Ocean’s 8: Why having complicated women onscreen is a good thing

This morning I read a quote from Brie Larson, who was talking about reviews that panned A Wrinkle in Time:

There are a lot of reviews of Ocean’s 8 out there, and probably more than 80% of them are by men. I could let my own observations about the movie pass by, but the second I read Brie Larson’s quote about the disproportionate number of men who review movies, I realized that nowadays it’s a call to action. If you’re a woman and you like a movie, you should probably find time to write about why.

Reviews have been written about Ocean’s 8 and how director Gary Ross lacked the lightness of Steven Soderbergh’s touch, or the layer upon layer of seemingly incidental conversation that turns out to be central to each plot. But whatever, Ross (formerly of Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games, and Pleasantville) did a fine job crafting a heist movie with a powerful and overt message: that you don’t actually have to like the women on screen for them to be viable characters.

There are many reviews that miss this point, but I am not here to parrot those. I’m here to tell you that this movie offers a rich and complex portrayal of women that is found very, very rarely in your average blockbuster (we’re not talking about indie films), and watching it is a revelation. It also might explain why men who like a certain kind of narrative about women are going to be unsettled enough to give the movie a poor review.

I’m going to hop straight into spoilers to show you why.

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Fleshing out Hawaii’s bones: hula, lava, and mahu

In my early 20s, when I was living in Boston, I had a dream about my home town. I dreamed that I was on a black sand beach in Hilo, but ash and rock fell all around me. I tried to run to save myself, but I couldn’t run fast enough — and I heard a voice speaking, and it came from the falling rock. “Your father is in my protection,” the voice said. “He is doing my work.”

I remember the dream still, because whether or not the dream held any truth, my father’s work was, in fact, Madam Pele’s work.

The work that Dr. Fred Stone did was this: he explored and surveyed many, many of the lava tubes in Hawaii, so that they could be protected from development and saved for future Hawaiians. He took me on these journeys with him during my years growing up in Hilo, under the land and deep into its veins, stepping where only the Hawaiians stepped before us.

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Early to the Theater: Final Portrait

I’ve been to the Dali museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, twice. It’s a small gem of a place nestled onto a point of the town’s little bay, right next to a marina. The landscaping is wonderful, and stepping inside the glass-globed building is like walking into the landscape of your own dreams and nightmares.

On my second visit, though, I had the misfortune to be trapped behind a tour group, just as the guide began to describe Salvador Dali’s deep insecurity about his “little Salvi,” both its size and its performance, and how this insecurity informed his art and caused him to mistreat the people around him.

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Early to the Theater: The Miracle Season

It was not so miraculous.

Achariya: I’m a sports writer for my other-other job, and there are serious issues to discuss when talking about the coverage of women’s sports in popular culture. I was quite excited about the chance to watch The Miracle Season because I thought maybe it would bring a positive spotlight to women’s indoor volleyball.

And I found myself slightly disappointed that what could’ve been a great documentary about a fraught moment in the sport was turned into an after-school special about model/actresses who never were not in their tiny uniform shorts, even for walking around town.

Here’s a short synopsis: the film was based on the true story of Caroline Found, a high school volleyball player, and the events that happened to the team in her senior year. Plot spoilers after the warning.

Jen: In looking over the description and cast, several signs jumped out at me. One was the PG rating, which indicated a family-friendly sports movie; which is fine, not all sports films require steroid use or other challenging material. Another sign was the tagline ‘based on a true story,’ and a sense that the filmmakers were going to present a very specific type of sports movie – uplifting and crowd-pleasing, but lacking in depth.

Achariya: When you mention crowd-pleasing, I’m struck by a memory — as we were walking out of the theater, we overheard a man say, “I cried through the whole thing.” I admit that I also cried, it was hard not to simply due to the subject matter. It felt pretty manipulative, though. Perhaps the filmmaking itself was clunky and heavy-handed — the second we saw the slow-motion farewell smile from one of the initial main characters, we turned to each other in our seats and said…

(Spoilers begin)

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