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Archive for the ‘long hard look’ Category

to earth, and beyond

Posted by rollinsloane on 28 March 2009

battlestar galactica

episode 4.12 – daybreak, pt 2.

http://www.hulu.com/watch/64690/battlestar-galactica-daybreak-part-2

official synopsis: “In the final episode, conflicts reach a climax while Cylons and humans face a stark choice.

 ——- quotes and comments and SPOILERS follow ——-

Hmmm…lots of drinking back there on Caprica. Come to think of it, lots of drinking (Saul, Starbuck) throughout BSG

God, you can’t even recognize Starbuck in the flashbacks. It seems like Katee Sackhoff is actually just doing another character…and it’s nice to know she’s got the range. I kind of like her in this goofy incarnation, flirty and bright but still so secure.

This young version of Lee is familiar to me – the earnest young politico, mad at the system but convinced of its necessity. So certain that his leadership will make things different.

Cheesy thank you speech from Roslin to Doc Coddle, but somehow observant, because doctors only get those kinds of thank yous on their own TV shows, and even then rarely. You know, Doc Coddle’s been a pretty stand-up guy throughout this series and they’ve never really given him the depth of a good background story or parallel plot (Deadwood, too, has a similarly affable-and-frequent-but-underdeveloped doctor character)

Not going to lie…I’ve never really bought the whole Gaius-cult thing as a legitimate story line…I understand what they were trying to develop, but it’s a bit too left-field for me.

Good lord, the battle scene music…ridiculous! Like, old-school Davy Crockett-style over-the-top.

Oooo, shades of Starship Troopers as they scour the Cylon ship with battles guns drawn.

I love Lee’s hilarious half-mullet. Whipping off that space helmet, he couldn’t possibly be more 80s.

It’s hard to fathom how high the stakes are in these aerial dogflights….all that stuff flying at them, and any single slightly wrong move could kill them instantly.

The Cylon examiner gets a Deep Blue Sea-style death (remember Samuel L. Jackson getting chomped mid-speech by the shark?) after calmly telling Boomer that “In the end, it’s all mathematics.” She then swiftly breaks his neck in the name of some vague emotion. Score one hugely  obvious narrative point for the theme of Heart Over Head.

Then Anders comes back (in one of his creepy catatonic monologues) with  “Open your mind and hear what your heart wants to deny.”  Point for Head Over Heart?  

Cylon (re Boomer’s significant betrayal): “Never should have trusted her.” Dean Stockwell: “Trust didn’t enter into it. I simply miscalculated her need to engage in gestures of futility.” – Ice-cold! But so well-phrased. Isn’t that a lovely way to think of trust?

Does Caprica 6, Baltar’s Cylon-ghost-invisible friend, say that she wants to be proud of him or part of him? “I always wanted to be proud/part of you. I guess I always felt that was the only thing missing.” It’s either maternal or creeper, but odd either way.

WHA! Does Caprica 6 have her own slinky, manipulative Baltar in her head? That is awesome. Totally appropriate. Another comment on relationships, perhaps…isn’t it an unrealistic image that serves as our inner motivation? Of course, BSG gives it its own oddball sci-fi twist with the suggestion that these internal images also served the characters in some sort of mystical Fates capacity.

Ummm…how did Athena and Starbuck and Helo et. al get to Boomer and Hera soooo fast? What are the lay-outs of these ships that they’re so easy to navigate? 

Interesting, Athena shoots Boomer in the stomach…not up to the task of shooting her own image in the face?

You know, filming some of this stuff must seem so silly on-set, the emotional marching through the hallway, etc.

Interesting image – Baltar leads the way while Caprica 6 holds the child and wields the gun.

I’m sure it’s supposed to mean something that the most intelligent human (man) and most beautiful Cylon (woman) continually compose the series’s favorite hybrid family image instead of plain old goody-two-shoes Helo and Athena, the hybrid child’s actual parents.

It’s Baltar who gives Dean Stockwell the last speech for mankind — and it’s about the beauty of faith? Is this really what humankind represents? 

Baltar’s ‘angel’ version has a seriously 70s porno vibe going on.

So, Chief kills Tori after finding about her instigation of Callie’s death…I wondered if Tori was ever going to get some comeuppance for that.

Isn’t Lee’s optimistic vision for giving the Earth natives the Capricans’ “best parts” a bit resonant of the Cylons’ attempts to create a new, more perfect race? And didn’t that not go so well? Also, the paternalism of the technologically advanced white man bearing down on African natives….shaky, questionable ground to tread, although I understand the historical point the creators are trying to make – the insinuation that these were our forefathers.

So they all get to Earth, only to go off into their own directions. Huh. So much for solidarity.

Ew, Baltar and Caprica 6’s last little bit of editorializing on the streets of present-day Manhattan, critiquing excess materialism, etc…snore. Although, how funny – those are indeed real, creepy Japanese robots! Our next downfall is eminent!

Overall, I must say, I’m happy with this BSG wrap-up…I’m satisfied. Even Starbuck’s ugly wing tattoo gets explained (*ahem, as she’s an angel). The flashback sequences were a wee hammy, but BSG has always been a wee hammy — that was really part of its draw.

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The furrowed brow (high- vs. low-): Vanity Fair and the National Enquirer

Posted by rollinsloane on 13 January 2008

The holiday season’s customary spike in coffee-table book sales have inspired us here at TORO! to return to two old favorites of the photo-tome genre: the National Enquirer and Vanity Fair. My own family has subscribed to both for the entirety of my personal existence; perhaps that fact alone explains my ceaseless fascination with the denizens of entertainment and the normal-life pitfalls that seem to always befall their big-screen lives. Between these two magazines you can easily establish the major movie pillars of mainstream American cinema, and please note that I said ‘major’ and ‘mainstream’ – this is not a contest of ‘best.’

Now you must be thinking – Vanity Fair and the National Enquirer? Surely that’s an unfair comparison. Surely Vanity Fair represents the classy end of the tabloid genre. They certainly think they do. But the more you compare the two national icons, the more you’ll find that their core foundations are really, truly, at heart, relentlessly similar. They’re both unapologetic behind-the-scenes peeks at the rich and famous, both driven to deliver the dirt. Vanity Fair simply veneers its gritty work in high-class photography polish while the Enquirer goes near-strictly for garish. Over the course of the next few posts, we here at TORO! are dedicated to presenting a more in-depth comparison of the thick photo books both have recently presented to the public in honor of their personal contributions to mainstream entertainment.

Editorial presentation:

Cover

The cover of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood (2000) consists of the words ‘Vanity Fair’ and ‘Hollywood’ presented in all caps and equal size. No accompanying picture. None needed. The idea is that both phrases are well familiar to the coffee-book purchasing public.

vanity fair’s hollywood book cover

The National Enquirer’s 2001 coffee-table book, on the other hand, is not exactly masquerading as classy. It boasts only five little pictures on its cover, and they consist of elderly Liz Taylor making a pouty face, Julia Roberts lifting a wave to underarm hair, Michael Jackson in a black face mask, Jackie O with a long lady’s cigarette and Elvis Presley’s profile peeking out over the rim of his coffin [note from Sloane: At least, those photos appear on the cover of my copy. Amazon’s replaces Jackson and Presley with OJ Simpson and Hugh Grant.] This tome may feature the fabulous, but at heart it glories in their flesh and blood.

national enquirer book cover

Cover winner: NE

Introduction

What else can you expect from everyone’s favorite tabloid, one founded by a gentleman unflinchingly named Generoso Pope? The book’s introduction, by veteran NE reporter and Harvard grad (I dare the alumni commission to put that in their next brochure) Steve Coz, celebrates Pope as a “feared and evil genius” who abided by a single guiding principle: “What image – even if they don’t want to admit it – does the American public most want to see? What secret does Martha in Kansas City really want to know? Like the giant Dr. T. J. Eckleburg billboard from The Great Gatsby, the National Enquirer [is] slavishly devoted to answering those questions.”

Dubious literary reference aside (thank you, pretentious Ivy grad), Coz’s brief essay is a worthy and bloated devotional to the little tabloid that can. He may wrap the Enquirer in cozy shades of public service (it “splashes emotion across its pages like an eager child with an over-filled bucket of bright paint”), but this is a coffee-table tribute, after all.

“The Enquirer fills the needy psyche of an American society caught in a tortured love affair with celebrity. We love to feel part of this lifestyle – the privilege, the money, the mansions – but at the same time we want to know that there is a price, that after the glory comes the fall, the drugs, the scandal, the divorce, the murder. We feel guilty for wanting to see the famous fail, and when they do, we most often want to see them rise back up to new heights of glamour and fame.”

The relentless intrusion of Enquirer journos and photogs is, in other words, just another part of that price of fame. Coz justifies the publication’s insatiable thirst for public humiliation with the familiar journalistic credo that the public has a right to what it wants to know.

The introduction to Vanity Fair’s Hollywood, written by master self-promoter Graydon Carter (and isn’t that a name for the East Coast elite, draws upon the exact same ethos, not that it’s anywhere near as interesting. While Coz is boasting of his publication’s work in the OJ Simpson case, Carter is recalling his own happy movie-going days. Graydon goes on and on about Vanity Fair’s oh-so-prestigious connection to the movie biz, glorying its portraiture and deep roster of celebrity contributors and his own interest in movie people without actually being a movie person (snore), but the closest he can come to establishing a claim for the book’s significance is the admission that its subjects are both “larger than life” and “strangely intimate.”

Introduction: NE

Back-cover blurbs

  • NE: “Unsuprisingly irreverent – and unexpectedly riveting.” – Time Out New York
  • VF: “This book is a dynamic reflection of the period and its personalities through the eyes of some great photographers.” – Tom Cruise [Note from Sloane: Umm…what ‘period’? You mean the entire period of movie history? OK, just checking.]
  • NE: “A satisfying feast of the scandal sheet’s juiciest photos.” – US Weekly
  • VF: “Here is a remarkable gallery of personal moments and uninhibited vanities captured forever by the people who dwell on the other side of our mirrors.” – Steven Spielberg

What, could Vanity Fair not get Julia Roberts’s assitant to write a sentence in her name? Please.

Back-cover blurbs: NE

*

Don’t worry, our comparison isn’t all biased. VF simply deserves a back-slap for its know-all pretension, that’s all. The National Enquirer and Star and Globe and all those other grocery-store checkout textbooks don’t deserve classroom respect; they claim access to stars’ lives as if fame’s a crown they alone bestow. But at least NE carries out its 30-year retrospective with an eye for the hilarious and the absurd rather than the purely sanctimonious. If Entertainment Weekly or New York’s Vulture crew did a coffee-table tome (and they should!), you can bet those certified entertainment followers could express more pop culture knowledge than NE and more pop culture joy than Vanity Fair. Given the choice between the ribald and the self-righteous, however, we don’t hesitate for a second.

TORO! staff

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odd couple: and god created woman and hiroshima mon amour

Posted by rollinsloane on 3 January 2008

I suppose I ought to contribute my entry to the Odd Couple marathon today (a segment for which we originally couldn’t think up a wittier title than Strange Math; suggestions still wanted), and I’ll cheat in order to do so with this afternoon’s Netflix double feature: And God Created Woman and Hiroshima Mon Amour. Ok, so these two movies aren’t an actual pair in any way. Could two 1950s French-language films be more different?

War of love (Woman) vs. love in war (Hiroshima). Color (Woman) vs. black and white (Hiroshima). Jane Fonda sex-romp Barbarella‘s director/scumbag Roger Vadim (Woman) vs. widely worshiped French New Waver Alain Resnais (Hiroshima).

Both films, however, are deeply concerned with adultery, romantic past and somewhat indecisive — though sexual — women, and neither require today’s outlandishly forward nudity to communicate their sexuality. (Not coincidentally, both have been awarded the Criterion Collection treatment, and don’t you non-filmies overlook that as some small honor).

And God Created Woman, to be honest, is a rather underwhelming picture, more about teenage hormones and overdone sexual possession than any true gender statement. Brigette Bardot, she of the charcoaled eyes and busty blonde dimensions, plays Juliette, a just-turned teenager run (gasp!) promiscuous on sexual desire. Criterion’s Chuck Stephens gives a fair summary:

Juliette runs on instinct, spurning the advances of leering millionaire Carradine (Curd Jürgens), but lusting after a hulking cad named Antoine (Christian Marquand). When Antoine in turn spurns Juliette, she impulsively marries his sincere but rather naïve younger brother, Michel (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Eventually, Juliette will brave fire and sea, ecstasy and despair, and—as a result of her unquenchable desire—erupt into a kind of Mambo-inspired madness. But when Vadim first unveils her, we see her as the serpents do: naked in the garden. “There lies Brigitte,” Time magazine announced of the moment, forking its tongue, “stretched from end to end of the CinemaScope screen, bottoms up and bare as a censor’s eyeball.”

Indeed, her opening shot is a top-heavy side-view of her belly-down, sun-bathing silhouette. Kudos to Vadim for at least keeping her veiled — her sexuality (and missile-sized breasts) are all the more bursting for their confinement in taut cotton. Several gaping males variously attempt to rein in or conquest the willful young girl, but by the end of the picture she’s famously busting loose by dancing on tables to rumba beats:

brigitte bardot and god created woman table top

Woman could have happily focused on a singular teenager whose instinctual sexual fetish created havoc around the males around her, but Vadim chose the highly generalized title of And God Created Woman as if to suggest a larger point about the typical nature of the so-called fairer sex, and this I have one very sharp bone to pick with. Woman‘s handful of male admirers are at all times after control of this she-devil; her own sexuality proves, ultimately, an inconvenience to their individual plans. Vadim’s little fable, meant to showcase then-wife Bardot (and how), merely categorizes this so-called Woman (barely that, it is worth adding, as she has just turned 18 — and why are no other women in the film in any way either considered or even sexualized?) by a single attribute, thus reducing her power to that of being able to please.

Hiroshima, on the other hand, examines two independently married lovers, a Japanese man and French woman, who meet in Hiroshima and pursue a brief affair over discussion of their various WWII pasts. The woman’s is considerably painful, dealing with the German soldier lover of her youth whose identity brought her tremendous shame in her small French town. But really, it is Resnais’s own technique that is most on show throughout this New Wave forerunner, introducing the use of quick flashback to a fresh generation of filmmakers. This is a film about memory, not gender; sex seems but a way to bring people together in sharing their memories/pains/selves.

hiroshima mon amour lovers

Neither of these lovers own each other — they both have loving spouses to attend to outside of their weekend affair. Sex here is simply a means of connection, whereas for Woman sex actually wrenches people apart. Perhaps their guiding atmospheres having something to do with it. For Bardot, sex merely seems like the most interesting thing to do to pass the time; thus does it become divisive as it spans a brotherhood to occupy itself. For Hiroshima‘s couple, too, sex is bred of boredom — a husband with a wife out of town, a wife out of town from her husband. But they forge a new bond over their intimacy. Bardot simply breaks them with hers.

Sloane

Additional reading:

Criterion Collection, Hiroshima: http://www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=196&eid=317&section=essay

Criterion Collection, Woman: http://www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=77&eid=87&section=essay

 

 

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movies and marketing: the savages

Posted by rollinsloane on 17 December 2007

Why are the critics heralding this movie as the story of two siblings confronting the problem of their aging, distant father? The Savages is about Laura Linney’s Wendy dealing with her father’s death, her dead-end playwrighting career and her (somewhat married) boyfriend. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s brother Jon is a glorified supporting role — we only ever see him through Wendy’s gaze. His Brecht research project and his Polish girlfriend and his half-masted teaching career remain aloof mysteries, ornaments upon a man we only glimpse as crusted academia incarnate.

So I have issues with the witty trailer (including, like Juno, all the film’s best lines, as well as a skewed emphasis on comedy) and indie image campaign dually painting this picture as one of humorously squabbling siblings arguing incompatibly in front of their humorously cranky parent. It’s not. The Savages is well-timed but lopsided, favoring heavy sentimentality rather than rueful (but meaningful) snark. The poster, meanwhile, beams QUIRKY at high-voltage:

the savages poster

A brief synopsis, to get you going, and this courtesy of Manohla Dargis of the New York Times (not my favorite, and guilty of some harsh condemnations, but serially published due to a deserving gift for the ribald):

One night, Jon, a college professor who lives and teaches in Buffalo, is awakened from a deep sleep (Ms. Jenkins has a nice way with metaphor) to discover that his father, Lenny (a fine Philip Bosco), has gone around the bend and has begun finger-painting with his feces. The bearer of these unfortunate tidings is Jon’s younger sister, Wendy (Laura Linney, sharp and vanity free), a self-professed playwright whose greatest, perhaps only creation is the closely nurtured story of wounded narcissism and family wrongs unwinding in her head.

Dargis goes on to reference a random Philip Larkin poem to which writer/director Tamara Jenkins was surely not referring, but her set-up remains apt. Hoffman’s Jon is rather distanced from the situation; Linney’s Wendy is overly creative. The fact that we never get an understanding of the former relationship between these two semi-estranged siblings and their profoundly estranged father leaves the drama of the latter’s nursing home incarceration somewhat lacking. We need footing to understand the stakes — precisely what has led these two accomplished thespians to the depicted trough of familial relations?

* OK. So there might be some spoilers ahead. *

Perhaps Carina Chocano of the Los Angeles Times hits on it: “They are living in a state of arrested emotional development that hints at serious childhood trauma, though not serious enough perhaps to qualify as tragic, which is tough in its own way.” ‘Hints at’ is the key phrase here, and not pounded into the pavement as soundly as Chocano is normally keen. The Savages needs more of Hoffman and Linney’s dynamic duo. When EW‘s Lisa Schwartzbaum declares that the two “are in peak form, and together they play off each other with the unfettered, joyous collaboration of great chamber musicians,” she isn’t exaggerating — watch when one nursing home director simply hands them paperwork. They both reach for it, but Hoffman grabs it first, and gives Linney the sort of doleful glare only real siblings could muster. These two riff with the veer and timing of master stage vets, so why not let them play with and linger in their shared history? Forget the gauzy flashbacks of childhood trauma (Hollywood Reporter‘s Kirk Honeycutt claims abuse), because obviously such cinematic devices would not suffice in a film as committed to realism and regularity as this. But stories, at least. Shared jokes, memories. Let them banter over the breakfast table over the year they moved or the time Dad threw this. Why did they both become theater people (he a marginal PhD, she a failed playwright)? Why are they both middle-aged and unhappily single? Why make the audience ferret it out when you have two prime performers willing and eager to go to friendly combat?

the savages, philip seymour hoffman, laura linney

There’s such a variety of possible appreciation here that it’s too bad ‘high-and-mighty’ ends up becoming its key requirement (Chocano: “Not surprisingly, it’s Jon who does most of the notable crying in the film. In one of the movie’s most beautiful scenes” [ummmmm — you mean average, dude-driving-in-a-car scenes?] “he drives to work high on pain medication for a neck injury shortly after his girlfriend’s departure, listening to Lotte Lenya [who?] sing “The Solomon Song” [what?] from “The Threepenny Opera” by Brecht and Kurt Weill.” [ahhhhhh, I see…I need, like 95% of film-goers, to actually be familiar with Brecht to appreciate this moment’s beauty] “In that moment the bleak, wintry Buffalo streets, with their denuded trees and their sneakers dangling from phone lines, are transformed into something beautiful and mysterious.”) [Listening to Hoffman sing? Not so much].

Chocano declares the resulting bru-has of the siblings’ disaffection to be a sort of “hilarious humiliation…run-of-the-mill, bad but not-so-bad-that-Oprah-is-going-to-want-to-hear-about-it suffering,” and it’s an underhanded insult which Wendy herself foresees. When she befriends one of the nursing home’s staffers and then tentatively asks him to read her play, she’s quick to make sure he doesn’t think it’s too much “middle-class whining.” (“No,” he answers. “I thought it was sad.”) Jenkins’ screenplay sticks the story as both without acknowledging that a little backstory can make the former totally legitimate. It is to her credit that the hows and whys pulse so urgently in this movie. But it’s utterly distracting that they never come to even half-fruition.

— Sloane

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sunday focus: the many faces of the modern movie male

Posted by rollinsloane on 9 December 2007

modern Hollywood male

The cover story of this Sunday’s Calendar section in the LA Times is a feature think-piece on the modern Hollywood male. While I applaud the initiative – gender studies in the morning paper! – author Peter Rainer’s tangled web of analysis reads more like a roll call than an argument. Screen test(osterone)” indeed — pun-tastic periodical headline included.

 

But how valid are such periodic appraisals of media culture’s current social formulations – gender, race, class – anyway? Movie stars and celebrities are indeed significant social presences, being somewhat democratically elected to their zoo-cage pedestals by ratings, box office tallies and tabloid sales, but the Hollywood galaxy is a vast one. You can pick out specimens that prove any thesis. Consider just any brief analysis of the ever-popular topic of women in media for proof.

Rainer, however, acknowledges that fact of analysis by avoiding it — basically, he displays the stable without backing a horse. He points to the resurrection of “industrial-strength machismo” implied by the revival of Die Hard and Rocky and Indiana Jones as a return to the atavistic brute male of the Reagan era, then uses “throwback” actors like Russell Crowe and George Clooney to demonstrate the continued popularity of the “uncomplicated male mystique.” “It can be deeply satisfying to watch these actors preen,” Rainer admits, in a reminder that an alpha male can draw on style rather than brawn, but there’s little verve behind the observation that audiences go for Rambo and Bogart alike. Well, duh.

It’s only when Rainer gets down to the strange “satyr’s pansexual appeal” of Johnny Depp that the true texture of current masculinity begins unraveling the article’s Manhood-in-crisis cover line. Here’s the modern age’s addition to the Hollywood pantheon: the feminine male, metrosexual or fine-boned, lean and sensitive and not so quick to punch. Johnny Depp, whether or not you happen to be a teenage girl with a suppressed pirate fetish, is an unlikely A-lister, with a delicateness to his square jaw and a decidedly fey affect around his most famous character — and he’s an overall favorite nonetheless.

Rainer can bandy about Rambo and Lt. John McClane all he wants, but the biggest name in action stardom of this Hollywood era is Captain Jack Sparrow, and it’s impossible to imagine Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, George Clooney or Russell Crowe ever conceiving of such an anti-male hero. There’s a long cinema tradition of anti-heroes (Clint Eastwood, Tony Montana, etc. ad infinitum), but they’re still classic male heroes, exuding strength and smarts and confidence like musk. Captain Jack maintains traditional anti-heroism (being an outlaw, rascal and generally selfish), yet at the same he’s willowy and cowardly, accident-prone, finnicky — leagues from the strong-silent type. Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, George Clooney or Russell Crowe as Sparrow, anyone? They bring large-esse and brooding where Depp’s touch is comic and light.

 

As such, Captain Jack achieves near universal appeal. He’s flippant and rebellious enough that guys can think he’s cool. His physical comedy is big enough that little kids think he’s funny. And even with those rotting teeth, he’s sexy enough to adorn college dorm rooms nationwide. He’s a man of personality rather than masculinity, and a new (not necessarily dominant) model of male movie presence.

Rainer touches upon but doesn’t probe the steady increase of feminine pretty boys like Zac Efron and Orlando Bloom in his analysis, and seems to be missing the true significance of the changing male tide. Bruce Willis and Denzel Washington and George Clooney and their general breed of male suaveness aren’t on their way out — their place in the pantheon of masculinity is as secure as their hold on People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive title. They just have to make room.

Unbeknownst to Rainer, the small article set beside his in eternal front page matrimony extols the leading man virtues of Grey’s Anatomy‘s McDreamy, the ultimate B-male. Class clowns are in (the Wilson brothers, Vince Vaughn). Insecure geeks are getting some (Steve Carell, Seth Rogen, and doesn’t Ben Stiller keep churning out romantic comedies?). Even cynics are having their day (Jon Stewart, Ryan Gosling, House‘s Hugh Laurie). While Beowulf and 300 dutifully continue the line of beefcake movies and broad shoulders like Clive Owen brood through modern dramas, slender James McAvoy wins over Jane Austen (Becoming Jane) and stuttering Michael Cera wins his best friend’s heart (Juno).

Rainer confesses to an out-of-place nostalgia for the arthouse males of the 70s, as if today’s morality tales can’t grapple with masculinity like Altman or Scorsese, and perhaps he’s pining for an era rather than an era more willing to question the style and sexuality of a leading man. Last year I passed a side-by-side set of billboards that paired Casanova with Brokeback Mountain. Heath Ledger as insatiable ladies’ man or Heath Ledger as hermitically closeted homosexual cowboy? Well, the viewing public made its decision – and just guess which film made heaps more money.

There’s plenty of wiggle room in Hollywood masculinity. Rainer himself finally admits it in the final paragraph: “In the end, there can’t be all that much of a masculinity crisis in the movies if Clooney and Carell can co-exist in the same eco-system.” Crisis? Far from it. The modern movie male has never had so many directions to turn.

Ollie

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blog round-up: why the heigl hate?

Posted by rollinsloane on 6 December 2007

Yeah, that’s right, she said it — Knocked Up was a little f-ing sexist. So what if Katherine Heigl also starred in it?

Here’s the OMG-so-controversial quote in Vanity Fair‘s most recent issue:

“[Knocked Up was] 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.”

Wow. I know. So crazy. Like, cra-aa-zy. An actress taking a wider view at the mainstream summer comedy she strategically bagged in order to boost her career in order to not have to do mainstream summer comedy again. Nuts! The truly amazing part is that this is news at all, especially after the considerable couching of her criticism (“a little sexist,” “98 percent of the time it was an amazing experience”).

The blogosphere has nonetheless served up a tidy savaging for “hypocrite” Ms. Heigl. E! Online — characteristically disinclined to take a stance on anything other than someone’s borderline-garish red-carpet number — succinctly (and no doubt breathlessly) phrases the issue: “Should we praise her for being so honest and frank—or scold her for lashing out against what made her successful?”

AV Club’s resident Hater Amelie Gillette serves up this piquant witticism to put Katherine right back in her Judd-hating place:

“That’s a shame, Katherine. We can only assume that the other 2% of the time, Judd Apatow was holding a gun to your head while shouting, “Act more like a humorless killjoy, cause that’s how all women are and I’m going to prove it with this comedy that you’re starring in!” and laughing manaically.

Of course, not every movie is brave enough to look beyond female stereotypes and portray women as real, nuanced human beings, who, like, are always the bridesmaid and never the bride, you know? Your new movie should be called 27 Things I Noticed While Reading Betty Freidan, instead of 27 Dresses.”

Over-reaction, much? How do we go from “a little sexist” to Betty Freidan? I don’t remember the chapter of the Feminine Mystique that addressed cinema’s subtle chauvinism of likability. The fact is, even if the women in Knocked Up are successful in their careers and bedrocks of their families, in terms of personality, they’re indeed shrews. Apatow treats chicks as the straight man in much of his work, and it’s a different sort of sexism at play — mainstream-oriented comedies with guy-oriented sympathies.

The movies are still funny. They’re still successful. But when the boys bond over shrooms and Cirque de Soleil in Vegas and the girls over being rejected from a club, it’s hard not to argue that there’s a potent dichotomy in audience sympathy dictated by gender. Apatow didn’t need to hold a gun to her head — it’s in the script.

/Film does Gillette one better in the irrelevant criticism department, steaming off into a tangential diatribe demanding why no one complains that Jennifer Aniston fem-centered romantic comedies are sexist. A) That’s an entirely different issue related to neither Judd Apatow or Knocked Up and B) Of course they are. I’d argue that the Kate Hudsons and Sarah Jessica Parkers of the film world are doing the fairer sex a far greater disservice with their need-a-man-any-man conquest-driven comedies, but that branch of travesty is just another part of the dismal Men-Mars/Women-Venus general problem.

Knocked Up isn’t sexist, per se, nor is Apatow’s other work — his female characters just largely aren’t any fun. They’re flat, reduced to carbon copies of Sex and the City‘s shrill, club-craving Glamazons. The one stoner chick in Rogen’s on-screen circle of friends may giggle amusingly and get in a line or two, but she too is ultimately just a girlfriend, an appendage of one of his actual buddies. Superbad goes much the same goofy-boys, normal-girls way. Though Apatow’s females are arguably less cardboard than elsewhere in filmdom, they’re basically meant for sex and dating.

Gillette’s comment thread (generally pretty lively — the lady’s got an active readership) develops a compelling little journey down the rabbit hole of gender relations discussion. Go there if you’re really wanting more. My main contention with the anti-Heigl rush is, well, don’t we complain when starlets give nothing but glowing interview about how their director was just soooooo inspirational and honestly, like, a genius, and blah blah blah? All the news services remind their readers of Heigl hefty post-Apatow salary boost as if her statement’s an act of betrayal, but name me a single actor who hasn’t sold out to obvious schlock in the name of a payday. I for one am glad someone finally said something less than immortalizing, and the fact that this chick’s act of saying something was certainly contrary to her receiving another enviable paycheck in the next project of so-hot-right-now Apatow is testament to her personal integrity.

Suck it up, bloggers. Finally we’ve got an actress with a trap just as big as ours.

Sloane

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it’s all the same oat-bag, fellas

Posted by rollinsloane on 6 November 2007

In the third race of today’s Melbourne Cup, a 2800m event, the second-place horse fell along the final stretch, taking down the horse just behind. The crowd sort of gasped, but it was the home stretch after all, and so everyone went ahead and stayed focused on the remaining fifteen seconds of their hopeful bets. And then, with that strange group movement of a some-thousands crowd, the realization set in that there were two horses struggling panic-struck to their feet and presumably a couple of crushed jockeys somewhere too. Wranglers came over the track barriers like worker ants to get the situation under control.

They didn’t get to one of the horses in time. It came stumbling down the track towards the finish line like a wounded drunk, unable to stand up straight and trying with greater force and greater desperation every time. When standing failed, it started hopping, which was far worse, as it made abundantly clear why it couldn’t stand. The creature’s hind leg dangled from its body like a piece of rubber, irreparably broken.

Have you even seen a horse’s leg dangle from its body like a piece of rubber?

The thing balked to and fro, increasingly alarmed. It was almost a dance — the perfect motions of ignorant, terrified agony. This horse must have been in unbelievable pain. Petrified, eye-rolling pain. The amazing thing — the terrible thing — was how far it managed to draw out this final leaping swan song. It yelped and struggled and wrenched itself halfway to the finish line before the wranglers caught up to it. They somehow got control, ran out a makeshift curtain to hide its struggles behind, and let the horrified audience remove its hands from its eyes.

At least, I could finally remove my hands from my eyes. My jaw was still agape. The reaction of my fellow race-goers, meanwhile, was rather mystifyingly indifferent. The track crew spent a decent 20-some minutes with the horse behind that curtain, certainly putting it down, if not with the real stuff then at least with preparatory sedatives. And the scoreboard didn’t acknowledge it. The scoreboard didn’t post the horse’s name. The information booth couldn’t tell me the fallen horse’s name. No one in the seats around us was even discussing the horror of that horse’s last display. Everyone went on with business as usual. I couldn’t tell if it was a traditional group consensus to not discuss such unsavories during this carnival of sheer frivolity, or if they all really just didn’t care.

It wasn’t until I went home and checked this good old information godsend that I learned the horse was Bay Shore, the well-slated pick I’d been barracking for in honor of his US breeding. Well, Bay Shore, this one’s for you, I suppose, because some tribute is warranted for any end so grisly, so public and so coldly sad. Here’s Jerry Seinfeld’s classic bit on horses.

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viggo and emma thompson will make you wince

Posted by rollinsloane on 2 November 2007

Accolades be damned, David Cronenberg’s History of Violence left me cold. The story of small-town Everyman with a mafia past would have worked if the small-town Everyman bit hadn’t been so comically overblown. After Viggo’s little girl wakes the whole cheerful family with her minor scary-monster nightmare and none of them look either irritated or disheveled, I knew this was fairy tale land. Even Ed Harris and William Hurt in full bad-ass mode couldn’t shake me.

But Cronenberg’s new Eastern Promises did shake me, and violently, like only my older brother ever could. His latest study of violence, again starring Viggo (in a verrrrry different role), looks at the Russian mob in London and paints it in a blood-thirstier shade of Tony Soprano. There are the requisite mob-plot machinations of backstabbing and filial piety, but for once the mafia’s most marginalized group gets a decent spotlight: it’s no fun to be an Eastern European sex slave, let me assure you.

At least Tony’s little Eastern European ladyfriend technically had mistress status. Promises‘s depicted henhouse alleges forced drug use, random beatings and general sub-human status for its handful of far East whores. Cronenberg doesn’t cut away, and it’s about time such gross indecency got the full screen treatment. Just check out Emma Thompson’s latest PSA for the Helen Bamber Foundation, a human rights organization. With Hollywood’s predilection for the (ahem) nightlife, it’s surprising no indie producer or Oscar-seeking actress has yet taken a stab at this sad, insta-drama plight.

[psa courtesy of adfreak]

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someone finally said it — the truth of ‘top gun’

Posted by rollinsloane on 28 October 2007

Courtesy of John over at The Movie Blog, here’s an old clip of Tarantino at some party revealing the true underlying meaning of Top Gun. His penetrating analysis will surely come as a shock to no one, but at the very least he makes it official.

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finally, some decent campaign coverage

Posted by rollinsloane on 28 October 2007

colbert

Amid the muck that is presidential campaign coverage, it’s nice to see one candidate get a thorough analysis. Megan Garber over at CJR has turned in an excellent piece on new Republican/Democrat hopeful Stephen Colbert:”

“As far as Campaigniness ‘08 goes, it’ll be interesting to see how far Colbert takes the “run”—and how far the media will go in running along with him. Thus far, he seems to be going out of his way to make clear that it’s a joke. (At a book-signing event in New York this week, Colbert responded to the crowd’s cheering of his dual-ticket run: “I hope you all enjoy losing twice,” he said.) Still, as Colbert writes in I Am America (And So Can You!), “It is time to impregnate this country with my mind.” With the media’s help, he seems to be doing just that.”

Garber insightfully comments on the brilliance of Colbert’s political move and the bizarre swooning of the media he mocks. My only question: who’s his running mate?

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