Category Archives: Film

Movie reviews, reading film as literature

october: yellow, anderson and family

I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers”-Anne Shirley

I recently posted my “fall moodboard” which focused on three movies released between 1965-1970. But I realized that that really only applies to September. Returning to school. Air changing. The Breaking Out of the Trench Coat.

October is a different story. Culturally, the beginning changes have already happened (I say culturally because in Georgia is was both 75 and 55 last week). October is aware of its identity as a fall month, while September sometimes attempts to hold on to the last grasps of summer.

In October, my inspiration is Wes Anderson. I am convinced that the man lives in a perpetual October. I actually think there are more yellow/orange skies in Anderson films than blue ones.

I told my brother today that I love the “underrated overrated folks.” My favorite baseball player is Ryan Howard of the Phillies, whose payroll is too high, admittedly, and he strikes out a lot. So people call him overrated, but I think he is wonderful and that calling him overrated looks at only one aspect of his baseball playing skills. He’s also a team leader and a great first baseman.

Another example is John Singer Sargent, my favorite painter. I love the idea that he was marginalized by his peers because he wasn’t on the surface an avant-garde painter. He appeared to be a traditional commissioned portraitist, but later examining of his art, outside the context of the Gilded Age, Sargent reveals a keen knowledge of art history and sardonic awareness of the constructs of high society life.

I feel like Wes Anderson is my “underrated overrated” director. His films are just so quirky that they seem to either be immediately beloved or immediately hated for being so beloved without any qualifications. But I honestly love him, without an ulterior motive to align myself with either the quirky hipster set, or the erudite anti-hipster set, or any set annoyed by any other set. Somehow Rushmore, The Royal Tenebaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve ZissouThe Darjeeling Limited and The Fantastic Mr. Fox are all October for me. So sure of their identities and having an awareness of their place in the world.

One thing about Wes Anderson’s characters that work so well for inspiration is that they all have uniforms. Just in the case of The Royal Tenebaums, Margo has her kohl lined eyes, fur coat, barrettes, and polo dresses, Richie, his tennis sweat bands and suits, and Chaz and his sons have their matching sweat suits.

october: margo tenenbaum

Anderson movies sort of uniforms too. Distant wives/sisters/mothers, over bearing father figures, misunderstood youths. all centering around the family. Anderson prioritizes the family and somehow contradicts the first lines of Madame Bovary by making all of his families unhappy in the same way, where they are disconnected from each other, yet don’t have identities that are not Tenenbaum, Zissou, Whitman or Fox. Maybe I love him because I feel like my largest identity marker is that of my family. A friend in high school once said “Kearneys travel in packs.” And it is so true. My family is very close and very disconnected as the same time. No member of my immediate family is just their familial role to me, there are other layers of that relationship. Though I imagine that it is true is all families. But, like Anderson’s families, we are aware of it.

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fall moodboard

moodboard: 1965-1970 (movies)

Something about going back to school and fall makes me want to transform into Ali MacGraw. Literally every Labor Day weekend, I become overwhelmed with the desire to watch Love Story. It is the perfect bad movie. And I un-ironically love it. The movie doesn’t take place exclusively in the fall, but the most stand out outfit is Jenny’s trench and minis. And those hats.

But thinking about Ali MacGraw and her general awesome, I realized that my style goals every fall come from exactly three movies: Love Story, The Graduate, and Bonnie and Clyde. So I made this moodboard.

As far as fashion inspiration goes, there is a very small spectrum of years that I really feel at home in, and it is the late 60’s. All my favorite music is from then and a lot of my favorite movies. Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate both came out in 1967 and Love Story was released in 1970.

I included a picture of Joni Mitchell for her awesome bangs because I am thinking about getting my hair cut again soon to include some.

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Revisiting: North by Northwest

Last year, I went on a major Alfred Hitchcock bender. At this point, I’ve seen Notorious, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, North by Norhtwest, Psycho (on Halloween! in a movie theater!), Marnie, To Catch a Thief, Rope, Spellbound, and Suspicion. I’ve enjoyed all of them, except Marnie.

But my first and favorite Hitchcock film is North by Northwest, even after seeing movies that I think are better movies. But I think North by Northwest‘s inclusion in my top five movies of all time is really a token representation of how much I love Hitchcock. If this movie were directed by anyone else, I don’t know if it would make it. But North by Northwest has the elements of all my favorite Hitchcock films: Cary Grant, sexual tension with a blonde, identity issues, various forms of transportation and ridiculous camera work.

After watching it again for the first time since spring, I realized that there is really only one thing about the movie that I don’t like and it is Eve Marie Saint. I don’t really have a problem with the Hitchcock blonde as a thing, but I just find her a less compelling actress than Ingrid Bergman and not as sweet and beautiful as Grace Kelly.

Is North by Northwest still one of my favorite movies? Yes. But does it have a chance to be knocked out if I fall in love with another Hitchcock film more? I would say yes…except for this scene.

What’s not to love? That weird (horrible) camera work that screams “1959,” Cary Grant drunk, and the suspenseful music. It is my favorite scene in all of Hitchcock because it exemplifies what I love about him.

 

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Revisiting the Top 5: Movies and Books

So this is something I will be working on all semester. Some of my favorite blog posts to write are when I look at something and I enjoy and try to figure out why.

What I am going to do is look at my top five favorite books and movies and reassess my opinion of them and how they fit into my life.

For the record my top five of each are:

Books

  1. A Room with a View-E.M. Forster
  2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn-Betty Smith
  3. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler-E. L. Konisburg
  4. Mrs. Dalloway-Virginia Woolf
  5. Emma-Jane Austen

Movies

  1. The Graduate
  2. Bringing Up Baby
  3. North by Northwest
  4. His Girl Friday
  5. A Room with a View

I don’t know if I am going to alternate between books and movies or just do all of one and then the other. I guess we’ll see!

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In defense of Susan, Summer and Cassie

Or an argument against their characterization as Manic Pixie Dream Girls.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a stock character in film who are usually immature, “girlish” and quirky, who are the spark of life given to shake the (depressed) male lead out of said self-absorbed depression. The female character is static, dull and repetitive and doesn’t have a personality outside of completely the male lead’s fantasy of what a life partner on his journey to self-awareness should be.

I don’t like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. Movies with MPDGs (notably Almost Famous and Garden State) severely warped my 15 year old mind concerning what relationships should be like and in the case of Garden State what mental health recovery looks like (see a blog post about this here). It took a while and a good dose of Rosalind Russell, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep to get me out of idolizing MPDGs and falling in love with self-destructive guys.

But sometimes I feel the MPDG label is applied too liberally by feminist film critics. So I am writing to defend three female characters that have been labelled MPDGs either in formal criticism or just fan ranting. Those characters are Susan Vance, from Bringing up Baby,  Summer, from (500) Days of Summer, and Cassie Ainsworth, from Skins.

Susan Vance as played by Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby

For those who haven’t seen this movie, here’s a quick recap: David Huxley (Cary Grant) is a paleontologist who has been working for some time assemble a skeleton of a dinosaur, and he has just secured the final bone he needs (the intercostal clavicle) and he is about to get married to a Miss Swallow, who is very uptight. He is also working on his first impression of a Mrs. Random, who has a great deal of wealth that could be given to his museum. He meets Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) by chance. Susan is free-spirited and wiley. Her brother has sent her a leopard from the jungle (the titular Baby) and David gets tied up in taking the leopard to Susan’s country home in Connecticut. Hijinks ensue, and Susan tries to keep David around because she is in love with him. But it all works out because Susan’s aunt is Mrs. Random and the museum gets the money and David falls in love with Susan as well.

Susan has been called the original MPDG, and she is a start contrast to the Main Line accented, haughty, domineering women Hepburn is known for playing (Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story being her best known). But Susan is not an MPDG.

Susan is not the out of control waif with knowing life advice like Natalie Portman’s Sam in Garden State nor is she placed upon a goddess pedestal by her male couterpart like Kate Hudson’s Penny Lane in Almost Famous.  Susan is a mastermind who is in complete control of her surroundings and is quick on her feet, manipulating her aunt, the town’s constable, a leopard and a yappy dog to arrive at her final plan: a life with the man she has fallen in love with. If anything, to me, Susan is just as in power as Tracy Lord and actually more self-assured.

David Huxley, as well, is not the male counterpart protagonist to the MPDG. He is not looking for himself, or depressed, or seeking something ethereal and problem solving in Susan. Objectively, she creates more problems for him than solves them.

I think the most damning thing to her characterization as the MPDG trope is her self awareness and control, and his lack of romanticizing her. The audience doesn’t get the male protagonist gazing thoughtfully and thinking about the uselessness of his life before her, with his mental health somehow improved because he meets her.

Summer Finn as played by Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer

This is the one I expect the most disagreement about. But it is also the case where I feel my argument is the strongest.

Before I get into this specific example, let’s establish something. A real person (like you, me or Zooey Deschanel) cannot be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. That is because real people are not flat. They are not tropes. And while women (and men) can be deceived into thinking that the MPDG is the ideal of what they should be, or should be dating in a heterosexual relationship, that is never going to be what they are or what they get. Because the MPDG is a flat trope with limited motivations and characterizations who is defined by the man who idolizes her. And no person is defined by the way a singular other person views them. In real life, all gazes are equal, except for the prioritized one looking into the mirror.

The summary of (500 Days of Summer) is exceedingly simple. Boy meets girl of his dreams. He falls in love with her.  It doesn’t work out and he tries to figure out why.

The summary of Zooey Deschanel is a little more complicated. She is an actress and musician who has been idolized for her vintage fashion taste, blunt brown bangs and large blue eyes by the white subculture of non-quite hipster indie kids. I am going to admit right now that I have bought clothes because I thought Zooey would wear them, I have cut my hair because of her and I gushed when a lesbian couple told me at a She & Him (her band) concert that I looked like her. My opinion of Zooey is largely positive and that may color my analysis, so I wanted to be upfront.

The way Zooey is depicted in media and thought about is probably the closest thing real life has to a MPDG. She has been called so on a lot of feminist film blogs I read because she tends to play MPDGish characters (though I’d like to know when ones they are thinking of other than Summer. In Elf, Buddy may be the closest thing in film we have to the MPDG(uy). And Trillian from A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is probably a MPDG, but still her character was more dynamic than Trillian from the book.) But I’d like to say again: No person can be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Zooey Deschanel herself is not one-dimensional, no matter how she is thought about by most 15-25 white not quite hipster indie kids.

However, that does not prevent her characters from possibly being a MPDG. But in the case of Summer Finn, I think the same thing that happens Zooey Deschanel in real life happens to Summer Finn in the film.

There is one scene in the film where the narrator talks about something along the lines of the “Summer Finn Phenomenon” giving examples of her unexplained magnetism, like that when she chose a Belle & Sebastian quote as her senior quote, the sales of their record increased exponentially in her home town. This is not unlike me (and about 12 other girls in my high school) either keeping their brown hair, or dying it brown and cutting their bangs straight across.

The whole movie after the break up leads up to the point when Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) realized that he has romanticized Summer’s existence to fit the mold of who he felt he needed. He was trying to make a real person into a MPDG, which can never work. He was  blindsided by her breaking up with him because he had ignored all of her feelings that make her a real person because in his mind she is the flat, but perfect, quirky girl in his mind. That’s why their relationship didn’t work out.

So yes, the Summer that the audience sees for 488 days is a MPDG. But this is through the lens of the male protagonist, and that lens is condemned by the main females of the movie, both Summer and the protagonist’s younger sister, Rachel.

The saddest thing about this movie is that just like when Summer and Tom go see The Graduate and Summer thinks it is a sad ending and Tom thinks it is a happy ending (a catalyst to her ending the relationship), Tom is once again ultimately oblivious to his nostalgic and romantic lens.  In the last scene where Tom is interviewing for an architecture job, he meets a girl who happens to be named Autumn and Tom gives a cheeky grin to the camera. This is again Tom turning his life into a romantic comedy where the women are secondary characters intended to fill the voids in his plotline. What could’ve been a subtle critique on how culture still pigeonholes what women can be, the writers went instead for a cutesy ending. And I don’t think that critique and the romcom ending have to be mutually exclusive.

But Tom’s perception of Summer does not make her a MPDG. It just makes him kind of misogynistic and short-sighted.

Cassie Ainsworth as played by Hannah Murray in Skins (UK Gen 1)

This one I just don’t really get.

Skins is an UK show about teenagers in Bristol, England. It is very dirty and grimy and the kids have lots of sex and do drugs. And the kids’ personalities are all relatively relatable. So what is lacks in production value, it makes up for with being charming and realistic.

Cassie is the resident kook, who at the beginning of the show has just been released from treatment for anorexia. Supposedly, she will sleep with anyone as one of her many distraction from food. So Michelle and Tony, the it couple, encourage her to deflower their good friend Sid. Of course, Sid is in love with Michelle. Cassie sees this immediately and points out to Sid that Michelle knows. They don’t sleep together but Cassie falls in love with Sid.

Throughout the show, we follow Cassie and Sid’s relationship. But we also see Cassie’s struggle with her family and their obviousness to her crumbling mental health, her strained friendship with Michelle, her developing friendship with eventual roommate Chris and her finding her place in a tight knit group of friends.

Cassie on Skins is quirky and out there and girlish, but the whole point of the MPDG is that she is defined by the male protagonist is his terms. And that isn’t what Sid and Cassie’s relationship is. Also, the premise of Skins is that all the kids are the protagonists equally. So Cassie is given equal weight as her love interest. Another problem of the MPDG is that we don’t see her relationships outside the male protagonist (admittedly, this is one facet true of Summer Finn). But with Cassie, her friendships with Chris and Michelle are some of the most moving of the first generation.

I think Cassie gets the label because of her “oh, wow” moments and her girlish clothes. But being ditzy and feminine are not inherently bad characteristics. Only when they are the only characteristics does the character become problematic. Cassie is also clever and empathetic and strong willed.

But alas, ultimately how I see the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is that we (we being movie watching women) don’t want our characters, the ones we love, to be labelled it by other feminists. So we feel the need to defend (like I just did) our characters that we identify with. And I think sometimes we forget that calling the characters out is not nearly as important as imploring the male screenwriters to write more realistic women, or the male producers and directors to use female written scripts, or the studio execs to employ female producers and directors.

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Two Reviews

The King’s Speech

It is odd that I’ve had this interest in the visual for so long and just in the past year I have added a major and switched career paths. The King’ s Speech was a bizarre culmination of my interests.

The film is clearly focused on language. The Duke of York, later King George V, can’t speak without stammering and that’s basically what gets the plot moving. He meets a speech therapist, Duke is as incorrigible as Logue, the speech therapist. Helena Bonham Carter is fabulous as the Queen Mother (though I guess she is the Duchess of York for most of the movie). The entire thing is riveting and wonderful.

But my favorite part of the movie was the set design, costuming and cinematography. For a great summation, as well as images, check out one of my favorite blogs’ review of it, A Bloomsbury Life. That blog is an absolutely phenomenal. Some how, every post is inspiring and I literally end of saving half the images on my hard drive, just so I can scroll through them quickly.

As far as the movie itself, Colin Firth was amazing. If he doesn’t when the Oscar, well I might lose all faith in the Academy. I never once felt his portrayal was forced. I loved the subtlety of his acting. He briefly mentions in a confessional like discussion with Logue that he was knobbed knees as a child. Later, without pomp or notice, as the King gets frustrated and sits down, Firth silently reverts the King’s knees back to turning in.

Geoffrey Rush was also wonderful, as was Helena Bonham Carter and I would pin her as Best Supporting Actress if not for…

The Fighter

…Amy Adams in this movie. It is the story of two brothers who are both boxers, and starts as one brother, Christian Bale as Dicky Ecklund, is hitting rock bottom and the other, Mark Wahlberg as MickyWard, is getting a shot as the big time. Amy Adams plays Charlene, who is Micky Ward’s love interest.

Adams’ role could’ve been so simple and so bland, but she really creates a dynamic. Initially Charlene seems like she is the way out for Micky, a way to escape his family that is holding him back. But the entire time Charlene is kind of a bitch, fighting with Micky’s sisters and speaking for him. But we want to like Amy Adams’ character because Micky loves her, and as her role balances between good/bad it breaks down the dichotomy for all the characters. If Charlene can’t be simply good or bad, then neither can Ecklund, with his destructive crack addiction, or Ward and Ecklund’s overbearing mother.

For a movie about two brothers, the two women hold the entire film together. Melissa Leo as the brothers’ mother is also wonderful. However, Best Supporting Actress loves ingénues, so I really think Amy Adams will finally be walking  away with the Oscar.

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bleeg blah blorg

I should re name my blog “Miss Woodhouse Goes to College and Never has Time to Do Fun Things (like knit/crochet, blog, color, watch Bones).”

This month has been so crazy. My part time job is starting to get really busy. I feel like I am either going to class, doing homework or catching up on sleep.

So here’s what I’ve been up to.
1. Making lots of money and spending lots of money. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE? Last year with one super-part time job I felt like I had just enough money to do all the things I wanted to do. And now when one super-part time job and another more time, but still part-time job, I still feel like I am only barely getting by. But I am making like three times as much.

2. Reading about nepotism and popes: Which is just about my favorite thing in the world. Barberini, don’t get cocky though, the Medici still have my Italian heart.

3. Applying for summer jobs

4. Applying for study abroad in Florence!

5. Learning to budget money. Which is becoming a new obsession. I SPENT 50 DOLLARS THIS MONTH ON FAST FOOD. too much money when I am on a dining plan.

6. Reading a lot of Contemporary Art Theory and thinking about Hitchcock and voyeurism. (who am I kidding? I always spend a lot time thinking about Hitchcock and voyeurism. or voyeurism in general. It has become like my go to topic for research papers. Especially in relation to the Catholic Church)

7. Watching a lot of Hitchcock.

8. Being excited and then forlorn about the Phillies. This is honestly probably the number one reason this month has been hard. While a usual 50% of my time is devoted to school and like 25% to fun and another 25% to sleep/eating, during postseason I feel like 90% of my time I spent thinking about the Phillies’ stats and checking up on games and what not. So I had to squeeze sleeping/eating/school/fun into 10% of my thinking time, which was only made harder by midterms. I am still really upset about the Phils’ lose. you probably shouldn’t talk to me about it. I am kind of welling up right now.

9. Talking about Judith paintings with a guy friend of mine. Which was kind of a surreal experience. First, this guy has no background in art history whatsoever, and has never studied any sort of feminist theory. I mean he is an engineer. But he has the most insightful things to say about the paintings and was so interested in what I knew about the paintings, and how they changed from the Renaissance to Baroque to later depictions. I was just pleasantly surprised. Sometimes, at Agnes, I forgot how useful and charming men can be. But for realsies, I do not miss men in my classes. I cannot imagine talking about the masturbatory impulse of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice in a room with a bunch of college guys. Though, my Jane Austen class would probably consist of mostly young women even at a coed school.

10. making plans for a halloween costume. hint: it soon will be coming to FRUITion. PUNS BLOWING UP YO MIND.

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