Every once in a while, I’ll watch a movie that I love so much, it settles into my chest like a bad cold I can’t shake. That might sound like a bad thing, or at the very least an uncomfortable thing. But that’s what art is supposed to do, right? To change your perspective to the point of physical discomfort. Such was my experience with Promising Young Woman.
This dark dramedy starring Carey Mulligan is the story of Cassie, a 30-year-old woman whose life, for reasons we initially don’t understand, has gone nowhere. She’s still living at home. She works in a minimum wage job. She has no discernible social life.
Except that Cassie has a secret. At night, she goes to night clubs and pretends to be drunk, so as to act as bait to predatory men. They escort her out of the club, under the guise of “looking out for her”, then attempt to have sex with her. The fact that she can barely hold her head up seems to add to the thrill for them. When Cassie drops the act and confronts her attackers, they all sing the same refrain. “I’m a nice guy.” For a while, it seems like the film wants us to think that Cassie is acting out her own revenge fantasies. That she herself was the victim of a sexual assault, and it is the cause of all her present hardship. The truth, however, is that it was Cassie’s best friend Nina, and not Cassie herself, who was raped. We are later lead to understand the Nina killed herself as a result of her sexual trauma. Is a horrible, and horribly familiar, story which haunts Cassie in the intervening years.
As I sat watching the credits roll two hours later, I felt unusually conflicted. On the one hand, I wanted to recommend this movie to everyone. On the other hand, if viewed in a certain light, this film postulates that every man who paints himself as a “nice guy” can only call himself such because he refuses to acknowledge his own predatory or complicit nature. I had to stop and wonder if this movie might, to some viewers, appear to want to punish men for existing.
Short answer: it doesn’t. And the only reason I momentarily felt that way was because I was missing the point. This isn’t a revenge story about a lone victim taking on a world full of predators. This is a view of what the world looks like when everyone is a victim. Or at least acts like one.
Let’s start with the Boys.
In another review of this film, it was said that all the supporting male roles were filled by actors who are often typecast as good guys. This wasn’t an accident. As an audience, it’s jarring to see performers we are predisposed to like act in a way that is unambiguously disgusting. When Cassie learns that her charming boyfriend (Bo Burnham) was present during Nina’s rape at a college party and did nothing, she confronts him and threatens to release footage of him at the party, laughing at a sexual assault. He says that “he was just a kid” and should therefore not be held accountable for something that happened years ago. When Cassie ends their relationship he seems hurt and betrayed, rather than remorseful.
All of the men that Cassie confronts share in this reaction. They cannot comprehend how one “mistake” should define their entire lives. The suffering they inflict on others in the course of that mistake seems to factor in not at all.
Cassie’s parents aren’t exempt from this. Though at first they appear supportive and patient with their wayward daughter, we soon see the tension bubbling under the surface. For her 30th birthday, Cassie’s mother buys her an expensive suitcase. It’s her not so subtle hint that Cassie has overstayed her welcome. At one point in the film, The mother, (played beautifully against type by Jennifer Coolidge) bursts into tears and bemoans how embarrassing her daughter has become to her. How can she ever explain Cassie’s failure to her friends?
I could go on. At some point in the movie, almost every character stops, looks at the literal and figurative carnage around them and asks, “why me?”
There was one, though, that stood out to me. Alfred Molina plays the attorney that bullied Nina into dropping her case against a star med student that raped her at the infamous party. When Cassie goes to him with an intent to punish his wrong deeds, he welcomes her in. He admits his sins. He begs her forgiveness. And ultimately, he is forgiven, by Cassie and by us.
Which now brings me to Cassie.
As I mentioned, at the beginning of the film, I believed that Cassie was the victim of the rape that precipitates this story. She’s angry. She’s withdrawn. She’s put her life on hold because she’s incapable of moving on from what was clearly a traumatic event. She becomes an Angel of Vengeance who’s single-minded agenda, however righteous, is her own undoing.
Except that Cassie wasn’t raped.
She takes on Nina’s tragedy and makes it her own. To the audience, and the other characters, it’s a mourning that goes beyond normal grief and anger. Cassie assumes Nina’s victimhood and sets out to right wrongs that may not have been hers to right. When Cassie visits Nina’s likewise grieving mother, we expect her, to some extent, sympathize with her inability to move on. She doesn’t. She tells Cassie that for everyone’s sake, she needs to let go.
Cassie doesn’t let go, and in one of the most horrifyingly ironic narrative twists I’ve ever seen, Cassie is murdered by the same person that is, at least indirectly, responsible for Nina’s death. Her borrowed victimhood became a self fulfilling prophecy.
I don’t think this movie is really about feminism. I don’t think that it was an indictment of the patriarchy. I don’t even think it was actually about the aftermath of sexual assault, although all those elements are there. I think this movie was about what happens when everyone believes themselves to be the “good guy” who is an innocent victim of an unjust system. It’s about the damage that can be wrought by that way of thinking.
This is not destined to be a hot-take on what a colossal brain-bleed of a year this was. Nor am I going to try to mitigate the death, economic instability, and racial unrest this year left in its wake. No, I’m gonna side-step all that. I’m tired of hating the last nine months. Instead, I want to focus on what was, by default, my favorite thing about 2020: DC’s Birds of Prey.
This was the last film I saw in theaters before the world began it’s decent into Thunderdome. I remember sitting in my seat, next to my sister-in-law and brother, watching this candy-colored masterpiece unfold. I kept thinking, “Oh, so this is what Suicide Squad was supposed to be”. It had a delightfully unreliable narrator and a cool ensemble cast that I couldn’t wait to see again. I enjoyed every single second of this movie. When the credits rolled and the lights came up, I fully expected to see my own rapture mirrored in the faces of my family.
You know where this was going, right? They hated it. Like, hated it.
My brother and I generally agree on which films we like and which we don’t. We like irreverent humor (check), and superhero movies (check), and movies with clear artistic direction and sense of style (double check). So I couldn’t understand where his apathy was coming from.
Come to find out, he wasn’t the only one. The internet as a whole seemed to pan this entire film, for reasons that were baffling to me. But because I was in the minority, it seemed that everyone saw flaws in Birds of Prey that I couldn’t. So I just let it go. I didn’t talk about it, or gush over it because I felt stupid for allowing myself to like it.
Oh, don’t worry, we’ll get to that later.
I bought the movie when it was digitally released, and shame-watched it over and over. And with each successive viewing, I liked it more and more. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. Then I stumbled onto something that changed my whole outlook. On YouTube, no less.
Never has another person been able to sum up my frustrations so succinctly. It made me realize that I wasn’t stupid for seeing the value of something that others can’t (or won’t).
Don’t worry, we’ll get to that, too.
So let’s dissect this. Everyone has had plenty of time to enumerate the ways this movie sucks. I’d like to take this opportunity to show how and where and why they can shove it. (I don’t mean that, it just felt good to write. Let’s do this!)
Apparently, Birds of Prey isn’t funny. I’m not going to waste a lot of time on this one. Been there, done that. If you felt this way, it’s evident that we were not watching the same movie. You were probably watching an Animal Planet special, because I was watching one of the funniest movies of the year.
I think I’ve made my point.
2. Where are all the butt shots??? This was a real criticism that floated up from the darkest reaches of the internet, like the funk of forty thousand… incels. Apparently, the internet’s most abused (wordplay) population collectively decided to take a break from pursuing their interests (I’m guessing online henti porn and avoiding nutrient dense foods?) long enough to type up their outrage in some very enlightening tweets. I’ll let you peruse the steady decline of the human race at your leisure.
It’s true, this movie is almost actively working against the male gaze. The main characters all appear to dress for comfort, or utility, or (in Harley’s case) personal preference. You know, like most male characters on screen. I wish I could say that this was just incel propaganda, but I’m not so sure. We went from this…
(Guys, she’s dressed like a bird. She’s supposed to look like a bird. It’s thematically relevant.)
The major difference between the two being that one looks like it was chosen by a horny film producer and the other looks like something Harley would choose for herself. That’s the whole point of the film, Harley gaining her autonomy, learning to make her own choices, learning to spread her wings. And yet, Fanboys the world over will argue that in Suicide Squad, Harley was a badass who takes charge of her body and her sexuality. In Birds of Prey, she’s weird and unsexy. Apparently, audiences like to see a woman make her own choices, only when it lines up with what they want to see. Anything else is…
3. Boys, boys, boys. In the video, Cold Crash Pictures makes the point that the general male reaction to this movie is sort of… interesting. A lot of male critics almost went out of their way to find reasons to hate it. The reason given by CCP is the exact same realization I came to after leaving the theater after my first viewing: there are no cool guys in this movie.
There are only two notable male characters in Birds of Prey, Ewan McGregor’s Roman and Chris Messina’s Zsasz. Both of these men are dangerous, and predatory, and complex. Neither of them are, and this is important, cool. They’re powerful, but they’re not intimidating. This isevidenced by the way they are treated by every single other character in the film. They have to buy their influence, and it’s clear that no one actually respects them.
When they do trying to flex their bad boy muscles, it’s not titillating or exciting. It makes your stomach turn. There’s a scene where Roman forces a woman in his club to dance on a table at gunpoint. Then he orders another man to cut her dress off her body with a steak knife. There’s no ominous music playing, or exploitative shots of the disrobed, crying woman on the table. It’s played for what it is: sexual assault. Moreover, sexual assault through the eyes of a victim.
Even Doc, the restaurant owner Harley describes as “the only person who truly cares about me” ends up betraying her, unapologetically, for totally self-serving reasons.
I’m not saying that all men aren’t capable of liking a movie without a cool dude to identify with, but it’s a question worth exploring. I’ve written about this before. Growing up, I was never guaranteed a strong female role model on screen. I had to learn to see myself in people who didn’t look like me. In short, I had to learn empathy. I’m not sure that the majority of male movie-goers ever had that same opportunity, with so many strong male characters to choose from. It’s not their fault.
But it does explain why a movie like this, particularly within the superhero genre, might be jarring for male viewers. It might make them uncomfortable. I get it. I don’t think it justifies dismissing, out of hand, what has become one of my favorite films of all time, but I get it.
4. “It’s mindless violence sets women back”. This is an almost direct quote from a Leonard Maltin review of the movie. I’m not going to link to the actual review, because I consider it trash. Suffice it to say, his stance is that the “loud, garish, and overlong” comic adaptation “made by women” is hurting the women’s movement as a whole. Gosh, I’m glad he said something. We’ve gotten fourth wave feminism all wrong.
For the record, the violence is not mindless. When the Birds engage in violence, it’s typically in response to verbal or physical aggression directed at themselves or another person. Very rarely is it unprovoked, or “mindless”.
Story time: I’m currently in California on a travel nursing assignment. The hospital has a teeny-weeny physical therapy building that staff can use as a gym during off-hours. The building is situated next to a trailer where traveling doctors are housed while on duty. While alone in the gym one night, running on the treadmill, I looked out the window to see someone standing on the trailer porch, waving at me. It was a doctor in his mid-seventies that has, um, something of a pervy reputation. I have no idea how long he was standing out there in the dark, watching me run.
If you can’t fathom why women might, at times, feel driven to mindless acts of violence, I’d say where have you been?
I’ll be honest, I started writing this post for my brother. I just so badly wanted him to agree with me. And maybe I felt that if he threw up his hands and said, “You’re right! I love it!” I would feel validated in some way.
Which flies in the face of the exact point the movie was trying to make.
I love this movie because I love it. It makes me happy. I love all of the female leads, because they are compelling and funny, and I see bits of myself in them. I love that whenever the movie has an opportunity to pit these women against each other (with some narratively necessary exceptions), it pivots the other way. There’s no competitiveness, no bickering over who gets to be in charge; when these women decide to be a team, they are a team. I especially love the moments when they openly admire each other, which isn’t something you see female characters do very often on screen. When Huntress, the (ironically) easiest mark of the group, does something weird or dorky, the other women’s reaction is-
I don’t need someone else’s opinion to validate my love for this movie. And to the undersexed-Aristotle-of-our-time that posed this important philisophical question…
I don’t remember a lot about my childhood (most likely a result of all the heavy drinking and drug abuse. The 90’s, am I right?). There are however, a few memories that have followed me to adulthood, like the psychological equivalent of adult acne. For example, I vividly remember one stunningly embarrassing conversation I once had with my mother when I was ten year old.
We were driving in the car, on our way to my daily swim team practice. My mom had been uncharacteristically quiet for most of the drive while I, oblivious, bounced around in my seat, excited to see my friends and to show them my brand new modified-Anakin-Skywalker haircut.
For context, I should explain that Attack of the Clones had just been released to theaters, and I was completely captivated by all things Jedi, bless my heart. Also, if you’re curious as to what a modified-Anakin-Skywalker haircut looks like, it’s really just a short pony-tail without the goofy little side braid. Mom had to draw the line somewhere.
We were almost to the pool, when my mom blurted out, “Whit, do you wish you were a boy?”
I was a little taken aback. “Um, yeah, sort of.”
I knew right away that I had said the wrong thing. To this day, I have never seen my mother look so crushed. I rushed to explain.
“Boys just get to do all the fun stuff, and they are always the good guy.”
My mom didn’t look any less devastated. I tried to summon all the eloquence at my ten-year-old disposal. I told her that I didn’t like princesses. That I related better to the male heroes I saw on screen. That I wanted to be like them because I just saw more of myself in them. That I’d give anything for a girl protagonist that spoke to me, but that I couldn’t find one. To this day, I’m not sure if I ever really made my point, and mom never brought it up again.
It wasn’t until much later that I realized that my mother and I had been having two very different conversations. Her concerns were, um, worldly in nature. I was simply trying to explain to her that, as there weren’t many kick-ass women on screen for me to emulate, I was making do with what I had on hand. Shortly thereafter, I decided to shake my tomboy persona. I chose to hang up my lightsaber, rather than have that conversation ever again.
Maybe it’s because the pop culture landscape has changed so much, but sometimes it’s easy to forget how that little girl felt. Now girls have Hermione Granger, and Rey, and Katniss, and Peggy Carter. All she had were a handful of Disney Princesses who made her feel that a woman was only really valuable if she was beautiful, a message that became even more crushing the day she realized she would only ever be average-looking, at best.
If I could, I would go back and tell her about that not too distant future. I would tell her about the surge of on-screen female heroism that would finally help us reconcile the words femininity and feminism. I’d probably tell her about WonderWoman‘s Diana,a character who’s ass-kicking capabilities are exceeded only by her compassion and selflessness.
So thanks, DC, for making the movie that I needed fifteen years ago. You and I haven’t always seen eye to eye, but because you and other studios are making strong women a priority, other little girls won’t have to make the choices I did. They won’t have to decide between the heroine that most closely resembles them biologically and the hero that speaks to who they are and who they want to be. Keep making movies for those little girls, and the mothers who cut their hair.
This is the last Fangirly review I will ever write. And it’s all Ellen’s fault.
See, Ellen has a job where a working knowledge of pop culture is requisite. Needless to say, Ellen is very good at her job. She knew long before I did that that reviews for James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the film for which we bought our tickets weeks in advance, was getting slightly less glowing reviews than it’s predecessor. She told me, “Go into this movie thinking that’s it’s only OK, and it will probably exceed your expectations.”
So I did. I trust Ellen to a fault, not just because she’s my hero (please don’t tell her I said that), but because she has a nose for this sort of thing. Ellen’s the pop culture guru and I’m the one that can, under the right conditions, burp the first four letters of the alphabet. You could say we both bring things to the table.
But as I sat through Vol. 2, I kept forgetting that it wasn’t a perfect specimen of modern film-making. I kept dancing in my seat to the soundtrack. I kept getting wrapped up in the story. I kept enjoying watching characters develop. I kept laughing so hard that I cried, and in some instances, crying so hard that I laughed. In short, I kept forgetting why I wasn’t supposed to love this movie unreservedly.
If I’m being honest, it wasn’t Ellen’s fault. She was just trying to shield us both from potential disappointment. But I can’t help but wonder what my experience of this movie might have been if I hadn’t spent the whole 136 minute run-time wondering which of it’s glaring flaws I was missing. I learned that I’d rather be surprised by life’s occasional disappointments rather than spend my time anticipating them. The pop culture landscape is such that people can earn a living from tearing down something someone else put blood and sweat into making.
So I’m done reading movie reviews. I encourage you to do the same. Whether you use them to decide which movies to see, or you use them to validate opinions you already had, I think that the brain trusts over at Entertainment Weekly have officially outlived their usefulness.
That being said, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to fans of Batman V. Superman. You thought that movie was great, and I trashed it. Hard. While I stand by what I said, you are entitled to love that dumpster fire of a movie (double standards are fun, aren’t they?).
Oh, I was supposed to review Guardian of the Galaxy, wasn’t I? Guys, so good.
Sorry I haven’t written in a while, but so much has happened in the last three months. Ellen and I have fulfilled our mutual destiny by moving in together. Yes, that’s right; these two single soul-sisters are finally makin’ it happen. I’d say that our roommate dynamic is one part Golden Girls, one part Playing House (Ellen’s beagle Steve operates as a sort of Baby Charlotte to our Emma and Maggie).
Ours is a quiet existence, which is just fine with us, as it affords us plenty of time to pursue our passions: painting, dance, basket weaving, and making “ah-OO-gah” noises at cute boys through open car windows…
Scratch that: we watch a lot of TV. Tonight’s media menu was The Music Man, followed by a YouTube palette cleanser, rounded off with a fresh episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If you, like so much of the world, have written S.H.I.E.L.D. off as another one of ABC’s lost causes, you’re assumption is as understandable as it is premature. S.H.I.E.L.D. has had it’s ups and downs over the last 4 seasons (I’m looking at you, season 2). But nothing makes for fine TV escapism quite like a world in turmoil. Our evermore chaotic 24 hour news cycle is the perfect fodder for some scintillating social commentary, if only a member of our media-elite should take enough time from mustache twirling and fake news-ing to look for it (these are the jokes, folks). Enter Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If you haven’t kept up, let me bring you up to speed.
Through a escalating and, frankly, very complicated series of events, the S.H.I.E.L.D. team
have found themselves trapped in a parallel “framework” reality where the government and media are controlled by Hydra. Some- Daisy, Gemma, and Coulson- remember the world as it was, while others- Fitz, Mac, May- have bought into the lie.
Fitz, in particular, has made a temperamental 180 as the new de facto leader of Hydra. Gone is the sweet Fitz of yester-season. In the framework he murders and manipulates anyone who opposes him as he works to bring an as yet unspecified Hydra agenda to fruition.
This season, in addition to being beautifully written, has been less than subtle in it’s criticism of our recent, ahem, regime change. References to “alternative facts” and a seamless work-in of the line “nevertheless, she persisted” abound. This week’s episode featured a scene where one especially sleazy character offers to take another female character “furniture shopping, anywhere she wants”. For anyone not picking up on the reference, I offer you this proud moment in American history.
Some might be tempted to say that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been heavy handed, that they are pushing an unapologetically progressive agenda. To which I say, maybe.
Or it’s just a story about a group of people trapped in a reality they don’t understand. Where ideologies that were once collectively deemed hateful and unsupportable have gained a foothold. Where good people are changed beyond recognition by conditions out of their control. And, like any good example of the superhero formula, it shows that while some people might succumb to their circumstances, other will rise above them and work to make the world a better place.
Oh, and then we went to Chick-fil-a for dinner. Have you tried the spicy chicken sandwich? It’s like buddah.
Ells, I’m sorry that this birthday ode is coming so late. I wish I could say it’s worth the anticipation. If nothing else, this should fulfill my obligation to embarrass myself in public, as per the terms of last year’s Oscar bet. Love you buddy. Happy very late birthday.
If you’re anything like me (or even if you’re not) you woke up this morning feeling pretty disheartened. It’s been a rough few months. And as I thought this morning about what Fangirly’s response should be, none of my ideas were really in keeping with the upbeat and positive tone that Ellen and I have hopefully cultivated here. So I eventually decided not to focus on events that I found disappointing, but rather to emphasis people in pop culture who represent the kind of world I want to live in. And because 2016 has been a incredible year for women in pop culture, I decided to inaugurate (get it?) a new annual feature: Fangirly’s Inspirational Women of the Year. Some of them are fictional, and some of them are flesh and blood BAMFs. You’ll notice that this list won’t be a patent pending Fangirly Top Ten. That’s because, unlike our dear President Elect, Fangirly doesn’t believe in ranking women on a scale of one to ten. So without further ado, Fangirly Presents the Bad-ass Broads of 2016.
Rey (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
After the release of The Force Awakens, Fangirly wasted no time in gushing about the galaxy’s newest Jedi-Jane. She’s tough and smart, and we salute her. In the film’s 138 minute run-time, she managed to save the galaxy and make knee-length harem pants look cool. It’s genuinely difficult to say which of those feats is more impressive.
Malala Yousafzai (He Named Me Malala)
Although Davis Guggenheim’s documentary about activist Malala Yousafzai came out in 2015, it didn’t reach most American audiences until 2016. Not that Fangirly feels that they need to justify adding Malala to any list that includes the catch-word “inspirational”. If you haven’t gotten around to seeing He Named Me Malala, you’re probably not alone. But with Islamophobia on the rise in this country, it might behoove you to do so. It’s the true story of a young Muslim girl who spoke out in favor of educating women, putting her in opposition of the Taliban. Here’s a video of 16 year old Malala’s address to the UN in 2013.
Wonder Woman (Wonder Woman)
After her turn as the most watchable part of Batman V. Superman, DC released trailers for the Wonder Woman movie, set for release in 2017. Wonder Woman has been a feminist icon for decades, and her stand-alone film is a stride long overdue. Please enjoy this perfectly bitchin’ piece of pop culture history.
Winona Ryder (Stranger Things)
After years away from the spotlight, Winona Ryder returned to the screen in Netflix’s Stranger Things. If you haven’t binged Stranger yet (and I promise, binging is the only way to go), you’ve not only missed one of 2016 best shows, but also one of it’s best performances. Winona, in the words of Veronica Sawyer, you’re beautiful. Only, in this case, we actually mean it.
Ellen (Of Fangirly.com)
This year alone, Ellen moved cities, jobs, and wrote a hit web-series, The Cate Moreland Chronicles. She was an inspiration to me this year. Get it, girl.
Peggy Carter (Agent Carter, Captain America: Civil War)
2016 marked the last time we will most likely see Hayley Atwell’s iteration of Peggy Carter on screen, and it’s a loss that we feel already. Peggy was the embodiment of smart, strong women in a male dominated field. She was a reminder that if women everywhere can learn recognize their own value, we’ll get that patriarchy slayed in no time.
Hillary Clinton (The 2016 Pre-Apocalypse, I Mean, Election)
Whether or not you agreed with her policies or trusted her judgement, this woman has done something amazing. She is the first ever woman to be nominated by a major political party in the United States. She’s worked her entire adult life to open that door, and thanks to her, one day a woman will walk through it. Thanks for reminding us that women are more than just a p#ss to grab. You may not be my president, but you are one Nasty Woman.
There’s a moment during Marvel’s Dr. Strange when the titular Sorcerer Supreme, while discussing the (spoiler) sometimes dubious motivations of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo, thinks for a moment and says, “She’s… complicated.”
Complicated is a pretty good word for Dr. Strange, too. It’s characters are layered, it’s action set pieces are frickin breathtaking, and it boasts a level of political and social awareness and I, for one, am coming to expect from Marvel. But first things first. Let’s reign it in for a sec and talk about the Cumberbatch of it all. If you’re not a fan of England’s finest import since Posh, Scary, Baby, Sporty, and Ginger, you’re either not female or not a fan of marine mammals. If such is the case, this might not be the post for you. So… scoot. Yep. Go watch the new XXX trailer on repeat.
Are they gone? Oh good. Now that it’s just us Cumberbitches, let’s get to it.
Even as someone who expects only the very best from Benedict Cumberbatch, I found his performance impressive. His interpretation of Stephen Strange (a Marvel Comics deep cut) is part Dr. House, part Tony Stark, and part Hilary Swank from The Next Karate Kid. It’s a zag for Cumberbatch, who’s characters tend to be varying degrees of austere. Dr. Stephen Strange is a celebrated neurosurgeon who loses everything when a car accident causes permanent nerve damage to his hands. He wanders the globe in search of a cure, only to stumble upon a secret order of sorcerer ninjas in Kathmandu who take him in and teach him their ways. He’s thrust into a world of magic, inter-dimensional evil, and Danish bad boys. That last one, of course, refers to Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), zealot follower of a malevolent force hell-bent on forcing the Earth into submission.
Dr. Strange doesn’t subvert superhero tropes by any means, but because the source material is so unknown and the film itself so visually arresting, I sort of didn’t care. We still had an unfailingly loyal girlfriend (Rachel McAdams), a conflicted BFF (Ejiofor), and a reluctant teacher (Swinton). No, what made this movie interesting wasn’t it’s humor or complex characters or it’s new, mystical approach to superheroism, but it’s uncanny timing.
Stephen is given a choice between two opposing, but equally fanatical, factions. One is lead by a woman forced to make difficult, and often morally compromising, decisions that she believes will facilitate the greater good. The other is driven by a radical who, while claiming to be acting in the best interest of the world, actually seeks to acquire eternal life and make the human race as miserable as he is himself. Sound familiar?
And THAT is what I love about the superhero genre, and why it will never bore me. Because almost without trying, they manage to reflect our own experiences back at us, in a way that encourages and rewards bravery and self-sacrifice in the face of overwhelming tyranny. Also, the muscles.
If this trailer doesn’t give you girl-power induced tingles, try watching it with your eyes open. DC’s Wonder Woman is one of the most anticipated movies of 2017, if you can believe my twitter feed. It combines all the things I love most: superheroes, period pieces, and brunettes gettin’ it done. But in light of the most recent DC tent poles, my Wonder Woman hopes now have a pretty big asterisk.
If you’re at all familiar with Fangirly, you know that Ellen and I have some issues with the way women are portrayed in superhero films, DC films specifically. And although DC is far from the sole guilty party, it’s safe to say that they struggle the most with bringing their female characters to the big screen in a empowering and (frankly) interesting way. I think I’ve pretty much said my peace on Batman V Superman and Man of Steel, so lets look to more relevant examples.
In a long list of disappointing things about Suicide Squad, perhaps the most substantial bummer is how it obliterated its opportunity to bring us any well-rounded or well-thought out women characters, which would have gone a long way toward engaging DC’s ever-dwindling non-fanboy audience. Take Harley Quinn. Here’s a character who lost her freedom, her career, her sanity, to her relationship with a green-haired gangster. She’s a poster child for the devastating effects of abusive relationships, but the most interesting thing this film found to say about Harley Quinn was that she was “hot” and “crazy”, not necessarily in that order. And don’t even get me started on the scene where the Joker offers Harley’s “services” to a male business associate. Seriously, don’t.
The other ladies in the movie are hardly worth mentioning. In lieu of giving June Moone a personality they gave an age old shortcut: a love story. Katana serves no narrative purpose at all, unless the shadowy government agency that formed the squad had some kind of Affirmative Action quota to fill. And Amanda Weller, easily the film’s most intriguing character, male or female, get’s boiled down to one word- bitch. Reductive? Sure. But also not that surprising.
The reason women can’t seem to catch a break in these films is because I’m fairly certain that they aren’t made with women in mind. Several scenes in Batman V Superman were complete undecipherable unless you were intimately familiar with the comics on which the film was based. And even though girls are carving a real niche for themselves in the comic book arena, the fact still remains that most comic fans are one X chromosome shy of a matching set. Dudes, in other words. Which is why, you understand, I have my concerns about DC attempting to launch a franchise centered around a character that is an icon of Third Wave Feminism.
DC, you cannot get this wrong. Wonder Woman will be the first female stand-alone superhero franchise, and it’s success means more than just a bottom line. That means resisting the urge to put women in hot-pants. I know you have it in you.
I’m not going to tell you that there is nothing to like about Suicide Squad. The latest DC offering, with it’s confetti-colored Hot Topic aesthetic, is a fun time at the movies. But like it’s similarly underwhelming big brother Batman V. Superman, this movie unnerves me in a way that goes beyond just poor film making. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Squad is an ostensibly anti-superhero film about a handful of colorful villains that, through the cloak-and-dagger machinations of some deadpanned civil servants, get drafted into the hero business. They can save the world in exchange for a commuted prison sentence, or they can get dead. Even so, it’s a hard sell. These baddies are, apparently, the only people in the entire DC universe equipped to take on Enchantress, an extra-dimensional witch-demon who is, I don’t know, trying to bend mankind to her will? As ever, villain motivations are a little fuzzy here.
The story itself is about as messy as it could be, and not it a good way. The entire first act is Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller sitting in a restaurant with a colleague, delivering endless backstory and exposition between bites of steak, and even then the film manages to forget to introduce some of it’s characters (sorry, who is Slipknot?). It then proceeds to hit all the predictable notes, never letting you forget what kind of people the protagonists are (at one point, Harley Quinn smashes a store window for no discernible reason and drawls, “What do you expect, we’re bad guys!”, as if we were likely to forget).
As sloppy as the writing was, I’d happily overlook it if, just this once, DC had given me some interesting, fleshed-out characters to work with. Swing and a miss. All attempts at depth and humanity fall just short, resulting in a coterie of criminals that never really feel like much more. Deadshot (Will Smith) stands out as the most sympathetic character, a man who is trying to reconcile the killer he is with the father he wants to be. Otherwise, there isn’t much to relate to here. June Moone (Cara Delevingne) is an archeologist with all the charisma of a Crate and Barrel lampshade. Diablo (Jay Hernandez) is a former kingpin who murdered his family in a fit of rage. Killer Croc and Boomerang, who between the two of them accrued about ten lines of dialogue, zero of which were memorable. And these were the least troubling of the crew. No, the majority of my beef lies with loony lovers Joker and Harley Quinn.
On the one hand, you’ve got the Joker (Jared Leto), who’s particular brand of crazy is surprisingly formulary. It’s hard not to draw comparisons between this Joker and the Heath Leger performance that preceded it. The scariest part of Leger’s Joker was his restraint; his outward insane levity was constantly at war with the much darker madness within. Leto’s Joker wasn’t quite so…layered. And for as much unjustified screen time as he had in this film, there should have been layers.
Speaking of missing layers, we have Harley Quinn, who in true DC fashion is yet another female character not allowed to cover more than 40% of her body at any given time. As with the Joker, we are told that she’s nuts rather than allowed to see any evidence supporting that fact. Not to mention the fact that she’s fetishized beyond the point of relateability. I present exhibit A…
I don’t want to say there was nothing redeeming about Suicide Squad. It boasts some pretty impressive cinematography and special effects. You might even say that Harley Quinn is a metaphor for the film itself: pretty to look at, and not nearly as wild as it could have been.
Jane Austen. Fan Culture. Romance. Wit. This web series give me everything I need. And the fact that it was written by Fangirly’s own Ellen Lloyd only makes The Cate Morland Chronicles more obsess-able. Ells, I love this and I like this.
Actually, that might depend on who you ask. ASMR (not a clinical term) is a sensory response only experienced by a certain percentage of the population. Exactly what that percentage might be currently remains a mystery. What researchers do know is that not everyone experiencesthis very nebulous, and as yet unexplained, phenomenon.
So what is it? Good question. Have you every gotten that tingly feeling that starts at your scalp and then slowly works it’s way to your limbs? Maybe it happens when you’re getting a haircut or talking to a friend. Triggers can be as diverse as the people who experience them, but there are a few common denominators: soft voices, personal attention, hand movements, and a non-threatening atmosphere are only a few.
So you might be thinking, “Yo, Whitney, how does the fall under Fangirly’s purview? You guys write about pop culture, not fringe science.” Very astute.
Turns out, there’s a burgeoning internet subculture surrounding ASMR. YouTube is lousy with what’s called ASMR “trigger videos”. Here are a few of my favorites. Heads up- theses videos work better with headphones.
Easily my favorite ASMR channel. Asmrrequests tends to be more innovative and creative with it’s content. I also recommend this video.
I only recently discovered ALBinwhisterland, who was recommended by a friend (word up, Amanda). This channel is quickly growing on me.
3) And finally…
Another of my favorite channels, whispersunicorn has the added benefit of being quietly, and surprisingly, hilarious. A quality we value highly here.
So that’s it. My not-so-dirty little secret. What are you favorite ASMR videos? Hit us up in our comments section!
Here’s a not-so-secret secret about me: I suffer from sleep paralysis. It’s a sleep disorder that causes the sufferer to maintain consciousness while the body remains asleep, causing temporary immobility. Sounds awful, right? It is. But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is the hallucinations. More often than not I see a dark, menacing, vaguely human shape standing in the corner on my room. Or, if I’m really lucky, I’ll see something waving to me from inside my closet. These experiences are the closest I’ve ever come to pure, mortal terror.
And, for the record, that’s pretty close.
The point of this story is that there is not, nor will there ever be, anything more terrifying than our own imaginations. And I further postulate that there isn’t one filmmaker working today who understands this better than James Wan, directer of The Conjuring 2. He knows how to give an audience a creaky floorboard, an empty rocking chair, and a shadowy presence looming slightly off-screen, and let their brains fill in the gaps.
This sequel to 2013’s The Conjuring (also directed by James Wan) once again stars Vera Farminga and Patrick Wilson as Lorraine and Ed Warren, reputed paranormal investigators. This film, like it’s predecessor, tackles a real-life haunting, the case of the Enfield Poltergeist. In London, a single mother and her four children are terrorized by what they believe is the spirit of the previous owner of their home. Ed and Lorraine travel to England as agents of the Catholic church to determine if the haunting is legitimate.
Vera Farminga and Patrick Wilson are as groovy as ever and their onscreen romance continues to be the beating heart of the Conjuring franchise. Frances O’Connor also shines as the cockney mother at her wits end, as she and her family battle overdue rent, leaky
The Hunter. Photo by Matt Nettheim.
pipes, and the forces of darkness.
The best thing about this film is it’s restraint. Wan has a talent for building tension and then letting it diffuse, only to have it build again. It’s terrifying, but not relentlessly so. The audience gets the chance to recover from a scare before another one gets thrown at them.
I think it’s safe to say that the Conjuring franchise is horror for people who don’t like horror. These movies aren’t crude, or gory, or campy. They’re thoughtful and poignant and frequently so scary that half of your time will be spent actively trying to not crap yourself. You know, if that’s something you’re into.
Why must God always allow bad things happen to good heartthrobs?
Today I made a discovery that shook me to my core. My very core. Roughly around the area of my skeleton. The boniest part of me, readers. Because I saw X-Men: Apocalypse this week, I decided to look back at the Fangirly archives and see what we’d written about star Michael Fassbender. The answer? DISGUSTINGLY LITTLE. He’s never been the crush of any week. Nary a mention to be found.
I’m nothing short of shamed and astonished. How did Iggy Friggin’ Azalea get love and recognition before this guy?
I guess what I really wanted to say is, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that Ellen and I have so deeply betrayed the public’s trust. You’ve come to depend on us to be nothing if not exhaustive in our celebrity crushing. Such an oversight is inexcusable. We will be taking the next seven days off from writing Crushes of the Week to reevaluate, spend time with our celebrity crushes, and get our priorities in order. We’d also like to apologize to Michael Fassbender, who has been our rock through this trying time. Thank you for being the incarnation of masculine perfection.
Not long ago I was walking with a friend. Actually, not a friend. Technically, this is a person that I hate passionately but to whom I am nonetheless bound by the codes of mutual friendship, and the fact that we spend 80% of our time on the same university campus. Anyway, as I was walking with this Friend-of-a-Friend, I tried to keep the conversation as neutral as possible. And since pop culture is the only topic in which I’m remotely conversant, we mostly talked about TV. It went thusly:
I’d mention a show-
-And she’d jump in with how much she was obsessed with that show. Because, you know (*sheepish, with the slightest hint of shame) she’s just such a nerd.
Cool. I really dig it, too-
-Yeah, but I mean, not the same way she loves it. She used to watch the original series with her dad. So it’s just more special for her.
I’d bring up a movie I recently saw-
-And she (excuse her, she didn’t mean to interrupt) couldn’t contain herself, just had to tell me about all the merch she’d gotten from that franchise. It was a lot of money, but, you know, (*still sheepish, now slightly over-selling the shame) she’s just such a nerd.
Thanks. Got it.
The appropriation of nerd culture into the mainstream has created a perfect niche for people like this girl. It allows her to feel cool and relevant, with the added thrill of feeling special, because what is Nerdom, if not a counter-culture that thrives on it’s own self-imposed exclusivity?
I not saying that I don’t love nerds. I really, really do. I admire anyone that is passionate about something, and who finds genuine joy in that passion. But like anything, there are two sides to Nerd culture. The first side loves something with so much of itself that it wants to share it with everyone. It wants other people to share and experience the thing that means so much to it. But once that thing is out there, is made accessible to everyone, we see the other side of Nerd mentality. It circles the wagons. It realizes that what was once it’s thing now belongs to many, and it resents this perceived loss.
For a while I thought that the popularization of nerd culture would make things more inclusive, and in some ways it has. It’s safe to say that people now feel more able to express themselves and their allegiance to their fandoms like never before. In other ways, it’s also made things more esoteric. I don’t live and breathe for the original Star Wars Trilogy, so my love for The Force Awakens must not run as deep as a real fan’s, right?
The truth is, however much you may wish it were otherwise, you are probably not a nerd. You’re probably not Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science. You’re probably not David Krumholtz in Ten Things I Hate About You. And that’s totally fine. Do you know why?
Because it’s more likely that what you really are is a well-rounded, multi-denominational person who happens to be passionate about something, or more likely many things. You don’t need to be a nerd. You are allowed to like what you like, without trying to tailor yourself to the specifications of one group or another. Because labels, even the ones we assign to ourselves, are ultimately damaging and self limiting.
Was it Kierkegaard or Dick Van Patten who said “If you label me, you negate me”?
I know, I totally get it. Too much Civil War. I give you, here and now, my promise that I will consider, potentially, at a later date, eventually contemplate posting about other things. Maybe. But this billion-dollar-summer-blockbuster-snowball just keeps getting bigger, so we are going to ride this out with our very own Civil War edition of Marry, Boff, Kill! Our contestants are Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, Sebastian Stan as The Winter Soldier, and Anthony Mackie as Falcon. And for once, Ellen, I want a clean fight. (Psych! I’m planning to draw blood). So without further ado…
Marry Black Panther
Pros: a (bananas) sexy scientist
happens to be king of a sovereign nation
moonlights as a superhero.
Cons: none to speak of.
Conclusion: yes please.
Mama always said, when looking for someone with whom you can share a casual, mind-blowing sexual encounter, look for a sense of humor.
So if my mama asks, I find Anthony Mackie’s butt hilarious.
Kill Bucky Barnes
The right sequence of words turns him into a one-man kill squad. I never stop talking. Murphy’s Law pretty much guarantees that I’m going to inadvertently turn Bucky Barnes into a metal-armed death machine. We’re… not a good fit.