Thursday, January 26, 2012

They're Making Escape from New York In Space

Seriously. Watch this new trailer for Lockout, it's just Escape from New York but in space instead of New York. And that sounds absolutely awesome. John Carpenter's classic is one of my all times favourite films, and Lockout is written by Luc Besson, the guy responsible films like The Fifth Element, Léon: The Professional, and Taken. This movie is going to be derivative, superficial, possibly even forgettable, but I'm excited for it all the same. who doesn't like to see an archetypal badass break into a maximum security space prison to save the president's daughter?


Friday, January 20, 2012

The Liebster Awards

The other day an old friend of mine commented on a recent post saying he was nominating me for a Liebster Award. At first I took this as just a few kind words but upon further research I've discovered that the award is real! Sort of!

Stemming from the German word for "dearest," a Liebster is a pay-it-forward, feel-good award for under-known blogs (ouch?). Basically the system works like this:

1) You get nominated for the award
2) You make a post accepting said award (you're reading this now)
3) You nominate five other blogs you enjoy that are under read (less than 200 regular readers)
4) The cycle continues

A quick Google search reveals the many winners out there, and by definition they're sure to be awesome-but-unknown blogs. My friend John over at Tauroscatology nominated me on his blog, so I guess that means I can't nominate him. Regardless you should check his stuff out because he's a great writer, and I'm sure the other blogs he nominated are fantastic too!

On that note, here are my nominations (in no particular order):

1) The Daily Protagitron - My good friend Martha's awesome blog about awesome things like movies, beer, books, knitting, etc. I always enjoy keeping tabs on what she's up to via her blog and it's a great way to find out about new, interesting stuff I hadn't come across on my own. And again, she writes about movies, books, and beer people. It's great!

2) Textual Relations - Maybe the least regularly updated of the blogs I'm nominating, Textual Relations covers books, academia, feminism, and Internet culture. If you know/care about my blog/opinions enough to be reading this sentence then you can probably understand why I'd enjoy reading about all those things. If you're at all interested in any of those subjects then you'll love this blog.

3) JusticeBlawg (specifically posts by Johanna under the name lawunion) - I recently featured Johanna's post about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo on this blog, and this seems like another good opportunity to mention her work. Johanna's quickly becoming one of my favourite voices to read on the Internet as she's both well thought out and opinionated (a sorely rare combination) AND approaches her subjects with a candour that is beyond refreshing (both in terms of its source and the context in which it arises). It's a bit on the academic/lengthy side (hell, so is this recommendation) but if you're into that this blog/author is well worth your time.

4) Experience Points - Not totally sure if this qualifies as an "under read" blog as per the Liebster rules, but I'm realizing now that I don't really gravitate towards unknown blogs. Insert self-reflective comment about "I shouldn't only pay attention to loud voices in a big crowd" here, etc. Anyway, Experience Points is a wonderful blog that takes an "intelligent but not humourless" look at video games. This blog has definitely helped inform some of my Games As Art posts in the past and continues to be a great source for serious commentary and discussion of one of my favourite mediums.

5) ... Ok I'm throwing in the towel now. I seriously cannot come up with any more blogs I know that are criminally under-read and shouldn't be. If I can think of another blog then I'll post an update to this later, but for now that's it for my Liebster nominations. I feel like on some level I've failed the Internet as a blogger today by not being more up on other awesome but unknown sites, and for that I apologize. I'll do better in the future, I promise.

As something of a compensation I am going to give props to one of my favourite (though definitely not unknown) blogs, Topless Robot. There Rob Bricken and his cohorts post hilarious, snarky comments on geek news, daily lists of amazing things you never knew you wanted to read about. It's a wonderful place to lose yourself for a few hours and come out on the other side more uselessly informed about nerd/pop/Japanese culture than you ever wanted/needed to be.

Anyway, that's it for my Liebster noms! Here's hoping you enjoy the blogs I've linked to, let me know in the comments if there are any I missed that I really ought to mention, I'm sure I'll think of some within moments of posting this piece!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

This Website Blocked

MaxRambles hasn't actually been blocked, but if the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) or the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) are passed then this blog would be at serious risk of being blocked in the United States. Today MaxRambles supports countless other online outlets in protesting SOPA and PIPA. If you're not familiar with the bills then please inform yourself about these very dangerous pieces of legislation. If you're a citizen of the USA then please write to your local media and (more importantly) your elected representatives. There must be a clear message that this kind of proposed online censorship is completely unacceptable.

For more up-to-date information on today's protest please visit, which includes links to informaiton about the bills and a news feed with updates being posted throughout the day. Alternatively Google has set up a convenient hub for information on the bills and getting in touch with your local representatives.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Over-thinking It: Batman's Politics

As a lifelong fan of Batman above all other superheroes, I've often been troubled by the political implications of his crusade against evil. Many times I've found myself awake late at night, tossing and turning as I struggled with the inconsistencies between my purported liberal notions and the Dark Knight's (sometimes) disturbing conservatism. It's enough make even the most strident bat-fan wonder: should I enjoy Batman so much? Can I justify my affection? As I grow older and more introspective this has become perhaps the most tumultuous ideological debate of my life, ranking alongside my choices between boxers or briefs, 7 Up or Sprite, and butter or margarine. Now more than ever - with Bruce Wayne staunchly on the side of the 1% as the heir of a billion dollar dynasty - I find myself questioning my allegiance to the Dark Knight.

A few illustrative examples from Batman's history will demonstrate the kind of conservatism I'm talking about:

1) Batman is tough on crime.

Everyone knows that today's Batman is above the outright killing of criminals. The Dark Knight's compassion is so important because it's what separates him from the criminals he fights; without it, he'd just be a guy in a bat suit out beating people to death. However what a lot of non-fans don't know is that Batman was originally a pretty cold-blooded killer. There are many instances in his early days when Batman straight-up slaughtered his enemies, including his first appearance in Detective Comics #27. There Batman remorselessly punched a guy into a vat of acid, and then callously referred to it as "a fitting end for his kind." That's cold!

Batman as he was originally depicted was not above killing in any way, shape, or form; even today he sometimes play fast and loose with the no-killing rule. In particular I'm thinking of the infamous scene at the end of Batman Begins where the caped crusader leaves villain Ra's al Ghul to die on a runaway train, saying "I'm won't kill you but I don't need to save you." That's getting into a serious moral grey area there, Bats. Also, while the modern Batman tends to avoid murdering criminals outright, I've never heard of him publicly opposing the death penalty. Seems to me like the caped crusader is less anti-killing and more just doesn't want to get his hands dirty.

2) Everyone is potentially Batman's enemy.

Batman has a plan for how to take down everyone. If anything bad happens, Batman will have predicted the possibility and have a contingency plan ready. He's prepared for any scenario, up to and including bringing down any of his so-called allies should the need arise. This has been the setup for numerous stories, including Tower of Babel in which Ra's al Ghul steals Batman's contingency plans and uses them to decimate just about every other major superhero. Some choice examples of Batman's nefariousness include giving the Flash light speed seizures, making Aquaman hydrophobic (i.e. afraid of the water he needs to live the way we need oxygen to breathe), and using science to overload every organ in Superman's body simultaneously. Wow. Needless to say, the other heroes are less than impressed by Batman's, ahem, foresight.

It's more than "If you're not with us you're against us." It's "If you're not me then you're probably an enemy." I'm pretty sure the Lannisters employ a similar philosophy, and Game of Thrones fans know how well that turns out. Batman is the epitome of self-assured, paranoia-inducing isolationism, which brings me to my next point...

3) Batman knows what's best for you.

This is the "Big Brother" factor. It goes hand in hand with the whole "crazy-prepared loner" syndrom described above, in that Batman basically thinks that he knows better than everyone else in the world. Take The Dark Knight for example. First Batman uses some sort of cellphone radar system that allows him to audibly/visually spy on every person in Gotham in order to find the Joker. It's ludicrously invasive and reprehensible, but Batman's modus operandi has always been a purely Machiavellian "the ends justify the means" kind of deal. Even Lucius Fox calls out the whole operation for going too far, and this is the guy who gave Wayne (who he'd never met before) a military arsenal for basically no reason ("Spelunking"). Not exactly careful planning there.

But even the radar thing pales in comparison to when Batman decides to take the rap for Harvey "Two-Face" Dent's sudden murder spree at the end of the movie. The general idea is that the people of Gotham can't take the truth about Dent because it more or less proves the Joker's thesis on human nature; as such the best thing is apparently for Batman and Commissioner Gordon to hide the truth and pretend the caped crusader is a violent killer so the city can rest assured that good people do exist in the world.

Ignoring the whole 'put the city at ease by convincing them the guy who prowls the streets at night dressed like a bat is a murderous psychopath' thing, let's consider Batman's foreboding statement that "Sometimes the truth isn't good enough." The truth is dissatisfactory and so Batman just decides to cover it up and pretend it's something more convenient? That's rewriting history, authoritarianism at its finest! Also, since the whole thing makes everyone in Gotham think that Batman's a murderer it more or less makes him the city's ruling crime lord (which is actually another one of his contingency plans in the comic Batman: War Games). And with that interpretation in mind Commissioner Gordon's involvement in the cover up starts to look a lot like a "better the devil you know than the devil you don't" type scenario. In one move Batman and Gordon position themselves the puppeteers of Gotham city's law enforcement and the de facto heads of its criminal element. It's a disturbing, artful, and an effective solution all at the same time, and it doesn't paint a pretty picture in terms of demonstrating Batman's politics.


So what's a liberal-minded Batman fan to do? Write to DC Comics in protest of the ideology they're exposing to impressionable young minds? Occupy my local comic shop? Or maybe I should just put less mental energy and political thought into superheroes? Chime in dear reader and let me know, because the only thing more important/worthwhile than this article is your opinion on it!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Guest Post: Men Who Hate Women

I'm starting 2012 off a little differently here at MaxRambles by featuring my first ever guest post. Back in December I went to see David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo with my friend and fellow blogger Johanna. Based on the like-named 2005 novel by Stieg Larsson, TGWTDT shows an unusual pair of detectives investigating the murder of young Swedish girl over 30 years after the fact. In case you're not familiar with the source material, the story is primarily about sexual violence against women. The film features an extremely graphic rape scene that I've heard some say might be the most visceral depiction of sexual violence ever put on film. Either way it definitely deserves a trigger warning.

While I did know the scene was coming, Johanna did not and so was unprepared for the devastatingly brutal scene (for the record I would have warned her if I'd known she wasn't expecting it). Her piece below is a response to both the scene and the larger film from a feminist perspective. It's not my typical thing and I don't fully agree with some of the points Johanna makes, but that said I think she's largely spot on in her critique of TGWTDT and so I'm happy (and frankly a little flattered) to be featuring it here on MaxRambles.

I do want to warn you that Johanna's piece is very much a response to TGWTDT and as such is geared towards readers who have seen the film. It's brimming with spoilers and doesn't waste much time explaining things, but if you've seen the film you'll be just fine. If you enjoy the piece then please let us know in the comments, and if you want to read more of Johanna's writing you can follow this link to her contributions on (she writes under the shared name lawunion but always signs her posts). And now, without further ado...

Men Who Hate Women 

*spoiler warning, and trigger warning for sexual violence* 
I just went to see the recently released American film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Having avoided the explosively popular books, and never having seen the Swedish films that were based on them, I knew nothing about the storyline and was completely unprepared for what happens in the film. David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo contains the most explicit, brutal and devastating scene of sexual violence that I have ever seen. Technically I didn’t really see it, because it was unwatchable, but what I did see (and hear) is burned in my brain, and it was enough to have a full picture of exactly what was going on. After that I didn’t relax for the rest of the film and, two days later, I haven’t quite gotten out from under the cloud that it put over me. While that scene was particularly disturbing, it was not a thematic anomaly within the film. It is preceded by another sexual assault that I thought was bad enough, and is sandwiched within a story about missing and murdered women, victims of a misogynistic father-son serial killing (and raping) team. Needless to say, I wasn’t too surprised when I read that the English translation of the Swedish book’s original title is “Men Who Hate Women.” I guess the publisher figured that wouldn’t sell as well. 
The trouble that I’m having, and hope to work through a bit in writing this piece, is whether or not the graphic depictions of violence against women in the film are redeemable, in that they are both necessary and useful to a discussion of misogyny and rape culture, which the film seems to be interested in having. 
TGWTDT is, in my opinion, very clear about the power dynamic that is inherent in sexual assault and other forms of violence against women. Lisbeth Salander, the survivor of both of the scenes of sexual assault that I referred to above and, it is suggested, assault by her father during her childhood, is a ward of the state and prohibited from controlling her own finances. Early in the film she is assigned a new social worker, and very quickly he takes advantage of his position of power to coerce her into performing sexual acts in exchange for the money that she needs to live, and which she should be able to access freely. The first time this happens, she is forced to give him oral sex. The scene is stomach-churning, even more so when he states that her obvious reticence is a turn-on. However, it demonstrates a number of things. One is that any coerced sexual act is assault, regardless of whether or not it is physically forced. Sure, she could have turned and walked out of the office without acquiescing, but her situation was such that to do so would have meant total impoverishment and probably institutionalization. That is not a choice, and so she was sexually assaulted as certainly as if he had physically held her down and forced himself on her (which, unfortunately, is what happens later). It also shows that sexual assault is about power, not sex (although perpetrators of sexual assault clearly derive sexual pleasure from that power). After suffering further sexual violence from this man, Salander reveals that she recorded her rape and forces him to watch it. He appears to be visibly distressed by what he sees, which could be read simply as his panic about the situation that he is in generally, but I would prefer to think that it is the film’s way of showing that, as a sexual offender, he recognizes how disgusting his actions were when he sees what it really was: one person forcing himself upon another, physically weaker, incapacitated and unwilling person. While he may have felt powerful during that act, and taken sexual gratification from that feeling of power, forcing him to watch that recording dispelled the illusion. 
If by this point the audience had not understood that there is a connection between power relations and sexual assault, the film provides another opportunity when Daniel Craig’s character faces Martin Vanger, a serial rapist and murderer of women. He explains to Mikael (Craig) that he likes to watch the hope draining from the faces of his victims, and it is only when they have realized that they have no chance of escaping their fate that he becomes aroused. In other words, he is sexually aroused by the feeling of complete control and dominance over another party. That’s what it’s all about. So, all of this is to say that the film does a pretty good job of depicting and discussing sexual violence without sexualizing it. The rape scene is not titillating in the least; there are no lingering shots of Salander’s body, no romanticization or shying away from what is going on. It is very clearly violence, and for that I give the film some credit. Does that make it redeemable? After quite a bit of thought and a few discussions with some friends, my answer is no. 
One of the problems with the film is that while one of the main characters is experiencing all of this sexual violence, the other is becoming involved in an intriguing mystery, which becomes the central narrative thread. The assaults occur relatively early in the film, and are ostensibly used as a plot device, giving Salander a motive for helping Mikael “catch a killer of women.” The result is that instead of meditating on sexual assault as a systemic problem, it simply incorporates it as just another aspect of a story that is, ultimately, about entertaining the audience. This is the point that I had the most difficulty coming to terms with because if I believe that film is an important and relevant medium through which to discuss broad societal issues, which I vehemently do, how can I reconcile my feeling that there is something inherently exploitative or “problematic” about including so much explicit violence against women in this film? 
Here’s how: film absolutely can be used as a progressive tool to comment on and engage with issues like sexual assault, however in order to do so the film’s commitment must be to that discussion entirely, in contrast to TGWTDT, which is a mystery/thriller that happens to contain a bunch of sexual violence. In TGWTDT, the climax of the film, narratively speaking, is when Mikael is captured by Martin, and facing imminent torture and death. If this were a film about sexual assault, the film would have had to centre on the rape scene. For me, and for a number of others that I’ve spoken to, it did; I mostly shut down after that happened. However, others that I’ve spoken to didn’t seem to have been impacted by it in the same way at all. This applies predominantly to the (self-identified) men that I’ve spoken to about it, and I say that not because I think that men can’t understand sexual violence, or aren’t impacted by it, but because I think that the audience is encouraged to identify with Mikael, and that it is less likely that men will resist that identification. The result is that the sexual assaults fade into the background as the plot moves forward, with the audience getting the vague sense that they have somehow “dealt with” sexual assault as an issue because for a few minutes they were forced to engage with it, and to feel uncomfortable. 
There is a rich tradition within Hollywood of churning out liberal “issue films” (see Schindler’s List, Crash, etc.) that claim to make important statements about oppression, while actually just maintaining the audience’s complacency by leaving them with the self-satisfied sense that they now “understand racism.” I would argue that TGWTDT is operating in the same way with regard to sexual assault, and that is why I ultimately cannot forgive it for its violence. 
I think that there is a lot more to say about TGWTDT, in terms of Salander’s character more generally, which has been lauded as an exceptional depiction of feminism. I haven’t read the books so I can’t speak to how she is written, but based on the film alone I’m not convinced of this. She certainly has a great deal of agency, and is remarkably intelligent and independent, I give the writers that, but I was left feeling very conflicted about the scene in which she takes revenge on her social worker. She tattoos “I am a rapist pig” on his chest, and violently inserts a dildo into his rectum, which is unquestionably sexual violence in itself, and I cannot accept the message that sexual violence justifies further sexual violence. It is a scene of great catharsis, and it is very tempting to think, “Fuck yeah,” but that is precisely what makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want her actions in that scene to be associated with feminism, because that is not what feminism is to me. There may be an argument to be made on other bases for her as a strong, feminist character, I don’t discount the possibility, but I haven’t heard one yet. I also acknowledge that there are many other aspects of the film deserving of discussion, and as a thriller I think that it succeeds; but therein lies the problem, because there is nothing thrilling about rape. 
- Johanna