Category Archives: film

Iron Man 2: This Pepper needs a little more kick

It’s been almost a month since Iron Man 2 was released, so I’ve had some time to think about all the things that disappointed me. But I’m sure you don’t want to hear about its many failures from me — just go read any legitimate review.

Nevertheless, one point of pain that still doesn’t sit well with me is the film’s treatment of Pepper Potts. Spoilers ahead.

After being offered the position of CEO at Stark Industries, Pepper seems to take the reins with confidence and determination. Having to clean-up after Tony isn’t an easy job — he’s either acting like a jackass or a drunken fool for the majority of the film — but she deals with the media and tackles her newfound responsibilities with the grace and severity that they deserve. She even puts Tony in his place during an interesting scene that highlights the characters’ role-reversals. Sitting behind  Tony’s old desk, Pepper finally gets to be the boss and tells Tony that his antics have only hurt Stark Industries. And to rub it in, she gets leaves with her own assistant and Tony’s chauffeur, Happy.

At Stark Expo, Pepper proves that she can  handle a crisis with ease. When robots start killing people, she doesn’t lose her cool or suddenly become a damsel in distress. Instead, she calls the police, confronts Justin Hammer (consequently leading to his arrest), and helps the police get civilians to safety.

But she acts like a jabbering fool when it comes to Tony. Her discovery that Tony’s Arc Reactor was poisoning him gets her stammering and shrieking like a little girl — because powerful, confident women must always lose their sense of control when it comes to men — and to top it all off, she resigns from her position because it’s all too much pressure for her.

Wait, what? I’m pretty sure we just witnessed a level-headed, competent and professional Pepper Potts for the majority of the film.  So why does she resign exactly? 

Iron Man 2 gives us no reason to believe that Pepper is incapable of running Stark Industries or dealing with the “pressure” of being CEO, so her resignation not only doesn’t make sense, but has nothing to do with her ability to be CEO.

Instead, the only reason seems to be Tony. Pepper only freaks out when Tony is putting himself or her in danger (which is pretty often), and it all seemed a little too convenient that Tony finally kisses Pepper once she’s professionally inferior to him again.

So thanks Iron Man 2, for reinforcing a sexist and out-dated belief that women let their personal lives get in the way of their professions.

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Thanks to Superman

I have to confess, I’ve never been a Superman fan. I never read the comics, or waited in anticipation for the newest Smallville episode, or really cared about Bryan Singer’s 2006 reboot.

However, as part of the 18th annual Toronto Jewish Film Festival, I was lucky enough to attend the Canadian premier of Last Son,  a 60 minute documentary on the creators of Superman, artist Joe Shuster and writer Jerry Siegel.

The film, which does an excellent job tracing the origins of Superman and gives a thorough exploration of Shuster’s and Siegel’s childhoods, provided me with a newfound appreciation for the Man of Steel – for his history and for his influence on comic books and superheroes to come.

From a young age, both Joe and Jerry showed an interest in comic strips and sci-fi and fantasy pulp magazines. After meeting in highschool, the two collaborated on numerous projects, including short stories and comic strips for their school newspaper. One of their longest running strips was Slam Bradley, a detective series about a private eye who always got the girl.

Later, the two friends created “Science Fiction” – a five issue  magazine used to publish many of the duo’s comic strips and short stories. One such piece of fiction was The Reign of the Superman, a short story written by Jerry and illustrated by Joe about a man who developed special powers and called himself the “Superman.” However, unlike the Superman we grew up with, Joe and Jerry’s first rendition of the Man of Steel was a villain who aspired to world domination.

After facing constant rejection, Superman would finally appear on the cover of Action Comics #1, a 13-page comic book released in 1938. Joe and Jerry would end up selling the rights to Superman for $130 (that’s $10 per page) – consequently resulting in decades of law suits and embarrassment for both the creators and the publisher.

Despite the messy legalities, what impressed me the most about Last Son was its insight into the hero’s design. Superman’s legendary appearance – the belt, the boots, and even the iconic “S” on his chest – was influenced by the world the creators grew up in. A variety of athletes and fads from the early 20th century can been seen throughout Superman’s design.

Joe, who drew on his mother’s bread board (except on Friday’s when she made the bread),  never went to art school, so he copied Superman’s poses from the body builders and boxers in fitness magazines. Last Son attributed Superman’s build and size to the body builders that Joe aspired to as a child, and the boots and belt were also common aspects of the strong man ensemble. Surprisingly, the “S” was featured as stitching on trendy ladies’ garments.

Following the screening of Last Son, the audience was treated to three original Superman cartoons from the 1940’s. Although the cartoon was filled with clichés and predictable plot lines, I was pleasantly surprised with the depiction of Lois Lane. An independent, hard-working journalist, Lois was a real character with a personality. She did whatever it took to get her story, and in an office dominated by men, she spoke her mind and didn’t follow orders. Although her independent spirit often put her in harm’s way (allowing Superman to come to the rescue), I couldn’t help but marvel at this unconventional portrayal of a woman in the 1940’s.

And so even though Superman draws heavily on the icons of his time, so too has modern-day art and media drawn on Superman. Action Comics #1 is considered the first real comic book, and Superman our first superhero. Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel have inspired countless artists and writers, and the Man of Steel has helped shape our vision of truth, justice and heroism. So despite his pretty-boy demeanor, I can’t help but appreciate Superman and his influence on my favourite medium.

Conveniently, each 1940’s Superman cartoon ended with the same piece of dialogue: “Thanks to Superman.” I couldn’t agree more.

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What’s the Greek word for ‘Cargo’?

I recently wrote a review of the Swiss sci-fi film Cargo for It’s Just Movies.  However, seeing as I didn’t want to include spoilers, I left out the references to Greek mythology that my inner Classics nerd couldn’t help but notice. So, I thought I’d use my personal blog to explore these references and their meanings.

Spoilers ahead!

Directed by Ivan Engler and Ralph Etter, Cargo is set in a technologically advanced, post-apocalyptic world. Pollution has made Earth uninhabitable, forcing the majority of humankind to move to crowded space stations. However, for the fortunate few who can afford it, Rhea (a paradise planet light-years away from Earth) acts as an alternate home-world.

In order to earn enough money to move to Rhea and reunite with her family, Laura Portmann (Anna-Katharina Schwabroh) takes a job as a medic onboard the Kassandra, a massive cargo ship transporting goods to a distant space station. Mid-way through her shift out of hibernation, Laura discovers that there is something alive in the ship’s cargo bay (an area off-limits to the crew).

After a few character and plot twists, we learn that Rhea doesn’t exist (it’s actually a virtual reality), that Earth is in fact habitable again, and that the Kassandra is actually transporting thousands of human beings in deep hibernation to a space station where they will unknowingly spend the rest of their lives in the virtual reality of Rhea.

So, where does the Greek mythology come into play, you ask?

In Greek mythology, Rhea was the mother of the Olympian gods and the daughter of Uranus (sky) and Gaia (earth).  After overthrowing their parents, Rhea and her husband Cronus became the rulers of the gods. However, paranoid that he would in turn be overcome by a child of his own, Cronus swallowed any child that Rhea bore him.

Nevertheless, when Zeus was born, Rhea tricked Cronus by feeding him a rock, consequently leading to Zeus’ succession as king of the gods.

In the film, Rhea is humanity’s last hope. It’s a new home that succeeds Earth in beauty and safety. And given the Titaness’ position as Earth’s (Gaia’s) offspring and successor,  Rhea is an appropriate name for the new home-world of humanity. However, Rhea is also a lie –  a digital creation that like the mythic Rhea, is deceitful and untrustworthy. Like Cronus, humanity is ultimately tricked by Rhea into believing a falsity, and by naming humanity’s utopian salvation after the Titaness, the film hints that the planet may not be the paradise it’s supposed to be.

The second reference to Greek mythology is the Kassandra.

According to Classical myth, Cassandra was given the gift of foresight by the god Apollo. However, after angering the god, Cassandra was cursed, ensuring that no one would ever believe her prophesies. Consequently, when Cassandra prophecized the defeat of Troy at the hands of the Greeks, no one believed her – leading to the fall of Troy and her own demise.

Similarly, as a member of the Kassandra, Laura also discovers a tragic truth that may not be taken seriously. Although she uses the Kassandra to broadcast her message to the rest humanity, the film ends abruptly without clearly illustrating whether people believe her. Afterall, just like the fall of Troy, the reality that Rhea is a virtual lie is a shocking truth that people may not want to believe. Like the Trojans, humanity may not want to accept the demise of their only remaining home-world. The film even goes so far as to suggest that some people would rather knowingly live in a digital falsity, as we see two crew members choose to enter Rhea.

So, does Laura’s broadcast ultimately change the future? Or like Cassandra, does Laura possess a truth that no one believes? The film doesn’t quite answer these questions clearly. However, by referencing the tragic myth of Cassandra, Cargo not only suggests that Laura’s efforts were in vain, but also that we would rather trust in a virtual reality than accept the truth.

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