Tag Archives: Feminism

Wonder Woman: The Most Baffling Movie of the Year

Wonder Woman…is the definition of “okay.” Not good, not great, not “the worst thing I have ever seen in my life.” Just “okay.”

Actually, no. It’s also a sad testament to the low bar that is modern female empowerment. It is too aware of itself, feels the need to make you constantly aware of it, and thus lacks any kind of subtlety in its execution.

 

To tell you that DC is trying to be Marvel is the equivalent of telling an Olympic swimmer that water is wet, so let’s not even dwell on that. But no, they still haven’t figured out the formula, let alone how to make it their own. 

As a main character, Diana of Themyscira…doesn’t really have one. She’s a classic fish out of water, much like Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in his first movie (or Crocodile Dundee, He-Man, Tarzan, etc. for that matter), but the only dimension they added to her is that she’s extremely naïve about mankind and the world he inhabits. She thinks that humans are only corrupted by presence of Aries, the Greek God of War, so it comes as quite a shock when she explores London for the first time and realizes that good and evil are not so black and white after all.

We’ll have to come back to that plot element later. Other than that, Diana’s job is to be a “strong, confident woman” who shakes up 1910’s society with her outspokenness, strength, and passion. Oh, and to fall in love with a guy, of course, because we can’t have prominent female characters who don’t hook up or are heavily motivated by a man in some capacity.

 

Oh wait…

Gal Gadot is pretty and plays the role well…such as it is. But she deserves a better character with better writing, and a cast that actually compliments her personality-wise, in addition to needlessly covering her in fights.

Speaking of men and other characters, nobody else in this movie has much of a character either. They’re just kind of walking stereotypes with barely-mentioned backstories, mostly there to gawk at Diana for being hot, powerful, and generally unorthodox. The fat, comic-relief secretary is introduced and then quickly disappears for the rest of the movie, and you wonder why the writers even came up with her at all. Chris Pine cares a lot about marriage and propriety in some scenes, and then in others, he’s awkwardly joking about his penis for agonizingly long moments with Diana. 

The cool Amazonian women feature heavily in the beginning, but only get mentioned once in the second half of the film, basically so that one of the male characters can creepily wish that he could go to “an island full of women like Diana and not a single man among them.”

 

Umm….Ewww and good luck with that, Buddy.

Some of the fight scenes are hilariously nonsensical, and the forced slow-mo moments don’t highlight how badass Diana is to me. They’re just annoying and gratuitous and, as you might imagine, slow things down. Keep the scene moving, Zack Snyder! I know it’s hard, but you can do this!

Along those same lines, at one point, Diana remarks that her new man friend Chris Pine (who can’t hold a German accent if his life depended on it. Just throwing that out there…) should take her straight to the war so she can kill Aries. It’s not a great sign when my boyfriend and I are both sitting there thinking, “Yeah, can we get to the action now? Please?”

The plot is extremely predictable. The writing and dialogue within it can be absolutely cringe-worthy, especially when it comes to Chris Pine and Gal Gadot being alone in a room together. I have so many unanswered Greek Mythology questions, and yet I never even studied the subject that hard in school. Character motivations make no sense when presented the way they are, particularly for Diana’s mother; she is implied to be extremely world-weary, but we never figure out how it happened, and her approach to “protecting” her daughter from Aries is illogical and flip-flops within about ten minutes anyway.

 

Speaking of Aries (MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS INCOMING), wouldn’t it have been much more interesting if he was proven to be a myth after all? Diana builds him up as this scapegoat for why human beings do bad things to themselves and to each other, and then there’s a fake-out where she thinks she killed Aries, but nothing stops or changes after the fact. Instead of focusing on that, which would have strengthened the movie’s message so much more, Aries turns out to be some other guy who was barely in the movie at all, who we didn’t have a fair shake at figuring out in the first place. The writers threw in a red herring and third-act twist, but couldn’t be assed to set it up in a way that would make it feel poignant or clever.

And, more importantly, it weakens the idea that a man has agency and responsibility for his own destructive behavior. They try to hand-wave this away during the epic final battle, with Aries spouting off a bunch of bullcrap about how “he didn’t make men this way! They did it themselves!” But come on! You still could have made a cool final battle scene without this silly, monologuing supervillain, and instead exploring a different direction. One in which Diana doesn’t have a five-minute existential crisis, but instead has to wrestle with it for the rest of the movie and come to terms with the loss of her childhood innocence.

That would be really relatable and interesting, but I guess we can’t ask for too much depth in beat-em-up summer blockbusters.

 

At the very least, if I can’t have smart or competent writing, I would settle for less shallow, meaningless feminist pandering. Reminding me constantly that Wonder Woman is – gasp! – a woman, and yet look at how awesome she is…it’s like listening to a guy explain a joke over and over again and demand that his listeners laugh at it, rather than just telling it and letting it speak for itself. It loses its impact and just comes across as forced, and the fact that I still felt empowered by it is…kind of sad, really.

Fair representation is a tricky thing. A person’s womanhood (or race, sexuality, etc.) tends to look good when it’s incidental to her greater character, because it implies that this is – or should be – the norm. A woman kicking ass shouldn’t be all that surprising or noteworthy, at least not to the point where it requires constant acknowledgement.

But at the same time, making a bigger deal about such a character can also be truly groundbreaking, pointing a purposeful finger at our current societal flaws and status quo, as if to say, “@$%& that! We’re running the show now!”

So there’s no easy or concrete approach to female characters and their framing (personally speaking, I tend to prefer the former option), but I hope we can at least agree that how this movie approached the subject was clumsy, awkward, and unintentionally insulting. It’s damn-near insecure.

 

There is so much more to say about Wonder Woman, but while it was similar to Beauty and the Beast with its hollow simplicity, I didn’t take it nearly as personally because I didn’t care about Wonder Woman at all prior to seeing this film. I did really enjoy moments of it, unlike with Beauty and the Beast, but I can’t point to any deep or compelling reason why for any of them. I relate to being told “you can’t do (insert activity here).” I like watching a girl kick ass and prove nay-sayers wrong. That’s about it. I can get pretty much the exact same feeling out of watching A League of Their Own.

One thing that I like that is fairly unique to Wonder Woman is that Diana isn’t embarrassed by the attention of guys, and has a blasé, almost amusedly detached attitude towards sex when it’s first brought up. Sadly, a lot of female characters in media have one of two settings when it comes to sex and romance: “ultra-virgin” or “ultra-slut,” so it’s nice to see some middle ground in that regard, outside of something like I Spit on Your Grave. But the rest of the romance subplot is predictable and cliché, and it’s too bad the majority of the scene I mentioned is awkward as hell and drags on for forever.

One last thing before we go: at one point, Pine and his secretary are trying to get Diana to wear normal, human clothes so that she will blend in more. Makes sense, right? But besides being confident and forward, she is also (admittedly) gorgeous, so much so that men everywhere become brain-dead protoplasm at the very sight of her.

Pine’s solution? He puts glasses on her to minimize and dim down her distracting beauty.

 

THERE IS NO MIDDLE FINGER BIG ENOUGH, ZACK SNYDER.

 

*5/10

*None of the images used in this post belong to me.

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In Defense of Cinderella

I’m not saying it’s the greatest movie ever made. I’m not even saying that Cinderella is that strong of a character. She isn’t, and that’s okay. Not every female character needs to be Gloria Steinem.

What I am saying is Cinderella (1950) and its eponymous character are not nearly as bad as people claim, and the 2015 live action remakes ultimately “updates” very little from it.

Keep in mind that I do still like the remake (for the most part), but much like with the new Beauty and the Beast, I think it gets praised more than it really deserves, especially in contrast to the hate heaped upon its predecessor.

To start off, let’s get a few things out of the way here:

 

Yes, the animated prince gets maybe 4 complete lines in the whole movie, one of which is, “Yawn.” And yes, he has no character.

 

Yes, the mice take up too much time. And yes, a female mouse does in fact say, “Leave the sewing to the women,” and isn’t that so anti-feminist?

 

Got that out of your system? Great. On we go then.

Here is my interpretation of animated Cinderella, backed up by quotes from the opening narration: Her father died when she was very young, and suddenly it’s revealed that her stepmother and stepsisters, her only remaining family, are self-centered, sadistic bitches; “it was upon the untimely death of this good gentleman, however, that the stepmother’s true nature was revealed. Cold, cruel, and bitterly jealous of Cinderella’s charm and beauty.” She is put to work as their house servant soon after, but their house still falls apart because the stepmother is too cheap to hire more help. To quote the movie again, “The chateau fell into disrepair, for the family fortune was squandered upon the vain and selfish stepsisters”.

 

So it can be reasonably inferred that Cinderella was brainwashed and manipulated from a young age. The fact that she hasn’t left home probably means that she can’t, as it would probably leave her homeless and starving (which can sadly happen to runaways in the real world as well, even in modern day). The movie supports this theory with its framing of shots, showing Cinderella constantly inside or at the very least confined to the surrounding property. Aside from the panning shot over the castle, town, and chateau during the opening, we virtually never see the rest of the land (unlike in the remake, if you’ll remember).

It surprises me how many people fail to see the logical flow of events like these. They would prefer to call Cinderella stupid or weak, but I wonder if they could comfortably say the same of abuse victims in the real world, especially children raised in such environments? Think about it.

Anyway, the next thing people love to criticize Cindy for is being boring and simple. A helpless waif with no character and no drive to better herself. Well, aside from referring you back to my interpretation above, let’s look at Cinderella in the movie. She is forced to do every chore in the house every single day of her life, but while she doesn’t let it twist her into someone bitter and truly unkind, she clearly strains her patience very often. Just look at how the animators drew her face, albeit in brief moments:

 

Cinderella doesn’t say much sometimes, and she tends to be pretty reserved, but much like Belle, she conveys a surprising amount through her expressions. You can also hear frustration and determination in her voice, such as when she’s trying to convince herself that the prince’s ball wouldn’t have been that much fun anyway.

I also like how she not-so-subtlety mocks her stepsisters’ performances at their music lesson.

 

See guys? She’s not a complete goody-two-shoes doormat after all. She just copes like every other woman does….quietly and bitchily.

The classic Cinderella moral has always been “work hard and be good and good things will come to you;” essentially “don’t give up.” But I think an even better lesson would be, “don’t let bad experiences change you negatively as a person,” which incidentally would have been a better moral for the new Cinderella as well, retroactively-speaking. Cinderella as a character doesn’t just work hard; she saves the mice, who are even lower on the social food chain than she is, and unlike the rest of her family, she treats those who are lower than her with respect and humanity.

 

She does try to argue with the stepmother (however futile that might ultimately be), so it’s not like she has no backbone. She’s trying to make the best of a bad situation, whether by trying to assert herself, trying to stay positive, or just being silly.

 

In a world of talking mice, horrible relatives, and fairy godmothers, what else can you do but yell at your alarm clock like it’s a person?

When Cinderella talks about the ball prior to going, at no point does she mention the prince or the opportunity to get with him aside from when she was reading the invitation. It sounds more like she just really wanted the excuse to put on a nice dress and have a fun night out. Even after she runs away at midnight, she doesn’t think that the man she danced with was the prince, and later, she is so startled by that revelation that she drops a tea tray.

 

Face it: Cinderella just wanted to get pretty and go to a party. She met a guy while she was there, somehow not realizing he was the prince, and that just made the evening better. Unlike in the remake, the writers don’t explicitly say that Cinderella has no chance with the man she danced with, but I feel like Cinderella would already know that and just have quietly appreciated the experience.

Then, the next day, when she finds out that not only can she be with him, but he’s the prince of the entire country, her first thought is to go clean up and make herself presentable. Her daydreaming blinds her to caution, sure, but she’s clearly elated to be able to marry the man she “fell in love with” (it’s a fairytale. Whatever) and escape her abusive, exploitative family.

And last but not least, do you remember her reaction when the stepmother locks her in her room? She gets upset. She beats on her door and tries to pull it open.

 

When she sees that her mice friends are coming to help and bringing her the key, she encourages them, and despite her usual policy of trying to be nice to Lucifer, she asks the birds to get Bruno the dog just to scare him away.

What was remake Cinderella’s reaction again?…Oh yeah, I remember. She twirled around her room daydreaming about the prince and the ball, singing to herself and totally not caring about what the stepmother might be planning to do to her. Because that’s really smart and empowering, right?

 

Remake Cinderella could ride a horse, speak several languages fluently, was an adult when the step family came into her life, and was shown numerous times to be able to leave the chateau and visit friends, who would probably take her in for a little bit if she asked them to. Hello! The filmmakers love to talk her up like she’s some feminist paragon, and by implication how backwards and weak old Cinderella is, but the climax of the movie completely ruins the image of the former for multiple reasons. The most relevant of which is that she doesn’t even try to get out or help herself, unlike the animated Cinderella. Just because 1950’s Cindy failed to get out on her own doesn’t negate the fact that she actually tried to.

 

That’s all I’m trying to say here. Both movies have their respective flaws and strengths, but the older version is not as bad for little girls as many people would have you believe. And as I always say, you could help your children understand context by watching it with them and talking to them about it, letting them know that it was made 70 years ago and lots of things change in all that time. It’s a little magical thing called context, and it works wonders.

Except maybe things don’t change much over 70+ years, because the remake updates so little and creates more issues than it ultimately fixes, all so that Disney could cash in on nostalgia and modern sensibilities simultaneously.

 

That’s what it’s all about; dress porn for little girls and girls at heart. At least 50’s Cinderella’s was less gratuitous…and way shorter. And less radioactive-looking.

 

You can still like something while admitting it has problematic elements to it. That’s how I can comfortably like both versions of this story. I just see so many people trying to pretend that one Cinderella is way worse than the other, when really, it’s two halves of the same whole. It’s too much selective outrage and modern sensibility, without actually addressing any of the problems they claim so deeply upset them.

Cindy’s not a bad person. Maybe all we need to do is see her in full light.

 

*None of the gifs or pictures in this post belong to me. They all belong to Disney. 

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Bride Wars and Identity Thief: Setting Womankind, Comedy and Storytelling Back at Least 20 Years Each

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Today we have a double review; two of my least favorite movies ever made and, as the title suggests, giant stains on the film industry and the world of femininity as a whole.

Bride Wars was released in 2009, starring Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson as best friends Emma and Liv, who end up squabbling because their weddings get scheduled for the same day. It’s a “wacky” chick-flick at heart, but it also tries to present a biting satire of women’s ideals about marriage, which results in a confused but highly mean-spirited tone and a hollow ending message.

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But at least where it failed, Bridesmaids succeeded.

Identity Thief, which hit theatres a mere 4 years later, was aimed at a more diverse audience, but no less confused in its efforts to create comedy. Jason Bateman plays Sandy Patterson, an accountant who gets his identity stolen by a scammer named Diana, played by Melissa McCarthy. To rectify her wrongs, he essentially must hunt her down himself and bring her to justice, and all the while she uses her status as a woman to create misunderstandings with onlookers, and her sob story as a means to garner sympathy and even convert poor Sandy to the dark side.

Griffin The Invisible Man (David Spade), Murray the Mummy (Ceelo Green), Wanda (Molly Shannon), Wayne (Steve Buccemi), Frank (Kevin James) and Mavis (Selena Gomez) in HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, an animated comedy from Sony Pictures Animation.

As far as I know, nothing has succeed where this movie fails.

Comedians will often say that anything can be humorous, even the most taboo topics we hold as a society. While I agree that nothing should be off-limits, I think that jokers have to strive all the harder to find ways to make these subjects funny. Creativity is the solution, as well as an important element of comedy itself, and in its absence, you might as well be slinging insults on the playground.

Both movies fail in a similar regard, which is why I chose to review them together. They present situations where comedic things can happen, but they don’t, and all you’re left with is stereotypes and unpleasantness.

Let’s look at Bride Wars first.

From the first series of frames, the writers try to convince us that Liv and Emma are best friends. From early childhood days, they played and unhealthily fantasized about marriage together, with Emma being more soft-spoken and taking a backseat to Liv’s antics.

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They then grow up into catty, spoiled, unpleasant young women, with Emma being proposed to by her boyfriend (Sir Barely-Appears-in-this-Film-Except-to-Look-Uninvested) while Liv discovers her ring in the closet and confronts her boyfriend (Sir Pussy-of-Whipped) when she gets impatient.

The only sympathetic things we learn about either woman is that Liv’s parents died early on in her life and Emma has a lower-paying job than Liv. Otherwise, Emma is mousy but cunning and passive-aggressive, and Liv is an aggressive control freak. One of the first scenes we see of them as adults is them snidely remarking that their friend’s wedding isn’t as good as their dream weddings will be, and then the scene fades out as they both prepare to fight for the bouquet.

Charming.

When their other friends hear of their engagements, they give us a few lovely vignettes of depressed women stereotypes, particularly eating unhealthy foods like Ben and Jerry’s.

Also charming. Tell me, writers, am I meant to feel insulted and disgusted when I watch this?

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Liv and Emma seek out a famous wedding planner played by Candice Bergen for both their weddings, and they both schedule at the Plaza Hotel, at opposite ends of June. As you can guess, stupid, implausible shenanigans ensue that force their weddings onto the same day. Are they ecstatic that, as besties, they can share their special day together? If not, does Liv, a lawyer, think of suing Candice Bergen for the (albeit accidental) breach of contract?

No, their first thoughts are to stalk and pester the women who took Emma’s day, but not before threatening Bergen’s fired secretary for her information when Bergen refuses to give it to them.

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The whole situation is stupid for reasons I won’t even go into, but wow. What likeable main characters we have here! I definitely want to keep watching to make sure they get their happily ever afters!

When that plan fails, they attempt to passive-aggressive one another into forfeiting the day. And when that fails, they make rude comments and sabotage each other’s wedding planning, like all best-friends-til-the-end do.

 

Other shenanigans are, but are not limited to:

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…Again, have you ever seen the show Bridezillas? I know it’s a tad old at this point, but the whole reason anyone watched it was to see spoiled prima donnas have massive meltdowns because their gowns are “pearl white instead of off-white!” and other stupid things like that. We are definitely NOT meant to sympathize with them. At best, we should be laughing at the absurdity.

But Bride Wars is not the same. This is a feature-length film that is clearly trying to get us to not only believe that these two girls are best friends, but that they are somewhat identifiable with us, the viewing audience. We are meant to see their positives, which keep us rooting for them even when they are extremely negative.

It doesn’t work when the negative is so overly emphasized that it’s not realistic anymore. Or, you know, when the negative is horribly, irredeemably unlikable.

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Liv’s fiance puts up with her psychopathy while Emma’s actually confronts her. The movie, of course, tries to paint him like a callous douchebag, but I’m sorry, writers; Fletcher (her fiancé’s name, for all two people who care) is perfectly within his rights as a partner to tell her that she’s being stupid and that he doesn’t like this side of her. I’m firmly a believer in the idea that someone who loves you should confront you when you’re going down a self-destructive path or hurting someone else for a petty reason. Love isn’t easy, but theoretically,  it should bring out the best in people and inspire them to make up what they lack as much as they can.

Also, I love how Kate Hudson, the producer of the movie, is set up to get a happy ending with her unrealistically perfect man, while Anne Hathaway is going to get the most negative consequences. They are both equal players in this “war,” but nuh-uh. Can’t ruin the producer’s fantasy, can we?

The plot reaches its pathetic crescendo on the double wedding day, and after a massively mature wrestling match in the aisle of Liv’s room,

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Emma and Fletcher break things off.

At first, the writers give him a few lines to make us think he’s controlling, and after he leaves, Emma answers Liv’s concern with, “If Fletcher and I were meant to be together…we’d be getting married and we’re not.” Um…no. Liv, you pretty definitively played a major role in your best friend’s break-up and the millions of dollars her family wasted on the wedding. And it’s amazing to me how even at this point in the movie, Emma pretty much refuses to take any personal responsibility for this situation. At least Liv has something barely resembling self-reflection.

The ending is utterly meaningless, as Emma gets a tacked-on relationship and off-screen marriage with Liv’s brother, who she shared maybe one conversation with during the entire movie. The writers took the only interesting, different, and actually poignant moment of satire in the whole film and rendered it meaningless within 5 minutes. Yay.

The two women find out they are both pregnant and expected to deliver on the same day, and Candice Bergen gives us some narration about “sometimes the person who knows you sometimes better than you know yourself is the person who’s been standing beside you all along.”

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Wow again, writers. Way to miss the entire point of the movie YOU WROTE! These friends in no way stuck by each other through thick and thin. They purposely set out to make one another miserable! They barely acknowledged their damn fiancées because they were so self-absorbed, and they only made up after taking eons to come to their meager senses!

This film is an insult to women everywhere. It can’t decide what it wants to be, so it flip-flops back and forth between poking fun at an (arguably) common tendency in women getting married and celebrating it with over-the-top, mean-spirited spectacle. Both the leads are unlikable, horrible people who do bad things to others and to themselves, all because they care more about a one-day ceremony than THE ACTUAL PERSON THEY’RE MARRYING.

This could have been a great cautionary tale  if the writers had just gone all out on the characters’ horribleness and the mean-spirited plot, but they probably worried that wouldn’t test as well with their vapid target demographic. Real, lasting, meaningful conflict is too much for their simple minds to deal with, so let’s just slap some “best friends forever” message at the end.

Meanwhile, over in Identity Thief land…

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This movie doesn’t even need a play-by-play with in-depth analysis explaining why it’s so putrid. A criminal does terrible things that ruin people’s lives, but we the audience are supposed to understand and condone her actions when we find out that she was a foster child who still doesn’t even know her real name. Boo-hoo.

The actress and the plot are not even remotely funny enough to overshadow how despicable they are. I’m sorry, but a sob story only gets you so far, and does absolutely nothing at all when you are not even remotely repentant of your actions. Diana (McCarthy) seems to think that how she was treated as a child justifies ruining many innocent lives, possibly lowering them to being in a very similar position that she was, and meanwhile, she is enjoying ill-gotten money and material goods. Sandy (Bateman) is a good if somewhat lame person, and he is constantly punished for simply trying to get his life back in order, because he is daring to oppose Diana.

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I’m not even sure how they could have made this funny. It’s too real and nightmarish for most people. No amount of “feminism” is going to get me to go, “Yeah! You go, girl! Use everything you have at your disposal to abuse the system and carelessly affect others!”

Hell, you would think that Diana, someone who was poor and without home and family, would become a Robin Hood-type and use her “powers” to help someone other than herself. At least then, she could have been more compelling.

But no. Credit cards and merch it is. Once again, empty-headed, shallow woman who I’m meant to identify with.

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Both these movies are lowest-common-denominator comedy garbage with horrible implications and messages that we are meant to find endearing. They do nothing but insult me, and every other lady out there, on every possible level; too serious at times, and not serious enough at others.

Thankfully, they are both highly, rightfully panned.

 

.2/10