Sep 29

Social Issues on Film: Three Mini-Reviews

Three movies I haven’t seen receive mini-reviews below—because others have done the work for us. Each film in some way takes on social issues.

I. ‘Mother!’ Is the Worst Movie of the Year, Maybe Century. Rex Reed, New York Observer

Although you can already tell from his title how Rex Reed feels about Mother!, here’s more to chew on:

…an exercise in torture and hysteria so over the top that I didn’t know whether to scream or laugh out loud. Stealing ideas from Polanski, Fellini and Kubrick, [director Darren Aronofsky has] jerrybuilt an absurd Freudian nightmare that is more wet dream than bad dream, with the subtlety of a chainsaw.
This delusional freak show is two hours of pretentious twaddle that tackles religion, paranoia, lust, rebellion, and a thirst for blood in a circus of grotesque debauchery to prove that being a woman requires emotional sacrifice and physical agony at the cost of everything else in life, including life itself. That may or may not be what Aronofsky had in mind, but it comes as close to a logical interpretation as any of the other lunk-headed ideas I’ve read or heard. The reviews, in which a group of equally pretentious critics frustratingly search for a deeper meaning, are even nuttier than the film itself. Using descriptions like ‘hermeneutic structure,’ ‘phantasmagoric fantasia,’ ‘cinematic Rorschach test’ and ‘extended scream of existential rage,’ they sure know how to leave you laughing.

There are enough counter-opinions from critics, though, to satisfy the “insanity”-seeking Aronofsky fans as well. One example is from Steve Pond, The Wrap: “For its combination of ambition and audacity, this is a glorious piece of cinematic insanity.” Another, Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: “It’s worth seeing — if you don’t mind a little insanity in escapism that offers no escape, only the promise of a new fairy tale on another page.”

II. ‘Battle of the Sexes’ Review: Imagine Hillary and Trump Swinging Rackets. Peter Travers, Rolling Stone 

Or does the actual historical account provide more interest? A few reviews:

Linda Holmes, NPR:

The film focuses on [Billie Jean] King’s activism for prize money parity in professional tennis, meaning sexism was not, for her, only about pride. Bobby Riggs may have been a sideshow, but he — and the people he riled up with his antics — had the potential to slow down women’s tennis in its push for equality.
King’s ambivalence and reluctance, and her understanding that the position she found herself in as an advocate had the capacity to paint her into a corner, are the best parts…

Leah Greenblatt, “The symbolic power of what happened there – one small step, one giant leap for womankind – is still the movie’s truest ace.”

However….Dana Stevens, Slate: “Forty-four years after that legendary game, with the No. 1 chauvinist pig in the White House, ‘You’ve come a long way, baby’ is starting to feel like fake news.”

III. Tired of superheroes? ‘Wonder Woman’ is here to save the day. Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times

States film critic Macdonald, “It’s nice to think that love — and strong women — can save the world; it’s invigorating to watch it happen, even if it’s just on a movie screen.”

Wonder Woman, now on DVD, was quite intriguing to Hillary Clinton, she professed before seeing it. And afterward she stated that it was “just as inspirational as I’d suspected a movie about a strong, powerful woman in a fight to save the world from international disaster would be.”

Male reviewers also generally appreciated this “superhero movie that runs on estrogen rather than testosterone” (Peter Howell, Toronto Star). Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “What lingers…is the feeling of hope that the movie brings, that it someday might be possible for female rationality to defeat male brutality.”

Dec 07

Katie Goodman’s Poignant Perspective On Hillary, Etc.

The latest video from singer Katie Goodman—who’s self-described on Twitter as “Pretty similar to, say, Gandhi. Musical comedian, actress, , author, speaker & activist. Creator of Broad Comedy”— and her husband slash writing partner Soren Kisiel is introduced via a reference to the recent election upset:

Well this has been a hell of a month, huh?
We hope this new bittersweet song and video from us, Katie & Soren,
brings you some hope. It’s a true story and we fear it might make you tear up.

And it did. I present “Move Some Sh!t Around”:

As a postscript to this video, I thought additional feminist-oriented background about both Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Hillary Clinton would be appropriate.

As shown above, Ripley made her debut as a movie character in 1979 in Alien, Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror classic (and she continued in the several sequels that followed). With an 8.5 on IMDB and 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, the original Alien is clearly a fan favorite if not something I’ve ever been interested in seeing. Just not my genre.

But other women have written about their movie hero, Ripley. Megan Kearns ( states, “Radiating confidence and strength, Ripley remains my favorite female film character. A resourceful survivor wielding weapons and ingenuity, she embodies empowerment. Bearing no mystical superpowers, she’s a regular woman taking charge in a crisis.”

Jade Bate, Lip Magazine: “The irony of the male crewmembers’ subtle sexism is that Ripley’s decisions and actions always end up being the right choice in the end.”

What was Hillary Clinton doing when Alien debuted in 1979? For one, she was still known as Hillary Rodham, a successful attorney and law professor, and she also happened to be married to the governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton.

Hillary was interviewed that year by a man who pressed her about her unconventional approach, starting with the following: “You’re not at all interested in state dinners and teas and garden parties, the kinds of things we tend to associate with governor’s wives.”  Respectfully, she replies that she’s “balanced, not reclusive” (Nina Wolpow, Refinery29) in her role.

He proceeds to continue to make his case, nevertheless. “A thought occurs to me that you really do not fit the image that we have created in Arkansas for the governor’s wife. You are not a native, you’ve been educated in liberal Eastern universities…you don’t use your husband’s name, you practice law.”

As stated by Wolpow, “That’s when Hillary breaks in with an Eleanor Roosevelt-ism” worthy of the history books:

‘One cannot live one’s life based on what somebody else’s image of you might be. I suppose that there have been many wives of politicians who may have had serious problems personally, because they were worried about the image that they had and as to whether or not that would hurt their husband. All one can do is live the life that God gave you, and just do the best you can. If somebody likes you or doesn’t like you, that’s in many ways something that you have no control over.’

Nov 04

Women Who Lead: Pertinent Quotes

Psychologist Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender, on the differences between women who lead and men who lead:

Unlike men in the same position, women leaders have to continue to walk the fine line between appearing incompetent and nice and competent but cold. Experimental studies find that, unlike men, when they try to negotiate greater compensation they are disliked. When they try out intimidation tactics they are disliked. When they succeed in a male occupation they are disliked. When they fail to perform the altruistic acts that are optional for men, they are disliked. When they do go beyond the call of duty they are not, as men are, liked more for it. When they criticize, they are disparaged. Even when they merely offer an opinion, people look displeased. The perceptive reader will notice a certain pattern emerging. The same behavior that enhances his status simply makes her less popular. It’s not hard to see that this makes the goal of getting ahead in the workplace distinctly more challenging for a woman.

As we approach the possible election of the first female president of the United States, I thought it appropriate to look at some relevant quotes by and about women who lead or have led:

Madeleine Albright: It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I’m not going to be silent.

Margaret ThatcherIf you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.

Golda Meir: Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.

Rosalynn Carter: A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be. 

Dianne Feinstein: Ninety percent of leadership is the ability to communicate something people want.

Michelle Obama: No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.


Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely – and the right to be heard.

We should remember that just as a positive outlook on life can promote good health, so can everyday acts of kindness.

I challenge assumptions about women. I do make some people uncomfortable, which I’m well aware of, but that’s just part of coming to grips with what I believe is still one of the most important pieces of unfinished business in human history — empowering women to be able to stand up for themselves.

There’s that kind of double bind that women find themselves in. On the one hand, yes, be smart, stand up for yourself. On the other hand, don’t offend anybody, don’t step on toes, or you’ll become somebody that nobody likes because you’re too assertive.

Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.

Luck? I don’t know anything about luck. I’ve never banked on it, and I’m afraid of people who do. Luck to me is something else: Hard work — and realizing what is opportunity and what isn’t.

Always aim high, work hard, and care deeply about what you believe in. And, when you stumble, keep faith. And, when you’re knocked down, get right back up and never listen to anyone who says you can’t or shouldn’t go on.

I know that at a time when so much seems to be pulling us apart, it can be hard to imagine how we’ll ever pull together again. But I’m here to tell you tonight, progress is possible. I know because I’ve seen it in the lives of people across America who get knocked down and get right back up. And I know it from my own life.

Oct 05

Mental Health Stigma And Presidential Politics: Conclusion

Duke University study in 2006 alleged that about half of U.S. presidents before and including Nixon have been afflicted with some form of mental illness—including clinical depression, alcoholism, bipolar disorder, and anxiety.

The point, however, of these last few posts is not so much that those in higher office don’t or shouldn’t have mental health issues—after all, they’re people like anyone else. The point is that because of mental health stigma, they’re less inclined than many of us—because we are less publicly known—to seek the help needed to manage those issues.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Hutschnecker, President Nixon’s shrink, once said: “It is safer for a politician to go to a whorehouse than to see a psychiatrist.”

Hmm…he might reconsider that statement if he were alive today.

But here’s the good news on this whole front. At least one former Senator and presidential candidate has been actively speaking out about the need to eradicate mental health stigma—and guess what, it’s George McGovern! (He also wrote a book about his daughter’s mental health struggles.)

Regarding a speech McGovern gave at UCLA last year, writer Golman Zarinkhou summed up his basic message: “…despite the stigma…people can function at a high level regardless of mental health struggles.” In McGovern’s own words: “I’d like to think that 40 years later we’re a little more open with things like this.”

Well, at least some people are. Diligently advocating for improved mental health policy and programs since the Nixon era have been several of our First and Second Ladies—including Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Tipper Gore, and Hillary Clinton.

Carter, in fact, has written two pertinent books, most recently Within Our Reach: Ending the Mental Health CrisisAmong other things, she’s the founder of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism, the purpose of which is to raise media awareness of mental health issues.

On the general topic of leadership, Rosalynn Carter once said:

A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this were also true: A leader goes to therapy if he or she needs some help. A great leader shows people that it’s okay.