It is 1982 in Stockholm, these girls are 13 years old, and they refuse to believe that punk is dead. What a great idea for a film.

30weare-image-articleLargeI haven’t seen it yet, of course (foreign/independent films take approximately a month to make it to my city from movie centers in New York and LA), but today’s rave NYT review is through the roof, so I’m going to do my best to turn We are the Best! into a new cult movie about female rockers. (One of their songs is called “Hate the Sport.”)

So put it on your lists, friends.

This isn’t a terrible film. It’s basic heartwarming stuff, with great music and delicious-looking food layered on top. I, for one, appreciate a good food movie. And I like writer-director-star Jon Favreau well enough. I’m not going to tell you this is bad material.

What I am going to say that if I see one more film in which the ridiculously hot, fantastic woman is just waiting around for Señor Doofus to get his shit together — and their uniting is this badly plotted, I am going to lose it. (Spoiler alert.)

628x471Yes, this is the woman — Sofia Vergara, for gods’ sake, she of the quickfire wit from Modern Family and improbably spectacular body — as Inez. And, that doofus-looking dude with the glasses? Yes, that’s a chef named Carl (Favreau), together with their son Percy. Not only are they now divorced, but Carl is a terrible father — perpetually late for his every-other-weekend visits, absent-minded, self-absorbed.

On some level perhaps it’s nice that the movies take pleasure in setting up spectacularly gorgeous individuals with very ordinary-looking ones; it gives all us ordinary people a chance to dream. Of course it would be nice if every once in a while the ordinary-looking partner were female rather than the reverse. Shall we review Carl’s appearance?

Jon-Favreau-Whets-Your-Taste-Buds-In-the-Trailer-for-Chef-Video-436541-2But I repeat: Carl’s shlubbyness isn’t my problem per se.

According to the film, Carl’s problem is the high-intensity world of first-class restaurants. So when he gets himself summarily fired because the restaurant’s owner (Dustin Hoffman, deliciously good in this role) just wants him to keep making the same old safe dishes for their customers. Long story short: Carl loses his shit on Twitter, buys a food truck, rediscovers his love of cooking, and re-bonds with his son. And oh yeah, he and Inez re-marry.

…which is my problem. That’s when my mild pleasure at the delicious food, great music, etc. came to a screeching halt. Whaddaya mean, they get remarried?

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Problem #1: Inez has no personality, no character, no motivation. Hence, their remarriage doesn’t seem to serve any of her interests, because she has no interests.

Problem #2: The only hint we are given for their being re-interested in one another is that little Percy appears to desire it, at least insofar as one of those “Gee, Dad, I wish you lived at home again” lines gets thrown at Carl.

Problem #3: The only hint we are given that Carl might still love her is when he gets irrationally jealous that she may have slept with another man. This is not an attractive quality in a man.

Problem #4: The only purpose of her (gorgeous, spring-loaded) existence is to serve as a reward for Carl getting his shit together. (Why isn’t his reward just a renewed relationship with their son?)

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Oh, did I forget to mention that Carl already has a kind of relationship with Scarlett Johansson, whereby he seduces her regularly with his spectacular food? So, yeah, Carl OF ALL PEOPLE seduces the hottest women in Hollywood right and left.

Ordinarily I might not pause in my crazy schedule for a film rant on this blog, except that — hello — we just witnessed yet another shooting, this one at UC Santa Barbara. And as we’ve all heard by now, this one was executed by a young man angry that women were not responding to his seduction techniques.

No wonder the UCSB shooter believed that women must either succumb or die: films like this one promise men that women are just available to them, always. There’s no reason why Carl and Inez need to re-marry at the end; his real life change consists in having bonded again with his son. Inez is just thrown in with the package, because … well, we know why, don’t we?

I’m so tired. No wonder I like North and South so much — those characters actually transform.

Oh yeah, and one other thing, from this site:

s3.amazonaws.com-policymic-images-9cc777418ccc3f79a25d6b67fa87ba9401dc7bc22e232d9c26322892c8128507

cotton-snowflakes-north-and-southThat’s right, bitchez — period drama-palooza.

The ladies are coming over tomorrow for the conflict of social and economic mores that is North and South, and I’m planning to win over new converts. This has happened before.

North-and-South-north-and-south-32024170-1920-1080I find it helps to offer cocktails, spicy food, and some kind of creamy and fruity dessert.

(Because it is four hours long.)

north-and-south-endingSo by the time the ending arrives, and fortunes have shifted, and new reconciliations made, we’ll all be full and happy and less inclined to think that the moody Thornton will likely make a difficult husband for Margaret, and that the stern and judgmental Margaret will closely resemble her mother-in-law.

We’ll just focus on that kiss. Ahh. Summer is here.

Can you please run out and read this right now, so we can talk about it?9781476747231_custom-87695c3b0ead8f2daec953d7b7d75dc26d4464bf-s6-c30

It’s so good. This is what I wanted Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs to be, although it never quite rose to those heights. Like that book, it circles around a woman artist (why so many good books recently about women artists?) 

The novel proceeds as if an editor has compiled all the relevant information about a late female artist who, after her death, has been revealed as the artistic genius behind three celebrated shows, each purportedly the work of male artists. Her journals, interviews with her friends and critics, and other documents show that Harriet Burden arranged with those male artists for them to “wear” her art as if it was theirs in order, ultimately, to show the pervasive male bias of the art world.

But Harriet is far more than your typical cranky middle-aged woman who perceives bias. This book explores all aspects of artistic celebrity to show that this isn’t just feminist bitchiness but a true uncovering of how we — as a culture — see art through the artist (or, dare we say, through the author). Harriet’s agonizing frustration at her treatment is so astute that by the time I finished the book I wanted to start all over again. She is my favorite protagonist in months and months and months — and I’ve read some great books during this time.

Take, for example, her assessment of one of the artists she uses as a mask for her own work:

It is so easy for Rune to shine. Where does that effortlessness come from? He is so light. I am earthbound, a Caliban to Ariel. And I must watch his weightless flights over my head, while I lurk underground with brown thoughts that roil my guts. “Himself is his own dungeon.”

God, I loved this book, which just shines brighter and brighter like a blazing world from beginning to end. Read it and tell me what you think.

And speaking of busy nothings, the academic conference. I returned from one, and frankly, the very best part was sharing a room with one of my besties from grad school — and watching Mansfield Park (1999) together.

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Keeping this blog has allowed me to see a pattern in my life: when April rolls around and the semester gets tough, the not-so-tough (me) watch period drama. Even better if it’s Jane Austen, because she’s so playful and hopelessly romantic that it takes me out of the semester at its worst.

It’s been so long since I saw this version of Mansfield Park that I’d forgotten the ways that it finesses the original Austen novel. Mostly for the better, as far as I’m concerned. Fanny (Frances O’Connor) isn’t painfully shy, sickly, and insipid like she is in the book, and the script by director Patricia Rozema lifts extensively from Austen’s letters and papers as a way to imagine Fanny’s lifelong correspondence with her younger sister Susie as well as her wordy, playful relationship with her cousin Edmund (Johnny Lee Miller). Fanny seems all the more appealing because of her gift for words — and less moralistic, as I sometimes found her character in the book. Other aspects don’t work as well, like the film’s elaboration of a complicated slaveholding backstory for the Bertrams, but that seems less important to me.

Clearly, if you’re going to like this film, you can’t be overly dedicated to the novel. I wouldn’t put up with that nonsense if it were Pride and Prejudice, but I’m willing to let Rozema improve on the less perfect Mansfield Park.

mansfield park 1999 young fanny

It doesn’t hurt that it starts with an eminently appealing little-girl version of Fanny. Taken away from her impoverished family to live with wealthy cousins at a young age, she has never been treated as an equal in the family — except by her cousin Edmund, the Bertrams’ younger son. From the cold little garret the Bertrams provided for her, she busies herself with the pleasures of her own imagination — rollicking gothic tales mailed off to her sister Susie, and an irreverent “History of England” for Edmund. In this respect, this version is far superior to the 2007 BBC/ Masterpiece version.

She might be shy, but Fanny has a wonderful inner life. One wants to be friends with her. As they grow up, she and Edmund develop a bond beyond words.

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And it might all have turned out differently, I suppose … until the family receives a visit from the fashionable new neighbors, a brother and sister named Henry and Mary Crawford (Alessandro Nivola and Embeth Davidtz).

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The film plays the Crawfords’ appearance to great effect — everything about them screams “danger!” so I wanted to clap my hands with delight, because you know the real story is about to begin.

Mary Crawford looks just like a spider, with her self-satisfied smile and ruffled collar. This is no idle comparison; Mary is a spider, and the target for her paralyzing bite is the impressionable Edmund — to Fanny’s horror.

Henry Crawford is a beast of a different sort. If his sister appears laser-focused, his own inclination is a vaguer kind of troublemaking. Pushed by Mrs. Bertram toward her younger daughter, Julia, he keeps his options open, flirting with the newly engaged Maria Bertram instead. Maria, engaged to an idiot, is happy to reciprocate.

Henry Crawford Perfect

The Crawfords entrance the entire Bertram clan. These two seem to flaunt every ordinary social convention. Which is all well and good while Fanny can withdraw to the background and observe their machinations — but everything changes when Henry turns his attention away from Maria and fixes his gaze, for the first time in his life, like a laser on Fanny.

She knows him too well to accept his offer of marriage. She cannot trust him. She knows his rakish character too well. But Rozema’s film toys with us, leads us to second-guess Henry’s motives. Does he not, suddenly, appear sincere? Does he not appear to love her? When her uncle sends her back home to live in her parents’ squalid home in Portsmouth, Henry follows and woos her, showing little alarm at her parents’ poverty and misery.

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He’s charming and wonderful. He appears completely in love with her. And in a hasty moment, she accepts his proposal of marriage.

Only to change her mind. How can she marry him, even if Edmund is due to marry Mary Crawford?

And yet the film does a lovely job of making Henry seem like a true lover. He really has fallen for her, we believe — and even after things go sour, I continue to believe it. It’s such a nice spin on the story, for it shows (perhaps) his ability to change, and Fanny’s willingness to change her mind.

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My grad school bestie pointed out that Edmund is a bit overly judgmental — as a wannabe clergyman, perhaps this comes naturally. But considering how much he has fallen for the mostly-immoral Mary Crawford, the judgy sternness seems a bit out of place.

Out of curiosity, which Edmund do you prefer? I’m inclined to find both adorable, but are they too obviously adorable? As in, am I getting fed an easy pair of soulful eyes here by a crass casting director? (Ritson has particularly soulful eyes, obvs.) I’m not sure that either one is as perfectly matched with his co-star as much as he ought to be. I mean, a true Austen tale ought to have a perfectly matched heroine and swain, amiright?

Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund in the 1999 film

Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund in the 1999 film

Blake Ritson as Edmund in the 2007 ITV movie

Blake Ritson as Edmund in the 2007 ITV movie

 

These are the questions that keep me up at night.

If you’re wondering which is the superior production, there’s no question: the 2007 may be a teensy bit more faithful to the book, but the 1999 wins hands down for the inclusion of all those delicious bits of Austen’s writing. Besides, Frances O’Connor makes a much better Fanny than Billie Piper. Most of all, the 2007 ITv production feels a bit as if everyone is acting solo before a green screen, with no sense of  chemistry or drama between characters.

Anyway.

Sigh. This is one of those posts that rambles around. My attention is divided — and I keep staring at that stack of papers that I ought to have finished grading a week ago.

But perhaps this is all the more an endorsement of taking a look at the film as balm for the soul in these sad days of the late semester. Especially if you find yourself blissfully sharing a room with a bestie at a tedious conference of academics.

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Riveting. A woman prowls the streets of Glasgow in a white van, hunting for men. Gender roles are switched — she’s the predator, they the prey. She uses herbeauty, her seductiveness, to lure them.

At one point she tries out her line on a man standing near the driver’s side window, but he tries to attack her — and a crew of buddies spring out at her, too. She drives away unruffled.

You see, she’s not really a woman, even as she uses her womanliness to get them naked and erect.

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I don’t have time to write a lot, lest I get bogged down and leave this in draft — I currently have 14 things in draft. Let me just say that this is worth every penny. I’m still not sure what to make of it. The arc of the story seems to take her from this womanly non-woman to a new, silent gender role; she no longer has the ammunition to be the person she becomes. Nor do we really know what she’s done with those hapless male victims along the way. But this beautifully creepy film and the blank, riveting Scarlett Johansson weave around a grim world in which they seem like only one tiny scary element.

I could say so much more, but not when I’m about to face the last week of the semester and finals and all the usual shit. Tell me what you think, though. Don’t expect to feel good, to fall in love with the protagonist, or to walk out having learned something, exactly … but you’ll want to talk.

Hi. Remember me?

This is the problem with blogging: I love it, and I don’t have time to do it properly (i.e., daily/biweekly). Forgive me for being so AWOL and know well that it’s not because I’m not watching female-oriented film or foaming at the mouth about the bullshit in the media, my university, etc.

But today I have two things for you. First is a lovely, two-minute long thought-piece video on a tic in Wes Anderson’s films. Go here to Vimeo to watch “Wes Anderson | Centered” by Komogado, a video artist who also has a wonderful tribute to Ozu.

And on the subject of Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, I loved loved loved it, even though it’s not really subject matter I typically discuss here (i.e. a film about men. Anderson’s films are always really just about men).

My second link is hard to read because it’s so enraging, but it’s vital. It’s “Dear Harvard: You Win,” a letter to the editor of the Harvard Crimson from a woman sexually assaulted by a friend in her university residence house and abandoned by the university that purports to respond to such abuse.

Only 25 more weeks in April before the semester ends. This is how I comfort myself.

 

Oh, this is my favorite thing all week: reviews written by noted New England Puritan Cotton Mather in the New Yorker. To wit:

Catching Fire

Verily, I am of two Minds when it comes to “Catching Fire.” On the one Hand, the killing of Children is largely forbidden by Scripture. On the other, so is coddling them. All Sins being Equal before God, I will split the Difference and give this Film two Stars. 

They’re almost as good as those written by Focus on the Family in the good old days, before their website clued into the snort-inducing nature of their prudery. (The site still offers enumerated lists of bad words; for example, did you know that American Hustle has more than 110 uses of the f-word?)

Ahh. Now this perks up the fact that we have one of those dread-inducing faculty meetings with an agenda full of things that make my colleagues want to throw tantrums.

Very mild spoiler alert. If you, like me, are waaayyyy too busy in your work life to binge-watch and have yet to start the new season, and you don’t want to know even the slightest thing about this first episode — well, you’ve been warned.

house-of-cards-s2-trailerThe season opener is just as chockablock as you might imagine — intrigue undertaken by ruthless people capable of 3-D chess — all of which makes you question whether you can stand watching this level of immorality within government and media organizations.

The one thing missing: those moments when Frank breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to us, sharing his scary brilliant philosophy.

But then, at the very end, as Frank gets dressed in front of the mirror, he says in that voice, “Did you think I’d forgotten you? Perhaps you wish I had,” and he explains exactly why he committed one of the most stunning plot turns of this episode.

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 9.17.48 AMWhat he says, of course, is chilling; because Frank Underwood (that’s F.U. to you) tells it like it is. And yet. This intimate moment is like all the other ones he shares with us: he takes off his mask, reveals his thinking, rationalizes his moves. But he also frames the whole thing in an elaborate metaphor that — well, when it comes flowing out of his mouth, with all those turns of phrase and that ballsy certainty, us viewers become implicated in the crimes.

How is it possible that when he peels back the safe-for-the-public face and speaks to me directly, Frank makes me feel … relief?

How delicious. Can I also say that Claire’s clothes (and moral ambivalence) are just as gorgeous and watchable as in Season 1? I can hardly wait for more.

MOMENTS Cover

This is not my favorite of David Thomson’s books (his New Biographical Dictionary of Film is endlessly pleasurable) but it’s certainly the most beautiful. And what an excuse to flip through these gorgeous photographs, cooing over your favorites, putting all the others on your Netflix queue.

Have I mentioned I’m grading papers this weekend?

The book also makes me want to find images of my own, exemplary of those breathtaking little moments in film that stop you short.

As a result of reading his bit about my favorite film of all time, The Third Man (1949), I found myself scrolling through images online. Thomson loves that last scene, in which the beautiful and enigmatic Alida Valli walks toward the camera and past poor Joseph Cotten, who wants her to love him. The zither music plays unrelentingly.

LIV_20131124_ENT_022_29671804_I1Fair enough; it’s an amazing scene. But I have some others to suggest:

Third Man Alida Valli

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third-man-child

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The Third Man movie image

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thrd man

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Tell me: do you have a favorite moment from a favorite film — a crystalline, perfect, deeply pleasurable moment that somehow brings forth all manner of emotion when you recall it?