Archive for the 'film' Category

19
Oct
09

Good Hair?

good hair

(photo: Roadside Attractions)

For the most part I found the new Chris Rock doc Good Hair very enjoyable and informative, though naturally, it oversimplified the basic argument that the relaxation or transformation via weaves of naturally “nappy” hair on the part of African-American women is a bad, prohibitively expensive, culturally backward practice. My main problem is that there were virtually no women with natural hair included in the film to balance out Rock’s portrait of a culture torturing themselves with chemical burns from relaxers or rendering entire communities bankrupt with the cost of weaves.

On the plus side, we hear personal stories from a variety of personalities, including Al Sharpton (who’s pretty funny), Maya Angelou (wonderfully grounded), various actresses and regular women, mainly in L.A., New York and Atlanta. And also from men who have opinions on black women’s hair, from financing it to touching it (or — most likely — not touching it). Rock conducts interviews with all of the above, visits India (the source of most weaves), and brings us backstage at the incredibly entertaining Bronner Bros. Hair Show in Atlanta, an annual event that should be televised on ESPN if it isn’t already. Rock comes across as especially thoughtful and restrained in the film, so his several funny one-liners are all the more hilarious.

Alynda Wheat’s very interesting commentary on EW.com offers a solid rebuttal to Rock’s film, and its resulting reader comments are equally worthwhile.

As someone who remembers the ’70s, when hip African-American girls and women wore short ‘fros or just tied their tresses back into big, fluffy ponytails (the bigger the better!), I mourn the fact that so many black women straighten their hair these days. It was considered so unprogressive back then! But of course, women in general have been progressively “improving” themselves since the ’70s — when “natural” was in — with cosmetic procedures, fake boobs and other enhancements, so it’s not really fair to single out African-American women for changing their hair to reflect current standards of beauty. Most of us have given in to some extent. Then again, since “nappy” hair is such a basic characteristic of blackness, it does sometimes seem particularly self-negating. Obviously this can be, and has been, debated back and forth for days…

28
Sep
09

Chick Flicks

Two chick-ish flicks in two days:

First, September Issue, the documentary about the creation of the Sept. 2007 issue wintour-coddingtonof Vogue, starring the empress/dragon lady of the fashion world, Anna Wintour. It’s always interesting to get a glimpse of a workplace so different from one’s own, yet all offices are the same in some ways. Different: enormous amounts of money spent on photo shoots, a decent-size staff, closets full of sample products. The same: simmering resentments, desperately trying and failing to please the boss, lots of work for nothing, Starbucks.

Like everyone, I believed every word I read in The Devil Wears Prada, and so couldn’t help comparing the actual Vogue offices to the fictional version; naturally I found the real thing lacking. Firstly, Wintour is somewhat soft-spoken, has a sense of humor, and — though obviously feared and catered to — comes off as an actual person. Albeit an actual person with an enormous sense of entitlement. Also, the people who work for her, while certainly stylish (in Andre Leon Talley’s case, dramatically so), clearly aren’t expected to be as pulled together  as Anna herself. Why, there’s messy hair; pale, unmade-up faces; wrinkles! I think I even spotted an assistant wearing flats…

I’d read that Vogue’s longtime creative director Grace Coddington was initially hesitant  to be filmed for the movie. Good thing she eventually acquiesced because she’s the heart and soul of the thing: a wry, earthy, ultra-talented woman who’s managed to develop a smooth working relationship with Wintour. Nice that her work has been validated in such a public way.

Bright StarNext flick: Bright Star, Jane Campion’s gorgeously atmospheric account of the romance between poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, who were neighbors in early 19th century Hampstead. Abbie Cornish is wonderful as the witty, headstrong Fanny (I remember seeing her in little-known indie film Somersault and marveling at this beautiful, unmannered young actress). She’s like a Jane Austen heroine gone a bit bohemian. As Keats, Ben Whishaw does the starving young poet thing well, though I kept flashing back to his tortured character in Perfume, a movie I strongly disliked, to say the least. Then there’s the poetry itself, sprinkled liberally throughout the movie, a reminder of how transcendent Keats’ words really were.

And the clothes! The Regency era was the best-dressed period of the 19th century, hands-down. And Fanny, a seamstress and clotheshorse, puts together some amazing outfits for herself, involving diaphanous fabrics, detailed pleating and voluminous sleeves. I want to watch this movie with a Tim Gunn commentary.

Of course the story is a tragic one, as John and Fanny’s romance is doomed by 1) his lack of money and 2) his contraction of consumption (tuberculosis), like several artists of his era. Back then, coughing up blood was practically mandatory for romantic poets and composers. What better way to show off one’s delicate nature and tenuous grasp of earthly things.

Anyway, not a total sob-fest of a movie, but quite moving.

31
Aug
09

The good stuff

My weekend recuperation from a root canal afforded me plenty of time to catch up on movies via both Netflix and TV. It was a nice respite from reality shows. When it comes to film, I’m much more of a snob, so my viewing pleasures were totally guilt-free.

Winters_LolitaI’d never seen Kubrick’s Lolita in its entirety so that was a nice surprise. I knew it had an element of humor but it was way funnier than I expected. Such a solid cast: Shelley Winters was predictably amazing (I kind of love her) and Sue Lyon was much more than just a random nymphet. Peter Sellers as the ridiculous, scheming Quilty was almost a cartoon, but totally enjoyable; and James Mason’s Humbert was fantastically hammy. It all seemed very modern for 1962, but that’s Kubrick for you.

I wound up crying during some of the dancing portions of Bringing Balanchine Back a documentary about New York City Ballet’s return to Russia in 2003 (last visit: 1972). City Ballet is my favorite ballet company in the world and Balanchine my favorite choreographer hands-down. The company didn’t know how they would be received in St. Petersburg — though I doubt they thought it would be worse than their Cold War visit  — so the Russian audiences’ wildly enthusiastic response was gratifying. That didn’t make me cry as much as the choreography itself. Those dances (“Serenade,” “Symphony in C,” “Agon”) are what made me fall in love with ballet in the first place.

Another movie that made me cry: Offside, Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s feature about a bunch of girls who dress as boys in order to get into a soccer stadium for a World Cup-qualifying match. Funny, sad, maddening and deeply human. The girls especially were fantastic: scrappy, determined and irreverent. All in all, a tremendously satisfying movie. And talk about naturalistic: Panahi  apparently shot the film inside Tehran’s Azadi Stadium on the day of the actual match between Iran and Bahrain to determine which country would qualify for the 2006 World Cup! Had the match gone the other way, the movie would have had an entirely different ending. Unreal.

OK, back to TV, but good TV: What a splendid episode of Mad Men this week: joan-accordionPeggy gets high on marijuana and it puts her “in a really good place”! (Pot was invented for people like Peggy!); Joan sings a kittenish “C’est Magnifique,” accompanying herself on accordion (the instrument never looked sexier), at a dinner party for her husband’s boss! There were also interesting plot threads involving Don and Betty’s kid stealing $5 from her addled-but-still-commanding grandad, and a country club party thrown by Roger and his new (ex-Sterling Cooper secretary) wife, who gets drunk. One of the series’ best episodes, I think.

[Later, still thinking about the episode]…And!  I almost forgot Roger Sterling’s hugely offensive blackface performance at the party! And Pete Campbell and his wife executing a mean Charleston, totally showing off. Lots of strange performances  this week.

19
Aug
09

Overkill?

I’m nowhere near the demographic targeted by the “Final Destination” movies (nor have I seen any of them), which must be why I find the trailer for the fourth installment so hilarious. You know, teens dying in the most horrible ways imaginable, but this time in 3D! I understand that there are thrills to be had when huge, dangerous projectiles hurtle directly at the audience, but the trailer is so relentless in its in-your-face carnage that it looks like a parody. It must be intentional.

18
Aug
09

Back on board

Lordy, I am a weak woman. I made it through several days of decent films/TV viewing:  “Ladies in Lavender,” a sweet, beautifully-shot period film starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, via Netflix; “District 9,” the new, much acclaimed sci-fi flick, which was indeed worthwhile, if often hard to watch (anyone planning to see it should not make apres-movie dinner plans). And of course, the season premiere of “Mad Men,”  a paradigm of intelligence, subtlety and wit among TV shows. It’s so well done, I can’t even believe it still exists.

climbingBut then I happened to tune into VH1 last night (I know, I know, nobody forced me) and beheld what appeared to be yet another celeb dating show, “My Antonio.” And like the pathetic speck of dust that I am, got sucked swiftly into the vacuum (truly) once again. If the premiere is any indication, this looks promising: Antonio Sabato, Jr., with whom I am not terribly familiar, set the tone early on by being both ingratiatingly “sincere” about his intentions to find love and matter-of-factly sadistic. The setting is Hawaii, and the first challenge consisted of the contestants, still in their cute little party dresses,  climbing a mountain of loosely-packed gravel on their hands and knees to get to him. Lots of ungainly clambering and blurred panty shots.

Antonio and YvonneBut more interesting is the fact that Antonio’s  mama, Yvonne, visits later to help her son decide who stays and who goes. Looking like a cross between Sophia Loren and Angelica Huston, she’s totally intimidating and unstinting in offering advice/criticism. Nice touch. As if that’s not enough, Antonio’s ex-wife shows up claiming to still be in love with him, so it seems she will also vie for his affections. The coming attractions look pretty great: Yvonne asking huge-breasted Playboy Playmate Christi, “If I asked you to get rid of them, would you?,” referring, I think, to those boobs! There’s also the ex-wife lying in what looks like a hospital bed, with Yvonne hovering threateningly above; immature screw-up Sarah screaming/bawling incoherently; and Yvonne saying “I object” at what looks like Antonio’s wedding. The show is clearly all about Yvonne.

And maybe the ex-wife. I think I’m on board for this one.

15
Aug
09

Su casa no es mi casa

Came across a 2-page “special advertising section” for Grey Goose Vodka entitled “On the Terrace with Edward Burns” in the new Vanity Fair. The copy begins, “Filmmaker and actor Edward Burns enjoys getting together with friends old and new in New York’s Southampton. Here he shares a few of his entertaining principles that make everyday occasions extra special…”

This badly cropped photo doesn’t really convey the expansiveness of the ad’s outdoor gathering, which is apparently taking place on a fabulous bi-level terrace attached to a fabulous duplex.
GreyGooseAd
It’s the tagline that got to me: “The perfect evening is one that reminds you that you don’t need to leave home to have a good time.” — Edward Burns

Very true if your home is as grand as this one, but for those of us living in less exalted digs, the perfect evening often involves escaping the claustrophobia of one’s tiny combination living room/kitchen/dining area. Bah.

On to happier things: Saw the film “(500) Days of Summer” and liked it much better than I thought I would. (The commercials, like all movie commercials, made it look a bit twee.)  As for the immensely likable Joseph Gordon-Levitt, isn’t he already the object of many crushes? His attractively lovelorn “(500) Days” character should win him a whole slew of obsessive fans. Good luck with that, buddy.