Movie Review – The Secret Life of Pets

Synopsis:  A cute little dog named Max loves and lives for his owner.  He has a network of friends he hangs out with once their owners are gone that includes dogs, cats, birds, and a hamster.  Then – disaster.  She brings home a big dog that takes over his bed and his home.

Max is mad.  He wants to get rid of the dog.  And in the process they both end up lost in New York City and it’s up to their friends to find them and bring them home.

So basically – Toy Story with pets.  Super cute pets.  Max has a female dog in love with him that teams up with a falcon hawk.  Max and ‘dumb oaf’ have adventures, fall into a group of ‘flushed’ and abandoned animals who hate humanity and then run afowl of them, have a nitrate induced trip about singing hot dogs, learn to love each other and make it home in time for dinner.

The Good:  The animation is slick.  It’s made by the company that created the Minions and Despicable Me, so that’s expected.  The voices didn’t distract me with the ‘oh, it’s THAT celebrity’ like some animation does when they go for A-list actors instead of voice artists (even though the film was still mostly populated by actors).  The story was, for the most part, light fluff with a lot of silly laughs.  They also did a good job with characterizing some of the animals, showing a true love for pets.  You could tell who in the theater was a dog or cat owner by when they laughed.

The most laughs were probably garnered by the interactions with Snowball, a homicidal bunny voiced by Kevin Hart.  Snowball leads a group of abandoned pets that includes snakes and alligators and rats on top of cats and dogs and a pig that was used as a tattoo tester/canvas.  All of their actions are wonderfully over the top hilarious and borderline inappropriate to the point that I was chuckling, ‘oh, god,’ quite a bit throughout.

The Bad:  There is one 10-15 minute scene somewhere in the middle that feels tacked on an like the writer was told the film was to short and ‘create backstory for that other dog.’  It’s also a scene of forced pathos.  In it, our hero Max talks to other dog about going back to his home, one he apparently ran away from before getting caught by Animal Control.  We are shown flashbacks of him and his owner, an elderly black man.  The only non-white person I remember in the film.  They go to the house and there is now a cat there who tells our heroes that the old man died and someone else owns the house now.  Other dog gets mad at Max for forcing him to go and runs off, angry, while animal control is called.

It’s bad for a couple reason.  First off, it’s just badly written or placed and feels overly manipulative.  Secondly, this shows the only non-white person in the film AND HE DIES.  Even in a kids animated film the black guy can’t survive.

The Female:  This is about animals, yes.  Neutered animals (it’s mentioned).  Yet there is still the normal gender politics at play.  It would not pass the Bechdel test (two female characters, talking, and about something other than the man).  Here are the female players:

The owner:  She’s a woman who rescues dogs from the pound, or enough to start the story.

Gidget:  She’s a fluffy white powder puff of a pomeranian type dog and is in love with Max.  The joke is that he doesn’t really even notice her and she’s obsessed.  She’s the one who leaves the charge to rescue him.  It isn’t until she Karate chops her way to save them that he sees her as more than the fluffy white thing that always says hello to him.

Chloe: A mackerel/gray tabby cat that’s friends with Max when it suits her, but also knows how to rally the troops to help save him when it’s needed.

Annndddd, that’s it.  IMDB lists one other female named Maria but I don’t remember her.  The female voices get a chance to talk a bit, have their own jokes, but not a life outside of Max.

Overall:  This was fun.  It’s always sad when even in kids films the same racial and gender roles play out, especially one about animals where you have a chance to go elsewhere.  But I still laughed and if you want to not think, it’s not a bad way to go.


Movie Review: The Lobster

Synopsis:  In a fabulist tale of a movie, if you are single you are sent to a hotel by the woods where you have 45 days to meet someone before being turned into an animal of your choosing.  Your days can be extended for each ‘loner’ you bring in – people who live in the woods attempting to escape the choice of relationship or animal.  However, there are rules to being a loner as well – you can’t kiss or sleep with anyone or there are ‘repercussions.’

Rachel Weisz narrates the beginning where we follow David, a recent single man, who goes to the hotel with his dog, Bob, which we learn is his brother who didn’t make it.  When he checks in he is asked his orientation and told he can only choose Hetero or Homosexual, as Bisexual caused too many issues :/  From there he has one hand chained to his back so he can see how useful two are.  We are taken through the absurd view of being paired – how a lot of it is done on similar ‘defining features’ – such as a man who has a limp (caused when he went to visit his mother, who turned into a wolf after his father ran off, and other wolves at the zoo attacked him) whose wife also had a limp. Her passing is why he is currently there.

Afraid of becoming an animal that others eat, the man with a limp pretends to have a nosebleed to match with a woman who gets nosebleeds.  Meanwhile, David pretends to be a sociopath to match with a female sociopath.  After she does something too horrendous for him to pretend anymore, David runs off into the woods to become a loner and there he meets his ‘match’ – a woman nearsighted like him played by Rachel Weisz.  But it’s not allowed out there and they have to develop their attachment in secret, because there are bad things afoot if they’re found.

The Good:  The absurdist nature of this had the theater chuckling throughout.  For example, there is always an unexpected animal in the background in the scenes in the forest.  In one, we learn a woman is turned into a pony and then later see the pony nosing around the background.  At another there is a flamingo or a camel that walks through the scene.

The parts at the hotel in the beginning, while we are learning the rules of the world are also great.  There are ‘plays’ the single people have to go to where they learn the benefits of being a partner.  In one, a man is eating alone chokes and dies.  Then they show how having a partner would lead to them living as they simulate the Heimlich.    If partners are having problems ‘they are given children, as that seems to help.’

This world building continues in the woods where you learn about ‘red lips’- if you are caught kissing you have a razor drawn across your lips and throughout you see people with bandages over their lips.  The narrator says there is also ‘red genitals’ if you are caught doing something else.  Then we are told that you dance alone, so they only allow you to listen to electronica and there is a scene where people are just dancing to their own music.

The actors take to the roles well.  Part of the allure of the film is the flat affect which everyone has.  While there is the sociopathic woman who has no feeling, few others do either, just not as blatantly and it’s shown in all interactions and the acting.  This is not a world where love goes into matching, you just do it if you have a similar ‘defect’ from others and so you don’t become an animal.  Everything is regimented and dictated.  If you aren’t partnered the law will find you – as is shown in a scene in a mall where if you are alone and don’t have a certificate showing you are coupled you get hauled away.  At times you can almost see the glee with which the actors are playing everything so straight.  And great actors, too.  John C. Reilly and Rachel Weisz and Colin Farrell are the most prominent names.  There was also an always heart-wrenching character portrayed by Ashley Jensen – I fell in love with her in Extras and she doesn’t disappoint here.

The Bad:  The tone shift is incredibly prominent and you felt it in the theater.  The hotel part is absurdist fun as we are learning the rules – and then (BEWARE OF THIS!)

Bob the dog is kicked to death AND YOU SEE THE AFTERMATH.  Once we see the bloody dog in the bathroom not moving and the blood on the sink and the woman’s leg, yeah, it’s not fun anymore.  Then suddenly we’re out in the forest and you see more of this darkness overtly, instead of just the hints in the absurd.  There’s the red kiss but also the awful thing the leader of the loners does to Rachel Weisz’s character when she finds out she is planning to run away.  This is probably the biggest flaw, how it changes so drastically and is like two different films tacked together.

Also, it feels less like a film and more like a fabulist story put on the screen.  It’s narrated, it’s purposely flat in terms of action, and fits so nicely into the current literary movement of asian fabulism that Clarkesworld, and other magazines, is promoting.  I would have loved to read this as a story and almost feel like I did more than like it was something I saw in the theater.

In the vein of a literary magical realism story, the ending is a non-ending and there was a collective ‘What?’ when the credits began to roll followed by ‘shit’ by more than one person in the audience.  It’s okay to end films and stories, people.  Give us satisfaction.  Although, at the same time I understand that no one in that world was allowed satisfaction and that was part of the themes.  There was the running joke of women getting guys erect and then leaving them like that, with masturbation outlawed.

The Female:  Here’s where it gets tricky.  While the hotel says both homo and heterosexuality is allowed we only see hetero.  And David is the main character, so it’s most about him.  There are other women, but by nature of the film’s set-up they are there to partner up with a man, except for the female leader of the loners in the woods.  There is one scene where two best friends sort of talk to one another, when one is reading a letter about how much she’ll miss her friend (who is to become a horse, having not met anyone). But I don’t really remember them much talking even in that scene.  The maid and the loner leader talk a bit, and not about men, and there are other conversations.

Now, the Bechdel test says that two women must talk and not about men, even if it’s a sentence.  If we go by that, then it passes.  Some add that the women must also have a name- if we go by that, it fails.  David and his dogbrother Bob have names.  The friends they meet that are male have names (Jon, the man who limps) but no woman is given a name in this film.   Is this because they are only there to partner with the men, who are the focal point, and thus just another thing do be acquired so should have no name?  Could be.  The loner leader definitely has agency in the film, even if she ends up in a grave at the end at the hands of David.  As does the maid, and the female friend who becomes a horse (because she had fabulous hair).

This is ultimately David’s tale in the world he’s stuck in, but there are more female characters than many films nowadays and even if not the focal point, they speak.

Overall – it’s a film that is being discussed for a reason.  There are good things in here and it does read like a story on screen, as in, it feels more ‘writerly’ than cinematic.  Plus, there are some laughs to be had and things to discuss afterward.

Movie Review: The Giver

Synopsis:  In the future, the world is black and white and shades of gray only.  Things like color and emotion were seen as threatening to order so were eliminated.  The government has sanitized everything and decides what profession people go into after they graduate schooling.  They receive daily ‘immunizations’ which dull their emotions and make them complacent.  They also hold no memories of the time before their genetically engineered existence.

Three friends, Jonas, Fiona, and Asher are worried about what the future holds for them, or at least mildly concerned as “worried” is not in their vocabulary.  Asher is to be a drone pilot; Fiona a nurturer in the infant ward where they weigh children to see if they will survive or need to be ‘released,’ and it turns out Jonas, surprise surprise, is the chosen one.  Because one person receives the memories of all the past.  He goes off to meet Jeff Bridges, ‘The Giver,’ and learn what humanity was really like and decides, despite the horrors of war and hatred, it should be like that again.

The Good: Jeff Bridges!  I mean, come on, he’s gold and that voice is perfect for so many movies.  He’s had me since Last Unicorn.  And Alex Skarsgaard is in this, as is Meryl Streep.  Those are names people, NAMES.  The use of black and white and color is great.  The story itself, while at this point a bit cliched in film now (to release is to kill and that Soylent Green moment, for example) still kept me engaged.  Cameron Monaghan is always wonderfully creepy even when trying not to be.  And, even though I knew this whole thing was engineered to make me cry from the very moment I learned Jonas would be learning emotions, I still cried.

The Bad:  Maybe not necessarily bad, it depends on your point of view, but remember that magical moment in Pleasantville when the mom feels emotion, that tear streaks down her cheek and washes the gray away to show color?  Well take that moment and turn it into an entire hour and a half movie and you have the Giver.  Without emotion there is no color and as you learn emotion the world gets a greater variation of color.  It’s a movie that wants more complexity but it really just felt like they blew up that part of Pleasantville.  And on some level that’s not bad.  On others it made it an incredibly predictable film and didn’t add much to the genre of ‘teen in utopia discovers it’s dystopia’ filmography.

The Female:  Female as possible romantic partner- check.  Female as mother who doesn’t do much – check.  Female as oppressive bitch who wants control- check.  Not much screen time was given to any woman in the film, the most being the romantic partner (Fiona) he wants to ‘save’ by sharing his gift of emotion.  While they try to pretend this isn’t a woman in the fridge ending or motivation for Jonas ‘going beyond the boundary of memory so everyone gets their memory back’ by having him love an infant about to be ‘released,’ – she is still in mortal danger and he ends up saving her in the knick of time so . . nice try movie, but I got your number.  She doesn’t rise above the crying and confusion of a woman loved thoroughly by a man who is the hero.  The mother, played by Katie Holmes, doesn’t do much but follow orders and then there’s Meryl Streep.  She is an ‘elder’ who wants to maintain control of the society so sends troops after Jonas.  The main troop being his best friend ‘Asher’ to test control.  All she is shown as wanting is control no matter what.

This film would definitely not pass the Bechdel test.

We need a test for non-white people as well, although part of that seems to be built in or half-assedly explained in exposition when Jonas sees ‘people of all skin color’ in the memories he receives.  Apparently part of an orderly society is getting rid of everyone who isn’t white and making sure women speak for like, less than 5% of the time.


Movie Review: The Curse of Sleeping Beauty

I am a sucker for fairy tale stuff, as are a lot of people these days, hence the sheer amount of fairy tale re-envisionings.  If it’s not a superhero movie, it’s a fairy tale modernization nowadays.  This is what led me to The Curse of Sleeping Beauty – that, and hearing that it was a trippy retelling of the tale.

Summary:  A guy (I forgot his name already, movie ended 10 minutes ago) is having dreams about a beautiful woman he wants to kiss.  Her headpiece is big and annoying for people with OCD because one side has 4 gems dangling from it, the other 5.  Just as he’s about to kiss her the dream becomes a haunted house nightmare.  His psychologist (the third, we find out, in a year) tells him he needs to have friends.  This is the first, and last time we see her.

Then he inherits THE VERY HOUSE FROM HIS DREAMS.  Oh my god, trippy and unexpected, right?  He goes there and it’s run down and creepy.  There’s a letter from a family member he never met apologizing for leaving him ‘this curse. . .and this blessing’ dun dun DUN.  A woman comes to the house looking for her brother who she believes disappeared there.  Apparently a number of people have disappeared and the town thinks the house is haunted.

There’s something about if the guy leaves the house he gets bad stomach cramps.  Then he and the girl, we’re told, are falling for each other.  He finds a book with a spinning wheel on the cover.  They are attacked by mannequins for some reason and flee to her ex-boyfriend’s house (who she only dated twice, she says) and he agrees to take that ancient spinning wheel book, written in a foreign language, and use his many computers to translate it because he’s asian, and therefore a computer whiz.  Also, therefore, will never get the girl.  Go B-movie Hollywood.  Oh yeah, and suddenly there’s this paranormal investigator guy that talks about Islam and the Quran and stuff, and satan.

Before everything is translated, the guy’s cramps set in.  They decide to go back to the house and have him kiss the beautiful woman who suddenly has found that fifth gem that was missing.  This helps my OCD and fixation on the unevenness, but not the movie.  More mannequins attack, a Djinn is chained to a spinning wheel and the girl distracts it while the boy goes to find Sleeping Beauty in some weird steampunk ventilator thing he magically knows how to operate.  He kisses her, then realizes he needs to kiss her with his blood, she awakens and OMG PLOT TWIST the asian guy translates that the sleeping girl is the real demon but too late, dude.  Bitch is up now and she hasn’t had chocolate in AGES and probably really needs to use the bathroom.  But first – the Apocalypse.

The Good:  Uhm.  Some of the visuals are pretty sweet.  The opening ones especially, with Sleeping Beauty in the desert and then the Jacob’s Ladder flashbackiness to things.  And hey, there’s an Asian guy.  I mean, he’s totally still just the smart guy who can’t get the girl but it’s not often that the token non-white person is anything but black right?  Right?  Am I reaching here?  Probably, yeah.  *sigh*

The Bad:  Read that summary again.  It flips all over the place.  It’s predictable.  It’s like a Syfy movie that wants to be taken seriously.  Sharknado without the sharks and wanting to be real cinema, I guess.  Or Sharknado with the sharks wanting legitimacy.  How odd that my spellcheck does not say I have spelled Sharknado wrong.  I use that word enough in my daily typing that it is in the dictionary now.

The acting is also not great.  I get no connection between any of the characters, whatsoever.  Characters are dropped and added randomly.  Special effects are pretty damn weak, too.  The main demon that is NOT sleeping beauty, the mouth movements aren’t even close to what the words are supposed to be coming out of them.  I don’t GET the mannequins.  There’s a scene with the demon at the spindle surrounded by doll body parts but nothing even trying to explain how one spindles plastic body parts.  You don’t know why they are there or where they are coming from and it all changes.  So much is, sadly, clichéd movie making.

The Female:  The Girl is looking for her brother – her quest is led by a missing man and she talks about her brother or the Guy who she falls for, apparently because they kiss.  There isn’t another living female in this world for her to talk to.  She knows how to use an ax, sort of, and gets choked by various demons.

The Sleeping Beauty is Briar Rose and a demon.  She is damsel in distress until she releases the souls of the damned and brings about the apocalypse.  Of course, when you need a man’s help you’re pretty and well-groomed, but when you are mad at the dude and want to kill the world suddenly your hair is all stringy with white streaks and your clothes get dirty and old, IDK.  Fashion isn’t kind to the women with visions of sovereignty, methinks.

The Psychiatrist is a woman, but she has one line maybe before disappearing.


Movie Review: DeadPool

Summary:  Wade Wilson is a jackass but he knows it so it’s all good.  He’s a mercenary for hire and specializes in protecting women from sleaze bag men, because of course.  He meets his female match in a possible prostitute (He offers her money, but I can never tell if that’s part of the ‘come on’ or not) and they can match snark to snark for the 5 minutes she’s on screen.  She also knows how to grab a man’s balls.

Then Wade is diagnosed with cancer.

He gets offered a chance to undergo experimental treatments that will also make him a ‘superhero’ – he doesn’t want to but he’s got a woman in his life now he wants to be alive to protect, so does it.

It’s a sham of human experimentation that most likely does not have IRB approval.  Shame.  And they like to torture their patients.  They want to make them into super powered slaves sold to the highest bidder.  Wade gets the treatment, escapes, and vows revenge under the name Deadpool.  However, he’s disfigured and ugly now so of course no woman can love him, even the one who did for however long the montage was for in the beginning.

There are also a couple X-men in here for some reason.  Colossus with a thick Russian accent that feels so. . . .cartoony and Negasonic Teenage Warhead.

The Good:  If a cat were to be human and have superpowers – it would be Deadpool.  He knocks stuff off the table, doesn’t listen to anyone, has his own idea of how to move and be cool and in general doesn’t care about your shit and has his own agenda.  However, he’s not necessarily evil, although he can be portrayed that way.  Also, he has a lot of memes around him.  And there’s the snark.

In that way – Deadpool is fun.  It’s hero is irreverent and enjoys his own snark and jokes.  Deadpool is known for breaking the fourth wall but I never really see him as more than Ryan Reynolds, they seem so fit for each other, and so it’s fine that I see Ryan Reynold’s eyes and not necessarily Deadpool’s.  As a girl who grew up reading 90s superhero comics, there’s a weirdness of nostalgia thrown in as well.

Explosions – check.  Weird ‘fun’ ways to kill people – yup.  There are car chases and juvenile jokes that garnered a laugh or two.  It follows the formula pretty well of being mainstream but mocking it, which is in itself mainstream.  From the opening credits ripped straight from the Honest Trailer series on youtube to the end where our hero continues his life as if he hasn’t learned anything at all you know exactly what this movie is.  It doesn’t veer from the script.

There were also some good jokes poked at the Wolverine franchise which has been such a disappointment (and I still watch and will still watch when a new one comes out because I hate myself) and the X-men in general.


The Bad:  Up in the description I talked about how when Wade is getting tested on he’s told that what is really going on is they are creating super powered Weapon X type bad guys for hire by others.  This is totally dropped.  At least, if it’s picked up again, I didn’t catch it.

Because it follows this ‘I’m a superhero movie that’s a different sort of sameness,’ I found myself getting bored.  I mean, I actually unpacked a bookcase I’ve been meaning to put together and finally did it during this film because that’s how much my attention was held.  It’s a nice bookcase, one of those cheap particle board ones with a cardboard backing, but was clean sorely needed.   Two hours of snark can also become tiring even when fun.  It’s riffing, fine, and begins to feel like a locker room.

IDK the need for the X-men in this film, the two they could get the rights too.  I think they were to provide some kind of growth for Deadpool beyond revenge – that ‘hey, look, you can be a good guy like us’ type of thing.  It also provided room for jokes.  But they just come in to scene once in a while while Deadpool does his thing and seem to be there to extend the film beyond 20 minutes by allowing the object of Deadpool’s revenge to escape each time.


The Female:  The film has women in it.  There’s one in each group.  The bad scientist people have Angel – a superstrong woman who says, IDK, ten words maybe during the film?  The Deadpool Coalition has his girlfriend who we’re told can match him in snark but don’t really see much of, and The X-men side has Negasonic Teenage Warhead.  I think that’s it.  They don’t talk much, or to each other, they’re the women for specific women in film reasons.  Oh yeah, then there’s his blind female roommate and possibly the only non-white person in this universe, unless you count Colossus who is silver.

Angel:  “Look!  Bad guys can be female too!  And she’s strong, isn’t that cool?”- that’s what it feels like the movie is saying.  She also allows Colossus to show he is a good guy and has manners by saying he doesn’t hit women before she hits him and, irony, sends him flying across a junkyard.

Negasonic:  Sullen female mean girl.  Deadpool nails the stereotype when he says she either says something mean or nothing at all.  She has a few lines – validating Deadpool at the end that he is ‘cool’.  She can also take out Angel showing, look!  another strong woman.  But to do so she has to burn off her baggy sullen clothes for a spandex suit, albeit one that covers her entire body, thankfully.

Blind Al:  The spunky older woman cliche who does things a grandma shouldn’t, like drugs.

Vanessa:  The Hooker with a Heart for the Hero.  I like capitalizing Hs today.  They show she’s his equal by a ‘who has a worse life’ match in the beginning of their love story.  However, despite the film wanting to say they aren’t like other films, She even says she’s not a damsel in distress!  she’s the catalyst.  He undergoes the operation for her and then he seeks revenge for her and then she’s kidnapped and he goes after the bad guys to save her and she’s not in the film that much.

I have been reading more about ‘Women in Refrigerators’:  the idea is how women do not exist in films on screen but their loss is what drives a male hero or anti-hero to action.  Examples include every Law and Order SVU episode where a female is raped before the opening credits and then the team spends the time finding the person.  Supernatural – where the mother is killed and that spurs Sam and Dean into their father’s business.  DC Legends of Tomorrow where the lead’s wife is killed so he now seeks vengeance.  The list goes on.    This also goes for comics and The Mary Sue has a video compilation on their site.

Now, Vanessa doesn’t die but this is a similar concept.  Wade  undergoes treatment to protect her (his words) and then she is kidnapped and he has to protect her (his actions) and other than that, eh.

And as for the Bechdel test – I don’t recall the females having two sentences of dialogue to each other but then, maybe I sneezed.  Or maybe I was hammering my bookcase together during the two seconds they had dialogue.




Damned If You Do, Damned if You Don’t – MFA debate raises its ugly head

In light of an age old writerly debate starting once again, a story:
When I graduated with my Bachelors, I was excited. I was the first from my family to get a college degree and managed to go to an Ivy League school. I worked my ass off to go through there and had so many barriers, including a family who thought that by me going to school I was saying I was better than them – I had to sacrifice a lot just to get those four years in.
Newly minted diploma in hand I go to interview one in a suit and meet with some HR person and talk about my degree in Film and English and my love of anime and am familiar with about two-thirds of the ones she mentions.  This was early nineties so it was Robotech probably movies like Barefoot Gen and Grave of the Fireflies.  I was part of the Anime club at college at one point as well and was of the generation when it was initially called Japanimation.  She likes me so I go to a second interview.  Then I meet the vice-president and she shows me around.  We talk pay – it will be NYC abysmal at about 30K to start. The main job, though, will be watching videos to correct the english of subtitles and then writing DVD copy.  It’s explained that some of the videos are incredibly rough and misogynistic and at the time I don’t care.
Then I meet the president of the company.  He has his office overlooking Central Park and is wearing a cowboy hat and has his cowboy boots propped up on his desk.  And he says to me:
“Everyone speaks very highly of you but there’s no way I’m hiring some privileged ass Ivy League (he might have ended this with bitch).  I wanted to bring you in to tell you that in person, that these kids like you who don’t know how to work and have it all handed to you come in here thinking you can do a job or deserve one because you went to those schools won’t work for me because you don’t know how to work. You can’t do anything.  You’re just useless kids riding off of mommy and daddy’s money and want me to wipe your noses at your desks.”
I tried to protest – I knew work!  He was judging me harshly based on this pre-conceived notion.  I’d made it through three other interviews talking about the work and work ethic, and here he was telling me how useless I was and my degree and how I didn’t know a thing about work when since about age 9 I had been instrumental in getting food on my families table, from selling comics to baby-sitting to other things.  I wanted to scream about tirals of my life.  Why was he judging me like this?
He didn’t listen.  The VP who was in the room was mortified and apologized to me profusely.  I didn’t get the job and decided to temp for a while after that to get my bearings.
How does this tie into the MFA debate?  
There is no right way to do anything and no matter what you do someone will try and shame you for it.  And let me be clear – THIS SUCKS.
There is no right way to write and become a writer either and this is tripping people up.  There is STORY and there are ways to tell a STORY but there are multiple ways stemming from multiple cultures and if you are lucky you were exposed to more than one idea of STORY and can appreciate the variety out there.  That’s rare and goes into the question of why TOCs pop up with all white male authors – it’s a tradition ingrained.
When someone’s mind is set, like the gentleman interviewing me, there’s also really no way to change their mind and THIS ALSO SUCKS.
There are writers who suffer for their art there are those who do not.  There are those who are raging alcoholics and have many cats there are those who do not.  If all art was the same and came from the same roots – well think how boring that would be, or think of how hard that would be for someone who wanted something different (which is also what we’re going through now, writing has been the same for so long it’s hard to accept people outside that sameness tradition because people just don’t know how.).
What I also see in the MFA debate that I saw in my interview was an irrational bias that seemed to stem from jealousy or the idea of fairness.  It was unfair I got to go Ivy when that gentleman hadn’t.  This was something my mother had said, that it was unfair I got to go to school when she hadn’t.  And it’s something I feel a lot too when I look at some of my MFA peeps getting published – the females in my program, 2 out of 3, went there married and knew they would never have to work after.  It was a throwback at times, being around women of leisure who in the past would have learned embroidery and here an MFA was a modern day woman of leisure activity.  I found it incredibly unfair that they didn’t have to fight to be there and every day was a tiring fight for me.  I found it unfair when they started their own presses after the program to publish each other.
In the initial swing from unfair there is pride.  I know I have to work.  I know I have worked and my writing will reflect not that writing from a place of privilege, but the writing of a ‘fully formed human’ and there’s judgement there.  That judgement definitely still pops up when I hear how these people once again published each other and the connectivity at play, the fact that they are in a world I am excluded from even though we did the same things.
In the end, it’s a debate with no winning rhetoric.  Some people go to MFAs, some don’t.  Not all who go to an MFA continue to write after, not all who struggle at home to write continue.  Not all MFA people are successful, not all those who struggle are.  Whether you went to one or not you’ll run into people who think you’re awesome and you’ll run into people who think you suck for the decisions you made in your life and won’t care to hear the backstory.  Yes, MFAs can help depending on what you want to do and how you leverage them, as can creating your own virtual MFA through the numerous online workshops (thinking Critters for one has churned out amazing writers).
There are choices we make in our lives and careers, and they are made from various data points.  Not all choices may seem available to all people but they shape who we are and how we view the world and thus how we create our art.  It’s hard to judge a person on their choices when we don’t know their backstory (technically, it’s incredibly easy to do that.  It’s why this post started.  But I feel I shouldn’t so easily).
MFA, non-MFA – we need to work more on exploring and expanding the definition of ‘GOOD WRITING’ and change the debate because it’s part of the larger issue of a limited cultural view.

Goosebumps The Movie: Review

If you were like me as a kid, then when it came to Goosebumps – you couldn’t read them because your mother was in a rotating number of cults that saw various things as satanic.  Disney, Goosebumps, women.  All evil.

So I would sneak places to read things and go to a friend’s house to watch the good stuff we couldn’t see at home, like Goosebumps- although I was probably more into the Scary Stories to Read in the Dark books.

So of course I wanted to see the Goosebumps movie, stunted childhood and all that.  I was excited to see what was what.

The set-up is simple:  New kid is in like with his female neighbor who is isolated in the house alone with her father, Jack Black.  He thinks she’s in trouble one day, cops don’t beleive him, so goes to rescue her and finds a bookshelf filled with locked original editions of Goosebumps stories.  He busts one open and . . all teen versions of hell break loose.  They then have to put all these creations back in the book.  Oh, and there’s a spring formal type dance going on.  And the cops are imbeciles because. . .of course.  Our hero can’t be a hero if the cops do their jobs.

The Good:  Special effects were fun.  There was some humour throughout, as well.  The action moved, as did the story, so I wasn’t really bored.  It’s a cross between kind of many movies of the type.  Some Jumanji, that one with Brendan Fraser where the books come to life, monster movies.  It also felt like a continuation of Cabin in the Woods- what happens when all the monsters are released, but those from daycare first.  There is a not nice nod to Stephen King, or a couple jokes at his expense.  An extended sequence involving garden gnomes was well done and way creepy, which was nice.  Jack Black voices Slappy, the Ventriloquist dummy  so close to Mark Hamil’s Joker that I had to look up who the voice was.  So that was wonderfully creepy if confusing.

I think the nods were done well and there were probably tons of ‘easter eggs’ for those who read the books or grew up on them.  It might also be  more a case of jokes being the pointing out of nostaligic things rather than real jokes, but I definitely laughed at spots.


The Bad:  Jack Black as RL Stine.  Someone at work was talking about the movie today and asking what his accent was supposed to be besides annoying and I had no idea.  It’s annoying.  He leads with his chest and you just want to smack him throughout.  Some of the throwbacks end up feeling recycled and thus boring.  Obvious product placement, most notably in a scene where, for some reason, they decide to go to a grocery store on the way to the school.   Oh look at that name of a hipster popcorn they fling into!  look how the camera lingers on the packages of food with incredibly clear and well-lit labels!  How wonderful!  Parts of the story too (and this is a story about a story, ultimately) are so incredibly predictable BUT since this is middle-grade literature, I let that part pass.  Kids and adults who just want background stuff will have a fine time with this (and I did have a fine time with this part of it).

The Female:  This is where it gets troublesome.  There are four women in the film:

The mom.  She is played by Amy Ryan, so great in The Office.  And here she is – the mom. She moves her male child to this little town where she has a job and after the death of her husband.  This is her existence.

The Aunt.  Another wasted talent in Jillian Bell.  Love her!  And she is attacked by a demonic poodle.  But she is defined by her desire for a man.  That’s her ‘character trait.’  She talked about wanting a man, then meet’s Jack Black’s RL Stine and number exchange.  Poof.

Hanna AKA The Love Interest.  I liked Hanna at first.  Yes, she was the flirty neighbor with a secret but she was fighting with the boys.  But, in a troublesome move, she is a creation of RL Stine.  Oh no!  So she loses her corporality a couple times in the film, then sacrifices herself to go back in a book when all creatures have to go.  So, we have a toughish female and she was created by the main adult male.  Who then recreates her because teen boy hero misses her.  She kisses him, he wins the prize, a woman written just for him.  Yeah.

The newbie cop.  She’s a newbie cop.  A male cop is treating her like a child.  She gets frozen.

This made the movie more troublesome for me.  I didn’t think about representation or anything like that as a kid and now don’t wonder as much about all these feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy and not mattering.  Sure, psycho mom had a large part in it but not seeing myself, my gender as anything of value on screen hurts.  Here the three women are all defined only in relationship to men.  There is nothing of them in the characters, no personal thing to make them human.  The closest to a fleshed out character is written to be that teen male fantasy, literally.  What does this say to young girls?  How can they view this?  Who is there to step into and role play if you want to identify not as a male.  *sigh*  I am really becoming more aware about portrayals here, and this wasn’t good.

Oh, and apparently in this entire town besides there only being four females, there is no one who isn’t white. So there’s that too. If there was an extra who wasn’t white, I must have blinked.

Writing While Female Part IV – What Can We Do?

Part I

Part II

Part III

So what do we do?  How can we help?  We know it’s a problem to write while female.  We understand the institutionalization that has happened, that leads people to define ‘good story’ so narrowly.  That lets people say they aren’t discriminating, they are just choosing ‘good stories’ and those happen to be written by men, not women.

Here are some ideas:

Educators:  Teach outside your comfort zone.  Teach that others exist.  That their voices exist.  That they matter.  Express your confusion and be honest with your students.  Ask your students what they think of a story that is from a tradition outside your own and then do it again and again.  The first time will be tough.  The first time you won’t like it.  But if you do it more often things become familiar, and if they become familiar you’ll like it more.  You have to make other voices familiar.  You have to make the truth that there are other voices, other types of writers, familiar.

The reading lists I got in school were Huck Finn, Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men and our radical teacher had us read Canticle for Leibowitz.  It wasn’t until grad school that I finally read Beloved for a class.  Until a professor told me about James Tiptree, Jr.   Camus, Dickens, Steinbeck, Barth, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Kesey, Vonnegut, etc.  Those names had been the ones that mattered in academia.  And in my grad school, outside of the one class on magical realism, women writers weren’t there either.

We can’t do this to our next generation.  We cannot limit their minds so much.  We cannot limit their world.  There are anthologies to pour through, sites out there to help.  Find them.  Research them.  Show your students the process and the importance of the process.  Ask for help from others.  Ask your students what they read.  Ask others what they teach.

Learn and share that learning.  Expand your world and the world of your students.

Editors:  Read everything.  Search out new things to read and read more.  Don’t give up after one story from a group you’re not used to reading.  I’ll use the metaphor of a friend the first time she ate a samosa.  At the first bite she scrunched her face.  I asked if it was because she didn’t like it or didn’t understand it.  She thought and said didn’t understand.  It was a different taste spectrum than hamburgers and. . . ham.  So she took a second bite.  Then a third to try and understand what those sensations were.

I have now had discussions with many editors, online and at AWP and other conferences, about the lack of representation.  The conversation often starts the same, “I don’t discriminate, I just know what a good story is.”  When I press how they know they talk about the same schooling I received, the admitted limit of their not knowledge and familiarity with and understanding of different stories.  Sometimes there was a dawning awareness about their definition of ‘good’ and that hidden bias lurking there.  Because the bias isn’t even that female stories=bad, but that female stories should involve specific things because men have been writing female for years.

You need to read everything.  You need to search out things and read them.  You need to search out people who aren’t you and ask them what you should read.  You need to become familiar and see there is more than one story and more than one way to write it.  Stop the self-imposed tunnel vision.  Heck, why not with each submission you ask the writer to include their favorite story and start researching from their – an eager audience.  Or their favorite story by a female writer.  Or something to start the conversation and include those voices.

Oh, and my friend?  On the third bite she realized the samosa was way to spicy and she spit it out.  And it’s okay to hate stories written by people that aren’t your check box on an application.  It’s not okay to hate them out of that implicit bias, though. Learn to know the many ways one can write a good story, so you can know the ways in which they can’t.  It will help us all.

Writers:  Write.  Don’t be afraid.  Put it on the page.  Stand up and write and love yourself and understand it hurts and it’s hard and it’s defiance.

Recognize, too, that there is more than one story and read.  Read everything, like I said to editors above.  Read it all and experiment and try and help each other try and read and write and expand your own ‘who influenced you as a writer’ lists.

Readers:  Read.  Like the above read everything.  Discuss.  Ask questions.  Ask so many questions about what you are reading and what you aren’t reading.  This is the opposite of Where’s Waldo here.  We aren’t asking you to find the man but to look at a bookshelf and see what isn’t there and seek that out among the pages and pages of Waldo’s.  Be voracious in your searching and your reading.

Community:  All of the above and support.  We need to support each other.  We need to open discussions and swap names and stories and ask so much of each other.  We need to hold each other to this.  We need to stop the tunnel vision and the anger and the fear of the unknown that walks around each day.  That is in our homes and our schools and our work.  Because women are hear, even if at times we aren’t seen or heard.  And our ideas just might work.



On Writing While Female – Part III

Part I

Part II

I now write my experiences.  The female experience.  How when I take public transportation men don’t take no for an answer when asking me to ‘get freaky with them’ and have followed me, or punched the side of the train behind my head.  How I can’t walk outside because that’s ‘male space’ and if a man talks to me and I don’t respond, it’s a violation of their domain and they get angry, scream, threaten.  How so many of us have been violated in some way or another by men.  (So, two things here.  I have had two serious stalkers in my life, both ended up in jail for seriously hurting and in one case killing other people.  When life as a female comes up in social groups I often say I haven’t met a woman who hasn’t had a stalker.  And guess what?  Everyone then comments on theirs from the past.  I still haven’t met a woman who hasn’t had a stalker.  The other thing is the percentage of women that are molested.  Last time I followed the stalker question up with this one, every woman also raised their hand.  It’s harrowing, but none of us weren’t in some way violated.)

It’s not easy to identify as female, and there’s a reason I’m saying ‘identify as’ rather than ‘am’.  And it goes to the abuse.  So much abuse.  To be female is to not belong except as an object.  It is to fight every day just to stand.  To feel like you need to apologize for everything, every thought, that you have to step off the sidewalk to a curb when a man is walking down the middle if you don’t want to get run into.  To not matter.  This was drilled into me.  My brother was a man and mattered, I did not.  A common poem repeated in my house was, “A Woman a Dog and a Walnut Tree, the more you beat them the better they be.”

Of course I didn’t want to be female or a girl or anything like that, but I knew I wasn’t a boy and couldn’t be a man.  I denied my gender and sexuality for a long time, and feel I’m still in the process of claiming it.

Writing female is hard because there is this history of female voices not being anything but chatter.  Background noise. The braying of a mule or barking of a dog.  And this, I think, is the most horrifying thing of all and is certainly a horror motif- to be screaming as you’re attacked but having no sound come out.  No one to hear you despite being in a crowd.

And there aren’t spaces on the Table of Contents for you either.  Because editors raised the same way as I, on male stories, say ‘I judge the story, not the writer’ but arne’t seeing the limitations in their view when they read.  They aren’t see the limitations in their idea of a ‘good story.’

And this is why, as hard as it is, I write horror.  I write female.  I’m balancing out the use of male characters now, but I try to be cognizant of their use, the maleness, and why I am writing them in.  It’s time to get the word out that female leads, female writers, that what they have to say in the canon matters.  We do that by writing it.  By not fitting in anymore, but standing up and out despite the new horrors that come from this simple act of defiance.  I’m tired of being a man’s shadow.  I am my own person, and my own writer.  It may greatly limit my chances at publication, but when I do get a story published I no longer feel I’m part of the problem or ‘passing’ as a female who can write as well as a male.  I’m a woman who can write well.

My name is Victorya Chase.  I identify as female.  And I am a writer.

(Tomorrow – Part IV – What can we do?)


On Writing While Female (Part II)

For Part I please go here:  Part I 

I started writing women.  Strictly women. If there was a romance needed, they were both women.  Or, in one case the lead was a woman and she turned to a Real Doll. And (even though I said I wasn’t going to muddy with race, here I go) I wrote non-white.  I mean, I had lived in NYC a long time before I went to grad school.  I don’t think I had a single white friend those 14 years, not a close one at any rate.  So why was I writing all white characters?

The response was not good.  In fact, I got comments about how I was weird.  Asking why I wasn’t writing about white people, etc.  And these were the written comments. (one poignantly asked, “What’s with all the Asians?  She also asked why my lead wasn’t a waitress because she did live in NYC after all, sigh.”)  I was veering from the contract I had signed by going to an MFA – to propagate dominant culture.  To be part of that ivory tower system of sameness.  This anger toward me meant I was going in the right direction.  But I was being alienated even more.

As part of our graduation we had to stand in front of an audience at a scheduled reading and be the ‘opening act’ for a published writer, friends of the faculty usually.  I read a piece that not only was modular, but the star was a non-straight half-Filipina woman.  This piece has since been published and then reprinted twice (Dreaming of the Mananangaal).  While for my peers, those I had gone through 3 years with, I had attended their readings, given some bottles of wine at their readings, congratulated them, etc. I got one text congratulating me and a lot of faces that turned away.  NOT ONE of my professors attended my reading.  Not even my thesis advisor.

However, the rest of the community was amazingly supportive.  A professor who had been pushed out (and is now the head of a wonderful community based writing program) said it was probably the best student reading in five years.  Undergrads were energized and coming up to me saying how much I had inspired them.  One of the poets in the program told me how beautiful the piece was, and how he thought it was poems at first and then it morphed into a story.

And I finally realized that I was on the path to my voice.

Back to Horror

When I’m asked why I write horror I say that I don’t, that I just write about being a woman and since most editors are male, they read it and go ‘shit, this is scary’ and suddenly there I am on the TOC with the menfolk.

I wish that statement was more joke than it is.  The story in Cemetery Dance is based off real events not just for me, but for many women.  When a woman says something, it isn’t always believed.  In fact, there’s a general institutional doubt of women speaking the truth, or their voices being valid.  If I go back to my MFA class, so many times a female would make a comment and the professor would nod, then a guy would make the same comment and the professor would smile, validate, and leap the conversation off of it.  This happens A LOT.  It’s like I’m standing in a room with a hand over my mouth (not my own hand) when I speak.

My story, “Anti-Theft,” deals with a woman who is having things replaced in her home and the cop who doesn’t believe her.  And I’ve had that happen too- only even more dire.  I got a death threat from a person from my past after they saw my name in an antho.  The threat was in writing.  Part of it said the phrase used in every Criminal Minds episode, “I love you too much and you are hurting me by staying away.  It’s a nine hour drive to where you live.  If you don’t reply in your own handwriting I will drive over there and purge you from my life.”

No shit, right?  Clear as day?  I mean – I hadn’t contacted them for ten years, I was in a different state and this shows up certified mail having never given out my address.  No brainer.

The male cop said, “They just love you and miss you,” and no amount of WTF read the letter, look at this, understand they’ve killed my pets in the past would convince him that I was anything more than overreacting to a missive of love and longing.

This happens every time I go to the doctors, too.  I’ve had very harrowing experiences when the male doctor has just told me I have anxiety, or as a woman I do certain things, think certain things, that I’m not really sick even though I am (one led to a rough exam I should have reported, but I was convinced it wouldn’t do any good).  They ignore what I am saying and focus on the gender, and the devaluing occurs.  (This is also part of why I now work in with doctors even though I don’t go to them as often as I should- my pat answer to what I do is ‘teach them to not be dicks’ which is way hard to do).  Women doctors do the same thing.  Medicine is a patriarchal institution and just as my first story that got me ‘into the establishment’ was about a man because that’s the story I learned was important, so do women doctors learn to distrust female patients.

(to be continued. . . .)