Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Continued from the review of The Woodsman

Let’s consider another film that privileges one point of view: that of a woman this time. P.S. has a quirky premise: a middle-aged woman meets a young man whom she believes to be the reincarnation of her dead high school boyfriend. Perhaps this plotline is a bit odd, but the film engaged me completely for at least half the run time. Then I began to disconnect and ask questions about character depth and believability.

The middle-aged heroine, Louise Harrington, is played by Laura Linney: glorious, curvy, and deeply lonely. The main people in her life, including her mother, her best friend, her ex-husband, and her brother, are all people to whom she tries but fails to fully relate. Enter Topher Grace, a.k.a. F. Scott Feinstadt, whom Louise calls F. Scott throughout the film until he admits that his real name is Francis. Sharing the same name, artistic talent, and appearance of her high school boyfriend, F. Scott unwittingly unglues Louise.

Within hours of meeting him, Louise mounts the eager and grateful young man. The scene is rather hot, if awkward (read: realistic). On the hot side, Louise wears an incredibly feminine, bodice-friendly, but clingy pink dress that emphasizes her womanly curves. More awkward, however, the couple pauses in the midst of their foreplay while F. Scott struggles with the condom. After he has finished, Louise somehow manages to keep him going long enough to reach her own climax (what a great trick!).

I have included all these details about their first lovemaking session because the scene intrigues me. Honest and clumsy, with strange silences and gaps—this is not your smooth and perfect Hollywood love scene. In essence, the scene exemplifies why I like this movie—P.S. is a messy film, with glaring flaws, selfish characters, and an inability to accomplish as much as it tries. That said, director and screenwriter Dylan Kidd conveys a certain sincerity that struck me.

Seriously challenging this sincerity, however, Louise’s friendship with Missey is rather inscrutable. As is revealed through the film, Missey stole the original (now deceased) Scott from Louise. She throws Louise’s single status in her face repeatedly, and sets out to bed F. Scott (whether she succeeds is an important plot point in the relationship between Louise and F. Scott). Their dialogue is among the weakest in the film. So why the heck does Louise stay friends with Missey?

Yet when I thought about female friendships, betrayal is not necessarily a foreign concept. Jealousy is a natural human emotion, and perhaps it is unwise for me to condemn the relationship between Missey and Louise as unbelievable just because I do not appreciate the less than positive light thrown on female friendship. Portraying women as complicated and selfish does not = misogyny.

On the other hand, Louise treats F. Scott with complete disregard: he is the character to suffer in this film. Used for his appearance, Louise and Missey stage a battle on the body of F. Scott. Sure, he participates willingly in intercourse with Louise, his admissions counselor. Not generally a smart move for an aspiring student (humorously referenced in F. Scott’s post-coital question, “will this damage my chances?”). Yet F. Scott acts nothing less than completely sincere throughout the film.

Louise, however, betrays tremendous anger, inflicting it upon everyone around her, especially F. Scott, whom she brutally mocks in one bedroom scene. He becomes a tool for screenwriter Kidd to employ to evoke the nuance of Louise’s character and effect her reclamation.

F. Scott never tells us why he likes Louise. He declares that he finds her beautiful and seems flattered by her attention, but why would an incredibly attractive and magnetic young man choose a lonely, older woman for more than an easy lay? If she contributes something more to his life or connects with him on some particular emotional level, P.S. fails to show this from his perspective. As presented in this film, F. Scott’s feelings are only important, in fact, in the ways they bring out aspects of Louise’s character.

In fact, in adopting a fake name, F. Scott denies his uniqueness. He absorbs the meaning imposed on him by the women, to whom the name Scott carries great personal weight and meanin. Like the female love interests in Wimbledon and The Woodsman, F. Scott is a means to an end to shed light on the main character and therefore never becomes a fully developed character.

Oddly, the major emotional weight of the movie falls on the age-old rivalry between the two women rather than the love relationship. (I wonder what focus the source novel employs?) Perhaps this is the real reason why Louise and Missey’s friendship failed to register with me—though their story ultimately drives the events of the film, the narrative does not give their relationship enough screen time.

Perhaps this is also why I could no longer sustain my disbelief halfway through the film: the movie switched its focus from F. Scott to Missey. Kidd confuses his goals: is this a film that develops a love story between a woman and a younger man or one that examines a friendship between two older women?

Love story and friendship aside, Louise remains the heroine of the movie, prompting the question: what do we learn about her? She never recovered from a broken heart in high school. She leads a lonely life, failing to connect with those around her. She works a job in which she is surrounded by artists but does not create any art herself. She is overlooked and relatively empty, spiritually.

So what? Who on earth hasn’t, doesn’t, or isn’t? Should we all find ourselves hot young people who resemble our lost loves? Is this the key towards happiness? Perhaps the film would speak to deeper issues if it gazed upon Louise with less compassion and a more critical eye. The characters in this film (but for F. Scott, who isn’t really a character) are deeply flawed—so why not embrace that more fully?

Scenes cut from the film (thank god for DVD extras) reveal much. In one scene we see how Louise holds no power with the admissions review board. In fact, she is merely a gate keeper but not a decision maker. Seeing her completely disempowered contributes much to understanding why she tries to control F. Scott. She also visits F. Scott in his mother’s home—a scene marvelous for its absurdity and for how it finally shows us the real F. Scott, er, Francis.

Do we take something from this movie, or is it merely a diverting couple of hours? I’m leaning towards the latter, but within the context of my weekend of movie rentals, P.S. gains more resonance. The gender reversals within this film may not always be complimentary, but perhaps simply reversing expectations (she has the power, he submits to her abuse, etc.) reveals just how much these expectations continue to operate in our society.

To be completed in my review of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset

Friday, May 20, 2005

Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith

SPOILER Alert—If you haven’t noticed, I write these reviews with little concern about revealing the details of the film’s characters, plot, or conclusion. Same goes here. So if you are at all worried about someone ruining the movie, see it first and then read this review.

I am working on a review of P.S. as part of my four-part analysis of last week’s movie rentals, but I thought I’d take a brief interlude to comment upon Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Since I'm old now, I didn’t join the other freaks (love them) at the midnight showing, but I did manage to get to the film on opening day. Still freaky enough to qualify as a fan, I hope.

A disenchanted fan, that is. The first two films seriously disappointed me, perhaps in large part because the romance between Amidala and Anakin was developed so poorly. Easily among the worst scenes ever in a series full of scenes with silted dialogue and awkward acting, the love scenes between the couple lack any sort of sparkage. My own imaginings about how Luke and Leia came to be were cruelly shattered as Anakin spoke sweet nothings about the harshness of sand: “I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth.” Could that possibly be the worst line of dialogue ever in the history of the spoken word?

George Lucas’ prudery is part of the reason why this couple lacks any chemistry. Considering the forbidden nature of their relationship, and the fact that their affair leads to such despair, Amidala and Anakin do not seem like the kind of couple who should get married. Where’s the transgression in that? Sure, they marry in secret, but everything in their relationship stinks of conformity, at least according to our traditional mores. What sort of conflict arises from a couple with no internal conflict? Rather, they merely react to events outside of themselves.

I’m disappointed because I had an idea of a powerful Amidala being drawn to the equally powerful and passionate Anakin (in my mind, more of a Han Solo type-guy). With her rank and his talent, these two should have taken on the world and set fire to the screen. Instead they retreat to a quiet and traditional marital relationship, with Amidala waiting at home for her working husband to return.

Lucas chickened out with this relationship. I am annoyed that he made them get married, you know, to make the (hushed tones) s-e-x okay, but that doesn’t mean Amidala can’t challenge her husband. That doesn’t mean they can’t fight and disagree and recognize their differences. The true offense in this marriage is that Lucas has created a union of children rather than adults. What is this, 7th Heaven, a television show in which every child character has married before finishing school because the show’s writers don’t know how to deal with sexuality?

Interpersonal conflict is the basis of drama—two people with conflicting needs, trying to accomplish their goal with, through, or over the desires of the other person. Lucas does not always understand this: a scene featuring someone purely good against someone who is purely bad only achieves a certain level of interest. For we know all there is to know about each person and we have a strong idea of what the outcome will be whoever wins.

But when one or both characters evidence layers, or dimension, the scene becomes more interesting. Watching a person struggle against an external foe while also battling internal demons heightens the stakes. Hence, drama. Not to sound too much like an elementary school drama teacher, but Lucas might benefit from revisiting these basic dramatic elements.

We all have heard how actors in the Star Wars series tend to be “wooden” because Lucas focuses more on technical effects than coaching his stars. Yet even within the script he overlooks opportunities to examine the complexity of human nature. Consider this moment of Anakin’s journey to the dark side: Anakin enters the Jedi headquarters to murder the younglings. Do we then see him question whether this is a good idea? Do we see him enjoy the murder? Does any one of the children challenge his sense of right and wrong? Do we have any sense of how difficult this task might be to accomplish? Nope, cause Lucas takes the camera away and only shows the results of Anakin’s act rather than the act itself.

Heck, even if Lucas wanted to avoid the grotesquery of staging the murders, he could have portrayed Anakin experiencing some struggle before the murder. Maybe he could have debated the value of this effort with the chancellor. Perhaps Anakin might have offered to turn all the younglings evil and therefore create an army of bad Jedis. Whatever the excuse or the delay tactic, Lucas missed an opportunity to demonstrate the process of Anakin losing his soul.

As I write this, I am sure one could argue that once Anakin makes his choice to learn from Palpatine, he resigns his soul. But Lucas makes a point of twice showing Anakin with a tear running down his cheek—to make sure we know the compassionate human continues to reside within. So why make his “descent” less of a process than a hurried decision without obvious consequences? So much of Anakin’s fall takes place within his own mind or off-screen—how is that dramatic?

Another overlooked opportunity occurs when Lucas chooses the cheapest and easiest way to reveal Anakin’s betrayal. Get this—Obi-Wan discovers that it was Anakin that killed the younglings by watching a security hologram. Hold on—a security hologram? I mean, how did he even write that without feeling like a sellout? So when Obi-Wan learns his pupil has committed a terrible atrocity, he interacts with…a hologram. Again, Lucas forces a character to react internally rather than externally. What if Obi-Wan had found Anakin as he exited the Jedi temple—the potential for drama there is ripe. Actually, the possibilities for this reveal as moment of conflict between human characters are endless, but Lucas chooses the weakest possibility—he’s a lazy writer. And, of course, Lucas doesn’t get drama.

I could nit pick forever—Lucas is an easy target and his ego almost demands a comeuppance. But I wanted this film to be great. Having read the many of the reviews (Variety, Time, NY Times, New Yorker, EW, etc.), I knew what I was getting into in watching this movie: the good and the ill. Yet after leaving the film, all I could say was, “it didn’t suck.” High praise, indeed.

So let’s talk about what works. Yoda is cool, as always. Sure his inverted way of talking detracts from the seriousness sometimes, but that is in part because we don’t buy these movies as easily as we used to. Lucas has something to prove now, so we can laugh at the movies with impunity.

That said, Yoda’s fighting style kind of rocks. Watching the little guy kick ass is always fun. But the most poignant moment of the entire film features Yoda, having run from his fight with the now Emperor Palpatine, despairing that he has failed. This is a character layer. This is an example of a wounded soul, an ego tested, and a power challenged. I know more about Yoda than I used to. Thanks, Lucas.

The opening battle scene impresses with its enormity, the parallel fight sequences of Yoda versus Palpatine and Obi-Wan versus Anakin bring the film’s tension to a fever pitch and reach an impressive climax in the complete bodily destruction of Anakin. R2-D2 steals the show, as always, and Chewbacca makes a completely cheesy yet somehow oddly satisfying appearance. And Jimmy Smits, the future president of the West Wing, survives the film. He’s this movie’s Wedge.

As a feminist film review, I should mention poor Natalie Portman, hung out to dry by her bad dialogue and her pregnancy. I guess Lucas is part of the old school that believes pregnant women are physically fragile or something, cause Amidala shares in none of the action. Sure, she gets one of the best lines in a movie with few great lines, “This is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause.” And I have to admit that the politics was rather interesting in this movie: after all, the leader of the democratic senate defeats the apparent bad guys: the droids. Anakin defends the Republic against the Jedi, whom Anakin sees as a threat to the democratically elected power: the chancellor. Democracy wins—sort of. (Yes, I love the Bush comparisons.)

Considering the important role of politics in this film, one wonders why Amidala, a key player in the political scene in earlier films, stays home from the office so often. And when she does go to the senate, she remains silent. Why not challenge the chancellor? Why not negotiate in the background with those that might also fear his growing power? Amidala’s role in this film is lover and impending mother—Lucas seems to forget she is a politician and a leader. She’s a true Disney princess: wearing the pretty clothes and living for her man alone.

Amidala expresses concern that her pregnancy will prevent her active involvement in the senate, yet the fasionable robes of the period indicate that she could hide that baby for quite a long time, should she choose. Rather, she stays home and worries about her husband. In fact, virtually every scene of Amidala takes place in her home. No wonder Anakin fears he has to protect Amidala—she clearly has forgotten how to protect herself or her people. Amidala is the worst stereotype of fragile, worrying, sick with love femininity. She needs one of Leia’s blasters.

One final, odd note. Amidala gives birth to the twins with a full audience. Yoda, Obi-Wan, Senator Organa, even C3-PO sit behind a glass window, watching a droid pull out each baby. What’s with the male gaze imposing upon a decidedly feminine realm? Is this a metaphor for how male MDs took over for female midwives? Or in my friend’s words, is this just proof that Amidala is merely a vessel to bring the new hope to life. The weak woman dies, and the celibate men take over as guardians for the children. Just though I’d throw that out here.

In the end, is the movie worth seeing? Sure. Is it all it could have been? Heck, no. Is it enough? Maybe. Hayden Christensen isn’t as awful as they say, McGregor does his best with what he has, and Ian McDiarmid gives a totally creepy and evil performance as the emperor.

And of course, I will always have parts IV-VI.

The Woodsman

Continued from the review of Wimbledon

The Woodsman also features a caring, self-sacrificing woman. Kevin Bacon’s Walter has recently gotten out of prison, after serving twelve years as a convicted child molester. Only brother-in-law Carlos (Benjamin Bratt) continues to speak to him. Otherwise, Walter leads a lonely life consumed by his work at a lumberyard and his visits to his therapist. Enter a lovely but tough co-worker, Vicki, portrayed by Bacon’s real-life wife Kyra Sedgwick. Walter tells Vicki the truth, and she continues to date him.

This is a marvel of a film—brave and bold, refusing to offer easy answers or explanations. Walter continues to be attracted to adolescent girls, and he watches another molester casing the schoolyard outside his window without alerting any authorities. We do not have privileged access into Walter’s mind, though we do occasionally see lines he has written in his journal. Keeping us at a distance from its main character, the film nevertheless portrays Walter as sympathetic without making an apology.

The extent of Walter’s crime is left purposefully vague in Steven Fechter’s screenplay. Walter insists he never “hurt” any of the girls, by which I think he means the use of force or the causing of physical pain. Yet two scenes powerfully represent Walter’s pedophiliac actions. During a lovemaking session with Vicki, Walter cries, though Vicki does not see this. Later in the film when he asks a young girl to sit on his lap, his upset during the lovemaking session makes sense when one realizes Vicki was in the same bodily position of the young girl.

This young girl functions on another level, though, for she tells Walter that her Dad asks her to sit on his lap also. Walter asks her if she likes that, and she says, “no.” At this point, Walter realizes that her father has already molested her in the same way Walter was planning. Faced with the ugliness of his urges through the girl’s terribly sad and helpless reaction to the male desire that surrounds her, Walter is unable to continue with his plan to molest her.

The film doesn’t indicate that Walter is cured. Nor does his subsequent beating of the molester outside the school excuse any of his behavior. Rather, Walter evidences a man in serious crisis: unable to stop his feelings but desperately wanting to be “normal.” The script indicates that the roots of Walter’s illness lie in his relationship with his sister, yet the movie avoids the easy answer that Walter himself must have been abused in his youth. Pedophilia is a terrible crime perpetrated by deeply damaged people, and there does not seem to be any cure, through drugs or therapy. The film honestly portrays this horror.

Walter becomes more sympathetic through his relationship with Vicki. In part because she herself is sympathetic: tough, kind, and a victim of child abuse herself (all three of her older brothers, “in chronological order,” as she says). Is she attracted to Walter because he is a loner, like herself? Does she see that he is damaged and therefore wants to help him? Or is she trying to learn more about her own victimization by becoming close to a man who has victimized?

The fact that we know very little about Vicki’s own motivation highlights her perfunctory status. Her character is a means to an end—through her Walter finds a compassionate and forgiving soul to help him fight his criminal urges. Like Lizzie in Wimbledon, Vicki is less a character and more an appendage of a man: symbolizing the potential within him.

What Vicki’s particular needs and wishes are, we do not know. Nor do we need to know—I don’t feel a need to make any sort of overarching statement about the misogyny of Hollywood as evidenced through these characters. After all, once could make an entirely different film from Vicki’s perspective. Perhaps the real question should be, does Hollywood make films from Vicki, or some related character’s, perspective as well?
To be continued in my review of P.S.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Knowing that I would likely be unable to leave the house much last weekend, suffering from a cold from hell that refuses to die, I rented four movies. I proceeded to watch all four, and in fact rented a fifth (turns out I can’t watch Before Sunrise again without watching its sequel Before Sunset another time as well). My mood was eclectic, as evidenced by the films I picked up: The Woodsman, Before Sunrise, P.S., and Wimbledon.

Considering I have so many movies to write about, let’s try something a bit different here—I’ll write about each movie, but in a separate entry. Yet I suspect common themes will run throughout all the entries as I examine the ways they perhaps parallel or comment upon each other.

All four films feature a romance at the center of the plot. I’m not really a romantic movie person—I avoid the Sandra Bullock/Julia Roberts type romantic comedy nonsense that perpetuates various romantic myths while avoiding any deeper insight into the true challenge of maintaining love over time. Truthfully, I simply can’t suspend my disbelief long enough to tolerate the gross inconsistencies of romantic comedies.

Take Wimbledon. I rented this in honor of a friend who would have enjoyed the simple and passionate love presented: “I wish I had a boyfriend,” she would opine. Yet cynical, crusty me instead marveled that despite being in the midst of the Wimbledon competition, the two top competitors find the time to spend an entire day in the country. They even enjoy a 10-mile run, in completely inappropriate shoes that would ruin better feet than theirs. Sure, the movie mentions their practice matches, but these occur for the most part off screen.

Of course, this movie isn’t really about sports—it is a love story. Actually, that isn’t true, either. Wimbledon tells the story of a washed up, rich kid tennis star, Peter Colt (played by Paul Bettany), who never reached his full potential. After engaging in a sexual relationship with Kirsten Dunst’s American superstar Lizzie Bradbury, however, Colt suddenly starts to win. Achieving sexual potency, Colt attains a certain athletic potency as well. He suddenly has a reason to win: to impress a girl. Wow. My point, however, is that the film isn’t really about two people falling in love and dealing with the ramifications of being in a relationship. Rather, the film focuses on how the male character becomes a better athlete and person through sex, er…, love.

In essence, Colt discovers he needs to bed Lizzie in order to win. Sex doesn’t have the same effect on Lizzie, who loses her match after Colt sneaks into her bedroom for his fix. An angry Lizzie refuses to see Colt. So of course he starts to lose in the finals. Thankfully, the film didn’t get really gross. When Lizzie shows up in his locker room during the Wimbledon final, I almost expected the couple to engage in a quickie—you know, so Lizzie could show she was a team player. Instead, they just talked. And suddenly, Colt returns to the game a better player.

Lizzie’s career takes a nosedive after the romance blossoms, though the script also credits superstition and just bad luck for her loss in the quarter round. But her career matters most to her father. For in allowing Colt to sneak into her bed the night before she loses, Lizzie chooses Colt over winning. Repeatedly she ignores her father’s advice to keep her focus on the game in order to spend time with her boyfriend.

So what theme can we take from this? Love makes men feel stronger and better versions of themselves. Women become distracted and choose men over focusing on themselves. Am I being too harsh?

I will admit that I was surprised the film focused so much on Bettany’s character. The previews led me to believe the movie’s story was more egalitarian. Yet we never get inside Lizzie's mind like we do Colt's. Her loss happens off screen, and her eventual success as a tennis star exists only as a side note mentioned by Colt's character as he wraps up the film's narrative at the end.

Of course, the producers are no dummies: Dunst is a bigger star than Bettany, best known for marrying the hot girl from A Beautiful Mind (a film he also starred in, actually). So it is no surprise Dunst running around in a short tennis skirt dominated the commercials and trailer for the film. Yet as I will demonstrate, Wimbledon is not alone in its narrow focus on one member of a love relationship. To be continued…

Interesting note: one of the script’s credited writers, Adam Brooks, also wrote the Bridget Jones sequel, Practical Magic, and French Kiss. An entire career based on romance. Wonder how he lives with himself.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Kung Fu Hustle

I’ve been told on many an occasion that I do not have a sense of humor. This comment is usually preceded by some sort of tasteless action or mean joke, to which those around me guffaw like crazy while I sit pondering the nature of humor.

Well, okay, so it is true—I don’t have a sense of humor. That said, even I have been known to laugh at the low brow—Old School, for example, killed me, even while I created a feminist response in my head. I like ideas, and I enjoy questioning, but I can appreciate humor.

That’s pretty much where I am with Kung Fu Hustle, or Gong Fu. The film is silly, fun, and violent. As with Sin City, I found myself trying to figure out how I am supposed to feel when violence is juxtaposed with comedy. Is it satire, meaning the violence actually comments upon an issue in some sort of ironic way? Or is the violence just funny—do we really like seeing the bad guy get ripped up? Now, humans have enjoyed a bloody show for ages: consider the awful practice of picnicking during a lynching or buying a ticket to watch a Gladiator die a gruesome death. Can one consider an enjoyment of violence without considering race/class issues? That’s a whole other Pandora’s box.

Taking pleasure in violence is nothing new, and I suspect that it satisfies the same needs to affirm power, direct aggression, and purge a range of emotions from fear to hatred. Laughter also allows a purging of emotion, which is why some people laugh when scared, uncomfortable, or even anguished. Human emotions can be complex: sometimes language simply doesn’t allow needed expression.

Structurally, Kung Fu Hustle fascinates me. I genuinely didn’t know whom to root for because so many supposed masters die or are defeated before the real hero of the film comes to power. In an action movie like this, with a poor town fighting off the wicked horde, one might expect an easy distinction between good and evil. Not so, and this is to the film’s credit.

The film opens with a gleeful leader of the Axe gang dancing in the street as he kills his sister. From that point on, various masters fall to the soulless depravity of the mob or the artistic slaughter of trained killers. In one scene, two musicians play an instrument that shoots blades from the strings. They take out three masters while creating a lyrical sound—no wait, scratch that. To be honest, I can’t remember the music they create—I was too consumed with the visuals: masters performing incredible physical feats as they deflect hundreds of swords flying towards them.

Kung Fu Hustle inundates the audience with sight and sound, so much so that I never noticed if I was reading subtitles (I say “if” because my viewing of the film was so seamless that I honestly can’t remember if the movie had subtitles or dubbing—though I know dubbing was highly unlikely). Somehow I always felt completely connected with the action on the screen—something I was unable to accomplish when watching a Godard film the week before. Perhaps this is merely proof that audiences today are accustomed to over saturation—somehow we manage to disappear into the chaotic din on the screen.

Stephen Chow is the writer, director, and acts as the movie’s hero, Sing. Yet Sing is anything but heroic for much of the film. Several other potential heroes take the stage first, but they fall before Chow’s Sing finally becomes reborn as a master. Until this point, he’s a misfit, hatching schemes with his chubby best friend and even joining the bad guys for a time.

While he’s busy reliving the trauma of his youth (some boys once peed on him when he tried to save a mute girl), three masters, living life as ordinary tradesmen, reveal their power to defend the town. Watching ordinary men become extraordinary is always satisfying—offering those of us in the theatre the hope that we, too, are extraordinary or have the potential to be. Unfortunately, these three men, about whom the entire movie could have been based, risk life and limb (literally, one master later dies by having his head cut off), only to be expelled from town by the Landlady.

Ah, the Landlady. In a word, she’s awesome. Attired in a housedress and wearing curlers, actress Qui Yuen apparently gained weight for the role. She enjoyed some fame as an actress in the 70s in China, so kudos to Chow for pulling a Tarantino and resurrecting a star deserving of another look. Yet despite all the Landlady’s power, I wonder if there are negative implications that her greatest strength is a banshee type yell? The mythological banshee foretold death, but I think any associated misogyny is a modern distortion of an otherwise inoffensive legend.

The Landlady is a nagging wife with a weak husband: physically able to distort his body to avoid the most dangerous of blows. She’s small minded, a control freak, and fails to protect the three masters she tries to banish. Living within her own world, concerned only about her own interests, the Landlady is less an offensive woman-hating creation than a disappointing human character. Despite possessing great power, she uses it only to advance her own ends. Whatever the gender, this sort of selfishness is anything but heroic.

The least satisfying element of this film is the love story (wait, is this a George Lucas movie? No? Sorry, guess I’m anticipating my Star Wars review). The lovely young woman whom represents Chow’s greatest humiliation also suffers his slights. There is little that is believable or developed about this character interaction. Since Chow clearly spent little time creating the love story, I’ll refrain from commenting too deeply on a scenario that is purely perfunctory.

Kung Fu Hustle is a great time. Entertaining, action-packed, and completely generic. Made in China, it epitomizes the Hollywood movie.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Runaway Bride

This isn't about a movie, but I just can't help myself. No doubt you have heard about Jennifer Wilbanks' pre-wedding jitters, leading to a false kidnapping story to cover her flight. As I listened to Katie Couric interview the fiancé, who apparently still plans to marry Jennifer once she receives "treatment," I couldn't help but wonder how her family would have reacted if Jennifer had said, "I don't want to get married."

Notice that I didn't write, "I don't want to marry [my fiancé] John Mason," but more to the point, "I don't want to be married." What then, might her "treatment" entail? How would society respond to a young woman who simply might believe that she is better off as a single woman in love, rather than a wife?

Not to project too much, but I thought of various novels I had read, for example, The Female Quixote, in which a delusional young woman has to be reprogrammed for her own safety. An alternate, feminist reading, however, indicates that the young woman loses her individuality and identity in order to conform to society's expectations and her role within it.

In the end, Jennifer Wilbanks simply may be a troubled woman, needing a few anti-depressants to restore some balance to her life. Or she may suffer from a more problematic disorder of the soul, unsure of who she is and, correspondingly, who she wants to be. Either way, her story encourages a questioning of weddings and marriage. How much pressure does a $500,000 wedding impose on a couple? What societal values, good and ill, do we convey in highlighting one day of union? What role does marriage play in our society, and what gender roles are implicit in the convention?

Since this is a movie site, I suppose I should mention the implicit reference each time someone refers to Jennifer Wilbanks as the "Runaway Bride." Who doesn't immediately think of Julia Roberts, attired in a wedding dress with her hair flowing down her back as she escapes from impending marital doom on the back of a horse? In case you managed to miss the media onslaught announcing this film in 1999, the movie to which I am referring is called, not suprisingly, Runaway Bride.

To the film's credit, it doesn't solve Maggie's (Julia's character) problems with "finding the right man" in Richard Gere's Ike. She leaves Ike at the altar as well, though there is some romantic nonsense about her fear being sparked by breaking eye contact with her beloved. Of course, I could play with that more, something about Maggie removing herself from the male gaze and thereby finding marriage threatening one she escapes from the powerful male presence.

Yet the film intrigues me more because Maggie first finds herself before she finds happiness with Richard Gere. There is much to critique in this film from a feminist perspective, but to its credit, Maggie takes the time she needs (finally) to figure out who she is before she tries to share herself with another person.

I hope Jennifer Wilbanks has people around her who are listening to her. I mean truly listening, even if what she says frightens them or challenges their worldview. I hope she finds what she needs to feel unafraid of the future. And I hope no one suggests that she watch Runaway Bride because in the end, it only examines the easy part: falling in love and committing. It completely eschews the hard part: living within the commitment.