Fighting The Ignorance Towards Trans Individuals

I went to bed nearly crying last night (edit: I finished this post in tears). I spent the better part of today trying to write this in my head, half distracted at work, still keeping up with the news and various responses. I still don’t know where to start. Let’s start with the facts as we know them then:

Sunday December 28, 2014, a young transwoman whose preferred name was Leelah Alcorn left her home near Kings Mill, Ohio. She walked an estimated 3-4 miles before allowing herself to be struck by a semi truck on an Ohio interstate. (source: LGBTWNation.com).

Through a scheduled post on Tumblr her suicide note appeared, (link); as did an apology to her siblings and a final note to her parents (link).

There is a lot in her note worth mentioning. I have spent quite a bit of time now reading over the comments on various blogs and facebook pages. I watched a news article on WCPO, a Cincinnati television station.  I watched as her own mother still stayed in denial as to both the gender and nature of the death.

LeelahAlcorn1

Note: This facebook post has since been taken down

 

 

I have watched as people who observed the various articles began slamming Christians, Christianity, her Therapists, her family, wishing harm upon her mother, wishing legal action upon them, wishing hate on all those involved in the loss of this child.

I’ve watched enough. Now sit down and listen.

It would be easy to blame the Christians. They seem a good punching bag these days, but they aren’t the problem. I know plenty of “good” Christians who support me.

It would be easy to blame the parents. Leelah’s note makes it pretty clear a lot of blame does belong there.

It would be easy to blame the therapists. They clearly failed.

It would be easy to blame her school(s). No one stepped in to protect her.

It will be easy in the coming days when people type #Translivesmatter to say #alllivesmatter.

Let me speak from a place of experience. Let me speak from someone who is a transwoman who is lost, has contemplated suicide more times than anyone knows, who even tried it when she was Leelah’s age.

We need to blame Ignorance, and if you will let me, I want to help end some.

Let me start with the scary one for everyone who knows me personally. If I am in any state but California someone can MURDER me and use the TransPanic defense. “I didn’t know and it scared me, so I killed them in a panic.” I want you to consider that. I want you to look long and hard at the people and community around you, around your lawmakers; and consider someone could murder me and might be able to get away with it. (Sources: Jurist , Advocate)

Just because I am Trans.

Now that I have made it personal for some of you, let me get to some even more fun statistics courtesy of the CDC.

  • Negative attitudes toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people put these youth at increased risk for experiences with violence, compared with other students.1 Violence can include behaviors such as bullying, teasing, harassment, physical assault, and suicide-related behaviors.
  • A nationally representative study of adolescents in grades 7–12 found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers

The link above has more statistics for you to peruse as well as What Schools Can do (Safe zones), What Parents Can Do, and more. At least one study (link) shows that at least 20% of homeless youth are LGBTQ, I have seen others that have that number at 40%. That same study shows that 62% are more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual homeless peers (29%).

Leelah did not have to die. You could say that about any child who feels the need to commit suicide and it is true, but to say that dilutes and weakens the conversation we need to have today. Much like the gay rights conversation of it’s a choice/I was born this way – trans individuals feel the same. With the numbers I gave above, who would choose this? Who would choose to go from having the lovely privilege of being a male to being female? Less pay, increased chance of rape, physical, mental, societal abuse and stigma? To be hated by some groups of feminists? To have even some Gay rights activists hate that you exist? Why in any deities name would someone choose this?

Why would I choose this when I would lose a fiancee of 15 years? When I would have someone who was my closest friend where I grew up admit to me she was ready to bolt to get away from me when we met again recently (she didn’t and we still talk)? Why would I choose to risk being ostracized by any living blood relative I have? Why would I choose to risk being alone for the rest of my life?

Why would Leelah choose to be who she wanted to be in a home where she was at risk? Why would she choose to be different when accepting what she was told would be so much easier? So much less painful?

The answer is simple: It’s not a choice. It is who we are and it is more painful to live a lie.

So many things went wrong for Leelah and I understand every last one of them.

She was told God doesn’t make mistakes. It’s just a phase. She was told she was being selfish and that she needed to look to God for help. She had all her ties to anything resembling a support structure online cut from her. She had any semblance of normalcy from school taken from her when she was moved to a private school. In her own words her parents saw her as an embarrassment to THEM. All of this from parents and therapists – who exactly is selfish?

I want to attack the parents right now and I might in a moment. Let me start with the therapists. They failed in every concievable sense. If they are licensed by any state board, there could in my non legal opinion be grounds for investigation. According to the American Psychological Association (link)  and the Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender-Nonconforming People (link). They were in the wrong. We are not broken. We are not mentally wrong.

In addition to prejudice and discrimination in society at large, stigma can contribute to abuse and neglect in one’s relationships with peers and family members, which in turn can lead to psychological distress. However, these symptoms are socially induced and are not inherent to being transsexual, transgender, or gender-nonconforming.

And their treatment plan goes against the standards of care:

Options for Psychological and Medical
Treatment of Gender Dysphoria
For individuals seeking care for gender dysphoria, a variety of therapeutic options can be considered.
The number and type of interventions applied and the order in which these take place may differ
from person to person (e.g., Bockting, Knudson, & Goldberg, 2006; Bolin, 1994; Rachlin, 1999;
Rachlin, Green, & Lombardi, 2008; Rachlin, Hansbury, & Pardo, 2010). Treatment options include
the following:
• Changes in gender expression and role (which may involve living part time or full time in
another gender role, consistent with one’s gender identity);
• Hormone therapy to feminize or masculinize the body;10
• Surgery to change primary and/or secondary sex characteristics (e.g., breasts/chest, external
and/or internal genitalia, facial features, body contouring);
• Psychotherapy (individual, couple, family, or group) for purposes such as exploring gender
identity, role, and expression; addressing the negative impact of gender dysphoria and stigma
on mental health; alleviating internalized transphobia; enhancing social and peer support;
improving body image; or promoting resilience.
Options for Social Support and Changes in Gender Expression
In addition (or as an alternative) to the psychological- and medical-treatment options described
above, other options can be considered to help alleviate gender dysphoria, for example:
• In-person and online peer support resources, groups, or community organizations that provide
avenues for social support and advocacy;
• In-person and online support resources for families and friends;
• Voice and communication therapy to help individuals develop verbal and non-verbal
communication skills that facilitate comfort with their gender identity;
• Hair removal through electrolysis, laser treatment, or waxing;
• Breast binding or padding, genital tucking or penile prostheses, padding of hips or buttocks;
• Changes in name and gender marker on identity documents.

So in that, the therapists failed absolutely and unequivocally; perhaps on a criminal level, but I am not fit to judge that as I have no legal experience. The negligence of the parents should also not be ignored. Was it criminal? Maybe. Again I can’t say. I think there may be grounds for investigation however, as their deeply held beliefs left their daughter with so much depression and hopelessness that she didn’t see a way out. This girl was beautiful. She was going to be positively radiant and loved by someone as she got free and found her path to transition. She has a line in her note I want to make sure people read:

I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

In this statement I identify with her. I have people who tell me I am beautiful and I don’t feel it. The words of support are not wasted, but the internal psychology when I look in the mirror? Yeah I feel Leelah. I don’t think I am going to ever find a man or woman who wants to be in a relationship with me. I don’t think I am going to be happy with my final transition – my voice, my weight, my body frame, my hair, my inability to conceive a child, take your pick. There isn’t any winning. I am sad enough already. I fight depression nearly every single day of my life.

Unlike Leelah, who was so young and innocent, I believe it gets better. I shouldn’t. I see horrible stuff in the world every single day. I see between the stories and look at the truth and how horrible things are for trans folk. Yet somehow, I believe no matter how low I am, no matter how bad and dark a space my head takes me (and it goes dark trust me) – there’s always a bit of hope. That hope comes from a support structure of a family of 1’s and 0’s, images, and sometimes even voices. If I didn’t have the friends I have that have become more family to me than anyone I share DNA with – I’d be right there with Leelah. If I didn’t have a job at Intuit, who supports people like me, I’d be right there with Leelah. It Does Get Better; but…she was alone and it couldn’t. She was lost and afraid. She saw no way out from her own life and her own path.

For that as a society and a people  we need to do better. She asked as much, even as she talks about not having any hope or way out she still had some:

My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.

So this is what I am asking if you have read all of this, don’t let Leelah’s death be another sad statistic that we forget about amidst champagne and fireworks 24 hours from now. Don’t just be passive and talk about how horrible it is. TELL  people how horrible it is. Convince them that this was avoidable. There are millions of people in this country right now who are still thinking she is broken. That her parents were in the right to force her to be something she wasn’t. Even her own school is still saying “He” and “Josh”.

 If you read this and know someone who is trans-

  • Get the pronouns right. Words DO hurt.
    • I still get called He and Him and it hurts every single time
  • Let them know they have your support.
  • Don’t be passive – if a ‘friend’ makes a joke about Trans* – STOP THEM. Tell them they are offensive. If they tell you to lighten up – tell them how much it can hurt someone. It’s not just a joke.
  • Be a shoulder for them, they may not have it at home.
  • Understand we are afraid of discrimination. We’re afraid of not being able to get a job, being attacked physically, being persecuted by the law – just for existing.
  • Understand we are afraid we will likely be alone for the rest of our lives. You may go home to your spouse or kids and we may go home alone – forever.
  • Understand you can’t pray this away. This isn’t a choice any person would WANT to make. This is who we are.
  • We are not freaks, we know who we are and who we want to be.
  • We don’t want to force out beliefs or agenda on you or anyone – we just want to feel safe and be at peace.

 

If you are Trans and reading this

  • I know how afraid you might feel.
  • I know how alone you might feel.
  • Know that I am here.
  • Know that others reading this (hopefully) are there for you.
  • Know, please for the love of all that anyone holds dear, know that you are NOT BROKEN. You are NOT A MISTAKE. You are NOT a FREAK
  • It does get better. I may not seem like it right now, but it does. I am saying this from my experience. I have a lot of things in this world others don’t and I am trans. I have a job, a house, a car, friends. You can too. It gets better. Please believe that, even in those dark moments. Believe it.
  • Suicide isn’t an option. Don’t do it. Find another way.
    • If you need someone to talk to – message me or use some of the resources I am linking below.

If you are reading this and see your own life situation reflected:

Know that you aren’t alone. The entire LGBTQA+ spectrum, minorities of all shapes, sizes, colors, races, identities; there are hundreds of thousands of others who feel alone, persecuted, and hated just for being. We need to be one community. One humanity. We aren’t as alone in our pain as we think and as we feel, no matter how hard our minds convince us otherwise.

Everyone:

Show compassion. Show understanding. Be an educator. Talk to your friends, family, teachers,  coworkers – let them know this kind of thing has to stop. The ignorance must stop. Let them know the abuse must stop. The Bullying must stop. The death must stop. Revolutions are always bloody – I think we have enough blood of our children soaking the ground now. Let it be enough.

Stop talking about how horrible it is and do something to end it. Help laws get passed to protect people. Stop laws that discriminate. Let’s do as Leelah asked and help fix society.

 

RESOURCES

 

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Darke Reviews – Into the Woods (2014)

If you know me personally, you know I love musicals. I’ve seen a fair share on Broadway in NY, and a few at other venues not in the City that Never Sleeps. Wicked, Jekyll & Hyde, Phantom top my list of performances. When it comes to Hollywood adaptations of musicals where do I land? Honestly in the positive. Chicago, Phantom of the Opera (I like it, bite me), Rent, Les Mis, Rock of Ages, the list goes on. Now we have the adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

Where do I land here?

Well, surprisingly I have not seen the original source material, heard it, or otherwise been entertained by it. Rather unusual for this drama club girl. The story and screenplay were handled, rather than manhandled by the original writer James Lapine. The music of course is by Stephen Sondheim, who also gave us Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (which was also adapted for film by Tim Burton). The music itself, which is as much a star as anything else has Sondheim’s usual quality to it; which is to say a bit all over the place. It isn’t bad, but has a rather odd lyrical range that doesn’t quite seem to flow – but it works still. If you aren’t familiar with musicals it may strike you odd when you hear the lyrics. Musically the composition is quite beautiful and one of the better arrangements I have heard, but it lacks some energy that other musicals have; I am missing some of the crescendos that I was expecting. A few of the pieces did sound like something from Sweeney Todd in how they built, rose, and fell. Perhaps it was just how Depp was singing that reminded me of his singing of Pretty Women in Sweeney Todd. There are songs (Agony) that were worth the price of admission though, and the rest are all very well done, but Agony is the best.

That comes down to the performances. I didn’t know Chris Pine could sing, but he really can and has a sense of comedic timing and placement that should only be classified as praise worthy. I offer the same compliment to Emily Blunt, who has impressed me twice this year with her performance in Edge of Tomorrow and now her turn as the Bakers Wife here. Both her acting and singing were where they needed to be and allowed her to play off of James Corden as the Baker. Corden is the heart of the movie and so I shall put him in the center of praise for the acting. I am looking over his IMDB page and have seen absolutely nothing he has done, which is surprising considering the billing he received in the trailer was equal to many of the more known stars of the film. I will have to keep an eye out for him as he really did well and pulled off a few difficult moves during the dance numbers. We also have young broadway star Lilla Crawford fresh from the 2012 stage reboot of Annie as Little Red Riding Hood. She reminded me a bit of Maisie Williams at times, which is good; but sadly doesn’t get as much screen or vocal time as I wish. Another performer from the stage is Daniel Huttlestone, who has previously played Gavroche in Les Miserables on stage and in the film (knew he looked familiar). Wrapping up our amazing performers is Meryl Streep and Anna Kendrick. Streep is no stranger to musicals and is just as powerful here as she ever is. Kendrick is pure magic as always. I may have some bias towards here, but she has yet to disappoint me with her performances in straight up acting or her singing (Pitch Perfect). This movie is no exception.

The story for those who are not familiar with it involves the blending of several fairy tales into one cohesive story. To say much more would verge into spoiler territory, but these are very classical retellings of these stories and I was happy to see them. From a technical standpoint, there really isn’t much in the movie that doesn’t hold up. Most shots are clearly a soundstage, but within the context of this film it works as you are taking a stage play and putting it on screen. A few effects here and there, but ultimately it’s really solid. It feels a little long at times, but only clocks in at 2 hours.

TL;DR

The movie is good. I was entertained and in at least one scene laughed rather hard (along with the entire row behind me). That row, who has performed this particular show 3 times, said it was a good adaptation – in fact one of the best. They were laughing and singing and otherwise enjoying themselves. That speaks volumes for the movie in a way no review really can.

So with that, if you enjoy musicals I think you will enjoy Into the Woods.

If these films or plays are not your thing, I would warn you to stay away or stick to a matinee.

At least the year goes out on top after a month of rather disappointing films. Now…should I join the rest of the reviewers out there and do a best and worst films?

Darke Reviews – Annie (2014)

In the land of unasked for and unneeded remakes we have our newest entry – Annie. It was interesting to initial reactions to this particular remake as the traditional white girl with freckles and red curly hair was being replaced with a black girl with her brown curly hair. Original stories talked about how producers Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith wanted their daughter Willow in the role. Ah Hollywood nepotism and the Smith family. Karate Kid, After Earth (*shudder*), and then Annie. We add Jay Z to the mix for – reasons – to help produce the movie. I kind of like to imagine that Jay Z was the reason Willow isn’t flipping her hair back and forth and instead we got a different young actress.

If you are not familiar with the original 1982 movie, comic strip, or musical from 1976, or comic strip from 1924 it is the story of Little Orphan Annie. Surprise I know! It covers the adventures of a young girl, her dog Sandy, her benefactor “Daddy” Warbucks, and a few other characters that would be extraordinarily racist these days.

For the new film, we have  couple of updates. She’s no longer an Orphan, she is a Foster kid. The satire of the New Deal and FDR is gone, replaced with mobile phones, modern politics, and social media. Also gone is the risk and the charm. Replacing it is a sense of bitterness of the world.

From an acting perspective, it doesn’t suck. Quvenzhane Wallis is the bright spot in this film. She really does light up the screen the way Annie should. She affects peoples lives around her the way that Annie should. She is everything I wanted from an Annie. Rose Byrne (X-Men First Class, Damages, Insidious) plays Warbucks assistant Grace and seems to be the only person really trying to have fun aside from the kids. Both Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz I think were given wrong notes by the director. Diaz plays obnoxiously over the top for the better part of the film finally coming down to a low simmer in Act III. Diaz may be a good actress but she is no Carol Burnett. Foxx for his part seemed to miss the mark on how to perform; which is odd for such a talented man. Where everyone else was singing in an almost Glee sense as if it was part of the scene, Foxx sings and performs his songs as if he is on stage – which creates a serious disconnect with the costars.

That disconnect continues through most every performance in the film. Sometimes they break the 4th wall, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes people react to those singing. Sometimes they don’t. It is all so random and arbitrary as to if the song is Glee style, performance style, or improv. It just doesn’t make sense as to when or where people will react to the songs being performed. That makes the performances awkward to watch and at times uncomfortable because you don’t know the rules. Only one or two are an exception to this and even they don’t make sense. Most  of this of course falls on director Will Gluck.

I am really not sure how Gluck got the unfortunate seat at the table on this one. His directorial roles stick to RomCom fare with Easy A and Friends with Benefits. He has produced more but none of them are musicals. So most, if not all, the problems with this film come down to Gluck and the producers not having a good idea of what to do, or how to do it. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the Smith’s checked out after Willow wasn’t cast. I would have thought Jay Z or Will would have better been able to influence the musical moments with their own experience, but apparently not.

TL;DR

The movie is an awkward, uncomfortable mess. It has so many tonal shifts and character shifts you have trouble keeping up and have no real desire to. In a common critique of modern films, it takes no risks. I remember the original where Annie was on the train tracks being threatened by Rooster (Tim Curry) and for a moment I was actually worried and felt real threat. Nothing comes close to that here. It’s as if Hollywood is afraid to show any form of risk or harm.

The movie suffers and honestly, isn’t that good. I can’t recommend the film to anyone – even if there are a few bright spots, because so many just fall flat or are painful to sit through.

 

 

 

 

 

Darke Reviews – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Alright as we begin this review let me remind people of the rules:

  1. No spoilers from me. Even if I want to.
  2. I don’t typically read the book. It’s rare when I do. This lets me judge a movie strictly on its merits as a film.

So where do I judge this film? I don’t think it will be long into this review before you know how, but let us go through the motions. I say go through the motions as much with Hunger Games, you are either 3 or 5 movies in and thus committed to this franchise. I have absolutely no illusions I will keep anyone from seeing this or encourage someone to see it who is not already invested. The reality is I was just as invested, which is why I saw this. I am freelance, no one pays me. I see what I want, when I want, and review what I want. Phenomenal cosmic power, itty bitty budget.

I think there was a time that Peter Jackson was heralded as being the savior of the Fantasy Genre. We have come here not to praise Jackson, but to bury him. Bury him in the mounds of money he has made on our faith. Bury him under the weight of his own misguided creativity. Jackson has stepped over the line from savior to damnation. He has saved us from films such as Eragon only to deliver us into the hands of a three movie franchise for something that at most should have been two. George Lucas has stepped aside from franchise and good will destroying madman to allow the King of Hobbits to take the throne. Any goodwill that Jackson built with the first franchise has long since been thrust into the fires of Mt. Doom. The movie with Jackson at the helm and at the pen, fails on so many levels.

But if you are still with me, allow me to explain:

Peter Jackson is director, producer, and screenplay writer.  With his collaborators (and wife) Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro. This is a fantastic combination for two things – cranking out the works of Tolkien into something digestible to the mass market and not being able to say no to each others ideas. I am sure there was some disagreement in the writing circle, thats inescapable. But if you are a writer like me, your friends can be the worst people to have read your work. They will support bad ideas (usually) and tell you how great it is when what you really need is the one friend who says “No.” I don’t think this crew had that. I don’t think they put limits on themselves and the studio certainly wasn’t about to after the dragons hoarde of money they have raked in over the past decade.

Background done, the movie fails on the simple level of evocative storytelling. A writer must have an understanding of the rollercoaster that is their story. There are rises and falls. Beats and pauses. This movie lacks that. I grew up in Maryland with my grandparents and due to that I watched probably more war movies from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s than most kids my age. I have seen all the greats. I have seen all the new greats in that genre as well. What they all have in common is the action beats are interrupted by relatively long pauses to let you breathe, to let you grasp what is going on, and most importantly to make you care and get to know the characters that are in this plight. Let me take you to Saving Private Ryan for a moment. A modern classic and that is an opinion that is hard to argue. I would be willing to bet most people have a character they remember and like. For me it was the sniper. I got him and his death was powerful and meaningful. Another film. Enemy At the Gates, under rated movie of Russians vs. Germans about one of the greatest snipers that has ever lived. Again everyone on both sides you get to know them and care or wish for their death. Classic film from a time before mine – Battle of the Bulge. Fantastic (in more ways than one) movie. You meet both sides and even can learn sympathy for some of the Germans in it, which is nigh unheard of at the time.

Not so here. I couldn’t tell you who half of the people were in the over an hour of battle this movie gives you. I also couldn’t care. Filli, Killi – which is which? It doesn’t matter. The movie doesn’t let you care. There was no stake in this film. There was no passion to the story to let me care beyond a cursory level if *anyone* lived or died. The movie had no risk because you knew some characters couldn’t die. The ones beyond that you couldn’t care about, with few exceptions thanks to the actors. The story didn’t do them justice.

Second major failure. If you want to introduce things not in the book, by all means do so. I *encourage* it. You will be damned if you mirror the book near perfect (Zack Snyder) or deviate wildly (Jackson here). Might as well take the risk and do something fascinating; just make sure it is fascinating and for the love of all that you hold dear – have a plan. If you want to introduce all these new elements make sure you know what to do with them when you have to wrap the bow around the whole package. There were too many stories started here and so few of them were closed. There won’t be another film so why leave them hanging?

Now these two failures combined pretty much left me bored and not caring. There are other factors I will get too in a minute. The movie succeeds in two places. The first is Martin Freeman. I know he is not at risk, but at all times he makes me care. He manages to strike the chords that make me feel something while watching this. His acting is fantastic end to end without ever missing a beat that he is on screen. The second is Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel. Yes I know she is created for the film, but again she actually makes me care.  I wish there was more to her and for her to work with because it actually worked.

No one else did. Really. They didn’t. Even Armitage a Thorin just doesn’t really do it. He gets close, but he almost tries too hard.

From a technical standpoint please allow me to say: DEAR GOD WHAT HAPPENED TO BIGATURES?! CGI IS NOT THE ANSWER TO EVERYTHING!!!! It along with your high frame rate and 3D makes every single flaw look even worse. It isn’t good. If Manu Bennet (who is awesome in person) is wearing a make up while playing Azog its a really bad make up because it looks CG. If the make up is only enhanced by CG, then they failed. It looked bad. It looked really bad. Honestly, not a single shot in the movie looked good. They were trying too hard. They tried so hard they hit the ridiculous barrier. It wasn’t SyFy movie of the week bad, but it was way too much money spent on it bad. With all that WETA digital has done over the years, they apparently have not mastered light. It made every shot “enhanced” by the artificial light look worse. The CG horseback ride, was easy to see the green screen!

Creature design. What. The. Frak. It was patently ridiculous. I remember the first time you gave us a Cave Troll. It was bloody terrifying, even if it doesn’t hold up. The Battle of Helms deep?

TL;DR

As I said before you will see this anyway if you were going to. If you were on the fence, please heed my advice – Don’t see it.

I don’t actually hate the film, but I can’t give it more than an Ok. It didn’t make me smile. It didn’t actually entertain with only a handful of scenes as an exception. It gave me a solid meh and only a few eye watering moments to show for it.

If you absolutely must see this movie; if it is a moral imperative of Chris Knight proportions then go see it. Avoid the high resolution/frame rate, there were times it almost made me nauseous. 3D is ok, but you can save SOME money by catching the 2D and I don’t think you’ll be too upset.

So there it is…the end of a trilogy (hexology?). It started epic and ends with a whimper.

 

 

 

Darke Reviews – The Pyramid (2014)

This is a 3 review week folks. Today you get the Pyramid, Wednesday you get the Hobbit (Goddess help me), and Thursday or Friday you will get Annie (Its a hard knock life for me). Now obviously, this film came out a few weeks ago, but I had neither the desire nor time to see it when it first came out. Tonight, I really wanted a break from DragonAge:Inquisition (120 hours does that). Only one of the theatre managers at my local cinema was in, but we chatted and he tried to warn me. Was he right?

In what seems to be quickly becoming the trend in found footage genre, Archaeology! Reminder, if I could have any other career – it probably would be archaeology. Archaeologists discover something, go exploring against better judgement, and bad things happen with a hint of a supernatural bent. Archaeologists are our new paranormal researchers. Maybe we will get someone to go to the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang? Petra? Some lost site in ancient Persia, with the Iranian and Iraqi conflicts as a back drop? Perhaps the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram, India? Chavin in Peru? All of these places are ripe for it. I mean we’ve already had the Catacombs beneath Paris and now Egypt.

Really the synopsis is the same. So called Archaeologists, one who prefers old techniques and his daughter who believes in state of the art, uncover an unusual pyramid with only 3 facings amidst the Arab Spring and events in Cairo. They are far enough away and honestly, based on the satellite image they showed, I am not sure they were actually in egypt but it was only a glimpse; yet that provides a pressure based backdrop to allow for poor decisions. Really beyond that and the film crew with them trying to get a documentary on the unusual pyramid and these new techniques for discovery we’ve tread this ground before. They enter the pyramid. They get trapped. Something is in there with them. These are not spoilers, this is in the trailer. Bad things happen.

It’s almost like Thunderdome, X people enter. Y people leave. The uninspired script is by Daniel Meersand (nada to credit really) and collaborator Nick Simon (same deal). I won’t say the script was bad, but it was uninspired. You need to make at least some of the characters likeable for me to wonder if they will live; or more precisely care if they die. I shouldn’t be eager to watch them die just for them to shut up. Every – last – one just needed to die. Combinations of ignorance, self righteousness, and general panic just made for bad combinations in dialogue and personalities. Along with that many of the questions the movie tries to ask are never quite answered. Plots are introduced, but never followed up on satisfactorily or at all. They become just another wasted detail.

Obviously the writers can’t take all the blame, but they will get most of it here. First time director Gregory Levasseur is no stranger to horror, as he was a writer on films such as High/Haute Tension, The Hills Have Eyes, and P2. With that pedigree I expect something more. I also think he might be able to be blamed for script decisions. A writer who is now a director should have seen the script and known to make changes. If he did make the changes that result in this final product, then he is equally to blame. If he ignored problems and filmed as is with only minor edits, then by omission of action he is guilty. I also must blame him for the performances he coaxed out of his actors. None of it worked. Honestly, nothing in this movie worked.

Even the acting was mediocre at best. I would list the actors, but I don’t want to chance ruining them for people if they have actually seen anything these individuals are in. There’s just so many bad decisions made and the performances they give only amplify my aggravation. Compounding that is some fairly horrific CG work at times. It just fails.

TL;DR

This movie fails on every conceivable level, beyond its pure concept. I love the concept, the mystery of a lost pyramid of a design we’ve never seen before? Buried in such a way it must predate the trio on the Giza plateau? Awesome. Then…well failing on every other possible level.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the movie. That kind of vitriol is saved for other films. I was just bored and annoyed.  I would expect to see this as a SyFy movie of the week. Actually – thats about it. This is a SyFy movie of the week with a better production budget. If you want to see this done better – see As Above, So Below.

Do not enter the Pyramid folks. The curse is boredom and annoyance.

Darke Reviews – Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

I apologize for the semi fake out on the title everyone. I have not seen this movie, nor am I going to; what I want to do is tell you why *you* shouldn’t see it. I have been planning this rant / boycott effort for months now and still never settled on what I was going to say. I want this to be eloquent yet short enough you read it. I want it to stick in your mind but not be shoved down your throat. Please bear with me those who keep reading. I will even have a TL;DR at the bottom as usual.

You may notice I will be trying to be painfully careful with my words here. Using more words than might be needed. I have seen several other posts on this topic where the concepts of Race/Ethnicity/Skin Color/Heritage begin to blend and be used interchangeably. There is a fascinating article over on Io9 on such a topic here, admittedly the author does blend the two a little bit more than I think they realized or wanted. I also admit as I write this longer I may do the same – so I apologize again.

Hollywood has a problem. It loves to white wash cultural history. Now if you are not familiar with the term white washing beyond painting a picket fence white, it is the concept of placing a white or rather Caucasian European into a role that could also be played by someone of any other skin colour and in fact probably should be played by someone of another ethnicity or level of melanin in their skin based on genetics. This was most famous in older Hollywood films with black face, red face, and other methods to cast white actors in roles that should go to people that are being portrayed. Now in some context this could be almost excused due to societal bias at the time.

I think excused is the wrong word here, it should neither be excused nor forgiven. Instead remembered as being wrong. Remembered as being racism, plain and simple.

Much like Disney’s Song of the South is all but banned in the United States for it’s extraordinarily strong racist overtones, other Hollywood films had similar racist and white washing behaviors. If you aren’t sure what I am talking about – The Ten Commandments (direct corollary to the film we are discussing sort of) with Charlton Heston as Moses, Yul Brenner (He’s Russian folks) as Ramses, and Anne Baxter as Nefretiri. Warner Oland in the old 1930’s Charlie Chan movies, David Carradine beating out Bruce Lee for Kung Fu, Mickey Rooney as Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Of course there is Sir Laurence Olivier as Othello, John Wayne as Genghis Khan…the list goes on. (source: my own IMDB research, Buzzfeed , and Smosh ).

You might say, or hopefully just hear the argument – Times have changed! Have they really? Excluding Exodus for the moment, let’s look at Avatar the Last Airbender the movie. Two white actors ( I use that word loosely here) were cast as what should be Inuit or native arctic circle people. This is intentional, as the rest of their village seems to be right. The animated series has four distinct cultures and countries displayed throughout, yet the movie white washes the main casting for no rational reason. Arnold Vosloo as the Mummy? He’s fun, but he is South African. Even more recently (and more lamented) The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp as Tonto. Now, this isn’t disparaging his performance, but instead the casting. How many Native actors would have wanted that role? Could have had that role. But no it goes to a man who for all intents and purposes is Caucasian Western European – despite any heritage. Sorry I think half of the people I know claim to be XX% Native American. What of Dominic Cooper in The Devil’s Due or Dracula Untold? Great actor (bad roles sometimes) but really?

Why was this done? Well…the Producers mostly. They don’t think that non white people are bankable in these roles. Think I am interpreting something that isn’t there? Lets take this quote from Ridley Scott himself on Exodus.

Scott, 77, previously said of Exodus: Gods and Kings: “I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.” (Source: The Guardian )

Hollywood does not cast main actors who are not white in major films because they don’t think we, as an American audience, will see it without that. Hellboy, for instance, had an entire character created just to be the audience foil. The FBI agent was there because they didn’t think we’d be able to identify with the host of characters without our white male lead. So with Exodus we get Christian Bale as Moses because, thanks to Batman, he is bankable. We don’t get to a single non Caucasian Western European until you get into the tertiary characters.

IMDB_exodus

 

Please don’t try to argue that Sigourney Weaver or Ben Kingsley are bankable right now? They are fantastic actors, I love them both, but do they put butts in seats? Lets look at the casting of Ramses. Joel Edgerton what has he done? Actually quite a bit as a secondary character. He is another good, solid, talented actor – but really does he have an audience draw to put butts in seats? How many of you could tell me without checking IMDB that he was in the Great Gatsby, Zero Dark Thirty, or Star Wars Episode 3? I don’t imagine there are too many hands raised in front of the computers. So we had to cast him? I am not doubting his talent. I am doubting the choice and others when we have:

Oded Fehr (Israeli) , Faran Tahir (Pakistani), even Wentworth Miller (Syrian/Lebanese), Salma Hayek, Tony Shaloub, Corte Di Pablo (Chilean, but famous for playing Ziva David on NCIS), Natalie Portman (Israeli). I would even take Greek actors such as Melina Kanakaredes. Most of this list would at least give credence to Scott’s other even worse excuse for the casting choices (source: Yahoo)

Q: What was in your mind when you set about creating this international cast?

Egypt was – as it is now – a confluence of cultures, as a result of being a crossroads geographically between Africa, the Middle East and Europe. We cast major actors from different ethnicities to reflect this diversity of culture, from Iranians to Spaniards to Arabs. There are many different theories about the ethnicity of the Egyptian people, and we had a lot of discussions about how to best represent the culture.

Now…Scott himself is taking all of this criticism from other more famous sources than I in stride. In fact at The NY Premiere on December 7th he told Critics to “Get a life” (Source: The Guardian )

 

Is Hollywood the only problem here? No. We are as an audience. Surprisingly Christian Bale gets it and can sum it up quite well:

“I don’t think fingers should be pointed, but we should all look at ourselves and say, ‘Are we supporting wonderful actors in films by north African and Middle Eastern film-makers and actors, because there are some fantastic actors out there.

“If people start supporting those films more and more, then financiers in the market will follow. The audience has to show financiers that they will be there, and [then] they could make a large-budget film.

“To me, that would be a day of celebration. For the actors, it would be wonderful. It would be a wonderful day for humanity, but also for films and for storytelling in general.” (Source: The Guardian)

We have the power here people. We have the power to make this change and tell Hollywood we WANT to see representation of more diverse individuals in our movies. Many of the people I know complain about this sort of thing, but don’t know how to do something about it…so let me get to the

TL;DR

If we want to fix white washing in Hollywood – Boycott this movie. DON’T See it. Don’t rent it. Don’t buy it. Tell your friends not to see it. Tell your family not see it. The movie IS problematic and we can be part of the solution to that problem through the simple act of – not doing anything. We don’t have to see it. We can tell Hollywood producers and Ridley Scott that we want change by not seeing it. Let the movie bomb and bomb hard.

If you want to see a similar film (albeit with similar casting choices for voices) that is done better and at least depicts people of the right colors and shows some levels of cultural awareness – see Prince of Egypt instead. It is an awesomely underrated animated film from the late 90’s.

If you decide to see it, if you absolutely want to and are OK with the problem – I get it. It’s not your problem to have. I hope you enjoy it and get your monies worth. If nothing else with this post I hope I have made you think a bit. Maybe opened a few eyes to some problems out there – and they are problems.

Sorry for the longer than usual post, but I am passionate on this. I love movies, but I want to see them get better not stick to old stereotypes of casting.

 

PS: Thanks to Sorah Shibao Art for being my editor on this one. I have the ‘luxury’ of white privilege and didn’t want to be talking out my rear.

 

Trailers in the Darke – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

George Miller, the man who created Max has returned to what he does best. Seriously, look at his IMDB credits, he does this best.

He has promised us a near 90 minute long car chase with every feasible and possible effect that can be done Practical as Practical. Almost every car stunt you see is done with real cars and real explosions. I don’t think I even care what the story is here other than we have Tom Hardy as Max (Aussie as an Aussie, this is good). Charlize Theron with a cybernetic/steampunkish arm – looking awesome and bad ass.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you George Miller.