Category Archives: Screen

Worst Film Ever.

Or, TAKEN: 93 minutes of my life.

As we get ever closer to the release of Twilight saga movie number 4, and as more films are remade barely after their initial release (‘Let The Right One In’ (2008), ‘Let Me In’ (2010)) to unsurprisingly disappointed receptions, there is clearly a lot of competition out there for the worst film ever.

When I was a kid I remember seeing ‘Bean’ (1997) and it was the first time I had actually wanted to walk out. But as my BFF reminded me last night after seeing ‘Contagion’ (2011) “it’s better to be slightly bored than traumatized” – so while ‘Contagion’ was completely uninteresting, there was nothing highly offensive or upsetting about it. The same cannot be said for ‘Taken’ (2008). Three years ago I wrote the following review and I am yet to see it beaten to the title:

It doesn’t happen often that I find nothing at all redeeming about a movie. But last night my sister, brother-in-law and I all agreed that ‘Taken’ was the worst film we had ever seen. And we have really different tastes in movies.[1]

The only film I have ever actually walked out of was ‘Don’t Move’ (‘Non ti muovere’, 2004) – a love/rape story that I simply couldn’t bare at the time. I walked out after 30mins, post the first (of many) totally sexualised rape scene. When I finally watched the entire film in 2006, I did appreciate it. It is a really wonderful film, but the complexity involved in its greatness was beyond me at the time. And it is utterly painful to watch.

The last film I nearly walked out of was ‘The Dead Girl’ (2006), which I think may be the best competition for ‘Taken’.

The reason I went to see ‘The Dead Girl’ was because I had heard an interview with the (female) director where she explained that the film gave a voice to someone otherwise just seen as ‘the dead girl’, which actually is total bullshit. The film does exactly not that. The ‘dead girl’ only appears at the end. And the film plays into super boring lesbian/drug addict/prostitute/’she was asking for it’ narratives without challenging them.

Here are my criteria for judging a film:

1-does it reinforce stereotypes/cliched narratives?
2-does it depict women as victims/helpless/mindless consumers?
3-does it reinforce racist, sexist, homophobic assumptions/stereotypes?
4-does it contain rape (as threat, allusion, or graphic image)?
5-does it play well as a film (that is, have good cinematography), or does it rely more on just a story?
6-does it contain some pathetic love story, where things work out in the end?
7-does someone hot make up for it?
8- does it glorify something repulsive like patriarchy/war?
9-is it critical of oppressive social structures?
10-is the main message of the film super lame unoriginal?

SO. This is why ‘Taken’ is the worst film ever:

Brief synopsis:
Ex-Army Liam Neeson retires to live closer to his estranged daughter. She wants to go to Paris with her friend and needs him to sign a form because she is 17. He says she can go only if she calls him twice a day. She doesn’t call. He calls her and while they are on the phone guys break into their apartment and kidnap the friend and then her. Neeson tracks down every person involved and kills them all, rescuing the daughter.

‘Taken’ rates as follows:

  • (1) does it reinforce stereotypes/cliched narratives?

Oh my god Yes. It is a super boring ‘action’ movie. Badly written (so many bad one liners by Liam Neeson in the style of ‘this time it’s personal’). Terribly weak narrative (Neeson’s daughter goes to Paris on a trip and he is worried about her going alone and then lo and behold she is kidnapped on her first day).

  • (2) does it depict women as victims/helpless/mindless consumers?

Absolutely. We never see the daughter’s story (for ‘narrative effect’, we are supposed to identify with Neeson ‘not knowing where she is’), thus she is depicted as completely useless/helpless to do anything herself. The (female) friend is found dead and she is just never brought up again.

There is also this thing about her being a virgin, which is so terrible: like she’s a virgin so instead of getting used in a brothel she gets sold off as a virgin, and then it is implied that she is still a virgin when he saves her (and therefore still ‘pure’), which I find super unlikely.

  • (3) does it reinforce racist, sexist, homophobic assumptions/stereotypes?

Classic America takes on evil ‘Others’. The guys who kidnap, traffick and pimp the girls are Albanian, one is black. The story takes place in France and the French government is implicated as supporting the ‘trade’. When the girls are auctioned off, the buyers are of Asian appearance, or with dark skin. The final super bad guy (who purchasers the daughter) is West Asian Muslim.

  • (4) does it contain rape (as threat, allusion, or graphic image)?

Yes. The girls kidnapped are given heroin and put to work in warehouse brothels. The threat that the daughter will be raped is the basis of the suspense of the film.

  •  5) does it play well as a film (employ cinematography), or does it rely more on just a story?

No. but it is an action movie, so that’s to be expected.

  • (6) does it contain some pathetic love story, where things work out in the end?

The main love story is the father/daughter, so that’s pretty cool (although obviously lame conservative and unoriginal in other ways), there is no main het love theme. But the father/daughter love story, esp. ending is pretty pretty bad:
When the story begins, Neeson is estranged from his family because of his long absences due to active army service, and he is trying to build a relationship with his daughter. He works for one night on security at a concert and saves the singer’s life. In return she says he can bring his daughter to meet/learn from her (the daughter wants to be a singer). Guess how it ends.

  • (7) does someone hot make up for it? 

Only if you’re into Liam Neeson, but the acting is so so bad in anyone. Even Neeson is terrible.

  • (8) does it glorify something repulsive like patriarchy/war/…

Yes. Patriarchy: father saves all. The film also has super dubious morals: it condones the use of torture (pretty standard these days but still), Neeson also kills so many people without caring, often unnecessarily, including women at a brothel, and he shoots a guy he’s after’s wife – all in order to save the daughter. He only ‘rescues’ one other girl from a brothel because she has his daughter’s jacket, but he doesn’t seem to give a shit about ‘anyone else’s daughter’.

Neeson is also a trained soldier. He is able to save the daughter because of the skills he gained in the army (the army is really great like that).

  • (9) is it critical of oppressive social structures?

It is critical of America’s ‘bad guys’: Eastern Europe, France, Muslims. They appear to suck while white, manly America is there to save the day (world).

  • (10) is the main message of the film super lame unoriginal?

Yes. Women who travel alone will be kidnapped, sold into prostitution and become drug addicts. their only possible escape is if their father (some man) rescues them.

Even Holly Valance doesn’t make up for it.

Other notes:

It’s also SO unbelievable. And I understand the classic ‘bad guys can’t shoot straight but good guys always do’ scenario, but this is RIDICULOUS. Neeson must be like 60 (and the character is supposed to retired, ie out of practice or at least fitness), he repeatedly beats off 2, 3, 5, 7 (younger) guys without getting injured at all, mostly he is unarmed while they are armed. At one stage a guy shoots a machine gun at him at close range and still completely misses. At another he is handcuffed to a drain pipe against 5 guys with weapons. He is also pursued by the French government and then for no reason they give up, and he is able to leave the country.

Which movie do you think deserves the title WORST FILM EVER?

[1] Here are some of our favourite films:

Me: Charlie Kaufman’s ‘Adaptation’ (2002), ‘I Heart Huckabees’ (2004), Penelope Cruz in Pedro Almodovar’s ‘Volver’ (2006)

My sister: ‘The Usual Suspects’ (1995), Al Pacino in Oliver Stone’s ‘Scarface’ (1983), Neil Gaiman’s ‘Stardust’ (2007)

My brother in law: Jim Carrey in ‘Ace Ventura’ (1994), Chuck Palaniuk’s ‘Fight Club’ (1999), Oliver Stone’s ‘Platoon’ (1986)



Filed under Feminist Politics, Screen, What's Queer Here?

Born This Way?

The recent “Born This Way” episode of Glee, featuring Lady Gaga’s latest single of the same name, draws attention to the posited-as-postmodern fixation on so-called ‘body modifications’. The episode revolves around self-acceptance and, for the most part, asserts acceptance in opposition to body alterations via plastic surgery. That is, the fairly conservative view that plastic surgery and any desires for such are bad. In this way, Glee positions problems of self-esteem as individual and suggests they are to be conquered via changes to thinking, while plastic surgery is presented as self-hating and conformist.

Earlier in the series, Santana is vilified for having a boob job, and throughout this episode the gang rally to dissuade Rachel from having a nose job. There is no question that Rachel’s flirtation with plastic surgery is “a terrible idea” within the diagesis of the show. But while the gang all profess how much they love themselves, it is Santana — ‘the brutally honest bitch’ — who calls them out for lying to themselves (“As if there aren’t things you’d all change about yourselves”). Self-hatred is conveyed as highly unattractive and unfashionable in this hipster context (as opposed to self-hatred celebratory emo-culture).

The showchoir purport various reasons (other than self-hate) for their body modifications, such as the improvement of talent (Rachel) or trying to be in fashion (Tina), both of which are presented as highly unconvincing; mere excuses for a deeper-rooted and shameful self-loathing.

Rachel: “Look, I’m happy with the way that I look and I’ve embraced my nose, but say I wanted to have a slightly more demure nose, like Quinn’s for example. I would never change my appearance for vanity but the doctor said that it could possibly improve my talent…”

Against conformity

Glee sets up a dichotomy where self-acceptance is ‘good’  and conformity is ‘bad’ (in this case via plastic surgery). This has been the main aim of the show from its inception; the geeks and misfits of the Glee club are constantly juxtaposed to the bitchy cheerleaders and bullying footballers. This distinction is hardly complicated by a number of the popular kids joining the Glee club. There is also a reiteration of the idea that the misfits are ‘authentic’ and the popular kids ‘fake’ — referenced in “Born This Way” through Lauren Zizes comment to Quinn that she is “two different people”, as well as the character of closet-gay footballer Dave Karofsky. It is not coincidence that the two characters who are revealed to have had plastic surgery (Santana and Quinn) are cheerleaders: the archetypical high school example of popularity due to conformity.

With the exception of this one-liner,

Mercedes: “[T]he thing that makes you different is the thing people use to crush your spirit.”

the show really avoids the complications of trying to be different in an unaccepting social sphere; that there are costs to being different.

As Jack Halberstam reminds us: “the experience of transgression itself is often filled with fear, danger, and shame, rather than heroic self-satisfaction.” (Female Masculinity, 1998: 59)

Or, as Quinn puts it: “I pretty much have a warped sense of the world. Being a hot seventeen year old you can get away with or do anything you want, so I just kind of assume that people are always nice and accommodating.”

By revealing Quinn’s “size 2 teenage dream [body]” to be one obtained via various modificatory practices (rhinoplasty, extreme weight loss, acne medication, contacts, hair dye, as well as changing her name and moving schools), the show could be read as embracing both self-acceptance without plastic surgery and self-love via changing what you don’t like “when you look in the mirror”. When confronted with her ‘Lucy Caboosey’ past, Zizes suggests “So, you hate yourself?” to which Quinn retorts:

“No. I love myself, and that’s why I did all those things. I’ve been that girl and I’m never going back. I was a miserable little girl and now I’m going to be prom queen.”

Here, Quinn and Zizes offer a different reading of two perhaps similar looking people with starkly contrasted ways of living it. Zizes just gets off on her subversiveness (which is tied into her ‘badness’); that is, she embraces the ways she is different from dominant cultural expectations of femininity. Zizes clearly loves herself — which is highlighted when she is praised for it by the post-surgery, self-love professing Quinn. But, as Deb Jannerson remarks: “[it is troubling] that the writers didn’t come up with something other than ‘she used to be heavier and bigger-nosed.’ Don’t quintessential popular girls have issues with their appearances sometimes?”

This juxtaposition is perhaps more interestingly explored through the male characters Finn and Sam, each of which are often depicted as lacking in manliness because of their body mass; Finn not muscular enough and Sam obsessed with his musculature. These two can also be seen as representing ‘acceptance’ or ‘change’ in relation to body modification; Finn as self-conscious-if-not-hating of his flabbiness and Sam as obsessed with the constant militant eating and exercising regimes necessary for maintaining his stature. Hence, both ‘acceptance’ or refusal and change can be seen as ongoing systems of self-‘modification’. As opposed to Quinn’s which is seen as a classic before and after; that is, no ongoing work seems to be required.

“it is not enough to unquestioningly assume that conformity is bad  and transgression is good or to presume that such categories are stable, discrete, identifiable, and unambiguous.” (Nikki Sullivan, “Transmorgrifications”, 561)

The overwhelming ‘lesson’ of the episode remains that self-acceptance is — if not necessary at least — preferable to other types of self-modification: Tina concludes that as there are no Asian sex symbols, she should become one. This idea is reiterated in the ‘Barbaravention,’ where Kurt reminds Rachel that Barbara Streisand “refused to believe that beauty could only be defined by the blonde chiselled faces of Hitchcock’s beauties, so she redefined what beauty was and became the biggest female star in the world.” This possibility of reform is highly optimistic, but is in keeping with the show’s feel-good, idealistic raison d’être.


Glee itself purports to be transgressive and celebratory of diversity, but it presents a fairly palatable — conformist — type of diversity (see, for example, nyx mathews’ article on Glee and disability): all of Glee‘s self-congratulatory diversity is sugar-coated (with the possible exception of Lauren Zizes). Furthermore, the purpose of presenting difference as a result of being “Born This Way” disavows other forms of cultural representation and body-modification, rendering desires for such as less, if at all, legitimate.

Quinn’s self-acceptance is side-stepped in the narrative. Or rather, it is only considered in her relation to others: after the publicity of her alter-ego Lucy Caboosey, she’s still popular, adored by the masses (represented by the three identically-dressed fat girls) and her boyfriend, Finn. How she feels about herself after this ‘outing’ is not depicted. And neither is the reality of the suffering endured by rebelling against cultural norms, as Professor Xavier remarks in X-Men: The Last Stand: “Is it cowardice to save oneself from persecution?”

Is Rachel still pandering to social pressure, just that of her friends rather than the greater school community? And where does that leave the characters who have undergone plastic surgery? While it is not highlighted within the text, I think both Quinn and Santana characterise a get-what-you-want attitude that challenges the timidity of refusing change. Quinn’s self-acceptance revolves around not hiding the fact that she changed a lot in order to get where she is, regardless of the stigma attached to cosmetic surgery. And I’m into that.

If only Santana and Quinn had (been allowed to) own it and sung a girl power encore, like Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” or Madonna’s “Express Yourself”.

Glee cast perform “Born This Way”:

Lady Gaga’s original “Born This Way”:

Quinn and Rachel sing a mash-up of TLC’s “Unpretty” / West Side Story’s “I Feel Pretty”:

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Filed under Feminist Politics, Max Attitude, Screen, What's Queer Here?

“That’s called coercion”

On Vampirism Part 2, On Daddy Power Part 3

see Polyamory & Power Part 1 & Part 2

In the opening scene of the third Twilight film (Eclipse), vampire Edward is trying to convince human Bella to marry him:

“Marry me,” he says.

“Change me,” she replies.

“Hmm, I’ll change you…if you marry me. It’s called a…compromise.”

“That’s called coercion,” she astutely responds. Kissing him, they smile at each other.

Coercion here appears to be set up at odds with “love.” That is, because these two people love each other, even the possibility of coercion makes no sense: it’s a lark. But a closer reading of the text reveals that really love (or the façade of such) figures as precisely the basis on which sexual coercion takes place, and takes place repeatedly with almost all of characters and most of their relationships.

Even the title “Eclipse” can be seen as a veiled reference to coercion; meaning figuratively ‘loss of power or significance’ or, as a verb, ‘to deprive.’ This idea of deprivation makes little sense to the plot: the conflict surrounding Bella’s transformation into a vampire (being deprived of her human life) is deferred to the following installment (Breaking Dawn), and the deprivation that makes up Edward and Bella’s sex life is a constant theme in the entire series.

Rather, the main plot thrust of Eclipse is a territorial one: Victoria vs the Forks community/ Bella, the werevolves vs the vampires and, of course, Edward vs werewolf Jacob. The focus is very much on possessiveness and control, aspects of relationships which are at best unseemly, and at worst abusive.

In this way, the idea of ‘deprivation’ can be read as a comment on power and the interplay of the ways in which persuasion moves to coercion, and the differences between pressure, coercion, harassment and abuse.

Throughout Eclipse, all three of the main characters: Edward, Bella and Jacob exert force – whether physical or emotional – over each other in ways which are coercive. That is,

  • Coercion: the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner (whether through action or inaction) by use of threats, intimidation, trickery, or some other form of pressure or force. Such actions are used as leverage, to force the victim to act in the desired way.

Jacob to Bella: The most obvious example of Jacob’s use of coercion takes place after he discovers Bella’s engagement to Edward: he threatens her with his own life (that he will endanger himself unless she “gives him a reason to stay”) and none of her pleas that she loves him and doesn’t want to lose him suffice. He wants her physically, and clearly cares more about getting what he wants then the fact that it’s not what she wants.

This is exacerbated by the narrative cornerstone that Bella loves both Edward and Jacob (but Edward more), and that Jacob knows she loves him, while she ‘refuses to admit it.’ This works to reaffirm the adage that women don’t know what they want (which in itself suggests that when women say no they mean yes).

Sexual ‘misconduct’ is hinted at when he kisses her after she has told him explicitly to “stop.” This occurrence problematically attempts to differentiate “actual sexual assault” (visible and unacceptable) from “sexual coercion” (invisible and acceptable); while their first kiss is “wrong,” their second kiss is somehow less so.

Edward to Bella: As the opening of this article – and the film – suggests, Edward’s proposal to Bella is, at least in part, coercive. Throughout the film, and even after she agrees to marry him, it is implied that he will still refuse to turn her into a vampire.

Furthermore, Edward’s stalking is a fairly classic way of exerting control over another, and one which much has been said about.

That this way of behaving is diagetically justified further represents control and coercion as acceptable. His stalking results in his “saving her” twice (Twilight) from situations in which we are lead to believe she would not have been able to protect herself (from a car crash and a group of young men).

Bella to Edward: Bella’s initial pitch to Edward as to why they should have sex seems an argument in persuasion rather than coercion: she reminds him that after she becomes a vampire she’ll want blood more than him. Perhaps because we are so used to seeing teenage boys pressuring teenage girls into sex, it seems as though the reverse is impossible. But Edward makes it clear that he doesn’t want to have sex with Bella, and that doesn’t stop her from trying to coerce him into it.

Various minor characters, too, work to focus the narrative on possibilities of sexual coercion: Jasper’s origin story reveals that he was turned into a vampire after being deceptively sexually enticed; Rosalie’s flashback depicts the exertion of social pressure by her fiancé, which quickly turns to rape and murder; and Riley is clearly sexually coerced by Victoria into creating and organizing her army through promises of her love.

As I said in my last post, the way in which vampire violence is justified comments on how we think about power (and its abuse). The depiction of coercion (a type of violence though it fails to be portrayed as such) in Eclipse is troubling because it is well and truly tolerated, justified and, rather straightforwardly, accepted.

Suffice to say, sexual coercion should really not be a part of the way we relate and communicate with each other, and especially not with people we love.

Extended version available at The Scavenger/Sexual-coercion-abounds-in-Twilight


Filed under Max Attitude, Screen, What's Queer Here?

Relational Violence & Glorifying the Vampire

On Daddying Part 2

see Polyamory & Power Part 1

The current cultural trend of glorifying the vampire reflects – and works to construct – the normalisation and justification of a certain type of relational violence.

Power in relationships is not permanent but constantly shifting. In different contexts, different parties have different powers and access to power. Same sex couples often overlook the ways in which there are inequalities in their relationships because they see the sameness of their sex-gender as a level playing field. But there remain other histories, experiences and social inequalities that lead some people into positions of power and others into subordination.

The physical prowess of the vampire can be seen as a metaphor for varying power dynamics in relationships: that one party (always) has power over the other. The abusive potential of this relation is especially evident in the Twilight series, as Bella’s physical inferiority to Edward is not complicated (unlike in other vampire stories in which the female has some kind of super human powers to rival that of the vampire, as in Buffy or, to a lesser extent, True Blood). Here, his violent tendencies – his ability and potential to abuse that power – are justified as a part of ‘who he is;’ because he’s a vampire.

Polyamorous discourse too often fails to account for these factors when rules (often named ‘ethics’) are uncritically asserted, such as [the archetypal example]: ‘everyone is responsible for articulating their needs.’ Things would be significantly less high maintenance if everyone just did what they wanted. But not everyone feels as though they are entitled to what they want, or knows how to ask for it. And when someone has power over you – how do you (re)gain any kind of power except in denying yourself to someone: withdrawing or withholding your affection, your time?

I want to agree with Gauche Sinister that “it’s damaging and wasteful to withhold something you want, in order to punish someone else.” But it’s damaging and painful to be giving something to someone who wants it, when they are constantly denying you what you want. Not least because it takes a toll on one’s self-esteem. It’s not necessarily that someone likes someone else more, but that someone is always more likely to forfeit what they want for the desires of someone else (for a variety of reasons).

The potential for power to be abused is a part of all relationships, but too often (white, middleclass) queers refuse even to recognise that possibility. And that’s really dangerous. In our glorification of the vampire we accept relational inequalities as inherent, unchangeable and justified. Being aware of the ways in which people are likely to be accommodating to others, and taking care with that, is the only responsible way to relate to anyone.

see Polyamory & Power Part 3


Filed under "Queer Culture", Max Attitude, Screen, What's Queer Here?