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Maleficent: 9 STARS

* In Feminist Film Star news I found this cool website about The Headless Women of Hollywood. No it is not new, maybe you had already seen it, but I had not so shut up. Basically it’s about the staggering number of movie posters which feature women with no heads, a practice I find offputting and politically horrific in equal measure.*

(SPOILERS. I mean it’s essentially the plot of Sleeping Beauty, so get with the program people, but there are some important and interesting plot changes so be prepared. CN for women being drugged and violated and I guess CN for wings being sawn off and fairies being burned by iron. I kind of doubt that anyone would be triggered by that but I’m not here to judge you, I’m here to judge Disney)

Aurora: Let us tell an old story anew

Sleeping Beauty from the witch’s point of view. That’s a great idea Disney, bravo. I mean you still never say witch (much like in Frozen, and don’t think I’m not coming back for you Frozen) which I’m gonna say is your fault America, but still it’s a good idea. These fairy people are led by a woman with horns and massive wings and when she is attacked by her traitorous bastard boyfriend she spends the rest of the film fucking shit up. Also she has a dragon. Which is cool. This is a Disney movie, and everyone in it is both intensely beautiful and very very white, all of the accents are insane, and I did not enjoy what they did to Imelda Staunton in making her and her fairy friends both very ungrateful and very stupid, but basically I loved it. I would really like to follow Angelina Jolie into battle.

STAR: The Bechdel Test

STAR: Developed female relationships

(Maleficent and Aurora have a great relationship. This film does that ‘true love can be found in non-romantic love between women not just in pretty boys kissing pretty girls they don’t know’ thing so much better than Frozen (told you I was coming back for you Frozen). Let me tell you for why. Firstly, they actually test out the kiss, they actually prove that the pretty boy/girl thing wouldn’t work, they don’t just let the boy get unfortunately lost in a snowstorm so the loving woman has to step in like a pathetic replacement kisser. Also the two women do not have the same exact face. And they actually spend cute bonding time together throughout the film. I am really going to try and make the rest of this a no-Frozen-hatred zone but frankly that would not be representative of what my life is like)

STAR: Non- stereotyped Female Characters

STAR: Developed, prominent female characters

(Yes. Absolutely. I mean I didn’t appreciate the over-zealous voice-over at the end that told me that Maleficent was ‘both a hero and a villain’ (dun dun DUN) but some genuine character development where a character changes her mind, has bad days, goes through trauma, and  you know leads her nation to victory, is appreciated. I genuinely think Angelina Jolie gives the performance of her life here, no sarcasm. I loved her crazy smiles, I loved her little magical jokes, and I loved her heartfelt love for a little girl who she cursed at birth and who it is never suggested is her biological daughter, which I liked. I did not like that Aurora’s birth mum just died off screen, very much Lady Macbeth style, while her husband goes mad, and I did not like the fairies, as has been previously stated. They act like Maleficent is super evil after she has literally been mutilated by the king they are bowing to. They suck)

STAR: No Excessive Air of Misogyny

STAR: No rigid adherence to gender norms

(Ok, so I’m a little on the fence here. I mean, the fairies are led by a woman, in an explicitly military capacity, and no one saves her, she saves everyone. So that’s good. Also she’s a mother figure, but a fierce one who wears a lot of black and has horns, you don’t see that a lot. On the other hand I don’t think suggesting that women are more magical and in tune with nature than men is a good idea. I mean yes the magical people are definitely way better, stronger and morally superior to the human men but it’s still not great to set up gendered binaries where we suggest that women and men are super different. So an ambiguous star, but a star none the less)

STAR: No Excessive Female Exposure or Sexualisation

STAR: No objectification of the female body

(Yay for children’s movies! Is there more to say? No? Yay!)

STAR: No Gratuitous or Trivialising Scenes of Rape or Male Violence Against Women

No threat of male violence against women

(Ok so there is violence. But it is primarily fantasy violence, and she really does give as good as she gets, in the medium of dragons and massive wings and magic. So that is good. However Stefan, prick that he is, does drug Maleficent and when she is sleeping he cuts off her wings. Which is horrible and has horrible emotional consequences for everyone involved)

Bonus Points. 1 for female writer Linda Woolverton, good work Linda. She was also a writer on the Lion King! good work again Linda. 1 for women in traditionally masculine roles aka general and political leader. And 1 for women in power, essentially for the same reasons. Maleficent is so much better than everyone at everything. And that is cool. All in all, Maleficent is better than Frozen. And that’s all I have to say on the matter.

*A note on the original Sleeping Beauty. Yes it is of the older genre of anodyne and conservative Disney movies, but I watched it until I broke the video when I was little and I wasn’t brainwashed into wanting to be a princess? I just don’t think it’s helpful to imply that all little girls’ minds will be molded by everything they watch. I actually wanted to be Merryweather when I was little, the fat little blue fairy, cos she had character. So there #feministfrombirth*

 

Crimson Peak: 10 STARS

*Hey, I haven’t done one of these in ages but at this stage is that news? So as not to pull an Eminem on you I will not try and make this into another comeback special and will instead proceed to the main event. You should probably check out this rad new version of the Bechdel test to determine a film’s portrayal of race. I will try to work it into my system at some point as I realise the Bonus Point thing I’ve currently got going on is really shit. Anyway, onwards and upwards.*

(SPOILERS ABOUND, like normally I try and avoid spoilers but here that would involve saying nothing about any of the characters for they are very much defined by their actions. In my defense I didn’t find any of the ‘twists’ surprising but at all, so I still advise you to read on even if you have not seen the film. CN incest (told you there were spoilers) and like a lot of violence but actually 0 violence by men against women which is incredible given how many people get stabbed in this film (everyone). Also a discussion of age of consent)

Edith: He said it needed a love story

Father: He’s old-fashioned

Edith: He said that because I’m a woman

Father: Everyone falls in love Edith, even women.

So, a shocking 10 stars for Crimson Peak. I know, I’m as surprised as you are. Firstly I must acknowledge that I only watched this film because Mallory and Nicole were yelling about it, and I am heavily indebted to them for said yelling. However, although they are far funnier than I, they have not developed a very complicated star system for rating films so I feel my services will still be useful. And 10 Stars, I mean, that’s practically unprecedented, how could I resist? Someone once offered me their opinion that Guillermo del Torro makes shit English language movies so he can fund good Spanish ones. They offered this opinion as if it were common and uncontestable knowledge which, frankly, I should already have known. I am firmly opposed to this opinion. Pan’s Labyrinth is just as silly as this film. Hellboy is a masterpiece. There shall be no more further discussion on this point. You will not like this movie if you do not like campy gothic dramas, but you might like it even if you don’t like your classic bodice ripping period drama (as I do not) because, unlike such dramas this film does not treat The Past as a place where no one had realised that women were people yet and a lil bit of sexual violence was just par for the course. Let us enter this blood soaked and misogyny free wonderland.

STAR: The Bechdel Test

– STAR: Developed female relationships

(Tick and tick. So Edith’s mum has gone the way of all literary mothers of the past, obviously. She also failed to make any female friends in America at all. Books were her friends. And her father was her friend, in that he gave her a pen. (He gave her this pen as if it were magic and he stares at it in a way that is full of significance but it is not magic, it is just very sharp. This is a film filled with mysteries and I do not try to answer them) Anyway Edith and Lucille have a great relationship. I mean obviously Lucille is poisoning Edith (and I do mean very obviously, that fireberry tea, that was never going to be good) However, they have great chats, very intense and about dead mothers and tortured childhoods and moths eating butterflies. So appropriate to the gothic, roofless mansion. So much more filled with passion that Tommy’s little chats about machinery. Is Tom Hiddleston anything other than eye candy and a nice bum in this film, no, no he is not. It is a battle of wills between two women and as such it is wonderful)

STAR: Non- stereotyped Female Characters 

– STAR:Developed, prominent female character

 

(An easy two stars, no question. Edith and Lucille. Yes they are campy and gothic and silly but so is literally everything in this film, from the red snow to the really terrible CGI ghosts who fail to be frightening at all because they just do look so terrible. Edith is an aspiring writer. We never read anything she has written but Tom Hiddleston is hooked from reading a page in 10 seconds upside down, so probably she’s amazing. Yes, she swans around in a see-through nightie coughing up blood and looking for, then running from ghosts. Yes, she very unwisely befriends a small dog, and you know, marries a mysterious and beautiful penniless English nobleman (this film is not a great advert for the English to be fair) but you know what, when the going gets tough Edith is well up for stabbing people with pens and hitting them repeatedly over the heads with spades. Would it be understandable if she didn’t do these things, of course it would, she lives in a house where the walls bleed, but she does them because she will not be the fainting maiden we all expect her to be, and that is excellent. Lucille is wonderful in all ways, she is as evil as anyone can possibly be, she is our generation’s Mrs Danvers (as Mallory so rightly points out) and there is no higher praise)

STAR: No Excessive Air of Misogyny

– STAR: No rigid adherence to gender norms

(So, more ambiguous. There is that bit, mentioned above when Edith is like, ‘they want me to be a romance writer BECAUSE I’M A WOMAN and her dad does the classic, I’m a nice but essentially apolitical (and thus conservative) man, make a joke, have a little grumblesnort, so as not to have to agree to such a bold statement. However, once you get to Crimson Peak, gender roles mean nothing. You know who’s running that house, that’s right, it’s Lucille. With a rod of fucking iron. The only really worrying point is whether Tommy is redeemed in the eyes of the film and thus forgiven for killing his 3 wives and stepping in for his new (hotter, younger wife) only when she is about to be pushed off a balcony (she recovers very quickly from that little 2 storey tumble onto stone though so his ineffective intervention doesn’t really matter). So, maybe Tommy gets unreasonably forgiven for his bluebeard lifestyle while his sister is the personification of evil. However, Tommy is killed, and frankly I don’t think we’re meant to feel that bad for him. I think, when Mia Wasikowska strokes his bizarre ghosty face she’s saying ‘Bye Tommy, you were hot, but now I need to try and find some people whose house isn’t sinking into hell and who don’t try and poison me. Peace out.’ And I think that’s kind of an acceptable message)

STAR: No Excessive Female Exposure or Sexualisation

– STAR: No objectification of the female body

(Now, here is where Crimson Peak is really getting into its stride. Because, there is sex in Crimson Peak, but there are no boobs and much more naked Hiddleston than naked ladies.  Good. That is what I say to that. Good. I mean if you had a dress like that would you take it off for sex? No , you would wear it every second of the day like the beautiful butterfly you are.  Also, aside from hunting ghosts, and writing about ghosts, Edith’s main thing is trying to bang Tommy. Sadly he is often off banging his sister, but I like that she is so obviously into him. These women are not just handy with blades, they are super into sex, as active participants. That is good. They literally spend their time looking at Japanese porn together. Cool)

STAR: No Gratuitous or Trivialising Scenes of Rape or Male Violence Against Women 

– STAR: No threat of male violence against women

(See, here is this film’s greatest triumph. There is so much violence. There are knives in faces and faces horribly stomped into sinks. And yet all of this violence is perpetrated by women. Ok, so obviously it’s not ok to stamp anyone’s head into a sink just because they’ve found out about your bluebeard plot, even if they act like you’re a massive snob because you have soft hands even though you like in a house with no roof and they have loads of servants and stacks of cash. But I do think it’s amazing that we don’t ever really think that Tommy might stab up his wife. Because he just really obviously wouldn’t. He has the masculinity of a beautiful waltzing nobleman who enjoys tinkering with strange clay digging machines. He is just not aggressive at all, which, for a man who has allowed his sister to kill a lot of his wives, is impressive. Also Edith saves her Channing Tatum look-a-like American boyfriend as well, despite falling off that balcony, so that’s pretty sick too)

4 Bonus Points: 1 for BME women (I know, it’s a shit system, I’m sorry – there are two black women working as maids, they are laughing as they make Lucille and Tommy’s bed, I think that is great: ‘haha I knew the English were weird, aristocrats, always fucking their relatives, classic’ is what I imagine they were thinking) 1 for working class women (there are some maids and such, are they really characters? No, but they do speak and thus a point they get) 1 for women in power (because of all the stabbing, and the emotional manipulation, and just being bosses) 1 for discussion of feminism (aka Edith Shelley and the fight to be a SERIOUS woman of letters)

In conclusion, this film is great. I mean it makes NO SENSE AT ALL. The plotline is not worth a second’s thought. But the ambiance, that speech Lucille makes where she’s like ‘the horror? That was for love. Murderous, incestuous, ugly, amazing love’, that’s a great speech. The only potential problem, as I see it, is that maybe Lucille is abusive of Tommy. I mean, he was 2 years younger than her, and he was only 12 when she killed their mum for finding out their dark secret, so like he cannot really have consented to that, but then legally, neither can she. It’s a hot potato that one, and, if my old pals the MRAs find this blog I don’t want to give them any ammunition in the argument that I don’t take sexual violence against men seriously. Because believe me I do. Would say, that old Tommy does then continue to bang his sister for 20 years, when he could just be banging his many wives, or you know, not partaking in her murderous schemes. I don’t think the film tries to make us think Tommy’s been abused, more that he has fallen in love with Edith and so wants to give up his life of crime and incest handjobs now. He is still very much trying to take his sister with him up until she puts a knife in his face. So I’m going to say it doesn’t seem like he was abused, it seems like he was fine. So, actually in conclusion this time, 10 stars, and sex, and violence and everything as gothic as it could be. A big big thumbs up from me.

*So apparently Guillermo was well into the feminist angle on this. I should have known that the world couldn’t produce such a film without having someone who was intentionally fighting ‘a secret gender war’. Some people have said this film isn’t really a ‘feminist’ movie, I basically don’t think any movies are feminists, because they’re not people? So they can’t be? And yeah it’s not really about feminism. But I don’t think you can argue with del Toro when he says that these are ‘a bit more liberating gender roles’ because they just kind of obviously are*

X-Men: First Class: 2 STARS`

*In the recent past (when you’re retired keeping track of the days is hard) Mark Ruffalo was trending on Facebook. According to the headlines this was because he had just written a biting put down of the ‘I’m not a feminist’ movement (thankfully I’ve vetted my Facebook friends so thoroughly I was not even aware that this was a movement). After a little investigation I discovered that what had actually happened is that he had re-blogged a post by Libby Anne Bruce in March. It is mysterious to me why this took 4 months to make news, nor why Ms Bruce’s name was mentioned only very sparsely in these stories – I guess there’s a reason that that Parks and Recreation episode where Ron Swanson was nominated woman of the year resonated with people – but it’s still a good story so well done Mark for being an ally and yeah not being a feminist is pretty dumb.Here’s a link to the original post, because Ruffalo’s blog, headed by a massive picture of his head which I found really funny and I’m not sure why, already has enough press http://dumbledoresarmy-againstbigotry.tumblr.com/post/92696008814/my-response-to-the-i-am-not-a-feminist-internet*

(SPOILERS. As ever. I should be clear however that this is not the most recent X-Men film (Days of Future Past, man how that title made it to the final draft I will never know) This is the first X-Men film since the McAvoy/Fassbender reboot. CN for violent interrogation/torture, violence against women of a variety of kinds and scenes from the Nazi concentration camps and SO MANY scenes with ladies in fancy underwear. I’m trying to find out whether that is what the 60s were actually like but I really think I would have heard about it if women only wore lingerie in the 60s, I just think it would have got back to me)

“They’re just guys being stupid” – Mystique

“Guys being stupid I can handle, I’ve handled that my whole life, but I’d rather they looked at me with my clothes off than how they just looked at me” – Angel

In a lot of ways this film is good. It is very aesthetically pleasing. It is a genuinely good reboot of a much loved franchise from our youth. It has an excellent, large cast of exciting actors. But it’s presentation of women is terrible. Unreservedly terrible. It falls into every pitfall a film can fall into. Using its female characters only to develop their male counterparts, casual misogyny that is not properly criticised, violence against women which is not sufficiently distanced from actual real life violence that women suffer, and so much objectification, all the objectification there is. What’s worse is that there are lots of women in the film, it could be a great alternative to exclusively/mainly male superhero teams. But that opportunity is not taken. In a lot of ways I still enjoy the film, but only in the way it’s kind of fun to hang out with someone you think is evil; just to see how far they’ll go.

The Bechdel Test

– Developed female relationships

(Ok so the above quotation is the only time they could have passed. But it lasts for 2 lines. And is about the endless misogyny women face from men and how this is compounded by other forms of prejudice. So it doesn’t pass. Even though Mystique, Angel, Moira and Emma are all characters who could totally talk to one another and form relationships. Once again we are shown that women talking to one another is not interesting. Only flirting is interesting (obviously we’re assuming everyone is straight, because that’s just what we assume in films right?) Oh and flirting normally includes a lot of paternalistic bull shit, but more on that later)

STAR: Non- stereotyped Female Characters

– STAR: Developed, prominent female characters

(I think Jennifer Lawrence takes this by herself. No one else is given much opportunity to develop as anything other than reformed/undercover strippers. Wow that is actually a description that fits all of the other 3 named female characters. I wish that was because the film was genuinely interested in exploring the idea of women exposing their bodies for the pleasure of male onlookers and how that might effect their sense of self, but I think it’s just an excuse to have as many scenes as possible in strip clubs. Anyway Mystique, played by Lawrence, goes on an actual journey where she realises she’s more politically radical than her old friend Charles and is no longer interested in hiding her mutation. However, this political journey is framed almost entirely around the men in her life, her father/brother Charles, her potential cute young boyfriend Nicholas Hoult/Hank with the promise of looking ‘normal’ or an exciting adult relationship with Fassbender/Magneto who wants her to be herself. OR DOES HE. Telling someone they are an exquisite creature, like a tiger, is not actually a great compliment because tigers are great and all but they’re not people, they’re not as clever as people, and they don’t have as many rights as people. So yeah didn’t love that. Also it’s what Kevin Bacon says to January Jones after he sends her to get him more ice for his drink. She can read minds and he sends her to get ice. In conclusion there is character development but it is surrounded by a disgusting sea of misogyny)

No excessive air of misogyny

–  No rigid adherence to gender norms

(No more stars for you X-Men. I mean I’ve kind of covered this with the whole ‘exquisite creature’ phenomenon. Professor Xavier also accuses Mystique of being ‘awfully concerned with her looks’ while she tries to come to terms to that fact that she is BLUE. Disguising women’s struggles with racism, objectification or eating disorders as vanity is textbook and from the future leader of the X-Men PhD it is disturbingly normalised. I’ve already mentioned that Bacon sends Emma Frost to seduce Russian politicians and do menial chores when she has the same power as Professor X and that power is MIND CONTROL right? I think I might have. Why does she sit in her actual underwear while that Russian general thinks he’s having sex with a spectral version of her? Why would that require her to actually take her clothes off? And can’t she just tell him to do what she wants in much the same way that Prof X tells people to get into cars and stuff? I think the answer to all these questions is that although she has the most amazing mind in the world her body is seen to be more interesting to viewers. Maybe)

No Excessive Female Exposure or Sexualisation

– No objectification of the female body

(Yeah so every scene with January Jones involves sparkling underwear, Magneto’s tiger argument to Mystique is that she should not only always be blue, she should always be naked (is she not cold? being naked is cold). He definitely had no vested interest in making that suggestion. Also a lot is made by the FBI that Moira is a woman and so will probably be shit at her job and just start kissing her colleagues (which is kind of what happens so we’re not exactly directed to scoff at this institutional misogyny). On top of this her first scene involves her going undercover in the first of many strip clubs. This is not an assigned mission it is one she takes on herself, because women love taking off their clothes. They also love wearing incredibly fancy underwear to stake outs. Stake outs where you sit in a car for hours. That’s when you definitely want to be wearing a garter belt. Obviously. Oh and Angel’s super hero costume looks very much like the costume she wore when she was a stripper. So that was great)

No Gratuitous or Trivialising Scenes of Rape or Male Violence Against Women

– No threat of male violence against women

(So this is the section I find most unforgivable. You can make an argument that Kevin Bacon is mean to Emma Frost because he’s evil, that Professor X is rejected by Mystique for his paternalistic nonsense and that Magneto is, that dreaded phrase used to excuse misogyny everywhere ‘morally ambiguous’. But his moral ambiguity stretches to trying to strangle 2 women to death, one of whom (January, obviously) is in her underwear at the time. One of them, Moira, he blames for shooting his friend, even though she was clearly trying to shoot him and shooting him is not dangerous at all because he can control metal. You can see how he justifies that to himself. But Emma Frost, although she’s working with Shaw, the Nazi who killed his mother, would only have been a child like himself when the Nazis were in power and has now dedicated her life to the mutant supremacy cause, a cause he continually advocates. When he needs a telepath he manages to put her association with Shaw behind him. So maybe he didn’t want to kill her because of that, maybe he just likes strangling women, Like the superhero he is)

So 2 stars (absolutely pathetic) and 5 bonus points for representation which is a surprisingly high number although, as always it does not measure the quality of the representation involved. 1 is for Jane Goldman who co-wrote the screenplay, all I can really say about her is that I really liked Stardust which she also co-wrote and I like her red hair, other than that I’m basically out. 1 for BME women although this is a bit tricky. Basically Zoe Kravitz (daughter of Lenny Kravitz) plays Angel. So far, so rockstar daughter. However Angel’s last name is Salvadore suggesting to me that she is supposed to be Latina. One again the demon of interchangeable brownness rears its head in Western cinema. White and non-white are not the two kinds of people that there are Hollywood, come on. (House of Cards is also a big offender for this with the wonderful and very palpably South Asian Sakina Jaffrey playing Linda Vasquez, just FYI). 1 for working class women because Angel is a stripper by trade, 1 for women in masculine roles because being in the FBI/a superhero is masculine however little actual action The Men let you see and 1 for explicit discussion of feminist issues (see top). So in conclusion a bad show all round, everything good to be said comes with a massive qualifier, and the bad stuff ranges from laughable to genuinely horrifying. For a team which is 50% female the X-Men sure do live up to their name.

*A note on the comics. I am woefully uninformed on this so this is less a note and more of a question: Does anyone know whether all this bullshit originates there or whether it’s new to the films? It is definitely in the previous 3 films from our childhood, none of which I think pass the Bechdel test, but it would be interesting to know whether it’s in the comics. Do let me know if you have any info on this dear internet folk*

STAR LEAGUE

Greetings fair folk of the internet, Below are all of the films I have reviewed. They are awarded stars based on their presentation of women, full details in the Star System page at the top as it is far too complicated to explain here. One thing to remember is that good films don’t necessarily get more stars than bad films. And films with interesting depictions of women don’t always get more stars either, if the women are being constantly beaten up for example. You may choose to question this system but this blog is not a democracy and as its dictator I shall decide what counter-intuitive systems it shall operate under. Essentially this is your guide to how much misogyny you can expect from a film. I hope you like it.

10 STARS

9 STARS

8 STARS

7 STARS

6 STARS

5 STARS

4 STARS

3 STARS

2 STARS

1 STAR

Pitch Perfect 2: 8 STARS

*Just quickly before we begin contemplating the Pitch Perfect film franchise allow me to take a moment to talk about Game of Thrones (CN rape). Some of you may not watch Game of Thrones, please feel free to skip ahead. For those of you who did see this week’s episode I am sure that you, like I, considered making RAPE IS NOT A PLOT POINT tshirts and tracking down the show’s writers and jamming those tshirts over their stupid tiny heads. I just wanted to say that if you went further than considering it and are actually going to do it please contact me because I’d like to be part of your plan. That is all*

(SPOILERS because hey I went to the cinema again, truly living the life of luxury in my retirement, and so this film is brand new. It is also a sequel and I am going to talk about the first Pitch Perfect film here too, partly because it’s a cracking film which deserves more recognition, and partly because it is very very very similar to the second film. And I mean that in the best way possible. Going to the cinema to see Pitch Perfect 2, you basically want to see Pitch Perfect again right? But with different songs, a Snoop Lion cameo and more Rebel Wilson right? If so that is what you get. Nothing horrible happens in this film so there will be no content notes, huzzah)

Gail: “I think we have just seen some a capella history being made”

John: “And from an all-female group Gail I never could have called this one”

Gail: “Well John you have always been a misogynist at heart”

John: “Absolutely”

So some would describe this film as a chick-flick. My feelings about the phrase chick flick mirror those of Sarah Michelle Geller in that episode of Sex and the City she’s in when she suggests that whoever made up the phrase chick flick should have his balls cut off, just because something rhymes does not mean it should be said. But I digress. Chick flicks are films for women, about women. This does not make them silly and trivial and beneath the notice of everyone who is serious, it makes them important. And silly. You can be both. Personally I like a film were men play supporting roles to the women in their lives who are busy discovering their passions and taking over the world using their smashing vocal cords. So let’s begin.

STAR: The Bechdel Test

– STAR: Developed female relationships

(Stars for everybody! These women are a team who are most successful in the surprisingly competitive world of a capella singing when they work together and listen to one another. Is this cheesey? Yes. But after a lifetime of being taught that women are each other’s worst enemies and groups of women create toxic environments where psychological torture reigns supreme some cheese is rather refreshing. Part of the magic of Pitch Perfect one is that Beca realises that she’s not too cool to need or want female friends, or to be interested in girl stuff. That everything women do that men aren’t interested in isn’t automatically lame)

STAR: Non- stereotyped Female Characters

– STAR: Developed, prominent female characters

(This film definitely does play with stereotypes, and often plays with them for such a long time that they pretty much become true. The uberbitch from Das Sound Machine the super scary German a capella group is pretty much just an uberbitch. However I do like how much they run with Beca being really attracted to her. She doesn’t hate her, or ridicule her, or mock her when she wins, she just shouts YOUR SWEAT SMELLS OF CINNAMON at her because she’s just too damn hot to properly trash talk. The fact that most insulting things you could say to a rival woman would be misogynistic and/or untrue is a good thing to remember. So yeah you could pigeon hole pretty much everyone in the cast of Pitch Perfect and it’s not like character development is really what they’re going for here but every stereotype comes with an eye roll, or knowing wink, or at least an attempt to reclaim the label. Fat Amy is so known “so twig bitches like you don’t say it behind my back” and, although there are a lot of fat jokes, Fat Amy does not give a shit. She knows she’s fat, doesn’t make her less confident, or less sexy, or less happy (I know, cheesey again, what can I say close harmony singing melts my cynical dry old heart))

STAR: No excessive air of misogyny

–  No rigid adherence to gender norms

(So this is a film about pretty ladies who like to sing and dance. Let’s not get carried away with how groundbreaking it is. And this is a misogynistic world. The Bellas are suspended because a costume mishap caused Fat Amy to accidentally reveal her vagina to the world, and, more specifically, to the Obamas. The group then receive hate mail for months. Why having a vagina which was revealed to the public against her will should mean that Fat Amy deserves hate mail is a question which sadly many women whose lives have been thrust into the public eye have had to deal with. As can be seen from many of John and Gail’s (the competition presenters) conversations this, like all other industries, is one suffering from institutional misogyny (John at one disappointing moment in the Bella’s career says “That’s what happens when you let women go to college” We can only join Gail in asking incredulously “IS IT?!) However, Gail, Fat Amy and all of these lovely women attempt to fight against the barriers that are placed before them, and, let’s face it, admitting that women have vaginas even when they are not actually having sex is, weirdly, a step forward in the media’s presentation of women’s bodies)

STAR: No Excessive Female Exposure or Sexualisation

– No objectification of the female body

(Obviously we don’t see Fat Amy’s exposure and both skin baring and sex are kept pretty much to a minimum, bar Fat Amy and Bumper’s passionate embrace (the fact that their romantic subplot is by far the largest is excellent in every way, two people who are just really into one another, not just who are both conventionally hot and happen to be near one another, how refreshing) You can’t make a film about nubile young women shaking it on stage without getting into some objectification nonsense. And Das Sound Machine’s costumes really leave little to the imagination. All of these women are definitely hot enough to be cheerleaders by anyone’s standards and the suggestion that they represent some kind of group of misfits who would be shocking at first sight to the viewer is a bit like that trope Jesse mentions in the first film where a mysterious quiet girl takes off her glasses and you realise she was beautiful all along. No one was surprised when Sandra Bullock looked good in a bikini. No one was shocked that Anne Hathaway was a princess and no one thought the Bellas were anything other than regulation hotties. But, as Fat Amy says, they all have fat hearts)

STAR: No Gratuitous or Trivialising Scenes of Rape or Male Violence Against Women

– STAR: No threat of male violence against women

(Love a film with no violence against women. That’s basically all that one can say)

So 8 stars and 6 Bonus Points. 1 for female director Elizabeth Banks, who also plays Gail in the film. She’s comedy gold and I love her. 1 for female writer Kay Cannon who was a writer on 30 Rock and so deserves respect. 1 for LGBT+ women in the form of Cynthia Rose. I’m kinda uncomfortable about all the gay jokes Fat Amy makes at Cynthia Rose’s expense, maybe it’s a joke about how Australians are all bigots? Anyway Cynthia just rolls her eyes and deals with it, although that still doesn’t leave me feeling great. 1 for BME women, again everyone’s kinda stereotyped, the geeky near silent Asian girl, the butch Black girl, the Latina who has Seen Horrible Things in her Horrible Country. I would say that race wasn’t one of the things the film deals with well, but these women are there, they have voices and that counts for something. 1 for Fat Amy because being fat and starring in a film is rad and Rebel Wilson owns every step of it. And 1 for explicit discussion of feminist issues. For many moments ranging across both films eg when Beca walks in on the pillow fight and is like “you realise this has set women back 20 years”. Anyways the important thing to keep in mind is that the Pitch Perfect franchise is made for women, about women by women and that is a rare and beautiful thing. Also women’s ambitions in it have nothing to do with men and their friendship and creativity and humour is championed. Also Key of Key and Peele is in it and he is producing Snoop Lion’s new Christmas album because he ‘sleeps on a bed of grammys’. It’s a fun film people.

*A note on a capella singing. If you really like it you should listen to The Voca People. Because they’re really really good – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6EYrqIn0yI*

The Tale of The Princess Kaguya: 7 STARS

*Having just retired for the first time (Something I plan to do at least 5 times) I now have ample time for watching wonderful films. However, even if you have not retired (and I think you should consider retiring because it’s so fun) you should make time in your day for this one because it is a feminist masterpiece of outstanding beauty and there can be no higher praise than that. Before we begin gazing in wonder at its however a brief note on last week’s post.You should probably all read this article about the role of Dr Helen Cho in the Avengers because it says many interesting things about the importance of representation that I am woefully unequipped to articulate. Also it’s from the Toast so it is of course written with grace and wit – http://the-toast.net/2015/05/11/helen-cho-age-of-ultron-representation/*

(SPOILERS. So originally I thought that this was a really old film because of the charming sketchy animation and the fact that it isn’t directed by Hayao Miyazaki, golden boy of Studio Ghibli that he is, but in fact it came out in 2013 so the spoiler warning is relevant. CN Misogyny and threat of sexual assault/rape. This film is about misogyny and if you’re just in the mood for some rollicking Japanese fun then I strongly recommend My Neighbour Totoro. However this dark subject matter is handled with such charm and grace that one feels that perfect combination of belief in the possibility of fighting against oppression and recognition that the struggle will never truly be over and will always be fierce (Did I mention that I love this film?))

“A princess does not show her teeth when she smiles” – Lady Sagami

I have always found Studio Ghibli films to be a happy place for women to adventure and fight and grow and be real people and this was no exception. However The Tale of Princess Kaguya is essentially a sad one, mainly, it seems, because it is set in the real world where Princesses do not get to ride into war on the backs of giant wolves but where they must move as little as possible and gratefully acquiesce to being fought over by strangers. To see a little girl crushed by the world is a terrible thing but, as I’ve already said, the belief that she gives you that that same world is worth fighting for makes watching this film a beautiful experience, rather than an experience that makes you want to go and find the nearest person constraining the behaviour of a woman and ram their head up a chimney. Well maybe that too.

STAR: The Bechdel Test

– STAR: Developed female relationships

(So the second star here is probably the most debatable. No doubt Princess Kaguya and her mum speak to one another, about gardening and life and going to the moon but only briefly and I guess that some would argue that their relationship is not developed. I can see where this imaginary challenger to my star allocation is going with this. One of the most terrible things about this film is that ‘The Bamboo Cutter’s Wife’ (not a great start) stands silently by while her husband pushes the Princess into a life she clearly despises. You can tell that the BCW thinks that her daughter should be allowed more freedom and she does defend her right to the various creative tasks she chooses to escape into, and accompanies her on her trip to see the cherry blossoms. But she doesn’t stand up and say This Is Wrong and some would say that that crucial omission limits the development of their relationship. However what I would say to these imaginary challengers (who seem to have grown in number) is that the BCW is also a woman, a woman who, we can presume, has been under different but comparable pressures to those the princess faces and that for her to defy her husband after he has abandoned his business and built a palace all for love of their daughter would be to defy a lifetime of both her own oppression and the patriarchal values of the society in which she lives. It is terrible that all the support this mother can give her daughter is an enthusiasm for her interests and an occasional embrace but it does not make her an evil person and it does not make their relationship any less complex.)

STAR: Non- stereotyped Female Characters

– STAR: Developed, prominent female characters

(Despite all my banging on about the BCW really the Princess stands alone here although her mother, Lady Sagami, and her maid, do mark this as a film where women shape each other’s lives in ways unrelated to men. Despite being a magical being grown from a bamboo stalk the Princess or Little Bamboo as she should perhaps more properly be known is never portrayed as an example of the ‘feminine mystique’ which allows so many films to entirely avoid exploring their female characters because they’re so damn mysterious. She is a lovely baby, a lovely adventurous and naive child and a lovely young woman. Where a lesser film would make the tasks she sets her suitors into a fun game where her cleverness is paraded Isao Takahata makes it very clear that this is an act born of desperation with dire consequences (the death of one of the suitors) which causes the Princess unbearable grief, even though it frees her from his suit. In much the same way the handsome suitor who gives her a flower and professes his love, only to shriek in horror as he sees what he thinks is the Princess but is in fact her fat little maid, is not the victim of a clever ploy where having an ugly wife is a hilarious punishment. The Princess wants him to pass that test of character because she wants to believe in his love, and his failure devastates her, while her maid, who seems unoffended by others’ perception of her attractiveness, berates the stupid young man for his shallowness – How many mountain flowers have you plucked only to abandon them to shave their heads and hide in a nunnery? – romantic gallantry is shown here as hollow and terrifying. This is not a Princess who can be saved by a Prince)

No excessive air of misogyny

–  No rigid adherence to gender norms

(Here the star system seems a little limited. For the film is not in itself misogynistic, rather it is about misogyny, the constraint of female experience, the commodification of women, in short about the patriarchy. But these stars are supposed to function as a guide to viewers about what to expect in terms of the representation of women in a film. They are not a recommendation nor a warning away they are merely designed to be informative. Also it cannot be said that misogyny doesn’t threaten even this lovely film. Are we not meant to condemn the silent mother and the sinister Lady Sagami for their complicity in a system which hurts the princess, however trapped in it they may themselves be? Is not the simple ugly fat maid a figure of comedy even if she seems entirely unabashed and impervious to other’s perception of her? And is not our heroine’s love interest a man who is ready to leave his wife and baby for the chance to be with a princess? (The answer to all of these rather pretentiously put rhetorical questions is, in my opinion, yes, in case that wasn’t obvious) The world of this film is a dark place and you cannot make a film about such a dark place without getting a little murky yourself)

STAR: No Excessive Female Exposure or Sexualisation

STAR: No objectification of the female body

(Partly the beauty of children’s films rearing its beautiful head again, but also partly an enjoyment of the female body in motion, as a tool for play and exploring a landscape and indeed breast feeding. Little Bamboo’s body is entirely concealed when she becomes the Princess. Having  proudly waved her bottom in the air as a baby she is now just a vehicle for her beautiful gowns. We are shown that objectification and enjoyment of the body are entirely antithetical, a lesson I for one always enjoy being reminded of)

STAR: No Gratuitous or Trivialising Scenes of Rape or Male Violence Against Women

– No threat of male violence against women

(There is a scene where the Emperor embraces the Princess, clearly against her will and attempts to abduct her. The fact that this causes the Princess to temporarily vanish may seem like an easy escape, an insertion of a fantasy element to take the issue away from sexual violence. Perhaps that is true but it must also be said that this attempted rape is discussed as such, and is presented as a violation which threatens the Princess’s very humanity. No one could glory in this or secretly enjoy it, it is simply horrible, as it should be)

So 7 stars, and 5 Bonus Points. 1 for a female co-writer, Riko Sakaguchi, 1 for BME women, which in this case is everyone. Obviously from a Japanese perspective this film in no way tries to explore problems faced by women in an ethnic minority, but from the perspective of a Western film watcher it does provide that role. 1 for working class women, although I do think the danger of idolising working class life and suggesting that the life of a rich woman is worse than that of a poor one which is never really going to be true is the greatest danger this great film faces (if Sutemaru gets beaten in the street for stealing what might happen to his female companions who share his lifestyle?) 1 for older women, in this case the BCW and 1 for explicit discussion of feminist issues because, in my opinion, this is a film about feminism even if its creators wouldn’t necessarily call it that. Bravo Studio Ghibli is all that can really be said. if you want a magical experience that also makes you want to smash the patriarchy then this is the film for you.

*A note on Japanese culture. Clearly too vast a subject for a note to be sufficient but basically that’s my point. I think the worst trap someone could fall into when talking about this film is to say ‘Look at how terrible the Princess’s life is, classic misogynistic Japan thank god we live in the free thinking West where everything is fine and all the little girls are treated so nicely.’ While some of the specific practices in this film are specifically Japanese no one is exempt from the maltreatment of women (like Cirsei says in Game of Thrones: “Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls”) And let us not forget that this is a Japanese film, so little Japanese girls get to watch this, while we are left with Frozen. No high horses for us when it comes to children’s films*

Avengers: Age of Ultron: 5 STARS

*So it’s been a while, dear internet folk, but I have returned. I’ve been stressed out with work/in Japan since last we spoke but I’m back and I just went to see the new Avengers film so let us forget the time we’ve spent apart and enjoy this, our reunion. Let’s also try and forget that Birdman won the best film Oscar, even after my review, I know it’s been as difficult for me to accept as it was for you*

(SPOILERS. I mean I’m not going to go crazy but there will probably be some plot talk, if this offends you read through your fingers or be ready to shut your eyes really fast. TW/CN (which seems to be what people are doing these days, I mean I go to Japan for 2 weeks and the internet etiquette changes) enforced sterilisation)

“I am always picking up after you boys” – Natasha

So, not an obvious choice for me to review really. From a feminist perspective this is pretty middle of the road, nothing horrible, nothing great. It does however show us both how easy it is to get some stars/treat the ladies in your films right whilst highlighting the many pitfalls that lie in the road to this modest goal. In case I get carried away with my deep and childish love for this film later let’s start with two fundamental facts. On the one hand there is only one female avenger, and she, in a very Lara Croft vein, seems to have no need for female companionship so Boys Boys Boys would not be an inappropriate subtitle. On the other hand no women are tortured or sexually threatened, there is definitely more male than female flesh on show and the ‘damsel in distress’-ness is kept to a minimum, though not eradicated. This, as Ultron, or indeed Jesus would say, is the rock on which I shall build my church.

The Bechdel Test

– Developed female relationships

(There is one arguable conversation between Natasha and Laura Barton aka Mrs Hawkeye. It consists of 1 line for each woman and is definitely less than 30 seconds. I would love to count this as a conversation because it involves Natasha calling an unborn baby a traitor for being a boy but sadly it is too short to be considered as such. Other than that Scarlett stands alone. There is of course the improbably named Wanda aka the Scarlet Witch, Dr Helen and Maria Hill aka that lady who seems to actually run the Avengers and the massive – and now SHIELD is gone slightly inexplicable – team who back them up/do their recon/come to their wrap parties. None of them speak to each other. They all speak, form relationships, casual or otherwise, but none of them interact. Herein lies pitfall number one. It is not enough to have some lady scientists and business women and super assassins (although it is a damn good start) You’ve got to value them for more than their ability to flirt with and support and be saved by your male characters, all of whom interact with one another in meaningful ways. However I have high hopes for the next film on this front because some Scarlett/Scarlet interaction could well be on the cards (you were warned there would be spoilers and I made that as cryptic as possible so I want to hear no complaints from you anonymous internet reader))

STAR: Non- stereotyped Female Characters

– STAR: Developed, prominent female characters

(So the ladies mentioned above give us some breadth of female experience. This is not a film about women (see above Boys Boys Boys comment) but Natasha holds her own, has an adequately explored (if horrifying) backstory and is given rather a lot more depth and screen time than her love interest. Also she does some cool shit with a motorbike, which, while not being character development per se definitely still goes in the category of GOOD. It is my opinion that the scene where Natasha reveals that assassins at her academy were sterilised on graduation was handled well. It could have been jarring and horrible and instead it was humanising. Her pain was taken seriously and yet she wasn’t somehow transformed into a scarred and ruined ex-woman. True she refers to herself as a monster and in retrospect that doesn’t seem great but would this be a more feminist scene if she was just unfazed by it, if she hadn’t internalised any of the rhetoric about femininity depending on fertility? That is a genuine question I will leave to you guys to decide for yourselves)

STAR: No excessive air of misogyny

– No rigid adherence to gender norms

(So despite having a lady super hero we cannot say that gender norms are not adhered to. For one she gets kidnapped and locked in a cage. Why does Ultron do this? (ok why does Ultron do a lot of the things he does, he does not have his shit together to be honest) It basically serves no narrative purpose, apart from some throw back DID shit (that’s damsel in distress for those of you who haven’t just watched Hercules) To redeem this she does kiss Banner and then push him into an abyss to bring out the Hulk. I like a damsel who pushes her rescuer into an abyss in order to make him as bad ass as she already is. If this was just about Natasha we might then say that gender norms were defied, however Dr Helen also has an at-risk/’thank you kind captain for bending over my broken body’ moment and the Scarlet Witch is both picked up by her brother a lot and heavily patronised by our good friend the shittest Avenger, bowboy. Just because the lady’s young you don’t get to imply that because you pushed her out of the way of an explosion one time you have been babysitting her and she is a massive burden who should probably sit out the rest of the fight if she doesn’t man up quick. She can literally control your thoughts man maybe you better watch yourself if you don’t want the realisation that the Avengers really really don’t need you brought home to you very hard thus shattering your tiny birdy mind)

STAR: No Excessive Female Exposure or Sexualisation

– No objectification of the female body

(I once read a review of the first Avengers film. It was written by someone who seemed to think the idea of superheroes was unutterably childish. What they thought they would get out of watching a film about a team of superheroes was unclear. Anyway they, incredibly unfairly in my opinion, wrote ‘Scarlett Johansson seems to be starring as ‘boobs”. Now at this point I could go into a whole thing about how women with large breasts are continually described as being more sexual than women with small breasts, as though breast size reflects a woman’s sexual availability or sex drive or basically anything apart from how big a bra she needs, but I think we know what this reviewer was trying to say. However not only does Natasha now have a back story and some emotional depth she also wears costumes that, while tight and made mainly of leather are no more revealing than those of her co-stars. Don’t get me wrong this is not a sensible gender neutral look but Age of Ultron has dispensed with the lingering shots of her body and the ‘cocktail dress strapped to a chair’ look she used to rock. We see Chris Evans in far more revealing clothes than Ms Johansson which moves us to a place where the Avengers glories in the beautiful bodies of all of its cast members regardless of gender which, in terms of short term goals, seems like a pro)

STAR: No Gratuitous or Trivialising Scenes of Rape or Male Violence Against Women

– No threat of male violence against women

(There is violence. Scarlett Witch gets whacked in the head and visibly hurt by, guess who, yes it’s no one’s favourite super hero the bird eyed man. Dr Helen also takes a sizeable wallop and Natasha gets in plenty fights. However this is not sexual violence, it is not torture and there are fierce fighting ladies in this, so basically the violence is as mitigated as it’s going to get)

5 stars and 3 Bonus points. 1 for Dr Helen and her Korean heritage 1 for women in the abstract masculine role of ‘fighter’ and 1 for discussion of feminist issues. Maria Hill gets drunk at the Avengers work party and basically says ‘where my ladies at?’ and then implies that bragging about your girlfriends’ achievements is testosterone driven nonsense. To this I say bravo. Although if my girlfriend was going to win a Nobel prize I would brag about it too. And having girlfriends who are too busy to show up to the apocalypse because they’re such high fliers is a nice change of pace to the standard, our wives and girlfriends are staying home cooking tea while we save the world thing. I imagine that was a thing in super hero teams of an older generation. I don’t want to conclude with any kind of definite stance either way on this one. I think you’d be well within your rights to take a cynical SNL (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_5KgpN38hM) take on Marvel where you bemoan the fact that there is no Black Widow movie and that Whedon felt the need to develop her plot by adding a love story. You may also think that the Avengers is no time or place to discuss forced sterilisation and that if they’re going to have a character called the Scarlet Witch they’d better not make her a teary eyed and near silent exotic lady of the east. You would be right to raise these issues and I would fight right beside you but if considered as a stand alone film the Avengers:Age of Ultron does not, in my opinion do the central bad things that Hollywood cinema is so often guilty of. It is perhaps not much to brag about but an absence of sexist jokes, an acceptance of women as highly skilled professionals, a certain levelling of the playing field when it comes to sexualisation of heroes’ bodies and not a single scene that made me wince is a definite step forward. This film is obviously of a lower quality than such highly praised films for grownups as Birdman in many ways but despite its lack of sophistication it really does, by and large, treat its women far better. There is nothing radical going on here but there is nothing horrible either. This is the base point, the inoffensive ground zero which we should never stoop below and which we should hope to raise above. I hope that Hollywood considers it as such.

*A note on Joss Whedon. I don’t think Joss has distinguished himself in either of his popular guises here. He does not appear as First Feminist Ever, creator of Buffy and all that is good and pure, nor does he appear as Enemy of All Free Thinking Women Everywhere, creator of Buffy and objectifier of everything he sees. Probably this is closer to the truth of what Joss is ‘really’ like, clever enough not to be too awful but too aware of his own cleverness to escape awfulness altogether. The point about Joss is that deciding whether he’s a feminist or not is an endless task and you’d probably be better off just watching Buffy and glorying in her wonder, You should also watch Firefly because although it’s not about a teenage girl who beats up vampires it is still cracking*

I leave you with this link to the best article you will ever read about the Avengers. All hail the Toast ad infinitum – http://the-toast.net/2015/02/09/avengers-pretty-busy-right-now/