Friday, October 07, 2005

Movies opening this week

In Her Shoes (Cameron Diaz, Toni Colette, Shirley MacLaine, dir. Curtis Hanson)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
What saddens me most about this movie is that Curtis Hanson demonstrated such a nuanced understanding of human interaction in Wonder Boys, which I think is sorely underrated, and this time around he just goes for the same faux female empowerment bullshit that mars most movies about women bonding (whether, sadly, they are written/directed by men or women). This is not quite as bad as, say, Something's Gotta Give, but it similarly mistakes a few references to shoes and sisterhood for a deep statement about the ways that women relate to each other, and never earns a single one of the tears that it sheds. Wide release

Proof (Gwyneth Paltrow, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anthony Hopkins, Hope Davis, dir. John Madden)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
As I said to a colleague, this is a wet blanket of a movie. Not horrible, and at times fairly effective, but overall it just kind of sits there lifelessly. And Gwyneth Paltrow really has never given a worse performance. Opened limited Sept. 16; in Las Vegas this week

Thumbsucker (Lou Pucci, Tilda Swinton, Vincent D'Onofrio, Kelli Garner, dir. Mike Mills)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
Not that this is particularly relevant, but for a very long time I was convinced that this film was directed by R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills, rather than graphic artist and music video director Mike Mills. Somewhere in some report on Sundance, I read that it was R.E.M.'s Mills, and in all the reviews I read when the film started to be released, I always wondered why the critics never mentioned Mills' musical background, instead only mentioning his music video directing (which I assumed, erroneously, that he had done for R.E.M.). Thankfully I was finally disabused of this notion before writing my own review, or I would have come off as a moron, much like whoever wrote that Sundance piece that I can no longer recall. Anyway, I really liked this movie despite the fact that it was not directed by a member of R.E.M. (which I think might make for a good movie). Opened limited Sept. 16; in Las Vegas this week

Waiting (Ryan Reynolds, Justin Long, Anna Faris, dir. Rob McKittrick)
I will say in my feeble defense that a friend of mine cajoled me into going to this screening, and that it was hard to tell from the trailers whether it would be cleverly vulgar or just vile. It definitely ended up being just vile and repugnant and not even funny in the least, although everyone else at the screening seemed to think it was hilarious. It's a bad rip-off of Office Space (which I think is way overrated anyway) and Clerks, directed like McKittrick has never used a camera before, and full of half-assed characterizations that serve only to get the movie to its next repulsive joke. Clerks was great because it placed its vulgarity in the context of genuine twentysomething ennui; this film gives lip service to that but can't even bother to follow through on the plot's extremely modest ambitions. It also features the odious Ryan Reynolds, who might be my least favorite actor currently working, in all his odious glory, oozing smarm out of every pore and delivering his lines like they're golden gifts from joke-writing gods. The restaurant critic in my office saw this movie because of its food-service connection, and went on at length about how reprehensible it was. He said it should be shown as a training film for al-Qaida. I think that tells you all you need to know. Wide release

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (voices of Peter Sallis, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, dir. Nick Park & Steve Box)
My review in Las Vegas Weekly
I love Wallace and Gromit. I saw The Wrong Trousers in a filmmaking class in high school, and since then I've had a soft spot for them. They are perhaps the only characters in recent years to catch on solely through short films, a lost artform. Now that they finally have a feature, I hope they'll become the superstars they deserve to be. That Animated Feature Oscar is locked up right here. Wide release


Katie said...

Ah, but Wonder Boys is about /men/. I didn't see the least indication from that movie that Hanson could create a realistic movie about women.

I think ones of the things at the heart of all this pseudo-empowerment bullshit is the equation of liberation with consumerism. Most of the recent chick flicks/lit I've seen seem to be trying to sell something. This may be one of the reasons why most of the decent movies about female bonding come from outside Hollywood (John Sayles!)

I didn't see it, but I am sure Proof would have been better if they had actually asked Mary-Louise Parker (who played the role on Broadway) to do it.

(Oh, and I read your review of A History of Violence, and I REALLY want to see it, but haven't got a chance to yet.)

Anonymous said...

About female bonding...I'm curious, do you know any women who bond over material things? It seems to me that you don't, or that you think bonding over material things is reprehensible.

What you call "faux female empowerment bullshit" is interesting considering that so many women I know bond over their purses, shoes, clothes in general, etc. Sometimes they claim that this sort of bonding is valid because they are genuinely interested in these things.

So my question to you, Josh, is: do you take an elitist stance against their view or do you not know anyone like this (or perhaps both)? Or, of course, is it something else entirely?

Katie said...

I know your question was addressed to Josh, but I want to reply anyway...

I know women who are interested in clothes, to take an example. But it's something they like and enjoy-- I don't think any of these women consider shopping for clothes personally empowering or would say their relationships were based on shopping. If a relationship is based on a shared love of material things, it's probably a pretty shallow relationship. I think that applies to all genders.

I mean, I know men who (to pick something stereotypical) play video games, but I have yet to see a media production imply that playing video games is the strength and foundation of male identity and bonding.

It's not the site of bonding in these movies that's the problem, it's the implication that these trappings are somehow a necessary part of female bonding, which I certainly don't believe they are.

I'd be interested to hear from a woman who found buying shoes to be some sort of empowering, self-defining act.

Josh said...

Katie, you're right that Wonder Boys was about men, but I suppose I was hoping that since Hanson sidestepped the cliches in that one and made the characters feel real and three-dimensional, he could do it again in a story with different subject matter. Obviously I was wrong. As for Proof, I've heard from many places that MLP was great in the play and would have made the movie much better, but I'm not sure. Don't get me wrong, I think MLP is great, but the character (at least in the movie) is 27, and MLP is 40. I just could not buy her as a 27-year-old, and especially not as an undergrad (as she is in some flashback sequences). Even Gwyneth, who's only 32, strained credibility a little for that age. Maybe if the character was adjusted to fit it would work, but otherwise I just don't think I'd accept it, no matter how good the acting.

Anonymous, you're probably right that women do bond over material things. Do I judge women who are obseessed with shoes and purses? Maybe a little, but I don't think that precludes me from appreciating a movie about them. I think the key is to view things like shoes, or makeup, or watching Sex and the City, or whatever as jumping off points. If the movie could start with shoes and use that as an entry point to explore the depth of the relationships between women, that would be okay with me. But this movie doesn't do that. It trots out a bunch of superficial cliches and then says, "Look! They've become closer and now they really understand each other" when that's not what's happened at all.

The other problem I have is with the tone of the movie. In Her Shoes is not a frothy comedy, although it has comedic moments. It's a movie that announces itself right away as a Serious Statement About Women. When you set up expectations like that, you really have to deliver. A movie like Clueless, on the other hand, is upfront about being superficial, but actually does a much better job of showing how things like wardrobe shape people's personalities and relationships with each other, and it's actually a much more meaningful movie. It's also one of my favorite movies of all time, as is Bring It On, another movie that takes a very superficial pursuit (cheerleading) and uses it as a jumping off point to explore genuine relationships. Again, a movie that is considered "fluff," but is actually much better than In Her Shoes, or other serious films about female relationships.

Katie said...

Josh, fair point (regarding Proof.) MLP did play a teenager for a good part of How I Learned to Drive as well, but those conventions probably work better on stage than on film.

But, dammit, I still would have liked to see her in it.