Tag Archives: female directors

Set It Up

Two harried, 20-something assistants work for different demanding bosses in the same Manhattan building. Harper (Zoey Deutch) admires her boss, Kirsten (Lucy Liu), who is a sports reporter. Harper wants to be a writer too but so far she spends her days fetching lunch and racking up steps on Kirsten’s fitbit. Charlie (Glen Powell) is eagerly awaiting his promotion but is still just Rick’s (Taye Diggs) overworked assistant. When Harper and Charlie meet in the lobby of their building, they determine that the only way to free themselves from the shackles of serfdom is to set up their bosses romantically. And it works!

The catch is – and you won’t believe this – Harper and Charlie fall in love themselves while orchestrating this love match between their bosses. Who would have thought (other than every single one of you, plus your grandmas, plus the ghosts of your grandmas’ mid-century pet parakeets).

Set It Up is the original Netflix film billed as the rom-com to save all rom-coms. Were rom-coms an endangered species? The good ones seem all but extinct. And I’m not sure this one changed my mind about that. But it’s not terrible. It’s not as cornball cheesy as these things tend to be. The stars are charming and dripping with chemistry. But itMV5BYmQyM2Q0NzgtZTAxNi00OTk3LTg4NjItM2E2YmE5MGM5YWI2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_ (1) doesn’t have a unique voice or anything that super sets it apart. It’s comfort food:  the kind of mac and cheese you might bring to a potluck. Not gourmet. Not lobster mac. Not truffle mac. It probably doesn’t even have gouda. But it’s warm and creamy and just gooey enough to convince you you want it. Rom-coms are predicable almost by definition. We know they’re going to get together; the “fun” is in how they get together.

Zoey Deutch is cute and glowing and perky and seemingly born to be the quirky, sweet romantic lead (her mother is Lea Thompson). Glen Powell, who previously played and has the smug, handsome face of an astronaut, is a good match for her, although he’s the matte paint to her gloss. Tituss Burgess, in little more than a cameo, is high-impact nonetheless, and makes an excellent case for giving him a starring role, stat.  But I didn’t get a Tituss Burgess movie, I got two white actors with blindingly white smiles in roles I’ve seen dozens of times before, sometimes done better, and sometimes worse. That’s not a ringing endorsement of a movie, but ringing would be a bit over-the-top for a movie you see coming from 95 miles away. This is a tepid endorsement in 12 point, Times New Roman, which is what it deserves and all I can give.

 

 

Advertisements

The Beguiled

During the civil war, a girls’ boarding school full of southern genteel ladies is eking out an existence. Out of the goodness of their hearts, they take in an injured enemy soldier, John (Colin Farrell) and nurse him back to health. They’ve hardly got enough fabric to rip into bandages yet somehow the lot of them, including house mistress Martha (Nicole Kidman), teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), and haughty student Carol (Elle Fanning), flounce around in beautiful, gauzy dresses. Suspicious.

I hated this movie in a pretty major way. Every female in the movie is a bitch, even the film_rec-02cute little ones. And every female throws herself at the soldier in their midst, despite the fact that he’s their sworn enemy and currently AWOL. And of course Johnny boy plays each and every one of them, and they faint into his greedy clutches like they don’t have a brain between them to see through his rather obvious machinations.

The entire plot of this movie relies on the crazed horniness of every single woman and girl. And when lusty John finally makes one his lucky mistress, oh man, we’re all going to wish they had stuck to just heavy petting and weird old-timey flirting.

Of course, this being a Sofia Coppola flick, it looks great. Very atmospheric. I sort of want to take a feminist read of it, and wonder where we’d be if it wasn’t for men fucking things up all the time. That’s worthy of a pause, but hard to dwell there since the movie is so entrenched in its sexual tension. The women give some fantastic performances, but the characters are so exploitative it’s hard to really appreciate any nuance.

The Beguiled is a slow-burning thriller seething with toxic masculinity. The pace is uneven, defaulting to meandering. Long, artful silences can’t mask the mixed message: Colin Farrell might be the sex object, but every female is just a flower waiting, hoping, to be plucked by him. It looks dreamy but feels grim. Coppola might be doing interesting things here but I’ll never know it because I was too enraged and insulted to care.

Please Give

Kate and Alex own a successful, upscale second-hand furniture store; they buy estate items from grieving families and turn a tidy profit. Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) also own the apartment next door to theirs, and are impatiently waiting for its former owner and current occupant to die before they can knock down some walls and start the renovations. The old lady is cantankerous enough that they don’t feel particularly guilty about this, though their repeated run-ins with her granddaughters (Rebecca Hall, Amanda Peet) are increasingly awkward.

That sounds kind of brutal, but what writer-director Nicole Holofcener has created in Kate is actually a very interesting, nuanced character who’s experiencing some of that white woman, liberal guilt that comes with middle age and introspection. Kate is living MV5BNTM0OTU5ODY5MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzgwNzUzMw@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,997_AL_in complex economic times that challenge her notions of propriety. She can’t pass a homeless person without contributing to their cup, which makes her privileged teenage daughter somehow feel deprived. There’s something really fascinating about Kate; she’s complex, and not afraid to have conflicting emotions. She has mastered the world in which she lives but while she isn’t comfortable holding the reins, she’s not a hypocrite, and she knows deep down she wouldn’t want it any other way. Meanwhile, the women next door, in less than ideal circumstances, provide a nice contrast to Kate’s guilty affluence.

Catherine Keener continues to be under-rated but she’s really terrific in Please Give – it’s inspired casting. Kate’s empathy and ambition give her a complexity that’s rarely seen and difficult to pull off, and I can imagine it being a lot less successful in almost any other hands. The movie feels a little slight at times, a little thin in plot, but everyone has a point of view and the film maker trusts us to sit with the themes and experience our own version of existential reckoning.

Laggies

Megan panics when her boyfriend of 10 years proposes to her at a friend’s wedding, but really it’s what she’s been waiting for – not so much for the ring, but for someone to just decide for her. With her post-graduate studies complete, she’s still without a job, still waffling on her daddy’s couch when convenient. She’s lost. Which doesn’t excuse the following: when she flees her brand new fiance and her dear friend’s wedding reception to “get some air” she winds up at a grocery store, buying beer for some teenagers.

And then she ends up following one of them home. Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz) is pretty interesting for a 16 year old, but the home she shares with her single father Craig (Sam Rockwell) is appealingly simple and cozy to Megan (Keira Knightley) and her quarter life crisis. Of course, the addition of Megan instantly complicates things for everyone and life is never simple. Megan should bloody well know that.

This film is apparently known as Say When in some countries, and I sort of think it MV5BNDhhM2FiMWUtYTBhNi00M2Q5LWI3ZTMtNWVmODcwMGU3ZTAwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTI3MDk3MzQ@._V1_should be in mine as well. Laggies? An expression I was unfamiliar with, but could kind of understand with context. Urban Dictionary, bless its lack of soul, provides several helpful definitions, including 1. dragging along (which I believe Megan is doing) 2. someone who is stalkerish (which Megan borderline is) 3. a combination of both large + saggy, referring to boobs, as in “she’s got a nice rack, but she’s laggy” (which Megan most assuredly is NOT) 4. “the laggies” is a disease (well, a pretend one) caused by chronic masturbation (I’ll let you watch the movie to find out which characters may suffer from it).

Keira Knightly is not entirely convincing in her part or in her accent, but director Lynn Shelton is working really hard to throw a little sympathy her way, which is hard to do when an overeducated, overprivileged white girl is whining about her own indecision. Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell, though, are pretty fantastic additions to the cast. They bookend Megan’s 20-something ennui, and give it some perspective. I also appreciated pop-ups from Ellie Kemper and Jeff Garlin; Shelton has a knack for comedy that I can only wish was more present in the script by Andrea Seigel. This film puts a little too much faith in Knightley’s charm. She tries her best to be our plucky heroine but she’s not half as enchanting as she thinks she is, and she’s easily upstaged by her teenage counterpart. Possibly Megan should have locked that shit down while she still could. Instead she’s stuck in that crack between childhood and adulthood, and the only enticement of this film is the viewer’s desire to be the one to give her shove she needs to get the fuck out.

Cargo

If (when) the zombie apocalypse happens, please feel free to refer back to this post, which will justify your bullet in my brain. Thank you in advance for your cooperation. The truth is, I am not a survivalist. I don’t want to live without hot baths, good wine, soft cheese, manicures, memory foam, air conditioning, smooth legs, clean fingernails, diamond earrings. I never want to run because I have to. I don’t even like to camp. Fight for my life? I avoid sales so I don’t have to fight for the last pair of 7.5 patent leather Mary Janes. So if shit hits the fan, I’m checking out. Even if it turns out the zombie outbreak was really just a particularly gross strain of the flu, I promise not to mind. This is a risk I’m willing to take in order to ensure that I never spend a day hungry, or cold, or scared out of my mind, or wearing yesterday’s underwear, or having unminty breath – and yes these things are all EQUALLY repugnant to me.

Cargo is about a man who is not as smart as I am (I could start every single review save The Theory of Everything with that sentence, and I just may). Andy (Martin Freeman) and his wife and baby daughter are surviving by avoiding land altogether and sticking to their house boat. But when his wife gets injured, it’s either probably die from zombies or MV5BMjUwNzYzNzg1N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjM1MDcyNTM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_definitely die from blood loss. And again they choose wrong and head inland, where poor Andy has the unenviable task of keeping his family alive when every single other thing wants them dead.

Cargo is newly arrived on Netflix, where we are promised both a “thrilling” and “emotional” ride and ohmygod yes. I hid under the blanket so much, both to convince my rapidly beating heart to vacate my throat and get back into the cavity from whence it came, and to sob unobserved (the dogs get overly concerned).

This movie wins because it’s not about the zombies. In fact, the zombies aren’t really the villains (and why would they be, any more than lions are villains; they’re simply acting the way they must). Instead we focus on just a handful of people fleeing them. It’s character-driven, and casts some very capable people to show that off, not least of all Martin Freeman who broke my fucking heart. And the film is further improved by the baked Australian landscape, which is all that and a bag of Tim Tams.

I don’t normally have the heart, or the stomach, for a zombie movie, but exceptions must be made for one this good.

Behind The Curtain: Todrick Hall

Dear Todrick Hall,

I’m sorry. As a film reviewer at a festival, we have dozens and usually hundreds of choices to make, and a tight schedule to keep, and we just cannot see them all. This documentary was available to me and I didn’t make time for it because I had no idea that it would blow me away. I’d have to wait to discover that for myself on Netflix. So I’m late to the party, but I brought tequila and nachos. Peace?

You may or may not know Todrick Hall as a Broadway and Youtube star. Having found the roles for gay African-American men to be quite limited, he simply started creating his own. He re-wrote other people’s songs and created short films to accompany them, and gained huge notoriety on Youtube because of it.  But Todrick Hall is no flash in the pan; his talent is of such cosmic, galactic proportions that of course he would burst out of MV5BNDY3YmM4OTUtYjRiMy00ODMyLWI1OTEtM2ZjNmRiNzJiMjEzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTI4MjIwMjQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_Youtube and make a scene wherever he landed. But one of his absolute greatest accomplishments is a musical that he wrote and produced himself. Biographical, and inspired by The Wizard of Oz, Straight Outta Oz is an all-original production that covers the yellow-brick road he followed from being gay in small-town Texas and the struggles and hurdles that led to fame and acceptance and being fabulously gay anywhere he goes, including but not limited to small-town Texas.

Hall is enormously talented and handsome enough to coast on his looks, but what makes this documentary great is that he’s transparent and genuine. Behind The Curtain means actual access. And director Katherine Fairfax-Wright’s skill is for setting her subject within real social context. This musical was being mounted in a time when young black boys were being gunned down by police, a fellow Youtube star by the name of Christina Grimmie was murdered by a “fan”, and Hall’s old stomping ground, Pulse nightclub, was terrorized, a hate crime that left 49 dead. Both Todrick Hall and this documentary operate within this very real world, but both manage to remain optimistic and inspiring.

I hope one day I’m lucky enough to sit in his audience, but until then we can content ourselves with some of the amazing Youtube content he’s created.

I’m sorry we still live in a world that couldn’t immediately recognize the glittery, amber rays emanating from this shining star, but this kind of light cannot be contained under a bushel for long. Todrick Hall is destined for success because he knows the value of friendship, which is evident by the tight crew he keeps around him and the family that he’s made of his own choosing. And because of his voice, which is strong and knowing. And because he actually has lots to say with it, and the means to write it down, coherent and catchy. And because he wants it. He wants it so bad he’s not going to sit down and wait for it, he’s going to go out there and create it, and god damn do I admire that.

 

 

Slut or Nut: The Diary of a Rape Trial

Mandi Gray was raped. She is one of the very rare few to speak up, to pursue criminal charges, to undergo a brutalizing justice system process that seems built for the benefit of perpetrators, not victims. I want to call Ms. Gray strong and courageous for doing so, but I don’t want to imply that women who do not are not. I think Ms. Gray knows better than anyone why women choose to stay silent, or are silenced, and this documentary puts us squarely in her shoes, so we can understand it too.

Only 3 of 1000 sex assaults result in conviction. Most go unreported because even in the era of #metoo, women are categorically not believed. But for the small percentage who do bring an accusation to the police, one fifth will be dismissed as MV5BNzJiY2ZmMWItOGI4My00ZGVlLTljOWMtZGZjNjZhZjBiNjUyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQ3MjI5NzM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,658,1000_AL_“unfounded” which seems to be a fancy word for the police not believing her, which is hard not to take personally when ‘unfounded’ is used exponentially more often in sex assault cases than for any other crime. If you’re a woman of colour, disabled, or a sex worker, your word is all but meaningless. But if you’re one of the small sliver of people not dissuaded yet, you may find, as Gray did, that your body is now a crime scene. A rape kit is a must for conviction, yet there aren’t enough rape kit nurses to go around. You’ll have to offer yourself, body and soul, as evidence, because for some reason it’s your responsibility to help catch the rapist. But the fun doesn’t stop there: next you’ll be revictimized in court in a discouraging, dehumanizing procedure that never grants any real justice because it’s the victim who seems to be on trial.

This is the reality in which we live, and there’s no dearth of documentaries, well-made, well-researched, passionate, rally-cry, stoke-the-fire documentaries, that point out the inadequacies of this oppressive system. And yet we need another. And another. Because as often as women have said it before, it’s clearly still not sunk in. The system is broken.

Kelly Showker puts together a documentary that doesn’t just plead for social change and justice, it shows us quite plainly just how badly it’s needed. Ms. Gray could be your roommate or your sister or your friend. Stand beside her as she relives the worst night of her life, followed by the worst year. This documentary doesn’t preach, because it doesn’t need to. It shows you the callous reality of a rape trial, and watching it, there’s really only one conclusion you can draw. Seek out this documentary. Watch it, share it, talk about it. Change only happens when we unite, and a documentary such as this has the power to make advocates of us all.

 

 

 

This documentary screens as part of the Hot Docs film festival; this review was first published at Cinema Axis.

 

 

 

 

Tiny Shoulders

Barbie has been a controversial figure since her inception. Before Barbie, little girls played with dolls that looked like babies. These dolls encouraged nurturing, mothering instincts. But then along came Barbie, a doll that had been “sexualized” with large breasts and hips, a distinctly adult doll that inspired little girls to dream about their own futures, to project their own aspirations.

I played with Barbies as a little girl. In fact, in a family of 4 sisters, we easily had over 100 Barbies between us. Probably over 200. Sometimes we’d get gifted 2 or 3 of the exact same, which was never a problem at all: “Twins!” we’d squeal gleefully.

Despite her figure, Barbie has always been somewhat of a feminist figure, albeit one FJF70_Viewerbased on conspicuous consumption. She held jobs that real life women were still dreaming about. She wasn’t saddled with kids. She drove her own car and owned her own home, independently, without the help of Ken, who was little more than another accessory. But no matter how many astronaut Barbies existed, she was still tall, blonde, blue-eyed, thin, with impossible, top-heavy measurements. Sleepover Barbie came with a scale permanently stuck at 110lbs and a diet book that simply said “Don’t eat.” Needless to say, real-life feminists could never quite embrace her, even as their own daughters flocked to toy stores to buy her up.

My sisters loved to play “family” but I had zero interest in play-acting motherhood. I was born this way: there was never a time when I didn’t know myself to be a childfree kind of gal. So Barbie was it for me. Barbie had the life I imagined for myself – a fabulous wardrobe, a cute convertible, a handsome boyfriend, a serious profession. The only problem was, she didn’t look a thing like me.

Tiny Shoulders, Rethinking Barbie documents the 2016 launch of a line of different-sized Barbies, FJF41_01including tall, petite, and curvy. Curvy Barbie has a thicker waist and no thigh gap. It seems like a no-brainer now, but for the people working at Mattel, it was ulcer-inducing times. Would feminists finally be appeased? Would they be derided for waiting too long? Would children embrace a “fat” Barbie, one that didn’t fit into the outfits they might already own? They were anxious to steer the narrative but were wise enough to know that social media would own them – and that a Time cover story would largely dictate her early adoption or lack thereof.

I would have embraced a thicker Barbie had she existed when I was a kid. Heck, I just checked out the catalog right now to see if the Curvy line includes one with pink hair and lots of tattoos (it doesn’t). Representations matters.

Barbie has never been just a toy. She’s an icon, with a place in our culture. Even Gloria Steinem has a thing or two to say about her in this doc. Director Andrea Nevins looks at Barbie’s reinvention from every angle, seemingly missing nothing. This is a moment in time worth documenting, and she has. And it also turns the tables on Barbie’s critics. Yes, this move was probably long overdue, but seeing things from the business side makes us realize what a gutsy move this truly was, with possible million dollar repercussions. Barbie will always have it just a little tougher than most if not all of her fellow toys just by virtue of who she is, what she represents, and what we project on to her. People are keen to find fault. Today she reflects a greater diversity – not every body, and not every ethnicity, but progress is progress – and not only is that worth applauding, I also think it deserves the careful consideration granted by Nevins and crew.

The Rachel Divide

Rachel Dolezal: I bet you know her name. She’s the white woman who passed herself off as black and became the head of her local N.A.A.C.P. chapter. And in fact, she doesn’t just pretend to be black, she claims to really believe that inside, she is. She has called it transracial, perhaps to piggy-back on the recent (and limited) success of the transgendered community to gain acceptance. Transgendered people are born in the wrong body. Their biology may present as one sex but they feel very much like the other, and may even undergo reassignment surgery in the pursuit of having their bodies match their identities. But is transracial the same thing? Is it even a thing?

I definitely had opinions about Rachel Dolezal before I ever watched the MV5BYmMzZGRhMjctYTA4My00YWQ3LWJlZjUtZjZmZjU2NjI3NWMzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc5NTc1MTg@._V1_.jpgdocumentary. It was hard not to have a knee-jerk reaction to this thing that felt wrong, felt maybe even racist, though we couldn’t quite articulate why, other than the fact that it necessarily deals in stereotypes. But on paper, it’s harder not to see her point. And in practice, it’s impossible not to feel compassion for her children who are being punished for the sins of their mother.

Laura Brownson has a fascinating documentary that really challenges your beliefs, and to me that’s the ultimate mark of a good documentary. Why did Dolezal lie? Why does she continue to hold her ground? Why does she cry about her notoriety but chase it with a book deal and now a documentary? Why was she singled out for accolades when so many actually-black women were passed over? Should her contributions to the cause be forgotten or ignored?

Brownson offers no real answers but asks enough intelligent questions that it really gets your brain juices bubbling. She doesn’t let Dolezal off the hook but does treat her like a human being, which makes her the rare exception. And I’m still not certain where my own beliefs stand, but my thoughts are a little more evolved, and a little reflection never hurt anyone.

Dude

I’m glad that teenage girls are finally having their moment as three dimensional characters in film. Shopping and boys, that was the John Hughes model. Teenage boys were the hunters and girls their prey, and it’s taken until 2018 to flip the script, first with Blockers, which dared to show young women actually in charge of their own sexuality. Dude follows in its footsteps.

Lily (Lucy Hale) and her friends are in their last year of high school. That’s all that I knew going into this film that recently popped up on Netflix. That, and they were stoners. Not promising, I thought. So colour me surprised when, in between masturbating and getting high, they made friends with me.

Amelia (Alexandra Shipp), Chloe (Kathryn Prescott), and Rebecca (Awkwafina) have MV5BMTk5MDk1NTQ0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjM4ODk5MzI@._V1_been super tight as far back as they can remember, and can hardly envision a future that doesn’t include each other – like, on a daily, hourly basis. So the ultimate theme of this movie is not so unusual: it’s letting go. Letting go in more ways than one, sure, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff.

But what is remarkable is the depth to the characters and the way the script (by director Olivia Milch) refuses to infantilize them. These ladies are EMPOWERED. Their virginity isn’t idolized. They can smoke pot AND be valedictorian. These girls are me (like 4 minutes ago, when I was in high school). Portraying young women as they are shouldn’t feel so monumental, so brave, but it is. This may be how lots of girls act, but it’s not how society wants to see them, and so we don’t. We pretend that girls don’t want these things because it threatens the status quo.

The cast is good, with Awkwafina being a particular stand out for me: I’m crushing hard. And I can’t wait to see literally everything Milch does for the rest of her life. But most of all I’m just kind of feeling all puffy-chested that a movie like this can finally exist. And that you can still find diamonds amongst the usual Netflix coal. And that someone, somewhere, is willing to take a risk on a movie like this.