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Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts

30 April 2019

Marvel-ing at Grief

Spoilers Ahead

Spoilers head for Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse and Avengers: Endgame.

When Stan Lee died many fans were quick to point out that his legacy is much more than just comic book characters, but the messages that those characters endear to us. He spent years reinforcing those messages on his Soap Box. It is with his words about the power of love in mind that I outline that Avengers: Endgame is a film about grief masquerading as an action flick. Grief is everywhere in the film - appropriately since it takes place in a post-snap, post-apocalyptic universe. The grief of Thor is central to this lesson, but is the one most undercut by humor.

Avengers: Endgame begins with Hawkeye losing his family to Thanos' snap. And this snaps something in him causing him to become a vigilante. Rhodey reports to Nat of his slaughter of Mexican gang members. Nat finds him in Tokyo after his latest slaughter. We first see Thor upset because he did not go for Thanos' head, allowing Thanos to complete the snap. He makes sure not to repeat that mistake by beheading Thanos to stop his holier-than-thou speech about why the snap was good, blah, blah. After Tony is saved, he is so upset about the snap (most likely because of Peter Parker) that he collapses. Of course Tony is always upset about something, so grief or Tony? Your guess.

Five years after the snap, Steve Rogers runs a grief support program encouraging others to move on. Then he remarks to Nat that they can't move on. When it is time to get the band back together, Bruce/Hulk and Rocket find Thor in a deep depression - he is heavily drinking, staying in his home, and gaining weight, presumably due to over eating (the fact he is a god is to be ignored). Whereas Steve & Nat identify that they are stuck in grief and regret, Thor's grief is played off as a joke.

The first time I saw Avengers: Endgame the entire theater gasped at Thor's beer & pizza belly. I know I did. It was shocking especially compared to the scene in Infinity War where Thor's perfect body is compared to Peter Quill's non-Godlike body. And it should be noted that while his body was perfect, Mantis does say Thor is filled with grief. Back to Endgame...On my second watch, I paid attention to how Thor's belly is framed and lit to highlight it as a gag instead of a manifestation of his grief.

Later on when Thor is discussing the Reality stone and how he needs to time travel back to Asgard, he starts to mourn the loss of Jane as a girlfriend, his mother, and ends before getting to losing his father, brother, Loki, and Asgard itself. But when he gets to Asgard he is overcome with emotion at the sight of his mother on her deathday.

Rocket rightfully does some truth telling - how he is not the only one who lost something from The Snap. That they have a job to do and if they do it, they can put things right. I even accept the slap! But what I don't accept is how the slap played as humor. Rocket dug deep into his own trash-filled soul to give some tough love. Maybe the humor was there to take the edge off the heavy moment. We'll return to this idea later. 

As mothers are apt to do, Frigga can see his pain in his face. She counsels him that even he is like everyone else in terms of failing, but that doesn't mean he stops trying. Frigga even gives him direction by telling him to be who he is, not what he is expected to be. That's some real mom truth-telling there! To cap off the scene Thor summons Mjolnir and when it arrives he exclaims, "I'm still worthy!"

Thor's journey through grief and embodiment as a pot belly is played off as a joke. Compare this to how Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse handled Peter B. Parker's grief and depression. Yes, it was played off as a joke at first, but Peter B. offers up some hard truths to Miles about #ThatSuperheroLife, marriage, and how sometimes heroes don't get the happy ending we assume they do. His longing for a second or third chance with Mary Jane is palpable. Which is why I bawled when he showed up at her door at the end.

Given that the target audience for superhero movies is still young men and boys, Marvel has an enormous opportunity to normalize grief for a population that is obviously struggling with their emotions. When men experience mental health issues, including grief and depression, they are more apt to lash out than women. In fact they often lash out at the women in their lives.

Violence by men and boys is a national epidemic. Gun violence. Intimate partner violence. Sexual violence. All are disproportionately inflicted by boys and men. I for one do not believe that it is because men and boys are somehow inherently terrible human beings, but our society warps them into ignoring their feelings AND tells them that they way to get things out is to lash out at others. This is royally fucked up.

What if Rocket had hugged (I know, hard for our fave trash panda to hug our fave Norse god) instead of slapping him, or after slapping him, much like the hug that Tony gets to give to his father and Peter Parker? We get a taste of this empathy when Bruce/Hulk talks to Thor in New Asgard.

Can you imagine the impact on the young men and boys sitting in theaters around the country and the world if Thor's depression and grief had been given the same weight as Tony's death? Grief makes us all feel weird. We don't like to talk about grief. After my mom died, I had a few people in my life tell me to get over it so I could move on with my life. We don't know how to deal with grief, so we tell people to get over it or make awkward jokes. I don't think we needed Thor to end up with a grief counselor, but more acknowledgement of his losses and less jokes and body-shaming would had been awesome. Especially in light of the overwhelming sense of grief everyone was carrying throughout the movie.

If Stan Lee's legacy is a catalog of superheros that inspire us to be our best selves, why not include being inspired to talk about our grief and understanding that eating a salad will not resolve our depression-weight-gain.

15 September 2017

I'm deliriously excited about the Ferdinand movie

I was a bookworm as a kid and had many favorite books, but Ferdinand has always held a special place in my heart. The tale of a big mean looking bull who was really a huge softie? I cried at the pages where people tried to get him to fight. And then there was that Disney short. I remember reading the book to my daughter.

Now there is a full-length animated movie coming out.

I am sure this is where my opposition to bull fighting comes from too. And yes, the new movie looks cheesy as a super nacho plate, but this character means so much to me that I don't care. I can't wait to see this movie. I might have to see it on my own as I'll prolly cry.

I hope the movie holds up to the book and the memories. In a moment where a bully reigns from the people's house, this movie should be a great opportunity to remind children that kindness is the path to follow. 

30 June 2017

Review: Despicable Me 3

Thanks to an invite from the publicity team, I took my 13-year-old daughter and her friend to a special screening of Despicable Me 3. We really loved the first movie. My daughter was Agnes for Halloween that year. The second movie fell flat for the overly racist stereotype of El Macho. I STILL SEE YOU, BENJAMIN BRATT!

The theater was packed with families, many in Minion t-shirts, and kids who did not any of the sugar they were about to ingest from the concession stand. Since it was a special screening the organizers kept trying to get our attention for giveaways and rule announcements. Nope. The kids were too excited to shush for a free t-shirt.

So the movie... This movie was better than DM2, but still far from the magic that made Despicable Me the franchise we keep going back to. As I said, I took my teenage daughter and while she liked it, it was clear it wasn't a home run. It was a hit with the younger kids we were surrounded by. They laughed, giggled, and danced in their seats.

  • Agnes steals the movie again. She was used perfectly to remind us of why we fell in love with this family. From her yard sale scene to the unicorn hunt, Agnes is the epitome of adorable. 
  • It was odd that it seemed like Margo had matured while the character clearly did not age. But her maturity with stepmom Lucy was sweet. 
  • The ending with Gru & his long-lost brother was nice and parents with more than one will use it in vain attempts to stop arguments. 
  • Lucy saves the day.
  • Lucy spends most of the movie stumbling over her role as a mom. She is the experienced super spy, but gets pigeonholed into the mom role. 
  • The Minions get sent to prison. While there were some cute scenes, given this moment in US history, prison comedy is hard to laugh at, especially when I'm still not sure why they got locked up in the first place. 
  • Balthazar Bratt is the big villain, but was only there to give us Gen Xers a fun soundtrack. Ya know who they should have gotten to play the evil child star? Jason Bateman. Remember how much of a brat he was on Silver Spoons? Now that would had been awesome casting. 
  • Lucy making Margo do something to relieve a boy of public shaming. Yes, it seemed like a nice gesture, but I felt it sent too much of a message that girls should do whatever it takes to make a boy feel better. And then it back fired with an engagement, thus allowing Lucy to display her mama bear skills and win Margo's love.  
So go see the movie. It's not terrible, but it's a good decision on a hot steamy summer day. And it's a great decision for smaller kids who giggle at fart jokes.

Three Stars for everyone over 10
Four 1/2 Stars for those under 10

Disclaimer: We bought our own snacks from the concession stand!

22 June 2017

In reality Wonder Woman is a beautiful retelling of The Little Mermaid

Hear me out friends.

Disney's The Little Mermaid is my favorite classic princess movie. I saw it multiple times in the theater as a teen and have seen it enough to spot the plot a mile away. So let's do this.

Ariel is a girl who lives in a protected world free from humans, dreams of adventure, and is super curious about humankind.

Diana is a woman who lives in a protected world free from men, dreams of adventures, and is super curious about men.

One day a storm/war casts a man into the water and Ariel/Diana dive in to save him despite knowing contact with a man is going to make her dad/mom really upset. She brings him to the shore and when he wakes up he sees her...

In The Little Mermaid, Eric "forgets" all about Ariel after the beach. Where in Wonder Woman, Diana stays to fight alongside Steve. But both Ariel and Diana end up venturing out into the world of humans...

They are both fishes outta water (Ariel, literally!) and find human artifacts to bring them much joy. Forks. Ice cream. Tiny humans.

Both arrive into the world inappropriately dressed and must find suitable clothing. Both have to get to use to wearing human clothing.

They each go on adventures. Ariel has to help save her bestie Sebastian, who for the record is the one who has to survive a gauntlet, aka No Crab's Land. Whereas Diana is the one who survives "No Man's Land." As a reward, they get taught how to human dance or sway. Also for the record, both Eric and Steve are fans of the huge collar.

In the final battle of each movie, it is Ariel and Diana on their own. Ariel must battle Ursula, who was in disguise as Vanessa! Where Diana must battle Ares who was in disguise as Sir Patrick!! Both have to dig deep to locate their power. They find their strength in the love they have for the men in their lives - King Triton and Steve Trevor - in order to defeat their enemies.

Sadly there is where the parallels truly end as Ariel gets her happy ending with a big poofy wedding dress and the blessing of the King. Whereas Diana is left wondering what could have been. On the plus side, she does learn the truth about herself. Not to mention I don't recall punch-dancing my way out of the theater post-TLM.

And don't forget this last factoid...


Seriously though, I started to put together this post the first time I saw Wonder Woman. Then I tested the water by telling a friend my theory and he bought it. So when I went for the second time, especially to write my official review, and caught more common plot points I knew I needed to write this up. Then I decided it had to be in mostly gifs. Sadly Wonder Woman still doesn't have a lot of gifs so this post isn't as awesome as it could be. I'm sure someone will try to rip this to pieces for being an offense to feminism or something, but I don't care. I'm having fun merging two of my favorite movies into one plot line.

ariel dressed as wonder woman

21 June 2017

I'm finally ready to talk about the Wonder Woman movie...

Goddess knows that I had to see the movie at least two times before I could truly sort through all my feelings. Sitting in the theater the first time was like an out of body experience. I was there and knew I was there, but it didn't feel like it. I was somehow disconnected from the emotion of being there. Perhaps because my brain was taking a zillion notes a second. The second time...omg...the second time was overwhelming. First we got to the theater after the movie had already started - 2 minutes, that's ok. But when we got into the theater it was packed and we couldn't find seats. OMG! Where would we sit? Thankfully my daughter spotted three seats in row two. After we sat down it dawned on me...the theater was sold out in the second weekend. YES!!!
I found it odd that in both viewings there was little applause or cheering as in other eagerly anticipated movies. It was almost as if we were all stunned that we were actually at the Wonder Woman movie. That said, watching the movie the second time was a thrill because I did get to hear gasps and oohs at places where I knew the good stuff was still to come. The worst was hearing a little boy ask whomever he was with near the end of the movie, "Where's Steve?!" The best was the little girl who dance-punched her way through the credits at the end. She's who the movie is truly revolutionary for...she'll grow up never knowing any difference.
Why I Didn't Cry at the Battle Scene
I've read a lot of comments online about women crying during the Amazon battle scene. Most say it is because they had never seen such a battle. And I'm all...

See also Ripley, Sarah Conner, and a host of other kick ass women from TV and film. Yes, yes, yes...it is different to see a magnificent Amazon battle scene on the big screen with all the money that allows. The whole scene was breathtaking. But as someone who consumes scifi media, the woman warrior battle scene isn't earth shattering to me. Beautiful? Yes. Again, that doesn't mean I didn't love it, cause anytime I can see Amazons charging on horseback down the beach is a good day.

Steve Trevor
Call me a traditionalist, but Steve Trevor is supposed to be the damsel in distress. I kinda liked how ditzy he was in the TV show. But I get why plotwise he needed to know exactly who she was. We get a bit of Steve as damsel in the alley scene, but as Michi Trota at The Learned Fangirl points out, his punch at the end is only necessary to maintain him not being saved by Diana. Also until Ares shows up, Trevor is pretty sure the woman he's falling in love with is crazy. The fact he keeps talking about 'dropping her off at the front' told me that he thought she was delusional. He's getting credit for following her lead, but I am not totally sold that he truly believed in her. He shifts towards belief when he coordinated the others into helping her catapult into the church steeple. All that said, I did like Steve Trevor. I am just not buying all the chatter about him falling in line behind her. Also like Michi, I was upset that it was his death that made Diana realize the extent of her power.
When Diana proclaimed that love was the answer, I let my skeptical side come out. "Oh come on...really? Wonder Woman gets the love will conquer all line?" But after reading some reviews, sitting on it, and seeing it a second time, love is the answer. Love for humanity is what motivates Diana to leave the safety of Themyscira. Love for humanity is what has her jump at the baby on the street. Love for humanity is what propelled her to walk across "No Man's Land." By the way, great hat tip to Lord of the Rings. It also accurate to her origins as amplifying women's goodness.

Women of Color
The critique of where the women of color existed in Themyscira. The first time we see one is as Diana's nanny bringing up images of mammies. This is a legitimate critique. But when I saw the film the second time I tried to pay attention to where the Amazons of color existed. I took the scene where Hippolyta is interrogating Steve Trevor as a meeting of the Amazon Senate. And there are a lot of Amazons of color. Some speak up, and yes are interrupted, but they are shown to be valued for more than just their strength. While I agree with most of the critiques, I do want to give a bit more credit. For me the entire Themyscira scene was done far too quickly. We could have skipped the Pretty Woman scene and add more time on Paradise Island.

In the end...
I really liked the movie. I have a feeling that I'll grow to love it as I rewatch it over and over. I'll find new things to love and new things that make me twitch my nose. Maybe I'll figure out what everyone seems to see in Steve.

What I do know is that Wonder Woman rose to the challenge to kick major ass at the box office. Luckily Patty Jenkins signed for two films so she'll get to bring the same vision to Diana in the sequel. As of this moment she's brought in $438.5 million in the US alone and $300 million overseas. Wonder Woman is set to break records that perhaps might force Warner Brothers to give us all the stupid movie promotions we were robbed of like cereal and ice cream. We will have Wonder Woman ice cream next time, right?!
But was it feminist?
SIGH...This is the question that kept eating at me during the first viewing. Does saying it is feminist mean I don't care that women of color weren't featured more prominently? Or that same sex love was only suggested not screamed from the top of a Themyscira cliff? Does it mean I am ok with the fact Etta Candy was given such a poor role? I don't think saying this movie was feminist means it is perfectly feminist. It had a lot to be desired, but it did give us a tale of a strong, smart, and loving woman who acted with an eye towards peace and justice. A woman who loves ice cream, babies, and kicking ass.

Yet at this moment when feminism needs to mean something, I hesitate to call everything feminist. Within our capitalistic society it seems like it is a feminist act to buy a ticket or three to Wonder Woman, but is it really? In Andi Zeisler's book, We Were Feminists Once, she argues that we can not buy our way to liberation. But this movie makes it clear that war is bad without framing even the Germans as evil. Diana wrestles with the source of humanity's urge to destroy itself which aligns with my feminism - the belief that people are inherently good, but misguided by fear. Cue Yoda.

So is the movie feminist? Kinda. There are definite feminist themes, but perhaps instead of focusing on stamping the entire film as feminist, we keep analyzing the film as to which scenes were feminist and which were not. Let's use this film to talk to the young girls in our lives about being ready for a fight, hoping it never comes, but kicking ass when necessary. That may be exactly how to balance the pacifism of my feminism with the reality of our world. Maybe.

If you haven't seen it, go....then come debate with me. 

03 June 2017

The Feminist Burden Wonder Woman Carries

Every summer blockbuster film arrives with anxiety over its reception. Will it be the summer champ? Will it be liked? Movies based on beloved harassers such as comic book heroes come with extra anxiety over reception. Then there is Wonder Woman.

Summer 2017 felt like a lifetime away when word came in 2014 that our favorite Amazon princess (Sorry, Gabrielle) would find her way to the big screen. But honestly as we crept closer and closer to the day my stomach churned. Why? The Wonder Woman movie will be the first woman superhero since Electra in 2005 and that was a flop. Not to mention Catwoman, but we must. In addition, Wonder Woman has a woman director. When this film started up filmmaker Lexi Alexander publicly stated she wouldn't take the job if offered over the pressure placed on women directors. If the film flops, not only will the director take the fall, but will all women directors? This may be one of the biggest challenges to feminism in pop culture. Will feminists show up to support the biggest feminist icon to grace the silver screen? Lastly in the age of Trump and still in the fledgling days of the Resistance, will Wonder Woman deliver the inspiration we seek to continue to resist? Now that I list all of those challenges, maybe Ginger Rogers has it easy.

Now you're thinking - it's just a movie! Yeah, not so much...

First of all the movie industry is still a sexist operation. Despite the success of the Rogue One, Hunger Games and Twilight, women-led films are still undervalued. Women continue to have the highest ROIs in the movie business, but still do not demand the same gravitas that their male counterparts do. The mega success of Hidden Figures at the box office was only a surprise if you aren't a woman of color eager to pay to see women of color take center stage in their own stories. Women are hungry to devour stories featuring strong women who reflect our realities and inspire us to dream big.

Reese and Sandra’s success has done little to kill the myth that women can't open or direct hit movies. This level of scrutiny is not only unfair but it is not even a carrot for women directors. First of all every man who has directed a hit has also released a dud. It happens! Including dud superhero flicks like Green Lantern and Daredevil. Then there is the case of Catherine Hardwicke. She directed the first Twilight film when it seemed no one else would touch it. It grossed almost $200 million in the USA when it cost $37 million to make. What was Hardwicke's reward for directing a film to such heights? Being replaced for Chris Weitz. With rewards like that why even try?

But back to Wonder Woman...

She takes to the big screen, not in LEGO form, at a time when she is not just popular but enveloped in the resistance zeitgeist. Before Trump was even done taking the oath of office I was tagged on a t-shirt depicting Wonder Woman punching the new president. The day after Senator McConnell silenced Senator Warren a RESIST tee with Wonder Woman, fist raised in defiance, was cluttering my Facebook feed.

We have to remember that Wonder Woman was launched during World War II and the US government ensured that her and other comic books would be a conduit for pro-USA propaganda. In the pages of her comic books she fought and punched Nazis. The comics also peddled in racist imagery, especially when depicting Japanese fighters. Wonder Woman is known to fight for justice. This makes her the perfect superhero, comic book character for the resistance, especially for women. She is a reluctant fighter, only recently militarized. But when pushed, she will fight injustice, on behalf of others, and for most of her history with non-lethal force.

Wonder Woman’s standing as the most recognizable woman superhero has propelled her to feminist icon. She appeared on the first issue of Ms. Magazine. Many of the stories told in the 2014 Sensation Comics series were feminist stories such as Wonder Woman coming to the defense of a boy whose classmates were teasing him over his fandom of Wonder Woman. In the movie trailer Wonder Woman is puzzled over the idea of a secretary and equates to the job description given by Etta Candy to slavery. ‎William Moulton Marston created her as a feminist image or as he put it as a role model for modern womanhood. His inspiration was the suffragists including Margaret Sanger the founder of Planned Parenthood. Her feminism is the core of her being, not the result of co-optation by the feminist movement.

These issues are important to keep in mind as we await the response to the movie. Wonder Woman is entering the theaters with Princess Vespa sized baggage. 75 years of comic books, TV, small roles in two LEGO movies and Batman v Superman and cartoon depictions plus the trailers have us all guessing as to what will come.

What we do know from the trailers is that Wonder Woman meets Steve Trevor and leaves Themyscira during World War I. After washing ashore, he tells the Amazon leadership that he is fighting to end the war to end all wars. But he also warns the, that their lives on Themyscira is not as safe as they think. This appears to prompt Diana into deciding to leave and fight to defend innocent lives.

The pulling back of Wonder Woman's origin story to WWI and not WWII is a risk. One that some believe was made to avoid comparisons with Captain America and the Marvel Universe. The other is to reinforce Diana’s ambivalence with war, as World War I was not a war as clear of a just cause as World War II. While a year ago I think the risk would pay off, today in the political climate we are in, I see that risk higher. Because who wouldn’t want to see Wonder Woman punch Nazis?

A screening in late February had twitter abuzz with phrases like “blown away” and “best of the DC movies” thrown about. Of course this just raised my expectations when I thought they couldn’t get any higher!

And that is the bottom line, Wonder Woman fans are more than just eager for this movie. We are desperate for it. For my fellow GenXers, we have been waiting for this movie since we were kids in our Under Roos twirling around like Linda Carter with tin foil wrapped around our wrists. Our grandmothers who read Wonder Woman in the early comics are eager. We raised our girls to worship the Amazon goddess who then consider themselves Wonder Women. It is not fair that this movie has so much riding on it. But it does. We have waited through the excitement that Joss Whedon wrote a screenplay, but then was rejected by studios. We were up in arms over the 2011 TV pilot because we want her to reflect exactly the way she is in our minds.

What I hope we take away from the movie, no matter what, good or bad, is that Diana, Wonder Woman, fights for what she believes in. As we continue to resist against a national administration that attempts to pit communities against each other and empower bullies, we must find the Wonder Woman in ourselves. Not in the sense that we will do it all. But as people who will speak up for those we see being attacked and who will offer sanctuary to those being targeted. If we can walk out of the theaters with that mission, the movie will have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.

16 May 2017

The Battle of the Sexes trailer is out!

Battle of the Sexes is a new movie that depicts the legendary tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. The trailer was released today and it looks pretty awesome.

I gotta say that I think Steve Carell NAILS Bobby. Normally I want to smooch Steve, but in this clip I wanna slug him! The trailer also teases plot lines about Billie Jean's love life. She kept her sexuality private for a very long time, as almost every professional athlete has done pretty forever. I got to meet Billie Jean King a few years ago at a luncheon. She has always been an inspiration to me so I am really looking forward to this movie. Hopefully Emma Stone's cultural baggage doesn't weight this movie down, but we'll see won't we?

02 April 2017

Review: Abortion: Stories Women Tell

According to the CDC,  664,435 legal abortions were performed in 2013. The Guttmacher Institute states that in 2014 1.5% of women aged 15-44 had an abortion. On average 1 in 3 women will have had an abortion over the course of their lifetime. This makes abortion or pregnancy terminations one of the most common surgical procedures, but most likely the only medical procedure that requires armed guards to ensure the safety of professionals performing them. The virulent attacks against reproductive justice - including medically accurate sex education, birth control, and abortion - has resulted in an atmosphere of fear. Fear that providers are assassinated in their churches or homes. Fear that providers being harassed outside their own homes. Fear that loved ones won't understand. This has resulted in silence.

And this silence has resulted in people worrying if their decision to abort means they are terrible people or if the fact they valued the lives of their children over their pregnancy means they are terrible parents.

In Abortion: Stories Women Tell these stories are here for consuming. We hear from women who have had abortions and now work in clinics to support other women. Women who regret their abortions and who are now those harassing women outside of clinics perpetuating abortion stigma.

For me, the most touching scenes are with those who chose adoption. The debate over abortion is often pitted against having one and not having one as if carrying a pregnancy to term is easy. But pick up an adoption narrative and one will know that allowing your child to be adopted is a tougher choice for many people. In fact in one scene the mother of a young woman admits that she could not be with her daughter as she gave birth because she needed to keep an emotional distance in order for the adoption to take place. That young woman made a decision to carry her pregnancy to term and her mother could not find the strength to be at her side as she gave birth and let her child join a different family. That is heart-wrenching. That pain is often ignored when anti-abortion advocates and law-makers scoff, "Just give it up for adoption!" as if it was as simple as dropping off a bag of donated clothing.

Abortion: Stories Women Tell beautifully highlights how abortion rights, especially in light of waiting periods, is a class issue. Considering how in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election pundits waxed on about the Democrats returning to economic issues and dismissing race and "identity" politics, few of those economic Democrats are running to include reproductive justice under the economic tent. Keeping the economics of "choice" out of the framing of our political agenda leads to not only Democrats throwing reproductive justice under the bus, but allows for upper class white women to think they are safe even if they vote for Trump. It also leads to the young white woman we meet who organizes against abortion even though she had zero personal experience with someone who had one. I bet she has a friend who had one, but can't trust her enough to reveal themselves.

This is not an easy documentary to watch. It is emotional and you will most likely cry and scream at the TV. I'm holding back tears as I write. But this documentary is one you must watch, especially for those in the mushy middle of the debate and don't have a friend who has outed themselves as having had an abortion. Tracy Droz Tragos, the director, does not pass judgement on those who fight to make abortion harder to access, but the humanity they provide to the women who do choose abortion is fiercely feminist and pro-reproductive justice.

premieres on HBO
Monday, April 3rd at 7 pm Central


In light of the class issues discussed in this film and my longtime activism to support those who choose abortion, I am asking you to please donate to my effort to support the Chicago Abortion Fund who financially assists those seeking to terminate their pregnancies. Thank you! 

18 March 2017

Henrietta Lacks Trailer is OUT!!

Oh yeah...The trailer for the HBO movie of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is out! And if you read the book (if you haven't GO NOW!) you will find it emotional and gut wrenching.

OK, the cop buddy movie vibe I'm getting from Oprah and Rose Byrne is a bit grating, but the rest of the trailer punched me in the gut.

Now that I've sent you to find the book and read it, I must say that the movie is an adaptation. With that, while Skloot does talk about the family in the book, it looks like the movie will be focusing more on how the Lacks family reacts to knowing that their loved one had cells taken from her and a gazillion dollar industry has been built upon that theft while they stand on precarious economic space.

One two-hour movie seems too short to fully address the issues of giving consent to participate in medical research, the industry that makes gobs of money off medical advances (one reason I don't think NIH will be totally cut off - the economy depends on NIH advances), and the racism that continues to impact POC's access to healthcare today. The book was so powerful on so many levels. I hope the movie does the same so that Lacks' story is known to even more people.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
debuts on HBO on Saturday, April 22.

Oprah Winfrey and Rose Byrne star in this adaptation of Rebecca Skloot’s critically acclaimed, bestselling nonfiction book of the same name. The film tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman whose cells were used to create the first immortal human cell line. Told through the eyes of her daughter, Deborah Lacks (Winfrey), the film chronicles her search, with the help of journalist Rebecca Skloot (Byrne), to learn about the mother she never knew and understand how the unauthorized harvesting of Lacks’ cancerous cells in 1951 led to unprecedented medical breakthroughs, changing countless lives and the face of medicine forever. George C. Wolfe directs from his screenplay; Oprah Winfrey, Alan Ball, Peter Macdissi, Carla Gardini and Lydia Dean Pilcher executive produce. A Your Face Goes Here Entertainment, Harpo Films and Cine Mosaic production.

15 February 2017

AMERICAN MASTERS "Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise"

Credit: Ron Groeper
The first feature documentary about Maya Angelou, American Masters – Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, premieres nationwide Tuesday, February 21 at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) during Black History Month as part of the 31st season of THIRTEEN’s American Masters series. PBS Distribution will release the film on DVD the same day, with additional bonus features, and on Digital HD February 22.

Most people know Angelou as a writer, but this documentary showcases all of her geniuses in literature, speaking, acting, signing, and dancing. The best part of a full-length documentary on Maya Angelou are the moments when she is reciting a poem while footage of the world runs.

This documentary is touching, but most importantly it is funny. Angelou's laughter rings throughout the film. It wraps around your heart like a warm hug...just the type of hug we need during these dark times. Seriously though, for progressives and feminists, these are dark days. Days when we lose hope than we can imagine before we even finish our commute to work. Days when we feel extra guilty of tuning out the world in fluffy and stupid pop culture. But watching this documentary will reground you in the belief that justice will prevail. Angelou does not promise us a happy ending, but her words, her breath, fill you with hope. Even when she speaks of dark times! I do not know how she does it, even years after her death.

Catch it. DVR it and save it for viewing when you lose hope.

Disclaimer: Thanks to PBS for letting me preview this documentary in order to review it for VLF.

29 April 2016

Flashback Friday: The Gender Voting Gap by Kartemquin Films

cartoon of a man talking to a woman. Woman giving side eye.

To celebrate their 50th anniversary, Kartemquin Films is releasing films to download for free! This week the film is from 1984 and "explores the growing difference in the voting patterns of men and women (the gender gap) that could no longer be denied by the mid-1980's. Issues like compensation equality, environmental preservation, subsidized childcare and healthcare became wedge issues in Ronald Reagan's America as more and more women joined the workforce." It is wonderfully illustrated by Nicole Hollander. At the end of the film there is an update on the issues from 2012. It is pretty sad how much the 1984 film is still relevant in 2016, especially considering Donald Trump's "woman card" comments.

You can view the film online below, but if you visit Kartemquin Films you can download the film for free and own it forever!

17 February 2016

Review: Race

EDITED 2.23.2016:
There was something about the film that kept poking at me over the weekend. It took a lot of stewing in my head and reading of other reviews to realize what it was. We rarely hear from Jesse himself. We get a lot of scenes where Jesse is the center of conflict, but other people in the movie resolve it or explaining it. This movie is still beautifully shot and can be the start of a larger conversation. My daughter and I had a good chat about whether or not the Olympics should had been held at all. We also talked about the choices that athletes need to make sometimes, about their social responsibility. I think it was having these conversations that I realized I did not really know what Jesse was thinking, outside of a few dramatic scenes. This leads me to be very conflicted about the film. 

I took Ella to see Race tonight. I won a pair of passes to the Chicago sneak preview and thankfully she did not have a lot of homework. Now while I am a sports fan and I knew Jesse Owens, I did not know details of his story. Sure, I knew that he went to the Berlin Olympics and kicked Nazi butt, but that was about it. I saw that to say I have no deep historical record to compare this beautiful film to.

Owens was the world's fastest man during a time when most of the world would rather not acknowledge the existence, much less the accomplishments of a Black man. The movie picks up a few years before World War II, meaning that the US is still stuck in the Great Depression. Owens' father has been out of work for a long time and that clearly weighs on both of them. When we meet Jesse he is on his way to Ohio State University to start his college career. At one point his brother makes a comment about him being a college boy - but not in a supportive way either. Ugh...

There is so much conflict in this film that it made my heart hurt. Owens is torn about leaving his family, including his girlfriend and toddler daughter at home while he heads off to college. Racism runs amok on the OSU campus including the locker room the integrated track team shares with the apparently all-white football team. Of course then we have the build up to the Berlin Olympics. Should the US boycott or not? The politics of this decision seems to be fairly well depicted, including the pressure that Owens later receives from the NAACP to not compete. There is an obligatory "there are no politics in sports!" moment that is there to make it clear that sports is all about politics.

Overall I enjoyed the film. As a politically minded sports fan, I always love a movie that does a good job at depicting especially hot political moments.

RACE stars Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, Carice van Houten, Shanice Banton, and William Hurt, in the incredible true story of Gold Medal Champion Jesse Owens opens in theaters nationwide this Friday, February 19th!

21 July 2015

Trailer for Suffragette the Movie

I'm really looking forward to this movie. I'm happy to share the trailer and peek at the movie posters.

Of course, I hope we get a film one day about Ida B. Wells and all the women of color who fought in the US-based suffrage movement.

22 June 2015

POV returns on June 22nd with "Out in the Night"

In 2006, under the neon lights of a gay-friendly neighborhood in New York City, a group of African-American lesbians were violently threatened by a man on the street. The women fought back and were later charged with gang assault and attempted murder. The tabloids quickly dubbed them a gang of "Killer Lesbians" and a "Wolf Pack." Three pleaded guilty to avoid a trial, but the remaining four — Renata, Patreese, Venice and Terrain — maintained their innocence. The award-winning Out in the Night examines the sensational case and the women's uphill battle, revealing the role that race, gender identity and sexuality play in our criminal justice system. A co-production of ITVS. A co-presentation with the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC). 

I watched "Out in the Night" over a month ago and it still haunts me. This documentary kicks off POV’s 28th Season on PBS.

In our current environment of #BlackLivesMatter, Charleston and countless Black men, women and children being killed by the police, this documentary is poignant and timely. As the summary above states, one night a group of friends, all black lesbians, were out on the town. A dude walks up to them and starts harassing them violently. They fight back. Most of the incident is caught on camera, but it is not enough to save them from prosecution. The majority of the film is about the impact of not just the injustice of the incarceration of four of the women, but the impact of incarceration on their family's lives.

I won't kid you, it is a difficult movie to watch. For those of you who work in the prison abolitionist movement, few things may shock you. But for those who still believe that incarceration is the best way to punish people, your socks will be knocked off.

The strength of the women who were incarcerated is intense. It is not often that I am left speechless to describe a film. All I can say is that you must watch this film. Check your local listings to see when you can catch this moving film.

17 October 2014

Review: "They Came Together"

In a world of "Scary Movie" sequels skewering horror flicks, it was great to read earlier this year that Amy Poehler would take on the genre of romcoms. I was really looking forward to seeing this film that I let out a squeal when I was offered a review DVD copy of "They Came Together."

While I laughed a lot, I was also a bit disappointed. 

The high points: The characters practically talked to the camera to point out which rom-com trope they would enacting. Especially the way Amy and Paul Rudd described each other in the opening scene. It was a brilliant piece of writing and acting. Then the way NYC is introduced as another important character (it's also on the DVD case) was like a cherry on a sundae. Amy and Paul are spot on in their characters. 

EXCEPT...there are too many moments in the movie where they try to a shove one more trope into the movie and it just seems forced. Plus any movie with a rape and Nazi joke has to get them spot on and they were just off. 

But back to the good stuff...There are a lot of laughs stuffed into this film. Some are great laughs, most were "OMG, this is so dumb!" laughs. Of course, when you think it is dumb is really just a recognition that a certain trope of rom-coml movies is revealed to be so dumb its laughable. Cue poop jokes, surprise kid, and the cougar mother-in-law. 

There is a lot of smart stuff in this film, but again too many spots where it falls flat. Maybe I expected too much considering how much I adore almost everything Amy and Paul do. Maybe they just tried too hard. I'm thinking a lot of both. 

"They Came Together" is rated R and available on digital download and DVD. 

12 June 2014

Obvious Child: The rom-com where someone has an abortion!

Obvious Child opened in NY and LA already, but I live in the rest of the country, so we get the movie on June 27th.


I was lucky to get invited to a media screening and seriously, this is the feminist movie of the year. Hands down. There's no way this movie can be beat. Why? Because for too long we have been subjected to movies and TV shows where women have a pregnancy scare, maybe consider abortion and end up 1) getting their period late; 2) miscarry; or 3) changing their minds.

I have written before pondering why Hollywood can not imagine abortion being part of a love story. And thanks to director & writer, Gillian Robespierre, we have it! It is far more in line with quirky Juno and slapstick Knocked Up with its comedic genius.

There are a few political moments (Thank the goddess for Gaby Hoffmann), but overall it is a sweet movie about a young woman in crisis. Her boyfriend dumps her, she drunk dials him a zillion times, she meets a far too adorable guy, has a one night stand and gets pregnant. Oh yeah, she also finds out she is losing her job. There's no way to spoil this movie because well, she gets the abortion. The beauty of this movie is how it all unfolds. The question at the end is if love can blossom after an abortion? As I state at allParenting,
"This film shows that the decision to have an abortion is not frivolous in the manner that anti-choice forces would want the rest of the world to believe. Rather women choose abortion as their best option and some struggle with the ramifications (Donna's relationship with her mother, whether to tell Max). But in the end, it is their decision.
I do think this is a travel pack of tissue movie. You won't need a box, but will need a few tissues. Or maybe even some salt-free napkins.

To find out when "Obvious Child" hits your town (pssst...Chicago, June 13th!) check out the movie's ticket page.

11 June 2014

Musing on Maleficent (spoilers!)

The most anticipated movie in our house for the past forever was Angelina Jolie's "Maleficent." And while I did have some misgivings at the start of the movie, by the end I was a fan of this retelling.

A lot of pixels have been spent on how feminist this movie truly is and yes, I'm throwing my two pixels in to the fray.

We immediately meet the land of Sleeping Beauty as a bifurcated land where peace and love lives in the fairy forest called "The Moors" and hierarchy lives in human land. This is where I did a cartwheel in my head. I just knew it from the trailers (I didn't read a lot about the movie beforehand) that Maleficent would be painted as wronged by someone, propelling her into evil. And you can bet your bottom dollar that all the alarms went off in my head when it was clear that this was going to be another "woman scorned" story. Just really?

I admit that I got caught up in the evilness of Stefan to forgive the crappy story set up. Half way through the film I thought, "Aha! History is written by the victor." Because as a friend pointed out, we are never truly told why Stefan betrays Maleficent in the most cruel way, other than he is an orphan and seeks out power.

Stefan's cowardice is shown in his assault of Maleficent and robbing of her wings. As the scene was unfolding, I was cringing. I knew what was happening and was not happy with it. Why couldn't her wings by stolen on the battlefield like the warrior she had proven herself to be? Not by foolishly falling for the lies of a man and being drugged! Yet, Stefan never stepped on the battlefield. He was too cowardly to even do that. Fine.

Another thorn in my side about the movie is its reliance on gender essentialism. Maleficent was a fairy from the nature-loving land and was essentially good...with that whole 20 years of evil in between. Stefan represented the world of man, not human, but man. Attempting to conquer the nature-loving world that Maleficent protects. Even as a goddess-loving-tree-worshipping-woman, I still don't like to see women presented as "one with nature."

What I did love is the softening of Maleficent. That love, yes even a maternal love, was what allowed her to open her heart again. I enjoyed watching her try to not care for Aurora, including saving her from starvation and falling off a cliff. I loved her banter with the Crow-Man.

I also love watching Jolie in a fight scene. She could play a mom from 1985 fighting over a Cabbage Patch doll and I'd pay money to see it.

I am also a sucker for all these re-imagined works of fairy tales. Because one, I love fairy tales. And two, the re-imagination is happening along feminist lines.

So let's revisit the "history is written by the victor" line I mentioned earlier. The vast majority of fairy tales involve evil witches or sorceresses. Yet we never know why they are evil. We are supposed to believe it without doubt. This is essentially what we are asked to do with Stefan. The story is told to us by Aurora, who obviously was told the story to by Maleficent. Would you care to justify why your boyfriend violated you? Nope. He violated her and to hell with an explanation.

I've been raving about this movie over social media, mostly because I think it is an excellent piece to have us discuss what is a feminist movie. Is a woman kicking ass all that is required? How does the use of motherhood play in? Why doesn't Aurora's mom do anything but die? Is it feminist to empower one woman, but not another? So yeah, I love this movie more because it makes me think, rather than for the movie itself. But don't get me wrong, I was cheering for Mal the whole time.

21 April 2014

Review: In Your Eyes by Joss Whedon

Really, Joss? You drop a movie on us on a Monday morning? What was wrong with Saturday night for us old married fans? But I did it, I watched your fabulous, adorable and magical movie.

For those who haven't seen my frantic posts on Facebook & Twitter today, Joss Whedon, the genius behind "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" released his latest film on Vimeo. For a mere $5 (less than a tub of popcorn), you can rent the film for 48 hours. So don't rent until you are ready to curl up on the couch or hunker down in your cubical to watch 105 minutes of romance on adrenaline.

"In Your Eyes" is Joss' take on the classic boy-meets-girl-as-she-plows-into-a-tree story. Don't worry, I won't reveal anything that isn't in the trailer - which is actually the first few minutes of the film. I won't lie, it's an intense film, but it also will make me laugh out loud (so really be quiet at work!). Through some type of magical force, Rebecca and Dylan are connected across the country in a manner no one would ever believe.

Storywise, it is lovely and unpredictable. It is also heart wrenching. The star-crossed pair is separated by many obstacles. You will smile a lot as you fall in love with the characters.

The story is also fairly universal, which is why it was disappointing to see Joss lead another project with two very pretty white actors in the lead. While Joss stretches himself into the world of a chick flick, he remains stuck in the casting pool. There is no reason this could not have featured a Latino man in the lead as Dylan is from New Mexico. I'll accept the fact that New Hampshire might be the perfect setting for a pixie doe-eyed woman lead. A lot of pixels have been spilled on Joss and his race issues in his previous projects. The cast of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" is a great step in the right direction, but he still has a way to go.

And that's where I am in my romance with Joss himself. I fall deeply in love with what he creates, while also thinking, "Come on, you could have cast America Ferrera!" I can't wait to discuss this at the Joss Whedon celebration at DePaul in a few weeks!

That is why I am giving this film 4 our of 5 stars. As soon as the kid is in bed, I want to rewatch it with my husband. If you enjoy a little magic with your romance, I highly recommend you fork over $5 to see this too.

29 December 2013

Saving P.L. Travers from Walt Disney

Ella & I saw the trailer to "Saving Mr. Banks" before "Frozen"...I think...anywho, we saw it, looked at each other and knew we had to see the movie. We were so sold on it, due to our love of "Mary Poppins," that I didn't even do research on the movie. So when we went to see it we were unprepared for the actual movie.

We went in expecting to see a funny & sweet movie about how a control-freak author deals with Disney's team of screen & song writers to create the masterpiece Ella & I love. And in all honesty, this is kinda what you get with the movie.

But within the first five minutes, I smelled a rat. I know, I know, what else should I expect from Disney? I'm not that cynical. But the depiction of P.L. Travers, the author of the series of Mary Poppins [disclaimer: that's an affiliate link there] books, was just down right one-dimensional that I knew too much was missing from her side of the story.

Since our viewing two pieces have hit my social media feed that call out the depiction of Travers. 

Victoria Coren Mitchell writes that Travers would be spinning in her grave over this film. Mitchell created a BBC biopic of Travers that delves into Travers' unorthodox journey into motherhood (Saving Mr. Banks leaves you with the sense that Travers was afraid of motherhood) and the aftermath of the success the film had for Travers. Mitchell writes of the contradiction Travers was...of a woman who was controlling of her art in every regard, not just with Disney, but at the same time left it up to astrology to select her adoptive son.

Amy Nicholson takes a stronger stance on the sexist portrait of Travers that the Disney film paints. She writes that "...Travers was a feisty, stereotype-breaking bisexual — a single mom who adopted a baby in her 40s, studied Zen meditation in Kyoto, and was publishing erotica about her silky underwear 10 years before Walt had sketched his mouse."

Neither Nicholson nor Mitchell reject the idea that Travers was a control freak. Mitchell contends that Travers held too tightly to her dark stories and was unable to see that to bring the characters to a movie screen, had to lighten them up. Perhaps today someone could bring a true Mary Poppins to the screen. But as Nicholson points out, it can't be a Yankee...that was written into Travers' will.

From these two short pieces on Travers, one can truly see that Travers was far more complex than just a brokenhearted Daddy's Girl who rejected the decadence of having cake towers at writing sessions. Yet, I wonder if the true Travers was not quite the heroine that some are reaching for. Sometimes I feel that in our journey to point out sexist depictions of women in the media, we are too willing to label someone a hero.

For the record, I think "Saving Mr. Banks" is an excellent movie. Colin Farrell steals the movie with his depiction of Travers's alcoholic, yet loving father. It is definitely flawed, but as a story it is beautiful. Emma Thompson shines as always. I was just telling a friend, only she could make me love a clearly problematic depiction of a woman. Seriously, despite knowing zilch about her, I knew the Travers in the film was mostly bullshit, yet I still loved Thompson's portrayal!

Now to see if I can watch the BBC biopic on Travers...She seems like a mystery I need to unravel.

23 November 2010

Movie Review: Tangled (with a note on Megamind)

This review is for parents worried about what messages this movie may send to our daughters and sons. As a feminist parent, I wish I could pre-screen every movie and TV show before my daughter views it, but I just can't. Thus this review is more for that purpose as opposed to whether or not it is a good movie. In otherwords, if you kid is begging you to see this movie, but scream at the thought of another princess movie, this is for you. AKA THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!

Disclaimer: I was given a sneak preview pass through Klout because I'm a Klout influencer. I was under no obligation to receive the sample or talk about this company. I get no additional benefits for talking about the product or company.

Plot: Rapunzel's mom (the Queen) is dying in child birth, saved by magic flower that Mother Gothel was hiding. The flower kept Gothel youngish for centuries. Without it she turned old. Flower was turned into a drink that saved Mom. Rapunzel was born with the power of the flower - in her hair. Gothel tried to clip some hair for the power. Alas the power only works when attached to Rapunzel AND can't be cut. Magic blond hair turns brunette after being cut. Gothel kidnaps Rapunzel. On the eve of Rapunzel's birthday, she wants to travel to see the "magic lights" that go up each year on her birthday. Gothel tells her she's too fragile & weak to be outside the tower. Selfish evil people would want to use her for her magic hair. Thief Flynn Ryder has just stolen something from the King (Rapunzel's dad) decides to hide in the tower. Rapunzel blackmails Flynn into taking her to the kingdom to see the lights. On their journey they have to keep Flynn from being caught, fall in love and all sorts of adventure.

Feminist parent analysis:
  • Earlier this year word got out that Disney changed the title of the movie to "Tangled" to attract boys. I don't think that the movie was overly boy'd out. The adventure (boy parts) were similar to the chase scenes in "Aladdin." There was a lot of discussion about what this meant...I think those criticisms are fair and totally valid.
  • I don't think Rapunzel is saved. She wanted to get out of that tower despite her love for Gothel. Flynn was merely her guide to freedom. Rapunzel knew nothing of the outside world. Had no idea where to go. Plus she swings a mean cast iron skillet.
  • Yes, they fall in love, get married & live happily ever after. Can't get away from this ending. Although Flynn, who narrates the movie, does make it clear that they don't get married right away. 
  • Flynn narrates the movie. Her story is told through his voice. 
  • The mother-daughter conflict is crystal clear. Her "mom" kidnaps her and keeps her 'safe' in a tower. *gag*
  • Flynn is transformed by Rapunzel's love. *gag*
  • There's a throw-a-way line about Rapunzel being physically strong since she pulls up Gothel. This is proven over and over by the way Rapunzel slings her hair around like a whip, saving Flynn and herself. Not to mention her mean swinging of the cast iron skillet.     
  • Can't believe I forgot this one!  Flynn dies for Rapunzel! But since I told you that they live happily ever after, Rapunzel does save him. Flynn goes to save Rapunzel from Gothel, but Gothel stabs him in the gut. As he lays dying Rapunzel goes to save him with her hair. Instead he cuts it all off, thus cutting off Gothel from her reason to want to take Rapunzel away. Rapunzel heals him with her tears. Gothel dies in a great scene.
I didn't like the songs. My favorite Disney movie is "The Little Mermaid." I felt a few of the songs were trying to be too much like TLM.

Overall is was a good movie. I cringed move over the bad songs than any gender issues. Maybe someone without love of a good Disney song can help point out issues I missed. I liked Rapunzel's Revenge better.

Apparently this is going to be Disney's last princess movie for some time. They are going to go hard after the boy market. Hopefully this means our girls can be girls again and not perpetual princesses. But parents with boys...be warned! When Disney sets its aim at a population it doesn't let go until it's been bleed dry. And while it might look cute, there's a dark underbelly.

Edited to add: We also saw "
By the way, when showing 3D movies, the theater should make sure the glasses are clean. The kid spent almost half the movie with smudged glasses. We never go to 3D movies cause I think it's unnecessary. 2D is just fine.



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