“I Bite at the Hand That Feeds Me:” A Watchlist for Vengeful Women

Since November 2016, there has been this swirling pit of rage that permanently resides in the center of my heart, nestled just below the aortic arch. Sometimes it is quiet, like the beach at low tide in the middle of the night, gently ebbing and licking the sand. On days like today, when a sexual abuser is appointed to the highest level of justice, it is an electric maelstrom. More inflamed and unyielding than the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. Stay out of my way; I’m out for blood.

But many other women have written more eloquently about this topic than I could ever hope to, so I will let cinema speak for me. Here are seven films of varying genres (most written or directed by women) that deftly provoke rage against our broken system while simultaneously inspiring that passion for a better world for women and survivors, many of whom overlap. 

1. Shut Up and Sing (2006) dir. Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck
Image result for shut up and sing dixie chicks“Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”

After Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines made this offhand statement at a 2003 concert in London, the vehement backlash from the American country music community nearly ended the trio’s career. Kopple and Peck’s intimate documentary chronicles the aftermath of the incident, including the conception of their 2006 comeback song, “Not Ready To Make Nice.” Their country ballad demonstrated their daring refusal to apologize, denounced the death threats these women received for critiquing their government, and found success as a three-time Grammy award-winning bop!

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‘Madeline’s Madeline’ Expertly Blurs the Line Between Performance Art and Reality

Madeline’s Madeline is unafraid to delve into the volatile psyche of a teenage artist. Art is so often used as a tool to sort through perplexing emotions, so it makes sense that struggling teens tend to lose themselves in this low-cost form of therapy. This semi-experimental fever dream poses the question: At what point in the creative process does art as personal self-expression begin to do more harm than good?

Madeline (newcomer Helena Howard) is a 16-year-old actress in a physical theater troupe, fresh out of a brief stay in a psychiatric ward. Her teacher Evangeline (Molly Parker) is at once forceful and understanding, as if Fletcher from Whiplash actually had a heart. On the flip side is Madeline’s mother Regina (Miranda July), an unstable but ultimately loving helicopter parent whose moods, like Madeline’s, violently change at the blink of an eye. From a more neutral perspective, Regina’s actions may come across as a frustrated, terrified mom doing her best to make sure her daughter stays healthy. But the eyes of a teenage girl, especially one with mental illness, see the world through a distorted lens. I know this because I once was one.

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Under the Influence of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

When Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey first opened in 1968, critics and general audiences were immediately polarized. Upon its premiere, a Variety review boldly stated, “2001: A Space Odyssey is not a cinematic landmark.Others argued that it only broke even at the box office because of the time period’s affinity for dropping acid and lapping up that righteously trippy last 20 minutes.

It is now 50 years later, and 2001 is hailed as one of the most influential films in the history of cinema. Christopher Nolan’s restored 70mm print is making the rounds in the United States, coming to my home state of Oregon. The fervent popularity of the hallucinogenic LSD has been replaced with a proclivity for the psychoactive, and much safer, THC. And that happens to be very, very legal here. In fact, the announcer at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland joked, “Have you all ingested your edibles?” before the screening began (Yes. Yes I had). In short, times have changed.

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‘Hearts Beat Loud’ is the Saccharine, Sapphic Smash of the Summer

In a world inundated with films about angsty artists rebelling against their more traditional parents, Hearts Beat Loud is the breath of fresh air that we didn’t even know we needed. Yes, it’s another entry into the, “‘You’re giving up on your dream.’ ‘No, Dad. I’m giving up on yours,’” film canon, but with a welcome twist: 18-year-old Sam (Kiersey Clemons) wants to attend UCLA for medical school and her father, record shop owner Frank, wants her to stay in New York and start a band with him. Frank (Nick Offerman) is the quintessential goofy dad, pulling his daughter away from studying so they can “jam sesh.” He plays an old guitar, and she plays a keyboard hooked up to a Macbook; he represents old school rock, and she represents contemporary pop. Together, they make an unlikely songwriting duo called “We Are Not A Band.”

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‘Proud Mary’ is an Action Film Without the Action

This review is by our guest writer Mia Vicino.

Starting out strong with a funky opening credit sequence set to “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” a nod to blaxploitation films of the 70s, Proud Mary appeared to be steeped in potential. As the titular Mary, a hit woman for a powerful Boston crime family, checks out her personal arsenal of sleek guns with her steely stare, we sense we’re in for a wild ride of firefights and ass-kicking by the one-and-only Taraji P. Henson. Sadly, this is not the movie we get.

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Taraji P. Henson in Proud Mary. Photo by Dana Starbard © 2017 CTMG, Inc.

Instead, Proud Mary is loosely based on the plot of the 1980 John Cassavetes crime drama Gloria starring Gena Rowlands. After a hit goes awry, Mary finds herself responsible for a young boy named Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston). Juggling both childcare and an assassination profession is a ripe set-up for some comedic scenes, such as Mary taking Danny to a hot dog cart near her mark’s apartment so she can surreptitiously scope out the area.

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