What If

What_If_poster-e1400099630508What If

Director: Michael Dowse

Key Actors: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Synopsis: Due to his previous girlfriend’s knack for cheating, Wallace has developed a keen attitude of cynicism when it comes to love, romance, and relationships. But all that starts to change when he meets Chantry, a girl he falls in love with only to find she’s already in a serious relationship. They become good friends, but this film explores the question of, “Can two people be just friends if one of them is romantically interested in the other?”

Overall Rating: 4 Stars

What If is refreshing. It is an independent romantic comedy and is blissfully absent the manic pixie dream girl. I love love love LOVE this movie. This film made me laugh and giggle, it made me love love, it made me speculate about the reality of love instead of the fabricated perfections that exist in so many romantic comedies. In many ways, this is the perfect romantic comedy. 

Bechdel Test: What If passed the Bechdel Test, which is unusual in a modern romantic comedy. In the film, Chantry and Wallace are best friends so naturally they spend a lot of time together. What is unusual is Wallace probably spends more time talking about the opposite sex than does Chantry. Chantry talks about her boyfriend and talks about Wallace. But she also talks about her career, food, art. Normal stuff. And she discusses it with her sister and two other friends. Oh, and her boss who is a woman. This film is an excellent example of female characters having other interests besides dating. 

Treatment of Women: Like I said before, What If is refreshing. This holds true for the general treatment of women. SPOILER ALERT: Chantry loves her job as an animator. She loves it so much she turns down a promotion because it would detract from the time she actually gets to spend animating. However, the person who is given the promotion botches the job so Chantry is offered the job again. She decides to take it and moves to Taiwan… despite Wallace’s eventual declaration of his love for her following her breakup with her boyfriend. She chooses her career and it is Wallace who follows her to Taiwan, instead of the typical female-character-chooses-guy-over-once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity one finds in several rom-coms.

I’m a big fan of this movie and want to go see it again. I like how funny it is. I like how it’s not a typical rom-com. I like how when Wallace messes up big time, instead of Chantry falling for it she gets mad, and Wallace recognizes it was wrong and doesn’t try to excuse himself. I like the simple silly and sweet moments. What If is a romantic comedy done right. 

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.

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Painting that inspired the film

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.

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?).