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Progressive Movies: Aliens vs Predator


A while back, I talked about Fifth Element and how it actually passed the Bechdel Test.  And it passed it in laughable fashion.  Another movie did the same, but managed to not only pass that test, but the Racial Bechdel Test and even can be a candidate for the Mako Mori Test.

That movie was Aliens vs Predator.

First, lets take a trip down memory lane.

Aliens had become one of the most successful franchises around, and Predator did quite well in its opening with Arnold fighting an alien species who was hunting humans.  It did well enough to make a sequel, so in 1989, a movie was released starring Danny Glover in what had one of the most diverse casts, even by today’s standards.

IMG_1533But in that final scene was something that made fans stand up and take notice.  It was an easter egg, but it still asked the question of what if the Predators hunted Aliens.

There in the the trophy case was an alien skull.  It was the thing that began that question.  One which would become a reality in a series of comics published by Dark Horse.

Aliens_versus_Predator_-_comic_coverIn the first series, humans are caught between Predator Hunters and the Aliens.  The only survivor is a woman named Machiko Noguchi.  She fought of the Aliens with a Predator, Broken Tusk, who marked her with his clan’s symbol.  When the clan arrives again and finds Machiko, they accept her into their hunting clan.

Those comics continue, including Aliens vs Predator: War, a follow up to the original which sees Machiko betray her clan to aid the humans.

machikoOver the years there was always rumours, always questions whether there would be an AvP film.  Nothing was ever confirmed.  Until the early 2000s.

In 2004, fans got their wish.

Aliens vs Predator would hit screens, and tell a story that took place in Antarctica.  It would also introduce Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) as the CEO of the Weyland Corporation.  And Sanaa Lathan had the lead role.

Sanaa’s character is Lexa Woods, an environmentalist, mountain climber, glacial expert, and often times a guide.  She is hired on to lead an expedition into the frozen South Pole to find a heat bloom that appeared on satellite.

So how exactly is it that this movie is able to pass three tests?

Let’s take a look at the first test, the Bechdel test.  As I said with the Fifth Element, passing this test is laughably easy, and AvP is no different.  The highlight comes in a conversation between Lexa and one of the security officers of Weyland,

Rousseau herself doesn’t have a lot of lines in the movie, but there is a conversation between her and Woods.

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Alexa ‘Lex’ Woods: [Rousseau is loading a pistol] Seven seasons on the ice, and I’ve never seen a gun save someone’s life.

Adele Rousseau: I don’t plan on using it.

Alexa ‘Lex’ Woods: Then why bring it?

Adele Rousseau: Same principle as a condom. I’d rather have one and not need it, then need it and not have one.

Rousseay also comments to Lexa how she’s glad that she decided to stay with the team.  That’s the one and only conversation that happens in the movie between two women, and it’s actually more meaningful than the conversations between two women in Fifth Element.

I mentioned before that AvP also passes the Racial Bechdel Test.  For those not aware, Sanaa Lathan is black.  So is Colin Salmon who plays Maxwell Stafford in the film.  Stafford is basically Weyland’s right hand man.  He is Bishop’s assistant, he’s in charge of security, and he acts as body guard to Weyland.

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And there’s a few (or rather a couple) of scenes where Stafford and Woods talk that has nothing to do with or about a white person.

Alexa ‘Lex’ Woods: We’re gonna round up the rest of the team and get to the surface. Let’s move!

[Stafford and Verheiden open their cases and pull out machine guns]

Alexa ‘Lex’ Woods: What are you doing?

Maxwell Stafford: My job. Yours is over.

Alexa ‘Lex’ Woods: My job is over when everyone is back on the boat safely. And that gun doesn’t change anything.

[Stafford cocks his gun]

There’s actually a couple of other scenes where Woods and Stafford talk, the first being a phone conversation (which Woods finds out Stafford is at the top of a cliff face she is climbing when he calls her) where Stafford offers her the job.

Needless to say, Woods is the only survivor in the entire group.

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Which brings us to the last test.  The Mako Mori Test.

Woods is the last survivor.  She even comes up with an idea how to kill the queen when she comes racing after Woods and the last Predator.  Even that Predator eventually dies (who, it should be added, was also infected with an Alien chest buster), leaving Lexa the lone survivor of the expedition.  The story is about her, and how she survives in the cold of the South Pole, standing alongside a Predator who doesn’t speak the same language.

Lex has to make a lot of rash decisions, including killing Sebastian who has become infected with a chest buster.  Is she emotional and scared?  Sure, I defy anyone not to be when in a situation like that.  But she survives.

That was a movie in 2004, and it had more notches in its belt for diversity, for having women as lead characters, and women of colour as lead characters in an action film.  And it wasn’t a major blockbuster at the time.  It did well at the box office, but didn’t shatter records.  Well enough so the executives gave the green light for the horrid Aliens vs Predator Requiem.

But if a movie like that can have a woman, a woman of colour no less, and still have fans enjoy it, then everybody can shut the fuck up about the new Ghostbusters.

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Posted by on July 14, 2015 in Fun, Life, randomness

 

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All Things Change


At one time, decades ago, a television series hit the airwaves that was groundbreaking for it’s time.  It dealt with issues of race, gender, gender inequality, war, and had television’s first inter-racial kiss.  If the pilot had stood, it would also have had a woman as the first officer of the starship.  As it happened, it had a black woman as a communications officer, and a Japanese American as a helms officer.  And it didn’t treat them as special or different, they were members of the crew.

That television series was Star Trek.

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For three seasons, it went boldly as it examined the human condition and (at the time) current social issues.  It’s been said many a time, even on this blog, that it even caught the attention of Martin Luther King Jr. who convinced Nichelle Nichols to stay with the show as she represented a black woman in a form not seen on television before.

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The years passed and then came the movies, and a resurgence in Trek proved there was enough interest to produce a new series.  The Next Generation came out, and it too went boldly were its predecessor had gone.  It examined social issues under the guise of science fiction.  From capital punishment, to torture, to the need for diplomacy.

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While TNG was still running, the producers of Star Trek decided they could do another series.  One that ended up much more serious in nature.  Deep Space Nine wouldn’t just explore the galaxy, but it would explore more social issues, using the backdrop of a recently liberated world from decades of oppression as the setting.  The show talked about the ravages of war, racism, inequality, and trust.  It even had the distinction of being the first Trek series to have a black commanding officer.

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Voyager came next, and continued the tradition that had come before.  With the backdrop of an unfamiliar region of space, the crew of the Federation Starship Voyager met social issues head on and often times made a positive mark.

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The last series in the group was Enterprise, and while it went back to Starfleet’s infancy, it still reminded the viewer that Earth had just overcome a massive world war, had dealt with poverty, crime, disease, and had found similarities to overcome their own differences and appreciate their own differences.

And then came 2009.

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In 2009, the entire original series was rebooted.  And while the cast was good, each actor taking on the role incredibly well, the stories weren’t the same.  Everything was set aside for action, and a lot of exposition.  The original series movies and Next Gen movies had a lot of action as well, but they still managed to tell stories that had similar social issues.  Such as The Voyage Home, and Insurrection.  But the new take didn’t have that same aspect, as everything seemed to be done for high thrills and playing off of tropes that had often gained a snicker or two over the years (such as Kirk and his involvement with women as seen in the beginning of ST 2009 and ST Into Darkness… by the way, those weren’t Caitians, as much as Abrams wants to say they were, they weren’t).  Khan was handled terribly, whitewashing the original Indian aspects of the villain, and seeming to dumb him down.  Khan’s strength wasn’t just his physical strength, but his ability to manipulate and his charismatic nature to convince someone to do something they normally wouldn’t do.  By the time Wrath of Khan was released, it would be expected that Khan was a little insane with revenge, due to the fact he was marooned on a planet, his wife killed by the natural inhabitants of the planet, and blamed everything on Kirk.  In ST Into Darkness, Khan was just angry all the time.  There was no manipulation at all.  There was no cunning that was the level of the original series or in Wrath of Khan.

As far as a science fiction story that manages to use it’s backdrop to tell stories of social conscious, Star Trek has begun to fail.  Worse so that the announcement of the script for a third film has been dumbed down because the producers feel the wider audience wouldn’t understand it.  Which isn’t putting a lot of faith in the fans.  The fans are people who meticulously catalog every aspect of Trek.  The fans are the ones who go out of their way to learn Klingon just for fun.  The fans are the ones who manage to poke holes in the stories, albeit without malice but more light heartedly (look to the Nictpicker’s Guides).

While Star Trek has failed, there is another movies series that has picked up the slack.

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George Miller’s latest in the Mad Max series manages to look at several different social issues, without using exposition, without using glamour shots, and without using gore.  You’d think a movie set in an apocalyptic wasteland would have tons of gore and have a multitude of gratuitous shots.  But no, it’s all done with great story telling.

There’s discussions of rape without actually showing a rape.  The Wives are sex slaves, and it’s basically mentioned that they had been raped.  But there was no need to put this on display at all (which is something the producers of Game of Thrones could take a lesson from).  There’s discussion of patriarchy, there’s discussion of slave trade, there’s discussion of an oppressive systems.  And the best part is, it’s all done with very little dialogue.  Couple that with the fact that a huge percentage of the movie was done with practical effects.  This isn’t even touching on the fact that Furiosa was a disabled woman, which was never once pointed out in a gratuitous way.

Where Star Trek failed, Mad Max succeeded.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2015 in Fun, randomness

 

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On story and writing – Part Four: Is Mad Max Fury Road a feminist action movie?


We haven’t seen a Mad Max film since the mid 80’s when the titular character was played by Mel Gibson.  Now, that role  is taken up by Tom Hardy, but I’d argue that the real stars of Mad Max Fury Road were the women of the film, in particular Charlize Theron’s character of Imperator Furiosa.  Here’s her IMDB description.

Furiosa is an Imperator, a war leader in Immortan Joe‘s fanatical army. Her left arm was severed above the elbow, so she wears a makeshift prosthetic limb. As an Imperator she is issued a sacred steering wheel fetish that allows her to drive and command a war wagon. In the beginning of the movie she is seen as so loyal and capable that her War Boy crew follows her unquestioningly when she radically deviates from Immortan Joe’s orders.

Furiosa was kidnapped by the forces of The Citadel when she was a child. She was a member of The Vuvalini – a matriarchal tribe of the Clan of Many Mothers that dwelled in The Green Place. Furiosa believes this is her only chance to return to her people and a better life. She helps the Wives to escape from Immortan Joe – partly because she believes they should be free and mostly because it will hurt and anger him.

She may have been the catalyst of the Wives’ desire to leave. The heretical motto “Who Killed The World?” the Wives chant is a feminist doctrine that blames men for the shape of the post-apocalyptic world – something Immortan Joe would never have allowed. Furiosa might have been taught it as a child and passed it on to them.

Furiosa drives the War Rig, a Tatra T815 18-Wheeler Truck. It has a powered retractable plow blade in front. The cab is extended by adding the back half of a 1940s Chevrolet Fleetmaster sedan that has “suicide doors” that are back-hinged and swing backward rather than front-hinged and swing forward. It pulls a large water tanker and an articulated fuel pod that holds 3,000 gallons of guzzoline. The cab has a left-side skeleton arm painted on the upper part of the driver’s side door – indicating that it is Furiosa’s personal vehicle.

This seems to really be getting under the skin of MRAs who call Mad Max an American classic (even though it’s Australian) and Mad Max would never take orders from anyone, in particular a woman.  Even though Mel Gibson’s character in all the other movies did in fact take order from other people, including Tina Turner’s character in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

By no means is Mad Max: Fury Road a threat to men’s sensitivities.  I’m often bored with parts of action movies because they are the same thing all the time.  Watching Fury Road though, I was not bored at all.  A lot of the same devices were used that you’d expect in an action movie, but they were used in ways very different than you’d expect.  You’d expect the primary leader to be the male, working to save everyone else, but It’s Theron’s character who is take charge.  Overall, Furiosa is a pretty badass character.  She has a definite goal in mind and she rarely detracts from it at all.

This isn’t so much a review of the movie as it is a commentary on the way the story is being told.  But as far as a review goes, this movie was an excellent action movie.  It was new, different, and very exciting to watch.  Yes, a lot of the same plot devices used in this film have been used in other films, but the way they were used was important.  Had this movie not had Furiosa as such an integral part of the film, along with the Wives, that without her this film would not be the same.

Make no mistake, Mad Max Fury Road still has high octane, explosions, car chases, the cars themselves, hand to hand battles, shooting and all the other pieces that make a great action movie.  But it’s also got a lot more that make it even better.

Even with all of that, there is still a glaring problem with this movie.  With all of the women that were seen, this movie failed one of the most simplest of tests created.  It failed the Bechdel Test.  With the large number of women involved in the film, there was not one conversation that was had between any of the women.  Having said that, it can be argued that it did pass the Mako Mori Test.

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2015 in Fun, Life, randomness

 

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The Fifth Element: Passing the Bechdel Test


Before going into this, this isn’t about how great this film is for women, but an example of how low the bar is for the Bechdel Test.  What’s the Bechdel Test?  The Bechdel Test is attributed to Alison Bechdel, a cartoonist for the strip Dykes to Watch Out For.  The test is brought up in one of the cartoons.  Bechdel herself attributes the test to her friend, Liz Wallace.  The test itself is easy.  The Bechdel test asks if a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added.  That’s how easy the test is.

And now, here’s why The Fifth Element, a film which has only one major female character (it can be argued Korben Dallas’ mother is the second though she is never seen only heard), can pass this test.

Early on, there is zero interaction between female actors.  It isn’t until Leeloo, a perfect being who is sent to Earth to save the universe (a plot which in its own right passes the Mako Mori Test), begins to take her role in the film.  But even still, the conversations that Leeloo has with other women is 2 or 3 seconds tops.

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The first scene is no more than 2 seconds, but it passes the test with flying colours.  The boarding attendant asks who Leeloo is, Leeloo answers with her name and holds up her multi-pass card.  There’s another scene later which is similar where Leeloo meets another flight attendant who asks her if she can help and Leeloo again holds up her multi-pass card.

Neither of those scenes have anything to do with a man.  That’s how low the bar for the Bechdel Test is.  But even then, there’s less than five seconds worth of film between two scenes.  There’s a scene later where one of the warriors, shapeshifted to look human, meet the same boarding attendant.

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Again, this scene took less than five seconds, but again it passes the test.

It isn’t until later in the movie where Leeloo is aboard the luxury hotel with Korben, that a longer scene between two women happens.  Longer, yes, but I will say it’s maybe two seconds longer.

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But that’s it, those few scenes are it.  Keep in mind, I’m not defending this movie as one that is leaps and bounds for women in science fiction, far from it.  This is an example of how low the bar is to pass the Bechdel Test.  As I said before, this film could also pass the Mako Mori Test, which has the following guidelines:

  • at least one female character;
  • who gets her own narrative arc;
  • that is not about supporting a man’s story.

Ultimately, it can be argued that The Fifth Element does eventually fail in this regard.  But Leeloo’s story is clear; she is the one to save the universe from the impending evil.  Everyone else is supporting her.  But it fails in that her story is entwined with Korben Dallas’ story, which is basically just find the perfect woman.  Who happens to be Leeloo.

There’s one more test that The Fifth Element passes.  Still keeping in mind this isn’t heralding this movie as the example for others, just how low the bar is set.  It passes the Racial Bechdel Test.  Two characters, who aren’t white, who have a conversation that isn’t about a white person.

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The above scene was between Ruby Rhod and his entourage, four of whom are black.  They’re talking about how the recent broadcast went.  The funny thing, this scene nearly lasts longer than all of the scenes where Leeloo is with another female character.

This movie is a prime example of just how easy it is, or how little effort has to be put in, to pass tests like the Bechdel test.

So why can’t there be more movies that do even more than just a few seconds in film.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2015 in Fun, Life, randomness

 

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Wars vs Trek


I often get asked why the hell do you like Star Trek as opposed to Star Wars.  Probably any Trekker or Trekkie will know the reason or have good reasons of their own, and I don’t hate Star Wars.  Let me just say that right off.  Star Wars has a really good story and an over arching concept that tells an interesting and rather epic story.  Star Trek, on the other hand, has developed a huge backstory and history surrounding the place where Starfleet comes from and where each of the alien species comes from.  But for me, Star Trek has something which is a lot closer to home.

Whereas Star Wars takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (and keep in mind, galaxy is big so it’s not taking place in the Milky Way Galaxy, but another galaxy billions of light years away), Star Trek takes place in our galaxy, with our planet as a focal point.  It’s our future, not a past that takes place somewhere else.  So for me, Star Trek means hope for our future.  This is the kind of thing that Gene Roddenbarry had strived to create.  A utopian Earth, but still lots of exploring and issues to deal with in the rest of the galaxy.

We got to see that with the original series, Next Gen, DS9, and Voyager.  We even get to see that in Enterprise, and even though it’s ancient history for the other series, its still our future.  It is still something to look forward to.

While I like some escapism in my fiction, I still like to be reminded that there will always be some future filled with hope.  That’s why I’m not big on dystopian fiction.  I like to think our future is going to be alright and we’re going to get over the things that plague us like racism, sexism and classism.  I’d like to think that those who claim themselves to be anti-anything (from SJW to feminism to black to anything else that impedes progress) will one day die out and their backwards, barbaric and outdated beliefs can be left behind.

Star Trek doesn’t look to the past.  It looks to the future.  For me, that future is filled with hope.

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2015 in Fun, Life, randomness

 

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Representation vs Tokenism


There’s a new term being bandied about.  And that term is tokenism.  To coin a phrase from the Princess Bride:

Tokenism is essentially what many people of colour went through during the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement (and, similarly, what many women went through).  All white club invites a black person to join their ranks, there, they’ve done their job by allowing black people in their club.  Don’t need to bring in anymore.  That’s what tokenism is.  Doing the bare minimum to say a group is not racist by having their token black friend.

Representation is actually mirroring people in the world.  The world is made up of more than just white, straight, cis, men.  There’s women, gay men, lesbians, black, Asian (of which there is a grand diversity in that group), trans and so on and so on.  And within each group is a grand diversity.  You’ll find men, women, straight, gay, lesbian, and transgender people among those who are African American, for example.

But the group claiming that representation is merely tokenism doesn’t really get it.  People aren’t asking for one or two aspects to be represented in a work of fiction (comics, books, television, movies, and so on).  Because often that creates a stereotype, or that representation is treated like a stereotype.  Here’s a list of good examples of representation:

  • Sam Wilson as Captain America
  • Batwoman, a Jewish lesbian
  • Renee Montoya, a.k.a. the Question, a lesbian woman of colour
  • Misty Knight
  • Spider-Gwen
  • Apollo and Midnighter
  • Connor Hawke, Green Arrow
  • Cass Cain, Black Bat
  • The entire run of Fearless Defenders
  • Justice League United
  • Ms. Marvel
  • Captain Marvel

There’s a lot more than that, but you get the idea.  A few of those characters (see Connor Hawke) don’t exist in the comic book universe they used to anymore.  I was going to include Katar Hol from John Ostrander’s run on Hawkworld, but after I thought about it for a while, that version of Hawkman is a good example of tokenism.  It wasn’t until late in the Hawkworld run that the read learns his mother is a Cherokee woman.  Making Katar, a Thanagarian, half Native American.  Two reasons why this is tokenism.  First, it is never mentioned once in the early run of Hawkworld nor in the three issue prestige format.  Second, the Tribal Nation used was Cherokee, which yes, is a tribe but considering Katar’s father was scouting the northern and midwestern regions of the States, it could have easily have been someone from a Dakota Nation, Huron Nation, Mohawk Nation, Miq’maq Nation or Algonquin Nation.Thirdly, whenever a Native Tribe is mentioned, it’s usually Cherokee or Apache.  This is also commonly used when white people say they have Native American ancestry (yeah, dude, my family was from New York, I was born in New York, and never left New York, but we have Cherokee blood in us…. sure, right, whatever).  In that case, Katar’s a good example of making an after thought tokenism.

Similarly, it’s the same thing by deciding Booster Gold is Canadian, though not nearly as bad.  I mean, it’s possible he could have been from Canada, but of course he’s born in Toronto.  Dear comic book writers who aren’t Canadian, please try and name five other Canadian cities.  If you can’t, go get an atlas and do some research.  It’s equally easy to do this with people of colour, or people with alternative lifestyles, genders, sexualities, and even women.

So don’t go around saying that representation is just tokenism, because it’s not.  It is so not the same thing.  And we don’t need to go over this conversation over and over again like other conversations.  As to bring up another quote from Princess Bride:

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2015 in Fun, Life, randomness

 

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87th Academy Awards


The Oscars have come and gone, just as they always have for me.  Not realizing it until it was all done.

But I’m able to catch up, thanks to Twitter and Tumblr.  The takeaways: American Sniper didn’t win shit, because it was a shitty movie, and white people still manage to stick it to minorities while attempting to sound like they’re sticking it to white people.

The evening began with Neil Patrick Harris’ little joke of “welcome to the best and the whitest… or rather brightest”.  Most will take that as a joke that the Academy’s are really racist and run by old white dudes.  Or, in reality, it could be taken as the Academy is aware of it’s racism but just doesn’t care.  Will this mean the end for NPH as host?  Probably not, because NPH still manages to check off the diversity box because he’s gay while still being incredibly white and also not a gay stereotype which most homophobes still view as the typical gay person.

The Awards weren’t totally white, however, as Alejandro G. Iñárritu picked up two awards.  One for Original Screenplay and one for Best Director.  And he was still made the butt of a joke identifying him as Mexican.  We can’t walk away from garbage like that, can we.  We just can’t celebrate someone’s triumph without ripping it down to make a stereotype out of someone.

Are the Academy Awards relevant anymore?  They stopped being relevant for me years ago.  At one time, it was a point of pride to have that “Nominated For Best Picture” or “Best Picture” sticker on the video box, displayed proudly as if to see “you need to see this movie”.  Now, social media does so much better at showcasing what’s good (Selma, Birdman, Foxcatcher, Big Hero 6) and what’s shit (50 Shades of Grey, American Sniper).

There was one good thing about the Awards (aside from Alejandro G. Iñárritu picking up two).  Women interviewed on the red carpet aren’t being subdued anymore with the vapid questions that red carpet interviewers are asking.  They showed they would rather be talking about what they’re working on instead of what they’re wearing.  They’ve been doing it for a while, but now it’s becoming a lot more vocal.

In the end, the Oscars are one big disappointment, sort of like meeting your family for some holiday meal and finding out they invited that one really racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic uncle that you can’t stand and always questions your career choices.  The one your really want to tell to go fuck themselves but you can’t without starting some massive fight.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2015 in randomness

 

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