Potpourri: Contributions on Other Sites

Be sure to check out some of the reviews and contributions I’ve made to other sites!

  • Over at Filmoria I posted a review of the John Travolta/Robert DeNiro thriller Killing Season (out in theaters now). This review was fun to write (even if the film wasn’t that much fun to watch.)
  • Also at Filmoria, my first book review in a long time–a review of Matt Phelan’s graphic novel Bluffton: My Summer with Buster Keaton. If you’re a fan of The Great Stone Face (or your kid is!) check out this charming children’s novel.
  • Lastly, Man of Steel was incredibly polarizing. So much so that I argued its Pros and Cons with other Filmorians and stopped by Outside the Envelope (the DearFilm podcast) to talk to hosts Brian and Rick about poor Pa Kent, Lois Lane, and film franchises.  Note of caution, the podcast is NSFW because we’re potty mouths.

A Thank You Letter to Guillermo del Toro for “Pacific Rim”

*Editor’s Note: This is a spoil-heavy post; I suggest waiting till you’ve seen the film before reading this.

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Dear Mr. Del Toro:

 

I am writing this letter to thank you for populating the world of Pacific Rim with people of variety, equality, and difference.

Thank you for a film where men are allowed to be both physically strong and emotionally expressive. The world of Pacific Rim includes brothers, fathers, and sons who vocalize pride (and the occasional bit of chagrin) with each other. 

Thank you for a world populated with people of different races and nationalities, and for not including a single joke or line that undermines any of their personal power. In fact, race is never discussed in Pacific Rim. It’s not even a factor. Instead you give us Stacker Pentecost, played by Idris Elba, a black man who is both military commander and loving father to his adopted daughter, Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). It’s a pleasure (and rarity) to see any diversity on screen, and particularly for it not to matter a damn iota to the characters depicted on screen. 

Thank you for including strong female characters in Pacific Rim. Admittedly, this beautiful picture would not pass the Bechdel Test, because there are no interactions between female characters. However, your representation of women in this film matters in great part because of what is missing: any discussion of their gender. There are two female pilots in this film: Mako and the Russian Lt. A. Kaidanovsky (Heather Doerksen). They may never interact with each other, but there are also no conversations between other characters about how they can’t do their jobs or how hot they look in their pilots uniforms. Indeed, the only time gender is even brought up is when Mako is referred to as a “bitch,” and this is done in a moment of tension and disapproved of. It’s the only gender-infused insult in the film, and it comes not after she sleeps around or cheats on someone, but after she fails her first test run as a pilot. In fact, the insult cuts so deep because it’s the only gendered moment among the pilots, and thus it’s out of place in the Jaeger-pilot world.

Thank you for your depiction of Mako, a woman both capable of great emotion and great physical strength. Yes, she is motivated by a sense of revenge, and yes, she often has a tear in her eye, but she is also able to overcome her metaphorical demons (mentally) in order to overcome some literal demons (physically). She is one of the best recruits for the pilot program, and we get to watch her kick some serious ass with a bow staff. 

Thank you for not making Mako a typical action hero female: a character relegated to the sidelines so that she may be lusted after and later rescued by the hero. Instead you tell us her story and make her as equally damaged (and as equally important to the plot) as her co-pilot, Raleigh Becker (Charlie Hunnam). They have each lost something, and their stories are given equal weight. They share the burdens of the past and the present equally. It’s an equality rarely seen in action films (or indeed, any major Hollywood films of late).

Thank you for never suggesting that Mako’s power lies in her ability to be sexy or flirtatious, but instead in her actual physical strength and the power of her mind. You don’t subject us to gratuitous images of Mako in her underwear or undressing. She and our hero never sleep together. They are bonded by shared terrors, by present fears, and they are literally “compatible” with each other because of their brains–it’s their mental compatibility that makes them good co-pilots.

And thank you, thank you, thank you for that ending, which emphasizes their bond as co-pilots and equals–as two people who save the world, and who care for and respect each other. Thank you for giving us a moment of pure male-female friendship, bonding, and appreciation, without insisting that the bond exist because of sexual and romantic chemistry. The lack of a kiss is a most satisfying absence.

Thank you, Mr. del Toro, for creating a cinematic world that is vivid, beautiful, and terrifying. Pacific Rim was a real film experience, and–monsters aside–it was a world I could really get behind.

 

Sincerely,

Reel Feminist

 

Cinema Treats From Film Blogging Friends

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Today I received two lovely packages in the mail, and they truly made my day! First, my dear friend Ryan McNeil, blogger (and podcasting extraordinaire) of The Matinee sent me a fantastic treat. Along with a lovely note, Ryan sent along a French Film postcard from the TIFF Cinematheque, the 2-Disc Limited Edition release of E.T., and The Chaplin Collection DVD release of The Great Dictator.

In a word: SQUEE. These are gorgeous releases, with juicy special features (and hello, the E.T. cover is a work of art)! 

Ryan has been a true friend and a real supporter of my work here at Reel Feminist, and I just want to say a huge THANK YOU to him for all the support and encouragement. This year has really had its trials and tribulations, and it’s tough to be a film blogger who can’t treat herself to DVD releases because she’s short on funds. It really means a lot to be sent a couple well-loved DVDS from a friend and colleague–especially one you really respect and admire. You should check out his site–he has new content EVERY DAY.  

Secondly, you’ll see in my (apologetically grainy) images, a few posters and postcards which are courtesy of the amazingly talented Alex Kittle, aka Film Forager. Alex is a supremely talented artist (and blogger, too!) who puts her love of film into her art. Hidden in there is a piece of work from her Etsy page that I recently purchased for a friend’s Christmas present (in fact, I purchased two posters from her). Alex’s work is currently on sale at her Etsy page, and I missed the sale by a couple hours, so she thoughtfully threw in one of my FAVORITE works by her–the insanely hysterical “Fuller–Go Easy on the Pepsi!” print that immortalizes Home Alone. I seriously crack up every time I look at this poster. 

Lastly, Alex also sent me two postcard prints (and they happened to be two of my favorites): ImageDr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem from The Muppets, and her Tangled movie poster. They’re lovely, and they’re hanging up on my door as soon as I get home tonight. 

I just want to say a big THANK YOU to Alex for really making my day with this–she too has been a huge supporter of Reel Feminist, and she’s just an all around solid, good person with lots of passion and drive.

Today’s surprises really reminded that after over just a year of blogging independently (and, more recently at Filmoria.co.uk), I’ve really made a solid network of friends, colleagues, and supporters in the blog world. I can’t thank my readers and fellow bloggers enough for all their kind words of encouragement, comments, and Twitter conversation. I can’t thank YOU enough, either.

Thank you, film friends, for everything!

On Child Stars and Sexism: Ownership of the Mature Female Form

ImageEarlier this week a promotional image of Alexa Vega in Robert Rodriguez’s upcoming film Machete Kills was released. The former child star is shown standing in front of a flipped car, looking dangerous with a gun in her hand, and dressed in a Western-styled bra top and chaps. It is a very provocative image, and as such it provoked a lot of reaction from the film blog world. Unfortunately, its images didn’t provoke commentary about the movie so much as statements about how Vega—the former child star known for her role in “Spy Kids”–is now a voluptuous, full-bodied woman. Now there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that a former child star is now transitioning into more adult roles (though Vega has been in smaller pictures, including the cult hit Repo! The Genetic Opera, since her appearance in Spy Kids more than 10 years ago). Nor is there any problem in acknowledging that a beautiful woman is, in fact, a beautiful woman. But there is a problem when the language used to acknowledge this shift is mired in sexist and disturbing language focused not on the movie itself but on the body of its star and a perverse gratitude for what puberty wrought on her body.

When an attractive girl is shown in a bra top the usual “she’s so hot” commentary is expected, even on film sites that are mainly news and review-based. A lot of film sites nowadays capitalize on such pictures and lists, and let’s face it—they probably get more hits because of these lists. But the language of these sorts of posts are often inherently heteronormative and sexist; probably the most disturbing sexist language is utilized when it comes to former child stars who have matured into attractive adult women. The language surrounding Vega’s picture includes remarks about how she’s “Not a kid anymore,” “is all grown up” and even “less young” which is true, but it takes on a creepy tone–particularly the “less young” remark–that seems to posit her current attractiveness in direct correlation to her previous youth and sweetness. The implications are that it’s okay to find her attractive even though she was once a kid, indeed that her current attractiveness is all the more impressive because hey, she was once just one of those “precocious little tykes” from SpyKids

One site included the following text: “It’s ok to think she’s amazingly hot, by the way. She’s grown up now (actually been married and divorced already)… Either way… good god! ….Just to make this post more legitimate, here’s the poster for Machete Kills…”  To the site’s credit, it acknowledges that this isn’t exactly a film news post, but really an excuse to post the picture of an attractive woman. At least the writer is self-aware enough to know that the post exists explicitly so we can ogle her. I guess the awareness is better than having him completely unaware that he’s specifically setting out to enjoy her body. Unfortunately, he actually gives us, the viewer, permission to ogle her as well: (“It’s ok to think she’s amazingly hot…she’s grown up now”). The implication is ‘Hey, she’s totally legal now, so it’s okay to lust for her—it’s not illegal anymore.’ It placates the viewer’s fear that they may be enjoying the beauty of a child, and gives them permission to find her sexually gratifying. The language essentially says, “Don’t worry, you’re not a pedophile—you can enjoy her looks because puberty is long gone. But gee, wasn’t puberty super good to her?” The first post even says “You’re welcome,” as if the man who wrote the post deserves your gratitude for bringing this image to your eager eyes.

 What’s equally disturbing is the bizarre conflation of Vega the woman and her fictional character, Killjoy. This conflation happens on another site where it’s noted that “She’s not a shy girl, evidently.” The statement implies that it’s okay to view Vega sexually because she’s put herself on display for us. Of course she is on display—this is a film still after all—but just because her character Killjoy is a sexy scantily-clad character does not have any bearing on how Vega is outside of the world Rodriguez created. This kind of conflation blurs the obvious boundaries between actress and character and gives us permission to view not just Killjoy the character but also Vega herself as a sexual object.

Ultimately sexist language pervades many film and pop culture websites, but the language used to describe former child stars is particularly offensive and puzzling. Often this language relishes the move of a woman from childhood to adult, as if her maturation resulted in some gift to mankind. What is it about a woman’s maturation within the public eye that lends itself to the language of objectification and sexism? Why are child stars who shift into adult roles consistently discussed in a smarmy, congratulatory way that seemingly celebrates the viewer’s ability to find the actress attractive? Perhaps there’s a sense of viewer entitlement. We the viewer have witnessed this child’s maturation via the silver screen, and as consumers and viewers of this process we somehow possess the actress–as a child of the image she has become ours to consume with our eyes. Perhaps there’s a sense that we have the right to comment on her maturity simply because we once enjoyed her as that precocious young girl. 

Podcastin’ Away Part Quatre

Aside

I’ve been lucky enough to serve as a guest on one of my favorite podcasts, Outside the Envelope, in back-to-back episodes. It started with a guest appearance in which we had a thrilling and challenging conversation about Rian Johnson’s fantastic sci-fi-infused Looper. I love this podcast because hosts Rick and Brian are super knowledgeable, gracious, and enthusiastic. It was a fruitful conversation, and they even managed to make me question my own feminist interpretation of the film. Check this podcast out here. (There are spoiler-free sections before we get into the nitty-gritty.)

While recording the Looper podcast, Rick and Brian mentioned they might be covering the a capella film Pitch Perfect, starring Anna Kendrick. Since I’m a huge fan of collegiate and professional a capella, it seemed like I was a good fit and I promised to come back as a guest. Sure enough, Rick and Brian’s readers voted that they cover Pitch Perfect on the podcast, and what resulted is one of the most hysterical, vitriolic podcasts I’ve ever recorded. I try to balance the criticisms of the film with praise, but as you’ll hear, it’s hard to defend. Check this podcast out here. (Be forewarned, there’s no spoiler-free section on this podcast.)

Podcastin’ Away Part Troix!

Hello there again folks!

I recently visited two more podcasts for some spirited conversations about everything from Colin Farrell’s surprising ability to act, to the creepiness of David Lynch, to feminism in action movies. Note of warning: these podcasts are most certainly NSFW.

On The Demented Podcast, Episode 43: I talk with hosts Nick Jobe and Steve Honeywell about two neo-noir flicks: In Bruges and Blue Velvet. I had very different reactions to these films (one I love and one I really hate), so check it out to see which is which and why I end up talking about phalluses in contemporary culture and the word “cock.”

ImageI also stopped by The Lair of the Unwanted (Episode 37) to talk about the intersection of feminism and action movies with hosts Jason Soto and Nolahn. What starts out as a lighthearted discussion about the awesomeness of Sam Jackson and his inevitable swearing turns into a serious and intense conversation about feminism and film through the lens of The Long Kiss Goodnight, starring Geena Davis. We talk about Davis’ reappropriation of the term “dick,” the spheres of work versus home life, and the conflict of motherhood and sexuality posited in the film.

As always you can find me at Filmoria.co.uk–in the coming week I’ll be reviewing many of the films premiering at the New York-based GenArt Film Festival, so stay tuned!

Podcastin’ Away Part Deux

Hello readers!

Apologies for the delay in posting; I recently began writing for a new site! If you haven’t seen Filmoria before, please do check it out. It’s a UK-based site that includes news and reviews for movies and games, as well as special features like Must See Movies and a section on Cult Classics. I’ve been writing a little bit of everything for Filmoria, but my favorite post so far is a Must See Movies look at Singin’ in the Rain.

I’ve also been making the podcasting rounds, enjoying numerous guest appearances on some fantastic podcasts. I’ve made two appearances on The Large Association of Movies Blogs (LAMB) podcast, LAMBCast, in the last few months. In the episode known as Brian Roan vs. the World my colleague and friend Brian Roan of DearFilm does a great job of debating the merits of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World with a bunch of diehard fans, including yours truly. I also participated in the 6th LAMBpardy! podcast, a Jeopardy!-inspired film trivia competition. I have to admit I got my butt royally whooped, but I did my best and almost swept one category before suddenly going tabula rasa in my brain.

Perhaps my favorite guest spot ever, however, has to be my visit to The Matineecast. Host Ryan McNeil and I talked about High Fidelity and movie blogs we love. It was a great time, and a productive discussion about everything from whether or not High Fidelity is a “guys movie” to how the film holds up in comparison to the book.

Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone at Man, I Love Films for giving me a space to write Top 10 Lists and weekly editorials. It was a great experience, and I appreciate it very much.

Two more podcast guest spots are on their way, so stay tuned everybody!