Category Archives: gender

Stuff I Thought About While I Watched “Savages”

I saw Oliver Stone’s Savages the other day.  It was intense.  I liked some elements and couldn’t stand others.  The main thing I didn’t like was the narration.  Blake Lively’s monotone (as “O”, short for Ophelia), insists on interrupting the action with needless commentary.  I’m sure it’s included because this movie is based on a book, but when will filmmakers learn that book-narration rarely translates to the visual format of storytelling on screen?  Sometimes the narration in this film was distracting or actually more confusing because she’d say “meanwhile, so-and-so blah blah blah” and I’d be thinking, who’s so-and-so?  But when it cut to them I’d recognize the character immediately, so all the narration did was make me confused where I otherwise would have been fine.  Other times the narration forced me to roll my eyes and scribble down a snarky comment; either way it was continually pulling me away from the story rather than helping immerse me in it.  Some of the worst narrated lines included:

  • “Just ’cause I’m telling you this story, doesn’t mean I’m alive at the end of it.  Yeah.  It’s that kind of story.”
  • “Every successful business has an origin story.”  Really?  Like every unsuccessful business doesn’t have an origin story?  Like every person or organization or movement ever doesn’t have one?  Why even say this?!  Total waste of time to even mention it, completely annoying to try to make it sound like it’s somehow unique to this story.
  • “Dope’s supposed to be bad, but in a bad, bad world, it’s good.  Chon says drugs are a rational response to insanity.”  The logic of one pothead regurgitated by another pothead who is too stoned to come up with her own thoughts.
  • [the best pot in the world is] “right here in California, USA.”  Oh great.  Go ‘merica!  We always have to brag about being the supposed best at everything in the world, even illicit drug production.
  • “Ben is Buddhist, Chon is Baddhist.”  I mean do we really need this cutesy description to understand the boys are polar opposites?  No.  We do not.  It’s obvious in everything from their actions, reactions, facial expressions, and movements.  Stop narrating this story to death.
  • “I looked up the definition of ‘savage’…”  NO.  YOU DID NOT.  YOU DID NOT JUST SAY THAT.  Citing dictionary definitions is the absolute worst.  And it’s completely unnecessary!  By this point the film has defined “savages” very well through the characters!  I actually really liked the “savages” theme and the way that both sides used it to label the other, until O ruined it with her insipid voice-over.

Other things I thought about while watching this movie:

Why do the cartels use emoticons in their threatening cyber-communications with Ben and Chon?  LOL.

I love the code-switching between English and Spanish that ruthless cartel leader Elena demonstrates, mainly when she’s yelling at her underlings.  Code-switching is just cool.  Actually, that scene was released as a sneak-peak before the movie came out, and it’s on youtube legitimately.

That torture scene where the guy’s eyeball is hanging out was just gross.  I couldn’t really look at it, and I distracted myself by thinking about how it reminded me of that episode of The Guild when Codex is flirting with a stunt guy who just came from set and has a fake eyeball hanging off his face, too.  So I’m sure it was just make-up in Savages, but it was a lot more disgusting than in The Guild.  Although Codex does immediately vomit after he makes her touch the squishy fake eye-ball.  (It’s a great show, written by and staring my hero Felicia Day, and you can watch it all online here.)

Stunt guy neighbor makes Codex touch his fake eye-ball in season 2 of The Guild.

What’s with the Shakespeare references?  I’m guessing it’s a theme in the book, since O makes reference to the fact that she’s named after a character in Hamlet, and says that “people are willing to go Henry the 8th on this.”  Is there also some famous Shakespeare quote or passage that directly deals with the idea of who or what a “savage” is?  I can’t think of one off the top of my head.

There’s a scene where, **SPOILER ALERT**, Elena suddenly looses the upper hand in her attempts to manipulate Ben and Chon into doing what she wants, because they kidnap her beloved daughter.  She’s obviously shaken and she immediately agrees to do whatever they want to get her daughter back.  Her voice looses it’s hard edge and becomes more of a shaky whisper.  Then she screams for her entourage to get out, and when she’s alone in the room she collapses crying and pulls off her wig of shiny perfect hair!  She’s not bald, her hair is just in a wig cap.  But I thought it was interesting, this explicit link between a female with power and her beauty.  Earlier, when Elena was still plotting and scheming and in control, she was shown applying face cream, and she always had perfect make-up, that long shiny hair, and expensive jewelry.  And when she looses her power, she looses her beauty too.

Elena, beautiful and bitchy, before she looses her power.

It’s definitely not the first time a movie has implied a mysterious link between female beauty and power.  Movie women are rarely just powerful, they have to be powerful and beautiful, and if one of those attributes is threatened, so is the other one.  We saw another explicit example of this recently with the evil Queen Ravenna in Snow White and the Huntsman.  I mean, the entire Snow White story is about women fighting over who is the most beautiful and therefore the most powerful!  Or think of Regina George in Mean Girls–of all the pranks that Caty and her friends try to make the queen of Girl World less popular, the only one that works with the masses is making her “fat” and “less pretty.”

Queen Ravenna, who quite literally derives her power from stealing others’ beauty to maintain her own.

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Creaky Speaky

I saw an interesting article yesterday about the emergence of “vocal fry” in the speech patterns of young American English-speaking females.  According to the article,

Vocal fry, or glottalization, is a low, staccato vibration during speech, produced by a slow fluttering of the vocal cords (listen here).

It’s that “uh-uh-uh-uh-uh” sound, kind of like a staccato motor, that I only intentionally use when I’m being really sarcastic, or mocking sorority girls, or expressing frustration or uncertainty.  Okay, so maybe I do use it a lot.  But this study found that females tended to end sentences they were reading out loud with the creak, which I wouldn’t have expected.  Normally speakers reading aloud tend to use more formal pronunciation patterns than in everyday conversation.  And now that I’ve started paying attention, I have noticed myself tagging the ends of sentences with a dip in intonation that sometimes goes all the way down into a “vocal fry.”  I’ll be keeping my ears open to see if I notice it in others as well.  It’s just fascinating, isn’t it, that these kinds of things can be totally unconscious, yet systematic.  What’s behind the emergence of this trend, and why is it only females? The article states:

The team’s next steps will attempt to find out when this habit started—and if it is indeed a budding trend.

The researchers also plan to test students in high schools and middle schools to learn why young women creak when they speak. “Young students tend to use it when they get together,” Abdelli-Beruh says. “Maybe this is a social link between members of a group.”

It will be interesting to see if they are able to pinpoint significant cultural influences that might have triggered the rise of this creaky voice trend, but even if they don’t it’s still a fascinating example of the way the languages we speak are living organisms, constantly evolving, the mutations spreading through soundwaves from brain to brain.

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michael bay, hemingway?

i just got back from watching transformers: dark of the moon.  i’ll put a review up on my digest movies site soon, but something that struck me during one of the explosion-filled fight scenes (when my mind was starting to wander a bit) was that the female characters in this movie are exactly like the ones in ‘for whom the bells toll’, that have been criticized as i mentioned in an earlier post.  you’ve got resident sex symbol girlfriend, (rosie huntington-whitly or whatever the crap her full name is, who replaced megan fox in the same role, not without controversy), and she’s the shallow stereotype, screaming and running in heels and being filmed from a lusty angle all the time.  seriously, when she first comes on screen it’s like, oh hi rhw’s butt.  and legs. and legs from the front.  aaaaand finally we pan up to see her face. but only so she can jump on the bed and straddle her boyfriend that she sooo adores for no good reason that we see in this film.  because he isn’t kind or sweet to her, he’s not a sugar daddy, he doesn’t support her, he’s not even romantic.  it’s a boy fantasy movie.

then, you’ve got a high-powered military lady, i forget what her official title was but it was something like head of national security maybe.  calling all the shots.  played by frances mcdormand.  but she’s very brusque, wears pantsuits, (while rhw wears slinky, short dresses and hells. or no pants at all like the first scene), and actually reprimands people when they refer to her as ma’am!  She says, on more than one occasion, “don’t call me ma’am.  do i look like  a ma’am?”  at one point rhw’s comeback to this is, “well you are a woman, aren’t you?”  supposed to be hilarious.  ah ha ha, what a bitch, she doesn’t even know if she’s a woman or not, she crazy, how did she get this job anyway? let’s laugh at her, because she’s so harsh! and because she won’t let little main character sam come in and waltz all over the place.  “you’re breaking my chain of command,” she says.  she should have said, sit DOWN sam witwickey!  (i have no idea if i’ve spelled that right or not.)

anyway, i’d better cut it off here or i’ll run out of steam before i write my real review.  i just wanted to point out the similarity between hemingway’s and bay’s female characters here, because i probably won’t get into it on my other blog.

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The Bells are still Tolling

So, I am still only about halfway done with my Hemingway book, (For Whom the Bell Tolls).  If I did not have to read it for book club, I don’t know if I would finish it.  It is not like me to quit a book that I have started, though.  I guess the more accurate statement would be if I did not have to read it for book club I would never have started it.

It’s not that it’s terrible.  There are actually some parts that are very interesting, insights into war and revolution and how ordinary people become ruthless and violent and how soldiers are not supposed to question orders or care about themselves and the haphazardness of some ‘military operations’ like Robert Jordan’s bridge building assignment, where he is working with people living in a cave and spending his days hiking around the mountain wondering which of these hill people are reliable.

Also, he’s spending his days with his “little rabbit,” Maria.  I still don’t like that development.   At book club one of the other ladies brought up accusations that have been made against Hemingway for writing all his female characters as either total stereotypes or masculine.  this is the only Hemingway book I’ve (partially) read, so I don’t feel qualified to decide whether the criticism has merit across the board, but Maria’s character is definitely an annoying, flat female.  She has such potential to be a captivating figure, surviving the horrors and showing strength of will and  resolve either to fight for the revolution or to detest all manner of war and violence or something.  Instead she was just waiting to meet the right handsome American, apparently, and doesn’t want anything except to be his domestic servant.

Then you have Pilar who is a pretty interesting character, (I loved the chapter where she recounted the brutality that her hometown showed to the fascists at the beginning of the war, although it was a horrible tale), but who I now realize is actually pretty masculine–she’s ugly, she orders Maria around, she commands the group, she says really rude things.  So I don’t know.  I didn’t like Hemingway to being with, and now I like him a bit less, but I’ll finish the book before I decide on my final verdict for this book.

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