Archive for the 'Film' Category

Cherry Bombs

Besides both being movies I saw this weekend, Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976) and The Runaways (Floria Sigismondi, 2010) have in common that they both open with scenes of a teen girl getting her first period. Carrie is from 1976. That first scene in The Runaways — which actually opens with a shot of blood falling on pavement — is set in 1975. Both of them are about different ways the power of womanhood runs away with the main characters. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Sigismondi chose to start The Runaways with that image, also.

In Carrie, and this has I’m sure been discussed ad nauseum by all the people who’ve seen it in the past 35 years, Carrie’s telekinetic powers first start to manifest when she gets her period. In the beginning, this seems like a good thing. Carrie asserts her own power, telling her mom it’s not the devil, it’s her, and decides to make a cute dress and go to the prom and be happy for a minute without worrying about sin. But of course — this totally backfires. When Carrie gets upset by a cruel high school prank, she loses control and burns down her school gym with everyone in it. Then she kills John Travolta by crashing his car and crucifies her own mom. (Granted, her mom had already stabbed her, but Carrie’s “fling every pointed object in the kitchen into her mom’s torso” method seems excessive.) The takeaway is that menstruation and therefore the female body are scary and monstrous.

Things are different in The Runaways: it’s not a horror movie, it’s a rock n’ roll biopic. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it starts with De Palma’s image of female grotesque-ness. In the hands of a lady filmmaker making a movie about lady culture, the period is no longer a source of supernatural horror. It’s just a pain in the ass. But it sets the scene for the story that follows, which is about Cherie Currie having her own form of power – the ability to make herself, to perform, to be fierce, to be Bardot and Bowie – packaged and sold as something she can’t really control. It’s not a coincidence that Cherie’s song is “Cherry Bomb”: “Hello Daddy, hello mom/ I’m your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb/ Hello world, I’m your wild girl/ I’m your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb.” She’s offering herself up to you in all her jailbait sexiness, but it is clear that she will blow right up in your face. In the movie, a lot is made of the way Kim Fowley tries to commodify her self-made image and claim it as his own. This is the main source of conflict between her and the other heroine, Joan Jett. Selling yourself like Cherie does is (as countless contemporary female celebrities can tell you) a hard road to walk: it doesn’t take much for things to blow up in Cherie’s face, and she’s left alone, working a menial job in a store.

Cherie’s story is not that much of a different message about teen female sexuality from Carrie’s. But the difference is that The Runaways has two girls in it. Joan Jett’s going through the ups and downs of fame right along with Cherie — but for her it’s never about anything but the music. It’s not a simple good girl/bad girl story: Joan’s complicity in turning Cherie into a Cherry Bomb is pretty clear. She’s seen contributing to the song (and the narrative); her relationship with Cherie is also complicated by lust. Where Cherie (at least in the movie, I know things were different in real life) gets lost, Joan’s able to symbolically cleanse herself through songwriting and emerge with a badass solo album (that she released herself after every label ever turned her down, though we don’t learn that until the end credits). I didn’t love everything about the movie — the bathtub scene where New Joan emerges cleansed of her corporate past was lame, and I wish the rest of the band got more to do since they also seemed interesting — but the core story about Joan and Cherie was really well-done and kind of amazing for a mainstream film.

That said, I’ve been reading Adorno lately, and I think it’s worth pointing out that the “power” that Cherie and even Joan have are limited to their abilities to enter into a male-dominated and corporate-owned milieu. This isn’t women’s lib, it’s selling some records. It’s women being powerful, but they are getting power by imitating culturally provided ways of being powerful and masculine.

That’s a pretty standard “pop culture makes us all zombies” argument — which doesn’t make it not kind of true — but at the same time, what else are girls supposed to do? If we’re stuck in the system, the least we can do is win on its own terms. And maybe blow things up a little.

My Greenberg Letter

Dear Noah Baumbach,

My original plan was to write a standard review of your new movie Greenberg responding to some of the other things I’d read about it. But I can’t really be critical and objective about your movies. It’s not so much that I love them so hard; it’s more like I relate to them so hard. It’s not so much that I find myself in situations like Greenberg and Florence’s (though being in a similar age and situation except not single, I found Florence very easy to identify with). When I walked out of Greenberg, I felt suddenly self-conscious, imagining what my life would look like if it were a movie. Walking down the street, picturing how the camera would frame me. Part of Granville Street was closed so a TV show could film some kind of police car thing. It was very cinematic. Hearing movie speech rhythms in the way my boyfriend and I bantered. We were weirdly on that night.

I’m not always sure how to deal with the way I relate to your movies. Lines like “We call each other ‘man,’ but it’s a joke. It’s like imitating other people” are clearly inviting me to judge Greenberg, and maybe people who don’t do stuff like this will judge Greenberg, but don’t most people do stuff like this? I sure do; I’ll start saying stuff “ironically” and then before long it’s just part of my vocabulary. That’s the thing about Greenberg — the details and the throwaways are really the bits that convince me such a cartoonishly awful person lives in my world (that, and the fact that we have all lived with facets of his cartoonish awfulness). Details like the recycled POM-brand iced tea glass Greenberg’s drinking out of when he writes his letters: they don’t even sell POM tea in those glasses anymore, and haven’t for a while, so I’m pretty sure some art director had to find that and choose it for the scene. I have one of those at my house! Also, Florence’s holographic dinosaur ruler. I had that exact ruler! It’s a cutesy way of showing that she still lives like a kid (and I don’t still have my dino ruler) but that moment of recognition really did work. We all know movies are captured images of things that really happened — though CGI means that that direct relationship is always in doubt now — but the things they capture so often feel fake, removed from our everyday life.

I feel uncomfortable about the precise way I like your movies, because I like them because they feel real. I know this is why a lot of people like a lot of stuff, but I, being a Greenbergian asshole, feel like that’s a really naive way to like things. I tend to pride myself on liking things that are self-consciously artificial, either in the art film way or in the genre way. “Realism” is a totally bourgeois notion, right? I don’t know, I think people like having things they relate to in movies? But I’m still pretty sure it’s somehow like I’m totally “buying into” an emotional experience. My laughs are coming from a place of (occasionally uncomfortable) recognition, which I totally think was your intention; but it was still a place that I paid money to be in, and a place that’s just as “artificial” as the self-conscious camp that I love.

I realize the device of writing a letter about these feelings to you, which is similar to the way Greenberg wrote letters to Starbucks and Hollywood Pet Taxi, is a trite literary device.

But your movies make me feel trite.

Sincerely, Brenda

This is my 2012 post

NB: This will have spoilers.


So 2012 has a metacritic score of 5.1 and a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 39%, but I would not let that dissuade you if you like things that blow up and incredible cinematic distillations of the postmodern world. This is not a movie for critics. This is a movie that takes the apocalypse movie to its logical, incredible, landmass-shifting conclusion. It is almost avant-garde in its total disregard for explaining how neutrinos destablize the earth’s crust, and its full-on repetition of the same dazzling sequence (and it is really dazzling, every time!) of racing to get a plane to take off before the runway crumbles away beneath it. This happens not twice, but three times. Every time, our embattled family that has been broken up by modernity and technology (Dad’s always at his laptop) is left to hold each other as they fly over another destroyed city. It would be cleverly meta if this movie were in any way capable of irony.


The grand political stuff rings sort of depressingly true if you get past all the silliness and bluster and the fact that Oliver Platt is the only evil politician in the entire world and the fact that they save humanity by building arks and that they manage to keep the end of the world a secret for years. (Also, why would they assassinate the director of the Louvre in the same tunnel where Princess Di was killed? And why would the newscast in the movie mention this?) They sell seats on the arks to the richest people in the world, and then they outsource the building to China, where they can just load cheap labour into trucks. So some small proportion of the first world weathers the earthquakes and tsunamis long enough to set a course for the land of the future, the new world — now the highest elevation on earth (because the tectonic plates all shifted?), and probably the only continent to avoid flooding: Africa. We’ll get it right this time!


I’m not arguing that all this genius was in any way intentional — not that the movie is made without skill, the effects are incredible and the action sequences are well-paced and easy to follow, all the actors don’t get in the way of all this (except Danny Glover, who is trying a little hard for gravitas), and it is in general adrenaline-tastic — but oh man, it is, in so many ways, the ultimate.

Twilight may normalize overwrought relationships with vampires, professor says

Screen shot 2009-11-15 at 9.48.38 PM

Real Vancouver Sun story:

VICTORIA — With the second instalment of the Twilight vampire movies about to open, a University of Victoria professor is warning parents and young Twilight fans that the series doesn’t depict healthy relationships between the sexes.

UVic political scientist [italics mine] Janni Aragon says she understands the difference between fact and escapist fiction, but the distinction might be lost on some of the young audience for the book and movie series. “I get that, but does my 11-year-old daughter?”

The article goes on to quote a 12 year-old reader who thinks the way the relationship is portrayed is unrealistic and that Edward is condescending to Bella, and then ends this way:

Aragon said she loved reading the stories: “I could not put these books down. I think it will be interesting to see how Hollywood presents the next book. Ultimately, Bella’s character does become stronger, especially in the last book.”

But she said the danger is that the series will normalize the couple’s relationship for young, impressionable people.

“They need to realize that this is just a movie [about sparkly, baseball-playing vampires], just a book [about sparkly, baseball-playing vampires], and that it’s not the norm.”

Thanks, professor.

I prefer brunettes

Jane Russell, winning at life. The boys? All in the naked shorts? Their bodies turned into nothing but props like the ladies in a Busby Berkley? Awesome.

I spent my afternoon watching musicals; I always forget how much I love Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

People always remember Marilyn in the pink dress, but “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” is such a weird, creepy number. It starts with the girls in the chandelier. Then there are all the ballerinas in pink, which totally clashes with the orange-red background. Then you realize the ballerinas all have these weird black netting veils on their faces. I don’t really think this bit necessarily has a “meaning” in a sort of obvious metaphorical sense (though the veils look like cages and they also look a little like the veils that Marilyn and Jane wear to get married in their double wedding at the end of the movie if you want to get all feminist about it), but the whole thing is so dystopian and clashing and amazing.

“I don’t have the strength to stay away from you anymore” “Then don’t”

I want to talk a bit more about Twilight, and why I feel weird about. Twilight is, no matter how you look at it, a pretty terrible movie that turns vampires into unicorns, but it still, at least for me, captures something pretty real about teen girlhood. Which is probably why it’s so popular with teen girls and the women who used to be them.

When the LRB covers pop-cult stuff, they usually get it really wrong, but Jenny Turner’s piece on Twilight is pretty great:

In accordance with the adage about the rubbishy book making for the better movie, Twilight the film is great. The mise en scène luxuriates in the dinosaur-age greenery of the temperate rainforest, the ugly rainwear from Wal-Mart dampness of school and diner and Main Street, day after day after day. Eighteen-year-old Kristen Stewart, Adjani-pale and massy-haired, somehow makes perfect sense of Bella: she has a particularly fine way of squirming around in her skinny trousers, and perhaps got her chin-out speaking style from Jodie Foster, with whom she co-starred a few years ago as the diabetic daughter in Panic Room. And all the girls are squealing at Robert Pattinson – the noble Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter films – as Edward: hair quiffed, face powder a shade or two too light, modelled, I thought, on Prince William on a night out at Boujis, laughing fondly down at Kate Middleton when she can’t help herself being middle-class. There’s a little bit of martial-arts-type leaping, some tiny vampire flashbacks done, wittily, like Nosferatu, but that apart, the film is gloriously lucid, without flicker or gloss or shadow. I went to a West End matinée on a Saturday, with girls on their eighth and eleventh viewings, and a few women closer to my age with bags from Debenhams and Primark. It was the first time I’d been to the cinema for ages and I bounced out full of beans.

Then afterwards I found myself feeling wretched, in a way I really haven’t for years and years and years. Why can’t I be freed of the need for food and sleep, why can’t I squirm exquisitely in skinny trousers, why can’t I be for ever beautiful and young? Awful memories were dislodged, of being young and full of longing – a really horrible feeling, a sickening excess of emotion with nowhere, quite, to put it. ‘I wish I could be a vampire,’ I actually said out loud at one point, though once I’d said it, I knew even that didn’t get to the heart of the problem. But the internet is great for discharging all this discontent and discomfort. I watched trailers and out-takes, I browsed on Twilight Moms, I read the interview with ‘Stephenie’ in the latest issue of American Vogue – she is ‘obsessed with the Greek salad’ in her local deli. I read somewhere some interviews with Kristen Stewart, who finds the Twilight craze ‘psychotic’.

For me, it went deeper than longing; watching Bella figure out to deal with her relatinoship with Edward, the vampire who’s constantly trying to “control” himself around her — I related to that, related to it like crazy. Now, watching it I may have been thinking about how the author is Mormon and that her Mormonism influenced the story in a lot of ways, but I feel like it most likely would have been potent for me anyway, in part because when I was Bella’s age, I dated a Mormon dude. I want to be careful writing about this because it was a private relationship that we had a long time ago — but suffice it to say that chastity was a big concern for him. This was okay with me, because I wasn’t really to go any further than we did, and I really cared for him a lot and wouldn’t really want him to do something he was ashamed of. But at the same time, I was a teen girl with hormones and feelings, and obviously I…wanted more. Don’t get me wrong, my high school boyfriend was nothing like Edward — he didn’t watch me sleep, and he was fun and interesting to be around.

Twilight is basically about that feeling — about wanting something you feel you shouldn’t want, about wanting someone to give into desires they really don’t want to, about how when you fall in love at 18 it basically seems like the most important thing in the world — and it does it really well. When Edward tells Bella how “dangerous” he is (main danger skill: overacting), she still pushes toward him. “I’m not afraid of you,” she says, kind of hoping he’ll “lose control” but mostly knowing he won’t.

When he appears (totally creepily) in her bedroom window one night, he tells her not to move. “I just want to try something.” They start kissing, and as soon as he’s opened the door, she goes for it — until he pushes her away. “I’m stronger than I thought I was,” he says. “I wish I could say the same,” she gasps back. I don’t know what the consensus is on Kristen Stewart’s performance, but I think she really takes the Bella on the page and gives her all the desire without really understanding what you’re desiring — the sense that there is something sublime if you could just cross over this one line (which for her is represented by these flashes of Edward biting her neck, which doesn’t really even seem to sublimate the sex thing all that much), but… you just can’t.

It’s sort of awful, because it’s so confusing and guilt-ridden, but at the same time there’s a kind of romance to it, a kind of bigness and stakes that nothing else will ever really have.


Oh, I don’t miss being a teenager at all.

Holding out for that teenage feeling

I’m sorry, I can’t even write anything contemporary or even coherent. I just finished watching Twilight.

Did you know vampires play baseball?

Vampire Baseball

“You’re my own personal brand of heroin”

Also, they sparkle?


“And so the lion fell in love with the lamb…”

Uh, and they take you to the prom and let you stand on their feet and dance?


It’s just so potent, so much Pacific Northwest rainforest and bitten lips and feelings. And it ends with a vampire showdown in a ballet studio full of mirrors that they don’t even try to integrate into the story. It’s totally ludicrous and the things it has to say about women and sex are a bit horrifying, but I can’t stop thinking about it.

The September Issue

Anna and Grace

Making a movie about putting out a fashion magazine — even a fashion magazine as spectacular as Vogue’s epic September 2007 issue — obviously requires some shaping of the material. The makers of The September Issue found a wonderful story in the tension between editor Anna Wintour, “the most powerful woman in the United States,” and creative director Grace Coddington. The film starts out highlighting Coddington’s frustration as Wintour cuts her babies to make way for more shots of Sienna Miller running around Rome. (I actually thought Anna was right about losing the group shots!) As the movie goes on, Coddington emerges a hero, not just for her great creative instincts, which I think people have discussed elaborately elsewhere and go without saying, but her willingness to use the movie to totally fuck with Anna Wintour.

We see her in a meeting bugging Anna about the budget for her (totally stunning) couture shoot. Later, riding down somewhere in an elevator, she confesses that “I love talking to Anna about money in front of you” to the crew. It’s not a big moment, but it’s a way of acknowledging the crew that you don’t see Anna do outside interviews. (Though it’s hard to forget she’s being filmed; when we were headed home, both the work friends I saw it with noticed the intense, make-up free close-ups of Wintour, Coddington, and basically everyone else.) The camera crew clearly becomes part of Coddington’s world, enough that it becomes part of her work, as the camera man shows up in a last-minute shoot she’s assigned for the issue.


Coddington actually puts the camera crew in the issue. I kind of love this, but I kind of love it more when — after hearing that Anna wants to airbrush out the cameraman’s gut — she makes a point of marching over to the nearest phone and calling the retouching department to leave Bob’s stomach alone, as the assistant manning the desk loses it in the background. She kind of knows she’s the hero by this point.

As for Anna? She’s not really a villain, you can’t really see her that way. She’s obviously really tough and really competent, and really an amazing mega-bitch (which I mean only as a compliment, I am all about reclaiming shit); but in the end the movie paints a picture of her as, not really weak or immature, but kind of lonely, I guess? The film starts with her talking about how people who don’t get fashion and who mock fashion — because it’s frivolous and expensive — seem scared of it, and are jealous of the cool kids (I think that was her atual line of dialogue). Later on in the movie, this line of questioning is picked when Wintour’s daughter is asked if she wants to go into fashion. She looks kind of horrified, and says she doesn’t want to knock it, but “there’s more important things to do with your life.” Toward the very end, the subject comes up again — in a talking-head presumably taken from the same interview — when Anna tells the crew about her serious British newspaper family, who are, she says “amused” by what she does. Wintour doesn’t seem wistful, doesn’t seem apologetic or regretful, I don’t want to suggest the tightness in her voice is hiding inner frailty, but it is a tightness.

Dancing vampires are still scarier than Twilight

So remember how I used to post regularly to my blog? And then I graduated grad school and basically stopped blogging, because having a full time job makes it hard to devote an hour or two a day to blogging and to keeping up with a full TV schedule? (And as I write I am weeks behind on Mad Men.) I do miss regular posting, but once you get out of the habit it’s hard to get back in. So I will be doing the National Blog Posting Month thing for November. I have some stuff going on this month, so I can’t promise that some of the posts won’t just be YouTube videos and exclamation points as opposed to thoughtful cultural critique, but I will do my best to make sure something goes up every day.

I hope everyone reading this had a good Halloween. I didn’t really do anything this year (which is lame, but I am Old and have been very Tired lately) except watch the Guy Maddin Dracula Ballet. It was pretty amazing, in that it was shot in classic silent film style (intertitles, coloured filters to set the mood, irises everywhere), but was also Guy Maddin so it was an adaptation that was subtly funny and self-aware in terms of the issues of scary foreigners and the threat of female sexuality in the original. (The ship arrives to intertitles saying “Immigrants!” “Others! From Other Lands!” I love Guy Maddin so hard.) Also, it had dancing.

Dracula ballet!

Weekly Movies, July 13-19

I am trying to bring it back, again. This week, the Holocaust, Hollywood, and the moon. Continue Reading »

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