Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Thursday Movie Picks Meme: Teen Angst


This week, the theme for Wanderer's Thursday Movie Picks Meme is Teen Angst. There are a lot of emotional and psychological difficulties that people face when they enter their teens, and it can be a very difficult period of a person's life. Naturally, there have been plenty of movies made on the subject of troubled youth and the everyday issues faced by teenagers.

Now there are plenty of films on the subject. In fact, there's one coming out very soon: The Edge of Seventeen. However, with this list, I've decided to find some unusual choices. These are titles nobody is going to see coming but I've got some good ones. Let's begin...

The Wizard of Oz (1939)


Not what you expected to see on this list, was it? Yes, Victor Flemmin's The Wizard of Oz is a weird and moderately surreal (or at least as surreal as you could get in studio-era Hollywood) fantastical adventure that may or may not have been all a dream. However, it's easy to get so swept away by the extravagant and colorful scenery of Oz that it's easy to forget the black-and-white sequences that open and close the film and that at its core, the film is really about Dorothy's own emotional issues. The entire story is set in motion because Dorothy is frustrated with her mundane life and wants to run away, only to question the value of home when her wish is granted in a rather unusual way.

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)


What list of teen angst movies would be complete without the original teen angst movie. Nicholas Ray's film is widely considered a classic and is arguably the most iconic role of James Dean (also his second film, and one of only three he made before he died). The movie follows three teenagers in the 1950's who are all struggling with their own personal and emotionally difficulties as well as family relations, and how they find themselves coming together when they are all arrested under different charges; eventually finding comfort in each other. Of course, matters are made more problematic by the society that isn't ready to accept their friendship or understand the emotional difficulties they're facing, leading to a dark climax at the film's conclusion.

Labyrinth (1986)


Okay, this is probably not one you expected to see make the list, but teen angst is really at the center of Jim Henson's surreal fantasy adventure. After all, underneath the bizarre puppets, David Bowie's flamboyant costumes, the various fantastical set pieces, and the surreal journey vaguely reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz, it really is about a teenager working through her own emotions. In fact, I wrote an entire essay explaining in detail how the story is really about Sarah's emotional struggle to reconcile two different sides of her personality (her imagination and her real-world responsibilities), a struggle represented by her journey through the labyrinth.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Why More Video Games need Proper Character Customization



One thing that really annoys me in modern games is the tendency of some franchises to promise "deep customization" and then not even allow the player to choose their character's sex. Medal of Honor: Warfighter and Battlefield: Hardline are both guilty of this type of practice. The former allows the player to choose a class an nationality for their character, but otherwise lacks any sort of customization options, which seems to me like false advertising. Battlefield: Hardline deals with the war on drugs, focuses on modern SWAT Teams (something which women are a part of), and yet they never seemed to consider the possibility that players may want to choose the sex of their character.


To provide a contrast, let's look at a comparatively more progressive game that actually recognizes the issues at hand. Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 works to that very effect. In many respects, the game is structured in a manner reminiscent of many first-person shooters such as Call of Duty , only there is actually an effort at representation. Like Battlefield: Hardline, the story mode focuses on a SWAT Team. However, there is actually diversity in the cast, which not only includes a combination of both male and female characters (of different races) but also allows the player to customize its protagonist, Bishop. Bishop's sex is purely aesthetic, and has no effect on the overall narrative beyond a change in voice actors.


One way to look at this issue in more detail is to examine the output of different gaming companies. When one looks at a large enough selection of different games by the same company, patterns begin to emerge. Among these are patterns which often show that the issue extends towards an overall group of developers rather than any one specific gaming franchise. There are many gaming companies that are guilty of unfairly representing women or showing a strange aversion to female player characters.

Now this is not to say that all gaming companies are made up of misogynistic idiots who are too stubborn to recognize the potential of female characters. There are some progressive developers who have actually addressed this issue. BioWare and Bethesda are both gaming companies that have shown a positive effort to improve representations of women in gaming.Most, if not all, of Bioware's games allow the player to choose their character's sex (most famously in Mass Effect, though the same can also be said for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and the Dragon Age series) as well as giving them a large party consisting of both male and female characters. Bethesda's games do not often place as much emphasis on building a party, but their open-world adventures such as Skyrim and Fallout both allow the player to customize their character and provide a wide range of both male and female NPCs with whom they can interact, many of whom are strong women.

Both companies have even gone further on occasion and allowed the player to not only choose their character's sex, but also their sexual orientation. Knights of the Old Republic included the option for a lesbian romance with Juhani in addition to the heterosexual options for Carth and Bastilla. Mass Effect 2 included a few bisexual options (whom the player could romance regardless of gender), while Mass Effect 3 included bisexual options as well as two potential love interests for a gay Shepard (one male, one female). While they're not essential to the gameplay, Skyrim and Fallout 4 both allow the player to engage in same-sex relationships (and even same-sex marriage, in the case of the former).


However, for every forward-thinking company like BioWare or Bethesda, there are others lagging behind. An infamous example of this would be Activision, the creators of the popular Call of Duty franchise who took almost a decade before they finally started placing female characters into their games. Naughty Dog of Uncharted and The Last of Us fame, has no trouble including strong female characters in supporting roles, but seems draws the line on making them playable. Rock Star games has an unfortunate tendency to fall into this as well. They have several major franchises, and not one of their many games has a female protagonist. In fact, many of them lack any notable female characters at all. There have been five Grand Theft Auto and not one female playable character.

This is obviously problematic. Grand Theft Auto went through four games before the developers finally decided to create sprites for female police officers (something that probably wouldn't have hurt if they'd just done that from the start) and still not one female protagonist among its five games. Now one could argue that it wasn't totally unjustified in L.A. Noire (which deals with the police force during the 1940's) or Red Dead: Redemption (which is set in the Wild West), though even then one could question a few choices. L.A. Noire probably could have given its female lead a much more prominent role than merely being a love interest for Cole. In Red Dead: Redemption, it could also have been interesting to see a female gunslinger take the spotlight, even if the rest of the cast was male-dominated.



This in turn brings up a variety of debates that have taken place on the internet recently, namely whether players should be allowed to choose. There have been some extremely flimsy arguments that developers have made for excluding women from their games. One of the reasons Call of Duty took so long to even add a choice to multiplayer was because the developers genuinely believed that women would have an unfair advantage because their smaller size would make them harder targets (seriously), and even that weak excuse doesn't explain why they are so averse to female characters in the campaign mode. Others seem to question whether it should affect the gameplay, and if not why it should even matter.

The answer is easy enough: the option should be there, and it should have little effect on the game. In Mass Effect, the player can choose Shepard's sex and other than a few differences in romantic options it has no bearing on the overall story. Shepard's abilities are based purely on their class and how the character is developed over the course of the game. The actual narrative is shaped by the choices made by the player, and none of them are influenced by Shepard's sex. Both male and female Shepard have to make the same tough calls that present consequences over the course of the series.


One can see the same thing in many other games where gender is purely aesthetic. Skyrim also allows the player to choose the sex of their protagonist (although artwork related to the game and fans in general seem to keep assuming the hero to be male). Aside from a few variations in dialogue, the game is more or less identical regardless of whether the player is male or female, even going as far as to offer the exact same selection of romantic opportunities. The main stories of Fallout 3 and Rainbow Six Vegas 2 both progress more ore less the same way regardless of what sex the player chooses, and the same sets of skills and opportunities are available for both.


So this has led to another common argument: that if gender doesn't affect the gameplay than why bother? Well, it really comes down to the simple fact that everyone has their own preferences, and that they should be allowed to make the character they feel best fits the game. Personally, I have always preferred to play as female characters, and I often find that the game's world feels far more authentic when I take that option. I have a friend who finds that he often prefers to play as non-human characters whenever the game permits it (such as in the Elder Scrolls series). In the case of Mass Effect, there are fans devoted to both male and female Shepard.

The fact is that more games should allow players the choice in who they want to be, rather than having it predetermined. This means that they should be able to create the type of person they feel best fits the game and run with it. This makes games like Medal of Honor: Warfighter and Battlefield: Hardline all the more infuriating for promising "deep customization" and then refusing to allow the player to actually make a character that suits them because the developers are too stupid to realize that women can serve in the military or police force now.

Yes, it's true that female characters shouldn't be too much different from the men. The script should have next to no differences and a female character should have access to the same skills as a man. The important thing is making sure players have the choice to make the character they want. Different people have different preferences. Every player of Skyrim has a unique character that fits them, the same way Mass Effect allows for different players to produce drastically different interpretations of Shepard. The fact is that we want to be able to have a choice. We want to create the characters we feel fit the game, not be faced by obviously biased restrictions.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Sports Movie Marathon: Whip It (Roller Derby)



Whip It is a curious movie to watch with hindsight, as a few more recent developments bring a whole new dimension to the story. One thing that did notably happen five years after its release was Ellen Page coming out as a lesbian, giving the already-talented actress a new reputation as a human rights advocate. However, while it may have only been in 2014 that Page finally admitted to her sexuality, there may have been clues in her earlier films. The lack of any sexual tension with the (otherwise entirely male) cast of Inception and the boyfriend she quickly dumps in Wilby Wonderful (a moment the film treats as a positive action) could be seen as early indications.

However, Whip It may be one of the most obvious films to showcase this, although it's hard to say if this was intended or merely a reflection of Page's acting. Although the film is thinly veiled as a family friendly underdog sports narrative, it is filled with innuendo and homoerotic subtext that, when realized in the context of Page's own sexuality, adds an entirely new level. This is likely unsurprising, given much of the film revolves around bonding between women, with girl-on-girl fights (which are almost treated like sex) being something of a recurring motif.

From the moment we are first introduced to Bliss Cavender (Page), there is a sense of awkwardness that isolates her from her environment. She struggles to meet the demands of her overbearing conservative mother and has a difficult relationship with her father. At school, she often gets bullied, and she clearly doesn't fit into the beauty pageants. The opening scene shows these two sides through her wardrobe, the blue hair clashing with her fancy white dress. This awkwardness continues throughout much of the film, with Bliss showing difficulty relating to many of the people in her life.


In fact, the few instances where this aspect of her performance drops are moments when Bliss is interacting with other women. This is most evident in her relationship to her friend Pash (Alia Shawkwat), with whom the homoerotic undertones appear to be most obvious. There is even a scene which alludes to this idea by way of them sharing a bed. It's also seen in the way Bliss becomes especially close to the other women on her roller derby team, possibly even closer than she is with her own family. There is also a strong emphasis on the mounting tension between her and rival skater Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) which could be seen as sexual in nature, especially during their exchange at the film's conclusion.

The movie does include a heterosexual romance between Bliss and a young man named Oliver (Landon Pigg), though even this arguably supports the homoerotic aspects of the film. The romance often appears forced, and Oliver does show some questionable actions early on (such as openly admitting that he stalked Bliss to her workplace). These two share the film's only sex scene, though it is shot in a very surreal and peculiar way, with the two diving into a swimming pool before removing their clothes.

The entire scene takes place underwater, and uses the aquatic environment to give a strange otherworldly sense. At first, this seems like a strange move for what is otherwise a fairly grounded story, only it may be the strangeness of such a moment that works to its advantage. By making this sequence dream-like in nature, it's drawing attention to the fact that it is staged. More specifically, the obviously fake sex hints at the idea that the romance between them is not genuine and works as foreshadowing toward the later sequence in which Bliss realizes he's been treating her only slightly less awful than the original James Bond, and proceeds to break off all ties with him.

This in turn leads to a whole new reading of the film that may not have been evident to its initial viewers: Bliss is secretly a repressed homosexual. This can be seen in her relationship to her mother Brooke (Marcia Gay Hayden), who while not explicitly homophobic displays a very conservative and conformist view of society. She expects Bliss to appear at elegant pageants and on learning of the roller derby championship, admits that she expects Bliss to marry a man (a remark which she appears to find especially insulting). Bliss even goes as far as to run away not unlike the many homosexual or trans teenagers who find themselves in the street because of intolerant parents.

Whip It is far from a mere underdog sports film. It's really a story of exploring oneself. If indeed it is to be assumed that Bliss is gay, than the entire story could be seen as one big allegory for her accepting who she is and coming out (which in this case is shown through her discovering a passion for roller derby).

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Sports Movie Marathon: Eight Men Out (Baseball)


Who's on first? I don't know, but that's not important at the moment. There have been a lot of movies dealing with baseball, but none quite like Eight Men Out. John Sayles' attempt to dramatize the 1919 scandal is hardly what one would call a conventional sports film. Instead, he gives us another side to the world of baseball, and through remarkable attention to detail offers a glimpse into the very different world of a bygone era, even if the actual story is one more easily followed by those who actually know something on the history of baseball. While the film hardly skips out on its detailed baseball sequences, the focus is instead on a different side to the sport.

The story is based on an actual incident that occurred in 1919, a time which presented a very different world. With it, we see a very different rendition of baseball from that of today. For one thing, this was long before women were allowed to compete. It was also a time when players of the sport lacked the concern for safety that they show today (the umpire and catcher are the only ones who seem to have any sort of protection, and even then the latter repeatedly takes off his mask mid-game), a detail shown at the very beginning when one of the players is nearly injured after crashing into a wall (he isn't hurt, though it takes a moment for that to become clear).

The other detail that's easy to forget is this was a time when unions acting for people's rights were only starting to gain a foothold in the workplace. Many businesses actively worked to shoot down unions and crush them wherever possible. In fact, the Oscars originated as a scheme by Louis B. Meyer (owner of Metro Goldwyn Meyer, fittingly the same studio that later produced Eight Men Out) to deter his employees from joining unions. The one Union they did support was IATSE, which was run by a man with ties to Al Capone and made backroom deals to encourage its members to submit to their employers and actively prevented strikes.

The specific events depicted in the movie occurred due to the lack of unions in baseball, leaving players at the mercy of their managers. One popular trick was to place something called a reserve clause into players' contracts, a method which functioned much like the contracts of Hollywood actors in the studio era. When a baseball player signed a contract, they were more or less owned by their team's manager, even when it expired. This meant that the player was prevented from signing on with another team without being sold or leased. Lack of unionization meant most players had no choice but to accept the contract's terms.

Among the various men who ran the business was Charles Comiskey, played in Eight Men Out by Clifton James. Historically, the man had a reputation for mistreating his players, something which is also established early on in the film. When Comiskey first appears in the opening scene, he brags that he has the "best" team in the business. However, one thing that quickly becomes apparent is that he doesn't want to pay minimum wage (one of the main reasons why he was so disliked in his day). After winning a game, the players find a set of bottles containing flat campaign in what appears a weak attempt to substitute a bonus they were promised. It's also very indiscreetly implied that he promised Eddie (David Strathairn) a bonus if he could win 30 games, then kept him out for two weeks to avoid paying.

Unsurprisingly, with a boss like this, the players are making next to nothing. When an opportunity to make some extra cash shows itself, it's hard to resist. Enter a gambling ring with the idea to make lots of money by rigging the game and a few mob ties, and things get out of hand very quickly. From there, it was only a matter of convincing the right players to do badly with the promise of a financial reward and one of the most infamous sports scandals was born.

What makes a film like Eight Men Out unusual is that it gives us this very different side to baseball. Most of the focus is placed on the business end of the game, rather than on the actual sport itself. We follow a variety of different people who all have different roles to play. There's the manager who is only concerned with his own interests and the hope of increasing his already immense wealth, the gamblers who want to make money rigging the games, and the unfortunate players who are idolized by fans who remain oblivious to the fact that they're being exploited by everyone else.

In that sense, Eight Men Out offers a much darker side to the game. Most of the players are ordinary working-class men who are passionate about the game, only they live in a world where talent and passion alone aren't enough. Instead, they are exploited by nearly everyone for selfish gain, caught in a hopeless crossfire. Shoeless Joe (D.B. Sweeney) sums this very sentiment up when he is faced with a prison sentence and explains that all he wants is to do is go "play ball" and forget the politics he's mixed up in.

In short, Eight Men Out shows that there is far more going on in baseball than what the audience sees. Behind the field and its star players lies a bleak world of bureaucracy, greed, and corruption which drives many unseen individuals to questionable lengths.




Friday, 5 August 2016

Introducing Sports Movie Marathon!




So it's time for the Olympics! That's cool, and it seemed like I should do something to coincide with it, so naturally I quickly tried to throw together a theme week at the last minute decided to take this as an opportunity to watch some sports films. Unfortunately, I've got a small problem in that I've never been that athletic. I learned the different positions in baseball from Abbott and Costello and I can tell you I haven't a clue how football works. One of the first basketball films I can think of is the one where Michael Jordan has to prevent the Looney Toons from being kidnapped by aliens and sold into slavery (yes, that actually happened).

As you can imagine, sports films are one of my weaker points. I'm not normally attracted to movies dealing with sports when they come out, and I don't normally make a huge point of watching them. Usually, in order to get my attention, a sports film has to be really, really good, and even then I'm not exactly quick to take those recommendations. Still, it was either this or run a sports-themed blogathon which would probably be an even bigger disaster.

So finding sports movies I could immediately access (either through my owning on DVD, or being available on Netflix) wasn't easy. I also spent some time consulting my fellow blogger Wendell Ottley from Dell on Movies. Unlike me, Wendell actually knows the rules of football and baseball and he's seen his share of sports movies. His advice was extremely useful in figuring out what sports to cover.

So for those of you not familiar with the basic structure of one of my theme weeks, it goes like this: I select and overarching topic, and a sub-theme for each day. The idea is that each day that sub-theme determines what movie I watch, and then I have to find something worthwhile to say on it in a post afterwards.

In this case, I've broken it up so that each article will be related to a different sport. However, the deadlines are changed somewhat. Instead, this will be occurring over two weeks, and I may not post every day. The idea this time is that I've got 11 different categories and I will aim to cover as many of them as possible over the course of the Olympics.

Baseball


Basketball


Bobsledding


Boxing


Curling


Dodgeball


Marathon



Rugby


Roller Derby


Skating


Track and Field



Thursday, 4 August 2016

Thursday Movie Picks: Gambling


This week, the theme for Wanderer's Thursday Movie Picks Meme is gambling. I wouldn't exactly call myself much of a gambler. For one thing, I'm not very good at it. Whenever I play Fallout: New Vegas, and enter one of the Casinos, I pretty much always end up losing my money because I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm not very good at Blackjack and I can't for the life of me understand the rules of Poker. In other words, it's probably for the better that I don't spend much time at actual casinos trying to win money, because I'm really really bad at it.

Unfortunately, it seems I really need to work on seeing more gambling films. It was hard to find good ones. For this list, I'm not going to worry too much about how I feel with any particular film, instead focusing entirely on gambling films I've actually seen. At the very least, I figure I can get a few different types of gambling to show here.

A Day at the Races (1937)


This was the second film the Marx Brothers did after transferring to a new studio, as well as their second film without Zeppo (Allan Jones returns from A Night at the Opera to fill that role). The story is definitely a strange one, involving a misunderstanding that results in a veterinarian being placed in charge of a sanitarium and finding the local race track as the only shot at saving it. Naturally, it all revolves around placing money on the right horse, complete with a few attempts to rig the race. There's also a classic scene in which Chico attempts to extort gambling money out of Groucho by selling him a large pile of books.

Force of Evil (1948)


This 1948 thriller revolves heavily around something called a "numbers racket." I was never able to get a clear description of exactly what that entails, beyond being an illegal gambling operation that was common in the 1940's.

Casino Royale (2006)


It's hard to argue against the themes of gambling which present themselves in Daniel Craig's first entry to the Bond Franchise. In fact, I made an entire post detailing how the film is very much related to the dangers of gambling both literally (a large portion of the film revolves around a high stakes poker game) and figuratively (everyone in the cast is forced to make difficult decisions and take extreme risks in the hope of a great reward). Even the movie's title draws attention to its themes of gambling, as do the opening credits that make heavy use of playing card-related imagery.


Monday, 1 August 2016

Against the Crowd Blogathon: Two-For-One Spielberg Extravaganza



Wendell Ottley over at Dell on Movies is hosting his annual Against the Crowd Blogathon. I have participated in this one before, and it's a great opportunity to share some of those feelings you have. The nature of the blogathon is pretty straight forward; as the name implies, it is all about those movies that you hate but everyone else loves for some reason, and the movies everyone else seems to hate but you love. The idea is to do one of each, and it just so happens I have something very special for this year, because this time it is all about Steven Spielberg. I happened to take a class on directors this year, and we spent several week studying his work, from which I have drawn the following statements.

Now, when it comes to Spielberg, there are a variety of directions I can go. His work is all over the place in terms of quality ranging from brilliant to awful. I am after all in the small group of people who found that E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was actually a very weak film when you look past the then-revolutionary effects. The best part about that film is I've found that it makes a great drinking game (take a shot every time there is a random Star Wars-related inside joke). He has also made plenty of great films; I finally saw Schindler's List which proved to be a very interesting film if not entirely what I expected.

For the purposes of this activity, I have chosen to go all out. I will be defending one of Spielberg's most hated films, and deriding one of his most beloved.

AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001)


Spielberg's tribute to Kubrick I found was actually not all that bad. Yes, as a Kubrick fan, I will admit that of course I would have wanted to see how the film would have turned out had he lived to see it finished, but for what Spielberg came up with, I think his interpretation is a pretty good one. It actually does feel very much like a Kubrick film, largely because Spielberg worked with the notes, storyboards, and early screen treatments that his friend had spent years assembling. It actually can be very difficult upon a close examination to tell where Kubrick's vision ends and Spielberg's begins (the apparently Spielbergian ending was actually Kubrick's idea). One can tell watching it that Spielberg really wanted to be show his respect for Kubrick, even if he could not perfectly replicate the director's ideas.

Even disregarding the obvious details about whether this is a Spielberg or Kubrick film, it is actually really well made in its own right. AI is surprisingly effective in exploring the age-old question of just what it means to be human (a subject that fascinated Kubrick). The androids we see actually do feel human, their emotions appear genuine even when balanced with their uncanny appearances. There is also a bitter sense of hopelessness that emerges throughout, as the viewer knows very well that David's goal of becoming a "real-live boy" is impossible, and yet they can easily relate to his struggle and desire to be loved. Haley Joe Osmond actually makes a very good android, balancing his uncanny appearance with emotional depth that is not immediately obvious.

Now for the really daring part that will no doubt get a lot of readers very angry with me because it relates to the final act of the film. This was of course the part where David is found buried in the ice after humanity's extinction; the part that gets the most flak. I felt this might have actually been the strongest part of the film. Of course, the idea behind it (which was Kubrick's, by the way) makes a lot more sense when you realize (as I did, thanks to class readings) that the beings who find David are not in fact aliens (as they are often mistakenly assumed), but extremely advanced robots searching for their own origins. It is here that David really gets to show his humanity, and where the film's themes of whether a machine can think or feel are resolved. The ending offers closure to David's story, but also allows David to "grow up" in a way (though he still looks like a child).

Munich (2005)


I really don't get what everyone else saw in this movie. To me, the plot amounted essentially to "some guys kill some other guys so Geoffrey Rush decides the logical response to run around Europe blowing up random Arabs." The film claims to be based on a true story, but the only part that I have been able to definitively verify actually happened was the mass murder of 11 Israeli athletes which sets the film in motion. After seeing it, I felt skeptical about how much of the rest of the film was real and a strong desire to get dirt on the movie. This is a strange reaction, I know, to such an acclaimed feature. Far from a tense thriller, Munich is nothing but a racist, sexist, and in general poorly executed film and a waste of time.

I found the movie frustrating and impossible to follow, and those were the parts that didn't seem racist or sexist (more on that later). There was a lot going on at once and it was never clear what was supposed to be happening at a given moment. I remember my professor mentioning in class some of the techniques Spielberg used to make the narrative easier to follow and I just wanted to blurt out "uh... did we see the same movie?" I found the main cast dull and unrelatable, and strangely enough, hard to tell apart. While it is true that they did look different, none of them really had anything to make them stand out in terms of personality. They were just a bunch of guys with a set of vaguely defined skills that were required to kill some people. There was a French guy, Louis, who apparently had detailed information on the terrorists, and absolutely no explanation is given for how or why he does this; especially given that the parts of the film which allegedly detail his operation instead opt to focus entirely on his father's cooking.

To bring up the film's racism, the same can be said for much of the cast. The "targets" are apparently supposed to be people involved with the terrorist operation, but it isn't made clear how they are involved. None of the men targeted are seen among the terrorists when they are shown at the beginning (or in later flashbacks), and beyond a few vague lines of dialogue it is not made clear why they are the targets. This gives the sense that the protagonists are not actually going after terrorists, but that they are just blowing up random people who happen to have an Arabic background. It almost seems like Spielberg is promoting the idea that being Middle Eastern is automatically linked to terrorism, especially as the viewer is meant to feel emotionally invested in the actions of the so-called protagonists.

Now we can get into the sexism that is prevalent throughout Munich. Throughout the movie, I remember wondering if it would really have hurt to have some female operatives in the team. Now one could argue that the reason the actual task force is all men has to do with the historical events that inspired the film, but that still does not excuse the poor treatment of the few women who do appear. For most of the film, there is only one woman who has any kind of role in the story; Daphna Kaufman, Avner's wife who serves mainly to motivate him. She is generally depicted as submissive towards him, making little in the way of her own choices or thinking for herself.

The real bit of wasted potential comes in the form of Jeanette, someone who could easily have had potential to be a very interesting and strong female role. Her character is that of an assassin apparently hired to kill the protagonists. She is built up as a professional who doesn't let her emotions get in the way. Now, if she had been introduced earlier in the film, she could have made for a very strong and memorable antagonist. We could have gotten to know her on a psychological level, and then she would become an interesting part of the movie. Maybe they could have even gotten into what makes her work and allow her to become somewhat relatable, adding to the moral ambiguity. Of course, Spielberg does none of these things. Instead, Jeanette is shoved into the end of the film where she ends up feeling very out of place, appears out of nowhere, and then gets killed. There is so much wasted potential here.


Thursday, 28 July 2016

Thursday Movie Picks: World War I


This week, the theme for Wanderer's Thursday Movie Picks Meme is World War I, or The Great War as it was called at the time (seeing as World War II hadn't happened yet). There are plenty of stories regarding the men who died in the trenches, with casualties numbering well into the millions on all sides. While the groundwork for World War I had been laid down over the previous decade, mainly in the form of different countries attempting to build empires, it is usually said to have started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, and concluded in 1918 with the treaty of Versailles. Those four years saw a new kind of war. Technological advancements produced new weapons. Tanks and airplanes were used for the first time.

The most insulting part of the war, however, was that nobody learned from it. After "winning" (if you can call it that), World War I concluded with the Treaty of Versailles, in which all participants were on the same side. The negotiations were a joke, and in the end they concluded that Germany was to blame, and that it should be punished. Over the following years, the German economy was destroyed (though it did manage to run a successful film industry), Anti-Semitism overpowered rational thought, and there was a strong desire for a leader who could restore the country. Not surprisingly, this created the perfect opportunity for Adolf Hitler to take over and begin a global military campaign. In other words, World War I was directly responsible for World War II.

Now unsurprisingly, this is an area I have plenty of experience in, having studied World War I and many of those who fought in it. In fact, the Canadian Ace Billy Bishop was something of an idol to me in Middle School. I've also seen a lot of war films. As far as Hollywood is concerned, World War I has been greatly overshadowed by World War II, and it is harder to find a good selection of films. Still, there have been some beautifully made films dealing with World War I, and I am here to share three of them.

Paths of Glory (1957)


There are few movies that manage to so effectively capture the pointlessness and futility of war like Stanley Kubrick's fourth feature film. When it first premiered, it sparked such a huge controversy it's amazing Kubrick even managed to find work afterwards. It sparked a huge backlash and was banned in both France and Germany. While the plot is straight forward enough, it is executed so effectively to stir every possible emotion. The battle scenes alone are beautifully shot, and that's not even getting into the court-case that drives most of the narrative (which is also very effective in showing the ways in which people die for nothing). In watching a film like this, one is forced to ask a lot of questions, especially what exactly it means to be a "coward."


Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983)


Okay, so I'm cheating with this one. However, that does not stop Monty Python from presenting a very... unusual interpretation of World War I, while still emphasizing the futility of the whole conflict through the use of dark humor. In this case, the focus is on a small group of soldiers who try to with their Sergeant a Happy Birthday while under fire, going as far as to make him a cake and present him with gifts. Of course, as the sketch goes on, shots fly, and members of the squad fall. Eventually, the situation becomes so hopeless that the Sergeant finally decides to try to ignore the enemy's attack and enjoy what he can while he's still standing.

Passchendaele (2005)


As should be clear from the title, Paul Gross's directorial debut gives us one of the most devastating and tragic battles of the war. Like much of World War I, thousands of Canadian and German soldiers were killing each other over land. What made this battle different was the terrain. The Canadian soldiers fighting here didn't even have the cover of trenches, and had to traverse deep mud in order to survive. Gross's film shows the brutality of World War I at this moment as seen through the eyes of three protagonists: two soldiers and an army nurse. While some have criticized the romantic aspect of the story, few can deny the visual impact once the film reaches its climax.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Ideas for All-Female Reboots


There's a lot of talk these days regarding the release of the all-female Ghostbusters. I can understand the reasoning behind doing this. The original film wasn't exactly known for its strong female characters. The lack of female ghostbusters aside, the only two women were Dana (who serves as a love interest and damsel in distress) and Janine (who was kind of irritating and really contributed nothing to the story when you think about it). I mean you get Sigourney Weaver (you know, Ellen Ripley, who is widely considered one of the strongest female characters in the history of film) to sign onto your film and the best role you can get for her is the damsel in distress who has to be rescued by a bunch of men. There are also the obvious implications of the fact that they chose to make her the love interest for the one member of the team who was an obvious pervert. The real bizarre choice was to respond to people's criticisms by also making an all-male version (even though that already happened, it was the original Ghostbusters).

Anyway, this appears to be a new trend, with some strange talk of an all-female Ocean's Eleven, which was a somewhat more surprising decision. It definitely would not have been my first choice, as I was under the impression there actually were important female characters in that movie. Still, from what I have read, the actual heist is conducted mostly if not entirely by men so this might not be totally unjustified; though it would probably be easier to just make an original film. Maybe instead, someone could draw inspiration from Ocean's Eleven in order to write a new all-female heist film. I don't know, maybe I should actually see Ocean's Eleven before I comment on this one. There was also talk of an all-female Expendables (though I still don't understand why they couldn't have had a mixed-gender team from the beginning).

Now, I haven't seen the all-female Ghostbusters yet. In fact, I haven't even found time to look at any reviews. As a result, I can't exactly comment one way or another on the quality of the film. However, what I can do is have some fun with the new trend that appears to forming, and I don't see any sign of it stopping soon. It looks like Hollywood is interested in all-female reboots of iconic movie franchises. Why don't we give them some more ideas...

Dirty Harry


There actually was a female Dirty Harry. Her name was Megan Turner, and she was the star of Kathryn Bigelow's underrated film Blue Steel, but that's not what we're going for here. Dirty Harry had next to no female characters (and nearly all of the few who did appear were murder victims) so perhaps we should flip that around. We could get perhaps Natalie Portman to appear as the iconic anti-hero who refuses to play by the rules. Then we could find someone known for playing more heroic roles, like Anne Hathaway, to take on the role of the killer Scorpio who is killing men while demanding money. For added measure, we could throw in Mary Elizabeth Mastriantonio as the police chief, and perhaps Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Harry's partner Gonzales.

Reservoir Dogs


Tarantino's breakthrough film already has enough of a fanbase to guarantee the financial success of a reboot, though admittedly it would be hard to perfectly replicate the mounting tension that makes it so effective. In the right hands, though, an all-female version could still be interesting to see attempted. Perhaps Sigourney Weaver could play Joe Cabot, then we'd need a few actresses who could cut their hair. Jennifer Connelly could play Ms. White, with Rachel McAdams co-starring as the unfortunate Ms. Orange, and Marion Cotillard as the psychotic Ms. Blonde.

 Die Hard

For this one, we could have Uma Thurman star as NYPD cop Joan McClane, who is visiting her estranged husband only to get mixed up in what appears to be a terrorist operation (that is actually a cleverly disguised heist). The terrorists would of course be led by Hanna Gruber, perhaps played by Emma Watson, with Noomi Rapace as her psychotic henchwoman Kay. Also co-starring would be Rosario Dawson as Alice, Joan's friend on the force with whom she communicates by radio. Then for good measure we could find an older actress to make an appearance as Deputy Chief Diane T. Robinson, I was thinking someone like Jane Fonda would be good.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly


Sergio Leone wasn't always the most effective when it came to female roles, though that didn't stop him from making some amazing westerns. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was already remade once in the form of the strange Korean film The Good, the Bad, the Weird, though to be fair A Fistful of Dollars was already a remake of Yojimbo, so technically remaking The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly wouldn't be that huge of a stretch. For the most part, there wouldn't even need to be anything changed regarding the roles of each of the main characters if they were to be gender-swapped. For Blondie ("the Good"), we'd need someone who can really capture that sense of the honorable anti-hero, I'm thinking Jessica Chastain would be a good choice. Sharon Stone already proved she can play the cold gunslinger in The Quick and the Dead, making her an ideal choice for Angel Eyes ("The Bad"). Finally, we'd need someone who can play comic relief to fill out the role of Tuco. ("the Ugly") Perhaps this time we could cast an actual Mexican in the role, someone like Salma Hayek.

The Magnificent Seven


This classic western has indeed been imitated far too many times to count, and it was itself a remake of Seven Samurai, so it's not like seeing it redone again would hurt. This time, of course, we'd have a team of female gunslingers from different backgrounds being pulled together to protect a Mexican town from a vicious outlaw and her gang of killers, although I would probably try to place some focus on the people other than Chris, Vin, and Chico (who I found were really the only ones who got any particular depth of character). We'd need a solid team of actresses to fill this role. I'm thinking we could have Sandra Bullock filling the shoes of Yul Brynner, with Angelina Jolie taking on Steve McQueen's drifter and Hailee Steinfeld as the young gunslinger trying to prove herself. Then for good measure, perhaps Kiera Knightley to take on the role of the vicious outlaw.



Sunday, 10 July 2016

Star Wars Canon in Relation to the Upcoming Films


The internet is full of talk related to the upcoming Star Wars spin-off Rogue One, the latest installment of what has become the third wave of Star Wars films; the first two of course being the classic trilogy beginning in 1977, and the prequel trilogy starting in 2001. In between waves, there has been a lot of Star Wars-related material in the form of the expanded universe. It is easy, for instance, to forget that George Lucas was also involved in several television productions between films. These included the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, The Ewok Adventure, Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, the Ewoks and Droids cartoon shows, and both Clone Wars animated series. Aside from the work of Lucas himself, there was an abundance of novels, video games, comics, and at least one TV series (Star Wars: Rebels) which have aimed to expand on the Star Wars universe.

One of the few negative reactions toward the release of The Force Awakens was that the expanded universe was no longer official canon. This would arguably have been a practical choice on the part of J.J. Abrams, as it allowed greater creative freedom, although it does present a very different account of what happened after the films.The various novels set after Return of the Jedi placed a heavy emphasis on the New Jedi Order formed by Luke Skywalker. Han and Leia have twins: Jacen and Jaina, who both grow up to become Jedi knights (though the former somehow becomes evil) alongside Chewbacca's son Lowbacca, and a few original characters, while Luke goes on to be romantically involved with an Imperial Defector named Mara Jade. There was also an invasion by a race of aliens known as the Yuuzhan Vong from another galaxy.


This is of course very different from what was shown in The Force Awakens, in which Han and Leia are only identified as having a son, Ben (in the expanded universe, Ben was the name of Luke's son). However, they never say if Ben was their only child, which leaves open the possibility that we may learn of others in later films. One possible outcome could be that Rey is their daughter, perhaps even Ben's twin if Abrams wanted to parallel the original trilogy.

More annoying is that the expanded universe generally contained favored heterosexual relationships. While there was often an extraordinary effort to improve representations of both women and non-caucasians compared to the classic and prequel trilogy, there is next to nothing when it comes to sexual diversity. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, among the countless books, video games, comics, spin-off shows, and other material with stories that offered a detailed history of the Star Wars Universe (which spans several thousand years both before and after Lucas's trilogies), there has been a grand total of one openly gay character: Juhani in Knights of the Old Republic.

Even then, her sexuality was mostly implied through innuendo and the romance she can engage in with a female player was generally ignored (for some stupid reason, it was decided that the "official" version of events was that Revan was a man who engaged in a heterosexual relationship). This is also very ironic given that BioWare had no problem depicting homosexual relationships in its later games, most famously the Mass Effect series which (at least in its later installments) offered both homosexual and heterosexual options for romance, leaving the player to determine Shepard's sexual orientation.


Of course, this is something that J.J. Abrams hopes to rectify. Already popular is the idea of Finn and Poe Dameron becoming a romantic couple. It's also not impossible that Rey could be a lesbian, seeing as she shows no sexual interest in any of the cast (her most intimate moment arguably being a hug from Leia at the film's end) and makes the very specific remark of "none of your business" in response to being asked if she has a boyfriend. Even more interestingly, while it was probably not the original intention of George Lucas, these developments have given room for speculation on the sexuality of Luke Skywalker himself.

While Mark Hamill has generally refrained from providing a clear answer (preferring that audiences draw their own conclusions), he does seem to have no trouble with the idea of Luke being gay or bisexual, and it is plausible within the canon. After all, Luke has virtually no romance in the original films. Leia is obviously intended to be his love interest in A New Hope, at least until it turns out in Return of the Jedi that she's his sister, at which point any sexual tension between them disappears.

There is a large number of characters for whom this same reasoning could be theoretically be applied, leaving a fairly large cast of people whose sexuality could retroactively be detailed. In fact, if one disregards the novels set after Return of the Jedi (which is no longer official canon anyway), then there are only four people across the entire saga who are explicitly straight: Anakin, Padme, Leia, and Han (although this does not automatically rule out the possibility that any of them could in fact be bisexual).

There was still a large assortment of other members of the cast for whom this approach could theoretically be used. For instance, it could theoretically be applied to almost any of the Jedi who appeared across the films (Anakin being the only exception, unless we're assuming he's really bisexual). Obi-Wan has no romantic entanglements over the course of the saga (although some expanded universe material alludes to prior affairs), so who's to say he can't be gay. Same arguably for Mace Windu or Yoda, or really any Jedi who appears across the prequel trilogy (the fact that the Order is supposed to avoid personal attachments arguably makes this even easier, as it has kept a lot of official material from detailing their sex lives).

This line of reasoning may not be as useful to the classic trilogy, although it could be applied to Luke. The other major role who for whom it could possibly work is Lando Calrissian. In fact, Lando may be even more likely. After all, we did see Luke briefly engaging in a romantic relationship (even if he had to break it off because he found out he was in love with his sister). The only clue to Lando's sexuality is a few off-hand remarks he directs toward Leia when she arrives at Cloud City. However, after this point, Lando shows virtually no sexual interest towards Leia, even working with her in Return of the Jedi as nothing more than a friend. Assuming Lando didn't admit outright to it, his remarks could be interpreted as mere products of his own repressed sexuality.


The other notable change is that, like in the expanded universe, Luke does attempt to rebuild the Jedi Order... except it gets destroyed all over again when Kylo Ren joins the First Order, with Luke and presumably anyone else who survived going into hiding, along with (presumably) anyone who survived Order 66. The New Republic, a crucial driving force in the expanded universe novels, is only shown briefly and quickly destroyed, leaving only the resistance to stand against the First Order (which itself is original to the film).

Of course, this is hardly to say the expanded universe was ever perfect. There were plenty of contradictions, errors, changes in characters, and other details that can be expected from so many writers being involved. When making the Clone Wars cartoon, there was a decision to introduce a new female character: Anakin's padawan Ahsoka Tano. While Tano may have worked as a strong character, her status as Anakin's student does contradict the events of Revenge of the Sith, in which not only was there no sign that this padawan existed, Anakin was explicitly refused a promotion to "master," which would make it seem unlikely that he could have had an apprentice between films.


Several video games were based on branching storylines. Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel (which both went on to become a huge influence on many later RPGs, such as Mass Effect and Fallout) were structured in a way that presented a different experience for different players. The game begins with the player customizing their protagonist, complete with the option to choose sex. The overall story was then designed so that it would be affected by the player's choices, which in turn determined whether they ended up on the light or dark side.

Doing the math, a game like Knights of the Old Republic would have at least four different endings, not to mention the details of the story may also vary depending on the players' choices at different stages of the game, such as the romances (which may not even appear at all). Yet, it was still found necessary to construct a "canon" version of events. Someone was apparently allowed t
o arbitrarily decide which version of the story was correct.

It was then chosen that Revan (the player character) was a light-sided male who was romantically involved with Bastilla, much to the frustration of anyone who played the game as a female Revan, turned to the dark side, and/or avoided the romances entirely (or opted for the homoerotic relationship with Juhani). In short, they took a game that was designed to present different experiences, and said that anyone who did it differently from them was wrong.

Another frequent problem is that sometimes multiple works depict the same events. Now this is not always an issue. The period between Episodes III and IV has been addressed in at least two different animated series: the short-lived cartoon Star Wars: Droids and, more recently, Rebels. Rebels is still considered canon, while Droids isn't officially part of the Star Wars timeline. The shows themselves are very different in structure, with Rebels focusing more directly on the fight against the Empire (though it is indirectly featured in a few episodes Droids, most notably towards the end when the Empire becomes a recurring antagonist).


The ambiguous status of Droids is strange as it may in fact be possible to connect it to Rebels if one examines the timeline. Assuming that the "official" explanation to reconcile the ending of Revenge of the Sith with the events of Droids prior to the redesigned canon (that Bail Organa lost the droids and later found them again) is correct, there is a very easy timeline that connects the story of Droids directly to the Rebels episode Droids in Distress. It goes something like this:


  • Revenge of the Sith- Bail Organa is entrusted with C-3PO and R2-D2.
  • At some point, something happens that results in R2 and C-3PO getting "lost." 
  • After losing Bail Organa, R2 and C-3PO end up in the hands of a smuggler, one who ditches them when they are forced to dump their cargo, thus starting the first episode of Droids.
  • the Droids cartoon happens, with R2 and C-3PO experiencing their various adventures. Towards the end, they have several run-ins with Imperial Forces
  • Sometime after the final episode of the cartoon, C-3PO and R2-D2 are captured for their role in thwarting the Empire during the events of Droids. C-3PO is reprogrammed for Imperial service.
  • This in turn sets up the Rebels episode Droids in Distress, in which Hera and her crew manage to rescue the two droids and return them to Bail Organa, which in turn allows them to be present at the beginning of A New Hope.
However, not every discrepancy can be resolved so easily. The upcoming spin-off Rogue One promises to show the theft of the Death Star plans between episodes III and IV. However, before Rogue One, there were at least nine different accounts of how it happened, many of which conflicted with one another. The Star Wars games X-Wing, Dark Forces, Battlefront II, Empire at War, Lethal Alliance, and The Force Unleashed all provide conflicting accounts of how the plans were actually stolen. Dark Forces claims it was the work of Kyle Katarn, while Lethal Alliance shows that his only role in the operation was hiring Twi'lek mercenary Rianna Saren (who was actually responsible for stealing the plans). Both those games treat it as a heist, while Battlefront II claims they were actually stolen during a prison break.


Understandably, this causes some confusion regarding what actually happened. The "official" explanation was that the various operations only recovered parts of the Death Star plans, and that the schematics depicted in A New Hope were formed by combining several different pieces. However, this explanation is hardly supported by any of the conflicting stories it is attempting to reconcile, most of which imply that each operative recovered all the blueprints rather than pieces of one. The production of Rogue One will arguably bring an end to this confusion, as it will present a definitive "official" version of what happened.


Now with the new movies, it is true that the expanded universe is no longer official canon, being labelled as "legends." This has the advantage that audiences can now be selective in determining what is canon. For instance, I can say that female Revan is 100% canon and nobody can stop me. No doubt that some attempts will still be made to reconcile old and new canon (such as the above-mentioned link between Droids and Rebels), especially now that the only "official" canon is made up of the seven movies, Rogue One, The Clone Wars, and Rebels, with everything else being open to interpretation.

This is not to say, of course, that there is anything wrong with the new timeline. The Force Awakens displays a very strong effort to fix the issues of representation displayed in the films produced by George Lucas (which are very much dominated by heterosexual white men; even in the prequel trilogy most of the women are either background or supporting roles). This is merely taking note of the ways in which things have changed over time.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Love, Friendship, and Incoherence


Okay, so what's our role in this film again?

A few of my friends decided to go see a movie, and we put it to a vote to see which one. We tried to find what was playing and came up with a list of several films. We quickly ruled out Warcraft and a few others, and somehow we ended up settling on Love and Friendship. It was something of an odd choice seeing as there was a grand total of one person in the group who seemed interested in seeing it. At that point, I didn't know much else beyond the title. Apparently it's based on an unpublished Jane Austin novel from early in her career.

Of course, I didn't know that until it was explained to me, seeing as I know very little of Austin's writing. While it is admirable that a woman managed to run a fairly successful writing career during the Victorian Era, her work never seemed that interesting to me, most if not all of it being made up of tragic romances set against the backdrop of Victorian aristocracy. Of course, I'm not here to criticize an author I've never read. I'm here to look at one particular film adaptation. Unfortunately, while it does make an attempt at an unusual structure and to avoid coming off as a film made to win Oscars, there are a few things to be said regarding its narrative, as I will explain below.

Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is an American "exile" who delights in manipulating everyone around her. This being set in the regency, she has developed skills in discreetly controlling others in her life in order to gain power. She also has a daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark) who she is purportedly caring for even though she's really interested in exploiting her. One day, they are visited by a bumbling aristocrat named Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), a well-intentioned idiot who wants to marry Frederica. She is reluctant to become engaged so quickly, so Susan begins trying to bring them together and later marries him herself. Some stuff happens, a few questionable remarks related to women are shared, and an assortment of relationships are formed and destroyed.

That was the extent of the plot I managed to draw from Love and Friendship. This brings me to the largest problem with the film: it makes no sense. While I can't speak for the five or six other people we shared the theater with, I can say that this impression was shared among my friends. We had an interesting discussion while leaving the theater, in which we found that none of us could agree on what the actual story was. There are a lot of people to keep track of, and as the film went on, we generally got totally lost and had trouble telling who was who. In fact, it was hard even to keep track of which people any of us meant to refer to when trying to make sense of the film's incoherent narrative.

To make matters worse, the relationships among the large cast proved integral to the narrative. That seemed like a very bad sign when none of us could even figure out what the relations were between everyone. There are several romantic sub-plots and family-related stories, only it is impossible to keep track of who is engaged with who. There is an especially confusing sub-plot in which a teenager is upset because her husband is apparently having an affair, only I couldn't figure out who was supposed to be the husband (talking to my friends after, he apparently remained entirely off-screen). Then of course there are sudden changes in character that make the timeline of events especially confusing.

The movie also proved to be confusing in terms of what it was. It felt like it was generally trying to be a period piece, only there were the really strange comedic moments that seemed to go against this (particularly whenever the over-the-top Lord James enters). Some of the audience was laughing, and it seemed confusing whether the film was trying to be funny or serious. Was this supposed to be a drama or a comedy? Whatever it was, I would say the dramatic and funny moments don't go very well together, and as amusing as Lord James could get, his strange personality was really out of place in the otherwise grounded environment.

Love and Friendship is one you can avoid at the theater. It remains nothing more than an incoherent mess which is impossible to follow. Unless you want to be totally confused, or spend the time afterward with your friends trying hopelessly to figure out what the actual plot of the movie is, it's not worth your time. After watching this movie, I found I came out not even understanding what the actual narrative was supposed to be. In fact, while we tried desperately to explain the relationships between the film's large cast we found that no one seemed to know (one admitted to have "given up the story entirely") what actually happened.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Modern Warfare and the Media




War has changed a lot over the years, and with it, so has its representations in the media. Media has long been used as a tool by which to promote views, both positive and negative, of the military and its involvement in various conflicts. As early as World War I, there were propaganda films encouraging men to join the army and go find glory in destroying the alleged German menace. World War II saw several different forms of propaganda films around the world. Hollywood's entry into the war resulted in not only a wide variety of feature films (most notably the combat film), but also serials (Why We Fight) and animated shorts from Walt Disney (An Education for Death), all of which aimed to provide incentive for the general public to enlist. On the opposite side, the Nazis produced a variety of their own propaganda films, most famously Triumph of the Will, which tried to promote their cause.

However, somewhere around Vietnam, things started to change. There were very few films made during the war, and only one true propaganda film (The Green Berets). Nearly every film that has been made afterwards has depicted Vietnam in a negative light, often drawing attention to the high casualties, miserable living conditions faced by American soldiers, and generally treating it as a futile war which the U.S. should never have entered to begin with. This pattern has continued, and while propaganda still exists, it mostly remains in advertisements. This has not, however, prevented the media from taking an interest in modern wars, and the ways in which war has changed as a result of new developments.

The subject of modern warfare has been tackled in a variety of films including, though not limited to, Jarhead, Black Hawk DownCourage Under Fire, G.I. JaneHome of the Brave, The Hurt LockerZero Dark Thirty, American Sniper, and Eye in the Sky. It has also been shown in several TV shows, such as Combat Hospital. Several video games have also taken an interest, such as the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare trilogy, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, and Operation: Flashpoint. The exact treatment of war and its accuracy varies across different stories, although most do try to avoid glamorizing it. Even Call of Duty likes to place an emphasis on the high casualties, sometimes going as far as to have the player be among them.


Accurately representing modern warfare has been another matter entirely. To the best of my knowledge, Paul Gross's Hyena Road remains one of the most accurate attempts to dramatize a modern conflict (unsurprising, as Gross himself actually visited Afghanistan and accompanied soldiers in the field). With other films, it is harder to say. When The Hurt Locker was released, it sparked a wave of controversy in terms of its depiction of EOD activities in Iraq. Some were quick to dismiss the film as unrealistic, usually pointing to the actions of its protagonist, while others claimed it was fairly true to real life.

On the other hand, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is not in fact an accurate representation. Although the game is called Modern Warfare, the series refrains from using any real conflicts; instead focusing on a non-existant Civil War in Russia that somehow escalates into a full-scale invasion of the United States at the start of Modern Warfare 3. In short, the narrative is structured in a manner more closely resembling World War II than any actual modern conflict. This in itself isn't surprising, seeing as Call of Duty started out focusing on various campaigns of World War II before trying something new with Modern Warfare and moving into science fiction with Black Ops and the upcoming Infinite Warfare.


There are a lot of details ignored in the games. One notable example is that real-life modern warfare hardly consists of the level of action featured in Call of Duty. Across all three games, the player is quickly thrown into a series of dangerous situations. Usually, they move from one battlefield to the next, taking out several enemies along the way and never getting much of a break. In reality, the actual situations of combat would be isolated moments, with large stretches of time in between. It's actually not that unusual now for some soldiers to go through an entire tour without ever once leaving their base.

If Call of Duty wanted to accurately represent modern warfare, most of the game would instead be focused on the player being stationed at an army camp and waiting for something to happen, receiving short missions once in a while, and then returning. It would be more reminiscent of Jarhead than Black Hawk Down. The former provides a solid illustration of the tediousness that often comes with modern warfare. Much of it involves basically waiting for something to happen. Swofford never gets his assignment, something surprisingly true of many soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Even when he starts to get anywhere near the action at the film's end, it's only a series of short moments in between long and tedious sessions at the camp.


In this sense, The Hurt Locker comes much closer to showing modern warfare realistically than Call of Duty. While the danger is always present, it isn't as straight forward as taking out the enemy. We see this in the tensions between the three protagonists James (Jeremy Renner), Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Eldridge (Brian Geraghty). The biggest threat in most of the film is the possibility of hidden bombs, rather than enemy soldiers that can be taken out. In fact, for much of the film, the "terrorists" remain unseen, only appearing when they are visible to James and his partners (and even then, the viewer is often denied a clear view of them).

There are very few scenes in which James has to deal with any enemies. In one notable instance, he and Sanborn have to outwit a sniper, though this is hardly the chaos one would see in Call of Duty. Instead of aiming and taking the shot, the film draws out the sniper duel, emphasizing the slow waiting that is required to make a precise hit. Only one shot is ever fired at a time, and they all occur in between drawn-out shots of Sanborn and James trying to aim the rifle.


Later in the same film, James is investigating a bombing at a gas station, and correctly deduces roughly where the insurgents responsible would have been operating from. In Call of Duty, this would have been a whole level, in which the player would be responsible for tracking down the terrorists. Instead, Sanborn and Eldridge rightly point out that chasing them is reckless and irresponsible, and James' attempt to do what could easily have happened in Call of Duty results in Eldridge being shot.

One of the biggest issues affecting media depicting modern warfare is representation, especially towards women. We are living in an era where women are becoming integrated into the military and becoming an active role, yet there are few stories that actually show women in the field. Hyena Road and Eye in the Sky remain exceptions to the rule, although the former is still male-dominated. According to Gross himself, he actually struggled to find a way to fit a female character into his film while being realistic (although it's legal, no women have yet managed to enter the Canadian sniper corps). He eventually resolved this by having a female base commander and having female officers appear in small supporting roles.


Meanwhile, the degree to which this has been present in other films has varied. American Sniper does show men and women working together, though the female soldiers depicted serve as nothing more than extras, with a lot of the film focusing on the all-male Navy SEAL team. Zero Dark Thirty also depicts an all-male team of Navy SEALs, though it addresses the issue by having a woman gather the intelligence that allows their mission to happen. G.I. Jane serves as a notable exception, as the plot hinges on a woman proving her worth as a U.S. Navy SEAL (something which was supposed to happen this year, still no word on that).

This is not even getting into the misogyny of films like Alien Outpost, a Battle: Los Angeles-esque invasion film which lacks even one actress playing so much as an extra. This is even though it is set in a near future where having female soldiers would make sense. There is no logical reason why this film had to be an all-male cast. If anything, given its subject matter, having a few female characters could have made it more effective. Even though the trailer's narration refers to "everyone" becoming a soldier, the director apparently could not be bothered to cast one woman in his film. Alien Outpost provides a perfect example of how bad this issue has gotten.


Battle: Los Angeles has a strange way of getting around this problem: it begins focusing on an all-male platoon of marines, before introducing Tech Sgt. Elena Santos part-way through. Even though the film quickly accepts her as one of the marines, it still insists on explaining that she is a stranded member of the Air Force who runs into them, rather than allowing her to be a marine from the start. Courage Under Fire also attempts to address the issue by having a female chopper pilot who takes action in the field... only to have her die before the film even begins and have the story instead focus on an all-male cast describing her actions.


Although it claims to be dealing with Modern Warfare, there is not one female soldier to be seen in those Call of Duty games, nor in Ghosts, even though in all of them it would make complete sense. This is especially ironic when one considers that they actually did have a female playable character, Tanya Pavelovna, in Call of Duty: Finest Hour, which takes place during World War II, and yet when they moved into a more modern setting it took twelve games before the developers even allowed the player to choose their character's sex in multiplayer mode, let alone feature female soldiers in the actual campaign.

Three games purporting to be on "modern warfare" and they couldn't so much as allow the player to choose their character's sex. This is also annoying as one easy way of fixing this problem would be to take advantage of the first-person interface and have the player be gender-neutral. It would be easy enough to do: the majority of player characters in Call of Duty are never seen and don't speak. Call of Duty; Modern Warfare almost manages to pull this off, too. Most of the game sees the player controlling a figure known as "Soap" MacTavish, whose face is never shown and whose voice is never heard.

Theoretically, one could play the entirety of Modern Warfare imagining Soap as a woman (and as it happens I did, even going as far as to try to share my vision in a short fanfiction)... if only they'd made a few small changes to the dialogue. All it would have taken to make the character gender-neutral would be to write the script to avoid any gender-specific pronouns. Furthermore, it would have done good if Soap hadn't been given a first name and a face in the later games, ruining whatever image a player of the first Modern Warfare may have come up with. To make matters worse, the later games appear to go out of their way to ensure the player understands their character is male, even though all it would take is an androgynous name and to write the script to avoid gender-specific pronouns.

It has become apparent that for all the efforts to depict modern warfare, the media still has a long way to go. It seems to be hard to find films that truly capture the changing nature of modern warfare: Hyena Road and The Hurt Locker being notable exceptions. We are failing to recognize the changing nature of the military. Would it really have hurt the developers of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare or Operation Flashpoint to show female soldiers, or for the developers of Medal of Honor: Warfighter to allow players to choose the sex of their characters? Would it really have hurt the director of Alien Outpost to cast a woman in one of the leading roles? These all seem like questions worth addressing. If the media is going to try to show modern warfare, than they should start to do it right.