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Disobedience

Disobedience (2017) by Sebastián Lelio

I’m late to this. I wanted to watch the movie when it came out but missed it (it’s also quite possible that they never showed in in my hometown, or only for a week or two). I reread the book before it came out or was due to come out – that review is here – and it was a welcome trip down beautiful memory lane. Because it is beautiful and so is the movie – they’re also both haunting, and that’s why I’m writing about it now… again.

Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) returns to the orthodox Jewish community she grew up in when her father, the Rav (Anton Lesser), dies. She’s there to mourn but the community is surprised by her return as she fled to New York and became a photographer.

She finds shelter with the prospective new Rav, Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola), and his wife, Esti (Rachel McAdams), friends from her youth. And Esti was more than that even – the girls were in love but their love was forbidden.

I put off watching this a little. You know how it is when you love a book and then the movie comes out and you’re not sure if it will live up to the book. I shouldn’t have fretted because the movie is very close to the book. What I missed was part of the back story. The friendship between the three youngsters, how Ronit and Esti found love.

However, you know there’s more to the story. Through the whole movie, words seem to remain unsaid, feelings suppressed. You wonder, you delve into what’s happening but there is so much under the surface. And that’s what ultimately gives the movie its haunting atmosphere.

I feel like the movie builds more on the love story than the book did. The book was more about tradition and religion, about ritual. It also spans over a month, while the movie only spans a few days, a week maybe. The shift towards the love story gives the movie a different focus. Ronit’s grief and lost-ness make way for Esti’s suppressed feelings and she feels much more like the main protagonist, or at least it feels like she should be the main protagonist. Rachel McAdams gives a fantastic performance, she seems to finally be able to show the whole scope of her ability and it’s earth-shattering.

The three main characters perform a sort of dance around each other in the small space of the Kuperman house. They all know what had been before, are weary of what might happen again – except for Esti who longs for things to happen, to change. Like in the book, she hangs all those hopes on Ronit. This awkward threesome feels caged and the actors play their characters with maximum ability and cagey-ness. They make you feel what they feel.

It’s not an easy watch but it’s not as difficult as one might think either. The movie walks along steady-paced, adopts the humor of the book, shows people on the brink of change who are not afraid. It’s really wonderful to watch on any evening when you find yourself weary of any old story and want to watch something a little different.

It’s one of the best movies I watched this year so far, maybe the best.

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The God and the Darkness

Thor: The Dark World (2013) by Alan Taylor

Story time with Odin (Anthony Hopkins) – Before there was anything, there was darkness and into this darkness the dark elves were born. They ruled until light brought other creatures crawling and at one point, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) thought to bring back darkness using a weapon called the Ether. However, Odin’s father, Bor (Tony Curran), defeated him and the Ether, which couldn’t be destroyed, was buried. Malekith escaped but was never heard from again.

Once again, we’re entering an epic tale. How can you tell? You’re being treated to a prologue narrated by Anthony Hopkins. I never really thought about this before but I actually like this bombastic kind of storytelling, the Thor movies have some pathos to them that the other hero movies lack. Strangely, I remembered Thor: The Dark World as boring. I was wrong, though.

The nine realms are aligning. What Heimdall (Idris Elba) views as something fascinating, on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is riddled with scientific curiosity – and maybe the slight hope that she may see Thor (Chris Hemsworth) again. As she goes to explore, she falls through an anomalie onto the dark elves’s homeworld and rediscovers the Ether. It engulfs her body, forming a symbiosis.

Since Thor has been with Heimdall as this happens, his friend informs him that he can’t see Jane anymore and Thor is quick to get back to Earth to find her. He does as Jane is now back, but she’s changed, she’s sick. Odin informs them that the Ether is feeding on Jane’s lifeforce. That’s not the only problem, though, as Malekith has awakened with the reemergence of the Ether – and he wants his weapon back.

Everything seems so much bigger in the Thor movies, not just the hero but the level of destruction (it’s probably no wonder that Hulk fits into this world so well). I guess when Gods are involved everything is more dramatic. However, as Odin informs us, Asgardians aren’t really Gods, they just live longer than, say, humans. But they’re not immortal as is proven in this movie by the death of Frigga (Rene Russo), Thor and Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) mother, Odin’s wife.

She’s killed and hence serves – as so many female characters before her – as sacrifice to the heroic tale of a male hero. Yeah, it’s a lame trope that’s still being beaten like the proverbial dead horse. Apparently, in male storytelling there is no greater sacrifice a woman can make than to offer herself as raison d’etre for a vengeful saga of male heroism. Luckily for Thor, he’s blessed with more female characters that surround him than most, so…

Am I honestly supposed to care about this anymore? It’s not like men are self-aware enough to change lame tropes like this. Did I like Frigga? Hell, yeah, she was a badass but we’ve only got to see that side of her for five minutes before she died. I love Rene Russo having played her. And I would be seriously mad about this turn of events if I wasn’t so fucking used to it.

But as I said, there are more female characters to care about. I think if I was pressed to name one thing that the first two Thor movies had that Ragnarok didn’t, something that would’ve made it better: more female protagonists. Basically, Ragnarok has two – Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Hella (Cate Blanchett). Jane, Darcy (Kat Dennings), Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), nowhere to be seen. And if I remember correctly, it also makes Ragnarok the only Thor solo movie that doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, think about that.

Well, Thor: The Dark World does because Jane and Darcy are still sciencing. Nothing much has changed really from the first movie. It’s a sequel and as such no better and no worse than Thor. Maybe you think that Malekith wasn’t a really good villain (here we go with the villain-problem again), but who do you compare him to at this point? The solo movie villains (except for Loki) have mostly been lame so far. I would say, Malekith ranges somewhere between Obidiah Stane and Ivan Vanko, he’s certainly no worse than Aldrich Killian, but then, who is?

On the whole, I recognize now that I do understand much better what these movies are about. When I watched Thor: The Dark World in the theater there was a lot that I didn’t get. I wasn’t just bored, I was simply drowning in deep water. There’s a lot to this story that justifies a rewatch, after all, the Infinity Stones are first referenced here – in the mid-credit scene. We get to see Loki die once again, only to have him inhabit the Asgardian throne at the end. Yes, Frigga’s death is sad and annoying, but on the whole, Thor: The Dark World is a solid entrance in the MCU. Its biggest fault is that it’s not something we haven’t seen before.

Next: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (arguably the best solo movie within the MCU)

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What’s Missing Here

Black Widow (2010) by Absolutely Nobody

Before I go on to talk about Thor, I wanna take this space to talk about a missed opportunity. Because between Iron Man and Thor, there should have been Black Widow. Ideally, an origin story but I think many of us would’ve even gone for whatever happened in Budapest with Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Barton (Jeremy Renner) – now we’ll never know.

And it still makes me mad, to be honest. The one thing, the DCEU did right (and better than MCU) was not to sideline their female hero. They were positive that Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) would sell and sell she did – in a movie that most people (me included) would consider their best so far.

I already talked about how little I liked Black Widow’s introduction in Iron Man 2 but the problem got bigger from there because Marvel chose to ignore it. I came to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a babe, I knew nothing about the characters and only by chance did I become a fan. What always irked me, however, was the treatment of the female heroes, how they were seemingly forgotten. I’m aware this doesn’t just apply to female heroes, it applies to anyone who’s not white and straight, but for me it was most striking with Black Widow because I didn’t recognize her as a hero.

This doesn’t often happen to me. I usually very clearly identify people’s rightful place within a narrative but when Romanoff came out of nowhere in the donut shop (in a black latex catsuit, no less) I was at a total loss what Tony’s (Robert Downey Jr.) assistant was doing there. I mean, I was kinda aware that Natalie Rushman was something else, maybe a corporate spy or something… but a hero…

All right, you may say that she’s not technically a hero with her background of being a double and triple spy. Or maybe you simply don’t think of her as a hero because ‘well, she works for S.H.I.E.L.D. and also they didn’t give her her own movie’ (I hope you read that in annoying internet troll fanboy voice). But that’s exactly the point. Marvel chose not to give her a movie, didn’t even think she needed one. And that was their mistake, not Black Widow’s.

She’s a hero and Marvel did her dirty. They’re trying now to remedy that fact with a kind of cinematical homage but too long they have ignored us telling them we wanted a Black Widow movie. In about two months, there will be a Black Widow movie and I’m going to watch it, too. But I do feel that at this point it’s bound to disappoint. Because almost ten years have passed from when they had the perfect opportunity to introduce us to Natasha Romanoff, ten years!

We saw her in Iron Man 2 and after taking out Hammer’s complete security team we were like: ‘WHO THAT?! WE WANT!’ But they did not give, instead they made her out to be some sort of personal bodyguard/spy to Nick Fury and eye-candy within the film. They basically assassinated her character before they even told us that she was an assassin.

This is one example of a bigger problem, though. Marvel has pushed female characters into a margin early on. We have the Pepper Potts-characters – love interests to the hero and in a way certainly reward to the hero. And then we have the Christina Everharts – secondary female characters who’re little more than eye-candy, can also be the comical relief or even the villain, I guess. And that’s basically it. They didn’t make space for a female hero. Maybe they thought along the line, maybe, there would be a Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), or a Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), but can you honestly tell me that they even planned to give any of them their own movie? Had DC not made Wonder Woman would there even be a Captain Marvel movie?

I think not, and that’s a problem. Yes, now they’re trying to remedy that fact. With a Black Widow movie, with an Eternals movie (where some of the male characters have been made female), with putting Wasp on the same level as Ant-Man. But it’s so late. Equal representation is not something you sit and wait on, and that goes for all types of humans. If you plan to open a universe, don’t sit on more than 50% of your characters… and I can’t believe I still have to spell that out in 2020!

Can you imagine the kind of stories we could’ve already had, had they put out an early Black Widow movie? And origin story for Black Widow – and have you read about her origin, holy shit! Or an extra-cool spy thriller! Or maybe both? She could’ve killed so many world leaders already! (That last one is my special brand of humor, deal with it!) The Maximofs could’ve had their own movie, Hope Van Dyne could’ve been the Wasp all along… missed opportunities.

If you think that all this is redundant, you’re welcome to your own opinion. But I think as long as this doesn’t change, and one female superhero movie doesn’t mean change – it’s more of a bandaid, really – it must be said. As much as I love Marvel movies, I hate that they dropped the ball on this.

So, Marvel, dear Marvel, give me more female heroes. Make so many movies about female heroes (and black heroes and brown heroes and queer heroes) that their numbers equal those of straight white heroes. Because everybody goes to the movies and everybody likes to see themselves represented (and might actually watch a movie with their special representation more than once).

Next: Thor (for real, this time)

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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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Maleficent

Maleficent (2014) by Robert Stromberg

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Let’s talk about Angelina Jolie for a moment. I have my problems with reviewing any of her movies, to be honest, even though I’ve watched most of them at the movies. It’s just incredibly difficult for me to look beyond her iconic status and see her work outside of it. I’ve been a fan since February 2001 when I first saw the Tomb Raider-trailer and that’s probably also around the time she became this iconic figure so I’ve rarely seen her without it. But we all know that she is a talented, incredibly able and dedicated actress. And I want to stress this point because Maleficent is probably her most iconic role to date – and it could have been a disaster if anyone but Jolie had played it.maleficent1

What happens:

An old tale with a new twist – Maleficent is a fairy living in a kingdom with other fairies and magical creatures just next to a kingdom where envious men dream of conquering that neigboring world they don’t understand. When a king (Kenneth Cranham) finally tries, he and his army are defeated and it is Maleficent as protector of her kingdom who is responsible for the defeat and the humiliation the king suffers. As he lies dying, he promises the kingdom to the man that kills Maleficent.

Stefan (Michael Higgins, Sharlto Copley)  who has been Maleficent’s childhood friend and first love reconnects with her but then betrays her. But since he is unable to kill her he cuts off her wings and takes them to the king – and becomes king in return. Maleficent swears revenge and makes herself queen of the beforehand leaderless fairy kingdom – a dark queen. She curses Stefan’s first (and only) child, Aurora (Elle Fanning), to fall into a deep sleep on her sixteenth birthday from which she shall not awake unless it’s by true love’s kiss (since Maleficent does not believe in true love anymore because it’s what Stefan had vowed to her it’s a mute point that Aurora will never wake).

maleficent4Aurora is send away by her father to live with three fairies (Juno Temple, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville) who show such negligent care of the child that Maleficent feels the need to intervene just so that Aurora will live to see her sixteenth birthday. She unwillingly befriends the girl who thinks that Maleficent is her fairy godmother and as she grows attached to the girl she tries to take back the curse. She fails and has to watch as Aurora falls victim to it. She brings Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) to the castle – a young man who has met Aurora once and was enchanted by her – but his kiss does not wake Aurora. Only when Maleficent kisses the unconscious girl – grief-stricken over the fact that she couldn’t save her – Aurora wakes.

There’s loads of battle and awesomeness and Maleficent finally gets her wings back. In the end, Maleficent and Aurora unite the kingdom in what can best be described as a gay marriage ceremony (that’s open for interpretation and discussion). The Happy Ending.

Now, there have been a number of fairy tales lately who tried and failed at maleficent-poster2giving the old tales a feminist spin – Maleficent is not one of those. It’s also not a lighthearted, musical color-explosion that’s been ejaculated onto the screen. It’s not flashy, it’s not distastefully pointing fingers at mythical creatures in a ‘look how different they are’-kind of metaphorical way. It is what it is:

A tale about people. People who are flawed, who are cruel, who are obsessed, who are kind, who are trying so hard at being better. There is a wide range of human frailties at work here and most of them are displayed in Maleficent – the ‘villain’ of the tale – but they’re all displayed on the remarkable body of Angelina Jolie’s talent. She’s a playful fairy, a scary avenger, a violated woman, an action-hero, and a tender lover.

I don’t even have words for how magnificent Angelina Jolie is in this role. It’s the kind of role meets actor that you would wish for all of your favorite movies, the kind of combination of talents that comes along far too rarely. This is an epic movie, a movie that sets standards, a movie you will want to watch again and again because its pieces fit perfectly into a well-told story, a powerful drama, an exciting action movie, a love story that is rarely told in such a way (and yes, I’m talking about the love between Maleficent and Aurora and I’m not going to put a label on it). This is the movie you should watch if you were only going to watch one movie this year – you won’t regret it.

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Divergent

 

Divergent (2014) by Neil Burger

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Let me start by saying: I haven’t read the books (yet). They’re somewhere on that long list of want-to-read books I hope to get to in the future and watching the movie certainly pushed them up quite a bit.

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I’m intrigued by the concept of the story. But I’m also a little confused. Let’s look at the plot:

In a not too distant future in post-war Chicago, society is being sorted into five factions. When Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is tested for the special virtue that will decide which faction she might best fit in, she finds out that she’s divergent – she possesses multiple virtues which means she might not fit in anywhere.

Divergents are considered dangerous in the society she lives in and changes within the government lead to the systematic prosecution of divergents. Beatrice must learn to hide in her chosen faction to avoid detection. But hiding ceases to be an option when her parents’ faction becomes the target of a vicious attack.

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I guess it’s a little like getting into Hogwarts and being sorted into houses by virtue but then, of course, it’s not like the Harry Potter-series at all. There’s no magic, there’s technology. Nobody has a super power and having multiple virtues can actually paralyze the bearer.

As I said, the concept is certainly intriguing, but having only watched the movie, I feel that it was not able to convey the layers of the complex social system that lies beneath the story – at least I hope that something like this exists in the books.  Thus the movie left me a little restless to find out more – which is not bad in itself, it just makes the movie a bit dissatisfying.

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Something that cannot be said about the acting. To be sure, I watched the movie because of Kate Winslet. She is a singular reason that never fails to attract me and she’s amazing, and amazingly evil. I love her character, I love how she protrays her – and I love that I can usually trust Kate to star in watchable movies that rarely disappoint. The star of the movie, Shailene Woodley, doesn’t either. She’s vibrant, she’s a good actress, and it’s actually a little disconcerting how much she reminds me of a younger Kate Winslet. It was good to see Ashley Judd again – even in a rather small role, she certainly made an impression. The same goes for Zoe Kravitz and Mekhi Phifer.

I liked this movie, and not just because of the great casting choices. It’s interesting, smart, has great pacing. Beside the fact that I felt a little left out of the loop where background was concerned (I’m aware that the medium does not allow for delving into it too much or the pace would suffer), I feel that I could have done with less of the love story between Tris (Beatrice changes her name to Tris after chosing a new faction) and Four (Theo James). Some of the dialogue in these scenes was also rather corny. But apart from that it’s certainy watchable and I’m looking forward to reading the books and then (maybe) come back for the second film of the series.

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Back to tv: The Closer

The Closer (2005-2012) created by James Duff

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As you can see, I’m only just starting on the show and have now watched the first two season. I have watched a couple of episodes on German tv (that’s how I came across it, after all) but watching stuff on German tv is tricky because it is all dubbed. For a show that relies so much on its main character and characterization in general this means: no accents. Yeah, you see where I’m going with this: watching The Closer without Brenda Leigh Johnson’s distinctive accent is kind of missing the point.

thecloser1It took me a while to even find out that Brenda had an accent and why everyone was acting the way they did around her – but I got there and decided it was time to watch the show in the original. And I’m not sorry I did. For once, I have always liked Kyra Sedgwick. I’m not sure where I saw her first (could have been Singles) but the moment I saw her I liked her and that hasn’t changed. For another, I’m partial to Jeffrey Deaver’s books and I recognized in Brenda Leigh Johnson what I like about his Kathryn Dance-series: the shrewd intelligence of a person who is good at reading people and using this to her advantage. I like people – if I’m not hating them with a passion. I like the complexity of us, the diversity and the sameness – and I like watching people concerning themselves with people. And this is what The Closer is about.

That isn’t to say that it’s all good. As you can easily see in the pictures, the show has a gender-challenge. The challenge being that of a woman in a man’s world and a lot of what is going on in the first season made me angry. The feeling of Brenda Leigh Johnson having to fight old boys club-windmills was prevalent and it irked me. Fortunately, they eased up on this in the second season. I’m thecloser3not saying that this isn’t a real issue, it is, but sometimes real issues make me so mad in real life that I don’t want to deal with them in an imaginary world, or at least not too much. The glass ceiling exists, Brenda Leigh likes to ignore it but she doesn’t have to do this in every episode for women to feel empowered, or for everyone to acknowledge that it exists.

It is difficult for me to watch a show with so many male characters, I’m not going to lie to you about this. Fortunately, most of them are if not likable then at least characterized convincingly which is due in great part to having good actors play them. I really hate Will Pope, for example, the way he strings Brenda along, the way he sometimes hangs her out to dry and always demands that she’d do her job by yesterday and then criticizes her for how she does it. And J.K Simmons is just the actor who can still make Pope annoyingly sweet. You can see why she fell for him but also why he’s bad for her and her career. And the other male characters are portrayed and cast just as well as he is.

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The show has very strong assets to convey police work. the acting, the writing, the characterization. It’s a good show, a clever cop-show while also not being a typical cop-show. Then, of course, there’s the fact that I’m a sucker for a Southern accent – and beautiful women. And although most of the characters are male, there is Kyra Sedgwick and there is also (at least so far) Gina Ravera and seeing those two walk onto a crime scene… definately worth watching.

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Les Misérables

Les Misérables (2012) by Tom Hooper

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Finally, Les Mis opened in Germany! Finally, I watched it!

You might think that this has been a livelong dream of mine, that I could think of nothing else while waiting for it to happen, that I was thrilled by the choices of actors – or devastated. But you would be wrong. I knew very little of Les Misßerables before, and I don’t feel that I know a lot more now. Sure, the plot is fairly clear now, some quotes that I may have heard before make sense – but I have never read the novel by Victor Hugo, I haven’t seen a version of the musical before now.

lesmis4And still, when people started talking about it on the blogosphere, I became intrigued and I wanted to see it – even more so when I heard that Helena Bonham Carter would be in it, singing once again as she had already done on Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Anne Hathaway? Can she sing? Russell Crowe? Can HE sing? Hugh Jackman? Awesome, he can sing! The list of cast just got better and better and then I waited, patiently. Until yesterday:

The year is 1815, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has spent 19 years in prison, five for stealing a loaf of bread, 14 more because he tried to escape. Now he’s on parole and he’s given the chance to better himself. But he can’t do that while still wearing the stigma of a con – so, he makes his former self disappear and builds a new identity. One, that becomes mayor of some city and a respected businessman. At his factory works a young woman by the name of Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who is dismissed by Valjean’s foreman after finding out that she has an illegitimate child.

Fantine takes to the street while Valjean has to face his past in the figure of lesmis2Javert (Russell Crowe) who was a guard at prison and recognizes the man. Valjean finds Fantine and takes her to the hospital where she dies after Valjean promises her to find her daughter, Cosette, and care for her. He does but has to flee with the small girl (Isabelle Allen) because Javert is after him again. Nine years later in Paris, Valjean and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) live in hiding. Cosette falls in love with a young revolutionist, Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Javert once again enters their lives. Trying to escape they are caught up in the machinisms of a revolution and everybody has choices to make, debts to pay.

The story isn’t the greatest part of it, and I’m not even sure if it’s Hugo’s doing or simply the script of even the musical version, but there are certainly a few questions that are left unanswered, a little too many coincidences happening. But these probably shouldn’t even be mentioned in the light of a fantastic cast lesmis3giving a breathtaking performance. Yes, they can all sing and they do. And while they’re all really wonderful, it is Anne Hathaway who blows everyone else out of the water. Oscar-worthy performance? Abso-fucking-lutely (pardon my French, and the pun)! There are no words to discribe her intensity. She makes the audience feel lost with her, makes everyone want to reach out and protect her. She is the face that has been ruined, not by her own doing but by others judging her. She should have lived where others died but she doesn’t. She dies and the audience cries for her.

Luckily, they bring Anne Hathaway back for the grand finale because by then you have missed her – not because it had all turned boring and lame by now but simply because she was THAT good.

Whoelse was good? Well, you guessed it: Helena Bonham Carter. It doesn’t really matter what she does, she does it all fabulously. And the weight of not letting the whole show drudge into misery and sorrow lay heavy on her and Sacha Baron Cohen’s shoulders and they pulled it off and making it look effortlessly.

I’m mentioning these two actresses but I should mention everyone involved. lesmis9The cast was fabulous. I think I was most surprised by the role of Javert. It would have been easy to have him being the villain, somebody who doesn’t care. But Javert does care. He really believes that Valjean belongs in prison, that he’s a dangerous man. He also believes in the system, in the law, and that’s exactly why he must fail in the end – because the system fails him. He is confronted with the question of right and wrong and must admit to himself that he has been wrong all along, because he has put himself on the wrong side. I feel, that his is really the most complex of roles, more so than Valjean’s, because Valjean has the opportunity to redeem himself – Javert doesn’t. And Crowe is really great at protraying this.

There’s another interpretation that lends itself to these two characters, of course. It feels a little like a love story between the two men. None of them seems to have any other romantic linkages but one is always following the other, watching for him. Yes, there’s antagonism but there’s also honor and a sense of one coin with two sides. One is Valjean, the other Javert (their names are eerily similar with the prominant Vj/Jv sounds in them). It’s really a kind of symbioses that binds them, they cannot let go, they cannot carry on.

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There is so much in the story, there’s so much in the songs, there are emotions and thoughts. I will watch it again and listen to the soundtrack and maybe even read the novel – hopefully it will all make sense at some point, or at least the things that I found a little lacking in the plot. It was the only thing that lacked anything really, as this was a brilliant movie. Now go see, if you haven’t already.

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adaptation (literature) Comedy Drama great actress people women

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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Categories
adaptation (literature) Drama fairy tale fantasy fantasy horror horror lesbian subtext TV tv Utopia/Dystopia women

Back to tv: Once Upon a Time

(The purple stuff is not the Gay Menace it’s magic – okay, even I noticed the contradiction in that statement…)

A tv show about fairy tales, I thought, this is either a very bad or a very good idea. I am still not sure which it is but I am watching every week now. The premise goes as follows:

The Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) hates Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and wants to destroy her happiness with Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) – actually she wants to destroy everybody’s happy ending. So she curses her enemies to live in a land without magic where she reigns. But the Charmings are having a baby and by prophecy this baby is to rid everyone of the curse – in 28 years. They put her in a magic wardrobe and Emma – thus the Charming’s off-spring’s name – is transported to our world, somewhere in Maine. Not far from that small town that magically appeared shortly after by the name of Storybrooke where all the characters from our favorite fairy tales are now living.

28 years pass – only in Storybrooke they don’t really pass because time has stopped – and Henry (Jared Gilmore) appears at Emma Swan’s (Jennifer Morrison) door, telling her that he is her son and that she has to safe everyone in Storybrooke from the Evil Queen, his adoptive mother, Regina Mills. Emma comes to Storybrooke and as she decides to stay, the clocks in Storybrooke start ticking again.

The story is told in flashbacks that bring us back to Fairytale Land and the story that is taking place in Storybrooke. We get to know the characters and who they were in a magical world and who they have – unknowingly – become.

The concept is actually quite fascinating, especially from a feminist perspective: most of the main players are women because fairy tales are so often concerned with them. The love/hate relationship between Regina and Snow White/Mary Margaret is as much at the core of it as the antagonism between Regina and Emma – who, after all, lay claims to the same boy as son – and the love between Snow and Charmin’ who in Storybrooke are a school teacher and a man in a coma (don’t worry he wakes only to learn that he has married the wrong girl).

With a lot of characters there come a lot of stories to be told. The show does not exclusively tell classic fairy tales either but dips into Wonderland, Neverland and also brings Victor Frankenstein (David Anders) to the (operating) table.

While the story as conducted story is quite fascinating, the handling of characters is sometimes disappointing. It seems that the two villains are treated differently by the writer’s on the ground of gender, while Regina gets the cold shoulder treatment, Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) is forgiven his misdeeds because he is loved by someone. The writer’s also like to throw love-interests at Emma Swan, white male love interests while a lot of fans would rather see her with the Evil Queen, Regina, because these two have actual chemistry.

There are a lot of ships sailing under the Ouat (Once Upon a Time) banner, there are very few characters who are not in some way linked to each other and the fans love making up new ships (some of them not even romantic). One thing is sure: the fans are invested – and I count myself among them. Though my ship is the Red Beauty (that’s Ruby/Red Riding Hood and Belle/Beauty to you).

If you find the time, have a look. If for nothing else, the retelling and changing of fairy tales we’ve grown up with, is fascinating. And there’s room for plenty interpretation.