Great Female Characters? Here’s My List!

My last blog post (please read it) was kind of half rant, half personal exposition.  A fellow pop-culture blogger, Angry Mongo, commented asking me a fantastic question that I thought I’d love to answer in blog form.  For the record, Angry Mongo’s blog is about 100x better than this one, so if you’re reading me, you should be reading him!  He writes more frequently and his content is witty, relevant and an overall really good read.

He writes:

So, I have to ask, in a pop culture world with too many Black Widows and not enough Ripley’s, who are your favorite heroines in media? Did you cheer or roll your eyes at the thought of President Glitch rather than Princess Vanellope? Does the fact that they try to make Felicity Smoak (Arrow) and Velma from Mystery Inc. out to be the “sexy nerds” anger women? Can COD ever have a female character play a prominent combat role in future titles?

This guy speaks my language!  To be clear, I don’t think that any “feminine” female character is inherently bad.  My opinion is that any female character need to be “herself”, meaning that she’s not a certain way because that is what society expects of her.  If she’s feminine, weak and stupid, that’s okay.  As long as that is her character, and not just her standard position as a female.

I guess I feel like, although Black Window gets shafted as a character, so does Hawkeye so I try to tell myself that it’s because of runtime constrictions and not bad writing… even though Black Widow has been in more movies than Hawkeye… let’s just try to give the writers benefit of the doubt.  Then again, if every female character was written like Ripley from the Alien movies, it would be not only unbelievable but also tiresome and static.  In general, I don’t mind “sexy nerds”; I think there are sexy nerd male characters as well so I guess at least it’s equal.  And no, COD will never have a female character in a prominent combat role, because that’s simply not their target audience.  More males play video games than females; I believe that’s a firm statistic, and the writers of video game plots simply know who pads their pockets.  I don’t know if that’s misogynistic or just marketing.  Is it ageism that the makers of Legos advertise to children and not to the 35+ group?  No; it’s just marketing.

In general, to meet my qualifications of a great female character, they must have the majority of their conversations about things other than men, and they must not be defined by their gender (i.e. could this character be male and still be in the same or a similar situation?).  That being said, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite female characters of all time, and I don’t mind telling you exactly why they’re well-written, modern females who any girl should be proud to look up to.  These are in no particular order…

Juno MacGuff, “Juno”:  Ok, so the character of Juno, the unwed teen mom, obviously wouldn’t be in her situation without a guy around, but I still say she’s a hero.  Why?  She thinks for herself.  She tries to do what’s right, no matter what those around her are saying.  She respects the opinions of others, ultimately sees things clearly and with a level head, and makes decisions that are mature, clever, and not self-serving.  Juno is a hero in her own right; what can easily be seen as a mistake (her pregnancy) has been turned around into many eventually positive things simply because of Juno’s perspective and way of dealing with things.

Marion Ravenwood, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”:  We all remember the scene in the bar in Nepal, right?  Marion Ravenwood literally drinks the bar patrons under the table to win bets.  But besides that, let’s think about Marion’s life for a minute.  Her father was the mentor to Indiana Jones.  That tells me that she’s basically just as educated, just as experienced and just as cultured as Indy himself.  They grew up together; Indy, Abner and Marion going on digs and studying artifacts… they were family for a period of time, and although Marion was in love with Indiana, after he left she guarded herself accordingly.  She ran her father’s bar in Nepal, so she’s got business skills.  She was witty enough to gain wagers against her alcohol tolerance to make some extra cash.  She knew how to use the power of being female to her advantage, as we see in the scene with Belloq in the tent.  The way I see it, there could have been movies made about Marion Ravenwood, her life as a child learning archeology along side her father and a devilishly handsome older teen, her life in Nepal, running the tavern and dreaming of coming back to the states, then her eventual return and her running her bar in 1940’s New York, and raising Mutt as a single mom with help only from the eccentric but well-meaning Oxley.  Marion Ravenwood is actually THE SHIT and deserves her rank as #1 on my list.  For the record, I’m not as crazy about her character development in the more recent Indy flick (feel free to ask me for details on how I feel the real Marion Ravenwood would have raised Mutt)… but my summary of her character overall remains.

Hermione Granger, The “Harry Potter” books and movies:  Hermione is in the top half of a lot of the “Female Character” lists floating around the internet, but I feel like many people think that she’s a role model only for the nerd crowd and that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  To be honest, I think her situation reflects and represents the struggle that many people go through when they feel that they don’t belong somewhere because of race, ethnicity, religion, heritage or culture.  Due to the fact that Hermione is “muggle-born” which means her parents have no magic abilities at all, she’s looked down on by a lot of the wizarding community.  As anyone who’s been a victim of prejudice knows, the key to getting past it is resilience, persistence, staying true to yourself, and proving yourself valuable when given the opportunity.  These things, in addition to NOT having a chip on her shoulder, make Hermione a great female character.  Also… if you’ll notice… she rarely needs help from Ron and Harry and in fact ends up saving their asses more often than not.

Sarah Connor, “Terminator” & “T2: Judgement Day”:  She was just a totally normal 80’s chick when she got thrown into a war that she herself would never get to fight.  Time travel plot holes aside, Sarah Connor went from girl-next-door to total war machine in a matter of years, because once she became a mother she wanted her son to be as prepared as possible for his militaristic future.  Locked in the mental hospital for years, she refused to go soft.  Working out relentlessly every day, shaping her bod into unbelievable kick-assery, and shaping her mullet into one hell of a ponytail while she was at it.  Go, mom!

Cher Horowitz, “Clueless”:  This blonde, ditzy beauty doesn’t top many lists of best female characters… she may be a rich beverly hills teen hottie, but when you remove the fluff and look at her character, it’s hard not to give the girl some credit.  Sure, many of her deeds are self-serving at first, but as we get to know Cher better we realize that her value system and desire for harmony in general is really on point, and although she’s sheltered and seemingly shallow at times, she’s an accurate representation of a popular high school girl who comes from money.  And you know, being a popular girl who comes from money isn’t always sunshine and butterflies; those girls need role models too!  We can see in this movie that Cher is not all selfish; she REALLY wants her driver’s license, and we can see that she completely screws up her driving test simply because she feels “icky” about a social situation.  My takeaway from the movie is that anyone, no matter how young and dumb, can make a difference in people’s lives and if you can put aside your selfishness, even temporarily, you’ll see that there’s a lot more to others than just what brand their shoes are.

Clarice Starling, “Silence of the Lambs”:  One of my favorite things about Clarice (other than the way Hannibal says her name… admit it, you hear his voice every time you see the word… Clarice… Clarice… Hello, Clarice…) is that she’s SO real.  She’s not a badass incarnate (see Sarah Connor in T2), she’s just a young girl who has something to prove.  She’s afraid, but perseveres anyway because she’s brave and wants to prove to everyone, most of all herself, that she’s got what it takes for the FBI.  She works her ass off to be sure that she won’t be outdone by anyone else, regardless of their sex.  She pushes herself mentally, physically, and psychologically to stay ahead of her peers, her supervisor, Buffalo Bill, and Dr. Hannibal Lecter.  The odd thing is that none of these people really see her as equals… except Lecter.  In a way, he pushes her in the same ways that she pushes herself.  Think harder, be better, run faster…  and she wins the day due to facing and eventually conquering her fears.

Ellen Ripley, “Alien” & “Aliens”:  OMG she tops every single list ever.  She’s amazing, no doubt.  I don’t feel the need to explain this one since every other blog on the planet which has published a list similar to this one has already done it for me.  She’s just awesome, okay?  You can go and read a full character analysis of her on thousands of other blogs, so I don’t feel the need to re-write history.

Irene Adler, many “Sherlock Holmes” books, movies and television shows:  The most recent incarnation of Ms. Adler (BBC’s ‘Sherlock’) slated her as a dashing and bold dominatrix, and many thought that was quite a stretch for the character.  Directly previous to that, she was little more than a love interest to RDJ’s Holmes in Guy Ritchie’s version.  However, the truth is, these newer interpretations of Adler are more “old fashioned” than how the author, Arthur Conan Doyle, ever wrote her.  The way that Doyle wrote her character is far more progressive.  In Doyle’s story, Adler is able to outwit Holmes twice, and she doesn’t do it by using her body, sex, or anything of the sort.  She simply matches Holmes step for step in brain power.  To top it all off, she is seen in the end as an honorable character who will honor her word; a rare way to view a woman even in some of today’s stories, much less back in those days when the world was ruled only by men and a “man’s handshake” was his promise.  Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy the new takes on Adler’s character, and it’s all in good fun to see Holmes be the sort of character who is viewed as asexual, then see him get his brainpower met by, well, pussy power for lack of a better term.  But for me, I quite prefer Doyle’s version of “The Woman”.

Those are just a few of my favorite fictional women; I didn’t even get to Mary Richards in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, nor Daria Morgendorffer in “Daria”.  I guess I’ll save those for another time!

– T. Ham

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Vintage Video Games – a new hobby!

I have an odd relationship with video games.  Sometimes I will get into a habit of playing a specific game almost obsessively, and then I will move on with my life and not touch a controller for months.  For years, I’ve been afraid to admit that I’m a gamer; some of my more social endeavors have taught me that most of my contemporaries are of the opinion that the only people who play video games are virgins who live in their parents’ basements.

I just don’t believe that’s true.  For me, it’s the simple activity of having something that stimulates my brain.  I play video games when I get bored to tears of television (which is too often).  That’s not to say that I never watch TV… I have certain TV shows that I enjoy, but as for the standard mind-numbing ignorance and staged reality shows, I hate them.  What’s worse; they rot my brain.  My little brain is almost always begging for something to poke at.  TV is just not interactive enough for me.

So, I’ve started playing even more games, rather than watching TV.  Puzzle games, social games, or just fun shoot ’em ups.  As a result, I started missing the “old school” video games… namely The Legend of Zelda for Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES).  Dug it outta the attic, picked up right where I left off.  It had been nagging at me for years because I never did beat that game…

Aside from seeing all my old games on a 60″ plasma screen, it all feels very nostalgic.  Fun, but not what I was hoping for in terms of something that would keep my brain entertained after work and in between social events.  A quick foray onto eBay blew my mind… these SNES games are actually being sold for money.  Some of them are going for BIG money.

If you’re not aware that retro gaming is making a comeback, then you’ll be just as surprised as I was to discover that there are SNES games going for over $200… and these aren’t mint-condition, in the box kind of auctions.  This is simply a hunk of gray plastic with a 16-bit game stored in it.  Crazy!  Well, you know my general opinion of things when shopping… if it’s expensive, that must mean it kicks ass, right?!?  Naturally, I suddenly crave these $200 SNES games that I’ve never heard of.  Oi vey.

So, as of late, I’ve been seeking out things such as garage sales and flea markets for the first time in my life.  Very interesting places… such an interesting combination of complete shit, interesting things, and random produce (yeah… produce… I said fucking produce.  Who buys their produce from a flea market?  I wouldn’t put anything from that place into my mouth… Sorry).  It’s been a fun and adventurous new hobby so far.  I’ve met many people that completely embody the typical “gamer” (by which I mean complete losers) but I’ve also met some neat people who are, like me, (almost) normal.

So, if you want to go rooting around in your attic or basement and pull out some old SNES games, keep me in mind!  I’m really enjoying collecting them, playing them, and trading them.  Maybe you will too!

Nerd Workout Playlist

I’m so glad that headphones were invented.  If people could actually hear what I workout to, I’d get laughed off the treadmill and onto the recumbent bike.  They probably wouldn’t let me near the freeweights anymore, either.

However, dear readers, since you don’t work out at my gym (hopefully) and therefore can’t make fun of me while I’m trying to maintain my physique, I’ll tell you what’s on my workout playlist.  And yes, thanks, I know I’m a nerd.  But not I’m not a thick glasses/jeans with tennis shoes kind of nerd…I’m a pop culture enthusiast nerd.  Let me ‘splain:

1. Driving with the Top Down by Ramin Djawadi from the Iron Man soundtrack: this song inspires me and makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something.  It actually makes me smile while I sweat.

2. Percussion Gun by White Rabbits from the It’s Frightening album: I can’t really explain what this song does to me.  It feels almost like being angry in a happy way.  I know that makes no sense.  The persistent drumming in the background really keeps me going.

3. Blow Me Away by Breaking Benjamin:  Yeah, I know!  This is kind of a normal song you might think, but you’d be wrong.  If you’ll recall, it was used during a particular badass section of Halo 2 gameplay.  Total nerd redemption.

4. Canned Heat by Jamiroquai:  There’s few mental images better than Napoleon’s exquisite Vote for Pedro dance.  ‘Nuff said.

5. Take a Look Around by Limp Bizkit:  I don’t really like Limp Bizkit any more than the average person, but THIS Bizkit song rocks the Mission Impossible theme as its spine, and there’s nothing better than a little secret agent work while you’re in the gym.

6. Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins:  TOP GUN!!  NEED I SAY MORE?!?  I HAVE TO YELL BECAUSE IT’S LOUD UP IN THIS JET!!  And having two Tom Cruise movie songs back to back is only incidental, I promise.

7. Wake Up by Arcade Fire:  Okay so this is not really a song that pumps me specifically, but it’s almost 6 minutes long and I love it so much that it makes 6 minutes feel like 2 minutes…which is good when you’re on a treadmill.

8. Square Pegs by Pain:  Do you remember the awesomeness that was the Midgets with Guns album?  If you don’t, then you’re probably WAAAAAY cooler than I was in high school.

9. The Theme Song from Metal Gear Solid 2:  I’m deeply sorry that I have no idea who wrote or performed this song.  But it’s one of the most awesome video game songs ever.  I really don’t like games where you have to be all sneaky/crouchy/silencer etc, but this song made it all worth while.

10. Training Montage by Vince DiCola:  Yep.  The one from Rocky.  This is the most epic 80’s montage song ever.  It’s such an epic montage song that it has the word ‘montage’ right in the freaking title!  Can you imagine?!?!?  Following this up directly with “Eye of the Tiger” is certainly recommended.  If you got it, flaunt it.

-T. Ham

E.T. Sequel In The Works

E.T. Poster…as if answering yesterday’s post about Hollywood running out of ideas, THIS came across my desk today…

Steven Spielberg and Drew Barrymore are working together to film a sequel to E.T. They’ve been pretty hush-hush about it, but the plot would obviously involve a +30 years E.T. visiting a +30 years Gertie.

In case you don’t recall the details of one of my favorite movies ever, Drew Barrymore played the role of Gertie, Elliot’s younger Drew Barrymore in E.T. as Gertiesister. It was one of her first recognizable roles and lead to the the fame that Drew has today. We all just fell in love with her blond pigtails and the way she E.T. Looking Sexydressed E.T. up in fashion costumes. I’m sure that E.T. was paid extra to wear that wig.

Anyhow, I suppose they could make this really wonderful. If nothing else, it would revive the original E.T. so that this generation of youngsters could enjoy it as I did. However, if Spielberg plays his cards right, this movie could be truly brilliant. Why can’t we get the kid who played Elliot involved as well, Henry Thomas? He’s still acting and should be easy to sign as he mostly does Henry Thomas Then and Nowrandom guest appearances on TV shows. In fact his last notable role was that of Tristan’s brother in the depressing and over-marketing “Legends of the Fall” in 1994. He even still looks like Elliot…he’s aged well! I’m not sure if we can say the same for E.T….I wonder what 30 years does to an already-wrinkly brown alien?

Can you imagine how much fun this would be for the cast to come back together after almost 30 years? However, this could be Indy 4 all over again….entertaining but no real value. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. But hey, look on the bright side – at least it’s a sequel and not a remake. A remake to a classic like E.T. would just be adding insult to injury.

My note to Mr. Spielberg: PLEASE don’t make this cheesy. Ever since Indy 4 I’ve had to defend your genius. Also, PLEASE make sure we get John Williams. You and I both know that this movie won’t work without him.

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The Video Game Evolution

Look alive nerds – video games are becoming something for everyone.

Rather play video games than talk to girlfriendFor years, playing video games was the sport of losers.  Sit at home, alone, probably in the dark, and push buttons.  No social interaction.  No physical activity.  No wonder cheerleaders and jocks made fun of us!  Those times are quickly changing however as video gaming moves away from the being “alone in the dark” (pun intended) and moves towards something else entirely.  For those of you who don’t know much about video games at all, let me provide a brief history…  (brief because I’m only listing the most popular consoles…there were actually over 50 consoles made between 1972 and 2000).

1972 – Everyone thinks that the Atari was the first video game console on the scene, but those people are wrong.  The first console in the American home was the Magnavox Odyssey.  Infamous for having a controller with poor responsiveness and being battery powered (what?!?), the Odyssey also had no sound and, as to be expected, crude graphics.

1977 – Atari 2600, which actually allowed gamers to play more than one game!  Sold in cartridges resembling 8-tracks, the games had mono sound Atari Controllerand multiple colors.  It’s controller?  The now-iconic black square with a joystick on top.  Oh!  And the big red button…don’t forget about the big red button.  Now, a flood of consoles come onto the market – Mattel, one of the largest toy manufacturers of all time – brings out Intellivision, Colecovision hosts several consoles, and Atari and Magnavox continue to released updated versions of their consoles as well.  Additionally, arcades in shopping centers and malls are growing in popularity.

1985 – Nintendo comes out with the Nintendo Entertainment System, NES Mario Brothersrevamping the gaming industry and breathing more life into the arcades.  The Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, is probably one of the most popular consoles of all time.  It’s headlining game, Super Mario Brothers, is still played on old and new consoles across the world.  Meanwhile, Atari struggles to keep up and comes out with the 2600 Junior and the 7800.

1989 – The Sega Genesis gaming system takes the stage and sells very well until…

1991 – Not to be outdone, Nintendo ships out the Super Nintendo SNES Donkey KongEntertainment System, SNES.  Still a cartridge system, but certainly with improved graphics and a leg up on the NES.  The Sega Genesis and the SNES run neck-in-neck, for the first time providing American with two really good choices of home video gaming consoles.

1995 – Huge electronics company Sony decides to get in on the gaming industry.  The Sega Saturn also debuts in 1995, but is largely outdone by the Sony Playstation.  At this point, gaming graphics are good enough to be deemed “awesome” and “radical” by adolescents everywhere.

In the years that followed, a major console was released nearly every year.  1995-2002 proved to be sort of a “proving ground” for the video game market, and everyone held their breath to see which company would be on top of the game at Christmas every year.  1996 brought us the Nintendo N64, 1997 was the year for the SNES Model 2 which sold very well also.  1998, Sega brought out the Sega Genesis 3 and followed it quickly in 1999 with the Sega Dreamcast, its last console to date.  In 2000, Sony revamped its system and marketing the Playstation 2 (or PS2) and then it all came crashing down in 2001 when both the Nintendo Game Cube and the Microsoft Xbox were released, much to Sony’s dismay.  In 2001, it was the clash of the titans as Nintendo, Sony and newcomer Microsoft battled it out for the highest sales numbers every quarter.

The most recent years haven’t proved to be much different; Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony are still the big three players.  In 2005, Microsoft debuted the Xbox 360 to rave reviews but in 2006, both Sony and Nintendo unveiled their new consoles as well.  Sony’s PS3 was a higher-end console (read: overpriced) and was geared towards more hardcore gamers (read: nerdy “alone in the dark” types).  Nintendo, however, took it to another level entirely….

A Wii Party2006 brought us the Nintendo Wii.  What makes it so awesome?  Just watch someone play it and you’ll quickly find that the Wii is not just a video game console but a party game console!  With games like bowling and baseball that anyone can play (and I mean anyone – my 82 year old grandfather loves it just as much as my 4 year old cousin) the Wii has sent gaming into orbit.  It’s not just for adolescent boys anymore.

What does the future hold?  It’s unclear at this point if Sony will be able to hang in there.  Sales of their overpriced consoles lack from the downturned economy and they haven’t made any announcements regarding the future of their involvement in the gaming market.  Microsoft however has already begun implementing a new system that could be – dare I say it – BETTER than the Wii.  It’s called Project Natal, although it’s unclear at this time whether that will be the final name of the device, but it is an add-on for the current Xbox 360 console that will allow gamers to play games without any controller at all.  What?  No, no….I don’t mean you need to strap something to your arms or hold something in your hands to play the game.  I mean you don’t need ANY controller at all.  Well, let me rephrase: your body IS the controller.

Why did I bother blogging a brief history of video games?  Because I think that it’s all changing.  Ever since 1972, gaming has been a one or two person thing either done full time by nerds or part time by cool kids when it’s raining and there’s nothing better to do.  But with the onset of games like Guitar Hero, Rock Band and the collection of team sport games on the Wii system, video games are becoming a more popular party activity…if you had a party in the 90’s it was “Let’s play charades!”

I’m thinking that the future of house parties and cookouts will be something entirely different…something that revolves entirely around a big screen TV and an inconspicuous gaming console.

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John Hughes – A Coming of Age Tale

John HughesUnless you’re a pop culture enthusiast, you probably have no idea who John Hughes is.  However, I’d be willing to bet that if you’re older than 25, one of his movies probably rocked your world at some point in time.  Renowned for being able to turn a story about nothing into a story about everything, John Hughes is one of the better directors of our age.

His career really started when he wrote the screenplay for National The Breakfast Club CastLampoon’s Vacation – a film that set the standard for comedy in the 80’s.  His directorial debut was none other than Sixteen Candles, released in 1984.  Sixteen Candles was the first in a string of films that would later be labeled a “brat pack” film; a movie that starred some or all of the 80’s teen actors that were prevalent in those days (Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald).  Sixteen Candles opened to rave reviews and the world immediately knew that John Hughes would be one to watch.

Hughes set out to make films that were a more realistic portrayal of growing up and high school life, so his next few films followed Sixteen Candles almost as if they were cut from the same mold.  Pretty in Pink, Weird Science, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off also rolled out between 1984 and 1987, all receiving critical acclaim and taking in high box office sales.  Hughes was very aware of how much his version of high school contrasted other high school films of the day (think Porky’s and Ridgemont High), even going so far as to say:  “At the time I came along, Hollywood’s idea of teen movies meant there had to be a lot of nudity, usually involving boys in pursuit of sex, and pretty gross overall. Either that or a horror movie. And the last thing Hollywood wanted in their teen movies was teenagers!”

One of my favorite films of all time is The Breakfast Club which effortlessly combines teen angst, touching dramatic scenes and offbeat humor.  **I am pretty sure that this movie is singlehandedly responsible for the band Simple Minds making any money at all due to the use of their song “Don’t You Forget About Me” being used at the end of the film.  On its own, the song is mediocre at best.  Paired with this film, it’s DYNO-MITE!!**

But John Hughes didn’t want to direct coming of age teen comedies his entire career; the late 80’s saw the release of Planes Trains and Automobiles and Uncle Buck, both classics.  As far as the box office is concerned, his most successful film to date is Home Alone which was the highest grossing film of 1990.

Home alone with Michael Jackson**Interesting fact: Home Alone stars Macaulay Culkin’s lesser known younger brother, Kieren Culkin.  You can see him in small parts of Home Alone 1 and 2 as the smallest sibling who is known for wetting the bed after drinking too much soda.  Kieren Culkin proved his acting chops with increasingly larger roles in films such as Father of the Bride 1 and 2 and finally, M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs which, say what you want about that film, Kieren was amazing.**

After directing Curly Sue in 1991, John Hughes decided to retire from directing.  He does small appearances here and there but mostly enjoys retirement in Wisconsin.

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