A Movie For The Rest of Us

The other day, for reasons having more to do with a desire to get out of town than anything else, I found myself watching Bad Moms at the Rialto Theatre in Lancaster, New Hampshire.  And I am here to tell you that this is a movie that is far better than it needed to be.  (My expectations going in were low, mostly because it was billed as coming from the team that gave us the – in my opinion – entirely unnecessary bro-comedy The Hangover.)

The second screen at the Rialto used to be the storefront next door, until the theatre acquired it and retrofitted it with a screen and modern theatre seating for about 45 people – a much smaller venue than the main theatre (which has old-school seats that date from the Fifties, or possibly even the Thirties, and also has the largest screen north of Franconia Notch), but a cozy one.  When I was there, the house was sold out, and the theatre operator said afterward that it had been selling out every night.

Counting my husband/co-author, I think there were three male persons in the audience.  The rest of us were female, with all age ranges represented (somewhere, the Triple Goddess must have been laughing with delight), arriving not just as singletons, but in whole gaggles.

And make no mistake – we, and not the guys, were the film’s target audience.

If most movie critics are dissing this movie . . . well, I think it’s pretty fair to say that they are not this film’s target audience.  After all, it doesn’t serve any of their usual purposes: There’s none of the explosions-and-excitement of an action flick; it doesn’t get you seriousness-and-sensitivity points like the cinematic equivalent of a literary novel; and it’s definitely not most guys’ idea of a date movie.

Bad Moms is, in fact, the distaff equivalent of a bro-flick (sis-flick? maybe.)  If the narrative arc of your typical bro-flick involves one last wild irresponsible fling before settling down into respectable-but-boring adulthood, the narrative arc of a sis-flick would appear to feature a breakout from respectable adulthood into a wild irresponsible fling.

(This trope is older than you’d think.  In the 1700s, the lord’s wife ran off with the raggle-taggle gypsies,O,  and if in some of the earliest versions she and the gypsies all met a bad end, it wasn’t long before the story took on a more cheerful configuration.)

What makes Bad Moms more than just a funny movie, though, is the hard truth at its core:  The modern world does its best to set moms up to fail.  It’s not acceptable for a mother to be adequate at the job, getting the maternal equivalent of a “gentleman’s C” if at the end of the day the kids are fed, washed, healthy, and out of jail; it’s not even enough to finish with a solid B+.  In the school of modern motherhood, it’s straight A’s or nothing.

Obligatory writing reference:  The funniest humor almost always has a piece of hard truth at its heart.  That’s what gives the humor its weight and striking power, like a snowball with a rock in the middle.

Bad Moms knows a true thing about modern motherhood, and calls it out for the rigged game that it is – and that is why all us moms at the Rialto laughed out loud and kept on laughing.

So We Saw the New Ghostbusters Today

Short verdict: Haters to the rear. It’s a good movie.

It’s not just a good movie, it’s a good genderflip AU, in that it doesn’t just paste the guys’ names and roles onto some female bodies actors and call it a day, it actually asks itself things like, “If this basic character type had been born, raised, and socialized female, what would she be like?” and “What sort of public reception would these people doing these things get if they were four women and not four men?”

So the Venkman character as played by Melissa McCarthy is not the at-least-50%-charlatan that Bill Murray’s version was; and the four ghostbusters, instead of getting citywide acclaim after their initial successes, are treated in the media (with the connivance of City Hall and Homeland Security) as being either frauds or delusional or both.

An all-male remake would have just been putting a new coat of paint onto the chassis of an old classic; by going with a true genderflipped version, the creative minds involved managed to take their inspiration from the old classic and use it to say some new things. And the haters were right to be scared of it, because – in its lightshow-with-explosions kind of way – it’s pointing a mocking finger at the very sort of male privilege that they’re so obnoxiously, and anxiously, defending.

So yeah, go see it. And stay through the credits.

Sometimes I Go to the Movies

Yes, I did see the new Star Wars movie, and yes, I liked it.  But I’d like to take a moment to talk about the other movie I saw recently, which didn’t get nearly as much media attention:  In the Heart of the Sea.  Jim Macdonald and I made a six-hour round trip (not counting the movie itself and a dinner afterward) down to Hanover NH and back in order to see it,  because it wasn’t showing anywhere closer and probably wasn’t ever going to be.  A based-on-a-nonfiction-book film about the fate of the whaleship Essex isn’t going to pull big audiences into the movie theatres at a season when they could be watching heartwarming dramas or the triumphant return of a major franchise, but if In the Heart of the Sea could be said to have a target audience, my husband/co-author and I are it.

It turned out to be a good movie, if not a movie to most people’s taste – very pretty to watch, with a haunting musical score, and it didn’t leave Macdonald muttering about nautical inaccuracies. (At one point near the beginning of the film, the sailors see a squall line approaching like a solid black wall on the horizon. “Does it really look like that?” I asked Macdonald in a whisper. “No,” he said. “It looks worse.” After which we get a truly impressive storm-at-sea sequence.)

I must confess that I, as a lit geek with a fondness for Moby-Dick, and a certain amount of awareness of its sources and analogues, did do a bit of muttering. For one thing, the whale that rammed and sank the whaleship Essex was not a white whale. That was a different whale, known in the sperm whale fisheries as Mocha (not Moby) Dick.  I’ll give the folks who did the CGI whale points, though, for depicting it as the actual Mocha Dick was supposed to look–not a solid white whale, but a mottled white-and-light-brown one, sort of a pinto effect. I expect that the CGI artists did their research in the same historical source material where Melville did his.

I did wince a bit, though, at the recurring “[N] days stranded” captions during the post-sinking portion of the film. Because you can’t be stranded in a small boat on the open sea. Being stranded requires being left or cast up on a strand — a seashore. (If somebody puts you there deliberately, you are marooned.) If you’re in a boat, you’re either adrift (if you aren’t at least attempting to make progress in some direction) or at sea (if you are, however desperately.)

Not that I’m picky about such things….

Weekend Comma Upcoming

We’ll be at the Burlington, MA, Marriott for Readercon, which we’ll be doing on a relaxacon basis again this year (also on an extremely attenuated shoestring, thanks to the necessity of paying off this past winter’s even-higher-than-usual electric bill.)

One of the things we usually do at Readercon is finish up on Sunday with a summer movie.  I’ve heard some good word-of-mouth about Spy, of the “Don’t let the posters mislead you” variety.  And there’s always Jurassic World, or the latest Terminator outing, either of which would at least provide the requisite summer-move quota of violence and explosions.

In any case, if you’re in or around Burlington this coming weekend, Readercon is a nice place to be.

Nostalgia Lane, in Need of Repaving

The Fairlee Drive-In movie theatre in Fairlee, Vermont,  is holding a Kickstarter to raise the funds necessary to upgrade from 35mm to digital – a vital move if they hope to continue in business, given that the movie industry is rapidly going all-digital.  (Paramount has already made the switch.)

This is a drive-in movie theatre that’s been in almost continuous operation since it opened in 1950, and is one of only two drive-ins left in the USA with its own attached motel.  Furthermore, their snack stand features hamburgers made from Black Angus cattle raised on the family farm of the theatre owners, as well as other locally-sourced items.

They’ve got some really great rewards for their backers, too: a $200 donation gets a room for two on a Friday night at the drive-in’s motel, plus 2 movie admissions and free burgers and fries and popcorn from the concession stand.  For the “go big or stay home” crowd, a $5K donation lets you own the drive in for a night, along with as many of your guests as can fit on their 400-car field, and a $10K or more donation gets the drive-in’s original carbon-arc projector and related equipment, as purchased in 1950 and used at the theatre until 2003.

I have fond memories of going with my parents to the drive-in when I was a kid in Florida, back when vast herds of them covered the plains like the buffalo, and I’d hate to see another one vanish.

Links to the Past

Writers of historical or alt-historical fiction are always in search of pictorial references for people and places of times past.  Still pictures are good (and for most of history, they’re all that we have), but for over a century now we’ve had moving pictures, as well – and the internet, bless its digital heart, preserves them and displays them for us at our command.

Herewith, a trio of links:

London street scenes, 1927, in color: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qgxki8_R968

Street scenes from Berlin and Munich, circa 1900-1914, also in color: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-m9A8mY-U0

Driving around New York, 1928.  This one’s in black and white, and is a staged comedy short, but the backgrounds are the real thing.  (And it’s amazing how long some of the visual high-speed automotive tropes we’re still seeing in film and television have been kicking around.): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkqz3lpUBp0

I love the internet.

Amusements for the Coming Solstice

I could have saved this for posting a bit closer to the day, but by that time we’re going to have a house full of people and I’ll be lucky to get up a few sentences griping about punctuation trivia.  That being the case, herewith a few of my favorite winter-holiday stories and characters from both written and visual media:

  • The visit from Saint Nicholas at Christmas in Nazi-occupied Holland in Hilda Van Stockum’s The Winged Watchman — I read this one when I was a kid, and it helped start me off on my ongoing fascination with history and the people who were part of it.
  • Father Christmas in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, whose arrival with gifts for the Pevensie children signals the end in Narnia of “always winter and never Christmas.”
  • The New Year’s feast at Camelot that kicks off Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  For those who feel up to tackling the thorny Middle English dialect of the original, there’s a text on-line here. My co-author and I liked it so much, in fact, we wrote our own short story about the events of that particular Arthurian feast, “Holly and Ivy.”
  • The third-season Christmas episode of Supernatural, for the way that it combines the Winchester brothers’ childhood memories of The Worst Christmas Ever (everybody has at least one of those in their memory book) with the sense of impending doom that hung over all the episodes of that particular season, and still manages to finish up the episode on a warm, if bittersweet, note.
  • The first Die Hard movie.  (Of the others in the franchise, we will not speak, except to say that I’m happy Bruce Willis has a long-running franchise to keep his own Christmas stocking full.)  Underneath all the blood and explosions, it’s a romantic comedy for the Christmas season . . . how often, after all, do you get a rom-com where the hero is literally willing to walk barefoot over broken glass for the sake of his one true love?