Ooh, a few things to catch up on, here. So! To business! If you haven’t seen me posting about these things elsewhere:
Thing the first: Captain America!
I saw it! It was great! And I wrote about it for Film4, thusly:
It’s true that it doesn’t aspire to be anything particularly weighty or original – but at what it sets out to do, it rarely puts a foot wrong. Director Joe Johnston, in full-on Rocketeer mode, crafts a charming and entertaining period action romp that may never exactly hit an unpredictable beat, but is no less enjoyable for it.
Miles better than Green Lantern, not quite as good as X-Men: First Class, but about on a level with Thor. Splendid.
Thing the second: New podcast!
My regular collaborator/partner in crime/argument board James Hunt and I have launched a new comics podcast, via our website Alternate Cover. It’s called The Graphic Novel Book Club, and it does exactly what it sounds like – each month, we solicit comments from our readers/listeners on a different graphic novel or trade paperback collection, setting discussion topic questions but also looking for any opinions/insights/etc. that people might have – then we throw them into the mix with our own thoughts and sit there chatting about it all for three-quarters of an hour. The first episode is now live on Podomatic and iTunes, and we’ve already posted discussion topics for the second, which we’ll be recording in a couple of weeks. Have a listen! Some people say it’s listenable and entertaining even if you don’t know the comics we’re talking about. I couldn’t possibly comment.
(And yes, it does have a slightly tautological name. “The Graphic Novel Club” might have been better, but then it wouldn’t have been as clear that we were specifically using a book group/book club format. It would have just sounded like a club.)
Thing the third: When Saturday Comes #295!
I’ve written at unnecessarily gushing length in the past about how much of an honour it is to write for When Saturday Comes, so I won’t retread all that ground again. But! This month is quite special, because for years now I’ve read their annual season preview supplement – in which one writer for each club in the league answers questions about their opinions on the previous season and expectations for the coming one – and thought about what I’d say if I were doing the section on Liverpool. So it’s quite exciting that this year, those answers are actually in the real supplement. I actually did a little double-take when I got the email asking if I’d do it. No, really.
What’s more, in the issue itself, an article I did a little while back about the history and merits (or lack thereof) of the away goals rule has made it to print. It’s not quite as exciting a piece as I was hoping when I started it – I was hoping to go into more extensive details about the circumstances of the rule’s creation/introduction, but discovered surprisingly little readily-available information despite doing some extensive library-based research and everything – but it’s still a relatively fun skim over the rule’s history and musing on whether or not it’s still a valid method of settling draws nowadays. Er, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Anyway, the issue’s out in shops on Wednesday – I’d post a picture of the cover, but WSC haven’t put it on their website yet. But it’s issue #295, it costs £3.50, and it’s got Stewart Downing, Phil Jones and Jordan Henderson on the front. So, you know. Buy it, if you like.
It’s only been up for a week and a half, that’s not too late to get around to doing it here, is it? Well, this thing’s intended more as an archive for my own benefit anyway, so. I saw Green Lantern. I like Green Lantern comics. I wanted to like the film. Did I like the film?
What follows is an uninspired superhero origin story that trots out all the predictable story beats of the genre without ever adding anything new or inspired. All the good promise of both the concept and some excellent effects sequences is lost in a script that is determined to plod its hero from A (reckless responsibility-phobe) to B (world-saving hero) without ever developing or exploring his personality along the way.
So that’s a big fat “no”, then. The rest’s over at Film4.
It’s been quite a film-y sort of time recently. I’ve managed to wangle my way into a number of screenings for free – some just because I’m great, but others because I actually have to – cuh – review the things. Anyway, while you don’t get to see my detailed thoughts on Pirates 4 (bit crap) and Attack the Block (bit excellent), I now have reviews up of what are likely to be two of the best films I see this year: X-Men: First Class over at Film4, and Senna on Den of Geek. I also did a fluffy tie-in piece for X-Men at Den of Geek (in a confusing bit of crossover since it wasn’t DoG I reviewed it for, but), looking at five other superhero properties that would make great “period piece” films – one for each decade from the ’30s through to the ’70s. Meanwhile, I also interviewed (well, co-interviewed) the director of Senna recently, but was a bit slow in getting the piece over to the DoG folk, so that probably won’t be up there until early next week. Have a look, though, it’s interesting stuff.
And also, although it was a few weeks ago, I’m quite pleased with my main contribution to the Doctor Who review canon this year (we’ll ignore my sloppy, far-too-short and unfocused review of “Day of the Moon”) – I’ve been waiting a long, long time for Neil Gaiman to write an episode of the show, so there’s a good reason why my write-up of “The Doctor’s Wife” is somewhat long and rambling. But I think I hit upon a nice theme with it, and that it’s a good piece all in all, so… yeah.
Firstly! There’s another issue of the fine and august publication When Saturday Comes out with something by me in it. Just a little something, mind – a sidebar piece for the regular “Screen Test” feature, in which old football-related VHSes are dusted off and written about. What did I review? Well, you’ll have to buy the magazine to find out, innit. But it’s something I used to own about twenty years ago, then recently remembered about, and thought “Hey, I should buy that off eBay and then write about it for WSC, shouldn’t I?” So I did. The cover looks uncannily like that picture on the left, and you can find out more about what’s in the issue here.
Secondly, last week I went to see the first of this year’s barrage of superhero movies, Thor, and then reviewed it for Film 4. And here that is. I didn’t make a single joke about how the lead character’s name sounds like someone with a lisp saying “sore”. I think that shows remarkable restraint and maturity.
It’s an oft-stated truism that there aren’t enough “strong female characters” in movies. But it’s also a truism that whenever people do decide to put together a list of “strong female characters” from movies, they tend to zoom in on one particular word – and one particular interpretation of that word – and focus on discussing characters who are, literally, physically “strong”. Look up any list of the best female characters in film, and you’ll usually be presented with a list that is largely made up of (with the exception of perennial favourites Holly Golightly and Annie Hall) ass-kicking action heroines such as Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley, The Bride, Trinity, assorted Milla Jovovich characters, and so on.
Some of these deserve their places on these lists (I’ll fight anyone who dares argue that Ripley, in the second film especially, isn’t the greatest action movie heroine of all time), and some probably don’t (hello Lara Croft). But I’ve also noticed a name that these lists don’t often tend to include – Fargo‘s Marge Gunderson. This despite the fact that she is, for my money, one of the best female characters in movie history. So in honour of International Women’s Day, and inspired in part by this latest from Kate Beaton showing up this morning, here’s a little bit about why.
Marge is the emotional centre of Fargo, a dark and violent black comedy about nasty and/or misguided people doing nasty things to one-another. She’s intelligent (showing a Holmesian display of deductive reasoning when first visiting the initial crime scene), kind, empathetic, insightful, funny, and satisfied with her lot – enjoying her work and a healthy and loving relationship with her husband that, while it doesn’t necessarily subvert traditional gender roles, certainly blurs them (their memorable introductory appearance is a flip on the classic “sleepy cop answers phone in middle of night” routine, as Marge takes the call while Norm trundles out of bed to make her some eggs).
Quite crucially, however, part of what makes Marge so great is the fact that she’s a woman. A problem with so many female characters considered as “strong” is that in order to be so, they’ve often had to make themselves become more like a man (Sarah Connor syndrome, if you like), taking on physical and/or emotional characteristics that enable them to play the same role as a traditional male hero. But in Fargo, although Marge is not averse to kicking ass and taking names – remember that she single-handedly brings down the brutal murderer Grimsrud with a well-placed gunshot – it’s her gender that sets her apart from everyone else in the film.
Fargo is all about the failures and incompetencies of men – men who succumb to rapacious lusts and desires (primarily for money, but let’s not forget the significance of the somewhat grim sequence in which the two kidnappers enjoy the services of a pair of bored prostitutes) – but at the centre of it all is Marge, the only truly competent person either on the side of the good or the bad. All around her are men acting or being stupid – Jerry, Carl and Graer, Lou (“I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work, there, Lou”), even her old high-school classmate Mike – and she just calmly gets on with doing the right thing, the right way.
In addition to the powers of deduction that make her such a great cop, Marge’s intelligence is emotional, as well. Throughout the film, she instinctively knows how to approach characters in exactly the right way – taking different tones and approaches to the extent that she never comes off the worst out of a conversation (or an interrogation). Not that there ever seems to be anything planned or cynical about this – it’s just the way she is. And if I can say this without it sounding patronising, a huge part of this is undoubtedly the fact that she’s a woman (and an expectant mother, at that), making her empathy seem all that more natural.
In this manner, Marge “kicks ass” in a far greater way than any literal instance of high-kicking or smart-mouthed sassy quips from a hundred “empowered” (yet still strangely over-sexualized) cinematic peers. And she even finds time to be the film’s philosopher, as demonstrated by this really quite profound (and spoilerfic, obviously) sequence towards the end. A superb creation in both writing and performance (the film rightly won Academy Awards for both elements – the role being the finest and most nuanced moment in the particularly exceptional career of Frances McDormand, one of the best screen actors – male or female – of the last fifty years), she may not have the complex intrigue of Annie Hall, or the sheer bloody-minded determination and will of Ripley, but Marge Gunderson is still undoubtedly one of cinema’s greatest ever women.
“Hautman’s blue-winged teal got the 29-cent. People don’t much use the three-cent.”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake. Of course they do. Whenever they raise the postage, people need the little stamps.”