erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2012 posts

Tuesday June 12, 2012

Movie Review: Hello I Must Be Going (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I miss the Marx Brothers. I miss their centrality to our culture, as they were central in the 1970s, 40 years after their cinematic heyday, when Epstein and Horshack would imitate Chico and Harpo on “Welcome Back, Kotter,” and everyone from Michael Jackson to Hawkeye Pierce to kids on McDonald’s commercials would imitate Groucho. We could all use a little duck-walking and cigar-waggling and leering now and again. We could all use a little poignant nonsense. Last year I asked a twentysomething colleague how much she knew about the Marx Brothers and she revealed her ignorance with her Google search: March brothers. Chico would be proud.

A long way of saying I went into “Hello I Must Be Going” hoping for some knowing Marxian references beyond the title.

I got a few. The film’s protagonist, Amy, (Melanie Lynskey), three-months divorced from her entertainment-attorney husband in Manhattan, and now living with her parents in Westport, Conn., used to watch the Marx Brothers with her father when she was a kid. Now she’s watching them again. We see clips from “Duck Soup” and “Animal Crackers,” with Groucho singing the title song, the absurdity of which I’ve always liked. I laughed out loud when I heard this again:

I’ll do anything you say!
I’ll even stay!
(Yay!)
But I must be....going

It’s one of the few times I laughed out loud at this April-June romantic comedy.

The movie opens with Amy getting up at noon, slumping off to the kitchen for crackers, and then returning to her room to watch “One Day at a Time” reruns on TV. Her mother, Ruth (Blythe Danner), half encourages her, half chastises her to get moving again. She tries to buck her up but brings her down in the peculiar way of mothers. She talks about a friend’s daughter who is now apparently on anti-depressants, or depressaunts as she calls them, Frenchifying the word, legitimizing it, and implies that maybe this is the path for Amy. “Amy, you haven’t left the house in three months,” she says, seeming concerned. Then her real concern emerges. Important guests are arriving for an important dinner. “Honey, I need you to shape up a little. Get something nice to wear.”

To be honest, I only had so much sympathy for Amy. Her circumstances are tough but not that tough. She’s had heartache but no more than the rest of us. She’s been lying around for three months, wasting her life, wasting her parents’ time and money. At some point, you need to look for something to do and do it. You need to find a place, and a talent with which you can make money, or for which someone will pay you, and then do that. Or you do the thing that makes you money and then you do the other thing that fulfills you, which is what most of us do. It can be hard, particularly in our current culture and economy, but Amy and I are still living in America in the 21st century. The luck heaped upon us is still overwhelming.

At the dinner party, which involves a potential client for her lawyer-father Stan (John Rubenstein), the son of that client, 19-year-old Jeremy (Christopher Abbott of HBO’s “Girls”), is the only other person at the table, besides Amy, who looks uncomfortable with the glib, wine-infused conversation. Occasionally he’ll make eyes at her. Eventually he follows her into another room and makes a pass.

Thus every road back to wholeness begins with the distraction of romance.

At some point, fairly early in the movie, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if she wound up where she started: groaning at the start of the day and watching tired re-runs on TV?” I thought: Why does she have to realize her self-worth? What is it about her self that’s worthy? That she’s nice? That she takes photos of rivers? She was going to publish a book of her river photos once. Apparently she got distracted by her attorney husband. What was she doing all the time she was married anyway? Was she working? Where? How did she fill her days?

In “Hello I Must Be Going,” written by first-time screenwriter Sarah Koskoff and directed by third-time director Todd Louiso, Amy never finds a job, or a purpose, but she finds enough value in herself to demand alimony from her ex. That’s her big self-esteem moment. Then she and her mother travel the world together. She’ll take pictures of her mother. And, one assumes, rivers.

Groucho: Do you suppose I could buy back my introduction to you?

Amy: slowly dying on her road to self-esteem.

Posted at 07:54 AM on Jun 12, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Monday June 11, 2012

Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Wes Anderson’s latest film, “Moonrise Kingdom,” opens with a painting of a house, shifts to a close-up of a dollhouse, then moves onto the activities within the house, the actual house where the painting is hung and the dollhouse is located, the several-storied, precariously placed home of the Bishops, Walt and Laura (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), who live on the northern, Summers End portion of New Penzance Island off the coast of New England in early September 1965. Yet in true Wes Anderson fashion, the actual house seems like a dollhouse. It’s a plaything. There’s an unreality to it, a right-angled, two-dimensionality. Walt and Laura are always in different rooms, the three boys play board games on the floor, while eldest child Suzy (Kara Hayward), on the cusp of adolescence, walks around in short skirts and white knee socks and reads her books (“The Francine Odysseys,” “Disappearance of the Sixth Grade,” “The Girl from Jupiter”), and from the top floor scans the horizon with a pair of binoculars as if she’s in a crow’s nest. Which, in a way, she is. She feels at sea. She’s searching for land.

Moonrise Kingdom poster 1On the other side of the island, with equal right-angled, two-dimensional precision, Scout Master Ward (Ed Norton) of Camp Ivanhoe rises with the morning, chastises his khaki scouts for minor infractions, then sits down to breakfast, with everyone on one side of the picnic table as if it’s a painting of the Last Supper. But one scout, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), is missing. In his tent, behind a poster, Ward finds a perfectly cut hole. “Jiminy Cricket,” he says, confused and slightly hurt, “he flew the coop.”

The two stories are not unrelated. Sam, with his Barry Goldwater glasses and Davy Crocket coonskin cap (he’s like the mid-1950s), is off to retrieve Suzy, with her miniskirts and raccoon eye makeup (she’s like the mid-1960s), whom he met the year before at a church production of “Noah’s Flood”; and the two, both of whom still have one foot firmly planted in childhood, are running off together to create their own, better world.

Unfortunately, we’re informed by the narrator of the film (Bob Balaban, clad in a Zissou-like red stocking cap) that one of the worst storms of the decade is only three days away. Will the kids be found in time? Will they survive the storm? Is another flood on the way?

During their footloose period, Sam and Suzy fend off an attack from the other khaki scouts, get into their first squabble, make up, read novels, paint, swim, dance to French music, and learn to French kiss. When they’re discovered in a secluded cove, which, in a later watercolor Sam names “Moonrise Kingdom,” they’ve created their own, better world: a world of art and young love.

Exclusion as problem; inclusion as solution
Five years ago, I wrote a piece for MSNBC, “Wes Anderson’s Bruised Souls,” in which I stated the lesson implicit in Anderson’s movies:

Exclusion isn’t necessarily the problem but inclusion is almost always the solution.

I was thinking of Max Fischer in “Rushmore,” and Royal Tenenbaum in “The Royal Tenenbaums”: misfits who don’t mind their misfit status but who must accept their enemies (Herman Blume, Dr. Peter Flynn, Magnus Buchan, Henry Sherman) in order to find final redemption.

For Sam and Suzy, though, exclusion is part of the problem. Neither has friends. Sam is an orphan who lives with uncaring foster parents at a kind of orphan farm. When he goes missing they not only don’t care, they don’t want him back. At Camp Ivanhoe, the other kids, led by the handsome but mean-spirited Redford (Lucas Hedges), don’t like him. This bothers Sam, despite his deadpan expression, more than it ever bothered Max. Max had his crew but Sam is all alone. Near the end of the movie, he confronts Redford, who has, in the interim, been abandoned by his compatriots—who now gather around Sam as the beginning of his amateurish crew—and we get this exchange:

Sam: Why didn’t you like me?
Redford: Why should I? No one else does.

In a typical Wes Anderson story, Redford (and, please, is there a Sundance-related anecdote to that name?) is the enemy Sam must forgive to find redemption. Here, Redford remains an outsider. He knows no forgiveness. Sam has to forgive no one.

Inclusion, however, is still the solution; it’s just not up to Sam and Suzy to provide it. It’s up to the others to include Sam and Suzy. For the first time in a Wes Anderson movie, the world actually adapts to the misfits rather than vice-versa. It makes a place for them. Sam is adopted by Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), the law enforcement officer on the island, who abandons his affair with Laura Bishop, the realization of which had sent Suzy into the morally ambiguous world of adulthood in the first place, and Sam winds up wearing the same kinds of nerdy clothes as Captain Sharp. (Compare with: the Zissou crew; and Chas and his boys in “Tenenbaums.” Anderson loves his misfits but he loves them more in uniform and at attention.) The real family sucks but the extended family is glorious.

Question: is this a less-profound message than the one found in Anderson’s earlier films? Max and Royal and Mr. Fox all revel in their differences but still grow to accept others; they became more expansive and open. Sam remains the same; it’s the world that becomes more expansive and accommodating. The lesson feels both Pollyannaish and passive. It feels like a step back.

Give me someplace flat
Let me admit, first, that I’m always excited by a new Wes Anderson film. His movies, full of color and quirks and small joys, are uniquely his. At the same time, as I leave the theater and work through what I’ve just seen, I’m invariably disappointed. He has a love of flatness—in character, in cinematography—that I find visually interesting but intellectually stagnant.

When Laura Bishop, for example, searches for Suzy in their home, she calls with her bullhorn to her left, then straight up to Walt on the second floor. Everything is at a 90-degree angle. When Sam outruns the other boys in a clearing, he doesn’t trace a serpentine path. He heads straight out, makes a sharp right, makes another sharp right, then another. Rather than cut corners and catch him, they all follow haplessly behind. His characters can’t cut corners. They’re condemned to right angles.

In this way, his moviemaking accentuates the flatness of the screen by employing head-on shots and profiles and right angles. A Wes Anderson movie using 3-D technology would be an interesting experiment. Would we even be able to tell?

At the same time, what does this two-dimensionality mean? Is Anderson attempting to make a movie seem like a book? Because he loves books? Because his characters love books?

His characters are similarly flat. There’s a deadpan rigidity to them. Anderson needs particularly good actors to bring them to life. Gene Hackman is the classic example. Ed Norton is now another. There’s a sweetness to Scout Master Ward that comes through as he loses, first, one Khaki Scout, then his whole troop, then his commission. As he sinks, as he loses everything, his humanity grows. As a result, he, and not Sam, the protagonist, learns the Wes Anderson lesson in “Moonrise Kingdom”: in losing the world, he gains the world. Sam? He’s too busy creating his own perfect world, which, by its very nature, will be temporary, and as precarious as a big treehouse atop a tall, thin tree.

Maybe this is the key to understanding Wes Anderson. With each film, Anderson, like so many of his characters, creates his own perfect world; then he presses it flat, as if in the pages of a book, to preserve it and keep it for as long as possible.

Moonrise Kingdom treehouse

Posted at 07:38 AM on Jun 11, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Friday June 08, 2012

Movie Review: The Revolutionary (2012)

WARNING: GANG OF SPOILERS

“You missed it.”

That’s what Ben Bradlee tells Woodward and Bernstein after reading one of their early Watergate stories in “All the President’s Men,” and that’s what I thought leaving the world premiere of “The Revolutionary,” a documentary, locally produced, about 91-year-old local Sidney Rittenberg, who, as a high-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party from 1946 to 1980, was once called “The most important foreigner in China since Marco Polo.”

poster for The RevolutionaryRittenberg was a labor lefty out of Charleston, South Carolina in the 1930s, when everyone in labor was a lefty, before the politics of resentment meant resenting those with less rather than more; and then, like everyone else, he was drafted after Pearl Harbor. Unlike everyone else, he was taught Chinese and sent to China. After the war, Chinese party leaders asked him to stay. “We need an engineer to help us build a bridge from the Chinese people to the American people,” they said. He asked to be a member of the party. He stayed. He felt content. “I’m doing what I should be doing,” he felt.

He had his own long march to Yan’an in 1946, where he met Mao Zedong for the first time. “It’s like a picture out of history,” he remembers thinking, “and I’m now part of that history.”

This is big for Sidney Rittenberg: being part of history.

He’s told Mao wants to spend two days talking about America but we don’t get that conversation. He says Mao wanted good relations with the U.S. because he didn’t want to be dependent on the U.S.S.R. He says the U.S. was thinking ideologically here and Mao wasn’t.

There’s a nice interlude about the Hollywood movies Mao, Zhou Enlai and other party leaders watched each week. Laurel and Hardy movies were favorites.

Then Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang are driven to Taiwan, the Communists come to power, and, when the dust clears, Rittenberg, a man who had Mao’s ear, is suddenly imprisoned as a capitalist spy. He winds up in Beijing Prison No. 2, in solitary confinement, for six years. His Chinese wife divorces him. He nearly goes insane. “Every day,” he says. “you’re sitting there with your own potential madness sitting across from you. Watching you. And you know it’s either you or him.” He was finally released, he believes, “Because Josef Stalin did the best thing he ever did in his life: He died.”

A more far-seeing man, or a man less enamored of China and/or communism, might have left Communist China at this point, but Rittenberg was not that man. He went to work for Radio Beijing, got remarried, had four kids—who mostly go unmentioned. We hear from his wife briefly in the doc.

That may be the doc’s biggest problem. Except for a minute’s worth of monologue from Wang Yulin, his second and current wife, this is a single-source news story. It’s just Rittenberg talking in a chair, or in front of his book shelf, or at other strategic points in his home in the Pacific Northwest. Every once in a while the camera pans over a period photo or a propaganda poster. But we get no footage from China, no supplementary interviews with people who knew him, no references to the newspapers of the day. Did Rittenberg’s defection, such as it was (he never renounced U.S. citizenship), make the newspapers back home? He’s not mentioned in The New York Times, for example, until Linda Charlton does a write-up upon his return in 1980: ‘Son of America’ Is Home to Tell About Chinese In-Laws. (But I had to look that up after the screening.) Did the Charleston papers write about him when he was in China? Did The Daily Worker? Did the CIA?

If Rittenberg was a wiser, more insightful man, the single-source issue wouldn’t be such an issue. He says of Mao, “He was a great hero and a great criminal all rolled into one,” which feels true to me, but of his own life, at least as relayed in this doc, there’s an odd disconnect. He, or documentarians Lucy Ostrander, Irv Drasnin and Don Sellers, can’t seem to connect the fragments of his life into a narrative that makes much sense.

As a foreigner in Communist China, which became increasingly xenophobic as the Great Leap Forward leads to the Cultural Revolution, he seems self-deluded or myopic. When he’s put into solitary confinement again in 1967, he concocts his own Confucian saying: “Man who climbs out on limb should listen carefully for sound of saw.” He says he couldn’t hear the sound of the saw until it was too late. But he could never hear the sound of the saw. That’s his problem.

He remained in solitary until 1977.

What was the appeal? That’s what I still don’t get. Was it the communism? Was it China itself? Was it both? Was it being part of history? Does he regret those days? Is he a communist now? A socialist? A capitalist? Is he capitalist now the way that China is capitalist now? What happened to his four kids when he was in solitary and Wang Yulin was being reeducated? Did they become members of the Red Guard? Did they denounce their parents? Were they denounced themselves for being half-American?

Nothing.

I’m also not a fan of the narration, performed by Irv Drasnin, a former news correspondent, because his voice has the deep, faux authority of a former news correspondent. At times it reminded me of the narration in those 1950s Disney nature films that we were forced to watch in elementary school. It’s a voice both deep and cloying. It has all the answers and it’s there to tell us the way the world works. It grates.

The story of Sidney Rittenberg and his time in China is a good story. I hope someday a documentarian will be engineer enough to build a bridge between it and an audience.

Posted at 07:41 AM on Jun 08, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Wednesday June 06, 2012

Movie Review: The Revisionaries (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Don McLeroy, the Bryan, Tex., dentist and young-Earth creationist who served on the Texas State Board of Education from 1998 to 2010, including a stint as its controversial chair from 2007 to 2009, is a genial, garrulous boob. Bald, moustached, and portly, he has a “gee whiz” quality to him. His face often resolves itself into a self-satisfied smile after he makes what he thinks is a telling point at BOE meetings, but mostly his smile is open and unaffected. He tends to preach his creationist doctrine to those who can’t answer back—dental patients with tubes in their mouths; Sunday School kids at Grace Bible Church—and he’s pretty darn enthusiastic about it. “Were there dinosaurs on the Ark?” he asks the kids, then answers his own question. “Sure there were!” He’s the kind of man who likes to answer his own questions.

He’s also the man most responsible for the recent rightward shift in our nation’s textbooks—and he’s pretty darn enthusiastic about it.

Cynthia Dunbar at a D.C. rally in "The Revisionaries" (2012)“We want to make sure our children are taught good, solid American history,” he says to a phalanx of reporters during Scott Thurman’s documentary, “The Revisionaries.” He believes that evolution is bunk, that the Earth is 10,000 years old, and that history and science experts don’t know what they’re talking about. “Somebody’s gotta stand up to experts!” he says during a speech at a Texas Tea Party convention. To applause.

So how did McLeroy, and the people of Bryan, Tex., who kept voting him into office, get to decide the standards for our nation’s textbooks?

Basically: Publishers craft their textbooks to the standards of the biggest buyers, and Texas is currently the biggest buyer. According to a University of Texas study, between 45 and 85 percent of classrooms use Texas state textbooks.

 “The Revisionaries” is mostly a character study. If you come in knowing, as I did, something of the power and the cultural make-up of the Texas SBOE, you come away knowing faces, and places, and a little more about the debate itself.

You learn there are 15 board members. They sit in high-backed chairs. There are two black members and one Hispanic member but the board is mostly dominated by white conservative Christians like McLeroy and Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer and teacher at Pat Robertson’s Regent University, who believes, among other things, 1) the founding fathers created a Christian nation; 2) government should be guided by the Bible; 3) public education is a “deceptive tool of perversion”; and 4) the establishment of public schools is unconstitutional. And she’s helping decide on the standards for those public schools.

There are progressives, or at least non-reactionaries, such as Ron Wetherington, a professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University (i.e., an expert), and Kathy Miller, the no-nonsense president of the Texas Freedom Network, an organization fighting religious-right initiatives. They have their say. But every progressive step forwards seems to involve two culturally conservative steps back.

The doc opens with a SBOE debate on whether to continue talking about “strengths and weaknesses” of the theory of evolution. It’s voted down but a moment later a new amendment is added to include “all sides” of the debate, which, from a scientific perspective, is meaningless. But that passes.

In 2009, the Texas legislature removes McLeroy from his post as chair of the SBOE. Yay! But this simply frees him to offer amendment after amendment to the social studies standards. Boo! We get a flurry of them: that Margaret Sanger, the birth-control pioneer, be included because she “and her followers promoted eugenics”; that language be inserted about Ronald Reagan’s “leadership in restoring national confidence” in the 1980s. At one point, in a laugh-out loud moment, McLeroy suggests eliminating the phrase “hip-hop” and inserting the words “country music.”

Unfortunately, too much of this debate is without context. What do the textbooks say now? What did they say 10 years ago? Twenty? What did they say when I was growing up? I seem to remember, as I got older, learning that what I’d learned in, say, elementary school, was a simplification or outright fabrication: George Washington and the cherry tree and Abe Lincoln walking a mile in the snow and the sole heroism of Paul Revere’s ride. How necessary are these simplifications? Is there a danger in them? There’s something to be said for learning the standards before taking apart the standards, but are our textbooks ultimately too anodyne to foster curiosity and a thirst for true knowledge? Do they instead foster a desire for myth and absolutes? Is that the good, solid American history McLeroy wants taught?

The great unspoken in the doc is that textbooks have always been dull beasts. I was a kid who actually liked school, but even I groaned with boredom when textbooks were opened. How do we make sure our kids don’t groan with boredom?

Also unspoken: What McLeroy wants to do with the science standards is the opposite of what he wants to do with the social studies standards. He wants to foster doubt about the theory of evolution, and he wants to foster certainty about American exceptionalism. Can’t someone ask which he prefers: doubt or certainty? Can’t someone suggest that we do to Ronald Reagan what he wants to do to Charles Darwin? Talk about “strengths and weaknesses”? Give “all sides”?

Moot point: By the end of the doc, McLeroy is gone, at least from the SBOE, because he finally loses an election by 400-some votes; but he keeps popping up elsewhere: on “The Colbert Report,” in the pages of USA Today. And others have picked up his SBOE mantle and are carrying it forward. To where? That’s the key. In 2000, then-presidential candidate George W. Bush, a product of Texas public schools, asked, “Is our children learning?” Now we have to ask, “What is they learning?”

“The amount of power I have,” McLeroy says at one point, referring to his chairmanship of the Texas State Board of Education, “boggles my mind.”

Ours, too.

Posted at 07:27 AM on Jun 06, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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Tuesday May 29, 2012

Movie Review: Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Why does feminism bore me so?

The documentary “Wonder Women!” is subtitled “The Untold Story of American Superheroines,” but I would’ve settled for a better-told story. Example: Wonder Woman’s creator, Dr. William Moulton Marston, is generally treated positively here. We get passing mention of the bondage fetishism inherent in 1940s “Wonder Woman” comic books without mention of the bondage fetish of Marston, or the fact that he lived with his wife, Elizabeth, and his mistress, Olive, a former student. He had two children by each. One of Elizabeth’s children was named Olive. Empowering? Feminist? Creepy?

The drift of post-World War II “Wonder Woman” comics into romance is dealt with in isolation rather than as part of an industry-wide phenomenon that swept up Batman, Superman and Captain America. Frederic Wertham’s anti-comics diatribe, “The Seduction of the Innocent,” is portrayed pejoratively even as we’re shown the misogyny inherent in many 1950s horror comics. Can Wertham get no love? Can no one say, “He was an idiot, but...”?

Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines (2012)Worse: We’re about an hour into this 72-minute doc before the narrator tsk-tsks over the hypersexualized versions of super heroines ... and Wonder Woman gets a pass. To me, this is the point when you go back to talking-head Gloria Steinem, for whom Wonder Woman was a role model, and who put the Amazonian on the cover of the first issue of Ms. magazine, to talk about this hypersexuality. You get the women who grew up on Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, and maybe even Carter herself, to talk about her hypersexuality. What are the negatives of this? Are there any? Do girls, when they hit puberty, feel they don’t measure up? Did I? I read comic books, with all of its various strong-jawed, superstrong, male role models, yet, at 15, when I looked in the mirror, I saw a skinny, sunken-chested, weak-jawed kid. What effect did this have on me? Have I recovered?

Hey: What are the long-term consequences of a society awash in wish fulfillment fantasies? “Wonder Women!” wrings its hands over the dearth of female superheroes but might this not be a positive? The Republican party, for example, tends to play on wish-fulfillment fantasies more than the Democratic party, offering up wannabe cowboys as candidates, and mouthing catchphrases such as “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” and “Make my day” and “Read my lips,” and offering up fantasy economic policies (tax cuts + greater spending = balanced budget), and men more than women buy into it. They vote Republican. Women are more clear-eyed. They vote Democrat. Because they never saw themselves in Superman and Batman and can sense the bullshit in Reagan and Bush? The point beyond immediate politics: Aren’t the very role models the filmmakers would wish upon young girls in many ways deleterious?

Instead “Wonder Women!” gives us a fairly typical storyline. Strong female role models lead to strong girls and women. There is a dearth of these role models and anyway 97% of creators are men. So Reel Grrls, a Seattle filmmaking organization, among others, is empowering young women in cinematography, script-writing, blah blah blah.

I’m sorry but all of this bores me.

Is the doc about female superheroes or general female empowerment? The filmmakers make it about both. It starts with Women Woman, expands, in the ‘70s, to include Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman, Lindsay Wagner’s Bionic Woman, and Charlie’s Angels (but no Mighty Isis), Aren’t the very role models the filmmakers would wish upon young girls in the end deleterious?then gives us reductive visions of every subsequent decade. The ‘80s were testosterone-y and Reaganish. The ‘90s gave us riot grrls, co-opted into Spice Girls, but ... we’re talking rockers now? Should we double back and catch up with Aretha and Janis? And if the doc wants to cover all media images of women, why start with Wonder Woman? Why ignore the strong women of 1930s cinema? Why ignore Pam Grier then complain about the lack of strong black women in the media?

Here’s my favorite reductive moment: Apparently two of TV’s 1990s superheroines, Xena and Buffy, both died in 2001. I forget which talking head brings it up—Trina Robbins?—but she lays the blame squarely on ... wait for it ... George W. Bush. He’d just been elected president (kinda), that was the zeitgeist, and so strong women had to die. No one refutes this. The documentarians, director Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and producer Kelcey Edwards, give her this forum. They have 72 minutes to make their case and they spend time on this.

One of the talking heads is Andy Mangels, a comic-book writer who has created the annual “Wonder Woman Day” in Portland, Oregon, to raise money for domestic violence programs. He’s also gay. So bring him into the hypersexualized conversation. Superman and Spiderman weren’t hypersexualized to me growing up. Were they to him? Then broaden the discussion. Women in our society are more often judged by their appearance than their actions; so can you ever have a female superhero who isn’t sexualized? Who’s ugly the way Hulk is ugly? Would an ugly Wonder Woman have influenced Gloria Steinem? What do you say, Gloria?

Perhaps the great irony of “Wonder Women!” is that it’s making its appeal for more super-heroines at a time when such an appeal has never been less necessary. Lisbeth Salander and Katniss Everdeen are both hugely popular heroines, brave and tough, who rescue good men and beat bad guys in completely convincing ways. To me, they’re game-changers. They’re super without being super. Compared to them, Wonder Woman and her magic lasso feel like relics out of a silly, fetishistic past.

Posted at 06:52 AM on May 29, 2012 in category Movie Reviews - 2012
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