Just dropping a note: Contagion

Contagion (2011) by Steven Soderbergh

The one thing everybody agrees on about Contagion is that it has a great cast. In Jane Austen-speech this mean: Lizzy Bennett, Marianne Dashwood, and Emma Woodhouse in one movie – for non Austen-speaker: Jen Ehle, Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow. Adding to these actresses we have Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, and Jude Law. Who wouldn’t wanna watch? And let’s not forget that Steven Soderbergh directed.

But does a great cast a good movie make? Well, it doesn’t make a bad movie, that’s for sure. It has a solid story, of which I think Jude Law’s character was the most surprising. But there was nothing we haven’t seen already – including the fact that Kate’s character dies and that is always traumatic and I wish they wouldn’t do that.

Also, I think in a world where we have all these awful diseases, do we really need Hollywood to invent just one other? Somehow I thought Outbreak was much better and even Quiet Killer – a tv movie from 1992 starring Kate Jackson – had more appeal. I am not even sure why that is. The trailer looked good but maybe there is just not more to tell about diseases and outbreaks. And not even a cast of superstars can change that.

One word about Jen Ehle because she was probably the least known actress among all these big names: she was amazing and she is the hero within the film. And if you haven’t seen her in Pride and Prejudice – the 1995 BBC version -, do. She’s a brilliant Eliza Bennett – and in everything else she’s done…

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Book vs. Film – The Wives of Bath vs. Lost and Delirious

The Wives of Bath (1993) by Susan Swan

Lost and Delirious (2001) by Léa Pool

I love films but, incidentally, literature has always been my more cherished first love. If there is a way to combine these two passions of mine, I am always already hooked to the idea. I am not sure when I first saw Lost and Delirious. Have I read about it somewhere and ordered the dvd hoping it was good? Have I accidently come across it on tv? Was it something somebody told me to watch? I don’t remember but I certainly do remember that the first time I watched it I read that it was based on the book The Wives of Bath – and yes, I am one of those weird people that read the credits, opening and closing. And I am saying “based on” here because the film says it is “based on” not “inspired by,” which would probably have been the better description. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

(that is the German dvd-cover, by the way, I like it)

I love the movie. Yes, I know it is not so easy to work through like a good lesbian comedy, but I still think it is worth our while. It tells the story of a shakespearean love, passionate love, a love lost becomes delirious. Strangely enought the narrator of the story is not one of the two lovers. It is Mouse Bedford (Mischa Barton), who has been shipped off to boarding school by her evil step-mother and rooms with Paulie (Piper Parabo) and Tori (Jessica Paré). Paulie and Tori are in love (they are not lesbians, they just love each other).

When some younger students, among them Tori’s little sister, surprise Tori and Paulie in bed with each other, Tori tells her sister that Paulie slipped into bed with her without her knowing and that Paulie has a crush on her but that she herself is totally into guys. She breaks up with Paulie and Paulie snaps. In the end we have another dead lesbian and the dignity of outrageous rightousness on our side, a bitter sweet ending that once again confirms that life is not fair.

(there is actually a different book by the same title out there, so make sure you get a copy of the book by Susan Swan)

The book is another matter. Mouse Bradford (yes, the movie makers changed the last names of the three main characters, although the German dvd-cover actually says Mary Bradford, not Bedford – probably just to say that we also know the book and not just the movie, we are snobbish that way) is shipped off to boarding school by her step-mother, but she is not evil, nor is her father quite the touchy kind that he is in the movie. And it is mostly her relationship to her father – or lack thereof – we are told of (the movie puts more emphasize on the mother-daughter relationship of both Mouse and Paulie). Morley is a doctor who works too much and Mouse worries about him but not enough as it turns out that Morley later dies of a heart attack.

Although Paulie and Tori do have a relationship, Paulie disguizes herself as Paulie’s brother Lewis to be with her beloved and it is not quite clear if Tori knows that Paulie and Lewis are the same person (I would argue that she knew but that it really did not matter to her much). The case of Paulie is more complicated as Paulie sees herself as a boy – and the fact that Lewis is working on the school’s premises as a caretaker proves that she is very good at passing. Tori’s brother Rick raises suspicion that Lewis might not be a boy and in order to prove that he is, Paulie kills the caretaker Sergeant to get his genitals. She is declared insane in court.

Although the names of the characters are quite consistent, the book and the film tell two completely different stories. The characters themselves are very different. Mary “Mouse,” for example, has a hump in the book, while Mary “Mouse” in the film is merely a little younger and very shy. The imagery is also completely different. While movie maker Léa Pool works with images of Shakespearean gallantry and nativism, which finally reasolves in Paulie’s rebirth as animal/bird, the book’s central image is the mighty “King Kong” and Tori substitutes for the white woman. Susan Swan paints the picture of a transgendered FTM, and in Mouse’s flashbacks to the trial she defies Freudian theory of penis envy and declares that one does not have to have a penis to make a woman happy, that only man think one has to have one. Swan does not merely draw a picture of a lesbian love that cannot survive heteronormative conventions but a picture of plurality within “lesbian” experience – or maybe “queer” would be the better word here.

The times the stories play out in are also completely different. The book takes place around the event of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, while the film seems to be located cosily in the 1990s. The disparity is great. But both book and movie are worth reading and re-reading, watching and re-watching.

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go (2010) by Mark Romanek

Unexpectedly, I watched a really good movie this week. Why unexpectedly? Because I watch movies for the strangest of reasons. For Never Let Me Go the reason was that the novel it was based on was written by Kazuo Ishiguro and I remembered that he had also written The Remains of the Day. Not that I have read either novel but I do believe that some novelists write perfect stories for movies and I guess Ishiguro is one of them – all based on the fact that I love The Remains of the Day.

I did not read the short synopsis for the film so I was utterly unprepared for what was to come. The movie catapults us into a strange ultimate universe – without telling us so, after all everything looks just like good ol’ Britain to me – where clones are bred as inventories for human spare parts. The kids that grow up to be donors live in special homes out in the country without interaction with the outside world.

The story follows three of these kids, Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley), and Tommy (Andrew Garfield), whose lives are interwoven as they befriend and fall in love with each other. Ruth turns out to be rather selfish in that love since she pretty much steals Tommy away from Kathy out of – as she later confesses – jealousy. Though she states that she was jealous of the love that grew between Kathy and Tommy there are also indications that she may have been in love with Kathy (I don’t know what the novel says about this but I may yet find out…).

As they grow up their paths devide but will ultimately reunite the three. Ruth makes her confession and Kathy and Tommy try to recapture what they had. But their time is short as they are heading toward their conclusion – which is just a nicer way to say: death.

The story is captivating, the idea of a world where humans breed clones for spare parts is scary but is never really moralized over within the movie, the spectator is to draw their own conclusions as to the question: do clones have souls?

The acting is great. Besides the wonderful three leads (and also the very talented younger selfs – Isobel Meikle-Small, Ella Purnell, Charlie Rowe) we have Charlotte Rampling as Miss Emily who leads the home the three live in, and Sally Hawkins as Miss Lucy, a teacher who critiques the system a little bit too audibly. And let me tell you, Keira Knightley can be quite scary!

This is a great movie and finally an innovative story. Hollywood does not do innovative that much these days so maybe we have to turn to Brititsh movie making to see something good these days…

A Marine Story

A Marine Story (2010) by Ned Farr

Once a month (except for the summer months) L-Mag (the German magazine for lesbians, I think there really is only one, correct me if I am wrong), Edition Salzgeber (a German film company that produces gay and lesbian documentaries, and also publishes international films on the German market, if I understand it correctly, again correct me if I am wrong), and Cinemaxx (a company of movie houses in Germany, and elsewhere? I am not sure) presents the “L-Night” by showing a lesbian movie (or lesbian short films) that otherwise would not have been shown on the big screen in Germany in several German cities. I once again attended Friday night’s screening and they showed A Marine Story.

Chief editor of L-Mag, Manuela Kay, introduced the movie as “overly patriotic” and I guess that did not go down too well with the audience, it certainly did not with me. But the movie itself showed itself a little different, or maybe this is just my imagination but, I think the movie used patriotic images to drive its message home. The message is (or rather was since it has been received): stop “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Manuela Kay also cleverly asked how many of the women attended because of Dreya Weber’s abs and I among others raised my arm. I mean, how can you resists these:

Okay, this was not supposed to become a post about the night I watched A Marine Story but about A Marine Story. The story is simple enough:

Marine Alexandra Everett comes from a family of people who serves for the U.S. Marine Corps. The story starts with her coming home from (was it?) Iraq, she has been honorably discharged. She was accused of being gay and as far as I understood it the discharge was only honorable because her father was a big honcho (he’s now retired in Florida with all his buds) in the corps.

While at home now she is asked to train a young woman for the military because that girl faces prison if she does not enlist. Alex gives this girl, Saffron, new purpose in life. But Alex’ private life (her closeted lesbanism) catches up with her even in smalltown, California and word (and pictures) get around that she and Saffron are in a lesbian relationship (which, unfortunately for the audience, is not true).

Saffron gets into more trouble but is “safed” by Alex in an heroic finale and the girl can still join the forces, so all good. Well, I wish it was…

The patriotism within the film is warranted by the setting in smalltown, USA and the fact that the main character is part of a family tradition in the military. I don’t think it is too whack to show someone hoist an American flag in an American context (even though German’s are not into that kind of patriotism). So, patriotism is not my problem here.

My problem is with the near raping scene nearing the end of the movie. I make a bold statement here when I say: it would not have been in there if the movie had been directed by a woman, instead of Ned Farr, instead of a man. We have this insanely capable woman, Alex, who can bust heads with the best of them in a bar fight but gets nearly raped by crack heads? I don’t dispute that even a woman like her can be beaten unconscious by a couple of guys, I just dispute that in a situation like the one they were all in rape would be on the guys’ minds. I mean, they have an ex-military in their house which is a big meth-lab. It is likely the cops are going to show up or any of her muscle-packed, righteous friends and Saffron’s self-acclaimed boyfriend would want to rape her because… I don’t know, because it’s what men do when they have a woman bound. Any woman, in any given situation.

Well, I guess, even with me being a sexist and all my picture of men is not quite as severe as the director’s (or maybe the fault lies with the script writer? which is coincidentally the same person!). Well, she is not raped after all but things do not get better until they got a lot worse and the main characters almost die…

If my criticism is harsh it is because I have a problem with rape as plot device. It makes me sick and I do not think that it is necessary. The scene had enough violent potential as it was, the implication of rape as ultimate violation of the female is such a typical male device that one can only go with Freud and ask how much men have to fear female sexuality to always have to remind us what they can do to us (all of us, even women like Alex Everett).

The movie was not all that bad. It has likable characters and it has some unlikable characters. It presents well what happens when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is continually enforced and this is what the movie is really about. The actors do a good job, especially newcomer Paris P. Pickard who plays Saffron. So, on the whole, it is alright (though one should see it in its American context, and not make comparisons with the e.g. German context which is a completely different one).

And because you sat through the whole blog post without complaining, here they are again: Weber’s abs!

Have a good weekend all.

Equals – my ass…

As some of you might know I am a fan of Afterellen.com – and I think some of you might be too, and if you’re not you should be. I enjoy a lot of what they do and actually even written an essay about it. There are writers writing for that page I enjoy reading a lot and one of them is Dorothy Snarker, she is witty, she is intelligent, and has pictures of women in tank tops on her own blog (dorothysurrenders.blogspot.com) – a lot.

Today, as today is International Women’s Day, she had among others this video on her blog and I wanted to share it with you (and not just here but on my other blog, too) because it is important and as Dorothy Snarker says “awesome.”

Enjoy – and also think about a little:

The Kids Are All Right

I fought with myself before coming here and telling you what I am thinking about it. I am still not sure if I have lost or won now that I am doing it. This might yet turn into a rant but I will try to remain calm.

So, these are the kids that are (presumably) alright. Joni and Laser (Mia Warsikowka, Josh Hutcherson) (and no, Laser is so not a cool name!) have lesbian moms (Annette Bening, Julianne Moore) and are alright with that, still they (especially Laser) want to meet their biological father and consequently they do. Paul (Mark Ruffalo) seems a nice enough guy, he owns a restaurant and a vegetable garden and a motorbike.

Still, the moms are not happy when they find out that the kids have met the sperm donor and want to meet him for themselves. This results in one of them having an affair with him. Things are being worked out in the end… so, yeah, happy ending… sorta.

I may still be traumatized from the pairing of Moore and Ruffalo in Blindness (which I absolutely hated, it’s on my list of the 10 worst movies ever!) but maybe this movie eventually added a new trauma that just coincidentally starred them, too.

But let me begin with saying that I like Lisa Cholodenko’s movies. High Art is one of my favorite lesbian movies, and I love Laurel Canyon because it is incredibly beautiful and stars Frances McDormand in leather pants (yeah, I know I am easy). So I was willing enough to love The Kids are All Right and in part I do and in part I just hate it.

I start with the part I hate, okay. Sexuality is complicated, is something Moore’s character says when Laser asks his moms why they are watching gay (read: gay male) porn and no doubt it is. It is also fluid and broad and multi-faceted etc. And maybe my definitions here are too narrow, but why (in a movie I would call lesbian themed if not outright lesbian) do I have to watch gay (read: gay male) and straigth sex but am not allowed to watch lesbian sex? It’s not that I am fixated on sex scenes, I don’t especially need them, though I enjoy a good love/sex scene like everybody else. Still, what little there is of sexual action between the two female leads is hidden, it is comicalized, it is disturbingly immature. Jules and Nic were supposed to have been together for about 20 years yet when they try to have sex it looks like they have never done it before… funny or just neurotic?

Another thing I hate is the character of Paul. Man, self-centered, arrogant, disregarding everybody else’s happiness, have I mentioned self-centered… he tries to be cool, he tries to be a little new age, open-minded but he’s just… male. The worst stereotypical male. What I hate most about him is that he thinks he is right to start an affair with Jules. That it is not wrong, that it is actually his right to satisfy her sexually because a) it cannot be called adultery if the pre-existing relationship it same-sex and b) it cannot be called sex when it is between two women and he’s only doing Jules a favor. Gag! I am interpreting here but that’s how this guy feels…

In these respects this portrait of modern family simply sucks. It is affirming the status quo, it serves to the mainstream rather than to the minority it pretends to represent. Again, I wonder if I am thinking too much in labels and should try to see the lesbian as part of an all-encompassing narrative instead of just her own narrative. But then, gay cinema does exist because mainstream was never interested enough in us, or did represent us just in the worst possible stereotypes. And do we really need a lesbian Brokeback Mountain when the same criticism holds true for The Kids Are All Right?

Yeah, I have thought about this a little…

Okay, I promised you some good: the movie is light-hearted (most of the time), it is funny, it is charming, the actors are really good (especially Annette Bening, she’s… brilliant), everything looks very pretty. I laughed a lot – up to a certain point. I mean, you just have to look at Jules’ outfit when she first enters Paul’s garden and you have to wonder if maybe she thought he owned his personal rain forest… There is a lot to enjoy, real emotions, shyness, self-consciousness in the kids, insecurities, jealousies in the adults. It’s really great… if you are straight and don’t have to think about gay stereotypes you will like it… if you are not and you do, well, get angry, argue, criticize, ’cause that’s good, too.

Avatar (3D)

Avatar (2009) by James Cameron.

What I want for Christmas this year? My own avatar! Or at least Sigourney Weaver’s.

I have just watched the movie – and I know what you’re thinking: you’re a little late, aren’t you? And yes I am. There were reasons I won’t go into now but they had nothing to do with not wanting to see it. I wanted to and now I have.

Sometimes I feel that through my studies I have lost the ability to just read a book for enjoyment, and I get the same feeling about movies and tv shows – sometimes. This did not happen while I watched Avatar but sitting here now, doing what has become second nature (analyzing a story, that is) I start to forget how wonderful the movie looked and felt. I am not exactly a fan of 3D – who has been since now? – but it was pretty amazing with the world Cameron has created. Feeling Pandora – let’s face it, it was amazing. The whole world, the animals, the Navi, the trees and everything about it… AMAZING.

The idea of a world like this is not new, the idea of “surrogates,” even “Sims,” we want to have someone perfect in this world to represent us. The way Cameron filmed this vision was mind-blowing, though.

But alas, the story… Was I the only one who was reminded of Aliens? And not just because of Sigourney Weaver. Think about it: in Aliens we had the Terraformers who inhabited this really gruesome place (I forgot its name). Then the aliens come and kill them or preserve them and then there come the army guys. Okay, you could say, that’s completely different from Avatar, it’s pretty much the other way around with some American history thrown in. The Aliens are not the bad guys anymore, they are the savages, the natives, indigenous (to use PC). And who are the terrorists now?… Right. The army guys who want to take over because of something valuable in the earth of this paradise.

Maybe it was just the characters. When you make the link between Giovanni Ribisi’s character and Burke from Aliens or between Trudi and Sanchez… it’s quite obvious. Put Sigourney Weaver into the mix and yes, it is another Alien-movie. Distorted, yes, but the essentials are still there. This is not a bad thing, per se, but it makes clear why Avatar did not win as many Academy Awards as some thought it would. While it is stunning to watch, the story is neither new nor especially innovative.

And I guess for an economic utopia fairy-tale I personally would have preferred a female hero (even if that is a clichée). Maybe it is just that I fell in love with Sigourney Weaver’s avatar on first sight, maybe I am still angry that Cameron let her die, maybe it felt like all the times great female heroes in films did die and only men were left to save the (any) world… maybe it is because I thought of Aliens the whole time I watched Avatar. And maybe this is one of the reasons Avatar is not really a great story for me: because it is the repetition of the myth of the male fighter, the savior is male, strong females die or succumb to male charm. I do not buy into that anymore, it bores me. Call me a lesbian feminist if you want (after all that’s what I am!) but… having a movie with Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez in it and letting both die – that’s lame!

I guess, it’s the little things that can make or break a movie for me. I know, I will own it on DVD and will find many reasons to like it. I will also write about it some more, compare it to Aliens and other movies… I will always be amazed at the sheer splendor of it, sure, but it will always be bitter sweet. The moment Grace died, it felt like the movie was over – for me.

I know that I am quite the sucker for people in movies. Characters and the people who play them are my main focus, they have always been. I do not watch films with certain actors in it although the movie might be good. I am also pretty tired of films that underline machismo too much, where extras (people in the movie) are killed just to have one hero to make it all worth it. And look at Avatar! It is done there, too. Seeing all the Navi die… it was disturbing and though Cameron meant it to be disturbing it is still done in the most brutal way. We had a discussion once in a film class about this: is it still a critique on violence and war when it is done so elaborately and almost sensational? I don’t think so. I think, killing living things in such splendor is like making war propaganda… and even though I know Avatar is a critique on war, on environmental polution, on genocide, the ending – ultimately, the victory of one hero who saves everybody – makes these things necessary and inevitable. For the hero to be a hero there has to be bad guys who kill everything that is good. I wonder if a different ending – one in which even the hero dies and the bad guys win – would not have had a greater impact.

But that’s just me, I guess…

Precious

I copied this from my other blog – just to get this one started.

“Precious” (2009) by Lee Daniels, based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire

So, I do what I love doing on my birthday: go out to watch a movie. This time I chose a depressing film about a girl with a hard lot in life and only one choice… doing everything the hard way. But it does get better, somehow.

Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) is a fat kid (about 16) who is pregnant with her second child, the father is her own father who abused and raped her since she was three years old. Her mother knows, of course, but instead of helping her daughter she uses her own dominance over the beaten girl and abuses her in her own ways – for taking her man away from her.

The principal of her school finally enrolls Precious in a program of young women who are all somewhat behind in learning but who still want to graduate. In this wild assortment of broken girls she finds friends. But it is mainly her teacher – Ms Rain – who makes a difference in her life. But it is not all glossy and nice from that moment on. Precious has yet a long way to go… but I won’t tell you what else awaits her because I want you to watch it for yourself.

Why did I watch such a depressing film on my birthday? Well, I wanted to  see it and I would have had to wait another two hours for the Sandra Bullock-film to start (I just remembered the dialogue from “Scream 2” at the beginnning when she wants to see the Sandra Bullock-flick and her boyfriend wants to see the horror movie that gets both of them killed… strange). Well, I have also heard the movie was supposed to be good and so I went and watched it. I liked it, too, but it is heavy food (I translated this from German “harte Kost,” but it’s probably not quite fitting in English, sorry).

Precious’ teacher, by the way, is a lesbian and since the movie plays in 1987 this has a slightly different connotation than if the movie would be set 20 years later. She is played by Paula Patton and played very well, so look out for her in the future. She gives her character just the right amount of edges so as not to appear unbelievable.

There are some people you might recognize (or not recognize); the mother is played by comedian and actress Mo’Nique, Lenny Kravitz (whom I did not recognize as Nurse Joe), and Mariah Carey as Precious’s social worker, Mrs Weiss (and not half bad, but not really Oscar-worthy either).

So, try to catch this while you can. It will be worth your while.