My #IWD2018 Ujima Show

A day early for International Women’s Day, I devoted most of my show yesterday to feminist issues. However, I started out in Australia by welcoming film critic, Tara Judah, to talk about Sweet Country.

Tara is from Melbourne originally, so we had a lot to talk about. However, we did our best to keep the discussion to matters of race relations in Australia. Things continue to be pretty bad there, and I very much hope that this film shines a necessary spotlight on the situation.

After the news I started playing the interviews that I had picked up at the International Women’s Day event put on by Bristol on Saturday. They included comments from Penny Gane, Eleanor Vowles, Leonie Thomas, Rosa Taggert, Sian Webb and Elizabeth Small of Ra Cultural Consultancy.

Normally I would tell you to go to the Listen Again feature for all of this, but for some reason only 10 minutes of the first hour recorded. It is still worth it for a few minutes of Tara who is an amazing guest, but the IWD interviews are not there. Thankfully I still have the originals, and I hope to post them as a podcast at some point.

The second hour kicked off with more IWD interviews featuring No More Taboo, Sandra Gordon and Alex Raikes. The singers that Alex refers to are Pitch Fight, the Bristol University a capella group, whom you can find more about here.

The African Queens project that I talked about with Sandra is a project photographic Bristol women of color cosplaying famous women from African history. It was done for Black History Month last year. You can find out more about it here.

Finally I was joined in the studio by a couple of people I met on Saturday. Charlotte Murray is a young student who was interested in finding out more about radio, to I invited her into the studio. Jane Duffus is the editor of The Women Who Built Bristol, a fabulous collection of stories about the famous, and not so famous, women from the city’s history. If you are interested in buying the book, please order it through Bristol Women’s Voice because if you do all of the proceeds go to the charity.

Thankfully the second hour recorded correctly, and you can listen to it here.

The music for the show was as follows:

  • Walking the Dog – Jackie Shane
  • Natural Woman – Aretha Franklin
  • Make me Feel – Janelle Monae
  • Independent Woman – Destiny’s Child
  • Our Day Will Come – Amy Winehouse
  • We Are Family – Sister Sledge
  • Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
  • It’s Raining Men – Weather Girls

Sadly I had to cut off Janelle after a minute or so because I did not want to bleep out the swears. Once I have a copy of the clean radio mix I will be playing that song regularly.

Return of the King


It was great to have T’Challa in the last Avengers movie, but giving him his own movie was always going to be a whole new level, and one Marvel could easily have botched.

I can’t pretend to understand all of the political issues that the film has to deal with. Africa is not a country, and African-Americans are not the same as Africans. I could see some of that being played out, and I know it will be impossible to please everyone. From my point of view, as a Black Panther reader from way back in the Don McGregor days, and a cat person, this was a fine movie. I also understood and enjoyed the parts where it made comment on wider political issues.

The film isn’t perfect. I’ve been seeing people online complaining about lack of queer content. But all things considered it could have been so much worse. Or it could not have existed at all, which would have been terrible. I very much hope that other people enjoy it as much as I did.

Oh, and stay right to the end of the credits. You always do that in Marvel movies, right?

A Disturbance in the Force

As numerous sites have been posting spoiler-filled reviews of The Last Jedi I assume that it is OK for me to do the same. My apologies to those of you who haven’t seen the film.

Like many people, I found the film interesting as long as you make allowances for it being a Star Wars movie. You really don’t expect any of it to make sense. Adam Roberts does an excellent job of pointing out some of the more egregious plot holes over at Strange Horizons.

Of course not all of this can be blamed on the mythic nature of the Star Wars universe. Some of it is required by the nature of the beast. For example, Leia could have made a much better job of disciplining Poe, but to do so she would have had to make him confront the cost of his recklessness more closely. That would doubtless have been deemed too dark for a family film. In Star Wars death is sad, but everyone gets over it quickly.

Sometimes sense is sacrificed for the sake of plot. Admiral Holdo might not have seemed so incompetent had it not been necessary to make her seem so in order to sucker the viewer into the misdirection of her being a traitor. A better script might have helped, but there was probably no room. Even at 2.5 hours there wasn’t enough room in the film for all of the story that they tried to cram into it. This is by no means an unusual problem with modern Hollywood. I can understand the temptation to want to cram in more and more story, but the result of that is that the script gets pared down so ruthlessly that we have to rely on our semiotic intuition to fill in the gaps left by missing dialog and poor acting.

All of which brings me to the Canto Bight episode. I gather that lots of people have been complaining that it was a waste of space. Over at Tor.com Molly Templeton makes the case that it was necessary to show ordinary people resisting the First Order. The return there at the end of the film underscores that. But Templeton is wrong to dismiss the few lines of dialog about morality as comparatively inconsequential.

As is often the case these days, some of the best analysis comes from the LA Review of Books. Dan Hassler-Forest goes through the usual points about foregrounding female power at the expense of toxic masculinity. But he then goes on to look at the significance of Canto Bight and how it completely undermines the entire Star Wars narrative.

The lesson of Canto Bight is that both the First Order and the Resistance are being played by rich oligarchs who sell weapons to both sides and encourage them to fight. They are the real power in the galaxy: not the Jedi; nor Snoke, Kylo and their petulant, entitled pawn, General Vox.

There’s a serious political point being made here. Rian Johnson is asking his audience to forget about political tribalism and follow the money. That’s where you’ll find the real enemy. Whether the message will get through is another matter. The people who most need to learn that lesson are the people blithely voting for the First Order because they’ve been told that the Resistance are a bunch of dangerous SJWs who will destroy their European Heritage and Masculinity. But maybe once the enormity of the tax bill takes hold they too will learn that they need to stop fighting those they hate and start saving those they love.

Of course the chances of this message being carried through into Episode IX are not great. The people in charge of merchandising at Disney will continue to try to pretend that Kylo Ren is the hero of the story. Changes in plot direction may well be required of the next director. After all, misdirection is a staple tool of Star Wars plotting.

Which brings me to the question of Rey’s parents. Does anyone really believe that they were nobodies? Yes, it would be great if they were, because that would further undermine the dynastic theme of the franchise. But all of that can be changed. My bet for Episode IX is that it will be revealed that Rey was vat-grown from tissue stolen from Han and Leia when they were prisoners of the Empire, and Kylo will be redeemed because he can’t bring himself to kill his sister.

Yeah, that sucks. But at least we will have had The Last Jedi, and once again the middle part of the trilogy will be the one everyone says is the best.

Up On the Aqueduct

It is that time of year when the Aqueduct Press blog blossoms with posts from Aquedistas talking about things that they have enjoyed reading, seeing and hearing over the past year. Today it is my turn. Obviously I can’t talk much about fiction because of the Tiptree judging, but I still managed to go on rather a lot. You can read my post here.

Aotearoa Futurism

As some of you will have seen from Twitter, I rather enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok. There are a lot of fun aspects to the film, but one I particularly enjoyed were the references to Asgard as a conquering empire that then rewrote the history of the Nine Worlds to make Odin and his people seem much more glorious than they had actually been. There was a metaphor going on here that should not be lost on British people.

In fact there was a lot more than I realized watching the film. I’m not going to give you spoilers here, but if you have already seen the film I recommend this article by Maori SF fan, Dan Taipua. The director of the film, Taika Waititi, is also Maori, and he has left a whole bunch of Easter eggs in there for his people, and for their indigenous Australian friends.

Dan got in touch with me on Twitter and pointed me at two Radio New Zealand podcasts in which he and colleagues apply the ideas of Afrofuturism in a specifically Maori/Polynesian context. You can find them here and here.

I’m delighted to see this sort of thing happening in the South Pacific, and I’m hoping to learn a lot more about Aotearoa Futurism if/when Worldcon comes to New Zealand in 2020.

Wonder Woman – The Extras

The Blu Ray disc of Wonder Woman promises more than 2 hours of bonus content. That’s small by Lord of the Rings standards, but quite impressive otherwise. So what do you get in all that?

To start with there is all the usual stuff. The Director, Patty Jenkins, talks about her vision for the film. There are extended scenes, and a blooper reel. The main thing you learn from this is that Gal Gadot has an absolutely amazing smile that she doesn’t get to use much in the film. We also got some contributions from Greg Rucka and Liam Sharp, who were the creative team on the comic when the film came out. I’ve known Liam for a long time and it is great to see him doing so well, and producing such amazing art.

But there are other things too. There’s a section on the training that the Amazons went through. I had no idea that many of the people playing the Amazons were top-class professional athletes. That didn’t excuse them from a formidable training regime. Just watching all of those women working to get themselves to a peak of physical fitness was hugely impressive.

Then there is a segment called “The Wonder Behind the Camera”, which is partly the creative team on the movie talking about their work, but also follows a group of teenage girls who want to get into the movie business when they have a day on the set. It is inspiring stuff.

My favorite segment, however, is one called “Finding the Wonder Woman Within”. It is a series of interview snapshots with a bunch of high profile women: women from Hollywood, women writers, women from NASA, sports stars such as Sloane Stephens and Danica Patrick. All of them talk abut what it means to be a wonder woman, and the theme is very much one of the battle for equality. Nothing is actually said about the child occupying the White House, but it is very clear that everything he stands for is under fire here. All of this is set to a backdrop of some amazing poetry from Mila Cuda, who is the Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate.

I’m not quite sure what I expected from this disk, but I’m damn sure I didn’t expect to find terms like “gender identity” and “non-binary” being bandied about in the extras for a superhero movie.

Well played, women of Hollywood. Well played indeed.

I, Replicant

Well, BladeRunner 2049 was interesting. It is visually stunning though, as has been noted elsewhere, very white and rather full of naked boobs.

What struck me most about it, however, probably won’t strike most of you as important, because you haven’t spent your entire life being told that you are not “real”.

I felt rather sorry for Joi, even though she’s a manufactured stereotype virtual sexbot. I don’t suppose I would have fallen in love with Ryan Gosling, because he has all of the emotion, charm and charisma of a congealed lump of lard in the bottom of a roasting tin waiting to be washed up. He seems to have taken the idea of playing an emotionless, baseline replicant very seriously. But I certainly related to her desperate desire to be real.

The main point, however, is that trans people are replicants. We look like humans, we feel like humans, we bleed like humans, but we are constantly told that we are not “real”. We live among you, and most of the time you can’t tell one of us from one of you. Yet many of you hate us, claim that we are dangerous, and want to get rid of us. If we do ever come to the attention of the authorities, we are probably doomed. And we don’t have super powers to make up for it.

I miss you, Roy Batty.

Arrival – The Extras

Arrival winning the Bradbury on Saturday has reminded me to tell you that if you don’t have a copy of the film on disc then you should go get one, because the extras are great.

First up, of course, there’s an interview with Ted. This makes me absurdly happy. His stories are so good, and he deserves some time in the limelight.

There are also interviews with Stephen Wolfram whose software was used to create and display the alien language, and with the linguist who worked as a consultant on the film. Of course a whole bunch of the film crew are interviewed. I was delighted to hear that both Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner signed up immediately on reading the screenplay.

The topics for the interview range over linguistics, the nature of time and the complications of making science fiction movies.

The extras also made me think about how the film is put together. It has an actual infodump (Ian’s “what we know about heptapods” voiceover), and uses Dos Passos techniques in the TV news clips.

Finally it occurs to me how appropriate it would be for a film about language to win a Hugo at a Worldcon in a non-English-speaking country.

Today on Ujima – New Year, New Presenters plus Movies and Smoothies

With Paulette having retired, we need to put things in place to ensure the continuation of the Women’s Outlook show. I can’t do it myself because I have too many work commitments. But today I was delighted to welcome to the studio three women who are interested in working on the show as presenters. They are Isadora Vibes, Kamaljit Poonia and Esme Worrell. I spent the first hour getting them to introduce themselves and talk about one of their areas of experience.

Isadora is a poet and has been on the show before. She talked about the forthcoming In Between Time Festival, which looks amazing.

Kamaljit has a long career in equality and diversity work. She has been involved in the Bristol Race Manifesto project (which parallels the work Berkeley and I have been doing on an LGBT Manifesto) and she gave an update on that project.

Esme is, among other things, a stripper. We chatted about sex work, which as you will know is a topic of great interest to trans activists because so many trans women can’t make a living any other way.

You can listen to the first hour of the show here.

The second hour began with a visit from Gabriela Staniszewska who is an award-winning director of short films. She’s based in Bristol and I was delighted to find out that she specializes in science fiction and horror. We got on famously.

Finally I welcomed my friend Russell Thomas who runs the Ground and Burst cafe in Bristol that majors in smoothies. Russell is trying to get people to eat more healthily by eating fruit rather than processed sugar. I was very hungry by the time I had finished talking to him.

You can listen to the second hour of the show here.

Here’s the playlist. Obviously there was a Bowie song on it.

  • Alicia Keys – Superwoman
  • Chaka Khan – Through the Fire
  • Mariah Carey – Don’t stop
  • David Bowie – Sound and Vision
  • Diana Ross – Theme from Mahogany
  • Janelle Monae – It’s code
  • Shalamar – I can make you feel good
  • Pointer Sisters – I’m so excited

I’m not entirely sure what will be happening for the next few weeks while folks get trained up. I have some work engagements on Wednesdays that I can’t get out of. But I will definitely be back on February 15th with an LGBT History Month show.

Today on Ujima: More Music

Yes, I know it isn’t Wednesday. This week’s Women’s Outlook show should have gone out yesterday in the usual time slot, but once again technical gremlins intervened. So instead the show was run in the 10:00-12:00 slot this morning. You can listen to the first hour here, and the second hour here.

As with last week, the show is entirely music, but it is great music. Here’s the playlist:

  • Chaka Khan – I’m Every Woman
  • Afro Celt Sound System – Whirl-y-Reel 1
  • Guillemots – Sao Paulo
  • Eddy Grant – Living on the Front Line
  • Maria Muldaur – Midnight at the Oasis
  • Zoe Rahman – Shiraz
  • Sylvester – You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)
  • Stereo MCs – Fever
  • Donna Summer & Barbara Steisand – No More Tears
  • Janelle MonΓ‘e feat. Esperanza Spalding – Dorothy Dandridge Eyes
  • John Coltrane – Blue Train
  • Tracy Chapman – Fast Car
  • Dreadzone – Tomorrow Never Comes

The Janelle MonΓ‘e song is, of course, there to encourage you all to go and see Hidden Figures when it is out in your area.

Up On the Aqueduct

My annual Year in Review post as gone up on the Aqueduct Press blog as part of their Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening series. So if you want a condensed version of what I have been up to, entertainment-wise, you can find it here.

Better still, you should just go to the blog and read all of the entries. Other contributors include Nisi Shawl, Andrea Hairston and Lisa Tuttle. More will be added in the coming days.

Civil War on Disc

The DVD and Blu Ray versions of Captain America: Civil War came out on Monday so naturally I rushed out and bought a copy. For those of you who care about such things, I got the Steve cover, because regardless of the issues if you ask me to choose between Steve and Tony I’ll pick Steve every time. I am, of course, Team T’Challa, but you couldn’t buy a cover for that.

The extras on the disc are fairly standard fare: trailers, gag reel, short “making of” documentaries and so on. The only real surprise was a sneak peek at the forthcoming Doctor Strange movie, due out in November. It doesn’t really tell us much new. We get to see more of Baron Mordo and Wong, and we also get to meet the bad guys for the film. There is, sadly, no sign yet of the Dread Dormammu, or his daughter. The villains are a sect of human magicians called the Zealots who seek power from the mystical dimensions. I continue to be rather worried about this film. Still, the Sanctum Sanctorum looks nice, and Benedict Cumberbatch certainly looks the part.

I spent yesterday evening watching Civil War with the directors’ commentary on (which also features the scriptwriters). I do like what they did with this film. The folks at Marvel have very much taken on board the criticisms about endless, formulaic action films and vast amounts of collateral damage. Civil War is very different, and puts a lot of effort into disguising that fact. Some people, I am sure, will feel cheated that they didn’t get a huge slugfest at the end, but so it goes.

Civil War is very much a character-driven film. As the Russo brothers say in their voice-over, the central narrative is all about the personal disagreements between Tony and Steve, and the issues in their lives that drive them to this point. One of the most interesting things about the film is that it couldn’t have worked without all of the backstory that we have got from previous Marvel Cinematic Universe products. Iron Man 2, the previous Captain America movies and the previous Avengers movies all feed into this one. There’s even mention in the commentary of something that Peggy Carter says to Howard Stark in the Agent Carter TV series as being significant to this film.

I guess you can probably watch the film and enjoy it without knowing all of this stuff, but it is better if you do know it. More importantly, given how rigid movie-making has become, there’s no way a Hollywood studio would have let this film be made the way it is without that backstory. They would have insisted on establishing scenes for all of the characters, which would have bogged everything down impossibly.

We don’t get much technical information in the commentary, save for some interesting comments on shooting angles in conversations, but there are quite a few points where the cast get praised for their contributions to the script. My favorite here is in the scene where Tony Stark first meets Peter Parker. An interesting thing about this scene is that we have 18-year-old Tom Holland playing opposite Robert Downey Jr., who is the top paid actor in Hollywood. They are playing a teenage science whizz kid meeting the most famous inventor on the planet. At one point Tony says to Peter, “I’m going to sit here, so move the leg,” and then sits on the bed next to the kid top continue the conversation. What actually happened is that Holland had forgotten the blocking for the scene. Downey improvised a line to remind him where he should be sitting, and it worked so well it got left in the film.

The other technical issue that sticks in my mind is the Black Panther costume. They didn’t have the budget to make it for real, at least not in a way that would have allowed Chadwick Boseman to survive filming. So they made him a much lighter costume for filming, and painted on the panther suit in CGI afterwards. Nice job, ILM!

The big outstanding question has to be where things go next. We know that the blockbuster Avengers movie(s), The Infinity War, are on the horizon, but right now the Avengers are entirely dysfunctional. Several of them, including Cap, are on the run from the US government, and probably quite a few other governments as well. It has been suggested that the natural next step is for Steve Rogers to give up the Captain America identity and become a character known as The Nomad — something he did in the comics back in the 1970s. Well, right at the end of the directors’ commentary there is mention of the possibility of seeing Chris Evans in this costume.

Nomad


Mmmmmmmmmmmmm…

Mike Carey at Waterstones

As promised, I have uploaded the other Mike Carey interview to Salon Futura. This is the one that we did at Waterstones in the evening. It is almost an hour long, so we have a lot more time to talk about Fellside. Mike and I go on a little rant about the economics of private prisons. The conversation also touches on films. The Girl with All the Gifts is due for release on September 23rd. Here’s the trailer.

One of the reasons I didn’t want to release this too soon is that Mike would have had to kill me, because during the interview he mentions the possibility of a prequel to The Girl with All the Gifts. That book is now official, so I no longer have to worry.

Inevitably Mike and I talk about the X-Men. Indeed, I suspect that we could have talked about superhero movies all evening had not one or two people been scowling at us from the audience. Obviously I mentioned the Felix Castor novels, which led us on to the idiocies of publisher branding policies. We even managed to mention the Steel Seraglio books, which Mike wrote with his wife, Linda, and daughter, Louise.

The sound quality is rather poor in places, for which my apologies. My little microphone doesn’t cope well with a cavernous shop, and there were all sorts of issues with capturing audience questions. Hopefully it is all listenable.

This event was arranged by the Bristol Festival of Literature. My thanks to Pete Sutton for doing a fine job.

Next week in the Salon I’ll have the full version of my Finncon interview with Cat Valente.

Making Movies – Part II

Not about me this time, this is about real movies.

As those of you who follow trans issues on social media will know by now, there is yet another controversy about a trans woman being played by a cis man in a movie. In this case the flick in question is Anything, starring Matt Bomer as the trans woman, and directed by Mark Ruffalo.

Jen Richards has done a great job on Twitter of articulating the issues, but for those of you who don’t click through on links here are the main points:

  1. There are plenty of great trans actresses who need work;
  2. No matter how good the male actor, and good trans woman will always bring more authenticity to the part;
  3. Every time a movie casts a cis man as a trans woman it reinforces the idea that trans women are “really men” who are “just acting”, and thus feeds the nonsense that leads to “bathroom bills” and murder.

The last one is the key point. You can make an argument for using a male actor if the character is going through transition, as was the case in The Danish Girl, but if the character presents as female throughout you don’t use a male actor. Personally I have no issues with cis women playing trans women. Indeed, the extreme dysphoria experienced by Chloe Sevigny [the interview is in the Malice, I’m not linking to it] while filming Hit and Miss provides a very valuable lesson about what trans women go through.

Something else worth bearing in mind is that women such as Jen Richards and Jamie Clayton are putting their careers at risk by speaking out on this issue. Just as there are NFL bosses who now won’t employ Colin Kaepernick (Go 49ers!), there are (old white male) studio bosses who will turn against anyone seen to be “rocking the boat”. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for September 18th because Her Story surely deserves an Emmy.

There is, perhaps inevitably, a petition asking for the film to not be released. I can’t see that happening. Ruffalo says it has already been shot, and there are doubtless all sorts of contractual issues that would make is very difficult for it to be stopped now. The only thing that can really stop it is if it looked like being such a financial flop that the studio decided to cut its losses, and frankly, with the amount of free publicity it has got, I can’t see that happening.

So what can Ruffalo and Bomer do to make amends? Well to start with they can accept Eden Lane’s offer of an interview (because there are trans women who have good jobs on American television). I’m sure Janet Mock would have them on her show too.

They can also get onto other chat shows, and insist then Jen and or Jamie come on with them to discuss the issues (and be paid for it).

And of course they can donate any money that they make from the film to trans charities. I’m sure they can afford it.

Finally, they can talk to other people in Hollywood and do their best to make sure that this never, ever happens again.

Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good

This evening I took myself off to see one of the most controversial films of the year. The sheer oceans of man-tears that have been shed over the Ghostbusters remake would drown entire solar systems. Goodness only knows what movie they think they would see if they were to actually go and see it. The real thing is pretty darn good.

The showing didn’t get off to a great start because the cinema insisted on putting on a bunch of trailers “specially selected” to go with the main event. So yes, there were trailers for some really bad comedy films that looked at if they had been written by men with the intention of appealing to very drunk women. There was one piece of genius by Celia Imrie, but otherwise the trailers were even more cringe-worthy than the one for Ghostbusters.

Thankfully the film itself is nothing like the trailer. To start with, Leslie Jones’ character, Patty, is much smarter than the trailer gives her credit for. OK, she’s not a scientist like the other women, but she has plenty of brain. They could have done better, but it wasn’t as bad as I had expected.

The film isn’t a continual laugh-fest, and that’s probably just as well, because that sort of thing gets wearing. There are bits that are not as funny or clever as the scriptwriters probably thought. The section at the heavy metal concert, in particular, felt very flat for me.

However, there were many good jokes, and all four main actresses did good jobs. Chris Hemsworth isn’t nearly as good without Loki to be the straight man for, but then again he was only there as eye candy, a job he fulfilled admirably.

Some of the best jokes came after the credits started to roll. I cannot understand why modern cinema audiences get up and leave before the end. Do they not pay attention to anything written about other films?

I am tempted to complain that there was too much of other people’s music and not enough of Ray Parker Jr.. However, if there had been more of that song I would probably have had to get up and dance, which would have been embarrassing for everyone.

As many other people have noted, Kate McKinnon steals the show. As I said earlier on Facebook, if you don’t come out of this film a lesbian then my name isn’t Mrs. Holtzmann.

Thankfully for my straight reputation there is also Mr. Hemsworth (swoon), and his character is called Kevin (double swoon). Now all I need to do is avoid getting the two of them confused…

Most importantly, however, I cannot for the life of me understand what all of the fuss is about. Dan Ackroyd has writing and production credits on the film, and it would be hard to find any other film with such obvious respect and affection for its predecessor. The cameos are brilliant, especially the final one, the one after the credits have started. And if you stayed to the end you will know that there really needs to be a sequel. I’m hoping that Holtzmann’s mentor gets a bigger role in that one.

The Age of Apocalypse is 10-Year-Old Cheryl

Scott & Jean
So, I have seen the new X-Men film, and I absolutely loved it. This does not mean that you will. Bear with me a moment, please. I will try to make this as spoiler free as possible.

As anyone who has seen the previous films in this Bryan Singer series will know, each one is being set 10 years apart, and much of the X-Men chronology has been thrown up in the air. The primary constants of the series are Charles, Hank, Eric and Raven. This film is set in the 1980s and introduces Jean and Scott, along with Kurt, Warren and Ororo, all as teenage additions to the team. Of course the original series had a much more traditional X-Men team in it, but that series went downhill rapidly as even Singer acknowledges in this film. This film was a chance for redemption, and Singer has grasped it with both hands.

The jumbled chronology has set up some odd effects. Having been seen on television facing down Magneto in Days of Future Past, Mystique has become a hero to young mutants all over the world such as Ororo Munroe growing up in Cairo, and Kurt Wagner in Berlin. This is probably the last thing that Raven wants. Eric is trying his best to hide away from everything and lead a normal life. Meanwhile Charles and Hank have the school up running again, and are recruiting new students, the most powerful of whom is this girl with red hair.

Sophie Turner does an OK job as Jean. It isn’t her fault that when I look at her I only see Sansa Stark. She doesn’t look any more like Jean than Famke Janssen did, and neither of them has captured Jean’s personality. However, the story is there; all Singer & co have to do is tell it, and that they do very well.

I totally accept that if you haven’t grown up on X-Men and don’t have a huge emotional investment in the characters the way I have then you may get a bit bored by the long and somewhat silly plot involving some guy called Apocalypse. That wasn’t what kept me watching, often in tears, and at one point in serious danger of sobbing out loud, which I have never done in a cinema before. That was one of the defining mythologies of my childhood being played out right there on the big screen.

There were dodgy things, of course. There was rather a lot of fridging, which I do wish screenwriters would learn to do without. Scott and Alex being brothers doesn’t make much sense if Scott is a teenager now and Alex was one back in the ’60s. We can’t have Wanda because she’s in the Avengers universe, and Quicksilver’s name is Pietro, not Peter.

There is one thing, of course, that I am very sad about. But then nothing is perfect.

On the other hand, there was good stuff. I loved the scene where Scott, Jean and Jubilee take Kurt to see Return of the Jedi (and no one bats an eye at the teenager with blue skin because those kids are obviously science fiction fans). There are probably more brown-skinned Egyptians in the introduction than in the whole of Gods of Egypt. Alexandra Shipp is delightful as the young Ororo, as is Lana Condor as a very young Jubilee. As you have probably heard, Weapon-X makes a brief and bloody appearance. The Quicksilver time freeze sequences are as much fun as ever, if even more improbable.

There’s an awful lot of new X-Men material in production. Fox appears to be determined to turn the X-Men into as massive a franchise for themselves as the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is for Disney. Eventually this has to be bad, because Claremont happens and we all know that things will go to shit in the end. But maybe there will be a few more movies before that happens. Also, of course, Singer hinted at the end of Days of Future Past that the universe in which the first three films existed (and Patrick Stewart is the Professor) had changed, and that possibly the events of Last Stand would not happen. If he’s prepared to do that, maybe he can make changes here too. After all, Emma is already dead in Singer’s universe. Who knows what might happen?

Today On Ujima: Judy Darley, No More Taboo, Predatory Peacekeepers and Mike Carey

Well that’s a fair old mix of a show.

I started off with local writer, Judy Darley, who is running a literary fundraiser for St. Mungo’s, a charity that works with homeless people. The event is going to be in St. John on the Wall, a fabulous 13th Century church built into the old city walls. Pete Sutton is having his book launch there later in June, though I’ll miss that due to Finncon.

The second half hour saw a welcome return for Chloe Tingle who runs No More Taboo, a non-profit which promotes the use of cheap and recyclable sanitary products. The main project they are raising money for is in Nepal where, unbelievably, women who are having their periods are still shunned socially and required to stay out of the family home until they are “clean” again. You can find the crowdfunding campaign here.

You can listen to the first hour of the show here.

My planned 3rd quarter guest had to cancel, so I took the opportunity of spending a few minutes talking about the Predatory Peacekeepers campaign. This is attempting to hold the UN, and the French government, to account for sex abuse carried out by “peacekeepers” in the Central African Republic. The petition I mention on the show can be found here.

Rant over, I went straight into my final guest interview of the day, which was with Mike Carey. He’s in town promoting his latest (and very good) novel, Fellside. Mike and I will be discussing the book at the Bristol Waterstones tonight. We managed to find the time to discuss the state of the Girl with All the Gifts movie (which will be out in September) and our love for the X-Men as well.

You can listen to the second hour of the show here.

The playlist for today’s show was:

  • Papa Wemba – Show me the way
  • Billy Paul – Me & Mrs Jones
  • The Specials – A Message to you, Rudy
  • The Selecter & Prince Buster – Madness
  • Madness – Night Boat to Cairo
  • The Beat – Mirror in the Bathroom
  • The Bodysnatchers – Lets Do Rock Steady
  • The Specials – Ghost Town

The Force Awakens On Disc

Because I am addicted to the extras you get when you buy a movie on disc I got myself a copy of The Force Awakens as soon as it came out. I have the Blu Ray edition, which is two discs. The DVD may not contain the same material.

Disc 1 is the movie. There is no Director’s Commentary, which is a shame but is increasingly common these days.

Disc 2 has a fair amount of extras. It is nowhere near as in-depth as you would get from WETA on a Peter Jackson movie. Nor is it anywhere near as open and honest as what Jackson gives us (the final Hobbit film in particular is very raw). This is polished Hollywood corporate product, all intended to promote the brand. Nevertheless, it does tell us things.

I was unaware until I saw the extras that the currently President of Lucasfilm, and the Producer of The Force Awakes, is a woman: Kathleen Kennedy. I suspect that she has a lot to do with how the film turned out.

More generally, the thing that comes across most strongly from the material is the reverence that the crew had for the original three movies. Many people who worked on those original movies also worked on this one. It’s not just Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew and Anthony Daniels. In fact one of the most important pieces of continuity is the fact that John Williams is still doing the scores. But there are also people whose parents worked on the original films, and people who grew up as Star Wars fans and dreamed of being able to work on the movies. Listening to all of these people talk, it is obvious why the film turned out the way it did.

One of the highlights for me was seeing Lupita Nyong’o talking about her first experience of motion capture. And of course Andry Serkis was there to help out.

Gwendoline Christie is quite interesting on the role of Captain Phasma and how she tried to make it clear that Phasma was a woman without in any way feminizing her.

There are a few deleted scenes. They are quite short, and mostly fun but unimportant. I would have liked the movie to have included the one in which we see Leia being General Organa, rather than being Mrs. Solo which is what she does for much of the film.

Skellig Michael is still the star of the film, closely followed by Lupita and BB8.