Miss Marple’s Great Granddaughter

Dear Millicent,

There’s a lot going on right now, but I think this will be to both of our possible delight.  Via the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Disney is starting up a new Miss Marple take. From The Hollywood Reporter:

In March, the studio picked up the rights to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. Now the studio has acquired an untitled project from screenwriting newcomer Ashley Bradley to be produced by Green Lantern co-scribe and TV creator Marc Guggenheim

Plot details are being kept under wraps, but the project revolves around a young woman who finds out she is the descendant of a legendary detective and is forced to take up the sleuthing mantle.

They are ageing her down and setting her in contemporary times. This could be sacrilege. It could be truly terrible. The idea of changing her age give me the hives, but then I think of a Harriet the Spy type kid who gets to be descended from the great dame, and it’s balm for the hives. It could be really great.

Yours,

CF

 

Don’t Fail Me Now

Dear Millicent,

It is a cruel thing when something you love lets you down. It is also one of the most powerful things that television can do besides inform you about disasters and keep you company when other people are sleeping. TV is not the most respected of mediums, and I hold the same expectations for most things that I watch on TV as the over-thick general fiction novels I used to hoard from the Tucson public library: pleasure first, with an outside chance of mastery.

And TV has a fair chance of being supergood. The 2000s have been full of breathless television. We are such a good generation at mixing quality with pleasure, just look at our trends of food and drink. In the 1990s, our swoons were limited to Twin Peaks, Northern Exposure and MSCL. I was a much younger viewer then, a different demographic entirely, but I just don’t remember anybody talking about how great TV was. I watched a thousand pounds more of it a day, but it rarely landed in my gut like art. It landed like salt.  It was delicious. It was the stuff that made a future dreamable, collaged, and fully outfitted.  It was what people were doing somewhere.

But that’s barely here or where. I want to get back to heartbreak. I want to talk about Bramwell. Netflix had recommended the show to me for months, and I kept pushing it aside because it looked a tad…bunned? The title card was of a Victorian woman by a fireplace looking all inquisitive and honest while sitting next to a microscope.  It looked like a grown up American Girl movie.  What finally pushed me into this 31 hour affair were the comments over at The Hairpin in response to a post I had written about the maxi-drama Poldark.  Somebody said that the main character got into “scrapes.” If you speak Anne Shirley, I listen.

And the first episode swallowed me whole. It was Victorian, but about syphilis! And it was feminist, well-written, and well-costumed.  Half procedural (think a kind of feminist Victorian version of House), half melodrama about what it’s like to be a working Lady (by the way, I want to start a new academic branch called Lady Studies), Bramwell is a dream come true.  You get mystery, you get silver chafing dishes, you get extreme power structures to dissect, and you get the fun of another time and place. Surgeries happened every episode, often on the kitchen table!  Genre at its best, teasing out all the big ideas, but foremost entertaining and soothing its audience while it pokes at the tender bits of what a society makes.

I was in love. I savored the show, knowing it only had 31 episodes the way I knew Anne of Green Gables series only had 8 books. It was a lovely length–long enough to know you couldn’t gobble it, but finite. It was constructed smartly enough that you fell into full trust with its creators. The characters are complicated. They say the perfect thing, but it isn’t the one you were expecting.  Elinor Bramwell is a trained doctor who starts a hospital in the East End. She lives with her father, also a doctor, and is constantly navigating her future and place. Can she be a wife and a doctor? Will she be an old maid? What were the expectations of class, virtue, and philanthropy in Victorian England?

As with our particular stories of headstrong, intelligent women who have just the right spark of pluck and grace, we all immediately identify with our lead. She is Elizabeth, Anne, Rilla, Wonapalei. I watched this show looking for answers (I watch a lot of television looking for revelations, personal or universal). How do we find work that uses our best skills? How do you navigate privilege and service? How do you utilize, dismantle or deflect patriarchy? I’m not kidding. There were breathless moments in this show, usually alone and late at night, where I thought we were getting somewhere, me and Elinor.  I thought by episode 31, some new answer was going to get cracked out of me.

I thought this all the way up to episode 29, where I so want to tell you what happens, but cannot, because I also really want you to watch this show.  But I want you stop watching at episode 29. Then turn it off like the book is over.  No more pages.

I also want to find Lucy Gannon, the show’s creator and main writer, and beg an interview with her. Something huge happened between the end of the second season (episode 29) and the strange 4 hours that make up  season 4 (episodes 30-31). My guess is that Gannon would defend her choice, but I want to know why. Did the producers go crazy? Did she want to sober up all of us slobbering romantics, pegging our lives on the constructed adventures of gamine do-gooders? Something happened! Professionally, personally, cosmically, Bramwell got fucked.

All I can say is that the feminism, heavily installed in the series, fully goes out the window. Beloved characters disappear with no explanation, characters become unrecognizable, and the theme music gets really bad.  Up until the very end, I was holding my breath, sure this was all a grand architecture to make the ending glow like the best of television endings. But it didn’t. It did the worst thing, and pretended that the crap was just what we wanted. It broke our hearts. There are lots of us, according to the old Masterpiece Theatre forums on the PBS website.  We are all astonishment.

So now I have to go back to answering my own questions about my life, without the crutch of what would Elinor do? And she was played by a Redgrave (Jemma), and you know you can always trust a Redgrave!

It was dreamy while it lasted. And then, the evidence changed, all collapsed.

Lesson: good endings must not be assumed, and in television, dreadfully, cannot be earned.

Yours,

CF

 

Horrible Bosses in 6 Thoughts

Questions as they appeared in my head, back to front, while watching:

  1. How I wish we could deal with rape culture and sexual harassment as if it were only a set of “crazy bitches” that simply needed to be blackmailed to stop. Not to get too serious about such a light movie, but the scene where Charlie Day conquers and frees himself from Jennifer Anniston’s sexual attacks had a sour tone.  Before this scene, his spot as a victim of extreme harassment was more or less fair, especially as he struggled to get his friends to understand the gravity of the attacks. Interestingly, he had to be “pure” in the movie (a dedicated fiance) to truly suffer. If Sudeikis’ character (dude slut) had been under this kind of workplace harassment, there would be no issue.  Rape is also a joke throughout that the men use an assessment of their own egos. Sudeikis and Bateman argue over who would be more likely to get raped in jail, assuming it has to do with good looks. Tellingly, it is Day who mentions that rape is about power and vulnerability, not looks.  Yet, when he frees himself from his future rapist, it is not a sweet justice. Instead of rage at a system that has trapped him in his job, or a predator that has made his life hell, he simply puts the arrogant, lusty woman in her place and calls her “crazy.” We get the sense that Anniston is bad not because she is inappropriate, but because she dared to assert power (criminally and sexually) over a nice white guy. And the nice white guy, of course, sets her straight, and ends up with more power than her. The glee isn’t that the harassment is over. It’s that Anniston has been castrated back to her proper place.
  2. How nice it must be for these put upon characters to deal with their problems with money and justice more or less on their side. Ultimately, it is fate and privilege (it’s own fate) that save them. The OnStar system (the much put upon “Gregory”) as key witness, assuring us that capitalism really does ensure a fine justice for the middle class.
  3. The movie does a nice job of mocking most of this privilege, especially with the OnStar system and the character’s initial interest in learning “Gregory’s” real name, and then forgetting it immediately. Their fear of Jamie Foxx leans this way as well.
  4.  I think Sudeikis is the standard bearer for movies that gather reviews like you have collaged in  your review.
  5. Charlie Day could carry a movie. He’s a possible Jack Black.
  6. I think Anniston might have professionally trumped Jolie in the long run. Anniston can still work, whereas when Jolie is her own eclipse. I wouldn’t go to see a movie with Jolie in it because I would only be thinking “Jolie, Jolie, Jolie.” Anniston still seems to be made of flesh and blood (all very tan, of course). But, of course, can you trump an eclipse?
Yours,
CF

My Review of Horrible Bosses, As A Collage of Other Reviews

Dear CF,

I saw Horrible Bosses. The concept: Hitchcock Movie Staffed by the Cast of Friends.

The movie was the equivalent of Cheetos: not terrible, kind of unsatisfying, with a dusting of flavored plastic. This is more an overview of the “Fresh” reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, a post that exists only because I glanced at RT to see how the movie fared. The pull-out quotes they display on the front page say it all in an underwhelmed, grudging sort of way, not unlike Bridesmaids‘ “Chick Flicks Don’t Have To Suck!” ad campaign.

(Also, since the movie lifted most of its good material from Arrested Development and Office Space and Strangers on A Train and Don’t Throw Momma From the Train, I thought it was fitting to “collage” my impressions instead of actually writing them.)

13. “The leads, and the bosses, provide fleeting pleasures.” –Rob Gonsalves

12. “For something like Horrible Bosses to sparkle, the actors have to shine… and shine they do.” –James Berardinelli

11. “The skilled comedian Bateman has the best moments, underplaying when all about him are going over the top.” –Christopher Tookey*

10.  “There’s enough comedic firepower in Seth Gordon’s film to carry you over the rough patches.” –Bill Goodykoontz

9. “What’s right about Horrible Bosses is less easy to identify, but it comes down to something like esprit de corps.” –Liam Lacey

8. “It’s not very tightly plotted or precisely scripted but the three leads have lots of obvious camaraderie and energy together.” –David Sexton

7.  “Their conspiracy leads in all sorts of unexpected directions in this crowd-pleasing, occasionally funny farce.”  –J.R. Jones

6. “If you’re looking for a bit of undemanding fun with a few really good laughs, you could do a lot worse than this.” –Film4

5. “Gordon has the good sense to simply step aside here, letting his cast goof around and bounce off of one another like so many rubber balls.” –Jeffrey M. Anderson

4. “A popcorn comedy you shouldn’t be ashamed of wanting to see.” –Sam Bathe

3. “Horrible Bosses makes more right steps than wrong ones.” –Joshua Staines

2. “It offers a reminder that adherence to formula may not be among the signal virtues of comedy, but … it’s no great vice either.” –Christopher Orr

1. “Fortunately, the actors rise above the script.” –Jason Best

To reiterate: those were the positive reviews.

Fondly,

M

*(Mr. Millicent pointed out that this one sounded like the movie version of Kipling’s “If”)

Bad Teacher: Cameron Diaz as Monster Lite

Bad Teacher is not going to save anybody’s life.  Cameron Diaz as our very bad teacher is mostly a tiny monster. She tells kids they suck, she steals from the school car wash, and she strangely comes up with the idea to rub poison ivy on another teacher’s apple.  And this is extreme stuff for us American audiences. For all the gross-out humor of Bridesmaids, we still don’t like to see our lady protagonists getting ethically nasty.  I think of what the Brit version of Bad Teacher would be and get simultaneously high, and a case of the hives.  It would be rough. A funny, wickeder version of Notes on a Scandal.

At it’s best, Bad Teacher is a takedown of the Teach for America squeak and bounce, with a healthy knock to the mishmash of generic hoopla we expect of the “nurturing” professions.   At one point, Diaz’s Craigslist roommate comes home to find her eating a corn dog. “I thought you were going out with all the other nurses,” he says. “I’m not a nurse,” she says. “I thought you were a nurse.” More of this, please.

The trope of Diaz not nurturing her students ultimately becomes stale. She beats them, she smokes up in the school parking lot, and that was fun, but I was hoping for darker.  I was hoping this would lean more towards Bad Santa, if we were going to be badding up at all.  This might also be because I have been stuffing my eyeballs with Nighty Night lately, which has perhaps fucked up my expectation of what bad truly is. This is also the first movie I have seen with an extended dryhumping scene.

Two key markers are becoming standby shorthand for a lady movie where the ladies are “real people.” The first is that she has to eat something with a high caloric content without glamour or lust. She has to eat in the way that people do when they are alone.  Think Annie and her cupcake in Bridesmaids. In Bad Teacher, Diaz and her cheeseburger get some strange scene time as she drives to seduce a school district wonk.  Is it narratively important that she eats a cheeseburger on her mild drive? No. Is it funny to watch a fit Diaz eat a cheeseburger? If you think eating cheeseburgers are funny.  It was a strange way to spend 4 seconds, but it was so memorable. The earlier mentioned corn dog had a similar effect. I can’t tell if it’s because we’re unused to seeing women blandly eat without it being a large statement (she’s healthy cuz she eats! Cute because she doesn’t hide her appetite!) or so typical (woman laughing alone with salad). Women are either supposed to have orgasms when they eat cupcakes, or cry in the bathroom about it. Here, they just eat, and, you know, drive.

No orgasms, either. The other marker is the very bad sex scene, usually one that is good for the guy and atrocious for the gal.  Again, anything with Annie and John Hamm in Bridesmaids, and Justin Timberlake’s dedicated dryhumpery here.  The joke usually lands on the stupid, offensive, completely selfish things the men say during sex, while the women are slightly winking at the audience as they contort and romp. They’re with us, telepathing “this guy is a real piece of work,” as they wait for him to finally come. Both scenes are used to announce that the dude is not part of the happy ending for our protagonists.  Neither woman tells off the dude or quits the very bad sex even though he is not listening to her, or worse, tells her to stop talking. The good news is the audience aligns with the woman’s experience in the exchange, even if it assumes that putting up with mid-coitus bullshit is normsville. By making fun of the man’s blindness to his partner, we all actually see and listen to the lady character’s experience.

As a tangent, can you imagine this same dynamic for a great sex scene? In both these movies, the good sex is skipped over, either as a fade out or as an untold part of the story. This might be more because bad sex is easy to define, while good sex is ridiculously specific, especially for women, and thus harder to write.  In Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where the bad sex was all very funny and very much from a male POV (the woman who kept saying ‘Hi,’ etc.) but the good sex was downright cliche’ (looking into each other’s eyes, meaning). 

The idea of seeing a good sex scene between Diaz and Jason Segel, her other love interest, is a little bit iffy. How do you keep us aligned in the woman’s experience without making it an over the top ode to a woman’s pleasure? And bad sex keeps the story focused on the protagonist, whereas good sex realigns the audience with the couple. And, the nitty gritty of bad sex is funny. The grit of good sex, is just, well, blushy. We already assume women are blushy.  In these movies where the lady protagonists are trying to claim all three dimensions they have to disregard and work against the already well-mapped soft spots of traditional femininity.  Thus, the dryhumping.

As for Bad Teacher, it’s a mildly good excuse to sit in the dark. One thing it does well is skew dialogue into natural conversation. Characters often say the obvious thing, but in a real and unpackaged way. When Diaz gives helpful dating advice that leads to two men hitting on her sidekick (Phyllis from the Office), Segal says “Wow, that worked superfast.” It could be flat, but it twists enough that when he says it, it lands as a real sentence in the world.  Also, Segel and Diaz seem to have a real chemistry, and while the plot gets stupid, and there are lots of loose ends, it doesn’t become a carnival like Spring Breakdown. I think that means we might be getting somewhere.

Yours,

CF

We’re Millionaires!

Dear Millicent,

A quick thought for you. I just finished watching Micheal Winterbottom’s The Trip, another great showpiece of ego, struggle, modern idiocies and ancient foibles.  It stars Steve Coogan as Steve Coogan, and is about an actor eating a set of dinners with another actor.  The two men tour the north of England, eat fancy, sleep fancy, and expose about 10 profound levels of insecurity. Oh, actors. Oh, storytelling that is willing to just sit.

My question for you: is The Trip either a sequel to or retelling of Withnail and I? A love letter, perhaps? 2 actors, a vague notion of escape, good wine, and a desperate rivalry…is this Withnail and I 30 years later, no longer poor or young, but still unresolved? Still quoting poetry to the landscape?

Yours,

CF

Revisionist Graffiti

Dear CF,

I caught a graffiti artist on video the other day. She was working on the only woman on the whole building–a buxom blue-skinned lady with no face and a theoretical bikini. I’d seen the blue gal many times and scowled a little at her faceless boobage.

Here’s the artist at work. She let me film her after she put on huge sunglasses:

I came back later to see what she did:

Fondly,

M

The Leaking Conquest

Dear Millicent,

Hi! Welcome to this new day, one wherein Hollywood and comedians insist they always thought women were funny.  A reviewer on my NPR station said, “I don’t understand what the big deal about  Bridesmaids is. Apatow has always made women the smartest characters in his movies. This time, women are gross. So?” A writer acquaintance who once said “I just don’t write comedy for women,” said with great and serious gusto “Bridesmaids is important for comedy.”

The monsieur I went to see the movie  with was wowed. “It’s so much more than a girl’s comedy,” he said, a huge compliment.  And I hunched over.  I thought of Lindy West. I squinted, trying to think if I would have said the same thing after The Hangover, commending it on being more than a boy’s comedy.  You know the answer.

We are all excited about this movie. I was hoping for this great coming of women in comedy when I saw the trailer, and my fingers are still crossed for the continuation of whatever trend Apatow is building as he also produces Lena Dunham’s HBO show Girls.  I will admit, I got cautious when I saw all the emails and tweets about it being a social responsibility to see this movie.  I worried it was a great viral PR scheme…that Apatow had approached women’s comedy as an act of ego, to play all us feminists and prove us wrong about our criticisms of him.  I like the happy idea that he had a great veil-lifting, and realized the flatness of his female characters, and instantly went out to correct the imbalance that he was part of, and a bit of a mascot for.  But I doubt that.  It’s too perfect. Instead, it seems like another time to type out the cliche’ that I use in almost every post about Hollywood: how nice it must be to have cake and eat it too.  It just seems weird that it is a social responsibility to pay money to prove that a female audience exists (already known). Or to show that women would like more from their onscreen representations (already known).  It wasn’t women’s social responsibility to carry this movie, it was dudes’.  Hollywood needs proof that men will show up for a movie where a woman shits her wedding dress.

Interestingly, the previews at my theater before the show did not promise a continuation of this trend.  Instead, there was an all guy remake of 9 to 5, and a male Freaky Friday about marriage and bachelorhood.

But I sound sour, and Bridesmaids did not leave me sour.  It left me….relevant.  I felt seen.  I felt existed.  Doesn’t that sound crazy? That one dumb movie could do that?  But, watching Wiig work through jealousy and general life-shittiness was wonderful.  The way she talked to herself in her car, the way she had a private world (the cupcake!), the fact that a woman was called an “asshole” and it fit, were all minor revelations of what real people do, including that half of the population, us.  We had a movie soaking in the truth that women are as fucked up as men! Life According to Jim for everyone!

Speaking of that diarrhea scene, I immediately thought of Subashini‘s fantastic take on Awkward Women, which aligns with the pre-Bridesmaids rules for Apatow’s women:

Awkwardness indicates a lack of ordering and policing, but for a woman to relax and slip up means bleeding all over the place, even after the invention of the tampon. To relax and slip up can also mean an unwanted penis inside you, or perhaps a wanted penis, but then again, with undesirable consequences if one is not careful. There is that pesky thing that women have: The Womb. Sex, even when it’s fun, can quickly become unfun with the weight of pregnancy. The potential for a girl or a woman to become a mother is always there, underlying even meaningless sexual intercourse. And mothers are always policing social norms, are they not? The father lays down the rule, but the mother implements the rules. Women just can’t laugh or be awkward. They stand rigid and unbending and unsmiling, like an army of governesses from hell.

Here we have several leaking, unpregnant, unadorable, unrigid,  challenges.  As Subashini goes onto to say, the awkward woman is usually insane, a chaotic threat to world order (hello Nighty Night!).  So, the fact that our women in Bridesmaids shit and puke over every surface they can find in the interestingly pure and patriarchal setting of a bridal shop, is divine.  I said in a recent post that when we see a woman running in a wedding dress, it’s exciting because we see a woman fighting the system.  Here, it changes. When we see a woman shitting in the street in a wedding dress, my fingers are crossed we see a woman shitting on said system.

I will still argue that Bridesmaids is weak sauce compared to the likes of  Pulling and all the other amazing three-dimensional representations of women that have been in no way celebrated the way this Hollywood approved version of things has been.   Nevertheless, Bridesmaids does stand as a great case for more.  The angle of the jokes whispered how much comedy has been lost by not including women’s real perspectives. Examples:

  • The joke of Helen’s full out gown at the engagement party.  I have never seen a visual gown joke in a dude-normative comedy.  It did so much work so fast, and was visually compelling, as well as instantly funny.
  • A mother of 3 boys says “everything is covered in semen. Once, I cracked a blanket in half.” See, it still the same stuff we’re always laughing about, semen, but this time, it’s about the lady’s encounter with it.  It’s a joke that’s hilarious to everybody, and an observation that has been missing because mom’s never get to talk, usually. How have we not heard that before?  It’s a grand, filthy all-inclusive joke. And, it catches men in the self consciousness of their bodily humors in a rare way (I think of it as the male equivalent to the period blood stain in Superbad).   
  • Moms! Wiig’s mother is not a cartoon, but she is unhelpful and wacky like parents are.  I still think the best mother I’ve ever seen is Louie CK’s mom on Louie, but this mom was another beacon of the fact that I was welcome here.  I recognized that woman.  Same with Maya Rudolph’s dad.  It’s always a sign of life when even the minor characters has full plates of dimension, even if it is short work.
Other commendations:
  • Melissa McCarthy stole the show for me.  And while the audience actually squealed “Ewww” when she showed her leg to her love interest, her character was a direct challenge to that “Eww.”  Yes, they have her run first into the restaurant, and she has the hassle of other cheap jokes, but her character is an amazing foil to Wiig’s.  She is successful, and with an unabashed sexual appetite, and an unabashed sense of self.  When she says “I know you couldn’t guess now, but it was hard for me in high school,” she means it.  She in no way considers herself a victim or another person’s joke. She is winning.   She is a model of self-love, and the appropriate agent to point out Wiig’s sadsackery.  And kudos to the costumers for giving her that pearl necklace (and dear lord, why does that feel filthy to type? It really was made of pearls, and a necklace!).  Initially, I thought the necklace was off-base, suggesting a properness that didn’t fit, but as her character gets established, it tidily proves that her success has been there all along.
  • Irish guy from the IT Crowd. Nicely done.
  • Thank you JESUS for a cast of women with bodies.
  • Jealousy, class, money, and the tensions of friendship! Such rich stuff! So immediately connective!
  • That the ultimate “perfect wedding” is still super tacky (lasers! waterfalls! Tim Heidecker!), because weddings are unavoidably so, in one way or another.
My last notes are about nostalgia, which might be our current trend in comedy, and one that I fall for every time.  You bring on Wilson Phillips, and you got me.  And, while I charge Your Highness et al with a great romance for scripts of masculinity from the past, I charge Bridesmaids with enjoying the same, but ladystyle.  Because, when you get right down to it, Bridesmaids is 16 Candles, down to the pink bridesmaids dress, and the love interest (JAKE!), leaning on the car outside of the church.  And, there’s cake.
What did you think, dearest? Is this a moment? A start? An echo that has the power to make a boom?
Yours,
CF

Wherein I Think Too Hard About Your Highness

Your Highness is dazzling in its array of reviews: they swing from ultimate disgust ( Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir calls it possibly the worst movie ever made) to a gleeful delight, NPR’s David Edelstein refers to it as a pinnacle of low comedy.  I’m not sure it is either of these, but it is a fine example of a wispy trend developing in comedy: the joke of the American male.

I offer it as an offshoot of Apatow’s bromances, burgeoning with the Apatow produced Pineapple Express, and fully embraced by Danny McBride and his usual crew of makers (David Gordon Green, Jody Hill, and Ben Best), we see it living large in most of McBride’s blustery roles.  The closest kin these movies have might be the genre takedowns of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead), or the early work of Kevin Smith, which does the same kind of nostalgia spin and masculinity slam that these movies do.  What I mean by this is that instead of looking at how hard it is to grow up and be a good dude, especially if unequipped in modern times (the Apatow catalogue), this new branch celebrates adolescent nostalgia while reveling in the failed response of masculine ego. Whereas the joke is never on Paul Rudd, the joke is always on Danny McBride (and even Seth Rogen when he shows up in Hill’s Observe and Report).

We see this super clearly in Eastbound and Down, the same happens with McBride’s lead in Foot Fist Way, and most of his roles where he portrays a signature mix of ignorance and enthusiasm (Fireworks dude in Tropic Thunder, Bustass in All the Real Girls, Drug dealer fellow in Pineapple Express).  He is very good at bombast, skewing redneck, and quickly showing the fear and soft bits of an insecure soul.  These guys are fascinated by this trope, and have repeated it in most of their work.  They love portraying the unattractive man who is not winning, who is steeped in laziness and failure, and who tells himself a self-narrative of the gods. They love the comedy of such a known tragedy. And they get away with a lot because of it. The racism, misogyny, and general obscenity is always framed so that they are calling out the same errors that they are gleefully getting to say.  Apatow’s crudeness is an attempt at realism. This new branch uses obscenity as part of the bluster it is unpinning.  At one point in Your Highness, a squire says to Prince Thaddeous (McBride) something like “I know you rely on your vulgarity as a defense for your insecurity.” This is either right before or after both Thaddeous and his page have mimed ejaculating onto the squire’s head.

This look at the narcissist American male (I say American because the accessories are always American, with the joke extending to America, its blind faith in itself, and how comfortable it is letting itself get away with everything), in these movies is also usually partnered with a deep love for markers of boyhood joy, and the genres that sparked this love way back when.  Foot Fist Way is basically a filthy Karate Kid remake filled with props from what meant good living in the eighties according to video games and action movies (red corvettes, big haired blondes, gold necklaces). It is filled with the boy version of what the good life of the future was. If we did the girl version of this from that same time, we would have a movie littered with Kit n’ Kaboodles, fuschia satin camisoles, Virginia Slims, and stretch limos.  The same nostalgia, and it’s failure in an adult life, pops up in Observe and Report, especially with Seth Rogen’s date sweater.  He is wearing on his date what he also probably wore to 7th grade graduation. In 7th grade, it was the flyest.

The same happens in Pineapple Express (and ode to Cheech and Chong movies), and Your Highness (deep homage to Krull and all of its kin).  These are the films that made a generation, and while I do think girls have a different set of cultural texts (Teen Witch, Labyrinth, She’s Out of Control, Crybaby, Troop Beverly Hills, Maid to Order, etc.), both sexes share the imprint of what these movies were, and what they told us the future would be.

Your Highness is a deeply affectionate critique of a generation of fantasy movies. It commends the good stuff (the puzzles, the mysticism, the camp), and calls out the weak and ridiculous (the pat formulas, bad special effects, etc.). It especially notes the sexual undertones that were always present (do you remember Jennifer Connelly eating that peach in the Labyrinth?) by grotesquely calling them out.  In Your Highness, all the characters are questing to keep “The Fuckening” from taking place, where a virgin wizard will rape and impregnate a virgin princess. The fuckening will logically produce a dragon. Which is genius, because Natalie Portman gets to say with a straight face “it is my quest to keep people from fucking dragons into the world.”  Your Highness also calls out the way women are usually reduced to crones, princesses or women in leather thongs in all these movies (Krull has an amazing spider crone, and Red Sonja is the icon of leather sex warrior). At one point in the rescue of the princess, Thaddeous tells the baddie wizard “She’s not your virgin, she’s my brother’s virgin,” and earlier asks his brother if he would still marry the princess if the wizard had indeed deflowered her, or even buttfucked her.  Just as the joke is often on the grotesque male and his inadequacies of self-narrative, the joke here is also on the genre itself.

And the smartest part of it all is that we get to see it back through the adolescent lens, and witness the juxtaposition of those hopes and weird feelings against a real adult backdrop (or, realer adult backdrop).  It is like we get to watch Krull and get hear what McBride and Green and Hill were thinking when they were 13 watching it.  They are going back to their youthful expectations of adulthood, manhood, and showing how those scripts, or at least their earlier innocent readings of them, maneuver in the adult problems of failure, lack, and finding oneself to be an unmythic character in an unmythic world. It’s a look at the busted dreams of our kidselves, with a good dose of follow-up on the adults that we have become. For the fellows here, it is one long dick joke, and that makes sense. It’s a boomerang of a dick-joke, one started 20 years ago, initially about expectation and wonder, and now about insecurity and failure.

This batch of movies takes on the headiness of  those movies we watched a thousand times at sleepovers, where we began deciding what the world really is.  Your Highness is one more of the grown boy version, with tons of dicks and dragons, looking at how those old scripts manage to both fail and delight.

I’m not saying it’s a great movie, but it is an interesting one,

So, there’s that,

Yours,

CF

Suckerpunched

Dear Millicent,

I saw Sucker Punch. Dodai pretty much summed up everything I thought, and there are tons of other reviews around calling it a mix of one operatic costume film (Burlesque, Showgirls, Moulin Rouge) plus one what-is-consciousness movie (Inception) plus fancy action (Tarantino, The 300), and throw in a reference to Charlie’s Angels and video games in general. They are all right (I am waiting for the review that reveals the movie to be generated from the lost journals of a missing cast member of the Pussycat Dolls reality show, which I watched, and it had all the same characters (Robin Antin as Madame Gorski?).

And in a movie that honestly parallels a lobotomy to rape, and sexy dancing to victorious battle, I think we have an example not of “a spank bank” as much as what happens when people (often dudes really enjoying some insane dude privilege) try to get all feminist, excited that “empowerment” can serve you, me, and the dream demographic of a major industry film: the dudest of dudes. All complexity becomes flattened, struggle becomes a simple syrup of exerted facial expressions and running, and deep meaning is supposed to be delivered by false analogy.

I imagine the development meetings for this film (maybe starring Privilege Denying Dude), and every time somebody questioned the film, the answer would make all powerless by its agressively chill and rotund logic:

Producer: “Do you think she would imagine herself in that skirt? Because, like, it’s her head, not the anybody else’s.”

Snyder: “No, don’t you see. That is the statement. She is fighting how sexualized she is, so she has to be sexualized to do it. It’s empowering because it’s degrading, but we’re saying that’s how it is, you know. We’re shitting on the system, and also showing how the system makes people, which will all look hot, promise.”

Producer: “Really, it seems like the girls are just being kind of exploited by their captors, and the director, and the audience.”

Snyder: “Exactly! You got it. We are saying that it’s hard out there to be a girl. Men suck.”

Producer: “Right, but here all the women lose, and their action sequences don’t mean anything. So….”

Snyder: “No man, it ends with hope. But, like, you can’t win with the system right now. You have to use your tits to get by, and that shit will tear you up. We’re being real, and not. You just can’t see it.”

Producer: “But we’re doing the tearing?”

Snyder: “Exactly. It’s like, the character Blondie is a brunette. Get it?  I don’t think you get what I’m saying. We are bringing this shit home.”

I imagine this is also what it is like to have James Franco in your graduate seminar. It also explains the inane narration that takes place at the beginning and end of the movie (string together the first sentences of all motivational posters, or lyrics from The Crow soundtrack, insert into film). So, what could have been something ripe and totally compelling (I really was looking forward to a kind of bad-ass bonkers version of Mona Lisa Smile), becomes something that swears it’s art because it had some ideas. It becomes the poem we all wrote when we started journaling. You’re 13, and it’s about beaches and life.

If I’m going to sit through somebody’s revelations about sex and violence, I would much rather have just listened to this song for two hours. I encourage you to listen to it while you finish this post.

Sucker Punch makes Tarantino look like a master of subtlety (a true feat), and by using the same tools that Tarantino and Luhrman rely on to create high theater, Snyder exposes how manipulative theatrics are and how well others use them. He also exposes the risk of going high gloss if you don’t pull it off: the sham is revealed and delight fades to a defensive watch.

My brain was kind of exploding during this movie (there are cell phone charms on her gun! there is man who is tan in all weathers! they prostituted a Bjork song!), but in one of the more minor strokes, I was reminded of The Other Guys. When I saw that movie, I couldn’t tell if it was good intentions mucked up, or a meaningful catastrophe. The makers seemed to be attempting the same thing as Sucker Punch does: to call out a system while celebrating that same system, and profiting from both sides of the audience.  Sucker Punch makes The Other Guys look wonderfully soft in retrospect, its insults now demoted to a sheepish array of bad jokes as Sucker Punch takes the assault cake.

It does this double-dance even in the title, warning that the movie will indeed be an un/expected attack and defeat. Snyder wins again. When asked about the title, he said it doesn’t

” even try to encapsulate what the film is, or even what it isn’t… Sucker Punch is a story of redemption, friendship, imagination and freedom – and when the curtain goes up, that’s true no matter which side of the looking glass you’re on.”

So again, all you have to do is pretend you are constructing an important paradox, collage a speech from pieces of motivational posters, assume everything, explore nothing, and there you have it. You made empowerment, and the best part is, since you’ve said nothing, you can deflect all the criticisms coming your way. Congrats!

Yours,

CF

PS: The movie ends with the line, “You have all the weapons you need. Now fight!” I had to let Mr. CF down easy that this was not a message for him. Well, except it was. Sans female body, he didn’t have any of the weapons to fight with, and I assume the line was a direct call for women to start mesmerizing their menfolk with flashes of inner-thigh while also passively imagining their violent deaths. A fight I can honestly say has never been recommended to me before (and the idea of the same speech at the end of The 300 amazes me).  It did make me think of Virginie Despentes’ take on provocative clothing in King Kong Theory, where she offers that young women dress “sluttily” because they have so much power, and a short skirt or a flash of cleavage is a way to soothe men, and to reassure them that the world is as it should be.