The Huntsman: Winter’s War

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016) by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

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Well, here we are again and you may wonder why. Why, after hating Snow White and the Huntsman so much, would I watch it’s prequelly sequel? It just shows that I really want to like this franchise. I have failed once more, or maybe the movie makers have once again failed me.

Here’s what happens:

thehuntsmanandtheicequeen1The Evil Queen, Ravenna (Charlize Theron), has a sister: Freya (Emily Blunt). Freya resists her magical powers and falls for a young man who is already betrothed to another woman, but he still gets Freya pregnant and later kills the child, seemingly because it interferes with his marriage plans. Freya, of course, kills him, freezing him to death with a single scream over her dead daughter.

In order to not live under her sister’s thumb, she goes north, builds an ice fortress and an army from the young people of the countries surrounding her own – she kidnaps them, kills their parents. She explains to them that love is non-existent and that they’re far better off with her. She’s freed them from the illusion of love and they’re trained to be her army of huntsmen.

One of them is Eric (Chris Hemsworth) whom we have met in the first film, another is Sara (Jessica Chastain). They fall in love and are then seperated by the ice queen, Eric thinking Sara dead while she thinks he abandoned her. Seven years later, after the Snow White-thing happened, they meet again to secure Ravenna’s mirror.

Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Well, the trailer looked great that’s why I watched this one. Another great trailer, another disappointing movie. Another failed attempt at feminism, too, though it’s not the main focus of this movie.

My problems with it stem less from the story and once again more from the underlying thehuntsmanandtheicequeen5messages. While the makers of The Huntsman seem to have taken advice from the makers of the show Once Upon a Time and screwed continuity, it’s not the worst they did. But let me tell you in detail.

For me, it all started with the question: so, Freya is Ravenna’s sister, where did she come from? It could be explained away, of course. She’s younger, she wasn’t kidnapped with Ravenna and her creepy brother, they reunited later, whatever. But then, they never even mentioned the creepy brother in this one, even though he could have been part of the narrative in the past. But they just dropped him. Okay.

But what about the fact that we last saw Eric eye-shagging Snow White across the throne room, and suddenly he finds out his wife isn’t dead? Shouldn’t that be awkward? Obviously not, because Snow White and the Huntsman were, it seems, never an item. He works for her, as a good huntsman would, and later swears to his wife that he was always true to her. Yeah, well… okaaay. So, continuity was thrown out the castle window, that’s mildly annoying, but whatever.

thehuntsmanandtheicequeen4This franchise boasts with its feminism. Look, it says, all the strong women we have, and women in power positions, too. And strong fighters. Seeing Jessica Chastain whup some serious Hemsworth-ass you would agree, but then, am I the only one thinking it kinda weird that the male population of the conquered countries outweighs the female population by about 6 to 1? Which means, far more male Huntsmen than female. And there goes your feminism. They try to present it in front of the camera, but then fail to employ just as many female extras as male. Why? Probably so that the male audience doesn’t feel uncomfortable by all those feisty women fighters. FAIL!

You probably think: oh, stop whining. Both evil queens are female! Yes, they are. They’re also evil and must be overcome by the good male. I’m not saying I didn’t appreciate the effort they made of having three male heroes (Eric and his two dwarf companions) match with three female heroes (Sara and two randomly encountered female dwarfs). I do, but then, matching them is what they do, because every female becomes an instant love interest for the males. And here’s a theme that really rubbed me the wrong way: heteronormativity.

Having Freya fall for this young princely guy in the beginning is to be expected, it’s part of the plot. Having her become pregnant, that already seems problematic. It’s a Fairy Tale, girls who just give it away won’t be available for Happy Endings; her daughter dies, it was all a plot by her evil sister who feared the beauty her niece would become (they could have come up with a different reason here, but I guess why fix what’s not broken).

Ravenna still doesn’t seem overly interested in the kings she marries and keeps killing them. I appreciate that the movie makers are consistent here and pretty much still portray Ravenna as a lesbian. An evil lesbian, of course. Freya is less easily categorized, though. Of course, having had sex with a man before marriage does make her a sexual deviant of sorts, but the way they stage Sara’s ‘betrayal’ of Eric, it looks a little like Freya took advantage of Sara in more ways than one. It’s free for interpretation, but the looks that pass, the timing of Eric asking if Sara has been truthful… it lends heavily to the idea that Freya and Sara hooked up at some point. But since the whole situation, the Huntsman being Freya’s slaves (whipping scars included), is emphasized, it’s not Sara’s fault.thehuntsmanandtheicequeen2

And here we have another problematic topic: slavery. If we place The Huntsman in its original time and place, we could argue for indented servantry, I guess. But the movie makers push the story here, including black children in the kidnapped mix. Going back to the Brothers Grimm, this would have been fairly unlikely, but American Fairy Tale telling has always taken liberties, so let’s say it’s a liberty they took here. They made one of the kidnapped black kids a recognizable character, Tull (Sope Dirisu), marking him with an ice burn to the face, so he might be recognizable to the white audience (that’s not racist at all!).

You know, at this point, it’s not difficult to see why this movie made me so mad. I was surprised by my reaction, but I do feel it’s justified. The movie tries so hard to make things right, but in execution fails miserably. The main evil character is a lesbian obsessed with her beauty, her sister has sex before marriage and loses her daughter as a price for her indiscretion, the ‘dwarfs’ are being played by tall people, and the black character gets a mark so that we may not confuse him with the two black extras. Oh, and of course, everybody good is also inherently straight, even though one of the male dwarfs shows his affection through verbal abuse – never mind, he’s still a better choice than the supporting female friend!

I mean, seriously? And you thought this was representative, feminist Fairy Tale-ing? Actually, it’s abusive, is the nicest thing I can say about it. And again, the acting of the main players is SO good, the movie LOOKS good. Jessica Chastain can actually pull off a fighter that’s a worthy opponent of Hemsworth… but it’s all wasted on a movie that both demonizes or redicules diversity.

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Pitch Perfect 2

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) by Elizabeth Banks

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Waiting for this movie has been torture. Watching trailers and clips has been torture. Two and a half years of torture. And then it came out and I’m not in Berlin anymore and can’t get my hands on an original copy and have to watch it in German – worst TORTURE!

pitchperfect2.5I’m over this now. So let’s look at what it’s about:

The Barden Bellas (among them Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Ester Dean and Alexis Knapp are banned from competing on a collegiate level because of a mishap involving the president of the U.S. and Fat Amy’s (Rebel Wilson) vagina. But since they’re reigning national champions (for the third time in a row), they are invited to the World Championship. If they win it, future generations of Bellas can compete again. But the competition is great and the reigning World Champions, an intimidating German team, are not going to give up their title without a fight. Gay things happen and the Bellas win.

Sorry for the spoiler, but you didn’t actually think they wouldn’t, right?

Is this movie as good as the first one? No. Is it bad? No, far from it, actually. It’s a lot of fun; it is pitchperfect2.7 pitchperfect2.4entertaining and well-timed. Love the music. But there are a couple of things that are off. Namely, why are the Trebles still in the big picture? Why is Beca still with Jesse (well, I think they’re together despite the fact that their relationship feels like an awkward brother and sister-thing)? Why did they have to make every other Bella a one-line joke (honestly, most fanfictions have better character development)? And why does Chloe behave like Aubrey at times (minus the throw-up)?

I’ll be writing about these things on my other blog. I’ll probably write about PP quite a bit again. But here and now, let me tell you: just seeing the Bellas together again, is heart-warming. I missed these girls; most of all Beca Mitchell who is still a lovely, sometimes awkward character who can be a dick sometimes. The music numbers are great, even those who are over the top. You can see that the actresses worked their butts off and it still looks effortlessly in the end. The chemistry is still there. Not just between Beca and Chloe – which is, of course, the heart piece of the Bellas as a group – but between Amy and Aubrey, between Stacie and Cynthia Rose and Jessica and Ashley. They brought most beloved characters back for the sequel, and I honestly only missed Donald, because the Trebles lost all their cool without him.

So, yeah, I enjoyed Pitch Perfect 2 – not so much the German version, and let me also add how pitchperfect2.2embarrassing it is for every German to have a group called DAS Sound Machine, when it is grammatically incorrect and you could hear it repeated and whispered throughout the theater whenever someone says it on screen. It could have been better, yes, but, oh boy, it could have been so much worse!

Back to TV: The Mysteries of Laura

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Well, once again it’s been awhile. I didn’t watch that many movies and the ones I watched, weill, most of them weren’t any good. I’m still waiting for Pitch Perfect 2 to come out in Germany, and while I’m waiting I’m watching a lot of TV.

Let me introduce to you The Mysteries of Laura. It’s a crime comedy and I think it is worth watching. Why? themysteriesoflaura6Well, for one thing: Debra Messing. You know her from Will & Grace, of course, and so do I. I LOVED Grace Adler and now I’m loving Laura Diamond, because with some actors you love every character they play. I do think, though, that Laura is worth all the love. She’s a wonderfully quirky, and honest, and normal person. She messes up, she wears sneakers on the job, she’s a slob, but a lovely one.

We all know those cop shows of late where the cases are not as important as the personal life of the detective (think Rizzoli & Isles and Castle). This is one of those. While the cases are interesting enough, Laura’s personal life and her relationships to her colleagues are at the center of the show. She has twin boys (Charlie and Vincent Reina) who like to stir up their own messes, her father (Robert Klein) still tries to get Laura back with her ex (Josh Lucas) who happens to be her boss, and her partner (Laz Alonso) is looking on with a themysteriesoflaura7bemused smile.

While I mostly like the chemistry between the characters (including the slightly envious detective Meredith Bose [Janina Gavankar] and the gay assistent Max Carnegie [Max Jenkins]), I really could do without Captain Manchild, as Laura coined him. Josh Lucas is certainly a fine actor and he plays Laura’s ex certainly annoying enough – or maybe too annoying. While he still ranges within the parameters of love interest for Laura, as do most male guest stars on the show, he comes across as a little too chauvinist, a little too jealous of prospective boyfriends for Laura. If this show wasn’t a comedy, I would attest him stalker tendencies. It’s really not cute.

Apart from him, I would say the show is a good watch. It’s funny, Laura is delightful and messy and just vintage Debra Messing. And then there has already been the guest appearance of someone you might recognize:

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Rented: Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing (2012) by Joss Whedon

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I’m not sure if I told you how I came to love Shakespeare. I had tried to read Macbeth at some point and labored through three pages of it before throwing it into the corner not to pick it or him up again for years. And then I watched Much Ado About Nothing – Branagh’s version – and fell in love.

muchado2It’s still my favorite movie version, it’s still one of my favorite plays, it’ll always have a special place in my heart. And I would probably not have endeavored to watch a different version if it hadn’t been for this addition to the title: A film by Joss Whedon.

And then, of course, there was the casting of Amy Acker as Beatrice. One of my favorite actresses playing one of my favorite Shakespearean characters? Count me in.

And now I’ve watched it. In fact, I’m at this moment watching it a second time in one day. Oh, my goodness, what a ball, a blast, a festival of wit and comedy and noir elements that make this movie not better than Branagh’s, but different and wonderful.

I must confess that I couldn’t imagine anyone playing Much Ado differently, in each and every scene I had a flashback to the ’92-version. But slowly the actors of the Whedon-verse acted themselves into my conscious and I couldn’t resist their charm. I’m fascinated, I’m stumped, I can’t stop watching. And how do you even begin to resist Amy Acker?

Let me tell you something about Acker – she’s genius. In every part I’ve ever seen her, she not only amyacker2convinced me, she awed me with her talent. I loved her as Doctor Saunders/Whiskey in Dollhouse, and I’m madly in love with Root in Person of Interest. She’s just so special in every role, she’s amazing.

But she’s not the only one in this brilliantly cast Whedon-family adaptation of Shakespeare. I never liked Alexis Denisof better than when he played Benedick, he’s earnest and smart and comical when he’s told that Beatrice loves him. Such an honest performance. I loved Fran Kranz in Dollhouse and I love him as Claudio. And then there’re Nathan Fillion as Dogberry and Tom Lenk as Verges and, hell, they’re the funniest thing – yes, funnier than Michael Keaton and Ben Elton even.

muchado4I guess, I have one thing to criticize, though. While I first thought it refreshing to see Riki Lindhome cast as Conrade, I feel that casting Conrade with a male actor in this version would have been even better. Making Don John (Sean Maher) a gay villain – not a caricatured man who is evil because he’s limited to his gayness, but just a villain who happens to be gay… That would have been even more interesting than having a Shakespeare character emasculated.

Apart from this, I simply love Whedon doing Shakespeare. But then, has there ever been a thing Joss Whedon has done that I didn’t love?

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 by Francis Lawrence (2014)

mockingjay1.1The beginning of the end – but we’re already very familiar with this kind of thing, aren’t we? I mean the splitting of the last volume of a book series into two films. Potter had it, Twilight had it, and I don’t even want to know if Fifty Shades of Bad Entertainment will have it as well. But for Mockingjay, I feel it was the right decision, because part 1 is already amazing.

What happens?

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has been rescued from the arena of her second hunger mockingjay1.2games and brought to District 13 where the rebels have gathered to wage war against the capitol. Katniss’ home District 12 has been destroyed but Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) has saved some people, including Katniss’ mother (Paula Malcomson) and sister Prim (Willow Shields).

District 13 is a military district that works from underground since it had almost been completely destroyed during the war. People there live on essentials. Katniss agrees to be the symbol of the rebellion – the Mockingjay – if the captured tributes, including Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), are rescued at the earliest opportunity and given immunity.

After a sucessful rescue, Peeta tries to kill Katniss – he’s been brainwashed.

mockingjay1.3What fascinated me most with this part of the series is the barren look. While I would have wished for a more plush trainee center in the first film, the sparse set in this film fits District 13 perfectly. And it’s not just the set, the clothes and make-up of the characters reflect the military status of the district. To see Jennifer Lawrence basically without make-up… it makes her acting that much more intense. And not just hers. Once again, Julianne Moore just takes my breath away with her acting. She’s perfect as Alma Coin, the leader of District 13. Her posture shows miliatry stiffness and strength but she’s also sympathetic.

I think my favorite scene – probably everybody’s favorite scene – is the one with the group of young people (among them Natalie Dormer as Cressida) at the lake. It’s a stark difference to the scenes in the underground facility, it’s more relaxed and peaceful than the setting of the forest in the hunger games, and then there’s the song that Katniss sings – and it’s perfect. Jennifer Lawrence has a throaty, raw voice and it fits the situation and the song perfectly.

If there was something in this movie I didn’t like, I don’t remember it anymore because there were so many good things to remember, most of all the great acting by everyone involved. Effie Trinket mockingjay1.4(Elizabeth Banks) without her make-up, stripped bare of her capitol attitude and desperate and vulnarable is such a beautiful thing. Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last role as Plutarch Heavensbee… The casting is just amazing in this series and it makes this movie in particular sparkle more from within, because the setting doesn’t.

This movie series is getting better with each movie, while with the books, I will always think that the first one is the best. It makes for a nice contrast – and I’m so gonna own these wonderful movies on dvd.

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The Other Woman

The Other Woman (2014) by Nick Cassavetes

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When Carly Whitten tries to surprise her boyfriend Mark in a sexy plumber’s outfit, she finds out that he’s married as his wife, Kate, greets her at the door. Carly resolves this very awkward and heart-breaky scene somewhat but the next day, Kate shows up at Carly’s work and blackmails her into having drinks with her. They bond somewhat turbulantly over their broken lives and vodka and become sort-of-friends when they find out that Mark had another mistress.

They follow Mark and make the acquaintance of Amber, a young vuluptuous woman twenty years younger than they are. But Amber feels just as betrayed by Mark as them and they plan his downfall, discovering not only that the man has the busiest libido ever but also that he’s theotherwoman3embezzling money left and right – in Kate’s name. Game on, cheater.

When I watched the trailer – and I’m not even going to reason why I watched it, let’s call it an accident – I thought ‘if Kate and Carly hook up in the end, I’m gonna watch it.’ I guess, I already knew that they wouldn’t and yet the trailer did look a little promising. There is actually a fair amount of homoerotic female physicalness going on in this movie but the movie makers made sure to put the ‘girl crush’-label on it.

And that is one of the reasons I once again left the movie theater desolate and disturbed. Lately, I find myself especially annoyed with Hollywood as an industry that caters to white, straight, cis-gendered, and male. Given, as this is a movie that clearly falls under the chick-flick-label, it doesn’t cater so much to the male but the other markers are securely in place, believe me. You may say, what did you expect, it’s a movie about three straight women who destroy the guy who wronged them, but who exactly says they theotherwoman4have to be straight just because they like guys? Nobody. What I’m getting at is the straight-by-default attitude Hollywood is so fond of while still going around and queer-baiting us into buying tickets – and it works and it’s frustrating because we have no platform at all.

About the movie, what can I say? It’s not an entirely new concept. I mean, the 80s have seen Roseanne Barr going she-devil on her cheating husband, ‘The Witches of Eastwick’ sorta did the same with Jack Nicholson, and seeing Nikolaj Coster-Waldau run headfirst into a glass-wall is not as satisfying as it may sound – only a little satisfying, really.

Cameron Diaz likes to be in movies that support strong bonding between women and that is one of the things the story is hailed for, while on the other hand, it’s being criticized for failing the Bechdel-test. Me, I thought the plot flat, the conversations too male-centric and, really, one of the few reasons to watch this is the chemistry between these three women and a show of beautiful female bodies that are not all the same and not all 20-something years old. Some have criticized that the movie just once again shows hot bodies, but as I said earlier, this is a movie that mostly women would watch – so why parade half-naked women in front of other women? Positive body-image. And this is actually something that the theotherwoman1movie does right as it shows three very different women with beautiful bodies that are actually apprecitated by the other women in the movie. And do you know how rare that is? (Outside the lesbian occupation, of course.) It is very rare. And having Cameron Diaz – who has meanwhile crossed the 40 – show other women that you can have a super-hot body that can no-doubt compete with Kate Upton’s – kudos!

Beside the hot-bod parade, though, there’s really not much to laud. As said, the story is not that good or innovative, the conventions of Hollywood’s favorite status quos are firmly in place, and, thank goodness, nobody turned out gay or bi or otherwise sexually challenged – though, let me tell you, it wouldn’t have been much of a leap to have Kate and Amber end up happily lesbionizing, instead Amber is canoodling with Carly’s father (Don Johnson), just to have the few men watching able to keep dreaming that there is a twenty-year-old in their future whom they’re not related to. Can I have a ‘you can’t be serious!’ But we all know that this is serious – it’s serious bullshit.

And I’m now angrier than I was when I left the movie theater yesterday, which makes me almost forget about another redeeming aspect of the movie – Leslie Mann. I don’t know where she came from, I haven’t seen much of her but… oh my God, she’s funny and whitty and… athletic. Her character, Kate, feeds to all the neurotic stereotypes you can come up with but seeing Mann play her lends another layer to this suburban housewife. She’s quite brilliant and I want to see more of her.

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Queer Cinema: D.E.B.S.

D.E.B.S. (2004) by Angela Robinson

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Before it was a movie it was a comic and then a short film. I haven’t read the comic (there are glimpses of it on the dvd, though) but I vaguely remember having watched the short (after the feature) – so, if you’re so inclined there’s stuff to dive into after or before watching this gem. I’m calling it a gem because no matter how often I come back to this movie – and I have done so often over the years – it’s always a ride, it is always fun.

d.e.b.s.3There is a secret test in the S.A.T.s to establish a student’s ability to lie. If you’re good at it you’re invited to Jameson Academy for an education in the art of spying – that is if you’re a girl. Amy Bradshaw (Sara Foster) is one of the chosen few who studies at this institution and she is not just one of the lot, she is the perfect score, the one person who has hit all the marks in the S.A.T.s – the perfect liar. But Amy is not really happy with her life of spy-in-training which becomes perfectly clear when she falls for supervillain Lucy Diamond (Jordana Brewster). Lucy pulls her out of her every day life and shows her that there is something beyond everybody lying and people going through your personal files and a boyfriend who works for Homeland Security – there are dreams yet to be fulfilled. And when Amy is brought back, she finds out just how suffocating the path she had been chosen for really is. But there’s still time to change her mind.

If this sounds altogether too serious, too mundane then that’s my fault d.e.b.s.5because D.E.B.S. is everything but these things. It’s trashy, it’s colorful, it’s fun. Is it deep? No, not really. But do we really always need the tearful lesbian drama? No. A lesbian comedy is a rare thing and it needs to be cherished, at least if it’s as good as this one.

Robinson assembled a talented cast to shoot this persiflage of espionage movies: Jordana Brewster is well-known now for her role as Vin Diesel’s sister in the Fast and Furious-movies. Then there are Devon Aoki, Holland Taylor, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Jimmi Simpson in supporting roles. And they’re all wonderfully quirky and fun to watch.

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When I say the movie’s trashy, I want understood that I do believe that’s a good thing. It’s a rare occasion when a big studio produces a movie that centers around a lesbian love story but to make something that looks so good and at the same time cheap and cheesy… it takes some really talented people to do that. From the evil lair over Holland Taylor’s fabulous impersonation of vain Ms. Petrie to those short plaid shirts, the jokes hit the nerve. The music accompanying some scenes fits just as well.

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Is it all good? No, but as I said – it’s fun and sometimes that’s the best thing you can get. Will it be your new favorite movie? Probably not. It will probably not even be among your favorite movies but there will be those days you look through your dvds and come across it and be glad it’s there.

Sneak Preview: Hitchcock

Hitchcock (2012) by Sacha Gervasi

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Last Thursday I went to another scneak preview, embarrassed myself by shouting that Daniel Day-Lewis had won only two Academy Awards (I didn’t even know that he won for There Will Be Blood), and ended the 98-minute-film rather inebriated. But it was all in good fun.

The movie is about movie-maker icon Alfred Hitchcock’s relationship to his wife Alma Reville, herself an accomplished assistant-director, editor and screenwriter, and the production of Psycho.

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It is not surprising that the movie lives from its stars. Anthony Hopkin’s subtle style of acting seems to inspire his co-stars and the result is an example of underlined witicism and tongue-in-cheek references. Yes, the film shows Alfred Hitchcock’s overbearing nature, his sexual deviancy, if you will, in peeping into the actresses’ dressing rooms. But this film is not a psychological look at Hitchcock’s egotism, it’s more of a love story and a comedy.

If Hopkins inspires his co-stars, Helen Mirren inspires the audience. She is by far the best thing about a movie that is good to begin with. She makes Alma Reville into a believable conspirator of Hitchcock’s thrillers but also his harshest critic. Alma is the loveable part of the Hitchcock-marriage and the movie never ceases to remind us that she is very talent in her own fields, taking over directing when her husband is ill, revising the script, etc. Here’s a woman who knows her movies.

Toni Collette’s is another note-worthy performance. She plays Hitchcock’s hitchcock6assistant, Peggy Robertson. It may not be a big role but Collette stands out, not by overacting or pushing herself forward but by standing in the background, waiting for her cue and then being spot-on. It is really amazing to me how the Academy could overlook her as well as Helen Mirren’s performances in this movie, they were both great.

It was certainly interesting to see Hitchcock’s struggle with Psycho, from both a productive as well as a creative point of  view. The fact that he wanted to do it but didn’t really seem to be sure of how to do it, is fascinating. Seeing a director of his ability struggle with his vision is both reassuring and scary. And if it hadn’t been for his wife, Psycho might have been a big flop. Fascinating.

hitchcock5The film has a pro-feminist feel to it that I appreciate, certainly, it was the late 1950s and Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johannsson) talked a lot about her husband Tony and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) had given up a great career in favor of being happily married but the movie tells us that all these women, Alma and Peggy included, were strong women, they made no excuses for who they were, they decided for themselves. And that is not only remarkable for a movie playing in the late 1950s but also for one who has been done in 2012 – sadly remarkable.

It is a really good film, very entertaining. One thing, and I don’t even remember what it was, really, had me laughing so loud that it amused the whole audience… might have been the beer, but I think it was actually really funny. Be that as it may, light-hearted entertainment, especially for movie geeks. You should have watched Psycho, though, it helps (and don’t even think of watching the remake!).

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As part of an obsession: What to Expect When You’re Expecting

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (2012) by Kirk Jones

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I remember watching the trailer and thinking: no way I’m going to watch that. I’m not sure if it was the way it was presented in said trailer or whether I didn’t pay enough attention to it but I was convinced that this was a movie about becoming a dad… somehow the ‘dude group’ got stuck in my mind as the main focal point and that was certainly no movie I wanted to watch.

Another problematic expectation for this movie was certainly that it was going whattoexpect2to be heteronormative to a fault – and at least on that account it delivered. But let’s look at what’s happening:

People are having babies. In this movie, there are five different couples in Atlanta who are expecting something small. Some rather unexpectedly, others after having tried for awhile, one couple is adopting. The different ways to deal with this are shown sometimes comically, sometimes tragically, even satirically.

Of course, most people know that there’s a book of same title out there, trying to prepare future parents for the big step of having off-spring. And I guess, it’s a helpful book – not having children or wanting children, I’m no expert on self-help books for expectant couples.

The storylines interweave in this movie, the couples are at different points in their lives, it’s all more about the comical element than representation of truth. It also tries to convey that pregnancies are diverse just as the women who are pregnant are diverse.

whattoexpect1It’s a little hard to talk about the different storylines of the film because there are several and all cast quite brilliantly. Of course, my focus was on Anna Kendrick as the young woman who got pregnant from a one-night-stand but miscarries. She probably has the most dramatic story-line and really builds a relatable character in a short amount of time. The ending to the relationship to Marco (Chace Crawford) is a little forced it seems. The movie is so adamant in creating a happy ending for all the stories that reasoning flies out the window in this one and we don’t really understand why Kendrick’s character Rose has a change of heart when she told him before that seeing him was too painful.

Maybe it is because the movie tries to tell too many stories and to do them all justice. But it is not the only problem this movie has. While the acting is excellent all around and the funny parts are really funny, some of Hollywood’s biggest problematic chlicées are reinforced. For once, people of color are rare. Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro play a latino couple and while all the white people in the movie are capable of having children of their own, these two are the couple who adopt. I guess that’s the heteronormative equivalent of having the only woman of color in a movie play the gay/bisexual character. Another one: Chris Rock plays one of the dads in the ‘dude group,’ the wisest, most whattoexpect5informed, cool dad – but also the one with the most kids, planning on more. African-Americans having a lot of children while his white buddies all stop at 1.9? Seriously? Of course, one can talk of satire in his case, as most of his role seems to build on it. Still, when you look at the set-up of the film you can’t help but feel that the people of color are pushed to the sidelines, especially with the multiple birthing-scenes all intertwining while the adoption scene is set apart. It would have been nicer if the adoption had been interwoven as well, showing that adoption isn’t something ‘less’ or something ‘other’ than having a baby in the ‘traditional’ way if you want.

Which also brings us back to the problem of heteronormativity. No queer characters, not even lesbian moms. I’m not sure where the book stands on that but the movie lacks on that aspect. Straight couples having babies – or not, or unwillingly, or predictably. Because there is realy something predictable how it is set up for just the right audience – white, straight folks.

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I already said that the acting was excellent but let’s elaborate a little. I was probably most impressed with Elizabeth Banks. And I don’t know where I know her from or why I haven’t paid much attention to her before but she is a really good actress. Someone who delivers lines in the best comical way. Anna Kendrick, of course, is amazing. In a movie that is funny and droll, she’s the one who has to pull out the big dramatic guns and she’s amazing at it. Jennifer Lopez – I think she is underestimated in whatever she does. She’s a brilliant performer and has grown as an actress. As a woman who is that successful, she’s criticized left and right but is always giving her best and you can see it in this movie where she shows a lot of depth and inside. And then, there’s Rebel Wilson and her role is really small but she’s just great. I loved the interaction between her and Elizabeth Banks’ character, the only real sense of – if not friendship then – camaderie between women that you get throughout the movie. And maybe that is its biggest mistake – it puts too much emphases on men connecting through fatherhood but isolates the pregnant woman… just a thought.

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As part of an obsession: Up in the Air

Up in the Air (2009) by Jason Reitman

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I just scrolled through the list of nominations for this film – and Anna Kendrick sure made an impression with the critics and the audience with this movie.

I didn’t watch it at the movies but on DVD. Movies about the oh-so-important crisis of men usually take a backseat on my to-watch list and, yeah, I’m aware that there’s a slim chance that I might miss a good movie that way – it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Up in the Air http://teaser-trailer.comRyan Bingham (George Clooney) earns his money with firing people – that’s the service his employer provides. He travels to different locations throughout the U.S. and informs employees that they are let go because the employers are too chicken to do it themselves. Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) is an ambitious young woman who wants to help cut costs for the company Bingham works for by grounding everyone and having the work done via computer.

Ryan isn’t happy about this because he likes to be on the road – or rather: in the upintheair3air. He has the aim to reach 10 million miles of flying, and then there’s the lovely Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) who leads a life similar to his and whom he can only meet and connect with in the realm of life without boundaries.

I like this one – I don’t love it, though. The three leads, as presented on the poster, are the real appeal of it. They work so well together. The writing is good, the conversations feel real, close to heart. Just look at the scene with the three of them talking in the entrance hall of the hotel. It’s probably one of the most captivating scenes in any movie in which the protagonists just talk.

The reason I don’t love the movie are the conventions that are being upheld. Natalie is 23 and has her life planned – and this life includes moving to Omaha for a boyfriend, wanting to be married with kids as fast as possible and having a career. When her boyfriend breaks up with her, she breaks apart. I am aware that this is a critique of a system that tells women to be exactly like that – but is it recognized as a critique? When Natalie lectures Ryan about his relationship to Alex and later turns out to be right – that he’s lonely and secretely in love with Alex – doesn’t that validate her convictions about love rather than criticize them?

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And did Ryan really have to turn out to be sappy and secretely unhappy, instead of the cool guy he’s on the surface? Hollywood is the greatest promoter of LOVE. The undying, the one true, the happily ever after LOVE. It is not possible for Ryan to just be casual about Alex – the way she is casual with him – he has to be in love. I’m not saying that Alex isn’t a worthy object of admiration – she’s a captivating character, I found myself falling for her – but Ryan’s love for her becomes too much of a convention. Because we expect it – the movie makers would argue, because we want it to happen. But really, is it so bad for a upintheair6main character to be alone and happy? Hollywood makes single people, people who rather live alone, feel bad about themselves. And it makes me sound like a total loser because I promote this way of life. I may not agree with Ryan’t whole philosophy of the empty backpack but I do believe there are people who like to live that way, want to live that way. But Hollywood tells us in a million ways each year that this is wrong, that everybody needs somebody to love (not just Hollywood, the music industry is probably second in line).

Up in the Air promotes this point a little too vehemently, too. And the only consolation is that Ryan doesn’t get what he wants. Alex is unavailable. And he’s back in the air where he suddenly doesn’t want to be anymore. He ends up the victim of society’s expectations. But it doesn’t feel like a critique of the system, it points at Ryan and tells us: look at this poor sob, he waited too long, he wasted his life frivolously, and now he will never find love.

And that is just wrong.

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