Fack ju Göhte is the most successful film in Germany in 2013. Does that mean anything? Probably not as success is rarely in conjunction with quality when it comes to movies (or anything). The movie is something like a school comedy which might be a reason why it is so beloved by students since they enjoy laughing about school. But the plot is… you can’t even call it absurd because it so obviously is just an excuse for the movie to get a bank robber into a school posing as a teacher – that’s the “gimmick” of the movie and plot behind it (that his bait money is buried under the school) is not believable for a second. Does the movie work? It’s difficult for me to say. My expectations were very low and the movie was better than I had thought. But it wasn’t great. It has its moments but the style of comedy, a sort of constant noisy, over-the-top, aggressive humor is hard to bear at first, but you get used to it. The characters are mostly clichés but they are allowed to have some depth at times and even some growth, more or less. Some of the humor works too. The movie strangely grows on you over time, if you don’t think about it too much. I wouldn’t recommend it but it didn’t hurt to watch it.
Every year every teacher and student dreads the last weeks before the holidays. Once the grades are made, all potential motivation vanishes and everyone just wait until it’s over. This is interesting because it shows the pretense we hold up that we learn important things in school. If they were so important, it wouldn’t matter if there are grades or not, but the last weeks always unmask how everything is governed by grades, thereby taking away any interest students could have in a subject. But that’s a different story.
The Wicker Man is one of those notorious movies where it’s hard not to stumble upon YouTube clips before you’ve actually seen it. It stars Nicolas Cage and probably marks the movie that started his downward spiral during which he became known for making crappy movies and overacting wildly in them. The Wicker Man somehow qualifies for both as he acts sleepily for most of the movie before going completely over the top in the end. Is the movie crappy? That is so hard to say, at least for me. I know it is heralded as one of the most unintentionally funny movies ever and I can see that. There are definitely enough scenes that can make you laugh because they are so weird. But the director is Neil LaBute who is normally a very deliberate writer and director of thought-provoking movies that never make it easy for the viewer to make easy judgments. I have read his plays in school and really liked some of his movies (The Shape of Things, Nurse Betty). So what happened here? Cage said in interviews that they intended to make an absurd comedy but the movie does not make that clear enough. LaBute is also known for challenging gender roles and The Wicker Man is full of that. But what is the movie trying to say?
When I think of political music, I either think of the 60s and 70s, Gang of Four or hip-hop (at least some of it). I could think of Morrissey and the Smiths but it’s not the first thing on my mind, since Morrissey is more known for making political statements outside his music nowadays and Meat Is Murder and Margaret on the Guillotine are still in the minority compared to his other songs. So I was somewhat surprised to listen to his new album and realize, hey, for an old man he sure has some statements left to make. Maybe I’m just so surprised because his last albums didn’t feature many political songs in comparison. But here is his new album, after years of delay, and its title already makes some allusions that make you think: World Peace Is None of Your Business.
(Bad) Neighbors is not a film that made me happy. It somehow tries to show what it means to grow up and have a family but it only occasionally dares to show any of its themes in a realistic way. It goes for over-the-top and silly instead, which is not surprising and not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a shame since there are some glimpses of a better, truer movie in here. Blink and you’ll miss them, but they’re there. Yes, you have less time as a parent and sometimes wish to do something you can’t do anymore, but if your deepest desires are having parties with people who are ten years younger than you and to get high, well… then maybe something hasn’t been working for you even before you had kids. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne do their job well enough, but most of the time you feel like watching some improv scenes that never end. It is funny at times but there is no real structure behind it, as they just seem to keep going. The plot is also annoying because there probably could have been a much better movie if it hadn’t been moving in the “Let’s see who’s meaner” direction so relentlessly. It’s such a lazy thing to show two sides battling each other for no real reason. I felt amusement and embarrassment simultaneously throughout the movie but the more time passes since I’ve seen it, the worse I feel about it.
When I read this article on the lack of female characters in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I realized many things.
First, that I am not so off with my many observations on the portrayal of women in movies. Other people notice it too and once you notice it, it’s hard to not see it anymore (as it is with any truths you start to see beneath the fabric our culture puts on our eyes). Women are mis- and underrepresented in our culture, despite the fact that in the real world they are everywhere! That doesn’t seem very fair. The article is especially interesting in the way it makes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves admit this problem without him ever being aware of it. We are so used to having male leads and female love interests because we rarely see anything else from the moment we consume culture. This makes it very hard to actually change it because it seems natural.
Second, this is very much a cultural phenomenon. At least the underrepresentation because in the real world women are simply not underrepresented. The kids I teach, the teachers I work with (or who work beside me), my friends and family consist mostly of at least 50% females. So why are our cultural products so insistent in showing us worlds in which women are in the minority? Don’t get me wrong, there are exceptions and surely things get better, but on the average and in general, this is still very true. Despite some progress, movies, comics, video games, TV shows, toys and books mostly still treat women the same way and feature male heroes (who are also white most of the time, but that a similar but different story). And culture influences how we think and how we think influences the cultural output we produce. So, if you want it to change, you need to change it.
Third, in politics and “society” this debate has been going on for decades and progress seems to exist but is slow. In culture this discussion is relatively new but very much alive right now and it seems to lead to faster changes. Again, not enough by a long shot but enough that an article can protest against a Hollywood blockbuster not featuring enough women. Just a couple of years ago, no one would have mentioned or even noticed that. The debates in the comic industry are happening almost every day and the changes are visible. Again, it’s not perfect but if you look at the comic series that feature lead female characters, it’s quite amazing. And most of them are actually good, too. Now all that needs to happen is that women actually get to write most of these female characters. Apart from Kelly Sue DeConnick, Gail Simone and G. Willow Wilson, not much is happening there. Same with female directors. Anyway, things are moving along and it is an interesting time.
I have two daughters and even in the children’s books it’s rare to find female characters in leading roles, not the least strong female characters. I want my girls to be strong and not for them to fall into gender stereotypes our culture enforces upon them. Because, again, this is why this is so important. If my daughters only see movies and read books in which women play a secondary and/or passive role, they will believe that this is how women are. As long as you are not a father who thinks girls should be cute and submissive, you have to do everything you can to work against it.
Just from the top of my head, some links on this topic:
- Director Lexi Alexander’s blog
- Kelly Thompson’s column on Comic Book Resources
- The Incomparable Podcast episode about gender stereotypes and female geeks
- A post on female villains in horror movies on Curnblog
- An article on Shailene Woodley and Brie Larson
- The taboo of female pleasure on TV
- Why men should care about the Elliot Rodger case
- The Trinity Syndrome
- Thoughts on the Bechdel Test (which ends with a Gang of Four quote, so it’s great)
The Bourne Legacy is a very interesting sequel. I watched it in school with my 7th graders because one of them suggested it. Most of them hadn’t known the earlier movies and were very confused by the plot. I would argue that this comes from a rather intelligently written screenplay by director Tony Gilroy and his brother Dan Gilroy. I know the movie was rather panned by critics but I enjoyed it a lot. The plot is demanding, the acting is excellent because of its amazing cast (especially Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton and Dennis Boutsikaris) and the action is well-made and mostly has a story-telling purpose. There is a moment where Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) climbs up a house parkour-style and shoots someone, which is expressive physically (although there probably was some trickery involved) but is also filmed amazingly as the camera (by the great Robert Elswit) follows him from the outside of the house through the window to the inside in one amazing take. The action scenes in Bangkok are less convincing, though, and expect us to suspend a lot of disbelief.
What happens if you tell students that they can leave if they want to? If you tell them that they should only stay if they are really interested in the subject matter? If you tell them there will be no consequences for them, no bad marks, no hard feelings? What happens if you give them the freedom of choice?
Winter’s Bone is a good and solid movie. It states early on what it wants to do and then follows that plan until the very end. There is a certain suspense to the question if Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) can find her father, so that she won’t lose her house but the movie is not the most exciting one, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It lives through its characters, the performances and its setting. Jennifer Lawrence is as excellent as expected but John Hawkes also does a great job in playing her uncle as an unpredictable man who doesn’t make it easy for us to like him. The scene in the boat is chilling and unexpected. I’m not sure if the movie is really great but Lawrence is so good and the center of the movie that she almost makes you forget everything else.
After two obscure choices that were on my mind when cooking up the idea for this series, I want to come to something more ‘profound’, I want to say, although that might be the wrong word. My next pick is an album that also has a special place in my childhood gangsta rap heart and this is Ice-T’s second album Power, released in 1988.
What I remember: This must be the first Ice-T album I knew, although it could also have been O.G. I remember that I liked this album very much. It had stories about gangsters and violence but I don’t remember that it was glorifying the gangster life. I guess it criticized the police and celebrated music instead of drugs, for which I definitely remember “I’m Your Pusher” as my favourite song. It also had a sex song that I remember because it was confusing for my 10-year-old self as it was not the most reliable source to get information about sex. The cover also fascinated me back then a) because of the large gun Ice-T’s wife was carrying and b) yes, because of his wife in the swimsuit on the cover. I hadn’t known women could dress like that. The whole album was fascinating and a little bit intimidating.
What I say now: My first impression from the “Intro” is that Ice-T is not a convincing voice actor. There is a dialogue between two people and he speaks both of them and it sounds really weird. But it’s funny as one accidentally shoots the other because they both want to see “the girl on the cover” and the shooter then decides to listen to the album before helping his victim. Silly, yes, but somewhat clever in its intentional silliness.
The first song is called “Power” and Ice-T manages to get across some political messages while still bragging about his own power. He criticizes judges, D.A.s and the police and says “the system does stink.” He has “been to jail more times than you have probably been in school”, which is somewhat true (he had been to jail for two years) and it makes his lyrics more convincing. He mostly does know what he is talking about, despite some exaggerations. He also emphasizes freedom of speech several time (and he did have a whole album with that theme in its title). The verse about women and sex is confusing because it’s not clear what he wants to say. Women have the power of sex but they spend the men’s money? It’s something like that and at least it makes men look somewhat weak.
“Drama” is a dark and grim depiction of a gangster’s career and it does not glorify it at all. It also shows the attitude that many gangster rappers expressed, an attitude of being misunderstood and shunned by society. “You’re just a number, another piece of tough meat” and once you’re on death row you’re not “elite” anymore. Then there’s a party song, and a “everyone sings a verse” posse song. “Radio Suckers” also shows a popular attitude of rappers of the time, which is that radio stations didn’t play most rap songs. Ice-T claims “maybe my words are just too real” and continues
Nobody says that you have to agree
Censorship that ain’t the way to be
I thought you said this country was free?
which is a more convincing statement than the whole Banned in the U.S.A. album.
Then comes “I’m Your Pusher”. I’m not sure why I liked that song so much, but I think it’s a mixture between being amused by the chorus and the idea that Ice-T wants to convince people to listen to his music instead of taking drugs.
Crack or smack will take you to a sure end
You don’t need it, just throw that stuff away
You wanna get high? Let the record play
It’s full of drug metaphors that are turned into music metaphors and it’s fun.
Next, there’s “Girls L.G.B.N.A.F.” which stands for an invitation to sex. It’s the sex song that confused me a little when I was young. Compared to 2 Live Crew and other sex rap songs of the time (which I probably hadn’t heard when I heard this song for the first time), it can only be called tame. It’s not exactly feminist but it tries to be as respectful to women as Ice-T probably can. It’s far from the misogyny of most rap artists, which is somewhat refreshing and it tries to treat sex as fun. Again, it’s not completely successful and it’s not really necessary either but it’s also not overly offensive. And he mentions “safe sex”, which 2 Live Crew or N.W.A. probably didn’t even know existed.
There are some more songs that don’t add much new and then there is “Soul on Ice”, which I had completely forgotten but I now remember hating. It’s a long story of a night, with strange, groovy music, all spoken in a strange, drunken voice. The story is silly, about Ice-T being killed “that night that I quit.”
The album ends with an “Outro” in which the killer from the beginning remembers his victim, which he’d forgotten because the album was so cool. He wants to help him now but instead decides to listen to the album “just one more time.”
I’m not sure how much nostalgia plays into it, but for the most time I still enjoy that album. It is less violence-glorifying and misogynist than I expected, which certainly helps. The music is good, the lyrics aren’t embarrassing (yet, Ice-T’s writing skills deteriorated in later years) and the content is even somewhat political (even if it’s far from Public Enemy), although it is less than on some of his other albums (as far as I remember). So, did I like it? Yes, and I still do.