Movies

Miss Congeniality (After A Word From Our Sponsor)

OK first two quick promotional items: one, Season 1 of ReMade is on sale for $4.99! Look, they made a gif and everything!

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And two, on Halloween I’m going to randomly give away Season 1 of a Bookburners to ten lucky subscribers to my blog/newsletter hybrid, in a transparent effort to boost my numbers. Mmmm, marketing!

But I can’t just market at you, because this is not what friends do. So instead I’d like to talk about Miss Congeniality, which I saw this weekend for the first time since it came out in theaters.  (Yes, I saw it in a theater.)

 

Movie Thoughts With Andrea

Miss Congeniality is very, very much an artifact of its time. It’s trying hard to do the same things that Legally Blonde did in terms of Grrl Power and social justice, but it has the same muddled stance on it that, frankly, I remember having at the time my own self, and that’s where a lot of its humor is meant to come from. 

I mean, the core conflict is the tension over being a strong-with-the-punching and empowered woman, or living up to an arbitrary beauty ideal. The movie tries to suggest you can do both without giving up the core of who you are. And it tries to show that the society of women can be special, but it doesn’t really earn that. I’d have liked to see the pageant contestants step up into a strong-with-the-punching role as well. Hey, maybe that’s what happens in the sequel? Maybe I’ll have to watch it.

We also have brief mentions of gay and lesbian relationships! Yay, representation! But with a particularly Year 2000 sensibility: a nervous laugh, ha ha this is a thing! Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s not unlike how we see a lot of trans representation done right now in mainstream media. The same nervous laugh, the acknowledgement that this is a way that some people are, and it makes some other people very nervous. But we’re pretty far past that for gay people now, which gives me hope that we’ll get that way for trans rights as well. The window is shifting.

The one thing that surprised me on a rewatch is that the cast is fairly diverse... but there’s no mention of racism at all. Since race is the elephant in the room in the year 2017, that was a little weird and jarring. Maybe that shows we’ve come a long way, too, since there is at least a public conversation about that now?

All that said, Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens is a much more interesting riff on beauty pageant culture, since it’s more from the POV of the actual contestants, and therefore has much less “ha ha can you believe it?! BUTT GLUE!” So maybe read that one instead.

Annnnnnnnnd that’s it for right now. Getting ready to head out to Switzerland. You’ll hear from me soon! 


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My Bollywood Faves

I've received a couple of requests now to make a few recommendations on where to get started watching Bollywood movies. OH MY GOD YOU GUYS I AM SO HAPPY TO TELL YOU THANK YOU FOR ASKING I HAVE MANY OPINIONS.

First, the films referenced in my last mega post! That closing credits scene is from a film called Dil Bole Hadippa, which is about cricket, and believe it or not is basically a feminist sports film. I recommend it very much. You do not need to understand cricket in the slightest, though my husband was able to correctly deduce the rules of cricket by watching this film with me.

The second one is Chance Pe Dance, which is a terrible movie from a writing perspective -- the story is paper-thin. There also aren't any female characters to speak of, besides the love interest who is arguably not even a SEXY lamp, she's just a regular old lamp. But... there aren't any MALE characters to speak of in that film, either? The focus of that movie is on Shahid Kapur dancing and being hot and emotionally vulnerable, and *everything else* is an afterthought. So if it sounds like your thing, hey! Try it!

My first Bollywood film was Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, which is hilarious and weird and touching, and was the film that made me realize that any one Bollywood film isn't one genre, it's like three to five all mixed together. There are very strong religious elements, if you find that potentially offputting, and it's not an overtly feminist movie. (Though I've seen a stronger feminist streak out of Mumbai than I ever expected.) I deeply enjoyed this movie, and I think it makes a good intro to Bollywood. I should go back and watch it again, in fact, now that I get some of the film vocabulary and conventions a lot better.

My very favorite Bollywood film, though, might be Band Baaja Baaraat, though it's arguably not a classic Bollywood film at all. Actually -- in a sense, none of these are classic Bollywood. But this one in particular has ON SCREEN KISSING, SUPER SCANDAL. It's also a great way to spend a few hours of your time. The music is catchy, the choreography and costuming are amazing, the actors put in a good performance, the writing is pretty great, and the plot is convincing. A+++ would watch again!

If you want to watch the KING of all Bollywood films, though, and a true-to-form classic Bollywood film to boot, you want Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, which was released in 1995 and is STILL PLAYING IN THEATERS TODAY. No joke. It's the movie that made Shahrukh Khan the superstar he is today, and you'll notice that Shahrukh Khan is referenced in other films like Band Baaja Baaraat the way that, say, Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp are in a Hollywood joint. There are a few scenes in this one that you'll see referenced all over the place in other films -- in fact Dil Bole Hadippa pays homage to it, and I think Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi may as well. Watching Bollywood without having seen this film is a little like playing with light sabers without ever having seen Star Wars. You get it so much better once you have the baseline. 

I don't enjoy Dilwale Dulhani Le Jayenge very much -- I think the main characters are both immature and kind of obnoxious, and there's a ton of super problematic gender stuff going on in that movie, above and beyond what you see in something like Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. But it is substantially older, and it's operating in a cultural context that American white-girl feminism has no standing to talk about. Regardless, it's an important movie to see so you know what these other movies are in conversation with.

A few other things about Bollywood you should know, if this is your first time. These movies are usually very long -- over three hours long, in some cases pushing four hours. There is an intermission in the middle! And the description of the plot you see in eg. Netflix basically describes what happens before the intermission -- indeed, in that second half, sometimes it transforms into a completely different film than you thought you were watching.

I should also add that these are my favorites based on what Netflix had available over the last year or two. They've sadly pulled a lot of films over the last couple of months, so you may need to go elsewhere to find these. It also means my taste is skewed toward Yash Raj films, presumably because they had the best distribution agreement with Netflix. These are probably movies made with an eye to the foreign and ex-pat market, and probably don't accurately reflect modern tastes and trends for domestic film in India proper.

Right! Bollywood! Get your snacks together and start watching! It's fascinating and fun and wonderfully different from the stuff you see out of Hollywood. Enjoy your movies, and let me know what you think!


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Star Wars and Continuity

Now that Disney owns Lucasfilm, we've been seeing epochal shifts in how the Star Wars property is handled. JJ Abrams is directing a new film. Two Star Wars games in development were canceled and Lucasarts was shut down entirely. And now, Marvel (another Disney property) will be reclaiming the license for Star Wars comic books from Dark Horse in 2015.

Now, Star Wars canon and continuity has long existed in a curious state, where the films and TV series were the Bible and all other works were apocrypha of dubious "truth." Given the many changes underway, fans are speculating on how continuity will be handled by Disney going forward.

There's a fair amount of enthusiasm for the idea of bringing the entire Extended Universe into legit-canon status, working through and retconning whatever conflicts there are, and in general shaping the sprawling, messy story world that is Star Wars into a strict and rigorous history, where we know what's factual and what is not.

I'd like to argue against this.

In transmedia narrative, we often talk about showing what happens elsewhere once a character walks off the screen (or the page.) In that traditional model, we might see the burning of the Skywalker farm in Episode IV, for example, or Palpatine's behind-the-scenes political machinations.

But this is not the only way to do storyworld or continuity. History itself does not have the rigor we demand from our fiction. In reality, sometimes all we have are biased accounts, sometimes conflicting witness reports, records that may be inaccurate, misleading, second-hand. And mixed in with our history we have myth. Was there a King Arthur in England, or a Robin Hood? Maybe, maybe not. We don't really know.

Star Wars should be like this. We should accept that such an intricate world with so many creators involved will have inconsistencies, and write up such conflicts as the result of bias and the messy process of time. It all happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, after all. Who are we to know the ultimate truth?

Now, I recognize I'm voicing a minority opinion, here. Fandoms do tend to love clarity, knowing exactly what happened, so they can draw connections and make conclusions all on their own. Ambiguity is aesthetically displeasing to many of us.

But I think there's a certain beauty in having a messy storyworld, one where myth and fact blur together. And in demanding a concrete truth from a universe like Star Wars, we are robbing ourselves of potentially amazing stories. 

Imagine, if you will, the manifold ways that the relationship between Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo could play out. In one they marry and have twin babies, as in the books. In another, she lays down her life to save him and he spends the rest of his days hunting for vengeance. In still another, a woman from Han's past comes between them, and decades pass before that wound can heal. 

We don't need to know which one is "true." Marvel should know that -- how many reboots and alt-worlds have we seen in comics, after all? Perfect consistency doesn't really matter, shouldn't matter at all, provided what we get out of the bargain are rich, deep stories. Why close the door on them before they've even been told?


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Hugo: A Bad Review

Last weekend, we went to see Hugo. I came out of it convinced that it was a good film, if not as fun to watch as The Muppets has been a few days before. Upon further reflection and discussion with friends, I have concluded that it's... actually not that great at all, and professional film critics be damned. Allow me to explain the many reasons why. (There be spoilers below; don't read on it you don't want to see them.)

The 3D. We chose to see Hugo in 3D, figuring Scorsese must surely be a master of cinema and do it right. I regretted it almost immediately. The film began with a painful and dizzying sequence of sideways tracking shots where the focus was meant to be on the middle ground, instead of the foreground. Objects came on and off screen much too quickly for the eyes to adjust. The 3D integration improved as the film went on, but it did not start out on the right foot at all. 

The Pacing. Oh my good heavens, the pacing. So many long and dull shots of Hugo making his way through clockwork tunnels! The goal of this was, I suppose, to give a feeling of scope to the set, but there was so much of it, it went on so long, and it was so very boring. Even beyond that, the pacing was abysmally slow. It was a long time before the film manifested a plot, and the core of what the movie was about didn't start until I was convinced it should really start wrapping up any time now. And my tolerance for slow pacing had been set inaccurately by... 

The Marketing. It eventually became clear that Hugo was in no way the film I'd been sold on. I came in with no knowledge of the book. I therefore thought I was paying to see a steampunky adventure film about a boy's search for his lost father, not an arthouse fictionalization of the history of film. The audiences interested in these things are... not the same.

The Writing. The scripts smacks of being written by committee, or else very poorly edited. Large swaths of the film are either inadequately explained or have no real significance to the story as a whole. The character of Isabelle winds up being an empty shell, present purely to move plot and give Hugo somebody sympathetic to converse with. We're also treated to long sequences starring the bookseller, whose sole narrative function is to direct the children to a film library that they could reasonably have found another way; if there were an emotional function for this character, it didn't work.

And key information was breezed over -- the fact that Hugo's uncle had gone missing, something that would help tremendously at illuminating the stakes for poor Hugo early on, is only mentioned in a single line midway through the film. It would have been easy to entirely miss the significance of it even then.

The Emotional Performances. Papa Georges was angry. So, so angry! Something terrible must have happened to him! What could it possible have been? For a long time, I was convinced it must be foul play of some kind -- something to explain why Isabelle was living with her grandparents. Such an over-the-top grief must be because of the death of a child, surely. It must take something so extreme to explain why Papa George was such an asshole to a child for simply reminding him of the past! But no, he's just upset because of that one time he had to go out of business.

You can make an argument that his attitude is justified because Hugo had been stealing things from him to begin with; but from a big-picture creative point of view, the end goal is to make Papa Georges and his grief sympathetic. The film created no sympathy for him in me whatsoever. He was an asshole and a tyrant as the film painted him, and I'd have been just as happy to see him live out his days in obscurity.

And on Hugo's end, his silence regarding his father's notebook was inexplicable and unconvincing. He's willing to stalk somebody home, willing to throw snow to lure a stranger out of her house, but he can't say "That's my father's notebook." Riiight. This might have been slightly more plausible if the film audience had been informed that the uncle had gone missing by this point. But actually, I'm not sure even that would have helped. The whole film is predicated on a secret that Hugo has no well-conveyed motivation to keep.

The Heavy-Handedness and Repetition. This was not a subtle film. How many trains coming into the station did we see? How many times did a rocket strike the face of the moon? Some repetition is, I suppose, a method of supporting theme. But surely thematic payload should be handled more softly. I felt the film was going out of its way to try to prove it was Art, at the expense of actual artistry. I shouldn't be left rolling my eyes: "You showed this to me already three times, why am I seeing the same clip of film again?"

And the film was trying to be Educational, at the expense of -- well -- everything. Did you catch the part in the middle of the film where suddenly, instead of even watching a slow, French-style film about a sad orphan boy, you're shoved into a short documentary about the history of film? If backstory and exposition were done so gracelessly in a book, you'd throw it at the wall and never pick it up again.

In conclusion: I feel like this is a film that lovers of film would have affection for, because it caters to people who happen to love film history to begin with. It's full of references and secret handshakes, perhaps. But as a story on its own merits, it falls short. To be sure, it does become interesting and even a little exciting toward the end; but by then it's far too late.

See The Muppets instead, my friends. It's a lot more fun, the writing and pacing are significantly better, and you'll at the very least go in with a pretty good idea of what you're going to get. 


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Some Awesome Things

The world is full of completely awesome things that you should be paying attention to right now.

If you haven't checked out Him, Her and Them yet, you really, really should. (But you probably have, because I'm late to the party here.) The project is Murmurco's "social film," and I wanted to see it badly enough to ignore my idealistic stance on Facebook. It is a really lovely experiment in building a framework of story, and then letting a group add in layers of shared depth and meaning.

While I'm at it, don't miss Veronique is Visiting from Paris. This is the work of Hugo winner Elizabeth Bear and the stunning photographer Kyle Cassidy. I don't want to wade into the transmedia definition debate by calling this that, but it is very definitely an innovative exercise in fragmented story.

And finally: If this picture does not fill you with joy, then I... I just don't know what to say to you.

 


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