The weather has turned cold and many of us are preparing for the long winter – filled with hot cups of tea, ill-fated attempts to wear 6 sweaters at once, and spending snowy evenings with your dear friend, Netflix.
And that’s where I come in. I’m a firm believer that Netflix time should be quality time. Until their algorithm improves, I’m hoping to spare you some time searching through their catalog and point you right towards the good stuff. So in this edition of Netflix Hidden Gems, I present you with April and the Extraordinary World.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again. The US and Japan are not the only countries telling great stories with interesting and dynamic animation. Just a little digging can easily find top-level animation with dubbing performed by both gifted and well-known actors – April and the Extraordinary World is a perfect example of this.
A French-Belgian-Canadian production, April and the Extraordinary World takes place in an alternate reality where scientists are disappearing. Robbed of their genius and technological discoveries, the world remains dependent on coal, wood, and steam. A young girl named April who lost her parents as child, strives to complete their work by recreating a serum that can grant eternal life. With the help of her talking cat, April discovers the truth behind the missing scientists.
I’m not sure I’m giving the story justice here because I didn’t want to give too much away, but I can say that it’s familiar and inventive in the best ways. April’s world is one that is both beautiful and ugly, shining and polluted. The adventure plot elements are energetically paced while the story still provides enough character development to allow the viewer to see the events of the story from differing perspectives. As I watched it, it reminded me of other period adventure stories like Tintin or Indiana Jones. But this time, our hero is a lady…and well, that’s pretty awesome.
The visual style is much like the imaginary world in which it takes place – gorgeous and off-putting at the same time. Styled after Jacques Tardi’s work, the characters have exaggerated features unlike the large-eyed designs you see in major American and Japanese studios like Disney or Ghibli. Instead, main characters have oddly large noses and tiny eyes that almost seem like they were just hastily added at the end. And yet it all works. The expressions remain clear and have a subtlety that I think can be hard to find in animation in general.
That isn’t to say this film is perfect. With a strong cast featuring Susan Sarandon, Paul Giamatti, and Tony Hale, I was surprised that there were a few times when the delivery felt stilted. Whether this was the result of dubbing over the original French or just my own perception, there were some moments when it managed to take me out of the film a bit. It did cross my mind that it might have been a stylistic choice to mimic the delivery and style of acting in classic films, but it wasn’t always consistent enough to make that clear.
Overall, I would argue that this film is a breath of fresh air and a great alternative for those looking to watch something that is both high in quality and a bit different. It’s a solid bit of storytelling and world creation that it deserves your attention. So really, treat yourself and check this one out. There’s a great chance you’re going to enjoy it, and not just because it has that awesome talking cat in it.
Need a new animated show to check out? Here’s what I’ve been watching lately. Two are TV series, one is a direct to home market movie. Two are recommended and one is…well, read on and see. Continue reading
Here be spoilers for Stephen King’s IT (movie, mini-series, and book), proceed with caution if this is a thing you care about.
When evil wakes up in Derry, Maine, a group of marginalized kids come together to form a bond and take on the monster. Given their social status, the kids call themselves Losers Club. Beverly Marsh is the only female member of the Losers Club (the group that takes on It/Pennywise) and one of the most complicated in terms of what role the character plays.
If you have read the book, you know there is a scene that takes place in the sewers with the Losers Club where Beverly must have sex with all the boys to further bond the group or usher the boys into manhood or some other such bullshit. I’m not going to get to into that scene but I will say that cutting that scene out of the movie is the absolute right choice. So how was Beverly handled in the most recent movie?
First off, Sophia Lillis, the actress who plays Beverly, was incredible. She does her best to play Beverly as strong, independent, caring, and a leader. And for the most part, this comes through, making Beverly more than a love interest for the boys in the group. While I was disappointed that the slingshot scene, where Beverly emerged as the most capable with a slingshot, was not in this most recent movie, I was pretty happy with Beverly’s portrayal and felt it was a step up from both the book and the mini-series. That is until the final act of the movie. But we’ll get to that in a second.
All of the Losers are isolated from their parents. But in the case of Beverly, she is the most vulnerable and the most at risk. When It shows the Losers all their worst fears, Beverly’s is a bathroom covered in blood. Given that we have seen Beverly buying tampons in the previous scene, it’s an obvious reference to the horrors and fears of puberty and being a teenage girl. However, once you see the way Beverly’s father acts towards her, this fear takes on a much more sinister edge in terms of Beverly being a victim of sexual assault at the hands of a parent. For Beverly, the monsters are not limited to the supernatural, and now that she has had her period, the repercussions of perceived womanhood are even more terrifying. Because of this struggle she is perhaps the bravest of the Losers, and the one manages to hurt Pennywise first.
Beverly is the one who vanquishes her personal monster, fighting back against her father and ultimately killing him, freeing her from his abuse. However, when Pennywise takes her to the sewers she is suddenly reduced to a plot device for the male characters. She isn’t fridged, but she is reduced to becoming a damsel in distress. After vanquishing her own demons, Beverly becomes a tool to help the male lead, Bill, confront his fear. Beverly is put into a trance and this motivates Bill to head to the sewers to confront Pennywise. Additionally, Beverly is literally awakened from the trance with a kiss, by another male character, Ben. It should be noted that while Ben is interested in Beverley and sends her poetry, it’s Bill and Beverly who have the burgeoning relationship. Besides being super lazy writing, having a character who has faced sexual abuse be saved by a non-consensual kiss is cringe-worthy at best; a complete erasure of Beverly’s control of her own sexuality at worst.
There is still a second chapter of IT to come. We will see the Losers Club return to Derry as adults to once again face It. It will be particularly interesting how Beverly will be handled as an adult but I can only hope that she is once again given agency and individuality, and not just used as the 3rd point in a rekindled love triangle.
Warning: Possible spoilers
Welp, it’s been a long time coming. Back from when we all were like “Whoa” when the first Daredevil series came out, to when we were like “Ugh” at what went down with Danny Rand, the Defenders is now on Netflix.
Coming down off Iron Fist, I feel like Defenders could only go up. And it did, starting with the open credits, which remind us that the city is actually the main character here. And it’s more than Cap just calling back to being from Brooklyn every chance he gets, the boroughs of NY are more than a setting, they are the uniting factor for the team. As metaphors go it has the subtlety of a jack hammer, but that’s ok, I’m not really watching this for subtlety.
Defenders isn’t perfect, and I did wish there was more, but for the most part what Marvel does well is bringing together the huge cast of characters they have been building towards. It’s not just about the title characters, but also all those supporting folks. Almost all of them are there (though I do wish there was more Marci), even if some character appearances feel like checking a box. That said I’m not going to complain about one moment of Sigourney Weaver’s (and her outfits) screen time, so yes, sacrifices need to be made.
The main storyline focuses on The Hand, immortal clan leaders, and dragon skeletons, so this gives Matt Murdock and Danny Rand an easier entry into the main story line, while Luke and Jessica remain a bit more street level chasing down tendrils that show how larger schemes affect everyday people. This is really the heart of Defenders and having Jessica remain a 5-star general of snark gives you a touchstone back to what the regular folk might be thinking.
Some additional thoughts:
Claire Temple. She is the voice of reason and a pragmatist in a world with super strength, glowing fists, and bullet proof skin. She’s also the catalyst, the center spoke who brings everyone together. While her appearances in earlier episodes start strong, as the series continues she and Colleen are marginalized to emotional back-up for Luke and Danny. NOT COOL.
Luke Cage has the patience of a saint. He finally calls Danny out on his privilege, asking him what he did before he became the Iron Fist, has he really earned what he thinks he’s owed? And maybe that’s what will salvage this version of Iron Fist, giving him counterbalance. And remarkably, Danny seems to welcome this. Sometimes boundaries are good, so let’s hope Luke continues to play that role because when the series starts one of the biggest disappointments is that Danny Rand hasn’t grown at all. He still thinks everything is about him, and for some reason, Colleen is still with him. WHY??? And she even makes excuses for him when he finally does turn inward to examine what Luke says. WHAT???
By episode 3 we see the 4 heroes come together in what is now a ubiquitous hallway fight scene. I love this and I don’t care if they do one in every series. There are also some nice Power Man and Iron Fist feels.
Black Sky (or as I called it, Dark Afternoon) made Elektra more palatable for me. Previously I didn’t find her overly interesting, but this incarnation of her seemed to have more dimension.
Unlike Claire and Colleen, Misty Knight’s story progressed in some really big and important ways. She has a new look and will soon have a new arm. Will we see Control? God, I hope so.
Despite my earlier griping, this story is still about Danny Rand. He’s like the Key Master or something, and while the character is better in this series, he’s still the least compelling. Except for one moment…..that dumpling scene in the restaurant. Danny finally abandons all his super hero drama and just wants to stuff his face the instant some dumplings show up. I have never felt closer to the character than in that moment.
The next Netflix series is The Punisher, and while it’s in this universe, it’s not super closely tied to the Defenders. I think what I am looking the most forward to is right now is the next Jessica Jones season. David Tennant is still involved so what’s not to look forward to?
Hey all, I’m gonna review the Netflix show, GLOW. If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch it and then let’s chat. There be spoilers here and I don’t want to ruin the show for you, ok?
GLOW starts with an acting audition that is too real even by today’s standards. Main character Ruth (Alison Brie) is at an audition; she reads a meaty part with passion, and conviction….only to be told, no honey, that was the male part, can you try it again reading the other part? The other part is one line, letting the boss know he has a call on hold. This sets the stage for one of the more meta themes of this show. Yes, it’s 2017 now, but really, how much have things changed? Continue reading
Unless you’ve been away from all media for the past week or two, you know that Adam West passed away. West was well-known and well-loved for his performance as Batman in the 60s TV series of the same name, the movie spun off from the series, and numerous animated appearances of the Caped Crusader. Plenty of writers have already covered what made West’s Batman so iconic, but I want to focus on another one of his contributions to the Bat mythos – the first time West was on a Batman series and didn’t play Batman. Continue reading
Hopefully, you already saw Wonder Woman if you are reading this. If not, you may want to bookmark this for later because – spoilers.
Before I even get into the movie itself, it’s almost impossible not to talk about the discussion leading up to Wonder Woman. For women in Hollywood and women characters, there was a lot riding on this one film. That’s largely because the reality is that women don’t get the chance to fail like men do. One dude does a bad thing and it’s #notallmen, but women don’t get that luxury. If WW is considered a failure by the industry it’s “women heroes can’t carry a movie”, or “women can’t direct superhero movies.” Never mind the sub-par records of some other male-centric superhero movies (Batman v Superman, Daredevil, Punisher), these directors and characters all got second chances. I know I don’t feel confident that women are afforded the same luxury, so Diana and Patty Jenkins carried a lot of their shoulders. Thankfully I don’t think we have to test this theory with Wonder Woman. While I didn’t feel it was the best movie (I’m not sure anything can dethrone Fury Road for me), it was a good movie – you know, for a movie about a woman hero written entirely by men.
I haven’t been shy about the fact that largely the DC movies haven’t been for me. It’s a stylistic opinion, but I have generally felt these movies lack joy and color. Wonder Woman tries to buck that trend…at least at the beginning. Themyscira is beautiful, full of cool blues, crisp green, and shining gold. It’s the world of man that is drab, and drags us back into that standard DC color palette. The movie is essentially an origin story. As WW’s origin is less known than her male counterparts this makes sense. And as a character more steeped in traditional myth, this gives an opportunity to explore another part of the DC Universe, especially for those WW fans who don’t read comics.
There was a lot that was good with this movie. First, the Amazons. My main disappointment with them was that they were only in a small part of the movie! While there could have been some more diversity, as someone who will soon be part of the over 40 set, it was nice to see that Themyscira was not filled with young waifs. Nor were the older women covered in overflowing gowns or caftans that hid their bodies. The Amazons were shown as strong, with scars, or marks out in the open.
Diana herself is very much a fish out of water for the majority of the film but remains self-assured and formidable. I’m not gonna lie, the No Man’s Land scene was powerful, and that’s because Diana looks powerful. I believed she was unmovable, and then able to move forward despite what was being hurled at her. It’s maybe a little heavy-handed in terms of metaphor, but I don’t care. For me, it worked. There were some other interesting takes on common tropes. As The Red Menace overheard two women in the bathroom discussing, the typical make-over scene was flipped on its head as Etta Candy (MORE ETTA!) is tasked with making a beautiful woman more dowdy, less distracting to men. You know, so they can continue planning the war and whatever. Thank God she wasn’t wearing yoga pants or leggings, society would have come to a standstill.
My biggest disappointment is the reveal that Diana’s strength is based in the power of love – here’s a trope I would like to see a lot less of! While I get what they are trying to say, having this reveal of her ultimate strength comes right on the heels of Steve Trevor’s death (yeah, he was totally fridged) made it feel more like romantic love, and an utter cliché. I felt the initial scene where Diana first reveals herself as an Amazon and crosses No Man’s Land (I see what you did there), is a much better characterization of her values. Diana’s strength lies in compassion and despite being a god, in her humanity. Compassion, of course, is a type of love, yes, and we see this play out in how Diana rescues a village no one else thinks is worth the time. But the moment where she “seizes the sword” of her own power was too wrapped up in her feelings for Steve, and given the romance angle, that he could be seen as an avatar for the human race gets overshadowed. Diana’s story and origin shouldn’t be based on her love for Steve, but rather in the fact that her compassion is what drives her decisions.
All that said, I think this movie is doing what it needs to do. It is proving that women heroes and directors (let’s get some women writers in there too) can carry a big budget movie. And more importantly how exciting is it for kids of all genders to have Diana be one of their first exposures to heroes? It’s pretty dang great.
As promised, the second half of my thoughts on Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale – namely, the differences from the novel and how I felt about them. This will have major spoilers for the series, so if you haven’t watched yet, you might want to bookmark this and come back later.
NB: This post will contain spoilers for both Margaret Atwood’s novel and Hulu’s adaptation of it through episode 3. It also assumes familiarity with the basic plot of the book.
I have a confession to make. Despite being a feminist of a certain age, I had never read Margaret Atwood’s story of women living under an oppressive patriarchal regime until last week. The Handmaid’s Tale was forever on my to-read list, but somehow it never quite crept to the top. But with Hulu’s adaptation coming out and the state of the world being what it is at the moment, the time had finally come.
Having read other Atwood and found it a bit of a slow burn, I was a bit surprised to find the novel compulsively readable, despite being incredibly bleak. I finished it in two days, marveling over the eerie and disturbing parallels in our current sociopolitical climate and delighting in Atwood’s prose (and spot on description of Harvard Square). The book is a damnation of the power dynamic between men and women, of course, but it touches on so much more than that – the way that fear causes us to exchange freedom for the illusion of safety, the damage of white supremacy, religious hypocrisy, and the pain of post-traumatic stress disorder. I was interested to see which of these would surface in the series – I knew going in that they’d removed the race elements, but what else would change?
Let me start by saying that, after watching the first three episodes, the show overall is incredibly well done. There are certainly changes and updates, both major and minor; some I agree with and some I don’t. But on the whole, the creative team has done an amazing job of setting the right tone and message. Like the novel, the show makes liberal use of narration and flashbacks, though it rearranges the timeline of the entire novel. The flashbacks help establish both how new and foreign the position of women in this society is, and how they struggle to survive it. As Aunt Lydia helpfully reminds the handmaids-to-be in the Red Center, “Ordinary is just what you’re used to. This may not feel ordinary now but after a time it will. This will become ordinary.” Women aren’t used to being chattel anymore, she’s telling them, but in a few generations no one will remember another way.
The show also makes excellent, unnerving use of music. Most of it is instrumental, humming quietly in the backgrounds of scenes, imparting an air of menace and tension. However, when a song does come to the forefront, they are often even more jarring – a combination of 80’s classics, remakes of the same, and newer songs with similar new wave sounds. This choice both nods to the book’s original time and setting, while providing a creepy counterpoint to the nearly Colonial-style dress and mannerisms of the future it depicts. It’s a reminder that although it may look like the past, it’s the near future we’re watching.
The actors also give excellent performances. You can feel the strain in every interaction our narrator Offred (Elisabeth Moss) has with other characters in the present day scenes – no one is saying what they mean, no one can be trusted, and kindness always has some sort of strings attached. You can see it in her face and body language. This tension is complemented by the total ease in her memories of her former life before the government takeover. Her scenes with her best friend Moira (Samira Wiley) are particularly good – you feel their closeness, and how they’ve influenced each other’s lives.
With all of that said, the show makes a few changes that I don’t entirely agree with, changes that affect how we see Offred and the other women in relation to each other. Keep an eye out for part two, where I’ll explore those changes.
Have you been watching The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu? What do you think? Let me know in the comments.
Enough time has passed that if you were going to watch Iron Fist and care about spoilers, you have probably done that…but, you know, if you do care, maybe read this later.
Does Iron Fist really deserve the panning it’s getting? Ehhhhhh, maybe, maybe not. But with the bar set so high from the other Marvel Netflix series, Iron First comes off as a master class of missed opportunities and poor choices. Much has already been written about Danny Rand’s casting. Yes, Iron First is white in the comics. Could that have been changed? Absolutely. Would the show have been better served by having an actual martial artist as the title character? Heck yes, but that’s not the missed opportunity that I’ll be talking about. Rather, Marvel had a chance to turn the tables on a privileged white male protagonist, and they let that opportunity wane. Continue reading