Showing posts with label film adaptations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label film adaptations. Show all posts

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Oscar Wilde, Jude Law's prettiness, and working on my English-Lit degree

Repost from 2010. I think people just like the Mean Girls meme.


While it's a Wilde-meets-Mean Girls LOL image thing, this isn't too far from the truth, if you've seen Wilde or have read Wilde's "De Profundis." Jude Law was kind of brilliant as Bosie, who was basically a beautiful man, but a godawful boyfriend. Considering how many Jude Law movies I've almost inadvertently taken in these past few months, it's the only role where his prettiness fit perfectly with the role, whereas with eXistenZ, it was really distracting, and not helping the fact that eXistenZ turned out to be the only Cronenberg movie I've ever hated.

This is perhaps my long-winded way of saying that for the next 2-8 weeks I'm going to be too busy writing papers on Oscar Wilde and other 19th century writers to blog much. Any posts will likely be short and/or video-based.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Picture of Dorian Gray (2004?)

Repost from 2010, when I was working on my undergrad thesis on the film adaptations of The Picture of Dorian Gray.



Dir. David Rosenbaum || 2004 || USA(?)

If you can withstand the first two minutes of the 2004 film The Picture of Dorian Gray without having to reach for whatever alcohol is handy, you are a stronger person than I am. This makes Pact with the Devil look like a masterpiece. The film tries to set the story in the mid-20th century with some vague notion that the Gray family was inherently cursed because Dorian's grandfather created the atom bomb. This notion is only vaguely and occasionally followed through in the film. The acting is horrible across the board, with the actors reciting lines from the novel in a wooden and unintentionally hilarious manner, as evidenced in the video above. The film becomes tedious within the last half-hour, when the fun and alcohol wear off. Unlike most of the other Dorian Gray adaptations, which at least make a point to either subtly or unsubtly point out Dorian's pansexuality, this adaptation's take on it is to mostly make Dorian a heterosexual cad ("I spoiled your bride on your wedding day!") involved in a hetero love triangle between the (female) painter Basil Ward and Harry Wotton; whilst having Josh Duhamel parade around in skimpy bikini briefs for 10 minutes of the film, with at least three of those minutes being shot over his ass while he's laying in bed. Also unlike the other adaptations which actually try to have the portrait done by a real artist on the production team, the painting in this one looks as though it was done by a first year art student whose strong suit is not painting. The degenerated portrait is pretty much James Cameron in a swimsuit (meant to be Dorian's grandfather, I think), not a hideous monster.

Unlike Pact with the Devil, or any other Dorian Gray adaptation, there is no good actor or interesting performance in the film to give comfort or make watching it somewhat worthwhile. Some people will want to watch this because of Josh Duhamel, but it's not a good reason because he is just as awful as all the other actors in this film. He's not even inoffensively passable, like he is in everything else he acts in. He even looks awful, with his badly dyed blond hair.

There is probably a lesson to be learned here, by the time I am done with this paper, since I generally avoid film adaptations of books. I get the feeling it's to just be happy when a film adaptation of a good novel is watchable at all. I think I am mostly happy that I did not choose the film adaptations of Dracula, which are numerous and are also likely to have more bad adaptations than good ones.

This version of The Picture of Dorian Gray is only available on Youtube, via the playlist of favorite movies of what is likely a 15-year-old girl. After the conclusion of the movie, it goes immediately into a 3-year-old video preview of the Twilight film adaptation with some commentary, which I imagine is hell for some people, but was actually a passive improvement for me to listen to while I stared off into space for a few minutes. This version of The Picture of Dorian Gray has never been properly released because it's awful or maybe because Josh Duhamel is rich enough now to have it suppressed, but you can occasionally find an overpriced DVD version of it on Ebay or at libraries.

(Apologies if this post isn't very coherent. I have fairly coherent notes and drunk texts to a friend that I made while watching this last night, but these posts are increasingly becoming an excuse to vent.)

(Adverbs, motherfucker!)

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (II) (1997)

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Steven Spielberg || 1997 || USA

According to Wikipedia, the reason why there has yet to be a Jurassic Park IV is because Steven Spielberg has yet to find a script he is satisfied with. One wonders why he did not use the same discretion for The Lost World: Jurassic Park II and I am assuming Jurassic Park III as well. The Lost World is a sequel that sort of chips away at any goodwill one has towards the first Jurassic Park film. It worst of all suffers from plotholes and having so many characters that one is never sure of some of the secondary character's names, nor why they are there to begin with.

In The Lost World, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is forced into a Ripley-like position of having to head a second exposition to the "Plan B Island" of the original Jurassic Park. His only reason is to save his paleontologist girlfriend, Sarah (Julianne Moore), who fancies herself a Diane Fossey amongst dinosaurs; and who wants to prove that dinosaurs, T-Rexes in particular, did take care of their young instead of leaving them to fend for themselves not too long after birth. Along for the ride is a documentarian (Vince Vaughn), a beardless Toby from The West Wing (Richard Schiff); and inexplicably, Malcolm's pre-adolescent daughter, Kelly, because there always has to be at least one child in supreme danger in the Jurassic Park films. Kelly sneaks into a high-tech caravan in California, which is put on a boat that I am assuming was at sea for at least three days. Why Malcolm did not make sure his daughter did not get in a car or taxi with the nanny he wanted her to stay with while he went to the islands, I do not know. By the end of the film, she does get to kick a raptor through a window using her skills as a gymnast, so she fills that absurd purpose besides being the endangered child.

Not too long after arriving at the island, they do find Sarah, who is nearly killed by a stegosaurus while trying to photograph them. Malcolm is failing at trying to convince her to leave the island, and we learn more of Malcolm's bad boyfriend and fathering skills. Much like the first Jurassic Park film, Jeff Goldblum does not do much; but in The Lost World he is not even allowed to be funny or charming. I guess PTSD does that to a man. Then helicopters arrive bringing a group of hunters to the island, courtesy of the new head of InGen, who I will call "British Bob Balaban". I do not know why this happens, but the hunters immediately proceed to hunt dinosaurs. Pete Postlethwaite is there to hunt a T-Rex, although no one ever considers how the hell you are supposed to haul a T-Rex back home. They capture some dinos, including a baby T-Rex. Vince Vaughn is there not only to document the island, but also serve as a representative for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Dinosaurs, so that night, he and Sarah free all the captured dinosaurs who then wreak havoc at the hunter's camp, destroying their equipment. He and Sarah can also work as Dinosaur Veterinarians, because they then take the injured baby T-Rex back to the caravan where they try to repair its leg until mama T-Rex arrives, knocking the caravan over a cliff after they give her the baby back. It's like a bad, overlong version of the Land Rover in the tree-scene from the first film. It's nice how Sarah proves her theory that T-Rexes cared for their young, but simultaneously forgets the damage it would cause to herself and others if she decided to treat an injured baby T-Rex. She also wears her jacket that is stained with baby T-Rex blood for the rest of the film, leading the mama T-Rex to the path of where her team and the hunters are going to try to get off the island since everyone's high-tech equipment is destroyed. Many deaths ensue. She really is no Dr. Grant or Dr. Sadler. We also learn that the Island B raptors do not know how to open doors, unlike the raptors in the original Jurassic Park. But they can dig holes under the doors like dogs!

The baby T-Rex is captured and brought to San Diego to be a part of a Jurassic Park exhibition at the San Diego Zoo, because British Bob Balaban never saw King Kong. Inexplicably, mama T-Rex manages to hijack a freighter ship and makes her way to San Diego just in time for the unveiling. Crappy jokes ensue, such as a poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger starring in MacBeth, Asian businessmen running down the street away from the T-Rex, and the 76 gas station logo ball careening past Malcolm's bitchin' vintage Cadillac.

Of course a film that I highly disdain brings me out of my blogging break. I think the only reason this film was made was because Steven Spielberg and Jeff Goldblum needed to buy new vacation houses. I guess this film made Vince Vaughn, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite and Peter Stormare into slightly higher profiled actors, but that is not saying much. I think it would have been more interesting to watch how a T-Rex hijacked a freighter ship, including lowering itself into a cargo hole. Or watch Vince Vaughn work as both a Dinosaur Veterinarian and a representative for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Dinosaurs (PETD).

Monday, June 30, 2014

Jane Eyre (1944)

Repost from 2010.


Dir. Robert Stevenson || 1944 || USA

Jane Eyre, while possibly one of my favorite books, is not a novel without some issues or critical debates that still surround it today, mostly in regards to feminist and post-colonial issues that surround Jane as well as Rochester's first wife, Bertha Mason, and Jane's cousin St. John's mission to India, which at the time the novel was written, was a colony of Great Britain.

The 1944 film adaptation of Jane Eyre does a pretty good job of cutting some of the fat away from the novel, although it takes some of the more Gothic elements away as well, such as Jane being locked away in the scary "red room" at her Aunt Reed's house before she is sent to Lowood School as a child. The entire St. John storyline is cut as well, which is a mixed blessing in the film. On the one hand, St. John is an insufferable and overly moral bore who tries to convince Jane to marry him solely to help him with his mission work in India. On the other hand, it is at the end of the St. John section of the novel where Jane comes into money and sees fit to attempt to return to Rochester as an equal. In the film, it is barely implied that Jane returns to Rochester with her own money because she is the last living heir of her Aunt Reed (whose brood was reduced to one child in the film, instead of three in the novel). Her redemption, so to speak, comes from caring for her dying aunt who was so terrible to her as a child.

Jane and Rochester's relationship is slightly less complicated than it is in the novel, although the film highlights Jane's need to befriend and be kind to the "friendless", Rochester does not put her through nearly so much testing before proposing to her. Rochester does not accuse Jane of being otherworldly nearly as much as he does in the novel either. The film does sort of bring into question why Jane would fall in love with Rochester to begin with, other than she is clearly the only woman he can trust, to an extent. Rochester is "friendless" and Jane can see a kinship there because she was orphaned and friendless for her entire life. But without St. John around as a comparison point to show why Rochester would be preferable, despite his faults, the film feels slightly rushed.

I did not realize until watching this film for a second time that Orson Welles is wearing a fake nose. It is quite distracting. I think Jane Eyre is one of those films that everyone seems to think Welles directed, although he did not. The night scenes are very shadow heavy and there are some disorienting slanted shadows and angles going on around the castle at times, but those call to mind The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari slightly more than Citizen Kane.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Othello (2001)

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Geoffrey Sax || 2001 || UK (made for TV)

The late 90s/early 00s were a time of modern day re-imaginings of William Shakespeare's plays. Hollywood in particular released at least three re-imaginings set in modern-day American high schools (although in the 1996 Romeo + Juliet, they were apparently home schooled). 2001's Othello cannot and should not be confused with O, also released in 2001. O takes place in an American high school and for some unknown reason stars Josh Hartnett in the Iago role, and the film revolves around the politics of high school basketball. 2001's Othello takes place in modern day London, revolves around the politics of Scotland Yard, and stars Christopher Eccleston in the Iago role (here re-christened as "Ben Jago").

Othello does not bother with attempting to adapt all of Shakespeare's language to the modern day. It comes in snippets, most notably from Jago. Scotland Yard is in turmoil because of while publicly stating that they plan to hire more Black and Asian officers, the commissioner is caught saying racist things right afterwards. In the meantime, Inspector John Othello has quelled a riot in a multiracial project he grew up in after a suspected Black drug dealer is beat to death by four white cops. Assistant Commissioner Jago, Othello's mentor, waits in the wings to receive the Police Commissioner position after the current one resigns. Othello, of course, gets it instead so Scotland Yard can basically kill two birds with one stone in a PR move. Jago plots his revenge on Othello, despite his claims of loving him, by planting doubts in Othello's mind as to the faithfulness of his new wife, Desi; and undermining the investigation of the four white cops who beat the suspected drug dealer to death.

It is a compelling, poignant, and fitting adaptation. However, I am not sure it will hold up well to a second viewing. While Christopher Eccleston does a pretty good job as Jago (and he probably kills this role on stage), his one soliloquy is shot as a hyper-edited temper tantrum in a hallway, which ends with Jago walking out of Scotland Yard and saying "well, that was dramatic, wasn't it?" to the camera. Constantly having Jago break the fourth wall does not seem as an attempt to make Jago charming or sympathetic, but it does make him come off as Bugs Bunny when Bugs says "ain't I a stinker?". Worst of all, Jago gets his wish by the end of the film. He is not hauled off and arrested, like in the play, and the sole source of comfort in the wake of all the bodies on the floor by the end (the death count is considerably less in this film). What the film is trying to say, I am not quite sure. Is it that manipulation is harder to prove in modern times? Is it that cunts are still running the world, to quote Jarvis Cocker? Evil will prevail? It is a depressing ending, made more so by the sinking feeling that I have that somewhere on the internet, someone has written fan fiction based on this film that has given Jago the "Draco in leather pants" treatment just because Eccleston was Doctor Who, a role where he divided his dramatic and apparent comedic talents well.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Austenland (2013) and Romantic Fantasy vs. Historical Fact vs. the 21st Century

The facial expression of the foot servant on the left...

My name is Sarah and I studied literature in undergrad, particularly 19th-early 20th Century British and American literature, and Southern literature.

Austenland (2013, Dir. Jerusha Hess) is a fun, cute movie that only seems to peripherally deal with fandom, fluctuating Austenmania, theme parks or theme vacation packages, and dating in the 21st century simply because it is trying to shoehorn in all of those subjects in at once. Keri Russell plays a woman in her 30s who has had an obsession with Pride & Prejudice and particularly Mr. Darcy since she was a teenager. This has been to the detriment of forming a real relationship with any man. Under the old “you’re not getting any younger” bit (which is mercifully short), she decides to kill her savings and take a vacation to Austenland in England, which may or may not have been advertised to her as a role-playing game where guests form real relationships by the end.* It is one of the many confusing areas of the film, for both the audience and for Jane, Russell’s character.


Austenland harps on how simpler things were in the late 18th century, although they really were not. Austen’s novels tend to display that relationships were no less complicated during the Regency era, just by having to live by the Regency standards of manners and morals alone. The film does not comment much on why in Pride & Prejudice and to a lesser extent, Sense & Sensibility, there were mothers obsessed with having their daughters married off: due to primogeniture laws back then, women could not own land or much of anything really - sometimes in the worst cases, not even a claim to their own children. So if the father dies, the wife and the children - whether the children are young or just unmarried - are at the mercy of a male heir, whether it is the oldest son, a son from a previous marriage that the husband had, or a distant cousin. In the best-to-okay standards, as in Sense & Sensibility, they were given an allowance and a cottage to live in. Austen’s novels function as a criticism of sorts for those laws. Mrs. Bennet would not be so damn silly if her future was more secure and she were allowed to keep her house after Mr. Bennet dies.




The film lightly comments on a class system in place during the Regency era, one that remains in place at the vacation estate. Because she could not afford a more expensive package, Jane is excluded from certain activities and is given a room in the servant’s quarters. Although the film treads over this fact of life in the 18th Century, it injects more 21st Century subjectivity into the film once Jane decides to control her own fate in her vacation, despite her status at the estate. But this is undermined when Jane begins to understand the facades on top of facades for the vacation, she learns that the romantic interest she was given was from the one man who seems to be meant for the women who cannot afford the “premium” package vacation. The film maintains the Mr. Darcy/Colonel Brandon vs. caddish character dichotomy (+/- annoying and silly male character also always present in Austen's novels), although it always keeps it on a fine line. This is partially helped by casting Bret McKenzie, because you really cannot help either seeing him as the sweet and shy Bret on Flight of the Conchords or as the guy who wrote “Man or Muppet”. The film simultaneously reflects and deflects, deconstructs and reconstructs, the idea that romance is a construct and often fantasy often propelled by novels and films. The prologue takes the deflection end to an exaggerated level where Austenland is turned into a bonafide themepark with rides and live shows performed by the gorgeous Captain East/soap opera actor.

It might have been even funnier if the prologue featured expansions into Charles Dickens, Bronte sisters, and Thomas Hardy vacation packages or themeparks. A Wuthering Heights vacation package, where everyone quickly learns that the novel is actually horrific, not romantic. In Austenland, Jennifer Coolidge plays a woman who only has seen the Austen film and TV adaptations and has never read the novels. It is my understanding, while I have only seen one Wuthering Heights adaptation (the 1960s BBC version with a young Ian McShane as Heathcliff), that the Olivier version is why some people see it as a romantic story.** Think of the soul crushing possibilities!

*Alternately, the vacation package can be read as a form of male prostitution - they are there to fulfill a mostly romantic fantasy, but a fantasy nonetheless. The foot servants, as pictured above, tend to be hunky types, and it is mostly male "actors" at the estate. Although the guests and actors are charged to behave in Regency mode, of course it is strongly implied that some guests and actors deviate at various levels.

**Although I have not seen the adaptation with Laurence Olivier, I will venture to guess that Heathcliff's abusive tendencies were mostly squashed for that adaptation due to the Production Code in place at the time.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sherlock Holmes (2010...no, not that one, the other one)

Repost from 2011.

a.k.a. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes || Dir. Rachel Lee Goldenberg || 2010 || UK & US

Oh, where to begin? To its merit, the 2010 Sherlock Holmes (released direct-to-DVD approximately a month after the 2009 Sherlock Holmes helmed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law) is shorter than the Ritchie version (which was too damn long), has a color scheme, and a tiny T-Rex. It's co-produced by The Asylum, makers of Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus and other cheap quickie cash-ins like the soon-to-be-released Battle of Los Angeles, a response to the new film starring Aaron Eckhart Battle: Los Angeles. The former stars Kel Mitchell (of the 1990s Nickelodeon show Kenan and Kel) and Nia Peeples, in case you were wondering where they went off to.

To its demerit...while I've seen very few Sherlock Holmes adaptations, I can pretty much trust that this film has the worst Sherlock ever. He's not authoritative, quirky, or awesome. He's a jackass with the wussiest English accent ever in the history of English accents, real or otherwise. He's not even an awesome jackass that you can respect like the two more recent takes of Sherlock by Downey or Benedict Cumberbatch of TV's Sherlock. I kept wanting Watson to dropkick him off of a cliff in retaliation to all of the bullying he suffers from the pipsqueak Holmes. But Watson just kind of quietly scowls at him, not even bringing the disgusted eyerolls like Law or Martin Freeman. At least tiny T-Rex bodyslams Holmes against a wall once, and causes smashed glass to injure his leg. Go, T-Rex, go!

The story and characterization is weak and not exactly canon as far as I can tell having just read Doyle's short stories on Holmes. Watson, forever getting the brunt in this film, is often mistreated and disrespected by Lastrade. Lastrade and Holmes get along better than they do in most stories, and Holmes treats Lastrade better than he does Watson.  Mycroft (or not Mycroft?) is given a lower status than he has in most adaptations and was a simple cop before he was injured. In his spare time, Mycroft apparently makes dragon robots, suicide bomber Victorian sexbots, and copper robot suits that resemble Iron Man's.

Much like Dolly Dearest, the film loses any sense of fun or awesomeness when the tiny T-Rex is not around wreaking havoc around London. Tiny T-Rex, like the doll in Dolly Dearest, tends to spring up out of nowhere, mouth agape, and kills brutally. In one scene, it appears that he has eaten the face off of a shopkeeper who resembles Karl Pilkington.

In case you were doubting my claims of a tiny T-Rex, here is the T-Rex springing into frame before it eats the shopkeeper:



 So it's not exactly the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, that's for sure.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Tank Girl (1995)

Dir. Rachel Talalay || 1995 || USA

I remember liking Tank Girl as a teen in the 1990s, but looking at it now, it's easy to see what a mess this film is. It's not an odd or even fully enjoyable mess, and it's only occasionally amusing. It can't be chalked up to inexperience or disinterest in the source material, qualities that tend to factor into the better comic book films; because Talalay was an experienced director at this point and did like the material. But by all accounts, there was a lot of studio interference with the film because up until this past decade, very few people knew what to do with comic books or graphic novels as source material. The film is live action, but it also has clips from the comic books and animation sequences.

Most post-apocalyptic films tend to have a timeless quality to them, no matter what decade they were made in. Tank Girl is so 90s it hurts. The situation that the film takes place in is timeless - where a comet hit Earth and it hasn't rained in 11 years, so water is high in demand and only a select few has access to it. But everything else is 90s. Considering that one of the first places I was introduced to Tank Girl was an article in Harper's Bazaar, the fashion magazine (yeah, I read this as a teen, what?), the film is very high on costume changes (IMDB counts 18 for Lori Petty as Tank Girl) and it's all very punk-grunge-pseudo-riot grrrl. Even The Rippers dress in 90s clothing (flannel shirts and t-shirts, one Ripper looks like a half-man-half-kangaroo member of Color Me Badd). It's funny that in the comic's revival in the mid-2000s by IDW Publishing, Tank Girl was drawn as wearing a lot of 1980s power suits because the reasoning was along the lines of "a lot of people still dress like Tank Girl from the 1990s, it's no longer edgy." The soundtrack, supervised by Courtney (Love, Love-Cobain, whatever she's calling herself now) is sort of a mix of good 90s music and music that never made it past that decade, along with some bizarre covers (like Devo covering Soundgarden's cover of Devo's "Girl U Want", or something).

Tank Girl is an overwhelmingly cartoon-y film. And yeah, Tank Girl is a cartoon character even in the comics, but on film it's ridiculous. The film just meanders. The sense of urgency towards saving the little girl that lived with Tank Girl is never there because of all the side missions that are jokes and costume changes. It would almost be a parody if the film could settle on anything whatsoever, other than being a valentine to Tank Girl as a fashion icon of sorts, and occasionally her other positive attributes; like being a good friend or being a loud-mouthed and brave woman.

The one thing that I will give the film is that for much of the film, Tank Girl and Jet Girl (Naomi Watts!) have realistically post-apocalyptic water shortage greasy hair. Do you know how rare that is in post-apocalyptic films? Although Tank Girl's makeup rarely smudges, even when being in a torture chamber for what seems like a couple of days.



Monday, May 12, 2014

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)


Dir. Donald Petrie || 2003 || USA

Preface #1
One of my interests this past year-and-a-half has been how it is really becoming rather impossible to ascribe one type of ideology or another to a film. Most films, almost regardless of whether or not they are produced in Hollywood seem to attempt to espouse both conservative and liberal ideologies (to use the most basic dichotomy of ideologies). However, this is not to say that How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days has an ideology at all, because I am not even sure the film ultimately has a point.

Preface #2
About two months ago, I was traveling for work and staying in a hotel. Oprah's cable network was having a "Never forget that Matthew McConaughey made romcoms for several years" night by playing Failure to Launch and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days in succession. I did not catch much of the former, which seems to exist in a universe where people who look like Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha, and Zooey Deschanel are the "loser" or even more "loser-y" friends. I watched maybe 2/3 of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days before turning it off to read and go to sleep. Curiosity got the better of me and I actually rented it this weekend, determined to find out what the "project" of this movie actually was, or if there even seriously was one. Well, a project besides product placement of (and in ascending order) Revlon, Budweiser, and the New York Knicks. I am pretty sure the Knicks alone financed at least half of the film.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, an 11-year-old film released in 2003, nonetheless seems like it was written and meant to be produced in the late 1990s. I cannot pinpoint why exactly, because it seems like people cared more about magazines or criticizing magazines then. But maybe I am projecting because I do not really see the point in the majority of magazines existing anymore, particularly in print. The covers of the magazine in the film, Composure, features non-famous women and models, in photos more along the lines of the pictures seen in "Women Laughing Alone with Salad". This is despite starring Kate Hudson, an actress who has probably been on dozens of magazine covers and having former supermodel of the 90s, Shalom Harlow, in a supporting role. The film fails to recognize the shift in actresses appearing on the majority of women's magazine covers now, above supermodels. It also maybe more late 90s-centric because it is one of those films that seems to erase 9/11 out of New York City on the basis that films are where people go to escape painful things and incidents. Also, it features a Ginblossoms song as chase theme music, which seems even more outdated in 2014 than it probably did even in 2003.

Kate Hudson plays Andie Anderson, a woman with a Master's degree in Journalism from Columbia University slumming at women's magazine Composure by writing a "How To" column on various trends or "lifehacks for the privileged" as they are sometimes called now. She aspires to write about politics and international relations, which her boss has shot down numerous times because of the inherent fluffiness of the magazine's content. Inspired by a co-worker's latest brief 7-day disastrous relationship, Andie begins her latest piece with the titular title. The film never seems to decide whether it wants to be subtle or broad in its characterization of Andie and her co-workers. Andie is supposed to be "different" because she has higher aspirations, likes to eat large hamburgers and go to New York Knicks games. She is actually called the "cool girl" at some point, which is another stereotype upon itself, a construct that some women feel they have to live up to so they are not seen as the "crazy girlfriend".*  Beyond its somewhat promising beginning, the film eventually decides to pack stereotypes upon stereotypes, and it never seriously questions too much that it is magazines and advertising that pushes these sorts of gender stereotypes.

McConaughey plays the also improbably cute-named Benjamin Barry, a fellow who works in advertising and feels stuck because his division only obtains the sports and beer accounts. He has recently snagged an account with a diamond company, with the idea that diamond rings should also be advertised to men as desirable accessories, or something - it's never made clear. Benjamin seems to be criticizing the diamond industry, knowing that it is an industry based on the false idea that diamonds are rare, and therefore valuable. And to an lesser extent he seems to be criticizing the sexist one-sided marketing of diamonds. But he is in competition with the division who typically receives the more women's-oriented accounts. A bet is made that if he can arrive to a party the company is throwing in 10 days with a woman who is in love with him, he will win the account.

Shenanigans and stereotypes ensue, almost endlessly for a a film that does not need to be 2 hours long. Andie behaves in the stereotypical (and seen through 2014 lenses, downright creepy) ways that men are supposed to hate. Benjamin relents because he wants to win the account. Both are frustrated. The reveals come at the big party, where inexplicably, female attendees are given diamonds to wear from a snack table, and feelings are hurt. Benjamin's partners show him Andie's article as he is working on the diamond commercial which still seems to be advertising to women, albeit to older women. Andie gets told she can write whatever she wants as long as its the typical fluffy stuff. She quits, decides to interview for a job in DC. Benjamin chases her cab through NYC and stops on the Brooklyn Bridge where they make up. And while Benjamin wins her over with the point that she can do the reporting she likes in NYC, we never learn if Andie succeeds. Can this film be seen as dark because it appears neither character actually succeeds in their careers? The ending seems entirely based in, "Well, they are attractive and they have each other."

The only time I laughed out loud was when Andie said Benjamin killed their "love fern" and he replies, "No honey, it's just sleeping." I think I might not be the right audience for these movies.

*Since Andie is a variation on what is typically a boy's name, maybe we can infer the Carol Clover theory that when male or borderline-gender neutral names are given to female characters, it is because that character is meant for male audiences to identify with.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Flesh for Frankenstein & Blood for Dracula (a.k.a. Andy Warhol's Frankenstein & Andy Warhol's Dracula) (1974)


Dir. Paul Morrissey || 1974 || US-Italy-France & Italy-France  

It is advisable to watch Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula back-to-back if possible. It is how they were made and both have the same main three actors (Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, Arno Juerging) in similar roles - Kier as Dr. Frankenstein, then Dracula; Dallesandro as the proletariat servant-gigolo, and Juerging as Frankenstein and Dracula's assistants. Although the films appear to take place in different time periods, they also seem to be similar in atmosphere...and that atmosphere is bizarre, trashy, and campy. These are not adaptations to watch if you are looking for faithful adaptations of Frankenstein or Dracula. Both of these films seem to take place in some realm either before or after those stories, or almost a netherworld just outside of the original stories. It is a world that takes some adjustment because while it is laughable in Frankenstein that an actor with an Italian accent and Joe Dallesandro with his heavy New York accent are supposed to be lifelong friends who grew up together in some European countryside; by the time you get to Dracula you just kind of have to accept that Dallesandro is going to stick out like a sore thumb. Udo Kier takes some adjusting as well, although he fits into these films easier than Dallesandro, especially Dracula. For at least the first half-hour of Frankenstein, I could not shake the notion that Tommy Wiseau has been fooling us all along and is just doing a very extended impersonation of a young Udo Kier in Frankenstein. Except Udo Kier actually seems to be mentally present in his scenes, and not in space like Wiseau. 

While Flesh for Frankenstein ends on a note similar to Twitch of the Death Nerve, I find Blood for Dracula more interesting and prefer it a little more. In Blood for Dracula, Dracula and his assistant have traveled to the Italian countryside so that Dracula can find a bride, preferably a virgin. They take up with a family with four beautiful daughters who have fallen on hard times due to their father's gambling problems. They are able to keep their villa, but the daughters must do the farming. They only keep one servant - a handyman played by Dallesandro of course.  And of course the mother is insistent on allowing Dracula and his assistant to stay with them, although almost all of the daughters find him to be creepy and too sickly to marry. The family has two virginal daughters who are actually virgins; and two wild daughters who lie about being virgins, because they have both been having sex with the handyman, and apparently with each other. The wild daughters are steadfast about their lying, even when Dracula tries to insist that he does not mind if they are not virgins and that it is just something his family insists on. Dracula  finds himself poisoned as soon as he tries to drink the blood of the two wilder daughters.

What I find interesting about Blood for Dracula is that the daughters' situation or prospects is beset on all sides. Dallesandro's Socialist handyman character insists that the aristocracy is dying and perhaps the girls should learn how to work; which is not a terrible idea, except for the fact that Dallesandro's character is a rampant misogynist and a rapist. Blood for Dracula takes place in the early 20th Century, not the 19th, so it is a bit odd that there is the insistence of keeping up appearances with the mother, although it is often remarked that the family has not had visitors in years. If that is the case, then there is no need to worry about shocking society if the daughters do not marry an aristocrat or a wealthy man. The other side to this is that other than perhaps the youngest daughter, the daughters seem to be settled into the idea that they should marry up (just up, not middle or down or even for love really) and that there are no other options because that is how they were raised. The father (played by director Vittorio de Sica) leaves the film early on for London, leaving the mother and daughters to fend for themselves (i.e., remain willfully ignorant of how dangerous Dracula is). Only the handyman catches on to Dracula's nature which leads to the gory and over-the-top fight sequence at the end of the film. And Dracula is not a romantic hero, he is a conservative traditionalist and a rapist as well considering that he attacks the daughters often in mid-conversation. While one could find the end of Blood for Dracula a bit more hopeful than the ending to Flesh for Frankenstein (or see it as the Socialist/proletariat killing off one more crumbling aristocrat), I do not believe that the survivors are much better off with the handyman. The film seems to be more concerned with the Socialist argument with just a bit of subtext thrown in to acknowledge the changing times, but it does not appear that it wants to give the female characters in the film too much choice in the matter. 


And this is just creepy. 
(I am not commenting much on the hand that Andy Warhol had in making these movies, because it seems as if it was in name only; besides the presence of Joe Dallesandro, who was one of his people. If one was expecting a set of films with pop-art sensibilities, they would be somewhat surprised that both films were shot in neutral tones. I guess better to see the eventual blood, gore, and Udo Kier's blue eyes with.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Grad School Residue: Franco Citti wearing hats

In the fall of 2011, a class I TA'ed for basically spent a week-and-a-half watching The Godfather, and in the winter of 2012, I took a class that basically involved watching Pier Paolo Pasolini's entire filmography. So I spent a lengthy amount of time my first year of grad school watching Franco Citti wearing hats of varying degrees of weirdness.

Accattone, he and Pasolini's first film.


Oedipus Rex

Oedipus Rex
The Canterbury Tales

Not a hat, but crazy hair for Arabian Nights. I'm pretty sure he was the inspiration for Snarf on Thundercats.


The Godfather, as one of Michael's bodyguards.