Wonder Woman: Yes And No

Wonder Woman: Yes And No

Art at its best, a perfume commercial at its worst.
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I’m going to write this the night after seeing it, since there were definitely things that I didn’t like about the movie, and if I wait to review it, those simmering dislikes will probably overshadow all the good things that I enjoyed. Especially since I conceded SO MUCH to "Batman V. Superman," which is far and away one of the laziest movies ever, it would be unfair not to gush about what "Wonder Woman" got right. So here’s the good parts first:

The first 20 minutes, and the Amazons

The island stronghold of Themyscira was easily the best-designed, most beautiful locale of the movie, and it was actually saddening when the characters left. The buildings hid in lush vines, and the shallow sea was a perfect Aegean blue.

It’s also quite a while before we meet the first man. I’ve read bits of the scrapped Joss Whedon screenplay for this movie, and all I can say is thank God they didn’t use it. Whedon’s plot begins with the male character, Steve, and barely depicts the Amazons as they exist in their own society. The final version of the screenplay gives us lots of time to grow up with Diana in a completely female environment. In particular, there’s a scene in which the child version of Diana watches the adult Amazons training to fight, and I teared up watching it. The fight choreography, the shots of women riding horses, the Amazons dropping from the saddle mid-ride to retrieve their fallen shields, their bodies glorified not for their sexual attributes but for their skill and power – it wasn’t until I saw it that I realized that I had never watched anything like it in a live-action movie. Not for that long.

This moment that the male body has enjoyed since ancient Greece is very noticeably given to the female body here. Given the Greek mythological elements of the island, I almost wanted to think of it as a parallel ancient Greece where the female form, instead of being softened and made to demurely half-cover its breasts, finally gets to throw its own discuses and hurl its own spears.

Choreography

All the fight sequences in this film are astounding, and they understand combat as a poetry of the body in ways that modern superhero movies really don’t anymore. It has more in common with Ben Hur and Greek/baroque sculpture than Batman V. Superman. Believe me when I say that this movie is worth seeing in theatres if only for the scene of Wonder Woman crossing No Man’s Land between two World War One trenches and singlehandedly besieging a town. They show cool parts of this during the trailer, but thankfully the actual sequence has even more amazing visuals.

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine

Both are very well-cast, and have a really great chemistry. I’m very happy that their romantic relationship could be written in such a way as to not reduce Wonder Woman to a simpering – I don’t know – vestal virgin or Miranda-from­-The Tempest-who-has-never-seen-a-man-before.

Representation/Supporting Characters

I wasn’t sure how I felt when, on top of a Moroccan (? He wore a fez) con man named Sameer, the characters teamed up with a Native American (I didn’t catch which nation he belonged to, if they covered it) smuggler named Chief. Sameer was hilarious, and I really enjoyed every moment he was onscreen (he was a bit of a smooth-talking ladies’ man, but not an Orientalist’s Lothario), and I should honestly defer to Native viewers on Chief. He seemed like a very kind, generous guy – he smuggles Edgar Rice Burroughs novels to both sides – and the film did address his alienation from his home country because of its genocidal practices. I just felt like the script gave me an incomplete understanding of who he was.

Less central but still cool: a scene set in a major train station in London did a fantastic job of showing the global participants of the British war effort; from a Sikh force to a group of nuns working as nurses.

WEAKNESSES:

History/Details

I’m a nerd, but I’m pretty sure that even the noobs in the audience were wondering how Wonder Woman, if her people were confined to their isolated island since the Bronze Age, knows what “sulfur” and “hydrogen” are, much less HOW TO READ THESE WORDS IN ARABIC SCRIPT, which didn’t arise until the 4th-5th centuries CE. Or how she could speak English, which wouldn’t appear until even later. And just a million other small things, like Diana’s surprising lack of concern when other characters mention that women can’t vote or that the American government exploits and oppresses Chief’s people.

“Above Average”

I mean, all legs being as thin as necks

When Diana accidentally sees him naked from the waist down, Chris Pine’s character jokes that he’s “above average” in size, which is fine. But for the rest of the movie, I found myself attributing this to all of the Amazons onscreen. Are they strong, fit, and athletic? Yes. But I would definitely call each and every one of them a size 0 to 2. At most, a very skinny 4, and 4 only because of height. Leading up to the film’s release, the film took a lot of flak for casting Gadot, a slim model/actress and Miss Israel, as Wonder Woman, which seemed unwarranted at the time considering the amount of effort she put into training for the role. But looking at the rest of the Amazons, I can’t help but wonder if the criticism is deserved. If the film showed Amazons of different body types, it would have been all right: I’m thinking of the differences in distance runners, sprinters, pole vaulters, and shot putters that you can see on any track team. But by opting to cast all beautiful, Instagram-ready, perfectly made-up women as the Amazons, I’m worried this movie reflects the popular (erroneous) belief that if a woman – any woman – just exercises and trains hard enough, she can “change her body” to have a size 2 physique, as if a size 2 represented peak health and physical ability. This is not true, and Hollywood really needs to work this out of its subconscious.

Dr. Maru (TL;DR Homely=Evil)

This emphasis on statuesque beauty was especially gross when the film compared the ravishing Diana to one of the villains, German-sided chemist and This Film’s Mousy Spinster, Dr. Maru. Normally this stuff just mildly annoys me, but Dr. Maru’s character was so consistently put down by the script in ways that actually resembled how people have treated me in real life that I really can’t let it slide. Her character basically boils down to

1) evil chemist who invents deadly gases to kill mass amounts people in excruciating ways,

2) sexually repressed career woman,

3) unattractive, makes no effort to be attractive,

4) easily manipulated by men, all of whom only pretend to have attraction to her.

Since there’s no personal history given about why she makes the gases, her singleness, alleged homeliness, and cerebral abilities get tangled up and conflated with her evil. It was a bit strange, in a 2017 movie celebrating female independence, to see the only woman character in higher education, the only non-gorgeous woman, the only woman depicted as writing a book (!) being the villain without an explanation. Maru’s villainy comes across as an expression of her deviance, a moral degeneracy that goes along with her physiognomic unattractiveness and intellectual overdevelopment.


Growing up, I heard from family that “you ought to date, and you ought to learn about being with a man, because if you don’t, you’re going to end up so desperate for romantic attention that a guy will be able to walk all over you and you’ll like it.” I highly doubted the veracity of this then, and I highly doubt it now as a young woman, but this is exactly the philosophy that this movie communicates through Maru: it is the natural state of a woman to be dating, to be sexually available; to not be so leads to erraticism and perversion of chracter. Both the German general Ludendorff and Chris Pine/Steve impersonating another German commander use sexual manipulation to control Maru, who – continually flashing “lucky me!” glances, yields to their every demand and melts like putty in their hands.


Long story short, there are two types of virgins in this film. Maru’s effectively a weak, hysterical (in every Galenic sense), old maid who doesn't fit in to the sexual economy: she'd be right at home growling out the sexually-frustrated opening monologue to "Richard III" to justify her gas experiments. In contrast we behold the supple, skin-baring Diana, who rejects Steve's sexual companionship but warms to it eventually. It's Diana who's the it-girl in this movie: she has mastered the art of being the modern woman, tough and beautiful, independent but still sexually available, achieving complete and utter #Flawless. In the scene where Pine tries to seduce Maru, his plan fails when he gets distracted by Diana, entering the ballroom in a seductive blue gown. Maru, hurt, realizes that “your attentions are really elsewhere.” We are, of course, meant to sympathize with Pine, because, really, who would ever want a woman like Maru? This moment is triumphal and primal; it is also a perfume advertisement.

Of course, no one should praise war criminals, and if anyone actually fell in love with a mass murderer I’d be worried. But I wondered at the fact that this movie saw the character of Maru / Dr. Poison and decided that yes, to need to fill the role of a mass poisoner, we need to retcon all previous depictions of Maru as beautiful because yes, a career-driven, plain-looking, introverted woman is exactly the type of character who would become a sadistic evil genius. I was reminded of one high school teacher took it upon himself to tell the whole class I should not be so “dead set in my ways” for wanting a college degree because it was bad for me, and why I was typecast in high school as the frigid, repressed, unpleasant villain. Maybe I understand and over-analyze the cultural attitudes regarding Maru because I literally played her for years.

Dr. Maru, Part II (CW: facial scarring)

While the Amazons, the film’s heroes, are constantly remarked upon as being stunning, Maru – who should be a feared scientist, right? No? Just sexually starved again? – is always characterized as terrifying, probably due to the scarring that she covers with a Phantom-style mask. Later, when the mask is stripped away, the film’s main villain, Ares, tells Wonder Woman that Maru’s face is the true face of mankind: foul, twisted, and ugly. Needless to say, while some of the Amazons have shiny pink scars on arms and legs, Maru is the only character in the film with facial scarring. I do not have facial scars myself, but I do know people who do, and this is just extremely poorly handled. Especially given that face masks after the Great War helped many soldiers scarred by gas to resume normal lives, restore their confidence, and feel like themselves again, to appoint the mask as a symbol of evil in this case seems unnecessarily simplistic. It only contributes to the visual politics of a movie wherein attractive=good, and unattractive=actually evil.

Jesus Imagery

Gal Gadot is a Jewish actress playing a pagan protagonist, so why is she rising from the ashes with her hands on either side and feet straight down in a perfect imitation of Jesus on a crucifix? We don’t know? There’s just a contractually required moment of Jesus symbolism in all superhero movies?

Cover Image Credit: superherostuff.com

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College As Told By Junie B. Jones

A tribute to the beloved author Barbara Parks.
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The Junie B. Jones series was a big part of my childhood. They were the first chapter books I ever read. On car trips, my mother would entertain my sister and me by purchasing a new Junie B. Jones book and reading it to us. My favorite part about the books then, and still, are how funny they are. Junie B. takes things very literally, and her (mis)adventures are hilarious. A lot of children's authors tend to write for children and parents in their books to keep the attention of both parties. Barbara Park, the author of the Junie B. Jones series, did just that. This is why many things Junie B. said in Kindergarten could be applied to her experiences in college, as shown here.

When Junie B. introduces herself hundreds of times during orientation week:

“My name is Junie B. Jones. The B stands for Beatrice. Except I don't like Beatrice. I just like B and that's all." (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, p. 1)

When she goes to her first college career fair:

"Yeah, only guess what? I never even heard of that dumb word careers before. And so I won't know what the heck we're talking about." (Junie B. Jones and her Big Fat Mouth, p. 2)

When she thinks people in class are gossiping about her:

“They whispered to each other for a real long time. Also, they kept looking at me. And they wouldn't even stop." (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 66)

When someone asks her about the library:

“It's where the books are. And guess what? Books are my very favorite things in the whole world!" (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, p. 27)

When she doesn't know what she's eating at the caf:

“I peeked inside the bread. I stared and stared for a real long time. 'Cause I didn't actually recognize the meat, that's why. Finally, I ate it anyway. It was tasty...whatever it was." (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 66)

When she gets bored during class:

“I drew a sausage patty on my arm. Only that wasn't even an assignment." (Junie B. Jones Loves Handsome Warren, p. 18)

When she considers dropping out:

“Maybe someday I will just be the Boss of Cookies instead!" (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 76)

When her friends invite her to the lake for Labor Day:

“GOOD NEWS! I CAN COME TO THE LAKE WITH YOU, I BELIEVE!" (Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy, p. 17)

When her professor never enters grades on time:

“I rolled my eyes way up to the sky." (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 38)

When her friends won't stop poking her on Facebook:


“Do not poke me one more time, and I mean it." (Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy, p. 7)

When she finds out she got a bad test grade:

“Then my eyes got a little bit wet. I wasn't crying, though." (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, p. 17)

When she isn't allowed to have a pet on campus but really wants one:

“FISH STICK! I NAMED HIM FISH STICK BECAUSE HE'S A FISH STICK, OF COURSE!" (Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy, p. 59)

When she has to walk across campus in the dark:

“There's no such thing as monsters. There's no such thing as monsters." (Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed, p. 12)

When her boyfriend breaks her heart:

“I am a bachelorette. A bachelorette is when your boyfriend named Ricardo dumps you at recess. Only I wasn't actually expecting that terrible trouble." (Junie B. Jones Is (almost) a Flower Girl, p. 1)

When she paints her first canvas:


"And painting is the funnest thing I love!" (Junie B. Jones and her Big Fat Mouth, p. 61)

When her sorority takes stacked pictures:

“The biggie kids stand in the back. And the shortie kids stand in the front. I am a shortie kid. Only that is nothing to be ashamed of." (Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed, p. 7)

When she's had enough of the caf's food:

“Want to bake a lemon pie? A lemon pie would be fun, don't you think?" (Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed p. 34)

When she forgets about an exam:

“Speechless is when your mouth can't speech." (Junie B. Jones Loves Handsome Warren, p. 54)

When she finds out she has enough credits to graduate:

“A DIPLOMA! A DIPLOMA! I WILL LOVE A DIPLOMA!" (Junie B. Jones is a Graduation Girl p. 6)

When she gets home from college:

"IT'S ME! IT'S JUNIE B. JONES! I'M HOME FROM MY SCHOOL!" (Junie B. Jones and some Sneaky Peaky Spying p. 20)

Cover Image Credit: OrderOfBooks

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The 7 Best Food Places Near UCLA You Need to Try ASAP

We have great dining food AND restaurants around us? Wow, we are #blessed.

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Westwood is the home to UCLA and offers plenty of interesting and diverse dining options for students and locals alike. Since the area is firmly Bruin territory, you will find lots of on-the-go, affordable eats along with a mix of more modern and upscale restaurants.

Though I definitely haven't had all the food Westwood occurs, being here two years now (omg already!?), I think I can safely recommend certain places to eat.

1. Shamshiri Grill

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South Westwood Boulevard is often referred to as Little Tehran, so most of that area is just Persian restaurants. Shamshiri Grill just makes the best meat and whenever I go there, I always order my meal with their special hot sauce, that is to DIE for. A must try.

2. Gushi

I can not tell you how many times I've been to this place. Located near Fat Sal's, you may be tempted to just miss it but let me tell you that is a mistake. I always get their Gushi Bowl which is just heavenly and the right amount to make me feel satisfied without being too filling. Be generous with the Teriyaki and Sriracha sauces on your meat and you are guaranteed to have a good time.

3. Pinches Tacos

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I know Mexican food is very common wherever you go but Pinches Tacos is aesthetically pleasing and their food? Even more so. It just tastes so good! I definitely recommend the Asada fries and any tacos.

4. Saffron and Rose

Saffron and Rose is a Persian ice cream parlor like 10 minutes away from Shamshiri Grill and the quality and variety of ice cream is truly impressive. I would not have known my weakness for Jasmine ice cream if I hadn't tried this place and as always, the Saffron and Rose (it's namesake) deserves to be the name of the restaurant because of how rich in flavor it is.

5. Maharaja

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I am very particular about my Indian food but the buffets in the afternoons at Maharaja definitely passes my checklist. I actually went there for my birthday so that just tells you how the food doesn't disappoint.

6. Nekter Juice Bar

I found out about this place very recently and I'm so glad I did because their bowls are so good. They also serve smoothies which I haven't had the pleasure to taste yet but I expect the same kind of quality. I am very partial to the Bruin Bowl and the Dragonfruit Bowl.

7. BJs

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They have $3 Pizookies on Tuesday.

I am always there on Tuesday.

Are these two facts connected? Maybe.

What can I say? I just love the restaurants here.

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