X-Men: Days of Future Past

x-men_days-of-future-past_international-posterX-Men: Days of Future Past

Director: Bryan Singer

Key Actors: James McAvoy, Patrick Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence, Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, Ian McKellen, Ellen Page

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: In the near future, there is an outright war on mutants and humans who would help them. A new technology hunts mutants and utterly destroys them. In order to prevent the extinction of mutants and a dystopian reality, Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr send Wolverine back in time to work with their younger selves to prevent Raven from committing the murder that starts the path of destruction.

Overall Rating: 2

X-Men are great. I used to watch the cartoon when I was a child, so I usually enjoy these modern reboots. This is no exception, however, though I liked it a lot I don’t outright love it. It might be one of those films that grows on you. Maybe. I guess we’ll see. I have been baffled as to why these films have focused so much on Wolverine. Yes, he’s amazing and his bad attitude makes him a more interesting character. But he’s not the only X-men. At any rate, I do love Wolverine and while it would have been great to see more female involvement, I can understand the rationale behind sending Wolverine back in time as opposed to someone else: With his self-regeneration/rapid healing he’s literally the only one who can survive the trip. I can buy that.

Bechdel Test: But I can’t buy the failure of the Bechdel Test. There were multiple female characters with names. None spoke to each other!!!!! Why??? It’s ridiculous. It is so easy to pass and yet so few movies do! There was a scene in which Raven speaks to a female nurse about Mystique’s appearance (the nurse obviously isn’t aware that her patient is Mystique), but the nurse doesn’t have a name! Fail!

Treatment of Women: The treatment of women is decent, despite the Bechdel failure. There are many female X-men (X-women?), and we all know they are super. Ellen Page reprises her role as Kitty Pryde and orchestrates the time travel. Storm makes an appearence, as does Rogue. And of course, there’s Raven/Mystique. These are all great characters, however they could use more development. In the last two X-Men movies, Raven has had some great character development–which is fantastic. But she is one out of numerous female X-Men (X-Women?).

All in all, this is a decent comic/action flick with decent treatment of women that failed the Bechdel Test. I like this movie, and recommend seeing it. Just don’t expect any landmark gender equality.

Um... I'm just a big fan of James McAvoy. So here's a picture.

Um… I’m just a big fan of James McAvoy. So here’s a picture.

Belle

Belle_posterBelle

Director: Amma Asante

Key Actors: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Sarah Gadon, Sam Reid

MPAA Rating: PG

Synopsis: Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay is a bi-racial woman living in 18th century England. The daughter of a British Admiral and black woman, she is raised by her uncle, Chief Lord Justice Mansfield, alongside her cousin Elizabeth Murray. She is simultaneously an aristocrat and outcast.

Overall Rating: 4 Stars

This is one of those films. A historical story that makes you wonder how much is true, and how much is the imagination of the writers. Even the most basic search will tell you that a lot of what occurred in the film was not true, or at least not true in the span of years depicted in the film. Nonetheless, it is a great story and the painting that inspired it is worth the clamor.

Bechdel: Belle passed the Bechdel Test, unsurprisingly. Once again we find that when female directors and writers are involved, the movie passes. What is fantastic about this particular film is, not only did it pass, but conversations surrounded politics and life’s realities. Eighteenth century women discussing politics? No way!

Treatment of Women: The treatment of women in this film is loaded. Given that this film takes place in the 18th century, it is unsurprising that there are many horrifying aspects, such as one man refusing to marry a woman because she has no money. And the whole “coming out season” so popular at the time is stiflingly dreadful. But, that was a reality so to ignore it would be idiotic. There is a scene in which the character Elizabeth Murray explains to Dido that to be a woman is to be owned because without the security of a marriage, women are nothing. That explains well enough how women were generally treated at the time.

Despite the historical awfulness, women were treated well in this film. Belle–or Dido as she is called in the movie–is a driven, intelligent, interesting protagonist. Dido has the double-whammy of being both a woman and black in a time where even one of those traits was a disadvantage, yet she forges her own path. Dido isn’t cowed and proves as much time and again, even speaking up to the uncle who raised her–the Chief Lord Justice, I might add.

Let’s count the ways Dido rocks:

-When she stands up to her uncle

-When she defies her uncle’s wishes by researching and becoming involved in the Zong case

-When she declares, “I have a voice,” to the wretched woman who sees Dido’s skin before all else

-When she stands up for herself when an icky man gropes her

-When she sneaks out of the house to attend meetings and to spend time with Mister Davinier

-When she and her cousin are best friends, despite different backgrounds (major plot point, not just a single moment)

One of the most important details–if not the most important detail–is Dido’s fear of being painted. All her life she has seen portraits that, if they include any black subjects, feature black people as subservient, always looking wonderingly at the glorious white subjects. So when her uncle decides to have Dido’s and Elizabeth’s portrait done, she is terrified. In the end, the two cousins are painted as equals, both in affection and status. Thus the inspiration for the film, for this painting is one aspect of the film that is absolutely real.

Overall, this is a great film. There were multiple times while I watched that I thought, “That is absolutely disgusting,” in reference to a racist or sexist conversation taking place. While those moments are infuriating and heartrending, they teach lessons we need to always remember. And it is absolutely wonderful to see a film depicting a female character whose worth is not reduced to her body or sex appeal.

dido_elizabeth_belle_custom-183cb3bd4f3bec0511a175e01856bf80dc2b9236-s6-c30

Painting that inspired the film

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

TWS_Captain_America_PosterCaptain America: The Winter Soldier

Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Key Actors: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: Post Avengers, this film picks up the story of Steve Rogers–Captain America. Living in Washington D.C. and working for S.H.I.E.L.D, he is adapting to life as a man in his nineties who missed the last seventy years. He struggles with the lack of transparency within S.H.I.E.L.D and eventually has to divine what is truth, what is lies, and who are the real enemies–including one in the form of an old friend.

Overall Rating: 3 1/4 Stars

I must confess, I’m pretty excited about this movie. Captain America is one of my favorites of the plethora of Marvel reboots in the last several years. Steve Rogers is an amazing hero and I think Iron Man is absolutely wrong when he says without a serum, Captain America is nothing. Come on! Why was Steve Rogers chosen to be injected with that serum? Because the serum escalates what already exists. Steve Rogers pre-serum is an upstanding good guy who just doesn’t like bullies. Amplified, he’s a great hero! But I digress.

Captain America is my preferred hero: Honest, brave, genuinely just wants to do the right thing. He doesn’t crave glory or attention. He just doesn’t like bullies. He is so honorable, he can’t bring himself to kill his old friend turned assassin, Bucky, despite that the Winter Soldier is desperately trying to kill him. Love. It.

Bechdel: While this movie had many(ish) great depictions of women (more on that below), it did not pass the Bechdel test. While there are multiple female characters in this movie–none of whom are true romantic interests for Captain America or other male characters–they never talk to each other.

I am continually baffled by the trend of female characters not talking to each other. At best, writers genuinely think women don’t interact (not true–we interact ALL THE TIME!) and at worst, writers want to believe (or actually believe) that women are only useful/interesting/valuable/necessary when interacting with men (also not true).

When will the majority of Hollywood writers realize that humans interact with humans constantly–male, female, white, black, brown, etc., etc.? Seriously, though. It would not have been hard for Black Widow and Agent Hill to have even one conversation (preferably more than one). They were in the same room at the same time a few times, so why not talk to each other? Uggghhhh… Moving on to the good stuff.

Treatment of Women: While this movie failed the Bechdel test as far as women interacting and communicating, there were at least five female characters with names who were pretty amazing. Black Widow featured, of course (when is she getting a movie? She’s been in so many Marvel films, isn’t it about time we get to know her story?), in addition to Agent Hill (played by Cobie Smulders), Agent 13/Kate (played by Emily VanCamp), and Councilwoman Hawley (played by Jenny Agutter). There was also a brief appearance by Hayley Atwell who reprised her role as Peggy Carter.

While Peggy Carter and Councilwoman Hawley made only brief appearances, they were still amazing characters. We know from the first Captain America how great Peggy Carter is. And while Councilwoman Hawley, might be the only woman on the S.H.I.E.L.D council, she is still a powerhouse.

Black Widow, as we are all aware, is one of the most amazing female characters in the thus-far film adaptations of the Marvel universe. She kicks butt, is not present just to be a romantic interest, she’s brilliant, she seems to have a complicated yet fascinating past (come on Black Widow movie!), and she can stand on her own. While the movie poster for this film was rather stupid as concerns Black Widow (who stands like that? Come on poster design people!), and the film just had to include a few instances of Captain America saving Black Widow at the last minute, it can’t be denied when all is said and done she is an independent female character who would probably still be okay without Captain America.

Agent 13 is equally cool. She is assigned to protect Captain America. She is his neighbor and an employee of S.H.I.E.L.D, unbeknownst to the Cap and puts herself into action like nobody’s business! Probably the best part is when Hydra is attempting to launch the deathly hovercrafts, right after Captain America has just disclosed the Hyrda infiltration to S.H.I.E.L.D via intercom, Agent 13 stands up and defends a worker bee who really doesn’t know how to fight. Said worker bee stands up to Hydra, refusing to launch the hovercrafts, but he can’t really defend himself beyond that. Agent 13, who is working nearby and is trained in combat, stands up and defends worker bee, initiating the full blown rebellion against Hydra.

Agent Hill is the brainy assistant to Nick Fury. She is one of his most trusted confidantes, is always in the know, and seems to be the brains behind operating many missions. While Captain America and his associates might do the actual fighting, Agent Hill is the needed all-seeing eye behind the operation. And we know from The Avengers how great of an agent she really is.

Overall, this movie is amazing. It failed the Bechdel test, but despite that, women were not there just to look pretty. And can I just say how awesome Falcon is? The first time he took flight I exclaimed (loudly) at how cool it was.

Author: Tamsen Maloy |

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

imagesThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Director: Ben Stiller

Key Actors: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Shirley MacLaine

MPAA Rating: PG

Synopsis: Walter Mitty is a dreamer who frequently “zones out,” as his sister calls it. He had ambitions of travel and adventure in his youth, which were derailed by the early death of his father. When an important photograph goes missing on his watch at Life magazine, he must travel the globe to find the photographer and see if he can find the original film.

Overall Rating: 2 Stars

I was skeptical of this film simply because I have a thing against remakes and can you really do better than Danny Kaye? But I saw this film anyway (late in the game) because everyone said it was amazing! There is much about this film to love. The opening credits are clever and interesting. It has great moments of humor. Ben Stiller is lovable. The notion that you should live life instead of dream about it is a good reminder to us all. While I think some of Walter Mitty’s daydreams are more dumb than funny, this film is light, inspiring, fun, and interesting to watch. But then we get into how the women fared in this film.

Bechdel: This film may have passed the Bechdel–just barely. There is a brief scene where Walter Mitty’s mom and sister discuss his sister’s newly landed role as Rizzo in a production of “Grease.”

Treatment of Women: This is where this movie ultimately fails. To start, Kristin Wiig’s character serves only to inspire Walter. He doesn’t know her, but you can bet he is in love with her and dreams about her. It is because of a daydream about her telling him in song he can do it that he even dares hop onto a helicopter manned by a drunken pilot. It is because of her that he even goes to Greenland in the first place because she told him to go to where the photographer last was. And then there is the part where she thinks she’s boring him because he is zoning out daydreaming about her instead of being with her in real life. It is a good idea to actually be in the present with the people you claim to love so much. Just a thought.

Second, there are so many side characters in this film that could easily have been cast as women but were instead cast as men, meaning there were only five women in the entire film, two of whom didn’t have names and were onscreen for no more than a few minutes. A woman could have been cast as the helicopter pilot or the eHarmony employee or the person who rescues Walter from the volcano or the photographer or the jerk-face company takeover guy or jerkface’s cronies or Walter’s assistant or any of the crew on the ship. So many opportunities! Yet none were taken. This might be a movie about adventure and inspiration, but it is mostly a movie about men going on adventures, while the women inspire and make sure wallets aren’t thrown away.

Third, that bike scene. Of all the reasons in the world for a group of men to race for the only bicycle in Iceland, the writers of this film had to choose a group of horny men who wanted to go to the strip club, complete with the infamous and icky “feel her up” hand gesture. That choice is not creative, not clever, is incongruent with the tone of the film, and is incredibly sexist. Besides furthering the notion that women only serve to inspire men and be sex objects for men, this plot choice also serves to further the false idea that all men are slaves to sex and all men are fine with groping and objectifying women. These lies need to stop.

In short, this film is complicated for me. On the one hand there were so many details I loved! But on the other hand it is typical of so many of the problems facing women in film today. I can’t wholly recommend it, but I can’t wholly hate it either.

Bonus question: Why were there people playing soccer at an altitude that was supposed to be high enough that even walking is difficult, in an area that was supposed to be remote enough for the snow leopard to dwell?

Inside Llewyn Davis

MV5BMjAxNjcyNDQxM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzU2NDA0MDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Inside Llewyn Davis

Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Key Actors: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman

MPAA Rating: R

Synopsis: Inside Llewyn Davis a follows folk singer by the name of the title of the film in 1961 New York City. Davis struggles to make it as a musician as well as to maintain friendships. Other than that, there is not much of a plot. There are, however, a few cute cats (I love cats) and a brief appearance by Bob Dylan.

Overall Rating: 1/2 Star

I guarantee many (most) people will argue me on this, but Inside Llewyn Davis is a horrible movie. There is no point to this movie. It is two hours of angry people being angry at the world and each other, saying horrible things to each other. There is no recognizable story. There is no central conflict. (Leading a difficult life does not a central conflict make in a story.) I think this is going to be one of those movies everyone loves outwardly, but mostly only because it has the stamp of The Coen Brothers and people would feel “uncool” for not liking it. Is that rude? Probably. But there are movies/books/TV shows like that–media that don’t deserve the attention or appreciation they receive but garner it because for some inexplicable reason people “have” to like it. In fact, I saw this movie with my family and as we left the theatre we discussed the film and I was reminded of this scene from 500 Days of Summer:

I think “grasping at straws” is the phrase that applies here.

Also, I read on the giant poster outside the theater that this movie (or was it the poster?) was based on the cover of Bob Dylan’s album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. To use a Millennial colloquialism: Just no.

Here is how I feel about “artsy” films: Artsy films are great. I love artsy films. But there still has to be a point and a plot, etc.

Bechdel: Fail, fail, fail. There are two female characters in this movie. But they never even enter the same room let alone speak to each other. Just another vision of women in film only existing for the men.

Treatment of women: Where do I begin? How about with that Carey Mulligan’s character seemed only to exist for sex? By the end of the film you know of at least three men who have had sex with her character. And that is the only “value” her character provides. As a woman, it is beyond tiresome to watch movie after movie include women merely as sex objects, sex characters, or objects of desire. Seriously, what world do these male writers live in that they think women are only for sex?

And that is not to mention that Mulligan’s character is an accomplished singer but as she performs other characters don’t comment on her ability, but instead on how much they’d like to have sex with her. This movie is a serious fail for women.

And finally, a different female performer sings while the main character shouts obscenities at her and asks to see her panties. Do I need to go on? It isn’t enough that this movie has no plot, is painful to watch, and made me wish I had the ability to fall asleep in theaters. It also had to contain obscene sexism.

Maybe I should reduce my half star to zero stars? The acting is good. And the music is excellent. Do those two things warrant half a star when the rest is despicable? I guess I can throw this film a bone and include the half star. But it is grudgingly.

Thor: The Dark World

THURS_003B_G_ENG-GB_70x100.inddThor: The Dark World

Directors: Alan Taylor, James Gunn

Key Actors: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: Some time after the Avengers’ battle in New York, and two years after the happenings in the first Thor movie, this story depicts Thor’s return to planet earth in order to protect Jane, who found herself crossing worlds through a scientific jibber-jabber I was not clear on (sorry). Thor faces Malekith who wants the power of the aether, a mythological substance that would give him absolute power over the nine realms.

Overall Rating: 1 1/2 – 2 Stars

Honestly, I only went to Thor 2 because Christopher Eccleston is in it. Though I was pleasantly surprised (even with Christopher Eccleston I expected this film to be mostly drudgery) it is still merely “meh.” You see, I have this thing against sequels. And when there are a gazillion (actual count) sequels for male superheroes while there is not even one movie dedicated to Wonder Woman, Storm, Black Widow/Natalia Romanova, or a decent rendition of Cat Woman, my exasperation with sequels merely compounds. And there really wasn’t enough Christopher Eccleston in this movie. He was the main antagonist! Why wasn’t there more Eccleston? That guy is truly a marvel (ha ha, get it?) and it seemed to me that there were more shots of his stunt double than there were of Eccleston.

However, Loki is incredible. He really made the movie. Loki is the only reason I rated this film 1 1/2 – 2 stars instead of only 1 1/2 stars. Tom Hiddleston. Well, geez he’s great. Loki is so evil and by far the best character (not just because he’s evil). He’s clever, manipulative. You never really know what he’s thinking. Can Thor really trust him? You just don’t know! It’s great! And to think, F. Scott Fitzgerald playing an evil master of illusion. Loki is reason enough to see this movie.

Bechdel: I have to admit, I was surprised this movie passed the Bechdel Test. I think most superhero movies fail completely. However, Jane’s intern Darcy (played by Kat Dennings) is full of spunk and they discuss science (What??? Female characters discussing science? Now way!) among other things. In addition, Thor’s mother Frigga (Rene Russo) and Jane converse about self-defense. To sum up, this movie had three whole female characters with names who talked to each other about something (anything!) besides men. Quite unusual for superhero movies.

However, despite passing the Bechdel Test, it is quite apparent that Jane’s life is pretty much about Thor. Sure, she’s a brilliant scientist. But she pretty much cried for two years while Thor was away. Do male writers really think that’s what women do when the men we love go away? Spend years crying? Sorry. That’s just not how it works.

Thor: The Dark World really is just “meh,” even despite Tom Hiddleston. I just found it overall boring, thus am late posting this review. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to review it because I found it so overall dull. The real question is, is it dull because it is actually dull? Or is it dull because superhero movies are far too common anymore, especially sequels, and I have lost interest (except, apparently, in Loki. Can Loki have his own movie?)? And then there was the scene where Jane was floating in the air and I thought, “Wait. Did I somehow stumble into the movie version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince?” (Harry Potter fans, think cursed necklace.)

This movie wasn’t without its good bits, however. Stellan Skarsgard is quite hilarious. His portrayal of Erik Selvig is fun and great. Example: He thinks better when he’s not wearing pants.

And here’s a parting shot of Loki.

Loki

Loki

Wadjda

Image

Look at those Converse!

Wadjda

Director: Haifaa Al-Mansour

Key Actors: Waad Mohammad, Reem Abdullah, Ahd

MPAA Rating: PG

Synopsis: Wadjda is a young girl in Saudi Arabia. She is a trouble-maker who decides she wants to buy a bike–something girls aren’t supposed to do in Saudi Arabia. In order to earn the money for her bike, she enters a Koran memorization contest.

Overall Rating: 4 Stars

Wadjda is one of the best movies I have seen of late, whether in the theatre or at home. Wadjda the character is someone probably many of us can relate to: who hasn’t wanted to do something that everyone else says we shouldn’t? However, because this is a Saudi Arabian film about a Saudi Arabian girl living in Saudi Arabian, it is also completely otherworldly for my Western mentality. It makes you ask questions. “Is this an accurate reflection of daily life for Saudi women?” “Are girls really supposed to only touch the Koran with a tissue if they’re on their periods?” “Where’s a good ethnography about Saudi Arabian culture?” (That last one might just be me.)

There are many moments, when watching this film, where someone used to a Western culture cringes. Even with my cultural relativism in place, it is still hard to watch a husband leave his wife because she cannot bear anymore children.

Bechdel: Once again, a movie written and directed by a woman passes the Bechdel Test perfectly. And some. I’m beginning to notice a trend…

Wadjda and her mother talk about many, many things. Bikes, food, music, party dresses, transportation. And there was that fascinating (to me) moment when Wadjda told her mother that her school now wanted her to wear the full head attire to school. It was a sign that Wadjda is growing into a woman. Their relationship–like many mother/daughter relationships–was very up and down. But ultimately, they love each other and talk about everything.

Wadjda also converses with her school principal frequently. Usually Wadjda is being reprimanded. But on occasion they speak because Wadjda is progressing so well in her Koran memorization.

Wadjda is a tremendous film. I absolutely love it and want to buy it today but it is not yet on DVD. It is an amazing film just in its own right, but it is interesting to note that even in light of recent protests about the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia submitted it for Foreign Language Academy Award. What good, good news.

And just for a little bit more information, here is an article about the film and director.