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51 posts categorized "Film"

February 15, 2010

In defense of Y Tu Mama Tambien, or at least, why Luisa is no Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Amanada argues that Y Tu Mama Tambien is a lousy movie because the character of Luisa is the ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I'm not going to mount an unqualified defense of the film, but I've got to resist that characterization.

The Onion defines the MPDG as a "sentient ray of sunshine sent from heaven to warm the heart and readjust the attitude of even the broodiest, most uptight male protagonist." The MPDG is the free-spirited stock character whose main function is as a psychological tonic or crutch for the nice guy male lead, i.e., the full-fledged human whose fate we're supposed to care about for its own sake. Natalie Portman plays an archetypal MPDG in Garden State.

Onion AV writer Nathan Rabin coined the term to describe Kristen Dunst's character in a scathing review of Elizabethtown:

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly (despite The Manic Pixie Dream Girl being, you know, a fictional character) or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family.

We feminists roll our eyes at the MPDG character for obvious reasons. It's an annoying form of objectification most commonly perpetrated by male writers who are smugly convinced of their own progressive sensibilities. They think they're better than the guys who leer at pinups, but the MPDG doesn't have any more depth. The MPDG is wish-fulfillment for all those nice guys out there who just want someone conventionally beautiful to see their inner beauty and appreciate their mix tapes. The writer doesn't want you to doubt that the guy totally deserves her--maybe not in the sense of being handsome, successful, or charming. But, see, those are bullshit social norms that are keeping our hero down, which is why he needs a crazy girl to truly appreciate him in ways that shallow cheerleaders cannot. Lazy writers think that if they make the girl a little daft, they can skip the part where they explain what she sees in him. She's whimsical, that's why!

Whatever else you can say about Y Tu Mama, and it's not a flawless movie by any means, Luisa is no MPDG.

NB: If you have not seen this movie and think that you might ever want to do so, stop reading now. Massive spoilers follow.

Here's the basic plot: Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael García Bernal) are best friends, graduating seniors from Mexico City who find themselves at loose ends when their steady girlfriends leave for a summer in Europe. At a country club wedding, they meet, and are smitten by Luisa (Maribel Verdú), a beautiful woman in her late twenties who is married to Tenoch's even older cousin. In a bid to impress her, they invite her on a road trip to a fictional beach paradise called la Boca del Cielo. She initially blows them off. Later on, in the throes of an existential crisis, she decides she wants to go after all. So, the three of them get in a station wagon and set out for the beach.

One of the things that's bothering Luisa is that her husband recently confessed to being a serial philanderer. Revenge alone would explain why she decides seduce her brother's pissant cousin and his BFF. Again, stop if you don't want to hear the spoiler... We later learn that Luisa decided to leave her husband and take the road trip after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, a fact she never shares with the boys.

Granted, the fact that Luisa's reaction to her diagnosis manifests itself in a desire to sexually educate immature 17-year-olds who love jerkoff jokes should raise our MPDG index of suspicion. But Verdú's performance is rich enough that you never doubt that she's getting off on the whole process. Partly she's rebelling against having been a good girl all her life. Maybe she wants to leave some sort of legacy by giving these guys an initiation they'll never forget. Luisa's character is outwardly charming and free spirited, Verdú's performance still hints at a certain amount of manipulative creepiness that you don't see in a MPDG.

By definition, a MPDG is a foil for a sensitive but misunderstood hero. Tenoch and Julio are neither sensitive nor misunderstood. They're both relatively popular guys who are cheating on their beautiful high school girlfriends. Tenoch and Julio have a few "alternative" pretensions, but they're more budding frat boys than anything else. Luisa doesn't see their inner beauty, she sees them as likable but easily manipulated. They are a means to her self-actualization, not the other way around.

Moreover, their pathetic self-centered horniness is the central joke of the movie. Time and time again, the joke's on them because they assume that Luisa is an MPDG who thinks they're special, only to be disappointed because her desires only sometimes coincide with theirs and because, unlike their girlfriends, she feels no compunctions about bruising their egos. Eventually she lures them into a threeway. The next morning, the boys wake up with horrible hangovers and gay panic. By this point Luisa has already ditched their sorry asses, having gotten exactly what she wanted: A sexy road trip and a ride to a beautiful beach. They never see Luisa again.

If this was a MPDG movie, the caper would have been win-win. But Y Tu Mama shows the episode exacts a real toll in the guys. The boys, who were once as close as brothers, can't face each other again because they're weirded out by having transgressed a macho taboo of actually touching each other--even though we've seen throughout the movie that they're perfectly comfortable jerking off together, sharing sexual fantasies, having sex in the same room (IIRC), and doing basically everything but having sex with each other. At one point, Luisa even sarcastically points out this homoerotic undercurrent in their relationship.

A MPDG character would make these boys into better people, but Tenoch and Julio don't learn anything. In the end, they allow homophobia, jealousy, and class differences to erode their friendship. A MPDG would have given them a special adventure to cherish for the rest of their lives, or at least some kind of lesson to live by. At the end, they still don't get it.

It's only well after Luisa's dead that they realize she didn't just sleep with them because she was a free spirit. She was a dying woman working out psychological issues they never guessed at, and couldn't have grappled with even if they had known.

We're supposed to think that Luisa grasped what was really important and seized it for herself at the end of her life. At the end, she defies convention and dies happy and while the boys are poised to slouch into boring, conventional adulthood.

October 23, 2009

Maurice Sendak tells hand-wringing parents to go to hell

Bravo, Maurice Sendak:

Parents who think the new film of Maurice Sendak's picture book Where the Wild Things Are is too frightening for children can "go to hell", the author has said.

Telling the story of a naughty little boy, Max, who is sent to bed without his supper only to journey by boat to a land where wild monsters live, Sendak's classic tale was first published in 1963 and has captured children's imaginations ever since. With a film version adapted by Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze out later this year, Sendak told this week's edition of Newsweek that he would "not tolerate" parental concerns about the book being too scary.

"I would tell them to go to hell," Sendak said. And if children can't handle the story, they should "go home," he added. "Or wet your pants. Do whatever you like. But it's not a question that can be answered."

April 19, 2009

State of Play: Played out

I regret to inform you that "State of Play" is a thoroughly mediocre movie in every respect.

Cal McAffrey (Russel Crowe) and Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) are newspaper reporters investigating the death of a 25-year-old Capitol Hill staffer who was having an affair with her boss, Rep. Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck). Collins is trying to make his name investigating a shadowy private military contractor based on Blackwater.

Director Kevin McDonald seems to want a pat on the back for recycling as many journalism movie cliches as possible including the grizzled disheveled old newsman who's not afraid to cut a few corners to get the scoop, the dewy cub reporter, and the hard-assed editor with a heart of gold. Now that we expect newspapers to die, those cliches are supposed to be cool and retro, but newspaper nostalgia can't carry this movie.

Crowe delivers a solid performance. I can't fault Rachel McAdams' acting, but her character is a waste of space. Della Frye is supposed to be the paper's political gossip blogger who learns to be a real reporter at the foot of the master. Cal starts by knocking her down a few pegs for writing nothing but snark and opinion. Except that Della is neither snarky, nor opinionated. She doesn't have many distinguishing characteristics at all.

Ben Affleck is wooden and unconvincing as a Gulf War I hero turned crusading congressman. It's hard to believe that golden boy Stephen Collins and frumpy Cal McAffery were ever friends and Affleck's acting doesn't help.

Michael Berresse is suitably creepy as hitman Robert Bingham and Sarah Lord is compelling as a teenage junkie tipster.

Not to give anything away, but the plotting is so clunky and haphazard that the ending feels like a giant bait-and-switch. It's as if the writers got so enthralled with the documenting process of reporting that they didn't bother to think through the details of the underlying scandal the reporters were supposed to be investigating. 

April 12, 2009

Review: Observe and Report

So, I saw Observe and Report, the new Seth Rogen vehicle written and directed by Jody Hill...

On Friday, I posted about the movie's appalling trailer which shows the main character raping an unconscious woman, who wakes up just long enough to indicate that she's enjoying being raped.

I was repeatedly reassured that I was interpreting the trailer out of context and that I couldn't possibly judge the movie until I'd seen it in full. That seemed like a reasonable argument, so I did.

Continue reading "Review: Observe and Report" »

April 11, 2009

Director Jody Hill on the "Observe and Report" rape scene

Here's what Jody Hill, the writer-director of the new comedy Observe and Report, told the Onion A.V. Club about the film's notorious rape scene:

AVC: Did you get a lot of studio notes on Observe And Report?

JH: Sure. It’s like anything. There’s discussion involved. That was a big difference between The Foot Fist Way, where if Danny and me and our friends were laughing, it stayed in the movie. With the studio, you have to explain it to them. There was a lot of times—like the sex scene. [Rogen has sex with an apparently passed-out Anna Faris, who belligerently moans for him to continue at the very end.] I put it in there, and they were like, “Well, this is too far.” And I said, “You know what? It’ll just be one shot. Let’s just shoot it and see what happens. Then if you don’t like it, we won’t put it in the movie.” Then we put it in the movie, and they were like, “That goes too far.” And I was like, “Well, let’s just put it in front of the audience and see if they like it.” You know what I mean? You just gotta talk to people. I feel like you can argue passionately—as long as you don’t insult anybody, it’s okay. I think that goes a long way.

AVC: In the Times piece, they describe the scene you’re talking about as Seth Rogen’s character forcing himself on Anna Faris. Is that how you perceived that scene?

JH: [Pause.] I dunno. I’ve always kind of liked scenes that you talk about how fucked-up they are. I would have been happy without any dialogue in that scene. I wanted to show them just having sex and her passed out, and I thought that would have been funnier. But I think I have a darker sense of humor than most people. So at the end, [Faris’ character] is okay with it. [Laughs.] And that was like, “I’ll shoot it both ways.” So I actually shot it both ways. I just kept the camera rolling. There’s like a line that’s “We’re okay laughing, and you’re pushing the envelope.” But you’re not really pushing the envelope until you cross that line where a lot of people don’t go along with you. I tried to do it in a few scenes in this movie, where a lot of people aren’t going to go along with the film or with what we’re trying to do. Hopefully that means we’re actually pushing the envelope. [Laughs.] You know what I mean by that? I think if you’re really pushing the envelope, you have to not include everybody, if that makes sense. Or else it’s not really pushing the envelope.

The interviewer invites Hill to say whether he thinks he shot a rape scene, but Hill doesn't give a straight answer.

His reply seems to confirm my theory that Faris' "motherfucker" line is a cop out--a ploy contrived to keep the scene "funny" instead of taking it to an even darker place. 

It's also pretty clear that Hill thinks the rape scene is funny, not merely shocking.

Rape in movies isn't inherently offensive. Even rape jokes might have a place in a dark comedy. What's really offensive about the rape scene in Observe and Report is that someone thought that having Faris wake up in the middle and act "okay with it" made the sequence funnier or more user-friendly.

April 10, 2009

Ben Bradlee lives in Grey Gardens, which smells like cat pee

Former Washington Post editor Bill Bradlee and his wife, author Sally Quinn, bought the famous Grey Gardens estate in 1979. At the time, it was overrun by 30 cats and fleas.

Instead of tearing the place down, Quinn and Bradley rennovated. They say the place still reeks of cat pee when it rains:

The Bradlees renovated it to a close approximation of its old layout and splendor. For more on what it was like at the time, definitely read the W piece. According to Quinn, true to legend, when it rains the place still smells like cat pee from 30 years of being overrun with the Beales' cats (and no litter boxes!). "About ten years ago, we got up there the first of August and it had been raining for 10 days. We walked in the house and Ben, who can't smell anything cause he's got sinus problems, said, 'Oh my god.'" Quinn explained. "He's allergic to cats and his eyes started to water. He could smell the cat pee. [NYMag]

Grey Gardens was immortalized in the eponymous Maysles brother's documentary about the house's former residents, an eccentric mother and daughter known, respectively as Big Edie and Little Edie.

February 27, 2009

Actor who played steroid dealer in The Wrestler arrested for steroid distribution

Scott siegel mugshot One of my favorite guilty pleasures is the Dateline DEA newsletter, the Drug Enforcement Agency's a "bi-weekly email informant." The DD is drug war news you can use.

This week's edition is especially juicy. We learn that the DEA helped arrest 750 alleged members of the Sinaloa drug cartel after 21-month multi-agency investigation. The best part is that the investigation was called “Operation Xcellerator”--which suggests that unemployed porn writers have infiltrated the DEA, again.

Here's another item from this week's DD. The actor who played the steroid dealer in the movie The Wrestler was arrested on real-life steroid distribution charges:

New York Man Charged with Possession of Steroids and Assault on Federal Authorities

Scott Siegel of New Rochelle, New York, was charged with distributing and possessing with intent to distribute anabolic steroids, as well as assaulting federal officers. Mr. Siegel played the role of a steroid distributor in the movie “The Wrestler,” which was recently released. According to the complaint, on February 18, 2009, the defendant, when approached by law enforcement officers, fled in his car and intentionally hit several police department and DEA cars. In addition, the defendant drove his car directly at an officer with the DEA’s Westchester Resident Office in an apparent attempt to run him over.

More on Scott Siegel's alleged steroid-dealing from blogger Anthony Roberts.

Finally, an excellent DEA fun fact:

Did you know that the first female narcotics agent was hired by the DEA’s predecessor agency, the Bureau of Narcotics, way back in 1933? Elizabeth Bass rose to the position of District Supervisor in Chicago and was a longtime friend of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. 

February 23, 2009

Dustin Lance Black champions gay rights in Oscar acceptance speech for Milk screenplay

When Dustin Lance accepted his Academy Award for best screenplay for Milk, he addressed the bulk of his remarks to the gay and lesbian youth of America, promising them that the dream of Harvey Milk would one day would soon be fulfilled with full federal rights for all, including the right to marry:

Here's part of the text of Dustin Black's Oscar acceptance speech, courtesy of ThinkProgress:

BLACK: When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas, to California, and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life; it gave me the hope that one day I could live my life openly as who I am and that maybe even I could fall in love and one day get married. […] Most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he’d want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told they are less than by their churches, or by the government, or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value. And that no matter what everyone tells you, God does love you, and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally across this great nation of ours.

I hate the Oscars, but that was really beautiful.

October 19, 2008

Review: W.

I had high hopes for Oliver Stone's George Bush biopic, W., but I came away disappointed. The movie had so much less pathos than the journalism it was based on.

W. fails because it flouts the cardinal storytelling maxim: Show, don't tell. There's no subtext in this movie. Stone doesn't trust us to figure out that George W. Bush is striving for his father's approval, or that Colin Powell is morally ambivalent about the invasion or Iraq, and so on. Every character states his or her motivations in clear declarative sentences.

By contrast, Bart Gellman's reported biography of Dick Cheney, The Angler, is much more emotionally compelling because Gellman is constantly showing, building a case by recounting dozens of small, concrete decisions. George W. Bush is a supporting character in Gellman's book, but he comes across as a far more interesting character.

Gellman's Bush is no affable bumber. He's shallow, unreflective, and completely convinced of his own righteousness. Gellman sees Bush as a manager who is so recklessly indifferent to the details of his operation that he really has no idea what's going on .

Stone's W. seems to have been purged of most of the petty meanness and political acumen of the real Bush.

Sometimes, Stone tries to show us the skills that set W. apart. He's not everyman. That's a Rove-scripted act, a propaganda ploy. In fact, Rove glommed onto Bush because he same something brilliant in him.

The opening scene of W. is fraternity hazing session where shirtless pledges are getting waterboarded in buckets of vodka-laced punch. One hapless pledge is asked to recite the name of every brother in the room. He can only name six of the forty brothers, so the hazers punish him by siphoning bourbon down his throat. Then it's George W.'s turn. 

W. gleefully rattles off the names and nicknames of every brother in the room, to the delight of all assembled. This episode illustrates Bush's phenomenal real-life talent for remembering names and faces. Stone never follows up on this revelation.

Early in the movie, Bush is a staggering drunk. Later on, he seems vacant. Nobody ever seems to like him much.

This is a weakness in the movie because W.'s social skills explain so much about his trajectory in life. He didn't get where he was just because he was the son of a president. His brother Jeb had the same background and a much more auspicious track record, but W. became president. Stone doesn't help us understand why.

As Amanda explains in her review, we Stone's W. is one of those privileged men who is obnoxious, but who continues to think of himself as charming and witty because other people scramble to stroke ego. Stone gives us a good take on this familiar archetype, but I don't think the self-deluded boor trope captures George W. Bush in full.

It’s hard to do a movie about the Bush presidency while the debacle is ongoing. We’ve all seen and read and speculated so much about this administration. How can Stone claim to know these people better than we do?

I found myself fighting the urge to judge every performance by how well the actor mimicked real people that I see on TV every day and whom I’ve been watching, studying, arguing at, and generally obsessing about for the last eight years.

But Stone invites that kind of scrutiny by sort of playing the characters for laughs, but not being consistently funny. He won't go full-on black comedy, but he won't dig deeper than hackneyed Oedipal cliches to explain why Bush acts the way he does.

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Tina Fey, who just happens to be the spitting image of Sarah Palin in addition to being whip smart and funny as hell. But I found myself taken out of the story, spot-checking each performance as an impression.

I wanted at least one of two things from W.: really good popular history, and/or, an artist’s interpretation that used dramatic license to teach something over and above what journalists and historians have been able to say so far. Stone failed to deliver either one.

Maybe the problem is that Stone excels at embellishing conspiracy theories that have yet to be substantiated. Whereas, the crimes of the Bush administration would seem like flights of fancy if they hadn’t already been documented conclusively. There isn’t much further Stone’s imagination can take this story.

May 18, 2008

Lobbyist, previously known as Angel


Title: 로비스트 / Lobbyist
Chinese title : 说客
Previously known as: 엔젤 / Angel / 天使
Genre: Action, Romance
Episodes: 24
Broadcast network: SBS
Broadcast period: 2007-Oct-10 to 2007-Dec-26
Air time: Wednesdays & Thursdays 21:55 (9:55 Korean time)


This drama is about a female lobbyist dealing with international arms traders. Han Jae Suk is a successor of a main munitions business company in Korea. He is a young businessman with perfect appearance using a refined phraseology. He has an innate ability as a lobbyist and is a master schemer. He plans to sweep over the whole of Asia.