Tag Archives: feminism

Silent All These Years — The Accounting of a Woman

by Vanessa Tottle

She had a personality once. It cost her dearly because it didn’t include baking cookies. It cost her dearly because it didn’t include choosing drapery.

It included being a lawyer, going undercover to investigate racial integration in schools, offering legal aid to those who couldn’t afford it, having a career.

And the 1990s asked us how we could trust her if she wasn’t baking cookies.

So she baked you some fucking cookies in between declaring my rights are human rights, and getting health insurance for 11 million previously uninsured children through S-CHIP.

You don’t remember S-CHIP. You aren’t a child who lived because of it, or who avoided pain because of it. You proclaim her 1990s health care drive a failure.

You don’t remember when women’s rights weren’t human rights, or live where they still aren’t, or suffer because they closed your Planned Parenthood down. You proclaim Hillary Clinton a failure.

Then there are those who need her. There are the marginalized communities who supported her. Latinx voters like myself. Women voters like myself. And Black voters. And LGBTQ voters. And more. We all asked for your help. We all asked for your vote.

Did you give it?

She is the victim of a philandering husband, yet Bill is her fault. From the Right, she couldn’t satisfy him. From the Left, she couldn’t keep him leashed. Why didn’t she divorce him, you ask. Your news feed answers with Angelina Jolie and Amber Heard and Gwyneth Paltrow, a parade of men’s voices screaming hate and vitriol and threats for the simple act of leaving their men.

Now you tell her she has no personality, she’s cold, she can’t be trusted.

Let me tell you something: I have no personality. I am cold. I cannot be trusted.

When I was the best student in class and I was told my grade would be held down unless I sucked my professor’s dick, I took the lesser grade and brought it up to the administration. He kept his job. Nothing changed, except I lost a piece of what makes me a person.

When my passport was held at bay in a foreign country unless I slept with my host, I became warm and gracious and cloying, but that was all a lie. Inside, I was as cold as I have ever been. He didn’t get a thing, but I left behind the warmth of trust.

When I’ve been at a bar, and I’ve lied that I have a boyfriend, or that I’m married, or that I have an STD, or I spilled a hot toddy to get a hand off my arm but called it an accident, I couldn’t be trusted. There are a hundred environments where a woman is prepared to be untrustworthy just to survive, just to be listened to, just to be legitimate.

You contemplated your vote and saw that she has no personality, that she’s cold, that she can’t be trusted.

If your career is under threat, your goals are under threat, your legitimacy is under threat, you look back across your life and see the history that combination covers, the evolution from there to here of self-protection: the loss of personality, of warmth, of trust.

Many turn to us and tell us the act of voting for Hillary Clinton proved how little we know. But we look upon our experiences, and the pieces of us those experiences have wrought: the personality, and warmth, and trust it’s cost.

We wonder what a privilege it is to not recognize these losses in another because you have never lost them. You think these are simply traits of a woman’s personality, instead of badges women earn through time. They are marks of survival. They are deep scars. They are how I understood a warrior who held onto herself through it all; they are how you understood a whore, a nasty woman, a lack of character.

I saw a woman who offered me freedom from the scars I earn; you chanted, “Lock her up.”

The costs for a woman’s place at the table vary, but those costs are asked of us everywhere.

We finally saw a woman who could become president. She had paid some of these costs and refused to pay others, and she threatened to rewrite all of this ugly accounting that asks women to pay in the currency of our personalities, and warmth, and trust.

Your response was to tell us she lacked personality, and warmth, and trust.

How do we reply to you? With anger, with laughter, with tears? Or with a straight face because that is the practice this accounting asks of us? With ledgers in our eyes? With all the numbers in the red that we’ve accrued? With a history of costs and a map of the pieces left behind?

She just wasn’t trustworthy, you’ll explain. In the back of your mind, you’ll wonder why I don’t smile more. Shall I for you, after what you’ve done?

Yes. I think I’ll bare these teeth at last.

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“Ex Machina” — Best Films of 2015

by Gabriel Valdez

I was protected in high school from the abuse of hazing because of my sister. Four years ahead of me, she went to the incoming seniors before she graduated. She said if they hazed me, she would be back for them, and they wouldn’t be happy about it. They never touched me.

I tried to extend that shield when I could, and a few times I was able to for certain friends. I discovered earlier this year that one of those friends went on to sexually assault a number of women, using his position as a publicist within the music industry to grope them and attempt to pressure them into having sex.

When I found out, I felt like I had done something wrong by protecting him at 14, that I somehow should have known better. I felt what he did in the future was some failing of mine by taking some momentary part in his life in the past. I described the feeling to one of the closest people in my life like this:

You work to make sure there isn’t a fire at your feet. You stamp out what you can, you keep the people that you can safe in the ways you know how, and you be there for them when you can’t. And you feel like maybe, you’ve made a change, that maybe the small effect you’ve had can make a difference. And then you look up from your patch of ground only to realize the whole city’s burning, and you feel lost and it feels overwhelming. You’ll return to making what change you can, but in that moment, you’re lost. The damage done in the world is irreversible.

As a society, we are hateful to women. There is no argument to be had that we are not.

“Ex Machina” felt like looking up and seeing the city on fire. It can be a problematic film to champion because of that. In order to make a horror film from the lessons we teach men about possessing women, it demonstrated that possession in no uncertain terms. It does so through creating an A.I. and then asking its protagonist – and its audience – whether she’s human. If she isn’t human, she’s a thing kept, a possession, an object. If she is human, the very act of keeping her entrapped, of possessing her, is an act of assault. “Ex Machina” uses the Turing Test as a code through which we judge our own social assumptions. While the most blatant of its transgressions are suggested rather than shown, the space in which “Ex Machina” suggests them is as claustrophobic as cinema gets.

After its opening weekend, I experienced something that rarely happens. Through the window of discussing the movie, I had dozens of conversations with men about the lessons we’re taught regarding women, the things society ingrains in us to endorse and ignore. These conversations are normally extremely difficult to start with other men. They’re easily dismissed. They don’t happen. When they do, they run the course of shallow agreement, declining the real work of self-analysis.

For a few weeks, “Ex Machina” changed something in the men who had seen it. We talked about these things. We shared stories of what we’d seen, of things that some people had done, of realizations, of opportunities to help that we missed, of friends and loved ones who were forever changed because of acts of male possession. Men need to look up and see the city is burning, and we need to do it together, and we need to believe and support the women who have been shouting “Fire!” all their lives to us.

And for a minute, because of a movie that made a horror out of the gender roles we’re taught when young, I felt as if many men looked up together and saw the fire and talked about it as we rarely do. I only wish that could be the norm. I wish it didn’t take a movie to make that happen. I wish it wasn’t a momentary effect. I wish we didn’t all lower our eyes to our patch of ground again and pretend the city’s not burning down around us.

Ex Machina poster

Images are from Hollywood Reporter and Tale of Two Dans.

The Most Beautiful Primary

by Gabriel Valdez

Politics can be beautiful, damn it.

This beauty hides behind statistics and demographics and any number of political sciences that begin to make a voter feel inhuman.

So ignore those things for a minute. Ask what the philosophies being discussed really represent.

Are racial, gender, and community injustices root causes? Do they arise naturally, and then make the implementation of economic injustices necessary for the survival of those root causes? This would be the view of social injustice that Sen. Hillary Clinton champions.

Or is economic injustice the root cause that creates racial, gender, and community injustices, and uses the divisiveness of these as tools that feed the root cause of class indifference? This would be the view of social injustice that Sen. Bernie Sanders champions.

In other words, are racism, gender, and community bias something natural that we have to socially evolve away from in conscious ways in order to overcome? Is Clinton right?

Or are those things unnatural social constructs that are simply created and then preyed upon by economic injustice for its continuation? Is Sanders right?

That seems to be how the Democratic primary is breaking down. What are the real causes? What are the symptoms that distract us from them?

I fall squarely in the Clinton camp. Sociological studies have shown us that our biases are natural inclinations. That hardly justifies them. As a society, we’ve overcome many other natural inclinations that we deemed unwanted in order to continue existing as a healthy civilization. We consciously change our lives all the time, individually and as a society, in order to make our existences and interactions healthier.

(I mean, you’re reading this on a computer or phone that you got because it increases your efficiency at doing a number of daily tasks. We’ve already stepped irreversibly down the transhumanist path of social evolution, and we barely noticed.)

Either way, at least this dichotomy in thinking is at the core of the Democratic debate. Let’s bring demographics back into the discussion. You can see philosophy even in how groups of people lean one way or the other:

Those who’ve suffered racial injustice (people of color), gender injustice (older women), and community injustice (urban and failing industrial communities) to a greater extent than economic injustice tend to side with Clinton.

Those who’ve suffered economic injustice (young voters, low-income white voters, rural and current industrial communities) to a greater extent than racial, gender, or community injustice tend to side with Sanders.

Both candidates’ messages are evolving geographically as primary season continues, as they always do. But from the beginning, the fight for support has been over those who have been victimized most by the cross-section of these two separate philosophies of injustice:

Young voters of color have suffered the effects of severe racial injustice and the long-lasting economic impacts of the Great Recession.

Young women voters have suffered the effects of both aggressive gender injustice and those same economic impacts of the Great Recession.

And low-income white voters have suffered both the abandonment of the infrastructure of their communities and the disappearance of a reliable industrial economy.

These are the voters most “at play” for a reason, because they fall squarely between two philosophies of how to fix the world. And that they are being valued and spoken to and planned around is beautiful. It may be discussed in demographics and statistics and pop political science talking points, but the discussion itself – at its root – is about the construction of our society from the ground up.

I can’t remember anything like it in politics, anything that strikes so far down to the philosophical core of how societies choose to evolve. The arguments we have and the passion behind those arguments are very real and very crucial – these are not philosophies that share much middle ground, but they are philosophies that can and must be brought closer together.

That the Democratic primary is a discussion of social evolution is in itself a striking moment. Contrasting philosophies of social evolution are usually not the core around which any election evolves in this country, at least not since the Civil Rights movement and UFW agricultural strikes. While this primary is a very ugly one, when you can take a step back and boil down what’s really being discussed, it also might be the most beautiful one.

 

Brutal, Disturbing, Vicious & Poignant — “The Gift”

Rebecca Hall in The Gift
Understated performances never get their due.

The big story of the weekend is that you should avoid the Fantastic Four reboot at all costs, but what should you see instead? Consider psychological thriller The Gift.

Its premise seems familiar on the surface. Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) move to California, close to where he grew up. An awkward former classmate of Simon’s, named Gordo (Joel Edgerton), thrusts himself into their lives with a cloying and creepy attachment. One thing leads to another, and pretty soon Simon and Robyn are terrified by Gordo. Yet The Gift holds more secrets than your average Cape Fear knockoff. It’s a tightly wound thriller of well-paced deceptions and reveals that holds moments of real fright and disturbing vengeance.

The Gift works so very well because control over its plot evolves from one act to the next. Doing this in a spoiler-free way, during the first act, Simon is making the decisions. He’s the one who guides the direction of the story. The most important element is also the most subtle: Robyn acts out of a need to fill many of the expected roles of a wife to Simon. Yet the viewer can catch blink-and-you’ll-miss-them instances that point toward Simon bullying her. He feeds her those expectations and controls her through them. She’s restless, but she doesn’t know why.

The second act is entirely Robyn’s, and it’s the most compelling. She’s paranoid and trapped in her own home, but it’s not just because of Gordo – it’s also because of the subtle pressures Simon exerts over her life. She confronts her own doubts and begins to uncover hidden truths about Simon as well.

I’ll refrain from divulging anything about the third act except to say it’s all about Gordo realizing his control. This makes for a disturbing ending that doesn’t play to any familiar expectations. The final twist is not one that you’ll guess. That’s a rare feat in cinema.

Jason Bateman in The Gift
Jason Bateman plays a subtler form of toxic masculinity.

Its twist is clever because it’s right in front of you the whole time, but it’s also a jolt. Suddenly, the film is making the viewer do the work, hiding answers and forcing the viewer to create their own from whichever truth they decide to put faith in. Since most of the film is about revealing truth and getting closer to being whole, the film gives you an option of what to believe in the end. Is it a story of physical brutality, or psychological manipulation, or of discovering freedom? Only Ex Machina this year has created such a complex and challenging ending, although Ex Machina was much clearer on what homework exactly it wants the audience to take home.

Here’s where the audience will split. For those expecting a more traditional horror movie, a deliberate slow burner might not possess the right kind of big events. There’s creep factor to The Gift, and two of the most effective jump scares I’ve experienced, but this is squarely in psychological thriller territory, not pure horror.

For those wanting a psychological suspense piece with a lot of character, this is your film. It gets inside your head very well, and it keeps you guessing throughout. Its ideas are disturbing and play off the paranoid inferences our own minds start creating everywhere.

All three leads deliver superb performances. Bateman is most famous for Arrested Development, but he shows a skill for subtlety and misdirection here I didn’t expect. He has a scene two-thirds through the film that is perhaps the best moment of his career. Rebecca Hall (The Town) powers through films and has a knack for characters who feel real and accessible. Her role is quieter yet more demanding than the two men. Edgerton (Ramses in Exodus: Gods and Kings) also wrote and directed the film. You can see why he cast himself as Gordo. He’s note perfect, making a small role cast a large and toxic shadow across the rest of the film.

The three fuse and play off each other exceedingly well. Explaining the talent each actor displays on their own doesn’t quite express the devious synergy at play between them. It’s a perfect trio for this kind of film, each one charming, guarded, and needy in turn, one pulling for something the minute another pushes.

One day, The Gift will make a vicious double-feature with Gone Girl. Re-watching the trailer, I’m also impressed that half the things you’re about to see are red herrings:

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.

Does The Gift have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Rebecca Hall plays Robyn. Allison Tolman plays Lucy. The awesomely named Busy Philipps plays Duffy. Mirrah Foulkes plays Wendy Dale. Katie Aselton plays Joan. Melinda Allen plays a real estate agent, although she remains unnamed.

Do they talk to each other?

Yes.

About something other than a man?

Yes.

This clearly and easily passes the Bechdel Test. It’s also interesting because so much of what Robyn speaks to her friends about results from the subtle pressures Simon puts on her to fulfill the stereotypical role of a wife. Robyn says she wants to have a family, and she feels it in a removed way, but you never get the idea that she’s made the decision about it. It’s what she wants because Simon puts pressure on her to want it.

The movie’s acts are broken up by scenes of Robyn jogging, yet this seems less for her than it does as a way of releasing something she can’t understand or deal with herself. In fact, the only times she seems to be herself are when she’s around Gordo. She objects to Simon shutting Gordo out of their lives completely, but she allows Simon to bully both her and Gordo into acquiescing to his desires.

It creates a dynamic where Robyn is concerned with stereotypical gender roles not as a self-fulfilling desire, but rather as one that fulfills Simon. Part of the reason why the ending is troublesome on the surface is because Robyn is turned into something to be possessed in the third act. Of course, this isn’t the movie’s commentary on women – it’s a commentary on how Simon views the world and how Gordo can punish Simon. It’s a commentary on men. That doesn’t change the fact that women might suffer in order to make that commentary.

It’s difficult and something of a slippery slope that will inspire a wide range of opinion, but I will say that The Gift finds a way to make many perceived realities into conjectures on the parts of different characters. You really can’t be sure walking out what does or doesn’t happen, or the degree to which someone did or didn’t suffer. In this way, The Gift has its cake and eats it, too.

The implications of all this are right there on-screen, so even if it’s cruel, it’s cruel in order to call out the toxic masculinity that Jason Bateman’s Simon exhibits. Counter-programming Bateman and Edgerton into roles that might make more sense with the casting reversed also serves to exhibit how that toxic masculinity can hide itself in many forms, not just the obvious mustache-twirling, evil villain, film versions. In many ways, The Gift lets you decide just how cruel you want its truth to be, and it forces you into a place where deciding either way is a form of cruelty on the part of the viewer. Do you want to believe in violent, paranoid cruelty or everyday, mundane cruelty?

For that, it relies on Rebecca Hall to thread a needle in a performance that will not be praised as much as Bateman’s and Edgerton’s skilled-yet-showier roles. Hall’s performance offers a third argument: the rejection of both forms of cruelty. In the end, what you walk out of the theater believing may belie your own presumptions and those presumptions that are reinforced by storytelling themes that are repeated in other media ad nauseum. That’s where the genius of The Gift lies, in all senses of the term.

Most will walk out seeing it from Simon’s or Gordo’s perspective, believing in one or the other’s presented truths. To believe in either is to put your faith in victimizers who simply operate on flip-sides of the same coin. Some will walk out recognizing a third route in Robyn’s, a conclusion that must rely on one or the other of the male truths, yet that still exists as its own reality going forward.

The Gift doesn’t say all this or handle it as perfectly as it could – it’s a clear notch below movies like Ex Machina and Gone Girl in how expertly it throws the audience between different perspectives. Yet it does have its own unique way of forcing the audience into a corner, of making us take the homework of thinking and thinking and thinking about it home with us in a way few movies do. That rarity is something special, and it’s unique in many ways to, as David Fincher once put it, “Movies that scar.”

The Gift is very unfair, and that’s the point. It’s left to the audience to decide just how fair its reality is, and how fair everything is after the credits roll, both in the movie’s world and in our own.

Where did we get our awesome images? The featured image is from Entertainment Weekly’s brief review. The 2 in-article images are from Vanity Fair’s interview with Rebecca Hall.

Ethan Meets an Equal — “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”

Rebecca Ferguson fight scene in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
You just hang around, Tom Cruise, I got this.

by Gabriel Valdez

Every once in a while, there’s an action movie you breathe your way out of as the credits roll. You’ve been smiling the last several minutes and maybe you hadn’t even realized you were holding your breath. You’re also charged – your adrenaline’s spiking and you feel like you could do a thousand ill-advised stunts just like the action heroes on screen did. The Matrix is the poster child of this post-movie syndrome. Millions of viewers in 1999 hoped that someone would try to engage them in a kung fu battle in the theater’s parking lot. The Bourne Ultimatum made us feel like we could race across rooftops and earlier this year, Mad Max: Fury Road made passengers across America shout for exhilarated drivers to stop hairpinning every turn as if they were being chased by post-apocalyptic Viking dune buggies.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is not just the best of the Mission: Impossible films, it’s also one of the better spy movies you may ever see. There are larger than life action sequences, but the film lives and breathes its complicated spy world like none of the other Mission: Impossible films have. Each movie in this series has been an action movie first and a spy movie second. Rogue Nation reverses this trend. It ramps up the film’s spy elements without losing the breakneck action. Moreover, there are fewer technological gimmicks – Rogue Nation is a film about play and counter-play, about plots buried within plots and the personalities behind them clashing and manipulating each other.

The hallmark of the Mission: Impossible franchise is getting to see nearly every element of a well-orchestrated plan go wrong at some point. The team has to adjust on the fly. Rogue Nation remembers this, but evokes it in some different ways.

Tom Cruise on motorcycle in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Tom, look behind you. THAT’S why you need to wear a helmet.

As Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his spy agency the IMF are shut down by Congress, he has to pursue a burgeoning terrorist organization without much help. Where predecessor Ghost Protocol found mileage by pairing Cruise with Jeremy Renner’s William Brandt, Rogue Nation makes a riskier gambit. Cruise is paired with Simon Pegg’s Benji for a good portion of the film. Benji isn’t just there for comic relief; he’s an agent in his own right by this point. Pegg’s impeccable timing and irreverent attitude bring a fuller human being out of Cruise this time around. Pegg’s presence allows Cruise to be less perfect, more flawed. It’s an unexpectedly enjoyable screen pairing.

The previous “best” in the series, Ghost Protocol let the viewer into the chaos even as a plan unfolded. The tension in a spy sequence relied on how our heroes were going to find ways to help each other as everything around them broke down. Rogue Nation takes a different tack by hiding several characters’ real motivations from the viewer. The tension arises from how our heroes may find ways to betray each other. It’s a fun inversion that takes particular advantage of Jeremy Renner’s skill at being such a good wet blanket.

Tom Cruise and Jeremy Renner in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Jeremy Renner: wet blanket for hire.

There are two big names to know here. The first is Rebecca Ferguson. She plays Ilsa Faust, who is Ethan’s equal as an agent. This isn’t the James Bond style of “equal,” meaning she’s equal insofar as it takes to turn her into a romantic conquest. No, she is essentially as good a fighter, as good a shot, as good a driver, and as clever a spy as Ethan is. She’s also the heart of the plot, something of a quadruple agent by the time the story’s done.

This brings up the second name: Christopher McQuarrie. He directed and wrote the screenplay. You may not know him, but he once won an Oscar for writing The Usual Suspects. It was a complex crime thriller with practical style and storytelling. For inspiration, Rogue Nation hearkens back to that practical style, as well as the first Mission: Impossible film. McQuarrie has a talent for creating incredibly complex and ever-evolving stories, but he uses considerable behind-the-scenes wizardry to present a classy, raw-yet-polished style that’s free of needless flash. Audiences can easily keep up with and enjoy the complicated spy shenanigans.

We may not all be Tom Cruise fans – there are things to admire and despise about the actor himself. If you’re going to watch any recent Tom Cruise movie, this is the one to see. There’s not much ego to the film. It’s also a Rebecca Ferguson and a Simon Pegg movie. While it’s a very good action film, it’s a truly thrilling spy movie. You probably won’t see anything else like it this year.

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 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation have more than one woman in it?

Yes and no. Outside Rebecca Ferguson, there is a speaking role for Hermione Corfield, but the technically correct version of this question requires more than one named woman. Corfield plays “Record Shop Girl.” A few henchmen (but still not enough) are played by women, which is refreshing, and Jingchu Zhang plays Lauren, but her role is brief and I don’t think she’s ever named in the film, just on the IMDB page.

2. Do they talk to each other?

No.

3. About something other than a man?

Moot point if the previous answer is a no.

This is an interesting one because it goes in all directions at once, both good and bad. Paula Patton and Maggie Q were sought to reprise their roles from the fourth and third movies, much as Renner, Pegg, and Ving Rhames reprise their roles. Patton couldn’t do it because of her lead role in the Warcraft movie, while Maggie Q was filming the lead role in the now-canceled TV show Stalker.

One can be informed by what happens behind-the-scenes – I can understand why they didn’t want to introduce additional team members beyond the ones we already know. At the same time, one also has to judge by what’s on the screen, and Rogue Nation fails the Bechdel Test pretty hard.

The Bechdel Test is part of an equation, not the whole thing. It’s refreshing to see a woman who’s neither a love interest nor a junior member to the team here. Ilsa being Ethan’s equal is stressed, and Ferguson carries the action scenes incredibly well across multiple fights. On the who-saves-who scorecard, Ethan comes out owing Ilsa pretty considerably.

Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
It’s what I always wear when assassinating chancellors.

The film does focus on Rebecca Ferguson scantily dressed in at least three scenes. There is some level of lusting the other direction, however, as Tom Cruise is presented to us shirtless and still in better shape than most of America. It’s certainly not equal lusting. The male gaze is served much more than the female gaze. I give credit to the film for not forcing a romance between the 31 year-old Ferguson and the 53 year-old Cruise. It could have diminished the notion that she’s his equal if done wrong (most films do this wrong), as well as disrespecting the narrative of Ethan’s own complicated, still-in-love-with Michelle Monaghan backstory from the third and fourth films.

Take all of that into account. Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa is my second favorite movie badass of any gender this year after Charlize Theron’s Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road. The difference is that Furiosa was allowed to be a badass without being sexualized according to the male gaze the way Ilsa is. It’s also awkward because, given her role in the film, Ilsa doesn’t need to be so sexualized.

Rebecca Ferguson on motorcycle in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
I don’t understand, why couldn’t she wear this to the opera?

The end result is something complicated: there’s a positively portrayed, talented, professional woman who can spy, fight, drive, and do all the things Tom Cruise does without having to fall for him. She’s his complete equal plot-wise, but not always according to the film’s camera. At times, she’s still hyper-sexualized in a way not necessitated by the plot but that serves the male gaze in the audience. I don’t find myself angry at Rogue Nation the way I am at some films that do this. Whether that’s because Ilsa is presented so equally otherwise, or because my opinion’s been compromised by the tendencies of my own gaze, it’s difficult to tell.

Trying to return Patton and Maggie Q along with the franchise’s other actors is a positive, but not one that shows up on screen or that can be communicated to most audiences. Regardless, ending up with so few women in the film is a big negative. That Ferguson’s Ilsa is presented so capably is a big positive. That Ferguson’s Ilsa is sexualized by the camera in a way that she isn’t by the plot or through her characterization is a negative. Given the state of the industry as a whole when it comes to women, do the negatives outweigh the positives? Given the lack of strong women characters, does having that one positive outweigh the negatives? This time, I can’t really tell. There’s a lot missing from Rogue Nation in the way of women, but what it does have in Ferguson’s Ilsa is missing from a lot of the industry. This section isn’t always meant for judgment, certainly not as much as it’s meant for information. If it were meant for judgment, I would find mine pretty obscured this time out.

Where did we get our awesome images? The feature image is from NY Daily News’ box office report. The topmost of Rebecca Ferguson throwing an elbow and the one with Jeremy Renner are from Slice of Sci-Fi’s review. Tom Cruise on a motorcycle comes from Forbes’ box office report. The last two images of Rebecca Ferguson come from the excellent Collider.

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?

Yes.

3. About something other than a man?

No.

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.

Full Review: “Inside Out” Ranks Among Pixar’s Best

Inside Out Sadness and Joy
via Collider

by Gabriel Valdez

#Note: I’m still writing for AC, but I’ll be focusing more on social and political commentary there, so more of my movie reviews will be appearing in full on this website again, starting with this one:

There’s a famous montage in Pixar’s Up that tells the life story of a man and woman, from their meeting as children to his losing her of old age. It never fails to draw tears from any viewer.

Imagine zooming in on that montage and watching a briefer piece of it. It has the same effect for viewers, but the story’s in much more detail. This is what happens in Inside Out, which many are calling a return to form for the studio that created Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Toy Story, and Wall-E. I’ll go one step further: this is one of Pixar’s best films. Inside Out meets and perhaps even surpasses some of the movies I just listed.

Pixar always has a way of getting at the emotions housed inside of certain stages of life. Here, those emotions become characters. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust operate 11 year-old Riley’s brain. Joy (Amy Poehler) runs the crew because up until now, everything has gone pretty well having a childhood focused on happiness.

But Riley’s family is moving from the open, rural wilds of Minnesota to the cramped confines of San Francisco. This coincides with Joy and Sadness getting swept out of headquarters, leaving only Anger, Fear, and Disgust to cope with being the new kid at school, figuring out the new town, and trying out for the local hockey team.

Inside Out Riley looking scared
via Pixar Post

We see glimpses of Riley’s life, particularly in how her relationship with her parents worsens. Most of the film focuses on Joy and Sadness’s journey back to headquarters, through places like Long-term Memory, Imaginationland, and even Dream Productions.

By speaking about the imaginary things we lose and by focusing on the tug-of-war between Sadness and Joy, Inside Out actually begins to recall the bittersweet messages of 80s fantasies like Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, or The Last Unicorn. Those were films that dealt with the loss of childhood and innocence in a similar way: by threatening the metaphorical with real repercussions. Although the style is completely different, Inside Out has many moments that would fit very neatly into those films, including a few that may make you cry. The 60 year-old biker with the tattoos and motorcycle jacket to my right cried. The six year-old and his mother to my left cried. I cried.

Inside Out works. It really, really works because it feels like the rare film that arrives straight from a storyteller’s heart. That Riley is compellingly realized, that it’s filled with slapstick humor, that the animation is filled with color and imagination – these are delightful bonuses. At its core, Inside Out could work without any of them, and it could do so better than any other Pixar movie. I won’t call it the best of their films – I’m not sure that it is. I will call it their most honest one.

In part, this is because Inside Out takes place on a much smaller scale than most Pixar films. It’s not humanity that’s at stake, or even a loved one’s life. All that’s at stake is the emotional wholeness of a young woman. And yet, directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen give those stakes more importance, tension, and emotional impact than all the worlds that have been saved this summer put together.

Inside Out Fear Joy and Disgust
via Collider

Is Pixar back? That’s a silly question; they never left. When most major studios have two or three subpar films in a row, it’s called a rough month. Since Pixar only makes a feature film every year or two, what would be the blink of an eye for most studios is for Pixar turned into a narrative about how far they’ve diminished.

Call Inside Out what you like – a recovery, a comeback, a return to form. Just make sure you call it a masterpiece.

It’s a great film for kids, especially because it doesn’t shy away from the kind of complex, emotionally involved storytelling that kids really do love. Sometimes we simplify children’s stories much more than we have to. We underestimate just how invested they can become in a movie that demands their full attention. Oftentimes, they’re even better at it than adults are – they don’t have to break through walls of cynicism to treat what’s happening on-screen as important. Inside Out puts faith in children’s ability to comprehend what’s at stake. It also speaks to the way children analyze emotions and deal with the world around them.

Adults will be taken back to emotional struggles we had at that age and – let’s face it – sometimes still experience. Children will get the first film in a long time that treats their emotions as something complex and worth talking about. And it all happens in a colorful, energetic cartoon that may be Pixar’s funniest yet.

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 Inside Out have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Riley is voiced by Kaitlyn Dias and her mother is voiced by Diane Lane. Joy is voiced by Amy Poehler, Sadness is voiced by Phyllis Smith, and Disgust is voiced by Mindy Kaling. A variety of other characters and their emotions are voiced by Paula Poundstone, Paula Pell, Rashida Jones, and a sizable supporting cast of professional women voice actors.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes. There are some hilarious moments when boys and men are discussed by emotions, but aside from that it’s really all about the women. It’s a credit to lead screenwriter Meg LeFauve (Josh Cooley and Pete Docter also contributed) that each of the women in this film seems whole. Even the emotional homunculi (the characters inside Riley’s head) who are portrayed by women are more than simple caricatures.

I can’t speak to many experiences or pressures as a young woman growing up that this film may address. I can say that Riley and her emotions are some of the most fleshed out characters that Pixar has put to film, and it manages this through more than just the dialogue. Not only is the screenplay incredibly layered, but the animation is nuanced enough to ask you to read each character on multiple levels.

I also appreciate that Riley is a complex character. This takes place with surface elements: she dreams about unicorns and she kicks butt at hockey. It also takes place on a number of deeper levels: Riley struggles with her own emotions but can occasionally manage those of her parents in ways that defuse their loss of emotional control. She has expectations and struggles with anger when those expectations aren’t met. She can revert into her own private world. She is caught in the midst of becoming more independent. This is a complex portrayal of a young woman, which is something we don’t get to see very often on film.