reviews

Bucky Barnes and the Scraps of Humanity

Spoilers throughout for Captain America: Civil War

 

I read in an interview for Captain America: The Winter Soldier that actor Sebastian Stan had based his performance as the Winter Soldier/Steve Rogers’s best friend in part from his observations of his step-father battle with Alzheimer’s. As someone whose job it is to care for people suffering from a variety of conditions, including Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia…I can tell you, it really shows. This is probably why that character has resonated so strongly with me: I never was a Marvel fan or even a Captain America fan until I saw The Winter Soldier. Then I saw Captain America: Civil War and realized that this movie continued all the threads that had so completely pulled me into its predecessor…including everything that made Bucky Barnes so achingly familiar.

Perhaps the saddest moment for me in this surprisingly sad movie was when the bad guy was triggering Bucky’s programming…all while Bucky was trying desperately to get away from him, before Zemo could finish saying the words that would remove what little scraps of humanity Bucky had regained for himself. The look on his face, that raw desperation and frenzied panic: I’ve seen that look before. I’ve seen it many times. It has been my painful privilege to be witness to the moment when the switch flips between lucidity and confusion and I’ve seen that look of panicked desperation to hold onto themselves on the faces of my residents. And I’ve seen the look of profound guilt and powerlessness when they come back to themselves and count up the damage done.

One resident didn’t recognize me when I came in to check on her and scratched my face and my arms, yelling that she was going to kill me. I left the room and when I went back an hour later to check on her again, she was crying. You see, when her memory of who I was came back, the memory of what she had done to me didn’t leave. She was crying, begging me to forgive her and wanting to know if I still loved her.

I told her of course. I told her that what happened wasn’t her fault, that she hadn’t chosen this disease, that she hadn’t chosen to forget who I was. She hadn’t chosen to cause pain to the people around her. It wasn’t her fault.

“No,” she replied. “I didn’t chose this. But I did this,” she added, resting her hand on the scratch marks her fingers had left on my arm only an hour before. That is almost word-for-word the exact same conversation as in a scene between Bucky and Steve in Captain America: Civil War. 

It hit me like a load of bricks, because like me, Steve had no answer for that. There’s nothing you can say, really. You can’t deny them their pain anymore than you can deny them their humanity. You can’t affirm their agency and deny them the validity of the experience of losing their minds. Alzheimer’s and other traumas shatter people, their lives, their sense of identity. As a caregiver, or really just as someone who cares about them, you don’t want to diminish their sense of personhood even more.

And that was the second saddest part of this movie: watching Bucky in Romania, trying to gather to himself some scraps of his shattered humanity. Buying plums (which, incidentally, help to improve memory) and trying so hard to find again what it means to be a person instead of a weapon that happens to breathe. Particularly potent is the behind-the-scenes reveal by Stan that Bucky’s backpack, the only thing he takes with him when he runs, contains notebooks in which he has recorded every scrap of his life that he can remember, good and bad, things he’s done both of his own free will and at the control of others. Watching all that effort be disregarded by so many, unaknowledged and unappreciated; watching so many of the numerous characters be unable or unwilling to see the other, silent victim in the Winter Soldier’s crimes: Bucky Barnes himself. Watching, knowing that whatever peace he’s managed to find on his own is about to shattered.

If Bucky’s character arc in Captain America: The Winter Soldier was about the difficulty of free will over unquestioning obedience, as I suggested in my previous post on these movies, Captain America: Civil War is about the difficulty of choices and what it means to hold on to your humanity. Free will might start with a single choice, like, say, pulling a man who claims to be your old friend out of a river, but it is a choice that has to be made every single day for the rest of your life. To do the right thing, no matter how much pain it brings you. I don’t think Bucky’s courage in going back to Siberia, a place where his humanity was systematically stripped away, is acknowledged as much as it deserves.

Talk about following your friend into the jaws of death.

My residents may not march into battle, or fight Iron Man to defend their friends, but I see the same courage in their everyday lives. They live everyday in fear and dread of losing more of themselves to the disease…and yet they still struggle to live their lives. They grow attached to me, knowing they might forget me at any moment; they still struggle to be good people, even when they can’t remember the person they were before. They struggle to hold on to their shattered humanity, while so often their struggle and humanity are both ignored. We may not put them in cryostatis, like the Winter Soldier, but we do frequently shove them in a corner, forgotten. We forget to speak to them directly, to treat them like people instead of broken objects.

Broken people are people still and even the ravaged scraps of humanity are worth protecting.

Categories: ordinary life, reviews | 1 Comment

Three Requests

Fourth Season of Battlestar Galactica.
Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones.
Star Trek Into Darkness
John Carter of Mars
Jack The Giant Slayer
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Man of Steel

 

The above list is one of movies (and TV shows) that were panned by critics and/or belittled in the comments section on the Internet.
It’s also a list of movies that I thoroughly enjoyed. We can now add one more movie to this list: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
This post is something that’s been building up inside me for quite a while–but in reading the comment section of a site I regularly go to it finally bubbled out. Here you go.

Look, if a movie isn’t to your liking, that’s fine. Actually, that’s more than fine: if something’s not your cup of tea you have the right not to pretend to enjoy it. If you want to state the reasons you didn’t like something, that’s fine too. More than fine. Be passionate, be eloquent, be expressive. You have a right to your own opinion. It would be a sad, colorless world if everybody thought the same and liked the same things. But don’t call me a “pretentious idiot” or a “bad fan with bad taste” or any of the other hateful words thrown around the Internet just because I enjoyed the thing you didn’t like. I would make three requests of everyone posting opinions on the Internet, including myself.

1) Be honest when stating your opinions: don’t pre-judge based on someone else’s opinion. Go see the movie or go read the book before you start flinging around opinions. If you didn’t like because you didn’t like it, that’s one thing. If you’re tearing into it because you read a bunch of crap about it online, that’s another. You have the right to think for yourself and, if I may be so bold, the responsibility to exercise this right.

2) Be kind while you are typing your review or comment. Remember that real people will read it. Real people with real emotions that can be damaged with real consequences. While it is true that some people take things too personally and are extremely sensitive, that doesn’t excuse unkindness. Bullying isn’t okay just because you can’t see the other person’s face when you call their opinion or their work the “stupidest shit ever”.
3) Be respectful of people with a different opinion. Remember that any story is a two-way relationship between author and audience. No one is going to experience a movie in the exact same way as the person sitting next to them because we all bring a unique perspective to it. Each story means something different to each person who hears/reads/hears it. The question is: what did it mean to you?

So what is my unique perspective? Why did I enjoy both Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice?
I like this Superman because he’s quiet, understated. He reminds me of Helo from Battlestar Galactica: the incorruptible good man surrounded by chaos who is constantly misunderstood and consistently relied upon. This type (or should I say, archetype) of character is special to me. This Superman is reserved crusader and I, as an INFP, really connect with that. This Superman is humble and I am inspired by that. I struggle with pride: I like everyone to know what I’ve done. I wish I could be more like this Superman, who is humble and doesn’t require or desire the fanfare.

I loved the strong emphasis on the influence of mothers. So many stories skip over this, but Batman v Superman lingered here. Superman’s love for his mother is his strongest connection to humanity and that influence was clearly shown. Shown and celebrated. Maybe it’s me, because I have a very strong relationship with my mother…but this element really resonated with me.

This Batman made me stop and think. I see in him a lot of what I see in America right now: weary, losing hope, getting old and becoming accustomed to cruelty. Easily manipulated by fear. No longer believing that goodness and good men exist. His characterization warns me not to let my fears take control because they can be manipulated. If I no longer believe that good people exist, I won’t be able to recognize them even if they are standing in front of me. I won’t believe that I can be a good person…I won’t even try. Why should I? As Alfred so perfectly says, “It’s the feeling of helplessness that turns good men cruel.”
But, in this movie, Superman inspires Batman to hope again. To try again. Go ahead and laugh, but that inspires me. That’s why I liked this movie.

I’m not claiming Batman v Superman was a perfect movie. It wasn’t. There was a bit too much crammed in, it was disjointed…but I liked it. I consider it a good movie and I’m gonna see it again. Most importantly, my brother loved it. That’s the big guns in my argument here: please be kind and consider this before you call something a “worthless piece of garbage”.
It might be something precious to another person. Don’t call them stupid for having different taste and different needs.
In the interest of practicing what I preach…if you enjoyed the Star Wars prequels…that’s great. I prefer the Originals and Sequels but I’ll admit there’s merit in the prequels. Personally, I think they’re a bit half-baked, but hey, that’s what people are saying about Batman v Superman. I guess every movie has flaws and we love them in spite of it. We all just pick different flaws to ignore.

However, if you liked The Last Airbender movie, I’m gonna beg you to explain that to me.

 

 

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The Force Awakens: Spoilers Ahead

Spoilers ahead! Turn back if you haven’t seen the movie!

It has taken almost 24 hours for The Force Awakens to sink in. Having absorbed and processed it, I can now say that I don’t think we would have gotten this movie had the prequels not been so…half-baked, so not quite right.
And that is not a condemnation. I felt betrayed by the prequels and I know other people did as well. No matter what, that feeling of betrayal sticks to Star Wars now, like a ghost. The makers of The Force Awakens chose to use those built-in emotions rather than ignoring or denying them: by doing so, I believe they crafted a heartbreakingly beautiful story. It’s painful, but oh, is it beautiful.

It’s like Kylo…Ben…is the prequel trilogy: obsessed with the wrong Skywalker. He’s convinced, as George Lucas was, that Anakin was the hero of the story and that belief has led him into the most vile of betrayals.
Before the bridge scene, I watched Han and thought, “He’s trying too hard.” At the time, I thought I was referring to JJ Abrams. Now I realize it was Han–and no wonder. When your hopes and dreams have been crushed so cruelly, of course you’d try too hard. He’s trying to go back into his old life–to be once again the Han Solo from Episode 4. But he’s grown too much since then, grown in joy and grief, to disappear into the selfish rascal. Truly, that scene on the bridge has to be one of the most painful things I have ever watched…but also one of the best bits of storytelling that I’ve ever seen.
I’ve never seen Kylo Ren be anything other than Kylo Ren, monster and murderer…and yet…on that bridge, I saw Ben Solo. I saw him in the spaces between the words; I saw him, reflected in the pain and love on Han’s face. I saw him and oh, how I wanted him to return…this person I’ve never met. I saw the good man’s son.
And then the light fades, the last rays of that sun extinguished and I saw the good man’s son commit evil…saw him become evil…and yet…
And yet, in the most vile of betrayals, I saw the purest love. In the blackest darkness, I saw the brightest light. A sad smile, a gentle touch. You can’t erase good, even if you kill it. Han dies forgiving his son, not blaming his wife or his friend for what has gone wrong. He forgives. His body might fall, but his spirit rises above. Good and love and loyalty…they are eternal, a Phoenix flame that is reborn again and again.
The same eyes in different people, as it were.

It is the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen…The Force Awakens is truly a story told almost completely in the subtext. The spoken words are but the echoes of the true drama; the frenzied action but the quiet murmur of the true struggle. I actually kept losing track of the physical action, I was caught up in the storm of emotions. Besides the bridge scene, three other moments stand out to me as the best distillation of the story.

A man with the birthright summons a lightsaber, but it won’t come to him. It sits quietly in the snow, in condemnation and mourning. You have been judged and found wanting. Good was your birthright and you turned away from it. You are not worthy to carry the weapon of Luke Skywalker. That legacy will pass to another.

BB-8 bumps a still R2-D2 and at first you think it’s a friendly hello. Then, he keeps insistently nudging him and you realize it’s something so much more bittersweet. It’s not “Hello”, it’s “Please wake up. Please wake up, my hero.”

Rey holds out the lightsaber to Luke as a musical score builds to an understated climax. That last moment is a question–a question and a challenge. A double-edged question at that. “Are you who I believe you to be? Will you be my teacher? Am I worthy of your legacy?”
In a meta-contextual way, it’s a challenge to Star Wars itself…by Star Wars.

Who is Luke Skywalker? What is Star Wars? Who are any of us?
Begin again. Chose again. Believe again.

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The Force Awakens: my spoiler-free thoughts

Michael, Dad and I went to see The Force Awakens on Saturday. Mom couldn’t go because flashing lights bother her eyes.

This is going to be at least a two-part reaction. Up first: my spoiler-free reaction.

~~~~~~

I’ll be honest: for one hideous second, I was afraid I hated the movie.

That moment passed. More moments passed and the movie ended. I just sat there, silent and still and completely overwhelmed. For one very long moment, I couldn’t remember how to string words together; I literally could not speak.

Then I turned to Dad and said: “I feel like I need to think for a week.”

Then I felt an overpowering urge to hug my family and tell them that I loved them.

Then I cried all the way home.

Then, when we got home it was like a comedy sketch, all three of us falling over each other, trying to get to Mom. I’ll never forget the look on her face–that look of absolute, dumbfounded bewilderment as the three of us, sobbing and staggering, rushed to hold her.

“Was it that bad?” she asked.

“No,” said Michael, “it was that beautiful.”

“I wanted you to be there so badly,” Dad told her.

“It was Star Wars,” I sniffled. “It broke my heart, but oh, was it beautiful and so Star Wars.”

We piled into the house, still crying, still reaching for each other. Jasper, Mom’s puppy, threw himself down and just panted. He’s such an empathic little dog that the poor guy was getting completely overwhelmed by the rampant emotions swirling around him.

~~~~~

30 hours later, I’m still drained. I felt like I’ve had a year’s worth of emotions crammed into me and I’m still processing. I wasn’t expecting to be this moved by it. I was expecting either exhilaration and excitement…or disdain and disappointment. I wasn’t expecting this reaction.

The Force Awakens was Star Wars, and oh, it was the most heartbreakingly beautiful thing I have seen in a long time. This is the movie I have been waiting for so long and oh, was it ever worth the wait. Go see it.

Like now.

I need to see it again.

This is Star Wars the way it should be.

 

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Buried Treasure…well, buried musings at least

Found in my “random ramblings” notebook/app. It’s about a year old…though I don’t remember writing it! Oh well. Here ya go.

Spoilers for the Twilight saga, especially Breaking Dawn

The threads that hold Twilight together are heartbeats of Bella. When that stops, when those threads are snapped, the whole collapses inwards.
I’ve learned two very important lessons as a story teller.
Number one: the tighter you pull the tension is just that much more that you will have to control the release. Consequences must flow smoothly from choices. You can break your rules, but you cannot break your promises.
It’s in the wrap-up that we learn the caliber of the storyteller, and what the story was really about.

The second lesson?
Boiled down, reduced to its bare elements, Twilight was about an impossible situation. Two lovers, separated by nature itself. Meyer herself called it, “And so the lion fell in love with the lamb.”
Put in another way, a bird may love a fish but where will they live?
Vampire and human. Where is the balance? Meyer dragged this question out for three and a half books, and then suddenly the whole thing comes to a screeching, ragged stop.
Because, in the end, there is no balance. Not here. It’s not that Edward eventually changes Bella into an immortal. It’s not that they will be frozen as newly weds for all eternity.
The trouble I have with Breaking Dawn is Bella and Edward get everything.
Bella gets her saga-long wish: immortality.
She knows that to keep Edward forever, she must give up her humanity: her ability to adapt, to change. She can’t even keep her family or human friends.
Besides all the sacrifice, the other price for immortality is a surrender to nature: the thirst for human blood. Meyer spent so much time reminding us that this thirst is almost unstoppable. Even the Cullens, held up as the very best of vampires, succumb to the temptation.

But when the change comes, Bella keeps everything; becoming, in a sense, the best of two worlds. Her ability to control herself leaves everyone else in the story gasping and fawning over her.

Edward should have just turned her in Twilight, because he was wrong, folks. Bella was right: she could handle the change and hold on to everything she cared about before.

A choice is a limitation, but Bella makes her choice and the only consequences are good ones.
It’s all too easy.
And my world isn’t easy. It’s filled with impossible situations and sacrifice. In fiction, I can submerge myself in another’s choices and possibly learn how to make better ones myself. I didn’t learn anything from Twilight, not anything that’s going to stick with me and help me through a crucible.
I’m not saying that everyone should have my reaction to Twilight…a story is a relationship between words and a person. But this relationship didn’t do much for me.

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The 100 renewed!

http://m.deadline.com/2014/05/cw-cancels-carrie-diaries-star-crossed-tomorrow-people/

Yay! More The 100!

Now, don’t you dare turn it into just a soap opera, CW! I like my Sci-Fi to be intelligent and the romantic drama to not take over the rest of the plot. Thank you.

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The power of Superman

Spoiler warning: all of Man of Steel movie.

The internet is a funny thing.
If I really liked a book or movie, I tend not to read as much about them online. So many opinions swirling around, too many haters, etc, etc. It’s just easier to deal with if I don’t feel as invested in the story under review. Consequently, I was mostly unaware of the massive hate-storm on Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel until recently.
By the way, I really loved Man of Steel. It’s very much a classic story, retold for today’s audience. My brother has spoken often of how it is the quintessential Sun-god story. I loved how it was action-heavy (as is expected of a summer blockbuster), but still found lots of time for the quieter moments and the motivations of each character. Many people are complaining about Superman killing, and blaming him for the extreme destruction shown in the movie. I was reading this stuff and before I knew it, the words were flowing from my fingers in response…so I suppose I’m doing a blog post on it! Huh.

Yes, the film-makers could have cut a lot of action from the film. I’m not debating that, nor am I claiming that Man of Steel is a perfect movie. Not at all. It is, however, in my opinion, a good movie with important themes running through it. Zack Snyder had stated that he wanted this movie to explore the real-world consequences of having someone as powerful as Superman…and in terms of collateral damage, I’d say he succeeded. But though excessive, I don’t believe the destruction was gratuitous, serving no purpose but to amuse the audience’s fascination with chaos. Quite the contrary; I believe that by end of the movie, Clark/Superman had discovered a very important lesson through the destruction. In rewatching the movie, two snippets of the Metropolis battle stand out to me. One is when Faora kills a human soldier by snapping his neck. In the process, she drops him out of the camera frame. At the end of his final battle with Zod, Superman wins by breaking his neck in an eerily similar move…but Zod remains in the camera’s view the entire time.
So what’s the significance?
Man of Steel is filmed in the same style as Battlestar Galactica: a hand-held, “found footage” kind of style. This means the relationship between the characters and the camera is very important. Back to Faora. In dropping the soldier out of the camera frame, she has communicated something to us: that soldier wasn’t important to her. Neither his life nor his death meant anything to her; he was a temporary obstacle at best. Killing him simply didn’t affect her, anymore than tossing out the trash would.
But Superman keeps Zod up in the frame even while he kills him. He didn’t want to kill Zod and begged him to stop…until it was quite clear that there was nothing else he could do except kill him. It was taking all of Superman’s strength just to hold Zod still and to split his focus to attempt a non-lethal solution would almost certainly mean the death of the human family. So he breaks Zod’s neck and the camera lingers on his fallen enemy. Killing the homicidal maniac responsible for God only knows how many deaths affected Superman in a very fundamental, very personal way. He stares at Zod’s body as if he can’t believe that his hands, hands that had held his mother and Lois, could do something so violent. There’s also something else in his eyes, a look that telegraphed to me that he’s just discovered how easy it could be to kill.
But he’s so much stronger than anybody else on Earth; with the Kryptonians gone, it’s doubtful he’ll have an opponent as strong as himself again. So, the question remains: does Superman have the right to kill anyone who is not his physical equal? We saw with Faora just how quickly and easily he could permanently dispatch human threats…but where is the line between what is easy and what is right?
The age we live in now is hardened and cynical. We like pushing the envelope, testing definitions and labels. We like gritty and edgy and dark, and because Superman is such a straight-shooter, such a “boy scout”, I think Snyder and co made a smart call showing us why Superman won’t kill: it’d be far too easy for him; far too easy for someone as powerful as he is to get into the habit of killing his enemies. Man of Steel, in my opinion, did an excellent job of showcasing exactly how powerful Superman really is. Take the battle of Smallville, the destruction of Metropolis: this is exactly what he is capable of if he wants to be, or even if he’s just being careless or distracted.
Jonathan Kent told him that he would have to decide who he wanted to be, how he wanted to live. Just by virtue of being what he was, Clark would always be an important force in the world. But who he was…what rules he lived by…I think he realized then that the only force that can truly control Superman is Clark Kent’s moral compass. And to prevent himself from slipping down Zod’s slippery slope, his morals are going to have to be consistent and firm.
I suppose they could have told us all this in dialogue…but this Superman is more expressive with his physicality than with his words. Killing an enemy, even though it was necessary, clearly left a foul taste in his mouth. His lack of experience in hand-to-hand combat resulted in major death and destruction. Going forward into the Superman-Batman movie, I can totally see this Superman saying “This can’t ever happen again. This situation will not happen again.” Going forward, this Superman is going to make himself into the biblical definition of meek: strength under control. He’s more powerful than anyone else around him, so he’s holding himself to higher standards.

Props to my mother for providing a thought-provoking conversation on meekness. Seriously, you need to write up your thoughts on Karl “Helo” Agathon from Battlestar.

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The 100

I read the book and it was, to put it mildly, crap. The TV show, however…
Seriously, this is an amazing show. It’s still recognizably a CW show, with “pretty” people and unnecessary drama of the romantic kind. But still…pretty freaking good. For those unfamiliar with the show, it is set after some kind of global catastrophe that seems to be radiological in nature. Humanity survived through those who managed to escape to an orbiting spacecraft known by the original title “The Ark”. Because of the need for order and the extremely limited resources, the justice system has become rigid and harsh. Any crime is a capital crime and executions are carried out by “floating”; i.e. shoving a person out an airlock while they’re still alive. Cruel and horrific? Yes. But the fear of it seems to be an effective tool of a desperate society.
So what happens if you’re under the age of majority and are convicted of a crime? You’re put in jail until you’re 18, then retried and most often floated. The show starts after something’s gone wrong aboard the Ark…after nearly a century of sheltering humanity, the poor thing is falling apart. We’re told that the Earth still needs another 100 years to heal, but the increasingly desperate folks in charge decide to kill two birds with one stone: free up resources and test the Earth’s habitability by sending all 100 juvie delinquents to the ground. Heading up this plan is Dr. Abby Griffin…or as we’re introduced to her, the mother of our leading lady Clarke Griffin, who is in jail for a crime of conviction and just a few weeks shy of turning 18.
So, is Abby cruel enough to use her own daughter as a lab rat or loving enough to give her an another (admitted long) shot at life? Or desperate enough to be both?
I won’t say too much more because my family is going to watch it when it comes out on Netflix, but here is a basic, spoiler-free version of why I’m addicted.

• Follow-through.
It is a CW show, so there’s no guarantee that this will continue, but so far I have been pleased. The show will present a challenge, an impossible choice, and then the characters have to make that choice and live with the consequences. Actual character development ensues. I guess ten years of blood, sweat and tears (as Michael puts it) from the Smallville team really did some good for the network. They’ve really stepped up their game with Arrow, The Tomorrow People and now The 100.

• Battlestar Galactica feels.
I miss my Battlestar. I really miss Helo and Starbuck and the Adamas. And The 100 feels like Battlestar-lite…not as gritty, not as deep, but still thought-provoking. I especially like how the show does not conveniently forget that these kids on the ground have all been convicted of crimes. I rather expected the youngsters to start acting like teenaged heroes, but no. These aren’t the cream of the crop; these are teenagers who have seen and done some rough stuff. Clarke is from a more privileged background but she is treated differently because of it. Multiple characters refer to her as “Princess”…which I find a realistic reaction. Speaking of which…

• Mostly authentic characters.
Now, every fantasy/sci-fi story has The One Big Lie, usually related to the set up. And however far-flung and unrealistic the situation, the characters have to be relatable, their reactions authentic for the audience to suspend disbelief. For the most part, both the kids on the ground and adults in space are behaving like people, not plot points. Okay, the adults more than the kids, but isn’t that to be expected anyways?
Probably the most compelling characters are the Griffins, both of whom are healers by nature and leaders by necessity. Also, the relationship between Bellemy and Octavia (the only siblings on the show) has a very natural, very organic feel to it. You honestly believe that Bellemy would do literally anything for his little sister and Octavia both resents and relies on him.

• Genetic diversity in the cast.
The Chancellor of the Ark, the most powerful human in existence…is a black man. Holy cow! And you want to know what’s even better than that? Nobody ever mentions it. The color of skin is a bit of a non issue when humanity is on the brink of extinction. And a bit of a rant here, but with humanity in the thousands and huddled on one spacecraft, pretty much everybody is going to be of mixed racial origins. And I love that the show reflects this and a lot of the characters are not pearly white Caucasians. Yeah, I know all this sounds funny coming from a pearly white Caucasian girl…but hey, you’re only looking at the outside, people.

• Forward momentum.
There’s a sense that this train is headed somewhere and going there fast…unlike the book, which kind of squished it’s way from drama to melodrama. Seriously, the show is 100 times better than the book; as in it is actually interested more in the premise of the story than the hormones of its teenage characters. Never thought I’d say that!

There’s no guarantee that this show will keep up its steam. But so far, The 100 is an intriguing premise with decent execution. Looking forward to Wednesday’s new episode!
By the way, even though it’s written as “the one hundred”, it’s called “the hundred”. Drives me nuts, but there you go.

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Questions: A review of Captain America: the Winter Soldier

Massive spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Michael and I have a tradition of going out to the movies frequently. It’s our special sibling tradition. Last week we went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Confession time: I don’t really like Marvel movies. There are exceptions, of course, like Thor…but for the most part I don’t really get involved with them. I should explain that for me, stories are like people and those that I like, I invest in. I build a relationship with them; I spend hours exploring their depths, their subtleties, their themes. And Marvel movies feel more like product than art to me…like they are made to pull in cash and not to explore an idea. I loved Thor because it was felt about brothers. Even then, it still felt a bit hollow to me.
Not so The Winter Soldier. As soon as I first heard the title, something felt different; the combination of those three words made me think of mystery and sadness and something precious that’s been lost. I wasn’t mistaken.
I loved this movie and, more so than any Marvel movie to date, I’ve invested in it. If Thor, my previous favorite was about brothers, the Winter Soldier is about friendship. In a refreshing turn, they withhold a romance from this movie, so as not to distract from the critical relationships in The Winter Soldier: Steve and Bucky; Nick Fury and Alexander Pierce.

That Pierce would betray and attempt to kill Fury, his own friend, was bad enough. That he would use the man who had once been Steve’s friend to do it is pure evil. Even in the world of story, there’s no good reason to spend so much effort to brainwash Bucky…except that he was Captain America’s best friend. “Even when I had nothing, I had Bucky,” Steve says mournfully and that has to be the reason Hydra spent so much effort to turn Bucky, to strip Steve of everything. Bucky as the Winter Soldier is the perversion of everything Steve wanted to be. In the previous Captain America movie, Dr Erskine asked pre-serum Steve if he wanted to be a soldier to kill people and Steve replied no, he just didn’t like bullies. So Hydra took his best friend, a fellow soldier of honor, and striped him of everything but the killer. Gone are the motivations, the reasons why, the drive to protect those weaker than himself. They even take his voice. The man who once Bucky is now nothing but Pierce’s weapon.

You can trace Bucky’s return to humanity in his few lines of dialogue and the gradual destruction of his uniform. First Natasha shoots off his goggles: he must now look at his victims with his own eyes. Then Steve rips off his mask and we realize it was never a mask. It was a gag. It’s only after the mask comes off that he really speaks and even after, his speeches are short, mostly questions and statements of fact. “Who is Bucky?” “Who was that man?” “But I knew him.” He says everything in flat tone, no inflection. Sebastian Stan does a terrific job of containing the emotion. His facial movements are sparse and it’s only in the eyes that we see the raging confusion. But his tentative questions go unanswered…the only response he receives from his master is the cold command “Wipe him and start again.”
He is sent out again and while the mask remains off, it’s almost more painful for Steve, for the audience…because Bucky’s face has become the mask. “You know me,” Steve pleads, using almost the same words the Winter Soldier used earlier with Pierce. And the response “No I don’t!” about broke my heart because it is the first to be spoken above a monotone. There’s a world of emotion in these three words, battering around the inside of a man who has forgotten how to feel…has forgotten how to be a man. The next line “Shut up!” is a desperate plea for everything to stop. It’s so much easier not to think for yourself, to take orders without question. Freedom is a hard responsibility and the cost is high. His transformation echoes the question of security raised in the film. Can humanity be trusted with its own freedom? Wouldn’t everything be simpler, neater, if we were all unquestioning like the Winter Soldier?

The bad guys started losing the moment the Winter Soldier uttered his first question…because this is what it means to be free. Yes, the world would be “safer” if we were all gagged and labeled. It’d certainly be quieter. But the freedom to use our voices means the responsibility to use our minds. Free will is meant to be exercised. That’s why God gave it to us. The heartbreak of that final fight is a man caught on the edge and what he does with Captain America is a metaphor for what he does with his life. Mission: a black and white world and the ease of letting others decide the course of your life. Friend: a riot of colors and questions and choices. What kind of world do you want? One in which we strip a certain few of questions and morality and send them to do the dirty work? Or a world in which we all bear the responsibility to make hard choices and live with the consequences? Do we lock our questions behind a mask or do we find our own voices, no matter how broken?

In the end, Bucky dives into the Potomac after a drowning Steve, in a scene that strongly invokes the imagery of a baptism. And even though he walks off and leaves Steve, we can see that he is truly and only Bucky. Confused, broken, but full of questions and seeking answers. His own answers: not Hydra’s, not SHIELD’s, not Steve’s. His own.
The Winter Soldier never came out of the river.

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Splintered Scenes and Being Human

(Warning: contains spoilers for both the UK and US tv shows Being Human)
I’ve been thinking about story-telling lately. Sometimes when I’m writing, a scene will come out two ways; plot-wise, both versions are identical. It’s the emotions of the characters that are different and they come out in the subtle details: in posture, in the tone of someone’s voice, and, as my brother says, most especially in the eyes.
And it’s amazing, because these subtle differences can really change the tone of the scene or indeed, the entire story.

The other thing I’ve been doing lately is watching a BBC show called “Being Human”. In someways, I am very normal: I checked out Being Human because I read that the Hot Dwarf from the Hobbit (aka Kili) was in it. Boy, am I ever glad that Aidan Turner is easy on the eyes because I really, really like BBC’s Being Human…the first series, anyway. Indeed, I liked it so much that I decided to check out the American reimagining, as produced by the SyFy channel. How would the different setting and different styles affect the basic story? My gut reactions after first watching each pilot, BBC: wow! SyFy: eh. A lot of my reaction has to do with the different portrayals of the vampire characters, Mitchell as played by Aidan Turner in the BBC original and Aidan, played by Sam Witwer in the SyFy reimagining. (The American vampire’s name was taken from the BBC actor, by the way.) Though they are both tall, dark and handsome with an undercurrent of danger just waiting to erupt, with Aidan, this danger is expressed mainly as brooding–while Mitchell’s come across as desperation.

Let me take a scene that appears in both versions to illustrate how the subtle differences between two expressions of the same scene can stack up to change the tone of the whole story. In bare-bones plot points, these British and American scenes are almost carbon copies: the vampire’s on a date, ends up in bed with a girl, kills her and then sits down and cries. This girl is turned into a vampire and she comes back to kill the next girl that Mitchell/Aidan is getting involved with. Then in both versions, the new vampire chick taunts the main character to save this other girl by turning HER into a vampire; Mitchell and Aidan both refuse. Now for the differences.
In the BBC original, you don’t see Mitchell and Lauren’s date. You see them getting, er, amorous, and then Mitchell’s eyes go black and he switches seamlessly from one kind of lust to another. It takes all of twenty seconds and the only words are from Annie’s voiceover…a character not actually in the scene. In the SyFy version, the scene is much longer. Aidan is walking Rebecca home, they converse and she invites him in; the tone of this scene is quiet and laid-back until the fangs come out. It plays out like he loses control in the heat of the moment. He hangs back, hesitates at the front door and the bedroom door. No such hesitation is shown from the British vampire. Lauren even says to Mitchell’s next girl, Becca: “At least he took you out. We had to make do with a bottle of wine from the supermarket and a packet of Doritos at my place.” Later she says that they “barely made it to my bed”. For Mitchell, this night with Lauren was always selfish, always about what he wanted. It’s all about her body and her blood. In fact, drawing on his subsequent interactions with Becca, I’d say that he always knew the night was going to end with him killing Lauren.
In another point of interest: Mitchell’s killing is shown in full light, one brief but very clear moment; Aidan’s is in a darkened room, shown in quick flash-backs. Afterwards, both men sit with their backs against the bed, the girl they’ve just murdered sprawled out on top. In the American version, there is blood everywhere and Aidan is still strategically naked.
There are only two splotches of blood in the BBC version: dripping down from Lauren’s neck and on Mitchell’s mouth…blood that he quickly wipes off. The blood is on his hands now, hands that he uses that to hit himself over and over while he cries over what he has just done. Mitchell is also wearing jeans during this scene and going by BBC’s willingness to show skin, the clothes have to be deliberate. For one thing, it distances him from the deed. In Aidan’s remorse scene, it looks like he just rolled off the bed immediately after doing the deed. Mitchell, however, has taken the time to get dressed before reacting to what just happened; continuing the differences between premeditated versus loss of control.
Secondly, outside the story-world, the fact that Mitchell is dressed means your eyes aren’t drawn to what’s cleverly NOT being shown. Your attention is pulled back up to his face, to the self-disgust and the regret and the tears.
As for what happens next…Aidan makes a phone call to the other vampires and they are the ones that turn Rebekah, without his knowledge or consent. Mitchell turns Lauren himself, in an attempt to set right what he did wrong. It’s still selfish; he’s trying to make himself feel better. “It’s okay, I didn’t really kill her” kind of thing. He turns her, takes her to the other vampires and leaves her there. These are bits of information you find out gradually as they come up in the story–instead of the more direct, straight-forward storytelling of the SyFy version.
This difference alters the climax of the episode: the death of another young girl who had been rather desperately fawning over Mitchell/Aidan–Becca in the BBC version, Cara in the SyFy one.
It is completely and undeniably Mitchell’s fault that Becca is killed. He’s the one that took her out with the intention to feed from her; he’s the one that turned Lauren and then abandoned her to the likes of other vampires. It’s his seesaw of selfishness and hasty reaction that leads directly to an escalating chain of events that ends in another young girl dead, killed by Lauren to get back at him.
In the SyFy version, the blame is a bit murky. There’s definitely blame for Aidan…if he hadn’t lost control in the first place, neither Rebecca or Cara would never have come into contact with the vampire world…but it was not his choice to turn Rebecca; he didn’t abandon her and give her cause for bitterness. Aidan has a relief in the guilt that is closed to Mitchell: he only robbed Rebecca of her life, not her humanity. Aidan letting Cara die lacks the power of Mitchell’s choice not to turn Becca…because this stands in contrast to his actions with Lauren. Both girls died because of him, but at the end of the episode he has the strength of character to not attempt to white-wash his sins. He lets her go as an innocent human instead in bringing her into the world of the dead just to make himself feel better.
You need the darker sins, the deliberate wrong choices he made to lend power to ending. When George says: “Every inch of [the other vampires] is just hunger and fury…the energy it must take him every minute NOT to be like that!” you believe him. You’ve seen the best and the worst Mitchell can be, existing only a stone’s throw away from each other; the battle between them has never left his eyes, not once throughout the entire episode.

Being human is a struggle: everyone of us wrestle with ourselves every day. We all have to choose between floating in the current and trying to direct it. In the end, I preferred BBC’s Being Human because I felt the human condition, in all its glory and shame are represented the deepest in the character Mitchell. His darker sins give power to his struggle to hang onto whatever scraps of humanity he has left. He just wants something “good and normal” but he can’t remember how to go about it. On his own he is losing; he desperately needs his friends, and the house where they share the dream of a normal life, to chain the monster within.
This isn’t something I felt from Aidan. His desperation to be human didn’t feel as visceral as Mitchell’s struggle, didn’t stick with me as long. It stayed on the screen and didn’t leap into my life.

This is the kind of writer that I want to be: visceral emotions and ideas buried in the smallest gesture, characters that wear our skin and cry from our eyes.
So I guess whenever I come to scenes that splitters in two, I’ll have to call back my reactions to these two scenes and remember that less is more and that no amount of fancy editing can compete with raw emotion.

(I’m not watching the rest of BBC’s Being Human. I’ve read about it and I decided I don’t want to see the Box Tunnel 20 incident or the subsequent unraveling of Mitchell. I don’t doubt that it’s well done and believable…the quality of the writers and the actor are certainly high enough to pull it off…but I don’t want to see it. As Herrick says, it’s all about symbolism.
And I prefer to keep the symbolism of a Mitchell who is still successfully keeping his demons in check. I prefer to end with hope.)

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Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Fair warning: this review is going to assume that you have read both the Divergent trilogy and The Hunger Games trilogy. I’m not doing a plot outline, I’m just writing down the thoughts that struck when I set down Allegiant.
The last of a trilogy marketed as “the next Hunger Games”, Allegiant finds protagonists Tris and Tobias/Four going outside the walls of Chicago, the city that has been their entire world up until this point. They leave behind a city in chaos and revolt against a rebellion (and yes, that’s as confusing as it sounds).
In my opinion, this book had many of the same flaws that House of Hades had: the author rushed too much. The story wasn’t developed enough. It felt to me like the first draft of the story I’m plodding my way through right now: needing both cohesion and clarification.
The story itself was good–maybe brilliant, poignant–but the execution was not on par with the ideas of the story.
SPOILERS AHEAD
I liked that it was Tobias who lived instead of Tris. Tris had a complete feeling about her, even before she met Tobias, but Tobias was a broken man hiding behind four fears.
At the end of Allegiant, he had faced every single one of them in a more substantial way than endlessly going over his fear landscape. Fear of heights (which I think might actually have been symbolic of a fear of losing control over his life); claustrophobia (being metaphorically ‘put in a box’, limited by the world’s expectations…Marcus’s son, Dauntless, GD); fear of becoming like Marcus; fear of losing Tris. He had faced them all and come out a whole man–someone who was more than Four, stronger than Tobias.
I liked all these ideas that Roth presented…I didn’t like how I had to keep looking for the names “Tris” or “Tobias” to tell me which POV I was in. Tris is a much more straight-forward character than Tobias–they shouldn’t both speak in the same voice. Honestly, I didn’t think that Tobias’s POV added anything until after Tris died. Yes, it was cool to see Tris from another angle, but at the cost of his mystique. Up until Tris died, Tobias never felt like the kind of character to let us in his head so intimately.

I have always had a problem with Roth’s pacing and credibility….I’m not, and never have been, completely sold on her set up, either with the factions or the whole GP vs GD thing. Or indeed with the solutions used to win the war. A mass memory wipe and Evelyn’s 180? Sorry, no. I’ve reread the end several times and I still don’t see how Tris’s sacrifice saved the world. I see how it saved Caleb in more ways than just his survival, but the world? No; and I couldn’t help thinking that if I was David and that girl was trying to erase my memory, my life and the memories of everyone I knew, I’d have shot her too. I think Roth was going for a neat solution but it just didn’t fit, in my opinion.

In the end, it was a good story but my original thoughts after putting down Divergent still ring true: it’s trying to feel like the Hunger Games. And for me, the Hunger Games did not stay as words on a page. That story has infused itself into my bones, and the end of Mockingjay remains the most beautiful, poignant thing I have ever read.
In the end, happiness is the ultimate rebellion against this cruel, cold world. That Katniss and Peeta could be happy, even when they couldn’t be whole…that will stick with me for far longer than Tris’s sacrifice and Tobias’s grief.

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