Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Curiouser and Furiouser - A Fast and Furious Watch: Part 7 - Furious 7


So here we are at the most recent Fast and Furious movie, a film that feels like a swan song, that feels like the finale in a series more than a decade long, but oddly is not.  I think my biggest takeaway from this movie is that there is absolutely no reason for there to be any more Fast and Furious movies after this one.  The death of Paul Walker alone should render a continuation completely unnecessary, but this film really satisfactorily resolves all the lingering threads from the previous movies and any continuation feels like a cash grab to me.  I have read that the new movie which is coming out next year features both Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren and my appreciation for both actresses aside, I find the film entirely unnecessary at best.

On to the recap. I thought this movie was actually considerably better paced and overall more engaging than the 6th.  Sad as it is, I feel that the elimination of both Han and Gisele tightened the narrative and kept the action sequences more cohesive.  So too did the sidelining of Hobbs for much of the film, which enabled the plot to focus on the core group: Dom, Brian, Tej, Letty, and Roman.  While the introduction of the hacker Ramsey and Kurt Russell's Mr Nobody did add a bit of novelty to the mix, by tightening the focus on 5 characters during most action sequences vs the 8 of the previous film, I had a much clearer idea of what was going on and where everyone was.  In truth, Roman's shtick is completely played out and in my opinion if they wanted to only have 5 main characters in the crew they should have kept Han and gotten rid of Roman. Roman doesn't even eat any chips the entire movie.  He is just obnoxious.  Heck, they could just get rid of Roman entirely and have Ramsey be the 5th member of the team.

So the film starts out with the revelation that Jason Statham is playing Shaw's brother, Deckard.
Whatever.  So Owen Shaw actually didn't die in the 6th movie, he was just grievously injured, but his brother is sufficiently pissed off that he goes on a one man revenge mission to take down the FF crew.  So there is some plotty stuff with hackers and terrorists and whatnot, but essentially the plot of this film is Jason Statham wants to kill everybody and Dom wants to kill the fuck out of him because he murdered Han.  Dom is a character that is motivated primarily by his love of family and his protectiveness of his crew.  The entire plot of Fast & Furious if you recall was Dom trying to find Letty's murderer and fuck him up.  Now he does it again for Han.  Dom has become like a poor man's street racing Liam Neeson.


Dom begins the film by taking Letty to the same Race Wars out in the desert that they visited in the very first movie.  Basically he is trying to jog her memories with things that are familiar.  Revisiting this location was a great idea just in general as it grounds us in the reality that while Dom and his crew have moved beyond just street racing to basically being an on-call Dirty Dozen, regular run of the mill street racing crews are still having their butt jiggling dance parties where the biggest problems they face are losing their pinks and getting picked up by the cops.  Letty experiences a bit of a breakdown after racing, though, and punches out Hector, that racer dude from the first movie.  Her attempts at recalling her former life have been a mixed bag.  Later, Letty visits her own grave and tells Dom that he should just leave it, since "Letty" died that day and she is someone new.  Dom tries to console her, but she needs to figure things out on her own.  Michelle Rodriguez is not the best actress actress in the world, but I actually bought her struggle in this movie as a woman who wants the life she missed, but doesn't remember it.

Meanwhile Brian has gone full on domestic, driving around in a mini van and dropping his son off at preschool.  The sequences of his happy life with Mia, who incidentally is pregnant once again, were really melancholic for me.  Brian the character is antsy, missing his old life while simultaneously trying to be a good father to his son; Paul Walker the actor tragically died in a high speed car crash leaving behind a young daughter. Walker's penchant for fast cars, honed over the course of filming the FF series literally resulted in his demise while on break from filming this very movie.  It is a bitter pill to swallow as I watched the film, that the dramatic action sequences, high speeds, and drifts contributed to the death of a young actor who was almost universally liked by his cast and crew mates.

Anyway, back to the plot.  Shaw breaks into Hobbs' office and is doing some hacking shit to try to find the FF crew when Hobbs confronts him.  This leads to a massive gunfight that results in the tragic loss of a lot of expensive office furniture. Hobbs takes a flying leap out the window to try to stop Shaw and ends up breaking his collarbone, though how he didn't just straight up die is kind of preposterous.  This whole thing was like the chicken fight from Family Guy or something.  Anyway, apparently Shaw got enough info because he sent a bomb to Brian and Mia's house which they luckily were not in at the time.  Dom visits Hobbs in the hospital and discovers A) he has a daughter who is super cute and B) Deckard Shaw is like some super evil former Special Forces guy and has been doing shady shit for a long time.  Hobbs gives Dom a mission to basically just kill that dude, but like ya know off the books because the government can't actually hire assassins.  Brian sends Mia and Jack off to the Dominican Republic to be safe and then Dom heads off to Japan to I guess collect Han's body or whatever and chat with that Sean dude from Tokyo Drift who is just still super super boring.

Why?
Tej and Roman meet up with Dom and Brian at Han's funeral, which does not feature everyone ceremonially placing a chip on his casket which is what I would have done.  Anyway Shaw shows up at the funeral and he and Dom race each other until they get to this underground area where they basically just ram their cars into each other for some reason.  Like really is this the best way to end this fight?  I am so confused.  Shaw pulls a gun on Dom and I am worried that he is going to be in real trouble when a bunch of random armed guys show up and save the day, lead by Kurt Russell.

Kurt Russell's arrival helps transition the plot of the film from straight up revenge street racing to like a really weird episode of Person of Interest.  Apparently a terrorist caught a hacker who has basically made the machine from Person of Interest that can see in every camera and whatnot.  If Dom and his crew can recover the data and save the hacker, then Kurt Russell will allow him to use the machine to track down Shaw.  What?!  K.  Anyway the team gathers, even Letty who is pissed that nobody told her that everyone was ok since she saw that Brian's house burned down and shit.  Roman is not feeling really confident about the plan and I totally don't blame him.  He tries to suggest his own plan, which everybody scoffs at but inevitably allows.  Of course Roman's plan is completely fucking insane.

Roman's plan, which is completely fucking insane, involves all the cars on an airplane parachuting
WHAT?!
down onto the road near the terrorist's hideout to catch the convoy of bad guys before they get the info from this hacker.  Just.. what?!  What the fuck?!  Just flying fucking cars.  What in the fucking shit was this whole scene?! Roman is scared, because OF COURSE but Tej wired up a remote switch forcing his car out of the airplane, which is completely safe, duh.  All the cars land perfectly on the ground on their wheels, all except Roman who is stuck in some kind of magical tree that can support the weight of a car.  They find the convoy of the bad guys and of course the bad guys start shooting at them with high powered guns and armor piercing rounds, and fucking turrets hidden under a bus.  Why didn't they just shoot at the convoy if they were flying in a fucking plane?  I don't even get it.  Whatever.  Brian surfs on top of a car and rescues this hacker who turns out to be a lady that both Tej and Roman totally crush on.

Meanwhile Brian is having a serious battle with Tony Jaa inside this van, which is completely preposterous.  Tony Jaa would totally kick Paul Walker's ass, this is not even a question.  We know that Brian is a former cop and street racer, but no fucking way does he have martial arts skills on par with Tony Jaa.  The fact that this battle is even close is so silly. The bus nearly goes over the edge and Brian just makes it by jumping on top of Letty's car.  Shaw shows up and starts shooting at everybody too.  Ugh that guy is just everywhere.  How the fuck does Shaw know where everybody is?  Dom meanwhile is driving hacker lady away from the rest of the group, but the terrorists are right behind him.  The lead terrorist, played by Djimon Hounsou, corners Dom right on a cliff leaving him no real options but to drive his fucking car off a cliff.  Insanity.

Everybody looks fine in nice clothes
Anyway after all that, Ramsey the hacker lady reveals that she mailed the secret plans to her friend in Abu Dabi so everybody has to take a road trip to sandy town in shiny new Bugattis.  Damn the budget for cars has gone up in this series.  Apparently Ramsey's friend sold the drive that the secret plans were on to a Jordanian prince because the secret plans with the code to create the machine from Person of Interest was contained on a zip drive with plans for a car too?  Huh?  I don't even understand this part.  Whatever.  Everybody has to get all fancy to go to this party which is pretty much an excuse to see Letty in a dress and everybody all fancy.  Roman in particular is having a really good time and wants to live in this gold palace of busty ladies.  All is not well at rich people party, though, because Ronda Rousey is there with her hijabi protection squad crew to make sure no shenanigans go on.  Spoiler alert: There are shenanigans.

What in the actual fuck?!
Dom and Brian find the car with the drive in it and basically cum all over this super awesome car because of how awesome it is.  They try to get into the system but it is taking them more time than they would have liked. Roman helps provide a distraction by being an annoying dick bag.  Tej and Ramsey are working on the tech stuff, but time runs out and Ronda Rousey and her hijabi protection squad stumble across Letty who has to fight them off.  Then Brian and Dom are required to drive the car out into the middle of the room.  Somehow Shaw is there AGAIN somehow and Brian and Dom realize this car has NO BRAKES and Dom decides to drive  OUT THE FUCKING WINDOW ON THE 500TH FLOOR OF THIS FUCKING HIGH RISE and into an adjacent building into some priceless artifacts.  MY CABBAGES!!  Then they fucking do it again with the third building.  What in the actual flying fuck?  Anyway they get the thing out of the car and roll to safety and somehow make it out of the building without being arrested while the car flies out of the building and onto the ground, thankfully not just murdering tourists on its way down.

They meet up with Mr. Nobody again and Brian gives him the drive but then he gives it right back so they can use it to find Shaw using the Person of Interest machine.  Ok but they actually played Person of Interest music while doing the whole machine thingy.  Also the guy is named Shaw.  I was getting serious PoI vibes.  Whatever.  Anyway they used the deal to track the thing.  Dom tells Mr Nobody that "My guys are racers not killers"  so only he and Brian go because they actually do murder people on occasion.  They go and confront Shaw in a warehouse but Djimon Hounsou is there to help him in an obvious trap.  Kurt Russell has magic night vision goggles to help them in this fight but he gets shot anyway.  The lose the machine to the terrorists which is probably bad.  Somehow Kurt Russell isn't dead because he has a bulletproof vest made of fucking Mithril or something.  They leave him on the side of the road and a chopper picks him up so I guess he'll be ok.

So the team meets up again and realize they better do something different because this running around shit is BS.  Tej suggests they hack the hackers but to do that they have to be in range.  They decide to lure the terrorists back to Los Angeles because they "know the town" but this seems like a really really terrible idea for a lot of reasons including, oh I dunno, innocent bystanders that the FF crew don't give a shit about I guess.  Anywho Dom goes back to his old house which was bombed if you recall, except apparently for the garage where his magical Dodge Charger was stored so of course he gets that and then gets all decked out with guns and shit because he isn't playing around anymore.  Full on revenge mode.  So the crew splits up into groups and drive around trying to get a lock on the signal when all of a sudden the terrorists show up in a helicopter and release a fucking predator drone on them which apparently NOBODY fucking cares about because there are no LAPD choppers or military in the area at all.  Brian decides to dodge the drone going old school, aka going underneath a semi truck.  This is only partially helpful though as the drone just shoots the truck releasing tubes all over the road.  MY CABBAGES!

This fight went on FOREVER
Dom and Shaw have another bro down, the drone is still chasing everybody around, Tej and Ramsey sitting there like "uploading... uploading" for about 15 minutes waiting for the damn virus to go into the system or whatever.  Then Dom and Shaw ram cars again for some reason because that is a thing they do and then decide to have a crow bar/ wrench fight.  Hobbs meanwhile is watching this shit go down on TV and decides to just Hulk out of his own cast.  What the shit?!  FINALLY some cops arrive, but no god damn chopper.  Brian faces down with Tony Jaa again and inexplicably gets the upper hand.  No, Brian.  No.  No you don't know martial arts as well as famed Muay Thai legend Tony Jaa but yet somehow you beat him.  Probably this would have been the most unrealistic thing in this movie if it did not also feature predator drones flying through LA, parachuting cars, and cars driving off of a fucking high rise building.

Anyway Hobbs steals an ambulance from the hospital and drives it right off a bridge and into the drone, destroying it.  Dom and Shaw are STILL fighting.  I don't know how long their wrench/ punching/ crow bar fight lasted but seriously it felt like 20 minutes.  FINALLY the terrorists get a little sick of Shaw and shoot right at Dom even though Shaw is in the way, causing the street to collapse and Shaw to falls to his doom/ not quite death because that would be too easy.  Hobbs comes to Dom's rescue by ripping the gun out of the drone and using it to shoot at that chopper.  Letty is in trouble, but Dom drives his car up a ramp and drops a grenade into the chopper and then lands. But he's in trouble.  He's rolling all over the place.  Brian pulls him out but he isn't breathing. They try CPR but it isn't working.  Then Letty tries to use... the POWER of LOVE!!  She says she remembers everything, including the fact that they apparently got married.  Her love magic works and Dom wakes up.  I really wish I bought their relationship a little more.  The chemistry just isn't there, but whatever, love magic.

Shaw is captured and brought to a super secret CIA detention center that looks like that place they bring bad guys on Arrow or whatever.  Then everybody has a beach party and everyone is super cute
BRB crying my eyes out
and happy.  But this whole thing is making me really sad because Paul Walker is dead.  Everybody is getting all melancholy and Dom has a voice over talking about how things are going to be different now and how Brian has this new life.  I no joke started getting really emotional about Paul Walker. This whole series has really made me like him.  I really understand why people were so upset about his death now.  As if to make the audience feel the sads even more, Brian and Dom have one last race and there is a montage of Brian and Dom together.  This is like a 10 minute In Memorium segment within the movie and I am a crying mess.  The film ends with a Dom voiceover saying "You'll always be with me and you'll always be my brother."  Then Brian's car like goes off into the sky.  Jesus I am sad.

Stray Thoughts

- So this movie had such a melancholy ending I really wish it was the ending of the series.  The audience simultaneously can believe in the fantasy that Brian is off living his life with Mia and his kids and also know that Paul Walker is dead and can never be replaced. In my mind, with the major arcs of the characters completed, there is no need to extend the series, though I do understand why they are being made.

- Having seen 7 of these movies I understand a few really important things about their popularity.  The first and most significant is that the films are dominated by actors of color from a wide range of backgrounds.  This is really important.  A film like Mad Max: Fury Road might be better technically and in a whole host of other ways, but I don't think anybody can underestimate the fact that representation is so important in cinema.  I cannot think of another long running series of films that feature majority PoC actors at all.  If you think about the staying power of, say, James Bond films, which like the FF movies vary greatly in terms of quality, you can see that the FF films, while not "good" by certain metrics are nonetheless important and worthy additions to the genre.

- The second thing I realized was that I was far more emotionally invested in the characters than I thought.  I was happy that Letty regained her memories and she and Dom got back together even though they don't have the greatest chemistry in the world. I was happy that Brian got his happy ending, and yet I was devastated by the ending when it really sunk in that Paul Walker died doing what he loved: driving fast.

- The third thing I've noticed is that as Vin Diesel has matured as an actor, and as the series has shifted to making his story more of the focus, it has really gotten stronger.  In some ways, I wonder if future installments will be even more Dom focused and less about the secondary players, which seems like the direction it is going in.  Roman is completely useless as a character now. Dom and Letty and Tej and Ramsey could probably do just fine by themselves and ditch him entirely.  With Brian gone and Dom not really having as much as an emotional investment in the rest of the crew, I could see some kind of soft reboot again with Dom and Letty finding different people to join them.  If not, if they decide to keep the original crew in tact, then I will really need to see them give more backstory to Tej and make me more emotionally invested in him and give Roman something to do other than just being an asshat.

- I didn't really notice the parts where Paul Walker's brothers replaced him w/ CGI but I don't really have a very good eye to notice those kinds of things

- I will definitely be doing write ups of further entries into the series even though I am not really sold on more movies.  As spectacularly insane as they are, I have really grown quite fond of them.



Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Imaginary Conversations - Delete

Here is another in my series of imaginary conversations.  You can view the rest here.  If this is the first one you are reading, this is not an actual conversation that's why it is imaginary.  Get it?



So I am thinking that maybe I should delete my Twitter

Yeah I think I told you that before.  I mean just for your mental sanity, it might be a good idea

No that's not it.  I think I should delete my Facebook too.  And my blog.  Just delete everything.

Wait, what's going on?  I mean you can take a break from social media for a while if it is stressing you out, but do you really need to delete it?  Is the news really stressing you out that much?  

No, no.  I really like getting different perspectives from Twitter and all that.  I follow a lot of interesting people I wouldn't normally interact with in my day to day life.  I don't think I should shut out the news just because it scares me.  I need to stay informed. No I actually like going on Twitter oddly enough and I like writing in my blog its just... I'm worried

Worried? Worried about what?  That you don't really know how to format your blog all that well and people will mock  you for your computer skills, because I wouldn't worry too much

Wait what?  No.. Wait you think I don't format my blog well?

Well, no.  I mean there are gaps and breaks in text when you add pictures sometimes and you really have a hard time sticking with a consistent font and it doesn't really look all that cohesive.  Also, I mean let's be honest, you don't blog all that consistently so if you are trying to build any kind of following you aren't really doing that great of a job.  Is that what you are talking about?  

Well no, but fuck now I am all self conscious about my blog.  Maybe I should delete it.  

I'm sorry.  I figured you were looking for constructive criticism.

I was not

Oh.  Well then why do you want to delete your Twitter and your Facebook and your blog if you aren't stressing about what people are writing and you are stressing about people judging you for your bad grammar and formatting issues?  

I'm worried about the government

Well, yeah.  I mean that is kind of the point of your blog and Twitter isn't it?  To talk about your worries?  

No.  I mean.. yes, that's what I do a lot of the time on my Twitter and my blog, but what I'm worried about is the government reading my blog or my Twitter

Why would the government read your blog or your twitter?  Like 20 people read your blog and you have less than 300 followers on Twitter.  

Gee, thanks for the boost 

Sorry.  But seriously, why are you worried?

Well, I mean I have made not so subtle threats against the life of our President elect

Ohhhhhh

Yeah.  So like... I dunno... I feel like that is protected speech, right?  Because I haven't said anything really actionable right?  I mean I haven't said that I am going to do something on such and such a day and I haven't actually gone out and bought a sniper rifle or staked out parade routes or other shit that would involve the Secret Service have I?  

Nope

So like I feel like it should be ok.  I mean these GamerGate assholes harass these women and nothing happens to them.  And like a ton of people have said shitty things about Obama, right? 

Right

So maybe I am just freaking out about nothing, but like I feel like I have definitely said that I want to straight up murder our future president on more than one occasion.  I mean if the election went the other way then it wouldn't be a problem.  I mean I didn't know that the election would go this way.  

Have you made any of those kinds of threats since Election day?

I mean... that's the thing, I can't even remember.  I know I said that I wish he pulled a William Henry Harrison which is just like saying I wish he died of natural causes so I don't think that counts...

Yeah. That kind of stuff is fine.  You should be fine

After that whole Hamilton thing, though, I think I said something like "Well maybe he should go to the theater too.  Nothing bad ever happens to Presidents when they go to the theater"

Oooph.  That's a little bad. Jesus.

I may have also suggested that Chris Evans suit up as Captain America and beat his head in with his shield.  

Um... 

And I may have also said that...

Yeah, I'm gonna stop you right there.  You probably shouldn't be saying all those things.

Right?  I mean I know that!  Intellectually I know that saying that I want to assassinate the President elect is bad thing.  That is like insanity.  I mean what sensible person would write in a public medium that they wish bodily harm done to the President and Vice President elect.  

VP too?

Oh yeah that dude is worse.  That dude is a fucking asshole.  It would be awesome if they were both on a plane together and somebody got like a drone and just... 

Um... 

Right, yeah... Yeah, so I shouldn't be saying that shit right?  Like I feel like in the normal world it might be ok.  Like the normal world pre election?  But now that we are straight up living in some kind of bizarro dystopian future where Russian hackers can just read everybody's emails and then report it to our new dictator... 

Really?  Dystopian future?  Aren't you blowing things a little bit out of proportion?  

Am I though?  

Yeah.  Yeah I really think you are, this time.  I mean there are checks and balances and things

Listen.  I understand that there are legal means for his removal.  I understand that the Electoral College could, by some Christmas miracle, decide not to give him the votes he needs and then Congress will have to decide and maybe they could pick somebody else.  Or if he is inaugurated he could die because he is pretty old and things could go pretty much back to normal except the VP is really awful too and I don't think he would be much better.  But I don't see a scenario that is optimistic in the future.  I just don't.  

Well you have to think that it is only going to be 4 years and he might be too incompetent to do the horrible things that he wants to do. 

Ok, I am not trying to be ableist or anything, but the man is fucking insane.  I mean I don't want to armchair diagnose him with narcissistic personality disorder or something but this man will have the fucking nuclear codes and he pops off on Twitter after every slight offense.  What do you think is going to happen when he is inaugurated?  Jesus fucking Christ I mean he could send the National Guard in and shit.  There are SO many powers given to the president that don't require Congressional approval.  And even if it did, Congress is Republican.  Even if some of those Republicans are not complete nut jobs would they turn against him?  I don't think so.  

This is America, though.  You are talking as if we are in like some banana republic or 3rd world fledgling democracy.  The kind of stuff you are talking about won't happen here.  We aren't just going to become like... Libya or something.  

What makes you say so?  

Huh?  I don't even know how to answer that question.  We aren't going to become Libya.  

See, I don't know. Think about possible scenarios. He does what he says he is going to and our economy tanks because his proposals are bullshit.  The neo Nazis that he has already emboldened decide to blame minorities for the economic collapse because they won't blame him.  The hate crimes which have already gone up, become completely normalized and more widespread.  Muslims are put into camps, millions of Mexicans are deported.  The situation in Syria gets worse because we actively support Russian interests now. The President enriches himself on trade agreements and back door deals.  He does very little actual governance, but delegates a lot to his underlings, content to see himself as more of a figurehead.  He holds regular rallies to drum up support, electing to wear an epauletted military style outfit to seem stronger.  Dissatisfied with "Mainstream media," he does not allow them access to his presidency, instead deciding to create his own channel where he can deliver messages directly to the people.  Massive discontent throughout the nation.  Armed insurrection, collapse of our democracy...  

Yikes.  Ok but I don't think all that is going to happen.  People would stop it before it got that far.  Even the Republicans don't want an actual straight up dictator.  

Fascism creep is real.  You say they don't want a dictator, but everything I have been hearing from the right wing has been just that.  They don't want the government taking away their guns in case they need to fight back against "the government" but when the government agrees with their philosophies and prejudices they are just fine with it.  They want the government to tell women what to do with their bodies, to let them discriminate if they want to, to appear strong militarily, to get rid of people they don't like and make America the way they want it to be.  They don't believe in "politicians" who are too "corrupted" and so turned to an outsider without any experience because he was "like them" even though he wasn't. He is Mussolini.  He is Gaddafi.  He is Saddam Hussein.  I mean Jesus he gives his kids security clearance.  He is Saddam Hussein.  

Ok, I do have to admit that the thing with the kids and the gold palaces and stuff is very Hussein-ish

You really don't think he will have statues of himself made around the country?  They are going to be spending a million dollars a day protecting his little brat in his penthouse.  He doesn't give a shit.  I can only hope he just ends up the same as Mussolini and Gaddafi: dragged in the street.

Um... I thought we were not doing the vague threats of physical violence thing.

Oops.    

You gotta watch that kind of shit

See, that's what I'm saying!  He already has a list of enemies.  Who knows what kind of technology he has access to?  What if we have like the machine from Person of Interest or that thing that Hydra had in Winter Solider than can just target undesirables?!  We already have drones.  When will he start using drones on his own citizens?!  Imprisoning dissidents?!  Please remember me when I am taken to the camps

Oh for fuck's sake quit being so melodramatic

Am I being melodramatic?!  Can't you imagine somebody in some foreign nation pissing him off and he starts WW3?!  Death, destruction, nuclear war.  I'm fucking scared, okay?  I'm scared.  I am legit thinking about deleting my blog because I'm afraid the government is going to round me up.  That isn't fucking normal.  This isn't normal.

I know.  I know it isn't normal.  I'm not trying to be dismissive, I'm just trying to calm you down

How can I be fucking calm?!  How can I be fucking calm?!  This is the reality now.  We are literally living in the plot of Winter Soldier.  Hydra has fucking won.  What the fuck are we going to do?  We have supervillains but not super heroes.  Why can't we just have some superheroes?

So you want vigilantes?  Terrorists?

I mean... I wouldn't say no to vigilantes if they are the good kind.  Like if they kill white supremacists or something.  

You are advocating murder now?

Well no.  I mean there aren't vigilantes out there killing white supremacists or anything I'm just saying if there WERE I think I might be like... not sad.  

When did you get so violent?  I thought you were all against the death penalty and stuff.

Well I am against the death penalty because I believe our criminal justice system is ultimately flawed and racist and disproportionately incarcerates/ executes people of color.  But, I dunno... like white supremacists and child killers and stuff like that... I mean if the evidence is all there... I dunno. I guess I'm saying vigilantes wouldn't be terrible.  

So bad people deserve to be murdered?  Talk about fascism creep

Aww crap, you are right.  Dammit.  You are right. If I am talking about preserving democracy on the one hand I can't just go around beating down assholes with the other.  I'm being kind of hypocritical

Ya think?

Ok, ok.  Fine. I don't want vigilantes murdering people.  But I do want vigilantes still.  Like white hat hackers and stuff.  We only get these asshole Russians fucking everything up for us, where are the good hackers releasing tax returns and shady emails from him and all that.  Or like stealing money from the banks and giving it to poor people.  Like Robin Hood shit.  That kind of stuff.  I just want a hero, ya know?  

But isn't that the kind of thinking that got us into this mess?  That some magical person out there will save us from everything and fix all our problems?  Isn't that how we ended up here?

I know it is.  I do.  I really do.  But we are here, ya know?  I mean we already allowed this to happen.  We already have a deranged Lex Luthor wannabe madman as our President elect.  Now that we are here, now that we've allowed this to happen, what else are we supposed to do but hope that there are heroes too?  

So why don't you be a hero?

I don't know how to hack and I can't throw a punch

I mean in other ways

I don't really know how.  I'm more of a follower.  I just need somebody to follow.  Somebody good, though.  Or good enough.  Somebody that can help save us from this insanity at least a little bit

You know that's what they thought too

I do.  God dammit, I do.  Dammit.  I just feel so fucking hopeless right now.  I called my Congresswoman and cried on the phone with her intern.  I donated a bunch of money to ACLU and SPLC and Standing Rock and all that.  It just doesn't feel like enough.  I feel fucking helpless.  I feel like the world is crumbling around me and the only thing that will make me feel like I have any power at all is if I somehow develop superpowers and drop a giant novelty safe on top of our future president

Um.. 

Oh come on, they can't come after me over fantasizing about a fucking Acme safe dropping on him. That is not actionable intelligence.  Whatever.  Come at me Secret Service.  I will drop safes on all of you with my extend-o-arms.  

Maybe you should delete your blog

You know what?  I don't think I will after all

No?

No.  I realized that all I have are words.  I don't really have anything else right now.  I am not a fucking vigilante or a superhero or even fucking Greenpeace.  I'm just... well I'm just me.  I am angry and I am scared and I can't really do anything else but write right now to try to keep me sane.

So keep writing

But what about the whole "Shmurder Shmonald Shmump" stuff? 

We do still have the 1st amendment.  They haven't taken it away.  Just don't, ya know, do anything stupid.

Do?  What am I going to do?  I can't do anything.  This is just writing you know.  

I know.  But just like don't, I dunno... go publishing a manifesto or something

A manifesto?  Jesus.  No.  Fuck no.  Like I said I am just a fucking coward behind a computer I don't really know how to do anything actionable.  

Ok. I'm just saying.  It is probably a good idea to... ya know.. watch that shit.  

Yeah.  Fuck.  

Are you ok?

No.  Are you?!

I mean to be honest, no I'm not. 

I don't know if I am going to be "okay" for a long time.  

I get that.  I'm here for you when you need me you know. 

I do.  



Monday, November 21, 2016

Curiouser and Furiouser: A Fast and Furious Watch - Part 6: Fast and Furious 6

Did all roads REALLY lead to this though?  Did they?
Hello all, I am back again (sort of) with the 6th part of my Fast and Furious watch.  I actually watched this movie well over a month and a half ago, but did not do my recap for a couple of reasons.  The first is that I have been kind of busy and writing other things and the election was really getting me down.  In fact, it has been so long since I've seen the movie that it isn't even fresh in my mind anymore.  I could probably rewatch it, but my heart just isn't in it anymore.  There is something about the election that has just left me incapable of just doing recaps of stupid car movies.  Sorry guys. Here are just some stray thoughts.

My biggest problem with this movie was the ending.  Spoiler alert: Han Dies.  Now Han died before.  Han "died" in Tokyo Drift. But then Han appeared in the next three films and I thought that perhaps he had faked his death, that Tokyo Drift hadn't really happened in the continuity of the films, or any other excuses to explain this away.

Throughout Fast and Furious, Fast 5, and Fast and Furious 6, Han makes oblique references to wanting to go to Tokyo.  However in my mind this had to be a reference to going BACK to Tokyo rather than going for the first time.  If not, then we are supposed to believe that Tokyo Drift takes place AFTER all these films which makes absolutely no sense.  I mean the cars of Tokyo Drift are clearly older cars, Han himself is obviously younger, the film was made in 2005, released in 2006, and LOOKS very much of that era.  That couldn't possibly when Han actually dies because then we are supposed to believe that the 4th-6th films are prequels to Tokyo Drift which is insanity.  But this insanity is the reality of the the Furious-verse, which has made me very angry.  Another thing that made me angry is that Han's death was relegated to a post credits sting, which is profoundly unfair to his character.  The OTHER reason that his death made me angry was that at the end of the film Gisele sacrifices her own life to save his.  It is an emotional moment that is rendered completely useless because Han himself dies so glibly shortly after we find out who the gaffer of the film is or whatever. It is unfair to Han, it is unfair to the audience, to just kill him off in this way after the credits.  It really bothered me.

The rest of the plot was sort of cut and pasted from a bunch of other movies like James Bond, Jason Bourne, Mission Impossible, etc.  Now instead of drug dealers the team is hunting this crew of terroristy bad guys who have somehow brainwashed Letty into working for them.  The fact that Letty is alive just negates all the character growth of the previous 2 movies.  The fact that she is alive just makes no freaking sense whatsoever.  The fact that she is alive and doesn't remember her previous life but does remember how to drive well and steal shit is just stupid.   Also stupid is how everything is really high tech and Hobbs can do whatever he wants without repercussions.  Hobbs starts out the movie basically destroying the interrogation room of INTERPOL like he is the god damned Hulk and nobody calls him out on it.  The Rock can pretty much do whatever he wants, which is sort of dumb.  Even in James Bond or Mission Impossible movies when they cause too many problems they get yelled at by superiors etc.  Hobbs has no superiors.  He is just like a one man wrecking machine who has the authority to do whatever the hell it is he wants to.  I get that the FBI and the LAPD in the earlier films were sort of ineffectual, but at least the bureaucracy portrayed in those movies was marginally realistic.  Brian used to have bosses who yelled at him.  Remember that?  Not anymore.  There are no bosses, there is not even a tenuous attempt at normalcy and realism.  These films are now just straight up spy action movies from here on out with our heroes just blowing shit up with impunity.  They "look" better, there is more action, more dynamism, better camera work, but I really feel like something has been lost, though the film itself is objectively "better."  I have complicated feelings.

There are some funny moments.  Dom has to go all Muppet Movie/ Blues Brothers and get the gang
Don't ever change
back together and Roman is flying around in a plane with "It's Roman, bitches" literally written on the side full of a bunch of sexy ladies.  Tej is hacking an ATM to give money away to a bunch of kids and speaking pretty lousy Spanish for somebody who is supposed to be fluent.  Ludacris, please work on your Spanish.  Han and Gisele are like fucking super spies pulling guns on the cops.  Those two dudes from before whose names I forget are out of the picture.  Oh good.  I never remembered their names anyway.  Brian and Mia are all cutesy cutesy with their son, Jack.  They also have a chicken.  Dom comes to visit them and Brian expresses his ennui: "It doesn't feel like home even though we have everything down to the beer and the BBQ." Maybe because you are living on the run in a foreign country, dude.  Money can't buy happiness.  Anyway, Dom shows Brian the picture Hobbs got of Letty alive and well and doing some bad shit.  Though he wants to stay with his girlfriend and son, he knows that he has to help Dom find Letty and figure out what is going on.

The crew meets up in London at a super high tech and fancy warehouse/ base of operations.  Straight up James Bond type stuff.  Roman remarks, "Do I smell baby oil?" and Hobbs walks in.  Lol.  Our first shot of Han is him eating from a bag of chips, God bless him.  Roman tries to grab some of his chips but Han turns the bag over and shows him it is empty.  Roman, absolutely requiring chips to eat while everybody is talking, as is dictated by his character, proceeds to ask around if anybody has change for the vending machine because he has no quarters on him even though he is a multi millionaire.  He is doing this while Hobbs is trying to tell the crew about what their mission is, so Hobbs ends up just shooting the vending machine so Roman can get chips out.  Now Roman and Han have chips and we can proceed with the rest of the story.  This whole sequence is super silly. Anyway Hobbs is explaining to the crew that Owen Shaw stole or is trying to steal this Nightshade thing that can take down communications maybe?  I don't even know what this McGuffin is or was supposed to do.  Whatever.  Bad guy wants the thing we need to stop them from getting them the thing. If you do this, Hobbs says, you will all get full pardons.  This is very appealing to Brian especially who really wants to live a normal life again with this family.

Yeah the bad guys have Batmobiles now or whatever
They all converge on Shaw after getting info from his partner who turned, but it is all a ruse to distract from robbing INTERPOL or whatever.  Oh and Shaw drives a Batmobile.  I mean like a legit Batmobile. He blows up the pylons and takes down the building and Dom is after him.  Finally, after so long, we get a really good car chase.  Hobbs is plowing through shit in his Humvee, Dom and the rest are chasing after.  There are snipers on the roof and Han takes them down just in time to save Gisele.  Really really great action sequence here.  Shaw has these things sort of like the EMPs the Miami police had in 2 Fast that can control/ shut down the computers in cars remotely.  He hits Roman's car with one and he goes through a building.  Brian manages to tear the chip thing off of his own car and is in hot pursuit.  This is a busy traffic area in London and there are lot of bystanders jumping out of the way/ becoming collateral damage.  One of Shaw's partners who is this ice queen bitch type has her own Batmobile who takes Brian's car out of the picture.  It is down to Hobbs/ his new partner Gina Carano and Dom.  Dom spots Letty's car and chases her.  He confronts her after cornering her car and she shoots him right in the shoulder.  Ouch.

Roman is not really having all this James Bond type shit.  Dom tells him that you don't turn your back on family even when they do and they have to save Letty at all costs.  Letty meanwhile doesn't seem to recognize her old compatriots at all.  She meets up with the Bizarro crew which consists of Klaus, aka white Hobbs, random Japanese guy, aka bizarro Han, a dude who looks like 50 cent, and that bitchy blonde lady.  Seriously this crew is like the stunt doubles in Spaceballs: just off enough to be really random.  They show her a picture of her and Dom, but she doesn't remember.  AMNESIA!  This is a soap opera.  The FF crew realize that with these magical car controlling dealies that Shaw has they are going to need some older cars that don't have any computers in them.  Tej is on it, because we need an excuse to use more classic cars in this franchise.  Brian meanwhile tries to track down the very special bullet that Letty shot Dom with because of course she used a very special bullet that only a few people sell in London and these people are easily locatable. Han, Roman, and Gisele are all hanging out and Roman asks Han whether he is going to put a ring on it.  Oh and they are both eating chips together because of course they are.

Whatever.  I really lost interest in the plot at this point.  There are a bunch more action sequences.  Letty and Gina Carano's character have a brutal fight in the tube station.  The bizarro Han is like some kind of crazy ninja master taking down all these cops.  Brian goes all the way home to talk to Braga in prison where he like freaking learns nothing worth knowing that couldn't have been figured out another way.  Like seriously what was with that whole plot?  Did they want to pad the movie by 20 minutes?  Man I miss when FF movies were just an hour and a half.  These 2 hour plus actioners just don't work.  There is finally an old fashioned street racing butt jiggle party which is nice to see.  Some things stay the same.

So yeah.  Car chases!  Bombs!  Wanton destruction of property!  Dom just kind of saying fuck you to that Brazilian lady he hooked up with now that Letty is back!  Insanely crazy action sequences!  Just insane.  Shaw kidnaps Mia!  Oh no!  Gina Carano is a traitor! Whatever.  I just felt no emotional attachment to anything that was happening in the movie.  There was just too much action.  In the earlier films, while they were kind of dinky and kind of silly, the focus was just on the cars, on the friendship.  This movie had major, major action sequences literally every 5 minutes.  There was barely any quiet at all.  It was just... I dunno it was just busy.  It was ok.  Sorry but my viewing of the film, as I said, was really dampened by the killing off of both Gisele and Han.  It seemed like a super shitty thing for the franchise to do.

Also, and I really feel like this needs to be said, I really liked the characters more when they were just street racers doing the best they could and didn't just shoot people and stuff.  I mean they had those grappling hooks to steal from the cars in the very first movie, but I guess I just didn't see them as being all that violent.  The "bad guys" had guns and they saved the day with their street racing skills non violently.  Now instead of out witting or out racing bad guys they just like, I dunno, blow them up.  Also the increase in the number of characters makes it very hard to keep track of everyone in these huge action sequences.  The cuts are so fast and there are so many different narratives to keep track of that it loses something.  I like the idea of the team more than I am liking the execution.   There are these little set pieces instead of one cohesive one, and it makes it just too busy.

So yeah.  Whatever.  Jason Statham apparently kills Han not that Yakuza guy who was racing him from before.  They just had to retcon that too.  Ugh.  Suffice it to say this was not my favorite film.  I'm kind of pissed at this series to be honest.

Han, you deserved better.  Rest in Peace my beautiful boy.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thoughts on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them



Fantastic Beasts.  Where to begin.  So this isn't a full recap of the film, lets get that out of the way. Rather, I have three main issues/ thoughts about the movie that I really wanted to talk about in a longer form than a Facebook or Twitter post.


HERE THERE BE SPOILERS




So let's start off with what I liked.  Surprisingly, this was Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of Newt Scamander.  The soft-spoken Hufflepuff was somebody I really identified with.  His concern for animals and people was admirable and kind, and he seemed like a real genuinely good fellow, which is typical of people from our House.  Yes, I too am a Hufflepuff, which is certainly a fact that needs to be revealed for the sake of transparency.  The Harry Potter films, of course, follow Gryffindors: "heroes" who head into danger for the sake of glory and to "save the day."  Gryffindors can be headstrong as well as brave, daring as well as self-aggrandizing.  Hufflepuffs are often maligned by other people in Hogwarts, and by readers of the books, as being milquetoasts or bores, nothing in particulars.  This reading of Hufflepuff House is a gross misunderstanding.  Hufflepuffs are instead known for their intense loyalty and compassion to others, their protectiveness of friends and family. They are patient, kind, dedicated, and hard working.  They don't seek glory for themselves, they seek to set things to right, to make things fair.  The most famous Hufflepuff from the Harry Potter series was Cedric Diggory, a boy whose goodness and compassion literally cost him his life.  Other famous Hufflepuffs include Madame Sprout and Nymphadora Tonks, women who were instrumental in helping to protect Hogwarts and save the wizarding community in their own way.  Don't knock Hufflepuffs.  We are good people.

Newt's Scamander's primary motivation in the movie is not to achieve fame, not to catch beasts to prove his worth, not to hunt or track evil
wizards, but rather to write the definitive book on magical creatures so that other wizards will understand and protect them, and to free a Thunderbird which he rescued from captivity.  That is the main reason he travels to North America in the first place.  Now of course some of his other beasts get loose and he has to track them down, and there is a deeper mystery he becomes involved with, but the whole thing starts off because he wants to save an animal, to save and protect magical animals in general.  Let's unpack, this shall we.  Scamander is not an Auror, is not a "hero" in any traditional sense.  The character he is most similar to is probably Hagrid.  In the Harry Potter books and films Hagrid is a very important person, but his actions and character are always observed by others, by Gryffindors primarily, who view his sometimes reckless concern and love for the animals under his care as being eccentric at the best of times, and dangerous at the worst. In truth, Hagrid made a very good gameskeeper and a very poor professor.  It is a good thing then that Newt Scamander never went into teaching.  In fact, we are told he was kicked out of Hogwarts for his obsessive protection of "monsters."

The wizarding world in the works of J.K. Rowling is characterized by a profoundly mixed, mostly negative view of non humans.  From the enslavement of house elves to the disdain of creatures like centaurs and werewolves, time and again wizards have shown deep-seated attitudes of racial/ species superiority.  These attitudes are shown even in worthy characters like the Weasleys, who view gnomes as nuisances as an example, fit to be tossed across a field.  To have a main character in a film whose primary characteristic is concern and care for magical creatures, is really significant.  When Newt sets off to recover his creatures, he cares more for their safety and well being than he does the harm they may or may not do to others.  I loved that about him.

Oh look it's the 11th Doctor... I mean Newt
In many ways, the film is structured very similarly to an episode of Doctor Who, and Newt's comparisons to The Doctor cannot be ignored.  He too has a magical box that is bigger on the inside, he too pals around with a human who doesn't quite belong in this odd and curious world, he too wears a long overcoat and bow tie, he too is just a little bit odd.  Jacob felt so very much like a Who companion to me as well: unwittingly courageous, simultaneously awestruck, delighted, and terrified by the world he is introduced to.   Also Who-like is how Newt's climactic "battle" involves him trying to calm down a deeply disturbed/abused and powerful child, attempting to protect him from harm and revealing that he is not the villain others made him out to be.  There were definitely elements that reminded me of several Matt Smith episodes, specifically The God Complex and The Zygon Invasion, among others.  But while plot elements and character traits of Newt certainly reminded me of The Doctor, there are profound differences between the two characters, mainly that Newt lacks The Doctor's arrogance and self righteousness.  The calm and soft spoken Newt does not make any big speeches or grandstanding gestures. Newts niceness, his kindness, his love for Muggles (or NoMajes which is a term I will NEVER get used to) are really refreshing to see in a big budget action movie.  Think of it: the hero in a major tent pole franchise is not the grandstanding hero, but a man who simply wants everyone to get along and understand one another.  I love it.

Eddie Redmayne is an actor for whom I have mixed feelings, mainly due to his portrayal of a trans woman in The Danish Girl, and his insane over the top performance in Jupiter Ascending.  While I liked his Steven Hawking in The Theory of Everything, he is not exactly my favorite actor in the world.  But I really liked his Newt.  I liked it a lot.  My main concern with the film going in was whether he could carry a franchise.  Based on his performance I believe he can.  However, the quality of the remaining films in this series are really dependent on the quality of the writing and plot going forward.

One aspect of the plot that was profoundly disappointing for me was the treatment of the Goldstein sisters and of New York itself.  When I first learned that the leads of a major wizarding film were named
Tina and Queenie Goldstein I was beside myself.  Here are two new Jewish protagonists for a major film.  There have been no other Jews mentioned in this series at all.  This, to me, represented an opportunity to go into other cultures, other realms of magic.  Would there be discussion of Golems, as an example, of Kabbalah, etc?  The answer of course is no.  We have two women whose name is Goldstein who are Jewish in name only, and just to be clear Goldstein most certainly is a Jewish name.  Even if they didn't want to really dive deep into religiosity, at the very least they could have shown a mezuzah on their door, a menorah in the background of their apartment, a mention of their parents dying perhaps of something more sinister than dragon pox, perhaps a pogrom in the old country etc.  The film takes place in the 1920s with two women of Jewish ancestry.  How long has their family lived in this country?  Why do they lack any connection to their community?  If the intention was not to imply they were Jewish then perhaps Rowling should have given them different names.  You don't give characters Jewish names and then just erase their Judaism.  You just don't.  Even if you want to say that magical people don't interact with NoMajes, then maybe make an effort to show other magical Jews or something.  The rest of the wizards still celebrate Christmas, you can do something with non Christians.

Tina was a great character, though.  I liked her determination and her strength.  I like that she was given her own storyline, her own motivations, which intersected with Newt's but weren't all about him. Queenie was too much of a ditsy Monroe-esque caricature rather than a fleshed out human being.  Neither felt of the time and place as much as I wanted them to.  Katherine Waterston was a Brit playing a New Yorker and not quite succeeding and Alison Sudol was playing Marilyn Monroe from Some Like It Hot.  In general New York didn't feel like New York to me.  It was too clean, too shiny, for the period.  I wanted to see more cultural richness all around.  There was a magical jazz bar/ speakeasy with a black elf singer and a black woman as the president of the MACUSA, but no real understanding or acknowledgement of the racial and cultural dynamics of New York at the time.  The movie was written by a Brit and directed by a Brit and it definitely showed.  What I would give to see a film like this written by, oh I dunno, Michael Chabon, or somebody who has some understanding of the culture and time they are setting this story in.  New York of the 20s was teeming with immigrants; we saw none of them.  On top of this is the fact that the thunderbird is a creature from Native American mythology and the presence or even acknowledgement of Native Americans was non existent.  Rowling, you need to do better.


No discussion of this film would be complete without talking about Graves, Grindelwald, and poor Credence Barebone.  To get it out of the way, I don't know how I feel about the casting of Johnny Depp, but I am definitely in the wait and see camp on this one.  I was rather impressed with Colin Farrell's portrayal of Graves, and I actually would have rather seen him continue on in the role, but that is here nor there.  I expected Graves to be working for Grindelwald based on the direction the franchise was going; I did not expect us to do a whole Barty Crouch Jr. thing again but there you go. However, by making Graves and Grindelwald one in the same, Rowling has revealed much about Grindelwald's character and in turn, Dumbledore's, which I think is really fascinating.  What we know of Grindelwald from the books is that he and Dumbledore were friends who were both interested/ obsessed with the Deathly Hallows.  Dumbledore developed romantic feelings for his friend and Grindelwald, whether he reciprocated those feelings or not, utilized them for his own benefit, isolating Dumbledore from his brother and sister in his quest for more power.  Eventually, Aberforth confronted Dumbledore about his friend/ (lover?)s actions, how he isolated Albus from his family, in particular from his sister who needed medical care, and how his quest for power was unhealthy.  This confrontation lead to a dual in which Dumbledore's sister Ariana was murdered by Grindelwald, who also used the Cruciatus curse on Aberforth.  Albus and Grindelwald went their separate ways with Albus returning to teach at Hogwarts and Grindelwald going on to lead a group of dark wizards, until they later fought in the most famous dual of wizarding history, which resulted in Dumbledore claiming the Elder Wand from his former friend.   In reading Deathly Hallows, and in hearing Rowling's statements about Dumbledore's homosexuality after the fact, I always wondered about Grindelwald: what his desires were, whether Dumbledore's feelings for him were reciprocated, whether he was simply a sociopath who manipulated Dumbledore for his own benefit.  Based on what I saw of his relationship with Credence Barebone, I would say that I am firmly of the belief in the latter.

Predatory behavior at its finest
Make no mistake about it: everything about Graves' interactions with Credence felt like the sociopathic grooming of a child predator.  Credence Barebone's story is the story not only of a wizard repressed, but of a queer youth tortured into straightness by a religious mother, who finds comfort in an older man who promises him something more in return for keeping secrets.  Graves' words, his physical closeness, the touches on Credence's face, tell me that their relationship, if not explicitly sexual in nature, certainly played on Credence's attachment and attraction, which seems to be Grindelwald's MO.  I wonder about how this trope of dangerous/ corrupting queerness will impact storytelling going forward.  From interviews, it is clear that Dumbledore's homosexuality will be made explicit.  Are they going to reveal that Grindelwald is gay as well, or that he simply is very good at manipulating young gay men?  Dumbledore himself is not immune from criticism either, as one could argue he manipulated Harry in much the same way: using Harry's affection for him to his own ends, hiding secrets from him even when he knew that the path he was on would inevitably lead to Harry's own demise.  A horrible thing to ask of a child.  Dumbledore is most certainly a character that is not without criticism and it is quite possible that this kind of manipulation was learned from his former friend.

The fact that Credence's latent magical ability and repressed queerness was literally weaponized
You deserved better
made for a fascinating plot device.  The fact that he was killed in the end for the monstrous sin of being a repressed queer wizard cannot be ignored.  Once again we are shown that the wizarding world is fearful of the "other," mistrustful of "creatures" they view as not quite human, and how their policies and actions enable wizard-supremacists like Grindelwald or Voldemort to flourish. There is some question as to whether Credence's demise is completely final.  I'm not sure if it is or not, but I will say I really feel badly for this poor abused boy and whatever happens to him, whatever he does, I don't hold it against him.  What was really significant to me was how deeply affected Newt and Tina were by Credence's situation and how their compassion for him motivated all of their actions in the last act of the film. The hero of this franchise is not a man who seeks to fight evil in a conventional sense; the hero of this franchise is a man who believes we must be kind and good to all people and beasts, must understand the other, protect the other from harm.

For these reasons, I found Fantastic Beasts to be the most political of all the films in the Harry Potter franchise. Newt Scamander is telling the wizarding community, and by proxy the audience, that our misguided attitudes toward things we do not understand, our belief in the rule of law over the rules of compassion and fairness, will be our downfall.  The villain of the movie is not the destructive force that breaks buildings apart and takes the lives of NoMajes who would oppress it, rather the villains are the oppressors:  the religious fundamentalist who abuses children, the wizard who would manipulate the oppressed for his own gain, and the MACUSA who is content to take an isolationist stance rather than uphold the rights of the oppressed, who would rather kill "creatures" than protect them from harm.

In adapting the Harry Potter novels to the screen, one thing that I really missed seeing was Hermione's creation of S.P.E.W.: the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare.   If you have not read the books, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Hermione forms a group that fights the injustices in the treatment of the house elves that are used by Hogwarts, and the abuse of house elves in general. Hermione, an outsider, a Muggle born witch, sees the usage of house elves as what it was: slavery, and rallies her fellow students to try to correct this injustice.  It was sad that this plot was cut from the films because I always found it really meaningful how she demonstrated that blind acceptance of societal norms is wrong.  How refreshing it is then that we have a new franchise which makes this statement its very thesis.

I look forward to future installments of this series, something I did not expect.  However, going forward I really hope that Rowling does better research in her worldbuilding as her American wizarding community is definitely wanting in cultural and historical details, and her supporting characters, aside from Tina, the Hermione surrogate, and Jacob the everyman, don't feel as well rounded as one would hope.  I also hope that, despite some of the rumors out there, that we do have a more nuanced story like the one in this film, rather than simply a "let's all hunt Grindelwald like he is Voldemort" kind of deal.  I know Dumbledore will play a significant role going forward, but I don't want this franchise to just become about Dumbledore and Grindelwald at the expense of everything else.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Question of the Path

Once upon a time, a girl walked in the woods.  The woods were dark, but there were patches of light to see by.  There were squirrels chittering and scampering up trees.  There were deer nibbling grass she could just make out over a rise off to her left.  It wasn’t a scary woods, not like a spooky forest from storybooks.  It was ordinary.  It was quiet.  There was a path to walk on, with footprints along it which meant that people had come this way before. Some of those footprints were her own.  The girl had walked these woods for many years.   But there were no people right in front of her or right behind her.  For a long time she walked and assumed she was alone.  

After some time, the girl walked around a bend and chanced upon another traveler. This traveler looked worse for wear.  His eyes were heavily bagged and darkened, his clothes were torn.  

“This wood is dangerous.  This is a bad path” the man said.

“This path?” the girl asked, “Why, I’ve been walking this path my whole life and never seen any dangers!  In fact, my great grandfather helped carve this path in the woods.  I know this path like the back of my hand.”

The man looked thoughtful and replied, “Maybe it is safe for you, but it isn’t safe for me.”

“Maybe you should be more careful,” the girl responded, “There are rocks and things that can trip you.  But if you keep your eyes open you can see all the dangers.  It is a fine path. Everyone should be able to walk this path without problems”   

“Maybe the path should be widened so that it would be safer, maybe there should be lights along the way” the man suggested

“Oh but then it would spoil the wood,” the girl complained, “Surely you can see that this path is perfectly sized for the woods.  Do you really want people to chop down more trees to make the path wider when the path is fine the way it is?  Think of how much time, money, and energy it would take to do a project like that.  Not to mention the fact that we would be displacing all these helpless squirrels from their trees.”

The man did not reply, only looking at the trees.  

“No,” the girl continued, “These woods are just fine, this path is just fine.  Perhaps next time you decide to go walking you should come better prepared.  Why, I see you don’t have a coat with you and the wood can get quite cold in the late afternoon.  And you don’t have any water or any snacks with you either in case you get hungry or thirsty later on today.  You don’t look very well either.  Perhaps it might be best for you to go home and come back to the woods when you have what you need.  I would share some of my food with you, but I barely have enough for myself. Here, you can have a sip of my water”

“I see,” the man said.  He took a sip from the water bottle offered to him and gave it back.

“I must be going, I need to be along to my grandmother’s house.  She is expecting me,” the girl said brightly.  And on she walked, leaving the man behind her.  She turned around after a few hundred feet and noticed he was just standing there in the middle of the path and hadn’t moved since she left him.  

What an odd man, the girl thought.  He obviously doesn’t know a thing about walking in the woods. And on she walked, pleased with herself that she had offered a stranger some of her water.

Some time later she spied two travelers walking together on the road ahead of her: a man and a woman.  After walking alone for some time, the girl wanted company so she sped up a bit to catch up with them. The man and woman both had jackets.  The man and woman both had bottles of water and backpacks.

These are travellers like me, the girl thought, These are travellers who know what they are doing.  These will make good traveling companions.

The girl was so eager to catch up with the pair that she ran too quickly and tripped on a stray rock along the path.  She tumbled to the ground, dropping her bottle of water.  The top flew off and water poured out onto the dry dirt.  

“Oh dear,” said the woman, “Are you alright?”

“Well,” replied the girl, “I was doing just fine until I seem to have dropped and spilled my water.  This will make the rest of my journey rather more difficult.”  

“I see that,” said the man, “Well we can see you are a good traveler like us.  It is a shame you had an accident like this one. Here take this extra bottle of water I happen to have.”

The man handed over a bottle of water he had in his backpack.  The bottle was full and cold.  The girl took it gratefully and drank deeply.  All that running had made her thirsty.  She was very glad to have found kind people along the road.  

“Thank you so much uh… Joe,” she said, noting the name on the side of the water bottle.

“You’re welcome, but my name’s not Joe, it’s Trevor,” replied the man

“Oh,” the girl exclaimed, turning to the woman now, “So you are Joe then?  Is that short for Josephine?”

“No my name isn’t Joe either,” the woman responded, “It’s Diane.”

“Oh.  So who is Joe?” she asked confusedly, pointing at the name on the bottle.

“Oh that,” the woman laughed, “You know I never noticed that before.  That was on the bottle when we got it”

“So Joe is the name of the company who made the bottle then?” the girl asked

“Something like that,” Trevor replied

“Where did you get it?  I’d love to get a bottle like this when I get back home.  It is very sturdy and keeps the cold inside,” the girl asked earnestly

“We just picked it up somewhere. You know how it is,” Diane said, smiling.

That seemed to have settled that question, so the three walked together along the path in silence for some time.   For a while they walked side by side, but most of the path was too narrow to do that.   Sometimes the man and woman would walk together with the girl walking behind, but usually the path was too narrow for that too, allowing passage of only one at a time.  Trevor would then walk in front with Diane behind him and the girl in the rear.  Sometimes even when the path was wide enough the man walked in front.  He was taller, the girl reasoned, and his gait was a little faster.  The girl had never walked the path with someone else before, and never noticed how difficult it was to walk with others.

“So are you two walking anywhere in particular?” the girl asked once the path had widened a bit and the three could walk together again. She still had to walk a little faster than normal to keep up with the man.  He never slowed his pace.

“No,” said Trevor, “We just like walking.  This wood is so lovely.  This path is so nice.”

“That’s what I think too,” said the girl, “This is just the loveliest path.”

“It is the best path,” Diane echoed, “Everyone should make their paths like this one.”

“I will say though,” said the girl hesitantly, “It could be a bit wider”

“What!” Trevor exclaimed, “But if we widened the path it would ruin its quaintness. This is the perfect sized path for woods like these. Think of the squirrels.”  

“Yes,” Diane agreed, “Do you want us to widen it to a six lane highway?  Should we pave it too to make it smoother so you don’t trip again?  Do you really want to walk on a paved road in the woods?”

“Oh, no,” the girl said shakily, “I didn’t mean that.  Just that maybe it could be a little…”

“See, this is the problem with young people today,” Trevor interrupted. “I have been walking this path for a long time, longer than you’ve been alive, and the path is is just perfect.  Young people are always wanting things easy and smooth.  They can’t even handle a little path without tripping.”

“That’s right,” Diane said, “All because you tripped doesn’t mean that the path is bad, only that you weren’t being careful.  Maybe you shouldn’t run or walk so fast on the path and go more carefully.”

“Actually,” the girl replied, “This isn’t about me tripping at all.  I was just thinking that if the path were wider the three of us could walk together more of the time.  We could walk side by side the whole way.”

“We are walking together.  We can walk side by side the whole way as it is,” Trevor insisted.  

“Well, no we can’t,” the girl responded, “There are some points where we can walk side by side, but a lot of the path is too narrow to do that.  You have been walking in front of me and Diane not next to us.”

“Well, my legs are longer and I am faster,” the man returned hotly, “If you just walked faster you would be able to keep up with me. I shouldn’t be expected to slow down.”

“You’re just upset that you tripped,” Diane said.

“No this isn’t about me tripping at all,” the girl exclaimed, “Can’t you see that the path is often too narrow for more than one person to pass?”

“I don’t think that’s true,” the man said, “I think you just can’t keep up with me sometimes.”

“I mean you are taller and faster than me,” the girl replied, “But even if I was just as tall as you and just as fast, it would still be impossible for me to walk next to you when the path narrows without running into a bush or something.  The path is just too narrow for more than one person. Tell him, Diane.  You two have been walking together for a while.  Aren’t there points where you have to walk behind him because the path isn’t wide enough?”  

“We are walking together right now,” Diane reasoned.

“Can’t argue with that,” Trevor agreed.

“Ok, yes at this very moment we are walking next to each other, but the path isn’t always like this. Sometimes the path is narrower.  Can’t you see that sometimes the path is wide and sometimes it narrows?  Can’t you see that when it narrows Trevor always walks in front?” the girl pleaded

“I see, so you want to be the one to walk in front,” Trevor countered mockingly, “Even though you are slower.  If you walked in front it would slow both of us down.  Is that what you want?  Just to be ‘fair?’ Besides, I’m a man and you are a little girl.  I walk in front so that I can look out for any rocks along the path.”

“I just think maybe we should take turns walking in front.  Diane, wouldn’t you like to be the one to walk in front sometimes?” the girl asked

“She is happy with how things are.  Aren’t you Diane?” Trevor replied

Diane nodded

“I give you my water because you foolishly spill yours and now you are asking to walk in front of us when we have been walking together just fine.  Why don’t you want to walk together anymore?  Don’t you like walking with us?” Trevor asked.

“Maybe this path just isn’t big enough for all of us,” the girl sighed.

“Well it is a perfectly fine size for both of us,” said Trevor.

“Maybe you should walk alone,” said Diane, “We don’t want you tripping again trying to keep up.” She laughed.

“I guess so,” the girl replied sadly. “Here’s your water bottle back.”  She thrust the bottle out toward Trevor

“You keep it,” he said. “I have another.  Besides we wouldn’t want you out in the woods without water.  Next time you should really be more prepared.”  

“Try to not spill this one,” Diane added.  

Trevor and Diane walked away up the path.  The girl followed, though consciously slowing her steps to not catch up with them.  Eventually they came upon a fork in the road.  Trevor and Diane went to the right; the girl turned left.  


After a while the girl made it to her grandmother’s house and had a nice visit.  Her grandmother made pie, which was delicious.  Her grandmother showed her pictures of when she was very young, which was sweet.  The girl tried to explain to her grandmother about how the path needed to be widened and her experience with the travelers on the road, but her grandmother told her that it had been quite some time since she had walked the path but that from what she remembered it was just the right size.  The girl told her grandmother about the man who said the path was dangerous.  Her grandmother told her she should avoid talking to strange men.  The girl didn’t press the issue further.  She spent the night there and began the walk back home the next morning.  

Around noon the girl stopped to take a break and eat some leftover pie that her grandmother packed for her.  As she sat on a rock off to the side of the path, she heard a noise behind her and turned.  There was the man from the day before, the one she had encountered on the road.  This time she could see he had a jacket on, and carried a backpack on his back.  The girl waved, trying to get the man’s attention, but the man walked on, looking at the ground.  

“Hey,” the girl called, “Hello!  Hey you!  Guy with the jacket!”  

The man gripped the strap of his backpack and looked at the girl warily.  There was a brief moment of uncertainty before some degree of recognition.  He released his grip on his backpack, but still looked at the girl uneasily.

“Oh, uh… hey there,” the man said to the girl.  

“Hey,” the girl replied back.  This conversation wasn’t going very well.  “I see you have a jacket and a backpack.  That’s good. You won’t be in any danger today”

“You’d be surprised how little a jacket and a backpack can protect you from dangers,” the man countered.

“Um..” the girl said confusedly, “I have some pie if you’d like some”

“That would be nice,” the man said.  He put his pack next to the rock and sat down.  They ate quietly for a few minutes.  

“So,” said the girl brightly, “Now that we are friends, we should probably get to know each other.  My name is Autumn.”  

“Joe,” the man said, holding out his hand.  Autumn shook it, then looked somber.

“What’s wrong?” Joe asked

“Oh.. uh.. nothing” Autumn replied.  She returned to eating her pie in silence.  

They sat in silence again for a while.

“This is a good pie,” Joe said to nobody in particular

“My grandma made it.  She’s a very excellent baker.  I wish she would teach me but I’m rather hopeless,” Autumn replied.

“Oh I’m sure you could learn to make a pie if you practiced.  Sometimes things take a lot of time to learn,” Joe responded.

“I suppose that’s true,” Autumn muttered

“I will say though,” Joe mused, “I could really go for a cool glass of milk just about now.”

“Oh yes,” the girl agreed, “I only have water, though.  Don’t you have a bottle?”

“No,” Joe said sadly, “Not anymore.”

“Oh um…” Autumn began, unzipping her backpack, “Does this happen to be your bottle?  I uh… I found it in the road the other day.” She removed the extra bottle from her pack and held it out to him.

Joe looked at the bottle.  He looked back up at the girl, who shifted uncomfortably on her rock.

“Yes that does seem to be the one I used to have,” he said

“Well it’s a… it’s a good thing I found it for you then, isn’t it,” Autumn stammered   

“I did not expect to get it back,” Joe responded

“Well it seems that everything worked out then,” Autumn said cheerily.

Joe did not reply, and simply began to gather his pack and stand up.

“Oh.. um.. Are you leaving?” Autumn asked, rising quickly and packing her own things. “It seems we are walking the same way”

“That seems to be the case,” Joe said as he started to walk.  Autumn stepped in alongside him.

“Why don’t we walk together to keep each other company?” Autumn suggested.  

Joe was thoughtfully quiet for a moment as he looked on down the road before he replied,

“I don’t know that this path is wide enough for both of us to walk together”

“Yeah,” Autumn said, “I noticed that yesterday.”

The man looked at her but said nothing.  

“I think,” Autumn continued, “I think you were right when you said that the path wasn’t wide enough.  I realize that now.”

“Oh?” Joe asked

“Yes, I never quite noticed it before because I am used to walking the path alone.  The path is not so troublesome when you walk alone, I’ve discovered,” the girl said

“Hmm,” Joe grunted, “The path has always been rather troublesome for me whether I walk alone or walk with others.”

“Ahh,” Autumn realized, “I see.”

They walked along in silence for a little ways.  Joe was a middle aged man, but he favored his right leg and walked a little slowly.  Autumn was a girl with youthful energy, but rather short legs.  They walked at just about the same pace most of the time.  Gradually the path began to narrow.  It was becoming difficult walking side by side.  

“What if we took turns walking in front of each other,” Autumn suggested.  “Here, I’ll walk in front for a bit and then after a while, you will walk in front for a bit.  Easy, right?”

“I think you’ll find,” Joe said, “That once you start walking in front, it might get a bit more comfortable for you to keep on walking that way.”

“Oh no, that’s not true,” Autumn insisted, “I very much think that we should both have the chance to walk in front.  In fact, why don’t you walk in front first. That will be the most fair thing of all.”

Joe shrugged and walked on, taking the lead.  After a while, though just how long she couldn’t say, maybe a half an hour or so, the man stopped.

“Alright,  you can take a turn walking in the lead for a spell.  I need to slow my pace for a while,” he said, and he stepped aside a bit into the grass to allow Autumn to pass him.

“Thank you very much,” Autumn said. “See, this is the most fair thing for everyone right now. Perhaps the path doesn’t need to be widened at all, people just need to learn how to take turns and be fair.  Some people just never learned fairness. I will walk for a little while and then I’ll tell you it’s your turn.  Easy peasy.”  

“Mmhmm,” the man muttered in agreement.  

They walked on.  

The day was growing colder, and Autumn buttoned her jacket.  It was fall now, Autumn… she giggled at the mention of her own name, and it was time for changes and preparations.  Her mind began to wander as she noticed squirrels gathering nuts, the wind lift and tousle the leaves that had piled on the ground beneath the trees.  

It is exquisitely lovely in the woods, she thought to herself.  

On she walked.  

It was getting late in the afternoon when Autumn saw the crossroads.  This was the point at which she needed to turn toward home.  She wasn’t sure which way Joe was going, but now seemed like a good time to say goodbye.  She felt very sorry for Joe.  As she had been walking, she had come to realize that those people from yesterday, Trevor and Diane, must have stolen the water bottle from him.  Maybe they had stolen more.  Maybe they had hurt him.  They seemed like nice people at first, but as she had come to realize, they could be very cruel and were very inconsiderate of others.  They had no manners at all.  Perhaps Joe wanted to report those people to the police, Autumn realized.  She would ask him before they went their separate ways.  She turned and looked behind her, but the path was empty.  There were no fresh footprints in sight.  It was then it occurred to her it had been quite a while since she had turned around.  It had been quite a while since she’d thought about where Joe was.  It had been quite a while since she had taken the lead, and she hadn’t thought to switch at all.  

Uncertain of what to do, Autumn ran back the way she came calling Joe’s name.  He was an older man.  Not old old.  Not old like her grandmother, but still older.  Perhaps he had come to some injury or incident along the way.  After about 15 minutes of running, she finally stumbled upon him.  He was sitting on a rock off to the side of the path, drinking deeply from the water bottle, from his water bottle.  

“There you are,” Autumn exclaimed, “I’m so sorry!  I was daydreaming, as I often do, and I completely lost track of you.”

“Mmm,” Joe muttered

“You must think me very rude, but I must assure you that I am not rude at all.  I am not like those people.  Like Trevor and Diane.  Did you know their names were Trevor and Diane?  Those were the people I got your water bottle from.  They must have taken it right?  Did they hurt you?  I was thinking that maybe we could talk to the police about it.  Surely taking people’s water bottles on the path is illegal,”  Autumn blurted out quickly.  

“So you didn’t just chance upon it on the road then, hmm?” Joe asked

“Well no,” Autumn replied sheepishly. “No I was walking and I tripped and spilled my water and then this couple, that’s Trevor and Diane, they gave me this ‘extra’ water bottle that they ‘just happened to have’ and it had your name on it and then I thought that was their name but they said that’s how the bottle came so I thought maybe it was a brand or something.  And then we walked for a ways together, but Trevor was always walking ahead of us, I think because he thinks that men should walk in front or because his legs are longer or whatever and they were very rude.  I don’t want you to think that I am like them.”

“You walked in front for quite a ways though, didn’t you,” Joe said

“Well, yes…” Autumn stammered. “I mean I suppose I did walk in front for quite a ways, but I wasn’t doing it because I thought I was supposed to walk in front.  I don’t think anybody should walk in front.  I just.. Well I was walking and I sort of started daydreaming and thinking about other things and forgot that I was walking in front.  I sort of forgot I was walking with anybody at all.  Maybe that happened to you too.”

“Well,” Joe replied, “When you are walking and you see a person’s head in front of you, it is hard not to notice that you are walking behind someone.”

“I see,” Autumn said thoughtfully. “Well you should have said something!  If you’d told me that you wanted a turn walking in front!  You didn’t say anything at all!”

“You said you would tell me when it was my turn.  You never did.  I was waiting for you to say something to me,” Joe stated plainly.  There was no emotion, no hurt in his voice.  He spoke clearly and to the point.

“Oh,” Autumn muttered. “I didn’t do that did I?  I’m sorry.”

“I told you that walking in front would be a hard habit to break,” Joe said.

“You did and I didn’t believe you.  I will try better, I promise,” Autumn replied earnestly.

“Mmhmm,” Joe grunted.

“Maybe we can walk the path again together another day,” Autumn said brightly. “Then I can get more practice not walking in front.  Maybe if we do it a few times, I’ll really get it and we won’t have this problem again.”  

“I don’t really have the time to teach you,” Joe sighed. “I think it might be better if we walk the path on our own.”  He began to stand up and gather his things.

“Oh,” Autumn said sadly. “I see.  I suppose you were right after all that the path needs to be widened.”

Joe sighed, pulling the backpack on his back and setting off down the road.
“Well,” Autumn continued, walking in step. “We will just have to tell the right people that the path needs to be wider.  I will have to talk to the people in charge of maintaining the path, though I don’t know who that is.”    

“Yeah, good luck with that,” Joe responded. “I’ve been telling people they need to widen this path for a long, long time.”

“I see,” Autumn said.  “Well… well maybe they will listen to me.  I mean, my great-grandfather helped build this path.  Maybe if I tell the right people then they will understand.”  

Joe sighed.  

They walked along the path toward the crossroads in silence.  Autumn realized that they were walking next to each other.  This section of the path had been wide enough for them to walk side by side the whole time.  

When at last they reached the crossroads, Autumn turned to Joe and spoke

“Well. I am turning this way,” she said, gesturing toward the right. This would be time to say goodbye.  She had learned a lot from Joe.  She had a lot to think about at home.

“Yep,” Joe replied. “So am I”

“Oh,” Autumn confusedly. “You live this way?”

“Yep,” Joe replied. “Just over the bend. My family has lived here for a long, long time”

“So has mine,” Autumn replied. “I guess I just never noticed before.  I’ve never seen you on the path and I’ve been walking it my whole life.”

“Mmmhmm,” Joe agreed, or maybe disagreed, or maybe just grunted.  

Autumn wasn’t quite sure what to do.  She had been ready to say goodbye.  She didn’t much feel like walking with Joe the whole rest of the way home.  

“Well,” Autumn said. “You got your break in.  I think I will stop for a while and drink some water too.”

“Sounds good,” Joe said, continuing to walk.

“Well… bye then,” Autumn called to him.

“Bye,” Joe called back.  And kept walking.  
Autumn drank some of her water and watched the squirrels for a spell.  She looked down the path and when she could no longer see Joe’s head on the horizon she set off walking.   

Maybe the path needed to be widened, she mused. Or maybe the path was fine and people needed to change.  Or maybe both the path AND people needed to change.  Or maybe it was just better to walk the path alone. Or maybe they needed to make a completely different path.  Or maybe…

Autumn wasn’t sure.   She wasn’t quite so certain about anything.  She would not be quite so certain again for some time.   The question of the path was a complicated one that would not be answered any time soon.  



 
Author's note:
So just to get this out of the way, I know that this is a really super ham-fisted metaphor and I apologize. But in talking to friends and family over the past week, this story came to me and I felt the urge to write it down.