No movement for women in Hollywood

As I've said before, the hammering that Kathryn Bigelow has been getting for "Zero Dark Thirty" might have as much to do with male chauvinism as with political correctness. True, the Academy gave her an Oscar in 2009 for "The Hurt Locker,"  moved no doubt by its gut-wrenching depiction of macho men doing heroic deeds to save people. What better opportunity to make up for eight decades of zilch for women directors? But when she follows up with a film about a macho woman, one who perseveres for ten years despite flak from her know-it-all male superiors and bags the world's number one terrorist, a woman who doesn't even have a boyfriend, well that's going too far, especially for an organization made up of 77% percent men, with an average age of 62.  In short, the Bigelow snub showed that Hollywood had regressed to its sexist business as usual, if not more so.

But maybe this was just an anomaly. Maybe I'm getting a little too conspiracy minded, listening to the voices again. And didn't the president just sign the Violence Against Women Act, touted even by the Republicans who voted against it as a big step to secure women's rights? So I decided to check some recent Hollywood releases to see if my suspicion that misogyny has once again become the status quo. If indeed it ever was otherwise.

Let's start with the rising fortunes of Melissa McCarthy, who inverted the standard movie caricature of plus-sized woman with her performance in "Bridesmaids" -- itself a film that I for one thought might indicate a renaissance in films about women by women that rose above the reigning stereotypes. And indeed McCarthy was able to get her own starring role in "Identity Thief," a film that likewise revels in the lechery, gluttony, and malice of an obese, castrating termagant, but instead of inverting the caricature, confirms it. Here the epitome of comedy - and horror - is being forced to watch McCarthy's character get it on with a guy in he rweight class. If anyone's identity is stolen in the movie, it's McCarthy's.

Next, "Side Effects." 


Notable as Steven Soderbergh's self-proclaimed final film (with the technical exception of his Liberace movie on HBO), it also has also been marketed for having a plot twist that really isn't much of a surprise but which they insist no one give it away anyway. So the following might include a spoiler.

A shrink, played by Ewan McGregor, in the habit of liberally prescribing the latest wonder drugs, gives some to a depressed patient played by Rooney Mara. But then, presumably suffering a side effect of the drug, she murders her husband. So now you're thinking, the shrink is the bad guy; he is, if I can slip into jargon for a moment, the iconic patriarchal figure, not to mention a shill for Big Pharma.

But not so fast. Let's just say the old femme fatale stereotype is at work and we might be seeing the work of that perennial villain, the homicidal lesbian.

Then there's another milestone for a top-notch auteur, Korean director Park Chan-wook's first Hollywood feature, "Stoker." On the one hand, Park has achieved one of the most visually ambitious and accomplished films of the year. On the other hand,  he seems to have bought into all the Hollywood stereotypes, in which women are either psychopaths or dummies -- or they end up in the basement freezer.

Here, Mia Wasikowska plays India, a brooding 17-year-old- who loses her father in an accident just before her birthday. That's when her creepy, Norman Bates-like Uncle Charlie shows up. India mistrusts the newcomer, especially when her dim-witted mother, played by Nicole Kidman, takes a shine to him. But then the bodies start to mount up, and she kind of likes the guy. In the end they both get more than they bargained for.

As does the smitten kid in Robert LaGravanese's "Beautiful Creatures."


A bookish loner in a small southern town, he has a crush on Lena, a moody, ostracized newcomer in school who seems to have "Carrie" like powers - for example when a snooty female classmate badmouths her, she gets a face full of a shattered window for her  troubles. AS it turns out, she's a "caster," the film's euphemism for "witch."

As in "Stoker," Lena  is celebrating her birthday; she's about to turn 16, an age when not only will she be able to apply for a driver's license, but she must decide whether to join the dark side or the light side, and being female, she has a weakness for the dark side. Also luring her to the dark side is her wicked witch mother, who has disguised herself as the local bible thumping town scold, and her wicked, slutty witch sister. The sister is especially wicked because she bewilders men with her spellbinding sexiness and then they do something dumb like get hit by a train or betray their best friend.

Luckily she has the protection of her uncle, a powerful magician and plantation owner, who gives her protection. It's kind of like "Django Unchained," with everything backwards and set in the present day.

So, we move from the femme fatale to the witch.


You know, the women who historically were burned the stake for a few hundred years or so for practicing black arts, shunning me, and putting career before family. As it turns out, I kind of liked "Oz the Great and Powerful," Sam Raimi's critically maligned (but commercially gangbusters) prequel to the 1939 original (and 1985's unfairly dismissed "Return to Oz" by Walter Murch). Once you get used to having no Toto, Tin Man, Scarecrow, or Cowardly Lion, it's a kind of a brilliant deconstruction and revision of the myth. But don't get me started.

We were speaking of witches, and here we've got three of them, one bad, one good, and one in the middle, and as in "Beautiful Creatures," it becomes a matter of whether the woman chooses her own career, her own path of power and wrath, or chooses to submit herself to a guy, however callow or phony he might be.

Maybe I'm straining a bit. For more obvious expressions of not-so-subtle misogyny check out next week's openings "The ABCs of Death," which features 26 short films, 25 of them by men,


some of whom apparently find the idea of women farting more frightening than the grim reaper, or Roman Coppola's "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III," (with the title character played by renowned macho shithead Charlie Sheen), a mind containing such fantasies such as being attacked by "The Secret Society of Ball Busters" or by a war party of bikini clad bimbos.

So I don't think I'm making this up.

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