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This post contains spoilers for the Veronica Mars movie, along with gratuitous Dandy Warhols lyrics because that’s compulsory for VMars posts now.

I was a Veronica Mars fan without being in the fandom.  By the time it aired in Australia, it was already in its second season in the US, and I knew, without being spoiled, that disappointment lay ahead.  I actually enjoyed the second season, probably because my expectations had been lowered, but I bailed part-way through season 3, partially because I found the mysteries unengaging, but mostly because I was sick of Logan.

So when the Kickstarter appeared last year, I was intrigued, but not inclined to give it actual money.  (I was, however, quite disappointed to discover that there was only one cinema screening in Melbourne — and that was sold out before I knew it was happening.)  But through the miracle of simultaneous worldwide digital releases, on Saturday night I sat down to catch up with the residents of Neptune, California.

I didn’t hate it.  I’m not sorry at all that I spent an evening watching it.  But days have passed, and I keep coming back to its storytelling choices and going, “…Really?”

A few weeks ago, I said on Twitter that the only thing that would make this movie work for me is if Logan is totally guilty, and it ends with Veronica watching stoically as he goes to prison.  Alas, saying things like, “This will only work for me if…” never ends well.  It was clear from the first round of publicity that this wasn’t going to be that movie.

On Saturday night I tweeted, “I wish the VMars kickstarter had had a level where the reward was a movie without Logan.”  But that’s not fair.  In the TV series, when it was at its best, Logan was an interesting and dynamic character.  And it’s not like he was even in this movie, anyway.  Jason Dohring gave a perfectly performance as Stepford Logan, bad boy turned air force hero.  And that was fine and all, except for the complete lack of tension — sexual or otherwise.  Is Logan guilty?  Not for a second.  Are he and Veronica going to hook up?  Yep.  Does anyone who’s not a long-standing LoVe shipper care?  Well.

(Things I hold against Logan:  not only did he hijack the series to a considerable extent, but his name comes first in the pairing portmanteau.  Sure, it’s cute, but it’s kiiiiind of symbolic of the way Logan, and Veronica’s romantic relationship with him, became the show’s albatross.)

So Logan has abandoned his rich jerk lifestyle to become a naval pilot/JAG officer (obligatory comment about his ill-fitting uniform here) who allegedly engaged in dogfights with the Taliban.  (We hear so little in the media about the Taliban’s air force!  Why is that, I wonder?)

I double checked with Google, and the only dogfighting in Afghanistan is the kind that involves real dogs, which is apparently undergoing a resurgence in popularity.  And while that doesn’t seem beyond the kid who organised fights between homeless guys, I don’t think it’s what we’re meant to be thinking.  Nor are we meant to be thinking that Logan has been dropping bombs on civilian populations, I suppose, because being in the military is supposed to be a sign that he’s respectable now.

(Obligatory statement of ambivalence towards military organisations in general and the US military in particular.)

It’s a real shame to see Logan go from Homme Fatale to Woobie, but that’s what happens when you love a character too much.  Well, you love a character and you don’t to piss off the shipper-heavy fanbase that just paid for your movie.  And it’s not really a surprise, because this started well before Kickstarter even existed.  (This is a good article about the problem of Logan.)

It’s more disappointing to see Logan’s partner-in-douchebaggery, Dick Casablancas, being equally softened.  Sure, he’s still a sexist jerk, but the script goes out of its way to prevent him from being a suspect in the crime-that-triggered-the-crime-that-starts-the-movie.

In fact, the ultimate guilty party is a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who didn’t know his place.  And that doesn’t sit right.  “When the class war comes, Neptune will be ground zero,” says Veronica in the rather stilted opening montage.  So it’s kind of awkward that the two rich white dudes are above suspicion, and we’re left with the “total trailer park weirdo” as the criminal.  This could have been interesting, setting him up as a foil to Veronica, another outsider who observes and critiques the corruption of Neptune’s stratified society.  But it all falls flat.

I also have problems with Weevil’s subplot, not so much that he doesn’t get justice — it’s noir, after all — but because he gets four scenes, and the last one is just a glimpse of him riding with his gang again.  Is he seeking justice on his own terms, or has he given up?  What has happened to his family?  It’s a problem that we don’t know.  People are suggesting that this is all going to be answered in some form of spin off or sequel, but so far, the next entry in the Veronica Mars franchise looks like a webseries about … Dick Casablancas.

This is particularly sad because Rob Thomas says good things about class and race and injustice.  But the actual movie isn’t quite there yet.

And what of Veronica?  We end the movie with her abandoning her career in law and moving back to Neptune to continue her work as a PI and her relationship with the new, cuddly Logan.  At first I liked this — the career move, not the relationship — but it’s feeling increasingly like a step in the wrong direction.  It’s all very well for Veronica to mock the school bitches for reliving their glory days in high school, but look who’s going back to her after school job?

Meanwhile, she has a law degree.  Sure, it would take some work to pass the bar in California when she’s been studying for New York, but it’s not impossible.  And we already know she’s quicker and smarter than the attorney working for her father.  Veronica Mars, Attorney at Law.  An ally to her father, rather than an employee.

All in all, this felt like a high school reunion, and not in a good way.  Decade-old in-jokes and too much time spent with dickheads, not enough time with your actual friends.  I suppose we’re lucky that we didn’t catch up with the student played by Paris Hilton.  Though at least I remembered who she was.

One good thing, though, the movie really has me wanting to watch the series again.  And who knows, maybe this time I’ll finish season 3.

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After I made the other day’s post, I hopped on a tram to the library and picked up the DVD, then scurried home to watch it.

The most important thing first:  Carmel’s brother Vince drives the exact same bright yellow ute used by Tara’s dad in Dance Academy.  God bless Our ABC.

Yellow ute 1999

Yellow ute, 2010

Yellow ute, 2010

I’m not saying that my next step is to watch every single ABC series with rural scenes, but I’m a little bit tempted.

My friend the yellow ute aside, I’m quite mixed about the mini-series, and am mostly inclined to come down on the side of “nice try, but this was not a good adaptation”.  But since the book and series are both divided into three — with an epilogue, or fourth episode in the TV format — I’ll break it down.

CarmelAdaptation-wise, Carmel’s story is the best — but then, it was also the easiest to adapt, which is probably why it spills out over all the other episodes as well.  Alicia Gardiner is perfect, and it’s a joy to watch Carmel’s confidence grow.  At first I thought her voice was all wrong for Carmel, who is described as having a really deep voice, but as Carmel became braver, her voice deepened as well.

Her family, too, were great.  Ben Mendelsohn plays Vince, and while he’s way too young and skinny to remotely look like the mental image I had, he has a quiet strength that’s ideal for the part.  Carol Burns as Nance McCaffrey somehow sounded exactly like the character in my head.

I was, however, disappointed with the casting of Carmel’s boyfriend Anton, who is supposed to be tall and skinny, attractive in an off-centre sort of way.  In the role is Justin Smith, a short guy with no chin.  I was also let down by the writing — although Anton betrays Carmel in the book, he basically comes across as a strong, reliable guy who, having failed once, will never do it again.  TV!Anton is more like a petulant brat.

vlcsnap-2014-03-01-12h55m39s189Jude’s episode was a mixed bag.  She’s portrayed as suffering from PTSD from her experiences in Chile as a child, which make perfect sense, and is really well-portrayed.  But once again, we have a disappointing love interest — Eduardo has gone from being a brooding, young factory worker to a married older man, and Jude just goes to pieces over their relationship in a way that doesn’t reflect well on her.  In theory I like the idea that she realises that, while she’s great at helping others, she has a blind spot where her own life is concerned — but this Jude never really comes to that realisation.

Incidentally, while I thought the actress was fine as Cynthia — although not at all how I pictured her — I kept being distracted by her strong resemblance to Pauline Hanson.

vlcsnap-2014-03-01-12h56m45s20

I bet that actress had a great time in the ’90s.

vlcsnap-2014-03-01-12h54m49s200

Kat’s episode was where I went, “Right, nope, this is not good.”  Her story is completely soft-pedalled — her drug use is dramatically toned down, Jordan make a pass instead of raping her, and Jules, the book’s only gay character*, is replaced by a douchey boyfriend.  Oh, and instead of having her nude pictures published by a tabloid, her dad just finds them in her car.

I can’t quite believe I’m regretting the removal of a rape plot, but Kat’s experiences were really important to me growing up.  Through Kat, I learned about impaired consent and victim-blaming.  And it was important, too, that she really experiences injustice — from everything she goes through herself, to witnessing the homophobia of the Victorian police — because you end the book with a strong feeling that Kat is going to become a fighter for the oppressed as much as Jude, just in the legal arena.  (I expect she will also spend a lot of time representing Jude for petty protest-related crimes.)

Kat’s story is so weakened, she ultimately comes across now as a spoilt child, and very much responsible for her situation.

Finally, instead of an epilogue, we have a whole fourth episode.  That makes sense!  You need to wrap things up, and it’s not like they can go, “Yeah, we’re just gonna end it in 30 minutes.”

Only, the final episode is incredibly bloated, and I spent much of it wanting to smack Carmel for abandoning her character development.  (And maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but this other guy started having scenes with her?  And I thought, oh, that must be one of her brothers.  Then they started making out.  I WAS QUITE CONFUSED.)

On the other hand, this episode had four shearing montages, which is just about the most Australian thing ever put on television.

One final letdown: like so many Australian dramas of this era — and now — this was cheap.  Sure, there are lovely, sweeping helicopter shots of the countryside, but Anton’s window isn’t stained glass, and the gay rave Kat attends in the book becomes a cheap, nasty looking nightclub.  (To which she drives.  Who drives to a nightclub?!)  The cheapness meant that a lot of the iconic scenes of the book were watered down,or removed all together.  And that’s a real shame.

*  Only openly gay character, I should say.  I am firmly convinced that if there was a sequel, it would be called Jude Realises She Was Bisexual All Along And Also She Is Vegan Now, Would You Like To Sign This Petition For Amnesty?

‘Cos a Khan party don’t stop until it’s conquered 25% of Earth and fled justice into space!

SPOILERS: Probably safest to assume that everything after this paragraph contains spoilers up to and including Star Trek Into Darkness.  

I saw Into Darkness with my friends a couple of weeks ago, and even after I recovered from my lens flare headache, I was kind of unimpressed.  I’ve been a Trekkie since I was ten, and I don’t go to a Star Trek movie to see Spock punching a dude in the face, you know?  And it’s a shame, because I had enjoyed JJ Abrams’ first round with the franchise, and now I just want to reject everything about it, even the 100% brilliant aspects like Zoe Saldana, John Cho and Simon Pegg.

When Star Trek came out, it inspired me to go back and watch the whole of TOS and TNG.  (I got about halfway through DS9, which was great, but then I kind of got distracted.  I’ll go back to that and VOY at some stage, I swear.  As soon as I get over my fear that Voyager won’t be as perfect and brilliant as it seemed when I was 14.

(Actually, Voyager was the fandom that taught me that all showrunners hate puppies, kittens, happiness and women, which is probably why I like Steven Moffat so much — he seems to tolerate puppies, kittens, happiness and women, and that’s a big step up from Brannon Braga.  When you lower your standards, you can’t be disappointed.)

Anyway, this time around, I gathered some friends and said, “Hey, totes gonna watch ‘Space Seed’ and Wrath of Khan.  You should come over and stuff.”

And they did, even though they weren’t big Star Trek fans, and were somewhat more positive towards Into Darkness than me.

Remember how I blogged about fannish defensiveness a few weeks back?  Showing Star Trek to my friends is really nerve-wracking, because there’s always a small part of me that worries they’ll … I don’t know, hold me responsible for Shatner’s line reading?  It’s a neurosis.  And also quite silly, because my friends these days are sensible women who can cope with watching old fashioned TV, and don’t judge me for liking something that’s a bit stilted and odd.

But wow, “Space Seed” is old fashioned.  Not as shockingly as early Doctor Who — Star Trek had a much better budget, and the general film quality was higher (even setting aside the difference between colour and black and white), but the pacing is veeeeeeeeeeeeeery sloooooooooooow compared with modern television.

TOS ran four minutes longer than TNG (something I felt was quite unjust when I was young), and they really take their time setting up the plot and characters.  If this was made today, Khan would take take over the Enterprise much earlier, and the rest of the episode would be one long action scene.  As it is, the capture of the crew, torture of Kirk and defeat of Khan and reclamation of the ship all takes place in the last quarter hour.

…also if this was made today, apparently, Khan would be played by a white British actor, rather than a Mexican in brownface.  Which is also problematic, but it’s an historical artefact from 1966/67.  Ricardo Montalban spent much of his career playing men of other races, including Asian, because Hollywood’s pretty racist and a man has to eat.

The interesting thing about Khan was that the original script portrayed a Nordic superman.  And Gene Roddenberry basically went, “Well, if you’re creating a superhuman out of the best humanity has to offer, he’s probably not going to be white.”  So although there are a lot of issues with Khan, from the brownface to his relationship with McGivers, he simultaneously represents 1960s racism and progressivism.

In fact, in “Space Seed”, Scotty describes the eugenics warriors thusly:

“They’re mixed types. Western, mid-European, Latin, Oriental.”

I’m wincing and impressed at the same time.  Nice try, 1966.

It’s kind of unfortunate, then, that by 1982, this is what Khan’s people look like:

Khan's followers as they appeared in 1982. They're uniformly pale-skinned and blond.

Whitewashed AND they went the full Mad Max.

Well done on not putting Montalban in brownface this time?

According to Tumblr, incidentally (because I hit the tags in search of Carol Marcus gifs, but I’ll get to that later), casting a Mexican to play an Indian is way more racist than casting a white man to play the same Indian, and also it’s impossible for Khan to be a man of colour, because scientists are racist and would have bred their superman to be white.  To which I say, congratulations, you are officially more racist than 1966!

The other problem with “Space Seed” is that it’s also an artefact of 1960s attitudes about women.  Although it hardly seems fair describing it as such, since at the same time as Star Trek was giving us Marla McGivers, Doctor Who was adding Polly Wright to its already impressive list of brave, clever, sensible female characters.  

(Uhura is woefully underused in “Space Seed”.  IT MUST BE A DAY ENDING IN Y.  She does the comms thing, and then gets physically threatened by Khan’s henchmen until she activates the KirkTortureCam.  Nichelle Nichols does give some great Outrage Face at this treatment, though.)

Anyway, Marla.  She’s the ship’s historian, and I’d like to think that it’s awesome that history is so respected in the Federation that starships carry their own specialists, only … what do they do?  Marla betrays the ship.  The Enterprise-D had one for five minutes, but then he got shot, and never replaced.  BECAUSE WHAT DO THEY DO?  Even Kirk doesn’t seem too sure.

Marla’s not even a good historian.  She’s basically the equivalent of those women who write love letters to serial killers in prison.  Her quarters are a shrine to Great Men Who Conquered Shit And Killed People – Alexander the Great, Caesar, Napoleon – and she also paints their portraits.  And she falls for Khan because he’s a Great Man Who Conquered Shit And Killed People, not an emasculated specimen like the men of the future.

(Someone should write an essay about masculine anxieties as represented in “Space Seed”.  Someone who’s not me, I mean.)

The most interesting moment in this relationship is when Khan tells her, “Go. Or stay. But do it because it is what you wish to do.”  It makes the coercion that follows look consensual!

But my favourite scene in the whole episode is the one where Kirk, McCoy and Scotty express their admiration for Khan, and Spock is horrified and outraged that they’re being fans of a problematic person.  (Khan Noonien Singh.  Amanda Palmer.  Can you see the difference?)  Here’s a transcript:

SCOTT: I must confess, gentlemen. I’ve always held a sneaking admiration for this one.
KIRK: He was the best of the tyrants and the most dangerous. They were supermen, in a sense. Stronger, braver, certainly more ambitious, more daring.
SPOCK: Gentlemen, this romanticism about a ruthless dictator is —
KIRK: Mister Spock, we humans have a streak of barbarism in us. Appalling, but there, nevertheless.
SCOTT: There were no massacres under his rule.
SPOCK: And as little freedom.
MCCOY: No wars until he was attacked.
SPOCK: Gentlemen.
KIRK: Mister Spock, you misunderstand us. We can be against him and admire him all at the same time.
SPOCK: Illogical.

I can only assume that Spock then goes off to call them out on Tumblr.  As soon as he finds a gif that will express his lack of feels.

ANYWAY, Khan is brought to heel and sent into exile with his people, on the grounds that ’tis better to reign in hell than serve in heaven, and Marla goes with him because the alternative is (I assume) a cushy Federation jail, and who wouldn’t want choose an inhospitable, uninhabited planet over that?

And we’re left with the final mysteries:  why would a group of escaping war criminals steal the ship that signals their criminality to any passing Australian?  How can a ship called S.S. Botany Bay send up no red flags whatsoever?  I guarantee you, deep in the bowels of the Enterprise, some Aussie crewman had been singing “Bound for Botany Bay” for days by the time everyone else figured Khan was bad news.

The 1982 movie poster for Wrath of Khan

They really don’t make movie posters like they used to. I wonder what happened to all the artists whose skills are now obsolete?

The first thing to note about Wrath of Khan is that it introduces two new female characters and gives them substantial roles.  In fact, it has more female speaking parts than Into Darkness, and 100% fewer underwear scenes.  

(On the other hand, despite the presence of Carol Marcus and Saavik, Uhura is still underused. One thing I wholeheartedly love about the reboot is how it does give Uhura significant time and attention — although it’s still nothing compared with the male leads — and I just wish Nichelle Nichols had received the same kind of respect.)

Part of the reason I was so keen to rewatch Khan was Carol Marcus.  I didn’t hate her in Into Darkness, but I did hate that they took this independent, funny, super-intelligent woman who managed to be defined by neither her son nor her ex-boyfriend, and turned her into a generic Strong Female Character whose primary motivation is her daddy issues.  With a gratuitous underwear scene.

I mean, Khan!Carol is middle aged, and it makes sense that a younger version would have different priorities and maybe less confidence than her older self, but I couldn’t see a shred of the future Carol in the new version.  Alice Eve is no less competent than Bibi Besch, but the writing just wasn’t there.  New!Carol was just hollow.

And it did bug me that they took Carol Marcus, who is proudly civilian, and whose scientific drive is for the creation of life from nothingness, who regards Starfleet as a tool for the advancement of science and a necessary military evil, and turns her into … a weapons specialist.  At first this made sense, with the militarisation of new Starfleet, but then, the Starfleet of the movies is also highly militarised.

It’s significant, I think, that when David Marcus accuses Starfleet of stealing and weaponising the Genesis research, none of the other younger scientists disagree.  Only Carol, who is old enough to remember a gentler, exploration-based Starfleet, contradicts him.

That generation gap is significant, because Wrath of Khan is less about a crazy dude trying to kill everyone, and more about middle age, loss, obsolescence and facing death.  The Enterprise is full of junior officers in training, with Spock in command, and Kirk sort of flailing about in a new position as an admiral.  And then, amidst all that, his past comes back to haunt him:  an enemy he thought he’d left behind, the woman who broke his heart, the son he never knew.

And then Spock dies, and Kirk faces death and the no-win situation properly for the first time.  And, because he’s kind of an asshole, he finds it exhilarating.  Rejuvenating.  He feels young at the end.  Sad and overwhelmed with loss, but also young.  And also, Spock’s death?  All about him.

Amazingly, this coda doesn’t detract from the power of Spock’s death.  Although the truly amazing thing is that when Kirk, at the funeral, describes Spock as “the most human soul he has ever known”, Spock doesn’t rise out of his coffin and say something sarcastic. And Saavik is too grief-stricken to do it for him.

I HAVEN’T EVEN TALKED ABOUT SAAVIK YET!

Saavik is Spock’s protege.  In terms of character types, she’s basically Romana I – a beautiful brunette ice queen with more theoretical knowledge than practical experience, and magnificent eyebrows.

They’re not very, you know, Vulcan eyebrows, though.  And she actually sheds a tear at Spock’s funeral.  See, a cut scene would have revealed that Saavik is actually half-Romulan, and not completely down with this total lack of emotion business.  But because that information was taken out, and Kirstie Alley wasn’t given the classic Vulcan eyebrows, she can come across as a bit of a half-baked Vulcan.

DOESN’T MATTER, THOUGH, ‘COS SAAVIK IS GREAT.  She challenges Kirk, making him hugely uncomfortable, while Spock just stands in the background and looks approving.  But she also respects Kirk and learns from him — she’s not just a Strong Female Character whose version of feminism is an inability to admit she’s wrong.

I mean, not that she overtly admits she’s wrong, but sometimes her eyebrows suggest that she’s taking things in.

Saavik was Kirstie Alley’s first big movie role.  By the time The Search for Spock came around, Alley asked for a huge amount of money, and Saavik promptly regenerated into Robin Curtis.

Curtis was very good in the role, and her version of Saavik was much more classically Vulcan, but she lacked the quiet sass that Alley’s version had.  Nevertheless, it’s a real shame that she barely appears in Star Trek IV, and after that she just vanishes from the Trek universe.

(But it could be worse — Valeris, the traitorous Vulcan in Star Trek VI, was originally going to be Saavik.  Hoo boy, did we dodge a bullet there!  Although we also have to put up with Kim Cattrall’s acting, which is never a highlight.)

AND THAT WAS THE KHAN PARTY.  I believe we have tentative plans for one day having a Whales and Tribble Party.  Because boy, do I know how to show my friends a good time, or what?

I’m not!  Because that would be creepy, and also illegal, and also it would involve a higher level of effort than I’m accustomed to.

But when I was at ChicagoTARDIS, there was a certain amount of SHOCK and DISAPPROVAL when I said that I didn’t listen to the Galactic Suburbia podcast.  I was given to understand that it’s my duty as an Australian feminist genre fan to give it a burl.

So I downloaded the last two episodes of 2012, and gave them a listen this week — well, I’m still partway through the November 22 episode — and, yes, everyone was right.  This podcast is clever, informative, highly relevant to my interests, and I’ve been remiss in not listening to it before.

In fairness, I only listened to my very first podcast just recently.  And my second.  And now my third, fourth and fifth.  (I’ve stopped counting now.)  There came a point a few years back where I stopped listening to the radio because the announcers were all inane — yes, even on Triple J, hallowed youth station though it is — and technology enabled me to choose my own music.  I figured that a podcast would be similarly irritating background noise.

Yes, I was wrong.  For my morning commute, when I want some kind of mental stimulation but am too sleepy to read, podcasts are perfect.  Of course, my commute is 20 minutes and most podcasts seem to go for about an hour, but, you know, we’re coping.

And a good thing, too, because now there’s a new podcast in town, and her name is Verity.

Verity is a feminist Doctor Who podcast, and frankly, a ridiculous number of the contributors are my friends.  I listened to the first episode yesterday, and it was great.  It was positive and affectionate while acknowledging faults, and the breadth of opinion meant that I got to agree with someone most of the time.  It was a very nice way to spend a couple of train journeys.

Now, both of these podcasts feature Tansy Rayner Roberts, whose short story collection Love and Romanpunk has been sitting on my bookshelf for, oh, a year and a half.  And she has a fantastic essay in Chicks Unravel Time, and she said clever things on panels at Continuum last year!

Then, on Wednesday, just as I was beginning my great podcast adventure, one of my BFFs tweeted about reading and loving Love and Romanpunk.  (She reviews it here — I studied in the same Classics department, as does my brother now, although I’m fairly sure she’s the only one who got to design collapsible boats in class.)

Well, that was it.  Clearly I had no choice but to read it.  So I spent the second day of the year lying on the couch, absorbed in “Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary”, which effectively hooked me for the rest of the stories.  If anyone else looks at the Julio-Claudians and sees literal monsters, this is totally the book for you.

Jan 4: download the new issue of Apex Magazine.  (I subscribed.  You should, too!)  And look, there’s a reprint of Roberts’ story “The Patrician”, from the same collection!

I am not stalking Tansy Rayner Roberts, but it’s possible that her works are stalking me.

I’m actually okay with this, since one of my goals for 2013 is to read more Australian authors.  I went a bit overboard working out reading stats for 2012, and one of the results was that, of the 141 books I read, only 19 were by Australians.  That’s pretty shameful.  So yes, for 2013 we’re reading more Australians, more short stories, more in general.  NOT THAT IT’S A COMPETITION.  (It’s totally a competition.)

The problem is, there are so many good books!  Here’s my to-read pile:

So many books...

So many books…

Most of these were purchased in the US, and I’m still working through them.  And this is without factoring in the ebooks I haven’t read yet!

I really need one of those jobs where people pay me to read.  But, like, books that I choose, not that my boss chooses for me.