The Girl With All The Gifts & The Last of Us: A Dual Review With No Spoilers

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I watched The Girl With All The Gifts since I was very interested and decided it would be a good while before I could get to the book.

Well.

It’s…okay. It’s not the revelatory burst of cool originality I’d been led to believe, and it’s nowhere near as good as the other zombie flick I saw recently, the Korean Train To Busan which is a revelatory burst of cool and one of the best films in this genre ever made.

The Girl With All The Gifts is kind of tedious, the characters sketchily drawn, and the story underdeveloped. That said, I’d have probably enjoyed it more if it weren’t for one thing:

I’ve played the video game The Last Of Us.

The Girl With All The Gifts is like a clumsy echo of The Last Of Us. It has a similar theme, similar setting, suspiciously similar ideas (The Last Of Us came out a year before the novel). I’m not saying it’s a rip-off, I doubt it is. But the thought occurs.

And while The Girl With All The Gifts is a so-so zombie flick with a few new ideas, The Last Of Us is a goddamned masterpiece.

The Last Of Us is one of those works of art which elevates its medium. It isn’t just possibly the greatest narrative game ever made, it isn’t just a more satisfying cinematic experience than most films…it is literature.

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The writing, the direction, the art design are all phenomenal. The acting — and acting it is, full motion capture by the actors, with all the subtleties and complexities of real life, and eyes full of humanity — is amazing, and moving, and heartrending. And the characters are real the way the best characters in any medium become real, we live with them and die with them and feel their pain and occasional bits of joy. The settings are gorgeous, a civilization fallen and returning to nature. And the music…good lord, the music. My wife Nydia and I both tear up when we hear just a few notes of this game’s theme.

The Last Of Us, all by itself, entirely justified the money I spent on my PlayStation 4. All other pleasures I get out of it are gravy.

The Girl With All The Gifts just can’t compete. The only reason I’ll remember it is because it’s such a dull shadow of the game that got there first.

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Target Gives Us Kid Avengers In Wonderful Conflict

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Art by Jon Sommariva

For a wonderful break from the political, just check out this Target commercial featuring a bunch of kid Avengers playing out their own spirited civil war…

I love everything about this commercial, but I really love the gender politics of it. This is how you do it.

When Bernie Sanders Throws His Mighty Shield…

 

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I just returned from visiting Nydia,  my amazing inamorata, in Brazil for a couple of months where, among other more psychologically healthy activities, we spent a great deal of time tracking the American election. Last week, as we sat eating airport food, drearily counting the minutes before I had to depart, I noticed the latest of many Captain America t-shirts I’d seen worn by Brazilians during the visit.

I told Nyd I was heartened to see the shirts, and the popularity of the character, who I see as a true symbol of the American ideal, not the jingoistic symbol of American imperialism seen by some. And I credited that popularity to the Marvel films, and Chris Evans’s very human, very decent, very noble portrayal of Steve Rogers. Captain America isn’t propagandistic, he’s aspirational.

“Captain America is Bernie Sanders,” I told her. “They’re both old guys from Brooklyn with superhuman stamina, dedicated to New Deal policies, still fighting to protect the weak from the powerful, unflinching in their belief in the American dream.”

Later, back home in the states, I saw author Catherynne Valente tweet, “Clinton is Black Widow (troubled past, does the right thing eventually) Sanders is Hulk, always angry, no one is Cap.” I have a lot of respect for Ms. Valente, but I disagree.

First off, Clinton ain’t much like the Black Widow. She lacks the Widow’s metaphorical agility as a campaigner, and when she takes aim at her opponent, her shots almost always miss or ricochet back and hit her. I’ll grant she has a “troubled past,” if you really want to undersell the problems with Clinton’s record, but that very record shows she actually doesn’t really do the right thing eventually unless it’s politically expedient or she has to because she’s forced to “walk back” a stance or action because of political damage. She does have a great deal of “red in her ledger,” blood on her hands, in places like Haiti and Iraq and Libya and Honduras, places that have suffered terribly because of Hillary (and Bill) Clinton’s ruthless political calculus. But the Widow owns up to her acts, and, in The Winter Soldier, even released the transcripts records to the internet, taking full responsibility for her misdeeds and working to redeem herself for them.

Hillary won’t even share the content of a few speeches she made to Wall Street, much less acknowledge the terrible human impact of her decisions over the years.

And Bernie as the Hulk? No. The Hulk’s anger is unreasoning, destructive rage. Bernie is angry, yes, as he should be, but he is not destructive. He is protective, nurturing, and constructive. And he is anything but unreasoning; just watch the video of him speaking to the students at evangelical Liberty University, where he engages them with respect and gets respect in return though their philosophies are radically opposed.

I’d say Donald Trump is the Hulk, but he lacks the Hulk’s dignity and compassion. Hell, he lacks the Hulk’s intellect.

But no, Bernie is definitely Captain America.

One of the best pieces I’ve ever read on Captain America is by Steven Attewell, and in it he addresses Steve Rogers’s political identity:

“Steve Rogers isn’t a jingoistic conservative asshole…Unlike many other patriotic characters who derive their virtues from the American heartlands, Steve Rogers grew up in the cosmopolitan multi-cultural world of New York City. He came of age in New York City at a time when the New Deal was in full swing, Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor, the American Labor Party was a major force in city politics, labor unions were on the move, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was organizing to fight fascism in Spain in the name of the Popular Front, and a militant anti-racist movement was growing that equated segregation at home with Nazism abroad that will eventually feed into the ‘Double V’ campaign.

“Then he became a fine arts student. To be an artist in New York City in the 1930s was to be surrounded by the ‘Cultural Front.’ We’re talking the WPA Arts and Theater Projects, Diego Rivera painting socialist murals in Rockefeller Center, Orson Welles turning Julius Caesar into an anti-fascist play and running an all-black Macbeth and ‘The Cradle Will Rock,’ Paul Robeson was a major star, and so on. You couldn’t really be an artist and have escaped left-wing politics. And if a poor kid like Steve Rogers was going to college as a fine arts student, odds are very good that he was going to the City College of New York at a time when an 80% Jewish student body is organizing student trade unions, anti-fascist rallies, and the ‘New York Intellectuals’ were busily debating Trotskyism vs. Stalinism vs. Norman Thomas Socialism vs. the New Deal in the dining halls and study carrels.

“And this Steve Rogers, who’s been exposed to all of what New York City has to offer, becomes an explicit anti-fascist. In the fall of 1940, over a year before Pearl Harbor, he first volunteers to join the army to fight the Nazis specifically. This isn’t an apolitical patriotism forged out of a sense that the U.S has been attacked; rather, Steve Rogers had come to believe that Nazism posed an existential threat to the America he believed in. New Deal America.

“Captain America didn’t ‘share 40’s values’ – a reductive label assuming that everyone alive in 1940 was either a racial bigot, a misogynist, a homophobe, and an unthinking militarist, and handily ignores the people of color, women, gays, and left-wing activists who were hard at work to change American society for the better – he exemplified from the beginning the ideal that America could be. Thus Steve Rogers led the Invaders (a multispecies and multinational Allied superhero force) into Europe to fight fascism, he fought with Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos, a racially integrated fighting force from the beginning, and fought with the French Resistance rather than snidely repeating anachronistic cheese-eating surrender monkey jokes.

“Thus when Captain America is unfrozen in the 1960s, he’s not freaked out by the changes in racial progress – instead, he forms an instant partnership with one of the first black superheroes, the Falcon, who movie audiences just met for the first time, and the two of them go toe to toe against an insane imposter Captain America who’s obsessed about communists under the bed. The analogy cannot be more pointed: the real Captain America stands for racial equality and civil liberties, the Captain America who believes that the government needs to ‘smash’ reds by any means necessary is a fraud. In the 1980s, Steve Rogers runs into a childhood friend, Arnold Roth, who happens to be gay – and Steve Rogers defends his friend from bigoted violence, because Steve Rogers is a good man.

“In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, when Steve Rogers is unfrozen in the ice in 2011, he’s not here to be startled by our progressive values. He’s here to judge us for falling short of his – and that’s the entire crux of the plot of Winter Soldier. When Steve Rogers wakes up in post ‘New York’ America and sees SHIELD preparing a giant fleet of sniper drones that’s going to be used to cull the human race based on meta-data that supposedly predicts the bad things people might do in the future, he immediately calls this out as inherently incompatible with the Constitution and the ideals that Steve Rogers fought and essentially died for. He puts his faith on ordinary soldiers and rank-and-file officers to do what’s right, not the corrupt or blinded authorities personified respectively by Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson. And his solution to SHIELD/HYDRA’s plan for world domination through mass murder is not only to sacrifice himself to save the world (again), but also to release all of SHIELD’s secrets to the world.”

Did I say that Bernie Sanders is Captain America? Bernie Sanders is Captain America.

 

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A few years ago, writer J. Michael Straczynski put these words in Steve Rogers’s dialogue balloon:

“Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world: No, YOU move.”

That is exactly what Bernie Sanders is doing. He’s telling the Democratic establishment and the GOP and the media and the big money special interests, No, YOU move.

And the people of America are hearing him. And they’re starting to plant their feet as well.

(NOTE: A while back, I had a really interesting discussion about Captain America and his place in America’s political psyche. I posted it here.)

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Art by Danny Kelly

Watch Edison’s FRANKENSTEIN From 1910!

Frankenstein (1910)

As we creep toward Halloween, get in the mood by visiting with the very first cinematic Frankenstein’s monster.

This short film from Edison Studios was made in 1910 by writer/director J. Searle Dawley. It stars Augustus Phillips as Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Charles Ogle as the Monster, and Mary Fuller as the doctor’s fiancée.

It ain’t Karloff, but it’s a fascinating piece of film history. There’s some creative use of a mirror, both in the mise-en-scène and in the storytelling, and the sequence depicting the birth of the monster is primitive but amazingly creepy.

Mad Max vs. Mad Max

Okay, we revisited The Road Warrior last night, and I need to update my statement in which I said it was better than Fury Road. Story-wise and character-wise, they’re both (to put it charitably) streamlined for speed. But there’s a lot more action in Fury Road, and its action is far more creative. Fury Road is visually gorgeous in a way Road Warrior never approaches. And the world building in Fury Road is astonishing, just the intricate texture of the world and its cultures, all depicted without laborious exposition. Even the political/feminist themes work, as bald and obvious as they are, but then even clumsy progress is progress (a lesson I wish a lot of fanatical progressives would learn).

As for Max himself, both Mel Gibson and Tom Hardy are fine in a role that gives them little to chew on. Gibson’s best character beat is his “You want to get out of here? You talk to me.” Hardy’s is a grudging thumbs-up he gives in an action sequence. Gibson does get to be the actual star of his own movie, though, which Hardy does not (Charlize Theron’s Furiosa isn’t much better as a character, but she does get to carry the plot).

Still ahead, we’ll rewatch Beyond Thunderdome to see how that compares. And they’ve already announced another flick with Hardy. But really, I’m looking forward to the Mad Max game for PS4 a lot more.

Say, Mad Max, What About Your Promise To The He-Man-Woman-Haters-Club?

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Depending on who you talk to, Mad Max: Fury Road is a revelatory feminist extravaganza, an insidious distaff assault on the stalwart ramparts of all real manliness, or not actually a feminist film at all because all violence is masculine.

I saw it, and if memory is accurate, The Road Warrior remains the best Max film (and Mel Gibson the best Max), but Fury Road is getting people thinking and that’s a good thing. [UPDATE: I changed my mind after rewatching The Road Warrior.]  Of course, the “Men’s Rights Activists” are pathetic creatures whose rants have worth only for those looking for a good laugh (and, perhaps in some cases, to establish a case for domestic abuse), like the quoted comment in the image above. There are similar fuckwits on the feminist extremist side of things, like the idiots who attacked Joss Whedon recently. And I respect Anita Sarkesian, and don’t think of her as a militant/unreasonable feminist, but she can be pretty reductively doctrinaire at times. This seems to be one of those times.

To me, yeah, sure it’s a feminist film. But neither it nor its characters are all that deep, and it seems that it had to hit a pretty low bar (promotion tied to Eve Ensler’s involvement, some really basic symbols and themes, passing the Bechdel test) to excite a lot of folks into raving that it’s some sort of revelation. In truth, it’s still just a beautifully crafted cartoon with the barest of ciphers for characters including Max and Furiosa.

Here’s Tina Turner (who could remind you that strong women in a Mad Max flick aren’t anything new) with a song of the week for everybody who can keep their heads out of their asses on the subject…

Tina Turner — “One Of The Living”

Captain America And The Real Myths Told By Superheroes (A Discussion)

A few years ago, when the first Captain America film came out, I was visiting my friend Phil Rockstroh. Phil is “a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City,” so leftist he makes me look like Ronald Reagan, and he watched the film with me. To him, of course, Steve Rogers was the very major model of a modern jingoistic character designed to arouse fascistic and nationalistic feelings in the weak-minded.

I tried pointing out that Cap had been created by a couple of Jewish kids trying to encourage Americans to stand against the Nazi threat in Europe before America was even in the war. I tried to delineate the progressive values Captain America has shown over the decades, and how at every point in the film, the creators subverted the potential jingoism that can, indeed, be a part of such a character. I predicted that in future films we would see a very strong anti-authoritarian theme at work in not just the Captain America films but in Marvel films in general. And I’m happy to say I was right.

Recently, while discussing the Joss Whedon/Black Widow foofaraw, we revisited the topic and the discussion got interesting, so I’m sharing it here. Making an occasional contribution is my friend Ed Hall,  a writer and the co-editor of Mothership: Tales From Afrofuturism and Beyond. Continue reading