Review: Ghostbusters (no spoilers)

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In the opening scene of the new Ghostbusters reboot, a tour guide is giving a tour of a haunted house. “At the time that it was built, it was the height of luxury,” he says. “It had such features as a face-bidet and an anti-Irish security fence.” Gesturing into a sitting room, he adds, “Rumor has it that this is where P.T. Barnum first had the idea to enslave elephants.” Continue reading

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Review: Captain America Civil War

I caught a showing of Captain America: Civil War this afternoon with my writing and movie buddy R.K. Bentley. It was a much better Avengers movie than the last Avengers movie, and frankly I’m glad Joss Whedon wasn’t involved in this one because it was all the better for it.

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Keep your friends close and your enemies so close…you’re almost…kissing…

Marvel is getting itself into dangerous territory, though, with this enormous library of intra-referential movies. Civil War is at its best if you’ve seen Captain America, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Avengers, Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Ant Man, and probably a couple of the Spider-Man movies. If you haven’t seen half of those movies—at the very least both Captain Americas and the second Avengers movie—then Civil War is a bit of a confusing mess.

Luckily I’d seen all of those except Ant Man, and I was able to figure that bit out from the context. The movie expects you’ve seen them and doesn’t explain more than the minimum. I pity anyone who’s trying to get into the franchise with this movie.

Spoilers ahead! Continue reading

Dawn of Justice: Not As Bad As You’ve Been Led to Believe

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Late in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Jonathan Kent tells Superman about a time when he was a child and the river at the farm was flooding its banks. He says he and his father spent hours filling sandbags to keep the river from flooding their fields and ruining everything. Eventually they succeeded, and returned home as heroes. Except while they celebrated, the diverted river flooded the neighbors’ farm, and the scream of the drowning horses haunted him for years afterward.

That’s the theme of Dawn of Justice—the idea that saving the day has consequences. Continue reading

Conspicuously absent

Earlier this month, Disney expressed their shock at the #WheresRey campaign on Twitter. Wait, people want girls in their toys? What do you mean, people liked the main protagonist of The Force Awakens? Don’t you want to snuggle with a Kylo Ren cuddle buddy pillow instead? Slip between some Kylo Ren sheets? Maybe wear his mask? Dress up like him? Wear a t-shirt with his face on it? Wave his lightsaber around? Isn’t Kylo Ren such a badass? Finn too, I guess. Maybe Poe Dameron as well, although he didn’t play a major part in the movie. But Rey? Don’t you know she has girl parts?

I’ve spoken with Disney people, and they were completely blindsided by the reaction to the new Star Wars characters,” [Heroic Girls founder John] Marcotte went on to say. “They put a huge investment into marketing and merchandizing the Kylo Ren character. They presumed he would be the big breakout role from the film. They were completely surprised when it was Rey everyone identified with and wanted to see more of. Now they’re stuck with vast amounts of Kylo Ren product that is not moving, and a tidal wave of complaints about a lack of Rey items.”

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From the moment I saw Kylo Ren in the movie, I thought “That’s a man who likes to cuddle”

The [toy industry] insider, who was at those meetings, described how initial versions of many of the products presented to Lucasfilm featured Rey prominently. At first, discussions were positive, but as the meetings wore on, one or more individuals raised concerns about the presence of female characters in the Star Wars products. Eventually, the product vendors were specifically directed to exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise, said the insider.

“We know what sells,” the industry insider was told. “No boy wants to be given a product with a female character on it.”

Meanwhile Hasbro is releasing toys like the Star Wars Monopoly game, which has every character except Rey, and a set of action figures which doesn’t include Rey or Captain Phasma but does include a faceless Stormtrooper and a faceless TIE fighter pilot. Maybe you can pretend there’s a girl under that helmet?

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 7.36.38 PMA spokesperson said that Rey wasn’t included in the Monopoly game to avoid movie spoilers, in a game that’s ostensibly about buying up real estate. Meanwhile, “The board also features Luke Skywalker and his iconic father, Darth Vader. The former, has no lines in the new Star Wars, and the latter is not even in the movie.”

Then there was the toy Millennium Falcon, which was released with Finn, Chewbacca, and BB-8, none of whom actually piloted the ship in the movie. Who did pilot it, you ask? Come on. You know the answer already.

Hint: her name starts with an R.

Hint: her name starts with an R.

It’s not like any of that is new, though. After Guardians of the Galaxy, it was impossible to find a Gamora toy. Ditto with Black Widow after the Avengers movie. You know that iconic scene in Avengers 2 where Black Widow drops out of the cargo hold of a jet in a motorcycle? You can actually buy that toy if you like—as long as you don’t mind Captain America or Iron Man or Ultron riding the motorcycle instead.
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Disney said that they left Black Widow out of merchandise because she wears a tight-fitting black body suit, and that’s too sexual for little kids. Captain America wears a tight-fitting body suit too, but that doesn’t count, most likely because he doesn’t have breasts.

The industry insider confirmed that the Black Widow character is widely considered “unusable” within the toy industry. “She has a tight black outfit. Our main customer is concerned with ‘family values,’” said the insider.

 

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I know I’m scandalized

Leaving the women out of merchandise is a calculated strategy by toy companies. In the 1970s, toys were largely gender neutral. It wasn’t until Reagan deregulated advertising to children in the early 1980s that companies began to aggressively segregate the toy market by gender. They realized that if they make boy toys and girl toys, then parents would have to buy twice as many toys for their little darlings. This strategy doesn’t just work for children, either; there are feminine and masculine versions of deodorant, razors, shampoo, soap, hand lotion, pens, pepper spray, guns, etc. Not to mention the new fad of “broga” and “brosé” and “bromance” and “guyliner” and whatever else you can put a masculine prefix onto. This way, a husband and wife won’t share the same gendered products, and better yet, companies can charge more for the female version. No, really. It’s called a pink tax.

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Guns are phallic enough without being called a “pink pumpmaster”

 Of course, people can and do buy outside of the narrow range of things targeted toward their gender, but the staggering majority of consumers don’t. If it wasn’t a lucrative strategy, companies wouldn’t do it. There have been some attempts recently to fight back against this trend, such as Target getting rid of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ toy sections. Oddly, some people were really upset about this.
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(c) Kristen Myers

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 Bethesda just released promotional photos of an extremely lifelike model of the power armor from Fallout 4. The armor is being worn by the default white male vault dweller that the game starts with. Of course, Fallout 4 allows you to heavily edit your character’s appearance and choose between two genders and multiple ethnicities, so this model looks nothing like the vault dweller I know and love. Maybe there were some players who just stuck with the default character, but if I had to guess, I’d bet that those players looked a lot like the default to begin with.
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Another case of pretending there’s a girl under the helmet

I’m aware that Bethesda wasn’t likely to make a version for every character option available. Even if they did release a female version, odds are astronomical that she would be white. The point is, that model is meant for the target demographic, just as the Star Wars Monopoly board was, and the Millennium Falcon, and the Avengers 2 motorcycle, and all those action figure sets.

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For my Fallout 4 character, life in pre-apocalyptic suburbia was hard.

Something similar happened with the Mass Effect trilogy. Like Fallout 4, you can choose between male and female characters, but all of the promotional materials for ME 1 and 2 exclusively featured the male version of Commander Shepherd. BioWare recently said that the female version was actually their original concept, though they’d intended to have both male and female options in the final game. Still, they only coded Commander Shepherd with male motion capture data, made obvious in this scene of her inability to sit in a dress. BioWare explained that only 18% of players played as a female Commander Shepherd. Even the nickname given by fans to the female version of Commander Shepherd—FemShep—implies that she’s the aberration, the female version of default Shepherd. No one ever calls the male version BroShep, because it’s assumed that he’s male. It wasn’t until Mass Effect 3 that FemShep was included in promotional materials, and only because fans requested it.
[Bioware marketing director David] Silverman says he’s been surprised by the amount of interest that Shepard’s female version has generated, but that it’s something that the team has embraced. “There aren’t enough female heroes in games in general, so it’s something that people can rally around and celebrate,” he says, adding “Jennifer Hale does an absolutely incredible job doing the voice of FemShep, so people really connect with that.”

That statement sounds strangely familiar, doesn’t it?

At the end of their apology, Hasbro said that they’ll re-release the Monopoly game with Rey included, and they’ll make sure to get some more Rey merchandise going. It’s a good start, but it remains to be seen whether the next big action movie to come out will have learned that lesson. How many movies and video games will it take before companies stop being surprised at fans’ interest in the female characters? How long before merchandise involving non-male characters is the default, not the last minute add-on?

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

ship go boom

In a somewhat last minute decision, I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens last night, since my buddy Rob had a couple extra tickets. Though I enjoy Star Wars and intended to see it at some point, I didn’t have much interest in seeing it on opening day (or even in theaters) because, well, the movies haven’t really been worth the admission price recently.

But! I’m happy to say that that’s not the case with this movie. It’s entertaining, funny, and honestly a lot more human than I had expected. While it didn’t leave me reeling like Fury Road, it was enjoyable from start to finish, and left me with a host of new characters to care about.

Spoilers ahead!

Continue reading

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-movie-posterLet me start this spoiler-free review by saying that I had extremely low expectations for this movie. I don’t read reviews before I see a movie, but I’d seen headlines, and I was prepared for this to be the utter destruction of my childhood. I was…pleasantly surprised?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, directed by Michael Bay, was a poorly written but entertaining movie, and my childhood survived with only a few bruises. It’s a modern reboot of the 90s cartoon show and movies, though thankfully goes more for “campy” than “gritty”. In this reincarnation, the turtles and their rat father figure/sensei Splinter were lab animals. An experiment with some alien goo turned them into grotesque parodies of their canon personalities. Leonardo, always the leader, is quiet and stoic and has very few lines. Rafael has gone from broody rebel to nine-foot-tall hulking brute whose secret is that he’s always angry. Michelangelo, no longer a California surfer, is now a keyboard-cat-loving dudebro, which is surprisingly endearing. And Donatello—oh Donny. Donny, Donny, Donny. What did they do to you? Donatello, instead of being the quiet, bookish brother who I had a crush on when I was ten, is a gangly mouth-breathing hacker nerd with taped glasses and a penchant for speaking like nerds do in movies but no sentient being has ever spoken in real life. I cringed every time he was on the screen.

April O’Neil, played by Megan Fox, was a disappointment. She’s a hot but expressionless news anchor who’s always doing fluff pieces but dreams of being an investigative reporter. Her idea of “investigative reporting” is doing an ill-conceived Nancy Drew impression and getting in trouble a lot. At one point she sneakily takes pictures of a crime in progress, except that she has the camera turned around backwards and is actually taking pictures of her own face. I don’t think that was in the script.

The plot was too stupid to talk about, so let’s skip that part.

Ultimately, it was enjoyable, especially once it got away from April’s search for a real news story and focused on the turtles. They had some funny moments, and you got the impression that they really had grown up with only each other for company. Their interactions were the best part of the movie, and are what saved the movie from being utter drivel. The fight scenes seemed to take place in an oddly frictionless environment, but they were exhilarating. I enjoyed seeing the turtles in the modern world, talking about watching Lost and doing Nolanverse Batman impressions. I wish there had been some character development—literally the only character development in the entire movie was Rafael learning the same lesson he learns in every single movie, which is that he’s a follower, not a leader—but that seems to be too much to ask for action movies these days.

I’d rank it far below every other TMNT movie (yes, even Turtles in Time) but I might consider adding it to my collection someday, just for the sake of nostalgia. I’d give it 3 stars out of 5, though that includes half a star for the theme song cameo at the end of the movie. Don’t watch it in theaters. Wait for it to come out on Netflix and keep your expectations low, and you’ll be fine.