Mudbound (2017)

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Director: Dee Rees

Rating: ★★★★★| 5 stars

Genre: historical

They worked until the sweated. They sweated until they bled. They bled until they died. Clawing at the hard, brown, back that would never be theirs. – Hap Jackson

Every time a film that deals with racism and the lasting impact of slavery comes out there will always be someone who says that the film is Oscar bait. As if an Academy overpopulated by white men is rushing to acknowledge the work of black filmmakers, scriptwriters, actors, and the hundreds of other jobs involved in making a film come to life. Worse than these people are those that say that slavery and racism are a thing of the past. The events of Mudbound take place following World War II. In the grand scheme of things, it is a recent event. The film itself, is deserving of every single piece of praise it receives and so much more. The writing, directing, and directing work together to produce a wonderful and politically relevant film.

The film follows two families, one white and one black, living in the America south during and following World War II. One son from each of the families, Ronsel Jackson and Jamie Mac Allan, go to war. They return to America, suffering the after effects of the war, to find their country unchanged in the interim period. The two form a friendship based on their shared experiences. A friendship that leads to serious consequences due to their races. The story also expands beyond Ronsel and Jamie. The audience gains insight into the families of the two boys and their experiences, realities, hopes and dreams. And through it all we see the lasting impact of slavery, the racial tensions that continue to exist in the south, and the racial violence and hatred that permeates the American south.

The writing of the film is excellent. In Dee Rees’ own words, Mudbound is the story of the war overseas and the war at home and often how the war at home is bloodier. Throughout the film there are parallels between the occurrences on the farms and the happenings during the war. There are also parallels between Ronsel and Jamie’s experiences of the war. These obvious parallels serve to cement Rees’ vision of the film. The audience is able to see how the character are impacted by both of the wars. The writing is also defined by voiceovers by the characters. In a film with a large core cast of characters, it allows the audience to gain insight into characters and their motivations in an easier way. The voiceovers are not tacky, but rather add a deep sense of emotion to the film and I believe were a wise directorial decision.

Good writing in a film cannot be successful without good acting and Mudbound has a very strong ensemble cast. Everyone was on their game and no actor seemed noticeably weaker than anyone else. The cast has already won some best ensemble awards. There is an outstanding performance by Jason Mitchell who plays Ronsel Jackson. And I have to give a very well deserved honourable mention to Mary J Bligh who plays Florence Jackson, Ronsel’s mother. Some are calling Mitchell a serious contender for best actor during awards season and I would love for that to be the case.

Overall, the film is very emotionally heavy and definitely not for light viewing. The issues that the film addresses remain eternally relevant even many decades on from when Mudbound is set. Due to these relevant themes it is an important film that needed to be made and needs to be watched in our increasingly divisive times.

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Cicada Girl

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Title: Cicada Girl | 蝉女
Author: Gong Yuanqian
Genre: Contemporary, Graphic Novel
Rating: ★★★☆☆ | 3.5 out of 5.0

warnings: slightly nsfw; nothing too explicit, but r-rated at least

Why did you change your handle to “The Clay Bodhisattva?”

Clay bodhisattvas can’t cross the water.

When I told the friend I dragged down this rabbit hole with me that I didn’t know how to write this review, she wrote me this:

this manhua was very distress 2 read and made me have no hope for love and marriage but A++++ art and pretty girls

which, retrospectively, is a pretty good way to sum up the manhua, which is currently unfinished. Because it was distressing to read––and also so, so beautiful.

Continue reading “Cicada Girl”

Queen Sugar

queen_sugar_xxlgTitle: Queen Sugar
Starring: Rutina Wesley, Dawn-Lyen Gardener, Kofi Siriboe, Tina Lifford
Genre: Drama, Realistic, Contemporary
Rating: ★★★★★ | 5.0

I am a contrary person. I don’t do prestige things. For a reviewer, I rarely read reviews and I rarely listen to critics. I don’t like being told what to do (being raised in a strict household tends to do that?) or what to think, and the more Important(TM) someone says a work is, the less inclined I am to pick something up, and the less I’ll enjoy the process of consuming it.

I like trash, okay? It’s not hard for me to admit that the more people rag on a thing (to be clear, “ragging” does not entail, for example, comments about racism or sexism, etc., because those are “concerns”) the more I like it. My favourite films include Snowpiercer, Pacific Rim, and Jupiter Ascending. I’m not a connoisseur of quality, okay, I’m a connoisseur of having a fucking good time.

And part of this is because as marginalised people, we so rarely get any of it. A good time, I mean. Stories about us have to be Important(TM) to justify their being told. Stories about us have to be about oppression to be interesting and worthwhile. We’re not afforded any escapism, and I’ve learned to recognise that “realistic” is code for “cruel” and “good” is a judgement on the extent to which something shows us suffering. And I’m really, really not into that.

Continue reading “Queen Sugar”

House of Shattered Wings

house-of-shattered-wings-2Title: House of Shattered Wings

Author: Aliette de Bodard

Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy

Rating: ★★★★☆ | 4.0

This one took me a great long while to read. That’s not to say that it was a bad book (the rating obviously says otherwise), but more so because I’m easily distracted and adult fantasy always takes me forever to read. De Bodard has created a very original post-apocalyptic urban world and also taken other well used fantasy elements, such as, angels and dragons, and made them completely her own. The positives of this book included world building and characterisation, however there are problems with pacing throughout the novel.

The novel has a well-sized cast that never feels too big as de Bodard makes sure to develop each character to the extent that the audience understands who they are. This development ensures that while I was reading I was never confused about who was who nor about who belonged to which house. Additionally, de Bodard never went down the path of casting characters as heroes or villains. They were all morally grey and that made the book even more enjoyable as I wanted to know what each of the characters would do next. There are two characters who are in positions of power in the novel and are LGBT, however I would consider these characters to be secondary characters. There is also a fair amount of POV changes, however de Bodard makes it work and it never feels as though the same story is being told twice. Rather, it gives a good overview of the action taking place and the impact that major events have on the different characters.

De Bodard has an interesting take on angels. They fall to earth and parts of them are essentially harvested to produce objects of power. Angels have formed Houses in the post apocalyptic world which fight against one another, once outright, but now in more subtle ways. Everyone gets pulled into this war including one of the main characters, Philippe. He is a Vietnamese soldier conscripted into the war who settles in Paris after it ends and there is definitely more to him than meets the eye as the reader and the other characters in the novel soon find out. De Bodard also features dragons which are inspired by the Chinese tradition. They have connections to sources of water and reside in the Seine. And through this, de Bodard also makes a point to speak on environmental concerns in our modern world which are so important.

The pacing of the book leaves much to be desired in places. It begins with a very tense scene which is resolved and after this the books falls into a bit of tedium. There were parts where I had to push myself to keep reading or was distracted by other books because events were unfolding a little too slowly for my tastes. I enjoyed the ending through and felt de Bodard perfectly captured the urgency that the characters felt by the unfolding events. The ending also leaves many questions unanswered about a fair number of the characters. Hopefully the sequel answers these questions and gives de Bodard a chance to grow the already interesting world building.

Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King

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Title: Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King

Creator: Hasan Minhaj

Genre: Comedy

Rating: ★★★★★

Knowing absolutely nothing about Hasan Minhaj, I was so hesitant to watch this. A brown male comedian. I was either going to be bombarded with racist jokes or misogynist jokes or both terribly combined to ruin my day. But Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King was an experience. It was something written by someone like me for people like me. And it matters that he’s a second generation migrant living his dream in a career that no migrant parent would want us to have. It matters that Minhaj talks about his personal experiences with racism. It matters that this is shown on a platform like Netflix. And it matters that the woman that Minhaj calls the love of his life is a Hindu Indian-American.

I haven’t watched many comedy sets and the closest comparison I can find to Minhaj is a stage actor. He had a fantastic stage presence that held the audience captive for the entire set. He uses the entire stage to his advantage and the longer the set goes on the more it feels like a story unfolding in front of our eyes. One that is told by a very capable storyteller who knows exactly when to make us laugh and when to tug on our heartstrings. It is definitely a story with a message, but a message that doesn’t feel as though Minhaj is preaching to us, rather a message that we can definitely relate to as second generation migrants that have gone through similar experiences.

Minhaj tackles his experiences of racism growing up and the defining moment after 9/11 when many South Asian and Middle Eastern people were affected by racism. His story is painful and heartbreaking and a reminder of how little has changed in Western nations in the years that have followed. He also tackles the complexities of racism. It is not just overt racism that leaves scars, but the smaller words and actions that can have an impact that’s just as serious. It’s also very important that Minhaj acknowledges the much greater and systematic racism faced by black Americans. In the South Asian community where anti-blackness is rampant it is important to acknowledge that the racism we face is nowhere as globally prevalent or systematic as the racism experienced by black people the world over.

I loved that Hasan Minhaj mixed in parts that were in Hindi as he was telling his stories. It served to make the experience more authentic and made me feel like this was something that was made for me and people like me. Although, he did provide translations for most of the Hindi that he used, appealing to a wider audience. Providing translations of language in performances and in writing is a complex issue. Junot Diaz doesn’t provide translations in many of his works, forcing readers to work out for themselves the meaning of those words. However, Minhaj’s work made me think of my third generation cousins who can’t understand Hindi. In many ways this is something that relates to their experiences as well. Had Minhaj not translated how much of this experience would they be missing out on because they cannot understand the language of their ancestors? There are no simple answers to this question and of course as the migrant experience changes – becoming third or even fourth generation migrants – so will the media that is written by us and for us.

I came out of this feeling incredible and affirmed just knowing that the trials of growing up Indian-Australian were echoed halfway across the world. It also left me thinking if white people always experience this feeling when they watch media made for them (which really is almost all of it)? Anyway, I’m off to convince every second generation Indian migrant I know to watch this.

 

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

tumblr_otb4utrqck1tfx1a7o1_540Title: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Fantasy
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 4.0 out of 5.0

If you asked me to draw up a wishlist of things I wanted from a queer YA historical novel, it would include the following:

  1. tender queer boys
  2. strong girls who are fallible but have agency & their own goals
  3. PIRATES!
  4. adventure
  5. road trips! (AKA the only reason I’d read a Grand Tour novel)
  6. dropping trou before European dignitaries at Versailles
  7. intersectional identities
  8. a nuanced handling of chronic illness and disability

And man, like. It deliversThe Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (hi, love that title) is an adventure romp about two boys and one judgemental, not-here-for-your-shit sister who go on a Grand Tour. But because of one of the boys’ assholery (Monty’s), they end up being chased across the Continent by a sinister duke with nefarious plans.

This was an incredibly well-written novel––there is one thing I love most in all the world and it’s the slightly offbeat, self aware humour of historical fantasy set in Regency England. Think Sorcerer to the Crown and Sorcery and Cecelia and you’ve got a good idea of what I’m talking about, because our narrator/erstwhile protagonist/resident douchebag Henry “Monty” Montague has wit and humour in spades. Also self-hate, because this novel goes to some dark places for something so otherwise lighthearted and enjoyable.

Continue reading “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue”

First Time – Rereview

00206315Title: First Time
Starring: Angelababy (Yang Ying), Mark Chao (Zhao Youting)
Genre: Realistic, Contemporary
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ | 1.5

When I first reviewed this movie a year and a half ago, it was in the immediate aftermath of reading Everything, Everything. And given the issues I have with that book, I’m really hard pressed to think of why I gave 《第一次》such a high rating and a gushy review. Surely––surely––I was aware of what shit representation it was for people with terminal illnesses, right? Honestly, I think I might have just been viewing the film through the eyes of a girl who a) really likes Angelababy b) really likes Mark Chao and c) really likes the film.

And to be fair to 19 year old me, there were aspects of the film that are still genuinely enjoyable. The set design and costuming are lovely––I visited Xiamen last summer with my friend and it really was a beautiful city. I enjoyed its subversion of audience expectation––in many ways, Song Shiqiao is both the Tragic Sick Girl(TM) and the Maniac Pixie Dream Girl(TM), but in this narrative, where Shiqiao’s overprotective mother and her boyfriend Gong Ting try to craft and sell her a narrative, she is the one with the agency, making her own choices. She is the one with the last word, the final say.

The part I can no longer sign off on is that ending––in a media landscape that isn’t oversaturated with stories about chronically ill people and disabled people dying specifically because they are not abled, Song Shiqiao is just a girl who wants the physical freedom of dancing, who wants agency over her body badly enough she is willing to do anything to have a single moment in the spotlight. As it is, though, it’s just one more story about a chronically ill girl who dies, because apparently dying while trying to be abled is better than staying alive as a someone who is chronically ill? Okay.