I don’t consider myself a raging feminist, whatever that means. Or an enraged one. I like guy-centered films and great heroes as much as I like to see a gal-central flick. But I recently watched two movies on dvd that came out last year and was perturbed at how their treatment of women became a detracting subplot for me. One, I’m sure, the filmmakers never intended.
Take Nine. Please. I did enjoy seeing the parade of female stars strut their stuff in one musical number after another, trying their damnedest to make the film work. But that’s all they were allowed to do. The music, for the most part, was unmemorable. Kate Hudson snagged the only song that was the least bit catchy, partly because it played again over the closing credits. Although I expect that was a cart before the horse situation-I’m sure someone realized it was the only song that worked and might keep people in their seats long enough to watch most of the credits.
The film is twice-removed, and it shows. Based on a musical which was based on one of the greatest movies ever, 8 1/2, by Federico Fellini, it has a built-in hard act to follow, and it’s just not up to the challenge. Daniel Day-Lewis tries hard to capture an Italian accent and get inside the existential head of its movie-director hero, Guido. But that’s just the problem. He is an interior actor. He doesn’t have the effortless charm required to be believable as the man almost nine muses (actually seven) are obsessed with, much less headline a musical. Oh for a Raul Julia. Or Antonio Banderas. Or Hugh Jackman. Day-Lewis is sabotaged by the whole attitude of the film, which is anguished and depressing, miles away from the insouciant existential paradox enlivened by Marcello Mastroianni.
But where the film really did me in was with the portrayal of the women. Misogynist doesn’t even start to describe how annoying it was to see Penélope Cruz, never more likable or gorgeous, be suicidal and talk herself down, as she only lived for this boring man, “I’ll be here, with my legs open.” No irony, or anger like the mistress from 8 1/2. Nicole Kidman was also reduced by her dialogue, which suggested that her great movie star has been pining away for this man for years. Why? The film can’t tell us. And the list goes on: Marion Cotillard as the shabbily-treated wife. Judy Dench as a long-suffering factotum. All inexplicably, hopelessly, devoted to Guido. The final insult was when all the women are reduced to the background, part of Guido’s psyche, as the great director finally gets his shit together to make his movie. Meh.
The other film I watched wasn’t as glaringly offensive, but it still was a major disappointment, especially to this sci-fi fan. The J.J. Abrams Star Trek dropped the ball too many times for me to think it was a success. It had a great opening sequence and a great ending one. It made me think of the LOST pilot, one of the best television openers I’ve seen. Is that what Abrams excels at? Starting things off? Because a lot of the middle of the movie had my mind wandering far, far, away. Zach Quinto’s Spock was brilliant and I loved Zoe Saldana’s Uhura, but here’s where the movie ticked me off-Saldana is on the cover of the DVD case and on the movie poster, but in the movie she is relegated to that all-too-familiar role-stuck back at the ranch, worrying about her man. It was a nice twist that it was Spock and not Kirk, but that wasn’t enough to make up for the fact that no woman in the movie had a significant role. No offense to John Cho’s Sulu, but why couldn’t Uhura have been the one to go with Kirk on the parachute rescue mission. That would have solved the problem completely as far as feminist concerns.
But the movie also let me down in other ways. For one, Kirk was an ass. Why? The opening sequence establishes his father was someone truly special, and his character is deftly drawn-I actually got choked up at his inevitable demise. But the next scene with the bratty young James Tiberius and scene after scene after that show Kirk to just be a jerk. He may be right about the Romulans, blah, blah, blah, but who cares. I wanted to maroon him on an ice planet and get him out of this movie, too.
It was great to see Leonard Nimoy, but the science in this science-fiction didn’t make sense. Oops. An unrecognizable Eric Bana and his whole bad-guy subplot was frankly, a huge bore. The original Star Trek may look cheesy to modern eyes with its styrofoam boulders and the fight every episode which resulted in the inevitable trickle of blood down one side of William Shatner’s mouth, but it also had ideas. There really weren’t any in this movie. It had lots of things blowing up, and things happening too quickly to really determine visually what they were. It had lots of emotion-funnily enough, the strongest coming from Spock. He and Uhura should get a spin-off, because I can take or leave the rest of the gang (although Chekhov was pretty cool.) But it all reminded me of playing “Star Trek” when I was a kid. “I’ll be Spock!” “I’ll be Uhura!” Yes, I was that kid.
Having Captain Pike as a character was a missed opportunity as well. Why not really reboot and update the classic Menagerie episode? Or just stick with the young Starfleet cadets and let us get to know them, even like them? I’m afraid Starship Troopers did that better and that’s a horribly cheesy movie. But cheesy good fun.
Maybe that’s what both of these movies suffer from, besides the lack of good female roles. Not a lot of fun. They take themselves way too seriously.