There is another trailer out for the first of Peter Jackson’s (are you fucking kidding, you greedy bastard) three Hobbit films. And while I may be grumpy that it will only be a third of the story, I am still incredibly excited. Who wouldn’t be? Hobbits and dwarves and elves, oh my!
“If Baggins loses, we eats it whole.”
Over the weekend, Thrack and I watched the X-Men prequel, First Class again. I have no hesitation in saying it’s significantly better than any of the previous X-Men trilogy (and the less said about the abysmal spin off Wolverine movie the better). But I was thinking about a favorite moment in the second film with Magneto and young mutant Pyro.
Magneto: What’s your name?
Magneto: What’s your real name, John?
And I think I’ve finally figured out why I like that bit so much: as with so much of X-Men as an allegory for minorities, it speaks to trans people and how their real names are their real names and not their assigned names. It subtly backs up the idea that they have the right to define a happy whole identity that is who they are, and not to be denied by those who demand to know about their former names or genitals.
It reminds me of something Natalie Reed wrote about some things about being trans that are awesome:
I know that my body and my identity are my own.
Being trans is definitely not something anyone makes easy for you. It’s something you have to fight tooth and nail for. ‘They’ do everything in their power to deprive us of the ability to define our genders for ourselves, and to make our own decisions about our bodies. I can certainly say that although abortion is perhaps one of the feminist issues that has the least direct impact on my own personal life, the concept of being in possession and determination of your own body, and how disgusting it is to see people try to take that away from you, is something I know very intimately.
But the thing is, at this point, it would be really difficult for anyone to ever take this away from me. And with every step forward one makes in transition, it becomes more and more difficult for anyone to ever undo your decision. It claims your body as definitively your body. It’s no longer the body that just happened to be assigned to you, it is the body you chose.
A lot like tattoos or piercings, it’s a beautifully empowering thing to begin being able to see your body as an expression and extension of yourself rather than the chance congruence of fate and genes and whatever you’ve been eating. It becomes symbolic of your life and your decisions, of your self-determination and identity. Your narrative, power, confidence, struggle, and possession of your own life become written into its contours and shape. It ends up being so much more than just a vessel.
When I used to look at myself naked I always felt heartbroken, defeated, hopeless and deeply sad. Now I can look at myself and feel proud of who I am and what I’ve made of myself. Proud of having claimed this little collection of flesh and muscle and bones and blood and stuff as my own to be what I want it to be, proud to have defined it rather than letting it define me.
And ultimately I know that nobody else but me is ultimately in possession of it, or the identity I use it to express. If they were, my body would not be what it is.
Movies about time travel far too often get bogged down with the actual time travel and paradoxes. It’s like there is never a way to make a time travel movie where the main focus isn’t the actual traveling in time part. Sometimes it’s awkward or broken, and sometimes it’s pulled off masterfully as in Primer.
Safety Not Guaranteed is a movie about time travel where the actual time travel isn’t important. And it’s awesome. (Which is probably why it won the Screenwriting award at Sundance this year.)
Before I go on, I should probably point out that yes, the film is based on the internet meme famous ad from a magazine that was added to fill space. They even had the guy who wrote it make a small cameo in the film, which is always awesome. The whole story of the film is basically, what if that was real?
While searching for articles in a meeting, a staff writer (Jake Johnson) and two interns (lead Aubrey Plaza and Karan Soni) are tapped to investigate the presumed loon seeking a companion to go back in time. Of course, only the interns go intending to research the story; the staff writer’s motive of hooking up with an old girlfriend occupy the main sideplot, and his pursuit of a high school fling is often done at the expense of helping do the story.
This plotline is actually one of my superficially favorite things about the movie; it has the potential to be trite or sappy by forcing a happy ending that doesn’t match with the real world but they decided to make it feel human and believable. It adds a nice bittersweet tone against the main plot and characters. It alternately adds realism and humor to balance the emotional progression in the film.
At the Q&A following the film with the director, he noted that they were careful not to let any portion of the film feel too heavy, and I think they did a masterful job. It has a good balance and is very, very funny. It’s also incredibly geeky; I’m not sure if it’s just my generation growing up and creating things or whether we’ve become a large commercial demographic (probably a mix of two, really), but I’m always happy to see geeky and nerdy shit making its way into mainstream stuff.
For example stormtroopers. They wouldn’t know shit about lasers because, as screenwriter Derek Connolly pointed out in the dialogue, they’re blue collar workers. The movie is filled with this sort of quip, and that fills my geeky heart with joy. Actually, pretty much everything in this movie fills me with joy.
I’m hoping it gets a decently wide film distribution because it really is wonderful. Hell, I’ll probably devote another blog post to the movie once there’s a trailer circulating. Like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, this is another example of how what comes out of Sundance doesn’t have to have a strong indie-movie stink* but sometimes can be just awesome gems.
Totally as an aside, I also loved the time machine itself. It’s a boat. I have never in my whole life pictured a time machine that’s a boat. It was also incredibly neat to look at, and apparently was a collaborative art project assembled by local metal smiths and later disassembled by the artists to get their pieces back.
*Not that I don’t like indie movies, but they are definitely not for everyone. For example, I loved Weekend, but the fact that it had no music during the movie is just one of the indie markers that some people find offputting.
I don’t, I can’t, you know, just watch it and then come back.
Where do we even start counting the wrong? How can there be this much wrong in less than twelve minutes? Thrack described this as the telephone game version of the Hobbit translated into Russian and back again. That sounds about right to me.
- “…before men came to power and ruined magic forever.”
- Dale, everything about Dale is just wrong
- Slag the Terrible, the agent of evil on Earth? What happened to Smaug?
- General Torin Oakenshield? Also, he’s clearly not a dwarf.
- Invented princess of Dale, really?
- Gandalf’s Tower?
- Prophecy about destruction and “the time of the hobbit?’
- Bilbo’s great-great-great-grandhobbit was a dragonslayer?
- Where are all the dwarfs?
- That’s not what the world looks like
- The “mines of dale” is not what the Lonely Mountain was. And where are the dwarfs?
- “dragonslayer” is very different from “burglar” just sayin’
- Again with the princess shit?
- Trolls are replaced with Groans that turn to wood, not stone
- Rivendell? Also, apparently there are no elves in the world
- “grablins” is an interesting substitution, not that we see any
- Gandalf is “still seeking” the one ring of power?
- “…magically the one ring of power had found its true bearer, Bilbo Baggins the hobbit.”
- Why isn’t Bilbo invisible?
- Um, goblins? Wargs? Eagles? Beorn?
- Mirkwood Forest is an obstacle that doesn’t slow them in the slightest?
- Elves? Again, I guess not.
- So no Lake Town, either?
- Oh, so that’s why they changed the shape of the Arkenstone. To make it an arrowhead for Bilbo Dragonslayer. ARGH.
- “…his growing love for the Princess Meeka?”
- Bilbo and Meeka reigned over rebuilt Dale until they retired back to the Shire? Seriously?
It turns out that this monstrosity was made by a single dude in a matter of weeks to preserve rights to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, but I still can’t understand how this could have happened. The hobbit is really not that complicated, so how do you get it this wrong?
My mom used to work as a gate agent at the Salt Lake City International Airport and would often come home with stories, some good, some bad, some absolutely horrible beyond words. I still remember a lot of the horrible ones, but one of them came to mind after I watched Skin on Netflix streaming.
She was working at the Info Counter (doesn’t exist anymore, but this was probably late-90’s), and was looking out at lines of passengers, when she heard a South African white woman (loudly) saying,
Black people aren’t people. Black people aren’t people.
To her companion in fucking evil and apparently just hilarious laughter. And once my mom did some quick line evaluation and realized that this woman would be her next customer, she simply couldn’t take it. There was no way should politely help a customer that had and was still engaging in this kind of hate speech, despite having an incredible talent for public relations. (Agents were expected to deal with and tolerate massive amounts of unprovoked verbal abuse, and you should have heard the stories of entitled misogyny that she came home with.) So she quickly made arrangements to take her upcoming break, and had to walk away.
At the time that she told me this, I was so horrified and stunned that I simply couldn’t wrap my brain around it. Apartheid was something I understood from textbooks just like Jim Crow here, but some part of my brain didn’t want to accept that people truly did think, feel and behave that way. I’m not saying we live in anything but a racist country even now, but we’ve changed our racism away from the open brazen sort to the quiet, insidious kind that’s harder to prove and endlessly tiring to root out. The kind that you can avoid seeing if you’re in the right ethnic group: white privilege.
I think that’s why movies like Skin are so important. For too many of us, history, even recent history, is abstract and we can’t be bothered to be angry about continuing injustices because we don’t understand what it feels like. Films like this both educate and personalize injustice.
Skin brings to light the illogical horror of apartheid era race relations by following Sandra Laing, the unusually dark daughter of Afrikaner parents, as she navigated a system designed to simultaneously uplift (based on her white heritage and classification) and oppress her (based on her physical appearance). The denial with which Afrikaners in the film approach the idea that they themselves are largely biracial is something beyond my comprehension.
In fact, the whole point of the film is to shed light on how the incomprehensible cannot be ignored just because it is painful. It is a film that is not subtle, but doesn’t need voiceovers or far-fetched plot points to get the message across. I’m not sure there is a way to make a film like this subtle, because the real oppression is so horrible that anyone with an ounce of empathy will share in outrage and anger. Like Rabbit-Proof Fence, Skin wants us to know that racist policies (in these cases borne from imperial rule) have real world consequences for families and the daily lives of fellow human beings. (Being based on real world events with real people helps in this regard as well.)
Skin doesn’t just want us to shake our heads about the shame that was past oppression (but seriously, the first race inclusive elections were in 1994, so we’re not talking about the far past here, either). We are meant to think about the lasting impact that racist actions will have on others and hopefully make better choices with understanding and compassion.
The film has its moments of happiness, but they are often bittersweet or short-lived. As she ages, Sandra is less and less able to hide from cruel treatment behind her parents, she is reclassified multiple times, humiliated and beaten. Once she is old enough that her parents start looking for suitors, she’s exposed to young men who at their most benevolent are willing to get to know her despite her appearance. At worst, a man feels that since she’s going to struggle to find another Afrikaner suitor, he is entitled to do with her what he wants; and after fighting him off, her father turns a blind eye to bruises.
Eventually Sandra falls for a vegetable seller who unfortunately is black. He doesn’t treat her badly for her appearance, unlike other suitors, teachers and peers, but genuinely tries to make her happy. Her love of Petrus leads her to be violently disowned, imprisoned, and eventually forced to hide her official classification for fear of separation from her new family. Living with her new community is hard, and they face forced relocation. Relationships are strained and eventually Sandra leaves Petrus with her children and finds a way to survive on her own. Sandra’s story is one of determination and struggle, and she is certainly an admirable but sad character.
But through all of this struggle where Sandra never gives up, she never stops loving her parents, particularly her mother. But she knows that apartheid laws and regulations (and the hate filled attitudes behind them) have permanently destroyed hope of real reconciliation with those she loves. When interviewed about the beginning of the end of apartheid, she says that it is too late for her.
But it’s not too late for us.