Snowpiercer: when class war goes off the rails

After a long and infamous delay due to studio infighting, Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s post-apocalyptic thinkpiece Snowpiercer is finally playing in American movie theaters. This is how the story goes: in the not so distant future, humanity accidentally causes a worldwide ice age in an attempt to slow down global warming. With life on Earth quickly dying out, the planet’s last survivors board a gargantuan train called Snowpiercer. On Snowpiercer, the rich live in luxury at the front of the train and the impoverished are relegated to the back of the train, also known as the Tail. That is, until the poor decide to revolt.

The poor rebel so as to take charge of the front of the train — whoever controls the engine essentially controls the world. The leader of the revolt is Curtis Everett, played by an unrecognizably scruffy Chris Evans. Everett is aided in his ploy by fellow Tail inhabitant Tanya, played by a criminally underused Octavia Spencer, plus security expert Nam and his flighty daughter Yona, played by Korean actors Song Kang-ho and Go Ah-sung, respectively.

Everett and company make their way through the train mostly thanks to the skills of Nam and Yona, both of whom Everett bribes with drugs. As they all progress car by car, the internal world of the train is slowly revealed until they reach their destination at the front of the train, where Everett has a final and surreal confrontation with Wilford (played by Ed Harris), the mysterious creator of Snowpiercer.

***

Snowpiercer is one of the most visually arresting movies I’ve ever seen to the point that I think it’s on par with Tarsem Singh’s masterpiece The Fall. I was not expecting this given that the setting of a train interior wouldn’t seem to lend itself to interesting sets, but I was proven quite wrong. Another surprising thing about Snowpiercer is how quiet of a movie it is in the sense that there is not a lot of dialogue between characters until the very end. As with many other aspects of the movie, this silence is rather jarring given that it takes place on a gargantuan locomotive and most scenes should be quite noisy as passenger trains are anything but quiet. All of that being said, Snowpiercer is quite visceral at times, almost physically so. I say this in reference to a final speech of sorts that Everett gives to Nam before he confronts Wilford. He reveals the gory truth about life in the Tail, at which point I practically fell out of my seat over the disgusting revelation.

From a sci-fi standpoint, the movie requires a certain amount of handwavium, more so than most sci-fi movies. Admittedly, just the idea of packing humanity’s last survivors into a giant train seems rather farcical, but to me that was part of the appeal. Nonetheless, there are some details that just have to be accepted, like the fantastical substance that inadvertently caused an ice age and how people in the train are able to apparently raise livestock. Moreover, the overall pacing of the movie seemed rather off in some scenes, especially toward the end after Everett reaches the front.

Overall, Snowpiercer is, in turns, dark, awful, funny, surreal and cruel, and I highly doubt I will see anything like it any time soon.

Top image via enzozid.com. 

 

“Tooth and Claw” Chapter 3 Review

Bet you guys never thought you could discuss rape/purity culture in the context of a story about dragons, did you?  And yet here we are, dealing with the fallout from Frelt’s rapey, selfish proposal to Selendra.  Let’s break this down section by section.

Selendra’s Coloring

I’d first like to point out how gracefully Walton introduces us to dragon culture a piece at a time, relying on the reader’s prior knowledge of similar novels about humans to help fill in the gaps.  Specifically, in dragon culture, color is everything.  We’ve already seen (or at least heard) of what happens to young dragons who are too green.  And now we come to realize how important color is to maiden dragons as well.  Maidens are varying shades of gold, but when they first become aroused by a potential mate, they turn pink.  After they lay their first clutch of eggs, they turn red.

When Selendra makes her way into the dining room, she is blushing pink.  We know, because we read about it last week, that Frelt deliberately leaned over her, pressing her physically even though it was clear that this was not polite dragon behavior, and especially poor behavior for a parson.  We know that from Frelt’s perspective, he had deluded himself into believing that this was all very romantic, and he was even considering carrying Selendra off to rape her until she reminded him that she is under her brothers’ protection.

Penn and Avan are rightfully angry on her behalf, but they take entirely the wrong approach to it.  Instead of comforting their sister, as Haner is doing, Penn frets about Selendra having to marry Frelt after all if her scales have turned color.  And Avan actually chides Selendra for going down to meet the parson alone.  Haner leaps to her sister’s defense, angrily pointing out that Frelt is a fucking parson, and if anyone should be “safe” to be around it should be dragons of that persuasion, especially because they are Immune.  She also points out that Selendra went down to greet him just to be polite, and that Avan knew she was, and if he had been so worried about it then he would have gone down with or instead of her.

Seriously, Avan?

Seriously, Avan?!

The brothers are hung up on this color thing, knowing more about the world than their sisters, who have spent their entire lives at the Agornin establishment.  Because female dragons have the most visible sign of lost “virtue,” if not virginity, they are shunned by good society and therefore easy prey (in multiple ways) for dragons who are so low as to take advantage of that fact.  Penn and Avan are worried about Selendra even being able to have a legitimate marriage, because a maiden’s worth is measured in gold – both the gold of her dowry, and the gold of her virgin scales.  The idea that Selendra would be forced to marry the very dragon who sexually assaulted her is very much related to various cultural practices that force a rape victim to be married to her rapist, and also the idea that a woman has somehow lost “value” for having been raped.

The Sisters’ Vow

Haner takes Selendra straight to Amer, having confidence that their old nursemaid would know what to do.  Amer asks Selendra specific questions about what happened in the corridor as she prepares herbs and sets a kettle on the fire to boil.  Selendra is understandably shaken, more so now that when she was actually in the moment (which is a common feeling for victims of assault).  She talks about how Frelt deliberately leaned on her and re-affirms her determination never to marry him.

As Amer prepares the special tea, she very seriously informs Selendra of the possible consequences of taking this medicine.  As she says, it’s not magic, but medicine, and some dragons react differently to it.  Either the tea will restore Selendra’s maiden color and she will live her life as she would have, or the tea will fail to restore her color in which case she’s no worse off, or the tea will work so well that when Selendra really does become attracted to a dragon and accepts his proposal, she will not be able to blush pink the way she should.  Selendra is taking a risk here, possibly giving up marriage and dragonets just to avoid having to marry Frelt, but she chooses to drink the tea, fully informed of the situation.

Haner takes Selendra down to their sleeping cave for her to rest and allow the tea to do its work, as Amer washes up and burns the herbs she used on the kitchen fire.  As Selendra lays down on her gold to sleep, she and Haner make a vow to each other not to marry unless the other approves the match, and can come live with the married couple to look after the dragonets.  They also promise to combine their dowries to put one of them at advantage, so they will each say they have sixteen thousand crowns, rather than eight.

Surprises for Penn

As much as I dislike the cultural influences that led Penn to consider forcing Selendra to marry Frelt, I do feel sorry for him during this section.  After all, he and his siblings have all suffered a significant loss, had contentious family issues about the inheritance, and had an obnoxious intrusion of privacy in the form of Frelt’s stupid proposal.  He prays to the gods for a solution – any solution – that would allow Selendra to have a proper marriage to a dragon she loves.

Avan, meanwhile, is coming up with solutions of his own, and he approaches Penn with his suggestion when the parson comes down from his perch on the mountain.  Avan has high-ranking connections in Irieth, and knows a good-natured Exalted couple who might be willing to take Selendra on as a consort.  She wouldn’t be officially married, but she would be in the care of dragons Avan counts as friends.  Penn is disgusted by this idea, even though the Church doesn’t explicitly forbid it, and says that Selendra would basically be at the mercy of anyone who took her as a consort, and that it would be beneath her.  Notice how the two of them are discussing this without even thinking about consulting Selendra about it.  They are the ranking Agornin males, and assume that they have control over the females.

To Penn’s surprise, he finds that Selendra has turned gold again, and is informed by Haner that all she needed was rest and some special tea from Amer.  Penn thinks he has a good idea of what Amer gave to Selendra to drink, and this is definitely a big Church no-no.

Of course it is.  Anything that allows females more control over their lives and bodies is going to be a church no-no.

Maximus is having exactly none of your sexist, religious bullshit.

Maximus is having exactly none of your sexist religious bullshit.

Penn confronts Amer in the kitchen, asking her explicitly what she gave Selendra, and Amer neatly side-stepping the question and turning the blame to Frelt, which is exactly where it should be.  She points out that Selendra was only alone with Frelt for a few minutes, which is far too short for Selendra to have lost her virginity, if not her color (go Amer!).  She also hints that she might need to stay with Selendra to make sure that she stays gold, and asks Penn to take her into his household’s service.  She plays every card she has, including the I-watched-over-you-when-you-were-little-and-don’t-you-forget-it card.

Penn agrees to allow Amer to come with Selendra to Benandi, though he’s not sure how he would explain this apparent extravagance to his wife.  Which is something we’ll find out about next week (I think).

Chapter 3, Video 1

Chapter 3, Video 2

 

 

Why Must Dudes Ruin Perfectly Good Superheroine and Action Franchises with Their Requests for Diversity?

What is it with dudes and their never-ending cry of “Diversity! Diversity! Diversity!” ? Ugh, it doesn’t MATTER what the characters are like! Only the story matters! And we all know that those fanboys love to complain about how there’s no representation of LGBT (or are they calling it GLBT now? IT’S SO HARD TO KEEP TRACK OF LETTERS) or not-white people.

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San Diego Comic Con 2014 – 3 weeks to go

“One does not simply walk into Comic Con.”
– A wise nerd in a meme on tumblr

With only about 20 days to go until San Diego Comic Con news, about programming, exclusives and off site events are starting to fly out of the studios. The official schedule won’t be out until probably next weekend, but that doesn’t mean I can’t start obsessing about how I’m going to spend my time. And also organizing…so much organizing. If you like planning and researching and obsessing this con is basically porn.

We’re already past badge purchase, hotel lotto, and plane tickets. I’ve even acquired off-site/after hour tickets to a few events. (The symphony! @midnight!) And pre-ordered a sweet mini Impala variant.  So, I thought I’d just give out some scheduling, planning and travel tips that I hope are useful for any con or event you might be attending. (This post is focusing on the getting there prep. Next few post we’ll talk about organizing your con time.)

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Four things this feminist would like to see in Pacific Rim 2.

One of my favorite movies is Pacific Rim, the story of humanity coming together to fight aliens from another dimension. These aliens are fought via giant robots called Jaegers, and the successful operation of a Jaeger requires absolute cooperation between its two pilots. The premise sounds rather grandiose, and it is, but the movie also has quite a bit of heart and features an amazing female protagonist named Mako Mori. The film’s director, Guillermo del Toro, recently announced that a sequel will be made, and while there are still a few years before the movie is released, I have been thinking about what I’d like to see out of the second installment of Pacific Rim.

1. More women!

Although Pacific Rim is ostensibly Mako’s story, to me there is a huge hole missing in that story, and that is the overall lack of women in the movie. Mako often seems to be alone in a sea of men, although a close viewing of the movie reveals that there are often women in the background of the Shatterdome, the epicenter of action in the movie. We do not know any of these women’s stories, not even that of the only other female Jaeger pilot shown on-screen (Sasha Kaidanovsky). Del Toro has shown an aptitude for creating strong women characters, and it’s time he added a few more to the Pacific Rim roster.

2. No compromises with Mako.

Speaking of Mako, she is one of the many reasons I enjoy Pacific Rim as she is one of the best female movie characters to come along in a long time. There is a good deal of plot devoted to her developing relationship with her co-pilot Raleigh, and while the movie could have ended with a totally cliche kiss, thus sealing their fate as romantic partners, the movie’s ending actually left their status somewhat open-ended. Del Toro did this intentionally: he has said in interviews that,

“I wanted to show that men and women can be friends without having a relationship. [Mako and Raleigh’s] story [is] about partnership, equality and a strong bond between partners. It’s important for little girls to know not every story has to be a love story and for boys to know that soldiers aren’t the only ones to triumph in war.”

I have faith that even if Mako and Raleigh become a de facto couple, del Toro will keep Mako at the forefront of the story and not relegate her to being silent love interest.

3. Vanessa Gottlieb.

Vanessa is not mentioned in the movie, but we know from the movie’s novelization that the scientist Hermann Gottlieb is married to a woman named Vanessa and that she is pregnant during the events of the first film. Moreover, Travis Beacham, who helped co-write the movie, confirmed on tumblr that Vanessa is mixed race and also a model. A popular fan theory for Vanessa is that she is a prosthetics model, which goes well with Hermann’s PWD* status. Aside from these few details, Vanessa is essentially a blank slate. Personally, I like to think she is a strong, confident woman, and I think she would make an excellent addition to the cast.

4. GLBT characters.

Another reason I love Pacific Rim so much is the diversity of the characters. Okay, I’ve established that there could stand to be more women, but otherwise the movie is wonderfully diverse in terms of its Jaeger pilot teams and crews. In the movie, there is on-screen representation from the U.S., China, Russia and Australia, and we know from supplemental material that there are many more teams from countries all around the, ahem, Pacific Rim. Racial and ethnic diversity is all very good, but as a queer chick I would like to see some GLBT Jaeger pilots. Representation matters, and there’s no reason a queer character can’t be included or be an important part of the story.

Top image via filmcolossus.com.

*person with disability

“Tooth and Claw” Chapter 2 Review

This week’s review is going up a little earlier in the week than I would usually post, because I’m going to be out of town for the (U.S.) holiday weekend.  I know you’re all devastated at the prospect of having more dragons, more quickly, but I’m sure you’ll just push through the pain with dignity.  Again, I’m borrowing this review style from Mark Oshiro of MarkReads.  Please check out his site and consider supporting him and his work.

When we finished the first chapter last week, Illustrious Daverak and his family had eaten the majority of Bon Agornin’s body, in direct violation of the old dragon’s wishes.  This left Avan (Bon’s son from the second clutch) and Selendra and Haner (Bon’s daughters from the third clutch) at a grave disadvantage in size and power, because dragonflesh is able to strengthen and give growth to the dragons who consume it.

Avan’s Lawsuit

Avan, rightfully furious at Daverak’s actions, complains bitterly with his sisters Selendra and Haner while watching Berend and Daverak fly home to their own establishment.  The gold is poor comfort to the three of them, as it must be split three ways and doesn’t offer much in the way of long-term security.  Selendra and Haner should use it as their dowries, and at 8,000 crowns each those dowries are not likely to attract rich and/or high-status husbands.  It’s mentioned in the text that Bon Agornin paid a handsome dowry for Berend’s marriage to Daverak.  So in dragon culture, it seems that fathers must pay their prospective son-in-laws to take their daughters off of their, um, claws.

None of the three youngest Agornin dragons are in a good position, however, as Avan still has to make his own way in the world.  Being a male dragon and not a parson like his brother Penn, he has to deal with physical challenges from other males, on top of doing his work for the Office in Irieth.  There’s nothing he can do at present to help his sisters, though they are heartbroken at having to live apart from each other.

But Avan comes up with the idea of filing a lawsuit – he has a letter from Bon Agornin stating how he wished his inheritance to be distributed.  It’s unlikely that this misunderstanding about Bon’s body is an offense for which Daverak would be executed, but it is the custom of the court to give the bodies of executed criminals as restitution in cases like these.  He’s so excited about this prospect that initially he forgets that he cannot spend all of Bon’s gold on it – it must be divided between him and his sisters equally.  They are concerned about the expense, and innocently remind him of their need for dowries.  Avan doesn’t let go of the idea, but without their shares of the gold it will be that much more difficult to challenge Daverak in a court of law.

Frelt’s Intentions

Hey girl, shelves in the closet.

You know that was your first thought.

Hoooo boy.  Frelt.  Frelt, Frelt, Frelt, Frelt, Frelt.  That was a nice little internal thought process we were treated to, wasn’t it?  Holy entitlement, Batman!  For not only do we see what a massive, classist snob this dragon is, we see his powers of self-delusion as well.  He doesn’t mind having his wings bound because he thinks it makes him pious and superior to everyone else, even other parsons.  He is so hung up on his cross that he must be pulling splinters out of his sphincter.

Frelt decides that he needs a wife, and because he’s not impressed with the other local dragon maidens, briefly considers going to Irieth in the Season so that he can see all of the maidens of marriageable age.  He feels as though it would be beneath him to take a wife that was ugly or old, and so he’s set his sights on the maidens who would be presented to society that year.  The fact that he offered to take Berend in marriage has raised his standards even higher, because she eventually became the wife of an Illustrious.  Though Frelt himself doesn’t hold that rank, he feels now like he can’t accept any maiden who would not be worthy of being considered by an Illustrious.  So he decides on Selendra, after briefly considering  Haner, because Selendra is lively and can fly around to run errands for him, and seems less likely to die after laying her clutches.

I know.  It’s so fucked up.

Amer’s Plea

This is where we start to hear some really worrisome things about Illustrious Daverak and how he runs things in his demense.  When the long-time Agornin family servant, Amer, asks Selendra to take her with her to live with Penn at Benandi, instead of going with Haner as planned, she relates some of the gossip she heard from the servants that Berend and Daverak had brought with them.

Amer tells Selendra what she heard about Daverak killing and eating older servants, as though they were weakling dragonets needing to be culled.  Selendra is shocked at this, and recites scripture that outlines how such cullings ought to be conducted:

There must be no killing of dragons except after a challenge or in the presence of a parson, for the improvement of dragonkind.

This means that male dragons have the right to challenge each other and fight to the death.  Parsons, being of the church, are immune.  The color green is a sign of weakness in dragonets, and according to this such dragonets must be killed and eaten to improve dragonkind.

And yet Daverak crosses this boundary according to gossip, taking it upon himself to end the lives of older, lower-class dragons as well as potentially healthy dragonets, all under the guise of doing his duty as an Illustrious.  And he were see how this class and power structure remains in place.  Dragons only become the biggest and strongest according to the availability of dragonflesh.  The law and the church say that high-ranking dragons have the right to consume the weaklings of their demenses.  Thus, those dragons already in power keep getting bigger and stronger, passing down the demense to their children, who also grow big and strong, and the cycle continues.  The lower-class dragons stay small and vulnerable because they do not have the right or access to dragonflesh, which would give them a similar advantage.

Indeed, we can see the classism in the custom of binding the wings of servants – the narration of the book says that the assumption is that servants will fly off and run away if they are allowed to use their wings.  We see that Amer is a loyal servant to the Agornins, since she was allowed to fly when Bon Agornin was ill, and she returned with the herbs he needed.  Strict masters and mistresses will insist on servants’ wings being bound very tightly, while Amer is so trusted that her bindings are largely ceremonial, like Penn’s.

A Proposal

And again I say, hoooo boy.  Poor Selendra.  She goes down to meet Frelt after Avan tells her that the parson is coming to visit, and she has absolutely no idea what he could possibly want.  But we know, and we cringe as Frelt goes overboard into manipulative proposal mode, trying to flatter her and ignoring every single protest she makes after she understands what’s going on.  Frelt pulls a Mr. Collins on poor Selendra and refuses to take her “No” for an answer, falling into that same old belief that maidens must refuse at first, lest they seem too eager.  If you watch the videos you’ll see the face I pull at that section.

In fact, Frelt presses his attention, literally, getting very physical and leaning over Selendra.  Remember that when he was cooking this whole thing up he thought about carrying her off and sorting out the details later – Selendra is in real danger here.  She literally runs away from him, heading up the corridor as fast as she can.  Frelt is in hot pursuit, but once she gets a little breathing room she tells him in no uncertain terms to bugger off and never speak of this proposal shit again.

Frelt is furious, of course, but when Selendra reminds him that her brothers are here at the establishment and that she’s under their protection, he has no choice but to go, resenting her for thinking the worst of him (which is actually her thinking the truth of him).

Tune in next week for the fall-out of this ill-fated proposal attempt.

Chapter 2, Video 1

Chapter 2, Video 2

Chapter 2, Video 3