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.)

PDR Into Darkness

Sometimes I remember that posting my opinion of movies is a perfectly valid use for a website.

So Marq and I saw the new Star Trek movie the other day. I’m going to preface this by saying that I enjoyed it. I have to clarify that because it is basically all complaining from this point on:

I’m going to try to avoid spoiling the movie, but I must say that my biggest complaint is one that I and many others predicted. I went in accepting that this was the case, so I was actually thinking for some time that I liked the way they were going about it. They’d taken what I didn’t want to see and were showing it in such a way that I thought “Hey, they’re doing it differently than I expected, so that’s good” but then it all came crashing down.

I thought the point of the whole movie time-travel reboot relaunch thing was to do things in a new way for a new generation of viewers. The cast of the new movies is definitely good enough that I want to see them doing their thing. Their own thing, specifically. Large plot points in this movie are only significant in their relation to old Star Trek stuff and I think that that is a shame. At least, I suppose, now that they’ve shot their wad for this particular plot they will get to do something new next time around (Note: I will pay Hollywood as much as Ten Canadian Dollars to make a movie based off the Frog of Fortosia).

Secondly, I know I’m just a cranky old man, but can we have movies rely just a little less on setpieces? It really takes me out of movies when I have thoughts like “Did this fight scene really need to happen on a flying car?” I fully accept that plenty of people will just say that I don’t like fun, and those people are probably correct, but I stand by it. If a fight scene is meant to have emotional importance in the narrative, you shouldn’t have to try so damn hard to dress it up and make it interesting.

Finally, I honestly hope that this is the last movie I will ever see in which someone is hanging over a ledge, clinging on for their life and at the exact second they lose their grip someone appears to grab their hand. Honestly.

There’s at least two other things I consider worthy of discussion, but they’re both give away even more of the plot, so maybe I’ll get back to those some other day.

Coming Not Soon Enough

So I said to Marq: “I bet I could convince a kid that hippos are just female rhinos.”

Though I only meant that I’d trick the kid for a conversation or so, he proceeded to plot out a brilliant scheme in which a billionaire might be able to raise a child in such a manner as to think this fact was true. He then took that to its logical conclusion: At some point, this victim would realize that something was up, and would try to escape. I decided that this is the best idea for a movie I’ve ever seen.

Just imagine it! An action-packed thrill-ride of our young protagonist careens from chase scene to chase scene, swordfights through exotic locales, and tracks down every lead to find out the truth that has been hidden so long. The truth that hippos are not just female rhinos.

Okay, Hollywood. We’re ready for millions.

Saw Some Movies

Y’know, I sometimes forget to note the minutia of my life on here, which is insane because that is the ostensible reason for this site’s existence. So here I go:

On each of the previous weekends I saw a movie. First was the Hobbit, which I watched with Kip. Secondly, Django Unchained, which I saw with Marq. If these wind up being the only movies I see this year, I will have had a good year in theatres (That scenario is entirely possible, of course, since I can’t afford to see movies. Those ones were paid for by the fine fellows I was with).


It’s Gandalf Unchained!
Coming soon to cinemas!
But your tickets now!

Apparently a local theatre recently had an incident in which a man stood up during a screening of Django and began yelling at the audience calling them sinners and such. According to what I read there were about twenty minutes left at this point. The way I see it, the timing of the outburst makes it much worse for both sides. By this late in the show, the audience really paying attention to the thing. We’re talking the climax here. An interruption at that point is not going to be well received at all. And if the guy wanted to get his message out not to watch the movie, he should have done it much earlier, so that they would have time to get out. Man, I would be so much better at creating a scene in a movie theatre than that guy.