The Help

Overly simplified.  The “bad” white woman and “good” white woman characters are almost more stereotyped than the black women.  The starting framing of Skeeter and Hilly looked like it had far more potential; what do you do when your whole society, your best friend, your whole structure is racist.  In the end, it just ended up being a dumb portrayal of “only morally deficit people are racist”, which makes for a simpler, cleaner storytelling path but not much about racism and class/economic slavery linked to race persisting in the US.

Shadowy male figures in the background casually perpetuating violence upon women of all races.  Unchallenged through the course of the film; white women trying to please casually racist men become more violently racist than the men.  Black women trying to keep their families alive and find better futures for their kids, locked into domestic slavery under white women by the demands and general uselessness of alcoholic black men stereotypes.

Overall, the simplification was just as depressing as the content.  There were glimmers of interest in a few statements/connections.  “My momma was a maid.  My Grandmother was a house slave.”  And we are shown how Aibileen’s generation’s children become university students, lawyers, doctors, presidents.

For a movie about such a teetering cusp era in US history, the story and storytelling felt like it was still locked in the 50s.

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Icewind Dale 1: Crystal Shard

I’m sure I will regret my decision to read through the entire back catalogue of the Forgotton Realms.

So, Icewind Dale: Crystal Shard.

The editing is atrocious.  The typos are atrocious.  Drizzt has a completely out of character and out of context compulsion to eat the mutton being cooked by a bunch of frost giants he’s in the process of killing.  (Was this supposed to be a running joke?  I cringed through this section.)  Wulfgar’s character development is entirely offscreen.  The story is a lessons learned regarding how much story momentum, meaning and opportunity are lost when you get too obsessed with telling rather than showing.

The in-joke of everyone else getting credit for Drizzt’s achievements borders on some very telling social commentary, but the clumsy way certain other complex concepts in the story are handled suggests that this was accidental.

I just cannot talk about Cattiebrie (spelled as Cattibrie, Catti-brie, or Cattie-brie) and the treatment of women in this story, or this will become a six page snarkfest about the 1980s and 1990s fantasy genre being the last bastion of those clinging to the false promises of the patriarchy.  The reason why some dude authors don’t write women into their stories?  Because they honestly can’t, and the attempt to do so under editorial duress is worse than the gentle and familiar insult of being fully excluded from the patriarchal storyline.  Just let those authors be, and gently strike through in red the word ‘woman’ from every page of their drafts.

 

The pacing is good.   Once the need to obsessively describe geography was overcome – about 1/3 of the way through – the flow and pacing really improved.  The affectionate love of weaponry and inventories is nostalgic and grounded in gameverse.

The realism is lacking (horses, avalanches, game tactics, poor concept of time/army movements/provisioning).  Characterisation was painfully shallow, with the main distinctions around race and class.  The closest non-fantasy comparison is a Harlequin novel, where White Male Billionaire or Black Lady Lawyer become the equivalent of a race and (job)class shorthand.  It’s interesting how FR fandom seems to have latched on to Drizzt — while this is my first encounter with a FR story with Drizzt, I can kind of see how his backstory tropes have a much more easily accessed (or at least, familiar) ‘depth’ than the other characters.  And Atypical Chaotic Good Drow Elf Ranger is a goodly sight more interesting than Typical Lawful Good Human Barbarian Warrior and Typical Lawful Good Dwarven Warrior and Typical Chaotic Good Halfling Rogue.  (Although the hints of Regis’ atypicality also pique interest – hopefully to be developed in the sequels.)

But it’s only a FR story?  It’s not supposed to be high literature? It’s not supposed to be deep?  Bullshit.  All fantasy, by the way its creator needs to pick and choose what’s going to transfer from real world concepts and experiences into the realm, how that’s going to transfer, and how it’s going to change, tells more about the context it comes from than the story itself.  I would have been less scathing and highlighted more of the moments of amusement and entertainment, but I also started reading the Realms of Magic anthology concurrently, and the stories, characterisation, diversity of characterisation, and interest factor in Realms of Magic is 1000x what Icewind Dales provoked.  There ARE mature stories and complex characterisations in Forgotten Realms, even in pissy little short stories whose sole intent is to beat a singular moral drum, and what’s more, good storytellers who at least make that single drum beat happen on cue. Unfortunately Crystal Shard really suffers by comparison, and I’ve yet to forgive it.  The elements of a good meaty story are there, but the overall execution was so raw it practically mooed.

Morphopolis

In the vein of Amarita Studio’s Botanicula and Machinarium.  By comparison, Morphopolis suffered from a much less intuitive interface.  When I get stuck, not on the puzzle itself, but on working out how to exit from the puzzle screen, there are interface issues.

The art style is lovely and music appealing, but the interface is just overwhelmingly annoying for an experience which is supposed to be immersive.  The background is much less interactive than Botanicula’s whimsy.

Django Unchained

Better than I thought it would be.  Although the random addition of Australians made no sense.

It had an interesting development of mutual respect between the two leads.  A solid story although it felt like the pacing dragged – lots of setup for the final confrontation but seemed to take forever to get there.  The premise for the last setup was also flawed.  If they actually had up to $12k cash in hand, why wouldn’t the German have simply approached Candie, said he knew Candie had a German speaking slave that he wanted to buy, and was willing to pay more than she was worth because she was the only German speaking slave he had heard of in all his time in America and he really wanted to speak his mothertongue again?  But of course that would have been far too simple, they had to try to scam Broomhilde’s purchase instead.

Still, I liked the two leads and was interested enough to keep watching.

Neither a positive or a negative, everyone was a recognisable caricature and seemingly a repeat of past QT caricatures.  There was an uncomplicated (and hence annoying) divide between white American sadists and noble black victims (and the enlightened European).  The trouble is, I’m not American and this history (and related film genres of blaxploitation etc) are very distant to me.  I kept feeling like this plot, this story, the struggles of these characters (including the German’s last stand for decency, even considering his brutal profession) teetered right on the edge of being a deeply different story of longlasting value — if only the QT trademarks were toned down.  A setup in which QT could have done something different, not more of the same.

Except it turns out that making the film meaningful was the opposite of what QT wanted to do: “…movies that deal with America’s horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they’re genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it’s ashamed of it, and other countries don’t really deal with because they don’t feel they have the right to.”[4]

But the whole subject of the plot is a big issue, so how do you represent it as a non-issue?  Apparently by lacing the imagery with caricatures and ceaseless genre film references, which is an entire weird pastiche which really felt in conflict with Django’s story, which has a really raw truth to it which should have taken centre stage.

I also kept thinking how this film would have played out if made in the 1930s or 1950s with oldschool Hollywood star types.

Dracula Untold

Yet another film where the overly competent dude’s descent into bestial atrocity is made to seem inevitable, thanks to the unrealistic expectations of a patriarchal world view.  And those who suffer?  His dependents, of course.  This paradigm is so gutlessly tiring.

If only he’d simply stopped making stupid promises about things over which he had no control.  And then feeling like he had to uphold them.

That said, there was a lot to like about this.  The texture of the background scenes.  The priests, barely a line among them, yet I could imagine their stories of this story passing into myth and legend.  The grey filter (or whatever it is that gives that gritty faded texture; I know nothing of cameras).  Dracula’s pre-history (yes, there is a pre-history to this pre-history movie!) as the Impaler; his twisted logic.  The BAMF hilarity of single handedly killing an entire army.

I kept oscillating between being interested and being bored.  The end scene, in modern day, was the most interesting part of the whole movie.  I thought, ah, NOW the story starts — and of course it cuts to credits.