Thursday, July 31, 2008

Movie Review: Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over


The kids and I watched this movie, again, the other day. We have all three Spy Kids movies and have enjoyed them.

It is always gratifying to see strong female lead characters in kids' movies, and Carmen Cortez (Alexa Vega) fits the bill. Carmen is smart, funny, aggressive, self-confident, bad-to-the-bone and all the things I want my daughter to know SHE can be.

In these movies, Carmen works with her younger brother, Juni (Daryl Sabara), to save the world from various villians. She and her brother, while they bicker and often don't get along, just like siblings IRL, consistently end up complementing each other's skills and saving the day together. In Spy Kids 3-D, the story focuses mainly on Juni, but Carmen gets to exhibit her special brand of kick-ass in the last third.

The Cortez family is a family of spies, and one of the pivotal messages of the films is the strength of intergenerational family ties and friend networks.

Spy Kids focuses on both the conflict between Carmen and Juni as siblings and that between the two and their parents, very nicely played by Carla Gugino and Antonio Banderas. There is also an estranged uncle, Machete (Danny Trejo), who must be enlisted in the quest to save the day, and a bogus uncle (Cheech Marin), whom they must foil early on in order to search for their parents. Other actors who appear in the three films include Tony Shalhoub, Bill Paxton, Teri Hatcher, Alan Cumming, and one of my very, very favorite actors, Steve Buscemi.

In Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams, there is conflict between kids and parents, as well as conflict and competition between other spies within the network, but now we meet the grandparents (Ricardo Montalban - yay, Mr. Roarke -, and Holland Taylor, whom I remember mostly from her fantastic role as Ursula's mother in George of the Jungle), who have conflict with the parents, but everyone, including the other spy kids and outside supporters in the network of friends, has to work together to meet the final goal.

In Spy Kids 3-D, Juni enlists the help of his grandfather to save Carmen and the world from a diabolical video game designer, The Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone!). Again, family and friends must cooperate in order to defeat The Toymaker. There is a cute Moonstruck reference at the very end, when all of the characters whose work made it possible for the good guys to prevail put their hands together, saying, "To family!" Whether or not it was director Robert Rodriguez's intention is not clear, but like in Moonstruck, the last voice is that of Uncle Machete, who says the line in Spanish, similar to Moonstruck's Johnny Camareri saying the final line in Italian.

Our family has enjoyed all three of these films. The special features include some fun sections by director Rodriguez instructing kids on how to make their own home movies, complete with special effects and sound effects. He mostly uses his son to illustrate this, and it looks fun and entertaining. Unfortunately, my kids are not yet allowed to mess with our video camera, mostly due to the fact that our NEW camera replaced our OLD camera, which worked perfectly until one of the kids decided to use it.

Another special feature is a "making of" section, which, for Spy Kids 3-D especially, is fascinating in that most of the sets are simply green screens and the final product is computer generated. Our kids were amazed to see what this entailed and Rodriguez includes enough well-explained detail to make it clear to them how it was done. They were astounded to learn that Ricardo Montalban is wheelchair-bound IRL, not just as the grandpa character, and to see how Rodriguez used CG to allow the character full mobility and super-powers as well.

Now, to my caveat: Since I've become more aware of sexist crap, I notice little things more often that are, perhaps not deliberate, but still quite annoying. For example, in Spy Kids 3-D, there is a female character, Demetra, within the game (the kids are INSIDE the game, a la Tron) who teams up with Juni and some male characters to reach a certain level to find Carmen, who is trapped in the game. At the time they decide to team up, each character says what his particular strength is, a la Aragorn's "You have my sword," Legolas's "and MY bow," and Gimli's "and MY axe!"

Here are the statements of the Spy Kids 3-D characters:
Male 1: I will use my strength!
Male 2: I will use my intelligence!
Male 3: I will use my coolness! (or something to that effect)
Female: I will use my (pause) intuition?

But this is not just an arbitrary thing. Later in the game, Juni is challenged by The Toymaker to defeat one of the comrades or be taken out permanently, ruining any chance he might have to find Carmen and foil The Toymaker. When it looks like Game Over for Juni, Demetra sacrifices herself so that Juni can continue. The male characters just look at him and shrug. WTF?

Later on, Demetra reappears and it is discovered that she is simply a construct, a tool of The Toymaker, sent to lead Juni astray. But with an electronic tear and an exhibition of remorse and love for Juni (oh, those darned feminine emotions!), she is able to overcome her programming and, AGAIN, sacrifice herself to further Juni's goal. WTF?

So, Demetra is The Self-sacrificing one. Natch. But she is also The Siren, The Jezebel, The Traitor Eve. Natch. But she redeems herself by ANOTHER self-sacrifice, (oh, she's a whore-with-a-heart-of-gold!) and is never seen again, leaving Juni to complete his mission and eventually return to his family and his true love-interest. Fucking natch!

Thank goodness for Carmen.

Sadly, though, for Carmen fans, there are three music videos in the special features starring Alexa Vega, the actor who plays Carmen. These videos were filmed in front of a live audience of mostly preteen kids and their parents at the film premier in Austin, TX. Ms Vega, a young woman with a nice voice, gyrates and shimmies and pole-dances-without-a-pole through three songs. Augh!

There are also a couple of instances of nerdism in this movie. Upon being caught using cheats in the game, Juni and Demetra are saved by Juni's grandpa, who exposes the "Designers", who are going to throw Juni and Demetra out of the game, by exposing their IRL selves. Oh, no! They are really Computer Nerds! Below contempt! They scramble away, chittering like little mice. Later, we see the male game-player characters IRL. Turns out they are regular guys, albeit with exaggerated myopia, pocket protectors, and slicked down hair. They confess that they are:
"Not really strong."
"Not really that smart."
"Not really cool."
And they disappear forever, not even getting to join the "To the Family!" cheer at the end, though they were pivotal in getting Juni where he needed to go.

So, as long as I can keep my kids out of the Alexa Vega music videos, and can keep the focus on the Carmen character instead of the Demetra character, and can instill in my kids a strong respect for nerds, we will continue to watch these movies and enjoy the fun, the effects, and the family.

McCain: Thanks For The Support

Here's a snip from an interview by Wolf Blitzer of Senator John McCain, our Republican Presidential candidate and former P.O.W., who prides himself on his knowledge, understanding, and die-hard support of and for our troops:

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about some national security issues. You're president of the United States, you've vowed that you will capture Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Now we know that President Bush since 9/11 has been doing the best he can. What would you do differently?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I'm not going to telegraph a lot of the things that I'm going to do because then it might compromise our ability to do so. But, look, I know the area, I have been there, I know wars, I know how to win wars, and I know how to improve our capabilities so that we will capture Osama bin Laden -- or put it this way, bring him to justice.

BLITZER: All right. If you capture...

MCCAIN: We will do it, I know how to do it.

WTF? Wouldn't it make sense that, if he is so very confident that he knows how to capture/bring to justice Osama bin Laden, and if he is so very supportive of our troops in Afghanistan and cares that they spend as little time as necessary in harm's way and come home alive, he might want to share this unassailable knowledge with our military commanders? Instead, he seems to be using the (debatable) fact that he has this knowledge as a campaign prop. Either he's lying or he doesn't really want to help our troops to come home alive. Yet. Until he's elected and sworn in. Until a minimum of 6 more months has passed with our troops in Afghanistan, currently numbering approximately 34,000, but projected to be increased to at least 40,000 by 2009, fighting and dying. What an asshat.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What Is It With Ballot Proposition Language?

Every time I vote and there are Propositions or Amendments or other extras besides voting for actual people, I notice that these are so wordy and convoluted and confusing that I have to read them several times before I can figure out exactly what they mean and what a Yes or No vote will actually accomplish.

As a college-educated person, I get very frustrated with this and often think of how difficult it must be for the majority of US voters to figure out just what the hell they're voting on.

Most often, I get the handy voter guide from the local newspaper and go through it with a fine-toothed comb well-before the election, write comments on it, and take it with me into the voting booth. This saves me lots of time. I recommend this method.

But wouldn't it be nice if they said things like this:
Library Funding Mill-Levy: This measure will add 1/10 of 1 cent to each dollar collected by the state as sales tax to be specifically used to purchase books for libraries in the state.
Senior Center Purchase Authorization: This measure will not add any new taxes, but will continue to use an existing tax of 2/10 of 1 cent collected by the county as sales tax to purchase the following for senior centers throughout the county if the senior centers do not already have them: One handicapped accessible van; New furniture for lounge areas; One DVD player per senior center and a copy of Cocoon for each.

Often, I have thought that the unnecessary complication and obfuscation in real life is deliberate. Today, I got proof of that.

In California, as many know, there will be a proposition on the ballot in November regarding same-sex marriages. The current wording on the ballot is as follows:

Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry

Then one would vote YES if one wants to eliminate the right or NO if one wants the right to remain.

This is nicely clear and says exactly what it should. Wow! I love it!

But guess what? Supporters of the elimination of the right of same-sex couplies to marry are suing the State of California over the wording!

One spokesperson claims that the language is inflammatory and could prejudice voters against the proposition! Because it shouldn't be called what it ACTUALLY IS, my goodness, the IDEA!

Here are some ideas for what it should be called instead:

1) Eliminates Fear Of Catching Teh Gey. Because if same-sex couples are allowed to marry, it turns all of us married couples into gays and lesbians! And our children, too!

2) Saves Heterosexual Marriage From Destruction. Because if same-sex couples are allowed to marry, all heterosexual marriages instantly become meaningless! Because I can testify that as soon as those dirty gays started getting married in Massachusetts a while back, I immediately stopped having feelings for my husband and just didn't give a shit about our marriage anymore!

3) Codifies God's Statement That Gays (Not Lesbians, But That's Beside The Point) Are Abominations And Should Stay In The Closet Where They Belong. Because if we let them marry each other, what will be next? Wearing two kinds of fabric? Men looking at or speaking to their wives when they are menstruating? Eating shellfish? Not killing our children when they are disrepectful? What kind of end will that bring us to? Why, The End Of The World, of course!

4) Reserves Marriage Benefits For Couples Who Can Reproduce With Each Other. Because you know people only marry in order to have children! Like my father-in-law, who is getting married in two weeks to another 60-something-year-old woman! I'm sure they'll be popping out babies as soon as they can! And my mom and step-father, who already have 4 kids between them - I'm sure they are trying long and hard to have more! Or even me! I am still (barely) of childbearing age! Why am I not popping them out? Maybe my infertility means that I shouldn't even BE married!

Maybe they should add an addendum to the proposition: Any same-sex couple attempting to marry shall be sent to the nearest Pray-Away-The-Gay center for deprogramming.

At any rate, it's a sad statement about the way politics and public relations get in the way of informed voting. And it pisses me off.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Women's Choices?

For several years, I've read articles and book reviews about women choosing to leave paid work and stay home with the kids. What always entered my mind while reading was the question of whether or not this was actually a choice. Some feminists rejoiced at the new freedom women had to choose between equally valuable work outside the home and work in the home. Some feminists scowled at the idea that unpaid work at home was anything like equal to paid work. Some even castigated women who stayed home as anti-feminist.

Some of the truth comes out now:

Judith Warner writesthis article for the NYT, in which she elaborates on a new Congressional report that shows that the choice was actually NOT a choice for many, if not most women.

I had more than one reason for deciding to stay home after my kids were born.

One of the reasons was the fact that I would have to have made more money than I realistically could in order for my wages to even cover gas, car maintenance, and daycare for three kids. The chances of my earning that much were slim to none. In addition, I had to add the cost of bringing home little to no money (see above), meaning that I would be working just for the satisfaction of working, to the fact that my kids would be spending more time with day care workers and/or school teachers than they would spend with me or Nigel. Plus, while they were home with me, after work, presumably, I would be spending the majority of my time keeping up with laundry, cleaning, cooking, and all the other things that have to be done. Nigel is good with these things, too, so I wouldn't be doing it alone, but the fact remains that neither of us would be spending much time at all with our offspring. And we do like spending time with our offspring. Most of the time.

A second reason I decided to stay home is that I have only one time in my entire life had a job I enjoyed. I really don't care if I never work outside the home again. Too misanthropic, I think.

Still, my first reason is the key. I sometimes think of staying home as my choice, but is it really? No. Really, even from my privileged point of view, it is doing the only thing that makes sense, considering that either way, I bring home $0.00. If I'm going to bring home ZERO, I'd rather be caring for my own kids, thank you very much.

I count myself one of the extremely lucky ones and I try to recognize my privileged status. My privilege is that Nigel's salary enables me to stay home instead of forcing us to move closer to our families so that we could prevail on the Grandma's for cheap child care so that I could work for pay in order for us to afford to live.

I think of the majority of women, those less privileged than I am, and my brain hurts thinking about how in the world they do what they do, when their "choices" are even more false and constrained than mine. Often the "choice" provides sub-standard day care, no health insurance at all, public transportation, multiple jobs, sub-standard housing, poor nutrition, and kids who never get to see mom or dad at all.

These are some of the issues politicians need to look at when they talk to women and try to get our votes. Men AND women need good and affordable day care. Men AND women need good and affordable health care. Men AND women need paid time off for family. Men AND women need safe and affordable housing. Men AND women need nutritious foods. Men AND women need safe, affordable, and dependable public transportation. Why is the focus never on these basics?