Maleficent Leading Ladies

Whilst the Brothers’ Grimm are undoubtedly among history’s greatest storytellers, their stories proffer traditional gender roles. Sleeping Beauty is one such story that promotes a pretty archaic view of women by today’s standards. Maleficent, the remake of Sleeping Beauty is thus a strange place to seek a feminist manifesto, but that is exactly what I found whilst watching it. The movie is far from good, but it does take the original story and inject some much needed feminist-revisionst flavour. My male movie buddy, whilst agreeing that the movie was terrible, failed to understand why I was so excited to see the fairytale flipped and a strong, multifaceted female character as the lead in a movie. This led to a ‘heated debate’, some dangerous ideas and me pondering the archetypal woman in the wee hours of the morning.

Sleeping BeautyMy aforementioned movie buddy kept insisting that many movies have strong female leads (citing Frozen, Salt and numerous rom-coms as his evidence) and generally arguing that people prefer to watch men in save-the-world-superman-type roles as males are physically the stronger sex and it’s therefore more realistic (particularly for comic-book heroes). I huffed and puffed and…went home to do some research.

Did you know there’s a thing called the Bechdel test? I didn’t. It basically tests to see if a movie has two named female characters who talk to each other at some point about anything other than a man. I initially thought this is setting the bar ridiculously low, however to my surprise (and disappointment) the majority of top-grossing films do not pass. Yes, you read that correctly, the majority do not pass. The entire Star Wars series, the Lord of the Rings trilogy (including the Hobbit), and all but one film in the Harry Potter series fail. In The Empire Strikes Back, Princess Leia is the only named women in the galaxy and is the love interest of both male protagonists, Han and Luke. For all of Leia’s strengths and progressive leadership dialogue, she spends an awful lot of time getting saved or kissed. Make of that what you will.

More recently, despite being nominated for best picture this year both The Wolf of Wall Street and Her fail and the only reason American Hustle passed is due to a 10 second conversation between Jennifer Lawrence and Elisabeth Röhms characters about nail polish. You might be surprised that other hit movies such as Avatar, The AvengersThe Social Network, The Lone Ranger and Run Lola Run (despite Lola being considered one of the more well rounded female characters ever put to film) also fail. Yet, when you reverse the criteria and perform the Bechdel test on male characters, it is almost impossible to find a movie that doesn’t pass.

Possibly even more worrying however, is that in movies where females have a role (leading or not), they play to an archetype being either the innocent virgin maiden, the temptress or the evil witch. Most often, it is a male hero who drives the storyline while his female opposite has already been branded as a sinner or saint, Madonna or whore – according to her moral sins or virtues. The hero however is free to be complex and flawed whilst he navigates these archetypal women.

WonderWoman

Briefly going back to comic book movies, which my movie buddy was staunch in defending, it is interesting to note that whilst the likes of Batman, Spiderman and Superman have been rebooted numerous times, Wonderwoman and Catwoman have not. Again, the majority of these stories utilise the saving of the ‘damsel in distress’ to show the heroes worth. In many cases, a single man saves the known universe whilst all that is good and pure is symbolically embodied by the rescue of the single virgin/Princess Leia character who cannot fend for herself. Basically, a woman who is anything other than a love interest, who needs rescuing (or a sexual conquest in the case of Bond) is considered progressive, much like the ‘feline fatale’ Catwoman was when she first appeared in 1940 (she only had to wait 64 years to get her own movie). It’s interesting to note that Bob Kane, the creator of Catwoman said this:

I felt that women were feline creatures and men were more like dogs. While dogs are faithful and friendly, cats are cool, detached and unreliable…cats are hard to understand as women are…You always need to keep a women at arms length. We don’t want anyone taking over our souls, and women have a habit of doing that.

I’m not calling for existing super heroes to change genders, but is it so impossible to imagine they become involved in differing and more creative story lines? Why not have Mary Jane help Spiderman save the world rather than be the one in need of saving, or invent a new female superhero to join the Avengers? Is it really such a radical idea?

According to an analysis of 2013’s fifty most successful blockbusters, films with a better balance of women made more money overall, so there is a strong audience for such changes in film to occur.
Whilst I’d agree with my movie buddy that women’s roles in film have gradually changed, what is important here is not the exception to the rule, but the dominant rule itself. Old ideas are given weight through repetition, until over time they come to form popular notions about the essential human struggle. Yes, Maleficent was more well-intentioned than accomplished but it was at least original and went against tradition; a rare feat it should be applauded for.

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The don’t occupy Gotham movement. Or maybe do. I’m not sure.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the final Batman in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy has been released. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard about it. Marketing for the movie has only been prolific, having posters plastered everywhere and a viral social media campaign. No biggie.

Now staying true to the pop culture fan I pretend to be, I went to see the movie on it’s opening day. And given my new found inability to do things without telling the world about them, you get to find out all about it. Lucky you!

Now right from the get go and before the haters start sending me death threats, I want to say that the movie was enjoyable. Or, I at least didn’t hate it. I didn’t really love it either. To be honest after sitting through what felt like the longest movie in history my mind went to jelly and I couldn’t remember my name, let alone form an opinion on the movie. Maybe that was Nolan’s strategy?

Unlike ‘The Dark Knight’ where the antecedent was 9/11, the antecedent in ‘Dark Knight Rises’ was the financial crisis. A much more confusing and less dramatic event, which lead to a much more confusing and less dramatic movie. So much was going on at once that if you understood half of it (specifically, not generally) then you’re doing quite well.

Hovering in a mediocre middle ground, the movie never rises, but it doesn’t falter either. The plot mainly centers around a nuclear device that Bane (the bad guy) and his army steal and then threaten to blow up New York Gotham with. There are also other obscure plot lines, various character stories and lengthy explanations about everything in there too. But it’ll probably be easier if you see the movie, rather than have me try to explain it. Besides, I didn’t understand half of it anyway.
Ow and in the midst of all this chaos an odd sort of Occupy movement kind of took place. Except it was portrayed in such a way that overall it was against an anarchy and the 99 percent. All whilst disguising itself and pretending it was for the 99 percent. This was all happening at the 2 hour point in the movie and I was getting hungry so didn’t really pay enough attention to understand. Basically I think the movie was trying to be political. But what political message it was sending is open to interpretation.

For long stretches of the movie, there’s little going on that’s relevant to the main story line other than keeping the audience concerned for the fate of Gotham city. And after two hours, that concern drastically fades. But the biggest downfall of the movie was the one dimensional bad guy in Bane. He looked the part with his face and nose covered by a leather mask. But unfortunately the mask impeded the way he spoke so he sounded an awful lot like Darth Vadar and Scooby-Doo’s love child. Which in tune made him sound incredibly idiotic and unintentionally funny. Not to mention, the audience could barely understand anything he was saying. Speaking with Shakespearean overtures when Bane says “I have come to liberate you” it sounds like “have bear hibernate.” If Bane ever took charge no one would know what the hell was going on. Alas, Batman must come out of retirement to save Gotham and the English language. Batman (possibly) coming out of retirement is also a pretty big plot point (only an hour and a half of the movie is dedicated to it). I feel like I should have mentioned that earlier.

But the movie also has many positives. It it cinematographically beautiful, nothing short of what you would expect from Nolan. The story line, whilst incredibly convoluted, is dark and adds depth to the characters. The cast is incredible, and quite a few people make unexpected cameos. The plot twists are genuinely surprising and breathe a bit of life into otherwise dull moments. Additionally, the elaborated scenes of mass peril are perfectly calibrated for maximum tension. No one could have pulled off such a grand finale for the artful trilogy as well as Nolan. But at times there was just too much going on and it meant the movie had self importance without having actual importance. If you’ve got a spare few hours and want to lose yourself in a land of fantasy, then I’d recommend it. Just bring snacks and settle on being content, not blown away.

Girl with the dragon tattoo posters: you’re kidding, right?

I know I’m a bit late to the party, but I just watched the Swedish version of ‘The girl with the dragon tattoo’. The film both scared and disturbed me. But overall I liked it. It stayed true to the book, which I thoroughly enjoyed; mainly because of the refreshing writing and strong female character in Lisbeth Salander. But I’m not here to write a book review. I’m here because I’m pissed off. Upon googling the American version of the movie to see whether it’s worth watching I stumbled upon some of the movie posters and anger quickly consumed me. To better explain, here is a comparison of the Swedish and American movie posters:

Swedish:

And these are the American posters:

  

If you didn’t know better, you would think they were two different movies with completely different story lines. Mikael isn’t even present in the two official Swedish posters. Lisbeth is staring directly at the camera in both, she’s aggressive, powerful and in control. Not a hint of sexuality.

Now lets jump to the American posters. I didn’t pick and choose them, they are the official movie posters. And Lisbeth has magically lost her clothes and attitude in all of them. It’s pretty clear the people responsible for marketing the American movie didn’t get the memo: Lisbeth Salander doesn’t like to be touched, she doesn’t walk round naked and isn’t one to be submissive or needs to be protected.

The whole reason these books became the phenomenon they are is because of the strength of Lisbeth’s character. She’s damaged, weird and anti-social. But most of all she’s an intelligent and determined surviver. So why do the American posters have her in submissive, sexualized poses? Why is Daniel Craig in the foreground with her in the background? Why does he have a protective arm placed over her? Why is he looking down at her whilst blowing smoke into her mouth? And why the hell is she naked?

Women don’t aspire to be Salander. But they respect her. Despite her history of physical abuse and sexual violence she’s physically strong, mentally sharp and in control of her sexuality. Are we really so afraid of women like that?
I get that sex sells. But so does violence, genuine adaptations of beloved books and powerful characters. Why do we always resort to making women a commodity? If you want to add a sexualized message, why not have Daniel Craig naked? Oh that’s right, he’s not a young sexy women with a nipple piercing that will feed raunch culture it’s daily dose of sexualizing everything. The American movie posters are nothing more than an exploitation of Larsson’s iconic female character in an aim to increase profits.

There is a strong contrast in the message the Swedish and American posters are sending. And I know which one appeals to me. Give me the Lisbeth Salander holding a knife, a gun or riding a motor cycle any day. Because I’m sure as hell not identifying with the one being submissive or posing naked.

At the end of the day, we should ask ourselves: What would Larsson think?

Mirror mirror on the wall, why are there 8 dwarfs?

I’m a born critic. I have absolutely no qualifications to back my claim, but that’s never stopped me before. My forte tends to be feminist and political rants, but tonight my glass of Sav and the film critic certificate I’ve just made and printed assure me that I’m more than qualified to do a film review. The target: Snow White and the Huntsman.

Now right off the bat, I want to say that I quite enjoyed the movie. It’s visually stunning and has a Tim Burton ‘Alice in Wonderland’ aura to it. The Evil Queen’s costumes are fabulous; think Lady Gaga minus the raw meat and with some dead raven. And of course, Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman is a highlight. Not because he plays the role particularly well or his character is appealing; but just because it’s pretty much another portrayal of Thor and frankly I see nothing wrong with that.

It’s refreshing to see two powerful female characters go at it rather than just have the men fighting. However, the suggestion that Kristen Stewart as Snow is ‘fairer’ than Charlize Theron had me asking ‘mirror mirror on the wall, who is your manufacturer and where do I go to make a complaint?’
But alas, I’ve come to the realization that contrary to the original where it’s just an auspicious beauty contest, Snow White and the Huntsman actually promotes inner beauty. What makes Snow fairer is what’s inside her, her humility and humanity. However, why they chose to cast Kristen Stewart as this champion of humanity is beyond me. Stewart doesn’t have the emotional spectrum to pull off the role (mainly due to her having the same facial expression regardless of what emotion she’s trying to convey). She does however deliver a respectable Mel Gibson impression in front of her infantry and has excellent eyebrows. Additionally, the connection between her and the Huntsman is believable, but that’s probably more to do with Chris Hemsworth being able to have chemistry with a pot plant than anything else.
Charlize Theron on the other hand was badass as Ravenna the Evil Queen. Melodrama was her default mode and despite the fact it’s probably easier to stick it to the patriarchally by going grey and running for medieval dictatorship presidency, her bipolar mix of iron goddess and unhinged harpy was brilliantly executed.

One of my major problems with the movie however was the eight dwarfs (or to be politically correct ‘little people’). That’s right. Eight. Not seven. Eight.
Why were there eight dwarfs little people you ask? Excellent question! I’ve been asking myself the same thing for the past hour. Aside from annoying the audience and having everyone count the dwarfs little people under their breath every time they pop onscreen I didn’t see the point in adding an extra one. Admittedly, this probably wouldn’t boggle the minds of normal people, but I found it just plain frustrating.

The rugged, drunken, bad boy Huntsman portrayed by Hemsworth meant that I was always going to see the movie, but surprisingly I actually enjoyed it. It’s not a film that will blow your mind or be overly memorable, but if you’re after a few hours of escapism into fairytale land then I’d definitely recommend it. And did I mention Chris Hemsworth?