Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Winter is Coming. It is Known. Also, could we maybe cool it a little on the rape scenes?

TigerBeat has a fantastic Beatdown of George R. R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice (here's another primer, if you aren't familiar with the series, and beware, as this post contains SPOILERS!)

I loved the books as well as the HBO series based on them (Peter Dinklage's Tyrion is brilliant), but I also enjoyed the Beatdown because the author pens a fun, snarky read, and many of her points are right on.

As a woman, the first several chapters of Martin's epic fantasy series  were very disturbing to me; the violence against women made me nearly put the books down.

I'm glad I didn't, and I'll explain why, but first, responding to her take on Tyrion's story:

When Tyrion married Tysha, he was 13 years old. He believed she was a prostitute who never loved him because his father, the authority figure over him, and his brother Jaime, whom he trusted, told him so. And so his father tells Tyrion to watch while she she has sex with all the soldiers for money, and then demands Tyrion rape her as well, and give her a gold coin because Lannisters are considered to be worth more than soldiers.

I used the words "has sex" because although of course it is rape, at that point Tyrion believes the girl is a prostitute who has no problem with having sex with all the soldiers for money, as each one is paying her. He doesn't realize that she is just as much a victim as he is, at this point.

If a girl is coerced into doing something sexually by an authority figure in control of her, that's rape. The young women in this story, who are 13, 14, etc., are considered by the society in which they live to be "of age" at this time, but we obviously agree that is not okay today (I feel that Martin is making that point, actually, to show us how barbaric that kind of thinking was.)

I'm sure you agree that when a 13 year old child is coerced into sex by an authority figure, it doesn't matter whether the child is a boy or girl--it's rape either way. So I feel that we should give the same respect to Tyrion and accept that he is also a victim here.

Now, why I kept reading: many of the women in the series show strength, resourcefulness and really grow as characters, especially Danaerys. I disagree, also, that she has to release the slaves because she is a white woman and they are not, and therefore she knows better. Dani was made a slave herself, and sold, and that's why she empathizes with them. She doesn't feel superior to them. Dani has actually learned much from listening and respecting other cultures and races, something her brother did not do (which is why she is a survivor and he is not) and she is "the blood of the dragon," not her brother. She is a complex character trying to do the right thing in a world that George R. R. Martin has deliberately made the opposite of good vs evil. In that world, pragmatists and strategists live while the naive and trusting die.

And this is where I talk about that world of the series, because it is really significant to note that, while a fantasy world, it is modeled on Europe during the Wars of the Roses and the families fighting for the throne at the time. The patriarchal society, arranged marriages, plotting and treason exist because the historical background upon which the fictional work is based included all those elements and they are necessary for the factions to make sense. So arguing that Martin could have had the women in charge, etc., doesn't work in that setting. Yet he still has women play pivotal roles, and in the other countries in the book there are strong women.

The women of the wildlings are not mentioned, I notice, nor is Asha Greyjoy, all strong women who control their own destinies.

I disagree that Cersei is punished for her sexuality, also. Everyone suffers in this book, and I don't see a lot of moral posturing here that indicates Martin himself has a problem with sexually assertive women--he makes that point through Cersei, who tries to use her sister-in-law's sexuality to punish her, and instead ends up a victim of her own machinations. Cersei is undone because she does not think far enough ahead strategically; this is a weakness that the character has always had through the entire series of books. She solves immediate problems while creating long-range ones because she does not see the big picture. Cersei's pattern has always been to manipulate Jaime, who loves her, into solving those problems she creates, but he stops going along with her when he realizes she has been using him all along.

Tyrion does well because, as in chess, he sees the whole board and thinks several moves ahead. He learned, very young, the most important lesson of survival: naivete and innocence lead to suffering in this harsh world.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Screw the Heroes, Give Me the Villains

Welcome to Fright Night.
For Real.

Never underestimate the power of a great villain to really make the movie.

Case in point: I watched the original, classic version of Fright Night last night with my 16 year-old, since we're planning to go see the new version this weekend.

Hi, I'm 27 and trying to play 17. I totally
cannot pull this role off! Put a ribbon in my
hair and maybe no one will notice.
I had forgotten how, well, yeah, *forgettable* the lead and his girlfriend were (Amanda Beards was about an inch short of homely--were they *trying* to make Amy look plain?).
But Chris Sarandon always stood out for me. My teenage son agreed that his performance is what really sold the movie. The suave, sartorial vampire biting into an apple as he sauntered down the stairs reeled us in, and by the seduction scene in the club we were both rooting for him over the vampire killer.

Yes, I always dress this well. Vampires have the best tailors.

Of course, there's no doubt that Roddy McDowell makes an inspired Peter Vincent, but where does he do his best work? Opposite Sarandon, or the over-the-top Evil Eddie ("The Master will kill you for this! But not quickly. Slowly...oh. so. Slowly!"). The dying wolf, with its piteous cries of pain, changing into a man as McDowell's eyes grow soft and teary? That's the good stuff, right there.

Inevitably, when I look at the best fantasy/sci-fi/horror films, the consistent factor in all of them is a well-cast villain, from John Lithgow way back in Blowout to Bill Nighy in the Underworld movies, to Geoffrey Rush in the first Pirates.

I know what you're thinking, "Well, but the leads have to be good, too, right? Look at Johnny Depp in those Pirates movies!"

To which I say: Bollocks. Johnny Depp rules my heart, but the last Pirates movie was still pathetic, and his bizarro Willy Wonka couldn't hold a candle to Gene Wilder's lovable eccentric version.

And that's not all. Remember the spitting, acne-covered Baron Harkonnen spinning up to the ceiling in Dune? Yeah, he sucked. Even Sting, Kyle McLachlan and Brad Dourif couldn't save that movie (though Dourif later shone as Grima Wormtongue in LOTR. Again, great villain!).

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was meh largely because Blackbeard was just not physically intimidating enough. The real Blackbeard was a giant of a man. And the Spiderman franchise, which started out so well with Willem Dafoe as the maniacal Green Goblin, went and put a very nice, somewhat overweight actor in the role of Doc Oc and screwed it all up.

The very first of the many, many Batman movies isn't a classic because of Michael Keaton. It's Jack Nicholson's Joker (with a little help from sexy Kim Basinger) that made it both dark and fun ("Where does he get those wonderful toys?!"). When Director Christopher Nolan breathed new life into the franchise, Heath Ledger came along and acted circles around Christian Bale, re-creating a role that would have intimidated lesser actors (would you want to step into Nicholson's shoes?!).

Hugh Jackman? Fine, no problem, I like him. But Liev Schreiber's Sabretooth made Wolverine worth watching. Chris Hemsworth is likable enough as the blond and suitably buff Thor, but Tom Hiddleston's Loki? Brilliant.

Ian Mckellan (and then Michael Fassbender) as Magneto.

Ricardo Montalban as "Kha-a-a-an!"

I could go on, but I think I've made my point.

So, if there are any producers, directors or casting people out there, keep that in mind, okay? It's the villain that makes the movie. And Colin Farrell, don't let me down in this new Fright Night remake. I'm counting on you!