October 21

Playing the gender card

You already know this is going to be about Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Alan Jones, gender, media and politics so I’m not going to blame you from clicking elsewhere… now.

All right. Hello, the two of you who are left.

I had a short stoush with someone on Twitter last week. This is quite unusual for me, because I’m used to whining into the ether that is the 140-character blue bird’s blah stream and getting no response whatsoever from anything I say. (Actually, that’s not true. I do get @ replies, comments, RTs and favorites but that’s because I rarely say things that are controversial.) It went something like this:

So here’s the situation as I understand it:

  • Speaker of the House Peter Slipper once wrote a text message to his former assistant James Ashby describing female genitalia as shell-less mussels. 
  • Slipper is currently under investigation for sexual harassment with regard to his conduct towards Ashby. The text was used to illustrate the sexualised nature of the exchange between the two. Ashby is gay.
  • Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott proposed a motion to remove Slipper based on his ‘sexist’ text. Also because this would supposedly give the Coalition an edge in a hung Parliament.
  • Prime Minister Julia Gillard responded in a way that is now famous, labelling Abbott a misogynist (see video below).

  • Gillard was then accused of playing the gender card when it suited her.
  • I got annoyed.

So it seems I got annoyed without actually clarifying what I meant by not trying to play a ‘gender card’ and taking it out of the equation. Because Gillard does play a gender card but by doing so, it should take gender out of the equation. I’ll put it this way, Gillard cannot play the gender card unless it has already been played. It doesn’t work unless it has already been played. So the smart thing for the Opposition to do is not bloody well play it. But intelligence has never been their strong suit and Gillard totally owned them in 15 minutes.

I almost clapped at the end of that speech. I’m not a Labor voter and I don’t even like Gillard, but I respect her and I welcome her return to form because we need someone viable to be PM seeing as I’ve pretty much decided to leave the country if Abbott gets elected.

Other things I believe:

  • Describing vaginas as shell-less mussels is not sexist. It’s just embarrassing. And bad for the seafood industry.
  • Even if the message were sexist, a text message that was never meant for the public domain should not receive the same weight as a political statement made for many: Slipper’s perceived sexism is not equal to Abbott’s.
  • Abbott is not a misogynist. I think he has an outdated idea of what women can and can’t do, which makes him sexist in an ignorant way but I don’t think he goes out of his way to hate women. He just hates Gillard. He hates that she is not anything like what he believes a woman ‘should be’ (Christian and married with children, probably) and yet is Prime Minister.
  • Women aren’t suited to this type of politics. It’s stupidly skewed towards a male idea of leadership and governance. Women need a paradigm shift that will allow the public to recognise their talents. At the moment these are being ignored because they are not prioritised by the male idea of what is useful in government and politics.

I want to share with you this great cartoon by Cathy Wilcox as well:

A note about Alan Jones
For those who need a quick overview: Julia Gillard’s father died of shame: Alan Jones.

Something else I feel the need to tack on the end here: I do believe radio talkback host Alan Jones is misogynist. He has always been condescending about women and I actually believe he hates them and is prejudiced against them.

I don’t believe he should have been hauled over the coals about his ‘died of shame’ comment, however. Although it was offensive I think it would have been made whether Gillard was male or female because that’s how tactless Jones is. His following remark about people going easy on Gillard because she is a woman is patently wrong because she has certainly been given a harder time as a woman (can anyone think of a time a male politician has been made fun of in the general media because of his dress sense? Anyone?).

But he does deserve the heat he’s getting now. The Gillard comment is what broke the camel’s back. Gillard reacted because Abbott echoed the ‘died of shame’ comment in a different context. My partner believes he did this deliberately to get a rise out of her and show how emotionally unstable she was (possibly to link that to being a woman and therefore incapable of keeping emotion out of politics). Instead, she bit back with a very well composed retort. The tide then turned against both Abbott and Jones simultaneously.

Jones should actually have been fired/jailed/banished long ago for sedition (re: Cronulla riots), bullying and harassment. If that’s not enough, there should be some penalty for hypocrisy. As soon as Destroy the Joint started picking off advertisers from his show, Jones started feeling victimised. Poor diddums. I wonder if he thought like that when he was the one encouraging people to act on their beliefs. I guess not.

So let me close this rant by saying I hate the idea we are playing a game with politics, the media and online opinion but I am learning to accept the way it must be. One can live in hope that it will all turn out for the best*, right?

* The ‘best’ meaning ‘a country in which Tony Abbott is not the Prime Minister’. I have met the man and I don’t like him.

October 20

Looper (film)

I want to start on a foundation that establishes that I had no real idea what this film was about but was keen to see it as I’d heard it was good. Also: time travel!
Generally speaking, it is quite good as an action film. The performances by the three leads are spot on, and the ensemble cast was also well picked and supported the drama where they were needed most—in the fray.
Also praiseworthy was Rian Johnson’s concept of the future: in the USA you could see the divide between the rich and the poor clearly and the cityscape was dilapidated enough to be a believable version of an America that was once great but had devolved into a slum-like state; in the Shanghai scenes you could see the Pearl Tower (currently one of the tallest buildings in the city) dwarfed by taller ones still, indicating China’s future growth, wealth and power. Pre-empting this visual presentation is a verbal encouragement by the boss character for Joe to learn Chinese instead of French.

The premise of ‘Looper’ is fairly straightforward: In the future, time travel is possible but it is outlawed. A criminal organisation uses it to send people to the past (before time travel has been invented) to be killed and disposed of without a trace. A looper is a killer who works for this organisation in the past. He is called a looper because eventually the person he kills is his future self, thereby closing the loop. When the looper kills himself he gets a huge payout and lives comfortably for the rest of his life until such time as he gets sent back in time to be killed. This is presumably so the mob have no loose ends.

*** there are spoilers in this review ***

I have a fair few problems with this. Firstly, why would you need a looper to know he killed his future self? None of his other targets are identified. Except for the payout of gold bars, the looper would never know that the person he just killed was himself so why tell him? Just keep using him and then retire him. Get another looper to kill the future self, who cares?

The second, quite major, problem is the time travel element. Now, I’ve heard a lot of talk about ‘Looper’ and I can generally put the audience into one of two camps: action movie and sci-fi. I tend to find that the action movie audience like the movie a lot more, they find it cerebral without being too taxing with enough shoot ’em ups to make it a pretty good film. They believe they have a grasp of the sci-fi element.

The sci-fi camp are less impressed. They understand all the concepts of time travel presented in the film but they don’t buy it because writer/director Rian Johnson has chosen to use a few theories in the one film and those few theories cannot coexist.

For example when one looper, Seth, fails to close his loop the gang hunts him down and then carves an address into his arm, knowing that his future self will bear the scars. As old Seth makes his way to the address, bits of him disappear—a foot, his nose etc—because the gang is hacking off bits from young Seth. Now if young Seth has all these deformities, how does he then grow to be old Seth, who is able to run from the young Seth when he is sent back in time to be killed? You cannot have a ‘one timeline’ theory (old Seth being affected by young Seth’s amputations) and a ‘many worlds’ theory (old Seth, who originally closed his loop successfully and went on to live a good life and this situation, where young Seth does not close his loop successfully so therefore cannot go on to live the life that old Seth has evidently already lived) coexist.

So this is a really bothersome part of the main story in which one version has young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) close his loop and grow up to be old Joe (Bruce Willis) and a second version in which young Joe fails to close his loop and has old Joe beat him up and escape.

When the two later meet in a cafe old Joe tries to explain things by saying his ‘memories’ are vague and are full of possibilities rather than concrete recollections. The only things that are clear are the things that young Joe has already done, not the things young Joe is about to do.

This is problematic because at the end of the film young Joe kills himself to prevent old Joe from existing to threaten a mother (Sarah) and her son Cid, a future threat to old Joe. Except if we go by the ‘one timeline’ theory this means that old Joe should not have existed at all to come back to threaten the two. Only, young Joe would never have killed himself if old Joe hadn’t come back and set all these events in motion, in which case we are dealing with a ‘many worlds’ theory. But in that case, young Joe killing himself would not have an effect on old Joe, who would have come from another ‘version’ of young Joe, one who had successfully closed his loop to become old Joe. GAH!

Even more problematic is the idea that young Joe has clearly made up his mind to protect Sarah and Cid and yet this understanding of the two has no effect on old Joe’s decision to kill Cid, which proves that this old Joe is not derived from the young Joe we have followed throughout the film.

As for Sarah and Cid, the son is creepy and Sarah sleeps with young Joe for no apparent plot consequence. Also, the fact that they are telekinetic feels tacked on, even though telekinesis was introduced at the start and becomes a big deal as young Joe learns the consequences of Cid’s powers.

All in all, the film appears all slick and macho and brainy but is actually a kind of mess. The only thing saving it is the performances by actors who probably didn’t question Johnson’s multiple uses of time travel theory too much and therefore gave a straight performance.

Film rating: 7/10 – actually quite a decent action film if you forgive all the time travel nonsense.
Enjoyment rating: 5/10 – except I didn’t forgive it.

October 6

Ruby Sparks (film)

*** there are spoilers in this review ***

I wanted to like this film so very much. It has been too long since Little Miss Sunshine and directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris certainly deserved a free visit* after the masterful dose of quirkiness from that film.

The premise—a writer bringing a character to life from the page and interacting with her—had a whimsy I thought Dayton and Faris could really work with, and the trailer looked promisingly full of writer jokes. Someone also mentioned a surprise ending. Goody, I thought, something refreshing at last. It won’t be something lame like he stops writing about her and she ends up being a real person. And yet the most surprising thing about this ‘surprise’ ending was that it was no surprise at all.

First I’d like to say a few choice words about the good parts of this film. The performances were excellent. The rather diverse (from Annette Bening to Antonio Banderas to Steve Coogan in support) ensemble worked well and the two leads, Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, had great chemistry as a duo. Zoe Kazan had the light-hearted kookiness of that other Z girl, Zooey Deschanel, but played her role with more vivacity.

If seen as a journey for Dano’s Calvin, the film works well. We get a sense of who he is because when he stops ‘writing’ her, Ruby is a foil for him: she enjoys a weekend with his family while the distance he keeps from his mother and her partner couldn’t be more clear, his solitude is more stark against her easy friendliness and his discomfort with writer’s block (his first book was a bestseller and he hasn’t written anything as hefty since) is played out against her burgeoning creativity as an artist.

Calvin writes Ruby because he wants to change all of those things. He wants to be emotionally engaged with someone, he wants company and he wants to write freely. When he gives Ruby up, he gets all of that in the most metafictitious sense: he writes a novel about a girl who springs from a writer’s imagination, which unblocks him and leads him to meet a ‘real’ Ruby. If you love it set it free, et cetera.

The other great thing about this film is that it is genuinely warm and funny. There aren’t a lot of one-liners, but it is generally good humoured and anything that can be played for laughs is woven in without malice.

Where the film falls down is in the idea of Ruby herself. The film is called Ruby Sparks so we want Ruby to be more than a figment, then we want her to be more than an unsurprising surprise ending but she never gets there. Curiously Kazan, who wrote the script and starred as Ruby Sparks, didn’t think to push the character further. So Ruby as a foil and an idea = good; Ruby as her own being = not well realised.

On the way home my partner and I thought of better endings for the film, or at least endings that weren’t as predictable, things like Calvin’s ex, who is also a writer and who we meet at his agent’s party, wrote him but lost control of her own creation, which is why he ends up being more successful than her. Or, it was a magic typewriter. Or something about Calvin’s mother also being a creative type.

The other factor that disappointed me was that the directors didn’t play enough with the story in a story in a story format (Calvin’s novel, which was Calvin’s life with Ruby, which was the film). I mean, that’s a meta meta fiction and an opportunity lost. If you want to see a good story in a story in a story, go rent Stranger than Fiction (2006).

Film rating: 6/10 – fair expectations, but disappointingly predictable
Enjoyment rating: 7/10

* Free visit: where you see a film because of a certain director/writer/actor even if you don’t really know what it’s about, because you enjoyed the last one of theirs so much. When you have a favourite director/screenwriter/actor and will see anything of theirs no matter what the reviews, it’s called a magnet.