Monday, May 16, 2011

do you like the new skins better than the old skins?

I’m reviewing skins season 5 even though I never watched the final episode, because even though I love the new bunch of characters to bits, the storylines started to drive me nuts.

I think the acting talent is GREAT (I’m surprised every week by how good the actors are, considering all of them except Dakota Blue Richards have never acted professionally before). I actually cried in every episode. Two actors in particular took the cake for me. The first is the gorgeous Freya Mavor (from our very own Edinburgh) who plays Minnie, who shattered my heart the most when, under pressure from her rugby-captain boyfriend to have sex (for the first time), spends a whole scene contorting herself into different positions from a magazine article about “pleasing your man”. The pain and fear evident on her face during this scene depicted the pressure on teenage girls to be sexually competent even though they may be virgins, and sensitively reveal the secret insecurities of a girl who is otherwise the most popular and beautiful girl at school.

the new kids on the Bristol block
The other was Laya Lewis – but I can’t tell if I loved her acting, or just loved her character, or both. She has guts – she gets what she wants when she wants it, but she’s also humble enough to admit when she’s wrong and loves her friends enough to apologise (like when she sleeps with her best friend Minni’s boyfriend). There were a bunch of other turtly ahhsome moments – Nick bailing from his position as rugby captain when he realized the pressure of the role was turning him into someone he didn’t like, or Rich and Grace being too self-conscious to tell each other that they like each other for ages (awww! Loved it.)

But, I couldn't help but feel the screenwriters are running out of ideas - majorly. I mean, it has been five years and viewers are still watching kids feel alienated by their angry parents, get wasted, and come to sort of resolution about it, followed by speech about what they’ve learned and how they need to change. (Ok sure - that actually is a pretty real set of circumstances that probably happens to most teens but I don’t really want to spend an hour watching it on TV every week for that long). There was some variation – like I said, Minni’s episode was heart wrenching and sensitively complex and focused on her own insecurity rather than her parents (though there was the suggestion that her relationship with her promiscuous mother wasn’t great). But for the most part, each ep was about angry, overbearing and largely absent parents versus headstrong and oppressed teenagers, all culminating in the teens learning some level of humility and/or way of moving forward on their own terms...which is fine and good - but it was a recurring theme almost every week. 

Also, even though skins has always tended to focus each episode around a story of a different character, I feel like previous seasons did this in a way which highlighted individual stories while still continuing the other characters’ stories at the same time. Earlier seasons seemed to entwine the character’s stories together reasonably convincingly – season 5, however, seemed to focus so intently on one or two characters each week that the stories became isolated and somewhat contrived. Even though the scene where metal-head Rich watches Grace’s ballet performance and finds beauty in something other than metal (and other than himself, essentially) was effective in terms of its meaning, we don’t know enough about these characters by the time their episodes come around for it to be as emotionally affective as when, for example, Chris’ mother bails on him in Season 1.

Nevertheless, I’m still looking forward to Season 6. The screenwriters have set up a lot of interesting material to be explored (for example I hope they explore the Frankie’s family situation – she is adopted by gay male parents) and since the acting can only get better, I’m sure it will be just as melodramatic in the endearing way that skins always is – especially if the actors have some meatier scripts to work with. 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

well it sure does suck...

I hoped Suckerpunch was gonna be good. The trailer, to me, smacked of determined and passionate (albeit a bit simplistic and old-fashioned) feminism: a young girl is put into an insane asylum by her evil stepdad after her mum dies. To escape containment and lobotomy, the girl conjures up a battle field in her own imagination, and creatively “fights” her way out of through fantastical scenarios of war, guerrilla tactics and hand-to-hand fighting (at all three of which she kicks butt, as do the fellow female patients she includes in her escape place). The basic metaphor, I gathered, was something about the oppression of women by the evil and abusive institution of patriarchy that contains women through violence – but that women are able to “break free” through the creative power of their minds, and through banding together.

Of course, I saw problems with this metaphor – it positions all men as generically evil, and it suggests that a “freeing of the female mind” is enough to make women feel ok about the real violence and oppression they may have experienced (ie. you wouldn’t tell a rape victim to just fantasise about killing the rapist, and then assume her own trauma has been dealt with, or that “rape” as an issue in society has been removed). In any case: whatever misgivings I had about the trailer, I hoped they would dissipate through the course of film. THEY DIDN’T. (In fact, they grew and mutated in huge horrible monsters named Disbelief and Disgust).

The offending school uniform get up.
For one, the whole film was a shameless excuse to get hot chicks flashing as much butt-cheek and cleavage as possible. Babydoll (the main character) actually has two levels of escapist fantasy – apart from world of fighting in her mind, she imagines that the mental hospital is crazy burlesque brothel (!!?!) where young (underage?) fake-tanned girls strut around in corsets, fishnet tights and stilettos, each with their own electronic rotating bed. The creepy lobotomy doctor becomes a creepy pimp and the “fantasy world” of fighting that I saw in the trailer can only be accessed by Babydoll when she does a pornographic stripper dance. It is while she mesmerises everyone with her “moaning” and “gyrating” (as the other girls in the film describe) that she can distract the chief doctor (pimp), the psychologist (the madam) and guards so that the other female patients can steal a map, a key and some other objects that will help during their escape. To the film’s credit, we never actually see the notorious dance. However, equating female, imaginative freedom with self-objectification and sexualisation is totally problematic, and suggests girls can only really achieve freedom through showing their bodies (which will only work if their bodies are “good enough” to have power over men). Obviously this is no freedom at all, and I should have realised at this stage that the film probably wasn't intended as a contribution to contemporary gender politics. 

In any case, the scenes which depict the gunfights and explosions in Babydoll’s fantasyland feature the girls in revealing school-girl uniforms, encouraging some weird paedophilic voyeurism on the part of the audience. Also, Babydoll meets some random old guy in the fantasyland who gives her instructions about what objects she needs to escape. On the “real” level of the story, one of the female patients does escape, thanks to Babydoll, and when she gets out of the hospital and into the town, the same random old guy is the bus driver, who gives her a knowing wink and lets her ride the bus for free. Babydoll and this woman, then, are actually totally dependent on this guy for having achieved any level of freedom at all. And yet we never find out who the heck this guy is – he’s just another vague male white father figure with the appropriate knowledge on how a women should behave (!!!?!). I’m not saying that men and women shouldn’t work together – of course I think they should. Some might argues that as a Christian (ie follower of Christ) that I am complicit in such a narrative of a masculine archetype - but actually, Jesus’ own history and claims are extremely specific and gender inclusive, as opposed to  the film's presentation of some vague cultural idea of manhood which refuses to account for its origin, its influence, or where it gets the omniscience it claims as natural to itself.

Plus, the film made no sense narratively. How did the real girls get into the brothel fantasy? The film nowhere explained what the correspondence was between the real life of the girl and her fantasies – presumably they matched up somehow, but it wasn’t clear. Plus, the fight scenes sucked – talk about boring, and pornographic. As my good friend blogged here[Snyder, the director] could have considered the fact that us chicks would definitely not be impressed by seeing the same jump and twirl that conveniently exposes lots of creamy thigh five times in a row (and countless of other times over the course of the movie.) And for the love of all that is holy, where is the gore?

I’m going to hold it there, even though I could write another thousand words on many other aspects of badness into the film. MORAL OF THE STORY: filmmakers need to get out of the habit of writing films that position men as automatically having negative power and women automatically being on the defensive. How else will we move forward out of this thinking, to an ideology where men and women can work together on equal terms? I know I sound ranty. Soon I will find something I like and write a happy post :) To cheer you up, here is a shot from the hilarious scene in Wayne's World that inspired the name of this post, and exemplifies my feelings towards Suckerpunch. Love yas!