Tag Archives: Bechdel Test

How a Woman Superhero’s Origin Story Sees a Man Suit Up — “Ant-Man”

Ant Man Paul Rudd with suit

Ant-Man is not the best Marvel movie by a long shot, but it does contain the best Marvel superhero yet. In a universe that prizes heroes who hit things really hard with a mechanical suit, hit things really hard with a magic hammer, and turn green to hit things even harder, we have a superhero whose abilities are shrinking to the size of a flea and communicating with ants.

This still involves hitting things a whole lot, but it also involves seeing two ways to tackle every problem – full-size and nearly microscopic. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a recently released burglar. With a felony on his record, he can’t seem to find work, and he needs a job in order to convince his ex-wife to let him see his daughter. Needless to say, it’s only a matter of time before he returns to a life of crime.

Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has hidden a secret for decades – the science behind extreme miniaturization. He used to suit up as Ant-Man, a superhero who used this science to infiltrate military bases around the world. Since retired, he needs someone skilled in thievery to take on the mantle of Ant-Man and steal back the secret now that it’s in danger of falling into the wrong hands. Pym chooses Lang, who has a history of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor – it sounds like a perfect fit.

Ant Man Evangeline Lilly

Evangeline Lilly plays Hank’s daughter Hope van Dyne. Between an accomplished comedian in Rudd and a screen legend in Douglas, you’d forgive the former Lost actress for disappearing into the woodwork of the film. Yet that’s not what happens. She’s the one who really shines here, offering the film its most complete emotional journey and most complex character. She’s on the board at Hank’s company and, at first, her character seems similar to that of Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire in Jurassic World. That worried me – the last thing I wanted to be told (again) is that women can only be good at business if they’re bad at everything else.

Luckily, Hope convinces Hank, Scott, and the audience that she’s a far better choice to suit up as Ant-Man. She’s the better fighter, she communicates with ants better, she understands the science, and she knows the company they’re breaking into. Hope’s abilities are superior, period. It’s Hank’s own protectiveness and fear – his shortcomings – that are posed as a weakness here.

Of course, this still means that Scott’s the one who gets to suit up. It creates the most intriguing character dynamic in a Marvel film yet. In some ways, it deals with the increasingly problematic treatment of women in Disney Marvel movies. It doesn’t offer a solution, but at least it acknowledges that there is a problem. What we’re really seeing is Hope’s origin story, one in which she never gets to suit up or be a superhero. She has to watch a man be given her job and get all the credit. The focus on Hope and this element of the story is intentional, but the metaphor is dulled by the film’s drive toward action and comedy. The idea’s there, but it never feels entirely explored. I’ll talk about this more in the Bechdel section in a moment.

Ant Man Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas

Ant-Man excels at folding in the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) without allowing it to encroach too far on its own story. This year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron could have learned a thing or two from Ant-Man, which manages to tell its own self-contained narrative while still riffing on the universe of the Avengers. It never feels overwhelmed by a need to be part of the larger brand the way Ultron did. With Ant-Man, I never felt like I was being sold a toy instead of being told a story.

Ant-Man isn’t as well made as parts of Ultron, but it is much more consistent in quality. Ant-Man is thoroughly good. It doesn’t stand out as something special the way last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Guardians of the Galaxy both did, but it’s very enjoyable. When the action falters, the comedy takes over, and vice versa. It holds up to each of the other origin stories Marvel’s released on film.

Perhaps the best way to describe Ant-Man is this: it hits the spot. It reassures me that the Disney Marvel brand is still willing to aim for quirky genre films – like a heist movie – instead of simply being addicted to bigger and better explosions. The explosions take over at points, and they’re pretty creative, but costing only half as much as Avengers: Age of Ultron means that Ant-Man needs to find other ways of keeping your attention. It does this through story, character, and a lot of comedy. Lilly, Rudd, and Douglas also make one of the best sets of leads the MCU has enjoyed to-date.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section uses the Bechdel Test as a foundation to discuss the representation of women in film. Read why I’m including this section here.

1. Does Ant-Man have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Evangeline Lilly plays Hope van Dyne, Judy Greer plays Maggie Lang, Abby Ryder Fortson plays Cassie Lang, and Hayley Atwell plays Peggy Carter.

2. Do they talk to each other?


3. About something other than a man?


The rarest way of failing the Bechdel Test is to pass question 2 and fail on question 3. Ant-Man boasts a wonderful character in Lilly’s Hope, but the only two women who speak to each other are Maggie and Cassie Lang. That mother-daughter dynamic entirely centers around ex-husband and father Scott.

While Hope is acknowledged by the film to be more capable than Scott and the film briefly touches on the issues Marvel has with women, it only makes one last-ditch effort to correct this. That last-ditch effort is pretty wonderful – remember to stay through the credits – but no solution to the problem is really offered. Hope voices her discontent, and Scott sticks up for her – he insists she’s more suited to be the superhero than he is. That’s refreshing, but it’s still not realized.

Corey Stoll is all right as the villain, but he’s ultimately one of the most forgettable the Marvel films have had. In a dozen MCU movies, we’ve yet to see a woman wield the power of a villain (Guardians of the Galaxy had an excellent henchwoman in Karen Gillan’s Nebula, but she was traded between two male villains and never actually gets to fight a man). Corey Stoll’s role couldn’t have gone to a woman? You’re going to tell me Corey “let me put you to sleep in ‘The Strain’” Stoll has box office draw that no woman can match?

(Read Vanessa Tottle’s article “Why Scarlett Johansson Needs to Play Hannibal Lecter” on why women need to play more villains.)

I don’t know what to do with Marvel anymore. I like Ant-Man, I like it a lot, but…12 movies and they still can’t manage to even have women talk about themselves or each other, even when one of them is a lead? It’s ridiculous.

Where that leaves us, who knows? Evangeline Lilly pretty much steals the film from Rudd and Douglas, and it still doesn’t matter. The movie acknowledges Marvel’s problem with portraying women through Hank and Hope’s father-daughter relationship, and it still doesn’t matter. Ant-Man comes out and tells you straight-up who the better superhero would be – Hope – and it still doesn’t matter.

Marvel needs to grow up and they need to do it quickly. Period. Ant-Man is thoroughly enjoyable and Rudd does a workmanlike job, but superheroes in this franchise have now been played by Robert, Chris, Mark, Chris, Jeremy, Don, Aaron, Paul, Anthony, their boss Samuel L., and their space counterparts Chris, Dave, Vin, and Bradley. Now you’ve added Michael and a second Paul. I’m expecting them to start writing gospels soon. Women have gotten Scarlett, Elizabeth, and Zoe. That’s 16-to-3.

I want to be careful about assigning intention, but it feels like the filmmakers do as much as possible within Marvel’s constraints to say that their own film is getting the gender of its superhero wrong. It’s not necessarily the movie’s problem – Hope feels like a way of rebelling against Marvel’s dictate of another male superhero while still presenting another male superhero. It is Marvel’s problem, though. It is a growing problem, and it is one that is going to bite them in the ass. And no, Captain Marvel in 2018 as the 20th film in the MCU and first to center on a woman is not enough to solve it. It’s a good start, but that’s all it is. If 20 films in, all they’re doing is starting to solve this big a problem, they’ll bleed audience as the superhero competition at the theater gets a lot more crowded. Many already think Avengers: Age of Ultron left more than half a billion dollars on the table worldwide. Ant-Man has the lowest per-screen average of any MCU movie. It’s Marvel’s choice if they want to stay ahead of the curve they set, or if they want to fall behind it as others surpass them.

Where did we get our awesome images? The feature image of Evangeline Lilly and Paul Rudd comes from an Evangeline Lilly interview discussed on Geek Tyrant. All other images come from Collider.

AC — “Unfriended” is Brilliant Horror That Hits Close to Home

I’m sure Unfriended was imagined as a quick cash-in – a horror movie based entirely around social networking. For cast and crew, especially those getting their first and perhaps only break, nothing’s just a cash-in. The people involved in this film took real risks in assembling the most important POV horror film since The Blair Witch Project.

What seems like a gimmick at first glance becomes a bold and experimental approach to storytelling on film. It doesn’t feel like anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s an intense and bittersweet allegory that’s one of the best films of the year. To read my review and Bechdel Test analysis:

“Unfriended” is Brilliant Horror That Hits Close to Home

– Gabe

Over on AC: “Furious 7” is Insane, Important for Minorities, Terrible for Feminism

I put Furious 7 through the ringer in this review. While it’s a tremendous opportunity for many to see heroes that aren’t normally represented on film, it’s also obsessed with the male gaze and objectifying women. I love this film for its action, humor, and especially for how it chooses to bare its soul and cope with Paul Walker’s death, but it has to be taken in context. Read more over on Article Cats:

“Furious 7” is Insane, Important for Minorities, Terrible for Feminism

– Gabe

Over On AC: Why the Bechdel Test Matters

by Gabriel Valdez

I’ll be linking all my new work for Article Cats here, so subscribers and visitors can easily find the additional work I’m doing for them. My first article is on – what else? – the Bechdel Test. I address the gender balance and treatment of women and men according to stereotypes in all my reviews, and it’s important to revisit why regularly. Go check it out:

“Why the Bechdel Test Matters (As Told by a Male Film Critic)”

Great Drama, No Action — “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay”

Mockingjay Jennifer Lawrence 2

by Gabriel Valdez

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One is a solid entry in a quickly maturing series. Its only problem, if you choose to view it as one, is that it’s less exciting than its predecessors.

Chosen for a futuristic brand of gladiatorial combat in the first Hunger Games, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) was finally rescued from an oppressive military dictatorship at the end of Catching Fire. She now begins to take on the mantle of a revolutionary figurehead for the people of Panem in Mockingjay.

Viewers wanting more action may find Mockingjay too slow. There’s no arena sequence, which has made the last halves of its two predecessors straight-ahead action movies. While these were fun, they always felt just a little forced, as if they weren’t the part the directors and actors were most looking forward to filming.

In the first film, director Gary Ross was most interested in the “have-nots,” painting a poor and wretched society that evoked the Dust Bowl era photography of Dorothea Lange – grimy, desperate, yet determined.

For the second movie, replacement director Francis Lawrence examined the “haves,” expanding on the decadent culture of the capital. Katniss became an icon for resistance. Her fight against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) utilized tools of fashion, celebrity, and media manipulation. It was far more intriguing than any beatdown that happened in the arena.

Mockingjay Jennifer Lawrence

Francis Lawrence returns for Mockingjay, which continues the theme of high-stakes propaganda. For every move – Katniss visits a field hospital, full of wounded rebels – there is a counter. Instead of targeting Katniss, Snow blows up the hospital. He communicates to Katniss that anything she touches is forfeit.

Katniss’ media campaign is focused on making the atrocities of the capital known, evoking fiery emotions that drive recruitment for the rebellion. Snow’s campaign is one of undermining Katniss and tearing at her psyche. For all the bombs, soldiers, and planes each side has, Snow understands the war not as one of weaponry but of public perception.

Some viewers will leave Mockingjay disappointed that not much happens. Others will leave Mockingjay excited at just how much takes place. Because the film is tighter and more character-focused, the plot isn’t driven by events. It’s driven by the breaking down and building up of different characters’ resolves. The tension lies in how much more each one can take. These aren’t characters reaching their breaking point; they’ve already set up residence there and peer over the edge from time to time.

That’s where Mockingjay is most compelling – Katniss is finally making decisions amongst equals like revolutionary President Coin (Julianne Moore) and propaganda expert Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Is it too much of a thinkpiece? Jennifer Lawrence, Moore, and Hoffman hold the film down so well that it’s a moot point. Here are three actors at the top of their game, playing characters who clash and use each other while coping with their own clear damages.

Mockingjay Julianne Moore

In some ways, I applaud the bravery behind Mockingjay. Studio Lionsgate wanted to split the last book of the trilogy into two movies – double the ticket money. The writers and director could have made up crowd-pleasing battles and its audience would’ve accepted it. Instead, they decided to create a more challenging movie that explores the nuance behind propaganda, the manipulation inherent to filmmaking, and the conflicting ideals behind revolutions.

If this franchise is basically Spartacus in slow-mo, we’re at the part where Spartacus is freed, taking a breather and taking stock of his situation. It’s after most of the action but before the big climax, where characters’ learn new roles in a rebellion, question what they’ve got left in the tank, and reassess their relationships. It’s not the Hunger Games entry that I think many expected, but it finds a lot to say on its own without feeling too much like set-up for the finale. Given the opportunity to tread water or take a risk, the creative talents behind Mockingjay took a risk. Is it completely successful? Viewers will be disagreeing until next year’s entry.

For someone who finds the political games in this post-apocalyptic world more fascinating than the action scenes, Mockingjay is a success. It isn’t big or flashy the way its predecessors are, but as a companion piece it makes complete sense. I suspect it will fit very well into the rhythm of the series once it’s completed. It just won’t live up to anyone’s expectations as an action movie. In everything else, it excels.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Katniss is played by Jennifer Lawrence. Her younger sister Prim (Willow Shields) features more prominently than in the past. It’s nice to finally see more of their relationship. Rebel leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) is a practical, no-nonsense leader.

Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) returns, continuing to support Katniss, although she has less screen-time here than in the past. Cressida (Natalie Dormer), a television director, is also introduced. Katniss’ mother (Paula Malcomson) and fellow warrior Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) also feature.

2. Do they talk to each other?


3. About something other than a man?

Yes, but even when they do talk about a man – in a nice twist on the classical princess formula – it’s to discuss his rescue. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is being used by President Snow as the capital’s figurehead, and Katniss is determined to save him. That said, these are leaders in a war, and they act like it.

Mockingjay is a phenomenal movie in terms of powerful female characters. Katniss herself is the kind of part historically relegated to men – women have rarely had this much on-screen agency as warriors and leaders. The real ground being broken here, however, continues to be a woman playing a soldier with PTSD. I can’t recall another in a big-budget film, can you?

It says a lot to watch a woman this strong and capable in battle. She takes and doles out physical damage. Yet it says even more to show a woman who possesses the strength to constantly sacrifice herself for others while knowing full well the toll it takes on her psyche. We’ve had women warriors before and we still need more of them, but we haven’t had women veterans featured on this scale. That’s an incredible step and there’s no better actress to take it than Jennifer Lawrence.

Alma Coin is a fantastic character. Moore plays her with a practical, scarred edge. Again, we’re presented with a female leader who isn’t just strong and decisive, but who still takes on the burden of leadership despite the heavy psychological toll war and loss has taken. Moore plays her close to the vest, polite but concise. You can’t tell if she’s a leader who doesn’t give away more than she has to, or if she herself has ulterior motives. Part of that is the franchise’s history of betrayal, part of that is an understated performance by Moore.

Mockingjay Natalie Dormer 2

One of my favorite new characters of the year is Cressida, the director assigned to produce the recruitment ads starring Katniss. See, I’m a sucker for directors on film. If you’ve ever made film, you know there’s a certain feeling of invulnerability when you’re holding the camera. The shot takes precedence over everything else, including comfort and safety. Dormer communicates this attitude and much more in limited screen-time.

Cressida prioritizes getting a reaction on camera over her own safety or, say, Katniss’ psychological well-being. This is done subtly, and her crew – including a mute man who invokes one of the most powerful scenes on film this year – shows her great loyalty. Amid all these warriors, there’s one leader who throws herself into danger without a weapon. Her victory lies not in killing others but in capturing emotion, though that doesn’t mean she’s any less tactical in achieving it.

There are other important women, like Prim and Effie, but I focus on these three because Katniss, Coin, and Cressida present three very different forms of leadership. Women rarely get to portray these kinds of characters on film, let alone in the same film. The Hunger Games has always done well in this regard. Now, however, it’s lapping the field.

How We Mold Men — “Fury”

Fury tank

by Gabriel Valdez

There is a review for Fury in my head that I will never write. I’ll try to tell you why:

Fury follows a tank crew pushing into Nazi Germany late in World War 2, but this is merely what happens. It’s not what Fury is about. I could call Fury the best war movie since Clint Eastwood made his Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima double feature. I wouldn’t be wrong, but it doesn’t hit the nail on the head. Instead, I’ll call Fury one of the best movies about indoctrination since A Clockwork Orange.

You see, Brad Pitt’s Sgt. Collier, the tank commander who leads four young men into battle, cannot be called a “good guy.” If beating his subordinates or forcing them to shoot unarmed prisoners helps them to survive, then that is what he’ll do. If allowing his crew to blow off steam by assaulting the local women helps them to survive, then that is what he’ll allow.

When Collier’s tank gets a new assistant driver, a fresh-faced clerk named Norman (Logan Lerman) with zero combat experience, Collier will beat him, emotionally abuse him, and force him to murder and rape. The strange thing is – the utterly difficult thing about this movie – is that writer-director David Ayer forces you to understand Collier. His only goal is to keep his crew alive. His every decision contributes to this. Everything outside that tank – enemy, civilian – is only there to keep his crew breathing that much longer.

Fury Brad Pitt

There are beautiful, fleeting moments when Pitt lets you see the toll this takes on Collier’s conscience. This is a man who’s made a judgment that his crew’s survival is worth every other moral transgression. Later in the movie, it’s revealed he knows the Bible verse-for-verse, yet he’s kept this hidden. Why? Because he’s rejected its applicability. Living morally in war, he believes, will get the men around him killed, and they are his responsibility. His duty is to mold men and make them hate – him, themselves, the enemy, it doesn’t matter so long as that hate takes away any hesitation before pulling a trigger.

One of the most nerve wracking scenes involves Collier playing house during a lull in combat. He uses Norman and two German women hiding in an apartment to create a pale reflection of a normal family supper. It’s Collier’s momentary reprieve from war, and yet it’s terrifying for these two women.

Are the things Collier does wrong? Of course they are. But to make men kill each other for years on end and then be shocked that they’ve committed sins is perverse: judging them for it is perverse, not judging them for it is perverse.

Fury Shia LaBeouf

Fury is rousing, its tank battles brilliantly intense. Collier is among Pitt’s best characters. Lerman, Michael Pena, and Jon Bernthal deliver nuanced, touching performances as the tank crew, and of all actors, Shia LaBeouf is going to make you cry.

Fury is not interested in being an easy movie, nor a palatable one. It is difficult. There are no good guys by its end, just men who judged for themselves what sacrifices they were willing to make of others, and in their own souls, in order to keep the men beside them alive.

And though many young men aren’t faced with platoons of enemy soldiers, we are often brought up to act as if we will be, to believe the shortest route to strength is in hating some perceived weakness in ourselves or in others. We’re often taught to be manly is to bury sentimentality and sensitivity and mercy in order to make our way in the world.

There is a review for Fury in my head that I will never write, because in some way, every young man grows up with the expectation that we will be willing to trade those pieces of our soul in order to survive, that emotion makes us weak and exerting our willpower on another makes us strong, that our flaws can be cured with our worst behavior. We’ve each been taught our own small portion of perversion. In its own way, Fury lays that bare.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does Fury have more than one woman in it?

Yes. The two women in the apartment with whom Collier tries to play house.

2. Do they talk to each other?


3. About something other than a man?

Possibly. Some of their German is subtitled. Some isn’t.

Truth be told, I’d have to watch again to see if they talk only about the soldiers, or if they discuss something else. Most of their interaction is silent because they are so terrified – there’s not much dialogue at all and whether they pass or don’t pass the third rule is essentially immaterial. Their conversation takes place under the fear of being raped, so even if they are talking about dinner, they’re not really talking about dinner.

Can it be forgiven? No, nothing in Fury can be forgiven, and that’s the point. Plot-wise, it’s a movie about a World War 2 tank crew, which were only composed of men. Thematically, it’s a movie about men molding other men by threatening them with violence, making them commit violence, and using peer approval and women as the prizes for doing right (i.e. killing without hesitation).

World War 2 is often considered one of the last righteous American wars. This doesn’t mean it was any easier for those involved. What Fury does best is make us still feel for the men who do these awful things – not just to the enemy, but to each other and to innocent bystanders. We begin to understand why, not to give it a pass, but to comprehend just how mad and hellish struggling for one’s life day after day can become.

To watch characters who commit atrocities and still feel for them, to cry over their internal struggles and shake as their fates are decided…it’s a rare experience in any form of storytelling. The point isn’t that these things are forgivable. It’s that they aren’t, and yet we force soldiers into situations where they will increasingly choose the unforgivable just to stay sane.

By extension, what does it say that we use these same tactics to train and reward men for being “manly” in times of peace, or at home during wartime? To be manly, must we always be in a constant state of war with someone, must we always be finding something new to hate in order to draw strength, must we always beat down the sensitive among us until their own window to hate is opened, so they can become manly like us?

The most important way you can understand Fury is to not forgive it. Ayer and Pitt and those involved have created these characters and moments to be unlikeable for a reason. It’s no mistake that the last person in the world you’d ever expect to show mercy is the one that does. It’s the only time two characters connect in the film, understand each other with all the B.S. removed, see in each other what they’ve lost along the way.

Can Fury be forgiven? I’ll be troubled if it is. It’s the rare piece of art that wants you to talk about why it can’t be.

Fury the dinner scene

A Bit of a Punishment — “No Good Deed”

No Good Deed lead

by Gabe Valdez

Movies are all about expectations. If I’d rented No Good Deed straight-to-DVD, having no idea what it was, I still wouldn’t think it’s a good movie but I’d applaud the effort. Seeing it in the theater, however, magnifies all its flaws 30 feet tall.

Most of my expectations come from the leads. Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson typically define quality. You’ll recognize Elba from Thor and Pacific Rim (or the BBC’s Luther), Henson from TV’s Person of Interest. Elba plays an escaped convict, Colin Evans, who we’re told is a malignant narcissist. Think Jeffrey Dahmer – all charm and intellect in the service of murdering women. Henson is Terri, a mother of two children whose home he finds after driving off the road in a rainstorm.

What follows is a cat-and-mouse game as Colin ingratiates himself more and more into Terri’s evening, learning information about her, whether her husband will be returning, earning the momentary trust of her daughter.

So what are these flaws? The script by Aimee Lagos is awful. The concepts are good, but the dialogue just isn’t there. You’ll never see a more underlit movie in your life. There’s realism and then there’s watching actors in permanent silhouette for 90 minutes. Ever wonder what the moody, droning synth music they play in crime procedurals sounds like in an entire theater? The answer is “overwrought.”

Worse yet, director Sam Miller doesn’t know when to cut. Elba and Henson do a great job of saving the tension of the film later on, but in the service of realism, Miller extends scenes and shots too long, taking nicely acted emotional beats into the dreaded realm of overacting. He does his actors a disservice.

No Good Deed mid

Worst of all (I feel like we’re doing a countdown here), there’s a major twist near the end of the film. Now, twists are great. I love twists. One of the saddest days in recent film history is when M. Night Shyamalan got self-conscious and stopped using them. When you add a twist in the last act of a movie, however, you have to give your viewer space to process it. The best twists – those in Fight Club, The Usual Suspects, and Shyamalan’s early career – are foreshadowed expertly and delivered so precisely that they seem obvious to the viewer the moment they’re revealed. The only thing you want an audience to think in that moment is: “How could I not see that earlier?”

The twist in No Good Deed still has you figuring out how it works as you walk out of the theater. It’s not a bad concept. In fact, it’s the most interesting element of the movie – it changes Colin’s entire motive and presents an even more warped and frightening vision of his moral compass. It’s delivered in such a clunky manner and feels so far out of left field, however, that the shaky suspense Elba and Henson have fought to develop across the rest of the film evaporates in a heartbeat. It’s the single worst moment I’ve seen in a movie this year.

On a side note, No Good Deed is getting slammed by some because it’s a movie about a man’s violence toward women in a news week dominated by the NFL’s Ray Rice and other players being investigated for domestic abuse. I’ll credit a movie for coming out in a timely manner and having social presence, but I’ll hardly blame one for coming out during the wrong news cycle. (I’d also tell ESPN that while they’re tearing down the NFL – and rightly so, despite my love for the game – that it seems disingenuous to champion Floyd Mayweather and athletes in other sports free of the context of their domestic violence histories.)

Getting back on task, No Good Deed is a mess, but is it an interesting mess? It has its moments, primarily because Elba and Henson keep recovering the film’s tension. One scene in particular, involving a shower and Colin forcing Terri to change, was uncomfortably close to the domestic violence a friend of mine recently suffered. It captured my attention. Another scene involving a traffic stop is very solid. The film keeps coming frustratingly close to mattering, but it undermines itself on every technical and story level possible. I’ll applaud the effort, but its execution is disastrously bad.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

All new reviews going forward will have a section on whether the movie passes the Bechdel Test. This helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does “No Good Deed” have more than one woman in it?
Yes. Terri’s best friend Meg (Leslie Bibb) and daughter Ryan (Mirage Moonschein), as well as Colin’s unnamed ex (Kate Del Castillo).

2. Do they talk to each other?
Yes. Terri speaks with Ryan and Meg at different points in the movie.

3. About something other than a man?
Technically, yes.

I’ll go into this last answer. Terri speaks with her daughter Ryan, telling her to do chores or get ready for bed. The only conversation she has with another adult is with Meg. These conversations have one-line asides about other matters, but always focus squarely on men – Terri’s husband, the mysterious Colin.

Meg is a fairly empowered character – she ogles a construction worker, she’s sexually assertive, and she’s clever about ferreting out Colin’s lies. Ryan is a little girl and doesn’t have much to do outside of being in danger. She’s never once scared, but I think this has more to do with bad direction of a child actor than any statement the movie’s making. Terri herself is presented as having given away much of her independence and power to her husband, and regretting this. Within the confines of horror movie cliches, she’s very smart in how she fights back against Colin and protects her children – it’s safe to say she’s a strong role model.

The genre itself (home invasion) requires every character get beaten, terrorized, or killed at some point. Everyone but the villain being a woman presents a danger in adopting the villain’s misogyny from a cinematic standpoint. For all its other faults (and there are many), the movie does avoid this trap. Its women are terrorized, but that never feels like the point. Terri and Meg are strong, capable women with their own lives, although I do wish their friendship had been explored a bit more.

A More Bechdel Blog — How and Why We’re Doing It

Ida Lupino directing

One of my most recent friends is a woman in her early 20s, whose hair hangs over one side of her face because of a scar that runs from the corner of her mouth halfway to her ear. We avoided the topic when we first met, but you could recognize two people under there.

We’ve since discussed that scar, the result of an angry ex-boyfriend who hooked a knife behind her cheek and pulled. His reasoning, as best she came to terms with it, is that if he couldn’t have her, he’d ruin her so no one else would ever want to. Every man from then on would know he’d taken a piece of her that day, had left a territorial marker.

Even after they’d broken up, her future was his to decide. Easy as that. A hand on the head, a knife in the mouth, a flex of the elbow.

She knows her hair doesn’t hide the scar, but it at least communicates to people that she doesn’t want it to be a focal point. Uncover it and we stare, cover it back up and we get the message.

Uncover it, though, and everything’s tilted. Every smile and frown and word only takes place on the side of her face she’s habituated to using. The other side stays still, frozen, trained over the years never to draw attention to itself.

In that way, he did claim a part of her that day. It’s a terrifying idea, to go through life with whole sections of your body and psyche taken away.

When I asked her if I could write this, she asked me why.

Because one of my friends last month wrote that she was given a temporary set of densures, to replace the teeth broken out of her mouth. She said she wept when she looked in the mirror and saw herself with teeth again.

Both these women are strong. Both these women are intelligent. Both these women are extraordinarily kind, despite what’s happened to them. They aren’t victims, they’re damn role models.

I can fill pages with the stories I haven’t asked permission for yet, but they’re not mine to tell. They speak of women who live daily with the evidence that men left a mark they thought they had the right to make.

The truth is, as a man, it’s difficult to figure out the right way to speak out. We’re not brought up – no one’s brought up – to view domestic violence as a regular part of our cultural heritage. It’s the exception. Even those who suffer it view it as an exception. It’s not to be talked about because it’s not normal: that’s the myth.

Several days before my friend had her teeth kicked in, jaw broken, hands stabbed, in addition to dozens of other injuries she sustained, I wrote down this phrase: “Be angry. But don’t just be angry.”

I have no idea what prompted me to write that down or what it pertained to in my head. But now it seems to hold special significance to me, as if the universe just knew I’d need that phrase a few days later. Because I am angry, and I’ve been livid since that day. But I’ve been angry before, and I know it’s greedy and self-serving. It’s a way for me to deal with feeling like I wasn’t there to protect someone I care about. It’s not a way to support and help.

I’m glad we have a voice here. At the beginning of the year, this site might have reached a few dozen people. Now, it reaches thousands. In the big scheme of things, we’re still a very modest blog, but I don’t want to have the biggest film site. I want to have the biggest film site that does things right, that has a social conscience, and that looks at its job as primarily one of creating art, not of tearing it down.

We can’t change something systemic just by being angry. We have to embody the change we want to see, and hope our own example changes the example others set.

With that in mind, we are making some changes to the site.

Nora Ephron directing

The Creative Director

First and foremost, Vanessa Tottle will be our first Creative Director. She’s essentially been moving toward that position for several weeks already while we’ve tested new features. I have final edit, but the idea is that Vanessa will control the direction of the content itself. We’ll still be movie-focused, but articles will be more varied, and features more regular. She’s still getting her PhD and travels abroad regularly, but we’re all so terrified of incurring her wrath, I’m confident we’ll stay on task when she’s away.

We don’t intend to change the pre-existing flavor of anything we do, but we do want to add detail and better realize opportunities for talking about issues like domestic and sexual violence, more open communication, and feminism as a whole. These have a role in art and the media that are drastically underplayed at the moment. If we’re not critics of that, what are we critics of?

We now have a rotating, very-part time staff of six writers including Vanessa and myself who volunteer their time and effort. They are writers S.L. Fevre, Cleopatra Parnell, editor Eden O’Nuallain, and researcher Amanda Smith. This is in addition to more than 20 writers from whom we’ve featured exclusive content. More on our wonderful, newish staff in a later article, because I want to move onto the biggest format change:

Julie Taymor directing

More Bechdel

From now on, every new review posted on this site will have a critique based on the Bechdel Test added at the end. The Bechdel Test rates three simple fundamentals of a movie.

1. It has to have at least two women in it.

2. They have to talk to each other.

3. And that discussion has to be about something other than a man.

Those are fairly basic standards, and some films that pass the Bechdel Test still don’t present women in a good light. Sucker Punch, for instance. Similarly, some films that fail every step of the Bechdel Test feature superb female heroes. Just look at Gravity. The Bechdel Test is not an absolute; it is a tool of measure…so it won’t just be a straight yes/no to each of these questions. We’ll get into why and how each film does what it does.

We realize most people won’t make their viewing decisions based on the Bechdel Test, I often address the portrayal of women in my reviews without it, and there are already good resources for finding out if movies pass the test. It is our hope that visibly including the Bechdel Test at the end of every new review will serve as a reminder for how much work Hollywood still has to do. We also encounter that many still think of the Bechdel Test as a distasteful topic, as if somehow film is too much a creative act to be subject to reasonable social representation. We hope its inclusion will help to normalize the idea in people’s heads – not as some abstract talking point but rather as a useful and informative tool in how we assess film.

We won’t make a big deal of it after this – we don’t want to risk turning it into a gimmick. The review itself will still be the review. It’ll just have additional information for readers to consider.

Kathryn Bigelow directing

Realizing Opportunities for Change

We are also taking smaller steps, but hopefully these are no less impactful. For example:

When discussing music videos, we typically link the video and list its title, artist, and director. We’ve been frustrated that when choosing our top videos of the year, half-year, or month, most are directed by men.

This doesn’t mean they do a better job – our top video of 2013, Arcade Fire’s “Afterlife,” was directed by the phenomenally talented Emily Kai Bock, who notched three music videos on the countdown. Our top video for the first half of 2014, Sia’s “Chandelier” was co-directed (with Daniel Askill) by Sia herself.

Rather, it means that the industry – like filmmaking – is dominated by male directors. Vanessa and I made separate comments that inspired Amanda toward a bit of research. Lo and behold, she found that while the music videos we’ve sifted through (we watched more than 70 for August alone) are nearly all directed by men, the majority of producers are women.

For that reason, when we list a music video now, we will not only list the director, but also the producers. It makes sense – producers have the most important role after the artist and director. Most readers aren’t interested in who produces a music video – we realize that – but we hope highlighting the number of women involved in producing will help readers recognize the power and creativity women can and do wield in filmmaking of all kinds.

We were disappointed when we realized 90% of music video directors are men. We were overjoyed to find that about 60% of music video producers are women. While we realize there’s still a problem to be addressed in that disparity, we hope that readers, viewers, aspiring artists – men and women alike – will also notice that and feel that same joy. Perhaps, it will persuade someone down the road to buck the trend and hire a woman to direct.

This site’s been about melding criticism with social consciousness from Day One. These are the sorts of changes that don’t refocus what we do, but that let us better realize our goal of delivering a new brand of criticism, one that still tells you the basic “is this movie good or not,” but also seeks to make artistic and social statements of its own.

If there’s anything you notice we can do differently, or better, tell us. Thank you for reading.

The women in the photos throughout this article are directors who have each shown why we’d have a better entertainment industry if women had equal opportunity to direct. In order, they are: Ida Lupino, Nora Ephron, Julie Taymor, and Kathryn Bigelow.