Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

by Julia

NOTE: When I watch SATC, I’m not trying to focus on the whiteness, thinness, richness, heterosexualness. That is all a given. So if you’re looking for that in a post, look elsewhere – there’s plenty on that. Or talk to me. Just don’t critique me for my hypocrisy. thanks ūüôā

Last evening, I went to see Sex and the City 2 with my mom in Baltimore. Mom and I have shared Sex and the City as one of our girly guilty pleasure shows since I was in high school. Like Grey’s Anatomy, SATC always exists for me when I’m in the mood for semi-self reflection/semi-escapism from a television. ¬†Naturally, the story lines within are familiar, and Mom and I were both interested to see where the lives of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha would go next. In that respect, I was pleasantly surprised (with one major exception). The characters’s modern-day and materialistic existences are clearly not fulfilling them, and it takes a week away with the girls – of course – to remind them of their individual voices and needs.

*Spoilers ahead*

The film begins – where else? – in Manhattan, with the girls reuniting at Bergdorf Goodman to shop the registry for Stanford and Anthony’s GAY wedding. Some critics said these first few scenes were the best in the film, but I’ve never been a big Liza Minnelli fan (nor of overtly gay generalizations), so I’ll leave it to y’all to see the extravagance for yourselves. What I did enjoy about the first half of the film was the peek inside the lives of these women.

Charlotte is still with Harry and her adorable daughters Rose and Lily are proving¬†quite taxing on the couple. Obviously, they’ve hired a gorgeous Irish nanny, Erin, who helps Charlotte out but also raises fears that Harry might cheat with the nanny. DRAMA. Samantha is 52, single, and going through menopause. Fortunately, she has the help of 44 hormones and supplements to maintain her notorious libido. Carrie is entering her third year of marriage with Big, and she worries that they are settling into a “normal” couple routine of nights in with TV and carry out. She also worries that any semblance of asserting herself would render her a “bitch wife who nags,” so she usually acquiesces to Big.

That brings us to Miranda. Miranda has always been my favorite character – probably because she leads the most realistic romantic life, contributes snarky remarks to conversations, and boasts a successful (if tiring) balance between her position as a partner in a law firm and a mother. Miranda’s home life is going well – Brady’s in second grade! – but she is being literally silenced at work by the new senior partner. One boardroom scene reveals the dynamics – all board members are white males, except for one black man and Miranda, a white female. The senior partner, also a white male, consistently puts his hand up to Miranda’s face when she speaks. I was really interested to see where this story line went, and really hoped it wouldn’t turn out that Miranda would quit and become a stay at home mom to avoid losing her voice at work.

Enter Abu Dhabi. I’ll take a few lines from Andrew O’ Hehir’s brilliant (if cynical) review of SATC2 to explain the transition:

“Do you really want me to reconstruct how this movie gets from a gay wedding in Connecticut through the lugubrious scenes of Carrie and Big’s vampire-like existence and onward somehow to a girls-only, all-expenses-paid luxury getaway to Abu Dhabi? Because I can’t.”

So the girls end up in the United Arab Emirates. Suspend your doubts, stifle your cringes with Carrie’s Alaadin analogies, and just roll with it. To keep this post from being too long, I’ll give you my take on the relatively plotless movie: it took a trip to the Middle East to help the women rediscover themselves – the women that I came to know inside and out throughout the series. I think this film would have taken a different turn had the women escaped to, say, Dubai. In a parallel world of excess, it is unlikely that the opportunity for cinematic self-reflection would have manifested. However inaccurate the cultural portrayals were (and they were pretty egregious – more on that in a minute), the comparison between the niqabi women of the UAE and the silenced SATC women was too hard to ignore. Observing one veiled woman being sheltered by her husband in the presence of Samantha’s antics, the girls remark that these women symbolically lack voices, and it is in this revelatory moment that Miranda and Charlotte rediscover themselves.

Miranda quits the big firm and joins what appears to be a public interest firm with an incredibly diverse group of attorneys. Yay! Charlotte takes time to herself and frees herself from the daily mommy routine. Erin, the nanny, is a lesbian – phew, no threat to the marriage there! And Samantha remains fabulously sexually active. Woo! Carrie, on the other hand…ugh. Throughout the series and this movie, she had been the proponent “making your own rules” and disregarding dating scripts. Yet she ends up in the most oppressive relationship of the film. I can only chalk it up to mediocre writing on Michael Patrick King’s part. That, or, you know, hegemonic monogamy or something, but I told myself I’d stay away from that in this blog post…

Much more disturbing than Carrie’s story line was the portrayal of “the other” in this film. Sadly, this includes the women and men of Abu Dhabi.¬†I do not claim to be an expert on orientalism, ¬†but even a cursory analysis of the film unveils obvious mischaracterizations. Just as the film portrays the SATC women in a overly materialistic, immature, and shallow light, so MPK paints Muslim women as universally silenced by aggressive men and their religions. This type of cultural misunderstanding is painfully accurate of Western perspectives on Islam of late (see: Sarkozy.) Muslim culture is exploited by the film in order to liberate the oppressed women of SATC. As Salon’s Wajahat Ali notes, this only results in further isolation of Muslim women – they are cast as intriguing, mysterious, and…silent. Our girls could have engaged with local women – at one point, I thought they were going to lead a feminist uprising of sorts! But, alas, the only cultural immersion consists of Carrie purchasing shoes for all of the ladies from a local vendor. In this way, our Manhattan visitors repeat the time-honored tradition of exploiting the natives in order to liberate themselves. (Ali also notes that the SATC women never exchange a word with any veiled women. I propose the creation of a new cultural Bechdel test.)

A greater message could certainly have included an anti-materialistic spin. For certain,¬†“the ugly smell of unexamined privilege hangs over this film like the smoke from cheap incense.” It would seem that a materialistic existence in NYC hasn’t proven to be everything to everyone, but let’s not go too far, America.¬†Could it be that MPK perhaps put feminism first, and in the next installment the girls will kick capitalism to the curb (with thrift store Louboutins!)? Nahh, probably not. Because, let’s be real, the clothes were fabulous. With the exception of ¬†this film’s Ms. Exception, Carrie Bradshaw. Seriously, that skirt in the market? wtf.

No, what we’re left with is exactly what we expected: an escape into a world of material excess and personal strife. And, like all good “chick flicks,” this one made me pretty damn happy to be where I am.


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by Julia

So, yesterday was Valentine’s Day. As I see it, there are a few options for how to spend this day, based on your romantic situation:

1. If you’re in a fairly committed relationship, you can embrace it. Yes, it’s a capitalistic holiday which embodies the system at its worst (I’ll get to that in a minute), but it is important to reaffirm your love of one another.¬†Amanda points out that striking the prefect balance on Valentine’s Day is difficult, even for the couples for whom the holiday was created (or so they say):

Gestures that fit the stereotypical romantic gestures–flowers, chocolate, jewelry–feel generic and impersonal.¬† But highly personalized gestures fail in the task of showing off to others how loved you are.¬† At its core, Valentine‚Äôs Day is some dark shit.

If you choose to participate, be sincere. And please, don’t rub it in the faces of single people.

2. You can hate it. As Brian over at Gawker writes, this is definitely worse than couples who embrace it. Why?

Yes, Valentine’s Day is a despicable propagation of the hetero-normative monogamy fallacy that plagues the world, telling everyone that they have a “soul mate” and one special person to complete them and anyone who isn’t in such a relationship is a worthless piece of shit who doesn’t deserve to be loved and probably dresses bad and needs more time in the gym.

However, the reaction to these sentiments is just as knee-jerk and trite. Hating Valentine’s Day is a sad fucking clich√©. On the outside its says, “I hate the corporate structure that built this shitty holiday” and “I’m doing fine on my own, thank you,” but what it says on the inside is, “I am so sick of not having the validation of someone in my life that I need to rebel against this thing or I am going to wither away like a dried toe nail clipping in the garbage.” These people think that they are going to do something to change the couple-centric world that we live in, but all that they’re doing is giving credence to it. It’s like scowling at the concept but sneaking handfuls of chalky conversation hearts while all their fellow black-wearers go to change The Smiths record.

Sorry for the long quotation, but he says it so well. It’s like that age-old advice our parents gave us about bullies at school – acknowledging them only ¬†gives them power. This mantra can be applied to pretty much any oppressive institution in society, and capitalism (and its holidays) churns on thanks to a consistent stream of consumers who buy into its existence. In being anti-Valentines, you’re simply acknowledging its presence. Also, you end up buying more crap.

3. You can ignore it. Treat it like any other day of the year. (More on this in a bit).

4. You can use it as an excuse to be kind to those close to you. For me, this involved a fun evening out with my best friend and a long phone call to the parents (in which my dad promised he’d always be my Valentine. Swoon.) Nothing wrong with baking cookies, drinking wine, and checking out a movie. As one of my friends says, “Cute is fun.” So be cute, have fun, done.

As I mentioned, I spent the day with my roommate. We went out to Silver Spring for dinner and a movie. That movie was Valentine’s Day. Reviews abound, so I’ll be quick in saying that the movie did a good job of affirming my categorization of possible ways to spend the day. There are characters in full-on Valentine’s fervor: proposals, packed prix-fixe restaurants, ¬†massive amounts of money spent of floral arrangements, expensive lingerie, and the like. There are also a few characters filling the anti-Valentine’s role: Jessica Biel’s character throws a particularly depressing anti-Valentines party, complete with a heart pinata ready for pulverization. Jamie Foxx plays into scenario three, choosing to ignore the day. Taylor Swift lost several points in my book for being a horrible actress. Overall, the movie was unmemorable – not that I expected anything more given the reviews. Still, though, I was heartened by the final message of the movie: that the day should serve as a reminder of who and what is important in our lives (#4).

Director Gary Marshall (of Pretty Woman fame) was clearly attempting to make an American version of Love Actually, and in that pursuit he failed miserably. He also didn’t fare well in terms of perpetuating particularly progressive or feminist values (“Valentine’s Day stumps for teen abstinence and marrying your best friend, and warns that career women may end up alone.”) And yet, the movie has some highlights. Two prominent characters are in a homosexual relationship. Anne Hathaway’s character is an empowered, sexualized woman who calls out men on the double standard they are imposing on her for taking control of her sexual expression. And, as mentioned before, one leaves the theater with the distinct feeling that one does not need to be in a monogamous heterosexual relationship to be happy, on this day or any other.

Final reflection, as emphasized by the plethora of chocolate-pounding women on screen and in ads last week: Valentine’s Day is harder on women than men. Even with the message expressed in this movie, the majority of images and messages in popular culture distinctly demonize single women, professing that we must be unhappy and unfulfilled. (Because of this, you should either find a husband, or, for god’s sake, go buy some chocolate and anti-Valentine’s gear!!) Unfortunately, this inundation can take a toll on even the most enlightened feminist, making choice #3 (ignore the day) a bit harder. The best remedy for that sucky feeling? #4. Time with those close to you is the best possible reminder that no gaudy gift – rose, thong, bear, jewelry, or otherwise – can replace friendship, something that many forced monogamous relationships lack. If this is the real purpose of Valentine’s Day (and I remain unconvinced that the majority of society believes that), then each day should be Valentine’s Day. Be excellent to each other. The end.

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by Julia

It’s one of those feminist revelations that occurs following a shift in consciousness. Once the switch is flipped, you can never look at a certain aspect of human interaction or culture in the same way. In this instance, I’m talking about film.

One would think it wouldn’t be so much to ask for to have a more than one woman in a film. And yea, those two women should probably interact. And hey, it would seem obvious that they should discuss subjects other than men, right? Wrong.

In 1985, cartoonist Alison Bechdel drew “The Rule,” as part of her comic strip, Dykes to Watch out For. In it, she lays out three simple rules by which to judge a film’s merit:

1) It must have at least two women

2) the women must talk to each other…

3) about something other than men.

In the 25 years since, hundreds of popular films (and TV shows, popular fiction, and other forms of popular culture) have been put to the “Bechdel Test.” The results may be shocking to some, but to those of us hyper-attuned to cultural sexism, they simply reinforce the incredible oppression women endemically experience.

A (small) sample of the films that did not fit the criteria:

Slumdog Millionaire, GI Joe, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, Transformers, Ghostbusters, The Big Lebowski, Ocean’s Twelve, Pirates of the Caribbean (all three), Austin Powers, Fight Club, Milk, The Wedding Singer, Reservoir Dogs, Lord of the Rings (all three), The Truman Show, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Trainspotting, The Gladiator, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and When Harry Met Sally (ughhhh).

As Feminist Frequency points out, passing the Bechdel test “does not mean that the movie is a feminist movie, or that it’s even a good movie. Rather, it shows that two women are engaging with each other about something other than men.” And look at all of the films that couldn’t even meet that “ideal”…how sad is that?

Perhaps even more upsetting was the prevalence of films marketed towards children and young adults on the list, including Shrek, Toy Story, and Home Alone. If kids are not exposed to women with agency at the young age, what message does this send to them as they grow towards adulthood? Is it really any wonder that sexism prevails in the workforce if the majority of popular films portray women as only capable of talking about men and babies?

The reasons behind this is clear: movie consumers do not want to watch women with agency (or people of color or other underrepresented groups, for that matter) when they go to the movies. A female film student at UCLA was told point-blank by her professor, “The audience doesn‚Äôt want to listen to a bunch of women talking about whatever it is women talk about.” Ouch. What the professor and many film consumers who write this off as a product of consumerism don’t understand is that the problem is societal. And consumer demand is shaped by perceived “societal norms,” just as film strives to portray “normal life.” Instead of writing more films without a strong female presence, filmmakers should use their incredibly industry power to upend the conventions, both in film and in society. Until that time, consider my presence at a movie contingent upon its passage of the Bechdel¬†Test. Honestly, if a film cannot fit these incredibly lenient criteria for female agency, you should think twice before watching, as well.

Here are a few films that have passed.

And a link round-up for further reading on Bechdel and the film industry.

[Song of the day: Y-Control by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (also, a sweet Spike Jonze-directed video)]

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by Julia

Today, I saw Avatar and Up in the Air. Avatar reviews abound, so I’ll focus this post on Up in the Air, directed by Jason Reitman and starring George Clooney, Jason Bateman, and Vera Farmiga. The film tells the story of Ryan Bingham (Clooney), a 40-something who travels all over the ¬†country to fire people from their jobs. He loves traveling; in fact, all the bits we hate most – security, taking off our shoes, crappy food, recycled air – make Clooney’s character feel most at home. He prides himself on his “freedom,” as defined by not being tied down by such petty things as family, friends, or material belongings.

Enter two women: Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a recent Cornell grad with a business degree and the requisite veneer of capitalistic greed, and Alex (Farmiga), apparently Clooney’s female clone. (At one point, she characterizes herself as Clooney, “only with a vagina.”) These characters bring out different aspects of Bingham’s personality and slowly shear away his philosophy of isolation, leaving the audience “up in the air” for much of the 109 minutes as to the film’s objective.

I don’t want to disclose the entire plot, but I can say with certainty that this film exposes a lot about the modern American: our wants vs. our needs, the image we are “supposed” to give off vs. what really matters to us, and finally, our idolization of money and status over personal relationships. My favorite scene from the movie comes towards the beginning, where the recently-dumped Natalie grills her older peers on happiness, marriage, and companionship. Clooney’s character plays the role of the typical bachelor: I’m happily single, marriage is pointless, I don’t want to be accountable to anyone, (I’m immature), etc. When Alex tells Natalie that marriage isn’t everything – that companionship/a life partner is just as valuable – Natalie drops the F-bomb:

“Not to sound anti-feminist, because I really appreciate all that your generation has done for my generation, and I’m really grateful for my career, but I still feel like I can’t really be a success as a woman until I’m married.”


And how many times have women our age grappled with a similar question? We are socialized to believe that marriage is the way to define ourselves as women. Even with fantastic examples of women who “have it all” (thanks, mom!), we still find ourselves believing that until we marry, everything else we accomplish is insignificant. Similarly, I would argue, men are socialized to live it up as bachelors for as long as possible, because once you’re saddled down with a woman, well gosh, your life is over, man. Clooney’s character embodies this stereotype, just as Natalie is the typical young woman…or so we think.

Though the film got off to a slow start, and I found some inconsistencies in assigning these labels to¬†several personalities, overall Up in the Air excels in its revelation of the ironies of human behavior.¬†As someone tasked with firing people – arguably, one of the most heartless interactions out there – Bingham has a gift with words and conveying genuine sentiment. And for a man who vehemently opposes any sort of commitment to places or people, these connections with the unemployed are refreshing (and revealing). ¬†Natalie’s cold, corporate demeanor is quickly shed under the unexpected guidance of Bingham, and in the end she follows her mind (and heart) to a brighter future. Alex’s character both exhibits typical “female” and “male” characterizations – perhaps the quintessential modern woman? I think not, nor do I think this is the best theme of the movie.

In addition to the potential feminist overtones of Up in the Air, what needs to be noted are the reflections on business in America after the financial crisis of 2008. Recall the film centers on characters detached from everyone, flying around the country laying people off from their jobs. Jason Bateman’s character gleefully announces that the recent financial crisis would mean over 30,000 new layoffs in the next few weeks – more business for him!! This greed at the expense of others is underlined most poignantly through interviews with the recently unemployed – played not by actors, but by actual recently unemployed Americans. Their message is clear: temporarily removed from the obligations of work, their personal connections are illuminated as by far the most important aspects of their lives. Enter my first deliberate mention of Marx:

“The realm of freedom begins only where labor determined by necessity[‚Ķ] ends; the reduction of the working day ¬†is the basic prerequisite.”

This is, after all, the silver lining to the financial crisis. Brutally awakened to the consequences of capitalism – namely, the devaluation of the personal and emotional – Americans may finally be coming to their senses. Perhaps spending more time at home and truly interacting with their wives and children will refute the myth that marriage is miserable for men. Perhaps, with both spouses working moderate hours, it would be possible for a woman to reap the benefits of individual success and spousal companionship. We’ve got a long way to go, and in no way am I refuting the importance of hard work. Nor am I suggesting that people quit their jobs immediately in order to achieve maximum happiness. I am, however, proposing that this forced shift in time (job loss) may ultimately lead to a positive shift in values – away from individualist greed and towards a more collective sense of companionship.

Verdict: movie isn’t all that great, but the message is worth some serious reflection.

On another note, go Ravens tomorrow! Serious inter-division rivalry with the Steelers as both of us fight for the AFC wild card spot. I’ll be at the beach bar with Papa Burke rocking a Flacco jerz and cheering hard.

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