Friday, 9 December 2011

October/November Film Catch-Up

I watch a lot of films. But I also have a serious problem with procrastination so here are some observations on the films I have been too busy/lazy to write about in the past month or so: 

Contagion (2011) Dir. Steven Soderbergh
Female Characters: 5 (Beth/Dr. Orantes/Dr. Mears/Dr. Hextall/Jory) 
Male Characters: 7 (Mitch/Dr. Cheever/Alan/Sun Feng/Roger/Dr Sussman/Lyle) 
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? No. 

Much of the buzz about this film revolved around the fact that MEGA-star Gwyneth Paltrow dies within the first few minutes (and Kate Winslet follows not all that long after). Women are already massively underrepresented in film, do we really need to start killing off the few women who get big parts as a gimmick? Where are the films where Tom Cruise gets the axe within the first five minutes, huh? Because that can really only be an improvement to any film. And of course this whole virus mess is spread by a woman, and they really labour the point that she had been having an affair. The downfall of this society will inevitably be caused by those slutty, adulterous vessels of venereal doom called ‘women’ - For heaven’s sake don’t touch her, you don’t know where she’s been! Then follows the pretty schlocky, and almost voyeuristic, spectacle of Paltrow’s head being cut open and oozing goop (get it?) all over the operating table. The film does redeem itself a bit by having the only female scientist discover the cure, and truth be told it was a decent watch. I can’t be too hard on Soderbergh though - he still scores major brownie points with me for Erin Brockovich (2000).

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part I (2011) Dir. Bill Condon
Female Characters:  7 (Bella/Alice/RenĂ©e/Esme/Rosalie/Jessica/ Leah)
Male Characters: 7 (Edward/Jacob/Charlie/Jasper/Carlisle/Emmett/Sam)
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? Yes.

Isn't it every girl’s dream to wake up the morning after her honeymoon ‘decorated’ (Actual word used by Meyer in the novel) with bruises because her husband is such a voracious sex beast he just could not control his passionate strength? Twilight thinks so. It also thinks that even if you have a demon vampire baby growing inside you, slowing sucking all the life out of your frail, emaciated body, abortion is WRONG! Honestly, there are not enough hours in the day to explain all that is wrong with the Twilight saga and the messages it sends to young girls. However, despite this, I feel the need to defend the series as I hate the way it’s sneered upon mainly because it appeals to a market of teenage girls. Even Twilight was not able meet the extraordinarily low standards I held for it, and I was impressed that they managed to deal with the shit-load of weird crap contained in that last book. Funny how censors manage to turn a blind eye to blood and guts when vast sums of money are involved, eh?

In Time (2011) Dir. Andrew Niccol
Female Characters: 2 (Rachel/Sylvia)
Male Characters: 3 (Will/Raymond/Philippe)
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? No.

This is a fairly cheesy film, with some truly ridiculous dialogue. But for me it is science fiction at its best because it exaggerates themes in order to create an analogy about real world problems, instead of you know, making robots fight either other. This is a dystopian thriller set in the year 2161 where people stop aging at 25, and in order to stay alive they must work to earn more time. There are those who live from day to day, hand to mouth, and there are those with so much time that they are effectively immortal. There are really only two significant female characters, both white. One plays the lead’s mother and dies early on, and the other is a spoiled rich kid who plays his love interest. She does play a big part in helping start the revolution, even if she does do it wearing ridiculously high heels. The film makes light of the fact that everyone is young, but focuses on only how this affects men with several cheesy jokes how you can’t tell whether a woman is a man’s wife, daughter or mother. There are no observations on how this would affect women’s lives. I mean, how would the rigid standards of beauty be enforced without age as a factor? And will someone please think of the poor anti-wrinkle cream companies!! Overall though, still some fairy radical ideas about society’s greed and the general inequality of the times we live in, for a mainstream, big-budget film at least. Occupy Hollywood anybody?

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) Dir. Lynne Ramsay
Female Characters: 2 (Eva/Celia)
Male Characters: 2 (Kevin/Franklin)
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? Yes.

Made by an excellent female director(and a Glaswegian too – Hooray!)Lynne Ramsay, with an excellent performance by the female lead Tilda Swinton. I was disappointed that it didn’t deal as much with issues surrounding the social expectations of motherhood, and the taboo of not bonding with your child, as I really loved this aspect of the novel.  I also felt that the novel lent itself to the possibility of some truly gory, and very shocking, scenes. However, Ramsay did not do the obvious thing and for a film with such a controversial subject matter there is very little blood on screen. Instead, she used the colour red to stunning effect and also created some genuinely uncomfortable moments through the use of what I can only describe as ‘audible gore’ – for example the scene where Kevin eats a lychee after the incident involving the loss of his sister's eye. I'm a big fan of Ramsay's previous work Ratcatcher (1999) and Movern Callar (2002), and trust me, I would much rather have saw her adaptation of The Lovely Bones. This film, and Ramsay herself, should definitely be nominated come Oscar time. The chances however are slim, with this film and others by female directors already being overlooked.

 The Help (2011) Dir. Tate Taylor
Female Characters: 11 (Aibileen/Skeeter/Hilly/Minny/Celia/Elizabeth/Mae Mobley/Charlotte/Constantine/Missus Walters/Yule Mae)
Male Characters: 2 (Johnny/Stuart) 
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? Yes.

One film where I don’t have to complain about the lack of women. But perhaps still about the lack of women of colour. There are seven white main characters to just three black main characters – isn’t this supposed to be from the point of view of the help? However, unlike the book, which is narrated mainly by a lead white protagonist called Skeeter, the film shifts the focus onto Aibileen (stunningly portrayed by Viola Davis) and her account of what it’s like to me a maid in civil rights era Mississippi. Still, a decent adaptation and side-splittingly hilarious at points … especially when it comes to the topic of pies.

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