Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Why I don't think I'll be seeing 'Sex and the City 2'

To quote Roger Ebert: "Mothers, if you are reading, run this through your head. One little girl dips her hands in strawberry topping and plants two big handprints on your butt. You are on the cell to a girlfriend. How do you report this? You moan and wail out: 'My vintage Valentino!' Any mother who wears her vintage Valentino while making muffin topping with her kids should be hauled up before the Department of Children and Family Services."

No, that's not the reason I don't have any plans to see Sex and the City 2, though it is ridiculous. The short answer is that I think this franchise has become bad for women. For a rantier version of that answer, read on.

I don't know enough about the production history of the Sex and the City television series to know the exact machinations of why this happened, but it was evident to me as a sometimes viewer that the intent behind the show was changing. What started as a "slice of life" series, examining the daily lives of four wealthy white women living in Manhattan, enjoying casual sex and career, and pondering on relationships, was no longer. By the end of the series, what were maybe supposed to be allegories to different aspects inside of every woman, had become cloying caricatures. Charlotte, tightly-wound and with very low self-esteem. Samantha, sexually insatiable but secretly vulnerable. Miranda, career-driven and difficult to please. And Carrie, a screeching harpy with very little regard for anyone but herself.

When the series was adapted into a film in 2008, Michael Patrick King was holding the reins. He'd been writing for the show for seasons, but in transferring the characters to the big screen, he ratcheted up all of the quirks that made the show terrible. Numerous times, the show established that the four women were sisters, family, soul mates. They might find love with men - or not - but they would always be there for each other. In the film, only Carrie's problems elicit sympathy and sisterhood.

I sort of get the impression that King or whoever strongly dislikes women, and enjoys manipulating these terrible characters in such a way as to taunt female audiences, holding up a funhouse mirror to all of our perceived flaws. Melissa Silverstein of Women & Hollywood asks, "Why is it that gay men have become the purveyors of women's stories?" It's an interesting question, though probably not a hard and fast Hollywood rule. Silverstein is more forgiving to the SATC universe than I am, but she does view the characters as rooted in real problems that real women go through. Perhaps this is true, but there must be fair and entertaining ways to tell these stories without using terrible role models to make everyone feel horrible about themselves.

Now, I have to admit that two years ago when I saw the first film, I was far less critical of it. Read my review and laugh at how much has changed since then. It's true that what I once found funny and silly has just stuck in my craw as bad storytelling. I once enjoyed watching mid-run episodes of the series, but the older I get and the more I think about it, the less I want to watch this spectacle of media portrayal of women. So unless someone can convince me, I don't think I'll be seeing Sex and the City 2. And all of this is without even going into the minefield of insensitivity entered when the gang heads to the Middle East in couture, stilettos, and gold lamé turbans.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Okay, so. It happened. LOST ended. Spoiler alert no freaking duh so please do not read on OR BE ON THE INTERNET if you are a few episodes behind.

So like, okay. Right? Wait, but. And what? Immediately after last night's finale, my friends and I basically sat around talking like Stefon from SNL ("You know it's like that thing where...and huhhh?") It's taken me until this morning, but I am definitely understanding a little bit better what quite happened in the last episode. Mostly because last night I thought dying Jack was seeing the Sideways Universe version of Oceanic 815 overhead, so I kept being like, "wait what?! with the time loops?" But this morning an associate assured me that he was seeing Lapidus' Ajira plane taking off. Okay, one mystery solved.

So in general, yes I am happy with the ending. It was a cheezy cop-out of them to create an alternate reality where all the people who died are alive, and they can all reunite with the people they loved, but at least they spent a season and a half creating said reality, and hell yes did it work. When people were touching each other and
feeling it left and right, I was definitely on board. Yes, absolutely I cried when Jin and Sun remembered everything, and when Charlie and Claire kissed, and when Sawyer and Juliet knew, oh my goodness I was all shook up. I did not care when Sayid and Shannon hooked up because lol (and forget about Nadia, I guess, apparently).

Other awesome things about the episode were Lapidus, the chillest dude ever, floating out in the water like "hey bros," and Hurley becoming Ben's boss of the magic island filled with trapped souls. Also Miles and Richard being like "middle age, am I right?"

So, look. I don't quite understand what happened last night. As far as I am concerned, everything that happened on the island was real, and the Sideways timeline is a subjective/collective reality/purgatory that does/does not exist, but that allows everyone to be reunited. And then Christian Shepherd is there for some reason? And he opens the doors to...heaven? But only for some of the castaways? And Penny? And I guess like, Jack's son is irrelevant? I mean, I don't know if when the main dudes go off to heaven, if Ben will still have a reality in which to marry Rousseau and be Alex's dad, or where Julie Bowen is in all of this or whatever, let alone Daniel "The Constant" Faraday/Widmore. But like, okay, if the main dudes are going off to Heaven then I guess that's okay? Right? What?

Ken Jennings blogged the following: "I’m not one of the people who’s going to tell you the finale sucked because I didn’t get ANSWERS to stupid five-year-old questions. The finale didn’t have to explain The Numbers or polar bears or that one Dharma food drop or who built that statue. I don’t care about any of that. But I think it needed to pretend it was wrapping up a single story told on a big canvas: it needed to tell you why it, for long stretches, seemed to be about things like dead babies, quantum physics, Walt, etc."

I think that last sentence nails it. I am willing to forfeit answers about the the statue, the hieroglyphics, the vaccine, the fertility woes, and whatever. But when they spent seasons trying to convince us that Walt had magic superpowers, or Aaron was the magic savior baby, or whatever, only to never return to or resolve those storylines, I can't help but think that 99% of the show was Darlton making stuff up as they went along. We're probably lucky more of the series wasn't about Nikki and Paolo.

So, yeah, I'm satisfied with the finale. Because Jin and Sun get to go off to fantasyland and raise Ji-yeon together. And Charlie gets to lay in bed and have the DT's while Claire nurses some dude's baby right next to him. Hurley and Libby get to have picnics together for eternity. And Juliet and Sawyer get to make out in a giant polar bear cage in the sky while Jack creepily watches on CCTV, holding hands with Kate and thinking about his imaginary son. Desmond and Penny will just be chilling the whole time, ignoring their kid as well. But also I am a little tepid on the series as a whole now, as it is no longer the game-changer it used to be. I mean, I put years into watching you, show. And you just haven't quite fulfilled me?

For an earlier blog about series finales, click here. Now I'm going to just mull it over some more and think about more of the crazy stuff I can't figure out.

Okay, what was with that stinger shot played over the credits, of the original wreckage of Oceanic flight 815 on the beach with no one around? No bodies, no people, maybe some footprints in the sand (Jeebus?)... It's unclear to me if that's something that the show creators intended to air as the final visual of the show, or if it was added on by ABC, but what could it mean? I think we're all assuming the island life was real and the Sideways timeline was the "hallucination," but that last shot implies that everyone died in the crash? Maybe?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Support Your Local __________

This Sunday I attended a four-hour Final Cut Pro editing workshop at the Echo Park Film Center. I have been a member of the EPFC since November of last year when I discovered the place while looking for an affordable way to rent video equipment and editing space.

I just wanted to put in a little plug for this great neighborhood film center, which provides low- and no-cost education in video/film media, has weekly screenings of local or avant garde film, and has a great media library as well as various equipment that independent filmmakers can rent out at any time.

Probably the most important thing that the EPFC does is reach out to low-income children, offering free filmmaking workshops for youths in the neighborhood, teaching them how to create and edit movies. Having an outlet and the skills with which to be able to tell stories can be an invaluable resource in life.

You can learn more about the Echo Park Film Center here on their website, and they are located at 1200 N. Alvarado St. in Los Angeles, just down the block from the Echo Park United Methodist Church and its signature gold dome.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


About 2/3 of the way into watching Rodrigo García's Mother and Child, I thought, "Man, this movie has the exact same tone as Bella (another film about adoption)." I wondered if the films were made by the same people, but it ended up being just a coincidence.

Annette Bening stars as Karen, a middle-aged woman living with her elderly mother, and continuing to struggle with the pain of having given up her daughter for adoption when she was 14. Naomi Watts plays Elizabeth, a highly-motivated attorney who, when she finds herself pregnant, is facing a situation she did not seek out, for the first time in her life. Meanwhile, Lucy is a woman nervously approaching the process of adopting a baby of her own.

I kind of want to give you a play-by-play of this movie, because García does such a skillful job of manufacturing and interweaving circumstances and characters in such a way to make his stories feel more like fables than traditional movies, and it is a very interesting thing to watch. His 2000 mosaic film Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her uses the same kind of storytelling, and is another well-made film about women.*

Karen and Elizabeth are well-acted characters that seem one-sided when we meet them, but as the story progresses, we learn how similar they are to each other, even as it is evident that different life experiences have molded each woman uniquely. Lucy's story is interesting, culturally, at is it rare to see a portrayal of a black family seeking to adopt. She is beautifully played by Kerry Washington, and her interactions with Ray, the young woman considering her as a candidate to adopt her baby, are extremely captivating.

This is a film about being a mother, and the many things that can entail. It also explores the relationships that daughters have with their mothers, whether they're present or not. By the end of the movie, I did feel like I knew my emotions had been manipulated a bit unfairly, but the overall fable mood alleviates the potential disappointment.

Incidentally, Naomi Watts was actually pregnant with her second child during filming, and it was surprising how affecting the actual image of her son moving inside of her was, after countless obvious prosthetics we've been shown in film and television.

Mother and Child also has supporting performances by Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Smits, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Shareeka Epps.

* A lot of people asked this question after Kathryn Bigelow was receiving such startled acclaim for directing "male" movies as Point Break, K-19: The Widowmaker, and The Hurt Locker. Why was it such a big deal to people that a woman could be so good at creating media "for men," but it goes largely unremarked upon when many men make their careers creating media "for women" (Garry Marshall and Ken Kwapis, for example). With the recent controversy over Newsweek's Ramin Setoodeh and his remarks about gay actors being universally unconvincing in their portrayals of straight characters, I think there is an obvious link. When the general societal undercurrent holds that women are lesser than men, and homosexuals lesser than heterosexuals, there is a terrible understanding that it's easy for people of the "greater" sex/orientation to "lower themselves" to the level of pandering to women, or playing gay characters. But what an effort it must take for women to reach a male audience, or for homosexuals to cover up their "inclination"!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Everybody loves...

Yesterday I finally saw Thomas Balmes' documentary Babies, which I have been looking forward to since seeing its trailer in theaters last year. I am definitely a baby-person, so the perfect audience for this, but I really do think the value of the film is much greater than just cooing over the adorable stars.

Following about the first year in the lives of Hattie (San Francisco), Ponijao (Namibia), Mari (Tokyo), and Bayar (Mongolia), Babies is a story told without narration, allowing the viewer to observe the milestones in each child's life. Balmes has made it clear that he did not intend to present the children in the style of a nature documentary, but that he wanted to use the footage to tell his point of view.

Perhaps different viewers' perspectives will elicit different meanings from the film. The baby-averse may see this as a cautionary tale about birth control, while new parents might tremble at all the potentially dangerous situations the babies get into. My parents who watched it with me (perfect Mother's Day bonding activity) loved reminiscing about their babies' behaviors from decades ago. As for me, I found it to be a wonderful commentary on culture. The babies are born into different cultures, and we can observe how that affects their upbringing. But in terms of babies being babies, all four children are exactly the same. They cry, they play, they poo, they investigate, they smile, and they grow. No matter how different things are in rural Namibia versus bustling Tokyo, it is the same momentous accomplishment when the kids learn to stand up on their own two feet.

That is what is so beautiful to me about babies, and Babies. Every person lucky enough to survive infancy and be healthy, has shared the same universal experiences of articulating their first words, learning to feed themselves, and finding their balance when tottering by on two shaky little feet. Yet for each baby, and each parent, it is a watershed event, an unforgettable milestone as important as if every other baby hadn't also accomplished the same. I wouldn't be as interested in following up with the babies ten years from now when they are socialized as products of their culture. It would be interesting, but it wouldn't have the same impact as watching their infant sameness does.

Also, the kids are just so seriously adorable.

Live from New York

This weekend I did something I probably haven't done since 9th grade: I stayed up specifically to watch Saturday Night Live. While host Betty White was a draw, after her much publicized internet renaissance, I was most excited to see the episode's special guests. In honor of mother's day, several female cast members (and moms) of the past decade returned en masse. I was excited to see Molly Shannon, Ana Gasteyer, Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler back on SNL, and the writing and performances did not disappoint.

In recent years I have had little interest in SNL, only watching the "best" clips online the day after. This week's episode was high-energy, consistently funny, and somewhat meaningful. Here were all these hilarious women in one place, with their humor unflagging. I don't know how much the episode's success was due to them, or the writing, but it has been so long since the show has garnered my interest, that something must have been done right.

Highlights of the night were the return of "Delicious Dish," Amy Poehler being adorable in a "Gingey" sketch, and Tina Fey and Betty White reworking a classic Tim Meadows/Christopher Walken census sketch. Enjoy this "Debbie Downer" sketch, which did not make the live show, but which has all of the episode's ladies on hand to support Rachel Dratch's fantastic title character.

Lena Horne (1917-2010)

Lena Horne, actress and singer, died yesterday, and I'd like to share with all of you a beautiful video of her singing "Stormy Weather" in 1943.

I knew her most as a singer, but she was an important figure in cinema as well, one of few black actresses of her time to make a name for herself. Of course, she never became a huge star, a victim of Hollywood's lack of diversity, but many actors today have her to thank as a role model. Please enjoy listening to her lovely voice today, and try to pay attention to black actors in mainstream Hollywood today - ask yourself how much has changed in the past 70 years.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Girls on Film

I would like to write a series of entries investigating how I feel about the world of female filmmakers, but I am as yet not knowledgeable enough about the subject to enter into the discussion fully. However, I would like to introduce the topic with a review of Nicole Holofcener's Please Give, which opened in limited release last Friday.

Starring Rebecca Hall, Oliver Platt, Amanda Peet, Sarah Steele, and Holofcener regular Catherine Keener, Please Give is a movie about guilt. There's a bit of an uncomfortable chemistry when a woman-centric film focuses so strongly on guilt, but it is a story about compassion, acceptance, and niceness as well. Keener and Platt play married couple Kate and Alex, who earn their very comfortable living buying furniture from the children of the recently deceased, and selling them at a steep mark-up in their antique shop. They own the apartment next to theirs, which is inhabited by elderly Andra, while they wait for her to die so they can expand their square footage. Andra's adult granddaughters Rebecca and Mary intersect with the story, and with Kate and Alex's teenage daughter Abby.

The core of Kate's journey is her difficulty reconciling with the guilt she feels in making a living off of practically stealing from the grieving survivors of the elderly. She tries to assuage this by offering cash and restaurant leftovers to every homeless person she passes (much to the embarrassment of Abby), but it never quite makes her feel better. She dabbles in volunteering at a retirement home and an athletic camp for special needs youth, but can't shake her pity and sadness over how privileged she feels in comparison. Trying to juggle her guilt, her inability to connect with her daughter, and her increasingly platonic relationship with her husband, Kate also can't understand how easy it is for Alex to feel nothing about the morally questionable lifestyle they lead. Alex deals with guilt as well in the film, but his role is much more subdued (and more typical).

Andra's younger granddaughter Rebecca visits daily to help care for her, but her sister Mary is more concerned with working on her tan and stalking her ex's new girlfriend than looking after their extremely crass and tactless grandmother. Rebecca embarks on a sweet and nervous relationship with the grandson of one of her "patients" (she's a mammogram technician), while spreading her wings a bit and learning to become happy with her life.

The other two Holofcener movies I've seen, Friends With Money and Lovely & Amazing also focused on women, but on how certain women deal with universal subjects such as finances and personal appearance. Please Give is no different, as all of us deal with thoughts about guilt, privilege, and wondering when certain feelings are appropriate. Watching Kate and Rebecca (and the other characters, to a lesser extent) find peace with their uneasiness, is an enjoyable and approachable journey.

On a more superficial note (but not really, given the loaded context), it was wonderful to see Real Looking People onscreen. Keener, Hall, and Peet are all beautiful women, but they looked real. Platt and Keener looked like a real married couple, and Steele (remember her from Spanglish?) looks like their real daughter. They talked like real people, about real world things, and I felt so much more voyeuristic peering into their lives than I do when watching a movie with airbrushed cake toppers in the starring roles. Kudos to Holofcener and her team for being honest in casting, writing, and filmmaking in general.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Two from the vault

(Since I have repeatedly open and shut this blog like a vault...)

Today I browsed some discount DVD racks and picked up two of my much-enjoyed movies which I heretofore did not own. It's such a joy to be able to revisit a movie you have loved in years past, pop it in the player whenever the mood strikes, and remind yourself of how it made you feel when you first watched it. Who you were back then. Who you are now, and why you love the movie in a different way.

I am now the owner of Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run (1998), and Taylor Hackford's White Nights (1985). Lola is the sort of movie that I obsessed over as a teenager, aping Franka Potente's shock-red hair time after time, finding romance in her scenes with Moritz Bleibtreu (despite the harsh German accents), and totally "getting" it when I was just a kid who wanted to be cool and Donnie Darko and Memento hadn't come out yet. White Nights appealed to a different part of me, a ballet dancer who was naïve about but fascinated by political intrigue from before I was born. I could lose myself watching the masters, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines, dancing for their freedom. I dreamed I'd one day be as beautiful as Isabella Rossellini (impossible). Lola spoke to my fast heartbeat and hard edges, and Nights to my soft daydreaminess.

In high school I studied ballet under a divorced couple (who still remained "close") that had sought political asylum in the U.S. from Cuba. They were such a fascinating pair, and excellent dancers, and I guess there is something so romantic about escape when you have never had to do it. He was dark and wore tight pants and controlled the classroom with the kind of terror that gets the best out of the students. She was gentle and beautiful but would explode when you were being slovenly in class. I'll never forget when a girl tried to excuse her lethargy with a vague plea that she hadn't eaten much that day. It's sort of a rule in ballet that eating disorders aren't talked about much if at all, so the student had been bold to invoke them. The instructor was so pissed off at this lazy lie of an excuse. "In Cuba, we sometimes ate catfood! And sometimes all we had to eat all day was a little bit of cafecito! But we still had to dance perfectly!" The unspoken "or else" hung in the air.

Run Lola Run is the kind of movie you watch in introductory film classes to learn about nontraditional narrative timelines and sound editing. It's sort of a primer for movies that make you think about heavy stuff like free will, and true love, but that's still totally fun and energetic. Lola is so pretty and determined and fearless, and what teenage girl doesn't want to be like her? Plus, this is the perfect movie to show to people who don't know what it's about. You get to smirk at their furrowed brow when they learn of the 20 minute "ticking time-clock," and then nod at them like "Right?! Get ready," twenty minutes later.

I hope you have seen these movies. If you haven't, please give them a try. I'd love to hear how they sit with people who see them for the first time as adults.