The Legend of Korra: Korra Alone Review

Season 4, Episode 2

This week’s episode made up for the severe lack of Korra in the season opener with an emotional Korra-centric episode. Like the title suggests, this episode is about our Avatar after she left for the South Pole to recover from her fight with the Red Lotus leader Zaheer. She’s definitely not the Korra we know anymore. She’s cut her hair, ditched her Water Tribe clothes, left her spirit dog Naga behind, and joined in a cage fighting match in the seedy Earth district of Republic City.

Nega Korra

It appears that Korra’s fight with Zaheer left her even more broken than it first appeared at the end of Book 3. She’s wheelchair bound, she can’t go into the Avatar State, and she has a pretty vivid (real?) Korra ghost following her and threatening her. It’s unclear if this menacing manifestation of Korra (I’ll call her Nega Korra) as she appeared during her fight with Zaheer is a hallucination or if it is real, since some spirits can detect Nega Korra’s presence. This question is sure to be answered throughout the season.

Korra goes to the South Pole to try to regain the use of her legs. She says she’ll be gone three weeks but two years fly by. She regains her ability to walk, but she is still a physically weak fighter. She feels absolutely useless, and Tenzin basically saying “The other Airbenders and I got this whole world peace thing” probably isn’t making her feel any better. Tenzin certainly means well, but his words appear to hit Korra pretty hard. If she can’t maintain world balance, then is she a failure as the Avatar?

As she tries to recover, all her friends—Mako, Bolin, Asami, Tenzin, and Jinora—are all doing great things for their world. Korra lies to her parents about going back to Air Temple Island and goes on a journey to reconnect with Rava, the Light spirit. This leads her to an unexpected person: Toph, who apparently has been chilling in a swamp for who knows how many years. This wasn’t a surprise for anyone who watched the season trailer, but it’s still tantalizing to think of what role the greatest Earth Bender in the world can play in the final chapter of the Avatar saga. Perhaps a Yoda-like character to Korra’s Luke Skywalker?

Korra’s character and personality centers completely around her physical abilities. Now that that has been cruelly taken from her (temporarily, hopefully), she has to deal with questions of her identity and her purpose as the Avatar. If she can’t do anything, then what good is she to anyone?

Her physical prowess is such a part of the Korra character that I didn’t even know how to process the first episode of the season. “Did she just purposely throw that fight?” I asked my sister after Korra lost a cage match.

“I don’t think so,” my sister replied. It was so jarring to think that an Earth Bender that Korra wouldn’t have sneezed at in the first season could beat her up so completely. Breaking Korra down in this way is sure to lead to intriguing storylines.

“Korra Alone” is a solid second episode for Book 4 that helps ground some of the more startling aspects of the first episode, “After All These Years.”

Unanswered questions:

-          Why is Nega Korra haunting Korra? And most importantly, is she real or a figment of Korra’s broken psyche?

-          What has Toph been doing all these years?

Some great moments:

-          That Avatar Aang picture in the seaside shop. Good to see he was still goofy, even when he grew up.

-          Mako writing letters to Korra – “It is 2:14 in the afternoon…”

-          The cute little puppy dog spirit that leads Korra to the swamp

-           “You’re not the first Avatar who has overcome great suffering.”

-           And of course… “Nice to see you again, Twinkletoes.”

The last season (Book 4) for one of my favorite shows began on Oct. 3rd and I plan to review each episode every week.

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

In recent years, Marvel has gone where no other franchise has gone before: interwoven, high budget individual stories (movies and television) in one big Marvel “universe.”  At this point, Marvel’s spot as a powerhouse in the box office is relatively safe. And as a result, it looks like Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn was given a lot of freedom to take a bunch of crazy risks.

The result is…AWESOME…for lack of a better word.

Star Lord: Legendary Outlaw

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, there was Star Lord: legendary outlaw…what, you’ve never heard of him? Neither has anyone else. His real name is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and he was abducted as a kid by a group of alien pirates called the Ravagers after his human mother died from cancer. The Ravagers take him on as a surrogate son of sorts and give him a cool leather jacket and a false sense of bravado. Star Lord: legendary outlaw, with a combination of Han Solo’s smarm and Luke Skywalker’s naiveté.

Hello, I’m the Orb and I’ll be your MacGuffin for the remainder of the movie.

Years later, Peter ditches the Ravagers and is jamming out on his Walkman when he stumbles across a mysterious orb on the ruins of a planet, which according to Peter, has an “Ark of the Covenant, Maltese Falcon sort of vibe.”  Later, Peter discovers that intergalactic baddie Ronan the Accuser is after the orb, which apparently has the power to kill billions of people.

Star Lord teams up with a group of criminals after they break out of a high security prison together: the enigmatic Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). They’re a rag tag group, but together, they just might be able to save the galaxy from Ronan.

I was hooked (on a feeling) as soon as I saw the first trailer for this movie:

A talking raccoon? Andy from Parks and Recreation with muscles? Blue Swede? What was this? I’d never heard of it..and for good reason, since the Guardians are (i.e were) one of the lesser known Marvel comics. After a quick visit to the comic book store, I picked up one of the Guardians’ adventures and devoured it. It was like the Avengers…in space!

Needless to say, my expectations for this movie were high. And it still did not disappoint.

The movie kicks off with an adult Peter dancing around and singing along to “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone as the opening credits roll. This sets the tone for the whole movie. After years of having the “dark, gritty” superhero film, I forgot how much fun they could be.

And Guardians is a LOT of fun.

Gamora, Star Lord, Rocket, Drax, Groot

The performances work well together. Chris Pratt layers on the charm as Star Lord and Zoe Saldana brings a fierce intensity to Gamora. Dave Bautista is actually pretty hilarious as Drax, as his tendency to take everything literally lends for comedic moments. And although Rocket and Groot are CGI, they steal the show. I’m just saying, I’d watch a buddy movie about those two. The soundtrack itself is almost a character, with everything from Cherry Bomb to The Pina Colada Song.

Although the five Guardians are not superheroes, but they each have their own origin story. Sadly, the movie doesn’t have enough time to go into a lot of detail for each of the main characters. A lot of side characters, like Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Nova Prime (Glenn Close) are not given much to do, but they hold their own.

Pictured: pelvic sorcery

My only disappointment is that the Star Lord/Gamora pairing happened really quickly, although it did lead to one of the best phrases in the film: “Pelvic Sorcery.”

The best way I can describe this movie is that it reminds me of Star Wars with updated effects, a bigger budget, an amazing jailbreak, and even a one-sided dance-off. After a summer of lackluster movies, this is just what we needed. It’s big, bright, and above all, it’s a fun time.

And I can’t wait for the next one.

Sleepover: A Modern Masterpiece?

Terrible movies are up there on my list of favorite things, along with the sound of rainfall and a hot cup of tea. The sheer awfulness of poor filmmaking decisions snowballing out of control until it regurgitates itself onto your screen is something that fascinates me as both a viewer and a writer.

One of my consistently favorite terrible movies is the 2004 schlockfest, Sleepover.

It featured a ton of celebrities before they were big stars, including:

Even Summer Glau can’t believe she’s here.

  • Alexa Vega (post-Spy Kids)
  • Steve Carell (right before The Office became a hit). He easily gives us the best acting in this movie.
  • Summer Glau (post-Firefly!)
  • Coach Sue Sylvester from Glee
  • Evan Peters
  • The kid from Weeds

And those are just the better known actors. You will constantly question what urgent mortgages these people had to pay off in order to accept these roles.

So What’s It About?

Sleepover is about a group of 14-year-old girls at a sleepover party who go on a scavenger hunt in order to earn the coveted “fountain lunch spot.” There are the mean girls, a vain football player, a dorky skater boy named Spongebob, a slacker college brother, the clueless dad, a suspicious mom, and of course, the dreamy Steve Phillips:

I lose it every time. This is by far the best way for the out-of-your-league love interest to enter the storyline–skateboarding over a not-too-impressive water fountain to the sound of angelic pop cherubs and making the most unattractive face he can muster, like that of a confused chipmunk.

Pictured: “So plush.”

Steve serves as little more than an empty shell that’s obsessed with “The Girl in the Red Dress,” our main character Julie (Alexa) after watching her skate across his car’s path earlier in the evening. His sole character development is:

1) He’s so plush

2) He likes skateboarding

3) His shoes smell good

4) Julie likes him and movie rules mandate that he will therefore like her

Steve and Company

Steve’s nameless buddy (who I’ll call Romeo for ironic purposes) is the most underdeveloped character I’ve ever watched, but for some reason, the movie seems to think of him as comic relief or, at the very least, as a foil to the pure awesomeness known as Steve Phillips. Romeo spends the whole movie in the background, getting rejected by girls who love Steve instead and listening to Steve rant and rave about “The Girl in the Red Dress.”

The movie is much funnier when you make up a background story about Romeo secretly being in love with Steve. Just try it with the scene below:

Watch that and tell me that “There’s a gym full of girls waiting for you.” isn’t code for: “But you’re dating me, Steve!” Not only do Romeo’s acting choices make him look like he’s secretly pining after his undeniably plush friend, the inclusion of the scratched pool shot boggles me on a filmmaking level. It’s not funny, all the dialogue stops, and what little pacing there was screeches to a halt. What does this shot mean? What is life?

I’m also convinced Steve is secretly a sociopath. Look at his reaction to finding out that a 14-year-old girl snuck into his bathroom while he was taking a shower and stole his boxers:

That is the wrong reaction, Steve.

That is the reaction of a man who was minorly inconvenienced when he realized he just forgot his cell phone in the car, not a man who just learned a stalker broke into his house and stole his underwear

Just Date Guys Who Like Brownies

Another interesting choice by the writers is the inclusion of the confusing “Brownie vs. Celery” debate as a metaphor for choosing the perfect romantic partner. Yancy suffers from intense body image issues because of society’s crippling beauty standards and her peers’ constant bullying. Her friends’ advice? Just date guys that like brownies. That will solve everything. And it does.

The effectiveness of this method must be called into question. No one would choose celery over brownies. Are Yancy’s friends implying that she should settle for ANYONE on the entire planet?

So What Sets Sleepover Apart?

These are just the tip of the iceberg for the wonderful horror that is Sleepover. But why do I keep coming back to this terrible movie before all other terrible movies?

As strange as it sounds, Sleepover has a certain innocence about it that is in the details. It’s hard to explain, but not a lot of movies portray 14-year-olds like this movie does—as obviously whiny, clueless, self-absorbed, but not altogether loathable children. “Children” is the key word here. A lot of other shows and movies portray kids as miniature adults who are wise beyond their years. This movie does a little bit of that and the girls are definitely annoying, but…they also try to order a milkshake at a nightclub. They dance around in Spice Girls costumes. Their mannerisms are child-like. They put on outlandish makeup (for fun!). And while skater boy Spongebob is obsessed with girls, he still has a Velcro wallet that holds his prized picture of him lying in a coma that he shows off to anyone who will listen.

“Wanna see a picture of me in a coma?” – actual line in movie/best icebreaker ever

This is basically a PG rated version of an 80s teen movie.

Most movies seem like they were written by teenage boys. Well, Sleepover sets itself apart because it’s like it was written by preteen girls and the result is absolutely magical. It follows the most basic plotline imaginable, the acting is what you’d expect from a middle school play, but I think it helps me remember how I saw the world as a 14-year-old girl.

So tell me, what’s a terrible movie you like?

How To Train Your Dragon 2

The fictional Scandinavian town of Berk is a pretty cool place now that dragons and humans live in harmony.

Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless are still free spirits who are trying to map as much of the world as they can; something that may have to fall to the wayside now that Hiccup’s dad, Stoic (Gerard Butler), wants to hand over the title of Chief to his son.

Thank goodness I googled the bad guy’s name. I almost wrote Dirk Bloodfish instead of Drago Bludvist.

The 20-year-old is hesitant to accept this mantle, he’d rather chart new territory (literally and figuratively) than lead his father’s people. Before Hiccup can decide if he wants to be Chief or not, he discovers a new bad guy called Drago Bludvist is capturing and controlling a dragon army. His plan? To defeat all humans who once refused to bow down to him, which includes Hiccup’s father.

Hiccup thinks if he finds Drago and talks to him, the Vikings can avoid a war, so he takes to the skies with Toothless and his friends in order to save his home.

Toothless and Hiccup take to the skies

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a great follow-up to the heartwarming first installment. It’s darker than the first movie, but everything that made the first one so amazing is here—and better than ever.

1) First of all, it has breathtaking flying sequences and action scenes that remind audiences 3D can serve a purpose in the moviegoing experience.

2) One of my favorite relationships, the “awww” inducing friendship between Hiccup and Toothless, grows in its depth as the two characters age and mature. Other characters get lovely moments together as well.

3) The movie’s content and humor can speak to people of all ages.

Toothless and Hiccup

One other motif that follows from the first movie: this kids’ film isn’t afraid to show what real loss looks like—and stick with it instead of solving it via a last minute solution. In the first movie, Hiccup loses his leg in the final battle. This movie doesn’t dwell on his lost limb, but rather subtly shows the reality that Hiccup has to live with on a daily basis. How to Train Your Dragon 2 also doesn’t shy away from the permanent, sometimes staggering cost of each choice we make. In this sense, the series is one of the more profound children’s movies I’ve seen.

Overall, seeing this movie in the theater was a great experience, but a couple of aspects of the movie rubbed me the wrong way. Too much time is spent on the comic relief side characters all having crushes on each other…with no payoff. Some of the interactions were funny, but they were sometimes distracting from other things that were going on. I don’t particularly care for this type of subplot, but it needs to have some sort of definite conclusion if the writers want to spend so much time on it.

Lastly, the film just skates past the fact that a character’s parent abandoned their child for no apparent reason. Rationalizes it, even. There’s not even a line of dialogue dealing with the anger or the tension this would cause. It didn’t debilitate the entire film, but it bothered me nonetheless.

Despite these small aspects, How to Train Your Dragon 2 was one of my favorite animated movies of the year. The characters grow, the bad guy is despicable and frightening, there are tender moments, scary moments, funny moments, and action that will knock your socks off. Much like Hiccup, this second installment is more grown-up than the first movie, but it’s a worthy sequel.

The Fault in our Stars Movie Review

Last night, I thought I’d casually go out with couple of friends and see The Fault in Our Stars, based on the bestselling young adult novel by John Green.

“Casually.” Was I ever wrong.

I thought getting to the movie 20 minutes early would give me plenty of time to get good seats, but when I arrived, I was surprised to find that my showing had sold out.

Lines. Lines everywhere.

In the packed lobby, young teenage girls were clutching blankets, buying popcorn, and chattering with each other. My friends and I went on a pilgrimage to different Fargo theaters to find a showing that hadn’t sold out, claiming three of the last tickets of the final showing of the night.

At this point, I was intrigued. I hadn’t seen people making this much fuss out of a movie since the last Harry Potter movie had been released. I hadn’t read John Green’s book or followed the movie’s marketing…and in light of its apparent popularity, I felt like I had been dropped right in the middle of a frenzy.

Could Fault in Our Stars really be worth all this hype and trouble?

Hazel and Gus flirt

After all, it is a movie about teen romance. I’m usually not a big fan. I’d much rather watch Hot Fuzz for the billionth time. The typical teen romance movies formula consists of two teens wanting to be together but adults and classmates telling them they can’t because society and status quo.

Suffice to say, Fault in Our Stars was a bit of an anomaly in the teen romance genre. In a sea of romantic movies, the highest praise I can give this movie is that it is…different. In a good way.

Our two main leads (Hazel and Gus) meet in a cancer support group, become friends, discuss literature, share their dreams and fears, and then become…more than friends. It’s a pretty simple premise, but the difference between this movie and every other romantic movie I’ve seen is that these kids have experienced some of the tough truths about life (and death) first-hand and because of this seem more mature than most leads in romantic movies.

Gus gives Hazel some flowers

These teens aren’t concerned with going to the prom or which college they will go to; they just want to live another day as pain-free as possible. Hazel’s big dream is to meet the author of her favorite intellectual book and ask him questions about his work. Pretty atypical for a teen girl in a movie, but much easier for me to relate to than a girl whose main goal is to get a killer dress for senior prom. It doesn’t hurt that actor Shailene Woodley’s got some mad acting chops. The male lead, Gus, in turn is actually a nice, funny, thoughtful guy (kind of like a manic pixie dream dude)…also out of the ordinary for a teenage boy.

I don’t want to give too much of the movie away, but I can tell you that if you have a heart, you will feel something by movie’s end, whether it is hope, happiness, sadness, or longing. In my theater, I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a dry eye.

Fault in Our Stars was “okay.” And once you see the movie, you’ll realize what high praise that is.

How Kids’ TV Can Do It Right: Gender in Avatar and Korra

As a masters student finishing up my thesis on the childhood media role models of current adults, I find myself constantly analyzing current kids’ shows and movies in terms of gender, race, and overall equality. What are our kids watching now and how can this affect the way they perceive gender—in present day and in the future?

Every character, every bit of dialogue, every plotline is under scrutiny.  No kids’ show is a match for my academic background in gender communications. It’s like a switch I can’t turn off, but sometimes wish I could because of how frustrating it can be to be constantly aware of the disappointing reality. For all the progress media has made, it still seems to be changing outdated notions of gender just enough to maintain the status quo while pleasing audiences.

Or in some cases, not pleasing anybody.

Either the shows are hypermasculine, hyperfeminine, or just plain dumb. Sometimes it seems impossible for kids’ shows to get it right.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

But one of my favorite shows, Avatar the Last Airbender (ATLA), is one of those that hits a lot of the marks. Not only does it feature an equal number of females, it also gives them a piece of the action and agency in the plot. Three of the “bad guys” are in fact a team of three teenage girls, one of whom is set to take over as the ruler of her father’s kingdom instead of her brother. ATLA also features disabled characters and characters of color who are key to reaching goals and are not objects of pity or ridicule. One of my favorite running jokes is that the main characters keep forgetting that their friend Toph is blind.

Aang

The biggest display of nontraditional gender traits is the main character himself: a 12-year-old boy named Aang. He is gentle, caring, quiet, humble, and spiritual. Basically, everything that boy characters on kids’ shows normally aren’t. He struggles with his role as the Avatar (essentially, being The Chosen One), which means maintaining peace in his world at any cost. Although his society and his friends expect him to kill the main bad guy of the series, a merciless dictator, Aang instead finds a more peaceful solution and doesn’t compromise his values or his character.

The Legend of Korra

With two seasons of Korra already released and the third set to air sometime this summer, I thought I would see how this sequel to Avatar holds up with the original series. From the get-go, we see we’re getting a much different Avatar than Aang. Check out Korra’s first appearance:

Both Avatars are caring and strive to do the right thing. But whereas Aang was reserved, thoughtful, small, and nimble, Korra is the opposite: hotheaded, impulsive, and physically strong.

Take a look at Korra’s character design:

Got your tickets to the gun show.

She is physically imposing and conducts herself in a masculine way. Unlike a lot of animated girls, she has defined arm muscles, her outfit is practical, and she wears no makeup. She does have larger breasts, but she is not sexualized with her clothing, the dialogue, or in the way she moves.

When her spiritual mentor sees Korra after a long absence, he says sincerely and proudly, “Korra, look at you. So big and strong.” When I was watching the episode, I finished that sentence like this in my head, “Korra, look at you. So beautiful and grown-up.” These words, “big and strong,” are traits that we’d normally assign to a male character. The fact that I was surprised by the way the show chose to describe its female protagonist speaks volumes for the different way gender is portrayed and vocalized on The Legend of Korra.

Korra’s physical strength is one of her defining characteristics in the series. Her feelings are relayed through her physical actions. When Korra feels an emotion, it often finds an outlet through physical expression, whether it is hugging someone when she’s happy or destroying something when she’s angry. Although I was uncertain how the showrunners would choose to portray gender now that there was a female (of color!) as the main character, I was immediately struck with how different or nearly nonexistent traditional gender roles are in this world. While her youth and inexperience are occasionally referenced, no character ever questions Korra’s capabilities because of her biological sex.

For the naysayers who say that an action-oriented kids’ show aimed at both boys and girls can’t have an interesting female lead, I direct your attention to Korra. Both Korra and Avatar are children’s television at its finest, and are just as interesting for adults to watch. Hey, I loved both shows and I’m way past the targeted age group.

My two young brothers, who love Avatar, were a little skeptical about a girl as the new Avatar, insisting they wouldn’t like it as much. But we watched the first season in one day. They made comments of their admiration for Korra and other women on the show and soon, Korra’s gender wasn’t an issue. At the end of the season, my 11-year-old brother shrugged nonchalantly and said, “I guess having a girl Avatar isn’t so bad.”

You can say that again.

Fargo Film Festival 2014: Thursday afternoon Favorite Picks

Another afternoon of all-access to the Fargo Film Festival brought on yet another round of short films. There was a great mixture to be had, from a relationship seen from the view of a computer screen (Noah) to a story about robots being replaced by humans (Shelved).

Here’s the ones I liked the most and the least.

My favorite: A Good Wife

A Good Wife is a short documentary about the struggles of rural Indian women in the Sundarban islands who live in a conservative, patriarchal society. In interviews with the women and their families, womens’ marginalized role in arranged marriages is revealed, where dowries are demanded and domestic violence is a reality. How can these women fulfill their own lives and still be “a good wife?”

There is no clear answer.

As I’ve stated in other blog posts, feminist issues interest me immensely. Looking at an entirely different patriarchal culture was incredibly interesting.

Second favorite: Noah

Told entirely from the perspective of one teenage boy’s computer screen, “Noah” follows a breakup through the lens of Facebook, Skype and Chatroulette.

A little crude (definitely NSFW during the Chatroulette part), but an accurate portrayal of how modern teenagers forge, maintain, and end relationships. I was surprisingly invested. (“Don’t click that link, Noah!”)

Moral of the story: Don’t go on Chatroulette.

Get used to this, people. This is basically the whole movie.

My least favorite: Postface

Admittedly, this one was on my list of shorts I definitely wanted to catch at the festival. The synopsis was enough to pull me in:

“In a celebrity-obsessed culture, filmmakers often exploit the downfall of a star to amplify the emotional undertones of the fictional films in which they perform. POSTFACE takes a look back at the filmography of Montgomery Clift whose private life and career spiral downward after a 1956 car crash that left his face scarred and partially paralyzed.
Like an actor without a face, the video is an exploration of obsolescence, produced by means of analog tape manipulations.”

Instead of being an “exploration of obsolescece,” this felt more like an exploration of intentionally shaky editing and the emotion of confusion. I’m not quite sure what the message was. The audience I was with clapped perplexedly at the end of Postface…maybe no one wanted to admit that they didn’t know what had just happened. Check it out for yourself:

Perhaps I’m not cultured enough to appreciate a short film good enough to make it into the festival. I think what really threw me off was the editing: pixelation and jumpiness on every frame, never a clear picture, never an explanation of who Montgomery Clift was or what he looked like after his car accident. It felt like watching my Youtube video buffer with a faulty internet connection for seven minutes.

Fargo Film Festival 2014: Bending Steel

This year’s Fargo Film Festival kicked off tonight with a documentary called Bending Steel. All I can say is that I might never complain about doing something difficult again.

The documentary focuses on Chris “Wonder” Schoeck, a New Yorker who struggles to find his place in the world or connections with people. He also harbors a fascination with the legend of the Coney Island Strongman, men who could bend steel with just their hands, body, and iron wills. Chris sets out to join the ranks of the living legends currently in the field and to bring the Coney Island Strongman act back!

Check out the trailer:

Without giving the whole documentary away, it was truly inspiring. Surprisingly so. In addition to watching him bend thick steel bars, horseshoes, and a quarter (in his teeth!), it was a privilege to see Chris grow as a person over the two years the film took place. He begins as a man afraid of connecting and afraid of failing, but gradually becomes more open, funnier, and much more eloquent while still remaining himself and setting his eyes on his goal.

Chris bends a metal bar of steel between his legs

Many in the audience I viewed the film with related with Chris’ journey, because although the average person might not be able to twist metal into the shape of their choosing, Chris’ desire for acceptance is incredibly relatable.

Chris “Wonder” Schoeck answered Fargo theatergoers questions after the documentary showed. I actually got to hold and test one of the rods he would bend only a few seconds later. I think I was pretty desensitized to how hard bending steel actually is after seeing a bunch of strong guys do it during the course of the documentary, but actually examining that steel with my own two eyes and feeling its heavy weight in my hands reminded me what a feat it really is.

When asked about a part in the documentary where he said wanted to send the message to the world, Chris replied that his message would be: “Don’t quit five seconds before the miracle. And if it still doesn’t happen, it’s not the end of the world.”

Then he twisted a steel rod into a curly “Q” with his bare hands. If that doesn’t inspire you, especially after watching his emotional journey, there’s something wrong with you.

I am planning to cover the 2014 Fargo Film Festival, so expect more updates on the films showing this week!

The Women of BBC Sherlock

[Spoilers for Sherlock season 3 throughout]

Hello, my name is Kayley and I’m addicted to Sherlock Holmes.

It began when I was about 7, when my mom gave me a children’s adaptation of his most famous cases, which I reread numerous times. My first experience with an onscreen Sherlock Holmes came when I was around six years old, when my father and I caught a bit of the Adventures of Young Sherlock Holmes on TV. It genuinely frightened me, in part because my father refused to explain what was happening in the scene below until I was older.

Years later, after I randomly stumbled on the movie, I realized it is because he had no clue what was happening either.

And The Great Mouse Detective, a Disney film based on the concept of Sherlock Holmes, was one of my favorite Disney movies. I absolutely adored Basil of Baker Street. For a while, I wanted to be a detective when I grew up—I thought all detectives got to go around being snarky and clever all day.

But my long history of fascination with the world’s only consulting detective pales in comparison to my obsession with BBC’s Sherlock.

The show follows the titular character and his devoted sidekick, Watson, in modern-day London. Watson is a soldier recently back from Afghanistan and Sherlock is a razor-sharp consulting detective with the London police. Together they form the perfect crimefighting duo.

A summary of the show as told by John Watson:

The mystery storylines themselves put a new twist or spin on the old Conan Doyle stories, devoting sly references to the original stories.

For instance, here’s a reference one of my favorite stories, The Speckled Band:

The newly released third season of the show was a great addition to the previous episodes. There’s some great character development to be had from our two lead characters and there’s a perfectly horrendous new bad guy in town, but I want to talk about the female characters in particular.

Irene Adler – “The Woman”

The first Holmes story was published in 1887, which only served to detract from the female presence in the Holmes canon. The only story that really featured a woman was of course The Woman, Irene Adler–the only woman who ever outsmarted Sherlock Holmes. Although I looked forward to the addition of an updated Irene Adler in the BBC series, it sadly felt as though the writers dropped the ball with the character. In the original, Irene is an opera singer and previous courtesan who outwits Sherlock using her intelligence and beats him at his game, for which Holmes respects her.

We always seem to catch her on laundry day.

How did the writers choose to make this Irene dynamic in a modern version? By making her a dominatrix who gets all of her blackmailing information by sleeping with people. And she does “beat” Sherlock…with her S&M gear.

In the end of the BBC version, Sherlock outsmarts Adler, who it turns out was just acting under orders from bad guy Moriarty because she wouldn’t have known what to do with the information she had collected otherwise.

And that’s not subtext; she literally says that.

Of all the female characters, I have the most problems with how Irene is portrayed. And not just BBC’s Irene…all the recent adaptations of Irene have made her a supersexy love interest for the main character. This just feels like a lazy way to force a romantic subplot in the movies/tv shows. In these adaptions, Irene’s affection for the main character ultimately leads to her downfall, either leading her to her death or the destruction of the plan she was involved in.

Mrs. Hudson

Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock’s landlady (not housekeeper!), often seems like she’s a few cards short of a full deck. Both John and Sherlock view her as a mother-figure, especially since a majority of Mrs. Hudson’s time is spent bringing them tea and food.

Mrs. Hudson is eventually shown as more intelligent than she lets on when she successfully hides a priceless camera phone from some American mercenaries, even after they interrogate her.

While she appears to be just a dottery old woman, Mrs. Hudson has a very checkered past, as she was previously married to a leader of a drug cartel, is a former exotic dancer, and frequently uses marijuana (Or as she refers to it, her “herbal soothers”). For me, these additions to her character seem to be there more for the shock value of an elderly woman being associated with those things, rather than actually advancing her character. However, Mrs. Hudson is actually pretty realistic as a mother/grandmother figure for the main characters.

Molly Hooper

For those of you who have read the Conan Doyle books, this name probably does not look familiar. Molly Hooper is the only regular character on the show not taken from the Sherlock Holmes books. While the writers originally wrote her character into only one episode for the show, they liked actress Louise Brealey’s performance so much that they decided to keep her with the regular cast.

I’ve loved Molly from the very first episode, but was frustrated with her portrayal as a mere lovestruck schoolgirl. There seemed like there was more to her than that: she was intelligent enough to be a pathologist, assertive enough to ask clueless Sherlock on a date, and kind enough to help Sherlock with his cases during her time off on Christmas Day.

The depiction of Molly as starstruck doormat starts to change in the episode The Reichenbach Fall, in which supervillain Moriarty plots to destroy Sherlock’s reputation and force him to commit suicide by threatening his friends. As Sherlock worries about his upcoming showdown with Moriarty, we get some more growth of the Molly character when she is Sherlock’s only friend who sees past his supposedly cool exterior.

The third series gives us additional growth for both of these characters when Sherlock begins acknowledging his feelings for his friends, Molly included.

Molly’s actions always center around Sherlock, but then again ALL of the characters in the show center around him, so it makes sense that Molly’s character would do the same. There’s a certain level of trust and appreciation between the two now that wasn’t there in the first couple seasons.

Their friendship feels very real and heartfelt as the seasons pass, a different sort of friendship than Sherlock has with anyone else, John included. Numerous times throughout the series, it is revealed through little bits of dialogue that Molly and Sherlock often confide in each other about their worries. Molly is also one of the only people who seems to be able to hold Sherlock accountable for his actions. Check out this great clip from the newest season, when Molly discovers Sherlock recently took drugs:

Mary

The amazing Amanda Abbington

Despite my love for Molly, the women on the show really take a backseat to all the adventuring the boys do. This is why I think Mary is the best addition of the new direction the third season takes. In the first two episodes, she is definitely likeable; she’s funny, kind, insightful, and clever. But the third episode really drops a bombshell that no one saw coming: Mary’s a former assassin trying to live a normal life and escape her past. Besides that, we don’t know much. Talk about deviation from the books, where her defining characteristic was “wife of Dr. John Watson.”

My favorite part about the Mary character is how well she fits into this already-established world and her potential for growth as a character. The way I see it, she and Sherlock are two sides of the same coin. John “chose” them both because he is addicted to danger and sensed that quality in both of them. Both Mary and Sherlock are incredibly intelligent and rate John’s safety and opinion above anything else. However, Sherlock is better at understanding facts, whereas Mary understands human nature. This should prove for an interesting dynamic between these main characters in the future.

Who is your favorite Sherlock character? What are your thoughts on the way women are portrayed in the show?

Disney’s Frozen: Progressive Princesshood

By Kayley Erlandson

Click here to read more from my Females in the Movies blog series.

My siblings and I grew up with a steady diet of animated Disney movies. We absolutely loved them. Even today, my now 20-something siblings and I are always up for watching one of our old VHS tapes or streaming the old Disney films on Netflix (Thanks Netflix!)

It’s safe to say that those movies shaped me as a person. My obsession with The Lion King as a five-year-old reached near-fanatical levels, the high point of which involved me refusing to answer to anything other than “Simba.” And I’ve already written a blog entry about the influence of one my first female media role models, Mulan.

Although I still love watching Disney movies, my adult eyes are much more critical of the content than I was as a child. Some things that never bothered me as a kid REALLY bother me as an adult. For instance, when I was a kid, The Little Mermaid was just a fun tale about true love, singing crabs, and an evil seawitch. Now that I’ve become much more aware of the way women are portrayed in media, I see some major flaws with The Little Mermaid’s formula. The main character, Ariel starts the movie out with aspirations of exploring new places and having adventures. But she literally gives up her voice, personhood (mermaid-hood?), and family in order to attain Prince Eric. Kind of a terrible underlying message for girls.

In recent years, there have been some baby steps in children’s animation, in terms of portrayals of women. Brave, one of my favorite animated films, focuses on a mother/daughter dynamic and features a fiery lass named Merida who attempts to find the balance between rejecting the “princess” role forced upon her by her mother and taking responsibility for her kingdom.

It’s an important question; one that the film manages to address without being overly sappy. Both Merida and her mother, Elinor, are great additions to the world of inspirational children’s characters.

But normally, Disney has always been pretty consistent with the way its female characters are portrayed. If the women are main characters, they are passive, thin, wide-eyed, and above all, beautiful. And most of them are princesses.

They also like to twirl their dresses and pose with flowers.

Early Disney princesses (Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora from Sleeping Beauty) were all Caucasian.  While movies in the 90s featured non-white women in main roles, these women still adhered to the Western standard of beauty, rather than their own cultures.

Where does Pocahontas buy her lipstick?

So where does Frozen lie on this spectrum of female stereotypes? Well, it’s not a perfect film, but it comes pretty close and has some of the best female characters I’ve seen lately.

Frozen tells the tale of two princesses in a fictional Scandinavian kingdom called Arendelle. The eldest sibling, Elsa, was born with the power to create snow and ice from her fingertips. Her powers grow uncontrollable when she experiences a strong emotion, such as fear or anger. When Elsa accidentally injures Anna with her powers, she keeps her little sister at arm’s length. Their parents shut the doors to the castle and tell Elsa she must keep her powers hidden at all costs.

Elsa practices using her powers

When their sovereign parents die, Elsa is set to take over the throne. She is crowned queen, but accidentally reveals her powers in front of the townsfolk, who immediately reject her. She runs away into the mountains to live a life of seclusion. With Elsa’s emotions running awry, Arendelle is cursed to suffer an eternal winter. Anna sets out to bring her sister back and bring summer back.

Frozen parallels similar story choices like The Little Mermaid’s. Both movies were adapted from fairy tales written by Hans Christian Andersen, are children’s animated musicals, have whimsical side characters, are allegedly the beginning of a Disney “Renaissance” (period where quality movies are produced by the company), and have comparable female characters). However, these adaptations are vastly different and can show some of the recent positive steps children’s animation is taking in terms of portraying femininity in a positive way. The concepts of true love and villainy in Frozen are turned on their heads, and by doing so, reveal Frozen to be a more positive model for children in terms of gender portrayal.

Like Ariel, Anna also becomes enamored with a prince after one meeting and accepts his proposal during their love ballad. However, her sister Elsa raises an eyebrow when Anna asks for her blessing on the engagement and calmly explains that her sister cannot marry someone she just met. Kristoff, a mountain man who helps Anna later in the movie, explicitly points out the absurdity of marrying someone she met that same day.

Prince Hans and Anna meet

By movie’s end, both Anna and the audience agree that it is a wise idea to get to know someone before agreeing to marry them. Although Ariel and Anna both want to get married during the beginning of their movies, Anna puts blood first and takes responsibility for her part in Elsa’s retreat into the mountains. When Elsa runs away, Anna immediately calls for her horse and goes on a quest bring her sister back safely, leaving her love interest behind.

Spoilers below.

The concept of “true love’s kiss” is turned on its head by movie’s end. When Anna is accidentally struck in the heart with Elsa’s ice powers, only an act of true love can save her from turning into ice. At first, she believes Prince Hans can break the spell with true love’s kiss, but it is revealed that Prince Hans does not love her and purposely preyed on Anna’s need for affection in order to steal her kingdom. Then, Anna runs after Kristoff, who she believes truly cares for her.

Anna, Olaf the Snowman, and Kristoff

Anna forsakes her moment to experience true love’s kiss with Kristoff and chance of stopping the curse so that she can save Elsa’s life. However, this action to save her sister was the act of true love that broke the spell and did not revolve around either of the two men who Anna had only met in the last couple of days. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel is trying to win Eric’s love in three days or she will revert back to her undesirable state as a mermaid (and also, unbeknownst to her, become Ursula’s captive).

In Frozen’s world, true love is not instant or selfish, but the opposite: carefully cultivated and selfless.  Contrary to being saved by others, Anna saves herself. Anna even stops Kristoff from confronting Hans when he is revealed to be evil, as she wants to handle him herself. Anna tells the villain off, subdues him, and has him incarcerated without any assistance from her new beau. Throughout the climax of the movie Frozen redefines what true love actually entails.

Elsa from Frozen and Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid have several similarities. Both were born with magical powers and were exiled from their kingdom because of their powers. Both serve as the main source of conflict in the movie and neither has a love interest. Besides having these same foundational characteristics, Frozen’s take on villainy is refreshing. Whereas Ursula is portrayed as a manipulative villain who uses her powers to try to take King Triton’s throne, Elsa’s tale is far more layered. Elsa is never truly painted as evil, but rather a young woman whose powers overflow after a lifetime of being told to “conceal, don’t feel” the powers that make her special.

Unlike most antagonists in children’s films, Elsa does not desire power; she already has the power that Disney villains often seek when she is crowned queen in the beginning of the movie. Instead, Elsa desires control over her own abilities and her emotions, a desire instilled in her by her parents. Before their deaths, the king and queen close the windows and doors to the castle and ask Elsa wear gloves at all times to further control her powers. It is a commentary on the society’s tendency to try to control women’s levels of power and punishing women who do not conform to standards of femininity. During the musical number “The First Time in Forever,” Elsa worries about keeping control of her powers during her upcoming coronation.

Elsa

She coaches herself: “Don’t let them in, don’t let them see. Be the good girl you always have to be…put on a show. Make one wrong move and everyone will know.” Then she comforts herself with the afterthought, “But it’s only for today.” Instead of merely performing the female gender, Elsa must perform a different type of “normativity” based on what other people expect from her behavior.

Elsa separates herself from this fear by literally escaping into the mountains. Whereas in Arendelle, she dressed more conservatively in order to hinder her powers from accidentally surfacing, Elsa tosses her gloves into the wind and throws her crown away as a symbol of rejecting the pressures her society puts on her while exclaiming: “Let it go, can’t hold it back anymore…The fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all.”

However, at this point in the movie, Elsa has yet to find the balance between accepting her powers and simultaneously accepting connection and responsibility to other people in her life as evidenced by some of her statements: “Turn away and slam the door…I don’t care what they’re going to say…no right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free.” By the end of the movie, Elsa finally accepts both her throne at Arendelle and her powers over ice and snow. She also chooses to revive her relationship with her sister.

Frozen may be my new favorite Disney movie. The story is funny and touching, and all the characters, both female and male, are great. It’s definitely a step forward for animated female characters.