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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February: The Second Best Jupiter Ascending Over Selma And Alice

Posts, The Other Movie Project

Whoa! February actually achieved parity in white-dude and non-white-dude movies released near me! I didn’t even manage to watch all of the films that qualified for my project, for reasons I will explain further on. What is my project? I have challenged myself to watch every movie released at a cinema near me that is not The Story of A White Guy. I am interested in how intersectionality affects my movie-going choices, so I am watching every movie available that is about a woman and/or a person of colour.

Still Alice Twitter screen shot

1. Still Alice

I put on my pinkest pants and my most mentally healthy head and made sure I was exposed to plenty of sunshine and put chocolate in my purse and then I went to see Still Alice.

I needed every self-care strategy I had.

Still Alice is the story of Alice (Julianne Moore), a linguistics professor who finds out she has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. We watch her deteriorate on-screen. It is brutal. Thank goodness the cinema was nearly empty and I was sitting up the back because I wept from credits to credits. Yet the film is gentle, elegant. Not only is Julianne Moore the queen of everything, but the film direction makes sure the story is told from her character’s perspective. I didn’t notice until the end of the film that none of the action takes place out of Alice’s presence; it is entirely her experience of the disease. So often, stories about devastating illness focus on the experience of the people who must care for the ill person, but Still Alice never stops being about Alice.

Kristen Stewart is wonderful as Alice’s youngest daughter, who steps up to play a major role in her mother’s care. “Thank you for asking,” Alice says to her daughter when asked what Alzheimer’s feels like. Still Alice shows us the creativity with which Alice manages her condition, and her determination not to lose herself. It asks, What is it like to live with this? As someone with a debilitating and poorly understood disease, I was grateful to this movie for asking.

2. Selma

The first movie released near me this year to be about a person of colour, and, unbelievably, the first theatrical movie ever to feature Martin Luther King Jr as a main character. No, really. The first. And it took Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay to push it through.

I knew this movie was about Martin Luther King Jr, but I’m going to have to step up right now and admit that I thought Selma was the name of a female character. My US Civil Rights’ Movement history is sorely lacking. But you don’t need much prior knowledge to be affected by the significance of the film’s events. It is narratively tight; the movie opens in the town of Selma, at a time when King is already an influential civil rights leader and African-American people have won the legal right to vote. But legal rights haven’t translated into equal rights, with black people still being blocked from voting by systemic racism. King fights to raise support for the Voting Rights Act through a historic march from Selma to Alabama’s capital. The opposition to something as simple as the equal right to vote is violent, ugly and all too familiar, with scenes reminiscent of Ferguson.

Let’s go back to the thing about Selma being the first MLK film. I found out while researching this post that most films about the American Civil Rights era have accessed the events through a white character (for example, The Help). David Oyelowo, who plays King in Selma, has said:

“There was a study done around the police in a certain state in this country, and they admitted that there is an inherent fear of the black male … So subconsciously or consciously, to have black powerful men driving the narrative as protagonists is frightening for America. And frightening for Hollywood. Subconsciously there is an allergy to it.”

It is indicative of my blind spot as a white person that, although I’ve always admired MLK, I had no idea that he’d never been the main character in a movie about him.

Selma contains breathtaking moments of violence, all the more shocking because they jump out between talky scenes of bureaucracy and strategy meetings. The movie also features a particular moment during which I punched the air and shout-whispered “WINFREY!” Oprah is so, so good in this, and she also co-produces. Selma cements its feminist cred by being directed by the first African-American woman to be nominated for a best director Golden Globe, and by passing the Bechdel Test with flying colours (thanks to one of my favourite scenes, in which one African-American woman speaks at length to another African-American woman on why she is proud of her ancestry).

If this is still showing near you, go out and see it.

3. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Alternate tag lines I suggested to no one:
‘The Sequel That’s Keeping It Dench’
‘The Dames Are Back In Town’
‘Downton Abbey Lost Its Money And Moved To India’

the-best-exotic-marigold-hotelI was charmed by the first Best Exotic Marigold movie, and the sequel did not disappoint. This is sweet comfort viewing, dripping with fairy lights and even a couple of dance breaks. The sequel builds on the first movie’s already large ensemble cast, adding Richard Gere, Black Books‘ Tamsin Greig, and a bigger part for the formidable Lilette Dubey. Sonny (Dev ‘I’ve Been In Love With Him Since Skins‘ Patel) wants to open a second hotel before his wedding, with the help of reformed racist Muriel Donnelly (Maggie ‘Dame By Name, Dame By Nature’ Smith), but his myopic ambition is threatening his relationships. Will he learn his wedding dance in time to save his marriage? Will they find out who is the mysterious spy sent to appraise their hotel? Will Bill Nighy make it through a complete sentence? It’s all adorable and I love it.

There were quite a few moments in the movie where I balked at what seemed like blithe colonialism: white gentry moving in and taking Indian jobs (leading regional tours even though they have to have a local child feed them information). But I thought there was poetic justice in the way Sonny gets his second hotel in the end (spoiler!), and the property he takes over is the Viceroy Club – a leftover of British colonialism. The last we see of the ‘White People’ Club’s romanesque columns, they are being decked out for an Indian wedding reception. It seemed right.

I enjoyed watching a movie that represented younger and older generations without resorting to ageist stereotypes or confected intergenerational warfare. It just avoids progressivism, however, by falling into the sequel trap of attempting to tie up all their stories with neat (hetero-normative, monogamous) bows. I note with interest that the franchise’s only gay character (played by Tom Wilkinson) died in the first movie after a lifetime of unrequited love. But look, the straight people are dancing!

Look, the main thing for me was that The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel begins and ends with the Dowager Countess Maggie ‘McGonagall’ Smith, and you can’t go wrong with that. I found it genuinely uplifting, and frankly I needed that after Still Alice and Selma.

4. Fifty Shades of Grey

The movie adaptation of the book that reportedly romanticises an abusive relationship. I wondered if Fifty Shades would even qualify for this project, since the title refers to its white male protagonist (antagonist?), Christian Grey. But a quick skim of the internet showed that the story is about Anastacia Steele’s emotional journey/’erotic awakening’. I don’t know how true that is, because I have not seen the movie. I am not going to see this movie. At least, not at this time. I am sorry – to the people who said they were looking forward to my review, and to consistency for breaking it – but I just cannot. Not for political reasons, although I have those; I’m avoiding Fifty Shades of Grey for personal reasons. At the top of this post I talked about self-care, and this is me doing that. However I would like to note that this is not a stance against BDSM or erotica or romance – or even Twilight fan-fiction – in any way. I just don’t have the spoons to watch something that potentially dresses up abuse as romance.

5. The Wedding Ringer

I also missed this Kevin Hart comedy, not for any reason other than I was travelling and did not have time to catch it. I will try to watch it soon and include it in a later post.

6. Jupiter Ascending

Fuck, this was bonkers. Channing Tatum was a dog person? Mila Kunis nearly married her grown-up son? Eddie Redmayne was trying to be Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element crossed with Richard Roxburgh in Moulin Rouge if both of them had had lip implants?

I almost didn’t watch Jupiter Ascending for this project because, based on the trailers, I’d thought it was about Channing ‘White Guy’ Tatum, with Mila Kunis as his romantic interest/trophy to save. In fact, most of the marketing made it seem this way. I didn’t even realise until I was watching the movie that Jupiter is the name of Mila Kunis’s character. The movie is all about her: she is the title character; she has the main arc; she is in nearly every scene; she even narrates the introduction! Channing Tatum is her helper friend. And yet, this is how the billing was listed wherever I looked:

From Wikipedia

From Wikipedia

From IMDB

From IMDB

From the trailer's YouTube description

From the trailer’s YouTube description

From the poster

From the poster

… And please don’t tell me Tatum is the ‘bigger name’. Mila Kunis was in Black Swan, people. BLACK. SWAN.

Anyway, I didn’t hate this film. It was fun. They went BIG. Mila Kunis is endlessly watchable and got a few good laughs from the audience. (Eddie Redmayne got the only other laugh, unintentionally. Sorry Eddie.) The cast was diverse, for Hollywood, and it was exciting to see Gugu Mbatha-Raw (from the seriously underrated 2013 film Belle) pop up. In fact, instead of watching Jupiter Ascending, maybe you should go find a copy of Belle. Belle is great. Watch Belle.

If you’re still not sure whether you are someone who would enjoy Jupiter Ascending, it is easy to find out: does the following phrase appeal to you? ‘AMERICAN-AUSTRALIAN SPACE OPERA.’

My answer was yes.

Number of movies released near me during February that were about white men:

Five! Not bad, world.