Thursday, December 27, 2007

winding down

In A.O. Scott's review of There Will Be Blood, he mentions, parenthetically, "Like most of the finest American directors working now, Mr. Anderson makes little on-screen time for women." I love P.T. Anderson. I love the Coen brothers. Most of the directors, in fact, that Tony's talking about are men I hold near and dear to my heart. But it's indisputable that they forget Abigail Adams's famous injunction: "...remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation."

It's possible only the beginning of the quote applies to this particular cinematic situation.

Still, it bothers me. Last night, Mr. Ben and I watched Waitress, which meant that I have now completed 2007's Fertility Trifecta (the other two being, of course, Knocked Up and Juno). The movie had some entertaining moments and some good lines. Mostly, though, it felt like it was trying too hard to yank on the Steel Magnolias chain, and it lacked the credibility: there's something odd about watching Felicity and Jeremy Sisto, the creepy brother from Six Feet Under, affect Southern accents. At the end, the quirky-sweetness falls away from the movie's tone and it becomes a kind of Herstory uptopia, a You Go Girl!, Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle pastel fantasy.

Despite the movie's flaws, it's one of the few 2007 films that pass the Ms. test. Juno and the the Savages also do, bless their indie little hearts, and I'm sure Persepolis will. But I'm sure it's not a coincidence that all of those films come from source material written by women -- and, in the case of the Savages, a female director too. Why are women fundamentally uninteresting to otherwise edgy, intelligent, creative, broad-minded men?

Whatever the reason for the blind spot, I do think it's funny that directors will make exceptions for their wives: Frances McDormand is a Mrs. Coen and has played their most memorably vivid and interesting female character; Helena Bonham Carter, Burton's girlfriend and baby momma, serves the same function. Expand, fellas! Does Patricia Clarkson need to hook up with someone to get a real role?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sweeney! SWEENEY!

One of the perks of having a father-in-law who lives locally? Sometimes you can get taken to dinner 'n' a movie. This is exciting under normal circumstances, but when "movie" = "SWEENEY TODD," something you're totally desperate to see, it's beyond thrilling.

I didn't realize at first that he agreed to take Mr. Ben and me to the movie the same way he agreed to take us to -- I shudder to think of this now -- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a far less successful adaptation of a classic text. Luckily, he loved it. Does it even need be said that Mr. Ben and I did too? This was Tim Burton at his most grotesque, let loose on fantastic material. At times (the "By the Sea" dream sequence, where Mrs. Lovett fantasizes about how she & her homicidal lover could have a bourgeois life together, for example) Burton's macabre vision actually improves on the original.

Helena Bonham Carter has a range of about five notes, but she manages to put her own spin on a role I've now seen inhabited by extremely different actresses (Angela Lansbury, Christine Baranski, and Patti LuPone -- what could you imagine they would have in common?). ** SPOILER ALERT ** She makes the foolhardy love that Mrs. Lovett has for Sweeney moving rather than merely pathetic, and I loved her duet with Toby, "Not While I'm Around." I mean, talk about layered subtext. Little Toby is singing, thinking, "I finally have a home! This woman rescued me and I can't wait til I can rescue her in turn to communicate the depth of my affections!" and the mother figure is singing, thinking, "Oh, shit, I now have to kill this boy."

Part of the twisted charm of this show is that Sondheim wrote strikingly beautiful love songs for it and then put them in the most upsetting possible context. How would you like to sing an ode to "Pretty Women" with the man who had you jailed so he could rape your wife?

HBC and Johnny Depp as Sweeney are both made up to look like zombies (sexy zombies) only partially inhabiting the colorless world of Victorian London. In that respect, they match, and they feel right as a couple. Depp also has a surprisingly good voice, or good for the role anyway. This is true of the other cast members too. They make it work.

Mr. Ben and I realized that the cast is peopled with Slytherins: HBC, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spell (the man who plays the Beadle here and Peter Pettigrew there). This inevitably made me wonder how the Harry Potter movies would be as interpreted by Tim Burton. Oh, the things of which we can only dream ... But in fairness, Burton is a post-modernist; Sweeney is a pomo classic; HP is not. Burton doesn't seem to be at his best dealing with non-pomo material, as evidenced by virtually everything he's done since Nightmare Before Christmas.

Anyway. Sweeney left me weak in the knees, as the kids say, and I feel prepared to take on the movie that is both supposed to be excellent in its own right AND an excellent summation of the films of 2007: There Will Be Blood.

Friday, December 14, 2007

angry about things?

Someone pointed out that most of my entries are written on the topic of My Being Outraged About Something. That's horrible! I don't mean to be doing that. Most of the time I'm a very positive person. Right now, for example. I'm at my secret internet full-time job (not to be confused with the secret internet part-time job I held briefly last spring) and I like it! I really like it! The people are -- well, they're around me right now so I won't say much about them, but they're all my age, which makes "work" feel more like "summer camp."

We get our first paycheck today, in fact, I believe. That's pretty good for a week in which we've spent one day being oriented by playing name games; one day touring NYC campuses undercover (that really took me back); and three days now at a computer lab doing things that actually require thinking and creativity.

Also, I just saw Juno, this year's Little Miss Sunshine the same way No Country for Old Men is this year's the Departed. It was the best thing I'd seen in a long time, possibly since Pan's Labyrinth. It was as funny as Knocked Up but didn't make me feel dirty afterwards because it didn't seem to be saying that men and women are fundamentally different and can never get along, never never never, but they have to get & stay married anyway, just because.

Atonement--you know, the literary movie about War and Love and Betrayal and Big Ideas--was respectably good, especially in its first act, but it didn't move me nearly as much as the story of the adorable, snarky, midwestern 16 year old and her adorable, sweet sorta boyfriend. Mostly, and this is key: I believed it.

Oh, and Malcolm Gladwell! He wrote what I hope will be the definitive word on race and IQ. (God knows at least I'm not interested in reading more on the subject.) Basically, he reminds us that an IQ test is not like a blood test: you don't get objective results because one must TAKE an IQ test. Since it's active, the individual can't be separated from the results. Which is to say, someone who wasn't groomed to be sit down quietly and concentrate on a paper-and-pencil test is virtually bound to do less well than someone who was. Also, Gladwell has a way of making statistics legible without condescending to his readers. I appreciate that.

See? I like stuff! In fact, I like everything, except Ditchens and Howd.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

quit yer hitchin

Happy Hannukah, everyone! You know, that harmless, minor Jewish holiday that exists in America as this country's paltry companion piece to Christmas, like a kid playing a kazoo on the sidelines as a confetti strewn marching band in full regalia, with cheerleaders and baton twirlers and gymnasts and everything, spends a month slowly parading by.

Don't think I bear Christmas any ill will. Sure, I used to; but we're cool now, we're cool. I've gotten to celebrate a secular version a couple times with Mr. Ben's dad's family. I've done it all, in fact: the evening service as St. Marks, a stocking filled with stuff hanging on the mantle for me, wrapped boxes glistening under the tree. I can understand how, if you grew up with that -- or, that plus some heartfelt religious traditions -- you'd long for it every year.

It's just not my holiday. All the same, you'd never see me go on a tirade like this about Christmas, let alone about poor, miserable, homely Hannukah! What is Christopher Hitchens thinking?

His rant, which I've read now twice and concluded makes not a speck of sense, seems to be saying that Hannukah is bad because it celebrates the triumph (for about fifteen minutes, once) of the ancient Hebrews over the Greeks. And who were the Greeks, asks Hitch? A culture that
had weaned many people away from the sacrifices, the circumcisions, the belief in a special relationship with God, and the other reactionary manifestations of an ancient and cruel faith.
Some religious Jews were annoyed that their countrymen were assimilating, so they rebelled against the imperial powers of the day and WON -- which, by the way, didn't happen often in Jewish history, so I'm sure it came as quite a shock to Judah the Maccabee; like my mother when she was convinced I wouldn't get into Swarthmore, Judah probably gave away his bottle of champagne.

And why does Hitch have a bee in his bonnet about this? Because to him it's a turning point. If the Jews hadn't won, we wouldn't have those pesky spin-off religions, Christianity (centered around, in his elegant phrase, the "alleged birth of the supposed Jesus of Nazareth") and Islam. No monotheistic religion would exist! Think of it! We'd all be wearing togas and drinking wine touched up with water and having sex with little boys, just like the pagan gods intended.

There is little more irritating to me than sloppy history, especially in combination with nostalgia for the imaginary utopias of earlier eras, "before the development of the whole of humanity was terribly retarded." (Wow, right?) I mean, yes, when I was 12, I did want to inhabit the world of Mists of Avalon, but even then I understood that it was *fiction* and anyway I was 12! There's no point in wishing ancient Greece back. No matter how much Hitch yearns for the homosocial, toga-wearing, gymasium-dwelling, slave-holding, vomitorium-scented days of a couple thousand years ago, that empire was sacked by the Romans. The ancient Hebrew did not kill Athens; and if Athens was able to fall, on any level, to a guerilla band of hammer-wielding mountain men, it certainly could not have been very stable to begin with. So lay off, would you, Hitch? Christ. You're putting me off my latkes.