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[Movie] Secret in Their Eyes

The first movie I thought about when I got out of Secret in Their Eyes was Prisoners, interestingly enough. I think because Secret in Their Eyes is the movie Prisoners kind of wanted to be–a story about the destructive power of revenge without getting sidetracked by an unnecessarily convoluted mystery investigation.

The movie jumps between 2002 and 2015. In 2002-land, Jess (Julia Roberts) and Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are agents in the counter terrorism task force in LA, at a time when paranoid citizens are buying duct tape and tarps in bulk because they’re afraid of terrorists. Claire (Nicole Kidman) is the new assistant DA in the same office. Jess’s daughter is found, raped and murdered, and Ray tries to find the killer, Marzin (Joe Cole), who turns out to be the snitch that another agent in the task force is using to track alleged terrorists in a nearby mosque. Marzin gets away with it, and in 2015, Ray returns from New York city, convinced he’s found Marzin (now under an assumed identity) and dedicated to this time, bringing him to justice. He finds Jess still in the police department and aged prematurely, and Claire the new District Attorney and climbing fast.

It’s a very well put together film, with the jumps between 2002 and 2015 building both the mystery and the character relationships that define the ending. Kidman and Ejiofor are both absolutely excellent, which shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone’s who’s seen either of them in a movie. But Julia Roberts just steals the show with her performance. It’s also striking that she’s actually allowed, in the film, to look like a plain, grief-stricken woman, who has been aged by her grief. There was a deft hand with the makeup in this one, and I appreciated it. I also appreciated, by the way, what a solid friendship was depicted between Jess and Ray, with all the sexual tension saved for Ray and Claire. There’s a moment early on, when Ray tells Jess, “You’re being a dick.” And she returns. “Thanks for not being sexist. A sexist would have called me something else.”

I was charmed.

It’s an excellent film with excellent acting in it, but definitely not a happy film that’s going to leave you feeling good. It’s disquieting, if not in quite as vile a way as, say, Nightcrawler. It’s an exploration of the reality of thwarted passion and thwarted justice, and what it does to people who live with it.

I want to dig into the themes of the film a little more because there’s a lot of meat to it, so spoilers are going to happen now. But it’s not just about revenge, it’s about the nasty undercurrent of the counter terrorism efforts of the last decade plus, and about the passion that motivates people to continue.

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Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

All (except one, sadly) of these are Hugo Eligible in 2016. Just sayin’. And you literally have no excuse to not watch them. They are available online, streaming, for less than the price of a movie ticket. Links are to the trailers on youtube.

**I cannot speak for availability outside the US. Input from readers in other countries welcome.

  1. Ex Machina – available from Google Play, iTunes, PS Store, and others for $4.99. I’m sticking my flag in this one and calling it the best science fiction movie of 2015. You have no excuse if you consider yourself a fan of the genre. (My review at Strange Horizons.)
  2. It Follows – available for $4.99 basically everywhere. Look, this movie is excellent and scary as hell, and I’m recommending it despite the fact that I really don’t like horror movies. (Totally Pretentious podcast episode for this movie.) [Sorry to report that this film technically is not Hugo eligible for 2016 because it released in festivals in 2014.]
  3. What We Do in the Shadows – available for $9.99 on a multitude of online streaming services. This is a mockumentary about vampires living in New Zealand, and absolutely hilarious. Swearwolves!
  4. Infini – available for $3.99 from Google Play, Vudu, Youtube, and Amazon. Currently on Netflix for free with subscription. Fucked up space zombie alien thriller that I needed a hug after.
  5. Turbo Kid – available on Vudu and Google Play for $6.99. I reviewed it in the first issue of Mothership Zeta. Sparkle unicorn BMX apocalypse, DO NOT SAY NO.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

[Movie] Crimson Peak: Love and Monsters

Buckle in, kids. I have thoughts.

First, a generally spoiler free quick review. (The spoilers will be coming hard and fast later, never you fear.) I’ve seen this movie twice now, and I like it more on second viewing than I did the first time around. Which is to say that I enjoyed it enough at time one to want to see it again, but this second time I was able to pick up so much more detail and richness, I’ve really gone from like to love.

Crimson Peak is a gothic romance in which innocent and violently orphaned budding writer Edith is romanced by Baronet Thomas Sharpe, overseen by his unblinking and intense sister Lucille. It’s obvious from the beginning that the Sharpe siblings are up to no good, the real question is how deep the corruption goes. When Thomas brings Edith home to Allerdale Hall, a house that’s a near-living embodiment of director Guillermo del Toro’s aesthetic and rotting austerely from the inside out, she must unravel the mysteries of Thomas’s recent past in order to survive her own future. She’s helped, for certain values of help, along in this endeavor by the numerous female ghosts that haunt Allerdale, but the true horror is not found with the dead, but the living.

The cast–Mia Wasikowska as Edith, Jessica Chastain as Lucille, Tom Hiddleston as Thomas–is what makes the movie. Edith acts as an excellent foil for Lucille and Thomas and a catalyst for internal struggle and development. The movie’s aesthetic has the richness we’ve come to expect from del Toro, an exemplar of the literary gothic that I personally love to witness but cannot stand reading, since I find the dark depths and layering visually appealing but impenetrable and normally overwritten in prose. With a less compelling cast there could have been a style over substance problem; the story of the movie and its purported mysteries aren’t really that twisty or terribly mysterious. The strength is in the characters and their relationships, and between the acting and visual delivery, del Toro has put together something that adds new depths to old tropes.

(And let’s face it, you could cast Tom Hiddleston as a Great Old One in a Lovecraft movie and I’d come out of it saying, “Well, but what about the inner life of Shub-Niggurath, Black Goat of the Woods With a Thousand Young?” Damn the man and his puppy dog eyes. He made me like Coriolanus, for fuck’s sake.)

And this is the part where we get into the SPOILERS. Do not continue if you wish to remain unspoiled. I’m going to break this up into loose, non-sequential sections.

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Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

A quick and dirty guide to dapper sir-ology

Since these are questions that a lot of my fellow dapper sirs in training seem to have, handy-dandy post ahoy!

Where can female-bodied individuals get shirts that actually look like masculine shirts instead of winking teehee don’t worry these are still ladyshirts?

Number one, hands down, you want to refer to Saint Harridan. This store was made for you. Bonus points because they have a wide range of sizes. This is where you can get shirts, as well as suit pants (made masculine style, with real suiting) and suit jackets. Right now they just have two piece suits, but they’re developing their vests at this moment so I expect there to be three piece suits in our future as long as we keep supporting them.

Anyway, the Saint Harridan shirts are excellent, and are cut and quality equivalent to good men’s dress shirts, down to having real collar stays. This is invaluable if you want to wear bow ties in particular, since a stiff collar is going to work a lot better with them. The only downside to Saint Harridan shirts is that they require ironing.

Dapper sirs iron their own shirts. True fact.

If you can’t afford Saint Harridan or can’t handle the thought of ironing, you can also try Brooks Brothers or Charles Tyrwhitt. Classic fit or semi-fitted shirts will get you about the look you want, and they are significantly cheaper; if you wait for a sale you can normally get a shirt for $50-$80 per, which trust me is pretty good for a dress shirt. They also sell noniron shirts, which is a bonus.

Down sides: Sizes will not go above 16 US, since most of America apparently believes men of all sizes deserve decent shirts but women don’t. (Though per Rosemary, the Tyrwhitt shirts at least in the UK are cut so that they favor big chests and not terribly broad shoulders; try before you buy or be prepared to return things.) They are still definitely women’s shirts, so the buttons are on the left side and the buttonholes are on the right. Also, sad, relatively floppy collars with no stays.

What about trousers?

Saint Harridan will have your best trousers. Again, these will be cut like men’s suit trousers, which means pockets. REAL POCKETS. Pockets you can lose your wallet and cell phone in. You will never be able to look at another pair of shitty women’s trousers the same way again.

Failing the money to invest in the amazing Saint Harridan trousers, I recommend Brooks Brothers. You want to ask for a style called the “Flow.” I know for a fact they come in black and charcoal gray. I use those as my work trousers, actually. But they do not have real pockets, alas and alack. I also recall finding okay-ish trousers at Banana Republic at one point, though from the men’s side my BFF Mike was not impressed by the staying power of their clothing. Tyrwhitt might work, but I can’t speak from experience. Also, none of these places have any love for someone who isn’t a women’s size 16 or smaller.

Basically, you want something that’s decent suiting, which will probably be wool. If you don’t have to dry clean it, those trousers ain’t good enough for you. Don’t ever get linen unless you both hate yourself and love ironing.


This one is a lot harder. Hopefully Saint Harridan will have their patterns set up soon, but right now there isn’t a good place to get vests. Unless you’ve got a build that meshes well with men’s clothing, buying one off the rack and having it altered doesn’t work out so great. For mine, I ended up going to a local tailor (Martin Tailors) and paying them to custom make a pattern for me from a classic men’s vest. And I paid out the nose for some really good designer fabric.


Whatever you end up buying, take it to the local tailor and spend the money to have it tailored. This will be extremely necessary for anything from Saint Harridan, because the sizes will come close to what you want off the rack, but everyone’s body is unique, and if you’re going to pay $900 for a suit you want it to fit you perfectly. Tailoring is worth the money, trust me.

I’ve also taken Brooks Brothers shirts to the tailor before just to have the button positions adjusted so the sleeves will sit right at the cuffs of my jacket. Little details make a huge difference.


If you have women’s size 10+ feet, you’re in luck. Get men’s shoes. I have size 10-10.5 feet (US), so I fit well in a men’s 7.5. Men’s Wearhouse will be able to take care of you for a decent price. I have never gotten a pair of dress shoes I liked from places like DSW, I will note.

If you have smaller feet than mine, maybe boys dress shoes from places like Nordstrom would be a place to start. Also, per Bogo-lode, if you know the style you want you can sometimes find the smaller men’s sizes (5-7.5) on Zappos.

Black Oxfords are always classy and will make you feel like a million bucks when you wear them. Get yourself some parade gloss shoe polish and keep those babies shined.

As an alternative, depending on the look you’re going for, you might be able to rock a pair of boots like Doc Martens, so long as you’re keeping them appropriately shined. Technically speaking we’re already challenging fashion norms by not wearing designated ladyclothes on our apparently female bodies, so we can get away with being a little more playful.

Other accessories?

Get yourself a leather men’s belt, since that’ll be wider than a women’s belt most of the time. Men’s Wearhouse will have almost any waist size, and the most common leather colors. Make sure your belt and shoes match.

Okay, so ties. What about ties?


Ties are actually the easiest part of this equation, because a tie is a tie is a tie is a tie. You can get them anywhere ties are sold. I actually prefer Men’s Wearhouse for my tie shopping over a place like Brooks Brothers. (William Henry Morris on twitter suggests the Tie Bar as well.) Men’s Wearhouse will have the whole array of colors (normally arranged helpfully in a spectrum by shade) and will have patterns that vary from conservative to downright playful. Somewhere like Brooks Brothers will just have more conservative color and pattern options.

Quick points:

  • If you have a wider body like me, wide ties. If you have a narrower body, skinny ties.
  • Pay attention to if the tie says it’s extra long or not. Generally, unless you’re very tall or have a very long torso, you do not want long ties.
  • Bow ties are not scary. Buy a good bow tie. You will thank me later.
  • If the tie is longer than works with your body, just keep the excess length in the skinny tail. You can then tuck the tail into your shirt at the stomach. If that makes your tie sit a little funny, you can compensate with a tie clip.

But tying ties how work?

It’s not as scary as it sounds, I promise. I have almost no hand-eye coordination and I manage. Here is your basic bible. Live it, love it, never be afraid to pull it up and double check.

And honestly, I’ve hit the point where I tie bow ties faster than regular ties, because even if the knot is slightly more complicated, you don’t have to fuck around with getting the tail length right.

Get your the dimple for your tie set up when you are tightening it down. It looks nice. I’m not a fan of having super Criminal Minds-tight knots (I always feel like Hotchner and his tie are locked in some kind of ongoing death struggle), but that’s a style thing you should decide for yourself.

If you have a really wide collar, use the wider knots, the Full Windsor or Pratt. If you have a narrow collar, which you probably will, you want to use a Half Windsor or Four-in-Hand. I prefer the Half Windsor because I like my knots symmetrical. The Four-in-Hand will give you an asymmetrical knot that makes your look a little more casual, so your mileage may vary. Also note that the Half Windsor will take up more of your tail in making the knot, so if you’re trying to eat up tie length, that’s a thing to consider.

Bow ties work best with stiff collars that have stays. That said, I make them work with floppy-collared women’s Brooks Brothers shirts all the time, mostly because I can wrangle the collar by wearing a waistcoat. It’s not the best, but it works.

And a word about laundry.

For your good suiting: make friends with your local dry cleaner. Follow the directions on all of your good clothes. Take care of them and they will take care of you, promise.

That said, you don’t have to visit them nearly as much as you think. Dry cleaning is rough on clothing, and should be used sparingly. Basically, it’s what you do when brushing and airing out your suit/vest/trousers no longer does the trick on making them wearable, or when spot cleaning isn’t going to cut it. So this is all going to depend on how hard you are on your clothes, how much you sweat, and how badly the BO fairy fucked you over in puberty. If it’s still stinky after you’ve let it air out for a couple days, then yeah, probably time to go to the cleaner. If not, you’re good. (It’s also been suggested by William Henry Morris on twitter that unscented Febreze does wonders in this regard.)

For your shirts: most dress shirts can be laundered conventionally. To be honest, I would discourage you from buying a shirt that can’t be thrown in a washing machine at home, because unlike your suit, you’re going to want to launder that after every hard wearing. Noniron shirts, take out of the drier immediately and hang; they should be good to their word and not need ironing. If you let them sit in the dryer and get a bit wrinkly (or if you’re unpacking them from your luggage), you can either iron them, or throw them back in the drier on low heat for ten minutes and hang them up after. That’ll normally take any wrinkles out.

For shirts that need to be ironed, just do yourself a favor and iron them directly out of the drier so you don’t suddenly have a mountainous stack of wrinkly shirts, piteously calling your name into the night.

And for god’s sake, iron them for real. None of this collar/cuffs/pocket/placket only nonsense. Yes, it will get wrinkly as you wear it. No, it will never get that wrinkly unless you’re planning to roll yourself up in a ball and stuff yourself in an overhead bin.

Any basics I missed? Feel free to ask!

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

Initial thoughts about Crimson Peak

It’s late and I’m tired, but I did get to see this movie today. I also definitely want to see it again, so I can properly take notes and pay attention to the details more this time around.

I think I’ve seen on Twitter, some back and forth over if Crimson Peak is a horror movie or not. It’s certainly not slasher movie jump scare city, thank goodness. I don’t like those sort of movies at all. But it’s maybe a few steps below something like It Follows, wrapped up in yards and yards of fabric, knives and ribbons into a sharp, unsettling confection.

The main character, Edith, really describes what Crimson Peak is when she’s talking about the fiction she’s written. It’s a ghost story, but the ghosts are a metaphor. It’s the monsters that are real, and grandly so. That’s where the movie takes its most gothic turn, at the monstrous and dark side of love, which is echoed perfectly by the set design. The grand old house rots from the inside out, with its most prominent decorations spikes in endless rows or gilded, all pointing inward.

It’s a gorgeous movie. Of course it’s gorgeous. Guillermo del Toro made it. But I think he’s outdone himself on this one. Between Jessica Chastain’s Herculean effort to not ever blink in the most disturbing way possible, Tom Hiddleston communicating hidden depths of humanity with a look in a character that could rightfully be just one hell of a creepy bastard, and Mia Wasikowska spending over an hour of screen time in terror-induced panic without ever losing my sympathy or getting on my nerves, the cast really knocked it out of the park.

There’s a lot more I’d like to say, but I’m tired and I have a headache, and I’d really like to see the film against first. You should go see it too.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

I would like to make Elise’s job, and that of all editors less painful. I’ve mentioned this before, but the cover letter was the number one source of angst for me when I was first starting out submitting short stories, probably because the only other time I’d encountered cover letters was for job applications. Trust me, they are not the same thing in the publishing world. This is not a query letter. The cover letter is basically just the tag you put on your submission so you’re not flinging a random file into someone’s inbox. A lot of markets don’t even require them.

So let me write your cover letter for you. This is quite literally the cover letter that has accompanied almost every story I’ve sold.

Thank you for considering my story, “[TITLE OF THE MOST MIND-BLOWING SHORT STORY EVER].” It’s about [WORDCOUNT] words long. I’m a [MEMBERSHIP LEVEL OF RELEVANT PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATION], and have published:




Thank you again and I hope that you enjoy reading my story!


Feel free to cut and paste. You’re welcome.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Read the submissions guidelines, o writerlings. You should be tattooing them on your eyeballs anyway. But if the great and terrible editors want something that isn’t in my form letter, they will specify it there and you’d best give it to them.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

[Movie] Cooties

I think Cooties was either written by an elementary school teacher, or written by someone who is good friends with one. I don’t necessarily say this because of the basic concept of kids turning into flesh-eating zombies after eating tainted chicken nuggets that are a plain call back to the pink slime scare.  And it’s not even necessarily the unholy glee the teachers show when taking out some of the evil children with makeshift weapons later on. No, what made me think that somewhere in this script lives the experience of a teacher was when I watched the main character, Clint (Elijah Wood) talking to his incoherent, air quote-wielding principal about his “pedagogical style.” Well, that, and when he deals with the obnoxious child named Patriot. (Because he was born on 9/11 you see, obviously sent by God to sit in Clint’s classroom and play with his cell phone instead of paying attention.)

The plot is the same as most zombie movies: zombies happen, people try to survive, and since this is a comedy, hijinks ensue. The twist that this is zombie children versus elementary school teachers isn’t exactly revolutionary, and it doesn’t need to be. It’s setup for a lot of funny gags. It’s also the setup for a lot of very creepy shots, because any horror element is about a thousand times more discomfiting when there’s a kid involved.

Cooties has the same general mix of horror and funny that I saw and loved in Shaun of the Dead, though the humor is less dry and the horror is a little more gory. The characters fighting for their lives against the zombie hordes are generally pretty lovable. We have Clint, who is in denial of the fact that he’s a teacher in favor of his dream of being a writer. He’s particularly funny and painful to watch if you’re a writer yourself, as he tells everyone, a note of desperation in his voice, that he’s a capital-W Writer rather than a teacher and has the kids in his class read his rough draft out loud. (Clint, honey. No.) We’ve all been some shade of that guy for at least a couple minutes of our lives, or known someone who has. Rainn Wilson plays Wade, the self-consciously masculine PE teacher who ultimately relieves his glory high school athlete days by being a team player. Lucy (Alison Pill) seems like a stereotypical first grade teacher until she reveals the seething rage she keeps under her cheery exterior. Nasim Pedrad does an excellent impression of a coherent Sarah Palin as gun-obsessed Rebekah. Jack McBrayer is rather Kenneth-like in his portrayal of Tracy, but considering Kenneth was my favorite part of 30 Rock, I think that’s a good thing. And last there’s the weird, socially awkward genius guy Doug (Leigh Wannell) who turns out to be the funniest out of all of them because he’s got such good foils to play off.

It’s funny, it’s got plenty of fake gore, and it’s got a few tense, creepy scenes without relying on jump scares. As a certified horror wimp, I didn’t find it at all scary; it doesn’t even meet the oog factor of the Cabin in the Woods. But whoever did the sound design for this movie deserves a medal. The sounds they came up with for the zombie kids, roaring and shrieking and over it all a childish giggle, were nothing short of disturbing. The only truly unsatisfying thing about the movie is structure: the plot sort of peters off at the end without even the conclusion of “and then everyone got eaten.” It feels like the story just runs out of steam and stops, its characters and funny ideas exhausted, before an actual conclusion is achieved.

On sober reflection, there are a few things that bother me about the film now that I’m not focused on just laughing at the jokes. The further I get from being in that moment, the more annoyed I get about the movie’s incredibly typical casting decisions. For example, while I know that small towns in the midwest can be incredibly white, Fort Chicken isn’t two stop signs and a Walmart. It’s presented as a reasonably sized town, but there are very few splashes of color: Calvin (Armani Jackson), who is the single most adorable kid I have ever seen in my life, and a black teacher who is the first one to get messily eaten by the students. The janitor, Mr. Hitachi (Peter Kwong) is a certifiable, heroic, garden shear-wielding badass, but he’s also a cringe-inducing Asian stereotype, complete with very broken English. (Really. Why was this necessary?)

What annoys me even more is that in a horror movie that takes place in a freaking elementary school, there are only two adult female characters with major speaking roles. Two. Out of a cast of six teachers, one principal, and two miscellaneous staff members, less than a quarter of the total surviving staff–only a third of the teachers–are women, when women make up over 75% of the teaching staff at US elementary schools.

Look, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for creepy zombie children infected by evil chicken nuggets. But when the amount of female roles in any given film normally ranges between depressing and downright pathetic, the creative decision involved in making casting yet again all about the men for characters placed in one of the most female-dominated work environments in the country is just insulting.

And of course, one of the major throughlines was tension between Clint and Wade because they were both pissing on Lucy’s leg without any indication of why she might like either of them. Woman as object for men to fight over is a cheap plot device to cause friction between characters. It’s one that I might not even complain about, since men (and people in general!) certainly can be possessive shitheads, if it weren’t done and done and overdone to the point that it’s been standardized. That her relationship status was Lucy’s main role in the plot when the boys have already taken over her workplace just annoys me to no end. And I liked Lucy’s character. When she wasn’t being referee for Clint and Wade the manbabies, she acted as the glue that held the group together. She had some great moments, including getting to tell everyone that she hated them after she finally got fed up with the nonsense.

Ultimately, if you like the zombie comedy/horror thing and you don’t have constitutional objections to zombie kids (and can look past the Mr. Hitachi stereotype), this movie is pretty darn fun and definitely worth a watch. It’s just not funny or well-crafted enough to fight past its structural issues for a more permanent place by Shaun of the Dead on my DVD shelf.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

[Movie] Mr. Holmes

I have been incredibly excited about this movie ever since I heard about it. Sir Ian McKellen, playing an aging Sherlock Holmes? Goodness, yes. You don’t even need to be a giant fan of the detective to want to see that.

There’s a lot to like about the movie. McKellen is every bit as wonderful as you’d expect, and then some, playing Holmes at two different ages, portraying a man who relies on his mind yet battles with steadily worsening memory loss. There are so many layers of humanity, kindness, and regret that he plays out as Sherlock, along with occasionally being the human personification of grumpy cat. The supporting cast does wonderful work as well, particularly Milo Parker as Roger, the boy who develops a friendship and then a quasi-familial relationship with the aging detective. Laura Linney does an amazing job as Roger’s mum, Mrs. Munro, a woman who lost her husband in the war. The familial conflict in there as Mrs. Munro plainly feels she’s losing her son to Sherlock is beautifully and heartbreakingly done. It’s a gorgeous, occasionally funny film with a multi-layered narrative that plays through three timelines.

So yes, it’s definitely worth watching, for the Ian McKellen factor alone–and there’s so much more to it. But my god, the last five minutes made me so damn angry. I honestly don’t feel that I can really discuss what I want to about the movie without massively spoiling it, so be warned. Spoilers start here and continue until the end.

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Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

Where do all the women hide?

I’m sure none of I’m about to say comes as a surprise to anyone reading this blog. But I still think it’s important to say over and over again, as a reminder to myself and others. Because women (and people of color, and people with non-binary genders, and people who aren’t heterosexual [including the dreaded bisexuals]) are not wild animals that hide in trees every time film crews happen to be around.

There are a lot of Indie speculative films that I’m excited about, but the more I build my list, the more painfully obvious it become that women are so rare in these imagined worlds, they might as well be unicorns. I don’t know how any of these people reproduce. At best, you get small films with two male characters and a single female character caught between them (Ex MachinaZ for Zachariah). At worse, it’s an entire team of men, sometimes if you’re lucky with some racial diversity, and the Token Tough Woman. Sometimes there’s also the Token Love Interest Woman. Often, they’re the same woman.

I recently had the privilege of reading some stories by unpublished writers (though I don’t think they’ll remain unpublished for long) and partway through the pile, I couldn’t help but notice that the characters within were either all male, or with a token female. There was only one story I read that had a female main character. I don’t blame new writers for this kind of thing. When I was just starting out, most of my characters were male. The first two novels I ever did for NaNoWriMo had male main characters. I was a couple years into writing my own stuff before I ever wrote a female main character (Hob Ravani, whom you will all get to meet soon, promise) and she was completely surrounded by men.

I think for me, it was partially an outgrowth of the writing I did before I switched to my own original fiction: I wrote a shitload of fanfiction. And with a few exceptions (like Sailor Moon) here and there, my fanfiction was always about male characters, because those were the ones in the anime series or book series or movie that were interesting.

Which brings us back to my list of movies and its depressing lack of women.

I know female characters can and do have interesting stories. I write stories about them now myself. But it’s this vicious cycle where we’re surrounded by media that tells us only men have interesting stories… and the education for the production of that media sure doesn’t help. Look at the beat sheet bible that gets used and overused for film writing: Save the Cat. I don’t think Mr. Snyder is expressing more than the constant background level of societal sexism when he frames all conflicts and characters as being about male characters, and getting the girl, and so on. But it still sticks with you. And then you go and write stories about men, because women are obviously boring and don’t do anything but be the girlfriend.

I finished writing and editing a second-world fantasy novel this year. One of the basic world building concepts was that where the story takes place, the female to male birthrate is two or three to one. And I still had to have it pointed out to me by my long-suffering beta reader that while there were a lot of women as background, almost all of the characters with actual speaking roles were men. And it made no sense. On the edit I went through and changed every male character into a female character unless I had a specific reason he needed to be male. Much better.

I’m working on a screenplay now, for the classes I’ve been taking. Of the core set of characters, one is female and three are male; I can’t really help that, since those three are on a tank crew in a country where crews are all male. But as I’ve continued on, I’ve made a very conscious effort to write the side characters as female unless I have a reason to make them male. And the same principle can be very easily applied to making certain characters of color exist in writing, and characters with different sexualities/gender identities, etc.

And no, this is not “forcing” “political correctness” into my writing. This is actually acknowledging that women exist in the fucking worlds we build as more than furniture in the background. Just like we do in real life. This is challenging my unconscious mental presumption that all characters somehow must be male unless there is a defining need for them to be female. And if other people have a problem with it, it tacitly forces them to admit their sexism (racism/homophobia/transphobia) out loud and attempt justification. Sometimes, in situations like that, people finally listen to themselves talk. Sometimes, other people are listening. It’s a start.

I look forward to the day when I have to go through a story or script I’ve written and switch some of the characters to male because there’s not a realistic enough number. Maybe then I’ll have finally purged that bias from my system.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

[Movie] It Follows

Whoops, I thought I’d written something about this movie already. Then I realized that I was probably thinking about the extensive discussion I had with Shaun Duke and David Annandale on the Totally Pretentious podcast. If listening to podcasts is a thing you do and you don’t mind spoilers, I definitely recommend that discussion to you. I don’t really want to rehash too much of it here, so I’m just going to hit the highlights.

A thing you should realize up front is that I don’t generally watch horror movies. I’m a wimp. I lose sleep when things are creepy and I really don’t like excessive gore. So I took one look at the trailer for this movie, and


Then Shaun hit on my only weakness and asked me if I’d like to be on the podcast episode about it. CURSE YOU, DUKE.

In all seriousness, I owe him a thank you for it. I might have lost a night of sleep over how damn creepy some of the movie was, but I’d also put this one in my top five films of this year.

It Follows is about nineteen-year-old Jay, who gets infected with a sort of sexually transmitted curse after deciding to sleep with her boyfriend. The curse is eerie: an invisible (but tangible) monster constantly walks in a straight line toward whoever has been most recently infected. It kills whoever it catches, and then starts pursuing the next person up on the chain.

The monster is incredibly well done, by the way. It can look like anyone or anything at a given time, an ability it always uses for maximum terror and emotional trauma. And its slow, implacable march brings to mind what made walking zombies terrifying in their own special way when Romero put them on film—though this monster is far scarier in that it’s obviously capable of thought. The go-to assumption is that the monster’s a metaphor for STDs, though I think it’s more specifically a metaphor for HIV. There’s some pointed pill popping by the infected boyfriend at certain points in the film, and the idea that if you keep running, you can stay ahead of the monster even if it will inevitably catch you some day. This runs in line with the new reality of HIV positive in modern America; it’s no longer an instant death sentence if you can afford or get the medication, but a long-term condition.

And of course, the way Jay gets the curse also points me toward reading it as the HIV metaphor. Her boyfriend knows full well that he’s infected, and deliberately gets in her good graces and has sex with her so he can pass it along. After they’ve had sex, he chloroforms her and she wakes up tied to a wheelchair in her underwear (one of the movies first multilevel incredibly creepy scenes) so that he can show her the monster and tell her how to survive it.

Something that really struck me about this movie and still stays with me is that, while you can’t necessarily call something with this concept sex positive, at no point did anyone ever shame Jay for deciding to have sex with her boyfriend. There’s no victim blaming that occurs; the censure is always squarely pointed at the lying shitbag boyfriend, where it belongs.

This movie was filmed in Detroit and brings up some strange juxtaposition between urban decay and the suburbs that Jay lives in, which seem caught in a weird sort of 1980s stasis. Also, the film’s score was very synth-heavy, which made it feel more like an 80s horror film. I was half-convinced that it was a story set in the 80s, except no one had scary enough hair, and all of the kids had modern cell phones, e-readers, and the like.

Maika Monroe does an amazing job as Jay, terrified and desperate and just trying to find a way to survive—with the help of her friends. And the scares in the movie? It’s mostly that slow, creeping dread of watching the monster take its damn time. It’s an implacable sort of fear, punctuated occasionally by jump scares that had me huddling in my hoodie.

Excellent movie. Watch it. You can get it on streaming from a lot of different places for $4.99. Watch it even if you’re a horror wimp like me.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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