Catching Fire*AND smoking hot at the box office!

Sweden has mandated the Bechdel test and a USC study found that 70 percent of the speaking roles in 2012’s 100 highest-grossing movies belonged to men.  Katniss Evergreen is the rebel out to prove them wrong!

The NYFA describes its study thusly: “In light of the record-breaking opening of the female-led action film ‘Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ this past weekend, the New York Film Academy decided to take a closer look at women in film and what, if any, advancements women are making… it’s not all disparaging news and there are a number of female filmmakers, characters, and emerging talent challenging the status quo. In addition, in the independent sphere, women made up roughly half of the directors at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, yet still struggle when it comes to films receiving a wide release. By shedding light on gender inequality in film, we hope to start a discussion about what can be done to increase women’s exposure and power in big-budget films.”

What makes Catching Fire and the Twilight films and the upcoming Divergent trilogy so amazing; these films prove that the American public is willing to vote for strong female leads with their hard-earned dollars!  The good news is that this second film in the Hunger Game series is really good.  Great character development, spot-on casting (Amanda Plummer–perfectly batty!  Jena Malone–perfectly snide!  Elizabeth Banks–finally allowed to act!) and there’s an action-packed story with less attention spent on the love triangle and more time given to furthering the plot about the coming revolution.

Catching Fire was directed by Francis Lawrence, (stepping in for Gary Ross) and based on the books written by Suzanne Collins, the final book has been divided into two parts and with any luck, Mockingjay 1 and 2 will continue this box office blaze.

If the young women in America can only prove to Hollywood that they too, can have a say in what films open big on the weekend…and not just meekly go with their male counterparts to the latest action nonsense…now that, THAT will be a real revolution!  May the odds always be in OUR favor!

Rating: 4 slurps of water from a spigot drilled into a tree

Bechdel Rating: Though Jennifer Lawrence does spend time discussing how she’ll save her male counterparts; she’s also seen telling her sister that she’s proud of her, discussing strategy with other women of the games and even being kind to Effie.  Katniss Evergreen is the hero of the films and is at the center of most of the big action scenes.  A

The Broken Circle Breakdown~a heart-breaking tale with Bluegrass music

The Broken Circle Breakdown is Belgium’s Oscar Submission for 2013.  A brilliant film that perfectly combines a romantic love story;  a challenging relationship between two ideologically opposed artists, with a life-changing event that may break them both!

Elise is a tattoo artist and Didier plays banjo in a bluegrass band. Playing the love-struck duo, Veerle Baetens and Johan Heldenbergh have won numerous film festival awards for their full-throttle performances. They match the intensity of the emotional-wrenching work of Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling in  Blue Valentine (2010).

The American bluegrass music is used by director,  Felix Van Groeningen to inter-cut the time-warping journey through this fraught relationship.  The cinematography and editing enable the audience to never lose sight of where we are in the story.  The music was such a big hit that the performers in the film actually toured Belgium as a band performing the songs from the film!

What a gem!  Wonderful performances: brilliantly-shot and marvelously-edited, with a complex story that will make you weep but feel grateful for the experience of this emotional journey.  The Broken Circle Brakedown is a winner. 

Rating: 5 beers

Bechdel Rating: There are only two female characters that speak but they do discuss important issues and rarely focus on the man.  A+


Johan Heldenbergh (play), Mieke Dobbels (play), 2 more credits »

How I Live Now~another young woman on a hero’s journey

Saoirse Ronan gives another amazing performance as a  young woman, Daisy, rebelling against society but trapped by her own rules.  Directed by Kevin MacdonaldHow I Live Now, is photographed beautifully in rural England and Wales.  This is a tale of adolescents left to raise themselves in the beautiful countryside.  The theme of military oppression and impending war is a little heavily enforced but the children and young adults give realistic performances and the change from bitter goth girl to young lady in love, is handled nicely.  Her romantic interest, her cousin, played by George MacKay, is presented as the strong, silent type and given a hawk and a handsome sweater to set off his good looks–again, a tad over-the-top, but it’s nice to have a little romance before the world starts unraveling.

The film runs a little long and the hazardous journey the two girls undertake is the least convincing part of the film.  Are all the men is this film either rule-abiding and enforcing citizens with no love of children or rampaging, murderous rapists?  There are no examples of any rational adults save Daisy’s aunt, who still abandons the children to fly to Geneva.

How I Live Now is scary and has moments of violence but is worth seeing for Saoirse Ronan and George MacKay‘s performances and the lovely cinematography.   The young actress playing the much-abused little sister, Piper, has a few nice moments and the soundtrack is outstanding!  How I Live Now is a good warm-up to another film about a totalitarian society featuring a young heroine….I believe it’s part of a trilogy…

Bechdel Rating: though the conversation with her Aunt is brief, it doesn’t concern her male cousin but her deceased mother and Daisy does finally come around to nurturing Piper.  A-

Rating: Clean water is scarce in the film so 3 glasses of pure water

Wadja~or, how to to not take riding a bike for granted

Wadja tells the story of a young girl in Saudia Arabia that yearns for a bicylce to race her friend, shown above giving her a bike helmet.  This is not an easy task for Wadja to accompllish and the young actress, Waad Mohammed, is a delight as the tomboy with the impish smile and the resolve of a small tiger.  Written and directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, this is the first film from Saudia Arabia directed by a woman! Wadja has won many film festival awards and is a wonderful glimpse into a world most of us have never experienced.  In an interview with the Financial Times, Al Mansour commented, “It was very important for me to show that even women reinforce traditional values and that it is not only men. The usual refrain is that the men are always the oppressors and the women are always victims, but the situation is more complex than that.”
Director Al Mansour insisted on shooting the film entirely in Saudi Arabia so that it would be entirely authentic, despite the legal and logistical problems it entailed. As women and men are prevented from publicly interacting, she said, “It was a major obstacle to go out in the street and talk to my actors,” and she would often direct by telephone and with walkie-talkies. was fortunate that the Denver Landmark Theatre, Chez Artiste, was able to extend the run of this amazing film so that I could see it.  The whole cast is outstanding and the Mother played by Reem Abdullah, portrays a woman who tries to live her life by the rules and must adapt to this daughter with a sense of her own power.  This is a film that deserves a wide audience.  For children old enough to read subtitles, perhaps Wadja would make them think twice about privileges that they take for granted!
A+  Rating!  Passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors and bells on a bike!Rating: 4 glasses of wine

Women-centric films — Do we need the Bechdel Test Rating?

Have you heard of the Bechdel Test?

Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

The Bechdel test (/ˈbɛkdəl/ BEK-dəl) asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Many contemporary works fail this test of gender bias.

The test is named after the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel. In 1985, she had a character in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For voice the idea, which she attributed to a friend, Liz Wallace. The test was originally conceived for evaluating films but has since been applied to other media. It is also known as the Bechdel/Wallace test,[1] the Bechdel rule,[2] Bechdel’s law,[3] or the Mo Movie Measure.[4]

What’s amazing about this simple criteria for films is how many of them don’t pass this test!  This is not just an issue for American films though Hollywood does crank out a huge crop of action films and boy-behaving-badly comedies.

“Research in the US supports the notion that women are under-represented on the screen and that little has changed in the past 60 years.  Of the  top 100 US films in 2011, women accounted for 33% of all characters and only 11% of the protagonists, according to a study by the San Diego-based Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

Another study, by the Annenberg Public Policy Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, showed that the ratio of male to female characters in movies has remained at about two to one for at least six decades. That study, which examined 855 top box-office films from 1950-2006, showed female characters were twice as likely to be seen in explicit sexual scenes as males, while male characters were more likely to be seen as violent.”

Sweden has created an A Rating for films that  pass the Bechdel test.  This rating system can help audiences find those films that feature women-centric stories.  It’s not a rating that points out violence or nudity, but rather draws attention to films that might be allowing for a female perspective to join the clamor of male voices.  Surprisingly, some films directed by women would not get the A Rating, The Hurt Locker, for instance– but highlighting these films is a step in the right direction.

Look for the Bechdel rating at the bottom of my film blogs.

In A World*where women make movies AND do voice-overs!

Writer, Director, Producer and Star: Lake Bell

Oh, Lake Bell, you are so awesome!  To write and direct a film this good and not only star in it, but to do so while rocking some really unflattering outfits! Her character, Carol, gets to wear one nice outfit but otherwise is shown in sweats, boxer shorts and overalls—who can look good in overalls?

She made some wonderful casting choices.  I loved the freshness of the performances; they seemed almost ad-libbed and a little messy, like there had been very little rehearsal and limited takes.  Dimitri Martin plays an awkward love interest and his character seems refreshingly sweet and nerdy.

 There’s a rival voice-over actor played by Ken Marino and his character goes full, LA sleaze.  It’s a great contrast and quite comical.  There are a few actors that I like immediately because there’s something about them physically that reminds me of one of my favorite actors, Nathan Fillion.  Ken Marino is in that category for me.  All the supporting characters are well-drawn, even if they only have limited screen time.  Rob Corddry and Michaela Watkins are wonderful as the couple that takes Carol in just as their own relationship falters.

It was great fun to see Geena Davis as a producer who hires Carol and she has a little speech that aligns nicely with her activist leanings (  Lake Bell herself has said, “I did accents and funny voices for the family when I was growing up. I’m passionate about the sexy-baby vocal virus affecting a generation of women. The two things that hit you when you meet someone are, first, how they’re visually put together and then, what they tell you with the tone of their voice – whether or not they’re to be taken seriously.”

I hope that with this film, Ms. Bell will be taken seriously!

Rating: 3 Fanta sodas

Bechdel Rating: this is a woman trying to make a career for herself and her relationship with a man is only secondary!  A+

About Time —- no, it’s really ABOUT FAMILY

About Time is a film with a nifty plot device, time travel, but make no mistake, this is a heart-warming story about family.

Within the perfect running time of 123 minutes, the director wisely allows time for the audience to get to know the film’s charming and eccentric characters and for the actors to express some nuance of each personality within the frenetic pace of the film.  Using the time travel ploy, scenes are replayed multiple times with subtle changes in the outcome.  This creates a space for the actors to reveal more about their relationships and presents the audience with a way to experience each character from a new perspective.  Richard Curtis, who also directed Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral, obviously knows that births, deaths and marriages are good plot devices in About Time, he uses time travel AND dramatic family milestones to showcase some wonderful performances by his remarkable cast.

 Has Bill Nye ever been given such a wonderful role as the time-traveling, novel-loving father?  And what a brilliant turn by the young Irish actor, Domnah Gleeson!  From a few bit parts in films and a memorable role in the Harry Potter series (as Bill Weasley–the older, dragon-riding brother of Ron), Domnah Gleeson is Tim.  He’s in every scene and with his remarkable, expressive face (and ginger hair), he draws us in and makes each experience seem real.

This is a great film to bring the whole family to…though there is a quick sex scene and a few adult situations, so stick to the teens and older crowd.  This is a great film for you to bring your dad!  About Time is a rare film that showcases a father’s love for his family and a wonderful father/son relationship.  There is true pathos here and if some scenes are a bit twee, the characters are so fully-fleshed out and realistic, so it’s easy to forgive.

Rachel McAdams, in her third time-traveling film, is a not glamorized but instead, wins the boy through charm, intelligence and good humor…and there’s even a scene where Tim is tempted by a blond beauty and runs home to his true love; Rachel’s character.  A detail that made me smile; this is a woman who loves to sleep–really loves to sleep!  A film that celebrates family and sacrifice, and entreats you to live each moment as fully as you can…this film is a real charmer!

Rating: 4 cups of tea

Bechdel Rating: There are a few discussions among the female cast members that are about friendship and life goals but the focus is mainly on the relationships. A-

Additional interesting tidbits from imdb:

Rory towards the end of the film is reading the book ‘Trash’ which is Curtis’s next film (Curtis wrote the screenplay for both Trash and About Time)
This is the third movie in which Rachel McAdams stars as the love interest of a time traveler. The previous ones were The Time Traveler’s Wife, in which she played the titular wife to Eric Bana’s character and Midnight in Paris, in which she played the fiancée of Owen Wilson’s character.
Zooey Deschanel was originally cast as Mary but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts and Rachel McAdams was cast.
Richard Griffiths‘s last movie.
Shipped to theaters under the code name “Cupboard”.