Category Archives: Movies

Review: Pitch Perfect

As far as I can tell, Pitch Perfect is an a capella movie version of Glee if Glee had a better sense of humor about itself and less of an after school special complex. I like that it’s a capella, which gives it another degree of difficulty and makes it about more than covering songs. And unlike most episodes of Glee, there wasn’t a single song I felt the urge to fast forward through.

The movie opens with Beca, who just wants to be a DJ. But her dad is a college professor and she gets FREE college, so he wants to her to give it at least a year before running off to Los Angeles to make it in the world of DJing. When she’s overheard singing in the shower, she’s recruited to the Barden Bellas, the university’s all-lady singing group whose leader, Aubrey, wants to keep their routines old fashioned. Oh, and they’re not supposed to hook up with guys from the male counterpart group, the Trebblemakers, which means of course Beca has a thing with one of them.

It’s a good story about an ensemble of ladies coming together and being awesome to win. It’s mostly predictable. I mean, like every other movie about the Underdog Team working hard to overcome whatever holds them back, it’s pretty obvious from the get-go that they will see Beca’s talent at remixing songs, bring the Bellas into the 21st Century, and win the day.

So it’s the journey that matters, and Pitch Perfect’s is enjoyable. It’s funny and the characters aren’t all cardboard stereotypes. The romance is sweet, and not made of instra-love. It’s nothing special or exceptional but it’s not bad and the music is pretty darn catchy. I have no desire to rewatch the movie but I’d be happy to load the soundtrack onto my iPod. The actors all bring it and the writing is mostly great for what it is.

The movie also manages to incorporate a pretty diverse cast without shoving in your face how diverse they are. Sadly, the one character they miss the mark with is Fat Amy. (Rebel Wilson is gorgeous and talented as hell though.) I do like that there’s a large lady character who is unapologetic about her body and calls herself “sexy.” But like Lauren on Glee, Fat Amy suffers from the same stereotyped writing that makes some of the things she says feel at odds with her character. She’s given the jokes about loving food and hating exercise that are apparently required in Hollywood for any character above a size six. It’s not that no fat person has never said “Man, I hate cardio!” or “I love candy!” but it’s sad to see it as the confident Fat Girl’s refrain. But I digress.

Overall, it’s definitely worth a watch, especially if you do enjoy Glee-like things and college movies and the soundtrack is made of win.


Photos: That Time I Rode In a Helicopter in the Place Jurassic Park Was Filmed

Dinosaurs appear fifth on my list of fears. (The first four are spiders, bees, expired dairy products, and leaving crock pots turned on when no one is home.) I realize that the odds of facing this fear are minimal. I’ve always been obsessed with dinosaurs, even though they traumatized me at the age of five. See, my mom had bought me a an educational VHS tape (see how OLD I AM?) with two whacky science guys (one whose name was Gary, and I don’t remember his full name or the title). In it, they teach about dinosaurs, fossils, and plants. And at the end of the video, the T-Rex ends up stalking Gary’s house. He opens the door to run into the basement and remembers has no basement, and the dinosaur eats him.

I remember running upstairs to hide under our poor table because that way I was blocked from view of the windows by any dinosaurs that happened to be passing by. Needless to say, when I discovered Jurassic Park–both the book and the movie–I became obsessed. It brings back my old chronic dinosaur nightmares but I’m getting good at dream-fighting raptors and I watch it at least four times a year anyhow, even the crappy sequels.

So for my birthday, my best friend and fellow nerd Ben decided the best present ever would be to take me on a helicopter ride like the one in Jurassic Park, over the Na Pali Coast on Kauai. It was amazing. We even got to land on a ridge where they filmed the Fence Scene (you know the one). And I didn’t puke! I didn’t even get really nauseated until the last fifteen minutes, and then I have never been so happy to set foot on solid ground. We went with Safari Tours in Lihue, and if you’re on Kauai, I highly recommend them. Our pilot was awesome, loves his job, and our guide was funny and friendly. They aren’t paying me to say that, either. Awesome experience and if I were ever going to go again, I’d go with them.

It was amazing and here are some photos:

Obviously this post is crazy photo-heavy, just so you’re warned.

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Guest Post: Anything to Make a Buck – The Hydra Problem

Today’s guest geek poster is, once again, M. Ravenwood. She is an actual, real-life archaeologist. Also awesome. 

Image (c) Marvel & Paramount Pictures

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in movie memorabilia lately.  With The Avengers juggernaut which dropped this week, the amount of Marvel movie-verse stuff has skyrocketed, including items related to previous films.  Merchandise ranges from pretty damn cool to utterly ridiculous to things that make me question my faith in humanity.  The feeling of despair is usually related to accessories featuring the villainous HYDRA organization from Captain America.

In the 2011 film version of Captain America, HYDRA is a Nazi subgroup spearheaded by occult enthusiast Johann Schmidt, also known as the Red Skull.  Their symbol is a skull with six tentacles, and it has been appearing on patches, wallets, t-shirts, hats, keychains, iPhone cases, belt buckles, baby onesies, and even tattoos.  I first discovered this trend when browsing Etsy about a month ago for crafty Avengers stuff and came across the patch.  Appalled, I decided to have some conversations about it and received varying responses.  I concluded that the Nazi factor sometimes does not even cross people’s minds.

I find it hard to believe that anyone could identify with the Red Skull.  Schmidt is never portrayed in the film as a sympathetic villain.  He is not a victim of circumstance, he knows exactly what he is doing and enjoys it.  Schmidt is also written as a close confidant of Adolf Hitler, and the parallels between the two are undeniable.  The audience is supposed to hate him and cheer when he is brutally killed because there is no question that the Red Skull is racist mass murderer.  Identifying with the villain is not a reasonable explanation for the unsettling amount of HYDRA accessories.

The question I ask is this: Have we become so removed from our past that we are desensitized to such things?  World War II falls within the realm of living memory.  I believe such films as Captain America and Inglourious Basterds are gratifying as our society continually tries to make sense of such a horrific point in our recent past.

While I do not believe that the majority of the people interested in wearing HYDRA accessories are thinking about their choices beyond nerd fashion, they are sending a subversive message to the world that identifying with a fictional Nazi group even on a superficial level is acceptable.  Fashion is about identity whether we are conscious of it or not.  The living memory of WWII is partly negotiated across generations through pop culture, especially film, but in manifestations such as HYDRA fashion accessories, the connection is lost by a lack of ethical discourse.

Guest Post: Indiana Jones, Mythical Hero

Today’s Guest Geek is M. Ravenwood, and she is an actual, real life archaeologist. 

Indiana Jones is (c) Lucasfilms

Hello, I am an archaeologist.  “Really?  Like Indiana Jones?”  This line is usually delivered with the slow spread of a smile and spark of excited eyes, the realization of a long-held fantasy.  While I admit I am not really much like the esteemed Professor Jones in either appearance or adventurous accomplishments, I do know a little about the public face of archaeology from my work in museums, having interacted with people of all ages and backgrounds.  The opening quote spoken to many of my colleagues would provoke a strained smile at best and outright derision at worst.

The field is polarized on the issue of Indy—either he’s a total travesty or adopted as a figurehead while attempts to uncover the “real life” inspiration abound.  They’re all missing the point.  The Indy films are really about the mythology of archaeology, not about realism.

Harrison Ford is an expert at glamorizing dirt and sweat and rough living.  None of us mere mortals can carry it as well as him after a day in the field, but even pre-Indy archaeology has always held a certain swashbuckling glamour.  No matter how hard you try, this is not a career that can happen indoors from the safety of your office chair.  Indy says as much himself in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  The story is also a period piece, set in the first half of the twentieth century, an era that frequently conjures images of decaying empires, pith helmets, and vast sociopolitical upheavals.  Critics like to tell you that Indy is a terrible archaeologist, nothing more than a relic hunter, but they neglect to qualify their analyses by remembering that it is a period piece.  Yes, Indy is a terrible archaeologist…by today’s standards.  In the 1930s, Indy’s adventures and practices were not implausible.

James Henry Breasted, who famously founded the Oriental Institute and is cited as a probable influence for the Indiana Jones character, rode in a crop duster to do a photographic survey of Egypt’s Giza plateau.  Unfriendly groups attacked expedition caravans, particularly in areas plagued by political turmoil.  Decade-long excavation projects hired hundreds of local people to uncover entire cities over field seasons that lasted six months rather than six weeks.  Activists like Gertrude Bell literally drew boundaries of modern nations.  These situations should sound vaguely familiar, as they are all incorporated into the series to some extent.

And yes, sometimes archaeologists really did fight Nazis—young American men that enlisted during World War II potentially had experience with WPA and CCC projects during the Depression, went to college for archaeology, or became interested in it when the returned.  Indy himself fought in the Mexican Revolution and WWI before being recruited by OSS during WWII.

Accusations of looting and poor heritage management are a bit of an anachronism in the Indiana Jones series.  According to contemporary laws already in place when the movies were created he definitely participates in looting (though archaeologists of all people should know better than to judge the past by the values of the present).

However, Indy also professes some views that would have been progressive for the period portrayed in the films, such as his stance against private sale of artifacts in The Last Crusade.  Condemn his methods as archaic, if you will, but his unselfish view that archaeological findings belong to all of humanity is admirable.  Indiana Jones does for the field of archaeology what any good mythological hero should do—he’s a little ridiculous, a lot of fun, and a total bad ass, but he also reminds us some more sobering truths of our past.

I saw The Hunger Games and I have FEELINGS

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen

Spoiler-Free Quick & Dirty Thoughts: It was incredible overall. Every actor sold their character to me. They all embraced the world they were in and ran with it, from the irritating airhead Effie Trinket to the nicely-bearded Game Maker Seneca. (My friend Ben left wanting a similar bread. Go, make up crew!) The costumes were gorgeous, the Capitol was basically what I’d envisioned, and the cast was spot on.

My only real complaint was the overuse of Shaky Cam, because it gave me a headache. There were moments when it worked to convey the chaos of violence and the confusion of the situation, but there were times I wanted them to pull back and give us a wide-shot already.


And now, Thoughts With Spoilers Behind The Cut

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Becoming a Bad Ass: Uhh… Barbarella…?

I love Barbarella–the 1968 film starring Jane Fonda which was based on a number of French comic strips published in the early 60s. One of the local cinemas was playing it a couple of weeks ago and I decided to watch it for the second time as part of research for my series on female action heroes. However, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out exactly what I want to say about this movie and its title character. Is she really a bad ass? Is her character troubling from a feminist perspective or does the humorous light in which the movie is cast absolve it from being offensive? These questions are further complicated by the film’s place in history and my complete lack of familiarity with the comics it was originally based on. Instead of blathering on about my internal conflict about the merits of Barbarella as a bad ass, I’ll simply tell you about the movie and point out the positives and negatives as I go.

Barbarella, standing naked in front of her space ship’s telecommunicator after the movie’s opening scene,  is tasked by the President of Earth with finding the scientist Durand Durand (yes, Duran Duran is named after the character) whose last known location was the planet Tau Ceti. She is given weapons, something considered uncivilized in the year 40,000, and a device which will detect Durand Durand’s presence. With the tools needed to complete her mission and a change of wardrobe, she sets off toward her destination to find the lost scientist.

What follows is 98 minutes of clever scenarios in which Barbarella must overcome some difficulty–all of which resulting in damage done to her clothing and a subsequent change of costume. She meets a handful of people who help her out, be it by fixing her spaceship or rescuing her from a pack of rabid budgies. As a token of gratitude for the help she receives, she has sex with several of the individuals; sometimes in the barbaric old way of making love and sometimes in the new, civilized manner.

What kind of a girl are you? Have you no shame?

Upon finding Durand Durand, it’s revealed that he is evil and he puts Barbarella into his Excessive Machine  to kill her through pleasure. However, the machine “can’t keep up” with her and it sets fire. Durand Durand eventually locks her in a dream chamber with the evil city’s ruling Black Queen, leaving both women to be devoured by the Matmos–the energy-filled lake beneath the city which thrives on evil. However, because of Barbarella’s overwhelming goodness, the Matmos must protect itself against Barbarella by forming a bubble around her and the queen. Eventually, with the help of blind angel Pygar and a group of rebels, Barbarella defeats Durand Durand and escapes the city having saved the universe.

The problem I have with the character boils down to this: with the exception of saving Pygar once, she doesn’t do anything on her own the whole time. Every single thing she does is facilitated by someone else and she is always saved by someone else or saves herself by way of circumstance. Someone else has to fix her ship and her weapons are given to her by the President–it’s a small wonder she knows how to use either of them.

Her pseudo-helplessness aside, the movie is largely a device to unclothe and redress Jane Fonda. Due to the obviously self-aware and humorous ways in which this is done I don’t really take much issue with this aspect of the movie. However, I can’t help but think of the numerous video games that virtually force all female characters into what amounts to chain mail bikinis complete with actions scenes created just to get a close up of jiggling, barely-contained breasts. I then wonder why I am all right with Barbarella but not the borderline offensive, non-satirical representations of and attitudes toward women such as those becoming almost standard in comic books and other popular geeky media.

I think the difference here is two-fold. First, the entirety of Barbarella is basically a sex comedy in a science fiction setting. While partaking in the over-the-top displays of sexuality and overt under-dressing of women that can be seen in modern games/movies, Barbarella doesn’t take itself seriously. Additionally, it pokes fun at male sexuality and isn’t just focused on Barbarella being hot and liking sex.

This brings me to the second reason Barbarella gets a pass: Its place in history. The comics, while created by a man, were written during the early days of the sexual revolution and were the author’s (admittedly over the top) representation of a sexually liberated woman. The comics, according to their wikipedia page,  were even considered highly scandalous despite its supposed limited sexual content which would likely pale in comparison to what is being made today. The movie followed several years later, but this is all still highly relevant.

The point is this: Barbarella was created well before gross over-sexualization was normal and I think its representation of a female character enjoying sex and still being considered good was a highly positive thing during its time. Would I consider Barbarella to be one of my female bad asses I would model myself after? For being a sexual revolutionary (in the real world 1960s era, not the fictional year 40,000 setting), yes.

What do you think? What media representations of women do you find positive or negative? What do you think of Barbarella if you’ve seen it? I would love to hear what our male and female readers think.

Review: Jane Eyre [2011]

I am quite picky when it comes to films that I will actually trawl myself to the cinema for. This is due to the fact that I have wasted my money on one rubbish romance-comedy too many for my liking. However, happily, I spotted Jane Eyre looking like a diamond in the rough amongst the cinema listings.

It was hardly a difficult decision to make, after that.

I was even more thrilled to watch it when I discovered that the two principal characters of Jane and Mr. Rochester were being played by Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, both of whom I had seen in other productions for television and film. Having a very high opinion of the abilities of both, I anticipated a promising beginning.

The film’s chronology begins a tad out of sync, settling at the moment of Jane’s parting from Rochester, rather than in the order of the novel. The director chose a retrospective viewpoint from which to display Jane’s life. I thought it was an interesting choice, but would have worked better with a longer amount of screen-time. Two hours wasn’t quite sufficient to make it as effective as it could have been. However, I was still interested to see how this retrospective viewpoint would be developed.

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