Your Premises are Wrong Mr Pegg

This is a response to the i09 article that looks at Simon Pegg’s recent comments about science fiction and movies.

Here’s what he said:

Before Star Wars, the films that were box-office hits were The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie And Clyde and The French Connection – gritty, amoral art movies. Then suddenly the onus switched over to spectacle and everything changed …

… Obviously I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science fiction and genre cinema but part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. Now we’re essentially all-consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes. Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously.

It is a kind of dumbing down, in a way, because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about … whatever.

Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.

If anyone can be accused of taking apparently juvenile things seriously, (still), it can be those, like Mr Pegg, involved in film making and entertainment more broadly. Few people making films, even art films, are saving any kind of lives are they? I mean how adult is it to waltz around pretending to be somebody else for the enjoyment of others? That sounds quite childish. And how adult is it to make up complete worlds in your own head? Who’d do that? Why aren’t they focused on real stuff that matters. Like conducting drug treatment trials or driving trucks?

Frittering away time has a long history and includes Medieval monks drawing weird crap in books.

Frittering away time has a long history and includes films, Greek plays and Medieval monks drawing weird crap in books.

Except of course Hollywood peeps don’t think like this, nor do members of any arts practice or organisation. The Gladiators who distracted the Roman locals with bread and circuses didn’t back in the day, and I don’t now, since I too make up stories in my head.

The arts industry employs people to make things we more or less are told that we want by the makers. And we get to have some of these things because of how places in the world construct society to enable more people than ever before to afford them.

We don’t think opera or ballet are juvenile or infantalising because they are made to entertain too. Even when they can be very emotionally infantile. All pointless jealousy and murder. No. Generally we call them contributions to culture. Just like film.

Yet, another point is that people have been telling all sorts of stories of the past, and potential futures and alternate worlds for as long as there have been people. If that alone didn’t prove humans find this past time one of the most important aspects of human activity, then the fact we start and end wars over these very important stories and the art and actions related to them just might. So stories of all kinds, told in variety of ways: serious adult stuff. It’s lucky kids get any stories at all.

In fact, what is childish, is responding to forms of story telling so simplistically so as to dismiss the many ways cultural productions can be read and deployed. Bringing my adult sensibility to a measured discussion of cultural production is being an adult. Throwing poop at the screen and wailing through a film would be bringing my inner toddler and I don’t do that. Because adult.

Perhaps he is worried that people are not getting the allusions to previous cultural productions in any work – that the inter textuality of texts / films are perhaps being missed. But that is a matter of education only. Just because some miss allusions doesn’t mean they are not there for some to pick up on them.

Of course, how any of us responds to a story is part choice and back background, but we can take what we want or need from a story, or we can leave it as a mere spectacle, which incidentally might be what we need, occasionally.  Something something catharsis, according to Aristotle, who didn’t mind a bit of spectacle himself.

Not sure what he means by spectacle either, but films, as a visual medium, even primarily a visual medium, have always been about spectacle as much as they have been about anything. Did Mr Pegg never see a silent film, or a 1970s disaster movie? Surely he is aware of the impact of the spectacle of say, a Leni Riefenstahl propaganda film, or the earliest horror films, or a western, or The Seventh Seal, perhaps? They pretty much all pre-date Mr Lucas’ efforts with a galaxy far, far away and each contain their own kind of spectacle. The only thing that has changed is the scope, given developments in technology and their popularity and accessibility.

Is he saying comics by reason of being stories told in pictures are childish, or is he saying their super heroic content is childish? Cos, pretty sure hieroglyphs are pictures and are not childish. And as for comics, they are not just one form of the ancient and noble art of story telling and can tell anything (see Persepolis)? Regarding superheroes, they can be as complex as any art film neurotic, troubled by the every day concerns of the current social milieu.

If he is worried about our consumption, as in the commodification of superheroes for adults, maybe he has a slight point. Maybe the problem is not the fans, but the makers of fetishist objects – in a word Hollywood. Yet adults have always designated some objects special and put them aside. In the bits of the world that secular and post modern, this impulse is commercialised.

Maybe some adults are indulging childhood obsessions with their collections of plastic figurines and cos-play, but at least they’re not out waging war. Everyone’s allowed a hobby. And it turns out collections of stuff are worth money too.

We can use future and past superheros or any kind of heroes, to comment on society and which bits work and which bits don’t and on the traits we valorise, (and those we don’t) and on why we think we need them. Every alien, beyond human or in-human is a comment on actual humanity, if you want to look at them like that. Or you can just watch for the ‘plosions, if you wanna.

I have seen Marvel and DC films and all sorts of other films and I do walk away feeling stuff about the world. I saw, for instance, Guardians of the Galaxy in the middle of yet another Palestine vs Israel round of shelling and amid events in Syria and I walked out of the cinema feeling like Ronan the Accuser could have been the spokesperson for any regime or group that wants all its enemies dead…I think it was troublingly too real. That was my challenging emotional journey. Not sure what the 15 year olds around me thought, but it wasn’t my place to ask.

As for Hulk fighting a robot. Why do we think the Avengers fought robots at all? Hulk smashing real humans is just a little too real, and we get the bloody and messy reality in our news feeds if not our lives, 24-7. Destroying robots could be viewed as fighting the future, a Luddite reaction to inevitable and yet questionable progress, or the violent birth pangs towards technological evolution that saw the creation of the Vision. But, according to Mr Pegg, such a sophisticated reading is childish, because I have bothered to examine Age of Ultron too deeply. I should, like him, be spending all my time rescuing sailors from sinking ships and training guide dogs for the blind. Oh yeah, except he doesn’t do that either. We are both frittering away our time.

I call BS on this. I am free to read whatever into whatever, and childish or not it gives me some pleasure to do so as a past time.

It is whatever adults want to read in to it, and find solace, comfort, entertainment and enjoyment  in.

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Post review musings on Ultron, Mad Max and The Fall

On the last sunny day before Melbourne’s erratic winter settles in, I thought I’d pull together a few stray thoughts I’ve had after recent viewings. It might be a bit spoilery.

Avengers: Age of Ultron felt like a welcome visit from wise-cracking friends with very busy international schedules, a bit of bling, and brittle but brave facades. The time flew. We were introduced to their smart alec metallic nemesis that divided them in order to attempt to conquer, and by the by, off they went into their other separately epic franchised ventures. It was fun, as far as it went. I’m not angry about any of the plot decisions as some have clearly been, but felt each of these characters could’ve have stayed around longer, or have slowed down, somehow.

Mad Max: Fury Road smacked me in the face with an electric guitar and never apologised for not starring Mel Gibson. And frankly, there is enough meat on the bones so it doesn’t have to. If Joss Whedon stories: Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Serenity, Doll House, Avengers – are about ‘found families’ then I do think George Miller might have trumped him in more ways than one regarding his most recent actiony blockbuster.

Just a break in the weather

Just a break in the weather

We are family (I got all my sisters with me)

Fury Road had all the elements of a family myth. Practical and silent dad type – Max. All capable, wise responsible mother type – Furiosa. Together Max and Furiosa work out they are stronger together and form a parent-like alliance responsible for the desperate child-like baby-mama damsels who need rescuing. As parents, they care, not through sentimental speeches but as evidenced by their deeds. There was no more nurturing an act than that of Max’s towards Furiosa when he provides her emergency medical aid. It was the first ‘familiar’ human act. And they both made less caricature-y in that moment.

Eventually, this improvised family reach beyond the (dead) Tree of Knowledge and their (surrogate) grandmothers, who hold not only the literal seeds of renewal but also the truth of their quest. Max and the crones know they can survive and make their Eden flourish if they kick out the corrupted men who rule it with their demonic power over the elements: blood, milk and water. Having restored family to the centre of guarded garden city, Max can’t stay. Just like John Wayne at the end of The Searchers (again) he might have completed his quest, but he chooses to wander the desert with the ghosts of his past. Wayne’s character, like Max is a man dedicated to family and their values, but without one of his own.

If we go back to Tarsem’s The Fall (2006) it is also has a kinda found family thing in hospital. It’s between Alexandria the post-pogrom survivor kid, and Roy, the stunt guy. Through story telling they manage to completely break each other apart in order to properly mend. It is the talking cure made manifest with a whole lot of other psychological transference stuff going on too.

Cool world (your world is a barren place)

It’s the environment in Mad Max and The Fall that offer opportunities for characters to form bonds they normally would not have (although ‘normal’ is moot).  Roy, stuck inside the hospital and inside his grief, seeks an escape from his immediate environment and personal tragedies through setting his saga in real but grand locations and Alexandria follows him down the rabbit hole to do the same. The world they create suits their ‘epic’ and they move around it freely – in contrast to their experience of hospital. Fury Road demonstrates while you may escape one type of prison, the vast environment and your mind are other types and are as peopled and mythologised as any place. We suspect the dreamed of ‘green place’ of a woman centric Eden beyond the barren wasteland seems as illusory as Max’s long dead family, unless they create it for themselves. Age of Ultron, meanwhile, is about what our superheroes and their enemies do to the environment. Ultron pledges the world would be better without humans and the Avengers go to a lot of work to prove it. The locales of The Fall are what we get when we dream. Mad Max is what we get if the Avengers lose, but even when they win, the physical and psychological damage is immense.

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Review: Mad Max – Furious and Furiouser

I didn’t expect George Miller’s Mad: Fury Road to be all things to all people. But we’re through the Looking Glass people and it just might be, if you don’t mind explosions, vehicle chases and violence along with everything else.

If Avengers: Age of Ultron was occasionally visually annoying, in its fast moving CGI-ness, Mad Max was overwhelming and real. There are no cultured speeches by the bad dudes, in fact little dialogue at all. Lives are at risk and there is no time for jokes. The stakes felt higher for Max, if you want to compare two completely different blockbuster action flicks.

Fury Road is a sequel in as much as a kind of Max continues his lone lifestyle in a post apocalyptic non-specific desert world. There are allusions to the first three films in terms of the aesthetics, technology and violence and some of the characterisations (ahem, over acting). This film revels in its almost medieval grotesqueries and stupendous beauty as well as its complete silliness.

This film is probably closer to the third film, Beyond Thunderdome, than the first two, regarding themes and aspects of the plot, except without whimsy. This may explain why some reviewers are not so crazy about it as a sequel. They didn’t much like Thunderdome either. That’s ok. I still think much the acting in the first Max film especially, was painfully awful.

Tom Hardy’s Max lacks a bit of that special something that made Mel Gibson’s Max feel edgy. We could speculate about this – insert something, something about Gibson and life imitating art. Basically, I don’t get that feeling about Hardy, although his Max’s ‘episodes’ were quite well done and did lend another layer to the film. It’s his road movie to find himself (again).

Dreaming of designing and building my own rig to ride out the desert, dreaming of freedom.  Or some such.

Dreaming of designing and building my own water pump & rig to ride out the desert, dreaming of freedom. Or some such.

My un-mediated visceral reaction to most of the film and for a while afterwards, was open-mouthed shock. It was later that I considered it a meditation on the role of the individual in a post-society society. It’s a discussion on the ability of the ‘possessed’ to rise up against their ‘possessors’. It presents the simultaneous commodification and valorisation of women in a masculine world where powerful few control the means of (re)production. It was about the value of water, milk and blood in a dry landscape and how all values can be upended when people decide to take action. I thought, through it all, few (American) people could take issue with any of this.

Even if some think this some sort of critique of American culture, it has never been an American film series. It was (and still kinda is) Australian. An Australia obsessed by vehicles (check), vast distances to get stuff (check), odd ball characters dwarfed by the landscape (check) and dry as (ahem, check).

It was also, and I quote my Twitter reaction, the maddest music video ever.

It was of the above and more.

There is a sense of the quest for the chosen land about it (although this quest is spread over a couple of days). If you like it is Women on the Namibian Trail. It is about class warfare, about the beautiful versus the damned and how whoever ‘killed the world’ had damaged everything that survived. It is about the myths we feed society in order to control people (like the War Boys).

This film is ridiculous. If it was feminist, then half-clad, slightly weak-kneed escapees from a repressive regime (that reminded me a little of The Handmaid’s Tale), didn’t prepare very well for their trek through the vasty desert and, mostly start out pretty useless. No sun smarts for these muses. Yet, if it wasn’t entirely feminist, then it wasn’t the opposite either it, as it demonstrates even the most driven men can change, while men who think they are nothing beyond instinct are more than they seem.

Max remains a post-nuclear John Wayne type, the every man, ‘universal’ no man, the tortured rugged individual bent on little more than survival and whose allegiance is only to that one instinct. At least initially. Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa becomes his conscience, she does have a purpose beyond survival and she is in a word, awesome.  Meanwhile, they battle the War Boys, who are kids that don’t get to grow up like they are out of some demented mechanical version of Peter Pan.

Each character is a caricature, writ large against the stunning Namibian desert back drop because to be merely human is to be swallowed whole.

Props go to the supporting case of Australian actors. I thought Angus Sampson brought relish to his Organic Mechanic, while Hugh Keays-Byrne got to relive his younger days in another Mad Max film. Plus, there was Quentin Kenihan!  Yay for Melissa Jaffer too, who has been on Australian TV since 1960.  She brought all the feelings along for the ride.

Mainly though, this film is about choice. It is about the sides we take and the direction we travel and whether we stand for freedom or settle for slavery no matter gender, age, or ability.

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All’s good with Osgood?

Doctor Who this year will see the return of Osgood, the scarf wearing sciencey-fan UNIT member. Of course she was killed last season, so of course she is returning. Are we tired of death not meaning really dead and gone or is yet another death retcon a good thing?

Plot wise there are ways around this: there’s Osgood’s Zygons duplicate, but that story explained they needed their human duplicates alive. Unless something really needs to change, it would be unnecessarily annoying to undo that complication. Again, it is unlikely, but maybe The Doctor reconstructs her atoms more successfully than those of Elton (Love and Monsters) or Astrid (Voyage of the Damned) to (belatedly) save her life. Or perhaps her ‘better looking’ sister without asthma was actually her twin? If Martha and her ‘cousin’ can be identical, surely sisters can be?

Unless it was all a dream? A dream explained by the later episode Last Christmas. A dream because everyone is stuck with aliens in their heads eating their brains. In his dream, The Doctor brings back The Master as Missy and gives the salute he could never give to the Brigadier in life (tear) and makes Danny Pink the Best Teacher/Soldier in the world, in his second death. Not realising it is a dream, they fall in deeper and end up in the Arctic. Escaping the Arctic dream, they return to what they think is the real world in Dark Water and Death in Heaven, where they find Danny and Osgood are dead and Missy is The Master and not dead.

The trick, a magicians trick, will be required to pull them out of this reality like rabbits out of a hat to save The Doctor and Clara. And just like that, Danny will be alive, and Osgood will be alive and everyone will be really angry and confused and weird because they all thought they were dead or in mourning.

As for the Missy Master, she will either be ‘no more’ and The Doctor will go into therapy or Missy will manifest herself because if any nightmare could escape a mind and become real it would be The Master, wouldn’t it?

Or I’m entirely wrong because dream retcons are the mostly the overplayed lamest retcons and all my premises are false.

In any account, I guess we’ll find out in August.

 

Plot trajectories in science fiction can go anywhere, but some semblance of internal sense needs to operate to make everything that interacts look like it is meant to be that way.  Osgood's death wasn't lthat.

Plot trajectories in science fiction can go anywhere, but some semblance of internal sense needs to operate to make everything that interacts look like it is meant to be that way. Osgood’s death wasn’t that.

 

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Review: Upon discovering The Fall (2006)

Falling in love again

Big screen cinema is for spectacle. For Avenging super heroes and three-dimensional stuff being thrown at you by two-dimensional characters. It’s fun and makes a lot of money and is all ok by me. Then there are films that are crafted in dedication to a singular vision, rather than popcorn movies made to a template in fulfilment of expectation. And these films can still throw colour and movement at you until you can’t breathe for the beauty of it.

This was The Fall.

I’d not heard of it until approximately a second ago and viewed it upon on recommendation (thanks). It was made in 2006 by Tarsem and is not to be confused with The Fall TV series.  It’s a tragi-comic saga of global proportions. It is self-consciously melodramatic and not embarrassed by it. It uses stop motion and all sorts of visual and film making tricks successfully, even if lavishly, and it is satisfying (unlike say Tank Girl, which escapes into animation). It’s cinematography saturates you until you can feel and taste it. And yet, it is just about how two people who form a bond through the ‘healing power’ storytelling and what comes of this. And it is in no way stereotypical, except when it is deliberately so.

That kid’ll  go far

What I loved about this film is the relationship between Roy Walker (Lee Pace) an injured stuntman and Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) a precocious immigrant kid with a broken arm. Untaru is ah-maz-ing. She steals the film from Pace, whose Roy is remarkable anyway. It makes the rest of Pace’s career look easy in comparison. (I liked his narration, his voice has something of Jim Morrison about it. Rather than read 60s spoken word poetry though, Pace could read audio books or meditation recordings.)

Storytelling

I notice that critics and fans are focused on the colour and settings of the film. It’s true, they are glorious, but they’re a distraction, a bit like what our storyteller says:

Roy Walker: That story was just a trick to get you to do something for me.

The visuals are the trick to pull the viewer in,  but they’re not the point. Lots of people don’t get symbolism or don’t like allegory, but Tarsem is doing a lot and making it look beautiful. His film is about how stories change you internally, how the stories you tell are the map of your life.

The Fall too, is about how the story you tell is not always the one you intended, even if you think you’re the one doing all the directing. So, yes the director plays with all the tropes, they’re easily identifiable and conveniently listed. But this is not just some clever/arty commentary on the history of cinematic storytelling. It’s that and more. Each one of The Falls in this film is only so Roy and Alexandria can rise again, eventually, together.

Roy's epic is a map of the misunderstandings between himself and the world and himself and Alexandria.

Roy’s epic is a map of the misunderstandings between himself and the world and himself and Alexandria.

Roy, in the flicker business, bored in hospital, finds immediate outlet in storytelling.

Roy Walker: You should ask someone else. There’s no happy ending with me.

Alexandria: I still want to hear it.

Roy narrates the story, but it’s Alexandria who imagines it for us and everything in it is her imagination, which is informed by her reality. Roy says Indian and Squaw and she imagines a warrior from India and his wife. Roy’s story, which starts out as a lie, a manipulation and sometimes a punishment, but as this girl continues to weave her remarkable Alexandria-ness on him, his story changes. But the misunderstandings go two ways, she asks if his friend is a pirate and Roy thinks she means she wants a pirate story. In the end, both fight for control of the story. Roy stops the narrative, and Alexandria restarts it and her indomitable spirit transforms the ending he’d imagined.

 Alexandria: Why are you killing everybody? Why are you making everybody die?

Roy Walker: It’s my story.

Alexandria: Mine, too.

Although I picked what would happen to Alexandria I didn’t expect the effect this had on me. Roy abandons control of the story to Alexandria because when you tell someone a story it becomes theirs too. She shares responsibility for the characters he created and she pictures, while he takes responsibility for what happens to Alexandria.

 Googly Language

The magic of this film is that the main character doesn’t know what she’s doing with Roy, mostly, but Alexandria does ‘save his soul.’  Pace’s performance is all about how his Roy responds to and changes with, Untaru’s natural misunderstandings and unscripted responses as Alexandria. Their chemistry is the best thing about this film. They are astounding together.

Her language skills change the story and Roy’s life, just as her ‘real’ misunderstandings dictate to the director, who takes his queues from the abilities and limits of his actors. The director keeps all the repeated lines, all the hesitations and speaking over each other that happens in natural conversations. Roy, especially, works hard to communicate indirectly. He deliberately skirts around what he really wants, because if Alexandria understood, she would not help him. But Alexandria does this too, she lies to Roy about the test he set her as well as to the hospital staff:

Doctor: [suspicious Alexandria is not translating correctly for her mother] Alexandria, did she just ask me a question?

Alexandria: No, it’s just how we talk.

Thus, she and Roy are alike in how they use and misuse language. Their gibberish is often deliberate. The misunderstandings help reinforce some of the symbolism, which represents the eventual effect of Alexandria on Roy. It is especially the case in this exchange:

Alexandria: What mean that?

Roy Walker: The Eucharist.

Alexandria: What?

Roy Walker: The Eucharist. The thing you gave me. It’s a… it saves your soul.

Alexandria: Hmm? The thing I give you… what?

Roy Walker: The little piece of bread that you just gave me. It saves your soul.

Alexandria: What? What? *What*?

Another issue at the heart of the film is that all the important motivations and issues Roy faces happen at the edges of Alexandria’s awareness. They only become overt in the story he tells, when he faces the consequences of what he was trying to do. Roy then uses the story to explain he was never a hero. Meanwhile, Alexandria, either confusing her language, or confusing story with life, begs for the life of the Bandit and Roy. In return for the pain he has caused Alexandria, Roy has no choice but to change the narrative in both cases. While he can retcon his story and change his Bandit from Spanish to French, and while the makers of the silent film he was in can replace the stunt that nearly killed him, he can’t retcon his life. In the end, we are unsure whether Alexandria understands the significance of this but he makes a promise and he keeps it.

Each facet of Roy and Alexandria is thrown into relief by epic  Roy relates.

Each facet of Roy and Alexandria is thrown into relief by narrative. Alexandria’s losses & Roy’s heartbreak and disillusionment, become clearer in the fiction Roy creates. 

If you love storytelling, just go see it. It’s worth it.

 

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Avengers: Never ending cast of thousands

I’ve been thinking about Avengers: Age of Ultron since I saw it a week and a bit ago.

I’m not a huge fan of heroes creating their own problems to solve, vis a vie Ultron. But I get it is less complicated for the heroes to go around pulverising robots than killing people. We can all just go for the ride with most o f the violence on this. Only Hulk enables insight into the experience of being a witness to such violence and that was interesting.

Not sure why you enter a super hero world, but I’m not holding my breath for Avengers: End of Nuclear Proliferation or Hulk: Age of Flood Mitigation or Iron Man: Saying No to Slavery, or Thor: End of Terrorism. I guess that would be like asking Mulder and Scully to investigate a non alien abduction or a jewellery heist. This is not cinema verite. So fighting an army of murder bots is guilt free catharsis. Hulk smash on with no regrets.

Avengers: Age of the Scooby Gang

Avengers: Age of Ultron was a big, messy Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode. In fact, I know which one. It was I Robot, You Jane from the very first series. Sciencey-minded Willow scans a book that had trapped the Demon Moloch into a database and ends up dating him online. He builds himself a robot body and does bad stuff and is put down by Buffy and the Scoobies. In this film version, Willow is Stark, and Scarlet Witch and Xander is her twin brother and Jarvis, (in a Giles accent) does all the cool internet stuff instead of Cyber Wiccan Jenny Calendar.

Exactly. The. Same.

Except ok it’s not quite the same. Because there are sub plots that need attention, precisely because they are glossed over by the actual film.

Glosses on the glossy glossed over scenes

Like the bit where Stark’s business is responsible for killing people. This motivation for action never really gets addressed. Yet two central characters are pretty much told to get over it and chose the side doing the least human destruction. This is problematic at best.

Anyway, the main stuff that Iron Man and Dr Banner/Hulk do instead is dance around their Dr Frankenstein working with Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde deal. I don’t mind this, but their ethical differences could have been highlighted beyond a couple of funny lines from Banner.

And I do like when Banner is funny. I think James Spader as Ultron out Irony-ied Robert Downey Jnr’s Iron Man too. Spader is always excellent, and always playing a character you want to slap. I just wish Banner had had a couple of smart lines for Ultron on this. So many daddy/science/violence issues to explore.

Ultron: Age of the Industrial Washing Machine.

Ultron: Age of the Washing Machine, Cleaning up Society.

I saw what they tried to do with Hawkeye and it worked, but only up to a point and that point was his speech to the Scarlet Witch. Plus there was his significant other’s one liner.

Captain America came off better in this film. As the moral compass he could be bland, but he was the butt of some sweet recurring jokes. He also added insight into the other characters.  Mainly though, Steve Rogers spent most of his time doing balletic sideways triple Salchows with shield moves (10/10), and developing skills to lead the Learner Driver Avengers (Falcon, Scarlet Witch etc). More importantly, his arc segways into Captain America: Civil War. I see that Iron Man is slated for Civil War too, but equally, Stark could have stopped there, on the lawn talking about getting a farm and making the absent Pepper even more absent.

Does the premise for Civil War sound a bit X-Men? What with politicians and regulation and enhanced vs enhanced?

 

Preliminary plans for designs for the Military Industrial Complex that the Starks profited from and birthed Captain America.

Iron Man: Military Industrial Complex. Preliminary sketches for the system that the Starks profited from and that birthed Captain America.

Avengers II felt like the end of the Hulk franchise as a separate entity. If he shows up again, in any film, I want his story to have moved forward somehow.

As for Thor:  more Thor on his crucial vision quest with handy knowledge about the continuing plot would have helped. Am wondering if it fits into Ragnarök, or Avengers III, IV etc.

Which brings me to…

Avengers: Black Widow Drives the Plot

I am pondering Black Widow’s subplot, since it mainly revolves around ‘female’ stuff and moves towards a love interest that seems a tad unworthy of the complexities of her character. She is the pragmatist, and is always without a mask and without special weapons, and must do what she can with her wits and training.

As Stark and Banner banter over tech ethics, while Thor is off on some kind of cave dive and Hawkeye is at home knitting, Natasha shouldn’t be pleading the case she is a monster like Banner. As the pragmatist, she should be preparing for the next step in combating the big bad, or seeking the kind of therapy that say Faith did after a fight.

Not being able to have kids doesn’t give Black Widow her dark side. Doing everything she did to survive her childhood and training and beyond created her persona. Dr Banner released some inner angst through hubris and the Hulk is his punishment. Black Widow is nothing like Dr Banner or Hulk. She is squaring the ledger on her former life. Hulk is doing no such thing.

It is, in fact, Black Widow and Captain America who are the different sides of the same kind of character. Steve Rogers is about nobility, justice, brotherhood and pure motivations while Natasha Romanoff has lived through lonelier, more corrupt and morally complex experiences. Rogers depends on certainties, including about how people see him. Romanoff depends on the lack of certainties, including about how she is seen. Both are vulnerable because of this.

Where things become less practical for the Black Widow is in this film’s version of her emotional life. By the end, she is some forlorn abandoned waif, when she has never been a victim, even when it looks like she is. And this is meant to sustain the motivation to propel her into whatever next film Black Widow appears in? I get the back to work vibe that Cap and Black Widow try to convey in the final scenes, but she didn’t need victimising.

From earlier films we’ve learned Romonoff doesn’t *need* anyone. Of them all, Black Widow is the most self-sufficient. She doesn’t need cultural and behavioural translators like Thor and Rogers. She not a child, emotionally, like Stark, and although she doesn’t have the responsibilities of Hawkeye, she is not unpredictable, like Banner. If anyone should be in charge of the Avengers or Shield, or say, her own film franchise, it should be Natasha. In fact she and Nick Fury are alike too: slightly questionable, heroic, sly and shifty and catalysts of action.

Or Avengers can become the Scarlett Johansson series, since of all the characters, her’s remains the most mysterious, even compared to beings from other realms. Black Widow is as worthy as any character of political subplots rather than semi-romantic ones.

In her own film, her arc wouldn’t be finished, since Black Widow changes the dynamic of whatever film she is in. Her role in Winter Soldier made that film more able to reflect on the meaning of identity, lost chances and bygones. In Avengers I, Black Widow made the film about mutability and manipulation, reflecting Loki back to himself. In Avengers II it was about revealing something of her inner life and taking risks that save the day and not herself.

Visible Screen Writing Lines

The thing about knowing something of how stories are written is that sometimes the scaffolding sticks out. So, when I wasn’t overloaded by the visuals I was finding myself looking at those tent pole moments that hold the narrative reasons for the action up. It was all there, the hero’s call, the rejection, the return, the revels, the moment that binds all the team together after being ripped apart, and the loses and the wins.

Tent Pole: Casting Exposition

The entire section where the Hero Blokes explain why there is no room in the plot for their girlfriends was annoying. It felt like a Screenwriter’s Apology to His Audience. These characters weren’t missed.  We bought the ticket to see the Avengers, not their significant others. Actually though, that argument falls down because of the Hawkeye subplot. Avengers II says: men get to go avenging because of the support of their families, while the women folk, it seems, in their important work (understanding the universe and running corporations), don’t deserve support or attention from their men and/or the writers of stories.

Which is to say, Avengers aint changing Hollywood, even if Joss Whedon’s on board.

Tent Pole: We are Family

The bit that was most obvious as a story telling tool worked well as the aha moment. It was exactly like in Serenity, when Jayne did something he would never do in pushing his drink over to the Doctor, in order to show the crew becoming one team again. Avengers had something akin to this, but it was a moment of collective frisson for the characters as much as the audience. It was much less subtle than in the Firefly spin-off but it worked on the entire cinema audience, who reacted as one with an intake of breath. It brought everyone together, Avengers, audience, all of us while it was clearly a call back to the late night after-party scene. Top marks in class for that moment.

Conclusion

The film did what it said on the box: action, one liners, action, more action. If it felt unfinished, or packed too tightly, it was because it is unfinished. Super heroic lives, for all the skills, magi-tech and violence, are a lot more like life than films in this way. So maybe it is cinema verite! Way to go me for contradicting my very first argument. We have finally arrived at the Never Ending Story we were promised.

They remind me of Westerns, if all films in that genre used the same actors (check), similar locations (Monument Valley – check) and were all linked in a continuing conflict of farmer/soldier vs other (check).

Anyway, these Marvel films will just keep going, without denouement.  Like John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards  returning to the desert at end of The Searchers, the task is complete, but never the quest. There’s no hitching the Avenger’s wagon train horses to a rail post any time soon.

So, after all this I guess my  special enhanced (in)human power is being able to see these tent poles and plot shallows from kilometres away and, when it is warranted, still being able to enjoy the story as a story.

 

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Betting the farm

In farming, there are certain paddocks you leave fallow. It is said crop rotation means no one area is ever completely exhausted of nutrients. I’m thinking of this space as one which I’ve left fallow while I recover. It’s not like I haven’t been busy though.

There has been art and writing and work and life. I finally submitted my novella as part of a collection to a competition. I’m quite nervous about it, which means I care, which means it’ll hurt if nothing comes of it. But pain like that is something I’ve grown used to.

It means I’ll keep going. There will be other chances.

But why all this about farming?

I grew up on farms and in farming communities. Some imagine farmers as a pragmatic and practical type of people. Folk, who work hard, make hard decisions and generally, are salt of the earth. As far as stereotypes are concerned, there are reasons for them.

However, farmers are also massive risk takers and total sentimentalists, who put everything they have and are at stake. Farming is an identity and a vocation. Much of what they do depends upon their own physical abilities. Yet, a lot more depends on stuff farmers can’t control much: weather, pests, Customs and diseases, commodity prices linked to markets that fall and rise on whims, government policy, and on staying competitive compared to places where people earn so much less. Just in the attempt to produce something.

This artist might have seen a sheep once. Maybe.

This artist might have seen a sheep once. Maybe.

One bad business decision, or one unexpected rate rise or government policy change and farmers lose the house and land they live on. Or they spend years in negotiations with banks and government for bailouts and overdraft extensions for the 15 year drought. Finally, when it does rain, it floods and whatever topsoil that wasn’t blown into the ether as dust now washes away.

Having experienced much of this as a child, I wouldn’t be a farmer for anything. Not that there aren’t rewards, but there is plenty of heartbreak.

Having said all that, I realise writing has a lot in common with farming. It’s a gamble. Or a massive trust exercise. Farmers and writers take all their wisdom and talent and bet on the conditions being right that someone will, not only need what they produce, but recognise the value, place and quality of it, and then pay enough so they can make that bet all over again.

Actual 1940s sheep.

Actual DRM free sheep.#straya

Farmers look at long-range forecasts, commodity indexes and talk to agronomists and other experts. Writers look at the media, the market place, and talk to editors and agents and publishers. Both do what they need to do. Same diff.

Farmers and writers generally take a while to learn all the skills they need. They may even take classes, or take advice from their peers, and industry experts, attend seminars, form community supports, but generally, both roles are independent.

Farmers and writers are often their own bosses, who are responsible for their own decisions and, the results of their calculations, or miscalculations. And sometimes live on other work when they can’t live off what they really want to do.

Both roles are often thankless, and largely anonymous and ignored. Most of the work happens in behind the scenes type tasks, sometimes in regular chores and other times in fits and spurts, while the finished product conceals the discipline behind it. The glossy book cover, that flour or wool? Think about all the hours it took to produce, refine, transport, market and deliver to you to consume.

Of course, if there were no farmers neither you nor I would have much to eat or wear. If there were no writers no one would physically starve or shiver in the cold night. But we wouldn’t be culturally, historically, spiritually, nourished nor much comforted. Even for the least interested person, they too, read and watch the odd bit of TV.

I guess then, while I think I’m a lot like my mother, with her abilities and interest in art and writing and also performance, I realise I am also my father’s daughter. He wanted nothing but to be a farmer. I want/ed to be a writer. He bet everything on his dream, and it gave him a bit. Not exactly what he imagined or wanted, perhaps. But still.

My bet is different and yet, entirely the same.

 

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