[REVIEW] ‘Black Christmas’: A Lump of Coal for Horror Fans

black christmas4

Let me state upfront that I am by no means a fan of the horror genre. However, I am a fan of Christmas movies, and am trying to expand my palette as a critic. So when I heard that the remake of Black Christmas was coming out and it was PG13 I jumped at the chance to see it. Unfortunately jumping out of my comfort zone was not rewarded as I was presented with a sloppy, poorly written, unfunny film that evidently has little to nothing to do with the original 1974 classic.

I know there are some women who connected with this film and found watching it to be a cathartic experience for their own suffering at the hands of men. That is not my experience in life and it certainly isn’t my experience with this movie. In fact, from my perspective the movie waters down the stories of women so we are no longer unique beings with different opinions, tastes and experiences. Instead, it’s like we are all made from a mold that’s been approved by feminist think tanks.

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What particularly annoyed was a character who is viewed as the traitor of the women, only to be then rejected by the men she so stupidly followed. She dared to go against the correct definition of femininity and paid the price! All the characters who question the activist character suffer in the end. In fact, it’s kind of interesting that a film with such overtly political messages would also have so little actual diversity of thought…

All the men in this film are problematic and all the women are expected to respond to the men in the same way. I kept thinking of the quote from the new Little Women when Meg says ‘just because my dreams are different than yours doesn’t make them less important’. This film tries to stand as a feminist mantra to young women but what about the tomboy or the shy girl who doesn’t want to be a kick-butt female against the evil men? At least last year’s Anna and the Apocalypse had some variety of men and women fighting zombies!

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The other problem with Black Christmas is it isn’t scary at all, and I’m a super horror movie wimp. If I’m not scared that’s really bad. Most of the kills come to people we don’t care about and in ways that don’t provide any real dread. Everything is so predictable and bland that it’s not entertaining as some kind of escapist revenge feminist fantasy. It’s actually kind of dull.

Watching Black Christmas reminded me of a cheap knock off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s like they got to female empowerment and stopped. For a movie to be empowering we have to be presented with characters we care about, with dialogue that feels authentic to those characters. Otherwise we can read an article or watch a documentary and be done with it. Fiction needs to draw us in with more than just a message.

Black Christmas fails because of its sloppy script, poor production values and total lack of scares. Avoid it and support female stories with rich and dynamic characters. 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Babadook or the Happy Death Day movies are 3 recent examples that do a far better job. Even Coraline does a much better job of showing a layered interesting female character in a horror environment. Check them out instead.

Also if you want a truly feminist film watch the documentary Maiden from this year.

1 out of 10

frown

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Suffragette Movie Review

So I was so looking forward to the new movie Suffragette and you could say it let me down.  It’s such a shame because it had so much potential. My main problem was the constant use of shaky cam and extreme close-ups.  It really ruined the film for me.  I don’t have time to do  full write up on here but here is my youtube review.

Birdman: A Review

sq_birdmanRecently I had the chance to watch the Oscar nominated film Birdman: or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance and I’m afraid, like with Gone Girl ,my opinion is not as positive as the public at large….It has many strengths but some problems I have a hard time ignoring.

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Let’s start with the positives. Birdman is about a man named Riggan Thomson played my Michael Keaton who used to be a superhero action star for a franchise called ‘Birdman’.  Evidently at one point he could have done Birdman 3 but stepped away from the franchise out of artistic integrity and his career never recovered.  Now years later he is trying to make a comeback in a broadway play based on a Raymond Carver short story.

Edward Norton also stars as a young, high strung method actor who thinks he’s better than Riggan and condescends to be in the show because of his friendship with a first time actress Lesley played by Naomi Watts.  Emma Stone plays Riggan’s daughter who is recently out of rehab, Andrea Risenborough is his girlfriend and Zach Galifianakis is his lawyer and best friend.

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Birdman has very good performances especially from Keaton.  He is great, vulnerable, believable, authentic and tragic.  The whole rest of the cast is great and nuanced in their roles (although actors playing actors may not be that much of a stretch…).

Birdman’s cinematography is also a huge accomplishment.  It is edited to look like the whole film is done in one take so there are very few cuts from one person shot, to 2 person shot like in a normal movie.  The camera just moves fluidly from a scene to another scene as if someone was walking from one area of the hallway to another hearing different gossip along the way.

Here’s my issue with the film.  It really bothered me the way women are treated.  Now before you roll your eyes at another feminist movie review hear me out.  I don’t care if a movie has weak, shallow women.  That’s fine and certainly the strong empowered woman can be equally clichéd.  However, I do have a problem when every female in a picture is weak, shallow, mean, petty and shrill.

Let’s go over quickly the women we get in Birdman.

birdman andrea1. Andrea Risenborough as Riggan’s girlfriend Laura who pretends to be pregnant in order to manipulate him into committing to their relationship.  She is shrill and judgmental and a real jerk

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2. Next we get Lesley played by Naomi Watts who has always dreamed of being on Broadway.  The movie seems to judge her for this dream as if Riggan’s is the realist and Lesley is the naive simpleton.  We see so little of her acting that it is hard to say one way or another.  What really upset me is in an early scene Edward Norton tries to force himself on Lesley in an attempted rape on stage so that he can be “in the moment” and then the movie forgets about this far too quickly.  It was extremely distasteful.  I’m not saying the movie endorses Norton’s choice but it doesn’t take it seriously enough.

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3.  There is a lesbian kiss between Lesley and Laura which I felt was only there to titillate men not for any plot device or importance.  To be clear I am not offended by the kiss but haven’t we moved on from when gay/lesbian kisses and relationships were included to sensationalize or for comic relief? Apparently not.  There is no relationship between them and it means nothing.  I saw no reason to include it and it was never discussed again.

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4.  Emma Stone playing Sam, Riggan’s daughter, is probably the best female character in the movie but she is still very judgmental and preachy to her father.   Can’t she see that he is trying to do something important and good?  You would think she would appreciate that but instead she lectures him about how he is worthless and nobody cares.

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5.  Amy Ryan has a few scenes with Riggans as his ex-wife who hates Riggan but is still attracted to him.  She’s very shrill with a couple softer moments. (not in the movie much).

birdman theater critic5. The worst of it all is a woman named Tabitha Dickinson who is a famous theater critic from the New York Times.  She knows she can make or break a Broadway show by her review and she tells Riggan she is going to destroy him and his play before even seeing it.  She feels this way because she resents celebrities infringing on the Broadway scene.  This was outrageous.  Maybe I’m naive but I don’t think there is a critic worth their ticket stub who would decide on a review before seeing the play.  And if they did they certainly wouldn’t admit it to the show creator and star.  That sounds like a good way to lose your job. There is a little redemption for her character but still she was unbelievable from the start.  And why did she have to be a woman?  Couldn’t the movie have made one judgmental jerk a man?

Again, it’s just another example of the shrill, judgmental, mean-spirited women the movie seems to think are the rule.

The men on the other hand are more positively portrayed.  Zach Galifianakis is the good friend who still believes in Riggans despite all the junk he does.  Edward Norton is a pig but has softer moments with Emma Stone.  Riggans is a sympathetic character surrounded by all these maniacs.  He is depressed and mentally ill, hallucinating and running around in his underwear in Times Square but is still likable.

I don’t know.  I just couldn’t get passed these depictions of women throughout the film- especially Lesley’s near rape and Tabitha’s condescending review threats.  It made the movie  unpleasant and frustrating.

It also has lots of profanity, some nudity, and mature content.  Adults only.  It took me two go-arounds to watch the whole thing because I wasn’t invested in it.

I know many love it and it may win Best Picture (a travesty if it does IMO) but I didn’t care for it.  Sorry!

Overall Grade- C- (only because of the strong performances and cinematography). Content Grade- F

Content, Content, Content

keep calm and parent on

This is another post where my thoughts are all jumbled up but I will do my best to form them into a coherent argument.

Lately watching all these movies I’ve been wondering about the effect of media on children.  I come from a strict conservative Mormon background and we try very carefully to avoid anything that is not uplifting and will lead us to sinful behaviors.  Most people in my faith have a ‘no R rated movie’ rule but with my lack of faith in the MPAA I have a ‘research and know what I’m getting into rule’.  I summed it up here:

http://smilingldsgirl.com/2014/04/30/how-to-be-mormon-and-like-movies/

But for kids most of us have higher standards than adult content and appropriately so.  Little kids have impressionable minds and I’ve told you several experiences I had at the movies which were not positive in terms of content- watching Rescuers and Return to Oz.  My parents were very careful with what we were allowed to watch and for long stretches we didn’t have TV at all.  It wasn’t always out of objectionable content but if it didn’t do anything for our imaginations or creativity than my Mom wouldn’t allow it.  For example, we were not allowed to watch Saved by the Bell because my Mom thought it was stupid.

However, sometimes I think we can worry too much and think kids are too impressionable and fragile.

For example, some claim Ariel is a bad example and don’t want their daughters to be influenced by her selfish attitude.  The first time I heard this I was shocked.  It had honestly never occurred to me that Ariel was anything but admirable and there is no girl who sang Part of Your World more than I did.  I saw her positive traits- her steadfastness, her boldness, her courage.  I saw she was willing to go against her father and strike out on her own, make her own path.  I don’t see how any of these traits or qualities taught me a bad lesson and while I was certainly a brat, like any kid, never could it have been blamed on Ariel’s negative influence.  Kids are smarter than that.  They aren’t just robots who immediately mimic every positive and negative attribute they see.

Plus, with good parenting (and this is key) those positive traits can be emphasized so just like with me the negative one’s aren’t really noticed or focused on.

In my experience most Mormons do not watch The Simpsons.  For some reason it has a particular stain on it that other equally off-color shows do not but my parents were ok with it.  Why?  Because my brother and I had and have nothing in common (although oddly both of our favorite movies is Up!).  Especially back then but we both liked The Simpsons.  As parents you have to pick your battles and The Simpsons is well written, it’s smart (most of the great movies I was introduced to through homages on The Simpsons, same with a lot of philosophy and political ideas) and in the end it is about a family who does love each other.

Take a look at this scene.  A kid could learn a ton about elections, candidates, the press, voting, voter apathy, campaign promises, advertising etc.  Plus, it makes me laugh, which is usually the best way to learn.

So just like I never learned to be selfish from Ariel, I never learned to be rude or slovenly from the Simpsons.

So, how do you know when something is a good influence or bad?

I’m not a parent so I would love to hear the opinions of my readers who are, but I have a hunch.  You watch your kids!!!  Try your best to prevent obviously damaging material and allow them to make some choices based on information you provide to them.  Then watch them.  If scary movies are causing nightmares than put a stop to it.  If a girl is becoming a primadonna from princess movies than take a break.

But if there is a movie like Harry Potter and it is teaching good things than maybe the witchcraft and sorcery isn’t a big deal?  Maybe false feminism in Frozen isn’t going to hurt your daughter singing Let It Go around the house?

My friend was just telling me her daughter loves Pocahontas and watches it over and over again.  While that is no doubt annoying for any movie especially one I’m not crazy for, her girl is going to be fine. Maybe she likes it for the bright colors?  Maybe for the music?  Maybe for the animals and nature?  There are a ton of perfectly valid and good reasons to watch Pocahontas (again I really don’t care for the film) and the negative one’s can be discussed and dealt with.  The kids will usually be alright if we try our hardest to raise good people.

Study after study has shown no link between violence and video games.  Does that make violence ok for children? No but it should also reassure parents that content is not the end all factor in determining behavior of your kids.  It’s just not that simple.

Some people I know in the blogosphere are worried Frozen has a ‘gay agenda’ and that Let It Go is a gay anthem.  Unless they happen to be gay or have gay parents I guarantee you 99% of girls are not thinking about homosexuality when enjoying that movie.  They are thinking about whatever in their life is frustrating them.  And if it does start them wondering than you have a conversation and you discuss the issue from your perspective.  I’ve read the blogs making these claims on Frozen and find them to be quite silly.  If you start with a thesis ‘Frozen is a gay agenda film’ or ‘Frozen is anti-feminist’ or ‘Frozen is pro-feminist’ than you will probably find ‘evidence’ to back it up, that doesn’t make it true.  It’s a story and just like a good story it can be interpreted any number of ways by the viewer.  Our kids will have their own interpretation and that’s a good thing.

Calm down and be a parent and let your kids be kids.  Let them have their own choices and tastes.  See what inspires them creatively and then monitor negative behaviors appropriately.   Your job as a parent is not to mold your children into perfect Mormons or Christians or feminists or whatever.  Your job is to present your kids with options and explanations and see where life takes them.

At least that’s what this single girl in Utah thinks! 😉

Oh and what bothers me about the instant love trope is not that it is going to teach false messages about womanhood or relationships but how it hurts the stories and gives me nothing I can relate too. To me it is frustrating when I see film after film with stale, boring female characters.  When you have a movie like The Jungle Book, with only one female character (2 including the elephant) and she is used only as a love robot I don’t have any characters I can relate too so I disengage a little bit from the story. It’s a story problem more than a message problem.  I saw The Jungle Book many times growing up and it did not taint me with it’s simplistic view on women. It just could have been better so it got an A instead of an A+.

My View on Disney Princesses and Feminism

This post is another little interruption from my reviews to answer a question I’ve gotten from friends and on social media.  I clearly have issues with female Disney characters who only exist to make bug eyes at boys and have them fall instantly in love with them- or instant love as I have coined it.  The end of the Jungle Book makes me nuts.  The girl fox, Vixey in Fox and the Hound I hated especially because Tod was acting like a real idiot and she hears a song and goes right back to the old batting the eyes…

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These characters annoy me because they are only there as a love object and that is it. It’s like the Disney equivalent of porn.  Just look at me and you are hooked, hypnotized by my feminine wiles…

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She sings about cooking and cleaning, bats her eyes and…
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and Mowgli is hooked, hypnotized by her. Why? This scene bothers me much more than any princess scene.

Evidently that view makes me a raging feminist.  I’m actually a Conservative Mormon pro-lifer, so politically I do not share much in common with current feminist public policy or organizations like the National Organization of Women.  Do I want women to be treated fairly?  Of course but in most of my life people would probably not think of me as a feminist.

But I do think societal trends in language, media and storytelling can influence the self esteem and behaviors of both men and women and are worth analyzing.  As they are more likely to be objectified this is especially true for women.

Probably the most famous lyric when I was in high school warned against our ages willingness to be entertained and not think about what messages we were receiving:

Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us

So, I like being entertained but I don’t think it is bad to take a step back and wonder- what are they saying with these characters?  What does this tell young girls or boys?  The answers can be different and debated but simply noticing the way women are portrayed or men are portrayed does not make me feminist.  It just makes me someone who noticed a trend and is concerned.

For years Disney executives were fearful of making ‘girl movies’ and so  how can that not have an affect on girls!  It certainly seems like a natural question to ask when a massive demographic is specifically discouraged in films, especially for children who are so impressionable.

It all comes from an old idea that it is easier to get girls to like boy things than boys to like girl things.  If Frozen did anything let’s hope the 1 billion dollars in sales puts that to a rest!  (And Hunger Games.  Not all girls in the seats).

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I realize this has more than the official princesses

So does this mean I hate princess movies?  Some feminists I’m told do but even my sister who is pretty hard core doesn’t hate princess movies and loved Frozen and Tangled.  So, I think that’s a bit of a stereotype on feminists.  In fact, Slate.com, a very liberal site, had a great article recently called “The Problem with your Problem with Pink”.  It is a brilliant article and I highly recommend reading it.  One of its points is that by demonizing princesses and pink we are actually reinforcing gender stereotypes rather than eliminating them:

““Chill out” is very good advice. The pink phase will pass like anything else, and if it doesn’t, well, then, you have raised a human being who really likes pink. Which is the same as raising a human being who really likes green. The meaning of the color is what we make it mean. By steering our daughters away from the pink aisle to subvert dangerous gender norms, we’re reinforcing them”

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I think you can say the same thing about Princesses.  A Princess is not inherently bad for a child just like a wizard, warrior, knight, king, queen, human, alien, are inherently bad or good.  It’s what the character does which makes them either a good example or not.  Most of the time I think the Princesses are great in Disney movies.  They are confident, happy, elegant, loving people. Some I like better than others such as Belle because she is a reader, or Ariel because she is a fighter (same with Mulan).  Rapunzel is great because she is so optimistic, Cinderella works hard.  All of them have positive attributes which I am more than happy to see reflected in my nieces or daughters if I have them.

I would certainly rather have a princess, Cinderella, who is dreaming of greater things than a common girl getting water who has resigned to cooking and cleaning for her life.  That to me is a much greater hurdle in a Disney film to leap than explaining a princess to a little girl.

In some ways I feel grateful to Disney because in much of other storytelling women are few and far between.  We have what is called by some ‘The Smurfette Principle’.   In the world of Smurfs there is one female character who is there typically to gasp and sigh over any event which is happening.  smurfetteBut the Smurfette can be the smart girl too, but she is always the girl surrounded by male characters.  And to be clear these can be great characters but it is a definite storytelling trope, which is worth noting and discussing.

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fantastic-four big-bang-theory-cast-290x160You could argue that such trends in storytelling doesn’t matter and it is certainly true that all-girl movies can be atrocious.  I hated Austenland last year and that not only had mostly female cast but a female director, writer and producers.

What we have to be concerned with is overall trends in storytelling. and the way I see it the trends of Princess stories have been consistently positive and progressing in the last 2 decades.  It has certainly been many years since we had a Disney princess who was a complete nothing- Black Cauldron maybe or Sleeping Beauty?  For the most part they are independent, free-thinking, ambitious, positive women.  What’s wrong with that?

So I think we are perhaps a bit tough on our Disney Princesses.  They are usually pretty good examples and can be used as tools to help girls feel confident and beautiful.  Where we get into trouble is when we don’t take a second to talk with our girls about the positive traits of the princess they admire and allow them to only focus on the beauty.  Sometimes that is the fault of the Disney Princess branding of merchandise and products which tend to focus on Belle’s ample bosom and less on her love of libraries. princessesAs adults we can also sexualize things we loved as children and then can carry those grown up perceptions over to our children, forgetting they are seeing them with innocent eyes.  When we think of Tinker Bell we may see a sexy girl in a green dress.  Where our daughters see a simple green fairy.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t encourage modesty but we can be over-cautious and throw out stories and characters who have many good things to teach our children, out of a fear we picked up later in life.

sexy princesses

So, no.  I have no problem with girls wanting to be a princess or loving princesses.  In fact, when the royal wedding came along I threw a party and celebrated a girl becoming a princess.  I don’t see anything wrong with that.  From all evidences she’s a good person who was elevated to a princess, which had never happened before.  For a woman who loves fairytales it was like one had come to life!

This is me with my hat at the Royal Wedding party
This is me with my hat at the Royal Wedding party

I guess with most things in life it is all about balance and how it is approached.  But in my experience kids find their own form of balance.  We played house and pirate ship and boxcar children (always some kind of orphan…) as much  if not more than we played Princess.  And like I said it has been some time since there has been a princess which wasn’t a pretty tough cookie.

frying panI actually think live action films could take a lesson from animation and have more strong female characters.  Look at the superhero genre which has failed miserably to provide a single watchable female superhero movie.  The Xmen and Black Widow are as close as we’ve gotten but eventually I hope we can get good writers who can translate some of the great female comic book characters onto the screen in leading roles.  I don’t know why it is so hard (and I am very skeptical of the new Wonder Woman but we will see…)

Because just like people thought ‘girl movies’ wouldn’t sell at Disney, they have thought ‘girl movies’ in dramas, comedies and anything non-romantic wouldn’t make money.  I hope films like The Heat, Bridesmaids, The Blindside (and Frozen) have shown women can carry a picture and people will go if the writing is good. That’s always the key in any genre.

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So what does my rambling mean?  Well, basically that I hate it when women are objectified in film and only present to be beautiful love objects that transfix men.  However, that does not mean I hate Princesses or Princess stories.  I like girlie things.  There is perhaps no more girly person than myself.  I have a chandelier for goodness sakes in my bedroom.  Princess movies can in fact be a tool to help encourage the right kinds of lessons in our girls and boys, so by discounting and discouraging them we miss out on stories which have lasted for generations partly because of their teaching ability.

Regardless girls deserve characters like Anna and Elsa in Frozen who have personalities, make mistakes, feel uncomfortable and insecure, have happy moments, fall in love and a range of other traits.  And all girls do not have to be strong.  They can be shy or withdrawn (the warrior woman can be an equal cliche) but give her something to say or do but to be oogled at by men.  Boys deserve fleshed out characters too but they get it far more frequently in Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, all the Pixar movies but Brave, Star Wars, All Superheroes shows and movies, I could go on…

anna and elsaIt’s a sad thing when something as simple as the Bechdel test is failed by many movies or passed by technicalities.  The Bechdel Test asks the question does a movie have 1. 2 named female characters who 2.  have a conversation about something other than a man.  It is shocking how many movies fail the test and to be fair many terrible, demeaning movies pass the test.  It is merely a way to look at trends not individual pictures.  In life females talk to females about things other than men and movies should show that.  I guess if that makes me a raging crazy feminist than so be it…

So I say embrace pink.  Embrace your Disney Princess and strong women in film.  Not because you are or are not a feminist but because you are human and want to tell and see stories about half of the human race.

The Nostalgic Critic had an interesting editorial on this topic and he did bring up a good point about why are girls never queens, but princesses?   I had never thought about it and it is a valid thought.