Tag Archives: film

Canadian Afrofuturism: Brown Girl Begins

blog-Brown-Girl-Begins-posterIf you’ve listened to all the buzz surrounding Black Panther, you’ll know that Afrofuturism* is having a moment. Black Panther is the Big Hollywood Blockbuster version of an Afrofuturist film. If you want to see the small indie version, look for Brown Girl Begins.

(*What is Afrofuturism? The short definition from Oxford Dictionaries is: “A movement in literature, music, art, etc., featuring futuristic or science fiction themes which incorporate elements of black history and culture.” For an article-length answer, read “Afrofuturism: The imaginative sci-fi movement black people need now” by Sam Fulwood III at ThinkProgress.)

Imagine a grim future world where a struggling Black community lives in sight of city towers that are forever unreachable. Imagine an older woman, a healer and leader in her community, and her wilful young granddaughter, Ti-Jeanne. Imagine the loa of Vodou belief, locked in a struggle that can be broken only by Ti-Jeanne.

Brown Girl Begins is a Canadian film made by TV director and producer Sharon Lewis, set in Toronto and based on the 1998 novel Brown Girl in the Ring by Caribbean-Canadian author Nalo Hopkinson.

blog-brown-girl-hopkinson-coverLewis describes the film as a prequel. If you’ve read the book, be prepared–although the backstory and character relationships are drawn from the book, the plot is quite different. So is the geography, which will be slightly confusing to both readers of the book and Torontonian viewers. Though it is pretty neat–and a bit mindboggling–to see Toronto depicted as an untouchable nirvana, the harbour as (once again) a polluted cesspit, and the Toronto Islands as a place of exile and poverty.

The book is nearly 20 years old, which shows in its depiction of a hollowed-out city core–anyone who can afford it has moved to the ‘burbs. In today’s era of condos, that idea doesn’t have quite the same resonance anymore. Maybe that’s why the action of the film has moved to the Toronto Islands.

Or maybe it was a matter of cost…this is a low-budget film, with a limited number of sets, a short running time, and few special effects. The filming and storytelling are sometimes clunky. But the actors universally do a fine job, which goes a long way toward creating emotional resonance.

The greatest strength of the book–and the film–is the melding of Caribbean-Canadian culture and Vodou figures with a careful imagining of the near future, all wrapped around a classic coming-of-age story for Ti-Jeanne. Toronto doesn’t get to show up all that often in science fiction (at least as itself–it often stands in for other cities in films and TV shows such as The Expanse), and a SFnal depiction of the experience of Blackness in Canada is rarer still.

Brown Girl Begins has had a short theatrical run here in Toronto. I hope it will continue to be accessible in some form. If you can find it, do watch it.

 

If you liked this post, you might like:

Genre-Bending Books (Redux)

Chappie: Gender Influences At Play

If You Liked City of Hope and Ruin…

 

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Chappie: Gender Influences At Play

blog-Chappie-Movie-PosterThis weekend I saw two films about the performance of masculinity, coming-of-age stories about struggling with machismo, as well as surrogate fatherhood and flawed role models.

One was the critically acclaimed, multi-award-winning Moonlight.

The other was the critically panned Chappie, Neill Blomkamp’s answer to Robocop.

I don’t feel qualified to talk about Moonlight (though there’s a great discussion here: “Masculinity and ‘Moonlight’: Eight black men dissect Barry Jenkins’ momentous film”), and besides, this blog is mostly about science fiction and fantasy. So I’ll just say that the accidental juxtaposition of the two films gave me a different lens for Chappie, and one that I think improved the viewing.

In Chappie, an escaped police robot is taught how to behave, how to think, how to be by two very different influences: the cultured but amoral engineer Deon and the countercultural trio Ninja, Yolandi, and Amerika. (I’d call them punks, but the Internet tells me they’re “Zefs”, the South African equivalent.)

A good chunk of the film revolves around Chappie’s education: Deon brings him paints and books, going for a well-rounded education of the mind, while Ninja teaches him how to swagger, swear, and shoot (and Yolandi provides an unconventional yet feminine, nurturing touch). Chappie veers into feminine pastimes and Ninja tries to “man him up”. Simplistic and played for laughs? Yes, but also poignant, as Chappie tries to navigate these competing influences, please everyone who matters to him, and understand what makes a man.

Deon’s rival at work, Vincent, is yet another representation of masculinity: an ex-soldier full of repressed rage, trying to get approval for his military-grade killer robot, whose ambitions are being held down by his female boss (the fabulous Sigourney Weaver–capable but sadly underused in the role). Deon, slim, bespectacled, and feminized or perhaps asexualized, is everything that Vincent hates.

Chappie’s level of success at integrating these influences determines the outcome of the film…but I won’t spoil it.

If you’re looking for an accurate and nuanced depiction of AI learning, you won’t find it here, but as a more metaphorical exploration of what it means to be a man, Chappie is worth seeing.

 

 

Top 5 Movies About Ireland

Poster for OnceHappy That-Day-When-Everyone-Is-Irish!

(I’m not Irish or otherwise Celtic by blood, as far as I know, but in spirit? Oh yes.)

In honour of St. Patrick’s Day, here’s a roundup of some of my favourite movies with Irish connections…

5. Far and Away

Okay, this one just starts in Ireland. But hey, cute love story? Young Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman (before they were even married, let alone divorced)? Victorian-era drama? I’m in!

4. The Devil’s Own

To be fair, this involves Northern Ireland, not the Republic of Ireland. (Quick geography recap: the actual island of Ireland is divided into two states, the independent country called the Republic of Ireland and the part of the United Kingdom called Northern Ireland. Confused yet? Northern Ireland is where the violence used to happen — thankfully not so much anymore.)

Anyway…The Devil’s Own stars a young Brad Pitt and a young(er) Harrison Ford on opposite sides of a missile-stealing plot. It’s not fabulous — and neither is Pitt’s Irish accent — but it’s fun.

3. Once

I’m a sucker for a sweet love story between two questioning souls and free spirits. Think Before Sunrise and Benny and Joon. Better yet, they’re both singer-songwriters, and so are the actors. Add in some nice acoustic guitar, a haunting melody, some really thick Irish accents, and a pretty cityscape (Dublin) as a backdrop…lovely.

2. The Secret of Roan Inish

Selkies! Need I say more? I guess you’d call it a kids’ movie, but if you’re a lover of selkies, you don’t exactly have a lot of movies to choose from, and you could certainly do worse than this one. Beautifully shot on the west coast of Ireland, and featuring an island much like this one:

A country lane on Inishmore. Copyright Siri Paulson 2004.

A country lane on Inishmore. Copyright Siri Paulson 2004.

1. Waking Ned (Devine)

My all-time favourite Irish movie is a comedy known as Waking Ned Devine in North America and simply Waking Ned on the other side of the pond. An old man in a tiny Irish town wins the lottery and promptly dies of the shock. The rest of the villagers decide that Ned would want them to have the money regardless. Hijinks ensue.

Honourable Mentions

And a couple of movies I very much enjoyed that were filmed, but not set, in Ireland:

Reign of Fire is a post-apocalyptic movie in which the apocalypse is…dragons. How is this film not more popular? Starring Christian Bale and a very muscular Matthew McConaughey.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and The Princess Bride both include scenes shot at the Cliffs of Moher on Ireland’s west coast. And why wouldn’t you, when they look like this?

Cliffs of Moher

The mighty Cliffs of Moher. Copyright Siri Paulson, 2004.

Your turn! What’s your favourite movie set in, filmed in, or otherwise involving Ireland?

If you liked this post, check out YA books for St. Patrick’s Day.

Movie Review: Gravity

Gravity movie poster 1Have you ever been to a science or aeronautics museum where they were showing an IMAX film about the space program? (If you’re over a certain age, you might remember when that was the only place you could see an IMAX film, and they were all documentaries and only 40 minutes long.) Remember the giant panoramas of Earth from orbit, the spacewalks, the space shuttle, the sense of immensity?

The new film Gravity has all of that.

(This is one of the official posters for the film. For some gorgeous alternate posters, check out this roundup at the Huffington Post.)

Director Alfonso Cuarón (and his cinematographer and special effects team) have done a beautiful job of capturing the feeling of being in zero gravity in Earth orbit…or so I imagine, anyway. It’s especially effective if seen in 3D…and I’m not a big fan of 3D, so take note. There’s the sense of being — literally — ungrounded (though not too bad on the motion-sickness front, after a few minutes early on), the lack of reference points, the hugeness, the beauty of space. This is what 3D is for.

And oh yeah, the plot is good too.

An accident in orbit strands two astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, both believable in their roles). With their ride home out of commission, aid is scarce in the cold environment of space, and the physics of being in orbit are relentless. But their worst problem may be their own fear…

Gravity movie poster 2Or at least Sandra Bullock’s fear. She’s the rookie to Clooney’s old space jockey, which makes him the mentor figure and her the main character. Sadly, their emotional states — especially early on — are pretty stereotypical along gender lines (panicky woman, calming man). For a story that relies so heavily on two characters, it would’ve been nice to see some deeper, more complex emotional arcs.

But it’s still very refreshing to see a strong female main character in a hard science fiction story. More of that, please, Hollywood!

And hard science fiction it is. The problems they face have to do with (literal) inertia, orbital mechanics, orbital debris, mechanical breakdowns, and similar — kind of like Apollo 13, but with less jury-rigging and more physics. It’s almost a “(wo)man versus nature” story, if you remember your English high school lessons, but it also makes this astronomy lover geek out.

Possibly the coolest part: this hard-SF setting is almost contemporary. Cuarón has done a little fudging, so the story can’t be dated exactly, but the space shuttle is there, the Hubble Telescope, the International Space Station. Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, I remember being inspired by the space program (back when it was actually going somewhere…I may be slightly bitter about that). Seeing it dramatized is pretty damn awesome.

Your turn! Have you seen Gravity? What did you think?

If you liked this post, you might also like:

Pacific Rim Analysis: Is Mako a Strong Female Character?

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Star Trek Into Darkness Analysis

Book vs. Movie: The Hunger Games

Your Turn: Favourite Summer Movie

Hi, all! I’m back from my blog hiatus (and vacation) and, as usual, scrambling to catch up with real life. So today I’m turning the blog over to you, my faithful readers. My question:

What was your favourite movie this summer?

I’m thinking blockbusters, but if you saw something else in theatres that you really loved (quiet little drama? foreign film?), do tell.

Mine? A toss-up between Star Trek Into Darkness and Pacific Rim, despite things I found problematic about both (click through to read my reviews).

Have at it, and I’ll see you back here with some real content on Wednesday!

Pacific Rim Analysis: Is Mako a Strong Female Character?

I finally saw Pacific Rim this week. It made me think All The Thoughts, plenty of which were about women. So…let’s talk about strong women and the role of Mako Mori, Raleigh’s co-pilot.

Mako Mori official poster

(This post is not a review, but here’s a capsule review of Pacific Rim for you: Unexpectedly nice balance of giant robots fighting giant aliens with some great character development. Just…bring earplugs, because this movie is LOUD. And all those sparks during the fight scenes are rather blinding, too.)

Hollywood blockbusters are not known for their strong female characters. Women are usually relegated to eye candy (Transformers) or sexy scientists (Star Trek Into Darkness) or mothers (World War Z) or damsels in distress (Spider-Man (2002) — Mary Jane is an independent woman with her own ideas, but at the climax she’s still dangling from a bridge screaming). The bar to surpass these roles is not set very high.

So when I saw Mako participating in the plot and being treated like a person rather than a woman, I got excited. But her role is still problematic. Let’s look at why…

Mako as a Strong Woman: Pros

1. She’s desexualized. Her outfits don’t scream sexy, and she never has to disrobe for thinly disguised male gaze reasons (ahem, JJ Abrams). The sexiest moment is the bit with the umbrella when she’s first introduced.

2. The other characters treat her like an equal. She’s a member of the army and, eventually, a Jaeger pilot, and that’s how she’s treated (except by Marshall Pentecost, but that’s a parent-child dynamic, not a man-woman imbalance). The only person who puts her down for being a woman — Chuck Hansen — clearly needs (and gets) a comeuppance.

3. She can kick ass. She fights Raleigh to a standstill…and again, her outfit and the camera work don’t emphasize her sexy female body while she’s doing it. And then, of course, she goes and kicks Kaiju ass too.

4. She’s a central character with her own arc and her own choices. Granted, the film fails the Bechdel test, but at least the romance is de-emphasized (they don’t even kiss! Hurrah!) and her arc isn’t all about a man, it’s about her.

5. All she’s ever wanted is to be a pilot. Her hero is the first Jaeger pilot she ever saw — a man — and she dreams of following in his footsteps. And the movie thinks she can, too. None of the characters, even Chuck Hansen, ever says she can’t do the job because she’s a girl.

Pacific Rim official posterMako as a Strong Woman: Cons

1. She has an emotional breakdown. If anyone gets lost in memories and unable to escape, it should be Raleigh, who was so traumatized by his brother’s death that he quit the program and had to be bullied back into it. But no, it’s the girl who gets, ahem, hysterical.

2. She gets rescued…several times. Raleigh rescues her from her memories, beats up the misogynist pilot for her (even though she could clearly defend herself), and ejects her from their shared Jaeger before their final mission is over (after others have died at their posts to get them into the portal).

3. Her commander (and surrogate father, and hero) doesn’t think she can handle the job…and he’s right. She wants to prove herself. He thinks that not only is she not ready yet, she never will be. She proves him wrong on the latter…by becoming less like the emotional little girl she was and more like a man. (That’s a point that deserves its own blog post. Stay tuned…)

Your turn! Do you think Mako is a strong female character?

Here’s what other bloggers had to say about Pacific Rim:

If you liked this post, you might also like my earlier posts Women in SF and Fantasy: Book Recommendations and Women in A Game of Thrones.

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey movie posterI wasn’t going to blog this week, but…well…then I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And I had to talk about it. So here you are. The blog will be on holiday for the rest of this week, returning next week. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Yule, and happy holiday of choice!

I’m starting with an unspoilery review. Spoilers will be lower down and clearly marked.

(Disclaimer: I didn’t see the film in 3D or with the much-discussed higher frame rate, so I won’t be touching on those aspects.)

I’m a big Tolkien fan, and I felt that Peter Jackson did a spectacular (though certainly not perfect) job with the LOTR movies. So while I was not thrilled to hear that The Hobbit was being broken into three films, I went to the theater prepared to trust Jackson again.

And…wow, did he deliver.

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