While I recover from three days of exhaustion and sheer joy, and begin the process of transcribing some interviews, here’s some video taken by yours truly of the D20 Brass Band performing outside the Washington State Convention Center at Emerald City Comicon!d20-brass-band-mugshot

 

Sam talks with Kyle Higgins, co-writer of C.O.W.L. for Image Comics. The two talk cartoon nostalgia, history and superheroes, and the artistry of comics.

 

kyle higgins

 

 

Intro music “French Kiss” by Mrs. Howl

Outro music “Chicago” by Joe Clark feat. Raya Yarbrough

You were doing so well, DC Comics. So well. And then y’all had to go and screw it up again.

For the June mini-relaunch of DC Comics’ titles post-Convergence each book will feature Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker on a variant cover. As is the case with most themed variants, the cover art is released ahead of time to get readers excited and get them thinking about which titles they want to spend their money on for the cover alone.

So when DC released the variant art for Batgirl #41

BG-Cv41-Joker-variant-solicitation-68d7f-600x910

There were some understandable feelings of “WTF, DC!” coming from fans. This author included. Drawn by Rafael Albuquerque, the variant uncomfortably invokes Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke (1988) where Barbara Gordon, aka Batgirl, was shot and tortured by the Joker leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. Oddly enough, The Killing Joke isn’t about Barbara at all, it’s about her father, Commissioner Jim Gordon, and Batman with Barbara’s pain and suffering used to taunt and torture the two men. No wonder it’s one of the primary examples of the Women in Refrigerators trope, or fridging, where the death, injury, or torture of a woman is used to further a male character’s story. The book may have its fans, but it has plenty of naysayers, among them the book’s author. Alan Moore has since shown his regrets over the story, chief among them being the crippling of Barbara Gordon, which Moore states he was surprised went through at DC. By his own account, Moore was told by editor Len Wein that it was okay to “cripple the bitch.”

The silver lining to The Killing Joke is we eventually got Barbara as the computer hacking badass that is Oracle. Leader of the Birds of Prey and one of the most trusted heroes within the DC Universe, Babs became the poster child for the disabled community. In overcoming her disability by continuing to fight crime, Barbara proved her resilience to adversity, becoming a stronger character in the long run. After twenty years in the chair, however, DC decided to put Barbara back in uniform with the launch of the New 52. Unfortunately, the rebooted universe didn’t include erasing The Killing Joke from the current canon. Instead, Barbara had been disabled for about three years prior to the events of the relaunch with her #1 issue serving as her first outing in uniform since the surgery that gave her back the use of her legs.

What became obvious was The Killing Joke’s legacy as a defining moment in Barbara’s history, at least according to DC Comics. Luckily writer Gail Simone tried to make good on the aftermath of such a traumatic event, exploring Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and moving Babs’ story beyond being a victim. The current creative team of Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr have taken a similar approach. By changing her uniform and moving her out of Gotham City proper and into the Greenwich Village-esque Burnside, Batgirl has become the bright spot amongst the grimdark Bat-books. Colorful, fun, and unabashedly pro-feminist, Babs’ time in the wheelchair is a sore spot, but doesn’t define her. It’s certainly a plot point worth exploring, as the creative team continues to do in the current arc, but The Killing Joke does not a Batgirl make. Babs is presented as a confident, smart, and resourceful young woman trying to be both superhero and college student. Her problems come in the form of anime-inspired motorcyclists and social media, not dwelling on the Joker.

So why then did whoever is in charge of commissioning the variant covers decide that Batgirl as Victim was appropriate? Every book has its own tone and style and Albuquerque’s work couldn’t be more tone deaf in regards to Batgirl as a book. Look at the picture again. Babs is frightened and crying while the Joker draws a bloody smile across her face. It’s grotesque, but also another display of how DC Comics sees one of their most popular female characters. None of the other variants have shown the heroes as victims in such an uncomfortable manner and it’s disheartening that whoever is in charge of approving this cover thought it was okay. What’s more surprising is the cover Albuquerque did for Batgirl: Endgame #1, which feeds into the Endgame storyline in Batman.

batgirl_endgame1 - rafael albuquerque

It’s a much more appropriate cover and conveys the same information without diminishing Batgirl as a hero. Why this for Endgame but not for the book proper?

It’s just mind-boggling when one looks at other variants for Batgirl that have come out over the course of the New 52 that all have one thing in common: Batgirl is a goddam hero. In fact, here’s a gallery of those covers. Check out for yourself how previous variants have emphasized the fun and heroism of Batgirl.

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Batgirl ’66 Variant by Michael and Laura Allred

Scribblenauts Variant

Scribblenauts Variant

Bombshell Variant by Ant Lucia

Bombshell Variant by Ant Lucia

Monster Month variant by Kevin Nowlan

Monster Month variant by Kevin Nowlan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robin Requiem variant by Mikel Janin

Robin Requiem variant by Mikel Janin

Batman 75th Anniversary variant by Cliff Chiang

Batman 75th Anniversary variant by Cliff Chiang

Steampunk Variant by JG Jones

Steampunk Variant by JG Jones

The Flash Variant by Aaron Lopresti

The Flash Variant by Aaron Lopresti

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harley Quinn Variant by Cliff Chiang

Harley Quinn Variant by Cliff Chiang

Selfie Variant by Dave Johnson

Selfie Variant by Dave Johnson

Movie Poster Variant by Cliff Chiang

Movie Poster Variant by Cliff Chiang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sam and Nathan gush and lament the cartoons they love that were cancelled far too soon.

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And be sure to check out Heroes4Rachel! Let her know that her love of superheroes is nothing to be ashamed of!

#Heroes4Rachel

@Heroes4Rachel
www.facebook.com/Heroes4Rachel

If bending to the will of North Korea wasn’t bad enough, it looks like Sony also likes bending over backwards to appease the male movie-going audience of crybabies who see an all-women cast for the Ghostbusters reboot as a threat to the time-honored tradition of busting ghosts. Clearly the lady-folk donning unlicensed nuclear accelerators is most unorthodox and ghostbusters-castcannot be tolerated by polite society.

As reported by Deadline, Sony has given the greenlight for director/writer/producer Ivan Reitman and actor/writer Dan Aykroyd to form a subsidiary production company, Ghostcorps, that will focus explicitly on developing Ghostbusters related properties and merchandising. First on the docket is another Ghostbusters movie slated to immediately follow director Paul Feig’s (Bridesmaids) 2016 reboot staring Kristin Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon. This sequel (?) already has Joe and Anthony Russo (Captain America: The Winter Solider) on board to direct following their first-look deal with Sony as well as Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3, Mission: Impossible 5) tapped to write the script and Channing Tatum on board to produce and, most likely, star per the pitch uncovered during the Sony hack.

Reitman further explained how the films will kick off the new Ghostbusters franchise to Deadline:

Paul Feig’s film will be the first version of that, shooting in June to come out in July, 2016. He’s got four of the funniest women in the world, and there will be other surprises to come. The second film has a wonderful idea that builds on that. Drew will start writing and the hope is to be ready for the Russo Brothers’ next window next summer to shoot, with the movie coming out the following hear. It’s just the beginning of what I hope will be a lot of wonderful movies.

Ghostbuster-Lady-ThumbThe key to comedy is (pause for effect) timing. So it’s really mind-boggling that Reitman and Aykroyd, two people known primarily for their comedic ventures, would have the inability to understand how poorly timed their deal with Sony truly is. Look, I’m all for expanding the Ghostbusters world. The premise is solid regardless of the cast, but I’m not the only one who sees how suspicious it is that Ghostcorps was announced in conjunction with the film following the all-women cast. World building is important to a burgeoning franchise, especially one with a 30-year gap, but this announcement feels exclusionary to Feig’s Ghostbusters. It also reeks of panic in response to the vocal minority of dudes who took to social media with their complaints about the reboot and the female leads while the tiniest violin played in the background. Not helping is the fact that Reitman and Aykroyd’s involvement lends greater legitimacy to the film starring Tatum and puts the movie-going audience in the position of creating a gendered dichotomy between the films. The kicker being that Feig’s Ghostbusters will most likely be referenced in the news as the all-female Ghostbusters while the Russo Brothers film will just be referred to as The Ghostbusters because Hollywood is stuck in the male-as-default mentality.a886df9e392dba27a9dd27225c748b56

Seriously, I wouldn’t be opposed to a Channing Tatum, and possibly Chris Pratt, starring followup if the studio had either announced Ghostcorps along with Feig’s reboot or waited until maybe the film was further along in production before throwing another one into the mix. It sends a message that the studio lacks confidence in Feig’s film and it’s disappointing that, as it stands, Wiig, McCarthy, Jones, and McKinnon won’t get to just be The Ghostbusters. It’s always going to come with the caveat of the female Ghostbusters despite the fact that women hold the same love and nostalgia for the original movies as men. Women cosplay as Ghostbusters, read the comics, and watch the cartoons, but you know what women haven’t really had in regards to busting ghosts? Representation on film. That’s what it all comes down to. Sure, a team of men and women would be great in future films, but having a full team of women in an action/horror/comedy sends another message about who can lead a film, the openness of multiple genres, and the strength of thoughtful world building.

Like I said:

Last week we said goodbye to the citizens of Pawnee, Indiana as Parks and Recreation took its final bow with promises of an even greater future for Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and company in the fictional reality where we all want to live. Seriously, after seven seasons who wouldn’t want this glorious female warrior in charge of the country? 10940410_705055929591737_2688036775043691284_nAt the same time the first, but hopefully not last, season of Marvel’s Agent Carter ended with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), after saving New York City from another villainous attempt at bombing the Big Apple, reaffirming her stance as a woman who knows her value to the world even if it isn’t reciprocated. Though these two shows are dissimilar in regards to genre, setting, and time period, their commonality lies in the driven, passionate, and independent women at the helm.

When looking at Leslie Knope and Peggy Carter it’s easy to assume that gender is their one uniting factor. How else would a modern-day Mid-Western civil servant share any similarities with a British ex-pat intelligence agent in post-WWII New York? And that’s before you add in the science-fiction, superhero element that practically pushes Agent Carter as far from Parks and Rec, genre wise, as possible. But fear not, you beautiful tropical fish. Yes, gender is a factor in comparing Leslie and Peggy, but it’s really about how their respective worlds perceive women, their response as women, and the impact that has on the viewing audience that matters. Leslie may be navigating the modern world of middle-American politics but Peggy’s struggle for acceptance and acknowledgement is just as relatable. These are women who’ve dedicated their lives to serving their native/adopted country regardless of their rank within the system. Though they may desire more, it’s how they face their obstacles that earns them the respect, loyalty, and friendship of those around them and affects the most change.

137683_0115Though we’ve only had eight episodes of Agent Carter, Peggy’s importance to the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been apparent since a skinny kid from the Lower East Side took his first steps towards being Captain America. One of the premiere officers of Army intelligence during WWII, Peggy held her own in the boys club of the military, earning the respect of the men she worked with through her tenacity and resolve on the battlefield. In the trenches, she was more than just Cap’s sort-of girlfriend. The harsh reality of “civilian” life post-war, however, is that in the eyes of her colleagues in the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) she’s only viewed as Cap’s girlfriend with many of her accomplishments in the field overlooked or just plain ignored. The frustration of watching Agent Carter is the accuracy of its blatant and subtle sexism and the knowledge that there really isn’t an end point. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel where we can definitively say women gained all the respect and equality. It’s not just the attitudes of post-war culture, it’s a parallel of the modern day struggles of women in the workforce. Think about it. Women are still fighting for equal wages.

Still. In 2015.

Even the basic assumptions made about women in the show are mirrors of current workplace and online cultures. 1382589830prejpg-daab11_624wConsider two of Peggy’s colleagues, Jack Thompson and Daniel Sousa. Like Peggy, they’re war veterans, but the two approach the SSR’s sole female agent in very different ways. Thompson is all bravado, a blatant chauvinist who can’t even bother to get Peggy’s name right so long as he gets his coffee and lunch order placed correctly. Sousa, on the other hand, is more sympathetic to Peggy since he’s also the target of Thompson’s jibes because of his injury during the war. And while Sousa attempts to be the good guy, telling Jack to back off and treat Peggy with more respect, Peggy calls him on his white-knighting. He may think he’s doing the right thing, being a better man than the others, but there’s a more subtle form of sexism occurring. Peggy doesn’t need Sousa to come to her aid, she’s perfectly capable of defending herself. Assuming she needs defending is just another way of reinforcing the gender stereotype that women are incapable of taking care of themselves. In fact, the underestimation of women plays throughout the entire series as virtually every female character uses their perceived weakness to their advantage against men. Dottie hides the cold, Russian assassin behind a helpless doe-eyed mid-Western persona, Angie starts spilling fake tears to distract Thompson and Sousa, and Peggy frequently makes use of her invisibility within the agency as she conducts her side investigation into clearing Howard Stark. Though she’s loathe to use her second-tier status, it’s a tool nonetheless. It’s actually an interesting look into the character’s psyche and makes for an interesting thought exercise as to the state of mind of other women at the time. Peggy clearly has some control over how she’s viewed at the SSR and her side investigation challenges that control. It forces her to examine her place within the agency, concluding that though she’s invisible to her colleagues, for the most part, she’d rather not be seen then looked at as helpless.

agent-carter-iron_ceiling_howling_commandosAt least with Thompson there’s something Peggy can fight against. He wears his prejudices on his sleeve, so changing his mind and proving her worth as an agent would of course mean showing competency during a field mission involving the Howling Commandos. And it really is the most effective turnaround because even though Peggy and Thompson do bond over being soldiers, Peggy ultimately relates to Thompson on a human level by showing sympathy and empathy when he comes clean about his experiences in the Pacific Theater. This isn’t the writers going “if woman, therefore motherly role” as a means of justifying their shared moment. This is about vulnerability. Peggy taking the lead after Thompson freezes in a firefight, and her giving him orders to snap him out of it, gives him, for the briefest of moments, some insight about the real Peggy Carter. The true strength of her character is her ability to have those feelings for someone who, for all intents and purposes, wouldn’t respond in kind. Peggy’s goal isn’t to belittle her colleagues or emasculate them for the sake of her own self-worth. As she says in the season finale, she knows her value, and it’s not about getting her name in the paper or recognition from a state congressman. For Peggy, it’s about getting the respect and trust of her colleagues; not as a woman but as an agent.

What’s important to note about both Agent Carter and Parks and Recreation is that neither show treats its characters, male or female, like idiots. Peggy is exceptionally good at what she does but is still treated as a glorified secretary by her male peers. It’s not out of cruelty just misguided sentiments. Though she’s often frustrated by the men in the SSR or downright disgusted by any of Howard Stark’s shenanigans, Peggy never calls them incompetent. She, too, makes mistakes but we’re still rooting for her because we know what she’s capable of. And though we may desire comeuppance for some members of the SSR, the show is much wiser than that, presenting a snapshot of a bygone era that still holds relevance today.Parks & Recreation

Leslie Knope, however, could have easily become the female version of The Office‘s Michael Scott. Parks and Rec certainly owes its existence to The Office, but thankfully Leslie, as a character, was given much more substance than being a lovable goof. She is a lovable goof, by the way, but there’s no one on the show who ever questions her competence at her job or her intelligence because she’s a woman. If anything, Leslie’s hyper-competence and her extreme passion for governance often puts her at odds with the people of Pawnee and occasionally her friends and co-workers. At the same time, it’s Leslie’s passion for her work that leads her down the path to a ridiculously rewarding and awesome future.

The phrase “Be The Leslie Knope of Whatever You Do” is essential to what makes Parks and Rec and Leslie so special. From the beginning of the series, we know that Leslie is full of vim, vigor, and vitality for her work in the Parks Department. She shows excitement for a job that offers very little in the way of gratitude from the people she serves but Leslie isn’t necessarily looking for accolades. Her reward is helping people because she ultimately believes in the power of people coming together in order to accomplish a common goal. It’s why she loves working for the city. She gets to change people’s lives, whether they notice or not. What’s refreshing about Leslie’s consistent optimism is it’s never portrayed on the show as something we should pity her for. Leslie isn’t a character meant to be seen as pathetic because she doesn’t grasp the reality of her situation. The exact opposite is true. Leslie is very aware of how lb2-300x202she’s perceived by people, but it doesn’t deter her. If anything, she sees the complacency and apathy of those around her as a challenge, which she meets head on. She matches Ron Swanson’s anti-government paranoia and April Ludgate’s pessimism with openness and a helping hand and we cheer her on because, like Ron, April, or pretty much every person living in Pawnee, we see the greatness and the passion Leslie puts into everything she does and we want to apply that same passion to what we do in our own lives. We want to “be the Leslie Knope” of our own passions.

To me, Leslie is the embodiment of the modern feminist. Not only does she show an exhausting amount of joy, confidence, and passion for her job, but she also has the ideal balance of career and family. The road towards this ideal, however, was not an easy one. At the beginning of the series, Leslie’s career goals often took precedence over her personal life – except for Ann because nothing comes between Leslie and Ann! – but once she met Ben Wyatt the priorities began to shift. There’s this prevailing myth that women have to choose between having a family or having a career, which is complete bull. Women don’t have to choose one or the other. They can have both if they put in the time. It’s about balance and in Ben Leslie found her balance. Like her philosophy that teamwork and helping people are the ultimate goals of government, so too did Leslie apply the same mindset to her relationship with Ben. Once they decided they were a team, that they were in it for the long haul, every decision was made by the Knope-Wyatt household committee. Thankfully Ben shared Leslie’s passion for government and civil service but he also shared a Parks and Recreation - Season 5passion for helping Leslie fulfill her dreams. It’s still a rare thing for a male character to put a female character’s wants and needs over his own in any form of media. If we see Leslie through Ben’s eyes, however, we know that her drive will propel them forward no matter what. Ben is no more sacrificing his goals than Leslie would if the situation were reversed. But it isn’t really a sacrifice for them. Whether it’s a position on the city council, Congress, Governor of Indiana, or President of the United States, Leslie and Ben are a team and they both get to enjoy the ride together.

This, of course, only scratches the surface of Parks and Recreation‘s legacy on television. Hopefully it’s the beginning of greater things for Agent Carter. Either way, we’ve been fortunate enough to let women like Peggy Carter and Leslie Knope into our homes. Their mark on us is what counts and if I were to venture a guess, I’m pretty sure there are going to be more girls and boys striving to be like Leslie and Peggy in the future.

It’s about time the most badass group of lady adventurers returned to grace us with their foul mouths and sweet fighting skills. When last we left the Rat Queens, Palisade was under attack from reality-warping tentacle creatures, RatQueens_09the Abyssals, sent by Gerrig Lake as vengeance against Sawyer Silver. In the wake of their first unsuccessful charge, the Rat Queens and the remaining warriors of Palisade rally together to storm Gerrig’s stronghold, stop the attack, and save Sawyer. Unfortunately, their presence, especially Hannah’s, may have been part of his plan all along.

The influence of the past on the present appears to be the broader theme of Rat Queens‘ current arc. Gerrig is avenging the death of his wife, who he blames Sawyer for by using dimensional beings from Dee’s former religion – the community she left in order to find herself. Under the spell of the Abyssals, Violet’s break with her dwarven clan and the seeds for the group’s name were planted. We were even been treated to a look at Braga’s past and the dangers of a culture unwilling to change. Now, it’s Hannah’s turn and like Dee and Violet her mother is at the center of it all. If there’s a second recurring theme to Rat Queens, then it’s the power of a mother’s love. And not in that sappy “saved by the power of love” deus ex machina kind of way that’s been overused, but a deep understanding and empathy that many mothers have that gives them greater insight into the needs and wants of their children. On a personal level, I can attest to this. Sometimes it feels like my mom knows what my decision or actions will be even before I do and she trusts that I’ll find my way despite times when I couldn’t feel more lost. Granted, one could make a case for both parents having a positive influence, but so far in Rat Queens the only two fathers featured have been bullies or ignorant jerks. They mean well in their own way, but the mothers of our Queens gave their girls the most important tools to becoming the women they are – acceptance and compassion. As far as Hannah’s hallucination goes, there’s clearly some untruth DumbBradgoing on where her mother is concerned. No spoilers, but you loyal readers may recall Hannah taking a “rune call” from her mother in the first issue of Rat Queens, so either the Abyssals are just messing with Hannah’s head or the scene in question actually happened and Mama Vizari recovered. If it’s the latter, then that’s one hell of a recovery.

This issue also marks the introduction of Stjepan Šejić (Sunstone) as the book’s new artist and by N’Rygoth is he fantastic! Already known for being a speed demon of an artist, Šejić maintains the full-figure look of the Rat Queens but gives them an extra bit of muscle and umph that aesthetically puts them on par with his DC Comics doodles of Wonder Woman or Big Barda. These are strong women and Šejić puts as much of that mentality into how the Rat Queens come across visually. There’s also a wide range of expressions that Šejić captures perfectly, from Mama Vizari’s annoyance to the condescending grimace of a castle guard. And as detailed as the faces look, there’s a gorgeous quasi-defined painted quality to his backgrounds and colors. I admit I do miss Roc Upchurch’s illustrations, but Šejić has definitely found a new way of looking at the world of the Rat Queens.

Pick up Rat Queens #9 on March 4th and remember how fucking dumb Brad is!

If you’re so inclined to pay attention to award season, then you probably know (or glanced at your various feeds on Facebook or Twitter) that the 87th Academy Awards happened and there were quite a few politically charged moments that will undoubtedly garner more attention and discussion than the actual show. This is hardly new territory for the Oscars. The ceremony may be an over-long self-congratulatory tribute to Hollywood, but as far asOscars ratings and viewership go, the Oscars, in one night, still reach more people than the average one-hour drama. It’s not Superbowl numbers by any means, but it still puts the award show in the advantageous position of political theater if one seizes the opportunity. And during the broadcast several award winners did their damnedest to do some carpe dieming.

Prior to the ceremony, the Oscars were already under fire for whitewashing the categories, snubbing critically acclaimed Selma director Ava Duvernay and star David Oyelowo but still nominating the film for Best Picture and Best Song. As noted by the Hollywood Reporter, this is the second time in two decades that the lineup of nominees was all-white, the timing of which couldn’t be worse in light of the racially insensitive emails leaked during the Sony hack and the Academy’s supposed promise to give diversity a greater focus. Is it any wonder that host Neil Patrick Harris’ opening joke – “Today we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest. Sorry…brightest.” – and his sharp response to the audience applauding David Oyelowo during an interstitial bit – “Oh, sure, now you like him.” – were met with nervous laughter and timid applause? The saving grace of the snub, however, was the stirring John Legend, Commonperformance of “Glory” by Common and John Legend that brought the audience to tears. Legend later used their Oscar win for the song to point out the parallels between Selma and current racial tensions in the United States.

Nina Simone said it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live. We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on. God bless you. [Source: Democracy Now]

The Oscars also served as a platform for women to make their voices heard through any and all means. Before the ceremony even began the Oscars were at the center of a Twitter campaign spearheaded by Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls community and the Representation Project called #AskHerMore, which called upon correspondents covering the show to ask actresses more engaging questions about their work instead of asking about their clothes. Reese Witherspoon brought attention to the campaign on Instagram and on the red carpet, which Robin Roberts of ABC P-A-600utilized in her coverage, though it sloughed off towards the end. Luckily, Witherspoon and fellow actresses Julianne Moore and Lupita Nyong’o were keen to talk more than fashion.

Once the show was in full swing, it was Patricia Arquette who took the stage after receiving the Best Supporting Actress for Boyhood and stated plainly to Hollywood and the viewing audience:

To every woman who gave birth to every citizen and taxpayer of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America!

The rallying cry brought the house to its feet in applause and produced what will probably the greatest GIF ever of Meryl Streep.

meryl-reacts-to-patricia-speech-oscars-2015-gif

Arquette’s speech was a definite response to the Sony emails between studio executives discussing the wage discrepancies between actresses and actors. And while we might roll our eyes at the idea of an actress getting paid more money, we still have to remember that it’s a job and, like any of us nine-to-fivers, if a woman’s skill set is the same as a man’s, then she should get paid the same amount. America’s workforce isn’t guided by gender roles anymore, but it is a country where single-income families are the norm and if a woman is the head-of-household, then what she isn’t being paid adds up. Arquette’s words similarly ring true for the state of Hollywood and its treatment of actresses. As indicated previously, beauty is often the topic of choice on the red carpet instead of the phenomenal work accomplished by women in the industry. The worst kept secret in Hollywood is the shelf life of an actress’ time in which she goes from sexy leading lady to fourth-billed, middle aged nag. By paying actresses less money, Hollywood reinforces this outdated attitude, valuing marketability over merit.

The night wasn’t just full of calls to action. Some speeches were poignant messages of understanding in the face of societal pressures and stigmas. After winning Best Adapted Screenplay for The Imitation Game, Graham Moore, bared his soul, saying:

Oscars Graham MooreAlan Turing never got to stand on a stage like this and look out at all of these disconcertingly attractive faces. And I do. And that’s the most unfair thing I think I’ve ever heard. In this brief time here, what I want to use it to do is to say this: When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong. And now, I’m standing here and I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere: Yes, you do. I promise you do. You do. Stay weird, stay different. And then, when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along.

Moore’s speech struck a chord, tapping into the cultural atmosphere of isolation and alienation towards anyone deemed “different”. Whether you’re gay, straight, queer, trans, or just left of center, the truth of Moore’s words can apply to just about anyone. It was especially moving given that earlier in the broadcast Dana Perry, producer of the winner for Best Short Subject Documentary, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, dedicated the award to her son who’d committed suicide in 2005 and proclaimed that suicide needed to be talked about “out loud” before the orchestra played her off. After the speech, Perry told reporters:

We need to talk about suicide out loud to try to work against the stigma and silence around suicide because the best prevention for suicide is awareness and discussion and not trying sweep it under the rug. [Source: ABC News]

When I was studying archival science in college there was one particular lesson that remained prominent: if you’re not in the record, then you don’t exist. The same is true of media and if there’s really an overall message to take away from this year’s Oscars, it’s that visibility equals legitimacy. Those in charge of crafting the Oscars ceremony love to wax poetic about how film reveals things about human nature or how the movies are a oscarreflection of our society. So what does this year’s smattering of nominees say about our society now? Who are we? What do we value? Whose voice is coming through louder? Who has a voice? We need to see ourselves and we need to be challenged to experience the uncomfortable truths of our society. The movies can’t completely solve these issues, but it’s a familiar medium, a language we all speak, and those responsible for honoring the industry’s achievements might do well to realize that when they cast their ballots next year.

Oh, Jupiter Ascending, you had such high aspirations and yet you failed so badly at achieving anything short of “so bad it’s good” status as a movie. It’s unfortunate too when you consider the latest high-concept space-opera wannabe movie from the Jupiter AscendingWachowski siblings is the only main stream release film to come out this year that isn’t an adaptation, sequel, or reboot of an existing property. Unfortunately, originality is the only thing going for it as the movie slogs around from beautiful set piece to beautiful set piece with no rhyme or reason given to the actual plot or developing any of the characters beyond their archetypal role. But I can tell you right now it’s the most fun you’ll have at the movies until Age of Ultron comes out in May!

For the curious: Jupiter Ascending is about the titular Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a Russian-born immigrant working as a cleaning lady in Chicago, who finds out she’s the genetic reincarnation of the deceased matriarch of the Abraxas family – an intergalactic dynasty and corporation of millennia old humans who’re responsible for “seeding” the Earth. The discovery of her new-found regality, which comes with ownership of the Earth, puts Jupiter in the middle of an economic power play between the three children of the late mommy Abraxas with Earth serving as the brass ring for all parties involved. The oldest of the siblings, Balem (Eddie Redmayne), however, is more than ready to “harvest” the Earth – cull the population to make a goo-like regenerative serum from human genetic material – if it means keeping the planet, and it’s profits, out of everyone else’s hands. Oh, and Channing Tatum plays a human/wolf hybrid named Caine who’s basically there to continually save Jupiter and fly around on his fancy gravity-defying boots.

jupiter-ascending-_23-jpgSo where did the movie go wrong? Well, just about every aspect of the film is problematic. Some of these problems are clearly the result of the film’s delayed release by Warner Bros. from July 2014 to February 2015 for reshoots and an extended post-production schedule. It’s understandable that the studio might be concerned with another high-concept science fiction movie from the Wachowskis considering their last foray, Cloud Atlas, was only saved from being a financial bomb by the international box office. Add to that the popularity of recent sci-fi action hits like Guardians of the Galaxy and, to a lesser extent, Edge of Tomorrow, and it’s not surprising that the studio would set aside pseudo-philosophical exposition and world-building in favor of what’s proven popular to audiences. That’s what Hollywood does.

The result of such late demands and changes, however. is a movie that’s edited within an inch of its life. The first act suffers the most from these edits. The choppy exposition and lack of transitional scenes only serve to introduce characters quickly and push the plot forward so they can get to the next action piece. For example, Jupiter, in need of money to buy an expensive telescope, decides to sell her eggs to a medical facility. While she’s in the waiting room fidgeting nervously, the nurse calls her name and the immediate scene following is Jupiter being put under anesthesia and fighting against the nurses while groggily 1401886372_jupiter-ascending-467saying she’s changed her mind. There’s no scene of Jupiter getting prepped for the procedure or watching as the nurses set out their instruments, nothing that would make her uneasy and lead to doubts. It’s a lazy cut from nervous to full on fighting against the overly insistent nursing staff all for the explicit purpose of getting Caine into the operating room to save Jupiter from assassins faster. I’m not kidding that the movie hinges on Jupiter being kidnapped or handed off from one crazy Abraxas sibling to the next so she can be put in a position where Caine has to rescue her, which means pew! pew! pew! BOOM! and scene. Rinse and repeat. When all is said and done, Jupiter is nothing more than the film’s maguffin, or more accurately, the sexy lamp.

Not that anyone in the cast comes off that much better. Perhaps there were deleted scenes that fleshed out the characters more, but studio meddling can only be blamed for so much when there are significant structural and character problems that had to have been in the script from the get go. The Wachowskis have previously been criticized for favoring style over substance and it definitely shows in this case. Jupiter is the damsel in distress with no significant wants, needs, or motivation after learning she’s essentially Queen of the Universe. Not even the bare minimum of effort is put into making her remotely interesting and it doesn’t help that Kunis’ go-to reaction to everything is just “meh”. Presented with a new dump of exposition or yet another inconvenient kidnapping, Jupiter takes it all in with about the same amount of emotional heft you’d find from Twilight’s Bella Swan.

Jupiter marriageUnlike Edward and Bella, Caine and Jupiter at least have some chemistry, which is mostly due to Tatum’s natural charm since he’s given very little to work with as a the brooding, tortured, and misunderstood hybrid soldier with a chip on his shoulder where royalty is concerned. SO TORTURED! All of this so there can be some sort of class conflict to serve as romantic tension between the literal dog soldier and the low-born turned royal special snowflake. The three Abraxas siblings don’t have much to offer beyond what you’d expect from warring elites with mommy issues. Redmayne’s Balem rasps and whispers his dialogue in an attempt to be more interesting than his cartoonish, Oedipal tyrant role will allow; Douglas Booth’s Titus is the hedonist looking to steal some of the profits from his brother; and Tuppence Middleton’s Kalique, though the least threatening, is perfectly happy to play Glinda the Good Witch to the whole proceedings by using Jupiter as a proxy saboteur. The only believable relationship in the entire movie is between Caine and Stinger (Sean Bean), and that mostly consists of punching, betrayal, and motivational speeches – though not necessarily in that order.

The awesomely awful final product, however, is still one of the most entertaining movies to come out amid the Oscar-baiting drudgery in theaters right now. Even when it’s trying to be super serious, Jupiter Ascending comes off as goofy craziness and I love it for that! The smallest detail, like character names, produces a loving groan of “Really?” from me. Bean’s Stinger is a human/bee hybrid, get it? Caine is part dog, Get It? There’s a human/elephant hybrid named Nesh, GET IT?! Obvious names are obvious! The dialogue is either overly heavy-handed or so amazingly cheesy you’re not sure how the actors managed to say their lines with a straight face. It’s a movie that wants to be grandiose in its execution but for every huge effects shot of a space ship riddled with decadent golden statues there’s an obvious green screen moment of Channing Tatum trying to make faketerry gilliam skating with Kunis riding piggyback look cool. It’s not cool, it’s hilarious especially if you think about Tatum miming skating while making faces for the slo-mo shot. Even as I typed that sentence I started laughing to myself. And the Brazil-inspired bureaucracy sequence (complete with Terry Gilliam cameo) was priceless in its complete disregard for what the film had previously established in tone and style. Oh, Jupiter Ascending, never change!

Actually, I’d like to see the shooting script for Jupiter Ascending or, at the very least, I hope the Wachowskis put out a Director’s Cut of the film. I’m curious about what was so obviously cut from the movie and whether or not it would make the story better or add to the insanity. I know the Wachowskis don’t like to put out alternate cuts, or do commentary, but I think Jupiter Ascending would only benefit because to say that that the film is a hot mess is a bit disingenuous. For all of the special effects and fast-paced action sequences, there are some interesting ideas and valiant attempts at world-building going on throughout the film. Maybe the Wachowskis were too ambitious or overreaching, but I’d rather filmmakers were too ambitious and failed than played it safe and succeeded. Hollywood, unfortunately, doesn’t see it that way. I’m confident though that despite its poor performance in theaters, Jupiter Ascending will reach cult status when the DVDs and Blu-Rays come out. And I look forward to the movie nights that follow.

So, have you seen Jupiter Ascending? What did you think?

The_Wachowskis_JUPITER_RISING_On_The_Move_At_Warner_Bros

 

Sam talks with Ben Blacker, co-creator and writer for the Thrilling Adventure Hour! They chat about the writing process, the stage show turned podcast turned successful kickstarter, and television as a medium.

Ben Blacker

Follow @BenBlacker and @ThrillingAdv
Check out thrillingadventurehour.com

Intro and outro music “French Kiss” by Mrs. Howl