Chick-flick, really? How about just “movie”?

There’s a lot of talk these days about the evil -isms. I don’t mean just the traditional fascism, or the always indendiary terrorism, or even the very topical homophob- well, there is no –ism for that one, but racism is also back on the table (not that it ever disappeared), much ado about the Supreme Court and such. So, why the hell aren’t people raising a total shitstorm over the invisible –ism? If you are unsure which one I am talking about hat would be SEXISM. (Not that I condone -isms…)

Just one look at how people reacted to Texas state Senator Wendy Davis should have shocked people in to rage. [Check the response to #standwithwendy – which was #sitdownwendy – pretty telling.]

https://twitter.com/aworkinglibrary/status/350012277442883584

Though, the other day the GOP launched a new campaign, Women are Right, get it? They are right and on the right! Clever! #goodluckwiththat

But even that just offered a glimpse into what remains a huge problem in our society punctuated with discrepancies in opportunities and wildly divergent average wages, but sustained by cultural norms across the board. And not that this situation is all that great anywhere, but in America, especially California, we are supposed to be so progressive. Or something.

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But what got me back up in your faces about this was a movie I just saw. For real.

You might remember a couple of weeks ago I watched Desperately Seeking Susan for the first time in years. It was so fun I even wrote about it. And there was an article I cited talking about how there are not longer movies driven by females made for the mainstream commercial audience. And while I suspect this has more to do with the mainstream audience than anything else… it still says a lot. There are hardly any movies that are driven by cool female leads (do not  get me going on whatsherface from Twiglight… she is categorically uninteresting.) And any movie that is female driven is automatically labeled a chick flick. Why aren’t all the ridionculous summer “blockbusters” genderfied thusly? Yeah, okay, there were a few movies that got labeled Bromances, (The Hangover 1-3I guess.) But the minute there is an attempt to drive a movie with female lead, or a female cast (gasp), “blockbuster” is out of reach. Take a look at the predicted blockbusters in this slide show. It could be that the ladies in Hollywood don’t want to do drivel like White House Down (side note: can you imagine the uproar if multiple movies were made about destroying the White House when Bush/Cheney were sitting around in there? It would have been treasonous) or Fast and Furious 28, but I think it says a lot more about the market for movies, which in turn, of course says much about our cultural take on women. These days even a lot of the “chick flicks” are guy driven… Magic Mike or Rock of Ages anyone? If women are the ones spending money on these movies (even though they earn less) it seems like making reasonable female driven films might be worthwhile… but I don’t write for Hollywood, so more uptight, neurotic, jealous, psycho, desperate housewives, or wannabe housewives are in my future I suppose…

In order to avoid the “chick flick” label female heavy movies now seem to require a lot of vomit or shit (literally); see Bridesmaids, or The Bachelorette – wow, what an amazing variety of subject matter… but even He’s Just Not That Into You – a movie that hit fairly close to home, but still maintained the age-old story line of girl-desperate-for-man. [Not to mention the obvious fact that if you find the fact that girls are crass, offensive, or simply gross at times, you just have not hung around many girls in your life. Or at least not the ones I know. It is just not that shocking.]

With all this is mind, I selected another “chick flick” to watch. The Cowboy was a good sport about it, but was not optimistic. The selection this time? Pitch Perfect. The plot revolves around collegiate a capella, which I realize could sound overly niche, but having had a small glimpse into the cult-like fanaticism surrounding collegiate a capella, and of course the success of Glee, they knew the market was clearly there.

So saying all that, I will just cut to the chase: the movie is hilarious (and there is the requisite barf scene [x2] to make it less “chick-y” and more “bro-y” or something) and the actors in it can really sing apparently. Bear in mind, I like movies lots of people don’t (and that is only one of a million reasons I will never review films for anyone who cares, or pays me) but I do think that my opinion counts for something; I could at least point you in the direction of a good time. And also, recall I am not a big fan of the whole “body positive” movement, but I am most definitely on Team Rebel Wilson.

This movie has a (clearly purposefully) diverse group of girls in it, but they are all pretty funny and they get the job done – most especially Ms. Wilson who plays Fat Amy (‘You call yourself Fat Amy?’ ‘Yeah, so twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back.’)

“I can sing, but I’m also good at modern dance, olden dance, and mermaid dancing which is a little different. You usually start on the ground. It’s a lot of floor work.”

I love her attitude and she is seriously hilarious (as she was in the other movies I saw her in.) Case in point, if you check the quotes on IMDB.com, they are pretty much all her. Another fun part of the movie are the roles of the aca-announcers Gail, played by Elizabeth Banks who also produced the film, and her ridiculous partner John.

The movie is fast and funny and has some good music in it, [as well as some that is fairly suspect, but I far prefer this version of Miley Cyrus and Jessie J.] And **spoiler alert** the girls win this one, which is really fun. It does end with the (apparently) requisite run of the girl back to the boy, but I am willing to over look that for this scene.

So, take a break and watch this movie if you have a minute this summer, unless you would rather write a movie that fills ths sad cultural void. We need more movies like this that don’t take themselves so seriously, and in attempting levity don’t have to be completely lame. Or all about killing yourself for some guy.

Gail: I think we have just seen some a cappella history being made, John.
John: And from an all-female group, Gail. I could never have called this one.
Gail: Never. Well, you are a misogynist at heart, so there’s no way you would have bet on these girls to win.
John: Absolutely.

Crushed it.

“Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can!”

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“Reserving judgements is a matter of infinite hope.”

I finally saw Baz Luhrmann’s production of The Great Gatsby today. Not a new film anymore, I realize, but as is the nature of my life, I tend to get caught up on my celluloid fix during the summers, and a grey San Francisco June day is the perfect time to take in a matinée. For better or for worse, when it takes so long to get around to seeing movies it is impossible to not hear the critiques, and for an American classic of this stature, you can be sure there was an abundance. First, there were the “I haven’t seen the thing and I never will” critiques. These derived from a mix of folks ranging from those who stand on principle that, in fact, you not only cannot repeat the past you should be goddamned barred from trying. Also in this group are the people who categorically find something wrong with Baz Luhrmann, Leonardo DiCaprio, or Jay Z. Another element of this group would be the lit crit snobs, who I think are basing their critique on someone else’s review, which makes them too derivative to really even consider here. Next there were the literary aficionados. This group saw the film, and is largely comprised of teachers (heavily weighted towards English), readers of the New Yorker (or NYT Book Review), Fitzgerald experts, and “Americanists” (yes, that is a thing.) The criticism from this group was heavy on nostalgia and loyalty to the book. Many of them talked about how it was insulting to have the symbolism so directly explained [Um, yes. Americans don’t really read anymore and so I would say that in fact they DO need this explanation.] Some of them talked about how it was too literal, other said it took to many figurative liberties. I also heard complaints about the Luhrmann’s general misunderstanding of Fitzgerald’s primary theme in the novel (arguably the corrosion/degeneration/decay/ruination/failure of the “American Dream”). Associated with the latter was the notion that the irony of the novel would be lost in a Luhrmann-like celebration of the visual and aesthetic grandeur of the time period. How can he make a pretty movie about a fucked up thing like this? 

Ummm… I think you might have missed the irony there, professor.

“I wasn’t actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity.” 

Anyhow, I went in with my own biases. I have read the novel probably ten times. I read it as a high school student (mostly), and then as a more responsible university student trying to actually e as well read as I said I was, and then as a high school teacher – yes, I too “taught” the novel. In addition to my self-professed familiarity with the book, I also believe that Leo DiCaprio may be one of the most underrated actors of my generation. I mean, forgive the guy Titanic, already, will you? What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Aviator, Catch Me If You Can, The Departed, Blood Diamond, Basketball Diaries, and D’Jango Unchained? Please, that is a list of fantastic films, roles, and work. Anyhow, I suppose I am either preaching to the choir here or wasting time on deaf ears. Beyond that, I also love Baz Luhrmann. Visually, his work is amazing, even if you don’t like the movies, and I would suggest even if you don’t like his aesthetic, it should still be categorized as amazing work. Strictly Ballroom  will forever be a favorite, and judge me how you like, but I liked Moulin Rouge. So, there you have my biases. Oh, and Prada dresses & accessories for the parties? Yeah, I’m in.

“For a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.”

 We have a deep-seated fascination with the “Roaring Twenties” in America. I know this as a U.S. History teacher, as well as a relatively observant human. There is something eternally compelling about a decade of such transition, tumultuous as it was. America came out of WWI looking as dapper as ever, and with the booming markets, new access to popular culture via radio, and huge cultural transitions like women’s rights (women’s suffrage, the Flapper movement, co-ed colleges) and the influence of black culture made more accessible, if not wholly acceptable, through the Harlem Renaissance, and then there was the emerging marriage of music, movies, fashion through the first generation of real American celebrities. People hold on to all these glamorous images tightly, going so far as to stylize even the worst elements of our culture, crime (organized or otherwise), racism, witch hunts (political and economic), in a way that offers pretty and sterile memories; always so much more fun to recollect. The resulting (yes, it was consequential) economic collapse even seems to be romanticized as some sort of retrospective Faustian morality tale – from which we all learned such valuable lessons. Oh. Wait….

I was within and without. Simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”

Now, off of my teacher soap box and into the theater. The costumes did not disappoint, the work in that area was divine. And the party scenes were just as I would hope from a Luhrmann vehicle: palpable texture. However, the scene that got me from the start was the moment Nick walks into the Buchanan’s home. From the first time I read the book I have loved that scene; the billowing curtains veiling Daisy and Jordan, the whiteness of the space… all of it, and I loved how it was done in this film. Nick’s first party is also fabulous. The way that Gatsby was a man of mystery at once so obvious and so invisible (as Jordan said, “…I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy…”) was, if not totally original, very well done. And anyhow, it is hard to imagine that anyone who was seeing this movie would be without an idea who Gatsby was being played by, so the element of surprise was based more in style than purpose.

Beyond the little things – including wildly overdone settings – which worked by the way (the Valley of Ashes was a crazy zone of transition) I found the movie to be an effective reminder of what I remember being most compelling about the book in the first place: the simultaneous enchantment and repulsion of humanity. The amazing wealth (which was actually available to so many people during the decade Fitzgerald aimed to unveil) is tantalizing, and the way Luhrmann capitalized on Fitzgerald’s descriptions of decadence made the veneer of this wealth viscerally clear. The commodification of everything has become a way of life for modern America, but maybe at one point in time that was not the case.

The scene when Gatsby finally gets to show his home to Daisy, to demonstrate his worth to her, is also exceptionally well done in the film. Daisy’s clear intoxication by the context rather than the  characters of the home is obvious, and her consideration of Gatsby is sad. But the part that got me was when they all went swimming. For some reason the way that Lurhmann brought this scene to life made me so hugely and immediately grateful to be with someone because of the someone they are rather than the somethings they may or may not have. I am unsure why this scene made me think that, but it was immediate and in spite of luxury I could well imagine loving, I was so glad to not be those people. It was weird.

“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”

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It reminded me of all the people I see working so hard to be Someone or Something, worried evermore that they will never be enough if they don’t go to all the right places, eat all the right food, like all the right things. You know this guy; the guy who measures his worth by Twitter followers or something, who talks about how much he likes the things that Robin Leach told us we should like back in the day because that will make him higher quality, who talks about how amazing s/he is and how much they love their life telling everyone how they “live the dream”… while they are so totally alone… at the restaurant, at the concert, at the bar… “table for 1”. That irony, being totally alone in the proverbial crowded room was the fate of Gatsby, who believed that Daisy would solve his loneliness.

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

Ultimately, it is hard to say if the good guys win this one. I never liked Nick in the book, I found his odd humility and warped self-image far too distracting as a narrator, and clearly the rest of the characters were loathsome, and he is pretty meh in this version as well. All my gay male friends really hate Tobey McGuire for some reason and they blame him for Nick being so lame, but I think Tobey was pretty spot on in terms of suckage, I mean, Nick is the biggest drag in the book – at least the really awful people are not conflicted by their hideous natures. Being self-conscious about it is even more annoying.

“They’re a rotten crowd’, I shouted across the lawn. ‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”

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But there was always Gatsby, perhaps the last bastion of the failing American Dream – the eternal optimist in the face of certain defeat, and someone who was honest enough to understand that the measure of a man would never again be made from his character in this modern world, but only in the correctly constructed facade, regardless of the means of acquisition. Pretty things are more important I guess.

That Gatsby remained hopeful was lovely, and I like to think that he dies believing Daisy did call. I like to think this is because I too am an eternal optimist. And I left this newest version of The Great Gatsby feeling like they got it. It is different from the other versions, but the reminder that we continue to live in a world that increasingly rewards people not for the people they are, or how they have contributed to humanity, but for the spectacle they can make of themselves irrespective of the attendant costs to others or society, is both timely and important.

And maybe we should just call this movie a reminder, not a remake, and then everyone could be less of a critic and take a look at how prophetic the story actually is.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Oh – and ps: Jay Z killed it on the soundtrack. Real talk.

Revisiting Susan.

The other night as I slipped into the deep end of the first weekend of summer break I flipped through the movie options offered by my cable monopolizer provider, I came across this old gem.

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When I told the Cowboy I had picked a movie he responded with the appropriate enthusiasm. And then I pushed play. He looked at me. I grinned. He kept looking. “What?” “Desperately Seeking Susan? Really?”

And we settled in to watch.

My immediate thoughts on the film had much to do with Madge herself. Bearing in mind that, as a legit child of the 80s who remembers the first time I hear Holiday and was surrounded through highschool by girls (braver than me) who fully embodied the Madonna-wanna-be stylings with great success, her first album is firmly imprinted somewhere deep within me. As I sat watching I was struck how on trend 1985 Madonna remains. And I was as dramatically impressed by my initial reaction to Madonna’s physique… which was somewhere along the lines of “Wow, Madonna looks big…” As the movie progressed and I got used to looking at the old version of Madonna (in my opinion far more attractive than the modern version that has varied between exercise fanatical and positively underfed) I realized how lucky I was to grow up in a time where I felt good about a normal body. Madonna is tiny – IRL and in the film – but our standards have shifted to such extremes, at first glance she looks… pudgy. Well, that is overstating it, but at the very least she has a softness and fleshiness that is frowned upon these days. Even Rosanna Arquette, a tiny human by all accounts – looked, *normal* in the movie. I guess normal isn’t what we want to look at as a model anymore, but it was certainly refreshing.

The film held up pretty well, I thought, likely because it was (I think?) purposefully kitsch in ’85. Of course, the fact that the clothes donned by all the characters set the tone for hipster trends also give it that oddly contemporary feel. Apparently Madonna is the muse of every one of the customers in my favorite store. Further, I found that the lack of technology contributed to character development in a way that is also lost. Remember when we used to wonder about things? ‘Who wrote that?’ ‘What is so-and-so doing tonight?’ ‘Where is such-and-such?’ I realize that I am as guilty as anyone for noting – on the regular – that we no longer have to wonder about anything anymore… just whip out the smart(er) phone and look it up… But I also miss that thin veil of not knowing; and it was the unknown that really drove the entire story in Desperately Seeking Susan after all. I mean, with an internet search, or even online newspapers, that whole debacle of a search would not have made a 30-minute sitcom (which is really only 21.5 minutes of program time…)

Product placement in the movie was also delightfully antiquated. There were very few actual commercial products in place – the most notable, the regularly visible Miller beer bottles. Remember these squat little things?

l-vpexdmobu0f2fhI guess they had the time.

The style and aesthetic of the film were also really vivid. These days it seems like movies work so hard to be devoid of texture, you know, so slick and stylized. Not so here. It makes you look. And when you look you see all these other cool details, not the least of which includes the cast (beyond the two female leads) of this movie: John Turturro (and his mom!); Will Patton; Steven Wright; Aidan Quinn; Laurie Metcalf; and remember the garage attendant from Ferris Bueller – What country do you think this is?? Yeah, Richard Edson is in there too. So that is all pretty cool.

Ultimately, one of the things that really got me thinking a lot about this movie was an article that a friend of mine posted somewhere in the world of social media. The article, How Hollywood’s Disinterest In Women Could Waste A Generation Of Outrageously Talented Actresses, talks about how there just aren’t movies built around women anymore.

Last week, NPR’s Linda Holmes did the math on movies that were screening in the Washington, DC-area on Friday, and calculated that of the 617 movie showings on the calendar, 90 percent of them were for movies about men, and only one of the movies in theaters was directed by a woman. And this is in a major metropolitan area.
“I want to stress this again: In many, many parts of the country right now, if you want to go to see a movie in the theater and see a current movie about a woman — any story about any woman that isn’t a documentary or a cartoon — you can’t. You cannot,” Holmes wrote. “There are not any. You cannot take yourself to one, take your friend to one, take your daughter to one. There are not any.”

The irony of coming up in the 80s when it was becoming cool to never be too rich or too thin (remember that Omega Watches ad campaign?) was that somehow, we were still allowed to be girls and we were audacious and healthy and got to see movies about cool chicks – without the pressure to be them, just the choice.

Of course, as absence makes the heart fonder, years soften the actualities of experience and I am aware much of the 80s blew – hard. And that we are still suffering from much of it. I mean, am I right?

But, today, and many other days, I am grateful for Madonna. Say what you want about her weird British accent phase, the Kabbala nonsense, the obsessive midlife body issues, and plastic surgery (all of which I would like to blame on a mainstream media that would never have let her be herself for long.) Madonna got real, when little else was, by being audaciously ridiculous – and she was definitely in on the joke.

And that is bitchin’.