Wednesday, January 30, 2008

27 Dresses or 27 wretches?

27 Dresses definitely has something blue (me - while watching it), something borrowed (the audience a good movie deserves), and it even has something old (the plot), but where‘s the “something new”?

I’m still wondering.

Jane (Katherine Heigl) is the perfect woman - she’s helpful, kind, never says no and she looks killer in a variety of dresses, brides maid dresses to be exact and there are twenty-seven of them hanging in her closet. Her lovely personality traits all come back to bite her in the ass when her younger spoiled super model sister, Tess (Malin Akerman), steps into the picture and gets engaged to Jane’s boss, George (Edward Burns), who just happens to be the love of Jane’s life.

Sound cliché?

Well, that’s because it is.

Nothing new exists within the world of 27 Dresses. It’s merely a culmination of several very bad female stereotypes housed in the body of one Katherine Heigl (who Cosmopolitan magazine recently called “the fun, fearless female of 2007“ Hardy har har). Jane is subservient without complaint – she honestly and vehemently wants to be the definition of the mindless housewife, complete with a “Kodak moment” worthy marriage to someone and it doesn’t really matter who. She lives, breathes, and eats weddings (and lots of wedding cake) and subjects herself to the bride’s maid torture in order to be closer to her dream – almost to the point of saying that she’s masturbating her false ideals every time she’s apart of the wedding experience.

Any sort of step she makes in the right direction towards independence is completely and almost instantaneously undermined by the fact that her character is basically an exercise in humiliation. No one is on her side - not the little sister she raised, not the boss she takes care of, not even the bride-friends she powdered and puffed at the twenty-seven weddings she organized. Jane is on her own and instead of being a fightin’ rooster, she settles upon being just another hen in the henhouse, satisfied with having her eyes pecked out by the rest of the hens.

I honestly can’t believe this film was directed and written by women (Anne Fletcher and Aline Brosh McKenna) who treat the material as if it were fun and harmless. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to state that Fletcher and McKenna treat Jane in the same vein Lucio Fulci “handles” the women in his Giallo slasher films. The only difference being Fulci has the courtesy to actually kill the women he tortures instead of banishing them to marital movie bliss. What’s the deal, Fletcher and McKenna?

I also feel that Katherine Heigl has the potential to actually be the “fun and fearless female of the year”, but that day hasn’t arrived yet. She’s a capable comedienne, pretty, and ambitious. And I adored her after she said this about Knocked Up:

“…A little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I'm playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you're portraying women? Ninety-eight percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie.”

I don’t like Knocked Up either, but anyone with half a brain can tell that 27 Dresses is by far the more offensive film.

Trailers attached to 27 Dresses:

- The Eye
- Fool’s Gold
- Made of Honor
- Definitely, Maybe
- What Happens in Vegas…
- Jumper

Monday, January 21, 2008


Hey y'all,

I finally wrote the manifesto for this blog. Check it out in the links section!

Or look below:

Better late than never.

In an effort to eliminate or at least make people aware of the poor representations of women on screen (movie screen, television screen, computer screen), I have decided to create a critical blog entitled "The Women Within." I strongly dislike labels, but I will say I have several feminist tendencies which will be helpful in my quest for a higher portrayal of female intelligence in life - art - and especially - cinema.

Unfortunately, it seems as if the changes and benefits the feminist movement of the 1960's instilled didn't last very long. I hope to do a timeline of the feminist film cycle in The Women Within as soon as possible. To nutshell it: by the mid 1980's, all of the progress that had been made in previous years by women and men of all different professions and art forms reversed itself with the advent of silly, trite romantic comedies which initiated a negative connotation towards women. Those connotations still hold fast today and it looks as if they're in for the death grip of the century. 2008 looks like the worst year for women in quite a long time.

These are the rules:

1. I must see every new release of 2008 which has a female protagonist, either in theatres or on DVD.

2. There is no genre bias, but I will pay close attention to films whose themes revolve around the world of classic women's cinema (1930-1950). Themes: romance, weddings, children, sacrifice, friendship, etc.

3. Comparisons between classic women's cinema and the cinema of today is acceptable.

4. The blog must be updated on (at least) a weekly basis.

5. I will do my best to bridge the knowledge gap between myself and other art forms in order to give a fuller representation of "the" woman of today. This includes art, literature, music, and journalism, with special notice paid to advertisements directed towards women.

Ultimately, my personal goal with this venture is to grow as a woman as a writer, and as a theorist. Women are more than vessels in poofy wedding dresses and hookers with a heart of gold. I know that in my heart. Now I'm going to try and prove it.


Any updates to this manifesto will be noted and dated.


Expect a different kind of review for 27 Dresses this week. You're in for a lulu.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

2008: a look ahead at the next 11.5 hellish months of my feminist film life

Thus far, two of the first nineteen days of 2008 have brought me to the magnificent AMC Rivereast theatre where I've endured two very bad chick flicks - P.S. I Love You (2007) and 27 Dresses (2008). Watching both films gave me both a sour stomach and, as an added bonus, a preview of worse things to come - trailers for even more bad women's films! Right now I'm going through IMDB's release calendar to see what's in store for me this year. Ahem:


Mad Money
Teeth (actually looks interesting and...good!)
How She Move
4 Months, 3 weeks, 2 Days (technically a 2007 release)


The Eye
Over Her Dead Body
Fool's Gold
The Hottie and the Nottie
Definitely, Maybe
My Blueberry Nights
The Other Boleyn Girl
Mama, I want to sing!


College Road Trip
The Accidental Husband
Funny Games (remake)
Meet the Browns
Stop Loss
(directed by a woman - Kimberly Pierce)


Nim's Island
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Baby Mama


Made of Honor
Sex and the City: The Movie
What Happens in Vegas...




Mama Mia!


Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2









If anyone would like to donate money or AMC gift certificates for my cause, I'll be more than happy to give you my address. I will need help. Sheesh. I'm so depressed.

Monday, January 14, 2008

3 short reviews for 3 bad (or mediocre) movies

No time for the feature, so I hope a short will do. Here are some nice, neat capsule reviews that will hopefully give you a succinct idea about the films' intentions:

La Vie En Rose (Oliver Dahan, 2007): Despite a gloriously faithful characterization of French singer Edith Piaf by Marion Cotillard, the movie just is…is…blah. It doesn’t say anything new, doesn’t subvert any female messages or even address them, and fails to make the “extraordinary life of Edith Piaf” interesting in the least. Honestly, the movie isn’t even worth five sentences.

A Mighty Heart (Michael Winterbottom, 2007): I’ve been thinking about this movie since I watched it a few days ago, wondering how I should approach writing about it. The presentation of Marianne Pearl’s passivity in the film really bothers me. I realize the circumstances she was involved in regarding her husband, Daniel Pearl, and his kidnapping and subsequent beheading were ones that reached far beyond her control, but the film depicts Marianne as a troubled dichotomy – it says she’s a strong, worldly female, but never shows her doing anything. There’s a worrisome sequence involving several male police officers kicking ass and taking names in the hunt for Daniel Pearl, which is cross-cut with images of poor Marianne sitting at home holding her pregnant belly. The same police officers later give her pregnancy advice because, obviously, Marianne can’t do anything for herself.

The Daniel Pearl saga was one of the first political/societal stories I followed during my teen years. Therefore, I am very aware that the real Marianne Pearl is not some wishy-washy woman with no mind of her own, but A Mighty Heart does little to show me the true power of her person.

P.S. I Love You (Richard LaGravenese, 2007): B.S. I Hate You is a more appropriate name. The film pulls all sorts of strings to try and imitate the “weepies” of the 1940’s (it even includes clips from no less than three Bette Davis films and a Judy Garland for good measure) but vastly fails to live up to the likes of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), or The Letter (1940), which share very similar themes. One major thing prevents that from happening (plus those three were made by talented directors!) – the main character’s actions are being dictated by a dead man! Ho ho ho. Hilary Swank’s character, Holly Kennedy, never runs her own show. Every single step towards her “independence” after the death of her husband is ordained by the dead so and so in question because he was kind enough to write her several letters telling her just what to do and how to do it after he dies. Now we have dead men telling women what to do!

A staple of the weepie isn’t even present – good girl chatter between all of the best friends in the film. Gina Gershon and Lisa Kudrow are supposed to fill those roles, but their presence is just as placid and lifeless as everything else. P.S. I Love You is a terrible movie with a terrible message.

Barf-worthy trailers attached to P.S. I Love You:

- The Accidental Husband
- Over Her Dead Body
- 27 Dresses
- Definitely, Maybe
- Fool’s Gold
- The Bucket List

Next time I’d like to have reviews up for The Insect Woman (1963), Offside (2007), and perhaps a male-centric review of Paul Thomas Anderson’s crème de la crème new film - There Will be Blood.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Romance and Cigarettes (2005-2007, John Turturro)

Romance and Cigarettes (2005 - 2007)

Sara Freeman

Romance and Cigarettes, an anti-musical-musical and an anti-romance-romance, is a film that sets fire to all of its nearby genre walls just so it can have the privilege of pissing on the ashes. It’s crude, it’s lewd, and it’s a jazzed-up song and dance fest that turns a significant number of sensibilities on their head. They don’t make films like Romance and Cigarettes every day.

The plot, though bordering on slim and nil, is about a construction worker named Nick Murder (James Gandolfini), who is cheating on his wedding dress designer wife, Kitty (Susan Sarandon), with “one crude broad” and lingerie sales girl, Tula (Kate Winslet). Throw in a bout of lung cancer, three adult daughters (Mary-Louise Parker, Mandy Moore, Aida Turturro), and a poem about the lusciousness of the female orifice and you’ve got the plot of Romance and Cigarettes in one wacky nutshell.

I’m not a fan of the term or idea of camp or campiness, but I’ll use it here because it’s the easiest way to give you an impression of Romance and Cigarettes. I’d say the camp factor falls somewhere in-between the worlds of John Waters and Douglas Sirk, which is mostly caused by the incredibly strange and wonderful staging of the many musical numbers. Some of the people who dance can’t actually dance and most of the people who sing can’t really sing, which I would say falls under the umbrella of John Waters’ auteurism and puts a great deal of people off because they‘re used to the bravado of musical film productions like Chicago (2002) or Moulin Rouge (2001). But the film works as a both a whole and as a better movie than both Chicago and Moulin Rouge because of the Douglas Sirk aspect - that strong, ultimate power of anti-emotion or over-emotion and artifice. However, instead of being artificial, Romance and Cigarettes is as gritty and potent as possible in terms of emotional content. Those aspects are sort of a counter-point to the clear artifice of the musical numbers.

John Turturro, the film’s director, purposefully plays the film like it’s amateur hour (poorly composed shots, out of sync music, bad acting) for the majority of the film to add to that artifice. He also takes elements of golden era musicals - pastel colors, choreographed dance sequences, and spontaneous bursts of song - and applies them to the crass underbelly of Brooklyn, NY. These musical moments are staged with folks as diverse as construction workers, nuns, heavily pregnant women, and occasionally Christopher Walken impersonating Elvis Presley. Diversity is even more prominent with the tunes played in the background to guide the characters - they sing and dance to Tom Jones, Janis Joplin, Engelbert Humperdinck and occasionally a bit of Irving Berlin. Odd as it seems, all of these seemingly wacky puzzle pieces fit together and create one of the weirdest and one of the best musicals in the history of the genre.

There’s nothing conventionally beautiful about the people in Romance and Cigarettes and yet they’re all beautiful people. The songs they sing lift them out and beyond their circumstances and into the realm of influential, poignant cinema. Foul language never sounded so poetic. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it before. Having seen the film twice now (once in theatres and once on a R2 DVD), I can safely say that my love for this cinematic oddity wasn’t a lark the first time around. Few moments in movies this year make me smile and laugh as I did during the first musical number “A Man Without Love” and few have the impact to make me cry as I have the two times I’ve seen it like the ending of this film.

A sincere and profound joy exists within Romance and Cigarettes. It is also brash, crass, and hysterically disobedient in terms of content, narrative, and the traditional fare of the lead actors. The story itself may not revolutionize your way of thinking, but the melodic aesthetic may make you reevaluate the way you think about the musical genre itself. I can’t recommend the film highly enough.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Enchanted (2007)

Disney’s Enchanted (2007)

Sara Freeman

Enchanted is both a return to and a departure from the richly textured legacy of Walt Disney’s past. This works for and against the film; in an effort to right some of these wrongs, Enchanted attempts to subvert Disney chauvinism by creating a pro-female role model in the form of a traditional Disney princess, Giselle (Amy Adams). She’s a bubbly, kind-hearted gal with lots of pep and vigor towards, well, getting married. That’s when she’s animated though. The meta-cinematic blending of animation and live-action pokes fun at such Disney stereotypes as singing with “forest” animals and the “prince saves fair maiden” ending.

After being banished to the “place with no happily ever after’s” a.k.a. NYC, Giselle takes what she likes of reality and lovingly discards what she doesn‘t. She lends the city a dose of her fairy tale magic and in return, is given a bit of advice (and genuine chemistry) from a handsome divorce lawyer, Robert (Patrick Dempsey). He tells her she should take some pride in herself - find some of her own interests and passions and, hey, get to know the handsome Prince (James Marsden, this generation’s Ralph Bellamy) she’s going to marry.

While the ending of the film does subvert a significant number of Disney’s chauvinistic ideals (she marries the divorce lawyer, opens her own clothing store), it fails by making Giselle follow everything Robert says instead of letting her find out about the ways of the world for herself. Which, in turn, gives the other, far less important female in the film (Robert’s girl friend, Nancy (Idina Menzel) the opportunity to marry Giselle’s has-been Prince. The NYC girl wants the fairy tale and the fairy tale Princess wants NYC.

I feel a little guilty admitting to this, but Enchanted is unabashedly and utterly delightful in all other regards. I know that sounds cheesy, but…it really is. Amy Adams is both hilarious and sincere in her princess role and her sense comedic timing reminds me greatly of Katharine Hepburn’s first foray into comedy (Bringing Up Baby, 1938) with a few hints of Carole Lombard and Ruby Keeler thrown in. As a devout Disney watcher (god damn the child inside me), I found myself giggling with the other seven year old ladies in the theatre at the in-jokes about Disney’s older films.

There’s also the matter of the musical score - it’s composed by Disney alum’s Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz who were responsible for the snazzy tunes of The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) and I can’t help but love the Broadway-esque quality to both the music and the four or so musical numbers in the film.

Ultimately, Enchanted is a worthwhile film that has its heart in the right place with its head following closely behind it. I would much rather show my theoretical daughter Enchanted than the likes of Cinderella (1950) for a positive example of a female heroine inside the marvelous world of Disney. Maybe Disney’s next rendezvous with a Disney Princess will be more fulfilling on every level.