Sunday, May 29, 2011

"Certified Copy"

In Tuscany to promote his new book, middle-aged British writer James Miller (William Shimell) is taken for a ride in the country by a gushing fan - a charmingly authentic French woman named Elle (the luminescent Juliette Binoche.) They debate the thesis in his book about copies of fine art having value. He argues that even a copy is a work of art. It is all a matter of perception. "Copies have worth because they lead us to the original." To lighten things up, she takes him on a day trip to the village of Lucignano where young couples go to get married and pledge their undying love. At a coffee shop, the owner compliments Elle on her "good husband" when he leaves to answer his cell. Angry at her real life husband, Ellie takes advantage of the mistake to vent about her husband's many faults. James returns and they keep up the pretense.  They both fall easily into their roles of a couple who has grown apart. The presence of adoring newly wed couples shines a harsh light on their relationship. James complains to Elle that it's unreasonable for her to expect for them to act the same as the young married couples.

"Certified Copy" seems to suggest that relationships, like art, are a matter of perception. James squawks when Elle insists that a statue of a woman leaning her chin on a monster's shoulder is a masterpiece. But a wise, older man explains to James that all Elle needs is for him to put his hand on her shoulder as they walk – to have the perception of being connected. Like the copies of the great masterpieces, this copy of a marriage has worth as long as it leads them back to the original.

"Certified Copy" by renowned auteur Abbass Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry) is a smart, enchanting romance about marriage and the true course of love. Juliette Binoche (deservedly) won Best Actress at Cannes for her vulnerable, sensual portrayal.

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"Bridesmaids" A Female Driven Comedy for Men.

At first glance, "Bridesmaids" seems like just any other female driven comedy. The main character, Annie, (Kristen Wiig) is in a bad rut. Her negative attitude has caused her to lose her job and get stuck in a one-sided relationship with a jerk. On the bright side, she can always depend on her childhood friend - until that friend announces her up-coming wedding sending Annie into a downward spiral. She is afraid that she is losing her best friend and competes with another bridesmaid (a rich event planner, no less) for the role of maid of honor. "Bridesmaids" is a shiny, new hybrid that Hollywood is taking on a test drive – a star vehicle for women that men can also love.

Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig co-writers and producers
In her article, “Why Bridesmaids is Important,” Jamie Denbo writes, “But here's why it's actually important to see Bridesmaids on opening weekend. (Twice if you can afford the admission, time and babysitters). I don't know a female screenwriter, TV writer, actor or comedienne who hasn't heard this statement in the past few months with regards to future projects, "Well, we'll see how Bridesmaids does..." That sentence means that every creative, brilliant, funny woman in Hollywood is (unfairly) being held hostage to a single film's opening weekend box office. Meaning no studio is likely to take any sort of chance on any new projects perceived to be "female driven comedy" unless they have proof that it can perform. And perform well.”

When this article popped up on f.b. I promptly re-posted it. I'm a strong believer that we send a message to Hollywood by how we spend our entertainment dollars. I even have a blog that encourages movie goers to see thought provoking films on opening day. Also, being a woman writer, I am all for anything that gets more women writers working. But after seeing "Bridesmaids" - on opening day no less - I re-read Jamie's article. I agree now more than ever. And it bothers me more.

First, I agree that the movie is hilarious – or has many hilarious scenes. I hope it launches the film careers of some very funny comedians: Kristen Wigg (her expressive, painfully honest responses make her come across – mostly - sympathetic) and Melissa McCarthy who really demonstrates her physical comedy acting chops.

But the idea that every brilliant, funny woman in Hollywood is dependent on its success is shocking and ridiculous. I agree with Ms. Denbo's statement, “When a super hero movie flops, studios never seem to stop making them. Nor do I see "do or die" pressure applied to what's considered to be regular (male?) comedy.” Bridesmaids has been sold as the "female version" of, "The Hangover.” The strategy is to attract men by adding rated R humor. So, if it is really tailored for men's taste, why should female driven comedies be penalized by it's failure? Wouldn't it be fairer to stop making movies with potty humor?

Hollywood still doesn't believe that women movie goers will bring in the big dollars. Didn't they learn anything from the recent success of, "Sex in the City?" Was it a freak phenomenon? Aside from the built in fan base, there is another reason that it was popular that may have been overlooked. Women enjoyed seeing loyal, close female friends portrayed on the big screen. This brings to mind the so-called chick flick, "The Women." I strongly encouraged people to see this smart comedy starring all women with a woman writer/director at the helm. While there were many hilarious comic bits, (I'll never forget health-conscious Meg Ryan chomping down on a bar of butter dipped in chocolate after discovering her husband's affair) there was a big problem with the movie – the women were bitches! The main action was about the women being catty and mean to each other. While I was laughing, I looked around the theater and saw other women with pained looks on their faces. I got some serious backlash from my campaign supporting this film because many women HATED that one of the few movies for woman showed them in such an unlikable manner. Women like to be liked! That doesn't mean there can't be some unlikable characters -we love women villains - but not nearly everyone in a movie named, "The Women!" To it's credit, "Bridesmaids" shows some heart by developing a close relationship between the two women friends. This could be one reason that it has been a hit with women.

Director Anne Fletcher 
I wish I had done a review of the more original, creative 2008 wedding comedy, "27 Dresses." It better represented the so-called "female driven" comedy since it was more of a traditional romantic comedy with a strong female voice (although the trailer flaunted her potty mouth - probably to appeal to the R-rated comedy fans.) And it was the vision of two talented, up and coming women: Aline Brosh McKenna who also wrote the 2006 smash hit, "The Devil Wears Prada" and directed by Anne Fletcher (who also directed the big 2009 hit, "The Proposal.") Two more examples of female driven comedies that made big money.

It's too bad Hollywood feels a need to dumb down the comedy so men will enjoy it. This is insulting to men because it means they can only appreciate adolescent humor. An example is the gratuitous gross-out throw-up scene in "Bridesmaids." When I didn't hear any laughter, I looked around and saw pained looks on both the men's and women's faces. This throw up sequence is just insulting to everyone. I know plenty of twenty-year-old movie-going men who love smart, romantic comedies. Someone, please, bring back great stories that both men and women enjoy like, “Private Benjamin” and, “When Harry Met Sally.”

Hollywood is looking at this all wrong. The female driven romantic comedy isn't dead. There are plenty of fans who are just waiting for some original stories with great characters. Stop making the same old tired romantic comedy and we will come. And, please, give some of those creative, brilliant, funny women a chance! We need them!

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal

For the writer's perspective read:
"Interview: 'Bridesmaids' Co-Writer Annie Mumolo Talks Feminine Comedy."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"Winter in Wartime" and "In a Better World"

Why do all the good movies come out at once?

It seems like “Best Foreign Film nominee month” at the Loft. There were so many good films that I couldn't get to them all. After being put off by a somewhat depressing trailer, I finally saw the Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film, the Danish entry, “In a Better World.” In the trailer it appears to be the kind of depressing movie that I “should” watch because it's good for me. But I went away with that jubilant feeling I get after seeing fine filmmaking.(I got similar feeling of elation after seeing 2008's under-marketed, under-distributed, "Transsiberian" – a decidedly dark thriller.)  Kudos to director Susanne Bier for bringing this universal theme of bullying to our attention. Unfortunately, “In a Better World” is no longer playing at the Loft. Meanwhile, Holland's Best Foreign Film nominee, “Winter in Wartime,” had a stunning trailer with thrilling action shots that drew me into the theater a week ago. Of course, it's still playing.

Since my readers seem to be catching these films on DVD anyway, I'll do reviews of both. But if you get the chance, you should really see these cinematic delights on the big screen. In addition to being beautifully shot, both films share a common coming-of-age theme on the fine line between good and evil.

Winter in Wartime,” adapted from a boy's adventure book set in a Nazi occupied Holland village, is about a thirteen-year-old boy playing at the kind of adventure and suspense he reads in these books - until a real adventure falls in his lap (...actually more on the edge of town.) When a British plane is shot down, Michael (Martin Lakemeier) goes to explore the wreckage and is eventually drawn into the resistance when he assists the British paratrooper trapped behind enemy lines. This is the first time that Michael has felt some sense of power since the Nazis took over the town. It is hard to make out who to trust because so many of the townspeople seem to be in with the Nazis. He is confused when he sees his own father (the mayor) pandering to the Nazis and loses respect for him. But Michael finds that the line between good and evil isn't so easy to distinguish – especially when a Nazi soldier saves his life. Michael is forced to grow up fast and decide for himself where his loyalty and responsibility lies.

(review of, "In a Better World," below)

"In a Better World" and "Winter in Wartime"

While “Winter in Wartime” is very much like a Hollywood epic with a really straight forward narrative, “In a Better World” has a more European flavor with a more complex structure and multiple themes such as grief and guilt, revenge and empathy. “In a Better World,” ) aptly combines the intimate story of two families with a bigger world crisis to examine the effect of violent verses non-violent responses to bullying on all levels of society.

With his parents on the verge of divorce, ten year old Elias' (Markus Rygaard) needs his father (Mikael Persbrandt) more than ever. But his father divides his time and attention between his family in Denmark and his work as a doctor at a refugee camp in Africa. Elias is getting bullied everyday at school until the new kid, Christian, (William Johnk Neilson) stands up to the bully and ends up with a bloody nose. Christian, full of rage from his mother's recent death, goes after the bully for revenge. This violent act brings the two troubled boys together. After a meeting with the school principal, Christian's dad lectures, “You can't just go around beating people up. It doesn't solve anything.” Christian responds with a look of complete disdain at discovering how out of touch his father is with his world. “No one will dare hit me now,” he explains. Elias' father, who has dedicated himself to relieving the pain of others, tries to explain to his son why this is morally wrong, “You hit him, he hits you. What kind of world would we have.” His father gets the opportunity to demonstrate to the boys that it takes more courage to turn the other cheek when the town bully hits him. Unfortunately, that is not the lesson the boys learn. Christian plots a scheme to get revenge on the bully that hit Elias' weak father. Back in Africa, the doctor's morals are tested when he must treat an evil psychopath who has been stabbing pregnant women in the village. Again, his morals are tested when he finds that Christian has dragged Elias into his revenge scheme. Will he see Christian as an evil psychopath or a wounded boy like his own? We learn that there are no easy answers, but the cycle of violence may never end without empathy and forgiveness.

Susanne Bier, director of Oscar winner, "In a Better World," 
Susanne Bier's, Best Foreign Language Film winner,“In a Better World,” is relevant to our times as we continue to suffer from the effect of bullying on a local, national, and worldwide level. These two films remind us of the importance of understanding and that the fine line between good and evil is not always black and white.

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal