March: Insurging Through My Top Five Cinderellas

Posts, The Other Movie Project

This installment in The Other Movie Project blog is a bit late and I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, but let’s kick on and insurge through the new movies showing in March that were not about white men!

1. Chappie

I don’t know what to make of this movie. Its sentimentality is at times sickening, but its handling of serious themes is also weirdly flippant. And the ending does not feel earned at all.

Dev Patel is wonderful as always, and I look forward to telling him so during our inevitable courtship. Hugh Jackman is one of my favourite movie villains of the past few years. With his tough guy mullet and biology teacher shorts, he is a very believable toxic macho Australian bully boy. Imagine a guy like that getting in charge of military operations. Terrifying.

Where did that come from

Imagine.

There are two female characters (who do not speak to each other): Sigourney Weaver and Yolandi from Die Antwoord. They portray, respectively, Sigourney Weaver and Yolandi from Die Antwoord. Weaver appears infrequently to yell “NOPE” at a male character, and Yolandi becomes “Mummy” to Chappie, then eventually dies so that Chappie can feel sad and motivated about it. That’s not a spoiler because what else did you think could happen?

Back to Chappie himself – why did I never doubt that he was a ‘him’? All of the characters assume his maleness from the get-go. But he’s a robot? He doesn’t have biology? On looking back, this movie may not actually qualify for The Other Movie Project. Chappie is voiced by a man of the whitest order, but I’d thought the movie was mainly about Dev Patel. Nope. It turned out to be about a white man dressed as a robot. Tricked again.

2. Top Five

This is the first really funny movie I’ve seen this year. And I. Loved. It. The storytelling is tight and the performances are great. Chris Rock can say a lot with an eye-squint. And he has created an actual woman role for the wonderful Rosario Dawson, who reads like an  Actual Real Woman.

The movie’s attitude towards women is surprisingly positive (I say ‘surprisingly’ because I’ve seen Chris Rock’s stand-up), other than some eye-rolly moments of mansplaining on Chris Rock’s part. For example: “You know you’re beautiful, right?” SHE KNOWS, CHRIS. PRETTY SURE ROSARIO DAWSON OWNS A MIRROR.

There are undertones of homophobia (Dawson becomes disgusted with her boyfriend when he shows enjoyment of butt play, and instead of talking to him about it violates his body because of course), which I found frankly disturbing. Other people say it better than I can.

Also troubling is the main character’s anecdote about his “rock-bottom moment”, in which he watches two women with whom he was having a threesome, have a threesome with another man. They turn from “angels” to “disgusting” in his eyes, and he appears traumatised. Something something, gate-keeping of female sexuality, something.

Oh and later, when the women are annoyed about something, they immediately yell “rape”. Awesome.

3. Focus

This should have been much more interesting. Like, we know Will Smith is charming, right? We know he’s charismatic? So how come it barely came through in this movie? Instead, I guess the FRESH Prince comes off … a little STALE.

I"m proud of myself.

I”m proud of myself.

Focus has never heard of the Bechdel Test. Margot Robbie has the only female speaking role in the movie. Oh, I’m sorry, there is another female speaking part – one woman says “OK” to Will Smith when he asks her for money. Good hustle, team!

Margot Robbie – or, to use her proper name, Donna from Neighbours – is the best thing in this movie. She is funny, engaging and cool. She is also insanely beautiful. Which is another thing about Focus – for having two such charming leads, it is surprisingly sexless. It’s mostly too preoccupied with grinding through complicated plot set-ups. I got a bit lost in the details. Or maybe I just needed to … FOCUS.

Hooo, TWO of them! What!

Hooo, TWO of them! What!

Points to Focus for having a twist ending that actually surprised me – and I think it played on the audience’s expectations of race in a pretty smart way. Well played, Focus.

4. Insurgent

I have already forgotten this movie.

Still, it was pretty cool to see a scene in which the female villain (Kate Winslet) taunts the female hero (Shailene Woodley) that her mother (Ashley Judd) was not all that she seemed. Bechdel Test: exploded into a million pieces of glittering CGI.

Octavia Spencer shows up for a minute at the beginning of the film to dole out life advice to the little white girl and then disappears forever. Guys, this is not okay. There’s a name for this trope, but I’ll let Octavia explain it.

5. Cinderella

I spent most of this clunkasaurus looking at Twitter (dropping my phone only when Our Lady of Perfection Cate Blanchett was in frame).

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.59.29 pmThe little kids in the cinema seemed pretty content, but even they were watching in silence.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.59.15 pmAt this point I started wriggling in my seat and pining for a juicebox.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.59.06 pmTurns out I wasn’t being paranoid, I was just noticing the actual physical distress that her body was in.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.59.37 pmHow do you fit your crown over that massive fedora, prince.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 1.00.07 pm“Women just love shoes lol!!”

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.58.49 pmGame of Thrones is probably closer to the original Brothers Grimm tales anyway.

6. A Little Chaos

More Kate Winslet! As a landscape-gardener in 17th century France! But unlike in Insurgent, she has non-ridiculous dialogue to say. However, this is kind of a strange film. The direction (by Alan Rickman) is … odd. Scene transitions are awkward. And the central romance between Winslet and a plank of wood Matthias Schoenaerts is so unconvincing that supporting characters have to keep remarking upon how convincing the couple’s romance is. In case we forgot that they were in love. Because I did.

My favourite thing about this film is that we have a protagonist who is clearly living with post-traumatic stress syndrome, but the main conflict does not arise from her mental health issues. Rather, the cause of her trauma is revealed in well-paced flashbacks and serves to provide greater depth to the character. The main narrative conflicts have to do with class, social structures, and the ol’ struggle of progress versus tradition.

It was pleasant to watch a period drama with a female protagonist who is trying to get her job done despite many obstacles, both internal and external. Some scenes are quite moving, and if Rickman had cut out or reworked the awkward romantic storyline this would have been a much better film.

Number of movies released near me in March that were about white men:

Nineteen.

FYI (French Your Information):

There was also the French Film Festival on during March, which I haven’t counted in my project, because I just couldn’t afford to see that many movies during one month. However, I counted up the FFF films:

French movies about white men: 31.

French movies about anyone who wasn’t a white man: 15.

Some of the films are getting a post-festival release in my local cinemas so I will get to see some French films, don’t you worry. (And not ‘A Little Chaos’ French, where everyone is British.)

And, just for fun:

Of all movies released so far this year that were about a female protagonist, the character was a white blonde woman in 57 per cent of them.

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January: Into The Woods, Wild

Posts, The Other Movie Project

This is the first post for my 2015 blog project, The Other Movie Project. I am challenging myself to watch every single movie showing near me that is not about a white guy. For the month of January, I found two movies that qualified. Two. Find out more about The Other Movie Project here.

Into The Woods

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 10.21.43 pm
Tricked by posters and IMDB and cinema listing citing the lead actor as Meryl Streep, I thought Into The Woods would be a movie about a kick-ass witch who is unexpectedly complex and sings touching songs and has long chats with other complex female characters. Or, Into The Woods was about Emily Blunt, or Anna Kendrick. So many rad ladies in this ensemble cast, it had to qualify! So I went to see it, and discovered that it was actually a story about a whiny baker man.

Though there is a large cast of characters, all of their stories somehow center around The Baker (played by white guy James Corden). Emily Blunt The Baker’s Wife is also there, who is named The Baker’s Wife even though we are introduced to both of them in the bakery at once, both very definitely and very equally baking. Like bakers. Although I suppose technically what Emily Blunt is doing is baker’s-wifing. She is a prominent character but I’ll get to why the story isn’t about her in a minute. The action really begins with the witch (The Indomitable Streep) bursting into the bakery and telling The Baker that she put a curse on his family over beans or something. She gives James Corden and Emily Blunt a series of tasks to complete and a clear deadline and disappears to go advance the plot somewhere else. Then begins a tediously recurring conversation in which James Corden tells Emily Blunt to stay home while he goes on adventures because he is The Baker and she is only The Baker’s Wife.

The rest of the movie is James Corden learning lessons and growing as a man and realising that his wife may actually be more competent than him, while his wife runs around doing most of the work and then dies so that The Baker can feel sad about it. The finale of the movie is all the remaining woman and children (those not killed in the giant attacks caused by Beanstalk Jack’s reckless disregard for other people’s property) gathering around James Corden and asking if they can go home with him. There you have it. James Corden learned to sort of respect his wife. James Corden learned not to abandon his baby. James Corden learned to be a leader. James Corden is rewarded with a family and Cinderella The New Baker’s Wife. The emotional arc is James Corden’s. James Corden narrates the whole damn film. Into The Woods is about James Corden. So tricked.

This movie had so many holes, and most of them were fallen into by female characters. The greatest threat to life in this movie was Falling Over. Jack’s mother (unnamed) is killed by being pushed over. The powerful, terrifying giant (“a female giant!!”) perishes by lying down unexpectedly. Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt fall out of frame and presumably die, without warning or fanfare. I was sure they were fake-outs, and kept waiting for them to spring back into frame, the witch cackling and Emily Blunt saying “Surprise Baker, I’m back, now get your cow eyes off Anna Kendrick”. I was gobsmacked because I naively thought the whole “helpless women sprain their ankles at inopportune moments” trope had died with the 70s.

And feminism dies with the last words spoken by a female character in this film: “Yes [indicates male character], I will come live at your house. There are times when I actually like cleaning!”

FUUUUUCK.*

(All that said, I really loved the scene where the two campy princes sing a campy song about their man-feelings atop a waterfall. Would like to see re-released as a Cracked short film titled Princes Have Feelings.)

*I have been told that Into The Woods is not a great film adaptation of the original Broadway musical, which I haven’t seen, so please know that I am only critiquing the movie as a stand-alone text. I hold out hope that the stage musical makes a tonne more sense.

Wild

Out of the woods and into the wild. All the promotion I’d seen for this Reese Witherspoon vehicle made it look, frankly, super boring. Promoted clips were mostly of her walking, looking tired, or fiddling with her shoes. The general impression I got from reviews and people’s comments was that the central character, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), was unlikeable and had “made a lot of really bad life choices”. I’d seen Sean Penn’s Into The Wild (2007) a few years ago and thought, OK, I guess I’m about to see the girl version of that.

Nope, nope, nope.

Wild was so much better.

Wild is glorious. I recommend that you go see this if you can. I did not find it boring for a second, and I don’t know why I had that impression. I hope it’s down to poor marketing, and not too much to internalised sexism.

I don’t want to make too many direct comparisons to Into The Wild, but it’s so easy. Where in Into The Wild Emile Hirsch’s McCandless felt inscrutable and self-satisfied, Witherspoon’s Cheryl Strayed is someone I could relate to. We are invited into her inner monologue, her motivations, her meditations on her own flaws. I felt wholly invested in this character. When I saw Into The WIld, I couldn’t help thinking that the film idealised McCandless’s abandonment of his family. Wherever he went, he always seemed so pleased with himself. Yet Wild doesn’t rely on sweeping vistas to insert poignancy into the narrative. Strayed’s backstory is revealed in well-paced flashbacks, and the scenes between her and her mother (Laura Dern) are so painful it’s perfect.

One criticism would be that too much is made of Strayed’s promiscuous past when the narrative calls for examples of her “bad life choices”. However, just when it looks like slut-shaming, Strayed has a one-night stand that has nothing to do with self-destruction and everything to do with her own pleasure. She is complex and has agency. Thank the Lady Witherspoon (who optioned Strayed’s book and got this movie off the ground with her own money).

It is a rare movie that shows a variety of male micro-aggressions against women from a woman’s perspective, and futhermore presents them as incidental to the story. Male entitlement is part of Wild‘s landscape, no more or less than rattlesnakes and empty water tanks. And, blessedly, we don’t have to witness any graphic violence. Casual sexism aimed at Strayed isn’t a ‘primer’ for some awful act; it is the act in itself. I don’t think I’ve seen a film that captured this particular social phenomenon so accurately. And it was done with wit and compassion. Good stuff.

Number of movies showing near me during January that were about white men:

Thirteen.

Also notable:

Out of the two movies I saw (Into The Woods and Wild), I recall only one speaking role occupied by a person of colour. So, yep. Not great.

The Other Movie Project: Here we go!

The Other Movie Project

For 2015, I have challenged myself to watch every single movie released in a cinema near me that is not a story about a white guy. Is the movie about a woman, or a man who is not white? I must watch it. Is the movie about someone who does not identify within the gender binary? Heaven help me, I must watch it, because it would be wonderful to see.

I’ve noticed how many movies (and TV shows and books and articles and narratives in general) centre around a white guy. If a woman or a man of colour does occupy a leading role in a film, they are almost always an offsider or partner to a white guy. They’re the love interest, the villain, or the best friend. They’re the other character. I am pushing myself to challenge this internalised bias, that stories about white men are inherently more valuable. I feel like I’ve watched plenty of movies that follow the emotional journeys of white men. I want to watch the other movies.

So I’m putting my money where my mouth is. If a film is released in a cinema near me, and the narrative centres around a woman and/or a person of colour, I will go buy a ticket and watch it. Movies about women of colour? Bonus points!

By seeking out movies about non-white-guys, I’ll have to actively notice how many movies are about white guys. At this point, I’m not sure what the stats are. I might end up watching hardly any movies for this project. I might end up spending heaps on movie tickets (I kind of hope so). How do industry statistics translate into session times at Australian cinemas? I’m going to find out, at least for Brisbane.

After each month is over, I’ll blog about the movies I saw (and the ones I didn’t). First post coming soon. Here we go!

I’ll be here all week (and next)

Posts

Last night was the opening night of Not Much To Tell You at The Sue Benner Theatre, Metro Arts. It was a wonderful start to the season with a really great crowd and a good feeling in the room. I’m looking forward to doing it all again tonight, and then Friday, and then Saturday, and then Wednesday-to-Saturday next week! Tickets are still available from metroarts.com.au, or you can buy at the door tonight.

Here is a picture of my super hi-tech set:

I also had the pleasure of being interviewed by Sally Browne for yesterday’s Courier Mail:

‘Scuse me while I go laminate my copy. #sorrynotsorry

Not Much To Tell You is a part of the program for the most poetic weekend in Brisbane’s calendar – the Queensland Poetry Festival! QPF has its opening night tomorrow at the Judith Wright Centre, to usher in the greatest poetry festival in the southern hemisphere! LET’S HEAR IT FOR POETRY.

I’ll be giving my top picks for QPF on Metro Arts’ Instagram, so keep an eye out for that. Or you could just pick up a QPF program and throw a dart at literally any part of it, and I guarantee it will be good.

Dawn of the patriarchy of the apes

Posts, Selected Posts

Yesterday I watched Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes and presumed prequel to Day of the Dawn of the Consolidation of the Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I have some thoughts. If you are avoiding spoilers, please look away now.

Here be spoilers.

OK. So. HOW AWESOME WAS THAT?? Caesar totally rode a horse. He rode a horse and he totally told the humans off. He and the other apes built their own society. They taught each other sign language and spoken language and written language! Most humans don’t bother with all three. I loved the graphics (aside from one awkward establishing shot in a final battle scene where the apes look embarrassingly CGI, and my disbelief was entirely un-suspended). I particularly loved Caesar. What a babe. Hunkiest ape this side of the rise of the planet. And Caesar has a team of pretty cool, complex ape characters with which to interact. Overall, an impressive film.

I just, I have a little note. A small thing, really. You’ll probably laugh. But WHERE THE HELL were all the female characters? Female apes, female humans – missing! In the ape colony, we only meet one female ape – Caesar’s wife – who, I found out from the credits, was named Cornelia, although we are never given her name during the movie. In her brief on-screen time, Cornelia fulfills the female-movie-character trifecta of giving birth, providing motive for her man, and looking pretty while dying. Apparently she was played by Judy Greer. You wouldn’t know, since she doesn’t have any spoken lines and she mainly lays there looking ill. A waste of the vocal talent that brings us the unforgettable Cheryl Tunt on Archer. And yet I have read entertainment blogs actually heralding Greer as a “leading lady” in this film. Really? Silent, absent, and mostly uninvolved in the plot? But then, I guess this is what leading roles often look like for women.

There is one other female character in Dawn of the Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Dark of the Moon. She is a human woman, who – you guessed it – is the wife of the other leading man. The man who isn’t an ape. Good, so we’ve got one woman on each side of the human-ape war, and they each exist to show that the lead male has ‘something to fight for’. The human female (played by the way-underused Keri Russell – here you can see this leading lady describe her role in the film as “miniscule”) is named Ellie, and is listed on Wikipedia as a “former nurse” even though I had the impression she was a doctor, and she definitely performs surgery during the movie. During some staid exposition at the beginning of the film, we are casually informed that, before society crumbled, she worked at the Center for Disease Control. Sounds like Dr Disease-Expert Ellie would be pretty essential to establishing a new society in a post-Simian-Flu world. But instead we only see her administering hugs to Malcolm – the true leader – and asking him for permission to do things. (He denies her permission, by the way, because “I need you here” to care for his son from a previous marriage.) Why is Malcolm the preferential authority in the struggle to save humanity? Well, he’s an architect. And … tall? Have you heard how deep his voice is?

“Get behind me, Doctor, I have a degree in architecture.”

Yes, the gender imbalance in this movie greatly annoyed me. It is part of a larger problem with this film, where the human characters are not satisfactorily fleshed out (thus Malcolm’s role as leader of the humans is never adequately explained, while Caesar’s leadership status is easily established by his superior intellect, wisdom and physical strength). It annoyed me beyond all reason that the female apes were all wearing pretty, spangly, beaded headdresses that practically blinded them. I know this was probably intended as an aesthetic link to the 2001 reboot Planet of the Apes, but in that movie the male apes wore adornments as well. Giving only the female apes impractical jewelry just seemed to reinforce their status as decoration.

I don’t even know where the human females were. Apparently the human population had been thinned to near-extinction by the Simian Flu, while survivors of that were killed in post-apocalyptic wars. Surely, if we assume that men are usually responsible for wars and for fighting them (given all we know about history), there would be more women left than men. Even now, women represent a slight majority in the population. I’ve never understood why dystopian films have so much trouble imagining a landscape with women in it. Or why, with civilisation apparently dismantled and society being rebuilt, patriarchal structures have survived with ease. In the recent past, global wars have accidentally resulted in liberation for women, because with the dominant male class off killing each other, women have had to step into new roles. This is the kind of stuff that I find interesting about stories set in post-conflict societies: how new interpersonal dynamics emerge under unfamiliar circumstances.

We don’t get any such insights into the human world of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but the ape society has evolved beyond recognition. They have chopped down trees, built a permanent home, even set up literacy classes. However, they haven’t socially gone any further than “Get all the females and young to safety”. OK, in a battle situation, I could understand “Get all the mothers and their young to safety”. But all the females? I mean, the apes were off to fight humans, right? And as a human, I find female chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans pants-wettingly terrifying. Any one of them could rip my arm out of my socket – I know it, they know it. Why weren’t there female apes in the battle? You could tell me that, in real-life chimp society, it is the males who fight the wars. You could tell me that ape society appears to follow a patriarchal hierarchy. This is all true. But this is a science-fiction film in which chimps are living alongside gorillas and orangutans, have domesticated the horse, and can talk. Even though chimps do not have a vocal tract. They also fire assault rifles. You telling me we can’t stretch the imagination to a female second-in-command for Caesar?

You could ask me why any of this matters, if it’s just a work of fiction. I’m tired of fielding that question. It matters. I’m over watching films where there are hardly any people who look like me, and all they do is hug the men and tell them they’re brave. There’s more to my life than that, and I’d like to see women in movies have more to their lives than that, too. Even the ape ones.

Mid-week is the new weekend – tell your friends

Posts

Hey internet peeps,

So, my posts have been a bit sporadic lately. I think that’s mainly because I had set myself the task of posting every weekend, and weekends have become my busiest time of the week. (Such is the life on a non-nine-to-fiver! Your “weekend” is whenever you get a couple days off.) SO, I will try to post mid-week from now on, and keep this blog dynamic. Dynamic. That’s a good word. It’s my favourite term to invoke when someone corrects my grammar. “LANGUAGE IS DYNAMIC!!” I wasn’t wrong – I just wasn’t your kind of right. Wink.

My weekends are happily busy with the best kind of things – projects! Gigs! People! Working, meeting, and talking. I co-host a radio show every Sunday lunchtime (Megaherzzz on 4ZZZ), so I spend a bit of Saturday preparing interview questions and discussion topics and practising my “radio voice”. (Insider fact: It’s my normal voice. There’s a reason I didn’t get into NIDA.) There are also usually a few music/arts gigs to attend, which are mega-fun.   poetsdressedas_poster

I am going to be in one of these gigs this weekend – a really cool event put together by ubiquitous Brisbane poet, Darkwing Dubs. (Darkwing actually just won the Nimbin Performance Poetry World Cup yesterday, so if you see that guy around, BUY HIM A DRINK.) He is curating a two-part series of performances that centre around gender in art and society. The first part in the series is called Poets Dressed As … Women! and all of the performers are – you guessed it – women! I be one of those such lady women. Also performing are Lucy Fox, Merlynn Tong, and Sydney’s Candy Royalle. I’m excited for this event as it promises to be entertaining and thought-provoking. I’ve been writing new material, and planning some tricks to put up my sleeve (or to tuck into my bra, if I’m wearing a sleeveless top).

The male part (teehee) of the series will be held the weekend after, and I look forward to that event also! It features a couple of poets I haven’t seen before, and a couple I’m keen to see again – Simon Kindt, Robin “Archie” Archbold, Martin Ingle, and self-confessed poetic lunatic Randall Stephens. I did a couple of poetry gigs with Randall years ago in Perth and Fremantle, and I tell you this guy is high energy. Should be another entertaining evening.

LONG LIVE POETRY!

Poem: “No men are islands, but some women are”

Poems, Posts

John Donne may have stated that no man is an island, but I’m sure that many women have felt like islands: lonely specks on the horizon, being lashed by rough seas. Gazing out across an empty ocean, waiting to be rescued. Ladies, if we could just see far enough, we would see that each island is just a stone’s throw from another. We are a sprawling archipelago of single women.

John Donne was right, though. No man is an island. Not the single men, anyway – they are driftwood. Floating in the seas, free but equally alone. Sometimes they wash up on an island, at the feet of a stranded female. Tired of the monotony of her empty beach, and of always drinking her coconut juice alone, the woman may be tempted to grab onto whatever piece of wood floats by. But we must be resolved. We must busy ourselves about the island, cooking fish over an open fire and even talking to volleyballs, because it’s better than settling for an eternity of drifting in the cold ocean, clinging uncertainly to a slippery bit of driftwood.

Sit on the beach, light your signal fire, and wait for your ship to come. Ladies, your ship is coming. And even if it passes you by, at least you’ll still be on your very own island, standing on solid ground. It may be lonely sometimes, but it’s yours.