Beekeeper Reviews: C.T. Young

C.T. Young (whose initials don’t stand for anything) appears in the 1953 film Bright Road. C.T. is a troubled student who is singled out by Miss Richards, a new teacher who hopes to turn him around. Indeed, C.T. does not see the point of going to places like school and church, and when there he is completely unable to hide how much he doesn’t want to be there. It takes him two years to get through every grade and the old teachers have given up on him as a “backwards child”. But he isn’t a bad child. He doesn’t really associate with the other schoolchildren much, apart from his girlfriend Tanya, but he is extremely well behaved at home where he not only helps take care of the kids who are younger than him, but also uses the profits from selling his honey to do things like buy paint for the house. For Christmas, he even gives a jar of that honey, his only source of income, to his mother with a note saying it is “from the bees” and that’s pretty cute. C.T. loves other animals too. He has a dog named Come Here (who, incidentally, seems to be smart enough to warn him when he is running late for school), sings along with birds, and is fascinated by a caterpillar going into a cocoon which is a useful metaphor for his own story. Basically, C.T. is a very good child who just doesn’t fit into the usual schooling methods and that’s what Miss Richards sees in him. She recognizes that he is skilled at drawing and encourages him there. She also catches him helping another kid with math problems, proving that he may not care enough to do it for his own sake, but he’ll do it to help someone else.

But I’m not here to review good children. Lets focus on the beekeeping stuff. Of the bees he says, “Me and them, we’re sort of in business. They make a little honey, I sell it.” It doesn’t sound like he makes a lot of money, but the fact he makes any is a good start. At the film’s climax, a swarm of bees comes through the open classroom window looking for somewhere to hive. C.T. is unfazed as he stops the other students from panicking or harming the bees, grabs the queen, places her in a jar, and carries her, his hand covered in bees, to find a nice tree in the woods where they can live.

Unfortunately, that is a redemptive moment for an earlier bit of Beekeeper Rage. Granted, it takes an awful lot for C.T. to work up to that moment of anger. His girlfriend Tanya dies of pneumonia, which is understandably something one would be upset about. Then, after he returns to school, having skipped for a while, he finds classmates singing the “Three Blind Mice” song, which has always upset him for its imagery of cutting off tails of the mice (he loves animals that much). He reacts to this song by grabbing a jump-rope and swinging it around as a weapon to lash out at everyone, then gets into a fistfight with another student.

I like my beekeepers to be good fighters, and though that C.T.’s only fight is a Beekeeper Rage moment is sad, he does acquit himself well. He is also able to take several hits on the hands with a ruler from the principal without flinching. And, though he is told he must apologize, he notes that, after he saved everyone from the bees, he was forgiven without needing to apologize. Way to get a moral victory, C.T.

3 Honeycombs out of Five.

For the record, the movie is based off a short story called “See How They Run” by Mary Elizabeth Vroman, but in that story there is no mention of C.T. keeping bees, so it is not canon here.

Beekeeper Reviews: Bee Movie’s Beekeepers

It can’t be overstated: This movie depicts a universe in which bees are uncannily human. They speak English, they have technology and family units, they have furniture and clothes, they even have their own version of Larry King. But the beekeepers in the movie are inhumane. One benefit of the doubt can be given to the beekeepers: The bees have a policy that, until the events of the movie, they don’t speak to humans, but even so, these beekeepers see the bees who have chairs and paintings and still call bees “pinheads”? Not very observant.

Unlike my ideal beekeepers, these guys aren’t protecting their bees. They are exploiting them. One of them says specifically that “we throw it in some jars, slap a label on it, and it’s pretty much pure profit.” From the sounds of it, they don’t spend any money on taking care of the bees. The hives they make for their bees are represented as unfurnished, minuscule apartments with propaganda pictures of their queen about. The beekeepers have the typical technology, but even that is twisted to jerk-styles. When describing his smoker, one beekeepers says “Ninety puffs a minute, semi-automatic,” which sounds impressive until he adds “Twice the nicotine, all the tar!” These guys are actually addicting the human-like bees to the smoke to keep them exploitable. This “They make the honey, and we make the money” style is pretty abhorrent. Real beekeepers give something back. Also, these guys never portray any fighting or supernatural abilities. They don’t amount to much.

In a way, the real beekeepers in this movie are the bees themselves. But I don’t think that counts.

Beekeeper Review: Paul from 1313: Giant Killer Bees

Bees are disappearing and something needs to be done about that. “1313: Giant Killer Bees!” is a “movie” that uses that as the setup for its “plot”. In an attempt to give bees the boost they need to survive, some professor has shipped a bunch of handsome students to a tropical compound to try to fix bees with experiments. Paul is the only beekeeper in the project, everyone else being a mere scientist.

Well, the experiments result in giant bees that turn people into zombies and Paul dies almost immediately. They can’t all be winners. But hey, the movie says that he’s basically one of the only competent people involved in the project. He had nothing to do with the injections that caused the mutations. The fact that he removes his protective mask while running away from a giant bee could be a sign of stupidity, but maybe he can just gauge how useless it would be against a giant bee, right? Could be. Wants to free up his peripheral vision? Maybe?

Anyway… The giant bees cause the end of the world.

Two Honeycombs out of Five. He seemed to be a functional beekeeper, but in the face of the supernatural, he could not hold his own.

Beekeeper Review: Ulysses Jackson

Ulysses Jackson, known as Ulee for short, is a pretty standard beekeeper. Like all the best, he comes from a line of beekeepers (dating back at least to his grandfather). He is just a beekeeper who goes about his business and doesn’t have extraordinary adventures. Most of the time. He is the protagonist of the film Ulee’s Gold.

As of the start of the film, things aren’t going great for Ulee. He’s been working to repair his life after some very bad times, but still things aren’t great. He’s getting old and sore, which makes it hard to do his work. At the beginning of the movie, it is noted that he is working fewer bees than he used to, which means less honey which means less money. Though he does hire part-time assistants, he mostly eschews help as a matter of pride. He’s keeping the business alive, but it is getting harder all the time. His family life is even worse. His son turned out to be a bank robber and wound up in jail. His daughter-in-law has become a junkie and left town. And even after they were recovering from all that, Ulee’s wife died, so now Ulee is raising two granddaughters on his own.

Ulee is not an emotionally healthy person. There’s some PTSD in there. Some Survivor’s Guilt. Many regrets about family stuff. And, naturally, he’s got Beekeeper’s Rage in there too. He’s angry with his son, with his daughter-in-law, with the town Sheriff, with many things. Most of his issues come in the form of trying to avoid showing weakness. He makes his life harder because, as he tells his grand-kids, “we don’t ask outsiders for help”. He tries to do everything on his own, refusing to accept that he can’t. He’s also seems pretty unhappy that his family isn’t likely to keep the business alive, saying “It’s pretty hard work. Most young folks can’t be bothered.” On the upside, he’s got a family dog named “Buckshot” and a truck with a crane for moving hives and stuff. He hasn’t painted it to look like a bee or anything, though. He ought to work on that.

But then, in a “serious drama” movie like this, we aren’t likely to get much in the way of Supernatural Beekeeper Magic, are we? Well, no. But he does note: “The bees and I have an understanding. I take care of them, they take care of me.” And when checking the honeycombs, he does use a smoker, but doesn’t wear gloves. These are minor signs that he has preternatural communication with the bees, but I’ll take what I can get. More significantly though, Ulee is a veteran of the Vietnam war. And it is indicated that his entire unit was killed save Ulee himself. Sounds to me like this Beekeeper can fight.

As the actual plot of the movie unfolds (some of his son’s criminal friends come back to try to find some hidden heist money), Ulee winds up learning that asking for help isn’t a character flaw (in his words “There’s all kinds of weakness in the world. Not all of it is evil. I forget that from time to time.”) and basically everything good that could happen to his family does (the junkie daughter-in-law is brought back and gets cleaned up, the granddaughters get interested in the family business, the son makes peace with Ulee and will probably be out of jail in a year). A happy ending earned by fighting through some tough times, even if it isn’t the punching and kicking kind of fighting.

Three Honeycombs out of Five. I admit I had some doubts about going that high, but then I remembered that’s there’s probably a story in his past about him surviving some real crazy stuff in ‘Nam.

Some Thoughts on Black Superhero Characters in Movies

Hey, I should try a post where I actually bother to talk about something again. That always used to be fun.

Let’s see… what’s in the news today? Oh. Here’s something. I guess that Hollywood is trying to make another movie based off the Fantastic Four comics. It is rumored that Johnny Storm, the hero known as the Human Torch, is likely to be played by a black man, even though he is a white man in the comics. Some people on the Internet are apparently pretty upset about this.

A caveat: I don’t actually care much about the Fantastic Four. As much as I love the Marvel Universe, that is one corner that has never held my attention. There’s likely plenty there worth reading, but I don’t feel like I’m missing anything enough that I’ve bothered to make an expert. Luckily, for the sake of me having this discussion, this isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened. I could link to all sorts of articles about other examples, but I think this Cracked article covers all the bases pretty well.

So, step one, here’s the part where I admit that I’m one of those people who doesn’t like changes being made to adaptations of books and comics. Not just as far as race goes, but I don’t like when anything is changed. I don’t like when characters or scenes are cut for brevity, or when the setting is changed for the sake of filming. I don’t like when dialogue is changed, or when endings are changes. To be honest, I kinda just don’t like adaptations of books into movies in general. Where I apparently differ from a lot of apparently vocal people on the Internet, I realize this makes me a crazy person. I know I have an unrealistic standard, so I don’t expect anyone to live up to that. Having grown to accept that about myself, I don’t actually care about any changes made to the material. It’s inevitable, I think, so why should I worry? (For the record, my concern also applies in reverse, to movies being adapted as books or comics.)

And in step two I try to offer a solution that goes beyond simply accepting it: as the Cracked article points out, there are simply not enough roles for black people in movies based on superhero comics. That is definitely true. But what actually does bother me is the few roles that do exist are not yet being used. Samuel L. Jackson playing Nick Fury is probably the most significant of these white-to-black “racelifts” in the Marvel movies so I’ll use him for the discussion here.

In the comics, Nick Fury first appeared in “Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #1” in May of 1963. Here’s the thing: one of those Howling Commandos was Gabe Jones, a black man. Obviously he’s not the title character, but he is an important black character who has exactly as long a history in the medium as Fury, who went along with Fury to also become a top ranking SHIELD agent, and who I personally have always liked more than Fury. Still, the character never got the use that he deserved. A part of me can’t help but think that maybe, if someone as cool as Sam Jackson had played Gabe Jones instead of Fury, maybe people would have actually bothered to care about him for a change. A movie version of Gabe did make it into a minor role in Captain America: The First Avenger, but only in the World War Two section, so he’s unlikely to return in the movies set in the modern era. And since then, the comic version of Gabe Jones was unceremoniously killed off in some crappy 2010 comic. An actual black character with decades of history used as cannon fodder because nobody bothered to care. I suppose it is because Gabe doesn’t have an eyepatch, so obviously we need to use Nick Stupid Fury in the movies instead (pardon my harsh language).

So my complaint is this: If Hollywood wants roles for black characters in their superhero movies (which they damn well should), just casting black people in roles that had been white is an easy way to do it. But taking actual black characters who have existed but have been ignored and giving them the time in the limelight that they so rarely get in comics would, I think, be a more worthy method. It would benefit the oft-underappreciated characters in return.

Hopefully this sort of thing will change. Captain America’s best friend, the Falcon, a black superhero dating back to 1969, is going to be in new Cap movie in a month or so. Falcon has had a better run than a lot of black heroes, but even he has never had the success of even third-tier white heroes. Maybe the movie will change that. And a movie starring the Black Panther, a black superhero dating to 1966 (and one of my top five superheroes period) is constantly being rumored. Even with my irrational distaste for any and all adaptations, I am looking forward to that. And it would be nice if these movies finally give some black characters their due.

Oh and hey, while we’re at it, maybe we should start using some of the women superheroes too. Just a thought.

(For the record, Laurence Fishburne as Perry White in Man of Steel did not bother me in the slightest. But was it my imagination or did Perry White have an earring in that movie? Perry White with an earring? That I find more disconcerting than any possible race change ever could.)