Archive for the Live Action Category


Live-Action: Wonder Woman

June 13th, 2017

Wonder Woman 2017, directed by Patti Jenkins, starring Gal Gadot, was a very decent movie.

I will say that periodically, as a refrain, lest you get caught up in my comments about its imperfections and think it wasn’t good. It was good. It was – and I say this with no irony or sarcasm – the best superhero movie I have seen since Christopher Reeve’s Superman in 1978. In many ways, Wonder Woman is the retrofit superhero movies desperately needed, having been choked to an almost intolerable point by “gritty,” “dark,” “serious”and shitty writing. Despite grimness of the setting, Wonder Woman manages to be optimistic and hopeful, even despite some occasionally shitty writing.

I’ll do my best to have no spoilers in this review and will therefore speak of things in the abstract from worst to best, ending with the top notes.

The worst thing about the movie is…the shitty writing.

 

Lazy Writing

Even aside from sex jokes which just need to never be included ever again in any movie ever made, the writing occasionally lapses into a specific kind of laziness in which I imagine the Zach Snyders of the world think they are brilliant and the mes of the world think the Zach Snyders should get less creative work, they aren’t terribly bright.

Among the most egregious moments of lazy writing is Steve Trevor shushing and hushing Diana once they reach London. This is not sexism…this is a team of idiots who never once thought, “Diana’s obviously incredibly intelligent and, while stuck on a boat with him for hours would *obviously* ask Steve to explain the war and the world they were going to and what she needed to know before getting there.” But no. Instead we’re treated to tired sexist tropes meant to be seen as tired sexist tropes but is actually just plain old lazy writing.

I was not okay with the obligatory romance. Along with sex jokes, this needs to go away. Permanently. Forever. Just… stop, please. For pity’s sake, let me watch a stupid movie about people beating the crap out of things without a fucking romance shoved in there. Lazy ass writing, meet lazy ass thinking. Gawd.

Because I can, I blame all the shitty writing on Zach Snyder. ^_^

 

History, Part 1

No.  Do not assume your audience knows nothing more about World War I than what they saw on Downton Abbey. Luddendorf died in 1937, long after to movie takes place (thanks, Jon Mixon, for that fact.) If you’re going to use historical figures, get the history right. A number of the scenes I had to chalk up to a view of World War I as seen through the lens of the victor in which the Christmas Truce became adverts for soda and Sainsbury’s.  

 

History, Part 2

They tried so hard. They really did. SO many things got shoved into those visuals: The crappy conditions at the Front, trench warfare, the utter and complete destruction of the Belgian landscape, the gassing, the injuries, the remnants of 19th century warfare, as the officers rode up on horses, the plight of various peoples of various ethnicities, (I have a special little rant about Samir and the German HQ, but that will wait for another day. I will say only that they made a bad choice about his Fez. That is all. And, oh, Chief sending up smoke signals makes me rage. WTF white people? WTF is wrong with us dealing with Native Americans? We had him light a signal fire?!? That was so UGH. Niobe worked because she was just a great Amazonian warrior. The Chief did not work because he was still a bundle of stereotypes.) They tried to get it all across. And maybe some of it might have gotten across. But it’s hard to convince Americans who still think of all wars as World War II, in which we were the good guys and USA! USA!  – even the actual Nazis in America now think of themselves as the good guys in WWII. It’s amazing, but they actually do. So A for effort, C on execution.

Update: I am mistaken in the above rant about Chief. I have edited and want to be clear that I defer to Native American opinion on his character. and on the portrayal of his skills and language. (Thank you Caroline Small for the links.) I still found the writing to rely heavily on stereotyping, which bothered me, but it appears to have more to do with my lack of knowledge than anything else. Fair enough. 

Just as a reminder, Wonder Woman 2017, directed by Patti Jenkins, starring Gal Gadot, was a very decent movie.

 

Acting

The acting was excellent. I can’t think of the last time I said that about an American movie. Even the minor roles did their best. I want to particularly call attention to Elena Anaya’s outstanding performance as Doctor Poison. I could write a novel about how much she got out of that role. Her eyes had to do everything, and they did.

Which I guess means I should talk about Chris Pine. He was good as Steve Trevor, and he did his best with the role and I really think the role was not all that great. He could have been amazing with like three tweaks, but they left him sort of superficial. I was actually glad, but also sad, that they didn’t damsel him. I did like that he got that Diana was better at everything than everyone was and got out of her way.

 

The Mythology

Please Hollywood, keep your 2-dimensional Judeo-Christian good/evil dichotomies and saviors and Father Good make humans good, then Evil Deity make them bad, simplicity out of my nuanced and complicated mythologies. Megathanks. But, then as obvious as the Ares thing was (seriously obvious, like the moment he appeared on screen, wife and I were like, “Oh, it’s him.”) he added some of the nuance back. I really appreciated that.

While I’m at it, the other reveal in that scene – also the most obvious thing ever. Hollywood, you kind of stink at making things that have to be revealed later. Perhaps you should read about the Gun on the Wall before any more movies are made. I did like Ares’ armor and some of the dialogue in that scene, so I forgive you. But really.

I’m not going to bitch about the rewrite to Diana’s origin, because while I prefer Marston’s origin story, I won’t whine. It’s just a comic. Could have been worse. 

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Wonder Woman 2017, directed by Patti Jenkins, starring Gal Gadot, is still a very decent movie.

 

The Amazons

The Amazons were amazeballs and had the entire movie just been Amazons living and no conflict bigger than a disagreement about what to eat for dinner, I would have been happy. Antiope is my boom. You know the deal with her, right? She’s played by Robin Wright, who played Buttercup in Princess Bride. And yes, that made me grin like a loon as I watched her and the Amazons fight. 

The Amazons were populated with a ton of athletes and again, they sort of shoved that fact into the visuals. In this, it worked.

 

The Fighting

Yes, I said that the fight scenes are good. Me, the person who complains bitterly about fight scenes in movies. Even the big background training scenes, watch them fight – they are fighting multiple enemies and fighting like they are fighting multiple enemies! No Kung-fu flick one-opponent-at-a-time trope going on. I kvelled so hard at those women. I’d pay twice as much to watch “Amazons show you how to fucking randori” for 2 hours.

Best scene of the movie is the fight on the beach. Brilliant. Needed way more of that. But that really was the second-best thing about the movie.

 

Intermision

The movie needed less Zeus, some Athena and more Etta Candy. Etta’s line during Diana’s dress-up scene was one of two lines that actually made me laugh out loud. No one else in the theater noticed it. Needed some lesbianism on Themiscyra. It seemed to me that they kind of sort of implied it in one half-second thing that happened that would be a spoiler, but I also could be projecting.

 

Wonder Woman

Gal Gadot as Diana and Wonder Woman made this a movie I do not cringe at the idea of seeing again. She is physically strong and, as befits a smart, capable woman raised to be a leader, explains what has to be done and does it. There was power in her line, “What I do is not up to you.”

But at the heart of her role there is joy. It’s the kind of optimism and – dare I say it? – heroism – we have not seen in a long, long time in our superhero movies, which, like so much media right now, seem to be glorifying the selfish asshat without the bit where he becomes a good person and wants to help people for no other reason than power hath it’s responsibility. Diana can’t save the world, but she’ll be there to help us save ourselves. That is what I want from Wonder Woman. We don’t need more revenge scenarios for female leads. This Wonder Woman reminds us that can do what we know is right and do it because it’s the right thing to do. No other reason need apply.

 

Ratings:

Visual – 9 It was a nice-looking movie, and I could follow the fight scenes. That’s all I really care about
Characters – 8
Service – Some dress up with Diana in London, the futzing about her clothing is a sort of service, by calling attention to the lack of coverage. I would have liked the armor to look more hoplyte-ish, but no one asks me. I weep for the greaves we never got.
Yuri – 0 Needed some lesbians on Themiscyra.

Overall – I came in to this review at 7.5, but have talked myself up to an 8. ^_^

It was more good than bad, the bad was mostly throwaway shit you could ignore, but it gets points off for 1) forcing me to ignore it and 2) crappy stereotypes in a story so desperate to be cool with characters of color.

Would I suggest you go see it? Yes. you should go see it in the theater. If it gets a third weekend at #1, it’ll confuse DC and Warner Brothers. ^_^

Wonder Woman 2017, directed by Patti Jenkins, starring Gal Gadot, is a very decent movie.

 

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Live Action: Mystère à la Tour Eiffel (French)

May 7th, 2017

Back in March, The Mary Sue proclaimed Here It Is, the Victorian-Era Interracial Lesbian Murder Mystery Movie You’ve Always Wanted. I’m not gonna argue with a headline like that, so I threw Mystère à la Tour Eiffel onto my-to-watch list. I’m going to cut to the chase – it was good enough that I watched it twice. ^_^

Louise Massart is a (gasp!) divorced woman in Paris in 1889, just as the Eiffel Tower has been completed (and, loathed by most of Paris,) for the 1889 World’s Fair. (I cannot even begin to tell you how much I adored the Eiffel Tower in real life. It was a sugar confection of a building. And at night it sparkles, so cute.)

A friend of Louise’s is arrested for killing her husband; although she was found in a closed elevator, holding the weapon, she had no recollection of doing the deed. Louise is convinced that Charlotte has been set up and proceeds to investigate. When she is arrested for her father’s murder, she understands that this is much bigger than just her or Charlotte. 

The plot takes her to a lesbian bar in late 19th century Paris, in the company of a magician’s assistant Henriette who takes no shit about her race from Louise. The two later conspire to free Louise from a madhouse, where she has been sentenced for murder. The plot was complicated enough that it was worth watching the story a second time to catch what I had missed the first time around. And it made an awesome watch on the plane to Queers & Comics. Very appropriate, as the story is somewhere between comic booky- and Mystery! on PBS.  

The sexual tension between Henriette and Louise is handled better by the actresses than by the plot, which tries to shoehorn them into a relationship, when the one they were building on their own, was actually better. Both Marie Denarnaud and Aïssa Maïga did a lovely job of watching each other hungrily. I quite enjoyed that. ^_^

So, was Mystère à la Tour Eiffel the Victorian-Era interracial lesbian murder mystery movie I’ve always wanted? It certainly was damned close. If I could have a Henriette and Louise mystery series (and if Louise would just wear that one teal dress a lot, it was so fetching and Henriette that dark red dress which looked just brilliant on her,) I would be a very happy person. ^_^

Ratings:

Cinematography – 6 It looked like a TV costume drama mystery, you know the sort….
Character – 9 Even the bad guy was…good.
Story – 8 Absurd? yes. But exactly just the right kind of absurd
Service – 4 Yes, Victorian underwear is so exciting
Lesbian – 9 A lot of flirting, little making out, and a happy ending.

Overall – 9

It was a lot of fun and I highly recommend it when you need to think about nothing much except the pretty clothing on the pretty Victorian Parisian lesbians.

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Live-Action: Ghost in the Shell Movie Trailer

November 18th, 2016

Here is my summation of the new Ghost in the Shell live-action movie trailer: The three scenes fans remember, oh look they left a lesbian scene in,  a tepid Hollywood plot without much substance, and a dollop of service, just the way fans like.

My conclusion – if Oshii Mamoru and Shirow Masamune are happy with it, I’m happy for them.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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Live Action: The Handmaiden (English)

October 10th, 2016

the_handmaiden_filmThe Handmaiden, from director Park Chan-wook is, in a word, spectacular.

Based on Sarah Water’s exceptional novel Fingersmith (which itself was given the live-action treatment as a BBC miniseries), The Handmaiden is a pretty fair retelling of the story, set in Japanese-occupied Korea.

Kim Tae-ri plays Sook-hee, the small-time thief and conwoman recruited to become a maid for a wealthy eccentric’s ward, Hideko, played by Kim Min-hee. Both actresses were fantastic and, had I not already known the story, would have blown me away at the plot twists.

The setting works. The characters switch back and forth between Japanese and Korean fluidly, each language functioning as it’s own symbol. The clothing and homes presented are a pretty wonderful period setting. But the thing that seemed strangest at the beginning of the movie, the main house being of western design, makes perfect sense in creating a space that is nowhere and nowhen, even as the story particulars place the story firmly in a particular place and time.

Like the book, the first part of the story is told twice, once from each woman’s perspective and, like the book, it’s eyebrow-raising to realize just how much seeing it from one perspective changes everything. The final part of the movie is where it deviates from the novel, but other than one scene that could have been cut out completely, the end is satisfying, if a bit pandering.

If you’re a long-time reader here, you know my biggest gripe about Japanese live-action is the pacing and lack of appropriate intimacy. Kisses are dry-mouthed and passionless. Korean live-action works do not suffer from either of these problems. I’m not a huge consumer of Korean dramas or movies, but every one that I’ve watched has been smartly paced and the romance or sex has been appropriate to the story.

Which brings me to the sex. There is some. And the camera gets way closer than I like, but otherwise is fine. Unlike other viewers, I prefer to imagine that I’m not in there with them, that I’m not part of the scene at all. Not as voyeur or participant. That said, the sex is only slightly cinematic and thankfully, not extended to the point of being boring. (Which was part of the problem with Blue is the Warmest Color, that the sex scenes went on and on and on and on… the actresses became exhausted and the comic creator was disgusted.)

There are some deviations from the book – several are consistent with the characters as they are presented. The penultimate scene and final scene could have been cut whole and nothing would have been lost. But the movie still was a pretty solid adaptation of an excellent book – and how often do I say that?

The movie will be coming out from Magnolia Pictures in English on October 21, 2016 and will be available on Amazon Instant Video. I recommend it highly. Check out the trailer for yourself.

Ratings:

Characters – 9
Story 9 (Except for the last bit)
Cinematography – 9
Lesbian – 10

Overall – 9

There is some graphic violence (and some implication of other icky things) but it’s not what you think.

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Lesbian Live Action Movie: Carol

March 17th, 2016

CarolOne of the goals here at Okazu is to not only give fans of manga and anime a broad idea of everything that’s available to them, but also to provide historical and critical perspective on the things we’re reading and watching. If you’re a long time-reader, you’ll know that myself and guest reviewers often include references to fine art, dance, literature and other non-fannish forms of art and entertainment. When we watch Japanese anime and read manga, there are often references that are missed by western fans and so I point out the sources of these references, whether they are older anime, or novels, or whatever.  I do this in part, to remind us that nothing exists in a vacuum, and also to establish the literary, artistic and historical lineages of the cartoons we watch and comics we read. It’s not a capricious thought, it’s a calculated ploy to educate. ^_^

And sometimes, I want to remind you that while we’re mostly focused on Japanese media here at Okazu, the LGBTQ community has a rich, diverse and fascinating history here in the west as well – a history with which we should all be familiar.

Carol, (available on DVD, Blu-ray or Amazon Instant Video) directed by Todd Hynes and starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, is a film that shows an accurate  – if narrow – vision of that history. Based closed on the book The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith, it tells the story of a upper middle class housewife and the shopgirl she falls in love with in mid-20th century New York City.

Carol meets Therese while shopping for her daughter, but leaves her gloves at the store. Therese returns the gloves and sets in motion a slow-spiral of Carol’s rejection of everything that she had become.

Both the time and place are central to the movie, in a way that only stands out now, as we are so far removed from it. And it is critical to remember that the story takes place in the early 1950s, when even so much as being gay was cause to lose one’s children, job, home… and worse, to face criminal charges, being sent to a sanitarium, even electroshock therapy.

It’s important to remember all this, not because anyone in Carol is sent off to a madhouse, but because no one is. Both Carol and Therese are middle-class, white, urban women. I’ll come back to this in a second.

Blanchett and Mara are stellar in their roles, especially as so much of the story remains unspoken. A criticism I read of the film was that it is quite slow, very tentative and overcareful. The reason of course, is that gay people were very careful in the 1950s. They had to be. There is a wonderful moment midway, when Therese asks Carol “Are you frightened?” And she does mean, not just about the way she feels, but also about their physical safety. Carol’s husband, Harge is not an angry man, but is clearly feeling the stress of their divorce and has begun lashing out.

Harge being a sympathetic character is a slight change from the book and in a lot of ways, I thought it a good one. It’s all too easy to make the soon-to-be-ex-husband a jerk. Stereotypical and even more exhausting now than it was in  2001 in Moonlight Flowers. Yes of course, it is a thing that happens, but a little empathy for a character never hurts.

Another change from the book is the final scene…and again, I appreciated the change. It’s definitely done to make the end more satisfying and in that, it works.

The slow pacing and quiet dialogue means that you are forced to watch the body language, expressions, listen to tones of voices and make too much of them – just as  anyone at that time might have had to do, to read the subtext, to trust that they heard what they thought they heard.

The thing that impressed me most was the feeling that Todd Hynes actually understood the book, in a way that very few movie adaptations ever feel. (Interestingly one of the few other movie adaptations of a book I felt really managed this was Desert Hearts, another mid-century lesbian story, based on the novel Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule.)

But let’s go back to the topic of privilege. Carol and Therese are not just rounded up and thrown in jail or an asylum. But not all lesbians are urban, middle-class and protected. If you’d like to read a novel about working class white lesbians in the 20th century that isn’t a pulp novel, I recommend Madelyn Arnold’s Year of Full Moons, or for a grimmer, less hopeful tale, the semi-autobiographical Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison (which was also made into a movie, directed by Angelica Huston.) If you choose the latter, be prepared to rage. It’s a hard book.

But if you want a window on a world we are slowly leaving behind, in which merely loving a person of the same sex is enough to lose your children forever, do take a look at Carol.

Ratings:

Overall – 9

Now. There’s one more thing I’d like to address. All of the books/movies mentioned in this review are about white lesbians. I hope you’ve all asked yourself at some point while reading this “Um… Erica, where are the women of color?” Because I know I did.

Unfortunately mid-20th century history still pretty regularly erases women of color, but there were and are lesbians of color whose stories should be known. Here’s some suggestions of good books and movies:

Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community
by Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy, Madeline D. Davis Nonfiction on my to-read list

The Gay Revolution by Lillian Faderman – Nonfiction, and possibly foundational for generations to come. Reviewed here: http://okazu.yuricon.com/2016/04/10/the-gay-revolution-the-story-of-the-struggle/

Zami by Audra Lorde – semi-autobiographical fiction by a master of writing

Living as a Lesbian by Cheryl Clarke – Poetry by and about an openly gay black women when people were still insisting there was no such thing.

Watermelon Woman is the earliest African-American lesbian movie I know.

Oh but look, Paris is Burning is older. About ballroom dancing, but featuring queer folks of color.

Latina Lesbian Writers and Artists by Maria Dolores Costa – this is a look at contemporary creators, mostly.

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Tally is a YA novel set in the Civil Rights period in which a black and a white girl find themselves on opposites of the issues, but attracted to one another nonetheless.

Lisa Freeman’s Honey Girls is another YA book, which looks amazing, about a Hawaiian girl coping with mainland life and race…and liking girls.

Oh and for contemporary Queer Japanese creators, the Queer Japan Project documentary was just funded on Kickstarter! These stories ought to be amazing.

This is not meant to be, and isn’t remotely, comprehensive, just a few suggestions to get you started. If you have any suggestions for works set in the 20th century by and/or featuring lesbian woman of color, please write them in the comments! I have a summer coming up and need to line up some good reading. ^_^

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