Good and Bad of Women in Film in 2015

woman in 2015

Spoiler warning for Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens below.

The other day my blogging friend Mark at Fast Film Reviews posted his Best Films of 2015.  What stood out to me most is that each of his 10 favorite films had a strong female presence in the film.  This is a remarkable feat that wouldn’t have been possible most years.  I’m not exaggerating when I say Meryl Streep has gotten as many nominations as she has not only because she is a great actresses but because literally some years there weren’t many strong female roles to pick from.  Even studios I love like Pixar have had few female roles.  Often you will have the token woman lead in a series dominated by male characters (Star Wars 1-6 definitely fit this camp).

I’m not saying I liked all of the female driven films of 2015.  Of course I didn’t.  Woman in Gold bored me silly and I hated Suffragette.  But I think it is a good thing we have good, bad, in-between movies about women, just like we have them about men!   If you will notice in my graphic all of the female performances were white women so that is something that could change but bravo to see half the human population represented in this storytelling device we call movies!  We’ve had female driven comedies, dramas, post-apocalyptic stories, classics, animation, teenage movies, science fiction and space opera (and I realized I forgot to include Hunger Games in the graphic!).

Unfortunately, the jury is still out as to whether this is an anomaly or a lasting trend.  2016 is very heavy in superhero movies (8 in one year!) and we will see how they do with Wonder Woman but not very optimistic on that front.  Of course, we have the female cast Ghostbusters which will be a very interesting to see how that plays out.  I am sure no matter how good it is there will be idiots who complain about the casting gimmick, but I just want to see the movie!

That’s where we get to the bad of this great year for women in film.  We unfortunately have gotten the complaining from corners who don’t want to see progression in characters and representation on screen.  Yes, if casting a female in a part is just to be politically correct than you have a point.  Part of the problem with Princess and the Frog is Disney was too concerned with both representing and placating an African American audience.  They made story changes, altered characters and ended up with kind of a muddled movie (not terrible but not as strong as it could have been).  Same thing when they tried to not offend the catholic church with Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Changing Frollo to a judge actually made the church look worse as the institution, not just a lone bishop, is enabling a mad man raise a child and not doing anything to stop the horrible behavior and manipulation.

So yes, Hollywood is a business and if they can follow a trend of female based movies, they will do it.  If it stops being the trend than they will stop doing it.  I repeat- it’s a business.  They want to make money! So of course after a big hit like Hunger Games we have seen many strong women in the movies.

Here’s the bad side of the trend, all the trolling and moronic comments that have resulted. This is particularly true with Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The complaints for both films really irritate me.

This photo provided by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ action adventure film, “Mad Max: Fury Road," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

First of all, Max Max: Fury Road is criticized because Furiosa is basically the lead of the film rather than Mad Max.  I’m no expert on the Mad Max franchise but wasn’t Max always kind of secondary to the environment and world around him?  Is he really that much of a dynamic character? Isn’t he pretty much an excuse to have great action set pieces and a fun gritty story? So why does it matter that in this case the world around him is a strong woman?  And isn’t every scene Furiosa in Max also in except for the very beginning when she begins her drive?

To me it makes sense in a post-apocalyptic world that women would be both prized for their sex and fertility and also have to be incredibly tough to survive.  Furiosa’s character is not only that but she is angry and really a revolutionary with her stealing Joe’s wives.  Of course she is a tough woman.  She would be slaughtered in the first 15 minutes of the movie if she wasn’t!  There is also never a moment of traditional ‘girl power’ in the movie.  For instance, she just shoots the giant gun.  She doesn’t say something girl powery like ‘that’s how ladies get it done’.  She just does it, just like Max does it.

Neither Max or Furiosa have any dialogue so why her character annoys people more than his is beyond me?  They are both characters that are fighting a post-apocalyptic battle on cars.  It’s as simple as that.

It will be interesting to see where the story goes in the next movie but for the one we got, in the genre it was trying to be in, Furiosa was awesome.

rey2

Ok.  Let’s tackle Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  In the film we get a new lead character Rey played by Daisy Ridley.  She is a scavenger who is waiting for her family to come back after they left her on a desert planet named Jakku.  As a scavenger she learns about machines and she says she has experience as a pilot.  She identifies herself as a pilot from the beginning.  Poe Dameron also identifies himself as a pilot. Nobody has any problem with that…

So, Rey flies the Millennium Falcon and she is by no means perfect in the flight.  She bounces around a bit and is on the run most of the time.  Through some clever thinking, more than brilliant flying she evades the tie-fighters. When it is over Finn asks her ‘how did you do that?’.  She says something like “I don’t know.  We trained but never left the planet”.  She’s clearly a character that operates well on extreme adrenalin and she has force abilities that are awakened through the course of the movie.

If you think about it she makes a poor decision under less adrenalin when changing the fuses in the scenes with the rathgars.   Also for someone who has only been trained on blasters Finn adapts to the Tie-Fighter and Falcon pretty easily.  He also knows where to go to turn off the shields and is able to make his way to Captain Phasma and capture her without disturbing anyone else on the ship.  For a guy in sanitation that was simple for him? Yet I don’t see anyone complaining about his character or that he is a Gary Stu?

She is also different than Luke because Luke was a doubter.  It took him forever to believe in the force and its power and be confident in using it.  Really not until Return of the Jedi is he confident.  Yoda tells him “that is why you fail” because his lack of faith in the force and his own abilities are his biggest problem.  I mean if you really think about it Luke had never really piloted much before and yet he does a darn good job in those missions at the end of New Hope.  Nobody complains about that.  If Luke hadn’t been bogged down by self-doubt than he probably would have been able to do everything that Rey does.  People accept things at different rates.  Rey is a believer and therefore she uses the force more quickly than Luke did.

Now there is one moment in the film where Rey changes a stormtrooper’s mind and this idea comes to her seemingly out of nowhere.  Although humorous, this could have been handled better, but to call into question the entire character and claim she is a Mary Sue because of it, is just ridiculous.

The final battle between her and Kylo is also a point of contention.  In this scene Kylo is injured, and injured so badly a significant amount of blood has come through his clothing to drip onto the ground.  That’s no small injury.  He also shows at the beginning that he can throw her against the tree.

But then her confidence grows as the fight continues.  She’s just seen Finn hurt, possibly dead, Han is dead,  and she fights with a ferocity we don’t often see in Star Wars.  But she is still on the defense for most of the fight.  Then we get to the point where he has her on the edge of a ravine and she hears the words of Maz Kanata about the force.  This gives her the strength to tackle an INJURED Kylo Renn.

the-princess-bride-the-princess-bride-4546832-1280-720If you think about action scenes in other classic movies things are far easier for the male heroes than they are for Rey in Force Awakens, and yet I don’t hear complaints of Mary Sue or Gary Stu.  The Princess  Bride for instance- a movie I love by the way.  Yes, Wesley is a pirate but does it make sense he would be smarter than a deep thinker, stronger than a giant and a better swordsman than a man who trained all his life to avenge his father’s death?  No.  Of course it doesn’t but it’s a live action fairytale with a sense of humor to it.  I want in my Princess Bride movie for the hero to dominate and have quippy dialogue.  (Another movie with the token woman and almost all the rest men).

You can make a similar argument about Indiana Jones finding clues in  minutes scores of people are researching and digging for.  I have never heard anyone claim he is a bad character.  Even if they hate the last movie they still like the character.  What about the Goonies?  People love that movie but it is about kids finding treasure underneath a major city (all the goonies by the way are nearly all boys!). You going to tell me it makes sense that generations of people weren’t able to find those caverns and treasure when a couple of kids are able too?  Indiana Jones and Goonies are great movies because they work within the genres they are given and have good scripts.

Star Wars movies are meant to be exciting, fun, space operas.  They aren’t supposed to be gritty depictions of realistic warfare.  The character arcs are pretty simple but we love it for that very reason.  The problem with the prequels is the characters got muddled and made poor decisions (with dopey dialogue too).  The fact is Rey is a character with confidence who acts well under adversity. For the life of me I don’t know what’s wrong with that?

Mad Max is a kinetic crazy battle film.  Furiosa is a strong character who is in nearly every scene with Max and they fight the bad guys.  It’s as simple as that.

So, to those complaining about Star Wars and Mad Max, I can see having issues with individual scenes in the film, as do I, but to fault the movie for Furiosa and Rey I do not get.  Those are terrific characters that fit within the genre of movie they are in.  I’m sorry if their presence annoys you but again grow up!  If you don’t like the movies.  Fine.  But stop with the Mary Sue and the feminists are taking over our movies nonsense.

That’s what I have to say about that!  Let’s just hope that Wonder Woman is 1/10th the character Furiosa and Rey were.  A girl can dream right?

May Youtube Videos

As is my tradition I like to keep you all informed on the latest movie related videos on my youtube channel.  Please give them a watch, thumbs up and subscribe to my channel if you haven’t already done so.  Thanks so much!

And this one doesn’t really have anything to do with movies but it turned out pretty well and I think you all might enjoy it.

If you have any suggestions for movies you’d like me to review either here or on the channel (or TV or anything else) let me know!

Mad Max Fury Road Review

mad maxWhen I saw the trailer for Mad Max Fury Road I was positive it would be one I couldn’t see.  I don’t like violent films and it looked like a gory, violent mess.  However, I always go through my process I describe for evaluating movie content in How to Be Mormon and Like Movies. I look at reviews, the detailed content summaries on screenit.com and I ask friends who have seen the movie.  To my surprise I found it to have virtually no profanity and to not be as violent as I anticipated. It is an R but most of that is more battle like violence, some nudity and vehicular battles. Convinced it was within my comfort level I decided to go check it out .

mad max7It’s a very tricky movie to review because it does what it is trying to do masterfully well. I don’t know how that can be debated.  Whether such a master work is your cup of tea is another question. It’s certainly not a movie I will be frequently rewatching but I did think it was good and engaged me more than I would have guessed. All in all it is a success and I can see why many people love it.

I have not seen the original Mad Max movies because I always figured they were too violent so perhaps I will give them a watch.  This Mad Max doesn’t have much of  plot. It’s one action sequence after another.  It does not try to have symbolism or a puzzle like a Nolan film might have.  It doesn’t have a strong lead character like a Bond film.  The title is perhaps a misnomer because Mad Max has only a few lines of dialogue and is an ensemble player with Charlize Theron and others.

mad max9Basically the plot that does exist starts out with setting.  It is a desert post-apocalyptic world that is ruled by a man named the Immortan Joe.  Max has been arrested and is forced to be a blood bag for a War Boy played by Nicholas Hoult.  Charlize Theron is Furiosa who abducts 5 of Joe’s wives called the breeders.

mad max6The rest of the movie is Max, Furiosa and crew getting chased by Joe and having intense battles with each other.  Each of the cars is so imaginative with one even being a giant speaker system with a guy playing an electric guitar.  There are cars that have long poles for people to swing onto other cars.  There are rigs with gasoline and others covered in spikes. It keeps the action exciting because you don’t know how the cars work and how the fight will play out.

mad max3For not speaking much Tom Hardy is good as Mad Max.  But the movie doesn’t give you a lot of time to contemplate his character.  I can’t even imagine how awful it must be to shoot a movie like this with all the dust and dirt but he is convincing as the stoic anti-hero.

mad max2The CG is kept to a minimum and it at least appears to have a lot of practical effects. The stunt work is flawless.  I wonder how much Hardy and others did of their own stunts? Whatever the percentage is by professionals you definitely can’t tell.  It feels earthy and real which we haven’t seen in an action film in a long time.

I loved how Mad Max handled its female characters.  It reminds me a little bit of Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow.  These are not cliched warrior women or damsels in distress.  Even the breeder women are relatively complex especially for this kind of movie.   Charlize Theron is amazing! She is tough but has heart and there is a moment that is completely devastating for her and she sells it.

mad max4There are different kind of women- old women, young women, pregnant women and they all defy female tropes.  The last thing I expected in a movie like this is an awesome group of women and it definitely helped sell me on the film.
mad max8Hugh Keays-Byrne is good as the villain Immortan Joe but most of that credit has to go to his costume and mask.

mad max5There is such attention to detail.  The amount of time that must have been spent to get teeth right, skin layered and dry, lips cracked, everything covered in dust is mind blowing.  The makeup on the war boys including Nicholas Hoult is very convincing.  They are brainwashed to believe if they are obedient servants to Joe they will achieve immortality at the gates of heaven.

mad max10Mad Max Fury Road is not a movie that gives the audience much time to breathe.  There is very little dialogue and I did feel kind of exhausted by the end of it. But then again I feel like it was trying to do something completely different and new and from a comic book guy like George Miller it makes sense it is primarily a visual spectacle.  Still, it pushed me to my limit of apocalyptic car battle sequences (who knew I had such a limit? 😉 ).  I’m a little surprised it is so universally loved because I would think a few people might be bothered by the thin plot and lack of character development?

I guess they just accept it for what it is- a new dazzling creative vision of what a war movie looks like.  After all do we complain that the villains in a WW2 movie aren’t fleshed out enough? Do we want more dialogue in our John Wayne war movie? No.  Same with this.  It is visually incredible and the action is immersive enough to carry the day.

mad max 11Like I said, the women put it over the hump for me to a strong recommendation.  It was such a pleasant surprise and I bet you could see the movie and not even notice most of the women.  They are just characters in the movie like anybody else.  It looks gorgeous.  The action sequences are stunning and I was entertained.

As far as content it has some nudity from a distance and women are milked like cows in one brief shot.  Characters are stabbed, impaled, tortured and shot in the battle scenes.  Another you see briefly has his face ripped off from a mask. A lot of crashes, explosions and sand storms that are intense.  A woman has a c-section mostly off screen and an IV is seen being inserted.  I know it sounds crazy but its actually more tame than you might think.  No language.  Mostly it is a lot of cars and broad fighting like a battle than one on one violence like you might get in a horror movie.

A grade is tough because I did feel a little bit weary by the end but it looks so great, the  action is so well done and I loved the female characters so I grade it an…

Overall Grade-  A-   Content Grade- C

Also the music by a guy named Junkie XL was outstanding with a great combination of electric guitar, medal sounds and a traditional sweeping score.