Friday, April 01, 2005

Movies opening this week

Melinda and Melinda (Radha Mitchell, Will Ferrell, Chloe Sevigny, Amanda Peet, dir. Woody Allen)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I love Woody Allen. I really do. I've seen more Woody Allen movies than movies by any other director except Alfred Hitchcock (although I realized recently to my dismay that this still means that I've seen fewer than half of Allen's movies). So I wanted to like this movie, and it's not horrible, but it's just not up to his standards. As a number of critics have noted, it's like Allen is retreating further and further into this idealized safe zone, still writing about the romantic travails of people in their late 20s and early 30s as he himself nears 70. It's just kind of sad at this point. Opened limited Mar. 18; in Las Vegas this week

Sin City (Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, dir. Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
This is the first movie I've seen this year that I could imagine ending up on my top ten list at the end of the year. I love the way Rodriguez has used technology to his advantage to successfully re-create Miller's world so faithfully. I don't agree with critics who have said the direct adaptation leaves the material stale or embalmed, as J. Hoberman put it in the Village Voice. I think Rodriguez and Miller have brought a comic book sensibility to movies in a way no one's done yet, and in doing so they've invigorated movie-making rather than hobbled it.

What's more interesting to me than the arguments about whether the adaptation is too faithful is the idea that there's a serious gender divide in the response to the movie. I like nothing less than reading reviews of movies I like that accuse people who like said movies of being stupid, or dupes, or prejudiced. But I do find it interesting that probably the three most prominent female film critics in America - Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, Ella Taylor in LA Weekly and Lisa Schwarzbaum in Entertainment Weekly - did not like the film at all. Taylor in particular tears it apart not only on a cinematic level - which is more what Dargis and Schwarzbaum are talking about - but at a sociological level, and engages in my aforementioned least favorite tactic of accusing any fan of the film of being "an adult male aging ungracefully, or a pimply youth with a pimply youth’s fondness for comic books about hell on Earth." Even worse, she basically says that any woman who likes the film is anti-feminist and also probably a moron. "If you’re a woman of any age who gets off on this stuff, even with its feeble stabs at feminist role reversals, I throw up my hands," she says. Now, on the one hand this really bugs the shit out of me, because it's condescending and insulting and, in my opinion, wrong. But on the other hand, the one that likes and respects Taylor as a critic (to mix some metaphors), it makes me question my reaction to the film a little bit. The same sort of criticisms were lobbed at films like Sideways and Adaptation (in that case I myself did some of the lobbing) - that critics, who are by and large lonely, middle-aged white males, love these movies because they represent a sort of sad wish fulfillment. I am usually the first person (and, in the case of a film like The Upside of Anger, seemingly the only person) to point out what I perceive as misogyny in mainstream films, especially ones that expect viewers to think they are empowering to women. And it bothers me to think that I have somehow been hoodwinked by this film, that it's played to some sort of base male instinct that I convince myself I don't have, that its cool violence and hot women have blinded me to its deeper sociological meaning.

Ultimately I don't think that's true, and there are plenty of female critics who liked the film who can back me up (and male critics who didn't like it). MaryAnn Johanson, of the excellent website The Flick Filosopher, gives the film a glowing review and takes on the its supposed anti-feminism. "But it was only when I met the women of Old Town that I realized that it's only Marv who's clueless, not Miller," she says, approaching the idea that just because the characters are misogynists, it doesn't mean the movie is, too. Like any action film, this will probably have more male fans than female, but I think that's due more to closed-mindedness than any actual anti-female message. Just as I often find myself the only male appreciating a good romantic comedy or teen flick, women adventurous enough to actually see Sin City will likely end up enjoying it. Still, out of all the reviews I read, it was that Ella Taylor one that made me think most about the film, and that's probably a good thing. Wide release


Anonymous said...

I think the key to understanding Sin City's alleged misogyny is in making the distinction between portayal and intent. The world of Sin City is a world where men are 'real men' and women are 'dames' and it doesn't seem to be anything more than that. Perhaps movies such as this lead to mistreatment of women; perhaps they lead to viewing women as objects; perhaps they lead to certain male role-modeling. Perhaps not.

The larger point is merely that Sin City portrays these things irrespective of the creators' intent. The sociological feminist perspective is, I think, correct in describing the negative aspects of the things taking place in Sin City, but it seems like such criticisms are akin to deriding the violent acts of torture and murder also contained within. Does one have to be in favor of torture and murder in order to appreciate a movie containing, and not necessarily condemning or condoning, their instances?

Josh said...

That's what always trips me up: By endorsing a film like Sin City, am I tacitly endorsing sexist attitudes, or even violence? I don't think so, and I know at least that I am smart enough to understand the distinction between portrayal and intent, but are other viewers as sophisticated? This is of course a larger argument about the way that movies influence society, but it does make me stop and think if I am not, well, stopping and thinking enough about attitudes portrayed in films.