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.

Jupiter Ascending

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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 |

 

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