Female Body Image in Ghostbusters (2016)

There has been a lot of conversation on Twitter and Facebook about the new Ghostbusters. Some good, some bad, some in between. The one thing that I have seen being praised is the way the women in this movie are represented.

Hint: they don’t talk about their body image.

How many times have you seen an “overweight” woman in a film have her weight referenced in a joke? My guess is too many to count. However, in Ghostbusters, there is zero mention of weight. Leslie Jones and Melissa McCarthy are both considered to be big for American woman (although that standard is ridiculous to begin with, don’t even get me started). The two women are made fun of and teased for other things, such as their attitude or behavior, but not one time is their size teased. There was not a single fat joke used in the film.

These women are seen eating food, but not in a way that draws attention to their diet or eating habits. They are simply shown as people who require food. None of them spoke about maintaining their figure, or being afraid of gaining weight.

There were also no jokes at the skinnier characters about not eating, or being too thin. Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon were on the same level as Leslie Jones and Melissa McCarthy. One was not treated “sexier” than the other, or more appealing than the other. There were no snarky comments made about body weight, at all. The only things mocked slightly were fashion choices, such as the bow tie Wiig was wearing.

It was amazing to see a movie that refused to body shame women, regardless of their figure. A little girl can watch this film and feel good about herself, no matter what she looks like. A Ghostbuster can be anyone, no matter their sex or size.

Let it sink in that this is how low expectations are for women in film. I’m getting excited because no woman was called fat, and they were shown eating food. This proves that representation is an issue, and it matters.

Women love seeing women presented as normal human beings.

Who would have thought?

-B

Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.(2015)

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Spy movies are nothing new. The tropes are all recognizable: the car chases, gadgets, cheesy one-liners, and ambiguous love interest. It’s hard to find anything really new and unusual in the genre. However, the film The Man From U.N.C.L.E. presents more slick and stylish cinematography than others (although it could use a bit more narrative substance).

This film was not the most spectacular one to watch, but the images were intriguing and stick in my mind. I honestly fell in love with the characters, regardless of whether or not they were cliché, loving Armie Hammer’s performance in particular. His character struggles with mental illness and emotional unavailability, and he played it believably. Henry Cavill played the more cliché character, a charismatic, playboy of a spy. It was hard not to roll my eyes with some of his cheesy, over-masculine one-liners. I was disappointed by the character, expecting more from Cavill. As far as the treatment of women, Gaby (Alicia Vikander) was smart and a great mechanic, but still a damsel in distress in the end. She’s often objectified. It’s as if the writers wrote a strong female character on paper, but failed to give her any believable heroism on screen. She ticks off the boxes that avoid being a complete damsel in distress, and they figured it was okay. In the end, she essentially is there to serve as a love interest and provide conflict. Although I didn’t want to admit it, I rooted for her to end up with Illya. Yes, I know, the spy always gets the girl. But this couple got to me. I think they had an undeniable chemistry (even though Ilya was fairly misogynistic). It was something about the subtle vulnerability in Hammer’s mannerisms. The way all three of these characters play off of each other with their different personalities was a bit overdone, but worked well enough.

The editing in the film is unique, showing techniques that I had never seen before. For example, the subtitles when characters were speaking in a different language weren’t always strictly across the bottom. The lines that are meant to stand out and have the most meaning to the plot were bolded, bigger, or placed in an interesting way on screen. One of my favorite examples of editing is when Gaby is in the car having a conversation. The camera is placed outside the glass, a shot that has been done before. However, when the camera is outside the glass, the audience cannot hear the conversation. It’s as if we are actually outside the car, wanting to hear the words but not able to. Instead, we hear the words through a crackling radio, a result of a bug in the car. It’s only when Gaby rolls the window down that we are finally a part of the conversation.

Sound editing continues to present itself as unique throughout the film. Most spy movies have an action sequence, presented as a montage. This film definitely uses that, but in a more nonconventional way. The screen is split in three or four places, showing multiple actions happening at the same time. Yes, this has been done before. But I found it interesting that there was not sound or dialogue. Just music. There weren’t even gunshots heard.

This film relies a lot on music to provoke emotional reactions from the audience. The music used when Solo is in the truck eating as Illya drives a boat fighting off explosions adds to the comical element of the scene. The song played does not match the action outside of the vehicle. This mitch-match of music and action is an element repeated in the movie.

The camera angles also proved to be very interesting. When Solo first meets Gaby, she is on her back working under a car. The audience gets a perspective shot of Napoleon, as if we are on the floor looking up. At another point in the film, Solo is drugged, and the image of the woman he sees is distorted (as well as her voice). The film enjoys putting audiences in the perspective of others, keeping the viewer’s attention and impressing film bloggers such as myself.

The film seems to set up a sequel, and unlike most films, I wouldn’t be opposed to one. I felt the movie ended with audiences wanting more. Overall, this film is a great one to watch if you’re into espionage films or period pieces. It plays off all of the cliché spy tropes we’ve all seen, but it also brought some new techniques to the table, and the cast meshed well. Not the most remarkable I have seen substance wise, but as far as spy movies go, I liked it.

Better than the most recent Bond film, in my opinion.

-B

The Male-Tear Inducing Gender Reversal in Ghostbusters

The new Ghostbusters film seems to get a lot of hate for a movie that is surprisingly good. Not only is it funny, it also commentates on the gender roles of American society. It’s hard to find the right words to discuss it, because there is so much packed into an hour and forty-seven minutes. You’ve probably heard men crying that this film is “anti-men” and “sexist”.

I decided to dedicate a blog post to that.

In reality, it’s doing to men exactly what comedic films always do to women- stereotyping them. This film completely reverses gender stereotypes, and it is fantastic. The women in this film are intelligent, aggressive scientists who end up saving the city, while Chris Hemsworth plays a dimwitted, extremely attractive secretary with little to no character development. He is a completely two-dimensional character, there to look good and act stupid. As a woman who has had to sit through countless films with one or two female characters that are treated as complete and utter bimbos, I thought it was hilarious.

The objectification of Chris Hemsworth in this film was not meant to represent the idea that women are better than men or hate men; it’s saying that women are tired of men acting in a condescending way towards women and need to acknowledge that the movie industry is sexist towards females. The way some men are reacting to this film, you’d think they’ve been underrepresented for decades. Calling Hemsworth’s character Kevin the “token male character” and “a dumb hot guy stereotype”, they clearly miss the entire point of the writers writing Kevin that way (those are actual comments I read, guys). The writers are aware he’s a hot guy stereotype. They’re aware he’s the token male character in this film.

Kevin is meant to point a finger at every film that has used the “sexy secretary” trope. He is written to say that women portrayed as beautiful but unintelligent used singularly for the purpose of objectification is absolutely not okay. What makes this even better is the fact that Hemsworth normally takes on completely different roles, such as Thor. Thor is traditionally masculine; aggressive, dominant, muscular, and powerful. Ghostbusters shows him as the exact opposite. Rather than Thor saving the day, it’s four women of different sizes and diversities. Kevin acts as a damsel in distress and they save his life. Hemsworth seemingly embraced this new character completely, willing to defy the gender norms of American cinema.

Imagine if the new Ghostbusters featured a male cast and, say, Megan Fox was playing a character like Kevin. Do you think the men would have a problem with a “token female character” or “a dumb hot girl stereotype”? That is what this film is trying to draw attention to. Kevin is meant to represent the idea that WE HAVE A PROBLEM WITH SEXISM IN THE FILM INDUSTRY. The reverse tropes send an extremely important message, and rather than listen to it, people jump on the internet to complain. It’s almost as if men finally know what it feels like to be a female viewer of the comedy genre.

Huh. Weird. It’s almost like that was the point of Hemsworth’s character in the first place…

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-B

It Follows (2014) and Sexual Assault

I usually don’t watch horror movies, but last night my boyfriend convinced me to watch the 2014 horror/thriller, It Follows. As the opening scene began to play, I was already focused on the young women running in her fancy, red, high heels and contrasting tank top and shorts. After that, I began to focus on the intertwining themes of female sexuality and loss of innocence. Eventually, those two themes came together as I realized the real center of the film: sexual assault.

In almost every scene, I found myself looking for symbolic images of youth and sexuality. The scene that stands out the most to me is the close up of the protagonists hand on flowers. She goes from discussing a childhood story while gently stroking the flowers to being forced unconscious in her underwear by a male as her limp hand falls over the plant. Those two images of contrast stuck in my mind the entire film.

Loss of innocence is often equated to becoming an adult, and in this film, that loss of innocence is solidified by the act of having sex. Therefore, having sex=adulthood. The ever-present fear of being followed after having sex is comparable to a rape victim recounting her assault or seeing her attackers face again.

The mixing of innocent images with incredibly sexual ones is an odd combination. The camera goes from a close up of ice-cream with sprinkles on it, an image that is very light and reminds us of childhood, to the protagonist stirring said ice-cream without eating much, reliving horrific events to her friends. In my mind, this represents the shame a girl can feel after hearing so much about how great sex is, and then losing her virginity, and realizing the true weight that experience can bring when it is not what was imagined.

Additionally, her friends don’t originally believe her horrific story of what happened to her, and that something is indeed following her, which is like a rape victim recounting her trauma and having her friend belittle that experience. Her friends don’t believe her, but she still sees what happened to her every day and has to relive her “attacker”. Although there isn’t any literal rape seen on screen, the entire film could be viewed as a metaphor for rape victims.

It Follows is a film that on the surface, seems to present itself as a warning for sexually transmitted diseases. While this is definitely symbolic in the film, I believe it goes much deeper than that. It commentates on the intense sexual pressure that is put on girls at a young age, sexualizing them from the time they are little kids. Once in high school, and in college, young women are targets for sexual predators. After sexual assaults, that assault constantly follows them and they cannot get away. In the film, the protagonists “boyfriend” lies to get her to sleep with him, and then leaves after. The creature then begins to follow her around, and no matter how hard she tries to get away, she can’t. Even after the kids believe the creature is gone, they don’t understand why the main girl will not come out of her room and act okay again, representing the PTSD rape victims often feel the rest of their lives.

It Follows may look like a simple scary film on the surface, but it is much more than that. The message the film illustrates is not one to be taken lightly, and engages with material society needs to understand now more than ever.

-B

Ex Machina as a Neo-Noir Film

Ex Machina is one of my favorite films, and I’m always trying to find new ways to view and analyze it. The film has been categorized into genres such as sci-fi, drama, and psychological thriller, but I believe it could also be categorized as a neo-noir film.

A neo-noir is a film that utilizes many aspects of classic film noir, but it places those aspects into an updated context. Some of the elements present in noir include femme fatales, crime, and paranoia. Drive (2011) and The Dark Knight (2008) are both examples of neo-noir.

Caleb exemplifies the typical classic noir protagonist. He investigates the circumstances of Ava’s creation and imprisonment, representing the theme of paranoia. In a position of desperation, he tries to figure out the correct moral path to choose. He views Ava as a damsel in distress, someone in need of saving. This makes Ava the femme fatale. Her morality remains ambiguous throughout the film, and she acts as a sort of love interest for Caleb. She utilizes her sexuality in order to gain power over him. She double crosses him, which is the main trait of a femme fatale.

The difference with this femme fatale among others is rather than being driven by hate or evil, she is driven by a need to survive. Additionally, rather than dying or having a tragic end, her character is the sole one to survive, leaving Caleb to die. Rather than depicting the typical gender anxieties present in classic noir and subtextually placing women as being disobedient to dominant males, this film is a tale of female empowerment.

The lighting in the film is also reminiscent of classic noir. Often dark and full of shadows, it sometimes resembles the techniques of German expressionism. There are odd angles shown, attempting to help disorient the viewer, aiding the underlying theme of ambiguity and deceit.

Ex Machina conforms closely to noir structure, but it reinvents the characters and subtext pretty radically. Full of ulterior motives, moral ambiguity, and eroticism, this film is a dreamlike, technological spin on classic film noir.

-B

Neighbors 2: The Progressive Comedy I’ve Been Waiting For.

 

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is a refreshing, progressive bro comedy that women can finally relate to without being completely objectified. Aiming at the misogyny centered in colleges, it is incredibly self-aware and manages to be fun to watch. The movie is explicitly feminist but the comedic tone presents the subject matter without throwing it into viewers faces in a serious, preachy way.

The character Shelby, played by Chloe Grace Mortez, aims to provide a sorority that fights against the sexist college system, where only fraternities can throw parties. Tired of those parties that target young women as sex objects, “Kappa Nu” throws parties the female characters actually want to go to. They accept anyone, dress any way they wish, and throw any party they want, including a “Feminist Icon Party”.

The interactions between the female characters feel grounded in reality rather than two dimensional, distinctly different from most comedies. As a female in college, I found these characters intensely relatable and was overjoyed to see the typical bro-comedy torn apart in a satirical manner. The scene when they go to a frat party for the first time and are immediately targeted and disgusted by what they see was all too familiar, but that side of the experience is rarely shared on screen. Instead of showing a frat party as crazy, fun, and a great time, Neighbors 2 represents how uncomfortable and “super rapey” (as Beth puts it in the film) those parties can be for young women.

Shelby and her friends roll their eyes at sexist comments and dismiss men that see them for nothing but their bodies. Rather than objectifying the women, this film blatantly objectifies Teddy, played by Zac Efron, as he dances on stage shirtless, in tiny shorts. However, he is presented as more than the typical masculine bro. Although he was head of his fraternity and is seen making a few sexist comments, he learns from the women around him and slowly adapts a more feminist attitude, claiming you can’t call girls “hoes” anymore.

This film is ultimately about the death of masculine stereotypes, making fun of the “common” male in a way that isn’t preachy at all. The presentation of masculinity is extremely progressive. Teddy is seen crying multiple times, showing even the seemingly biggest bro has a more sensitive side. Pete, a womanizing frat bro from the first films, gets engaged unexpectedly to another man, demolishing gay stereotypes.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is all about equality. It was a refreshing break from the over-the-top, intensely masculine comedies that usually dominate the box office. It perfectly executes what it feels like to be young feminist in a patriarchal society, as well as the potential danger of traditional masculinity.

Is Die Hard (1988) a Feminist Film?

I have read essays and theories on both sides of the question. The lack of representation of women shows it is not a feminist text. The fact that Holly is an intelligent, working woman means it is a feminist text.

While watching Die Hard, I noticed that there were only about 5 women in the entire film, even in the background. Each of these women were hostages. I could conclude that this means that women are all weak and helpless. But, at a closer look at Holly’s character it could be seen in another way.

Holly is a smart, career driven woman. Even as a hostage, she shows strength and intelligence when facing Hans Gruber. She calmly bargains with him for a place for a pregnant woman to lie down. She keeps her composure and is smart enough to have a fairly peaceful conversation with a terrorist.

McClain is taken aback by his wife using her maiden name, a choice that is entirely up to her. He chose to grow estranged from her by staying in New York as her career progressed. Rather than telling her how he feels, he holds back his thoughts and emotions about the situation in order to protect his masculinity. The question is—does the film want us to blame Holly or blame McClain?

There is a moment when Holly acts in a physical manner. After the chaos is over, she punches a reporter in the face. This is the only time a woman physically poses a threat in the film. This seems like an attempt at making her a more empowered woman by the filmmaker. It is a stereotypical trope that viewers have seen before. This surge of power is a result of the fighting that her husband did before. She didn’t pose a physical threat when there was actual danger, only after the big fight was over.

She is also used as a bargaining chip by Gruber, resulting in the stereotype of damsel in distress, as well as being hit on by a coworker, which is obviously an unwanted advance.

I can see both sides of the argument. Die Hard could be read as a feminist text with an intelligent, competent female character, or it could be read as commentary on the threat of feminism and the working woman.

The film could be viewed as persistence of the patriarchy, and some people I know that have viewed this film dislike Holly’s choice of work over her husband. McClain is meant to be the protagonist, after all, so audiences empathize with him.  But couldn’t it be seen as McClain choosing his job over family? If so, why is it okay for him to do it, but wrong for Holly to do it?

What do you think?

-B

Whole Wide World of Movies: Foreign Cinema

It’s sad to me how many movies people miss out on each year because they’re too lazy to read subtitles. I myself am guilty of this. I scroll past the foreign section on Netflix each time I see it.

However, my film theory class listed the Korean film Oldboy (2003) on the syllabus. Not knowing anything about the film, I searched it on Netflix. I was already dreading having to watch it, which is only because of my inexperience and ignorance of foreign films. My viewpoint quickly changed as I watched the film.

In the beginning I was only partly paying attention, getting distracted and not fully reading the subtitles. I kept rewinding to figure out what was happening. My movie-watching brain just isn’t used to watching a film and reading subtitles at the same time. However, halfway through the film I was totally engrossed. Yes, part of it is probably because Oldboy is completely disturbing on a variety of levels. It’s kind of like a car accident. You want to look away but you can’t. But my perspective of foreign films was evolving as I watched.

Oldboy was remade by Spike Lee in 2013 for an American audience. But…isn’t the original already good enough for an American audience? Sure, it’s not in English, but it is translated. It’s not as if you have to be educated about every single aspect of Korean culture to understand it. Think about it in this way—big American films are made for international audiences. They don’t all understand American culture, but they watch American films. The original Oldboy was much better received than the remake, which has been called things such as “unnecessary” and “abhorrent” compared to it’s predecessor.

To me, it was interesting to see a film that isn’t made in traditional American Hollywood fashion. I learned about another culture a bit more and started to comprehend that all Asian cinema shouldn’t be lumped into one category. There are a variety of different genres and styles of American films, which is the same as Korea, China, Japan, etc. It’s not just Kung Fu movies and ridiculous fight sequences. Everything I’m writing should be common knowledge. Sadly, many people remain ignorant about all that movies from other countries have to offer.

There’s a whole world of movies that the majority of mainstream America has yet to experience. I bet we’re missing out on some incredible films, simply because of our ignorance and unwillingness to compromise.

Subtitles are worth it if the film expands your knowledge of cinema.

-B

PS: If you haven’t seen Oldboy, it’s a great place to start your foreign film education (although you may not want to eat while you watch it)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Terror of the Mind

I’ll admit, I was skeptical about watching the 1974 film Texas Chainsaw Massacre directed by Tobe Hooper for the first time. But after viewing it, I found it holds up better than most horror films from the past decade.

The film was revolutionary to the horror genre. Taking the classic Hitchcock film Psycho and expanding upon it in a new way, Texas Chainsaw Massacre helped define what we know now as the slasher film. Hooper’s movie is vile, disturbing, and wreaks havoc on the psyche of audience members. With little to no gore, the focus of terror is purely based on the viewers mind. We don’t see a close up of the chainsaw digging into poor Franklin’s chest–our mind does the work for us. What we can imagine is far worse than what Hooper could have portrayed on screen. It makes all out gory films seem lazy and lackluster, relying on visible and tangible disgust rather than psychological terror.

The viewers find themselves thrust into a story of disillusionment and straight up insanity, and they feel every bit of it along with the characters. The simple images evoke so much distress, such as the family of killers eating dinner in front of Sally, which is presumably her deceased friend, Pam. The décor of the house is enough to revulsion and dread, as we hear the crunching of bones on the floor and see the severed arms of human beings tied onto chairs. It’s completely sadistic and absolutely repugnant, but the cinematography is expertly crafted to provide a dizzying contrast to the dark subject matter.

The famous scene from the film is the ending, as Leatherface performs a sort of sick, twisted ballet as he holds the chainsaw over his head. The sun provides a soft, typically romantic lighting on a disgusting and nauseating, aiding the disorientation viewers have felt the entire film. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a gorgeous movie about an inbred, cannibalistic family that brutally murders a group teenagers. That last shot represents the films conflicting beauty and horror, which leaves the audience with a haunting feeling of discomfort, but also satisfaction.

I’d like to see a horror movie from the last two decades wreak that much psychological terror on an audience while simultaneously looking aesthetically gorgeous.

-B

The Importance of Tangerine (2015)

What do you get when you put together two transgender sex workers, an iPhone 5s, and an Armenian Taxi driver? Sean Baker’s Tangerine.

Quirky, progressive, and emotional, Tangerine demolishes clichés and redefines trans representation in film. Movies illustrate the world and how we interact with it, so it makes sense for there to be diverse depictions of people. Baker’s film takes a stigma-ridden group of individuals and shoves them in the audience’s faces, not just as “transgender” but as real human beings.

The film presents the main characters with honesty, realism, and tolerance that isn’t present in most so-called “trans inclusive” films. The transgender population in Los Angeles is truly explored and portrayed onscreen without an ounce of judgement. The two main characters, Sin-Dee and Alexandra (Maya Taylor and Kiki Rodriguez), are played by real-life transwomen of color. Baker followed the actresses around as they ad-libbed lines, giving the film an even deeper feeling of energetic realism, which simply could not be achieved with a cisgendered actor dressed in drag.

This indie comedy has disguised serious, life-altering issues in a mask of hilarity, all wrapped up with a bittersweet ending. The Armenian taxi driver, Razmik (Karren Karagulian), is trying to maintain a respectable family, but on the side he picks up trans women to fulfill his sexual needs. Sin-Dee is presented to us as having a drug addiction. Alexandra has dreams of singing that can’t seem to come true, so she sells her body to make money. However, each of these seemingly twisted issues is presented in a completely impartial light. There is absolutely no judgement from the filmmaker’s perspective, echoing the message that the audience should react with compassion for all people rather than hate. It works to normalize the trans experience and that’s something I’ve never seen on film before.

Not only are the main characters transgender, but they are also black. Think about the last time you saw a film this inclusive–probably never. These actors didn’t play stereotypes. Their gender identity wasn’t used for laughs, nor was their skin color. They didn’t talk a lot about being trans women. They just simply were. And that’s what’s so beautiful about this film. It represents trans men and trans women as exactly what they are: people.

-B