I had the pleasure this afternoon of seeing the new Wonder Woman movie as part of the DC Extended Universe. If you don’t want to read everything I have to say, here is the TL;DR: It was excellent…for a DCEU movie. Backhanded compliment? You betcha. And if you have no idea why it’s so backhanded it could win a tennis match, then you will probably love the movie regardless of its faults.
First, what I am happy about: This is a strong lead female who kicks ass and doesn’t let anyone tell her she can’t. If they try, she just does it anyway. Okay, she may be a little naive in her blundering forward, but it fits her character. Gal Gadot did an incredible job brining this suffragette inspired heroine to life, and Patty Jenkins did a right good job on the direction side of things, and fans are eating it up. The movie is breaking box office records for woman led and woman directed films, and hopefully Hollywood will take this is as a sign to create more movies with strong female leads and let women actually direct big budget movies now. Up until this movie, female directors weren’t often entrusted with blockbuster movie budgets, regardless of how well they direct. I am praying to all of high heaven that this movie breaks those glass ceilings in hollywood and we get to have more wonderful estrogen derived storytelling. We’ll see.
The male supporting actors did an amazing job, and Chris Pine was a darn sexy Steve. I wish Etta Candy had had more screen time because her comedic moments were priceless. Though Sameer’s line about being unable to find work as an actor because of his skin color and Chief’s acknowledgement that it was Steve’s people who committed genocide on his were almost too real, and beautifully placed. And the soundtrack, my gosh, that was thrilling.
But that’s where my happiness ended.
I feel like the writing was lackluster, and the actors did an incredible job in spite of it. Here were the main problems:
- The General and Doctor Poison failed to convey their motivation. Maybe it was the fact that the Doc has a ceramic faceplate that she couldn’t act past, or maybe it’s because they don’t give her any kind of motivation or explain WHY she’s got a faceplate. Major missed opportunity, especially when they use her as they did in the final battle. Needed some backstory there, and the General is nothing but a cardboard cutout of a villain. It felt like they were trying to do a Red Skull and failed. Frankly, I would have done away with the character of the General altogether and made a better individual villain out of Doctor Poison. Woman vs. Woman.
- You know how when you play video games or role playing games and you work hard to level up your characters? Then someone comes through with a cheat and skips past all the hard work? That’s what feels like happened with their Diana. She didn’t put the work in to earn her special abilities, she can just all of a sudden DO something cool and she’s like, well that’s cool, moving on. I’d expect a few more, “Where the hell did THAT come from?” moments before they reveal her heritage. But no, cheat code activated, let’s use that top level spell right here, right now.
- I felt like the movie was puttering along just fine, with a few small complaints, until we reached the point where Diana really goes after who she thinks is Ares. From there, nothing feels right. The pacing is wrong, the fighting is boring, and nothing is earned by the characters. There’s a couple of strong moments, but they’re cheated by almost amateurish special effects and fight sequences that should have been way more epic and inventive. For gods’ sake, you have two gods battling it out. Have some unique ideas about how to frame that and what they can do!
- Really? We’re going to end with a moralizing sermon about how love saves all? Oh F*CK you. It was here STRENGTH and PERSEVERANCE that saved mankind. Can a woman be STRONG? Or is that not allowed? Yes, Wonder Woman as she was first written was concerned with love, but she also kicked ass when kicking ass was necessary. Here, let me explain a little bit about where Wonder Woman comes from and why this makes me so mad…
I found a wonderful book recently called The Secret History of Wonder Woman. It goes in-depth into the life and work of the gentleman who created Diana, Princess of Themyscira: William Moulton Marston. William grew up at the turn of the century and went to school when psychology was just becoming its own discipline. In fact, he was one of the first people to use blood pressure as a way to measure lying and arousal, which led eventually to the lie detector test. He was a strong feminist and supported the suffragettes in their pursuit of the vote, marrying his childhood sweetheart (who had just as many degrees as he did and was a career woman of her own) and carrying on a polyamorous relationship with a suffragette named Huntley. Eventually, they added a fourth to their unique arrangement: none other than the niece of Margaret Sanger who introduced birth control to the US and paid for it dearly.
Marston worshipped these women and insisted mankind would be better off if it reverted to a matriarchy. His long, rambling, and mostly unsuccessful career eventually led him around to creating Wonder Woman, his paragon of the perfect woman. She was strong, and independent; she was kind and loving. Most importantly, she was more than equal to man and, in one issue, is elected to be President of the United States. Mind you, this was all happening in the early 1940’s which was a last bastion of female advances before the 50’s made the women return to their homes. Diana was a feminist and a believer in female superiority. If Marston had heard those tepid lines about love at the end of the movie, he would have laughed himself silly. Yes, love is a strong weapon in the hands of women, but the movie would have been much better served by sticking to the theme of belief that they started to run with. It was much more powerful, and more in line with the identity of Wonder Woman.
This was the question that Mark Twain posed in his novella, The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg. In this delightful little novella, there is a town called Hadleyburg in that prides itself on beings scrupulously honest. A man who was dealt a slight by the town decides to get his revenge by proving that they are, after all, nothing but greedy men who are willing to lie to get what they want.
I’m not going to tell you how he accomplishes this feat. Suffice it to say that he does indeed manage to corrupt the incorruptible leaders of Hadleyburg, much to everyone’s dismay and chagrin. It is a true Twain work, full of inventive language and full caricatures, and it is a delightful little discussion on just how to push humanity’s buttons and bring out the greed that is natural to our species.
If you’re looking for a quick, lighthearted, yet provocative read. I’d suggest you pick this up. You’ll work your way through it in no time, but be the richer for it.
The other day, I received an email from a podcast series entitled “The Once and Future Nerd,” wondering if I eve reviewed audio media and whether I might be interested in taking a look at their series. I almost said no, since most audio media just puts me to sleep unless I’m reading along, but I figured I should at the very least give them a try before passing judgment. And I am very glad I did.
“The Once and Future Nerd” is a delightful podcast, comprising of approximately 20 minute tracks, following the adventures of three modern high school students who were launched into a fantasy world. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, needless to say it is engaging, and I’m slowly working my way through the back episodes as I draw flowcharts for work. They are all available for free on their website, through iTunes, or Podfeed.
This podcast features a full cast of characters and voices, with a delightfully rich narrator and fully developed characters that translate well through audio. I think it gets off to a bit of a slow start, but once you’re past the first ten minutes, you’re hooked and there’s no going back. I love the different tones the narration takes for the modern world versus the fantasy world, and then how those tones clash while at the same time mesh to create a rich tapestry for the story to be told from. I think you should definitely give them a listen, though fair warning there is a bit of harsh language. Not a lot, I just like to give some of you a heads up. I hope you’ll check them out!
I’ve been in a mood for plays recently, and the next one I picked up was called Toys in the Attic by Lillian Hellman. I’d found it lying in a pile of free old books outside a used furniture store, and thought it sounded promising. Either it would be something cute and fun or deeply unsettling, and I wasn’t disappointed.
It’s a deeply unsettling story about two old women who are pretty set in their ways and the sudden reappearance of their good-for-nothing nephew with a young bride and oodles of money. Where he got the money, nobody knows, and this set-up throws the balance of power that has always existed in the house completely out of whack. It even manages to drive a wedge between the sisters who have managed to co-exist in the house together for years.
It is a tense, witty, and occasionally funny, exploration of human emotion and trust. I’d love to see someone stage it someday, and, if you like a good play, this is an interesting read. Almost said fun, but that’s not really the case since you end up feeling uncomfortable for a good portion of it–in that good way that comes from a really well constructed scene of conflict.
In the midst of trying to learn to write my own one-act plays, I turned to the master of snappy, witty dialogue, Aaron Sorkin, and his one-act “Hidden in This Picture.” Sorkin is most known for his television work, including West Wing, and for the fact that his characters are constantly running at the mouth and fit more information into a quarter inch of script than most playwrights could dream about. This one-act is not an exception.
In it, the main characters are trying to film the final sequence of their war film: hundreds of tired and injured marines traipsing over the hillside in what is ostensibly not-America, timed to the setting sun. No retakes possible. But then a cow wanders into the frame.
They try desperately to do something about it, then give up, and eventually just pretend they always meant for it to happen that way and doesn’t just add a certain kind of commentary to the whole piece?
It is Sorkin at his finest, full of interpersonal problems, dry wit, and heavy on the banter. I was laughing my head off by the end of it, and will definitely be taking some lessons away to work with some of my own play projects down the line. I’d love to see this one staged at some point, so drop me a line if you’re doing it!
Today I want to tell you guys about one of my new favorite journals: One-Story. I had found that however much journal publishing is good for building a writer’s reputation, I struggled to read through an entire journal myself. It was tiresome to me to have all these tiny encapsulated worlds and I would never get to the stories at the end of the volume. Then came along One Story and my life got much happier.
One Story is a publication that comes out every three weeks and is exactly what it sounds like: a single story in a small volume. As their website states: Each issue of One Story is artfully designed, lightweight, easy to carry, and ready to entertain on buses, in bed, in subways, in cars, in the park, in the bath, in the waiting rooms of doctors, on the couch in the afternoon or on line at the supermarket. And its so true. I actually read these, and they are wonderful. It presents a broad range of writing, from magically real, borderline fairy tales, and even a graphic novella last time. I began my subscription back during AWP and I was reserving judgement on them until I had gotten to read a few of them. I can now say, I enjoy their selections and it is a form of literary journal that I can actually stand to read.
So, if you’re like me and find the larger journals tiresome, take a look at this one. I think you’ll find yourself pleasantly entertained every three weeks.