Of Tigernado, Black Widow and movie moms

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I got an interesting reminder this week the power of film – even ridiculously terrible ones – to help us through tough times.

Here in Oklahoma, it’s literally been a stormy week, with tornadoes, flash floods and baseball-size hail. We expect that sort of thing in May here where the wind comes sweeping down the plains and where our schoolchildren often know more meteorological terms than other states’ TV weather forecasters.

But even as seasoned as we are at dealing with disaster, we weren’t expecting a tigernado.

Yes, a tigernado.

On Wednesday night, the Tiger Safari roadside zoo in Tuttle (which is west of Oklahoma City) was hit by one of the many small- to medium-size tornadoes wandering around the landscape, and there were concerns that some of the wild animals that live there had escaped. It turned out that no tigers were harmed or released in the making of that tornado, but by the time that was confirmed, we had already turned tigernado into a topic trending worldwide on Twitter.

Of course, tigernado is a reference to the inexplicably popular Syfy telefilm Sharknado, and memes based on that ridiculous monster movie and its sequel soon were flying around Twitter like so much twister debris. The poster for Life of Pi also became a popular tigernado meme, especially as flood waters rose and turned streets into rivers if not oceans, and jokes about Oklahoma rolling a 5 or 8 on the Jumanji dice ran as rampant as hyped-up storm chasers.

Meanwhile, all I’m thinking is that we really need to make the 2010 documentary The Elephant in the Living Room required viewing in a state this disaster prone.

All the Tigernado memes and jokes were an entertaining distraction from the chaos going on around us as tornadoes tore through homes, businesses and churches, floodwaters shut down schools, and a woman tragically lost her life when she became trapped in her storm shelter and drowned. But we Oklahomans have unfortunately seen worse during tornado season, and hey, at least all the tigers were safe and secure and no one got eaten in the process.

It was a bit of lighthearted merriment in the midst of nature’s fury, brought to us by the movies.

Ultron messily takes on women’s issues

(Spoilers follow for those who haven’t seen Avengers: Age of Ultron or are here on the Internet for the first time.)

As expected Avengers: Age of Ultron crashed its way to the top of the domestic box office last weekend, but along the way, it managed to create more furor than a full-on Hulk smash session.

By the time I saw the film on its official opening day – it would have taken a lightning god with a magical hammer to drag me into the chaos of a preview screening for a Marvel movie – I had already read multiple commentaries about how writer/director Joss Whedon had done Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff wrong, either by slut-shaming her or having her whine and melt down because she can’t make babies.

So, I went into the film wondering what happened to Whedon, who has a reputation for positively portraying women dating back to his groundbreaking TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And I got a reminder that it’s important to give people the benefit of the doubt, especially people who’ve earned one.

See, I’m more inclined to agree with HitFix’s Katie Hasty and Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg, I’m not seeing slut-shaming nor a whining meltdown. I’m not seeing anything in the actual film that warranted the level of screeching that occurred on Twitter, even as I find the lack of Black Widow merchandise and the absence of a female-centered Marvel movie frustrating enough to deserve a Twitter spew or two.

I was still surprised to see such a grownup topic as a woman’s infertility handled even briefly in a jam-packed comic-book movie, and I actually was pleasantly surprised to see it handled reasonably well. For those who haven’t seen the sequel, Natasha wants to pursue a romance with Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who warns her that he can’t have children. She replies that she can’t have children, either, because she was involuntarily sterilized as the final step in her training as an assassin, something she has experienced flashbacks to thanks to the mind-meddling powers of Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch.

In this short scene, Natasha never implies that she can’t be complete without children or even that she wishes she could have them, nor do we get the indication she doesn’t like children: she happily plays cool aunt to her pal Hawkeye’s kids (more on that latter). In her typical pragmatic fashion, Natasha accepts her infertility as a fact and sees it as one less barrier to having a relationship with the man she cares about. It seems that if she’s upset about anything, it’s that her choice was taken away.

I thought that’s what feminism was supposed to be all about: letting women have the freedom and equality to make their own choices. But I’ve heard so much criticism about a potential Natasha romance, as if that suddenly diminishes her as a “strong woman” because she might want that kind of relationship, which, after all, is a fairly common choice among real-life women.

Likewise, there’s been plenty of criticism aimed at one of Age of Ultron’s newly introduced female characters: Clint Barton/Hawkeye’s (Jeremy Renner) wife, Laura (Linda Cardellini), who is pregnant and stays home with their other two children while he’s out avenging. To some critics, Laura’s decision to be a stay-at-home mom is her only important characteristic, but the fact that she has a warm and noncompetitive relationship with the sexy younger colleague that her husband mentors had an equally large impression on me. (I love how Whedon and Co. played with viewers’ expectations about Black Widow and Hawkeye that if they are close, they must be romantically involved). If it were the only representation of women in the film, I would see a problem with it. But what’s wrong with becoming a stay-at-home mom if that is a choice a woman wants to make?

I thought Age of Ultron presented a reasonable range of women: butt-kicking Avenger Black Widow, stay-at-home mom Laura Barton, super-smart geneticist Dr. Cho (Claudia Kim) and Scarlet Witch, one of the most powerful characters in the film. My daughter loved Scarlet Witch with her ability to bring even the brawniest challenger to his knees with her mind powers.

I’m  not giving Age of Ultron or Marvel a free pass on women’s issues: I’m disappointed that Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) remains little more than a secretary with a handgun who occasionally gets to spout a bit of exposition – even worse, this time out, she sustains the girliest injury ever when she gets debris in her big toe because a fight goes down while she’s in her high-heeled opened-toe party shoes – and it’s simply ridiculous that we’re 11 films into a “Cinematic Universe” and we’re still three years away from getting an installment that has a woman for the main character.

And if Black Widow ever gets her well-deserved, well-overdue standalone film I hope the filmmakers aren’t afraid to bring real-life women’s issues into the story line.

Memorable moms on Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day, and to mark the occasion, I’m listing a few of the most memorable movie moms in my cinematic experience:

– Queen Elinor (voice of Emma Thompson), Brave (2012): This Pixar fairy tale is one of the best movies ever to delve into mother-daughter relationships. It’s no coincidence that it was co-written and co-directed by a woman, folks.

– The Bride (Uma Thurman), Kill Bill, Vol. 1 and 2 (2003-04): Talk about a mama who will do ANYTHING for her kid.

– Margaret Lord (Mary Nash), The Philadelphia Story (1940): She’s one of my favorite characters in my all-time favorite movie, a mom dealing with tabloid reporter houseguests, her husband’s indiscretions and her younger daughter’s salacious love of all the drama in the midst of her socialite older daughter’s second marriage. Margaret Lord comes across as a bit of a ditz compared to her iron-willed daughter Tracy (Katharine Hepburn), but when her daughter needs help, Mama Lord is rock-solid and there to support her. Plus, she’s got the style to pull off a hat that looks like a giant taco.

– Lynn Sear (Toni Collette), The Sixth Sense (1995): This tough single mom does her best to help her troubled son, and she doesn’t put up with any other kids who want to bully him. Plus, her own relationship with her dead mother is so beautifully handled in this film.

– Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock), The Blind Side (2009): This Southern mother brings the same fierce love and protectiveness to her relationship with her adopted son as she does to the bond she has with her two biological children.

– Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991): In one of the more striking transformations between sequels, Sarah turns herself into a fighting machine to protect her son from termination.

– Ellen Griswold (Beverly D’Angelo), National Lampoon’s Vacation movies: No matter how crazy the Griswold family’s latest holiday gets, she copes with sass, serenity and sarcasm.

Quick hitters

– The start of what EW.com predicted would be “the summer of funny women” got off to a rough start, with Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara’s crime/road caper Hot Pursuit opening at No. 2 at the domestic box office this weekend with a disappointing $13.3 million from 3,004 theaters, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The comedy expected to open in the mid- to high-teens, but its been there-done that plotting and stereotype-dependent jokes earned it terrible reviews. Hopefully, Elizabeth Banks’ Pitch Perfect 2 can get the summer of women in comedy back on track this weekend.

– Congratulations to Jennifer Kent, who on Friday was named best feature film director at the Australian Directors Guild Awards for her horror film The Babadook, according to Variety.com.

– The fallout from the Sony email hack continues, with Sony Pictures’ new film chief Tom Rothman being put to the test with the interstellar love story Passengers, set to star Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt under the direction of “The Imitation Game’s” Morten Tyldum. According to The Hollywood Reporter, before Rothman officially took over, Sony already had agreed to pay Lawrence $20 million to star, though her role actually is somewhat secondary to Pratt’s. His deal gives him about $10 million with the possibility of more based on the performance of Universal’s Jurassic World reboot (due in theaters June 12). Lawrence and her CAA reps are said to be holding firm to the $20 million fee; as the Sony hack revealed, she got a smaller percentage of the profit pool from American Hustle than co-stars Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale and Jeremy Renner even though she was the brighter star at the time. Good for her.


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