Thursday, November 2, 2017

Death Note: Rules, principles, and the purpose of a remake

Oh, hello friends.  I didn't see you there.  Please, come in.  At the time of writing, I just finished watching the Death Note remake on Netflix and it proved to be the perfect material to break the ice on this long-forgotten snark platform of ours.

(I wish I could say this is the start of regular blogging here again, but that tragically seems unlikely.  I do have a twitter now, and of course the blogqueen has been tweeting prolifically for years.  We'll see if I can follow in her illustrious keysteps.)

Death Note (The American One, Mostly)

(Content: death, murder, sexual assault, misogyny.  Fun content: that depends on how much you missed me.)

I feel like any adaptation--whether it's book to film, or a series reboot or reimagining, whatever--has two extra criteria for judgment that original creations can ignore: 
  1. Does this story stand on its own, without already knowing the source material? 
  2. What value did the adapters get by changing whatever they changed?
And I feel like, regardless of one's opinions on the original story, the American Death Note fails completely on both of these points.  Its protagonist, Light, is changed in bizarre ways that sabotage the thesis of the original, while the supporting leads Mia and L are burdened with new rubbish flaws all too typical for the treatment of women and black men in US cinema.

Death Note (as in 'notebook') started out as a hit manga, which got turned into a hit anime, which got turned into a bunch of other supplementary materials and movies and such, all of which were Japanese and all telling the same core story of high school student Light Yagami, who gains magical murder powers and gets into a years-long battle of wits with law enforcement as he slaughters hundreds of criminals for the supposedly greater good.  It was far from perfect, but it was compelling and creative, telling a story of a seeming paragon of his community who didn't need to be corrupted--he just needed the opportunity to be evil and he'd drag himself down without a blink.  In the name of saving the world from dangerous criminals, he'd kill innocent people to cover his trail, to protect himself, or just to make a point.  He'd manipulate people's emotions, twist and control them, sure of his own perfection and his justified ends.

Light Yagami is a model student, a star athlete, an Encyclopedia Brown-grade genius who helps his cop father solve crimes, and gorgeous heartthrob with legions of girls swooning over him.  He might have gone on to become a brilliant lawyer or miracle doctor or follow his dad's path and be a legendary detective, but he finds a magic book that can kill people and he thinks why not be a god?  Death Note is a story about how someone who's basically modern nobility might actually be the worst kind of monster.  (Before it meant anything else, 'aristocracy' meant 'rule by the best people'.  Sometimes we have to remind ourselves not to trust that idea.)

Light Turner, the protagonist of the Netflix movie, is not this*.  Instead of the outwardly perfect superman, he's a standard American teen protagonist: a nerdy outcast, smarter than bullies but still getting into trouble, with a recently-dead mother and a crush on a cheerleader.  Where the original story makes the Yagamis a magazine-perfect family with mom, dad, and 2.3 kids, Light Turner lives with his dad in a tiny house next to a freight rail line for no apparent reason.  Class politics aren't part of this story, it's just a truth universally acknowledged that a sympathetic teenage protagonist comes from a working-class family.

Where Light Yagami showed vulcan-ish logic and emotional control, Light Turner is every inch the awkward teen, ineffectively confronting bullies and stuttering when pretty girls acknowledge his existence.  Where Light Yagami started experimenting with the killing book of his own accord and didn't hesitate to start offing detectives getting too close to his trail, Light Turner has to be pushed into using it for the first time (to rescue another student), and ultimately goes through the whole movie without killing anyone who hasn't already committed some ghastly crime.  (His second kill is the mafia goon who killed his mom in a traffic accident, who apparently went free because the mob bribed the jury.)

I spent most of the movie trying to figure out if the adaptation writers had intentionally chosen to make their protagonist nothing like the original, or if they thought we were supposed to sympathise with Light.  I think it was intentional, but good lord, at what cost?  Let's talk about the women of Death Note.

Light's mom is not significant in the original story, and she's already been killed for plot fodder in this one.  Other women were mostly extras or quickly killed.  His sister got left out of this version entirely.  The only major female character in the original is Misa Amane, a model who hero-worships Light for killing her parents' murderer and becomes his willing accomplice and nominal girlfriend.  She's clever by normal standards but, of course, foolish compared to proper geniuses like Light, and thus spends most of the story being his willing plaything, killing as he directs and absorbing whatever casual cruelty he shows because she just wants to be useful to him.  It's awful, and the audience is meant to condemn Light for his treatment of her, even if she is also a killer.

In this version, Misa becomes Mia Sutton, and she is the Real Villain of the story.  Mia is the one who pushes Light to kill more people, more publicly, to kill anyone who dares challenge him, and possibly manipulates his emotions to keep him on her side.  I'm sort of impressed that the adapters managed to substantially increase female agency while also keeping the misogyny, and even bumping it from 'evil people mistreat women' to 'the only woman is pure evil'.

Mia is introduced early in the story as the cheerleader that Light watches from the sidelines like an earnest shy creeper.  He's shocked that she knows his name (as American movie tradition demands), and the minute she shows any interest in the book he's reading, he tells her everything about it.  He even declares that she "of all people" should understand the potential of the book, indicating she has some important backstory that got cut from the final version of the movie.  They talk about being able to bring peace to those who have been let down by cops and politicians, and inventing a god of justice to make people too scared to commit crimes.  And then they have sex, because (again) American movie tradition demands it.
[Light and Mia sneak past his dad, sleeping in front of the TV, and up to his room.  Light leans toward her, then hesitates.] 
LIGHT: Can I kiss you? 
MIA: You're not supposed to ask. 
ME: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
We actually have scenes where they are actively making out or undressing each other while googling war criminals to kill off.  This is just apparently their fetish. (ERIKA NOTE: Just saying, Drawn Together picked "murder and wreckage" as a fetish for one of their episodes and probably handled it better. That is not a high bar.)  They also decide their murdersona needs a name--where the Japanese public just started referring to the force murdering all these criminals as Kira ("killer") in the original, Light intentionally chooses the name in this version, with the justification that it means 'light' in Celtic and Russian, and then tries to use the Japanese connection to throw off suspicion.  It doesn't work, and that's when we meet L.

In all versions of this story, L is the counterpart to Light.  Light appears normal, trustworthy, and pretty, and he is an utterly amoral murderer-protagonist.  L is weird, no one trusts him, he looks creepy, and he's the virtuous antagonist.  He's Light's only intellectual equal, tracking down an untraceable killer just as fast as Light can cover his tracks.

Like everything else in this story, the adapters appear to have missed or ignored the point.  Even just consider the following:

Pictured: the live-action American Light played by Nat Wolff, an archetypal gawky Movie Teen, next to the cool and precisely styled anime version of Light.

Pictured: the anime L, an unkempt man with an unsettling stare, and his American live-action counterpart, Lakeith Stanfield, who is more attractive than any human really needs to be.

Granted, apart from making L hot, the adaptation's initial depiction of him is pretty solid.  He's still eccentric, still obsessed with sweets, and they even cast a black actor in this heroic role (I'm generally for this!).  We find him inspecting a Japanese crime scene (cameo by producer Masi Oka) and then boarding a jet with his assistant, the elderly Watari, the only character who stayed Japanese through this adaptation.  L is a Sherlock-esque consulting detective, smart enough to have already narrowed down Kira's true location to Seattle.

(While the original story spends immense time on the details of Light and L's battles of wits, this movie glosses over most of them for the sake of time.  I will summarise because I have a question.  L realised that, before the Kira name started going around, a guy in Seattle in a standoff with police suddenly set his hostages free and then died in a convenient traffic accident, inexplicable events typical of Kira's murders.  To confirm his theories, L started seeding older criminal files into police databases in the Seattle region, and Light apparently used one of those to kill off gangsters in Japan.  When we first see L, he's examining a club where said gangsters appear to have killed each other, but the staff working the club are also dead.  Light wouldn't have been writing the names of the club dancers or waiters unless they were also violent criminals.  Was that just literally a Villains-Only club, or did a bunch of innocent people get killed as well?  That's not supposed to be how the Death Note works.  It has rules.  It has so many rules.**)

Once L arrives, the hunt for Kira amps up, and Light realises he's being tailed by an FBI agent (on the grounds that Light may have access to the police database, which they know Kira does).  Light, as our sympathetic protagonist, gets scared and wants to stop using the Death Note entirely, even though public faith in the justice of Lord Kira is taking off.  Mia says they just have to find out who all of the agents on the team are and kill them simultaneously, to scare off further investigation without implicating Light specifically.  Light is shocked, shocked to hear Mia suggest they use murder to solve their problems.  He's a sympathetic protagonist, after all!  All he's done is kill a few hundred bad guys.  That's what American heroes are supposed to do!  But Mia isn't an obedient girlfriend in this one--she steals a page from the book and kills the FBI agents herself, while Light just thinks it was the work of Ryuk.

(I haven't mentioned Ryuk until now because, in this version of the story, he's basically irrelevant.  Ryuk is the death god who originally owned the book, and he pushed Light to initially use it to kill the school bully who was at that moment threatening to rape another student.  In the original story, of course, Light needs no tempting, and Ryuk mostly exists so Light has an audience surrogate to explain his schemes to.  In this version, he has Mia to help with plot exposition, and she handles the corruption for him too.)

In the aftermath of the agents' mass "suicide", Light's cop father makes a public challenge to Kira, and when he doesn't die for it, L immediately concludes that Light is the killer.  (They have a showdown which is actually pretty good, because Lakeith Stanfield is a top-notch actor.)  To save himself, Light uses the book to compel Watari to go find L's real name.  (The book can "influence" someone's actions for up to two days before killing them, but One Time Only you can burn a page from the book to spare someone's life even after condemning them, so Light is planning to save Watari once he's got the information he needs.  Light's a protagonist, after all, and therefore a good guy!)

I said at the start that adaptations need to stand on their own without knowing the original version***, and this is once of the places where Death Note faceplants.  In the original story, L and some of his colleagues have a complicated and mysterious backstory that is only occasionally hinted at over the course of many chapters.  In this version, the compelled Watari phones up Light and hypnotically explains that L is an orphan raised in a special program that conditions its subjects from childhood to become ultimate detectives.  L was only initiated into the program when, at the age of six, he was able to endure the requisite seven months in solitary confinement without a complete mental breakdown.

That's...

Uh...

Look, in a fifty-episode anime or a hundred-volume comic book, okay, I guess you can spread out the heavy lifting that it takes to introduce those sorts of concepts organically, but in a robotic monologue from a hypnotised butler in the middle of this movie about the corrupting influence of power, that's fuckin' weird.  (Not to mention also being much more backstory than Mia ever gets!)

The conclusion of this is that L's name can only be found in the abandoned orphanage's records, which the writers could have done without the bizarre Ender's Game For Detectives exposition slam.  Watari goes off to hunt for the name, and his disappearance immediately causes L to crack.  Now, far be it from me to object to rational characters acting irrationally when people they care about are in danger, but for the rest of the movie L becomes an increasingly loose cannon, starting with storming the Turner house to accuse and threaten Light's life face-to-face.  That's not something the original L would ever do, and it's at best uncomfortable that they've decided to add this uncharacteristic emotional unhinging after making him the only significant black character.  (It only ramps up after the plan fails, Watari dies, and L, who hates guns, grabs a gun and steals a cop car to chase down Light.  But I'm getting ahead of myself; there's more feminine evil to discuss first.)

Lest we forget just how incredibly American this version is, the climactic events all occur on the night of the homecoming dance at Light and Mia's school.  There's some very weak misdirection involving a top hat that's supposed to let Light slip away from the dance, get L's name from Watari by phone, and then burn the page to save him, but Light discovers that page has already been taken from his book by Mia.  This knocks Light into realising that Mia, not Ryuk, was behind the deaths of the FBI agents--as she explains, she was "protecting" him, both from the cops and from his own cowardice.  She doesn't want to ever stop meting out death in judgment, so she demands that he make her the official owner of the book.  As insurance, she's written his death into it, but since she stopped him from saving Watari, the One-Time-Only Takeback can still be used to spare him.

(Side note: like a lot of the schemes in this movie, this doesn't actually make sense.  Light knows where the book is; Mia does not.  To save himself, he doesn't have to give the book to her, he just has to go burn his own page.  Mia does have one page that she stole, but that's not the one with Light's name on it.  There's no reason for him to give her the book now.)

A prolonged chase scene across the city ensues.  L manages to corner Light at one point, and Light starts to spill everything, but a random bystander shows up on the scene.  L makes the mistake of saying that he's caught Kira, and rando knocks L out with a plank because he is a true believer in Lord Kira.  Light and Mia have their final confrontation on a Ferris wheel.  Light asks her to Choose Love and give up on the book, but as soon as he's distracted she grabs for it and they both fall from the wheel.  She dramatically lands on a flower stall and dies amidst petals, while Light falls into the harbour and gets rescued.  The page with his name on it 'coincidentally' lands in a literal trash fire.

(There's then an incredibly uncomfortable scene in which a bunch of old white cops tell L that Light, currently hospitalised, is clearly not Kira and that, while L might not get jailed for his false accusation, he should know that he ain't welcome in their town anymore.  In a better movie, that kind of implicit threat would be an intentional reflection of police racism.)

Light wakes up from a two-day coma.  He's alive because everything that just happened was according to his last-ditch plan.  He used the book to compel a couple of sex offenders to rescue him from the water and hide the book while he was in his medically-induced coma, then kill themselves when their job was done.  He wrote his own survival into the book as part of their deaths, which... should not work according to any rule we've seen.  It's a book that kills, not saves.

He also wrote Mia's death in, which he admitted to her during their confrontation, but he insisted that it was a conditional thing that would only happen if she tried to steal the book.  This is presented as if it's something we should believe, but according to the rules as presented to us, the fact that he wrote 'she dies after taking the book' means she was magically compelled to steal the book, even if she really did want to Choose Love instead.  Was that what the writers intended?  Was this supposed to be a tragic mistake or a cover for a sinister plan?

Finally, Light's dad arrives and declares that he's realised Light really was the killer--no one else would have caught the connection, but the mafia goon who killed Mom Turner died right before the Kira business started.  Neither of them seems to know what to do now.  Meanwhile, L continues on his Emotionally And Morally Compromised Quest and searches Mia's home (she seems to have lived alone in an apartment, what was her backstory?!) until he finds the page of the Death Note she stole.  He twitches and cries and laughs as he stares at the page and at the nearby photo of Mia and Light together, obviously trying to decide whether to kill Light or not****.  Ryuk pops up to remark to Light that humans are "so interesting!"--and roll credits.

In summary, the white male protagonist gets rewritten as a misled but principled antihero, the white female lead gets powered up from amoral accomplice to ruthless evil mastermind temptress, and the black hero actually on the side of peace and justice goes on a rampage for revenge because he can't control his emotions.  Nothing remains of the original story of an apparent paragon of humanity becoming an unfathomable supervillain just because someone gave him the chance to act without accountability.

So what exactly was the point of this remake?

---

*When people first heard there was going to be an American remake of Death Note, many people pointed out the worst implications due to cultural differences (like American school mass murders, and the overfilling of US jails with black prisoners).  At least they avoided some of that in this script?  Which isn't to say there isn't still plenty of racism and xenophobia to go around: when we see Kira execute a military commander who's been torturing prisoners, they make sure it's an officer in some east Asian military, not American.  Acknowledging evil within the US army is going too far even for this Super Edgy movie.

**The rules of the Death Note are a central part of the original story, and we get every single one of them in detail over dozens of chapters.  This is a good choice for a battle of wits, because the audience understands exactly what the terms of the game are, and it helps us not feel like conflicts are just being resolved by someone pulling a new superpower out of their ear.  Here in this movie, we get a half-dozen rules and the rest are just blurred past with various exclamations of "Why does this thing have so many rules?"  I can see why they would do that to save time, but it does sort of undercut the characters' supposed cleverness, and Light Turner writes various things that the original rules would never have allowed.

***My personal go-to for failure on this is Star Trek Into Darkness, which wants the audience to be shocked and terrified by the revelation of the name Khan, a character who hadn't been featured anywhere in 30 years, let alone in this storyline.

****They obviously wanted to be able to pick it back up for a sequel if they could.  I'm guessing if they did that, L would in fact kill Light's dad to cause Light to suffer as L has, and then it's back to one-on-one cat-and-mouse between them because no one trusts L or believes Light is Kira.  I would protest the loss of the original conclusion as well ("teamwork > loner geniuses"), if it weren't so obvious that they're hoping to continue this story.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Prognostication and obfuscation

Hello everyone!  This blogpost serves several purposes.  First, I can assure everyone that Erika and I are alive and well--okay, we're alive, she's still got CFS and I'm currently coughing so hard that pain ripples through my back and all the way to my thumbs.  But we're doing okay.  Erika sends best wishes in particular to Erin Jeffreys Hodges.  Also, today we finally got around to watching Jupiter Ascending as well, which is DEFINITELY getting a post because I went into that expecting a beautiful mess and it was Everything.  We both have much to say.  With any luck, other posts will follow; it's been A Time lately for everyone.

We would also like you to know about this sugar glider that gets excellent reception:

Pictured: a sugar glider wearing a cone around its neck in typical cone-of-shame style.

On a more concrete bit of good news, I saw flyers posted in my neighbourhood last week that specifically called upon "fellow white people" to reject any fascist organisations in the area (naming various, some of which I'd never heard of before) and be on the look out for their activities.  The fight's going to get even more intense for the next few years, I guess, but personally I'm feeling punchier than I have in a long while.  Hope everyone's staying safe out there.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Hallowthon 2016 Anthology: What even is fear

It's the most wonderful time of the year again, friends and readers.  Like I said last October: "There are a hell of a lot of horror movies out there and a lot of the same things to be said about most of them: exploitation cliches with sexualised violence against women, weak women predated upon or protected by strong men, and people of colour treated as expendable for shock value.  Racist stereotypes as a source of villainy.  Sex corrupts the young and then they get murdered while the pure girls maybe survive.  We could do a hundred posts and they would all look basically the same."

So once again it's time for the Something Short And Snappy Hallowthon 2016 Anthology, in which the blogqueen and I provide you with quick notes on a dozen horror movies to swiftly judge them and help you find something worth watching on these cold dark nights.  This year's selection leans a bit towards the surreal and unusual, because that's just the tone 2016 has set for us all.

Detention
(CN: gore, murder, body horror)
Will: Blurbs for this movie describe it like a typical slasher, and the first few minutes make it look like it's going to be an unwatchable slasher--the blogqueen and I both considered whether we just wanted to switch it off.  We did not, and we were rewarded.  This movie is not a slasher.  This movie is a sci-fi Freaky-Friday-swap human-animal-hybrid alien-abduction time-travelling-space-bear reading-ahead-in-the-script-for-your-own-movie carnival of WTF.  I've never been high, but I'm 80% sure Detention makes equal amounts of sense regardless of your level of intoxication.  'Good' and 'bad' cease to be useful descriptors for this movie.  It is an experience that I do not regret including in my life.  That's not a recommendation, exactly.  (It does definitely have a share of jump scares and gore, but they're not the main feature by far.)

Erika: This movie is absurd, and I think I mean that in a good way? I struggle to find words for it, mostly just emphatic hand gestures while I make a series of vaguely confused squeaky noises, but that doesn't translate well to text. If you plan to actually sit down and watch a movie, this one could be a good call.

Hush
(CN: blood, murder)
Will: (Merciful spoiler: the cat is not harmed.  I actually liked most of this movie, so the fear that something would happen to the cat was a major damper.)  A deaf author moves out to a remote country home to work on her second novel, and a masked killer decides to hunt her.  While he's got various advantages, she's smarter and incredibly brave, so the battle of wits that makes up the bulk of the film is actually interesting, rather than just having a lot of a woman screaming as she runs uselessly from an implacable monster.  Most of the fear comes by ambiance and anxiety rather than jump scares.  The third act unfortunately trends back towards typical bloody slasher, and it felt like the writers couldn't decide between three different climactic fights so they just decided to use all of them in sequence.  On the other hand, having a deaf hero means that 90% of the dialogue is signed (if that's something you're looking for in a movie) and while Maddie explicitly views her deafness as a flaw for much of the story, she also--minor spoiler--ends up using the killer's hearing against him in the end, so I would tend to give the movie overall a good score on ability/ableism?

Hellraiser
(CN: Sexual violence, misogyny, gore, torture, murder, dragon)
Erika: I've seen Hellraiser twice now. I tried to talk Will through it, touching on villainous female sexuality, weird fetishes, and at one point a dragon if I remember correctly? I struggle to form a cohesive image of it in my mind. Largely because despite having seen it twice, it doesn't stick that vividly for me. Despite having a female protagonist, the movie is steeped in toxic masculinity. The one male character I actually liked was supposed to be laughed at for not being masculine enough and letting his wife be so awful to him. Because his wife mistreating him is a character flaw for him? It's got the usual sexist nonsense that many horror movies do, and I'm struggling to find anything interesting to say about it. It does have some really cool practical effects, and really gross gore stuff. If you're just in it for the grossness, sure, watch Hellraiser, but like a lot of Classics, you're not really missing anything.

The People Under The Stairs
(CN: Racist language, mutilation, torture, sexual violence, animal abuse. Just--everything. CN for All Of It)
Erika: Okay, so we were watching this movie while playing Sushi-Go, and I sort of only half saw the first half? This is important because I think there were a lot of black ghetto stereotypes in there but I'm not positive. It starts with a little black boy (unfortunately only ever called Fool, because that's what came up when his sister did a tarot reading for him) wrangled into helping case a joint to get money for his mother's surgery. The house they're casing has people who basically own the town and have been gentrifying the poorer neighborhoods.  They've chosen it because apparently they have gold in the basement, and not because they're just going to Robin Hood that shit. What is supposed to be a simple robbery goes very, very wrong when the two adults get killed by the owners of the house, and Fool finds out there is a hoard of pasty teenage boys in the basement. Not a subreddit--they're mutilated by the owners of the house, stolen by the couple (who are actually siblings because this wasn't gross enough already) but deemed "impure".

It's tense, it's gross, and a lot of the actually scary parts come from how deeply fucked up the people in it are. Actual distressed noises were made as I watched it. It does have some troubling issues with racism, but it also seems to be trying and do some interesting things with it? As I said, I missed chunks of the movie so I can't speak with confidence on the topic, but Fool is clever and tenacious and likable. SPOILER: the evil dog does die.

The 2016 American Presidential debate trilogy
(CN: Misogyny, racism, Trump)
Erika: Ok, so I didn't catch the first installment in this terrifying series, but I did see the second two. The whole premise seems laughable at first. A highly qualified woman is running to be president of the US against a bigoted angry cheeto. And they really amp up how absurd the Cheeto is. The viewer is often left wondering: how could anyone take this character seriously? But viral marketing aspect really helps with that, showing support outside of the actual debates on twitter and the like. I think the writers realized that and toned him down in the third installment, but the character still seems entirely unreasonable to me. That said, the meta stuff they've put out with it is what makes it truly horrifying. Have you seen some of those news articles on The Cheeto's actions? And the reactions to it? Pure horror because it starts to just feel so real. I feel and hope their conclusion will be obvious, but those of you able to vote in the US on which of these wins should go out and do so! If only because I'm not convinced the writers realized that The Cheeto isn't a legitimate option and need to understand that he isn't.  Make them understand. Vote him out of existence.


Leprechaun
(CN: Comedic gore and violence,  ableism)
Erika: If you want a movie to put on in the background at your Halloween party that people might occasionally catch half a scene of and go "Wait what?" I highly recommend this one. It is campy and cheesy and absurd and the acting is about on par with porn. At one point they throw shoes at the leprechaun while running away so it has to stop to clean them to buy them time. It doesn't take itself too seriously, which personally I enjoy. I was too sober when I watched it, so I noticed there is one character who the writers wrote as "slow". There are a lot of unfortunate 'fat stupid comedic relief' tropes around him, and I don't think the writers knew they were coding him as autistic. With that in mind, there is some interesting dynamics around how other characters treat and react to him (mostly with kindness and affection). If someone else wants to sit down and actually pay attention to it (I do not recommend that; I was rooting for everyone to die so hard) I'd urge you to consider the accidental layers there as you do.

Doom
(CN: Gore, violence, misogyny, gross monsters)
Erika: If you follow me on twitter, you probably saw me tweeting through this. I'm bitter at the husbeast and the Alexs for making me sit through this when I can't drink and they all can. It opens with MANLY MEN BEING MANLY AND BY THE WAY DID YOU KNOW THEY WERE MEN WITH GUNS AND PENISES WHO ONLY THINK ABOUT PUTTING SAID PENISES AND GUNS IN WOMEN? No, really, that's 90% of the character development. This movie was unsure how seriously it was taking itself, but it was still too seriously. If they had just given up and gone full camp it could have been fun, but they didn't, so it's just kind of a sexist mess. The only named female character who is a doctor is called a "dumb woman" because she believed the people she was working for weren't evil. The Rock is Lawful Evil in deeply unbelievable ways. Karl Urban wins a fight against The Rock which, even having been weakened by CGI, is just not believable. Also Good and Evil are genetic? There is one scene where it goes into first person shooter mode that's absurd and kind of fun, but I'd give this one a pass.

Rites of Spring
(CN: gore, torture, murder)
Will: This is not a story.  This is one third each of two separate stories mashed together, which by my math still leaves us one third short.  One plot starts strong with a Bechdel-passing scene of two women in a bar discussing corporate politics, one trying to decide whether or not to admit that she was responsible for a recent failure after someone else has taken the blame.  They immediately get kidnapped by a gruff old man whose motivations are never fully explained.  I mean, it's not hard to piece together from incidental information: every spring, this small town sacrifices several people to some kind of monstrous entity to magically ensure good farming.  But I suggest a general rule: if your story is such a cliche that you just pull an Avril ("Can I make it any more obvious?") maybe it's such a cliche that you should do better.  The other plot, tangentially related, concerns a small conspiracy of people planning to ransom a rich guy's daughter.  Dunno about y'all, but I don't watch horror movies for disturbingly mundane and realistic murder scenes.  These two plots collide by chance and provide our unexplained monstrous entity with a crew of criminals to kill in the final act.  There's supposed to be something clever going on, because the well-meaning desperate dude in the ransom gang is the guy who took the fall for the captured heroine's mistake at work, so maybe they were going for some kind of weird reap-what-you-sow thing (that coincidentally suggests that our Final Girl brought all this horror on herself)?  There is a distinct lack of ending as well, although not as grievously as our next entry:

The Midnight After
(CN: blood, death, rape)
Will: A Hong Kong horror movie that I didn't realise was supposed to be satirical until I read its wiki page.  To again spare you my pain, let me say first that this movie literally has no ending and none of the weirdness is explained, which makes it all weird for weirdness' sake, and I don't know if I don't get it because I'm not from Hong Kong or what.  Which is too bad, because it's mostly pretty good weirdness: seventeen people riding a bus together at 2:30am find themselves abruptly alone in the world and desperately try to figure out what's going on.  Time travel?  Ghosts?  Some kind of magic disease?  A nuclear disaster?  David Bowie?  The answer appears to be 'yes to all' (especially Bowie), except that the movie ends as the survivors finally get on the road to finding possible answers, so we don't actually know.

There is a plotline that definitely requires some further discussion, because amongst all the other mystery and death, one woman is found dead and apparently raped, and we then later see that scene play out in flashbacks as the rapist is revealed by his accomplice.  I'm not sure why the writer thought this was an important thing to have, but the treatment of it is at least decent?  The actual scenes are played for revulsion rather than titillation, the victim isn't stripped for the camera or anything.  To my particular surprise, while some of the other men briefly argue for "rape is bad but what are we going to do about it now, kill him?", the women respond with "yeah, I have a knife right here" and everyone agrees this is as close to a court of law as they can manage when they're the only people in the world.  The actual execution is variously played for pathos and grim humour as each person stabs him once, some more enthusiastically than others.  The whole thing still feels rather unnecessary (fewer pointless rape plotlines in anything, please) but ultimately I can only complain so much about characters agreeing that rapists get no mercy.

It Follows
(CN: blood, death, sexualised violence)
Erika: There was so much hype about this movie, and it really didn't live up to it. I feel there was a lot of symbolism and depth this movie thought it had that I just wasn't getting. Like, I know the pools/water imagery was supposed to mean SOMETHING, but I'm not 100% sure what. Is that supposed to represent the main character's relationship with her sexuality? Peace of mind? There were some aspects I loved: the main character, upon becoming an assault victim, is rallied around by everyone rather than dismissed and questioned.  Although people do at first question if she is literally being followed by a demon or something, they don't try to talk her out of her fear, they just try to make her feel safe, which is refreshing. It would be more refreshing if consensual sex didn't lead to murder demons, but you know, take wins where we can. I also liked how the women were often shown in typical horror movie girl poses/outfits (the opening scene has a woman in a sheet tank top, shorts, and heels running around) but rarely are they filmed as sexy. We see Jay in underpants or a swimsuit often, but she's shown in granny panties and a one piece. The girls aren't wearing loads of make up that were supposed to believe is just what they look like. Their clothes aren't skintight and played off as comfortable and casual. It's weird, and worth a watch, but I wouldn't put it at the top of my list.

Will: The premise of 'what if the Terminator was an STI' is certainly horrifying, and the movie is pretty visually effective, but like the blogqueen I also spent a lot of time trying to figure out why the writers made various choices.  Was there a ton of symbolism I was missing?  If the monster takes the shape of 'whatever it thinks will get it close to you', why does it keep picking such bizarre and creepy forms instead of something compelling and comforting?  It does sort of do that eventually, appearing as the protagonist's father, but it has previously appeared as completely naked people (first female, then male), or as apparent murder victims, or various other disturbing forms.  Mostly I feel like this movie suffers because the problem becomes a sort of logic puzzle, like "Couldn't you make a deal with someone in Asia where you fly there every year or so to have sex, passing the curse back and forth, so that every time the monster finally climbs out of the Marianas Trench it suddenly realises it has to change direction again?"  And the characters never really try to get clever with the solution like that, so I'm just left with more thought experiments that I can't see in action.

The Devil's Hand
(CN: blood, nudity, brief sexual assault)
Will: Both better and worse than I expected.  The setting is an Amish commune in the modern day, where they have a prophecy about 'the Drommelkind' (devil child?) that seems to start coming true when six girls are all born on the same night.  There is much muttering and grumbling about whether they can be redeemed or should be killed for everyone else's protection.  So, there's the pretty swift Bechdel pass when most of our main characters are women, and it's at least sort of interesting to have Amish characters not presented as inherently backwards and wrong--but there are also the tiresome standbys like the Evil Stepmother, and the horror sequences mostly consist of the girls dying one by one at the hands of a hooded figure.  The primary antagonist is the leading elder of the town, who we also quickly and clearly see is a creeper and probably repeat molester, and there was some potential for interesting dynamics when one of the girls insists they rally people against him while others cling to excuses and veneers of religious purity.  Overall, I was hoping this was going to be a movie that argued 'the devil' is unnecessary when we're capable of justifying evil to ourselves in the name of righteousness, and maybe a self-fulfilling prophecy where it's the moral panic and vicious response that causes disaster after all... but that is not what we get.  The final scenes of the movie don't make a lot of sense (the killer's identity is easy to spot on a meta level, but comes out of nowhere plotwise) and, like Ender's Game, we're sort of left wondering whether the story is claiming the 'bad guys' were right after all or what.

Mr Jones
(I'm not sure any particular warnings apply, but I'm open to suggestions)
Will: This is that rarest of creatures: the bloodless horror movie.  Our protagonists are a young couple whose marriage is a bit rocky, who decide to move out to the middle of nowhere for a year to film the Greatest Nature Documentary Of All Time and discover that their closest neighbour is a famously reclusive anonymous artist dubbed "Mr Jones".  Of course, Mr Jones isn't actually an artist; he's some kind of supernatural sculptor with ulterior motives involving the world of dreams and nightmares.  I really don't know why the writers decided this needed to be done in 'found footage' style, especially since they abandon it repeatedly, but I still enjoyed several aspects of the movie.  Rather than being a stock Nagging Wife, Penny actually gets to have some depth and agency, and she's at least as important to the investigation as Scott.  The aesthetics are satisfyingly creepy without falling back on blood, and after spending the first act shouting "Your neighbour is clearly a killer warlock" at the protagonists, I was gratified by the slow realisation that the expected cliches didn't apply.  It's not as striking and artistic as it wants to be, but overall I approve.

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That's all we were able to get our hands on this month, but as a supplement the blogqueen also suggested this list (by quality individual Joey Comeau) of horror movies without sexual violence.  And at some point we really will post something in regards to Scream Queens, the comedy/horror/satire slasher series that occasionally does interesting things with terrible people.  It'll be surprisingly deep for something that is intentionally super shallow.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

My Queer Queue, August 2016: Objectification for all

I don't watch as much stuff off Netflix's "Gay and Lesbian" section as you might expect.  Someone (I can't find the source, but I know I first saw it on tumblr) coined the phrase "If it's not sad, it's bad" to describe the conflict of LGBT cinema--we have a lot of tragedy and bittersweetness in our stories, and the cheerful ones are often terrible.  And, since the LGBT community is actually an agglomeration of several communities (what I heard one person name the Alphabet Soup Suffering Coalition), it's tragically common to see one identity celebrated at the cost of another.  Certain topics are also much more common, like sex work, which could be interesting if it weren't an excuse to sexualise and fetishise the characters.  There are seriously so many movies about the Troubled Chemistry between a Normal Person and Some Kind Of Sex Worker, Probably A Stripper Because That's Not Going TOO Far.  Ugh.

While we're on the subject, content warning for death and coercive sex work.

Anyway, despite my trepidation, I do venture in there once in a while, usually when I get tired of screaming to just let Captain America and the Falcon go on a goddamn date already.  And I probably don't have enough to say about most of the things I watch to make an actual full post about any of them, but if we go for a bunch at once we start looking at commonalities and exceptions and themes, so let's try that and maybe it'll become a regular thing.

This month's selection leans towards dude stuff (more ladies if/when the blogqueen gets in on this):
These were all movies that I picked out because they looked like they were about guys falling in love and not suffering horribly.  Which they... mostly... were.  "Mostly" in this case meaning, like, 55%?  We'll start from maximum tragedy and climb upwards from there.

*

How To Win At Checkers (Every Time) was kind of fascinating, even if it immediately dashed my hopes of "happy".  It's a Thai movie about a boy named Oat (oh-at), who lives with his aunt and idolises his older brother Ek.  Ek's deeply in love with his boyfriend Jai, and their best friend Missy is trans, and probably the thing that threw me the most about this movie was that it avoided any explicit homophobia or transphobia 98% of the time.  The rich bully in the neighbourhood never throws slurs at anyone, even while he's being a jerk.  The overbearing aunt tells Ek "You can date any boy you like, but dating across class lines is going to cause trouble".  Missy is characterised as a gorgeous badass, unabashedly trans, and the hot girl all the high school boys want to get with.  No one questions her gender at all.  (Oat does snap something transphobic at her in a heated moment, but he's 11, he's upset and lashing out, and he immediately gets told off for it.)

That said, literally the first scene of the movie is 20-year-old Oat flashing back to watching his brother die horribly.  It both is and is not a spoiler to say that we eventually see this dream didn't really happen, because Ek still died horribly, just in a different way, later on and out of sight.

With homophobia off the table for conflict, the plot instead focuses on class divides, because Oat's family is just getting by, while Jai is sarcastically described as "taller, richer, and whiter" as we watch him blow out candles on a birthday cake in a stereotypical suburban home.  Ek and Jai are old enough for the annual military draft lottery, but Jai's parents are rich enough to bribe the local black market boss into ensuring their son won't get chosen.  Oat tries to do the same for his brother, but he's 11 and not good at subterfuge, so his plan backfires and Ek ends up on the boss's bad side.

Upon realising that this movie wasn't going to feature Evil Bigots, I began to wonder why they had so many queer characters--not because I disapproved, but because you and I both know that the rarest of all LGBT cinema is "totally normal storytelling except not heteronormative".  I didn't have to wait long for the answer, because in the aftermath of the draft (Jai was not chosen, Ek was, and Ek is disgusted that Jai would use his class privilege to dodge his duty as a citizen) we also see that the black market boss owns the queer club where Ek works, and has reassigned him from bartending to sex work.  I kid you not.  So we get an uncomfortable scene of no one stopping Oat from walking upstairs to find his brother in bed with an unpleasant man twice his age, and then the local bully drags Jai up there to see as well, everything falls apart, Ek and Jai break up, Ek goes off on military service and gets randomly murdered by someone targeting soldiers on patrol.

When discussing Life Is Strange and the rarity of a non-customised bisexual protagonist, I mentioned to Erika that I didn't think the game would have been made with the genders swapped, because (even when otherwise pretty good!) there was still objectification going on, and our culture is a lot more comfortable with objectifying women than men.  The programmers wouldn't have been so on board writing and modelling a flirtatious scene of a male Max and Warren going skinny-dipping in the school pool.  No voyeuristic fun to be had there.  By a similar token, someone writing about a desperate guy getting forced into sex work isn't going to write about a straight dude.

And there are some good reasons for that--for sure, the relationship between sexuality and isolation and taboo and survival sex work is a complicated and important one.  But this isn't a nuanced exploration; this is a single scene about a hot guy getting fucked to illustrate his powerlessness, desperation, and humiliation.  That's about as artistically deep as an exploitation film.

So, even in this film with zero evil homophobes, the primary arc is still about a gay man being stripped of his agency, powerless to protect himself, and finally die a cruel and pointless death.  This is the inescapability of queer tragedy in film that we have to deal with.

*

Weekend is a film that desperately wants to be artistic, and is a good study in how "indie" is itself a film genre even though it conceptually shouldn't be.  Archetypal techniques include group scenes with no sound filtering (to really get that "unintelligible home video of Christmas with the family" feel), montages of main characters trudging soulfully through urban landscapes, and smash cuts to totally silent tableaus.  It takes place over the course of a weekend, when a couple of guys randomly hook up at a bar, spend a couple of days realising that they would actually really like to try a relationship together rather than a casual fling, and then part ways because one of them is going to an art school thousands of miles across the sea.  The bulk of the movie comprises odd conversations they have along the way, like Glen's explanation of his current art project (audio interviews/monologues with all of his casual sex partners), with breaks for mundanity (a montage of Russell's day job as a lifeguard), very specific sex scenes (like, you do not ever have to wonder what precise acts they enjoy), and a frankly hilarious quantity of drugs.  So many drugs.  I don't know what's up with the drugs in this movie.   Forget pot.  They will literally pause a conversation to snort three lines of cocaine and then go back to talking, with minimal indication that this might somehow affect a human brain.  It is so weird.

They do part ways in the end, in a very sweet and anguished and MAXIMUM INDIE scene, with a goodbye kiss at the train station and parting words that we can't hear because, again, no sound filtering, that's how you know it's artistic.  I can't say the movie doesn't have a plot, because it's very much about how much these guys affect each other over the course of a weekend, with Glen losing some of his affected casualness and hipstery detachment, and Russell (the less-out one) overcoming some of his internalised homophobia.  And at least it's not outright tragedy.  If you want a movie that is about The Generic (white cis male) Gay Experience and common issues around affection and masculinity, I guess I might recommend it?

*

North Sea Texas is of the same ilk, but it's about teenage boys in Belgium and features more homophobia.  (The name has nothing to do with the US Texas and everything to do with the local bar.)  It covers the teenage years of a boy named Pim who lives with his mom and befriends neighbour boy Gino.  Pim and Gino grow closer in increasingly sexual and romantic ways before Gino breaks things off, gets a girlfriend, and starts saying that the "playing around" they did was something people grow out of.

Now, obvs, this is not my favourite way for potentially-bisexual characters to be presented, and it's irritatingly common.  Like, yes, experimentation is pretty normal and doesn't always mean someone's not straight, but the fewer Treacherous Flipfloppers in media the better.  But we'll come back to Gino.

Marcela, Gino's sister, clearly has a crush on Pim, and when she realises he's into her brother (by prying through Pim's room and finding his Shirtless Gino Sketchbook) starts trying to cause trouble.  Their mother refuses to believe it anyway.  (Aside: one of my relatives once asked about my dating life in a way that vaguely allowed for the possibility I wasn't straight.  My mother immediately leapt in to talk about the last girl I dated, four years earlier, though I haven't dated anyone since.  I'm sure she meant well.)  Pim's own mother (who regularly talks about what a free spirit she is), happily rents a room to Zoltan, twentysomething vagabond and hottest man in Belgium.  He's around and shirtless just long enough for Pim to start getting his hopes up before Pim walks in on Zoltan and his mother in bed, and they run away together the next day, literally abandoning Pim.  Gino and Marcela's mother dies as well, but on her deathbed brings together Pim and Gino's hands, and in the aftermath they are passionately reconciled.  (Whether Gino's really bi or was just temporarily trying to convince himself he was into girls is not addressed.)

Apart from being a slow indie movie with lots of silent scenes and withdrawn characters, North Sea Texas stands out as a movie in which the central couple of queer teens end up together (I think?) and yet still manages to be impressively cruel to its heroes, with parents dying and abandoning them left and right.  So it's not exactly feel-good, but it's still the first one on this list that isn't apparently aiming for a sad ending.

*

Finally, we have Seashore, which is arguably the most upbeat on this list, but also the least that's actually like a movie.  By which I mean a lot of these indie movies seem like they started filming with an idea rather than a story, and forgot to fill in all of the blanks.  Seashore is set in Brazil (I wouldn't have guessed; everyone is white) and focuses on Martin, sent by his parents on family business that is never explained at all.  He's got to deliver a message to someone on the coast and get a response?  Or something?  The script knows that this is 100% an excuse plot and doesn't pretend to flesh it out.  The point is that, for moral support, he is accompanied on this trip by his BFF Tomaz, who spends much of the movie trying to decide whether or not to come out to Martin.  It gets increasingly awkward, not least since Martin ends up having the great idea that they should pick up hot chicks and take them back to the cottage for (non-group) sexytimes.  Tomaz dodges it by being all "Whoops, I got way too drunk, can't have sex with you but you seem like a super nice lady, thanks" and eventually finally takes the Plunge of Truth the next day.  Martin, professional good role model, is just "Oh, really?  Hah, I can't believe I tried to set you up with a girl yesterday" and all is well.  When his family mission ultimately fails and his family back home is loudly disappointed with him over the phone, Tomaz remains his best moral support, and their banter quickly progresses from "No one gets to be your boyfriend unless I approve of him, lol" to "So what is it like to kiss a dude anyway" to "Gosh, where did all of our pants go".

(The sex scene was a little uncomfortable, maybe because I'm used to actors of this age playing 15-year-olds rather than their actual ages, and while it's not porn, it's--like Weekend--very clear and specific about what's going on.  I understand the script was vaguely-autobiographical, but I also definitely wondered how much of this was just about titillating the creators.)

I thought for a moment that it was going to go for Maximum Artistic Angst and Martin would end up drowning himself in the sea the next morning, but then I remembered that the ocean is literally textbook 'rebirth' imagery and this film is all about people finding themselves.  So while the pacing of this film is ssssssssoooo sssslllllowwwwww that multiple reviewers wondered if it had a script or just really awkward improvisors, it actually gets the highest score here on Queer Boys Being Sweet And Affectionate And Not Suffering.  Which is apparently the niche-iest of all niche genres.

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Since this is a new post idea, I'm more interested than usual in feedback: is this a thing people would like to see as a monthly series?  Are there specific movies that y'all think I should check out?  Do you want more investigation of specific themes and cliches in the field?  Sound off, my friends.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Name of the Wind, chapters 2 and 3, in which people pretend not to be main characters

This post is late for a variety of very good reasons, including helping friends move and going to the local Pride parade and being too tired to move.  Regardless, I will consider whether Sundays are actually the best day to aim for posting.  Sorry for the erratic schedule.

The Name of the Wind: p. 19--34
Chapter Two: A Beautiful Day
It was one of those perfect autumn days so common in stories and so rare in the real world.
I think the first time I read a line in a book about how "this is real life, not some book" I thought it was really clever.  That was, I'm going to estimate, minimum eighteen years ago.  At this point, every reference to the same (this isn't a movie/TV show/cartoon/daguerreotype) at best gets an arched eyebrow from me, but in the case of this book, it's more the slightly-cracked chortle and shrug of a surrendered man.  Of course this is that kind of book.  How did I ever imagine otherwise?

This chapter introduces our second (third?) protagonist, Chronicler (I wonder if he's important to the Kingkiller Chronicle), who is busy observing all of the lovely scenery when "a half dozen ex-soldiers with hunting bows" very politely rob him.  He doesn't particularly put up a fight: "he had been robbed before and knew when there was nothing to be gained by discussion".  There's very little actual tension, which is presumably intentional, and the commander is a very fair-minded thief, ordering his lackeys not to take too much, or to at least leave their old cloak if they're taking his, that kind of thing.

It's a weird scene, and I would argue vastly more memorable than anything that happened last chapter (competing with the monster science), but I'm not sure what to take away exactly.  It doesn't do a lot of worldbuilding--the thieves mention that they're going to sell his horse to the army, but we don't know why these people are ex soldiers (and recently enough that they still call their leader 'sir'), or why they're so polite about it.  We do get Chronicler characterised as a wise dude who is always prepared--as soon as they're gone with his stuff, he gets more cash out of his secret boot stash and partly refills his purse in case he gets held up again, since he knows a thief hates to not find anything at first glance.  The narrative informs us of an additional bank deposit baked into his ultra-stale bread and in his ink bottle.

Finally there is a weird sort of fake-out-fakeout when he's thinking about what a nice peaceful day it is and gets startled by a "dark shape" coming at him out of the trees, but it's just a crow after all and he goes merrily on his way.  This chapter is so meta that it's making a joke out of pretending it's going to do something violent after pretending that it was pretending not to all along.  Which is, to me, the kind of cleverness that isn't actually interesting?  And I make puns without shame.

Chapter Three: Wood and Word

Back to Kote at his tavern, surprised by the arrival of Graham the wood-carver with the mounting board Kote apparently commissioned from him four months ago, delayed by the precise rare wood he'd had to acquire.  Graham notes that Kote "has begun to wilt", presumably again a reference to 'cut flowers' as so purposefully described last time:
The innkeeper's gestures weren't as extravagant. His voice wasn't as deep. Even his eyes weren't as bright as they had been a month ago. [....] And his hair had been bright before, the color of flame. Now it seemed--red. Just red-hair color, really.
Is... is Kote losing his protagonism?   I'm imagining the secondary characters gossiping at a nearby corner: 'And the last time he came into my shop, I could barely hear his leitmotif for more than a couple of seconds!'  (Also, side-pedantry, but why do authors insist fire is red?  Most fires I've ever seen have been very intensely yellow with edges of blue and orange.  Embers might be red, but it's always 'flame-red'.  This is like the non-racist counterpart to 'almond-shaped eyes'.)

Graham talks about how difficult it was to work with the wood, and even harder to burn the name "Folly" in as requested.  Kote overpays him for the work and doesn't offer any further explanation for his weird purchase.  Graham leaves and Bast arrives to ask vague and portentous questions:
"What were you thinking?" Bast said with an odd mixture of confusion and concern.
Kote was a long while in answering. "I tend to think too much, Bast. My greatest successes came from decisions I made when I stopped thinking and simply did what felt right. Even if there was no good explanation for what I did." He smiled wistfully. "Even if there were very good reasons for me not to do what I did."
How long am I going to have to wait for them to stop talking about talking about 'what he did' and actually tell us what it is?  I know it's only chapter three, but if I have limited tolerance for 'as you know' exposition, I have even less for 'I think we need to discuss That Thing We're Keeping From The Reader in vague terms'.

Kote says he plans to hang the sword (of course it's a sword) out in the open, to Bast's horror, but Bast fetches it from under his own bed (aww) and Kote finds a spot over the bar.  When he sees Bast's careless grip on the scabbard, he gives us this gem:
"Careful, Bast! You're carrying a lady there, not swinging some wench at a barn dance."
Dude.  Of all the ways to tell your apprentice to be careful with your favourite weapon, you chose 'feminise an inanimate object and draw parallels to the types of women you should or should not be respectful of'?  (Running tally of female or feminine characters: a dead horse and a sword named Folly.)

Before he hands it, Kote, draws the blade, which, like its owner, is both old and young at once:
It was not notched or rusted. There were no bright scratches skittering along its dull grey side. But though it was unmarred, it was old. And while it was obviously a sword, it was not a familiar shape. At least no one in this town would have found it familiar. It looked as if an alchemist had distilled a dozen swords, and when the crucible had cooled this was lying in the bottom: a sword in its pure form. It was slender and graceful. It was deadly as a sharp stone beneath swift water.
I have no gorram clue what this sword is supposed to look like.

I mean, to be honest, I will be happy if it's anything other than a katana, but I don't know how to reconcile something being the purest distillation of all swordiness with being something bizarre to the entire village's basic expectations of what swords look like.  What I'm saying is that until I am absolutely forced to reconsider, I'm going to assume it's one of these:

Pictured: a sanégué sword from Burkina Faso, incontrovertible proof that the human spirit defies all deterministic projections.

Kote's all cheerful about finally having Folly on display, while Bast is super awkward, but they have to get ready for the lunch rush and there's a rather romcom remark about how they discuss minor things as they work: "it was obvious they were reluctant to finish whatever task they were close to completing, as if they both dreaded the moment when the work would end and the silence would fill the room again."  Isn't that basically one of the subplots in Love, Actually?

They are spared the onslaught of awkward silence by the arrival of a small caravan of customers: wagoneers, guards, a tinker, and a couple of young rich travellers obviously seeking safety in numbers.  Two of the wagoneers are specifically noted to be women, making them the first female humans we've seen on page.  They are not named.

When everyone's fed and supplied and they've agreed on rooming arrangements, the tinker takes a quick roll through town to judge business, and attracts the attention of a group of children who respond to his indifference by playing a game that includes a cheerful rhyme about running and hiding if the fire turns blue, referencing the Chandrian again.  This isn't bad worldbuilding, but it does feel kind of shoehorned?  The tinker responds with his own song rhyming all the goods he has for sale, specifically beckoning the women of the village to come buy "small cloth and rose water".  Nothing is specifically recommended to the men, and certainly not for the sake of making themselves more attractive.  Basically this portion is straight out of Eye of the World.

Keeping in that theme, Kote spends the next scene basking in being around actual travellers again, but the sounds they make specifically include "men laughing" while "the women flirted".  Option one is that flirting is a romantic activity and therefore inherently womanly, not something a man would do; option two is that the women are strictly flirting with each other.  I know which option I'm going to pretend Rothfuss meant.  But then, later in the evening when folks are getting inebriated, someone somehow--le gasp--strikes upon Kote's super secret backstory.

One of the richer dudes identifies Kote as "Kvothe the Bloodless", based partly on his appearance but mostly on his voice:
I heard you in Imre once. Cried my eyes out afterward. I never heard anything like that before or since. Broke my heart. [....] I saw the place in Imre where you killed him. By the fountain. The cobblestones are all [...] shattered. They say no one can mend them.
So, I know that 'this was broken so hard that no magic can undo the harm' is a fantasy staple, but when it comes to cobblestones, not to be That Guy, but couldn't you just... replace them?  Dig up the broken ones and put down new ones?  Maybe I'm missing key information here.

Kote laughs the idea off, pretends it's a compliment, and then pretends to be a huge klutz for a second just to dispel any notions that he could be some kind of legendary poet-warrior.  Bast helps him limp away and Kote gives him instructions to give the man some sleeping meds and then casually drop Kote's backstory into conversation, involving an arrow to the knee and a generous merchant.  He only says it once, but he and Bast use a sort of ritualistic 'listen three times'/'I hear you three times' phrasing to make it clear that this is Serious Business.  Kote spends the rest of the night brooding heroically in his room, and we're told as he undresses for bed that the fire highlights all of his many, many scars, all smooth and silver "except one".  Plot significance meters are overloading, captain!

(Given how much nothing has happened at this point in the book, I'm reflecting back on the first chapter and wondering how Kote knew so much about scraelings but had never apparently dissected one before.  That's an odd level of familiarity, no?)

The next morning the caravan leaves without incident and Kote appears to busy himself with deeply mundane concerns again, but he does go to the blacksmith to buy an iron rod (like everyone else in town already did) and also a leather apron and gloves, which he claims are for gardening.  There's more semi-poetic stuff about how things are ready to die in autumn, basically the same pensive morbidity as the last two times Kote has closed a chapter for us.  The only difference here is that the narrative eye settles on Bast, obviously troubled and looking for an opportunity to do something about it.  Regardless, this basically feels like Rothfuss had two distinct ideas for his first chapter and decided to use both of them in sequence.

Next time: Kote and Chronicler meet.  Will sparks fly?  Will Bast be jealous?  Will there be a named female character any time soon?  Only time will tell.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Good movies for people who like bad movies

(Sorry this isn't the second Name of the Wind post, but my brain has been frazzled and this post has been waiting in drafts for far too long.  I also suspect it's going to be topical as we continue to dig into Kvothe's adventures in the coming weeks.)

Most people who aren't Ayn Rand are willing to acknowledge a difference between things they like and things that are "good", a distinction that is at once counterintuitive and perfectly natural.  It is with that distinction in mind that I watched two movies recently: Conan the Barbarian (the 1982 original) and Vampire Academy (based on books of the same name).  These movies aren't good, but they are bad in specific ways that call into question what exactly we mean by "good" to begin with.

I'll start with Conan, because I have less to say about it: it's the incredibly straightforward story of a Proud Warrior Tribe kid whose village is destroyed by an evil man, who gets taken as a gladiator slave, runs away to freedom, slays monsters, has gratuitous sex with dubious consent, and finally kills the evil black wizard who slaughtered his people.  He has a love interest and a couple of comic relief sidekicks of indistinct ethnicity and fundamentally racist conventions, he gets some unexpected and inexplicable Christ imagery, and assures us all that a true hero is an independent burly man who single-handedly decapitates bad guys.  Throughout the adventure, he is narrated in epic saga style.

This is a bad movie, let there be no question.  Even the heroic POC tend to be cowardly and animalistic, and for all that James Earl Jones does some spectacular work as the villain, the climax of the movie is a white man setting a bunch of impressionable kids free by murdering a black man.  The love interest dies literally fifteen minutes after our heroes performed a magic ritual to bring Conan back from the dead, and yet no one asks whether maybe they should just do that again.  There's a thoroughly unexpected scene when Conan steals an evil priest's robes by using the man's predatory gay tendencies against him.  All bigoted writing--literally every word of it--is also lazy writing.

But lord how I wish we could have good movies that take their absurd epic fantasy setting this seriously.  It's the problem of the 1950s: love the aesthetic, hate the politics.  Where are my stories about people who aren't cis-white-hetero-men-with-arms-like-bags-of-footballs, adventuring across untamed lands to fight animated statues and free vulnerable people from charismatic dictators while a wizened wizard narrates their quest with the kind of absolute severity that would make Adam West proud?  Where victory isn't always murder, where strength is community and not a weird frappuccino of the philosophy of Nietzsche and incredibly unlikely Genghis Khan attributions?

Conan the Barbarian is not a good movie, but how I wish it were.

With that, we come to Vampire Academy, the bizarre Twilight/Harry Potter hybrid that I didn't know I was waiting for.  This movie is absurd and cliched, with its convenient telepathic bonds and its magic princess on the run and a vampire queen who lives in the school and calls assemblies specifically to chastise her probable successor in public (for no personal benefit).  Few of the actors seem comfortable being filmed, and the mandatory hetero love interests are a blatant discount bin Edward Cullen and some kind of Star-Trek-transporter-accident fusion of Jack Black and David Bowie.

And yet this is a movie that does an astonishing number of things right.  Our heroic bonded duo of vampire princess Lissa and mostly-human bodyguard Rose are complex characters with multiple conflicting motivations and flaws, going overboard in their petty revenge or overprotectiveness and then regretting it, trying to make things right.  The movie starts in medias res to a degree that reminded me of the original Star Wars, with our heroes on the run, immediately provoking questions about how they got there, why they left the eponymous academy, and why they're being dragged back.  (And, if you're me, whether the romantic/sexual subtext between the girls is going to remain subtextual.  It is.  Obvs.  Sigh.)  They remain, throughout the movie, likeable but imperfect, with Rose in particular (as the action hero) getting to maintain a swagger and punchiness that is usually restricted to male roles.  When her platonic bro starts to make some kind of I'm A Nice Guy rant at her, Rose dismisses him instantly to focus on more important issues.  When Discount Edward hangs around Lissa in awkward and potentially creepy ways, Rose bluffs to get rid of him, but later accepts that she doesn't get to pick her friend's friends and apologises for lying--while still making it clear that she thinks his behaviour was creepy.

(In one reversal that the blogqueen particularly liked, Discount Edward spends most of the movie being markedly useless and then gets exactly one dramatic effective moment during the climax, a fate that usually befalls the token female action hero.)

To my utter lack of surprise, internet investigation told me that this movie was a colossal failure commercially, and its Rotten Tomatoes page (aggregate score of 11%) is full of blurbs from grey-haired white men declaiming the film for being impossible to follow and trying to lure in silly teenager girls by mashing up all the modern trends of magic school and hot vampire boys.

We are left with the question: would this movie have done better with male leads?  Rose would certainly have been a more typical male character, though being younger than his hypothetical female love interest would have been a switch.  More likely that Lissa would become the love interest in need of protection (unless she was a dude too, in which case I suspect there would have been way more No Homo being thrown around and all of the leads' emotions would have to be replaced with sex or punching).  This is a movie with a strong focus on social status--characters care about how they're perceived and might prefer a battle to the death over public embarrassment--which is obviously such a girl thing, innit?  And yet my mind drifts back to a little English underdog hero called Eggsy who who just wanted to prove his worth compared to his condescending upper-class peers...

Over on the page for Kingsman (aggregate score of 74% and my unfathomable scorn) a veritable flood of enraptured white men cheer for its "stylish" "subversiveness", wit, charm, and "devil-may-care exuberance".  May I remind you that this is a film in which a lisping media tycoon decides to save the environment by inventing a machine that makes everyone turn into murderous berserkers for only as long as he holds down the button.  But "vampires want to kidnap a princess to use her healing magic for themselves" is too convoluted and weird.

And I mean: I'm not trying to argue that Vampire Academy is a Good Movie, in the sense of technical expertise or top-quality performances (apart from Rose, who was honestly delightful in every moment that she wasn't being forced into a weird romantic subplot).  But I enjoyed it a hell of a lot more than plenty of other movies that are supposedly its superior, and so I start to wonder how we're defining Good Movies.  Because when you get into institutions like that--film theory and literary criticism and the like--one of the first things that becomes apparent is that a lot of our metrics and expectations have been designed by aging white dudes who scorn everything that doesn't pander directly to them.    How exactly do we decide which is more important: that a tertiary villain's actress has a natural style of delivery, or that the script acknowledges that women can have more than one personality trait?  How do we weight fluid cinematography against the 'artistic choice' to only give speaking roles to white people?

There's some kind of idea out there, never quite stated (but clearly believed by people who consider themselves 'the default'), that you can tell an apolitical story.  Like if a person just writes, lets the words flow freely without intending to make a statement about the world, they will necessarily not make a statement about the world.  If they just want to tell a story about being a hero, and they coincidentally make the climax of that story a white guy brutally murdering a black guy, there is no way the story might be racist, because they weren't thinking about racism while they wrote it.  It's only once other people come in and start overthinking things that we run into trouble, somehow introducing problems to the story just by observing what's in there.

If this blog had, like, a heraldic motto, it'd probably be something like what I wrote above there: all bigoted writing is lazy writing.  It replaces truth and originality with lies that uphold privilege and comfort oppressors.  I hope that we can, as a civilisation, move away from "X is okay if you don't mind all the bigotry" and towards "X could have been good if not for all the bigotry".  A story that hates Muslims isn't 'controversial' or 'daringly un-PC', it's a bad story pushing a bad agenda.

And if we're going to recognise that bigotry is an artistic flaw, I think it's important to give artistic value to fighting bigotry.  There's a new Ghostbusters out (it was great), and the choice to cast four lead women is considered a gimmick while the original's four leading men are apolitical.  Nah, bruh.  The original Ghostbusters has two significant women (the secretary and the damsel) and everyone else who matters is a man, and it's like that because it was written by men for themselves.*  The new Ghostbusters has a quartet of proven comic ladies because the people involved in making it agreed that it's important that there are stories about women like this.

Which isn't to say that, say, casting women is always politically progressive and creative and meritorious.  Joss "Female Characters Who Are Strong And Vulnerable In Exactly The Ways I Find Sexually Exciting" Whedon has taught us all that lessons several times over.  Heralded for years as the great geek feminist, Whedon once imagined a conversation in which a hypothetical journalist asked him why he wrote so many female characters, setting himself up for the dazzling rejoinder "Because you're still asking that question".  And yet he keeps producing exactly the same kind of character over and over again (all bigoted writing is lazy writing) because the story isn't about the representation of women, it's about that one particular kind of woman that Whedon likes best.  The entire concept that launched Buffy was 'wouldn't it be weird to see a girl do this?'  He was counting on women-as-gimmick to draw attention, but then circled back around to approximately-mainstream acceptance by slathering them in male gaze, and he has never stopped repeating this pattern. (And always tearing them down, showing them broken and abused and in need of saving anyway.)

I tragically can't close this by outlining the true rules for objectively determining what a good movie is.  That is beyond even my power as an amateur blogger.  But I think there's a lot more to be investigated in how we perceive movies aimed at or led by women.  These movies can be flawed (oh, is Vampire Academy flawed) and it's easy to brush off a cheesy movie, but is it actually the cheese and the production values that people hate, or are those just the things we let a person target when they want to destroy something because it's For Girls?

---

*There will likely be at least one Ghostbusters post coming soon, possibly one about the original and one about the reboot, in case you are hungry for more of the blogqueen's vitriol for Peter Venkman.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Name of the Wind, chapter one, in which Will is charmed by a Science Hero

Howdy folks.  Sunday updates are back!  The long drought is once again over and we have a new project, decided by my need to resolve an apparent contradiction.  On the one hand, I have heard that The Name of the Wind is the most archetypal of male wish-fulfillment fantasy; on the other hand, I've seen women recently talking about how much they love Rothfuss, in the comments of a video of him talking at a con about proper diversity of representation in fiction.

He also posted this, presumably on July 5th:

Pictured: a status update about letting his young son wear eyeshadow and lipstick on a night out, because, quote, "Fuck it" and "Freedom".

So already I feel like I'm dealing with a much higher calibre of human being than the aw-shucks misogynist Butcher or the frothing hatemonger Card.  Male wish fulfillment and a philosophy of inclusion and free expression--these things don't have to conflict, but they are definitely an unusual combination.  Let's see if we can figure out what's going on.

No further delays.  Are you excited?  I'm excited.

(Content: referenced animal death. Fun content: chimney history, Viola Davis' poker face.)

The Name of the Wind: p. 1--
Prologue: A Silence of Three Parts

The title page informs me that this book is "The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day One", which is even more amazing than your typical 'Book One of the Interminability Cycle'.  A single day.  I assume this due to flashbacks, but suddenly I wonder why no one's tried to do the dragons-and-wizards version of 24 yet.

There is of course a map, labelled "The Four Corners of Civilization" which conveniently ends all along the right edge of the page with the practically-vertical Stormwall Mountains.  Nothing civilised anywhere else, I guess?  These people are terrible explorers or huge narcissists, but--to be clear--I am fully expecting this book to be unabashedly pretentious stereotypical fantasy, and I will not hold that against it any more than I condemned Wheel of Time for being a by-the-numbers Tolkien ripoff.  (Bad example?)  Until and unless Rothfuss earns my ire with offensive handling of actual characters, my exclamations will probably all translate to 'that is terrible I love it'.
It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.
SEE PREVIOUS STATEMENT.

The first part of the silence is absence: no wind, no drinking crowd, no music.  There are a couple of guys drinking intently, whose lack of conversation "added a small, sullen silence to the larger, hollow one".  The third silence is an excuse to describe the scenery:
If you listened for an hour, you might begin to feel it in the wooden floor underfoot and in the rough, splintering barrels behind the bar [....] in the weight of the black stone hearth that held the heat of a long dead fire [....] in the hands of the man who stood there, polishing a stretch of mahogany that already gleamed in the lamplight.
He has "true-red" hair, so I assume he's a main character.  He owns the bar, and the poetic third silence: "It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die."  That's the entire prologue.  I have no idea what it means but, again, it is shamelessly over-the-top and I love it.

Chapter One: A Place for Demons

Same inn, different night?  A stock character named Old Cob is telling a quartet of young men a story of wandering hero Taborlin the Great, disarmed and imprisoned in a tower where the flames had turned blue, which the smith's apprentice correctly identifies as a sign of the Chandrian (bad guys of some type, clearly).  They pause for Medieval Fantasy Dinner, "five bowls of stew and two warm, round loaves of bread", which is some nice baking service--and then back to the story, where Taborlin turns out to be Superman levels of overpowered, because he "knew the names of all things, and so all things were to his command".  He commands the stone wall of his cell to fall apart, jumps out the hole, and "he knew the name of the wind" [DRINK!] so it caught him on his way down.  He doesn't even have the stab wound from his captors, thanks to his new magic amulet that they somehow failed to take from him.

The men start arguing over the precise rhyming scheme about being kind to tinkers (such as the one who gifted Taborlin this Amulet of Gamebreaking), and the innkeeper, Kote, interrupts for basically the first time since he moved to town a year ago:
A tinker's debt is always paid:/Once for any simple trade./Twice for freely given aid./Thrice for any insult made.
I had been thinking that the innkeeper was the protagonist, but he's got a name now, whereas the narrative has paused twice now to tell us that the smith's teenage apprentice is still always called "boy", which I find Suspicious.  Old Cob specifies that the amulet would protect Taborlin from evil, "demons and such", causing Shep to grumble about needing it himself.  Implications follow that Shep's farm may have been hit by demons last week and everyone is too polite to ask about it while sober.  I hope it was demons.  I would give a lot to see a fantasy novel written from the perspective of ordinary villagers just trying to get on with life in a world where apocalyptic devil-gods and prophesied heroes and monster hordes are as common as rainy days.

Another disagreement arises about whether the Chandrian are demons or, as Jake insists, "They were the first six people to refuse Tehlu's choice of the path", et cetera.  On the plus side, rather than everyone having a weirdly encyclopedic knowledge of their mytho-history, they seem to have various competing stories and can't agree what's what.  Already we're doing better than Wheel of Time.

No dark night in a tavern is complete without someone stumbling in on death's door, so here comes Carter, smeared with blood.  (Aside: the surname 'Walker' and the locative name 'Rannish' suggest to me that we're in an era in which surnames are relatively new, but apparently the occupational name 'Carter' has already made the jump to forename.  Reminds me of a couple of weeks ago when I asked my GM about an NPC named Christopher in a fantasy setting without Christianity.  He politely ignored my musings, which is probably for the best.  This is why I have trouble connecting with people.)  Carter is clutching a blanket that looks "as if it were wrapped around a tangle of kindling sticks" and, a paragraph later, clunks onto a table "as if it were full of stones".  I'm sure it's nothing creepy like a bunch of bones.  Carter is "crisscrossed with long, straight cuts" but insists that he's fine, although his horse didn't make it.  He is reprimanded for travelling alone when there are brigands around, until he dramatically tugs open the blanket roll to reveal a giant dead spider.

Kote casually identifies it as a scrael, then quickly insists he's never seen one before but only heard about them from travelling merchants.  He quickly sets to sciencing it as best he can--its body is stone, feet razor-sharp, no eyes, no mouth, and when he finally manages to snap it open, it's full of homogenous grey sponge "like a mushroom".  Kote is terrible at being an undercover hero, but after Dresden's tremendous disinterest in learning anything more about anything than he has to, I am all over a character whose response to monsters is to start making notes and running tests.

Everyone is deeply upset and confused by the prospect of an actual demon corpse in the bar--they don't doubt demons exist, but they're supposed to be far-off mythical things, like kings and gods.  Kote just shrugs and says they can test with iron or fire.  Graham, in the audience, helpfully specifies that demons "fear three things: cold iron, clean fire, and the holy name of God."

Kote gives him this face...

Pictured: Viola Davis, unimpressed.

...and moves on to finding iron--pure iron, not alloyed steel.  He eventually locates an appropriately pure penny (a shim--we get names for all the coin types, which is pretty good flavour without breaking our stride too much) and presses it to the scrael's stone body.  A moment later, it burns through to the table underneath.  Kote wipes his hands on his apron and asks what they should do now.  SCIENCE HERO!

Another silent scene, this time of Kote alone in his bar, cleaning everything.  It's super clean.  So clean to begin with that even after cleaning for an hour, his cleaning bucket water is still clean enough "for a lady to wash her hands".  I'm not sure if this is characterisation or what.  Is Kote obsessive or does he not sleep ever?  The narrative notes that 'Kote' is a chosen name for him, one of many (his student calls him Reshi), and implies that he's actually much older than the twentysomething he looks.  When he finally does return to his room, he's greeted by a new character, Bast, who makes me vaguely uncomfortable given that he's the first dark-skinned person we've met and is seemingly a servant, bringing food.  At least, he's described as "dark and charming, with a quick smile and cunning eyes".  'Dark' in these cases sometimes just means hair, but overall it sounds to me like a stock description of a Mildly Foreign Person whom we're meant to like but also not be sure whether to trust.  We're also in Jacob-and-Carter country, so Bast is probably meant to sound exotic (though it's a decent abbreviation of Sebastian, and apparently also a German surname).  I'm going to go ahead and picture him as mixed north African/west Asian.

But he's not just a servant, at least.  He's Kote's apprentice, by the sound of it studying magic or alchemy.  Buuuut he's also super promiscuous, as they banter and Bast admits that he didn't get any reading done today because he took his book outside and immediately got entangled with a pretty girl.  Again.  He's a big fan of all the women under thirty in this place, apparently.  So, our first POC is vaguely subservient, scholastically under-motivated, and extra sexual.  This is all discussed jovially and without any chastising from Kote, so we're probably not supposed to think less of him for this, but I become immediately suspicious when these sorts of traits line up.  (Also, we've had half a dozen named men and one Significantly Unnamed boy and the only named female character thus far is the dead horse.  Don't think I'm not noticing these things just because I am pleased with Kote's I-wonder-what-happens-if-I-do-this curiosity.)

Kote explains about the scrael, to Bast's immediate concern, but Kote reassures him that it was properly dead and he subtly made sure they disposed of it properly, with a rowan wood fire and a sufficiently deep hole and such arcane precautions.  He also mentions giving Carter about fifty stitches, and instructs Bast to tell anyone gossipy a specific backstory about learning from his father the a caravan guard.  They have further Significant Conversation that we don't fully understand, about how "they thought it was a demon" that that was probably for the best (but nothing about what it really is, ominous chord), and everyone's going to be stocking up on pure iron to fight demons and Kote wouldn't blame Bast if he wanted to leave now.  Is this implying that Bast is also not human?  I have a suspicious eye on you, Rothfuss.  (Bast says he would never leave, since Kote's his only possible teacher.)  The Bast-is-a-demon-or-something theory intensifies when the banter proceeds to Kote jokingly trying to banish him with various incantations in ancient language, to which Bast laughs through fake scowls.

Kote is left to eat in silence, and I contemplate why I enjoy the return to pretentious pseudo-poetry in the narrative here, even as it tries to quietly inform me of how special Kote is.  He reflects on his slight pride in engineering a fireplace into the middle of the room--

(I did some quick research here to try to figure out if/when this was a new creation, and discovered a book that argues that the invention of the chimney was the single greatest factor in the development of class segregation in Europe.  The world is a font of endless wonders and this sustains me through times of trouble.)

--and then spends a lot of time looking everywhere in the room except towards a particular wooden chest, "the same way you avoid meeting the eye of an old lover at a formal dinner, or that of an old enemy sitting across the room in a crowded alehouse late at night".  (I note that Rothfuss is pretty good about not gendering his hypotheticals; I feel confident Dresden would have made it very clear that the 'old lover' was a white woman as beautiful as she was cold, et cetera.)

The chest is made of roah, fantasy wood worth its weight in gold: "a chest made of it went far beyond extravagance".  I had enough of this with Trillionaire Ender Wiggin to last me a lifetime, thanks.  The chest has three locks: one iron, one copper, "and a lock that could not be seen".  DO YOU REALISE YET HOW IMPORTANT THIS BOX IS?  I'm mostly expecting it to have a weapon inside, e.g., the sword that he Swore He Would Never Wield Again, but I'm hopeful that I'll be wrong there.  He eventually locks eyes with the box, looks all weary again, and goes to bed.

Next day, the bar crowd is nervous, although not too nervous to throw us some more worldbuilding tidbits: the Penitent King is trying to suppress a rebellion in far-off Resavek, and everyone's expecting a third round of taxes this year, which will be bearable for most of the farmers except those already struggling, and "Crazy Martin", who planted barley instead of the beans that armies live on.  Travelling merchants have fewer and fewer luxuries as well.  I actually kinda like this sequence, far more than a Wheel-of-Time-y scenario where everyone's chipper but there are Grim Rumours in The East that they Foolishly Dismiss.  Not least because it only takes a couple of paragraphs for Rothfuss to sketch us a sense of village life and how they adapt to the times and economics of their world, and we aren't subject to a deluge of vaguely-rustic down-home slang.  The village is also full of gossip, since Carter is half made of stitches now, although no one really takes the claims of demonic invasion seriously.
Trying to convince folk would only make them a laughingstock, like Crazy Martin, who had been trying to dig a well inside his own house for years now.
A brief investigation has not provided me with any insight as to why people wouldn't want an indoor well.  I mean, I know wells run dry, but if you're building a house and you have a private well, is there any particular reason not to build the house around the well?  (These are the questions I ask that, four years later, cause someone to look at me bug-eyed and say 'Why do you know that?'  Funsies, my friends.  Funsies.)  Still, as Kote predicted, everyone in town finds time to drop by the blacksmith and buy a length of iron, just in case some hellspawn needs smiting.

By the end of the chapter, it has begun to drag a bit, particularly once it gets around to how "they reminisced that three years ago no one would have even thought of locking their doors at night, let alone barring them".  Pepperridge Farm remembers.  The evening's drinking stumbles to end at a slow and low point, ending the chapter, which if nothing else tells us how confident Rothfuss is that we are firmly in the grip of his narrative tension.

Still not one named human woman, but also a lack of outright misogyny or even 'benign' sexism, so this is one of those times where a score of zero is actually an improvement over most of the books you've had the joy to experience with me.  I confess I hold actual hope for this story yet.  (I can't tell if Kote and Bast are close enough in age for me to ship them yet, but I assume you're all prepared for that to start happening soon.)

Next week: a secondary protagonist named Chronicler (amazing) gets politely robbed and Kote starts to reveal his Seeeeecret Paaaast!