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Entries in Feminism (2)

Tuesday
Mar052019

CAPTAIN MARVEL

Stars: Brie Larsen, Jude Law, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Lee Pace, Gemma Chan, Mckenna Grace, Djimon Hounsou, Clark Gregg, Lashana Lynch and Annette Bening.
Writers: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck and Geneva Robertson-Dworet.
Directors: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Despite a slightly-too-convoluted origin narrative that will mean more to the comic-book devotee than the audience member for whom a single yearly dose of MCU is sufficient, Captain Marvel overcomes some wobbly first half pacing to deliver all that is really required of the modern heroic-crusader blockbuster. That is, a protagonist, unsure of their true identity, is set on a course of self-discovery during which they reconcile with their past, learn the good truth about their destiny and max out the potential of their superpower while saving a city/planet/galaxy. What separates the best from the worst in the MCU is that which is mined beyond of the studio's rigid template and, as the first female lead character in the franchise, writer/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck identify plenty of fresh thematic angles to explore. 

Coming from a background of gritty, uplifting character pieces (Half Nelson, 2006; Sugar, 2008; Mississippi Grind, 2015), the pair's deployment by Marvel Studios was to serviceably craft a solid, ‘real’ hero in Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel. In Oscar-winner Brie Larson, they achieve that, even if at times her stoicism feels a bit stodgy. While everyone around her is getting the great one-liners and soaking up the spare-no-expense extravagance of their time-shifting/interplanetary setting, Larson hunkers down to provide the film’s emotional as well as heroic core; it’s a task that plays somewhat thankless at times. That said, when called upon to don the superheroine duds, smash villains and integrate with the green screen techies and stunt unit, she comes alive.

The opening act barrels through the world building with a "Hey, pay attention!” urgency that threatens to leave distracted patrons lost.  We meet our heroine (‘Vers’, as she’s known to her special-op combat team) as she stirs from a restless sleep; her head is full of fragmented images, all that is left of what seems like several past lives. On her home planet of Hala, she is one of the Kree, a race beholden to the ‘Supreme Intelligence’ and fighting the shape-shifting Skrull hordes (phew). When her unit, led by the never-not-evil Jude Law, is ambushed, she is flung across time and space, landing in a Blockbuster video store in downtown LA in the mid 1990s.

With young S.H.I.E.L.D. grunt Nick Fury (a digitally smoothed-over Samuel L Jackson) quickly settling into her sidekick role, Vers starts to piece together her own timeline while fighting off Skrull leader Talos (an unrecognisable and terrific Ben Mendelsohn) and his henchmen. A mid-section trip to Louisiana to rekindle a friendship with ex-pilot buddy Rambeau (Lashana Lynch) is a bit talky and the forward momentum sags. But as Danvers’ journey towards an understanding of her past and the inevitable emergence of the titular heroine progresses, the third act builds convincingly towards the stirring effects spectacle finale associated with the franchise.

The pre-release web-posturing of some sectors of the community looks even more churlish and pathetic upon the film’s release. While Larson’s portrayal is one of chiselled moral and physical sturdiness (as have been those of the men in the MCU since Day 1), Boden and Fleck do not hammer home a politicised perspective. Instead, they provide contemporary commentary with some crackling social satire (“Tell the Supreme Intelligence that this time of wars and lies will soon be over”) and draw upon the femme-skewed cast to refreshingly explore character and drama in a manner respectful and honest to the gender. Captain Marvel is not the blunt-force challenge to the accepted norms that Ryan Coogler's Black Panther came to represent, but it's a potent statement of intent. The challenge will be incorporating her into the male-centric Avengers films, where laddish oafs with waning appeal like Tony Stark and Peter Quill still occupy centre stage.

The 90s setting provides for some sweet nostalgia, including a soundtrack of skilfully appropriated tunes (No Doubt’s I’m Just a Girl, the pick of them) and pop culture riffs sure to further transition away from the now-distant 80s as The Retro Decade of Choice. In the standard MCU 'Ageing Icon' role previously filled by the likes of Robert Redford, Jeff Bridges, Ben Kingsley, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer and Nick Nolte is the stunning Annette Bening, ideally cast as 'Supreme Intelligence' (even if some of her dialogue seems reluctant to leave her mouth at times).

Fittingly, the passing of Marvel creator Stan Lee was acknowledged with a sweet, simple message in the film’s opening frames, which was greeted with instantaneous applause by the audience.

Wednesday
Dec072016

THE RED PILL

Featuring: Cassie Jaye, Paul Elam, Warren Farrell, Marc Angelucci, Harry Crouch and Dean Esmay.
Director: Cassie Jaye.

Rating: 1.5/5

The jagged histrionics of documentarian Cassie Jaye’s disjointed pro-Men’s Right advocacy film, The Red Pill, serves two masters well. Her softly-softly proselytizing and spurious arguments serve to sweeten the image of Men’s Rights mouthpieces and the ‘regressive progress’ platform they present. And speaking directly to her own camera as she journeys from feminist to ‘enlightened humanist’ serves Jaye as well, her frowns and tears recalling an acting class show reel.

As she painstakingly overstates, Jaye’s body of work outwardly presents an empathetic view of society – patriarchal rule within dogmatic Christian lives, with specific adherence to pre-marital abstinence (Daddy I Do, 2010); the impact of ‘food insecurity’ on the upper-middle class and those that serve them in Marin County (Faces Overlooked, 2010); and, the struggle of two gay white guys to raise a family as California’s Proposition 8 debate raged (The Right to Love: An American Family, 2008). But even if you include a couple of shorts about women’s issues (Blackeye, 2009; The Story of GoldieBlox, 2012), her oeuvre is one of narrow experience rife with hot button issues and moderate-right conservatism.

Jaye would have her audience believe that she stumbled upon the Men’s Right Movement with a wide-eyed innocence; we get to see her literally type ‘Men’s Rights’ into a search engine. She barely registers vile online misogyny (the kind that has seen MRA advocates labelled ‘rape apologists’) as if it was a dirty limerick. In no time at all, she is in warm conversation with the likes of Paul Elam, President of A Voice for Men, a voice that spoke the now infamous call-to-action quote, “I am proclaiming October to be Bash a Violent Bitch Month”; Dr. Warren Farrell (pictured, top; with Jaye), author of the MRA diatribe, The Myth of Male Power and spouter of wisdom pearls like, “Women are the only 'oppressed' group that is able to buy $10 billion worth of cosmetics each year,”; and, Harry Crouch and Marc Angelucci, executives from The National Council for Men, MRA heavy-hitters who once lobbied to defund domestic violence programs if men’s rights were not addressed.

So follows a whirlwind of male-perspective theories and twisty statistics eager to convince how work place deaths, suicide rates and financial hardship have impacted men since the Women’s Liberation uprising of the 1960’s (seen as a monochrome montage of screeching girl-power rallies with some laughable hippy-funk backing track). Elam and his brothers are presented as warm, composed, homely types; in one moment of un-ironic inspiration that could have come from a Christopher Guest-penned satire, Farrell (who greets his director with, “I thought you’d be a man! But I’m glad you’re a woman!”) all but serenades his director in his living room ‘man-cave’, striving to convey a portrait of perfect patriarchal stability yet coming off as desperate and smug.

Jaye will claim that non-MR dissenters are giving equal voice in her film. The likes of Feminist Majority Foundation executive director and MS. magazine editor Katherine Spillar and USC academic Dr Michael Messner get air time, but are portrayed as tsk-tsking, head-shaking elitists who simply perpetuate anti-MRA myths about it being a ‘man’s world’ and how the white male paradigm is more powerful than ever. More troubling is the footage chosen of anti-MR rallies, seemingly peopled solely by extremist gay and/or ‘feminazi’ activists bent on some form of pro-feminist anarchy. Or the extreme close-up afforded ‘male genital mutilation’, aka circumcision, used to convey how abhorrent MRA guys find it to have the fate of their body parts dictated by standards and traditions (a view probably shared by pro-choice supporters and those who have had their p***y grabbed by The President-Elect).

An extended mid-section about the lack of balance in the U.S. family court system seems to be from another documentary entirely, legitimately raising issues of gender inequality. But any insightful analysis is muted by the purely outrageous, none more so than the ‘Disposable Male’ theory. It posits that because only men traditionally take on roles such as soldier, fireman, oil rig worker, coal miner, etc., the male of the species is now perceived as disposable. A litany of statistics are presented, indicating the greater mortal sacrifice men have made in the last 100 years of societal formation (the disrespect afforded slain U.S. female soldiers, their deaths reduced to a percentage to drive home how many more men died, is breathtaking).

What Cassie Jaye and her all-white male chorus wilfully ignore is that the patriarchal stronghold on modern western life was not dictated by women or gays or lefty academics or any one else at whom Elam or Farrell or Cassie Jaye wag a disingenuous finger. It was determined by those in power i.e. the straight, white men of means who were the very forefathers of the MRA executives, who deemed that men of lesser standing be the ones who fought and died, worked and died. Once, men were viewed as warriors, not whiners, sent to die for the society, however flawed, that their leaders were forming. The best of these bygone men fought and died for the rights of every man and woman in a unified society. Cassie Jaye’s men, and by association the filmmaker herself, are not serving a greater good or inspiring discourse, but instead fuelling a social divide and dishonouring their respective genders.