let’s all go to the movies

I’ve gone to I think 3 films in the last month or so — The Force Awakens, The Martian, and The Mockingjay: Part 2. 

I loved the first two and enjoyed all three, but I wouldn’t recommend The Mockingjay: II unless you literally just finished watching Part I and/ or have actually read the books and have a good grasp of the overall plot.

In other words, if the films are what are introducing you to the world of Panem and the overarching plot, the final Mockingjay film suuuucks. It introduces the viewer jarringly to the final act, picking up the thread of the story quite awkwardly from where the last movie left off. It just doesn’t really work as a standalone movie. It bears out what I said all along, from the minute I heard they were splitting the final book into two films: “Well, that’s an unnecessary money grab.”

I thought maybe they might make it work. They’re professionals, after all. They know what they’re doing. Maybe they final two movies would flow smoothly and evenly and beautifully, and be a wonderful two-part adaptation of the book. Maybe.

Nope. They’re choppy and awful. There’s simply not enough material to drag into two separate films, and it for a viewer (like my husband) who hasn’t read the books at all and is just being introduced to the world/ fandom through the films, the final two films were jarring, disjointed and made it difficult to remain immersed in the storyline.

Seriously disappointed.

The Martian and the The Force Awakens were cool. I loved The Force Awakens, actually — from the first scenes of that horrified storm trooper emoting so strongly his battle-terror WTF response through the blankness of his helmet; and the blood-spatter red handprint marking him out from the others. I loved that touch, of the facelessness of the enemy given face. Then the diversity of the casting! Holy shit, it was amazing! The world opened up with such depth and reality, to see so faces reflecting the reality of our daily lives — young and old, male and female, people of all races, and then on top of that, the usual plethora of alien species. It was so cool to watch a sci-fi film where the only diversity wasn’t made-up diversity (ie: imagined alien species). I had to restrain myself from cheering in delight every time Rey came on the screen — I love her, love love love her.

I love that Finn rushes to save her, but she saves herself. I love that she’s competent from taking care of herself, but vulnerable from being abandoned. I love that she’s lost and alone, and prickly and proud. I love that her backstory leaves you wondering — Who abandoned her? Why? Is she Han’s daughter? Luke’s? Ren’s long-lost half sister? A cousin? Is this another sibling situation? What’s going on there?

I loved seeing General Leia, too. One of the things I like about having Netflix is that I have access to a lot of foreign films and BBC, which is nice because non-USA movies use a greater range of ages and body sizes in their actors. I like watching, say, Doctor Who and seeing 30 and 40 year old women, or actors with crooked teeth or spots on their faces, or puddle-tummies.

I like seeing my own humanity reflected on the screen, instead of the channel after channel of straight-teethed blinding youthful flat-tummied botoxed perfection that’s the norm on USA television. Its gotten to the point where I mostly just watch USA tv programs for maybe 1 or 2 seasons (unless they’re animated, haha), and then I’m out because its just … my gods, they all look like mannequins, and I start feeling super miserable about myself. Its like — well, christ on a cracker, of course they’re able to escape into those fantasy lives, they’re practically gods already. Look at them.

I just really prefer the comfortableness of BBC shows and foreign films, which seem to show a broader range of ages, races, body standards, and living standards (they don’t all live in super nice well-decorated houses or fancy unbelievable apartments — sometimes they live in utter crap housing that’s small and overfurnished). You look at them, and its easier to get swept into the story because they actually are ordinary. Donna Noble is heavier-set single woman in her 30s with a little mole thingy on her chin; she’s ordinary. Rose Tyler was living in poverty housing and had buck teeth — she was ordinary. The companions (and supporting cast) of Doctor Who and other BBC programs are relatable in a way that USA television programs just aren’t.

And that was another thing I liked about The Force Awakens. For all that its a sci-fi fantasy taking place in a galaxy far far away, it was real in the representation of who was on the screen. There were people of all ages, genders, races, and economic strata. It was great. I almost cried. It was so wonderful to see people on screen who were actually reflected my reality, and brought the fantasy to life in a realistic and inhabitable way.

Which brings me to The Martian. Which … I liked. Loved, even. The story was moving, and Matt Damon was great, as usual. He’s a talented actor. As always, when there is a film where the script calls for people coming together to save Matt Damon from extreme duress, Damon performed impeccably well. For the space of the film, he became Mark Watney, and took the audience along on that journey.

When I walked out of the film, my only ghosting, mild disappointment — and I felt kind of kvetchy even saying it — was just that I was so tired of seeing this kind of film. Like, not the plot (great!) or anything like that. Just, specifically, the white straight male protagonist type of film.

It’s funny, I didn’t even realize how prevalent this type of film was until the past few years, when we started getting a few more options. Just one or two more a year. The Hunger Games. The Heat. Mad Max. The Force Awakens. Things like that, and I started to realize how much I love seeing diversity in movies.

It’s like … 5 years ago, my husband and I hardly ever went to the theater anymore. We’d hear about these movies (Sherlock, The Prestige, Inception) through friends or advertisements, and say to each other, “Oh, man we should check that out …” but we’d never get around to it. We might end up seeing it at a party, and usually end up underwhelmed by it.

Hollywood seemed boring and repetitive, recycling the same old stuff time and again. It was like, “Oh, lookie there. Hollywood is doing another version of Spiderman. With a different young white actor. How ground breaking.”or, “Ooooh. Exciting. I see that someone in Hollywood is doing yet another military drama with grim white soldiers and lots of explosions. I’m sure it will be full of new and interesting drama that has not yet been explored in any previous military drama.”

 

In a weird way, even though they’re actually literally just recycling the same plots (Ghostbusters, The Heat was just a buddy cop, The Force Awakens is your typical heroes journey), the fact that they’re doing it with someone other than the same old same old straight white male lead we’ve seen a bajillion times before it … interesting. Like, whoa. I wanna see where they take this. Are they going to explore this story? And now we’re going to the theater way more regularly than we ever were before, just to see these other, new films, the ones with the interesting perspectives.

Now, that’s not to say I didn’t like The Martian, or Matt Damon. Or that I’m automatically saying all films with straight white male leads suck (Riddick and The Fast & the Furious remain high on my guilty pleasures list)… I guess I’m just saying, after a while they get sort of … predictable/ repetitive/ boring, especially when they keep using “box office draw” names like Matt Damon or Ben Affleck or Tom Cruise — because then, after awhile, its like you’re not watching the character or story, you’re watching the actor perform their craft. Like, I didn’t go see The Martian starring  Matt Damon and Sean Bean so much as I saw a movie where Matt Damon was stranded again and had to be rescued, and Sean Bean didn’t die.

It was good, but going into the movie, the joke I made was, “Oh, another movie about Matt Damon getting left behind and rescued? That guy needs a map,” and my friend laughed, because that’s like most of his movies. And leaving, my friend and I were joking, “Sean Bean didn’t die!” — and later, when I was talking about the film with another friend who’d seen it, that was her comment, too — “Didja notice, Sean Bean lived?!”

I mean, when it gets to the point where we’re seeing these same white straight male faces in the same roles, over and over and over again to the point where we’re cracking jokes about the similarity of their characters … I’m just saying. I feel like it would be fun to mix it up some more.

This isn’t actually a ding on the storytelling, btw. The Martian really was a great story and plot, and well acted. Its just … there’s a finite amount of stories and story arches, I guess. We retell them in an infinite amount of restructurings, with new names and locations, but ultimately when you strip them down to their bare bones, the stories we tell all have very similar basic structures. Storytelling is an ancient human ritual, something that’s been with us since hominid first hunkered by a fire in a cave. It is both how we recount our histories and look to the future; it is how we learn and grow both as individuals and as a culture. I believe it is how we teach empathy.

Acted out onscreen by actors limited by race, gender, and age, the stories are doubly restricted — not only by the basic underlying structures of them, but by the lack of imagination in representation. I suspect that’s why we were bored of going to the movies, before the sudden burbling arrival of mainstream films with more racially and gender diverse leads (after the paucity of the aughts).  Even now, such films are comparatively rare — when I look at the lineup for films at my local theater, there just isn’t a lot of diversity in the cast in terms of age, race, or gender. It’s boring.

I guess … that’s one of the things I like about Alien. Ripley was written to be played by a male or female, and I wonder how many more roles could be done that way. I think casting (and movies) would be so much cooler and more interesting if looks could somehow be removed from the process, and it was just based on talent/ resume ratings of the actor in question — and if they cast actors who were actually the ages of the characters in question.

No more 20-somethings cast as both teen heroines and as 30/40 year old widows and single moms (Jennifer Lawrence was 21 when she played the 16 year old Katniss, 22 when she played the widowed Tiffany Maxwell in Silver Linings Notebook, and 25 when she played the 34 year old single mother-cum-mop inventor Joy Mangano in Joy.). Jennifer Lawrence is talented and all and I love watching her onscreen. I thought she was great as Katniss, really … but c’mon. You’re telling me there’s no other actresses in the 30 or 40 year old range that could have played Tiffany Maxwell or Joy Mangano? I can see choosing a 20-something for a teen role, because child labor laws. But what is the point of choosing a 20-something for a more mature role, other than straight-up ageism?

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