug might make it worthwhile for the die hards.

The Rating
2 and 1/2 stars out of 4


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

December 22, 2013

Queer Issue: They Said *What*! A Guide on How To Exploit Minority Outrage For Profit

There has been a bit of an uproar, if you want to call it that, over certain comments Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson made in an interview with the publication GQ. That these remarks were both homophobic and racist goes without saying at this point, so I'm not going to belabor any points here.

The response has been varied and telling. People in my twitter feed appear to be rushing to condemn Robertson for being homophobic bigots (with less attention being paid to the racist comments about blacks being happier under Jim Crow, which is a problem in of itself). Meanwhile, the right is going to great lengths to defend Robertson. He's even getting compared to Rosa Parks because people who state that African Americans were happier under Jim Crow are oh so clearly in the same catagory of people who fought against systemic racism in America.

What nobody is talking about is the possibility that this entire incident was staged at the outset, possibly with the blessing of producers from Duck Dynasty. While the Duck Commander clan has all the appearance of typical "redneck hicks" what with their long beards and business based on hunting products, the success of their business and TV show implies at least some media/marketing savvy. Of course the term redneck is a classist term and from what I'm reading, liberal perceptions of the Duck Dynasty clan is based on a whole set of classist assumptions that I don't have time to deconstruct for one article.

In any case, here is what I expect will happen. At some point in the next week or so, Phil Robertson will issue a carefully worded apology to the LGBTQ community. Afterwards, he'll get to go on some kind of GLAAD sponsored apology/publicity tour and maybe even through a respectable amount of cash at a LGBTQ charity. Afterwards, Duck Dynasty will return in time for the January/February sweeps with a significant ratings boost while Duck Commander merchandise goes flying off the shelf.

I own no crystal ball, so I could be oh-so-very wrong about all of this. But it's not like it hasn't been done before. When I was a teenager, musical artists like Marilyn Manson and Eminim sold records primarily by being as outrageos as possible. Furthermore, The Westboro Baptist Church has gained attention through outrageous picketing tactics. Yet, one wonders if they really believe in what they're saying or are simply in it for the money. After all, as reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center:
the church makes money by winning or settling civil lawsuits involving the church. During the 1990s, the group sued Topeka multiple times for failing to provide sufficient protection during its protests. Although they lost most of their cases, WBC did win $43,000 in legal fees in 1993. According to Shirley Phelps-Roper, they also won more than $100,000 in 1995 in a lawsuit against Kansas' Funeral Picketing Act, which they claimed violated their First Amendment rights.

I can recall back when I took Philosophy of Religion, someone mentioned "it seems like only a matter of time until someone just end up driving a car into the Westboro Baptist Church picketers". Driving a car into them is not exactly what they want, but it's not all that far removed either. What they really want is someone to attack them, or try and prevent them from protesting altogether. Something to bear in mind when one might be considering directly confronting a Westboro Baptist Church groupies.

Following in the Westboro Baptist Church's footsteps, other groups have taken up the challenge of "who can be the most offensive to everyone". My senior year at SUNY Oneonta, we were visited by the Defarios, a father/daughter team that preached hatred of the homos the first time they came. The next year they showed up, it was all about teh ebils of abortion. Both of their visits, caused heavy counter protests from the student body. I don't recall it ever being brought up directly, but I recall hearing rumors that the Defarios also were interesting in exploiting the legal system then promoting any particular message.

The point is, The Westboro Baptist Church, are ultimately no different from Marilyn Manson in principle, the dividing line revolves solely around which political group or identity they are attempting to offend.

However, larger questions still remain. Namely, how do we respond to such spectacles of bigotry? I have nothing against calling out right wing lies and bigotry when it occurs, but there is a certain tendency for reporters to just go "Oh look at what outrageous thing (so and so) said this time!" and then leave it at that. There are times when I cannot help but wonder if groups like Right Wing Watch function as little more than subliminal publicists for whichever members of the right wing that they decide to draw attention to.

Of course not only do anti-gay bigots pull this trick. As some of you might recall, the story of the waitress who claimed she was stiffed out of a tip by a bigot turned out to be completely false.

One cannot help but wonder, is this sort of thing even avoidable? Is there a way to create a better structure for both getting the word out on the discrimination we face, while responding to the lies told about us, without turning everything into the mere mechanics of an outrage bigot fund generating machine? Or perhaps human nature is against us here. Who knows. As annoying as clickbait culture is, it works because it just so happens to be really effective at selling superficial crap. Yet there is this lingering sense I have that all this outrage does nothing more than feed the hand that slaps us.

Now if you'll excuse me, I just came across a facebook link on my feed that says "You won't *BELIEVE* what this well known conservative said about teh gays THIS time [video]!" that I plan on checking out.

December 8, 2013

Queer Review: Eating Raoul (1982)

Eating Raoul
Director: Paul Bartel
Writers: Paul Bartel and Richard Blackburn
Cast: Mary Woronov, Robert Beltran, Paul Bartel, Susan Saiger, Richard Paul, Darcy Pulliam, John Shearin

A cult classic from early 80's, Eating Raoul offers up an interesting menu of the blackest bits of comedy one can imagine. A clever, albeit weakly acted effort, Paul Bartel manages to offer an offbeat perspective on human sexuality and deviance.

A prudish couple, Paul and Mary Bland (Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov) want little more than to open a restaurant and live happily ever after. However, financial difficulties relating to their inability to get a loan (amongst other issues) make it seem like this dream is unlikely to ever come true. But when a drunken man attempts to rape Mary, Paul kills him with a frying pan in self defense. Rather than go to the police, the two take his money and decide to raise money for their restaurant by killing other "perverts". Things start to get out of hand though when Raoul (Robert Beltran) finds out about the scheme and forces the Blands to cut him in.

The Queering
Hollywood (and society in general) is so enamored in the sexy sexiness of sex, that it can sometimes be easy to forget that not everyone collapses into lustful convulsions of lusty lustiness at the mere sight of a bit of exposed flesh. The human sex drive is a well honed engine for many people, but it is by no means a universal characteristic. There do exist such people who experience no sexual desire towards any other person, in spite of the fact that society attempts us to bludgeon everyone into thinking otherwise.

Admittedly the way society promotes compulsory sexuality flies in the face of the way more conservative elements treat sex as something dirty and shameful. But those same prudes who scream the hardest about the ebilness of sexy sex, are also the ones most likely to be downloading porn and such.

Enter Paul and Mary Bland, a couple who genuinely shuns sex both in words and deed. Like Adam and Eve cast from the garden of Eden, the two find themselves in the cruel wild where they are constantly beset upon on all sides by display of raw sensuality. They speak of engaging in cuddling and a little kissing, but nothing more. When they go to bed, they sleep in separate beds. Paul can be easily read as asexual and not in a subtext kind of way. His attitude and behaviour is consistent with that of asexual desire.

As presented in the film, Mary is a little bit more complicated. She expresses similar antipathy as Paul to naked pretzel type activities, but after Raoul gets her to smoke a Thai stick, she has sex with him. And then goes on to have sex with him several more times. She eventually ends up rejecting Raoul but the affair makes it difficult to read her strictly as an asexual.

Then there is Raoul, who is undoubtedly the most problematic character. Not only is Raoul both Hispanic and a thief, which represents a racist stereotype in of itself, but his ethnic identity is used to further exoticize him.

Of course, even further problems are represented by the fact that the Blands are technically speaking, serial killers. Given their sophistication and lack of sexuality, the Blands eventual descent into cannibalism makes them clear cinematic forerunners to Hannibal the Cannibal from The Silence of the Lambs. Which of course means that they evoke the trope that sexual deviance = bloody violent psychopaths. The wrinkle here is that these sexual deviants are sexual deviants precisely because they engage in the most conservative, 1950s-esque, Hays Code approved lifestyle possible. Talk about subversive...

The humor in Eating Raoul can charitably be labeled as subdued. There is wit and sophistication here, but one has to be paying close attention to get it. It doesn't help much that the acting, while not too terrible, is often bordering on amateurish. It also says something about my particular sense of humor that the moment that made me laugh the hardest involved killing a large number of people via the oh-so-subtle method of chucking an electric lantern into a crowded hot tub. Now let the recommendations that I need professional help commence in 3... 2... 1...

Worth eating any slimy bit of human flesh (from Raoul or not) in order to see.

The Rating
3.5 out of 4 stars


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

December 6, 2013

Queer Review: Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
Director: Richard Marquand
Writers: Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas
Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Ian McDiarmid, Sebastian Shaw, Frank Oz, James Earl Jones, David Prowse, Alec Guinness, Kenny Baker

The weakest of the Star Wars movies, Return of the Jedi sends the saga on a note as as fuzzy and awkward as an Ewoks' pelt.

After rescuing Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from the clutches of the evil Jabba the Hutt, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and the rest of the gang head back to Rebel Alliance's fleet to discover that the evil Emperor had secretly begun construction on a new Death Star. This time around, the Death Star is being protected by an impenetrable shield that must be destroyed. Luke is selected to lead a strike team to destroy the shield, but after arriving on Endor, he abandons them to pursue a more dangerous mission: to convert Darth Vader back to the light side of the force.

The Queering
I would like to open up this review by asking the same questions every one else always asks about Return of the Jedi. Why do the stormtroopers wear armor that fails to provide any kind of obvious protection from blasters, arrows, or even bloody rocks? Given their inability to hit any of the heroes, it presumably is doing nothing to improve their aim... Also, why are there Ewoks? I said WHY?!

I mean, I sometimes find myself surprised at people who claim that the original trilogy is unquestionably better than the prequels. What I want to know is how exactly such people managed to block Return of the Jedi from their minds. Does the Ewok line "yub, yub" contain subliminal messaging for such a purpose? You will forget this scene! You will scrub our misbegotten existence from every corner of your mind!. The Star Wars films have never shied away from commercial appeal, but the Ewoks unfortunately function as little more than walking merchandise opportunities.

Now old movie serials are an obvious inspiration for the Star Wars saga and recently, my partner and I watched The Phantom serials but had to stop after only a few episodes. I would like to pretend to be all noble and say it was because of the really, really racist manner in which the Native allies of the Phantom were presented, but the real reason was because of the awful overall quality of that series. In any event, I bring this up due to the fact that the manor in which the "Native/Indigenous" characters were presented there, is exactly the same way the Ewoks are developed in Return of the Jedi.

Allow me to explain. In The Phantom serials, the Native characters are what could probably be categorized as "generic Hollywood primitives". The story is set in Asia, but their visual elements (clothing, homes, weaponry) are drawn from a much wider variety of sources, primarily African and Native American, with a few Amazonian elements thrown in for good measure. None of the characters look Asian themselves, nor does anything they wear, live in, or use. Of particular interest is the fact that the Phantom uses the Natives characters superstitions as a means of controlling them.

I bring this up, only because it's a recent example that's stuck in my mind but really, probably the presentation of any indigenous group from any serial would work just as well. This is after all, how the concept of genericness works. In any event, it's just a really obvious example for the template that the Ewoks were clearly based on. The use of superstition being a means to control the Natives being a particular important element. In any case, the point I want to make is that I don't think that using racist tropes to develop an alien culture makes those tropes any less racist.

Okay, onto the queer subtexts. They really are thin this time around, if they can be said to exist at all. We learn for example this time around that Han Solo can only say "I love you" to Princess Leia if she's holding a phallic-esque blaster near her crotch. I know, I know, I'm stretching things out here. Sorry.

Overall, Return of the Jedi manages to do some things right. The opening sequences where the gang rescues Han from Jabba the Hut are well executed, with the creepiness of Jabba's fortress oozing from every frame. Also, the three way climax between Darth Vader, Luke, and the Emperor are as intense and dramatic as one could hope. Now if only those scenes hadn't constantly been interrupted by Ewok action porn....

This Jedi film thingie is worth returning to the Star Wars saga in order to see, but only kind of.

The Rating
3 out of 4 stars


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

November 24, 2013

Queer Review: Star Wars: Episode VI - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Star Wars: Episode IV - The Empire Strikes Back
Director: Irvin Kershner
Writers: Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan, and George Lucas
Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Alec Guinness, Jeremy Bulloch, James Earl Jones

Continuing the adventure started with A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back takes the saga in a very different, and much darker direction. A shocking twist (now ruined for anybody who watches the films in chronological order) elevates this entry onto a much higher level.

Following the destruction of the Death Star, the evil Empire is desperate to capture the leaders of the Rebel Alliance. While Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) heads to Degobah to be trained by the ancient Jedi Master Yoda (Frank OZ), Han Sol (Harrison Ford) and Leia (Carrie Fisher) find themselves in desperate flight from Darth Vader (David Prowse, James Earl Jones). However, Darth Vaders' plans are much bolder than capturing a few Rebel Leaders. Vader wants to lure Luke out of hiding so he can use a dark secret from the Skywalker family past to turn Luke to the dark side.

The Queering
The Empire Strikes Back does what few sequels actually do. It takes the premise of the original as a springboard for a different story. Better yet, A New Hope was a fairly light hearted space romp, The Empire Strikes Back introduces not only a darker tone, but legitimate substance into the saga.

While Empire Strikes Back is the darker, and most mature out of all the episodes, it is also the one that gives it's female lead the least amount to do. Leia is pretty much on hand this time around solely to flirt with Han Solo and yell at Luke "it's a trap!". Hard to imagine a farther cry from the princess in the last flick who picked off stormtroopers with a blaster and boldly took charge of her own rescue before it had even properly begun.

I mentioned before how the Empires' Stormtroopers, are named after a NAZI militia. Here, the ground troops who attack the Rebels on the Frozen planet Hoth, are given uniforms that make them more or less resemble the white hoodies of the KKK. I am not sure what to make of this. Since the rebels are pretty much mostly white, it feels a like drawing any kind of parallel between the rebellion and the civil rights movement feels a bit appropriative.

As for queer subtexts, Han Solo once again not only proves himself willing to put his life on the line to rescue Luke Skywalker, yet he's more than willing to delegate protecting Princess Leia duties to Chewie (Peter Mayhew). Worse, when during a key dramatic moment, when Leia tells him she loves him, Han is unable to respond with a "I love you too" but rather "I know". Really Han? Meanwhile, while Darth Vader showed absolutely no hesitancy when it came to torturing Leia in the last episode, he decides this time around that the best way to lure Luke out of hiding is to torture Han. I wonder, does this mean that Luke cares more about Han than Leia?

All in all, the darker tone and grown up attitude, helps elevate this Star Wars entry a true classic.

See this flick, or do not see this flick, there is no point in merely trying to see this flick.

The Rating
4 stars out of 4


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

November 23, 2013

Queer Issue: Do Androids Dream of Binary Gendered Sheep?

A long time ago, like back when I was in high-school, I remember reading an article in Scientific American about the possibility of machines producing copies of themselves. This doesn't have much to do with anything, other than I wanted to start this out by pointing out that if mechanical reproduction were ever to end up taking place, it would be more akin to asexual - if we really, really wanted to compare this to biological reproduction - or single unit reproduction. More importantly, if we really wanted to stretch a few metaphors, that even if machines were to end up reproducing, there would still be absolutely no need for them to have sex traits of any kind.

More recently, I finally managed to watch Wall-E the story of two robots who fall in love with each other. Wall-E is the last surviving robot on an Earth that has long been abandoned by humans after it became covered in garbage. His primary task is cleaning up and stacking all of the trash lying around, a task that as presented would make Sisyphus grateful the fate he ended up with. One day a robot sent from the survivors of the human race, named EVE, shows up and the two bond and eventually fall in love. What makes this noteworthy, is that the romance follows typical hetero-normative patterns. Automatically, I find myself in a question begging exercise. To start out with, why do writers write robotic characters that exhibit gender traits?

That may not exactly be entirely accurate. Unless I missed it, neither Wall-E or EVE (the two robot lovers) are ever referred to by anyone else has "he" or "she" in the film. However, there are some really obvious ways that the two are marked as feminine and masculine. For starters, Wall-E's main task is trash disposal, which means him messy and a little rough around the edges. When he winds up on the spaceship with the last survivors of humanity, he makes a mess by tracking dirt everywhere, much to the chagrin of the robot assigned to clean up duty. His electronic voice is also deeper than EVE's. EVE on the other hand is smoother, has an obviously female assigned name, and turns into an egg shape at one point following the completion of her mission on Earth. Her task, to find life, can also be seen as feminine in nature, given the trope of mother earth and all that.

This is not the only issue I had with the films message as the second half of the film exhibits some blatant fat shaming. It does this by implying that the humans in the future setting of the film, are fat and obese because they have grown lazy by having machines do all their work for them. However, the connection between being fat and being lazy does not hold up to close medical scrutiny.

But back on topic, why do robots need gender? If they cannot reproduce (and reproductive traits are not deterministic of how gender roles are assigned in our society anyways, otherwise anyone incapable of biological reproduction due to age, disease, injury, etc. would have to be considered in gender neutral terms only) then why would gender be at all relevant? And as I mentioned before, any consideration of machine reproduction to date, has primarily focused on single unit reproduction.

While there is an obvious strain of cisnormativity going on here, I think the main reason for gendering the characters is so the writers could have the robots mimic the steps of heterosexual romance. While I'm not sure the filmmakers of Wall-E (or any other film with obviously gendered robots and androids) think about this issue, it's fascinating to observe where artists end up when they're not thinking.

Regardless, the only way one can think of machines as having gender traits is if one assumes that gender traits are solely based on social conditioning and not the result of biological fact. Does the practice of gendering robots create absolute proof that gender is a social construct, not a biological fact? I don't know. But we do have an odd tendency to force gender binary everything, even in cases where it makes little sense. For example, we describe insect behavior in ways that strongly reflect our own gender biases.

This has real world consequences as well. When I wrote my senior thesis for my philosophy degree on language, I wondered if the way our language (at least traditionally) strongly reflected the gender binary by only creating two sets of gender pronouns, one each for masculine and feminine people, caused us to be unable to imagine or cope with the existence of people who exist outside the gender binary. Specifically, I wondered if our traditionally binary gendered language, which failed to consider the possibility of non-binary gendered folks, was a driving reason for society to have intersex infants mutilated to fit them into binary gendered norms.

Ultimately, the same thinking applies here, for there is little reason to believe that the impetus for doctors to cruelly mutilate the genitals of intersex infants is any different from the thinking that ends up creating two robots boxed into binary gender stereotypes.

November 18, 2013

Queer Review: Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas
Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Ken Burtt

The first Star Wars movie released, A New Hope introduces us to a galaxy far far away, filled with the likes of Darth Vader, Princess Leia R2-D2, C-3PO, Han Solo, and a whiny, angsty teenager by the name of Luke Skywalker.

Two droids, R2-D2 (Ben Burtt, Kevin Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), fall into the hands of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), a moisture farmer on the backwater planet Tattoine. The droids contain plans vital for the destruction of the recently completed Death Star, a space station capable of destroying an entire planet, which makes it the most dreaded weapon in the Galactic Empire's arsenal. With the dreaded Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, David Prowse) in pursuit, Luke, C-3PO, and R2-D2 join with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and blast off from Tattoine for Alderaan, only to find the entire planet was destroyed.

The Queering
The first time I saw A New Hope, it was in my Grandmother's basement on a TV that could double as a piece of furniture. The television was old, really old, and still works today. It had a remote control that attached to the TV directly via a physical wire that, in contrast to today's modern remotes, had only one knob that you turned to chain the channel. With the recent passing of my Grandmother, I find myself actually trying to figure to get it to my current apartment in Wilkes-Barre, so I can use it as a TV stand. Because nostalgia.

A New Hope opens by introducing us to R2-D2 and C-3PO, two characters whose chemistry was severely missed in the prequels. One wonders if somehow, they had been given more screen time together in Episodes I - III, those movies would have been better received. Re-watching the Star Wars films recently in order to write these reviews, the biggest difference I could find between the two trilogies had nothing to do with overall artistic quality of the films but rather with how long C-3PO and R2-D2 spent together on screen.

Of course R2-D2 and C-3PO could also be seen as something of a gay-odd couple. In fact, in spite of all droids in the Star Wars universe appearing fully sentient, they are consistently de-humanized. Given that they are mechanical and therefore genderless, they seem a natural set of characters to impose queer subtexts upon. A subtext that can be seen perhaps most obviously in the scene where the two droids try to enter Mos Eisley Cantina and are told "we don't serve their kind here". This scene reminded me of the fact that during the time of the Stonewall Riots, it was illegal to serve known "homosexuals".

Another queer subtext shows up in the relationship between Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. While both Luke and Han both express heterosexual desire for Princess Leia at some point, there is a pattern worth commenting on. Han, a space freighter who has been cavorting around the galaxy up to this point in time with only a Wookie companion, takes quite a bit of persuasion before he is willing to go and rescue Princess Leia from captivity. In the end, it's pretty clear he's only does participate in her rescue because of the potential reward. Later, he does verbally express interest in Leia, but it's Luke that he puts his on the line to save at the end, without any promise of material reward. Talk is cheap Han, talk is cheap.

Also, if anyone can explain how the last scene does not resemble a marriage ceremony between Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, I would be interested in knowing about it. Thanks.

There is however, a rather unfortunate negative ableist subtext regarding Darth Vader. Vaders' most visible and memorable traits (heavy breathing, scary mask thingie) are directly tied to the character being physically disabled. I talked about Darth Vader being de-queered during his transformation into most evil Sith Lord, but what escaped my notice was how this came about through Anakin's body being several damaged, 3 of his limbs light-sabred off, and his lungs burned, forcing him to breath through a respirator to live.

But what message does it send when a characters' descent into evil is marked by bodily damage? It happened as well with both Palpatine and General Greivious in Revenge of the Sith, with General Greivious being a precursor to Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine rapidly aging specifically due to his use of the Dark Side. Obi-Wan specifically mentions here in A New Hope that Darth Vader is "more machine now, than man". In the Star Wars universe it seems, a damaged soul equates to a damaged body. Actually it's not so much a Star Wars trope as it is a highly problematic ableist trope in general. This is just something that needs to be said.

Problematic elements aside, A New Hope effectively sets up the Star Wars Universe by cramming as many strange beasties and clunking mechanical beings into every frame possible. The Special Edition, released in 1997, inserted even more creatures, particularly into the Mos Eisley sequences. While critics have complained about Lucas's tendency to insert as many background material, be it cantankerous machinery or alienated monsters, it is the intricate background details that make the story work. This Galaxy Far, Far Away works the way it does for so many fans the way it does precisely because there is so much texture. No movie series before (or since really) has managed to create an entire universe with this much depth of background detail to get lost in.

Would be worth seeing, even if in fact there was no new hope to be found here.

The Rating
4 Stars out of 4


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

November 15, 2013

Queer Review: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels, Christopher Lee

Without any poorly developed romance to drag it down, Revenge of the Sith manages to send the prequel trilogy out on a high note. This long descent into darkness as the Jedi Order is wiped out and the Sith gain absolute over the galaxy, is remarkably enjoyable (from a certain point of view...).

The Clone Wars are in full swing, although the end is in sight. During a rescue mission for the kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) manages to kill Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), who had been leading the insurrection against the Republic. This means that Chancellor Palpatine (who is now revealed to have been Darth Sidious all along) must find a new apprentice, so he turns his attention to completing his seduction of Anakin to the dark side. This is made easier when Obi-Wan is sent away to kill the new separatist leader, General Grevieous, leaving Anakin behind. Anakin, who is also dealing with Padme's revelation that she is pregnant and that he thus will become a father, feels spurned by the Jedi Council over this decision and that they do not trust. With so much hanging in the balance, Anakin is pushed inevitably closer and closer to the dark side.

The Queering
I can recall waiting in line to see Revenge of the Sith at the midnight showing in theaters. I remember playing Uno with some college students (I was in the middle of working towards my first bachelors degree myself at the time) who were in line behind me, while sitting on the sidewalk in the middle of chilly enough night. It marks one of the more fun times I had in college. There is a certain excitement that comes, not just from seeing a movie in theater, but in waiting in line to see a work that one is eagerly awaiting the release of. If the movie succeeds, the experience can be transcendent. Seeing it with the right audience, that cheers at the right moments, is far different from seeing even the most artistically accomplished film with an audience that might as well be dead. Citizen Kane is one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time (and rightfully so) but that movie's power is subtler, and doesn't quite compare in many ways to seeing a lightsabre battle between two Jedi's that was legendary long before it had ever been committed to film.

This is not a knock on Citizen Kane, simply the observation that it is possible for one to like different movies for different reasons. I do not think that Attack of the Clones is in any ways, an artistic accomplishment, although there are certainly many nice visuals that could qualify as arty. This may seem like an odd observation, but while George Lucas was hardly a film student at the time he had made The Phantom Menace, not only had he directed a small handful of films, but hadn't actually been in a directors' chair in decades. I think this shows most in the way many of the scenes of The Phantom Menace were incredibly stagy and the camerawork often resembled the work done on well made, but unambitious TV show. By the time we get to the Attack of the Clones, the action is much more fluid and more cinematic. With with no poorly developed romance scenes drag things down, the dialog manages to not be embarrassing to itself or any nearby bits of sand.

Another element that has increased from the previous films are the queer subtexts. The relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan is much clearer and they spend more time on screen together this time around and even get to have a moment of physical intimacy in an elevator shaft. There's even a moment during an important and emptionally charged scene where Obi-Wan yells out "I loved you... like a brother!" Furthermore, the scenes between Soon-to-be-Emperor Palpatine and Anakin ooze the scent of seduction. Also, the fact that Anakin and Padme must keep their romance secret, lends an element of queerness to their otherwise heterosexual relationship. And as I talked about in my reviews of the previous prequels, the Jedi Order can be read as an isophylic order, while there are obvious parallels and references to the events of World War II. Taken together, then there is an obvious parallel between Anakin Skywalker and Ernst Rohm. A parallel that is emphacized when Palpatine has Anakin hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights as the destruction of the Jedi Order can be seen as mirroring the The Night of Long Knives.

This of course makes for a more interesting reading, for as we are repeatedly told, the rise of Darth Vader requires the "death" of Anakin Skywalker, much like Hitler's rise to power forced him into assassinating Ernst Rohm. Of course Anakin's death is purely symbolic in nature, but it can be seen as Anakin having to purge anything "queer" from his life, including both his relationship with Obi-Wan and his secret love affair with Padme. How nice, for a change, that a characters descent into evil can be read as them having to de-queer and straighten themselves out, rather than the other way around.

Overall, Attack of the Clones contains many powerful scenes and on the whole, manages to more than justify the existence of the prequel trilogy. Although I do contend that the previous two were good enough to stand on their own merits. The force is steroids strong this time around.

Served hot or cold, this dish of revenge is purely delectable.

The Rating
**** out of ****


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

November 12, 2013

Classic Review: Do the Right Thing (1989)

Do the Right Thing
Director: Spike Lee
Writer: Spike Lee
Cast: Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Spike Lee, Giancarlo Esposito, Danny Aiello, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, Paul Benjamin, Frankie Faison, Robin Harris, Joie Lee, Miguel Sandoval, Rick Aiello, Samuel L. Jackson, Rosie Perez

A slice in the life of a community picture, Do The Right Thing tells the story of racial tensions in a New York City community. Spike Lee raises many esoteric philosophical questions about the appropriateness of using violence to address systemic oppression, while also managing the difficult task of grounding them in our gritty reality.

It's the hottest day of the year when the film opens. Mookie (Spike Lee) is a delivery boy for Sal's Pizzeria and constantly finds himself at odds with Sal's oldest and most definitely racist son Pino (John Turturro). Da Mayor (Ossie Davies) is the town drunk and is attempting to make peace with Mother Sister (Ruby Dee) who scorns his shadow. Meanwhile, Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito) is organizing a boycott against Sal's Pizzeria following his discovery that there are no photos of black Italians on the Wall of Fame that Sal keeps at the Pizzaria. Overseeing all of this is Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson) the local radio DJ and two police officers (Miguel Sandoval and Rick Aiello). As the day proceeds, tensions gradually bubble to the surface until exploding into a riot that lays bare the ugly belly of racism.

The Queering
It's generally accepted by now that the LGBTQ rights movement got it's start following the Stonewall Riots, a violent push back against police arrests and the lack of effort to curb direct anti-queer violence. Prior to that, similar riots also took place, notably, the now forgotten Compton Cafeteria Riots. In the seventies, the White Night Riots occurred following the acquittal of Dan White of the most serious charges he was charged with regards to the murder of Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone.

None of the riots that LGBTQ people have engaged in have ever been particularly well publicized or talked about in the mainstream media, probably because mainstream societies way of dealing with LGBTQ people is to pretend that we are weak and fay and all that or that we don't exist. The image of us rioting and breaking stuff does not help to perpetuate that narrative. Racially motivated riots on the other hand, generally receive more attention, not only because it is harder to pretend that people of color do not exist, but also to help perpetuate the narrative that people of color are SCARY!

However, the larger question remains, is violence an appropriate response to systemic oppression? It is easy to answer in the negative. It is even easier to point to the success of non-violent tactics used in various civil rights movements across history from Ghandi to Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin. It is even easier to point to the failures of violent revolutions to effect positive systemic changes. The French Revolution gave rise to chaos, which lead to the rise of Napoleon and the eventual reinstatement of the French Monarch. The Russian Revolution went from Leninism to the even greater disaster of Stalinism. Large scale violence has a nasty habit of not only begating more violence but the sort of economic turmoil that also tends to breed even greater suffering than the conditions that existed pre-violent revolution.

But what of violence that takes place on a smaller scale? What of individuals and communities so oppressed that they have no other truly viable options? And what of violence that is not directly in response to circumstances where the perpetrator is not in any immediate danger? Let me make it clear, I do not condone violence on any level. But at the same time, I must admit that the historical record leaves little room for doubt that few actions other than a violent uprising, could have created the conditions that led to the birth of the LGBTQ rights movement.

Spike Lee contends that criticism of Mookie from white critics of his throwing the garbage can through Sal's Pizzaria's window, it is because white people consider white property to be of greater value than the lives of black people. However, it bears noting that Mookie's actions might have been more easily justified if he had thrown the garbage can through the window to draw the attention of those beating Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) while the assault was taking place. Throwing the trash can through the window when Mookie actually does, accomplishes nothing and the riot that followed only end up placing the lives of the other black characters in greater jeopardy than they would have been otherwise. The problem is, destroying Sal's property carried with it no possibility of bringing Radio Raheem back from the dead. As it is, it's a purely destructive form of protest.

Let me make myself clear, I am not condemning Mookie's actions either. The thoughtless death of a member of a community is certainly justification for extreme action, even if that extreme action is destructive and accomplishes little.

There are no easy answers to the problems and questions that Spike Lee raises and he rightfully makes little effort to provide definitive answers. The competing philosophies of both Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are cited throughout and direct quotes from both show up in the end credits.

From a technical perspective, Spike Lee brings all of his considerable talent to the table. Filmed on a shoestring budget, Spike Lee manages to accomplish a lot with few resources. Arguably, the low budget helps a bit with creating a sort of gritty realism that so many Hollywood films sprain themselves trying to capture. Ultimately though, it is Spike Lee's vision and hard work (along with a highly accomplished cast) that make the film work like it does. The cinematography through the use of "hot" colors, successfully manages to highlight the devastating heat wave and make visual the non-visual phenomenon that the characters are experiencing.

Do the Right Thing put Spike Lee on the map and while much of his later work would fail to accomplish what he achieved here, I still think of his more recent films (particularly Miracle at St. Anna and She Hate Me) are criminally underrated. While one may not always agree or like what Spike Lee says here, what he says is worth listening to. Do the Right Thing is a film that cannot not, nor should be, ignored.

The best way to Do the Right Thing is to see it.

The Rating
**** out of ****


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

November 10, 2013

Queer Review: Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002)

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
Director: George Lucas
Writers: George Lucas and Jonathan Hales
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Pernilla August, Temuera Morrison

With The Phantom Menace out of the way, the Star Wars saga continues lumbering towards A New Hope with Attack of the Clones. Outside of a bloated middle section and an ill developed romance, Attack of the Clones still manages to offer up more than a few bits of Star Wars magic.

The story opens with the Galactic Republic in grave danger from political separatists. Following an attempt on her life, loyalist Senator Amidala (Natalie Portman) is assigned two Jedi Protectors, the famed Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his Padawan Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). It isn't long before Obi-Wan has left to track down a clue as to who may have been behind the attempt on Amidala, while the Senator and Anakin go back to Naboo to recite bad dialog about falling in love and sand that gets everywhere. Obi-Wans' investigation leads him to discover a mysterious clone army. Meanwhile, Amidala's and Anakin's journey leads them to discover that Anakin's mother has been captured and tortured. When she dies in Anakin's arms, Anakin is drawn that much closer to the Dark Side and to a destiny of sounding like James Earl Jones while scuba diving.

The Queering
I can recall going to see Attack of the Clones at the midnight showing way back in high-school with a friend, probably one of the few times I can recall seeing a movie in the the theaters with a friend. I remember the audience cheering at the scene of the Jedi forces first engaging the droid army in battle, as well as the tingly thrill that came with seeing Yoda lighting up his lightsaber before going mano-to-mano with Count Dooku.

Attack of the Clones takes the characters and plot threads established in The Phantom Menace and maneuvers them to where they need to be for the future chapters. Chancellor Palpatine moves closer to becoming the Evil Emperor. Anakin Skywalker finds himself confronted within the darkness deep within, otherwise known to most of us as teenage angst. Meanwhile, Padme and Anakin find themselves drawn closer to each other. As fans of the original movies know, this will lead to them becoming the parents of A New Hopes' whiny teenager/female royalty duo.

As a fan of the original movies, I found most of this fascinating, even if I have to admit that the middle section, where most of this setting up takes place, drags quite a bit. Also most of the romantic dialog is really, really bad. When Anakin describes sand as, "it's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere" he might as well have been talking about what the characters are saying to each other.

On a different note, it is interesting to note just how many parallels there are to the events of World War II. Not only does Palpatine first get elected Chancellor before going on (in the later movies) to become the evil Galactic Emperor, but the name Stormtroopers (who we discover in this episode are clones) comes directly from the NAZI Sturmtruppen. In a sense, The Clone Wars themselves almost seem a bit like World War I in the way they set up events for the later war between the Alliance and the Galactic Empire. While it's never really drawn all that sharply, there is enough political commentary going on here to add a degree of philosophical depth to the series.

Of course, Attack of the Clones also manages to emphacize the queer subtexts that I highlighted in my review of The Phantom Menace. Anakin and Padme have a discussion about the tenants of the Jedi code, where it is revealed that the Jedi's are forbidden from forming connections outside of the Jedi Order. Essentially this means that they are a chaste, monastic order and a common characteristic of chaste monastic orders is that members will often engage in sexual relationships with each other. Once again, the possibility is raised that the relationship between a Padawan and their Jedi Master is one of sexual pederasty.

Unfortunately, this idea is not really emphacized in the few scenes between Obi-Wan and Anakin. It is suggested through the dialog that the two have a deep and meaningful relationship but it's just not shown on screen. The two also spend most of the film at different ends of the galaxy once Obi-Wan is sent off to look for the assassins who are after Padme. As it is, we'll just have to wait until the next episode to have anything worth sinking our teeth into between the two.

As I mentioned above, Attack of the Clones has it's weak spots (to repeat: bad dialog and a weak middle section) but it' still enjoyable and more than just a soulless special effects extravaganza. Jar Jar Binks role has been reduced. The battle royale between the Jedi Knights and the Droid army alone is worth price of admission. Throw in some stunning visuals (and visual effects) along with finally getting to see Yoda kicking ass and you get a movie that is worthy of the name Star Wars.

Worth enduring any number of attacking clones to see.

The Rating
***1/2 out of ****


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

November 9, 2013

Queer Review: Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
Director: George Lucas
Writer: George Lucas
Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Pernilla August, Ahmed Best, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Terence Stamp, Andy Secombe, Ray Park, Brian Blessed, Hugh Quarshie

Every generation has a legend... Every journey has a first step... Every saga has a beginning... that can easily be ruined by a poorly conceived CGI comic relief Gungan. Well, not completely ruined. While The Phantom Menace has unfortunately gained a reputation that has caused it to become something of a punchline, it is still a solidly grand space opera.

The ebil trade federation has invaded the peaceful Naboo planet. In an attempt to convince the Galactic Senate of the peril of their plight, Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman) escapes from the planet, with two Jedi -- Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) -- in tow. Unfortunately, their ship is damaged and they must take refugee on Tatooine where they meet Anakin Skywalker (Jake Loyd) who may be the choosen one who can bring balance to The Force.

The Queering
A long time ago, in on a planet not so far away, a certain movie was released with bad acting, godawful dialog, but did have some rather nifty special effects. No one expected it to do very well, but the summer of 1977, it caused quite a stir and thus Star Wars mania began. Two more films were released, creating a trilogy. The second film darkened the tone a bit and the third had... ewoks.

More than 20 years later, George Lucas decided to return to the Galaxy far, far away, and thus we got The Phantom Menace, a film released to the kind of hype that no film could have lived up to. Websites were created solely to display countdown clocks to the moment of the films release. People camped outside movie theaters, just to be the first in line. I would know, I was in line to see it on opening day. I didn't camp out myself, but I do recall downloading the trailers while cursing out having a 56.6K Modem.

I was in 9th grade at the time The Phantom Menace was released. At the time, I recall enjoying it. Jar Jar Binks did not bother me, in fact I think I found him funny. Of course, as I got older, I did find him annoying. However, re-watching it once again as I approach the big Three-Oh, he didn't annoy me. Maybe I'm just getting mellow in my old age. Recently, while browsing through a local department store, I found myself mildly surprised at my total lack of irritation at the pre-Halloween Christmas decorations on display.

However, I cannot argue that the film is "great" in the classical sense of the word. Elements of the film are undeniably stilted. The camerawork and staging is fairly straightforward, a great deal of the acting is stiff, and the dialog undeniably clunky. There are other problematic elements, starting with the racist subtexts (Watto totally resembles a greedy Jewish stereotype, Jar Jar is an unfortunate Rastafarian caricature, the Trade Federation are Asian, etc.) but those have been hashed out well enough elsewhere, that I do not particularly feel the need to discuss them in depth myself.

However, there are a few queer subtexts, so let's get down to business. There are not a lot, nor do they stick out like sore lightsabers, but there is one that I think is worth talking about. The Jedi Knights in many ways are clearly inspired by the Spartan Agoge, where male Spartans were taken and trained away from their family at a young age. This resembles the ways in which the Jedi Order take young candidates at an early age to be trained.

There are other ways in which the Jedis resemble Spartan military culture. In the Agoge, older males are expected to take on a younger male in a pederastic relationship, which of course closely resembles the relationship between the padawans and their Jedi Mentor. Naturally, this lends something of a queer subtext to the relationship between Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, which is brought out during Qui-Gons' death scene.

At the end of the day, The Phantom Menace does an effective job of setting up the original trilogy even if it's a bit workman like at times. However, there are also moments that I do feel capture the Gung-Ho-B-Movie-With-An-A-List-Budget spirit of the originals and that means it can more than hold a lightsaber to them.

Worth menacing down any Phantom Sith Lord that gets in your way in order to see this movie.

The Rating
*** out of ****


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

November 6, 2013

Harry Potter and "The Sect of the Phoenix" by Jorge Luis Borges

After the Harry Potter books were done being published, J.K. Rowling came out of the closet to announce that Hogwarts Headmaster Albert Dumbledore was oh so gay.

Now many, many years ago, a Spainish writer by the name of Jorge Luis Borges wrote a short story called "The Sect of the Phoenix" which describes a secret society whose traditions are passed down from generation to generation, using secret signs and rituals. In the story these signs and rituals are both common, yet not known to anyone outside of the group. Hmmm...

In any case, one of the more common interpretations of what the sect might represent, is same sex relationships. Of course, some say it might be referring to heterosexual relationships, but I'll just set that annoying little tidbit off to the side for now... and forever.

Now the juicy part of the story. In the Harry Potter novels, specifically the one called Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore is revealed to be *drumroll* the leader of The Order of the Phoenix, a secret society dedicated to fighting an evil That No One Dare Speak It's Name.

Which leads to the obvious question: Was J.K. Rowling referencing Borges work as a way of flagging or suggesting Dumbledore's sexuality? Or is it just a coincidence that the two titles are so similar?

Of course the idea of secret societies (that I'm now thinking one could argue function as metaphors for queer existence) plays a big role in the Harry Potter universe. The wizards, witches, and magic users have a global secret society that they keep hidden from muggles. Then, in addition to The Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter also forms Dumbledore's Army, which he has to keep hidden from Dolores Umbridge. Now I feel like I am really, really reading too much into all of this now, but the way Dolores Umbridge goes about persecuting the group now makes me think of McCarthyism and the Lavender Scare.

I realize that of course, the whole idea of wizarding society being "secret" is kind of a plot necessity that cleverly allows Rowling to set the wizarding world within our present day society, but the parallels are now rather striking to me. I know others have explored queer metaphors in Harry Potter, such as the fact that Harry Potter was raised in a closet only to find out in adolescence that he was really wizard, thus having "come out" of the closet, but that reading always seemed sketchy to me, due to it being a little too literal reading of the material.

Heaven knows though, even as a fan I have to admit that "too literal" and J.K. Rowling literally get along just fine. Umbridge can take all the umbrage with that she wants.

I hadn't considered doing any more reviews of the Harry Potter Series until now, but after being recently reminded of "The Sect of the Phoenix" while doing research for another project, I started thinking about the parallels and well, maybe I will.

In any case, file all this under "Over Thinking It".

November 1, 2013

Queer Review: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The Bride of Frankenstein
Director: James Whale
Writers: William Hurlbut, John L. Balderston, Josef Berne, Lawrence G. Blochman, Robert Florey, Philip MacDonald, Tom Reed, R.C. Sherriff, Edmund Pearson, and Morton Covan. Inspired by the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
Cast: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Ernest Thesiger, Elsa Lanchester, Gavin Gordon, Gavin Gordon, Una O'Connor, O.P. Heggie

A campy horror flick, James Whale's The Bride of Frankenstein serves just as much of a deconstruction of the first Frankenstein, as it does a sequel. Then there's the queer subtexts galore to consider, which spend most of the running time competing with each other for the opportunity to scream "it's alive!"

After a brief intro in which Mary Shelly (Elsa Lanchester) reveals that both Dr. Frankenstein and his creation survived the first movie, Dr. Frankenstein is approached by Dr. Pretorius with a proposal. He wants to work with Dr. Frankenstein to create something new and even more ambitious then either one had previously achieved. Dr. Frankenstein refuses, but after Dr. Pretorius joins forces with The Monster (Boris Karloff) and kidnaps Dr. Frankenstein's bride to be, Dr. Frankenstein agrees to help create the most monstrous creation possible, a bride for The Monster.

The Queering
It is not unusual to find queer subtexts in older movies, it is however unusual to find them quite like they are in The Bride of Frankenstein where they're running around each other under thunder clapped skies, dripping off of the ceilings of mad scientists' laboratories, and humping each other in the corner of every forgotten graveyard. Starting with The Monster himself, we have a creature shunned from society, blamed for crimes it cannot understand. When he tries to conform to societies standards of true happiness by getting married, he finds himself disgusted by the results. The revelation of the bride and subsequent destruction of Dr. Frankenstein's lab, can be read as a reflection of the potentially disastrous consequences that await (or at least the anxieties of) lesbians and gays who suppress their sexuality in order to conform to heterosexual ideals of wedded matrimony.

Furthermore, the scenes with the blind hermit are overladen with homoerotic suggestion. It is the hermit who introduces The Monster to the pleasures of smoking, which The Monster likes, a lot. *wink* *nudge* Dr. Pretorius also can be seen "initiating" The Monster into a deviant lifestyle when he offers Frankenstein's creation a cigar as well, while proclaiming that it's his "only vice".

Then we have the relationship between Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Pretorius. On one level, you have the obvious reading of these two scientists attempting to usurp God in their pursuit of creating new life. On another, you have two men trying to create a family without the aid of a female mother.

Of course what must also be discussed is the fact that Elsa Lanchester plays both Mary Shelly and The Bride Dr. Frankenstein created. This has interesting implications in that we have the creator becoming the created. Not only that, but very label The Bride (at least under traditional standards) is an image of something that is to also create new life. It suggests a sort of endless cycle of creation, one in which the creators of The Bride of Frankenstein openly suggest that the sequels are never, ever going to end. Or something to that effect, methinks.

Keeping in with the theme of endless sequels and cycles of rebirth, comes also the constant imagery of resurrection, namely in the form of dozens of crucifixes littering nearly every frame. When The Monster is captured early on, he is tied to a large post and held up in an image that is a cross between the iconic image of Sebastian being stuck with arrows, but of the image of Christ himself. In another scene, where the hermit and The Monster become friends, the screen slowly fades to black at the end, with the last item remaining visible is the crucifix on the hermit's wall. It's easy enough to see the connection, The Monster represents the resurrection/rebirth of each of the bodies that Dr. Frankenstein used to create him. But The Monster here is no misunderstood savior, by the end he saves no one, merely grants Dr. Frankenstein and Elizabeth the opportunity to escape.

The original Frankenstein was adapted to film from a stage play and while containing some memorable moments and showing hints of genuine creepiness, often felt stilted and a little silly. The Bride of Frankenstein however, was not adapted from a play, but takes elements found in the Shelly's novel that were not in the first movie, and runs in it's own direction with them. The result is a more organic, more enjoyable motion picture. True, the films do cheapen the themes of the original novel and ends up turning Frankensteins' creation into a farce. Given that the original novel is legitimately considered to be a classic of it's own right, this dumbing down is hard to excuse. On the other hand, how many people have read the novel today because of the movies? Not to mention this movie is a lot of fun it's own right and that is the deciding factor as far as my opinion is concerned.

Whether it's his wedding day or not, even the most superstitious groom should see make every effort possible to see The Bride of Frankenstein.

The Rating
*** out of ****


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October 31, 2013

Classic Review: Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Rosemary's Baby
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Roman Polanski. Based upon the novel by Ira Levin.
Cast: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans, Ralph Bellamy, Charles Grodin, Victoria Vetri

Rosemary's Baby is widely regarded as a classic horror film. It certainly has some clever twists and creepy elements, but it ultimately left me underwhelmed. Furthermore, while Rosemary's Baby can be seen as having pro-feminist leanings, there are elements of the film that are highly problematic when it comes to it's depiction of sexual assault.

Rosemary (Mia Farrrow) and her new husband Guy (John Cassavetes) move into a new apartment and soon after, start trying to conceive a baby. One night, after they were planning on having sex, Rosemary falls into a deep sleep, in which she has a sequence of disturbing dreams. When she wakes up, she finds scratches along her body, which her husband claims he did to her while he had intercourse with her while she slept. Later, Rosemary discovers she is pregnant and she starts seeing Dr. Dr. Sapirstein when Guy insists, rather than see their old family physician. When Rosemary develops a sharp pain in her abdomen that won't stop, Dr. Sapirstein dismisses her concerns. As time progresses, Rosemary becomes suspicious that she is trapped in a plot involving witchcraft and becomes increasingly desperate to escape, only to find all of her efforts thwarted.

The Queering
As I understand it, Rosemary's Baby has strongly resonated with woman over the decades due to the way it captures the typical fears and anxieties that can emanate from anyone expecting a child. Furthermore, the way Rosemary is carefully controlled by both her husband and those around her certainly mimics the way society both overtly and subtly takes control of women's bodies when they are pregnant. Rosemary finds everything, her appearance, her weight, and her diet, constantly commented on and criticized by others. Meanwhile, her pains and fears are dismissed as both crazy and further reason for her to be placed under increasing systems of control, until finally she is locked up and sedated right before she is to give birth. Therefore, once the final "twist" is revealed, that this was all the work of a group of Satanists (who had recruited her husband early on in the film), can be seen as the film taking the evil that is typically done to women (particularly pregnant woman) and making it literally real.

For a variety of reasons, I do not wish to dismiss this interpretation out of hand. However, while watching Rosemary's Baby I found myself looking at the film from a rather different lens, one that I should point out at the outset involves me having a very biased opinion of Roman Polanski, due to his conviction of sexually assaulting a thirteen year old minor and the subsequent rape apologism that spewed forth from Polanski's supporters.

What I'm getting at, is that there are elements in Rosemary's Baby that can be seen as forms of rape apologism.

I'll start with the night in which Guy drugs Rosemary so that she can be impregnated by Satan. When she wakes up the next morning, she finds scratches on her body, which Guy admits that he did to her while he was having sex with her while she was asleep. In other words, he just admitted that he raped her, which the film never really strongly condemns as being rape, at least for my tastes. Instead, we later find out that Guy drugged her so that she could be instead raped by Satan, but the film doesn't really treat this as shocking until this is revealed. As it stands, it seems almost as if the film is agreeing with the legal standards of the time that a woman cannot be raped by her husband, thanks to the spousal exemption standards that existed.

To put it another way, in either scenario, Rosemary is raped, gets pregnant, and chooses to have the child in spite of having been raped. The only element that really has changed by the end, in terms of what we the audience and the character know, is who the actual rapist was. Guy simply goes from being the sexual assailant to being an accessory to rape. The fact that the crime itself occurred does not change, but the film doesn't treat it as a crime until the end.

Furthermore, another problematic element here, with regards to Rosemary being sexually assaulted, is the "Devil Made Me Do It" element that the final plot twist evokes, which helps soften the culpability for Guy. Rather than "The Devil Made Me Do It", it's "The Devil Actually Did It". Following this line of reasoning to the end, and one must conclude that the film is evoking the idea of "Stranger Danger" by blaming the crime on the devil, while minimizing the danger that frequently comes from more domestic sources.

The other really problematic element comes from the end, where Rosemary runs around, making an increasingly number of irrational mistakes and puts herself in unnecessary danger as a result. It takes her waaaaaaay too long to realize that Dr. Sapirstein may be a part of the conspiracy against her. Given the fact he was the one prescribing the strange drink for her, he should have been suspect number one. Then there is the way she blabs her entire tale to her new doctor, including the fact that she suspects Dr. Sapirstein and others of practicing witchcraft. Honestly, there was no reason to have included that detail, all she should have said in that scene was "help me, my husband is an abusive fuck and my old doctor, Dr. Sapirstein was an enabler. I don't want them to know where I am." In all fairness, this part could be included to comment on how society conditions people to not believe woman when they are claiming to have been abused. But it undermines the point due to the fact that a doctor has every reason to believe that a person may in fact be mentally ill, especially when they claim to be the victim of a conspiracy of actual witches.

Maybe this is the result of having watched too much Buffy: The Vampire Slayer but honestly, watching a female protagonist act this foolishly is difficult and makes me think that it is set up to enable victim blaming. There were points where Rosemary showed signs of autonomy and intelligence, which makes her ultimate inability to escape from the clutches the bad guys appear to be all the more her fault.

In short, while Rosemary's Baby may in fact capture the uncertainty and difficulties of being pregnant, by minimizing the culpability of Guy in the rape of his wife and evoking the idea of victim blaming, I find myself questioning the films message and intentions.

Rosemary's Baby is only for those interested in films solely for their historical value. This is one troubled pregnancy not worth trying to save.

The Rating
** out of ****


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

October 30, 2013

X-Men: Days of Future Past (Very Confusing) Trailer Released

Alright, I've been following the news of this new X-Men movie, and I get that it has something of a more complex plot than the previous movies but... what the bleep is going on here? Am I the only one who was unable to discern the premise of the movie at all? It's kind of like, oh look it's dark! and features characters from both X-Men: First Class and The Original Trilogy! and is... uh... really, really dark!

So from what I read, this involves time travel and alternative timelines, and is set in some kind of post-apocalyptic future, and the one thing I got from the trailer is that it sounds like Wolverine is going to be sent back in time to convince past Professor Xavier of Something Really Important. For a trailer more than 2 minutes long, that's not a lot. Although, given the way movie trailers can sometimes give away every minor plot point, this may be not be a bad thing...

In any case, I'm still looking forward to it. Since this isn't one that will focus exclusively on Wolverine, the political subtext should be front and center. Therefore there should be some nice queer subtexts buried in all the running around.

In other news, I'm planning on writing up two reviews for Halloween, one classic review of Rosemary's Baby and the other on the queer subtexts in Bride of Frankenstein.

October 24, 2013

Queer Issue: Stealing the Sisterhood - The Love Affair Between TERFs and the Hollywood Patriarchy

There is an argument to be made that as a cis-gendered queer man, I am not the best person to discuss the issue that I am about to. But as a person who has watched many a queer movies, there comes a time when certain patterns become so obvious that they bear commenting on. In this particular case, the pattern involves the presentation of trans villains in Hollywood films and how this is reflected in TERF ideology.

Just in case there are people out there who are still unaware of what TERFs are: TERFs stands for Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminism and lest the name does not make it entirely clear, they are an extremely transphobic bunch. The main tenants of TERFdom (as far as I can tell) revolve around the idea that trans woman are not "real" woman and are simply pretending to be such in order to obtain the awesome privilege that comes from being a transgender or transsexual individual. Furthermore there is the concept that trans woman are stealing the entire concept of feminity from "woman born woman". In her book, The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male TERFer Janice Raymond states that "All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves".

In the grand scheme of things, TERFs are not really doing anything radical or all that original by promoting such ideology . Rather, they are simply repeating half baked ideas that the Hollywood patriarchy has been pushing for decades.

In Hollywood stories, trans villains frequently make woman their primary target to victimize, stalk, and/or kill. Furthermore, they also take extra steps to appropriate some form of femininity from other woman, either by stealing their clothing, their identities, and in the most extreme cases, their bodies. Furthermore, the idea that these characters are not "real" woman is usually emphacized in some manor.

The most recent example of this is The Lone Ranger, in which one of the bad guys' evil minions runs around stealing womens' clothing and then runs around in said clothing, right before being written out of the story altogether.

Psycho tries to get around the charge of transphobia by having a psychologist state that the main character is suffering from multiple personality disorder, but that does not change the fact that Norman Bates has stolen his mothers' identity and runs around wearing her clothes.

Silence of the Lambs takes a serial killer sociopath and adds the shockingly mundane twist of having the serial killer sociopath also killing woman for their skins, which the character intends to wear. The character also had their gender identity undermined by Dr. Lector who described the character as not a "true" transsexual, even though the character had sought transitive surgery. This line also made me wonder if Dr. Lector had eaten the film's credibility with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective has the baddie bad guy stealing Snowflake the Dolphin along with the identity of a woman hiker who went missing. It is never actually explained in the plot whether or not the baddie bad guy actually killed the hiker or simply took advantage of the situation when she went missing, but that's not a terribly important detail. Also in this case, the character has their female identity undermined by having them take on the identity simply to commit the crime. Also, Jim Carrey's character goes out of his way to humiliate the villain by pointing out that their breast enhancement surgery could have been done "over the weekend" in addition to the disgust he shows at having "kissed a man".

The truth may have been out there in The X-Files: I want to Believe but so was the transphobia when the filmmakers "borrow" the plot of Silence of the Lambs. They even try and one up the transphobia and dramatic tension by having the evil sociopath kidnap a women so he can transplant his head onto her body. This is disappointing, as The X-Files showed that the plot of The Silence of the Lambs could be ripped off sans transphobia in the sublime first season episode "Beyond the Sea". However, it is worth noting that this is the one instance where the characters gender identity is not undermined in any manor.

I thought Dressed to Kill (starring Michael Caine as the gender transgressive killer) was going to avoid the pattern, but then a scene near the end of the Unrated Cut included a bit where the character attacks a female nurse and steals her outfit. I have no idea if this scene is in the original version or not as I did not watch that version. The character however does have their gender identity undermined by having it explained that, while they were in this case a "true" transsexual, they had a male part that tried to block the transition, which in turn lead them to becoming the killer.

One thing that I did not find as frequently in these films is the TERF idea that "trans woman shouldn't use female restrooms/lockerooms/etc. because NOT REAL WOMEN". It only shows up definitively in Psycho and it's famous shower scene. Even if the reason that Norman Bates can access the bathroom is because he is the owner of the hotel, the shower scene can still be seen as giving life to the idea that trans woman present a threat simply through wishing to use the bathroom. Dressed to Kill also features it's trans killer stalking a woman taking a shower (in a scene that is a direct rip off of homage to Psycho) before creepily seducing her. It is also made clear eventually in The X-Files: I Want to Believe that the bad guy used (or rather had his male minion use) a woman's lockerroom at a public gym to track down potential victims.

But Silence of the Lambs, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and The Lone Ranger do not have the characters using their female identities/appearance to invade bathrooms, locker rooms, or any kind of woman only spaces in order to terrorize woman or for any purpose at all for that matter. Thus, if we are to look at this pattern across movies, it really just is not there, even thought I would argue that Psycho definitely represents the idea itself in it's most concrete form.

For the longest time while watching these films, I had a hard time identifying how exactly these films were transphobic. I mean, in order for a movie to demonstrate transphobia by having a transgender or transsexual killer, doesn't your killer need to actually have a transgender or transsexual individual as the killer? As it was, the characters who always ended up being the killers or baddies in these films, never matched the way I have heard transgender and transsexual people that I know talk about their lives and experiences. And I mean that in ways that have nothing to do with the fact these characters are depraved killers/criminals -- as far as I am aware, none of the transgender or transsexual people that I know have committed homicide or have extensive criminal pasts. What I mean is -- discounting drag queens who deliberately mimic celebrities -- that I do not know any transgender or transsexual people who have multiple personality disorder or stole or attempted to copy other peoples identities.

Eventually though, I started to look at these films through the lens of TERF ideology and that's when I came to realize just how negative these films are. One wonders just how long it will be before Hollywood stops promoting TERF ideology on the silver screen.

October 20, 2013

Queer Review: Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale (2000)

Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale
Directors: David Shapiro, Laurie Gwen Shapiro
Writers: David Shapiro, Laurie Gwen Shapiro
Cast: Tobias Schneebaum

An intellectually stimulating documentary about the controversial Tobias Schneebaum which analyzes the lined between civilization and the wilderness; between the other and the not-other.

Tobias Schneebaum created a brief stir when he emerged from the Amazon wilds with tales of having eaten human flesh and made love with the males of the Arakmbut tribe. The documentary follows the modern day Tobias Schneebaum as he returns to the Amazon to revisit the places that he had once lived.

The Queering
It is difficult to know exactly where to begin in a review of Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale. For starters the issue of cannibalism may be the films least interesting element. In many ways it's almost a McGuffin. We never actually see anybody eating anyone else, although the topic is broached at several points, while like any good McGuffin, the film ultimately is not about cannibalism at all, it's simply a device to drive the rest of the plot. What the filmmakers are more interested in exploring is the line that divides the civilized from the uncivilized, or if any such distinction can be made.

Of course, Tobias Schneebaum is an interesting individual in his own right. He comes across as charismatic, yet naive, open minded and without guile, but frequently takes a patronizing attitude towards the individuals and tribe that he once studied. He suggests openly the that the closeness that the Arakmbut live with nature make them superior to Western Civilization.

The thing is, his attitude is not uncommon. Our society has this weird, almost hypocritical dichotomy where the civilized world is set up as superior to the uncivilized, but the natural is thought of a superior to the unnatural. Just think about that for a little bit. But as David Wong once said in this Cracked article, "there are two ways to dehumanize someone: by dismissing them, and by idolizing them."

And perhaps this is the downfall of the nature is superior line of thinking for it implies that those who live in harmony with nature live outside the realm of human laws. Yet there are no known societies/group of humans that functions without laws or methods of resolving interpersonal disputes, even non-technologically advanced societies.

For an example of this kind of thinking, watch the following video about an uncontacted (by western civilization at least) tribe in the Amazon, is described as "the last free people on earth", because you know, primitive savages lacking advanced technology are *obviously* too feeble minded to develop rules and systems of laws.

Sorry non-westerners, we Superior Beings can just know this kind of thing simply taking long distance photos of you.

Perhaps the most pertinent statement Keep the River on Your Right is made when one academics points out how weird it is for someone to walk into another persons home and start asking that person questions about their sex lives. In Western Society after all, this would generally be considered stalking and trespassing. Apparently, all rules are bendable, particularly for the rule makers.

Like any good documentarians, David and Laurie Gwen Shapiro make little effort to provide concrete answers to the questions that they are raising. Instead they document as many perspectives as the format allows and then assemble the most relevant of those into a coherent motion picture. The final result is as compelling a tale as could be made from this material.

Worth fording many a river in order to see.

The Rating
*** out of ****

Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.