Let Us Be Assholes: It’s Civil Rights!

In keeping with my tradition of only discussing pop culture phenomenons after they’ve ceased to be relevant, here is my take on 2011’s “Bridesmaids.”

Bridesmaids” was nothing less than a revelation for me because by the time it came out, I was convinced that women would never be allowed to be funny in movies again. Sure they were allowed to be funny on TV occasionally. Sure, Leslie Mann was allowed to steal scenes in her husband, Judd Apataow’s, films. But beyond that, it seemed like Hollywood comedies were destined to be one sausage party after another. I hadn’t seen a comedy where women were featured prominently since “Romy and Michelle’s Highschool Reunion” and “Superstar,” which was made in 1999.

Is “Bridesmaids” the funniest movie ever made? Probably not. But it is incredibly funny and hugely important. Here’s why:

  • It’s women! Women, women everywhere! Being funny! (It should be noted the two men in the film–Chris O’Dowd and Jon Hamm– are also superb and superbly funny.)
  • More importantly it’s women being funny, gross, immature, and assholish. I wanted to write about why this film was so dear to me awhile back, but couldn’t seem to find the time. All I knew was I wanted to title the entry “Let Us Be Assholes.” Because, let’s face it, a major component of comedy is enjoying neurotic idiocy, awkward moments, and even the occasional gross-out moment. And there seemed to be precious few vehicles where women were allowed to be, well, um, gross assholes. In “Bridesmaids” Kristen Wiig’s character, Annie, is at turns goofy, petulant, obnoxious, selfish, and yeah, assholish. IT. IS. AWESOME. Because it’s funny.
  • Melissa McCarthy plays a woman doesn’t wear a whole lot of make-up and is kinda butch. And the joke is not “Ha  ha!!!! Look at the fat woman who’s not conforming to beauty norms!!!” The joke is, “Hey, look at the fat woman who’s not conforming to beauty norms, is a little butch, is highly successful, is a great friend, and is sexually successful!” And is scene-stealingly hilarious. Seriously, if you can’t gin up a reason to pop in or stream this movie, do it for Melissa McCarthy alone, because I don’t think there’s any use in pretending she’s not currently one of the funniest people on the planet.
  • Did I mention the women are funny? Well, they are. Even the women who are dealing with the material that’s not broad. Like many comedies “Bridesmaids” gets better the more you watch it. And when you watch it several times, you start to search out the smaller nuggets of comedy gold. Rose Byrne’s performance is one of those nuggets. She is subtly hilarious as the perfect, beautiful trophy wife and friend-thief, Helen. The scene where Annie tries to get her ex’s attention by driving like an idiot only gets funnier if you pay attention to what Helen is doing in the background.
  • The film is called “Bridesmaids,” but it’s not about dream weddings. It’s not about longing for love. It’s not about men. It’s about friendship, and how sometimes we treat good friends like lovers. We get jealous, we get possessive. I think everyone who has ever had a really good friend has had a moment where we’ve felt anxious about letting a new friend of a friend into our life. That dynamic is silly with comedy gold and I’m glad somebody finally decided to mine it. Really, watching Annie flip out over best friend’s new friend is not just incredibly funny, it’s incredibly relatable.

And, thank goddess almighty it’s not ALL ABOUT THE MENZ.

FANTASTIC DANCING UPDATE:

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The Shitty Miracle of “The Women.”

I recently read a fun article at The A.V. Club called “Shitty Miracles,” which refers to projects so stunningly bad one wonders how they were ever greenlighted. The staff of A.V. Club seemed to have so much fun recalling their “favorite” shitty miracles, I thought I’d give it a go myself.

Since “The Room” was mentioned in the Q&A I decided not to discuss it here. Besides, “The Room” is not shitty. It is unbelievably wonderful, a transcendent movie-going experience.  If you looked up the phrase “so bad it’s good” in the dictionary, there’d be a picture of Tommy Wiseau winking impishly.

How I felt when I watched the remake of "The Women"

How I felt when I watched the remake of “The Women”

So I’m stuck picking another, erm, winner. And that has to be the 2008 remake of the 1939 classic, “The Women.” Now, the original “Women” is one of my favorite, if not my straight-up favorite film of all time. It is a fast-paced, fast-talking, funny, snarky, silly, feminist (in its own twisted, antiquated way) film about an extremely privileged woman who’s dealing with her beloved husband’s infidelity and her circle of friends’ reaction to her turmoil.

If the original “Women” was sparkly, chilled champagne, the remake is a bottle of Peach Riunite that was left in the sun. It has no bubble, no verve and might make you throw up.

Low Points:

  • The casting. It was terrible all-around, but special mention must go to the casting director who’s answer to “Get me a smart, snarky, jaded, single writer” was “I know–Jada Pinkett-Smith!” Not Aisha Tyler. Not Janeane Garafolo. Not Margaret Cho. Jada fucking Pinkett. What’s worse, was that the character was inexplicably made into a lesbian apparently so she could stand around being lesbian and saying lesbianish things like “Hey, that woman who’s banging your husband sure is hot.” I do give the writers credit for not having her wax poetic about trips to the Home Depot, but this movie is such a huge mish-mash of moronic non-sequitors, they probably had to stop somewhere.
  • At one point the twiggy tween daughter  (who worries about being fat) talks about her father finding her mother’s “coming into her own” sexy. Daughters talking about their mother’s being sexy is dead creepy. Full stop.
  • At not one, but two, points in the film, the extraordinarily annoying Sylvia character has over-earnest, goofy, feminist primer sessions with the possibly-more-annoying tween. Feminism is awesome. Talking to young girls about feminism is also awesome. Doing it in a clunky, dated, “where the hell did that come from?” way is not awesome. Oh, and the 1990’s called and it wants its feminist issues back. PLUS, I’m a liberal, not a wingnut. I don’t need my films to be rife with smarmy, obvious propaganda that confirms my worldview.
  • The original film nods earnestly–albeit quickly–to the main character’s privilege. And somehow the the time period of the film makes the first world problems of these women seem less irritating. Not so for the remake. Somehow the idea of these thoroughly unappealing women pondering love and loss and how hard it it is for a tough-talking rich woman to get by in the magazine business kind of makes me want to vomit. I simply don’t care. Honestly, the movie would have been better if they–along with their first world problems– had all click-clacked their way in their Manolos–or Jimmy Choos or whatever the hell idiots wear these days– into the middle of the street and been run over by trucks. Also, “Sex and the City” wants its…everything… back. (Although, to be fair, SATC was occasionally funny and goodness knows the “Women” remake didn’t steal that from the show.)

I don’t know how the film managed take everything that was good about the original film–its crisp dialogue, its amazing cast, its catty humor– and turn it on its head. So instead of a soapy treat about women and their relationships, you get the treat of watching a horribly mis-cast, humorless pile of shit with leaden dialogue and feminist propaganda disguised as a meandering plot.

Feminism is great. I am proudly and rabidly feminist. The most feminist aspect of “The Women” is it that features no men. If you don’t understand the visual and psychological impact of that, you have no business remaking the film.

P.S. : WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SHITTY MIRACLE?

Is It OK to Say a Movie is Boring?

The great thing about twitter conversations is that there’s no need to shorthand them. Here’s a quick, easy read wherein a really nice guy in my twitter feed says he was bored by “Blade Runner.” Which kinda shocked and thrilled me, because even though I think “Blade Runner “is stunningly gorgeous and impactful, I also think it’s pretty flawed. (Although decidedly not boring.)

“The Masterbat0r” is more like it. But, to be fair, those two lingering shots of the boat waves really helped to advance the plot. 

I find that most people demure when it comes to the subject of movie-induced boredom, especially when discussing critically-acclaimed films, and I’m not sure that’s a healthy impulse. Some films–even films with a lot of merit– are just boring, and I think it should be ok to say so. What do you think?

The Zany Fart Sound-Making Nu Zoo Review Crew in the Mooning

A few quickie reviews…
Please take all my reviews with a grain of salt, as I have to watch most things with one eye on a toddler and may miss neat stuff.

1.) Prometheus. I liked it. It was flawed but fun. If you enjoy Sci-Fi spectacles with a creeping sense of dread and a scrappy, Ripley-esque heroine, you’ll enjoy this. It does, indeed, answer some questions, as the trailer promises, but it asks a lot more. That made the movie a teeny bit frustrating for me. If they don’t answer them in the sequel –which I’m assuming is in production– I may have to reevaluate the film.

2.) Rock of Ages. I imagine this musical is great fun on the stage. And Tom Cruise looks like he’s having a ball in this, chewing the scenery like a cow chews cud, as he plays hard-drinking jaded rock star/sex symbol Stacey Jaxx…but on film, the musical comes off very, very, very flat. It’s like, you sense you should be singing along and having fun and getting swept up…but you just never do. Grease it ain’t.

3.) American Horror Story: Asylum. Some people say that when you create a piece of art, there should be a place on the canvas where the eye can rest. A pleasing spot of nothing, negative space. If I have one complaint about American Horror Story–and I’m not sure I do, even–it’s that the series is almost completely devoid of negative space. But what may be its only flaw, may also be the thing that makes it brilliant. Because you are never given a chance to rest when watching. Ever. Every scene that is not creepy in the sense that most horror films are, is creepy in the way intense psychological dramas are. Like Stephen King, the writers of AHS want us to know that while there may be ghosts and demons and aliens milling about, the scariest thing on earth is the human mind. AHS seems to want to push boundaries and invite calls of “Campy!” by cramming exorcisms, demons, aliens, serial killers, cannibals, mean nuns and torturing doctors into one show, but so far, they are pulling it off. I don’t know how they do it. It may because they balance the border-pushing horror and raunchiness with exemplary acting and terrific writing. AHS is nothing less than must-watch for me. One important caveat: I would not recommend letting anyone under 17 watch it. I just wouldn’t. Mature audiences only, please.

See me once, shame on…shame on you. See me…you can’t get seen again.

LGM has a great thread here talking about movies that cannot “be unseen,” referring to films that are particularly memorable, and not for any reason you’d like for a thing to be memorable.  There are a lot of horror films mentioned in the thread, but the “unseen” criterion doesn’t necessarily refer to horror, and people mentioned everything from dramas about drug use to trippy musicals (Tommy, which, yes, is disturbing at times). I was wondering what movies you’ve seen that cannot be unseen…and that you probably never plan on seeing again. I was also wondering if there were any films out there you’d like to see–for shits and grins–but are hesitant to watch.
I participated in the LGM discussion. The films that sprung to mind were:

The Hills Have Eyes (remake)

The Ordeal

Martyrs

The Ring

Three Extremes

I could actually watch these films again…but it’s always going to be a butt-clenching experience for me.
There are several films I “want” to see, but cannot work up the nerve:

Inside

Salo

A Serbian Film

Gummo

Julien Donkey-Boy

Sweet Movie

I may update this post as I  think of more movies.

Now you go.

The Call Is Coming from Inside the Pants!

Three quick reviews…

This seems like a terrific idea.

Because I like to be at least 2 generations behind when it comes to the latest in haute gadgetry, I waited until the day iPhone 5 came out to buy my iPhone 4s. I like to think of it as a sort of troglodyte chic, and I expect it to catch on in the hipster community any day now. Cell phone phixies, anyone? Plus, spending $600 dollars on a phone when you could spend $99 seems counter-intuitive to me.

Anyway, the new shape does look more pleasing to the eye and has a better hand-feel than the 3Gs. The camera is significantly improved, with flash lighting available for taking both moving and still pictures, and the picture quality itself seems to have improved. You can also switch the orientation of the camera to easily do those arm-out, cam-whore photos of yourself (and any lucky squished-in companions).

Siri is more gimmick than tool, because she’s–at least here, in my neck of the woods–at times spacey and laggy, like she got high when she was on break and when you ask her something, she’s like “Dude…what was I talking about?” And Siri absolutely DOES NOT have the stunning voice recognition capabilities you see  on display in the commercials. (Although my brother-in-law assures me that iPhone 5 Siri is “kick ass.”) So I think we can officially write Martin Scorsese, Samuel Jackson and Manic Pixie Dream Zoe off as dirty, dirty liars and hoors.  But if you want semi-hands-free access to web searches  or to make and appointment or set a timer, or you just really want to verbally boss your iTunes playlists around, she really is kinda fun and handy. Best of all, when I asked Siri if I was the prettiest woman in all the land, she did not tell me that Kristen Stewart was–NO WAY–way hotter than I am. Whew!

Overall, I give it 3 FoxConn workers caught in suicide nets out of 4 FoxConn workers caught in suicide nets.
Watched two horror films recently…

Silent House” is–I’m not joking–about 80 minutes  of the younger Olsen sister (yes, of THOSE Olsens) walking around an empty house, carrying a lantern, and looking frightened. And that’s literally all it is. And when I say literally, I don’t mean figuratively, I mean LITERALLY. That’s all it is. Incredibly boring and not scary. Yes, I want my 86 minutes back.

Cabin in the Woods” is much more comedy than horror film, and that’s all right with me, because I found it tremendously entertaining. I figured out the twist pretty much right away, but somehow that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the film. It was funny, goddammit, and I wanted to see where it all went, even though I kinda knew where it was going. I put it in the same category as “Drag Me to Hell,” which was also a straightforward, no-frills but incredibly satisfying horror-comedy experience. Definitely worth a watch.

You and Deeper Movie Meanings

I recently asked if it were possible to have discussions about pop culture without it becoming a food fight.

A couple people–to my delight–wondered the same thing.

Smut Clyde asked (with tongue-in-cheek, I suspect) “why bother?”

Dan Coyle reminds us why: Because when you can just discuss a thing, it’s just plain fun. Plus, you might learn a thing or two.

Fer instance, when I got all annoyed because someone on Internet was wrong about “Little Miss Sunshine,” I searched out a clip of the climax and watched it. And when I watched it, I discovered I had completely missed the point of the scene the first time around. I thought it had just been a way for the family to come together in a way that was played for shocks and laughs. Well, there was considerably more to it than that. The filmmakers were obviously making a statement about the sexualization of the little girls in beauty pageants. (Seriously, the pageant scene is ick-gross.) It was ironic, you see, that Little Miss Sunshine’s outrageously inappropriate dance was far more joyful and–in its own way–innocent than anything you’d normally see at these events. I didn’t get that until I went back and watched the scene and thought about it. And that’s why I think discussion sans hyperbole is helpful.

So while I’m here, pondering deeper movie meanings, I was wondering if any of you wanted to offer up an interpretation of the pretty terrific–I thought–“Black Swan.” *SPOILERS STARTING NOW* The best I could tell was that all the weird stuff, the hallucinations, were just a metaphors for Nina completely losing herself to her single-minded obsession–to play the swan queen. I’ve searched out other opinions and much to my chagrin found people offering up explanations like Nina was sexually abused by her mother. Um, WHAT?! There is nothing in the story to suggest that even slightly…Although certainly her mother is overbearing and smothering. Not abusive, though. Hell, was her mother in even real? At this point I’m questioning even that.

And then the charge that Nina was schizophrenic. I’m sorry, I don’t see where that makes sense. That would make the story about a ballerina with mental health issues. Granted, Nina has issues. Big ones…schizophernia isn’t one of them; that seems so dull an explanation. Instead I think it’s simply of a story of frightening obsession. The former doesn’t even seem like a story worth telling to me, whereas the latter is so much more compelling a concept.

What are your thoughts on “Black Swan?”

The Gift of Low Expectations

So, I watched this last night.

I was kinda hard-up and it was one of the few movies available I had even a sliver of interest in seeing. I didn’t have high hopes it would be good. In fact, I was pretty sure it would be laughably bad. So you could have knocked me over with a feather when I found myself paying close attention to the film. Well, as close as I could with a baby toddling around.

The movie has several things to recommend it, assuming you’re a fan of the genre, which I would describe as dystopian, near-future soft-scifi.

  • The premise, which you probably mistook for something else during its poorly-made trailers, is pretty neat in a creepy, sad sort of way. It is–first and foremost–the thing that keeps you hooked. You want to know where the hell the story can possibly go.
  • You may find the near-constant shots of the arm-numbers (which keep track of how much time the characters have to live) annoying, but I found it an effective to way to drive home the urgency of everyone’s situation. I was actually fairly uncomfortable throughout most of the film. So…well done (?), filmmakers.
  • In Time is darker than you may expect. With the rich living in heavily gated communities, the poor are left to suffer in ghettos, living day to day. Literally. See, time is currency, and because the residents of the ghetto are so poor they often only have hours or days to their name. Every day is struggle to survive.
  • Once you know where the film is going, it reveals its message. Sure, it reveals it unsubtly, but who cares? It’s a good message and one that bears repeating as often as possible. So, here’s what you know so far: the wealthy are living lives of tremendous privilege in gated communities far removed from the rubble, who lead lives that barely worth living. These wealthy people and the police state take pride in preserving the status quo. One of the movie’s antagonists claims it is ultimate expression of “Darwinian capitalism.” He also says many must die to preserve the lives of the immortal. Um, could the message be anymore clear? No? OK, well, when the two leads begin robbing huge time banks that will probably clear everything up for you. *wink*
  • What’s better is Cillian Murphy playing a “Time Keeper,” who represents those members of the oppressed classes who are always ready to kick their fellow citizens in the face once they get a taste of ruling-class approval. It’s pretty profound now that I think of it.
  • The ghetto really does seem like a depressingly horrible place. Everything seemed so ugly, so joyless. But what was interesting was the rich community was joyless in its own slick, cloistered way. This is not a happy film.

I enjoyed the performances of just about everyone, but felt the romance between Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried was out of place. It felt chemistry-less and forced. Their relationship would have resonated more had they found themselves becoming friends.

But, yeah, on balance, In Time is definitely worth a rent.

I also saw What’s Your Number? I know…romantic comedy…booooooo. But the movie’s premise was what got my ass in the seat: See this woman has to go and find all her ex-boyfriends, all who promised to be weird losers. Now tell me that is not recipe for KOOKINESS. Oh, I thought kookiness would be ensuing all over the place. ‘Cuz I assumed the film was essentially going to be an excuse to have talented comedienne Anna Farris doing kooky things with a series of famous funny guys doing cameos. And I just knew the kookiness would come and it would be SO FUNNY. Well, there was NO FUCKING KOOKINESS. Just mediocre acting, romantic comedy cliches and shlock. Horrible, horrible movie. I’m dumber for having watched it.

The Girl with the Bunny Ear Hat

So, I went to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo over the holidays. It was great. Long but engrossing. Perhaps I should say long and engrossing.

And it’s interesting movie to sit through because it’s not a sweeping, effects-laden epic. It’s lean and no-frills, and somehow that ends up being the thing that’s interesting and thrilling about it. If you’re a person who objects to attempts to wring emotion from an audience through overwrought performances or a haunting score or whatever, this is the film for you.

I got the feeling the director wanted to let the story tell itself. Lay everything out for you and let you decide how you feel about it. There was almost a cool detachment in the directing style, which I found refreshing (even though I am one of those people who is not averse to being manipulated by a director). Extraordinarily wrenching and horrific things happen in this film. These things are treated matter-of-factly.

I watched–for kicks and grins–both the American and Swedish versions of the film. They’re pretty remarkably similar, though I think I prefer the American tweaks to the story. The best tweak, though, was in the casting. Rooney Mara gives an Oscar-caliber performance as the tortured namesake of the film. I think she’s what saves it from being downright icy, because her performance is so subtly heartbreaking. In fact, her performance as the bruised and battered–both literally and figuratively–Lisbeth was the superior one. She was tough and so vulnerable at the same time, so feral, but not in any kind of showy, over-the-top way…which is frankly what I braced myself for when I went to see this. If you don’t come away from the film wanting to give her a sandwich and a hug, you’re probably a horrible person. She’s the reason to see this TGDT. Well, the one that looms largest.

All in all, it was an extremely satisfying movie-going experience. And that’s something that doesn’t happen to me too often these days.

See.

PS–I would totally do Daniel Craig. Just sayin’.