Movie Review: Autopsy of Jane Doe

Overview:  2 men examine a female body to find out why she died.  Then they further examine her body and realize she’s trying to explain her experiences and make them empathize with them.

Seriously, at one point a male character actually says she’s making him feel what she felt as he examines her unspeaking body.  Because the only time men care about women is when they are dead.

And, since this is a horror movie, until the men ACTUALLY feel what she felt the movie won’t end, and mysterious things happen and cats die and the like.  Because to actually go through what a woman goes through is horror to men.

MORE PLOTTY OVERVIEW:  A naked female body is found half buried in a basement.  She’s brought to a morgue where a man and his son examine the body and find weirder and weirder goings on.  Lights flicker, cats die, there is a localized storm.  They keep flailing her body and mutilating her to find the reason she died, and as they do there is greater threat to their safety.

The Good:  I like isolated horror.  This takes place mostly in one dark basement room, the morgue.  It’s claustrophobic from the beginning:  a long elevator ride down, all the other dead people in the freezers, the colors are all subdued dark but not so dark you can’t see what’s going on.  Tension mounts throughout in nice beats that up the ante, so suspense is great even though we all know not everyone is going to make it out alive.

The Bad:  This ties in with the female.  The ‘lead’ female is a body on the bench getting repeatedly violated by men.   It’s a classic suspense film, with no females.  There are also definitely some cliches such as the son deciding this is his LAST autopsy with his dead before quitting the biz (Classic ‘I’m one day from retirement!).   There’s the shaking set, the cat dying (what up with cats having to die?), and of course – some of that dialogue around the men trying to figure out what happened to the Jane Doe and empathizing with what she went through.

The Female:  There were three.  This is no way came close to passing the Bechdel Test (2 women, speaking, to each other, and not about a man)

Jane Doe:  She’s a naked body with her mouth agape the entire time.  Oh!  And they comment on how small her waist is.  Sure, you can say this is a plot point because they realize it’s due to corsets and sets light to her age being older than now, but many times they comment on her waist.  Because waist size is important.  Her eye color is also important (and it’s important to note they never get it right, lol, because it’s clouded until like, 3 seconds of brown and then clouds again).  She is cut open.  They try to set her on fire but she resists fire.  She has charms branded on the inside of her flesh.  And she’s dead, she never talks OR gets a real name.

Random Girlfriend:  The young guy, son of the main morgue guy, has a girlfriend.  He wants to leave with her or something.  She might have died, I couldn’t tell.  I think she did, it was hard to tell.

Female Police Person:  I think?  Not quite sure.  Maybe had one line.

So, it was a’ight but nothing to write home about.  And it was not progressive when it comes to gender at all, if anything it REALLY reflected our times, where men think they can examine a mute female and feel sympathy for the life she lived and what led her to that position, w/out actually talking to other females in their lives.  Oh, and they can be horrified by what it’s like to live as a woman but still make her the villain of the movie.

Movie Review: Power Rangers

Overview:

Jason Scott is the star football player ready to bring Angel Grove to victory.  But he wants to be something more than the answer to his father’s dream of sports.  He steals a bull with a friend and brings it to school.

Now, those who follow me on Facebook might remember that yesterday I posted a joke about what you call a masturbating cow (Beef Stroganoff).  That joke came back to haunt me during the ‘bull’ scene.  Yes, the movie opened with a joke about jerking off a bull.

He ends up crashing his car trying to escape the scene of the crime, blowing out his knee and gaining an ankle bracelet plus detention.  It’s in detention that he meets Billy Cranston, a teen ‘on the spectrum’ as Billy explains, who is being bullied.  Jason protects him, and then smiles at Kim Hart – the on the outskirts Kimberly, future pink ranger.

Turns out Billy and his father used to go to the mines and dig around at night so he takes his new friend out there to help out.  Kim is there, as are two other kids.  Lo and behold, Billy blows some stuff up and they find the coins that make them Power Rangers.

Now, this is a nostalgia film for us kiddos who grew up on the PR, but updated with modern superhero (read, Marvel Cinematic, not DC tragedies) sensibilities.  So they quip their way through training to become the rangers.  Billy provides many fun moments, from his not wanting to say swear words to just general energy.

Rita Repulsa is a corrupted ranger back from the grave to get the Zeo crystal – think of it as an infinity stone if you’re a Marvelite – a source of universal power.  And it’s buried in Angel Grove!

The Power Rangers form and do battle and learn to work together to save their town.  They also almost die and/or really die for a wee bit in the process.

The Good:  

There are some great one-liners throughout, and ones that recognize some of the more problematic issues of race in the original series.  For example, when Alpha is explaining to the teens that why they are Power Rangers he says “five colors, five teens.  Five teens of different colors.” (not exact quote) and later, when the new black ranger, portrayed by an Asian man, proclaims he’s black, Billy Cranston, a black teen, calls him on it.

In the original series, back to nostalgia land, there was also great diversity and it might have been one of the first non sesame street show to have heroes who weren’t just white blonds.  However, the black ranger was black, yellow asian, etc.  It was very on the nose.  Plus we didn’t learn much about the characters.  Zak, the black power ranger, speaks Chinese in the film when talking to his mother, who he’s caring for as she’s ill.

The action was also great fun.  Elizabeth Banks, for her part, did a crazed Rita Repulsa and we learned her backstory.  In fact, Gordon and why the Zords are Dinos was also neatly explained.  Goldar is also made of liquid gold that continuously move.  He’s pretty cool, too, even if I missed the kind of gold flying monkey rubber suit of the series.

The Bad:

While there is more character development here than in the series or other movies, maybe it’s more character exposition.  In fact, it’s made explicit that they can’t become rangers until they know more about each other, so cue the fire pit where they sit around and talk about how they miss their fathers, Trini, the yellow ranger talks about questioning her sexuality, etc.  Kim, however, never tells her secret in front of the group, just to Jason.  Her’s is that she forwarded what we’re led to believe is a picture of another cheerleader in a sexually compromising photo, to the school.  Something that made me wonder the age group they were going for.  I think it was 8th or 9th grade when my friends started watching the show, middle school, which would fit for this type of exposition.  However, we felt we were watching it ironically and that it was really for 8 year olds.  For 8 year olds, there were things (like that opening bull hand job joke) that were over their heads or out of line.  The movie was by far darker than the others.

I always wondered where the F- the parents were in the Power Rangers.  It was like they were all made drones and forced to be only background characters.  While we learn of the death of a couple of the parents, Jason’s father is the oppressive ‘be my football star surrogate’ father in the beginning, then he’s a fisherman during a storm, then pops up only later for Jason to save (so Jason can feel he’s fulfilling his own destiny instead of his fathers, get it?  The film realllly wants to make sure we get it).  Trini is beaten badly in her house, and explains how protective her parents are.  We see her walls are smashed in (and smashed in with her body).  This happens at night, yet no one rushes in to help or call the police or anything.  Billy talks about loving his mother but we don’t see her, that I recall.  At least Zak spends time with his.

I also wonder about the branding.  What up Krispy Kreme?  You pay them so good money?

The Female:

There are females here and not just for male consumption!  The female power rangers, 2 out of the 5, wear jeans and t-shirts and the basic teen attire, just like the males.  They aren’t forced into tights and fashionista styles like females in other teen movies.  They speak!  to each other!  and about being super heroes!  I think there’s a scene with the two of them together alone, hmmm.  Most of the time it is the five, but they talk about being super heroes and stuff, nothing about boy/girl girl/girl relationships, really.

Rita Repulsa is scantily dressed and gets a whistle from a guy at a mine, obviously sexualized.  She blows up the place and doesn’t respond to the whistle.  There is also a hint at a history we don’t see on screen between Rita and Gordon.  See, they used to be on the same team (nostalgia heads, remember how Tommy Oliver, the Green Ranger, was originally evil and got his power from Rita?  Well, where do you think she got it?).  At one point the kiddos say they’ll take her back for Gordon to decide her fate.  She yells that he is not going to judge her again.  Now, there’s strength in a female declaring that she is no longer letting a man judge her.  Makes me wonder the system she escaped from.  At the same time, Gordon is telling the Rangers she’s pure evil for turning away from him.  There’s subtext going on here, folks.  I want to know more about what the hell happened.

Final Comments:  I think it was great fun and a nice reboot to the movies.  Apparently Saban Entertainment has 5! more planned already, depending on this success.  I think they fit somewhere between DC and Marvel universe films in terms of tone.  Jokey with some darkness thrown in, but an established world and history with those of the generation who now hold jobs and can afford to pay for their nostalgia.  I enjoyed it, and it was way more slick and professional (as in, not as kid like) as the other Power Rangers movies, or even the series.

Series Review: Santa Clarita Diet

Overview:  Californian suburban dweller, real estate agent, wife, and mom (not exactly in that order) doesn’t feel so good one day.  After a copious amount of vomit during a  viewing of an apartment she discovers that she is a zombie. What follows are her madcap adventures trying to stay fed, dealing with her new and increased libido, and keeping her family intact.  She is helped by her supportive if freaked out husband, her daughter and her daughter’s ‘friend’ and possible romantic interest, a geeky next door neighbor boy.

The Good:  Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant make a great bickering but loving couple who are ‘working through this’ and will do anything for each other.  He makes her spaghetti and meatballs entirely out of people!  She works hard to not eat him!

The humor is light and gory at the same time.  It’s like Pushing Daisies in terms of the whimsy and fast-dialogue (do we have Gilmore Girls to thank for that?) and showing bickering as love.  However, it’s much more horror focused in terms of gore shown and language used.  Still, there’s that air of nonchalance with which things happen.  Drew Barrymore’s character vomits, a lot, and then she’s a zombie.  There’s an attempt at a possible back story to the zombieness in ancient Serbian pictures found on a wall, but no real follow-through, and that’s okay, it’s not about that.  It’s about how a family adapts when one partner changes, either through illness or something else.

And perhaps this could be some sort of allegory about how you deal with a dying family member when the grossness of the human body is suddenly front and center in a relationship.  You struggle to love the new person living with you.  You change yourself and do things you never thought you would, or could do.  You underestimate your children’s ability to accept you and they find out, get mad, and act out.  Your body starts to deteriorate and you hide it because you can’t even face it yourself.

Also – great cameos.  Nathan Fillion.  Portia De Rossi.  Patton Oswalt.  Far too underutilized (although there’s hope for more Portia) but great shining moments.

The Bad:  There are some jabs at suburban life, but not really.  It’s not as biting in skewering that lifestyle as other shows can or have been.  Some of the side characters just become annoying and wasted talent – such as Mary Elizabeth Ellis (the Waitress from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) who is reduced to that bored wife of an obnoxious cop.  None of the side characters really rise above their caricature this first season, which is too bad.  While there are some fun jabs (the drug dealer who wants to sing folk songs)  they aren’t sustained.

There isn’t a lot of movement, either.  While my attention was kept the entire series and I didn’t even notice I was five episodes in until I realized I had to go to a meeting, it started with her being a zombie and ended with not much more understanding of why or what it meant.  There is an opening for it, with the husband exploring hopes for a treatment for his wife and the beginning of deterioration in Drew Barrymore’s character’s body, but it gets dropped early and then picked up at the end in what appears just a bid for the second season continuation.

The Female:  Drew Barrymore is the lead and demands a lot of attention.  Her sexuality is also front and center, although it is attributed to her being undead and stressed multiple times that it’s not her normal libido.  She has female friends she talks too in her neighbors, who are not developed.  One just wants to sleep around with everyone, another wants to follow John Legend on tour.  She also has her daughter who is learning to be ‘strong’ and that ‘strong’ doesn’t just mean knowing karate, as so many in show biz define ‘strong’ women.  There are conversations between mother and daughter that are not about men, so that’s good and it passes the Bechdel Test (two women, who talk to one another, and not about a man).  There are also some great comments about Drew doing all the killing, with her husband, after his first kill talking about how men can do it too.

Overall this is fun fluff, not groundbreaking, but good to satisfy the casual horror fan or those who want something to veg out to for a few hours.

Series Review: The OA

Overview:  Surprise!  Netflix has released a slipstreamy sci-fi/fantasy drama just in time to ignore the family for 8 hours over the next holiday.  Or when you’re on the verge of catching what’s going on at work so are a bit too congested to fully sleep.

In the OA a woman is found and she turns out to be the missing child of an older couple named Prairie.  The only thing is, when she left she was blind and now she can see.  She also now wants to be called The OA instead of Prairie and won’t talk to her parents about what happened over the past seven years.

Prairie AKA THE OA gathers together a group of misfits who want to believe in something and choose her.  There’s Steve – the 17 year old bully beating up people he’s jealous of and on the verge of being sent to military reform school; Jesse the orphaned stoner kid; French the super smart non-white kid who might just make it if he can keep that scholarship, who also has to support his drunk/drugged mom who spends time at school meetings sleeping with the fathers there; Buck, the transgendered kiddo who really wants to believe in good; and Betty, the older teacher who has lost sight of why she teaches – to save those lost souls, per the movie.  Together, they meet at an abandoned house (one where construction has stopped after the bubble burst) to listen to The OA tell about her life story, how she got her sight back, and teaches them modern dance.

Her story is long (6 of the 8 hours!) and goes from Russia, to a place of captivity with 4 others, across the universe and to Saturn, and focuses on seeing the inner self and finding the correct movements to transcend, to protect against evil.  This with a focus on Near Death Experiences (NDE) as that is when she has gone all Slaughterhouse Five and traveled to other worlds to learn the dance moves to save her friends and, ultimately, herself.

Other aspects of the show include the frustration of her parents at what’s happening, the town’s reaction both to her being with their boys and the fascination with her return.  A little time is given to the boys current stories, at least a few of them, and Betty.

 

The Good:

I was really engaged from the beginning.  The story is king of cool, like a Millennial Orlando without gender politics, but rather wealth politics and the like.  She was the daughter of a Russian oligarch who taught her to ‘outcold the cold’.  But she was still wealthy and loved him.  But then all the children of the Russian oligarchs were killed in a bus crash, she alone survived only she didn’t – she agreed to go back to earth only blind.  When he has to disappear, she’s first at an opulent school for the blind, then later at the house of a relative in the US which is part brothel, part illegal adoption ring.  She is adopted as a miracle and raised in the suburbs.  She has premonitions of the future.  She goes to NYC and is captured by a man obsessed with those who have had Near Death Experiences and put in an ecosystems with others.  They plan their escape and it takes those 7 years for her to leave.  She dies a lot, but always comes back.

There are a lot of theories at play and I was as enchanted as the kids in the show, sitting there listening to those tales and wondering what was next.  I also like and buy into the story of the outsiders who come together to better themselves through a book club (only, in this case, it’s an oral history).

I also like the way trauma is addressed, and how different people view it without asking the one who went through it.  The OAs parents are at a loss and follow the doctors advice to monitor closely, not even allowing her on the internet.  Then the OA meets with an FBI counselor who talks to her about creating her story and believing it and finding others for help.  He tries to get her parents to take her out, treat her as human, when they want to see her as fragile and in need of protection.  There is the public fascination with the trauma of others, how they weave the stories they want out of scant information for sensationalism, to soothe themselves that while monsters exist, they exist to harm others, not them. That part was intriguing and I could have used more of it.

The Bad: 

There’s a lot of hokiness throughout and I wondered multiple times how the actors kept a straight face, because the movie is done with utter earnestness.  The film has a couple scenes of the kids doubting her story and looking for it on google, but they believe pretty quickly because, cue X-Files, ‘They want to believe.’  A good portion of the story hinges on learning dance movements (The Five movements) that can open a portal to the other world where The OA can save her friends.  She teaches these to the crew she’s assembled.  Two of the movements alone can bring someone from the dead and cure all disease, all five is a miracle.

The ending is where this comes into play and pissed me off.  I won’t say the situation, but will say it was a ‘very bad thing’ that seemed too easy per the story set up, far too easy an ending situation to have happen and overtly manipulative of the viewer.  It also followed the format of these ‘lost boys’ movies where they temporarily lose faith, then something big happens, they realize they’re all together, and they do the thing they didn’t believe before and thus save their world.  In this case the thing they did was. . .begin to dance.  All disbelief was gone, as was the good will I had developed over the course of the previous 7 hours.

The Female:

The OA:  AKA Nina, AKA Prairie.  She’s the blond blue-eyed heroine of sorts, the one whose story informs the others.  People gather around her, see her as kooky but cool, and she drives the narrative.  In fact, in can be seen as somewhat progressive if not more than somewhat that it’s her voice, her story, and whether you believe the story or not, these eight hours are about her telling it.  She is not only the lead, but the creator of the reality we are led into.

Betty:  The meek and mild school teacher whose brother died from heroin and has given up on many things, including herself.  Meeting the OA gives her purpose enough to continue on and deal with his death.

The OAs Mom:  She’s going through a lot of complicated stuff, and it’s cool that her emotions are so varied and exhausting.  The relationship is strained with both her husband and daughter, who she never understood to begin with and now really doesn’t understand.

Two Women Trapped with The OA:  I forget their names, one sings and the other sleeps with one of the guys.

Other females include moms of the kids, a sister, and a girlfriend.

Does it pass the Bechdel Test?  (Two women talking to one another, not about a man)  I think it sorta does.  The women plan escape, granted that’s from a man, but there.  The OA and Betty talk about her brother, so those conversations don’t count, but then the OA talks to the spirit in the other realm who is female, so that counts.  She also, sometimes, talks to her mom.  So it’s probably a clear OK for passing.

Overall, until the ending, I dug it.  It was a good way to ignore the weather and had some interesting ideas about how we tell stories, why, and why we listen and need stories in our lives.  I just want to ignore the last half hour or so.

Movie Review: Finding Dory

Overview:  Dory is our friendly blue fish with short term ‘remembery’ loss from Finding Nemo.  In this movie, we see her as a little bulb-eyed cutie who loses her mom and dad.  One day, living with Nemo and his dad, she remembers she had her own family and decides to go forth and find them because – mom and dad!  She goes on many wacky adventures, meets many other fish and sharks and octopus that don’t want to eat her, but rather help her and

SPOILER

She reunites with her family, and then realizes she misses her friends so they all reunite and live happily.  Oh, and she gets over her short-term memory loss.

The Good:  This is Pixar and Pixar knows cute- so it’s really cute.  Baby Dory is cute.  They always get the right kids for the voices and the voices are super cute.  Celebrities are the main voices, so you can say, ‘oh, that’s the guy from Modern Family!  And that’s the other guy from Modern Family!’ while you watch.

The artwork is beautiful – tons of underwater beauty shots, kelp moving, etc.  Humans are few and far between.  They have fun with the camouflaging properties of Hank, the Octopus.

The Bad:  I think for kid kids, this would be good.  There’s a lot of repetition and it comes across as a children’s book.  Usually, Pixar is really good about having a movie for all ages but this one I wouldn’t say follows that pattern.  Instead, this is the pattern:

Dory searches for her parents.  Has a memory of where they are, goes there, they aren’t there.  She is then told where they are, or has another memory, so goes there.  They aren’t there.  She meets friends along the way who help.  It’s kind of a movie version of ‘Are You My Mommy.’

The portrayals of disability and treatment of those with disabilities is also troublesome.  We have Dory, who is taught at a young age to say that she has short term memory loss disorder when meeting new people.  She has lived her life with that one knowledge and now – now she’s remembering.  Now at an old age she realizes she does have memories and can remember things.  She learns to get over it.

Now, in fairness, what she remembers is long-term memories, so that can make sense.  But there are other things- She is called an ‘inspiration’ for still living her life despite the disability, which feeds into the magic inspirational disabled person.  For some reason, everyone, even natural predators, love her for trying so hard, too, and automatically want to help her.

There is a seal who is portrayed like classic vaudeville mentally ill person – googly eyes, bucked teeth, etc, who is not allowed on the same rock as the other ‘normal’ seals. He is constantly bullied and kicked off the rock in a tone that makes me think they want us to laugh at it – so here it’s okay to make fun of disabled kids.

Becky is a similarly portrayed bird.  Goofy, doesn’t talk, wonky eyed.  Therefore Nemo’s dad doesn’t trust her to do her job.  However, in this he’s wrong.  She would have brought them where they were going had he trusted her.

There is a whale, Destiny, who is short-sighted and a beluga whale who can’t echolocate because of a concussion.  The beluga learns to get over it, while Destiny learns she can get around with the help of friends.

So, a lot of mixed messages around disability and who can inspire, who you can trust to do a job, who should be shunned, who should just get over it, and who really needs help.

The Female:  They’re sea creatures, but the voices are still gendered, and there are still far too few females.  We have:

Dory:  The plucky lead who just wants her family together, and then her family and friends.

Destiny:  Dory’s whale shark friend who doesn’t eat her.  Limited scene time.

Dory’s mom:  She’s, uhm, Dory’s mom.  She loves her daughter no matter what.

Becky the bird is voiced by a male, and doesn’t do much, but has the gendered name.

Sigourney Weaver:  She voices the rehabilitation sea habitat, so a recorded voice really.

So, uhm. . .it passes the Bechdel test (two women talk, and not about a man) because Dory and Destiny talk about home and not a guy.  But if you’re doing a film with fish, it would be great to break out of standard Hollywood gender roles or ratios.  Heck, with fish you could even get rid of gender somehow or play with the non-binary.

Overall, might keep a kidlet entertained and has cute moments but not Pixar’s greatest.

 

A Tale of Two Readings: Sci-Fi and Literary

I did two readings the past week.  There were some noted differences that got me thinking.

Reading one:  Women in Sci-Fi

This had been planned months in advance yet became stressful in the final weeks leading up to it.  As my novella, Marta Martinez Saves the World, was born from a discussion to promote female authors and female protagonists, me doing a solo reading just didn’t seem right to me.  I called upon some awesome local female authors to join in a discussion at THE bookstore in this town to do readings, and they agreed to join in the endeavor.  As the dates approached annoyances happened, as they do – the events organizer quit and a new one was hired.  Paperwork wasn’t passed on.  They had trouble ordering my books (for my reading!) and didn’t tell me until it was too late to order more, so we had to go with the 5-6 I had on hand.  The other authors were frustrated because there was no advertising, etc.

Then – The election.

When this was planned months ago the election wasn’t in play, or at least not considered. With the outcome as it was our event, which was slightly political as it always is when women go into public spaces to speak about the need to have more female presence, became a political beacon of sorts.  We were now four women in a Trump world talking about equal rights and wanting to stand up and write, and write female characters as human- this after the past two years of Hugo vitriol saying we also shouldn’t exist (and others standing up and showing why it’s necessary we do).

The unthinkable happened at this reading.  We were between the gender studies aisle and the children’s book section.  The place was standing room only (that’s not the unbelievable part).  Violence erupted.  It was not a fight.  It was a man standing up, taking off his jacket, turning around, and letting loose on a friend of mine.  A good person who had come to support me, a white male who wanted to show he was an ally and who also wanted his kids, both boys, to learn to be allies.  And he ended up bloody with a black eye, bruised wrists and nose.  He told me about how he turned it into a lesson to his kids and I couldn’t help but cry, even now as I type this.

However, I want to focus on the awesome audience, because this goes into the comparison.  For one, the audience stayed.   Also, the audience was made up of a lot of females, yes, but there were also men in the audience, which was awesome to see. But the biggest ‘YESH!’ was that the crowd was so full of people from all walks of life, all ethnicities, a wonderful mix of the population of a midwest I used to think was so white, but learned pretty quickly isn’t.  In fact, There were probably fewer of those who looked ‘white’ than others.  And I loved it.  Because, as we got to discuss, it is a female issue but more than that it’s a representation issue and in sci-fi we have the chance to create the future we can aspire to make real.

Representation in fantasy and sci-fi is a huge issue, with places such as Fireside tackling the dialogue, starting with a spotlight on how the numbers stack up.  I see discussion and questions of what we can do to help all over the place.  And in that audience, oh man, what a thrill to see the sea of people there joining in the conversation, telling us in tears and laughter THEIR stories and how they pushed themselves to come to that reading because hope was needed and man, was there ever a lot of hope in that room.  Despite me being fearful all day, and then that fear proven true with the random attack, we ended with each other asking the same questions:  “How do we improve?  How can we support and how can we do better?” And that brought on happy tears.  Tears of relief that we are not alone.

Reading Two:  Big L literary

Some know that despite growing up in extreme poverty, living in a car and tent for a while, I grew into the academic establishment.  Ivy League degree, MFA in writing.  I publish in lit magazines as well, and had pieces of my memoir accepted into a lit magazine and went to the opening reading and reception of the issue, an annual.

The winner of the fiction prize for that issue was a Pakistani woman who came up from California to read part of her work.  There was talk about how now, more than ever (yes, that phrase was used) we need art to pave the way, to create the culture we want.  But when I spoke to the prize winner after we both commented on the same thing:  The readers and audience was mostly those who, I’m going with first glances and not known genealogy, were not nearly as varied as the previous reading.  AKA – people looked white.

The evening was lovely and I was shocked I was able to do that after what happened two days later.  No one was injured, not a bad word was even uttered unless it was in the readings.  But I couldn’t help but notice the extreme difference in ethnic make-up in attendance at the two readings.  In fact, when I first saw the room, scanning it, I made a point to do something I’ve never done before:  I prefaced the reading by talking about my PTSD, my labeling as a disabled American and how my work in this issue was me trying to translate the way my disability has my mind work into a form others could in some way begin to accept.  The reception was amazing with a lot of people coming up to talk to me afterward.  I got to meet the people who championed for my work on the editorial board.  I had someone tell me it sounded better out loud than when she read it (ha!) and it was thrilling.  But I did learn some things.

THE LEARNINGS:

I had trouble in my MFA because it felt incredibly exclusive.  I got comments about writing about asian characters, or my characters having jobs.  Why do I have to have so many females?  Things got even worse when I asked that we read more female or experimental writing.  The capital L literary world has a huge problem with the voices it says matter as a way to ‘illuminate the human condition.’  However, it’s the Establishment, it’s the school, it’s what they teach is good and true and right in art.  The journal I was in pushed to publish people from all over the world and community, but the community that showed up was- white.  What does this say about us and what we are teaching the next generation to be?   Better yet, how does that reflect the election, where the establishment can dictate the values of our country when the populace can’t?

I did feel a mirroring.  Sci-fi and fantasy, the little l literature for the populace, the stuff that is read at a high clip and given to friends to read again before becoming movies, that was the most diverse reading I’ve ever done or gone to. It was amazing and wonderful and made me feel that, that is the field I want to be in.  It made me smile at all the comments coming out of the Hugo mess, how people banded together to say great sci-fi, great literature, can come from any person.

Another thing I learned was that as much as I hate defining myself, and probably haven’t defined myself, sometimes it is important to do that and not just pass for what others think you are.  I said in the Sci-Fi reading that as I began to get published in the genres I had to come to terms with being female and it’s true.  I was pretty much genderqueer until I realized it was an issue that I couldn’t shy away from.  I do identify as mostly female and a woman writer, perhaps with not all the markers people expect in someone with breasts, but I’m here.  I tend to like slipping between worlds, so until I started getting backlash for having a female name didn’t consider it a point of pride to be a woman.  Now I do.

The same goes for my PTSD.  I feel it important now to say, “Hey, yo, you, I am labeled as disabled because of my childhood, because I grew up in extreme poverty which is itself a HUGE disability, but you know what?  My voice is important and it matters and you should listen to it, internalize it, and when you hear someone else say they are disabled you should listen to them to because really, we’re all human and we’re all talking about the human experience.  And it’s wonderful.  And it’s beautiful.  And there is heart and hope there.”

However, I do hope that one day we can get to the point where it’s not ‘woman writer’ or ‘disabled writer’ but that it can be ‘awesome writer’ and ‘Wow, what a writer’ without the identifiers.  But that isn’t happening soon, so now I kind of want it known where my voice is coming from so others who have been thinking they don’t have a ladder can begin to see the rungs are there, just clouded right now, and begin to climb.

 

 

A Tale of Two Doctors: How I Finally got a New Eye Glass Prescription

A while ago, shortly after getting my new job, I got really sick.  I was out of work for two weeks, going from Dr. to Dr. trying to figure out why every. single. thing.  hurt.  I lost ten pounds or so, couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep.

Many of the doctors pointed out my weight as culprit.  I pointed out people bigger than me can sleep and eat and don’t feel like their body is on fire and many slimmer than I am have the same symptoms as I do.  So then they ran tests and said, “oh, blood sugar is high and blood pressure is high and you have diabetes and are just stressing out over it” and when I fought that they said “hey, you work in Medicine, you know people deny diabetes, that’s what you’re doing, and you’re freaking out.”

Ultimately I got medicine for a UTI, YI, and was told I might have had the summer flu at the same time.  for the next three months I had problems with my female cycle.  Oh, and another test of my A1C and another doctor told me I was pre-diabetic, so not quite diabetic but ‘close!  so lose weight.’

During the scare of having full blown ‘omg, you’re going to lose your limbs if you don’t stop drinking soda’ diabetes (and yes, that was said to me) I was told to go get my eyes checked because SUGAR EATS THE RETINAS!  OMG YOU CAN BE BLIND NOW AND NOT KNOW IT!

Doctor 1:

The doctor that I got sent too continued the scare tactics.  There was a 45 minute wait to even be brought back to the exam room, and then I was told I was going to have eye drops.  I don’t recall if I’d had them before, but I do recall telling him how nervous I was because of this whole ordeal.  I had 45 minutes to freak out about everything.  I was being told a lot of things.  I told him I did need a new prescription because I wanted new glasses, but maybe not the eye drops.  I was told that if I don’t do the drops, well then he won’t put it through insurance and I’ll have to pay 235$ so I need to do it.  Then came the fun part.

“All it does is paralyze the eyes for up to 8 hours,” he said.

I was done.  There was no way I was going to do that.  Paralyze my eyes?  I started to cry.  My anxiety had hit it’s limit.  We were now an hour past my appointment time and he was again being callous.  I left, got the money I had pre-payed for my co-pay back, and went to the next doctor I had scheduled, like a dutiful(ish) patient, to have a biopsy of my female parts because OMG they were worried about the UTI/YI and now they decided a bacterial infection with no real proof for 2 out of the three.  And that hurt like hell, too, with no results.

Doctor 2:

This is many months after that initial ordeal and I’ve been feeling fine.  A bit worn out.  That ordeal totally freaked me out but the initial sickness combined with it also sapped a lot of emotional strength so I haven’t been working out regularly like I used to do before it began.  But I still need new glasses!  So I made an appointment at my local Sears.

So different.

First off, the people running the waiting room were super friendly and came out from behind the desk to talk to me.  Yes, it was less crowded than the first, but oh man- the guy working the desk was a huge cat freak, and upon seeing my cat shirt brought out his phone to show me pictures of his giant orange fuzzball, Brutus (who does claw him in the back).  The doctor was running behind, but by 15 minutes.

This guy was older, but so friendly.  For the first time ever the glaucoma test was done on the first try.  When I commented on how that was a first for me, he joked that he’d been doing it for a while.  When I asked questions he explained them and checked for understanding.  He asked how I was doing.  He talked to me like I was a human, not a petulant child.  When I spoke of the diabetes scare he told me of how medicine has no idea about what causes diabetes in the first place and showed empathy about me going through that.  He explained the eye drops process, but that first he would do an exam without it and see if it was necessary to do the drops.  If it was, he could help me arrange a time and way to make it comfortable for me.

Oh My God.  I didn’t realize it could go well, not after the last time.  I was burned, and here he was being so nice and explaining along the way everything about what may happen with my age (I’m at the time when I start having to move things away from me to read them, or take off my glasses and he said it’s not bad yet, but showing).

Part of the workshops I run with my students in health care programs (Medical school, nursing, social work, pharmacy, etc.) involve having patients and students sit down to write about times they’ve had illness, at the same table, eating the same meal, and talking about illness.  It’s struck me how uncomfortable it makes students to talk about times when they were sick, even while the patients are saying, “I like when my doctor acknowledges sickness happens to them.”  One patient wrote a story about how it was the waiting room and front desk reception people who made him feel welcome enough to know that he could get well there.  This often leads to many questions about the importance of the doctor, which he addresses in his story (the doctor is 15 minutes of interaction, the waiting room and reception desk actually do the work and where his time is spent) and again – WOW.  It seems so new to learn that they are not the center of the patient’s health, that the patient wants them to be human and come off the pedestal of perfect health.  As much as we talk about patient-centered care, it’s easy enough to see it’s not sinking in because of so much hierarchy and patriarchy in the field.

I do use my own life a lot in the workshops, and this situation with the two eye doctors ended up being a perfect example.  I was made to feel welcome and heard throughout, and because of it, got a full comprehensive exam.  I’m not afraid to go there.  I’ll be compliant and trust this place.

My other doctors?  I’m waiting until I can choose a new health insurance before I see a doctor again, and will try a new system because the one I was in did not work.

Movie Review: Purge: Election Year

Overview:  

I love the Purge movies, which I didn’t expect.  The first one was so claustrophobic.  I really felt it, being trapped in the house with someone set to kill.  I also liked the concept, as it was one my friends and I posited to each other many times in college, albeit ours was slightly different.  We asked each other what we would do if you woke up one day with a loaded gun and the knowledge that there would be no consequences for what you did that day – including regret.  Purge asks us what society would do if for 12 hours once a year you could do whatever you wanted with no legal ramifications- and shows us the chaos that decision brings.

Purge one was about one family.  It was in the home.  It showed us that through the Purge you can see just how much envy and existential boredom leads to pleasure in murder.  Purge:  Anarchy takes us to the streets and a bit more political:  we begin to see that the Purge is a system to allow those with privilege to outright murder those without, it’s making explicit the way many see the systems implicitly work now, to terrorize and subjugate basically anyone who is not a white male, to the point where we’re all there to be the hunted ‘things’ and aren’t human.

Purge:  Election Year hits far to close to home in that we have a female running for president against old white money male.  The female, Charlie, is young and lost her family in the Purge so wants to rid the country of the dire sociopathic straits it has found itself fallen into by the ‘new founding fathers.’  Old money doesn’t want this to happen, so decides to assassinate her during the Purge.  Thus begins the chase, as her faithful security guard, Leo, attempts to keep her alive long enough for people to vote her into the presidency.  They end up at at old man’s neighborhood grocery store, where she and her guard are the only white people there and. . .neither are afraid of the non-white people because, hey, they’re people too (refreshing!) so they join forces to just try and make it through the night.

The Good:  I about had a heart attack with this film in the good ways, but did have to stop it a few times to breathe.  It gets you, or got me, because I have seen that look of entitlement in peoples eyes or heard it in their voice when they think the world is owed them.  For example:

We first meet Joe, the owner of the grocery store, when two teen girls in a catholic/private school are trying to steal candy from him and they are busted.  They come back on the purge to kill him because if they want chocolate, they’re going to get it and it’s theirs.  That soulless logic got to me, but I’ve seen it and was too believable.  They then get mad at him for defending his store so come back with reinforcements.

Another great example of how I think this could happen, or why it feels real, is a segment in the film on ‘murder tourism’ with people coming to the US on Purge night to kill people because, of course they would.  It’s a no-brainer.  We have sexual tourism, running of the bulls, and probably already do have murder tourism as well so calling it out in the film kind of got to me and was brilliant.  People will travel and pay to openly exploit others for their enjoyment because not all people are created human in the eyes of others, it’s something I see all the time working in a healthcare center that focuses on refugee health.

The Purge is turned into a religion by the ‘old white men and women’ who gather in a church to cleanse themselves by stabbing those they get off the street, and the end scene is brutal but scary and ‘good.’  They really kept my heart rate up the entire time.

The Bad:  I flip back and forth about the race relations here, so I’m not sure ‘the bad’ is great for this but does need to be mentioned.  Charlie is white, blond hair blue eyes white female.  She wants to end the Purge because she recognizes it’s just another way, and an incredibly violent one at that, to abuse the poor and other already marginalized parts of the community.  Everyone in Joe’s grocery store is non-white and they talk about voting for her to help them.  Now, she ends up at that store and they work to save her, which on one end is a great twist of the Mighty Whitey trope, where a white person comes into a community not their own and saves them from themselves and outside forces. Everyone works really hard to save Charlie, even putting aside their own needs (Joe loses his store, Bishop loses his quest to kill King White Man and keeper of the purge) to do so.

BUT, they are doing this because ultimately she IS The Mighty White person who can save them all.  And they die to make sure she survives to do it.  I honestly am not sure how to weigh in on that.

The Female:  There are a lot of men in this film.  A LOT.  There are teams of them coming after Charlie.  There are her bodyguards.  There are those in the community trying to save her.  Doctors, politicians, etc.  There are TWO females with names I remember, not counting the girls who try to steal from Joe’s place.  They are:

Charlie:  The current senator and great hope of the downtrodden.  She will rise up and rid the world of the purge thus making her a target.  To some extent, what she goes through is the every day life of a female.  The outside space is not safe for her because she can be attacked at any time.  She has to have a man, her bodyguard, to protect her from other men, just like a woman has to say she’s ‘taken’ by another to get some guys to leave them alone.  And unintentional metaphor on their part, perhaps. She has lines, she speaks, she’s shown to not care if a person is black or white and to be otherwise saintly (Such as talking to some guy in an infirmary and laughing with him and imploring that her rival not be murdered and become a martyr) but she is the protected one.

Laney:  The bad girl gone good.  She drives around during the Purge night to bring injured people to a volunteer infirmary.  She loves Joe, who helped turn her around, and is loyal to him.  She kicks ass and has agency and is trying to help save her community.  She saves a lot of people during the purge, including Joe and Charlie.

While there are only two women in the film, at least they are prominent and I do believe they talk to each other about silly women things like surviving, so it passes the Bechdel test (2 women, talking to each other, not about a man).

I definitely dug this, even if it ups the anxiety a bit as it seems so close to happening!

Book Review: El Deafo by Cece Bell

Overview:  I love graphic novels, especially graphic novel memoirs.  I miss teaching that class back when I taught English to undergrads instead of the grads I have now – not that I won’t put it into the curriculum in the future.  All that to say, when I saw ‘El Deafo’ in the local independent bookstore, I immediately snatched it up.

El Deafo is the memoir of Cece Bell, a woman who lost her hearing when about 4 years old from what appears to be a meningeal infection.  This chronicles her first few years of limited hearing.  She’s not fully deaf, and uses a contraption strapped to her chest, with earbuds, and then a microphone she gives to her teachers to hear what’s being said.  She learns to lip read, but it’s all frustrating because the world isn’t made for those with limited hearing.  To help her adjust to her new identity, and synthesize what’s going on with her friends around her (like her best friend who becomes scared of hurting her) she invents El Deafo!  The superhero version of herself, and those comics of her internal identity are interwoven with the text about her interactions with the world around her.

The Good:  There is so much good here.  First, I loved that while the memoir is about her learning to adjust to the world around her when her hearing changes, it is, like every good memoir, about so much more.  It’s about forming friendships and finding that great friend to stand by your side.  That’s a pretty much universal theme.  There’s the changing of schools, and the fear there.  There’s also the greatest fear – telling people who you see yourself as internally, and how they will respond to that.  And the story is told with such honesty.

The graphics are bright and vivid and, in the great tradition of graphic novel memoirs, the people are represented by animals with Cece as a rabbit.

The book is a good mix of story and emotion, and shows the range of ways people respond to someone who is hard of hearing.  There’s the person who speaks loudly and slowly, even after Cece says that doesn’t help her.  There are those who want to sign to her, even though she tells them she doesn’t know sign language.  Then there are those who just don’t care that she’s different and think she’s cool hearing aids or no, but there’s still a fear to let them in.  This is portrayed really well.

I also really like the integration of the inner hero she’s creating, ‘El Deafo’, with the super power being her real power – if the teacher leaves the microphone on, she can hear her wherever she may be, even in the bathroom!  Those moments provide great levity and mirth.

The Bad:  Not much that I can think of.  I read it twice in a row because I wanted it to be longer and not end.  It won the Newberry Honor for children’s books, but I think it’s great for readers of all ages.

The Female:  This is where it’s great.  Cece is a young girl going through her life as it changes, not just because of her hearing but puberty and schools and moving and all the dramas of being young.  While she does crush on a neighbor boy, the books is not about him.  She has a sister, parents, friends who are all female.  More of the book is about her wanting her best friend/side kick and how friendships form with other girls than the boy, even if he is the first one she tells about her ‘secret superpower.’  I think it’s a great view of girlhood.

I definitely recommend this book, and now have it on my list of narratives to include in future classes.

Movie Review: The Conjuring 2

Overview:  We start in Amytiville where are intrepid heroes, those ghost hunters sanctioned by the church, meet pure evil and, as Lorainne Warren says, it was the closest to hell she wanted to be.

Then we jump to England where a single mother has moved into a new home.  I think it’s government subsidized housing, and her daughter quickly becomes possessed. The children are screaming and being flung around and there’s a stuttering child who sees someone in his play tent and a hell of a lot of screaming.  Cue the Warrens, who come to help out despite Lorainne having a premonition that a demon greater than the one haunting this family wants Ed dead.  The rhyme is intentional.

They fight the demon, they doubt, they leave and then dramatically return.  It rains.  I wonder when Sam and Dean will come to end this quicker.

The Good:  Scares for sure.  The actors, too.  I love Vera Farmiga.  She’s just gorgeousness and has a presence on screen.  Very understated acting, gorgeous eyes which the director picks up on because there is a shot of just her eyes at one point.  Patrick Wilson is equally sweet and nice as her husband, Ed Warren, and sings an Elvis song making us all love him, and in case we don’t get that that’s the point of the scene we see Vera standing in a door way adoring him with those eyes of hers, and the camera flips back and forth enough so we feel it, too.

Now, back to scares.  There are special effects scares, a nun that’s evil scares, crosses that turn over scares, kids falling through rooms, levitating, speaking in growly voices scares as well.  I feel I could go all Dr. Seuss with the types of scares – but I’ll restrain myself.

There’s a bit of a story in here too about how the media sets up these events as real and can distort reality, also how people play for a camera.  There’s a slight bit about people thinking the mother of these kids is faking it to get a better house/apartment.  The main theme is that the Warren’s are awesome and stuff, though.

The Bad:  There’s a lot of screaming.  Like- a lot.  It got to the point where I felt it was music and screaming and I wasn’t sure what was going on.  This came to a head at the end when a son ,Johnny, had something happen to him, and I was wondering where a second son came from.  There was the stuttering son, the girl Janet who was the possessed one and her sister.  I swear, I don’t recall a fourth kid until the end when *bam* he appeared.

Which goes into a pacing issue I had.  I gauge movies now by how apt I am to do other things while they’re on and if I want to pause the film or just walk away.  I walked away a bit.  I brushed my teeth, got laundry together, played with the cat, came back and it was ‘yup, still haunted, yup, still screaming’ and didn’t feel I missed much amping of tension, intensifying beats, anything like that.  It’s a movie where there’s a ghost which turns out to be a demon and people come to get rid of it and there are issues and flooding and worry or what not and it’s over.  And have I mentioned the screaming?  Because there was a lot of that.  And a lot of not just leaving the damn house.  At least no animals died that I recall.

The Female:  There are women in this film!  Maybe more females than males, actually.  We have the mother and her two daughters, Lorainne Warren, a female cop, female neighbors.  It’s like, like, like this film recognizes that females ACTUALLY make up approximately 49.6% of the world’s population.  Oh, and the women talk to each other about things other than men.  And they have names!  It’s like, omg, novel and new and stuff only not because it’s what happens in that thing called life.  Oh yeah, and a demon nun.

Now, to talk about a few of the women in this here film:

Lorainne Warren:  The most prominent of the women, here played by Vera Farmiga.  She’s the psychic of the Warren duo who go out to hunt down ghosts, the one with ‘the gift.’  Yes, she loves her husband and that’s a focal point of some of her actions, but I loved a scene where her husband and another man were talking. . .about her!  omg, and positively, with Ed Warren saying if there’s a demon she can’t handle, it’s a first and reason to be scared.  He shows her as an authority!  As a human worth mentioning.  I mean, men talking about woman.  What do I do with the Bechdel on that one?  She’s the one who ultimately figures out how to get rid of the big baddie.

Peggy Hodgson:  She’s the mom.  She screams a lot.  She gets bit.  She stands up for her kids and is the single mother of three (and possibly four, still fuzzy on where that last boy came from) kids.  She has feelings and stuff, protects her kids but is frustrated while doing it, and is overall kinda human.

Janet Hodgson:  There’s definitely a thing in the film about little girls getting possessed, isn’t there?  The Exorcist is the prime example, but there’s also The Last Exorcism (I and II, hahaha with that name), Exorcism of Emily Rose, Poltergeist, etc.  There’s something cultural too it, I think, almost sexual – especially when the possessers are male ghosts. Like, the stripping of innocence and thrill of making prepubescent girls do ‘bad’ things and say ‘bad things’ and the like.  I think as a societal look on things it’s creepier than the actual movie portrayal.  They have her laugh, wreck a kitchen, talk about killing people, threaten others.  Thinking about it now, it is a weird fetishization linked to virginity and ‘purity’ of sexuality in little girls, it seems.  huh.

As I mentioned before, there are other females as well – neighbors and a cop and the like.  So that was cool.

Overall, not a bad ‘I’m too tired to move’ movie or, if you like the sound of screaming, background movie to catch snippets of.  Nothing earth shattering, but entertaining.