{ Under The Bluegums }

A personal blog with craft tutorials, reviews of books, films, and music, parenting advice, and opinions on society and politics.

September 13, 2013

Movie Review || Riddick

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Riddick artwork Facebook\Riddick\Mike Butkus
I had great expectations for 'Riddick', even though after I watched the first trailer I thought that it looked just like 'Pitch Black'. I was excited mostly because it had Katee Sackhoff in it, a woman I admire for playing so-called 'strong' female roles (I loved her as Starbuck in 'Battlestar Galactica'), and because I had heard tell that her character Dahl was amazing.

I hate to say it, but I was disappointed. The build-up establishes Riddick as an adaptable, intelligent, and sneaky anti-hero - which we already know - who has been abandoned on a deserted planet from which he is trying to escape - which he's already done - and is hunted by mercenaries thirsty for his blood and the bounty - which, I think, happened before as well. I actually enjoyed the build-up though - it was not as predictable as the rest of the film, which seemed to stick to some overarching plotline the screenwriters had jotted down somewhere. Riddick was, as usual, flawless in his undertakings, but in the end, it was still a saddening anticlimax.

What annoyed me most, though? 'Riddick' fails for women. It's like a fantasy-fest for the young insecure male. All two female characters never talk to each other, and one is shot after hints about physical abuse and perhaps sexual assault. As Zoe Chevat from The Mary Sue says, the audience is already aware that the bounty hunters are the 'bad' guys in this situation - is it necessary to degrade women to remind us?

And they constantly do so. Even Riddick does so. Though Dahl is stunningly powerful, she is under constant threat from every man around her, including Riddick. Innuendos and nuances in the conversation clearly indicate that Dahl is nothing but a potential sex toy to every other character in the film - no wonder she's so prepared to wind up her fist and knock some of them around a bit. And, despite her protestation about halfway through that she doesn't sleep with men, she winds up offering herself to Riddick by the end of the film.

I was simply left with a sour taste in my mouth by the time the credits came sliding across the screen. I hardly even know what exactly was going on because the film lost me when Riddick was caught. Though the sexism wasn't the only negative of the film ... like, what happened to the Wrath of the Furyans?! ... Dahl's violent reactions seem like overcompensation, while the relentless poking at the fact that she's a woman and at the male characters' mercy, the attack on her by Santana which ends without showing what happens to her, Riddick's suave 'proposition' that she'll be 'mounting' him soon, her return to save his arse, and the final flirt with Riddick do nothing for her character or for the story.

Come to think of it, I think Dahl swore the most out of all the other characters. Is that all the screenwriters could come up with to make Dahl seem tough? I was soooo disappointed - Dahl could have been so much better - so much more interesting. I guess the saving grace is that Katee Sackhoff wasn't reduced to wearing 'female' armour.

Oh, I also hated that the [SPOILER[dog was killed.

{Image credit: Facebook\Riddick}

September 12, 2013

Music Review || Placebo's 'Loud Like Love'

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I've been a fan of Placebo almost since they formed. I wasn't a fan of alternative music yet in 1995, and it was really after 'Pure Morning' from 'Without You I'm Nothing' that I became hooked. I remember giggling to myself when everyone went crazy about 'Every You, Every Me' after it appeared in the film 'Cruel Intentions' because the song wasn't new to me.

What I like most about the band is the depth of emotion in the lyrics and the sounds. The music is always intriguing to me as well - I always feel like there's an alternate meaning that is hidden and beyond words or description.

Another aspect of their music that I enjoy is that it doesn't really change. Certainly there are nuances of dissonance from album to album, but the Placebo style hasn't changed.

With the British band's latest album, the signature sound is still there, and still addictive. But this album has a depth of feeling to it that is so far unparalleled, and there is also a clarity to the singing, which is, apparently because lead singer Brian Molko sang them while sober for the first time ever. He told News.com.au that being out of a narcotic haze helped with the clarity, while the lyrics are also the most 'confessional' he's ever written.

I know I've been harping on about Placebo's signature style, and in this album, their sound is much more intense, as they've made spectacular use of their entire repertoire of musical talent. The two founders, Molko and Stefan Olsdal, were both trained at the American International School of Luxembourg after all. The piano work in 'Bosco' is inspiring and emotional, and there's also a healthy dose of modern sound effects to freshen up the sound.

I think, like their other six albums, that Placebo will remain a band that isn't really the trend (what with Miley Cyrus' pop antics, could 'normal' alternative music ever compete?) but I believe they've already made their way into the annals of rock music that will always be remembered for its originality. After all, rock is the source of all pop culture today - maybe the reality rock represents will eventually seep into the hearts and minds of the children of the pop world.

The video for their first single from the album is just as unique as the band itself. 'Friends Like These' is narrated by Brett East Ellis, who wrote the book 'American Psycho', which is one of my favourite films. The song is about our networked world, where we have so many friends, but hardly any relationships. Check it out; I think it's pretty awesome! Let me know what you think!

{Image credit: By Vento Di Grecale (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons}

September 7, 2013

Book Review || A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin

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Like most of South Africa, I had never heard of George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series until the HBO television series Game of Thrones. After the first season premiered, I decided to read the novels. A Storm of Swords is the third book in the series, and I like the books more than I like the television series.

This is not to say that the HBO series is not good - it's very entertaining, but in comparison to the books, there's just so much more detail, and you get so much closer to the characters. Another difference is that the television series seems to be obsessed with sex. Sure, there is sex in the books, but the scale of it is not so large. Let me put it this way: sex seems to be the drawcard for the TV series. It's why people watched it without knowing anything about the books. All the sex and nudity in the first few episodes was enough to have people hooked, because now everyone is hoping for those scenes again.

In the books, it is not just the men who derive pleasure from their sexual desires; on television, the women are giving more than they are taking - usually. (Except for that odd scene where Bronn and Tyrion are discussing Podric's supposed prowess with the prostitutes he had been gifted. This scene is not in the books, and I don't see how it fits in in the series).

I digress into the popular culture of it all, but what is really fascinating and intriguing to me is how they are altering the storylines of the books slightly for the series. There are several characters that we never meet (Bolton's bastard, for instance) and we never hear the history of others (such as Aemon of the Night's Watch being a Targaryen). There is also a lot of history we miss out on in the TV series - the back-stories of Petyr Littlefinger, Brandon and Eddard Stark, Daenerys Stormborn, Sandor and Gregor Clegane, the different religions, the different houses and where they stand in the story (you learn in the books that the Freys have always been jealous of the Tullys, which makes everything fall in place - that is why Lord Frey took Robb's slight so seriously) - I think the television series is missing this height of detail, and that is why the third season seemed so slow until the Red Wedding.

On to the book at hand: it must be because the plot is thickening and secrets are being unveiled that I enjoyed this book so much. There are also the unexpected deaths (I really did not see Joffrey's death coming - not in the least, and the battle between Gregor Clegane and the Red Viper literally had me biting my lips - I actually gasped when Clegane got the best of Prince Oberyn at the last minute. I really wanted Oberyn to be the victor :( Also, Littlefinger killing Lysa: I did not see that coming either! And poor Ygritte!), edge-of-your seat battles (the battle for the Wall was amazing), and twists and turns that surprise you absolutely (Joffrey being the one who wanted to kill Bran?! Lysa being the one who poisoned John Arryn?! Shae testifying against Tyrion!? Tyrion killing his father!?)

Martin is certainly an excellent writer. I love how his language and style changes from character to character. When you're with Sansa, the phrases and descriptions are so feminine and poetic. Her sister Arya is more tomboyish, and her vocabulary isn't as flowery. There's a weariness to Jon's chapters, a wisdom in Tyrion's, and absolute arrogance in Jaime's, even though he's not nearly the man he was. Daenerys still feels like a little girl.

The Red Wedding was not as dramatic in the book as it was on television. I think the screenwriters aimed for this event to be a climax to the anti-climax of the end of the season, since they've split this book into two. I'm not really certain they should have split the book in two - the story is compelling enough to make everyone decide to pick up the books in between seasons just to see what happens. Although the small changes in the television series might end up changing the direction of the story entirely - making it all completely new. I wonder what Martin would think of that.

The ending has me contemplating jumping into the fourth book right away. (How is Catelyn alive? Is she alive? Is she a wight?) So many questions! I have two more books to read. George RR Martin - you'll have to start writing faster!

(Image credit: Facebook\GameofThrones)

September 1, 2013

The pop industry, slut-shaming, and Miley

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Miley Cyrus was the most spoken about person last week after she shocked the Internet and the music world with her performance at the VMAs.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the event because of the discussion her performance engendered. Reactions varied from people being outright disgusted and shocked, to appreciation for her uncaring, in-your-face attitude, to rampant slut-shaming, and accusations of racism and cultural appropriation. I’ve even read about how her performance was about her illuminati masters inducting her into their world. Then, of course, were the memes.

The problem with popular culture is that the way to the top is different for women and men. All men have to have is talent – they will have fans no matter what they look like because it’s firstly about their skills and what they can do. Take One Direction for example: their popularity doesn’t depend on their looks – it depends on their voices, at least, at first. After they’re appreciated for their talent, they become appreciated for their looks (and let’s be honest – they’re not the cream of the crop, in my opinion). And, remember, they’re working in an industry dominated by male producers, and male-owned record companies, and male agents…

However, for women, they have to be good girls gone bad to really make it in the world of popular culture (see Madonna, Rihanna, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and an unending list of others). In Miley’s case, she has to go really far over the top because when she was below 18, she started out as the innocent Disney Hannah Montana. Once she turned 18, she would become obsolete as her innocent character, because now it was legal to see her as a sexual object: the only way she would be recognised has nothing to do with her talent as a singer – even though she’s been doing it her entire life - and everything to do with her sexuality, and objectifying herself for the male gaze.

Her performance was meant to be controversial. I digress, but I would say it was also the perfect distraction from the fact that out of 16 awards, only three winners were female, including the best female video – you know, because they *had* to choose a woman for that one. There were also only three non-white winners.

Now, one might argue that Miley Cyrus is a grown woman and she knows exactly what she’s doing. She knows what industry she’s in and she knows that for her to make it – for her to become as famous as she dreams – she has to use her sexuality. The ‘horror’ for everyone is that she was trying to make a name for herself the way male pop stars do.

The problem in my opinion is not that Miley did what she did – no matter how shocking or pointless her performance was. The problem is that the way to the top is different for the two sexes, and if the female sex attempts to make it to the top firstly by giving her fans what they want (a sexy, sexual woman) and secondly by appropriating the male route to the top, they are slut-shamed and made fun of. No one made fun of married Robin Thicke for being the ‘twerkee’, but it was Miley who got the brunt of the insults and poor public opinion. This is the classic ‘hero’ stance – the one taken by those who chose to praise the boy who received oral sex from a random girl at a concert in Slane, Ireland, while at the same time slut-shaming the girl for doing what she did.

If there is truly to be equality in this world, the first place is needs to happen, aside from the home, is in the media and entertainment industry, because these things are what our children are growing up watching, absorbing, and using as role models. It's a self-perpetuating cycle, and parents have no influence over their children any more. At least not without some solid perseverance, honesty, and frankness on their part.

(Image Credit: By calmdownlove (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)