How We Mold Men — “Fury”

Standard

Fury tank

by Gabriel Valdez

There is a review for Fury in my head that I will never write. I’ll try to tell you why:

Fury follows a tank crew pushing into Nazi Germany late in World War 2, but this is merely what happens. It’s not what Fury is about. I could call Fury the best war movie since Clint Eastwood made his Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima double feature. I wouldn’t be wrong, but it doesn’t hit the nail on the head. Instead, I’ll call Fury one of the best movies about indoctrination since A Clockwork Orange.

You see, Brad Pitt’s Sgt. Collier, the tank commander who leads four young men into battle, cannot be called a “good guy.” If beating his subordinates or forcing them to shoot unarmed prisoners helps them to survive, then that is what he’ll do. If allowing his crew to blow off steam by assaulting the local women helps them to survive, then that is what he’ll allow.

When Collier’s tank gets a new assistant driver, a fresh-faced clerk named Norman (Logan Lerman) with zero combat experience, Collier will beat him, emotionally abuse him, and force him to murder and rape. The strange thing is – the utterly difficult thing about this movie – is that writer-director David Ayer forces you to understand Collier. His only goal is to keep his crew alive. His every decision contributes to this. Everything outside that tank – enemy, civilian – is only there to keep his crew breathing that much longer.

Fury Brad Pitt

There are beautiful, fleeting moments when Pitt lets you see the toll this takes on Collier’s conscience. This is a man who’s made a judgment that his crew’s survival is worth every other moral transgression. Later in the movie, it’s revealed he knows the Bible verse-for-verse, yet he’s kept this hidden. Why? Because he’s rejected its applicability. Living morally in war, he believes, will get the men around him killed, and they are his responsibility. His duty is to mold men and make them hate – him, themselves, the enemy, it doesn’t matter so long as that hate takes away any hesitation before pulling a trigger.

One of the most nerve wracking scenes involves Collier playing house during a lull in combat. He uses Norman and two German women hiding in an apartment to create a pale reflection of a normal family supper. It’s Collier’s momentary reprieve from war, and yet it’s terrifying for these two women.

Are the things Collier does wrong? Of course they are. But to make men kill each other for years on end and then be shocked that they’ve committed sins is perverse: judging them for it is perverse, not judging them for it is perverse.

Fury Shia LaBeouf

Fury is rousing, its tank battles brilliantly intense. Collier is among Pitt’s best characters. Lerman, Michael Pena, and Jon Bernthal deliver nuanced, touching performances as the tank crew, and of all actors, Shia LaBeouf is going to make you cry.

Fury is not interested in being an easy movie, nor a palatable one. It is difficult. There are no good guys by its end, just men who judged for themselves what sacrifices they were willing to make of others, and in their own souls, in order to keep the men beside them alive.

And though many young men aren’t faced with platoons of enemy soldiers, we are often brought up to act as if we will be, to believe the shortest route to strength is in hating some perceived weakness in ourselves or in others. We’re often taught to be manly is to bury sentimentality and sensitivity and mercy in order to make our way in the world.

There is a review for Fury in my head that I will never write, because in some way, every young man grows up with the expectation that we will be willing to trade those pieces of our soul in order to survive, that emotion makes us weak and exerting our willpower on another makes us strong, that our flaws can be cured with our worst behavior. We’ve each been taught our own small portion of perversion. In its own way, Fury lays that bare.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does Fury have more than one woman in it?

Yes. The two women in the apartment with whom Collier tries to play house.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Briefly.

3. About something other than a man?

Possibly. Some of their German is subtitled. Some isn’t.

Truth be told, I’d have to watch again to see if they talk only about the soldiers, or if they discuss something else. Most of their interaction is silent because they are so terrified – there’s not much dialogue at all and whether they pass or don’t pass the third rule is essentially immaterial. Their conversation takes place under the fear of being raped, so even if they are talking about dinner, they’re not really talking about dinner.

Can it be forgiven? No, nothing in Fury can be forgiven, and that’s the point. Plot-wise, it’s a movie about a World War 2 tank crew, which were only composed of men. Thematically, it’s a movie about men molding other men by threatening them with violence, making them commit violence, and using peer approval and women as the prizes for doing right (i.e. killing without hesitation).

World War 2 is often considered one of the last righteous American wars. This doesn’t mean it was any easier for those involved. What Fury does best is make us still feel for the men who do these awful things – not just to the enemy, but to each other and to innocent bystanders. We begin to understand why, not to give it a pass, but to comprehend just how mad and hellish struggling for one’s life day after day can become.

To watch characters who commit atrocities and still feel for them, to cry over their internal struggles and shake as their fates are decided…it’s a rare experience in any form of storytelling. The point isn’t that these things are forgivable. It’s that they aren’t, and yet we force soldiers into situations where they will increasingly choose the unforgivable just to stay sane.

By extension, what does it say that we use these same tactics to train and reward men for being “manly” in times of peace, or at home during wartime? To be manly, must we always be in a constant state of war with someone, must we always be finding something new to hate in order to draw strength, must we always beat down the sensitive among us until their own window to hate is opened, so they can become manly like us?

The most important way you can understand Fury is to not forgive it. Ayer and Pitt and those involved have created these characters and moments to be unlikeable for a reason. It’s no mistake that the last person in the world you’d ever expect to show mercy is the one that does. It’s the only time two characters connect in the film, understand each other with all the B.S. removed, see in each other what they’ve lost along the way.

Can Fury be forgiven? I’ll be troubled if it is. It’s the rare piece of art that wants you to talk about why it can’t be.

Fury the dinner scene

October 16 is Now Brianna Wu Day

Standard

Stop GamerGate

by Gabriel Valdez

I’m declaring today Brianna Wu Day. Why? Because of this.

What’s this? It’s the piece Brianna Wu just ran on XOJane about her experience with GamerGate.

We told you yesterday that GamerGate was asking for it, that the tide was already shifting, that their unbridled misogyny is creating icons that the hate group won’t be able to stand against. You can only persecute a group of people so long before one of them stands up and hands your ass to you.

So go read this, and after you’re done reading it, have yourself a Happy Brianna Wu Day and celebrate this by sharing it on whatever platform you can log into.

Culture War: The Dire Condition of Australia’s Arts Funding

Standard

Sydney Opera House

by Olivia Smith

Australia is a source of incredible filmmakers and visual artists, but funding for our most independent creators is beset by a coalition led by Senator George Brandis, who heads our Ministry for the Arts.

Our artists face a dire reality: grants are harder to find, and overwhelmingly favour companies secure in their establishment. The Ministry selects for orchestras, operas, and ballets with tourist appeal, while starving out distinctly Australian artists.

Multiplexes are held captive by American companies that stuff their own products onto every screen. Australian-made means you compete with other Australian-made films to get the dingiest, filthiest corner screen. In 2013, Australian films were disregarded to the tune of a dismal 3.5% of box office.

And now, Screen Australia’s funding has been cut by $38 million.

In theatre, five playwrights account for a whopping 24% of Australian drama put on between 1987 and 2013. This is while only 45% of plays – less than half – can be described as Australian in origin. Again, this leads back to the Ministry’s preference in funding only what they interpret as safe, classical work.

We are also beholden to reviews in English papers. A bad review abroad is often worse than a bad review at home. Heaven forbid we offend the delicate tastes of the mother country. These critics would often rather see more Shakespeare and other English playwrights, but this strangles support for new Australian theatre. Of plays performed that originate overseas, nine authors account for 69% of the work. There is meager market and support for up-and-coming Australian playwrights.

Visual artists are forced to find corporate sponsorship. This can easily go wrong, as when nine artists boycotted the Sydney Biennale because of a single sponsor. Transfield Holdings owns stake in Transfield Services, which operates two immigrant detention gulags so far off shore that they are closer to Indonesia and Solomon Islands than they are to the continent.

Their gambit worked, forcing Transfield to conclude their sponsorship, to which Brandis responded with threats to cut off government funding of the arts portion. I link a Guardian piece above because our own media frowned upon the upright actions of artists and wagged fingers: it might frighten other corporate sponsors, they warned. Is corporate sponsorship so skittish? Is it so crucial to artists that they cannot survive without it? Unfortunately, the state of our arts funding appears to make the answer to both questions, “Yes.”

Australia has become stifled and stagnant. The art our government chooses to fund is the kind that pleases England and America the best. We are like the child proffering a mangled project of construction-paper and glue to our mother and step-father, hoping that they like it. We refuse to believe that in their eyes we will never be their equal, and so we don’t grow up and invest in our own art infrastructure.

Enough of this and our identity will cease to be Australian. Like our art, we will become poor imitations of other countries.

To find an example of growing up and striking out on our own path, we need look no further than our little brother New Zealand, a country that has created art the way they see fit and has captured the world’s imagination in doing so. Their government has valued community and local arts, has overcome the xenophobia we still suffer and offered opportunities (i.e. poached) artists from Indonesia and Australia, and mobilised crowdfunding, resource sharing, and cooperative creation as ways to bolster local art. Meanwhile, we keep what the tourists like alive while we let our own artistic community stagnate.

Why We’re Thanking GamerGate

Standard

No Girls Allowed

by Vanessa Tottle & Gabriel Valdez

Dear GamerGate, what is it about my gender that pisses you off so god damn much? Anita Sarkeesian. Zoe Quinn. Brianna Wu. If you really cared about objectivity in games journalism, instead of persecuting women because you can, you would go after pay-for-play, or the AAA developers’ use of influence and access to manipulate critics. You wouldn’t be sending rape and death threats to single-employee studios.

That’s Vanessa in the bold, this is Gabe in the plain text. Every woman I know in the gaming industry has received physical threats. Every one of them. Elizabeth Tobey’s written about them, Meagan Marie’s shared them in interviews, and countless others who shy away from the spotlight have relayed that they have each endured threats that have escalated to FBI referrals.

It is the only combination of job and gender I know for which the chief requirement is being able to interface with the FBI.

Here’s the shocking thing – I know more men who are leaving the industry because of this than women. Men who can’t take selling a piece of their souls to sit idly by while this shit happens. I know more women for whom this has crystallized their desire to enter the industry than ever before.

Those supporters of GamerGate don’t know what’s about to hit them. Yes, hate is effective over the short term – nothing rallies better than hate – but after it blows over, after its core audience inevitably finds some new distraction, GamerGate’s going to be a buried artifact of the past.

A funny thing I learned working as a campaign manager in Oregon is that negative campaigning is usually met with an equal and opposite reaction. Single out something negative about your opponent (whether true or false) and you can raise funds off it and gain points off it, but so will your opponent. It’s been shown again and again that these negative campaign moments are mirrored by accuser and accused pretty much dollar for dollar, polling point for polling point. The result is that negative campaigning has very little real effect on ongoing campaigns. It simply raises the awareness of politicians’ names on both sides. Even in the most hate-filled campaigns, whoever wins (be it accuser or accused) will find a readier and more willing audience down the road. The effect, whether intended or not, is only to celebritize the eventual winner.

The hateful core of GamerGate should have learned after their hatred of Sarkeesian KickStarted her career. After she sought $6,000 for her video series Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, she raised $158,922. You may have made her life difficult, but your hatred and harassment escalated the conversation surrounding her to such levels that she became an overnight sensation. You didn’t create your worst enemy – she was already on her way to kicking your ass. But you did give her a much, much bigger audience to watch her do it.

History does not remember the passing hate of a moment. It remembers the people who respond to it. Sometimes, a culture responds to it the wrong way. Sometimes, a culture responds the right way. Take a look around, GamerGate, at the women you’ve boosted onto MSNBC, CNN, at the surge of concern you’ve caused not just in the gaming community, but in American culture at large.

How do you think this culture is responding to you? You’re already losing steam, your casual members have left you, you’re continually chased off Reddit, and you’re paying for your crusade essentially out-of-pocket. I haven’t seen a single one of you show your face on a network.

Meanwhile, conversations about gender-equality in gaming that were once comfortably pushed off as avoidable and eventual are now being treated as imminent and immediate. Including women and their perspectives is now a front and center concern for developers and publishers. Your harassment of these women – death threats, forcing them from their homes, hacking their finances – has forced the industry to reassess how they treat female employees in the workspace, as well as female characters in their stories.

Keep in mind what I said about politics. Negative campaigning only works for the winner, giving her a bigger audience down the road. You have accelerated the increasing role of women in game design and criticism in a way you couldn’t fathom.

Donations to games designed by women have increased. Coverage of women in game design has increased. Women appearing on news channels or addressing crowds of thousands have only ever encouraged more of us to look at what they do and say, “I want to do that, too.” You are creating a generation of women game designers by shaping and popularizing the icons who will inspire them.

The only mark GamerGate will leave – the only mark – is in the surge of strong women who will learn to create games just to spite you, to show you they can, and because they see other women having the kind of success measured by CNN and crowds and the number of articles on them, whose names pop up on Google now as first options. They will see those women and hear their voices and regardless of what you say, game design will become a more viable and desirable option for them.

You didn’t make these icons for women in game design. They were already on their way to kicking your ass. But you did exponentially increase their audience, an audience that is overwhelmingly siding with them.

This is Gabe. Thank you GamerGate, because the games this surge of women create in just a few years’ time? They’re going to piss you off so much, and I can’t wait to play them.

This is Vanessa. Thank you GamerGate. Your hate has given us icons tempered by fire. They had strong voices before, but now they stand above the industry itself. You took individual critics and developers and, by your hate, you have made them arbiters.

This is Amanda Smith. Thank you GamerGate.

This is Rachel Ann Taylor. Thank you GamerGate.

This is Cleopatra Parnell. Thank you GamerGate.

This is Shayna Fevre. Thank you GamerGate.

This is Eden O’Nuallain. Thank you GamerGate.

This is Olivia Smith. Thank you GamerGate.

This is Himura Sachiko. Thank you GamerGate.

Trailers of the Week — Only “Tomorrowland”

Standard

by Gabriel Valdez

Disillusionment. We’re used to trailers that show us magical places full of wonder and awe. A two hour escape into a movie, into a world that changes from beginning to end. That’s appealing.

We’re not use to trailers that show us why we want to escape there so badly. One shot, one little aside – a young girl glancing at the TV – tells me all I need to know about why this movie’s being made. On that TV is a riot, protesters squaring off with police.

We don’t know why this girl is getting out of jail or what her world is like outside this flat gray room. But we do have one detail that connects her existence to ours: disillusionment.

It used to be that young adult movies communicated a child not quite belonging to the rest of society through orphanhood, the death of a parent, or divorce. But we feel it on the back of our necks when we read the news, when we see police firing at protesters, cameramen being beaten just for doing their jobs. None of us quite belong to this society. None of us look at the state of things and imagine: this is what I expected, this is what I hoped for.

Tomorrowland, at least in this trailer, doesn’t communicate a fantastic world very well. It communicates a disappointing one. It communicates a desire for something better, a desire so overwhelmed and constantly assaulted that it can’t even take shape.

Dozens of trailers tell us, “Go here. See this. Feel better.”

This one tells us, “Look around. It’s OK to be overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed, too.”

This is the only trailer we’re featuring this week. That’s an experiment, and runs counter to the purpose of this series, but everything else seems to dilute the impact of Tomorrowland. This is the one that’s got me thinking.

Undercooked Stake — “Dracula Untold”

Standard

Dracula Untold at least the costumes are good

by Gabriel Valdez

The most important factor in telling a story is having a reason to tell it. It can be a small reason – this year’s Godzilla asked a modern horror filmmaker to return the monster to demigod status. It can be a big reason – The Monuments Men addresses the sacrifices made not just to save people, but to save their very culture during World War 2.

Whatever your reason is, it doesn’t need to change the world, but you do need to have one. Dracula Untold has no reason. It has a vague plot, involving Prince Dracula’s people resisting a Turkish army bent on taking 1,000 of their boys as tribute. Dracula seeks out an ancient beast in the mountains in order to borrow his vampiric powers for the coming war.

Leaving aside yet another tired “anybody east of Greece is inherently evil” plot line, everything that needs to be there in a period tale about the famous vampire’s origins is there. A great lead (Luke Evans), detailed set design, good costuming, solid music, nice visual effects. Take each of these components on its own and it holds up well. Put them all together and there’s something vital missing.

Dracula Untold feels like the first two minutes before a TV show that recap all that’s come before, except it goes on for an hour and a half. There is no, “And now for the conclusion.”

Dracula Untold the makeup budget was spent on my predator vision

Universal wants to use its classic movie villains (Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein) to establish a Marvel’s Avengers-like team of monstrous anti-heroes. It’s a good idea on paper, but the film that gets you there feels like it’s rushing you through so you’ll be prepared for the sequel two years from now. We pay to see movies in order to be thrilled, not rushed.

Certain scenes play well, like the various ones that steal directly from Superman movies. Dracula first awakening to his newfound powers, for instance, feels like every time Clark Kent discovered a new Superman power on Smallville. Dracula flying across the landscape to catch a loved one feels like Christopher Reeve flying across a cityscape to do the same. It’s just Superman didn’t have to turn into bats to do it. Even silver gets used an awful lot like kryptonite. This Dracula bears little resemblance to the terrifying ones we’ve seen before; he’s Superdrac (now with Predator vision!) This would be fine, but only if you have a reason beyond wanting to be like Marvel.

Nowhere is this film’s dismissal of its audience better represented than by its explosions of sound and light. When characters pull a sword or strike a torch, it’s enough to make the audience cover their ears, and my theater wasn’t particularly loud. Similarly, when you’re straining your eyes to make out details in a dark, moody scene, you don’t want to suffer a quick succession of blinding white flashes. It was so painful, audience members had to shield their eyes and look away at certain points. That’s profoundly inexcusable.

By the end of the film, Superdrac (now with Predator vision!) is flying at jet speed while Turks are magically transporting from the top of a cliff to the valley a thousand feet below. And no, that’s not according to some superpower, which would be fine. They’re magically transporting according to shoddy editing that strips out any sense of geography or consequence in the action scenes. It’s laughable, which my audience regularly took advantage of.

Dracula Untold totally not trying to be the hobbit ok maybe a little

The fight choreography is good. It might even be great, but you won’t see much of it. Shaky cameras, blur effects, and trick shots – like seeing half a battle in the reflection of a thin sword – are relentlessly abused, and there isn’t the skill behind the camera or in the editing room to incorporate them in any way that makes sense beyond “the director really likes blur effects.”

Dracula Untold has solid design elements and a lead who’s fun to watch. You may recognize Evans from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, in which he plays Bard. He doesn’t act any different here, but that’s fine – he has a compelling demeanor. It’s a good thing, because few other characters are given names, let alone anything resembling characterization.

Dracula Untold just doesn’t care about your experience. It’s checking off boxes on the “start a franchise” clipboard, and that’s not enough reason to tell a story.

It’s somehow rated PG-13 despite the fact that the last five minutes are spent skewering people on stakes and watching their skin fall off as they dissolve into corpses, hinting at a movie that at least would’ve been far trashier than the one we got. But PG-13? I don’t think so.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does Dracula Untold have more than one woman in it?

Technically, yes. There is Dracula’s wife, Mirena, played by Sarah Gadon. There’s a Governess who barely appears, played by Dilan Gwyn, and whose importance to the plot you can derive by the fact she has no name, and is simply listed as “Governess.”

Other women occasionally appear in the background doing oh so important background things like looking dramatically at Luke Evans, or looking dramatically at the camera, or looking dramatically at each other.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Hah!

3. About something other than a man?

Haha!

Look, Dracula Untold may technically pass the first rule of this test, but only because if all the extras were men, we might think Superdrac was running a gay kingdom, and something like that still matters to some people. Personally, I think that would’ve made a far more interesting movie. Shoot, why didn’t they try that 40 years ago with Tim Curry as Dracula – oh, wait a minute, they basically did.

But I digress.

Dracula Untold is all about super awesome European men protecting their women and children from evil Turks, who do such nefarious things as wear copious amounts of eyeliner. Pick up your swords! Trade your souls for demonic powers! Our European children must not be forced to wear copious amounts of eyeliner!

Seriously, Dracula Untold is ridiculous. That I’ve already written 1,000 words on it means I’ve put more thought into their movie than its writers did. What did I just watch, is it possible to nuke it from orbit (it’s the only way), and who thought this could function as the beginning to a multi-tiered franchise?

Not only does Dracula Untold fail the Bechdel Test, it also fails the Are You Racist Test, the Try Not to Blind Your Audience Test, the Prosopagnosia Test, and the Not Throwing Up in My Own Mouth Test (patent pending).

Honestly, when it comes out on DVD, this could be the new mainstay of bad movie nights*, but it certainly doesn’t do anything for feminism or tolerance or the English language. Only through Luke Evans being Luke Evans and its own general ineffectiveness at everything, including being hateful, does it fail to threaten 300: Rise of a Thin Gaza Metaphor as worst movie of the year.

*Seek out Dario Argento’s Phenomena, people, and your bad movie nights will never be the same again.