Category: Film & Television

“Shake it a-baby!”

Shake it a-baby!

As a species, humans have a baffling obduracy to live wherever we darn well please on God’s green earth as long as Antarctic estates aren’t included in the realtor’s docket. From nomadic tribes to big business promulgators, we seem determined to plant our roots in every plot that fills both this planet and extraterrestrial acreage beyond–just as soon as lunar engineering is up to mass-developmental snuff. To top off our hunger for property, we play this game of land seizure with little regard for the progenitors of mythology: natural cataclysms that the cosmos allotted to each region of this planet long before we staked our mortgage claims.

In this country alone, the North bears the brunt of inhuming ice storms, the East is pummeled by hurricanes, tornadoes ramshackle the Midwest as they bypass the amicable route to Oz, the Northwest lives in the shadow of eight active volcanoes, tsunami-watch spans each coast, and here in California earthquakes reign supreme. Quite frankly, the United States is a veritable smörgåsbord of Mama Nature’s paroxysms.

In a country so tempestuous–even when we eschew the hailstorm that is bipartisan politics–finding invulnerable settlement means betting on a game of renter’s roulette. If someone ends up sowing their seeds in Tornado Alley, I understand that uprooting their entire life and relocating to milder climes when the cyclones amass is no cheap feat, but I can’t help wondering what convinced our nation’s migratory predecessors to hunker down in different disaster zones in the first place. I suppose when you contend with 23-foot long Ripper Lizards and giant sloths scrambling all over Pangea, the occasional lava flow is a small price to pay for a plot of arable land.

Personally, I took up residence in Los Angeles knowing that its toothy, clawed remnants of the Holocene epoch reside in the Page Museum and the only risky natural business I’d be facing was the fact that this be earthquake country. Besides the slight desk tremors that occasionally pique the excitement of Oregon school children, the first bona fide earthquake I ever experienced occurred at 6:30a.m. Hollywood time when our bed staged its own Evening with Fred Astaire and my boyfriend awoke with an inhuman, deep-sleep yell that aided the tectonic plates in rattling me to the core. This wake up call only reached a magnitude of 4.7 on the Richter Scale, but watching my Las Vegas memorabilia topple from the shelves and feeling the wall sway behind me was enough to instill an utter terror of bigger things to come.

And rumor has it in the scientific community that we SoCal residents ain’t seen nothing yet. Based on the geophysical research of Stanford seismologists, apocalyptic tidings of a massive earthquake hitting Los Angeles sometime in the next 30 years have swept across the internet via scientific forums and volatile comment sections alike. Expected to exceed 8.0 on the Richter Scale, this prophetically minacious tremor is fanning the already voracious flames of Godzilla-esque destruction hypotheses–that is, if his latest film depiction hadn’t been more aptly titled Hundreds of Humans and Their Tribulations, Two M.U.T.O.s, and Fleeting, Incessantly Interrupted Glimpses of Godzilla.

Some of the more imaginative voices of the online peanut gallery have taken these whisperings of catastrophic tectonics and ran with them until they’ve woven cautionary tales befitting Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Commenting on Tech Times’ review of Ker Than’s (associate director of communications for Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences) take on the impending LA quake, one such doomsayer predicted that, “[a]fter only a few days the Los Angeles area will be like a war zone. Eventually it will become uninhabitable. Thousands will die not from the quake but from the aftermath… I have had a dream over and over of a very long mass of weary looking people walking east on the interstate up the grade toward Barstow and the refugee camps set up there by the government. When you look back to the west all one can see to the horizon is smoke rising up from what was once a modern civilization now destroyed by mother nature. It will happen. My dreams always come true.”

Whether or not this commenter was film director Roland Emmerich posting under an alias is yet to be verified.

Unfortunately for us Angelinos, the aptly denoted “Big One” bodes more substantiated probability than the portentous theories that mankind will perish at the hands of bath salt zombies. According to Ker Than’s article for Stanford News, scientists have found a way to predict a future quake’s ground movement and shaking hazards by examining the ambient seismic field, or pressure pulses generated and projected through the earth’s crust by colliding ocean waves. While these ambient waves are notably “billions of times weaker than the seismic waves generated by earthquakes,” scientists like Marine Denolle have now learned how to mathematically compare these surface measurements to the temblor waves that occur deep within the earth.

By examining these “virtual earthquakes,” scientists verified a supercomputer’s prediction from 2006 concerning the San Andreas Fault in the Carrizo Plain, northwest of Los Angeles. This prediction suggested that if said fault should rupture, the seismic waves produced by an earthquake would be “funneled toward Los Angeles along a 60-mile [sedimentary] conduit that connects the city with the San Bernardino Valley.” To make matters worse, Los Angeles is a sitting duck atop a large sedimentary basin that study coauthor Eric Dunham compared to a jiggly dollop of gelatin in the midst of a plastic foam bowl. This means that if you’re lucky enough to have set up shop in the plastic foam terrain that circumvents Los Angeles, you might not have to hold on as tight as we Gelatinites strike vogue poses in our doorways to fend off falling furniture. Other cities unfortunate enough to have been founded upon these suicidal basins of sediment include Tokyo, Seattle, and parts of the Bay area, all of which simultaneously stand on the tectonically fruitful circum-Pacific seismic belt. Home to 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes and 81% of the world’s largest earthquakes, this horseshoe-shaped calamity hotbed is a natural exemplar for a sequel to Pacific Rim: Pacific Ring of Fire.

I guess the moral to this disastrously consequential story is hire some scientists to dig in your dirt before inspiring 10 million people to come inhabit your city, you technologically ill-adept Chumash, Tataviam, and Tongva tribes, Spanish explorers, and gold prospectors of yesteryear. That, or just relax all you internet harbingers of doom. For no matter how many Essential Survival Kits-in-a-Can we accrue from California Surplus Mart, Mother Nature is going to do her thing, and because we’ll be a part of that natural ebb and flow no matter where we reside, there’s little point in toiling our lives away in premature fear. After all, a major quake hasn’t occurred along the San Andreas Fault in more than 150 years, and if that’s not enough to smooth out your apprehensive gooseflesh, we still have a supposed grace period of three decades to decide whether volcano, blizzard, tornado, or hurricane territory would be a more suitable habitat for relocation.

Citations

The Gripes of Wrath

Gripes of Wrath

In our contemporary blogosphere, it’s becoming commonplace for opinion pieces to spark galled backlash. With these internet ripostes in mind, allow me to start by addressing a point that’s heated “Jezebel” and “The Gloss” writers alike. I am now and have always been of the opinion that skinny female characters and the actresses who portray them can most certainly be strong. Some examples of this reality include Jada Pinkett Smith as The Matrix trilogy’s Niobe: a skinny woman who’s physically buff and whose on-screen presence as captain of the Logos packs a commanding wallop. Jennifer Lawrence as The Hunger Games‘ Katniss Everdeen: a skinny woman who exudes strength in controlled stoicism, perseverance, deft reflexes, and cunning. Emilia Clarke as Game of Thrones‘ Daenerys Targaryen: a skinny woman who commands dragons, the most powerful weapons in all of Westeros… when she can find them. In fact, my list of skinny badass women could go on for the duration of this entry because, quite frankly, skinny badass women proliferate the action genre. In some cases, the tiny but strong physiques that parade across theater screens are totally warranted, such as Katniss Everdeen’s lifetime of meager rations and near-starvation, which produced not only her precision in archery but also her emaciated frame.

These rare cases of justified slenderness aside, last weekend I begrudgingly sat through an aspiring blockbuster which reminded me all too blatantly that in most cases Hollywood’s coveted runway-ready action heroines possess slender builds that go without explanation, or outright contradict their characters’ backstories. Said film that I knew I would execrate from the first teaser trailer was 300: Rise of an Empire.

Now in a continued effort to keep the peace, let me apologize henceforth to anyone who adored the second installment of the 300 franchise and warn anyone who’s optimistically awaiting the DVD release that these next paragraphs aren’t for you. I would hate to rain on anyone’s pending parade but in my effort to lay down the skinny, an explanation is in order.

Perhaps my seventh grade history reenactment of the Battle of Thermopylae gives me a sense of personal connection to the story, or perhaps sneaking into the sold out premiere after enduring Wild Hogs and being forced to sit in my friend Davin’s lap in the front row made it all the more exhilarating, but 300 is one of my all-time favorite movies. A hyper-stylized, Greco-fetishism action film whose place in my heart outlived my teenage affinity for violent, adrenaline-fueled cinema, 300 is like a classical painting injected with testosterone and set to a mashup of choral hymns and industrial guitar performed in a Mediterranean arena. Couple this with my Frank Miller phase sophomore year of high school, during which all my paintings suddenly looked like Sin City and all the dialogue in my stories had the private investigator timbre of a film noir revival, and it’s a shoo-in that 300 would have me hooked.

As such, from the minute my ear registered the first inklings of a possible sequel, I knew I was in for a pile of sepia-toned, slow-motion dog crap. And when I broke down and saw the film as an escape from last Sunday’s heatwave, my expectations were not disappointed. Seven years ago when it was released, 300 was something we hadn’t seen yet. Sure Neo’s back-bending, decelerated bullet dodge in The Matrix ushered in the stylized fight sequences that pervade action films to this day, but as far as I’m concerned 300 was a new form of visual gluttony that was candidly cool. From the sheer mythos of ancient Spartans, to the absorbing narration, to the gritty and simultaneously painterly aesthetic, to the machismo choreography, to Gerard Butler and his conical beard, and to the archetypal characterizations–every facet of this narrative oozed cool.

Zack Snyder may have taken the M. Night Shyamalan route and fallen quickly from a laudable perch in film esteem to directorial leper, but based on the utter disaster that is 300: Rise of an Empire, upcoming director Noam Murro could do with a touch of Shyamalan. Where 300 was fresh cinematic confectionery, 300: Rise of an Empire came seven years too late, after a horde of fanboys reproduced its aesthetic to death in both film and television, à la The Immortals and Spartacus. As if this latency weren’t enough, 300: Rise of an Empire then took everything that was impressive about its predecessor and lamed it past the point of entertainment. Where 300 presented us with hardcore-by-definition Spartans, it’s sequel centralized around the farmers and poets of Athens, and expected us to believe that men of these dispositions would possess the same chiseled and airbrushed abs of life-long, fanatical warriors. Where 300 brought us iconic dialogue to rev up battles of hand-to-hand combat and impossible feats of flight and strength, Rise of an Empire gave us horrendously convoluted and unimpressive speech, generally followed by tedious ellipses, before merely smashing their CGI ships into one another. Where 300 brought us powerful archetypes, such as the inexplicably behemoth god-king Xerxes, the sequel squandered said mystique with inane, humanizing backstories. Where 300 brought us bizarre, prosthetic monsters that served a purpose, the new release tossed in a couple half-attempts at poorly animated creatures that did nothing but hiss, spit, and disrupt deep sea dreams. And where 300 brought us female dynamism in Queen Gorgo’s plight to aid her husband and her people by whatever means necessary, Rise of an Empire brought us Eva Green.

Prior to seeing the film, I read a review in the Los Angeles Times written by a woman who ranted and raved about Eva Green’s magnetism as the Persian navy’s most formidable commander. While it’s nothing against Green’s acting skills, I found both the writing and choreography for Artemisia dry and unimpressive, and the casting of waif-like Green (who attributes her paper-thin mien to her French affinity for “cigarettes and laziness”) really got my goat for the very reasons I started this blog entry.

Artemisia is a Greek woman betrayed by her countrymen and hot on the trail of vengeance, and as such she’s been training with the Persian herald (of all people) in combat since childhood. Her lifelong vendetta builds her up to be one of Darius’ and Xerxes’ most vicious soldiers, and when she’s pitted against the Athenians at sea, her skill with a sword makes her a killing machine amidst the onslaughts of unexplainably robust seafarers.

With a backstory and profile like that, you’re not pulling one over my eyes this time Hollywood. If Artemisia was a real woman who’d devoted her entire life to Greek-Decapitation Boot Camp, she would at least have arms like these female Adonises:

Female Adonises

(And look Hollywood, you could even keep the cinched waist for sex appeal!)

For some reason, despite the beautiful, muscular women like the afore-pictured 1905 “circus strong woman” and 1890’s Vulcana–a woman who actually looks like she beats foes to a pulp for a living, Hollywood insists on ignoring the characters’ profiles and casting the Gal Gadots of the industry as Diana of Themyscira.

Gal Gadot and Wonder Woman

Occasionally Hollywood does get it right, utilizing Gwendoline Christie’s striking height of 6’3″ to create a totally believable warrior in Brienne of Tarth, or casting stunt woman-turned-lead-lady Zoë Bell for her genuine physical prowess and ability to literally kick butt. More often than not, Hollywood makes feeble efforts at best, tailoring B-movies to women like mixed martial artist Gina Carano, whose leg locks far supersede her abominable acting. That, or they bypass accuracy altogether in favor of sex appeal.

As a girl who’s been a limp noodle far more times in my life than that period of lopsided racquetball strength and that one year track and field made me muscular, I completely understand the argument that thinness does not equate to weakness. After all, there are numerous fighting styles out there that enable a narrow figure to bring down someone twice their size. Plus, there’s always the fact that a thin actress can bulk up for a role. But I’m not going to kid myself into believing that Hollywood’s decision to cast skinny women as beastly characters is an attempt to emanate female empowerment. Rather than utilizing low-weight modes of combat to their advantage or following in the BBC’s footsteps and casting actors that realistically look the part of their roles, Hollywood is clearly only concerned with selling tickets via sex, and the current mainstream definition of feminine attractiveness is runway model thin… with breasts if she can manage to pull off that Victoria’s Secret feat.

Thus, until the the media’s interpretation of desirability begins to morph towards something of Polynesian proportions, I’ll have to buckle down and swallow my gripes, watching adequately muscular film and television contenders get passed by in the casting hunt for the fiercest commanders of the shitty-remake sea.

Backtrack Cinema

The Spectacular Now

Every once in a while, a moving asseveration comes barreling your way through the routines of diurnal life. In my case, yesterday’s unexpectedly stirring experience resulted from a long chain of quotidian events. Forgoing my usual desire to remain bedridden until 10 a.m., it all began with a sudden spurt of productivity at 7:30 in the morning. Hopping out of bed with a vigor my body hasn’t demonstrated since Saint Nick still existed, I got right down to business and washed the sand-steeped vestments that comprised my suitcase while vacationing at Newport beach, entered a juried gallery exhibition on the subject of portraiture, conducted an array of business calls that my indolent-self would have delayed, safeguarded my bank accounts against the Target hacking fiasco, rendezvoused at the grocery store, and ventured to Victoria’s Secret to exchange a blind pity buy I’d made after receiving word that Steve Job’s infantry of Geniuses couldn’t salvage my fried laptop. Because my newfound productivity was so potent, I then decided to take up my neglected hobby of drawing for the first time since completing a festively gruesome Christmas gift that parodied The Walking Dead. Avid illustration led to a late night of BBC mysteries, and watching Mark Williams of Mr. Weasley fame merge Catholic priesthood with amateur sleuthing soon segued into one of OPB’s film critic programs. Thus, at the very end of my long day, it was this adventitious sequence of causality that ultimately introduced me to The Spectacular Now.

I had never heard of The Spectacular Now before, but with my detachment from zeitgeist culture that hardly comes as a surprise. After conducting some curiosity-fueled research and interrogating my movie database boyfriend, I learned that the film’s reception had deemed it “a slightly better than average coming-of-age film.” This response, coupled with the OPB critics’ repeated comparisons to The Way Way Back (a story that only cultivated grins and furrowed brows as it strove for profoundness), made me question whether The Spectacular Now was actually worthwhile. But when restlessness prompted me to watch it at 2 a.m., I was pleasantly surprised by a genuinely resonant narrative: one of those rare, arresting movie experiences that we’re lucky to encounter in a film era where unoriginality runs rampant amidst an endless procession of sequels and remakes.

As its average reception suggests, The Spectacular Now isn’t for everybody, and anyone whose stomach turns at the thought of teenage insecurities, judgment calls, and hormones would be wise to avoid this film. Considering my personal retrospection on the roller coaster that commences at thirteen and keeps you dipping and diving until you’re twenty, I regarded The Spectacular Now as one of the most honest film depictions of teenage sentiment I’ve seen to date, and was very grateful that someone finally endeavored to do it right.

The film starts out in typical teen-flick fashion à la She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You. Our protagonist Sutter Keely serves as both a party animal and wounded recipient of a recent break-up, two stereotypes that pervade the coming-of-age genre for their existing veracity. As the diegesis advances, Sutter’s preoccupation with his ex is gradually sidelined by an interest in his humble classmate Aimee Finecky. While the OPB critics dubbed Aimee “the quiet girl,” I would argue that the original author and screen adapter devised a character refreshingly atypical of Hollywood’s teenage pigeonholes. From my perspective, Aimee straddled the archetypal barrier between solitary academia and the whim to experience new phenomena, just as a real teenager exhibits contradictory mannerisms. Not to mention, it was nice to see a character who laughed her way through her dialogue just as persistently as I laughed my way through my entire institutionalized education. Once Sutter and Aimee’s courtship comes to fruition, the film turns to examine another relationship, that of our main character and his absentee father. Subsequently, we witness an estranged 18-year-old become increasingly entrenched in the pathos of inherited alcoholism, subject his relationships to an utter disdain for the future, and ultimately face the crux of how to approach the “now.”

The plot is no revolutionary tour de force by any stretch of the imagination, but the way in which the filmmakers divulge this prosaic concept is immensely effective. The critics discussing the film remarked that cinematic analyses of teenage experience are becoming more frank and relatable, citing The Perks of Being a Wallflower as an exemplary character study. In my opinion, The Spectacular Now takes human verisimilitude to a whole new level by evading the flawlessness coveted in celebrities like Logan Lerman and Emma Watson and instead presenting a cast that looks so natural you might as well be watching a documentary. The last time I was this impressed by the film industry’s stab at reality was when the latest Star Trek franchise allowed Chris Pine’s pockmarked complexion to fill screens in high definition. But even then they had Pine’s pre-established sex appeal to justify such tight cinematography. In The Spectacular Now, makeup was mostly foregone in surrender to the Georgia heat that would have melted it off, and in an uncommon scenario, we’re free to scrutinize scars, pores, double chins, and ultimately the unique beauty of real human visages.

It is this visual candor and the equally credible performances by the film’s principal actors Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley that result in a tangible, recollective look at youth. It’s a shame that my first exposure to Woodley was the trailer for Divergent, in which we’re expected to believe that this unthreateningly skinny girl could aid an ass-kicking insurgent squad while decked out in false eyelashes and thick slabs of concealer befitting children’s beauty pageants and the aging Southern belles who “jog” Forsyth park in hot pink sweatsuits and teased up-dos. If my familiarity with The Spectacular Now had preceded said trailer, I could have saved myself some initial cynicism, revering Woodley as a thoroughly endearing actress whose conjunction with Teller’s charisma yields palpable on-screen chemistry.

Fortunately for those of us with flighty attention spans, this is not your typical Mandy Moore and Shane West love story. True to its sense of authenticity, Sutter’s newfound feelings for Aimee don’t drastically alter his character, and their relationship is periodically marred by an ongoing reverence for his former girlfriend and the assertive asides he makes to a buddy that he’s “just giving this girl a first boyfriend experience.” Where Aimee’s concerned, it broke my heart to watch her fall victim to the rapid stages of First Serious Boyfriend Syndrome, an ailment that can be very detrimental if the first serious boyfriend is emotionally unavailable, infatuated with a previous girlfriend, and prone to abusive behaviors inherited by no fault of his own, all of which define my first serious relationship to a T and serve as further evidence of this film’s cathartic impact.

Examining The Spectacular Now from a critical perspective, there were a few sensationalistic scenes that took me out of the otherwise pragmatic depiction of adolescence. And don’t worry parents, not all senior girls who become helplessly besotted with the school’s resident Bacchus start taking casual swigs from engraved flasks. I also have to admit that some of the dialogue was a bit trite, but overall these clichés reinforce the fact that the characters are in the awkward throes of high school, a period where mentally engaging conversation is few and far in between. Despite this minor limitation, every moment of teenage discomfort, joviality, and sorrow is illustrated perfectly, reinforcing the fact that high school truly is a lodestone for insecurities, superficial behaviors, and the drive to find your personal definition amidst a throng of amorphous identities. Comparably, my own high school experience was riddled with self-centered ephemera and laughably awkward anecdotes, such as the many times I was seated behind one of my boyfriends in Advanced Algebra II and found myself repulsed by the fact that his hands looked like rubber whenever they lay motionless on the desk before him. Or the way I consistently vacillated between extremely loud, obnoxious tomfoolery and respectfully silent and diligent studiousness. I even used to pour serious effort into keeping my eyes wide open at all times to reap compliments about how attractively large my peepers were, and can clearly remember the day I opened my eyelids to their natural resting position and thought to myself, “Why does this feel strangely comfortable?” Lastly, I would be remiss to exclude the hilarious occasion on which I finally succeeded in ensnaring a crush of many months by taking him on a date in my dad’s wholly unsexy Astro Van.

The fact that The Spectacular Now transported me back to the emotions of youth and evoked so many parallel memories speaks to its powerful effectiveness. In striving for an organic ambience, this film melds the universally visceral experience of growing up and harboring raw feelings for others with a very personal story about the perceived absence of love. Not only does the visible heat of the Georgia landscape appeal to my personal ideologue of living in Savannah, but the many dimensions the filmmakers have imbued in their characters allow you to identify with, or become engrossed in, or harbor sympathy for the candid nature of human experience. It’s not often that I see myself, my former boyfriends, and my high school cohort reflected so frankly through the frames of a film, but thanks to the detailed attention paid to actuality, The Spectacular Now proved to be quite the sincere and poignant mirror.

Mademoiselle Needle’s École du Smokescreens

Sharon Needles

SyFy’s Face Off is the second reality TV competition I’ve ever exhibited real interest in (the first being a bewigged, tucked, six-inch-heel race to a rhinestone tiara), and thanks to my mom’s testimonial, my boyfriend and I started watching it in October and finished all five seasons in the time it takes Halloween candy to be forgotten in an over-abundant closet.

Akin to my confessions in several previous blog entries, there’s always been something incredibly alluring about the ability to transform oneself into another entity: to step inside both the psychology and physicality of someone else. And without the funds for those elusively reputable plastic surgeons or the gall to allow a Romani medium and her phantasmic constituents to possess you for the price of a green Ulysses S. Grant etching, makeup is the perfect vehicle for accomplishing said feat. With malleable facial features ripe for the morphing, makeup fanaticism came to me with the same gusto that impelled Claude Cahun to don a guise of androgyny, Martha Wilson to emulate the squinty, grey visage of Bill Clinton, and Leigh Bowery to manifest nightmarish acid trips in human form. Despite my odd childhood disinterest in the adult makeup my four-year-old sister idolized, once puberty hit my cocooned metamorphosis produced not a fully actualized butterfly but a chameleonic canvas upon which I would spend eleven years imagining an array of guises, utilizing this pliant mug of mine to artistic advantage.

Without any formal cosmetic training or a kit that exceeded thirty dollars, pounds of acrylic paint, wood shavings, and chip brush bristles were expended before I discovered nirvana in the form of a class description my freshman year of college. The heaven-sent Introduction to Makeup Design was a course harbored away in the production design department whose only prerequisite was the monk-like patience necessary to nab a spot on its coveted roster. Finally, after three years of waiting, becoming hopelessly smitten with RuPaul’s Drag Race one fateful all-nighter with my life-altering friend Erica, and discovering relentless idolatry in the form of Sharon Needles, I was admitted into Makeup Design my last quarter senior year. As if that turn of events wasn’t enough to make me click my heels in euphoria, happenstance scheduling conflicts enabled my Bajan bestie Logan to join the vanity mirrored mix, resulting in a more idyllic class configuration than I could have imagined. With this fortuitous development, I was ready to end my college education with a resounding, greasepainted bang.

But that was before I discovered that the usual Makeup Design professor had stepped down that quarter, and his replacement was an improv actor whose only experience courting the fair maquillage was in applying rudimentary black eyes for theater audiences whose vision was marred by distance and bright stage lights. As photo majors bent on creating conceptual, camera-ready designs that elicited either realism or hyper-fantasticality, Logan and I were less than enthused. Especially when the professor revealed the book he expected the class to teach themselves from.

Laura Thudium Stage Makeup

If your eyes perceive four makeup designs befitting a festive elementary school parade and an overwhelmingly blue cast that is no fault of any scanner, then thank your lucky carrots: your eyes are very astute. I won’t bash the publishers for comprising this collection of what someone must have deemed a valuable tool for beginning cosmetology, but based on the fact that the lesson plans contained within this book’s pages only deteriorate in technical skill from the cover on, this is no educator for a class full of college students.

Fortunately, our professor, new to his academic profession and still unscathed by the autocracy that develops after too many impositions on the school board’s behalf, was incredibly lax about our approach to the curriculum. Fully aware that he’d relinquished his teaching duties to an outdated book, Professor Improv allowed us to do whatever we pleased as long as it involved our faces and Bill Nye’s cosmetologist cousin Ben.

Thus, the creating began. While the majority of the class dutifully practiced red pandas, burn scars, and oversized foreheads, my four-person offshoot of the room fathomed into existence living tree bark, geometric cubism, Cirque du Soleil reveries, reptilian scales, and, my personal favorite, the glue-sticked eyebrows and over exaggerated cheekbones of drag. Amidst this fascinating inventiveness, the boundless ideation of my peers encouraged me to bring in a new amalgam of inspiration on a daily basis, combining the evil queen of The Magic Flute with the traditional makeup of Kabuki theater, weaving together Native American symbolism and Maori tattoo patterns, experimenting with Nordic and African horn designs, and even going all-out scary she-male by emulating my screenwriter boyfriend’s incarcerated tough-gal character Sheila.

While the education I received certainly wasn’t worth the weight of my hefty tuition (a slight on the school’s behalf that could fill an entire blog entry of its own), the chance to utilize unfamiliar tools in an encouraging environment of like-minded creativity definitely had its merits. And with the numerous portfolios and theses I’ve crafted on the art of disguise and its psychological forbearance, the comparisons to Cindy Sherman my middle school oeuvre received before I even knew who she was, and the duped professors who’ve asked of my self-portraits, “Who’s the model, a friend?”, perhaps the experimental ambling of Intro to Makeup Design will get me one step closer to achieving Skin-Walker status… sans the murderous aura Native American legend associates with it. For the face and its many facets is a powerful tool, and as any prosthetic artist, title-hungry drag queen, or student rising in the ranks of production design could tell you, they don’t call that baby your money-maker for nothing!

Tusks

The Tinseltown Trope

The Tinseltown Trope

By way of the media-sharing, social networking, and stalker-encouraging faculties of a little web sensation known as Facebook, my attention was recently directed to an article written by author Sophia McDougall for NewStatesman entitled “I Hate Strong Female Characters.” Initially perceived as an odd subject for a woman in full advocacy of female heroism, the article reveals an author’s vexation with the fact that the few female characters Hollywood’s male-dominated industry engenders these days are whittled down to mere “strong” women.

As if to pacify the contemporary consumer’s deterrence from the antiquated “damsel in distress,” screenplays today produce a myriad of women who not only serve as the male protagonist’s necessary love interest, but who also pack a punch. To illustrate the media’s attempt to reverse the princess hype of bygone eras, McDougall cites kung-fu-savvy Fiona from Shrek, trigger-happy Peggy Carter from Captain America, Buffy of vampire slaying fame, and Black Widow from The Avengers (am I sensing an anti-Joss Whedon trend here?), all of whom resort to violence to establish their auras of sexually intriguing power. While there’s no denying these kick-ass women have right hooks and roundhouse kicks in heels down to a T, McDougall’s article surmises that this modern cinematic woman may be nothing more than a convenient rouse to keep the idolatrous masses at bay–to paraphrase Walter Benjamin. In today’s big Hollywood blockbuster, women have to be purveyed as strong in order to receive the respect their male counterparts garner, even though a man can be prone to addictive neuroses à la Sherlock Holmes, and still be considered a hero. Ultimately, McDougall asks for equality between male and female characters. Instead of one gal and five guys in a super hero posse, why not level the gender playing field? And instead of emphasizing nothing beyond that one female character’s strength and sexual magnetism, why not add the dimensions of reality afforded to male protagonists like Spider Man, Hamlet, and Daniel Craig’s James Bond?

After reading this opinionated plea for equality (akin to the egalitarianism my inner, scale-toting Libra is always intent on), I got to thinking. On the one hand, I could rabble-rouse this cinematic platitude as reverse discrimination: a Hollywood ploy so keen on eradicating the helplessness of damsels past that it’s catapulted the blockbuster heroine into a predictable facade of strength, as if to suggest that while men are expected to be strong and therefore require ulterior characteristics to be captivating, women are expected to be weak, and therefore easily transition into compelling characters when caustic gun-wielding comes naturally. But is The Avengers’ Black Widow, with her monotonous, expository lines and repetitive harnessed flips, actually a compelling character?

On the other hand, I realized as I pondered this crux, that I myself am at fault for the fact that the sheer number of male protagonists–be it in The Avengers, Inception, or even The Smurfs–tend to exceed the number of female characters. I haven’t written recreational fiction in years and have honestly evolved well beyond the anti-feminist, male idolizing yahooligan of my youth, but back when I was able to document the adventures of my imagination on a daily basis, I was undeniably responsible for the adolescent egocentrism that results in one primary female character and a horde of dudes. Yes, there was the Holes fan-fiction from middle school that introduced a cast of female equivalents for each of the male Green Lake inhabitants, and yes, the three women featured in my story “Pampa” outnumbered the two men, but generally, my writing enveloped a sole heroine based off some constituent of myself and a host of male characters based off of other personal facets. Blame it on latent, inapparent tomboy-ism, but as a girl who found herself easily relating to a male mindset, it just felt more natural to translate my sardonic voice through a male medium and reserve my sense of teenage trepidation about body image, boys, and school for my female characters.

But just because the men outnumbered the women in my writing, didn’t mean my female characters ascribed to classic Hollywood’s helpless maidens or today’s revamped sword-brandishing pseudo-mutes. My characters may have been uncertain about a lot of the things life presented them with, but some of them certainly emanated natural strength, a couple of them had pulled through harrowing circumstances hardened but notably wiser, many of them could riposte circles around their male companions, and all of them had individual perspectives, experiences, and a distinctive voice of their own. None of them used kung-fu to merit respect (in fact, one character hid her penchant for violence as a hired gun in order to assimilate into the new identity she’d devised), and while a couple of them (my sister’s analog in the Holes fan-fic) had the men drooling, most of them deviated from the stereotypical sex symbol that makes a female character profitable in the eyes of Hollywood.

In fact, as I pondered the subject further, I realized that even though hero movies (generally inspired by comics made by men and produced by men for men) have created the Disney princess foil via their violent, “strong” female archetype, women have come a long way in the media. Just look at Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, idolized for their hilarious goofiness and witty intelligence without having to step into a leather catsuit or be raised by a pulley to conduct Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-esque combat. And even in the realm of tough cookies, Arya Stark combines the honest vulnerability of youth with an adult desire to aid her family and fight because it’s inevitable, not because it’s sexy. While these multidimensional women offer hope to irritated consumers like McDougall, I won’t deny that they’re a long ways off from representing the schema perpetuated by our summer blockbusters–that of the disposable, hyper-sexualized Bond girl or the infamous “strong female character.”

I suppose that when you reside in a country where female politicians still don on pantsuits to be taken seriously, it’s no wonder Hollywood imbues strength in its female characters to elicit respect. While rugged gals can punch a chauvinist into silence or shoot their loved ones with fifty arrows out of unverified jealousy, you know our blockbuster screenplays have a few reality checks in order when the closest fictional woman I can relate to for her perseverance is Liz Lemon (that, or I just really like ham).

I’m a proud proponent of the fact that Hollywood has come a long way since Snow White lay in entombed waiting after a gullible run-in with an apple, but I can also recognize the validity in McDougall’s sentiments. Hollywood seems to be opposed to the notion of a female hero chartering her own film (and headlining a movie poster rather than standing behind Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Hemsworth) because, quite frankly, they haven’t figured out how to make her compelling enough yet. Personally, I don’t want them to make that movie until they learn to do it right–two hours worth of Scarlett Johansson’s blank expression while she pulverizes villains with the powers of… karate would make for a sure-fire box office flop. Perhaps the secret lies in employing female writers, girls who, like my adolescent self, dreamt up women who equalled men in battle but possessed senses of humor and honest queries about life to boot. Maybe Hollywood just needs to hand over the reigns to the female script writers and guys in tune with their feminine sides, thereby enabling those underused artists to revel in a little geeking out of their own.

Reverie Interrupted

Original Artwork © Emily Moon

Besides learning how to complete tax forms and fill out checks, one of the saddest, inevitable aspects of aging is the gradual diminution of daydreaming. That isn’t to say that there aren’t adults out there who still pass the hours with their head in the clouds, seemingly idling away while their imaginations rev with steam power, but I beg to proffer a generalization when I say that most adults in our Capitalist system don’t have the time or mental energy to dream like they used to.

This unfortunate phenomenon occurred to me last night after seeing Pacific Rim in IMAX 3-D at Universal’s neon-lit CityWalk. Despite the obvious holes that even Guillermo Del Toro admits to, this film was an increasingly rare personal experience in which I was actually able to relax and enjoy a summer blockbuster and all the giant, sword-wielding robots it had to offer. But while beating back motion sickness for the thrill of prismatic kaiju-jaeger carnage, the thought occurred to me that if I were a twelve-year-old kid watching this movie, my mind would be racing to fabricate a myriad of subplots and potential characters, and as soon as the movie ended I would hurry home to manifest my alternate narratives via writing, illustration, or a long bout of daydreaming. As it was, the movie ended and I hustled home to collapse exhaustedly into bed.

It’s a real shame that daydreaming seems to be a pastime literally and ideologically reserved for children. Even for those adults fortunate enough to still possess the active reveries of juvenescence, our culture seems to perpetuate a social stigma about daydreaming after a certain age. The phrase, “get your head out of the clouds,” comes to mind when pondering the fact that idle behavior in adults is generally chastised by the United States’ emphasis on productivity. Since youth, aging in America runs parallel to an exponential loss of time: our homework starts to amass in middle school to ensure that we’ll be ready for high school; or social lives have to be marginalized in order to complete all the high school work that prepares us for college; college buries us so deep in post-college preparation that sleep becomes an irregular recreation; the five unpaid internships a city like Los Angeles demands from us and the secondary jobs we fill just to make rent consume every waking hour of the day in preparation for a career; and unless we’re lucky enough to secure a relaxing schedule and ample time off, our careers become synonymous with “life.” Of course it all peters out eventually, and one can only hope that the reinstated free time of retirement might kindle some sense of contemplative woolgathering… as long as the exhaustion of the years prior doesn’t preoccupy the mind.

I think hispanic countries got it right when they established midday siestas as a cultural repose. Providing people with an opportunity to regain their energy and cerebrate at their leisure is a genius social strategy that not only aids in employee stamina but also in creative output. Daydreaming, while criticized as mere inattentiveness, self-absorption, and absentmindedness, is a progenitor of art and innovation. Back when I had the time and the energy to simply explore the contents of my imagination for as long as I saw fit, my artistic output was tenfold its current yield. Today, if I’m lucky enough to have a writing implement and jot down a creative thought when it galavants my way, I have to seek time to flesh it out, and by then I might already be preoccupied with the next fleeting fancy.

But I shouldn’t be so quick to bellyache about the future to come, for having attended art school, I’m geared up for a career in creative ideation. Despite these occupational prospects, the expectations of most middle and lower class vocations that I grew up amongst are worrisome on the creativity front. Unless you have a job at Pixar or in an advertising agency, work schedules are not conducive to imaginative thought. And even with a creative occupation, daydreaming just isn’t the same when you work to produce creative ideas versus spontaneously slipping into hours of free associative contemplation.

I suppose if there’s any consolation to be garnered from this predicament, it’s that even though the American system demands that we work hard to afford the necessities of life and work even harder to live leisurely, creativity continues to flourish. Eccentric couture designs continue to catwalk their way into fashion shows, anonymous muralists continue to adorn city streets with whimsical illustrations, teachers continue to create innovative curriculum to engage their students, architects and urban planners continue to brainstorm new strategies for cost effective living, and artists like those assigned to Pacific Rim continue to dream up bigger, more fantastical monsters. With creativity manifesting all around us every day, it’s clear that innovation is not solely the product of excessive daydreaming, and with the help of these imaginative adults, creativity will continue to augment social progress. Yet despite this propitious silver lining, I can’t help but wonder what this country would be like if everyone still had the time to dream with the same fervor that propels a child to build castles in the sky.

Big, Big Fish

Big, Big Fish

When I was still a tiny little thing small enough to lift my weight doing every last pull-up you’d dared me to, I lived in the mountain town of Oakridge, Oregon, an equally tiny city where the only activities beyond whittling bear statues and getting pregnant included mountain recreations and mingling at the local Dairy Queen. Coming from a family that spent most of their time alfresco, secretly avoiding people, outdoor recreation proved to be the obvious choice, and merrymaking ensued around winding dirt trails, up the sides of snow-peaked mountains, to the tops of waterfalls, and down the medium-level ski slopes where six-year-old girl pile ups only got in the way of real skiers. One of our favorite hobbies was venturing to bodies of water, as if the Moon in us was trying to get back to overseeing the tide. We spent the majority of our recreational time vacationing on the Pacific, donning on water socks to trapeze our way across the crystal clear Willamette (before it cascaded down the mountains into the city sludge that comprises the Portland waterfront), doubling up on jet skis at my uncle’s houseboat to ride the wake of speed boats and inevitably flip over three times, distracting ourselves from the nude old fogies at the hot springs by squishing sulphuric mud between our toes, and spending the day paddling around Oakridge’s many reservoirs, our skin getting browner and our locks bleaching in the sun.

One of our favorite spots on the reservoir, just a few winding, cliff-side miles from town, was CT Beach, a little inlet that looked upon an enormous picturesque lake where fishermen could deposit their boats and outdoorsy families like mine could lay out a picnic and then dive in. On one such outing, my family towed in a big inflatable raft and oars from my dad’s rowing days, and we set sail against the slight chop the wind picked up across the water. A beautiful day beamed down on the Moon-Wood family as the two little daughters paddled themselves in circles, when all of a sudden my dad–like all young dads before their children hit puberty and refuse to be amused–decided to shake things up and flip the boat.

Everybody flew from the raft shrieking through mouthfuls of water, angrily splashing my dad, and groaning, “Daaaaaaaddy!!!,” but I was far from able to unleash my juvenile wrath on anyone because I was accidentally tied to the boat. Upside down, fully submerged, and struggling against the little bounds I’d gotten myself caught in, I stared down into depths I would later discover looked like a cavernous mud vortex winding down to the center of the earth (that you could hike!) when they drained the reservoir. I couldn’t see far at the time because the water here was always thick with green silt, but I could imagine the life flourishing just out of view. Looking up was no better, as I beheld summer sunlight pirouetting across the undulating surface, reminding me that I was down below, in this dark, oppressively silent world.

This story clearly has a happy ending, as young athletic dads with a penchant for peevishness also tend to be very good at saving kids from overdramatized accidents, but a life experience like that changes a girl, and soon, little water baby Emily Moon was terrified of the element that had previously brought her so much joy. But that didn’t mean I immediately holed myself away in a desert trailer, turning on faucets with my eyes closed. When you’re an older sister, your entire life revolves around maintaining a facade of bravery for the little one’s sake, even when “the little one” is twenty years old and your “bravery” is put to the test simply catching the spider she’s screaming about.

With this sense of faux strength inflating my sails, I spent the next sixteen years approaching large bodies of water with a weird amalgamation of terror and domination, eager to beat back the aquatic threat that had done me no greater harm than instilling my irrational phobia. There were times when I almost lost the battle against the big blue drink–like the numerous times the stormy Pacific waves tried to beat me into a pulp against the sand below; the time a deceptively beautiful river in Westfir began to drag my wild-eyed, fervently paddling Shoobie away in its current and my dad–ever the aquacade hero–had to dive in and rescue her; and the time my cousin Mahina tried to leap from the houseboat deck to to my uncle’s boat, undershot it, and I experienced the cinematic cliché of gripping her hands while she begged me not to let her fall into the black, nighttime river below (fortunately, everyone’s parents came running before my clammy little hands resulted in Willamette folly). But in my relentless crusade to save face, I usually win, engaging in daring stunts just to thumb my nose at fear. Included in these reckless behaviors are swimming far out from shore by myself in Kauai, to the depths reserved for surfing the combers that break over the encompassing reef; swimming for hours on end at night, off of Tybee Island, when the world is black and the fish are feeding one state up from shark-beset Floridian waters; and pausing on the shore to listen to the sound of something big and lumbering, splashing through the water only feet away on a strange southern night when the beach fog was so thick you couldn’t see six inches in front of your face. While I’m none too eager to repeat the idiotic behaviors of my past, at least I can rack up the points against my phobia, limbs still wholly intact.

I don’t make the fight against fear easy for myself though. While harboring nightmares of the deep, I’ve always been incredibly fascinated by bodies of water: researching aquatic creatures–pelagic or otherwise, exploring multicultural mythologies bent on explaining away the sea, writing numerous stories that enveloped seafaring in some way, and squirming through every episode of River Monsters I could get my hands on, too distracted by the idea that freshwater’s teeming with terrifying things like pallid, Spanish river dolphins to admire my oldest man-crush to date: extreme wrangler Jeremy Wade.

Thus, it’s a strange, masochistic love affair I’ve got going on with water. On the one hand, water has chaperoned most of my life and provided me with some of the fondest memories I can summon to this day. Sure sharks feed at night, but lying there in a black bed of oscillating seawater while staring up at an enormous white moon was one of the most serene moments of my life. And declaring Monkey Head Rock officially seized while the tide swiftly began to close in was exhilarating. On the other hand, all this risky business I conduct to prove my “might” may very well lead to me straight down to Davy Jones’ locker on the Flying Dutchman Express.

Perhaps if I can surmount this fear of mine though, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing… At least there’s always the Bill Dance bloopers my dear Greta James introduced me to to get ya rootin’ for water!