Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Christian Mingle - The Almighty Cockblocker

Recently my girlfriend was looking for a movie that we could watch on Netflix and, surprisingly, asked if I wanted to watch Christian Mingle. She isn't a Christian herself, so this was particularly unexpected, but as someone who's interested in crappy movies, this movie had been on my radar for quite some time and of course I said yes to the offer to watch it. It was basically just a reasonably well-done version of one of those low-budget W-network romantic films, with a religious spin on things to differentiate itself. I'm not really interested in a full review of the film (I'd give it a 4/10), but the film's religious elements did get me thinking because they were implemented in some strange ways which I feel run counter to the intended message.


First off, Christian Mingle is very much an archetypal low budget romance movie. If you've seen one of these before, you know the drill - you've got your generic white couple who get drawn together, a manipulative mother, an unbearable romantic rival, a stupid conflict that draws the characters apart and which would have been easily solvable with a little communication and common sense, etc. Perhaps the weirdest thing about all of this though is how Christianity has been shoehorned into this archetype. Usually the central conflict comes because of some nefarious falsehood or because of some sort of scheme on the part of the villain, but in this story that means that the villain is... God, or at least this form of Christianity. It might have actually been interesting if this was intentional, but it definitely does not seem like that is the case here.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Let the Past Die

Solo: A Star Wars Story is out this week and for the first time since 2008's Clone Wars animated movie, it seems like Star Wars fans could just not give a shit. Some of this can come down to the divisive reaction to The Last Jedi - for my part, I really liked it and feel like it will be looked upon very fondly in the future, but the fury with which many people have derided it makes any sort of dialogue on it very tiring. Some of the antipathy can also come down to the perception that, at least anecdotally, no one really seems to want a Han Solo origin film, nor do they really want Star Wars spin-off films. I also feel like Disney's annualizing of the Star Wars franchise is dangerous to the franchise's long-term health. Star Wars used to be a big event every 3 years (or more!), but we now are getting a new one every year. It's hard to say that that doesn't dampen the hype somewhat and if this is going to continue indefinitely, then who knows whether the franchise's popularity will burn out in time.

Now, to be fair, this is probably all down to perception - Solo is still expected to break records (EDIT: well so much for that) (ANOTHER EDIT: OH SHIT**), which suggests that your average Star Wars fan is part of that silent majority who don't participate in public dialogue. Similarly, I unfortunately can't find the link anymore but I saw a poll on starwars.com recently where The Last Jedi was actually voted 2nd best in the series after Empire, followed thereafter by Revenge of the Sith (!!!), suggesting that the popular opinion is actually way more favourable to The Last Jedi that the Internet would have you believe (on a similar note, I'm not surprised that Revenge of the Sith is so well-regarded either, since it would be seen as the big, epic culmination of the series for many people when they were growing up).


I've been wanting to write about Star Wars and The Last Jedi for quite a while now, but what finally prompted me to write up a post was this rallying cry I'm seeing in the, shall we say, dark side of the fandom which calls for Disney to fire executive producer Kathleen Kennedy. This, to me, is just such a strange situation. I mean, how many executive producers get blamed for franchise woes? Hell, how many could your average movie fan be even expected to name? I mean, Steven Spielberg doesn't get shit for Transformers, nor does Christopher Nolan get shit for the DCEU. So what is the difference here?

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Quick Fix: Beta Uprising

In the time period between #GamerGate (ugh) and the rise of Trump (BLEH), I started reading We Hunted the Mammoth to get an idea of the sorts of extreme sexism present in our society which people are largely unaware of. However, as the American election began to ramp up, these stories began to evolve. Small communities in the "manosphere" of men's rights activists, incels and "red pillers" were becoming more extreme and latching onto other groups. More than a year before neo-nazis came back into the public conscious at Charlottesville, I was seeing how the manosphere was drawing people into the alt-right and neo-nazi beliefs through their insulated communities centered on little more than hatred. That's why men's rights activism is a total joke - men face real issues which could be fixed with a concerted effort. However, trying to organize an effort to combat these issues is like trying to throw a white pride parade - the people who latch onto that cause will steer the ship towards the people they hate and blame for their problems.


This brings me to the recent van attack in Toronto, in which 10 people have been killed (so far) and 16 injured. Initially, it appeared that this might be an organized terrorist attack of some sort, as it was clearly premeditated. However, it is now coming out that the perpetrator, Alek Minassian, was likely a member of the manosphere and alt-right, specifically an "incel", who was radicalized by the group's hateful rhetoric. To put it simply, this rhetoric has grown from, and appeals to, groups of insecure and sexually frustrated young men who are "involuntary celibates" (hence "incel"). In their version of reality, "Chads" are the successful men who horde all the sex with the "Staceys" (aka, "sluts", because even in this version of reality, a woman is worthy of scorn if she has sex with somebody). They also have a very social-Darwinist view of the world, where the Chads are alpha males and the incels are all betas (if you ever hear an alt-right dumbass calling you a "beta cuck", now you know exactly why to laugh at them). Even the name "involuntary celibate" belies a belief that they feel that men are entitled to sex and that it is women who are in the wrong for denying them this right, with some even going so far as to fantasize for a world in which men can force women to have sex with them.

If it seems odd that this might cause someone to go on a killing spree, you'd be right, but the hatred that brews within the alt-right is literally radicalizing people in a manner not unlike that of a more organized terrorist organization such as ISIS. Incels' fantasies about a world where the betas get their revenge has led to further fantasies of a "beta uprising", to the point where it has basically become a legend among incels (seriously, that is not hyperbole on my part, just Google beta uprising). To this end, we have had mass killers inspired by this rhetoric, most notably Elliot Rodger of the Isla Vista killings in 2014. Perhaps most disgustingly, some incels have latched onto Elliot Rodger as a hero who started the beta uprising.


Predictably, Alek Minassian is being hailed as a hero once again by some within the incel community. It's actually kind of a funny situation, I wonder how many of these people would paint all of Islam with the same brush in this situation, but say "hey, not all incels celebrate mass murder" when the finger gets pointed at them. But I digress - as one of my friends put it yesterday, this isn't a mental health issue, but it's going to be painted as such because that's easier than dealing with the serious issues that are funneling young men towards radicalization in our society. People will rail against political correctness and feminism, but sexism is still alive in our society and this attack in Toronto is, as it seems with the evidence we have right now, the sort of result that it leads to at its most extreme. We should remember that it isn't religion that causes people to kill, as the common scape-goat goes, but deep-seated hatred, dehumanization and radicalization.

I'm going to end this Quick Fix with the words of David Futrelle in his comments on this latest tragedy:

"[...] It would be dishonest and dangerous to dismiss this as a 'mental health' issue. Incel is a poisonous and hateful ideology, not a form of mental illness, and killings carried out in its name should be considered deliberate terrorism just as ISIS bombings or KKK lynchings are. Misogyny is hate, just as racism and religious intolerance are. As I’ve been saying for some time, the incel movement is a real danger; it appeals to young men consumed by bitterness who don’t think they have much to lose. And instead of helping them solve their problems it radicalizes them and ratchets up both their bitterness and their 'nothing to live for' nihilism. It’s a movement that idolizes mass killers and that has only slightly ironically heralded Elliot Rodger as its patron 'saint.'"

Friday, 6 April 2018

Waiting for Superman

I have been thinking about Superman a lot in the past few months. He's such a ubiquitous character, it wasn't until I sat down to write this article that I realized just how present he has been throughout my whole life. In spite of this, I've never really considered myself a huge fan, or even read his comic adventures (outside of Superman: Red Son). For the longest time, I agreed with the old adage in Batman versus Superman debates - Batman is a more compelling character, because he can actually be related to. However, a decade removed from The Dark Knight, I'm starting to come to the conclusion that Superman has the capacity to be an infinitely more interesting character than Batman - the key word here being "capacity". There are numerous instances of awful writing throughout Superman's long history, but within that long history there are also some fantastic stories worth checking out.

Take a guess which category this issue falls into.

Superman's ubiquity has also helped inspire a number of other stories in all sorts of mediums, which I feel help paint a far more interesting portrait of the character. For example, I have heard people claim that The Iron Giant is one of the best Superman stories ever written, and I'm certainly inclined to agree. The Giant's arrival on Earth isn't dissimilar to Superman, and the character is often invoked by Hogarth as the sort of moral pillar which everyone should aspire to be. The moment when (SPOILER ALERT) the giant chooses to sacrifice himself at the end of the film reflects back perfectly on the sort of character who Superman is, a fact which is explicitly noted within the film itself when the Giant thinks of the words Hogarth said to him: "You are who you choose to be," to which he simply says "Superman".


Saturday, 31 March 2018

Quick Fix: Be Inspired, You Sheep!

I saw Ready Player One at the movies last night (it was a fun time), but there was one poster in the lobby which really captured my attention:


If you have read my previous posts about the Christian media industry, then you'll probably guess what caught my eye on this. That big, red declaration at the top lays bare the entire reason this, and any other big Christian movie for that matter, gets made: you, as a Christian, are part of an easy-to-manipulate market demographic who will bring in a strong return on a small investment. It's no coincidence that the new God is Not Dead film* came out this weekend as well - Christians often make a big stink about how evil Hollywood is, but studios will still throw them a bone because they are a built-in audience that will run on word-of-mouth marketing and, most importantly, they have money at their disposal. It just sickens me how blatantly they're commodifying faith and how we as a community have turned this into a whole commercial enterprise.

Like, look at those statements. First, gather your church - even a modest church could net you 50+ people, but with mega churches you could have hundreds of people roped into seeing Paul: Apostle of Christ. Again, word-of-mouth marketing. You, as a Christian, are amazing to a studio because they spend way less to make these films and they're pretty much guaranteed to return a modest profit because of how we pressure each other into seeing these sorts of movies that suck up to Christians living in a bubble.

Second, gather your friends and family - this part sickens me the most. To me, this essentially is saying "Hey, you want to evangelize to your family but don't know how? Boy, do I have the perfect product for you..." I mean, hell, it's one thing if you let that sort of thing happen organically, but the fact that you're trying to sell your film on that notion rubs me the wrong way. Of course, this can also be interpreted as "gather your Christian friends and family and go see this", but either way this is just another word-of-mouth attempt to get butts in seats.

Finally, come be inspired together... bloody hell, that is so condescending, and yet, probably accurate for the sort of person who would see this film. It's like the template requires that every Christian movie has to be "inspiring" in one way or another. The Kendrick brothers, for example, have built a career on this concept. Even silly comedies, like Road to Redemption, have to renew your faith and try to proselytize to your unsaved friends who definitely aren't cringing the entire way through this film you forced them to sit through. It is what it is, I guess, but some variety would certainly go a long way, especially considering that most Christian media isn't really made for the people outside that bubble anyway. Perhaps that's why God is Not Dead is not telling you to bring your unsaved friends and family, while Paul: Apostle of Christ is... which actually is making me start to re-evaluate exactly which notion is more disgusting. Ugh. Here's "S.M.C." (aka Sunday Mass Consumption) by Project 86 to play us out...


*...I seriously considered putting quotation marks around the word "film" here.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Some Thoughts on the New Tomb Raider Film

It's no secret that I quite enjoy the two most recent Tomb Raider games and the upcoming third game is probably one of the few video games I'm actually looking forward to this year. Despite this goodwill, I had very low hopes for the new Tomb Raider movie, especially after the first trailer was released. However, my girlfriend and I wanted to catch a movie last weekend and ended up seeing Tomb Raider on a whim. I came away more impressed than I was expecting to (at the very least, it is far better than the Angelina Jolie-led Tomb Raider films), but it makes one huge, fundamental blunder near the mid-point which really screws over the rest of the film. Hell, just thinking about it, Tomb Raider could have been great - day I say, easily the best video game movie of all time*. This isn't a review (off-the-cuff, I'd probably give it a 6/10), but more of a lament of what Tomb Raider could have been.


First off, I feel like I should acknowledge that, as expected, Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander does a superb job as Lara Croft. Angelina Jolie was the perfect casting decision for that era of Tomb Raider, but I definitely appreciate this more grounded take on the heroine, and Vikander nails it. She has the physicality and confidence to sell the role, while also knowing when she should be vulnerable as Lara gets swept in over her head (for example, throughout the entire scene involving the plane hanging over a waterfall, the look of terror on Vikander's face just sells the danger and makes it feel far more real than you would expect). The film also does a good job of making us care for Lara, giving us around 40 very solid minutes of set-up to establish her character, motivations and resourcefulness, while also giving us a pretty badass bicycle chase too.

Honestly, the first hour of Tomb Raider is very solid. In this time, we also get introduced to another compelling character, Lu Ren, whose past seems to be entwined with Lara's own. There's a tangible chemistry between the two - not necessarily romantic, but they really light up the screen together, sort of like Lara and Jonah's partnership in the video games. The villain, Mathias Vogel, could have been very bland, but since he's played by the underrated Walton Goggins, he is imbued with a sense of desperation and sympathy where you can identify with him. He is definitely a bad guy, but he just wants to see his family again and will do whatever it takes do accomplish that. He makes for a decent foil for Lara and is certainly a serviceable enough villain.

After the first hour, it's pretty clear that Tomb Raider has all the pieces in place to succeed. Lara's on the island being chased by bad guys, Lu Ren has been shot and captured, that awesome waterfall-to-plane-to-parachute sequence happens, and then Lara is forced to kill her first human being. She feels awful about it and breaks down... and then sees a hooded figure in the woods watching, she chases them down and the movie never gets its footing back. (Let me reiterate here once again: SPOILER ALERT!!!) In a massive deviation from Lara's backstory and history in all other portrayals of the character, it turns out that Lord Richard Croft is alive on the island and has been trying to prevent the villains from succeeding since he disappeared.


This is such a blunder for a number of reasons. First and most importantly, it diminishes Lara's own role in the story in favour of a character who should be, for all practical purposes, a plot point. In most portrayals of Lord Croft, he exists only to provide Lara with a motivation (inspiring her to seek adventure, an emotional investment in her current treasure hunt, an existential emptiness from losing her father in a foundational period of her life, etc). The Tomb Raider film initially follows this pattern, establishing Richard Croft's strong bond with Lara and he proves to be the crux of her desire to set out on a quest to discover what happened to him. His journal notes drive much of the early plot, but Richard himself is more of a plot point than an actual character - hell, the only reason we care about him at all is because Lara (who we already like quite a bit) cares so much about him. However, when he shows up in earnest, he begins to dominate the plot despite still being just a boring side-character. He doesn't change at all, doesn't do much to drive the plot other than an obligatory heroic sacrifice at the end, and basically just takes up screen time from the actual heroine. Michael Phillips' review hits the nail on the head in this regard: "The Lara Croft reboot Tomb Raider isn’t half bad for an hour. Then there’s another hour. That hour is quite bad. It's no fun watching your action heroine get shoved, punched and kicked to the sidelines of her own movie, while the menfolk take over and take turns overacting before expiring".

To make things worse, the twist also ruins other elements of the film which had been working well up until that point. As I said before, the twist comes immediately after Lara's first kill, which is supposed to be a major emotional trauma for her character. However, by having her encounter Richard within seconds of that this, the gravity of the situation is undercut. As far as the film's concerned, she gets over it immediately. In fact, it's bad enough that I wonder if perhaps Richard's role was expanded in rewrites, its inclusion is that jarring. It also doesn't help that as soon as Richard shows up, Lu Ren is sidelined for the rest of the movie, doing little more than helping some of the captives on the island to escape. Furthermore, the film has hammered home that Richard should be a dead a number of times before this twist. Richard states that he is likely dead in his recording to Lara, and even Mathias says that he straight-up killed Richard. When it turns out that Richard is still alive, we're given absolutely no explanation as to how Mathias could have possibly mistaken this. They don't even have hints of his survival beforehand either, he just shows up out of nowhere, so it's not like they even attempted any clever foreshadowing to ease us into the idea. Again, it feels like something shoehorned in awkwardly during rewrites.


Furthermore, we can just look at the video game to see how Tomb Raider could have been better. The film actually makes quite a few deviations from the source material which are net positives (particularly the first act set-up in London), and others which are unfortunate but I can understand (condensing the colourful cast of side-characters down into just Lu Ren and Richard). However, I feel like the film made a pretty big mistake by changing the central crux of Lara's first big adventure: in the film, this is driven by finding Richard Croft, but in the games this revolves around rescuing Lara's best friend Samantha Nishimura. These are both pretty archetypal adventure movie motivations, but I feel like giving Richard Croft so much prominence was the weaker route to take. For one thing, making your female-led action heroine's motivation boil down to "daddy issues" is very cliche and boring. Elena Nicolaou puts it well: "with another Tomb Raider movie about Lara Croft and her father, the gulf between the starkly independent video game Lara, and the daddy-pleasing movie Lara, widens again." Think about how this story places Lara Croft - she is picking up after her father's work and any agency she has within the plot are just directed at that and at her obsession with her father. The film certainly isn't misogynist or anti-feminist (hell, it even passes the Bechdel test, if you're the sort of person who cares about that), but it does undercut itself by making Richard such a prominent figure in a film which is supposed to be all about Lara.

Contrast this with the plot of the game, which (in broad strokes) revolves around rescuing Sam. Lara sets out on this adventure of her own desire and fights to rescue Sam because she cares so much about her. This story puts Lara at the center of everything, where she should be. Furthermore, having a female action hero rescuing her female friend is far less-trodden ground than daddy issues is, and presents far more fertile ground for interesting characterization (if the film followed the game's plot, Sam actually would get a chance to be more than just a living McGuffin, she gets scenes where she works to escape alongside Lara). You could argue that the removal of supernatural elements from the plot makes the inclusion of Sam unfeasible, but c'mon, you could rewrite it pretty easily - Trinity clearly believes in supernatural powers, so it's not a stretch to believe that they could mistakenly believe Sam could be the key to unlocking Himiko's power.

Tomb Raider could have been great. As it is, it's just decent, and most of its issues can be linked back to Richard Croft's survival. Here's hoping that a sequel can correct the issues on display here, but if nothing else, at least the recently announced Shadow of the Tomb Raider should continue to carry on the series' legacy into the future.

*Instead, that honour continues to be filled by DOA: Dead or Alive. That sounds like a joke, especially considering my love-hate relationship with the games, but seriously, the DOA movie is a legitimately fun film that does pretty much everything with a wink and grin. I've been planning on doing a review of it for a long time and one of these days I will need to actually do so, because it's really that good.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Quick Fix: Cold War Two and Fake News

The recent poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a deadly nerve agent is only the most recent of a long series of events that should remind us that the Cold War has never truly ended. In fact, it makes the plot of Skyfall, where the British Parliament claims that the use of field agents by MI6 is unnecessary, seem positively outdated. The story is still unfolding, but just this morning the UK, France, US and Germany have all condemned Russian and are promising retributive action, while Russia promises that they will retaliate in kind. I imagine that this will all end with some strong words and chest thumping before fading into the background, but I'm more interested about the dialogue surrounding this event and what that may mean.

The following image is a snapshot of the first comments on the CBC article I linked above at the time of writing. I've been checking CBC news throughout this story's development and it is pretty indicative of the sort of comments which dominate these articles:


Articles about the poisoning tend to be filled with pro-Russian voices, mostly with the intention of sewing doubt (you can see one here about not believing that "Russian bots" are real, while another references CIA media manipulation; I have also seen comments elsewhere regarding the lack of proof for Russian involvement). It seems like the sort of thing which is well below the business of a government, but there is certainly evidence that Russia is actively involved in spreading low-level misinformation as part of their propaganda machine. It also isn't even the first time that Russia has assassinated former agents on British soil since the end of the Cold War, which provides further evidence that they deserve the scrutiny being leveled at them now. Some Russian officials are claiming that this is a false-flag operation, which just sews even more doubt in particularly paranoid sorts of individuals. For those sorts, this is equivalent to 9/11 and the American invasion of Iraq, believing that (for some inexplicable reason) liberals want to go to war with Russia and will use this false flag operation to get the sheeple public on their side (this is a narrative which was being put forth during the American election, that warhawk Hillary was going to cause a war with Russia).

This whole situation is making the assertion that we live in a post-truth world more demonstrable to me. The funny thing about all of this is that I have to be very careful to crouch all of my words because there really is no actual proof that Russia is responsible for this attack, despite the likely evidence that they did. Didn't it seem like Iraq had some part to play in the War on Terror, didn't we have evidence of WMDs, back when they were invaded? With all the misinformation and, dare I say it, fake news that is getting sewn out there, it makes it incredibly difficult to determine what is true and what is not.