Les Innocentes

Les Innocentes

les_innocentes

Director: Anne Fontaine

Writer: Pascal Bonitzer

Les Innocentes isn’t an easy film to watch, but it touches on something so honest and true and forgotten–and that is rape during and after wartime.

Rape and war go hand-in-hand. And, no, that doesn’t only apply to the “enemy,” whoever the “enemy” is to you. Every military is guilty of rape. But when we discuss the costs of war–the money, the resources, the life (all of which are important things to discuss)–we tend to skip over the heavy occurrence of rape.

It’s not surprising, given our overall cultural climate of rape acceptance and rape doubt. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who literally says, “Rape? Who cares?” But, that is in essence what we say when we doubt rape reports, blame the victim, worry about the impact a sentence will have on a convicted rapist’s well-being, and teach women from a young age that it is their duty to prevent rape.

Les Innocentes takes place in Poland post-WWII and is based on actual events. A female doctor with the French Red Cross is shown to a convent (in secret) where she finds at least seven nuns are pregnant. Months prior, Russian soldiers had invaded the convent and raped the nuns. As a result, many were pregnant and all were living in trauma.

The nuns ask the doctor to help with pre-natal care and deliver the babies when they’re due, but all in secret–if the local community found out nuns were pregnant it would be the end of the convent.

Besides being a film that meets the standards for a quality and good movie, it is important because it discusses an experience that is uniquely feminine. Men certainly are raped, and that is a vital topic for discussion. However, when women are raped a resulting pregnancy is something that seems to be only discussed in hushed voices, or in the context of ludicrous unscientific claims that a “true rape” won’t result in pregnancy.

This film accomplishes much in the way of storytelling, acting, directing, and costume. But for me, the most important part of this movie is that it brought out of the shadows a topic we can’t afford to ignore. War and rape travel together, and pregnancy certainly follows. It is dark and it continues today. Bringing that darkness to light, however, can help to change the culture and sever the ties that bind war and rape.

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Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Star Wars. How do I begin to write about Star Wars? How about with this:

First of all, I LOVED The Force Awakens. I have to admit I’m not a die hard Star Wars fan and find the original Star Wars only moderately interesting. I don’t think the writing or character development is that great and I never really got into them much. But The Force Awakens fills me with Nerd-topia and Hollywood thrill.

I should mention before continuing that this blog post is full of spoilers. Full! I am writing this for people who have seen the movie or don’t care about spoilers.

SPOILERS AHEAD

SPOILERS AHEAD

SPOILERS AHEAD

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterWhile I did love this movie, I want to discuss a few disappointments before moving on to gushing about everything I loved.

First, why isn’t Leia a Jedi? That she isn’t a Jedi is a magnificent failure in story writing. Return of the Jedi completely sets it up so that Leia could become a Jedi as well as Luke, and yet about 30 years later, she still isn’t. The force is still strong in the Skywalker family whether she’s trained as a Jedi or not, thus her immediate knowledge of Han Solo’s death, but she still isn’t an actual Jedi.

A friend of mine used the above incident as fuel for the possibility that Leia is a Jedi, but the opening rollout and characters throughout the movie reference Luke as the last Jedi, thus Leia is definitely not a Jedi. I think this is a major missed opportunity on the part of the writers. There is absolutely no reason Leia shouldn’t be a trained Jedi. I guess we’ll see what the next movies bring to the storyline in regards to Leia and the force, nonetheless not writing Leia as a Jedi is, I think, a ridiculous departure from what Return of the Jedi left us.

I have heard a few people say that Leia isn’t a Jedi simply because Carrie Fisher wouldn’t be up to portraying a Jedi. To this I say bunk. In movies there are people whose job it is to be a stunt and/or body double. Movie Magic has ways to carry on the Silver Screen illusion regardless of the actor’s health or age.

Leia should be a Jedi, end of story.

Second, although this film is progressive in terms of female representation, it just isn’t as balanced as one would wish. There are bunch of side characters in this film, especially in terms of The Resistance and fighter pilots. I can’t recall there being any women in that group of fighter pilots. There were many pilots so my memory could be failing on that point, but even if there were one or two, there were enough men in that group that it drowned out the women. I recall flashes of women in uniform with the First Order, so it’s not a total loss. But I won’t be satisfied until your average movie has 50-50 gender ratio.

Third, it seemed a bit uninspired that once again the task of the resistance was to blow up a planet-sized ship that had the capability of destroying other planets. It wasn’t exactly the same, but I kept thinking that I’d already seen that conflict in the older Star Wars.

Now, onto the good stuff!

Let’s start with the obvious that Rey is on her way to becoming a Jedi! Not only that, she’s a fantastic character. Rey is smart, possibly a better pilot than Han Solo, has a good heart as far as I can tell thus far, and is strong enough in the force that she starts to figure it out before anyone tells her to use it.

One of my favorite moments was when the First Order comes to Jakku on the hunt for BB8 and Finn keeps grabbing Rey’s hand and running. Instead of going along with that tired movie detail, she yells, “Stop taking my hand!”

We’ve seen it time and again, the hunky hero rescuing the damsel in distress by grabbing her hand and running. Besides making no sense because it’s much harder to run holding hands, it’s also incredibly patronizing and overdone. I salute the writer who opted to point out the ridiculousness of this plot device in a high-profile release. So much love.

Rey had so many great moments:

Rey resisting Ben’s (I’m going to call him Ben) mind control and learning his deepest fear.

Rey summoning the Skywalker light saber, bypassing Ben’s summons.

Rey choosing to protect BB8 in lieu of using him for extra food portions.

Rey fixing (or rather, semi-fixing) the Millennium Falcon.

Rey beating the crap out of the goons who try to take BB8.

She’s a regular hero is Rey.

Another great character is Finn. Finn was raised to be a mindless, conformist Stormtrooper but makes the decision to leave the First Order. His journey to self-discovery is humorous, poignant, and adds an unthought of humanity to the faceless stormtroopers.

I have to give a shoutout to Maz Kanata. She is one voice of wisdom in the galaxy and I’m excited to see what else she brings to the table in future movies (I hope she’s not just a one-time character).

Han and Leia. Their story breaks my heart but their reunion really hit it home. I don’t want to imagine them being apart for so many years only to be reunited for a short time.

Leia is still a snarky and commanding leader while Han remains the haughty but lovable pilot. Besides the obvious devastating gap in their relationship, they are everything I could hope they’d be.

Overall, The Force Awakens is well-written, entertaining, makes you feel all the emotions, and leaves you hungry for more. I want to go see it again while it’s still in theaters. There is plenty more to say about it, but 1,000 words is probably enough for one movie.

But on a parting note, I have to say something about “Strong Female Characters.” Often people will tell me I should go see a movie because it stars a “Strong Female Character.” The problem with the SFC is it is still a trope and isn’t enough. I want parity in my stories and I want diversity in what female characters are allowed to be. Strong is a fine adjective. But if the only options for female characters are strong or a stand-in for a lamp, we still have a long way to go before film is granting women the opportunities we deserve.

Rey will likely be called a “Strong Female Character” and she certainly is that. But she is also lost and confused and uncertain and funny and brave and a whole host of other things. What makes a good character–male or female–is being well-developed. Having one “strong” female while the rest are absent or underwritten doesn’t solve the sexism that is in Hollywood. We need Rey but we need more of that kind of writing. One awesome female character amidst a sea of amazing male characters is a start, it isn’t the end.

Rape as a Plot Device

The_Gift_2015_Film_Poster1I just saw the new movie The Gift. In short, I detest it. I thought it was entertaining and decently startling for a thriller but the ending completely ruined it for me. Why? Because the oh-so-clever writers thought the best way to end the film was with rape as a plot device.

For anyone interested in seeing this movie, just know I am about to completely ruin it with spoilers, so beware. To start we have a husband and wife who move into a new home and shortly after encounter someone from the husband’s past. As it turns out, the husband was a horrendous bully in high school and this person was his victim. The lesson of this film is: Don’t be a bully because your victim might show up later in life and rape your wife. That is the short explanation of what happens in this movie. There is ambiguity as to whether or not a full blown rape occurred, but the wife is drugged and certainly violated. She later has a baby and there is a question of if the child is her husband’s or her husband’s former victim.

This is disgusting on many levels. First, the assumed rape and question of the paternity of the child is presented as something done to the husband, not the wife. Revenge is taken on the spouse of the bully but portrayed as revenge on the bully himself.

Second, rape in a story is another way to put women and the female characters we play in the role of victim, property, damsel in distress, object, etc. Are there stories wherein rape is an essential part of the tale and in which the inclusion of such a storyline is presented tastefully and respectfully? Sure. But in the case of The Gift and many other movies, rape is just a cheap and easy way to put female characters in their place. It’s a crass device that often depicts women as powerful only if they were violated and thus angered enough to become powerful, instead of being powerful in their own right. And in the case of The Gift it is a way to hurt the man in the story–never mind that it was the woman who was violated.

As for skill in writing, using rape as a plot device is just plain lazy. It isn’t creative, it lacks depth. It’s an easy way out.

As a woman who loves film, I tire of this kind of storytelling. I want to see movies with female characters who are dynamic and interesting. Characters who move in the story for their own purposes instead of merely for the benefit of or consumption by the male characters. I want to see writing that Is excellent and equitable.

Besides the twisted inclusion of rape in The Gift, the relationship between husband and wife is one of manipulation, lies, paternalism, and more bullying. It is a stale depiction of husband as commander and wife as subservient. For every film with what I might call a female character with depth, there are countless other films where women are mere props, objectified and seen only through the lens of men.

There is no excuse for this kind of writing. And yet, it persists. It is so common and accepted that when a woman is raped on screen, it isn’t really questioned. There seems to be a subconscious attitude that says, “Of course, of course. It makes sense she is being raped because she is a woman. What else could happen?” People aren’t necessarily going around saying this aloud. However, the presence of rape and objectification is so commonplace, it must be accepted on some level by viewers and writers alike. Why else would it be so prevalent, and without outcry from editors, directors, producers, viewers?

The change can happen but it must start with us: writers, viewers, directors, all of us. It is unacceptable to continue these kinds of representations in film. So let’s make the change.

Mad Max: Fury Road

I’m breaking from my typical review format with Mad Max: Fury Road because this film is an all around different beast of a movie.

I think the first priority is to give a shoutout to my boy Marcus (also known as Nicholas Hoult). To “About A Boy” fans, watching little Marcus grow from the adorable awkward little kid he was into a truly superb actor is a great experience. Just look at how far he has come:

Nicholas Hoult as Marcus in 2002's About A Boy.

Nicholas Hoult as Marcus in 2002’s About A Boy.

Nicholas Hoult in Mad Max: Fury Road

Nicholas Hoult in Mad Max: Fury Road

You go, Nicholas Hoult.

Moving on.

As of my writing this, “Mad Max: Fury Road” has brought in $24.6 million. This is significant because it is arguable that “Max Max: Fury Road” is a women’s liberation smash hit. This is a Hollywood movie wherein the major plot line is liberating a group of women from being “breeders,” or in other words sex slaves. And who headed this liberation? A kick-ass woman named Imperator Furiosa played by Charlize Theron. For a movie coming out of Hollywood, this is a big deal.

MM-Main-Poster“Mad Max: Fury Road” wasn’t without its flaws in terms of female representation. The “breeders” were scantily clad, making them appear as eye candy. This kind of costume design is not only lacking in creativity, it is troublesome because women are more likely than men to appear in movies naked or nearly naked. This inequality can lead to female objectification and feeds rape culture, as well as the notion that women in film are there merely to look a certain way and appeal to the male gaze.

However, in the case of “Mad Max,” these scantily clad sex slaves didn’t just sit around waiting for Mad Max and Furiosa to save the day. They helped create their own destinies. Watching the movie I was taken aback by this. From the trailer, Charlize Theron looked like a great character but Hollywood is so terrible at female representation and portrayal that I was shocked to see a group of women fighting for their own lives instead of waiting for other people to save their lives for them.

And that’s not all.

“Mad Max” also included a group of older women who helped with the rescue. They were smart, strong, and badass. The only downside was additional female nudity portrayed as a trap (it was unclear for whom the trap was set). I did not find this nudity necessary so I think it only added to the inequality in film.

“Mad Max” has some typical Hollywood issues in terms of female representation. There were some cheesy and unbelievable moments, such as when faced with an entire harem of armed women a metal-masked and chained Mad Max still managed to beat them in a fight. That was utter nonsense. But, overall I think “Mad Max” was a win for women in Hollywood.

Furiosa is fantastic. All female characters fought for their own and had depth. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is primarily female driven, despite the title implying it is about a man. Overall it wasn’t my favorite movie. But in terms of a step forward for women in film, I think “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a vital addition to Hollywood’s repertoire.

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.

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.