Movie Review: Brave

While all around me went *squee* upon first hearing about this Pixar/Disney film set in Scotland with a feisty redheaded lead, I just sat back and waited. I try not to get my hopes up when it comes to movies with either strong female characters or set in Gaelic culture, let alone both. But all the hype had a certain charm.

There seem to be many feminists who take it to task for two things, often both. One the “why does the heroine have to be a princess?”  Of course, marketing is the answer, and culture programs the populace for certain marketing codes to work. And in our society “princess” is a strong marketing tool when aiming at young girls. Of course, Disney is largely responsible for the programming to begin with.

I have no problem with it though, largely because if you’re going to subvert a concept you need to use the concept, and this does twist the concept quite impressively. In fact, even more than I had hoped. Certainly the concept of rebelling against social norms and gender expectations could be done in a story of a young peasant girl, these issues certainly bridged all classes, unfortunately. However, “princess” does sell and it allowed for certain story devices which would have been much different otherwise. We’ll get to the peasant girls’ stories at some point. (and I’m not talking the peasant girl who becomes a princess standard).  In fact, we have that this year as well in The Hunger Games.

This actually brings us to a second complaint I have seen made by other feminists: Why in order to be seen as strong must female characters have to just be rebelling against societal expectations of women?  To me this the answer is pretty self-evident ….because we do have to! Still, today.  So why should we have a story set in Medieval Scotland where it’s not a problem. I’ve already discussed my belief that pretending that we had equality in the past that we, in fact, did not have such equality doesn’t really do anything to move us forward.  I do believe that as girls growing up today are still getting horrible messages about their role in life, it helps for them to have heroines who actively fight such convention. This is not to say it doesn’t also help to have role models who live in worlds where such conventions do not exist, but I do not believe we can set those in a past which, in fact, very much did. Again, this year we got another young archer (don’t you wish you owned an archery shop right now?) who lived in such a world in The Hunger Games.

One of the things we need, in general, are more stories with strong young female warriors, that way all these issues can get covered. And stories with more strong female characters in them. But we can’t complain when sometimes these things don’t happen in all movies because we’ll always find it falling short somewhere.

I think the important part is while we have a princess, she’s not pining for her prince to come, in fact, that is exactly what she doesn’t want to happen. When the princes to come-a-courting, none are anything to pine for (although one thinks he is and we’ll come back to an issue with him and his father). But while the depiction adds humor, perhaps having one truly dashing who she still didn’t want would have worked just a bit better for me. She wants her own freedom, she challenges for her own hand.

But the real story isn’t about romance or denying romance, but rather on subversion of another Disney Princess story trope…the Mommy Issues. There is no Wicked Stepmother who must be thwarted here, there is a loving mother who is suffering in her own ways over the battle with her willful daughter. This isn’t about a family torn asunder by the death of the loving parents, but rather by the issues at hand. And this is a story about healing those tears. With literal use of symbolism of it. I see this as a rather touching subversion.

And this too is another reason I see the rebelling against convention aspect important. Because this isn’t just about giving a role model to girls but also I believe it speaks to parents. Because today many are still pushing unhealthy gender conventions. Conventions which are neither good for the future women girls are becoming but also often get in the way of them being the daughters they should be with the kind of parents they need.

Merida with her horse Angus from Brave

I have a couple of quibbles. Okay, there could probably be more, as any movie set in a culture I care about but really the ones that stuck out were the woad and the horse. I think I already say enough about The Problem of the Woad already, but I have to say here, whether you believe it was ever used or not, it’s just an annoying anachronistic Scottish trope now (thank you Mel Gibson).

Okay, so the horse, Angus, was cute. And I realize that Clydesdales are the most recognizable Scottish horse now. But it’s a very modern breed, as Clydesdale originates only to the early 1800s. Yes, that source claims that they derived from knights’ chargers, as this is a common myth that the film and so many others take to heart. The problem it, it’s not remotely true.

“As for the large draft breeds. Most people who read this will know that the Belgians, Shires, Percherons and other really large draft breeds were bred as beasts of burden and not to be knight’s great horses, but I’ll repeat that fact anyway. The Great Horse of the middle ages was not a draft animal. Heavy draft horses are not intended to run fast, or carry big men in armor. They are bred to be steady and pull heavy objects such as a plow through thick clay to turn a field, or heavy dray wagons. They have a plodding gait and simply are not fast enough.”  Medieval Horse Guild

The draft horse is derived from the Medieval rouncey type horse, the farm horse owned by farmers not nobles. A fine animal, smaller at that time (likely much like current draft ponies than the big guys) but not a charger. The charger was usually a clean legged horse, such as Andalusians, as can be seen in the art of the period. The exception is the feather-legged Friesian which is not a draft type at all despite the hairy feet. And there were a lot of different horses in Medieval Europe, including Scotland, most likely the type of horse ridden by Angus would have been different than he would have provided for Merida. Yes, Angus is cute. But so are Highland Ponies (which are, actually, probably also mostly from the rouncey) and the Icelandic which was possibly a very popular type throughout much of Europe before the gaited horse lost favor (and despite the link above, is actually the classic palfrey type). Or a fine charger if we wanted the horse to show her rebelling by riding one not deemed proper for a lady as a palfrey would have been (although “palfrey” does not mean “slow” or “unspirited”).

So yeah, I went off on a tangent that most probably see as trivial because horses are kind of a big deal for me and I’m often annoyed. I managed to avoid going into it too much in the Centurion review because there was so many other things to complain about.

On the other hand, the hounds delighted me. I also loved seeing the Pictish stones this time around, as much as they annoyed me in Centurion. That is about anachronisms too, they wouldn’t have existed in the time period of that movie, while some would have dotted the landscape in Merida’s time (although others would already have been buried from sight). It just seemed touching to me.

The modern, but cute, draft horses and woaded MacIntoshes aside, I utterly loved this movie and if I had a daughter would be thrilled if she loved it. I think there’s some reminders here for those who are raising daughters about control and conventions that still exist, as well. And it’s fun, which is an important bit if it’s going to convey all the lessons it strives to.

And, yeah, I really kinda wish I owned an archery shop right now. I hear there’s a sales boom going on.

 copyright © Saigh Kym Lambert

Movie Review: Centurion

I’ve avoided watching this movie for a year and a half, after nearly seeing in the theater with the director Neil Marshall and one of the actresses, his wife Axelle Carolyn. I did see their panel at the Chicago 2010 ComicCon the next day. I admit some bias against the film, which makes me sad as I like some of Marshall’s work. Yes, I am actually a fan of the generally loathed film Doomsday, I very much like The Decent and Dog Soldiers is not the worse werewolf movie ever, although I’d have hoped for more from a werewolf movie set in Scotland. While I know not to expect much from werewolf movies, I have learned to expect far less from movies about the “Picts.”

You’d think, of course, that a movie with painted up female Pictish warriors would be right up my alley, but this couldn’t be more wrong in my book. Of course, while I do love the idea of women warriors among Celtic people and I do think that they can be done in fiction, I think much care needs to be used in how it is done. We need to balance out the foolish fantasies of it being a usual thing and look as to where and how such women might have been found.

There were other issues I could see before seeing this movie, and seeing it doesn’t help. One is the woad thing, I stand by my belief that this is a fiction, but I also understand it’s a long standing one and people won’t give it up easily. This goes with the “limed hair” or at least with what that would mean. I do hope that some people out there realize that lime is extremely caustic and no one would use it to “gel” their hair, it would quickly remove the hair and tanners actually use lime precisely for that. The reference (para. 28) to the Gauls doing so seems to refer to the damage done just by using lime water, briefly, to wash the hair, much the same as lye soap can do. It certainly wouldn’t have looked like a pile of bird poo on top of the unbleached hair. This movie takes the cake in the stupidest depiction of “limed hair.” And ickiest.

And dreadlocks. Now, I’m going to say that Carolyn and Olga Kurylenko look very cool, in a punk warrior woman sort of way, they might have looked great in, say, Doomsday, and Kurylenko especially seems to be a popular avatar on my FB flist. ButOlga Kurylenko it’s hardly accurate of the “Picts.” The Celtic people (and I do believe they were Celtic speaking, but of a P-Celtic not the modern Gaelic they are depicted as speaking in this movie) of what is now Scotland would have been contemporary to other Celtic people. Which would mean textiles, stunning metal work and all. In fact, we know they had quite a good bit of nice metal work. They probably were also extremely into good grooming, as it does seem to have been a big thing for the Celtic people overall, and likely never would have had dreadlocks. Later periods certainly showed such concerns in the stone work, just check out the curls on the first “king” here (yes, this is at least 9th century, but I just love the hair on this).

Speaking of time periods, put “Picts” in quotes because these would not likely been known as Picts because the event this story, if it happened which it didn’t, would have happened in 117 ce (and therefore why do the call the governor Julius Agricola who died in 98 ce, having been recalled from Britain before that) and the term “Pict” was not recorded prior to 297 ce. Before that they probably were known by tribal names.

But “tribe” should not make one think “savage” as the depiction here shows, they were a sophisticated people. We have them shown as stereotypical savage and that’s the role they’re used for. They are politically correct “Savage Indians” apparently; after all, no one can really claim to be of a living Pictish culture (well, aside from Robbie, I suppose) to complain. That Marshall has actually admitted this much in mind boggling, but he seems quite proud of it. That an actor who played a “Pict” in the movie, one who loves all things Pictish too (which makes me question how he can defend this movie beyond “I needed a paycheck”) , said to me on FB that the Picts were “just like your Native Americans” I suppose brings up it up on the “Noble Savage” angle, which is just as stereotypical and insulting an image for both Native Americans and the memory of the Picts. (and while I might hold out a bit for the Noble Savage myself, I see it in the Outlaw Warrior bands, not the society …and I admit, nobility might have been rare)

Of course, as the “Picts” are the “bad Indians” here, the Roman main character (Michael Fassbender) is the “Good Cowboy.” Like the old Westerns, I find it hard to cheer for said fucking cowboy. The Romans were invaders, perpetrators of genocide, I do not consider anything about their occupation of Britain as noble or good. If the 9th Legion had been slaughtered, which they weren’t then I’d consider it a good thing. (Actually, this is thought never to have happened, instead they were transferred to Germany.) But we’re supposed to be cheering for the Roman protagonist here. Really?

All this was stuff I could have written before seeing the movie. So, how was the movie?

Boring. I have to say just plain boring, other than how annoyingly stupid it was. I was surprised by this, I had expected a lot of action and to say “at least it was a usual Marshal romp of activity.” But it wasn’t. And I don’t think it was just because I could not sympathize with the Romans, it was just horribly paced and lacked any real action. Even the usual Marshall Gorn wasn’t there. Seriously, you had people hacking other people up, the mighty heroic Romans even having to look away at one point, and …meh. Not remotely gory. Seriously? I don’t think I was the only one who had trouble staying awake, I think everyone who made it must have slept through the film.

I’d be interAxelle Carolyn and a horse that had no choice about being in this movieested in seeing how someone involved in Roman interests would view the actions of the Romans. I thought they seemed outstandingly stupid. The entire chase was both boring and boggling as I wondered why the hell they weren’t caught in the very beginning or just found frozen to death when the all sleep out in the wind. Supposedly Etain (Kurylenko) is this super badass tracker, the “Picts” are on horseback, the Romans acting like idiots yet they continue to stay ahead. Seriously, the movie shouldn’t have lasted so long. *yawn*

Oh, speaking of “on horseback” do I even need to mention that the horse types were wrong, which at this point can almost be forgiven as they usually are, and the saddles are way wrong which really can’t be forgiven. We know exactly what Roman saddles were like and what ever the “Picts” might have ridden in I can guarantee you did not have fucking stirrups. I am so sick of seeing anachronistic stirrups. And, as in most movies, few of the riders could actually ride, so it’s good the horses were way over sized or they’d have been unhappy with all that bouncing about.

Just to add a bit more to seriously hate about this movie, we go into the Big Bad Wolf trope, where wolves are shown to be man-eaters. Which people with an IQ above a turnip should know they are not. This is, sadly making a comeback, I guess we should expect it to come with more “Savage Indian” examples in the future. It’s all cool, irrational hate is apparently the in thing.

We of course also have the Helpful Indian Maiden (Imogen Poots) who is nearly a Magical Native American, or rather Pict, except she’s only accused of practicing witchcraft. True to form, she and the Good Cowboy “have feelings.”

So, what about those women warriors? Again, they looked sort of cool. In stills. Sadly, neither was convincing when the action came about, but they, and their stunt doubles, may just have been asleep. The fight scene with Kurylenko was just horrible and unrealistic even from my view point (remember, I liked Doomsday),because she just wasn’t moving they way it seemed she was supposed to. Neither she nor Carolyn appeared comfortable in their bodies. Perhaps this is linked, at least for Carolyn, in her apparent belief that women and men are physically so different that they can’t fight the same, a belief she expressed at the ComicCon panel. This was a sad set back from a director who gave us Rhona Mitra and Lee-Anne Liebenberg, both strong women who know how to move, in Doomsday. While I sometimes see potential for actresses to do better action roles when stuck in such a dismal movie, neither Carolyn nor Kurylenko would be names that would make me have much hope for a good warrior film. They seemed totally out of their element. The assumptions around them seemed to be that it was normal, there seemed to be a few other female “Picts” (hard to tell on my small screen).

Kurylenko’s Etain had a Rape and Revenge backstory while Carolyn’s Aeron seemed to “just be there” (in more ways than one, as, again, she just seemed to be sleep walking through the action). Mind you, I love the idea of multiple female warriors in a movie and I’ve been thinking about writing something on the need for varying reasons for a woman to become a warrior to be included in a single movie. The problem here, however, is that while it’s a popular fantasy, there is no evidence that female warriors were considered normal in any early Celtic culture, including those of what is now Scotland. I believe they existed, I could happily watch a well done movie with them (please, someone make one!) but there would need to make some point of why they might exist in such a culture.

I should note, however, none of the male-on-male fight scenes were really any better than the women fighting. Considering the plot, there wasn’t a lot of action in the action in the movie. Did I mention everyone seems to be only half there in this thing?

Of course, much of the dialogue may have been lost on me. Few of the actors could enunciate clearly when speaking “Latin” (English) and even if I could normally follow spoken Gaelic (I can read a little, slowly) I doubt that was spoken any better (I’d be interested in knowing what someone who can normally follow it thought…of course, Gaelic would not have been the form spoken, it would likely have been closer to Welsh as a modern variation). The subtitles were almost totally unreadable on my small screen, apparently no one cared if people might want to watch this at home. Perhaps they realized no one would really want to watch this.

Over all, this movie was bad. Not just for all the reasons I knew it wasn’t going to be good, but really just bad. The few things that could have been good just were poorly done and the whole thing seems to just be an exercise in bringing back racist movie tropes in new packaging in hopes no one will complain. And one that seems to have been halfhearted considering that everyone seems to sleep walk through the whole thing.

ETA: I think I actually blocked this from my brain. The symbol stones they showed. Um, why did they look as worn down or even more worn down than many look today? Considering they don’t date any earlier than the 5th century ce, and some consider that a romantically early dating (that’s 4 hundred years later than the movie takes place). I’m sure if they had them then, they wouldn’t have used them to chain up prisoners.

ETA2: I also forgot to bitch about the lack of fortifications in the Pictish settlement. This of course made it nice and easy for the Romans to sneak in, but, no never would have happened. There would have been walls and guards and all that stuff that people do when attacks could happen at any time.

Copyright © 2012 Kym Lambert

Doomsday and my new girlfriend

We watched Doomsday today. I went into it expecting to hate it, due to many reviews. Now, normally, I don’t pay much attention to reviews, but these included those whose opinions I do often agree on and many women who like strong female characters and those who love post-Apocalyptic movies. And they all hated it.

Okay, one thing pegged right is that it is unoriginal. But I always laugh at anyone expecting originality…seriously, there is no such thing. Not since the written word. Nothing has been original since long before writing, it’s just a matter of story telling. I suppose what is meant is “I don’t like the way this story teller tells this same old story.” Fair enough….but I do wish people would stop using “unoriginal” in reviews. It’s pointless.

Sorry…it’s a pet peeve.

This is a self-admitted homage movie to begin with. So “originality” is even more of a non-issue. Yes, LOT’S of Escape from New York/LA in this…but I can totally live with the idea of a female Snake Pliskin. Yup, Mad Max is there. Personally, I do NOT get the references made to Resident Evil, other than it being a fairly recent strong female role offering, or, especially, 28 Days Later, other than a virus (but in this doesn’t create “zombification” only death and all violence from the infected is response to the government and military treatment they get. Oh, perhaps anything about any disaster taking place in Britain has to be related to 28 Days Later? I don’t get it…but maybe it was one of the movies Neil Marshall (writer/director, also of Dog Soldiers and Descent both of which had initially made me hopeful about this one) intended to homage…but I don’t see it. Sorry.

Anyway. Of course, why I love it the most is all about Rhona Mitra as Major Eden Sinclair. She is a wonderful female action actress, having both acting chops and a great physique. She not only is muscular, with good arms but a totally enviable back, but is able to move and carry herself like an action hera. Her character has grit, something she’s shown before (the physique I can’t remember seeing, although I do know she did Lara Croft appearances, well, I doubt she needed it for that either actually…just the breast implants which, honestly makes me sad that she felt she had to do).

I also loved seeing Malcolm McDowell as a megalomaniac who takes over a castle and makes himself out to be a medieval king. I just know so many who would would do this if trapped in a disease ravaged Scotland. And, well, it’s just such cheesily good role for him.

As an aside, I had a personal laugh from the Mad Max styled cannibalistic Marauders in Glasgow, when the leader, Sol (Craig Conway) is up on stage. Some time ago I wrote in a survivalist group meaning to say “fighting off desperate reavers” and left out the first “e” …making it “fighting off desperate ravers.” This led to many jokes about being bombarded with glow sticks and the like. But HERE was the reality…we do have to fear the ravers! At least when they get a taste for human flesh. Okay, not as funny to anyone else…but I must laugh for years over bad typos I make.

I don’t know, I also found the idea of England locking off Scotland the way they did somehow pointed. And I like anything that shows corrupt government types. (and yes, I can see some Land of the Dead…but not the zombie movies usually mentioned…well, I guess there is the locking up Raccoon City in Resident Evil but not as much due to some of the general way it was done).

Oh, big personal pet peeve. Yes, as a female Snake Pliskin, Sinclair does have only one eye, her left. She removes and uses her artificial eye, which also serves as a camera, to see around corners and such. So, she’s not got it in when she’s running round with a gun..including with longarms. Uh, and there she is with in held right-eyed. Why the fuck can’t anyone in the movie and TV world figure out that people actually can fucking shoot from their left side! This pisses me off! There is no fucking reason for this. Some people with two eyes are left-eyed (you probably aren’t surprised that I am…hence my annoyance about this) so certainly someone who ONLY has a left eye should shoot from the left! With handguns it doesn’t matter, with longarms it DOES. (btw, yes, this includes the makers of LOST…there’s even an LOLOST type screen cap of Mikhail with the rifle lined up to his non-existent eye *sob*)

No, this is not a great movie. But it’s enjoyable to watch if you truly love the genre and strong women…at least Aaron and I found it so. It may be too much of a cult homage to ever have a cult following itself. But Mitra really will should she get the right roles.

Because ultimately, it’s Mitra who will get me to buy this movie to add to my “woman warrior” line up…although I’ll likely wait until I find it real cheap (which I just tend to do). She seriously has to continue playing action roles, we need this! We need someone like this doing action. And this makes me so sad that this movie was so panned and flopped, that even genre fans talked other genre fans out of it (and, honestly I’m really disappointed in some writers that they didn’t indicate being impressed by her, because she’s worth raving about! FUCK!). Because I seriously want this woman to get these kinds of roles, preferably in really well done genre movies.

Mitra is totally my top vote for who should have been cast in a (far better written, of course) Sarah Connor TV series. She’s got it all. The only problem I might see is that she does bear some facial resemblance to Linda Hamilton, not a lot, but enough that it might be seen as her being too much like her. But the real thing is that she’s got both the physique AND the grit.

I am totally in love.

(Cross-posted in all my blogs Women of Strength LJ and all Sarah Connor Charm School fora.)

Copyright © 2008 Kym Lambert