We saw a lot of movies in the theater this summer. An unusually high number (for us).

I quickly reached the point where I could only endure the trailer for Interstellar by imagining all of the characters who go into space (for no apparent reason) eventually crash land on a planet of apes.

If I see the trailer too many more times I may have a psychotic break, because there’s something about it that irritates me. A lot. I don’t know what the movie is about. I don’t care.

Husband’s plot summary is good enough for me. Granted, it’s also based on seeing the same trailer too many times. Everyone’s a critic these days.

According to Husband, the plot of Interstellar is this: “Matthew McConaughey loves his children but he hates wheat. He probably loved baseball, but not as much as he loves his old truck and his children. People play too much baseball which results in all of the old trucks in the world being covered with dust. This endangers humanity, and possibly the wheat, so Alfred must send Catwoman and Matthew McConaughey into space. McConaughey is sad to leave his children. How sad? Really fucking sad. But he’s got to go, because we need a new planet to play baseball on. But he’s really really sad anyway.”

Here – in case you’ve managed to miss it:

Like all battleships that venture into the Bermuda triangle looking for the President of the United States, the heroes of Bermuda Tentacles have a worm scientist on board. This is useful when the convoy of ships are beset by giant worms reaching out of the water to menace them.

I’m making it sound an awful lot better than it is.

Admiral Linda Hamilton asks Dr. Worm Science Guy Played by Jamie Kennedy: “Do they seem hostile?”

He replies: “I don’t know…they’re worms. (dramatic pause) They do seem angry.”

Huh.

In addition to the questions I was forming about that scientific assessment of the situation, I wondered why a movie called Bermuda Tentacles would be about worms.

Later, I sort of got my answer, but by that point I was of the opinion: “Worms. Tentacles. Who the hell cares?”

Linda Hamilton makes a commanding Admiral, but each of her scenes ended with her looking like she was going to angrily turn her agent into a chew toy as soon as the camera stopped rolling. And well she should, this movie was more crap than craptacular.

Bermuda Tentacles

Abita is a haunting animated short that portrays the impact of the Fukushima tragedy on the children in the region.

Abita from Shoko Hara on Vimeo.

This film, which has such a clean and simple visual style, grows more haunting with repeated viewings. The sound design is particularly beautiful.

The filmmakers chose the dragonfly because it is symbolic of the island of Japan. They write, in answer to a viewer’s question about the symbolism, that the dragonfly “…symbolizes hope, perspective, dream, energy in Japan and it unites all the natural elements like water, earth and air….The Dragonfly represents the innerworld of the child, that it wants to be free in nature, but it can’t.”

Abita is a Graduate Thesis film by Shoko Hara and Paul Brenner.

New readers may be unaware of an incident in the Fall when “activists” (read: profiteers and hucksters) set their sights on my blog. Promoting fish farming in the Great Lakes with hysterical propaganda about the dangers of eating fish caught by indigenous commercial fisheries in the Pacific Northwest, making false or unverified health claims in an effort to sell affluent California parents anti-radiation pills for their children, and propagating a reframing of the nuclear disaster as an insidious plot to poison America topped the trolling topics hit parade.

In all of that noise, the plight of the vulnerable populations closest to the disaster are easily forgotten.

AddamsSantas
If you’re looking for some holiday movies to go along with that bottle of bourbon Santa left under the tree, here’s a trio that will guarantee your whole family needs therapy for years to come.

Rare Exports (2010) is a 3 year old Finnish horror/comedy for the whole (Addams) family. It’s a really good movie.

The other two movies on this list? Not so much.

Santa Claus (1959) is the heartwarming tale of the year Santa fought the Devil. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) features a young Pia Zadora. Enough said. Neither of those films should be viewed in their original form. Trust me, you’ll break your brain. Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (MST3K) versions of both are readily available on Netflix, Amazon, Youtube, etc.


Rare Exports trailer:

Bonus!
The Rare Exports Safety Video (a 10 minute short/sequel to the original movie):

Santa Claus (MST3K edition)

MSTK3K presents Santa Claus Versus the Martians (MST3K edition):


Merry Christmas!

image: The Addams Family Christmas episode (1965)

The Bechdel Test is (was) a hot conversation topic at the Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association (MAPACA) conference (last month, which is when I wrote this post I’m only now getting around to editing & posting).

In 1985, a strip from Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For comic titled “The Rule” featured two women talking about going to the movies. One explains her criteria for choosing a movie: it has to have at least 2 female characters, those characters have to talk to one another, and that dialogue has to be about something other than a man.

Recently, four Swedish Theaters announced they’ll be applying the Bechdel Test to the movies they show and giving movies that pass an “A” rating.

Yesterday – on her blog and in interviews with other media outlets – Bechdel expressed discomfort with the dogmatic way her work is being used.

For a very long time, The Rule wasn’t a widespread cultural phenomenon – it was a thing women and gender studies scholars talked about in bars. Over the last decade, the Bechdel Test, as it’s now known, has became something akin to one of those weird conventional wisdom-y popular science phenomenon.

Now everyone thinks it’s a great tool for studying gender film, except most of the people who study gender and film.

To many (most) of the feminist lit and culture scholars I know, the Bechdel Test has gone from a thought-provoking conversation starter to a reductionist tool.

I like the idea of the Bechdel Test. It could be a great tool for opening up conversations about women in film and on television as subjects and not objects, but as a blunt instrument it’s a lousy lens through which to actually analyze the representation of power, discrimination, oppression, or ideology on-screen. Or to discuss gender in ways that aren’t hetero-normative and divided into a strict male-female dichotomy, for that matter.

The test doesn’t take into account semiotics, character development, context, or the very fact that film is a visual medium. That’s hard to quantify.

Stefan Solomon’s post, “What the Bechdel test doesn’t tell us about women on film,” includes several film clips that speak louder than words about these problems.

A few months ago I watched a brutal argument on facebook wherein a group of Bechdel Test devotees shamed a female friend who was defending her fandom of Firefly. I hadn’t realized until then how poorly the show does on the test.

Now, in all this talk of feminist movies and tv shows that fail or misogynistic ones that pass, I don’t mean to suggest that there aren’t plenty of movies that fail for well-deserved reasons.

A few days ago, a Guardian article included some relevant statistics on the movie business in 2013:

Of the top 100 US films in 2011, women accounted for 33% of all characters and only 11% of the protagonists, according to a study by the San Diego-based Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

Another study, by the Annenberg Public Policy Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, showed that the ratio of male to female characters in movies has remained at about two to one for at least six decades. That study, which examined 855 top box-office films from 1950-2006, showed female characters were twice as likely to be seen in explicit sexual scenes as males, while male characters were more likely to be seen as violent.

“Apparently Hollywood thinks that films with male characters will do better at the box office. It is also the case that most of the aspects of movie-making – writing, production, direction, and so on – are dominated by men, and so it is not a surprise that the stories we see are those that tend to revolve around men,” Amy Bleakley, the study’s lead author, said in an email.

I can understand why people who don’t want to spend their time thinking about critical analysis like the Bechdel Test – it’s a checklist.

If. Then. So.

This debate about whether Black Swan passes the test illustrates the multiplicity of ways one can interpret the test itself. As I learned at breakfast this morning, when it was in theaters this was one of those movies people seemed to enjoy railing at film scholars about it to “prove” the worth of the test.

(I don’t have enough conference-coffee coursing through my system yet to recall some of the other fascinating examples that were discussed this morning. Sorry).

As an example of why gaze and context and on-screen action (and wardrobe!) matters, Solomon discusses Alien, the film that has become the gold standard:

Bechdel’s original comic strip ends on an interesting note. For the cartoon character speaking, the last movie that passed the test (circa 1985) was Ridley Scott’s Alien. In that film, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the other female crew-member, Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), discuss the film’s monster (thereby passing the Bechdel test).

But for those of us who know the film, we will also know that it is not dialogue, but the lack of dialogue that makes Alien such a haunting experience. Indeed, who really remembers the words that pass between Ripley and Lambert on board the Nostromo?

Feminist film critics have been far more interested in how we interpret the final scene, in which Ripley – the lead character and sole survivor – is reduced to her underwear.

In these last shots, the camera, which until now has moved in such a fascinating way through the corridors of the ship, seems to revert to old Hollywood habits, embarrassingly ogling Weaver’s body (or does it?)

The TV Tropes entry on the Bechdel Test suggests some ways to apply the test with more nuance.

The Bechdel Test has, strangely, become something that (well-meaning) people use to try to belittle feminist film scholars into believing we don’t know shit about…you know, the things we study, teach, and write about.

I wrote about ways to use the test for a zine years ago and we got a surprising barrage of criticism from readers who questioned my ability to “think scientifically” about film. This was before the test was particularly wide-spread – hence my surprise. I don’t have a copy of the article, but a friend and I continue to discuss the perception that to apply the Test is to “think scientifically.” It was a stunningly aggressive example of mansplaining, although at the time I didn’t have that word for it.

This is not to say that men have a monopoly on dogmatic Bechdel interpretations, but in that case in particular, it was a festival of mansplaining. There are plenty of female-identifying feminists who would argue it’s merits just as dogmatically.

(On a minor tangent: If I were to construct a scientific test for a social process, it would be to measure the inverse proportion between the amount of time someone rants about the value of their own education and authority and the amount of time they spend arguing that everyone else’s field is bullshit).

Media literacy is an important skill that I think anyone can acquire. It doesn’t require years of graduate school and I’m not trying to advance an elitist argument.

I’m mostly trying to explain why I get that pained look on my face every time a well-meaning person launches into, “I know for a fact that [brilliant feminist film X] is sexist because it fails the Bechdel Test. It’s science! I’m a chemist! I know these things!”

Nor am I arguing that only theorists get to interpret popular culture or are even right about their interpretations. They’re interpretations, after all. (You know, the kind of thing that the Bechdel Test can’t account for). Viewers feel deeply invested in popular culture. They have strong opinions and ideas. It’s what makes studying it so interesting.

What I am saying is that perhaps people who are passionate and devoted to the study of such things might just have a little insight now and then. And many of those people – myself included – strongly believe that the Bechdel test is a great place to start a conversation, but it’s just that: a conversation starter.

It’s understandable that questioning the Bechdel Test’s usefulness sends diehard proponents into a rage. Diehard proponents, on the other hand, should be happy – I’m told it passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Yippee ki-yay, motherfuckers.

NSFW clip:

Last month’s SyFy Craptacular of the week, Sharknado, is being released for a (probably) one-day only theatrical engagement.

This means loads of fluffy press, such the Washington Post’s, “Sharknado’s next prey: Big-screen audience,” in which writer John Anderson and art-house owner Greg Laemmle seem to miss the point of craptaculars entirely (or can’t be bothered to take 3 minutes to read about The Asylum’s production process).

No one sets out to make a bad movie, Laemmle said. “But maybe in the case of ‘Sharknado’ they did.”

Vitale of Syfy disagrees. “These movies are made to be entertaining,” he said. “They are made on purpose to be fun; they’re not created to be a ‘Troll 2’ or an Ed Wood movie. ”

We’ll let that slide in order to get to an in-depth discussion of the critical questions raised by Sharknado in this post I wrote when Sharknado first aired and then forgot to post:

1) Sharknado: could it really happen?
2) Who the hell is Tara Reid and what is she famous for?
3) Did that dude just make a menstruation joke while I was slightly distracted by Tara Reid’s IMDB page?
4) Is Aubrey Peeples related to Nia Peeples?
5) Tara Reid? She’s no Ian Ziering.
6) Did you see Swamp Shark?
7) Did you know John Heard was in the Pelican Brief?
8) The Peach Pit? What the fuck? Why would anyone think that would be a good name for a diner?
9) Do you think it’s true Nia Peeples used to open for Liberace in Vegas?
10) This movie is halfway over, are we still sober?

Sharknado: could it really happen?
Sure, why not?

Who the hell is Tara Reid and what is she famous for?
All kinds of crap, it turns out, but she never seems to imprint on my brain. She’s no Ian Ziering. He was in Beverley Hills 90210. (Not the shitty reboot, either. He was in the shitty original show).

Did that dude just make a menstruation joke while I was slightly distracted by Tara Reid’s IMDB page?
Yes.

Is Aubrey Peeples related to Nia Peeples?
No.

Did you see Swamp Shark?
I did. I just pulled out my notes. Here they are, in their entirety: “Blah blah blah blah. Running. Screaming. Terror. Swamp. Shark. Blah.”

Did you know John Heard was in the Pelican Brief?
I worked on location on that movie for 2 days. I never met John Heard.

The Peach Pit? What the fuck? Why would anyone think that was a good name for a diner?
Whatever. If you want me to believe that you’re being pursued by sharks in a flooded L.A., at least hose off the pavement for the exterior shots so we can pretend along with you without needing to get up to get another drink.

Followup question:
Why don’t we have a monkey butler so we don’t have to get up to refill our adult beverages?
Monkeys make terrible butlers.

Do you think it’s true Nia Peeples used to open for Liberace in Vegas?
I have no idea, but Nia Peeples and SyFy/Asylum alum Tiffany were on an episode of Celebrity Wife Swap together.

This movie is halfway over, why are we still sober?
Mischief managed. Moving on…

Not enough people have seen Jaws, judging by the tweets I’m seeing. How could you people not catch that the scene where two characters compare scars and one of them tells the story of being in a shipwreck and everyone else being eaten by sharks is an homage to the scene in Jaws where two characters compare their scars and one tells the story of being in a shipwreck and everyone else being eaten by sharks?

And that character saying, “We’re going to need a bigger chopper!” was a reference to one of the most quoted lines in movie history.

You people on the twitter, you disappoint me.

Many articles about Sharknado were like the mutants that figure in many SyFy movies – plaintive struggles for hip pop culture credibility grafted on to the genetic lattice of massive sharknado-driven web traffic. See also: the Atlantic trying to explain how the Federal Reserve is just like Sharknado.

If you’re interested, Here’s an amusing interview The Asylum’s David Michael Latt did with the Examiner about the fast, cheap but totally in-control production process they’ve honed. (Also probably the only time you’ll ever see me link to the Examiner on purpose).

I do find it amusing to read tweets and posts from viewers who are trying to maintain a facade of ironic distance, despite the fact that their twitter feeds display evidence that they previously “discovered” B movies in 2009 when they watched (in an ironic way) the Debbie Gibson opus, Mega Shark ve Giant Octopus and again (ironically, obviously) in the 2011 follow-up, in which Gibson battled Tiffany in Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid.

In conclusion, Sharknado was good for the internet traffic of a lot of websites who wrote gratuitous articles about it.

Like this one.

The rumors are true. We also watch non-shitty movies. Last night we rewatched ParaNorman because it’s on Netflix streaming now.

It’s a clever, dark, weird, and wonderful movie. Plus, I’m easily amused by Donovan references.

I should have emailed the winners of the MeanLouise Blogiversary present drawing instead of writing this post. I’ll get to you, I promise!

Saturday night we returned to a simpler time, the time of Snakehead Terror. We enjoyed this gem when it debuted on SyFy (nee SciFi) in 2004. Would we enjoy it the second time around, nearly 10 years later?

Yes.

This classic made-for-TV craptacular featured Bruce Boxleitner’s carefree feathered mane as the sheriff and supermodel-turned-actress Carol Alt as the wildlife biologist determined to save us all from the Terror Of Snakeheads.

Bonus: it was set in our neck of the woods.

Downside: we really have snakehead terror. That’s why it’s set in our neck of the woods.

Snakehead fish“Snakehead Fish” photo of SFU biology grad student Michael Beakesis copyright (c) 2012 by Simon Fraser University Public Affairs and made available under a Creative Commons license.

Simon Fraser University, being in Canada, isn’t in our neck of the woods, but that photo is both awesome and available on flickr. Since this movie was clearly shot in Canada and not the Mid-Atlantic, and both it and this blog are low-budget enterprises, that seems appropriate. (Unlike syfy, this blog is not a profit-seeking entity and use of that photo doesn’t mean SFU condones anything in this post).

Trivia: 12 of the 15 actors credited on the Snakehead Terror IMDB page have appeared in an episode of Supernatural (even William B. Davis, the cigarette smoking man from the X-Files).

An interesting thing about this movie (no, really, this is interesting) is how much more strictly the old Saturday Night Craptaculars adhered to a (slightly) more sophisticated B movie aesthetic. The filmmakers could display a small bit of flare that suggested they do in fact possess a basic level of competence even if the budget doesn’t allow them the time or financing to truly display it. Decent editing. No extended day-for-night scenes. A few extra minutes clearly used to set the key and fill lights properly (and/or to actually use a 3 point lighting set up). Actors mostly hitting their marks. A modicum of wardrobe continuity.

B-movies have never been slick or glitzy (if they were they wouldn’t be B-movies), but Bruce Boxleitner’s hair doesn’t style itself and someone had to teach Carol Alt how to convincingly pronounce all those biologist words.

No, really, she’s convincing. As a biologist, maybe not as an action-movie actress.

Trivia: I’m fairly certain there is a jar of pickled snakehead in our refrigerator. I’m quite certain Husband should think carefully before he considers feeding it to me.

We still haven’t visited the Calvert Marine Museum’s invasive species exhibit, Eco Invaders.

I was going to post more about the movie, but I’ve gotten distracted by the fact that Bad Company is back together and touring and they’re playing at the Calvert Marine Museum, which just seems weird on all kinds of levels. Maybe it’s a really nice venue. I understand the museum is nice, but it’s a small museum far outside any metropolitan area, so the announcement immediately brought this to mind:

But hey, since Bad Company has figured prominently on Supernatural a few times, it seems only appropriate to mention it here. I’m on my first cup of coffee so it makes perfect sense to me.

BattleDogs trailer:

We’re watching BattleDogs, because it seems like a patriotic thing to watch over the 4th of July weekend.

It’s about supersoldiers. It stars that guy who was the President in the 1st season of 24. And we already watched Jaws on Thursday. The choice is obvious.

So. Battledogs.

Might be spoilers ahead, but only if you didn’t watch the trailer.

Pro-tip: Intermittently, portentously intoning the words, “Battle! Dogs!” to add drama to the movie…doesn’t.

But we’ll keep doing it. Otherwise I suspect we’re just going to be sitting here, hoping with increasing futility that this movie will improve.

“Battle. Dogs!”

Here’s a synopsis for your convenience: Craig Sheffer (who could pass as David Boreanaz’s older brother, Kate Vernon (Ellen Tigh from BSG, playing a character named Ellen, which is convenient if you’re only half paying attention), and Ariana Richards (one of the kids from Jurassic Park, 20 years later), run around a lot and the military behaves badly although they never actually create the supersoldiers in the description of the movie and there are a lot of CGI werewolves running around and then some shit gets blown up and then the movie ends and you say, “Thank the gods! now I don’t have to keep intoning the word BattleDogs” and then you go to bed.

Battle.Dogs.

It’s not a horror movie, it’s a lame attempt at a military action thriller, but with werewolves. I recommend checking out the scene where the first werewolf escapes the “secure” facility – which it does by running out the open front door and down the street and out into Manhattan. A chase ensues. Toward the end of the scene, the ridiculously conceived CGI werewolf leaps over an SUV. Be sure you have the sound up, because the werewolf howl they use over and over in the movie is especially funny when combined with this “action.” Good stuff. If by good, you mean, not good.

Or, spend your time watching the gorier but more competent 2002 werewolves vs. soldiers film, Dog Soldiers.