Monday, February 25, 2008

Fool's Gold and Definitely, Maybe

**SPOILER WARNING** (Not that anyone who reads this will care about narrative giveaways for these movies...but still, it's nice to be considerate!)

Fool’s Gold (2008, Andy Tennant)

Ah, an old-fashioned tribute to both the classic adventure film and the “battle of the sexes” genre. But Matthew McConaughey is no Clark Gable or Tyrone Power and Kate Hudson is certainly no Jean Harlow or Linda Darnell - not in the least. Instead, they are the lovelorn lollies and co-conspirators in this retarded treasure hunt film. Not only is there no chemistry between them to speak of, but Matthew McConaughey (perhaps the blandest actor in Hollywood) is given all of the masculine kudos and gold-digging chutzpah. His character is also oddly rewarded for his mental deficiencies and irresponsibility, which includes flying a plane based on knowledge he learned from playing his play station. Lovely.

Though Hudson basically holds her own during the chase/fight sequences and vocal disputes (and is apparently working towards her PhD), any progression her character may have made for women in that regard is entirely discredited by the film’s ending - which shows a pregnant Hudson stroking her belly by her newly regained McConaughey husband’s side as he is applauded at a museum opening. I look forward to seeing Hudson in the kitchen with the kids while McConaughey hunts treasure in the future.

Most appalling sequence: Character introductions!

McConaughey: He’s looting around for treasure under water and discovers the first piece of the physical puzzle for their epic treasure hunt after an accident he causes sinks his boat.

Hudson: She’s hysterically crying and screaming at herself about her self-confidence while she looks in a mirror.

She is clearly the smarter, braver, and more successful of the two, but for some reason she’s made to look like a fool next to McConaughey’s swaggering, imbecilic self.

Definitely, Maybe (2008, Adam Brooks)

This is probably my favorite of the romantic comedies I’ve had to sit through so far this year.

The film is mainly about a man, namely, Ryan Reynolds’ Will Hayes, but women are the force behind all of his life decisions and career goals. You’ve probably already seen the trailer, but Hayes’ job is to weave a web of intrigue for his young daughter, Abigail Breslin, regarding the myth of how he met her mother, which coincides with his decisions and goals. He settles upon three past girl friends to tell the tale - Emily (Elizabeth Banks), Summer (Rachel Weisz), and April (Isla Fisher).

Each woman represents three diverse, and slightly clichéd stereotypes - Emily is the blonde college sweetheart and girl next door, Summer is the raven-haired, sexy career gal, and April is the flighty, artsy, best friend and redhead. Despite their clichéd nature, these characters do not fall prey to their roots in the least. For instance, Emily decides she doesn’t want to be the Jackie O to Hayes’ half-baked ideas of political candidacy and hit’s the road, Summer, a journalist, chooses her career over her love for Hayes by doing her job and writing a slandering article about his boss when she had to, and April gets her act together, goes back to graduate school, and earns a high-level career at Amnesty International.

And instead of ridiculing these women for their decisions like other romantic comedies tend to do, Hayes’ respects their decisions and in the end, admires each for their guts and determination. This is of the utmost importance because he is telling the story to his daughter - obviously, a young, impressionable mind, and he shouldn’t want her to get the wrong, un-feminist idea about the break-up of a relationship. By showing his daughter that he’s attracted to strong women, she’ll be more inclined to be one herself.

Though the film doesn’t really dive into the real reasons Reynolds is attracted to these women (despite the obvious) or even why they‘re attracted to him, I think the fact that he’s attracted to and relates to each instead of their Fool’s Gold or 27 Dresses counterparts in the first place is potent enough evidence to gain my certified seal of approval.

Definitely, Maybe is truly a refreshingly inoffensive romp into rom-com land.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007, Cristian Mungiu)

Sorry folks, it's been a busy week. I'm catching up on homework, some capsules, and a mini-essay on my observations thus far in my project. Hopefully I'll have everything done soon! Plus, it's my birthday! Yay!

Without further ado:

While I appreciate the film and the filmmaker for addressing the cinematically taboo subject of abortion directly, I can’t help but be disappointed with the heavy-handed pessimism and victimization felt throughout the entirety of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. To put it bluntly, every man is a predator and every woman is prey. It’s exhaustingly manipulative in both aesthetics and themes, especially the use of the "box" framing device which is constantly used on the female characters to further imply their persecution.

Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), the film’s central character, is supposed to be seen as some sort of a feminist hero because she “fights” the oppressive forces that bind her to the situation she’s in - namely, helping out her best friend, Gabriela “Gabita“ (Laura Vasiliu), secure an illegal abortion in pre-revolutionist Romania. But that’s just surface level.

Instead, the film depicts Otilia as well as all of the other women (especially Gabita) as helpless victims who somehow know they’re being victimized yet never do anything about it (except pray on each other for some reason). The most blatant offender is Gabita, who manipulates Otilia several times without any consequence befalling her - she seems to like all of the ill-treatment she’s receiving because it ups her “woe as me” ante and even that’s giving her more foresight than I think she deserves.

The only way I can understand Otilia as a feminist hero is through the idea that she’s the only woman in the film who is seen as active - she’s basically the lone female character seen outdoors aside from the abortionist’s senile mother who, when on screen, is being ushered back inside her home (notice Otilia‘s blank and uncaring stare while she watches from afar). Yet even when Otilia is outside she’s always doing errands for other people and I never, for one instance, feel as if Otilia is performing any of these exhaustive labors for herself or the good of her community.

She’s more than happy to serve up anything from perfunctory sex to hotel reservations as long as she never thinks to herself - "why am I doing this?" Her character is entirely stripped of independence, ambition, and thought, which I suppose could be the point of the film, but the mere fact that we are forced to understand her perspective only when considering that she’s running on survival instincts that aren’t hers speaks volumes about the failure of this film.

The setting of this film is the Romania of 1987. Two years later, a (partially) student-led revolution ended communism in the country. What’s clear to me after 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days is Otilia had absolutely nothing to do with it - which begs the question - why am I watching her?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I wanna be loved by you...wait, life can't wait?


LADIES, have you noticed that while we're in a flap over what shoes to wear (it’s difficult, right?), life's flying by, waving at us in the full-length mirror. Enough! It’s time we realized life can’t wait.

We girls need inspiration. And, inspiring people don't come much bigger than MADONNA, MARILYN MONROE and SHAKIRA. Women who know life just can't wait. See just how they've made their lives happen through their timelines, and how their hairstyles have followed. But we all know the girl next door can be just as inspiring. Soon you'll be able to share your own life-can’t-wait moments, too, for the chance to become one of 25 international female icons, selected by us.

I think I'm going to enter the contest because I want to bad mouth them from the inside out.

Before I get started, I'd like to address an issue very close to my heart -

Hasn't Marilyn Monroe been through enough? Everyone owes her an enormous apology, namely, the past generation of women who hated her for being a sexual object and the men who made her one. My generation owes her an even bigger apology for thinking she's "cool" because she was regarded as a sex symbol. People put pictures and clips from her films on their Myspace pages or blogs without ever seeing a single one of her films or even reading anything about her. It's quite disgusting.

Marilyn Monroe may not have been the best actress of her day, but she certainly acted in quite a few worthwhile films that amply display her comedic abilities. Films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), Some Like it Hot (1959), Monkey Business (1952), and The Seven Year Itch (1955) all play into her sex-bomb status by making her the object of alluring lust, but it's rarely degrading because she sarcastically plays into it by knowing she's better than what she's portraying. Monroe isn't known for being much of a thinker (though she tried!), but she's always thinking on screen.

Her biggest misstep came in the mid-1950’s when she decided to take a break from Hollywood and get some genuine dramatic acting training from Lee Strasberg‘s famous acting institute in New York City. This caused quite an uproar because it displayed Monroe’s true ambitions to better herself - something men and women couldn’t comprehend with their love/hate relationship towards her.

Alas, that relationship sustained itself until she committed suicide in 1962. Bus Stop is the first film she made when she returned from New York City with all of that freshly learned dramatic skill and it is probably my most hated film of all time. Monroe plays a character named Cherie and she is the absolute epitome of what society thought of Monroe at the time - sleazy, slutty, stupid, and, susceptible to the whim of any man. In Bus Stop, it’s a barbaric cowboy who wrangles her heart by literally flinging her over his shoulder and telling her she’s going to marry him. But that’s acceptable because he apologizes at the end of the film and she sees all of his “little boy” insecurities come to light. Can you figure out the ending? I thought so.

If Monroe hadn’t acted in Bus Stop and held out for a more empowering role (like Susan Hayward’s part in I’ll Cry Tomorrow also released in 1956), I believe the next few years of her life would have been radically different. Namely, it would have shook the world’s core into acknowledging her acting prowess. It wasn’t in the cards though and she endured the latter part of her life with the barest of grins and the saddest of sorrows. Her marriage to Arthur Miller failed because her insecurity overpowered their relationship - the world loved her for one thing and one thing only and she needed a different kind of love. No one could fully give her what she needed.

Now she’s sentenced to stereotype/caricature hell and I don’t think she’ll be able to turn her high heels around any time soon. She’s stuck on billboards advertising hair care products that flat out lie to the girls they’re trying to entice by saying their particular kind of hair care will set them free and let them live life to the fullest. Because we all know how important one’s hair history is to the progression of our minds and lives.

Some girls can’t wait
To make life happen
Their hair tells their story
Make your hair happen
Life can’t wait

Monroe’s simulacrum has permanently taken over the original. I don’t really care about Madonna or Shakira - I’m just wondering what these three ladies have in common other than they’re all blonde occasionally. This ad is problematic, to say the least, and other than the apparent feminist issues I have with it, I’m mostly concerned with the fact that a troupe of even younger little girls will associate Monroe with this ad and think she’s synonymous with hair care products. I’d metaphorically equate that offense to be like the lone pedophile in a court room full of arsonists or something of the sort.


P.S. I'm sorry if this isn't very eloquent - it's 3:00 in the morning and I spontaneously felt compelled to write about this ad and Ms. Monroe.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Sara Freeman's Favorite Films of 2007

Frankly, I don’t have the time to create an extensive top ten list. I would really like to, but I’m busy doing other things. Therefore, I’ve decided to create the abridged version of Sara Freeman’s favorite films of 2007. The only film I will expand upon is my absolute favorite film of 2007:

"Waitress" (Adrienne Shelly)

I’ve been putting off writing about this film for some time because I’m afraid I can’t do it justice. I honestly love it with all my heart. Before I watched Waitress, I was a very unhappy person - I didn’t feel “right” in my own skin. I worked in a customer service position in which people treated me like I was lower than dirt on a daily basis, I wasn’t writing, and, most annoyingly, I didn’t know how to fix it. Writing about women’s films had always been enjoyable for me and I knew how to dig deep into their themes, but I had never considered making it a goal in my cinematic life to write about “chick flicks.”

Well, obviously, that changed. One day, after a particularly disheartening shift at work, I decided to watch "Waitress." It revolutionized my way of thinking about modern women’s cinema. The film is not epic in any traditional sense of the word, it doesn’t have A-list stars, and many people consider it to be “schmaltzy” because of its supposed feel-good ending.

So what!

Waitress’ cinematic progression is unique because it is entirely societal - it colors new shades into our ideas of certain stereotypes (the abusive husband being the most radical) and most importantly, it shows the world that a woman - an average, simple waitress, can shed her circumstances and live life as a strong, ambitious person. That goes a long way in my book.

I loved the film instantly, but it took me a couple of months to figure out what a rarity it really is. I started taking note of the other terrible chick flicks coming out, read a great deal of feminist literature, and had to begin formulating my idea for this project before I fully grasped the power of the film. The critical and public reaction to "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" was the cincher to my blog decision.

And I think I’ve finally found my cinematic calling in life. I love what I’m doing. It’s tough sitting through terrible movie after terrible movie, but I honestly feel like I’m benefiting the cinematic world in my own small way. And it's all thanks to the care and consideration of one film and one filmmaker, Adrienne Shelly, who is sadly no longer able to create more wonderful femicentric films.

These are the other films released in 2007 that really knocked my socks off:

(In no particular order)

- "Romance and Cigarettes" (John Turturro)
- "Lady Chatterley" (Pascale Ferran)
- "There Will be Blood" (Paul Thomas Anderson)
- "Youth Without Youth" (Francis Ford Coppola)
- The Jacques Rivette retrospective, specifically "Out 1" and "Celine and Julie go Boating"
- "Private Fears in Public Places" (Alain Resnais)
- Films by Jake Barningham (honestly!): "Cinema Poetics 1-3"(though 1 is unfinished) and "Lola Lane Listens"

To a lesser extent:

- "Bug" (William Friedkin)
- "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" (Shekhar Kapur)
- "Away from Her" (Sarah Polley)
- "Hot Fuzz" (Edgar Wright)
- "Broken English" (Zoe Cassavetes)


- "Death Proof" - a film I’ve spent months digging through my brain trying to figure out why I like it so much. I believe I’ve figured out the looser meaning of my adoration, but now I’m wondering why I devoted such thought to a movie as convoluted as Death Proof is. Shame on me.

I wasn’t able to attend the Chicago International Film Festival for personal reasons, so these selections are strictly based to theatrical showings at the Gene Siskel Film Center, The Music Box, Landmark Century Centre Cinema, and AMC Rivereast 21.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

An Odd Threesome: The Eye, Over Her Dead Body, and Persepolis

The Eye (2008, David Moreau): While the film is about as memorable as a dirty, wet piece of cardboard on the sidewalk, Jessica Alba’s character, Sydney Wells, does act as a strong female protagonist. She’s independent, saves a few men and women from utter death, and uses her instinctive feminine voice to guide her decisions. But her character isn’t fleshed out well enough to garner any sort of a feminine stance. She’s just…nothing. Perhaps if Alba were a more capable performer, the film and its central character could be elevated a little farther up from the filthy ground.

Over Her Dead Body (2008, Jeff Lowell): This film is honestly a lot smarter than it has any right to be. It teeters on the edge of offensiveness like a mini-skirt in a Catholic church yet never crosses that forbidden line. Though in its most basic sense the film is a catfight between two women over a man, I rarely felt my feminist “no-no” button being pushed because they don’t play dirty, meaning they don’t (or rarely) make fun of the stereotypes women are socially ordained to bestow upon one another in films, i.e., fat jokes, cosmetic jokes, clothes jokes. They’re earnestly fighting over the love of the same man and who wouldn’t adore a surly, bitter Paul Rudd? Eva Longoria is a delightful bitch without too much of a sting and cinema newcomer Lake Bell is charming and sprightly. I would never call Over her Dead Body a good movie, but I certainly didn’t want to peel my eyes out layer by layer while watching it either.

Persepolis (2007, Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud): Phew, a good movie! A really good one! This is technically a 2007 release, but it didn’t debut in Chicago until the middle of January.

Marjane Satrapi delivers a one-two punch to misogynists, bigots, warmongers, and the simple minded sheep who follow in their footsteps. It’s very refreshing to witness a female main character, animated or not, who is so sure and righteous of her beliefs and actually acts upon them. She leaves little doubt to where she received her fine moral education - she learned how to respect her womanhood from her mother and grandmother and her faithful father pointed her in the right philosophical direction. The film is also refreshing because it subverts the notion of the “coming of age” tale which has been told too many times to count in American cinema. Marjane doesn’t really sweat the small stuff like the teenagers do in American films so much as she takes it all in her stride to make herself a better, more well-rounded gal. She handles the repression of her rights in Iran in the same way she handles the divorce of her first husband - like the warrior she really is. It’s terrible when it happens, but why dwell on it when you could be fighting your next battle? Marjane is fierce and fiercely intelligent and we need more characters like her in our cinematic culture.