Marvel Movies Deserve Your Respect

Posted on March 12, 2019 at 8:00 am

Copyright Marvel 2018
On Medium, Shelby Fielding makes a strong case that the greatest filmmaker of the 21st Century is Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige.

Feige, 45, and Marvel Studios have taught a moviegoing audience who may have never even thought about picking up and flipping through a comic book before, how to absorb a narrative over the course of differentiating stories, characters, and uniquely made worlds. With movies plotted until 2022, the studio shows no sign of slowing down, despite their reported break over the next year following “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” It is the most widely regarded and well-known story of the 21st century, to the point that a movie like “Avengers: Endgame” has a more than fair chance at breaking the opening weekend box office record that the “Avengers” film before it set almost a year prior — — which was $257.6 million mind you.

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Superhero Understanding Media and Pop Culture

How Two 1994 Movies Transformed Screen Portrayals of Female Sexuality

Posted on March 11, 2019 at 3:58 pm

Copyright MGM 1994

For rogerebert.com’s Women Writer’s Week, I wrote an essay about how two films, both made 25 years ago, transformed the way female sexuality is portrayed on screen. Before these films, female characters either seemed unaware of sex or determined not to have sex until marriage. If they did, the consequences were usually terrible — an unwanted pregnancy, a nervous breakdown, loss of reputation, even death. There were sex comedies based on successful Broadway farces like “Sunday in New York,” “The Moon is Blue,” and the weirdest of all, written by Arthur Marx (son of Groucho), “The Impossible Years.”

David Niven (one of the failed seducers from “The Moon is Blue”) plays a psychology professor obsessed with his daughter’s virginity—in a sex comedy kind of way but still pretty creepy. Spoiler alert: She is safely married by the time she has sex (with her father’s young professional colleague/rival, hmmm, wonder what a psychology professor would make of that). And somehow the act of having sex instantly transforms her into a mature, thoughtful, responsible person as well, just in time for her dad to start worrying about her younger sister.

Other movies feature the tragic consequences of pre-marital sex. In “Where the Boys Are” Yvette Mimieux is not only raped but also hit by a car as the consequence for her decision to have sex on spring vacation in Fort Lauderdale. Worst of all, “they’re not even Yalies.” Meanwhile, Dolores Hart, who intellectually is in favor of sexual autonomy and freedom from shame for young women, maintains her purity and thus achieves the ultimate—an invitation to the spring dance from handsome Ivy Leaguer George Hamilton.

Copyright Miramax 1994
But the micro-budget “Clerks” and the glossy romantic comedy “Four Weddings and a Funeral” both did something remarkable and revolutionary — they gave us female characters who were comfortable with sexual desire and expression, unapologetic because they saw no reason to be. And the men they confided in were not disgusted, disappointed, or contemptuous. They were impressed and intimidated. Compare this to Audrey Hepburn’s similar — except entirely fictitious — recitation of imaginary lovers to Gary Cooper in “Love in the Afternoon,” just one example of this era’s pretend to have your cake but don’t eat anything attitude during this era.

This idea that sexual experience was evidence of a healthy, confident ownership of sexual expression was an enormous shift, the foundation for later films like the raunchy but sweet-natured sex comedy “American Pie” (1999), also revolutionary in the female characters’ ownership of their sexuality, compared to “Porky’s” (1981) or “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Sixteen Candles” (both 1984), where the perspective is all about male sexual gratification including voyeurism, sexual assault, and a boy selling a look at a teenage girl’s underwear.

2018’s “Blockers,” like “The Impossible Years,” also featured parents who were way too invested in whether their daughters were going to have sex. But this time, the point of view of the movie was very much on the side of the girls and their ability to make their own choices. Series like “Big Mouth,” “PEN15,” and “Broad City,” have characters who may make some bad decisions and suffer the consequences, but they do not pretend that sexual desire is wrong or bad. They follow in the steps of “Clerks” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” as those two films provided a turning point for healthier depictions of women and our right to our feelings and our choices.

Where once slasher films almost made killing teens who had sex a given, after “Clerks” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral” came “Scream,” with a heroine who only after having sex achieved the wisdom and power to defeat the killer(s).

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Critics Gender and Diversity Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Horror is More than Scares and Carnage

Posted on February 27, 2019 at 10:20 pm

As we see in movies like “Get Out,” “28 Days Later,” and “Dawn of the Dead,” horror can be more than scares and carnage. It can reflect and challenge our assumptions. Two new articles provide some fascinating commentary on these themes.

Copyright 1976 Red Bank Films
Mary Beth McAndrews writes on Reel Honey about “reclaiming female exploitation” in horror. “Recently, female directors have been working to reclaim this exploitation by appropriating these tropes to create empowering horror narratives. These films are still violent, but they do not solely depend on the suffering and abjection of their female characters….These directors and writers are just a few of the women in horror working to change the trajectory of the horror narrative and how we view the female body on-screen. Yes, horror is a genre built on violence and gore. But these women are re-evaluating the use of that exploitative violence into something thoughtful, empowering, and equally gory. The monsters they construct are not so fantastical and the scenarios they portray are much more real, giving their violence more meaning and purpose. It is not just about reveling in women’s bodies in pain; it is about understanding their pain.”

Copyright Universal 2017
And on Medium, Marcus Benjamin writes about a new documentary: “Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror’ Makes The Case For Empathy In A Scary World.” Traditionally, he says, “Outside of dying, tending to the the main character’s need was our number one function. This was all done while doing a disservice to our own lives, which we may or may not have had on screen because no one cared enough to give them one. Or in the case of Rachel True’s character from The Craft, someone decided to cut out portions of the film altogether that explored her family life and other struggles….When you’re not surrounded by people of races other than your own, you don’t develop the empathy gene for them. How can you begin to comprehend how a black person feels about blackface if you don’t have any black people in your circle to tell you? Or if you’ve didn’t grow up with any black friends? Or if you grew up in a racist city or town? Despite all your efforts to learn, you’ll likely have a cultural blindspot or two. Similarly, when the history of cinema is filled with blackface or monsters and gigantic apes as stand-ins for black people, that means entire generations grew up believing black people were always lesser.”

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Critics Gender and Diversity Horror Race and Diversity Understanding Media and Pop Culture

How Does a Critic Watch A Movie?

Posted on February 26, 2019 at 8:00 am

If you’ve ever wondered how a movie critic finds things in a movie you’ve missed (or misses things you think are significant) take a look at this good introduction by Allie Volpe about how a critic watches a movie.

For example:

Pay attention to the whole frame
One of freelance critic Candice Frederick’s favorite scenes in the heist thriller Widows features a long, unbroken shot where Colin Farrell’s politician character and his campaign manager, played by Molly Kunz, are in a heated discussion in a car. The viewer doesn’t see their faces but instead watches as the camera captures the changing landscape around the car. “We don’t see them because the director wants us to look around,” Frederick says. “These moments when you’re not focused on the characters’ faces and you think it’s downtime — in that scene, there’s so much being said. It really implores you to watch the screen, because, in addition to that, there’s a whole bunch of things happening on the street that we’re supposed to be looking at.” Don’t miss an opportunity to take in some plot development just because the camera isn’t focused on the stars.

And this one is good advice for looking at anything:

Question everything
Take a curious approach to all aspects of the story, from characters to setting. Frederick likes to begin with believability, even in fantastical settings. “Thinking from your own experience, would someone react like that? Is that real?” she says. “Ask questions about what you’re being presented, and ask whether you can see humans talking to other humans in that way.”

Consider alternative scenarios, and question whether the story could’ve ended a different way. This forces you to think critically and confront the things you thought were weak or unrealistic. “Say, why did such-and-such happen? Or why did this happen instead of that?” Frederick says. “Ask questions. Talk about it afterward.” You don’t necessarily need to arrive at the answers — just asking is enough to get you into a more critical frame of mind. And the more you do it, the easier it will be at the next movie you see, and the next one after that.

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Critics Understanding Media and Pop Culture
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