Jupiter Ascending

MV5BMTQyNzk2MjA2NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjEwNzk3MjE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Jupiter Ascending

Director: The Wachowskis (Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski)

Key Actors: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne

Synopsis: Jupiter Jones hates her life. She cleans toilets for a living and seemingly has no ambitions of her own. One day she is accosted by aliens sent to kill her but is rescued by a wolf/human hybrid in the form of Channing Tatum. She has no idea what is going on… and neither does the audience until about an hour into the film.

Overall Rating: 1/2 Star

While watching this film, I kept wondering if it would ever end. “Why? Why did I enter this theatre? This is so terrible I can’t believe I am actually here watching this happen.” Luckily I attended a matinee, but I want my $6.75 back.

This movie is awful. Do not watch it. The only good part–and the only reason I give this movie half a star–is Eddie Redmayne, who is amazing in all he does and should win an award for maintaining fantastic acting chops amidst an all around terrible movie experience.

Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of the villain Balem is chilling. He is notably soft-spoken… except when he is yelling, which is rare and therefore startling. His quiet calm makes for a more terrifying villain than a stereotypical loud and angry one. He seemed almost sickly in his quiet. Unfortunately, he was not on screen much. Alas, most of the movie was filled with stupidity, recycled sequences, and sexist archetypes.

Bechdel:  Pass. Pass with brief conversation about toilets and cleaning between Jupiter and her mother and aunt. Very compelling stuff, let me tell you.

Treatment of Women: Fail, fail, fail. Let me count the ways in which this film fails at being a good portrayal of female characters:

  1. Jupiter has no control over her destiny. New information is thrust upon her as aliens attempt to kill her. She is shuffled around and doesn’t do much. I can understand if you are presented with information about other worlds and your role in them you might at first be shocked and just want to accept it and learn more. But eventually you’ve got to use your brain and make decisions and take action, instead of just letting other people (men) do everything for you.
  2. Jupiter doesn’t do anything. Ever. She screams, runs, looks scared, simply lets things happen. It’s so typical Hollywood. Why should a female character even try? Some man will come along and fix everything, right? It’s utterly sexist and typical of the kind of female roles that exist in Hollywood. It is also sooooo boring. As a woman I watch characters like that and think, “I know no women like this. All women I know use their brains and don’t let strange men–alien or otherwise–dictate their lives or define their purposes. Do these writers know any women at all?” Eventually Jupiter defies the villain, which is good. She also kills him–sort of. Really she just beats him with a stick and a collapsing building kills him. This is after she runs around aimlessly for ten minutes while Channing Tatum skates around on his magic gravity boots.
  3. Jupiter falls in love with a stranger. Because what else can a woman do but fall in love with strangers? Never mind that he evidently has a genetic propensity to rip out the throats of royals. No biggie. That’s sexy, right?
  4. When aliens are trying to kill Jupiter as she is floating in the air for some reason. But instead of ripping the gas mask off her face she just floats there–waiting for Wolf/Human to rip it off for her. I guess this detail could technically fall under bullet two, but it was such a dumb scene. That’s really the most apt adjective: dumb. What must the interior monologue be in a situation like that? “I’m dying because this gas mask is depriving me of oxygen. AAAAAAAHHHH! But, it will be okay because hunky dude I’ve never seen before will rip it off for me. Thank goodness for hunky dude!” Maybe she was magically bound and couldn’t move her arms? I don’t know. It was amazingly dumb.

This movie is awful. I wish I could delete it from my brain. It had potential–the trailer made it look like it was a female-driven movie that was actually female-driven. But It. Is. Terrible. Just awful. I don’t think I’ve disliked a movie this much since Inside Llewyn Davis.

But I still love you Eddie Redmayne. Always.

Feminism, Film, Bechdel, and Comic Con

Hollywood's view of women.

Hollywood’s view of women.

So I went to Comic Con and I saw a room full of feminists!

This is a first for this blog: Instead of doing a review, I am writing about a film related topic that is especially pertinent to the theme of Feminist Film Reviews. I attended Salt Lake Comic Con this weekend, including a panel all about the Bechdel test.

As someone who loves film and keeps the Bechdel test and other standards in my mind as I watch film and read articles, nothing brand new was presented to me. However, this panel was a fantastic and needed addition to a convention that focuses on genres seriously lacking in female representation.

One criticism of the Bechdel test is it is so minimal. Can it really accomplish anything? Does passing the Bechdel test say anything about the quality of the film or the representations of the female characters? Honestly, the Bechdel test is incredibly minimal. All it takes to pass is two female characters with names who talk to each other about something other than a man. Simple. And no, passing doesn’t have any bearing on the quality of the film or treatment of the female characters, which is why in addition to my section on the Bechdel test in my reviews, I also discuss the overall treatment of women. But, the Bechdel test is a conversation starter. It forces you to ask, “It is so easy and seemingly intuitive to write stories that pass the Bechdel test. So why did this film fail? Why do so many fail?”

One of the major problems in Hollywood–and this was addressed in the panel–is that stories about white males are considered the default story that everyone can relate to. A white male is considered normal, while women and people of color are considered specialized or abnormal. This is obviously a problem because most people are NOT white males. It’s important to remember that all stories matter, including those of white males. But those stories are plentiful, and you can see a white male in almost any role imaginable. But those stories do not trump those of everyone else. Those stories are not representative of the overall population, and not everyone can relate to them. Unfortunately, Hollywood envisions white men as the ideal audience, despite the spending power of women and all people of color.

The panel went on to discuss the roles of women in film when there actually are female characters. One thing that often occurs is, a writer or director or whomever will include a “strong female character” and act as thought that’s enough so all those crazy feminist filmgoers should just shut up now. The problem is, one female character is not enough when women make up about 50 percent of the world population. Additionally, the “strong female character” is just as much a trope as the damsel in distress. She is still one-dimensional and exists to push the plot of the man’s story forward. She doesn’t really like other women and falls into the trap of insulting men by calling them girly or some form of that tired insult. She is basically a stereotypical sexist man in a woman’s body. The “strong female character” isn’t enough because male characters get to be strong and crazy and weak and intelligent and funny and scary and dumb and ugly and mean and kind and loving and lovable all at once, while women are confined to either being strong or weak, a virgin or a whore. Female characters are continually defined by one narrow trait. Maybe it’s considered a good trait, maybe it’s considered a bad trait–but it’s still only one.

Anyone who has been following this blog for the last two years or so that is has existed will notice that films I’ve reviewed that are written by women tend to have a more balanced story in terms of gender. This is a key observation. The panel ended with the question, “How do we make it better?” The answer: have more women writing and directing films. Generally speaking, women do not write films that cast men into one-dimensional characters who never seem to interact with other men. Instead, the representation of both genders is more balanced and nuanced. Men and women interact in non-degrading ways. Women are well-rounded characters who associate with other women and have aspirations besides getting hitched. Men are also well-developed characters with stories of their own.

We need more women writers. We need more women directors. And when a movie doesn’t do well that happens to star women, we need to stop saying it’s bad because it starred women. This is another trend in Hollywood that is completely illogical. A movie that doesn’t do well in the box office starring men is just a bad movie. But a movie that doesn’t do well in the box office starring women, is bad because it stars women! And conversely, if a movie does extremely well and happens to star women it is considered a fluke! By that logic Bridesmaids, Frozen, Gravity, Lucy, Maleficent, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Divergent are all flukes. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a lot of flukes to me.

bechdel_724196827221Ultimately, film is better when it features nuanced characters of all genders. Furthermore, films that pass the Bechdel test do better in the box office. So if Hollywood is concerned about being sexist losing profits, maybe it should collectively consider that women’s stories matter–and people are willing to pay to see them.

Author: Tamsen Maloy |

 

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.

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.

Gravity

gravity-movie-poster-closeupGravity

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Key Actors: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: Ryan Stone is a medical engineer on her first trip in space. She is working with the seasoned Matt Kowalsky, played by George Clooney. During routine work and a space walk, disaster strikes, destroying their ship and killing everyone on board. They are left adrift in space with only each other to rely on.

Overall Rating: 2.5 Stars

Gravity is a film that stands on its own. To my knowledge, there isn’t another comparable film. For most of the movie, Sandra Bullock is alone. Literally, because she is alone in space where no one can pass by and say hello. The solitude and the 3D (this is the only 3D movie I’ve seen that warrants the effect) and the emotional turmoil of the viewer is out of this world (space humor alert!).

The premise of the plot can be seen as a bit implausible. But, it’s a movie for entertainment! So take that for all it’s worth.

Bechdel: Gravity fails the Bechdel Test completely. However, there are only three characters (SPOILER ALERT!) one of whom dies within the first few minutes of the movie. Sandra Bullock is the only primary character of the film. George Clooney’s character, while imperative, is a side character who dies shortly into the film, leaving Sandra Bullock alone for the rest of the movie.

While this film fails the Bechdel Test, because Gravity is almost a one-woman show, I don’t feel it should be held to that standard. It is also important to note, that the main character in this movie is female. Not only is this film a science fiction movie, a genre usually dominated by men, it is a film with only three characters, most of whom die shortly after the film starts. This movie has all the markings of a male-lead. And yet, despite pressure from his colleagues and from within himself, director Alfonso Cuaron cast a woman instead of a man. Here is Cuaron defending his choice: ‘Gravity’ Director Defends Casting Sandra Bullock After Pressure For A Male Lead.

Gravity is also interesting in the way Bullock’s character is depicted as a real character. She isn’t a love interest. She isn’t the bumbling flirt. She isn’t the brat. She’s a brilliant medical engineer (brilliant enough to be specially trained by NASA!) with a hardened exoskeleton, the result of the death of her daughter. She suffers the gamut of emotions from fear to hopelessness to determination.

My hope for this film is that after writers, directors, and studio executives see how successful this movie has been in the box office, they will realize that female leads who are in-depth characters are not a deterrent for movie-goers. After three weeks as the top box office hit, it is obvious that female characters can bring in the ever-coveted dollar (big surprise, right?).

Unfinished Song

imagesUnfinished Song

Director: Paul Andrew Williams

Key Actors: Terence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave, Gemma Arterton, Christopher Eccleston

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: A curmudgeonly old man copes with the loss of his wife to cancer by joining a senior singing group.

Overall Rating: 3 stars

This film is a tear-jerker. And it stars Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who fans rejoice!). Overall I loved this film. It is adorable, heart-wrenching, annoying, cute, painful, hilarious. Basically it is human. And British. Have I mentioned my love for British film? This film sort of made me feel like this emotionally confused woman 

 from “Breakfast At Tiffany’s.” One minute I was laughing because a group of senior citizens was singing “Let’s Talk About Sex,” the next I am crying because Terence Stamp is telling Christopher Eccleston (father and son in the movie) he doesn’t want to see him anymore. This movie is simply lovely.

Bechdel: “Unfinished Song” passed the Bechdel, but just barely. That is its only flaw. For though it only microscopically passed the Bechdel test, women were treated as actual human beings. I really wish film would reflect that women communicate with each other frequently and about more things than men (women talk about men obviously, but we have a great many other interests besides), but in this case even though “Unfinished Song” only passed fleetingly, I am pleased to point out that the women in this movie were smart, interesting, didn’t allow themselves to be pushed around, and were all in all real people. And that is great.

The Way Way Back

large_3xdJFbNZuZKYHHlI6QNZ2RZddGxThe Way Way Back

Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

Key Actors: Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Liam James

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: An awkward 14-year-old boy spends the summer with his mom and her mega-jerk boyfriend at his beach house. As he attempts to deal with a feeling of neglect and frustration, he befriends an offbeat water park owner.

Overall Rating: 2 1/2 stars

This is the film that inspired me to start this blog. In many ways The Way Way Back is a fantastic movie. The story is compelling and approachable from a family perspective. Steve Carrell plays the mega-jerk boyfriend, a break from his normal comedy that proves his acting skills. Toni Collette stars, which for me is reason enough to see the movie. It strikes that great, heart-felt balance of humor and drama. These are all wonderful things. But this movie contains some serious flaws in view of the treatment of women, which will be detailed below.

Bechdel: The Way Way Back passes the Bechdel test, but only fleetingly. There are a few micro-conversations that give it a passing grade, but nothing to cheer about.

Treatment of Women: And now for the reasons I felt the need to start this blog. As I said before, this movie has some great qualities. However, there are some glaring problems, the first of which is the normalization of voyeurism. There is a scene in which an adult teaches the awkward 14-year-old (his name is Duncan) how to trick bikini-clad girls into waiting at the top of the slide long enough to get a nice, long look at her body. It is bad enough if a teenager is being voyeuristic to other teenage girls, but he learned it from an adult. An adult looking at teenage girls. As simple as the word is, the best adjective for this is: creepy. To expound on the word, it is menacing, threatening, female objectification, and just horribly wrong. And to top it all off, there is a scene in which after the male water park workers trick the girl, they chase her down the slide and bump into her/grab her in the pool at the end, feigning that they are falling over.

Question: when did it become okay for men to make playthings out of girls and women?

Another problem I saw was that the female characters were lacking in depth. Even Toni Collette who to me has come to be synonymous with terms like “powerhouse actress,” “carries the film,” and “has a knack for making me cry,” was for the most part a blank character. I will grant that sometimes a story requires a blank character, and I could even come up with a decent argument for why that would be the case in this particular film. But it’s Toni Collette!

And let’s not forget that the other female characters can easily be defined with one or two-word descriptors: the drunk, the flirt, the brat, and the “to kiss” girl.

What if, instead of assigning women with “filler roles” women were portrayed as the dynamic human beings we are? The good, the bad, the pretty, the ugly. It’s all real, it’s all human.

To quote Junot Diaz, “If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.”