Tag Archives: strong female leads

Ocean’s 8

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has an annual gala to celebrate its epic costume exhibits. It’s the most exclusive party in town, and guests compete to see which top-tier designer will outfit them. It’s a parade of jaw-dropping gowns and over the top accessories worn by the biggest celebrities who don’t mind being incredibly uncomfortable for an evening. It’s paparazzo heaven, and whoever dons the most shocking and exquisite dress WILL make the front page of every magazine and newspaper the next day. I live for this shit: the shoes, the jewels, the blatant disregard for theme. The MET gala is an institution. And it’s a fucking lot of fun to watch some badass women rob the damn thing.

Sandra Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, Danny’s sister who’s fresh off a 5-year stint in the slammer. That’s 5 whole years she’s had of dedicated heist planning, so on the day of her release, she hits the ground running, and the first place she runs to is her old friend and MV5BMzk0M2Y0YWQtZWVlYy00MGU2LTk1NmQtOGRlYWM4ODhlYjkwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1502,1000_AL_partner Lou (Cate Blanchett) who doesn’t need much convincing. The plan is not to rob the museum, but to rob the neck of famous actress and red carpet savant Daphne (Anne Hathaway) of the 6lbs\$150 million dollars worth of diamonds that will be hanging there ever so tantalizingly.  Who could resist? Debbie and Lou assemble a crack team including a jeweler (Mindy Kaling), a hacker (Rihanna), a soccer mom fence (Sarah Paulson), and a master of the sleight of hand (Awkwafina) to pull off the ultimate crime.

When Ghostbusters got an all-female reboot, sad little cockmuppets cried that their childhoods had been ruined. It seemed like there was less vitriol for an all-female version of Ocean’s, perhaps because the Ocean’s fans are adults rather than manbabies suckling at the teat of nostalgia. Still, I couldn’t help but be sad when Debbie herself justifies her all-female team: women are far more likely to be overlooked.

Ocean’s 8 is good but not great. It’s a heist movie and you’ll never question where it’s going, but the fun is how it gets there. And there is some fun here. Helena Bonham Carter, splendidly cast as a kooky designer, has the time of her life. Anne Hathaway, who I normally cannot stand, earns some laughs with her starlet parody. And Cate Blanchett, hooo-eeee, let’s just sit here and ignore the fact that I’m about to objectify her, big time. Those bangs. Wispy blonde bangs that fall into her eyelashes just so. She’s constantly blinking under their weight, and I’m constantly imagining how I might sweep them away for her. Knock me over, knock me right over.

But with nearly every ensemble, my complaint is similar: just not enough time with all of my favourites. Sarah Paulson is a working mother conwoman, a criminal type we do not often glimpse in Hollywood’s depiction of the underworld, and Paulson’s talent is so enormous she maximizes her screen time and paints her character with charisma and relatability. Mindy Kaling is effervescent but underused. Newcomer Awkwafina has clearly got star power, but she’s not exactly getting equal screen time with the Oscar winners on either side of her. Even though you only need 8 women to do the job of 11-13 men, the movie still feels crowded and the cast just doesn’t always get what it deserves. There are way too few female characters in this genre, and the 8 here are still just a drop in the bucket. We need to see a lot more lady (crime) bosses to even up the score, but maybe next time a lady boss behind the camera might also be in order – you know, if you want it done right.

 

 

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Tomb Raider

Lara Croft is the tough and independent daughter of a wealthy adventurer who disappeared 7 years ago and is presumed dead. So when she learns his secret obsession with an ancient Japanese myth, she pursues him to the unknown island that seems to have swallowed him whole. It seems like a really bad decision to follow in the footsteps of a dead man, but Lara (Alicia Vikander) doesn’t just put her life on the line, she involves an innocent stranger too (Daniel Wu), just as her father did. So if you’re wondering who the Croft family is, they appear to be in it solely for themselves, and fuck every body else.

So Lara makes her way to this evil island where she meets up with a bad man named Mathias (Walter Goggins) and things go from merely murdery to a whole shit tonne MV5BMTBjZDBiNGEtYjhlMC00YmM1LThmZWEtOWE1ZjhhMDg5MDEzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODAyMDA1MDk@._V1_of worse.  And even though she’s been violently shipwrecked and then hunted, actually hunted on an island that seems intent on killing her, she somehow maintains a perfectly shaped brow and stubble-free armpits, which are constantly on display thanks to a skimpy outfit that seems particularly ill-advised when visiting malaria-infested countries. So while Lara may be about to out-box me, I’ll still take the victory because I packed the DEET. Though I suppose I should concede that the Vikander version of Lara is slightly more grounded and slightly less lustily rendered on the screen than was Angelina Jolie.

Tomb Raider is fine, I guess, except for some painful green screen moments that are ENTIRELY unconvincing. And the fact that it’s boring as shit to watch someone solve a puzzle when the puzzle is never shown or known to us. It’s just a lot of knob twisting. Vikander is tough as balls but the story is uninspired and makes no arguments for its own existence. This franchise didn’t need a reboot and it got a rather lacklustre one, despite Vikander’s charm.

 

Dude

I’m glad that teenage girls are finally having their moment as three dimensional characters in film. Shopping and boys, that was the John Hughes model. Teenage boys were the hunters and girls their prey, and it’s taken until 2018 to flip the script, first with Blockers, which dared to show young women actually in charge of their own sexuality. Dude follows in its footsteps.

Lily (Lucy Hale) and her friends are in their last year of high school. That’s all that I knew going into this film that recently popped up on Netflix. That, and they were stoners. Not promising, I thought. So colour me surprised when, in between masturbating and getting high, they made friends with me.

Amelia (Alexandra Shipp), Chloe (Kathryn Prescott), and Rebecca (Awkwafina) have MV5BMTk5MDk1NTQ0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjM4ODk5MzI@._V1_been super tight as far back as they can remember, and can hardly envision a future that doesn’t include each other – like, on a daily, hourly basis. So the ultimate theme of this movie is not so unusual: it’s letting go. Letting go in more ways than one, sure, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff.

But what is remarkable is the depth to the characters and the way the script (by director Olivia Milch) refuses to infantilize them. These ladies are EMPOWERED. Their virginity isn’t idolized. They can smoke pot AND be valedictorian. These girls are me (like 4 minutes ago, when I was in high school). Portraying young women as they are shouldn’t feel so monumental, so brave, but it is. This may be how lots of girls act, but it’s not how society wants to see them, and so we don’t. We pretend that girls don’t want these things because it threatens the status quo.

The cast is good, with Awkwafina being a particular stand out for me: I’m crushing hard. And I can’t wait to see literally everything Milch does for the rest of her life. But most of all I’m just kind of feeling all puffy-chested that a movie like this can finally exist. And that you can still find diamonds amongst the usual Netflix coal. And that someone, somewhere, is willing to take a risk on a movie like this.

 

A Wrinkle in Time

This movie came out when I was in Austin, Texas seeing a billion movies at SXSW, and even so, I still considered taking a time out just to see another movie, one that was just hitting theatres. I never made it to A Wrinkle In Time then, but I finally got around to it this weekend, and I wasn’t the only one: our cinema was packed on Easter Monday, and I was pleased to note how many families were in attendance.

For those of you who haven’t read the book (by Madeleine L’Engle), A Wrinkle In Time is about a young girl named Meg – troubled at school, grieving at home. Her parents are both brilliant scientists, or were – her father disappeared years ago while MV5BNzhkYzRlNzUtNzFhNy00MzllLWFkZGEtNDg0ZTE0YTYzOWNjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjk3NTUyOTc@._V1_working on a theory about a tesseract, which would involve “wrinkling” time and space in order to travel through it. One dark and stormy night, a mysterious woman named Mrs. Whatsit appears to tell Meg, her friend Calvin, and Meg’s little brother Charles Wallace, the child genius, that she has heard her father calling out to them through the universe. Turns out, Mrs. Whatsit and her friends Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which are supernatural beings prepared to engage in a rescue mission.

The book was repeatedly rejected – possibly because it was a work of science fiction with a young, female protagonist, and possibly because it asked a lot from its young readers. Not only does it use physics and philosophy as basic concepts, it directly tackles the nature of evil, and pits children against it. The movie, too, follows in its footsteps, embracing what made the novel so special and unique, proudly displaying the magic AND the science, and trusting a young audience to appreciate them both. If anything the movie is a little too ambitious – though I quite enjoyed it, I did, in the end, have the sense that parts of it were quite condensed.

Director Ava du Vernay gets the casting exactly right: Storm Reid as Meg is what we want every 13 year old girl to be – smart and strong and curious and cautious. Her determination in the face of her fear and vulnerability make her an exceedingly compelling character. She may at times be insecure but her love and loyalty toward family see her through difficult times. But of course it’s the larger than life characters that Meg meets that give the story so much colour. The Mrs. Ws are particularly enchanting, and I cannot imagine a more satisfying trio than Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah, large and in charge.

At just under 2 hours, the movie does unfortunately lose some of the detail that MV5BMTU5Njg0NTA0MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTgwNDU4NDM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,929_AL_make the book wonderful, but it also paints a fantastic picture that I cannot stop myself from going back to in my mind. The visuals are exotic and beautiful and the world-building just divine. I can only guess at the kind of impression it makes on young imaginations.

Though the movie has some flaws, its themes are just as courageous and necessary today as they were when the book was first published in 1962. Light vs darkness, good triumphing over evil, and the only real weapon used is love. It’s also got a (somewhat diluted) message against conformity; Meg has to embrace her flaws in order to win the day.

See this movie with a child’s wonder and you will be delighted. Adapting this book was always going to be difficult, and the worst thing it does, necessarily, is rob us of the opportunity to do some of the imagining for ourselves. But in committing to the visuals, Ava du Vernay does the source material more than justice. She gives us a film full of hope and bravery, and shows little girls everywhere that they too can be the heroes of their own stories.

SXSW: First Match

Monique is not your average high school student. She acts tough and gets into a lot of fights. But it’s easy to judge someone when we don’t know anything about them. I’d say her home life isn’t good, but Monique doesn’t have a home. She has had a series of foster situations since her mother died that all end badly. Her father’s in prison, and she can’t help but daydream about the day he gets out and she can live with him and have some sort of regular life again. Until she runs into him on the street. The daydreams come to a crashing halt right about then. He’s out and hasn’t told her, hasn’t contacted her, and now that she knows – well, he’s not really amenable to her vision of their shared future (to be fair, he’s eating at soup kitchens and engaging in at least semi-criminal behaviour, so he’s not exactly capable of providing a “stable home life.”)

Anyway, poor Mo decides the only way she attract her dad’s attention, and maybe neutralize some of her school’s ire, is to join the wrestling team. There is no girls team so she joins the boys team, despite the protestations of nearly all of the boys.

First Match distinguishes itself from other similarly-themed sports movies because the team is not really Mo’s problem. If a little MV5BNWI5ZTc1MGEtZTU2Ny00M2QxLWEwNmItZDEwMzI0NDVlNjIzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQ0MDUyMzg@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_adversity from the boys were Mo’s only problem, she’s probably feel blessed. Instead, Monique excels at the sport and it becomes a source of pride and power for her. Even if doesn’t win her father back, it’s earning her some self-respect, which she needs and deserves. Monique is obviously supposed to be some problem child, but it’s impossible not to sympathize with her.

There are no easy fixes, and the script is bold enough not to offer any. Life is stacked against this kid, and even if the viewer is the only one rooting for her, at least there’s that. I’d like to give her a hug if I wasn’t totally positive she’d roll her eyes at me for even trying.

This movie is grounded in realism that bites. The team becomes her de-facto family, but First Match still retains a sense that Monique is, if not lucky, at least relatively unique in her community because she knows her father and has him in her life. It’s tragic and depressing the lengths she’ll go to in order to keep him there; she’s got daddy issues, but at least she’s got a daddy. The premise seems to imply that this will be a movie about a lone girl in a male-dominated sport, but this turns out be an afterthought. But there’s a lot else to contemplate, and Elvire Emanuelle’s performance is not to be missed. Coming soon to a Netflix near you.

SXSW: Fast Color

fast-color-116514Julia Hart, the director and co-writer of Fast Color, almost had me fooled.  She introduced Fast Color to the SXSW crowd as a story about motherhood, and in a way that’s true.  Of course, in a way it is also true that the original Superman comics are about the experiences of Jewish immigrants.  I mention Superman because both Fast Color and Superman use superheroes to tell their stories, although the movies’ respective approaches to the genre are worlds apart.

Fast Color might be best described as a near-future quest for redemption, as Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) tries to stay one step ahead of her pursuers in the harsh wasteland that the midwestern United States has become due to a prolonged drought. Plot-wise, that’s all you’re getting from me, so you’ll have to watch the film to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

I hope one day we won’t need to make the case for inclusion, but since we’re not there yet, Fast Color is more proof that diversity in film generates powerful, original, thought-provoking movies. Fast Color possesses all those qualities and a big reason why is because it is a story about women told by women. It is the kind of movie that we need (and deserve) more of. It is the kind of movie that helps us see things from a different perspective and realize that we are made stronger, not weaker, by our differences.

Fast Color is yet another SXSW surprise, a movie that we lucked into by virtue of scheduling and one that I urge you to keep an eye out for. It does not currently have a release date but hopefully a strong SXSW showing will change that, as this is a movie that deserves to be seen.

SXSW: A Vigilante

Sadie picks up her messages. There’s a code phrase, and then a woman’s voice, shaky and furtive. She wants to leave her abusive husband. She needs help. Can Sadie come?

Sadie is a one-woman vigilante ass kicker. She gets bad husbands gone, and if they won’t go quietly, she will mess them up. It’s not just the krav maga that makes her strong, it’s the history she shares with her clients. But no matter how many women she helps flee violent situations, she can never truly escape her own, because her husband is still out there, never brought to justice for his sins.

Writer-director Sarah Daggar-Nickson wanted to make a film about domestic violence MV5BMTc2NzM2NTk0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjQ1MTc3NDM@._V1_that would really speak to the urgency and the desperation and the severity of the issue. She did scrupulous research, and the details that come through – like the fact that New York state will pay for the funeral of anyone murdered during your escape (fucking think about that for a moment) – are depressingly, frighteningly authentic. Real-life abuse survivors make up the support groups which Sadie attends. They share stories that will haunt you.

But this is Sadie’s story. Sadie is intent on being strong now, for herself and for others. But as badass as Olivia Wilde is in the role, we never forget that Sadie’s husband, though no longer in the picture, still has a hold on her. It sounds easy to leave, and logical to move on, but abusive relationships are a sickness, one that keeps you coming back. So while Sadie may have trained herself to assault any man she has to, her trickiest opponent will always be the demons in her own head, and it’ll take more than physical fitness and a bunch of clever disguises to defeat those.

The film is interesting because we get to see themes like control and confidence evolve throughout. We get to know Sadie and her story through flashbacks, but the film keeps a forward momentum that manages to keep its pressure building. This movie is not exactly an easy one to watch, but neither is living with the reality of domestic violence, and for that, I think we can all dig down and find a little inner bravery.

 

 

 

 

 

For more South By coverage, read Sean’s review of Ready Player One, Matt’s review of The World Before Your Feet, or my review of Blockers – and check out our Twitter feed – we’ve been to Westworld, and to Roseanne’s living room, and we saw Barry Jenkins and Rian Johnson and Mark Hamill and more! @assholemovies

SXSW: Blockers

I have good news. Big news. Blockers comes out April 6 and it’s actually a super funny comedy. I don’t think I’ve laughed this hard since Bridesmaids.

It’s about 3 young women at the end of their high school career. Graduation and college await them, but for now: prom. And more importantly, prom sex.

This movie marches right past social expectation and allows three smart, strong girls to MV5BMTcwMTcxODQzMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODU3MDk4MzI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1667,1000_AL_assert themselves sexually. All the usual bullshit about female virginity is thrown into the gutter with other outdated notions like the earth is flat, and bloodletting as a cure-all. These ladies are real, raw, and raunchy when it comes to sex, which, sure, is refreshing, and that’s nice and all, but the truth is we wouldn’t give a damn about myth-busting if it wasn’t entertaining, and this movie captures that elusive comedy magic and makes its audience howl with laughter.

Now, the girls may be ready to shed their prom dresses and their hymens, but their parents are not quite as happy with this little sex pact. Leslie Mann, John Cena, and Ike Barinholtz play the parents on a mission to stop the sex from happening. On prom night they’re hoping to be cock blockers, and they’ll go to stunning and humiliating lengths to block those cocks, but maybe in their heart of hearts, it’s the growing up and saying goodbye they’re trying to block as well.

Of course the movie inevitably tackles our dear old friend the double standard, and actively wonders how we can ever hope to achieve equality for women when even their own parents don’t treat them that way. But this is no issues movie, it’s a goddamn comedy, and rated R, a strong R, because it’s rude, crude, and full of franks and beans.

Female sexuality, especially that of a teenage girl, is rarely if ever treated this way and it’ll make you stand up and cheer for how empowering it feels to watch this. Is this the female American Pie? Fuck no. It’s funnier and smarter and 1000% less juvenile. But this movie isn’t just about fierce females, it’s also about their feminist boyfriends/boy friends. Boys who are in to consent, who stop when asked, who take cues from their partners and respect them. And it manages to do this casually, no big deal, like this is just how it is BECAUSE IT’S DAMN WELL HOW IT SHOULD BE. And it never stops being funny. Disguised by vulgarity, this movie is actually showing us how to behave. Except for the butt-chugging. I’m pretty sure we should stay the hell away from that.

Molly’s Game

I resisted watching this because of a distaste I have for Molly Bloom, the real Molly Bloom. She’s extremely self-involved and remorseless. So damn you Aaron Sorkin for getting nominated and forcing me to watch this. Well, okay, since it stars Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, it wasn’t a total boycott, but still, I was reluctant. Especially reluctant after being subjected to the trailer numerous times in which Molly asks a little girl “Do you know how many witches were burned at Salem?” and when the kid shrugs, she says none – they weren’t burned, they were hanged or drowned or stoned. But something in me rebelled angrily at this line; the answer is right, none were burned, but that’s because witches never existed. It was women who were burned or hanged or stoned.

Anyway, you may or may not know that Molly Bloom ran a bunch of illegal poker games, made oodles of money, and then get raided, her cash seized, and she was indicted. Facing court, and jail, she wrote a book about it, and named names.MV5BMTU2NjY4NjM2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDcyMzIyMzI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_

Molly isn’t particularly likable. She thinks she’s smart and she tells you she is constantly. She could have gone to law school, you know. And probably should have. But the money was so easy, and so plentiful! And movie stars played the poker (and the Russian mob, but never mind that). She’s guilty and she’s greedy but she’s also tough as hell. Chastain taps into her resiliency , her intelligence, her strength. Idris Elba plays her “not a little bit shady” lawyer, and he’s a perfect sparring partner. Aaron Sorkin’s scripts are meaty and lesser actors may be felled by them but Chastain and Elba are not just equal to it, they master it. It’s impressive.

Aaron Sorkin isn’t just the screen writer on this, he also steps into director’s shoes for the first time. Swinging for realism, he stacked the lesser roles with real poker players, wanting even the way they handled cards to look authentic. In between takes, the actors would play poker with the real players. Extras, usually paid about $90 a day, would often leave the set the best paid people there.

Sorkin is a smart guy with a lot of famous friends; he asked for and received great advice and support from David Fincher (a Social Network collaborator) and from Kevin Costner, who stars as Bloom’s father. The story is intriguing and well-suited to Sorkin’s abilities, but the movie runs a little long and isn’t terribly cinematic (there’s a lot of sitting in a lawyer’s office, which, not coincidentally, is located in the fictional firm of Gage Whitney, which fans of Sorkin’s will recognize from The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and The Newsroom.

The movie didn’t change my mind about Molly but it certainly cements Chastain and Elba as razor sharp, a cut above. If you like Sorkin’s zingy TV stuff, you’ll like this just fine. It’s not a best picture contender but it’s got some damn fine performances.

 

 

So, was Molly Bloom a witch, or just a woman?

The Post

In 1971, Kay Graham was the first of her kind, a female newspaper publisher, but she was never supposed to have the job. The Washington Post was part of the family business but her father passed it down not to her, but to her husband. But when her husband committed suicide, she stepped into shoes that had always been loafers, not heels.

Then, something amazing happens: someone leaks top secret documents that detail the Vietnam cover-up that spanned 4 U.S. presidents including the current one, Richard Nixon, who’s kind of a dick. The NY Times gets ahold of them but gets shut down by Tricky Dick and his cronies. The papers then filter down to The Washington Post, and Kay Graham has to decide whether she’s going to risk her little empire AND a serious prison sentence.

Interesting facts about Mrs. Graham: she was not a powerful business person, or used to MV5BMTg5Nzg3NjUzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTY5NzA1NDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_being in charge. She’d never had another job. She was naturally meek, and kind of nervous. She was surrounded by assertive men, some of whom weren’t crazy to have her among their midst and certainly didn’t see her as an equal never mind a boss, and none of whom were shy about voicing their opinions. She was, however, an accomplished socialite, which in the city of Washington, means she counted many prominent politicians among her friends – and the particular politician at the epicenter of this scandal was among her closest. These facts are not to diminish her but to illustrate just how courageous she truly was to take the stance she did.

Newsflash: Steven Spielberg is a good director. Yeah, we already knew this, but this film had me noticing all kinds of little details that I admired greatly. This movie has the feel of a smart and sharp little indie; it’s taut and thrilling and lots of fun. It gets a little heavy-handed at times but its best moments are when it’s showing, not telling.

Maybe Spielberg’s greatest asset is his incredible ensemble cast. Tom Hanks is the fevered editor, and he’s flawless. Bob Odenkirk is stupendous as a hard-working investigative journalist. But of course it’s Meryl Streep who steals the show as Kay Graham. It’s not a showy role. Mrs. Graham is never the biggest personality in the room. She’s not commanding, but we are nevertheless riveted by Ms. Streep. Her shaking hands, her tremulous lip – we see how hard this for her, and so we admire her all the more for doing it.

You are not contractually allowed to write a review of this film without using the word “timely”. About a year ago, Nixon was down-graded to only the second most douche-baggiest president in history. Truth matters. The press belongs to the governed, not the governors. Support journalism. Subscribe to a newspaper, even if you read it online. One day they’ll be making movies about this time. But this is not just a news story, it’s also, of course, a nod to feminism. Mrs. Graham walks through a sea of secretaries before she’s admitted to the all-male floor of the New York Stock Exchange. She faces a Supreme Court that has never had a female Justice and wouldn’t for another decade. When someone says that Mrs. Graham’s father willing the family business to Kay’s husband says a lot about the man, Tom Hanks replies that actually, it says more about the time. So yeah, this is the movie we all need right now. It’s essential viewing. But even if wasn’t so “timely”, it’s so thoroughly peppered by exceptionally talented people that The Post is an easy recommendation and a damn fine film.