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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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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As part of an obsession: Camp

Camp (2003) by Todd Graff

camp1You may have noticed a slight change in the look of my blog, the header is different. This has something to do with my current obsessions: Pitch Perfect and everything Anna Kendrick. And when you’re obsessed you make poor choices – one was watching this movie.

Camp is about just that – in both meanings of the word. A summer camp full of music enthusiasts meet to hone their talents in acting, singing, and dancing. And these kids are certainly talented. But the story that is being told has little to do with what goes on on the stage. Vlad (Daniel Letterle) is kind of an oddity: he’s straight and he still likes to flirt with his gay roommate Michael (Robin de Jesus) sometimes. Michael is thrown because Vlad is cute but also very active with the ladies in the camp – especially Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat) who has some insecurities of her own and is coincidentally Michael’s best friend.

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There are other kids as well, of course. One is Fritzi (Anna Kendrick) and Fritzi has a crush on Jill (Alana Allen). But Jill is a bitch and uses Fritzi as her personal doormat until the younger girl cracks and starts to sabotage the pretty girl who gets all the good parts just because of her looks.

The problem I had with this is rather simple: why make a movie with multiple queer characters, that is called Camp of all things, and then make the biggest part of it about the budding romance between Vlad and Ellen? There was potential there and it was certainly hinted at. But Vlad’s bisexuality never really materialized, he’s more of a tease than an experimental guy. And the makers took the conventional way out. Another thing: while the gay male teens are positively (if stereotypically) portrayed, the lesbian (if we can call Fritzi that) gets the weirdo treatment and then turns mean… certainly, she is talented but look at that temper! Oh, please. Her sexuality is more of a fetishized wet dream than part of her personality.

camp2The acting all around wasn’t as good as it could have been but the story is the major let down of this movie. While it is willing to promote queerness in teens it still pushes heteronormativity down our throats via its two main protagonists and when even Michael jumps onto the bandwagon (if only for one night) things get a little out of hand. There’s an ambiguity at work here that makes me admit: yes, these are kids, their sexualities aren’t set into stone, experiementing is a healthy thing… and I certainly agree with this take, however, it seems that the queer teens are lured into straight experiments more than the straight teen into gay experiementing. The ambiguity is actually a double-standard.

A word to Anna Kendrick: she was amazing. Her role isn’t very big but her character is certainly the most memorable and I was blown away by her performance of Ladies Who Lunch from Sondheim’s Company – the man makes a guest appearance as himself by the way. You should check it out on youtube, it’s a killer. The movie is not, though.

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Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect (2012) by Jason Moore

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(Okay, I decided to do this new thing – snapping pics of my tix and posting them with the review [these are only this year’s Pitch Perfect-tickets; I have another one from last year]; just for fun, y’know. And yeah, I’m aware that’s an ugly background, it’s my carpet; I will try to find a new one.)

As you can see, I haven’t been to the movies lately – money is hard to come by these days. But I didn’t want the world to end without having watched Pitch Perfect, so, this was the first movie since July I indulged in (I’m not especially sad to have missed most of summer’s blockbusters). As so many others I watched the trailer and just knew it was good – and for once, I am able to say that I was not disappointed by the product that was put out.

Is the story innovative – hell no! But who cares:

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Beca (Anna Kendrick) is pressured by her father (John Benjamin Hickey) to attend college although she would much rather move to L.A. to become a DJ. Her roommate Kimmy Jin (Jinhee Joung) hates her, and the only person paying any attention to her is this guy Jesse (Skylar Astin) who obviously just wants to get into her pants. Campus has four a cappella groups, among them the all-boys Treblemakers and the all-girls Barden Bellas. They are declared enemies but as life – or Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet much?) – has it, Beca ends up with the Bellas, while Jesse joins the Treblemakers. Hilarious ensues, the girls get their shit together and finally win the nationals, everybody wins – and Jesse gets into Beca’s pants (it is indicated, fortunately, we only see them kiss).

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As I said, the story isn’t really innovative, the love story’s kinda boring but it’s not the center of attention which is good. The main attraction is young people singing a capella and trying to be cool doing it. Yes, it leans heavily on Glee but it also makes fun of the show (the shower scene with Beca and Chloe wasn’t only hilarious, it was professedly gay – and a female rip-off of all the times the gleeks sang in the shower).

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Anna Kendrick is a wonderful lead, she is talented, she is captivating, she rocks this movie – and so does her cleavage (and if you tell me you weren’t as distracted by it as I was you’re lying). And then there’s Rebel Wilson playing Fat Amy. How do I explain Rebel Wilson – she is flawless… if you haven’t seen her in anything yet make sure you watch her in Pitch Perfect – she rules this movie, she is badass, and I am saying this with the utmost respect for her and all her abilities. She’s funny.

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With so many women packed into one group, gay ensues. I wasn’t entirely happy with the obviously gay character Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean) (and it wasn’t a surprise that with all the white girls in the Bellas, she was one of the few women of color) but then there was the chemistry between Anna Kendrick and Brittany Snow. And it’s not just about the shower scene, the first time these two meet, Snow is eye-sexing Kendrick so obviously that even I saw it. And it wasn’t the only time either. With all the things being said between these two during the movie, I actually scratched my head at the end of it when Beca kissed Jesse – I had quite comfortably leaned back into my head-canon and assumed that the two girls would end up together. Well, Hollywood says no and all the fans start writing BeChloe fanfiction.

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Update: I have now watched it four times and that’s only at the movies – and it still rocks. I’m actually rather obsessed with it and count myself as one of those fans who write BeChloe fanfic… what can I say: I love those awesome nerds.

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.

Back to tv: Warehouse 13

I came to realize something this year which may have been true before but never so clear as now: tv shows are better than movies. I have been very disappointed this year by the lack of really good movies coming out (especially those that ran under the big sail of “blockbuster” were disappointing). So, I turned to tv a lot and that’s where the really good stories were told this year – and, of course, before this year as many of the really great shows this year did not just start. One of those great shows is Warehouse 13.

The warehouse itself is a secret hiding place for artefacts that is protected by a secret society that operates worldwide. Warehouse 13 is situated in South Dakota and Secret Service agents Bering (Joanne Kelly) and Lattimer (Eddie McClintock) are being recruited to secure artefacts that are being used to create mischief and store them in the warehouse (“snag ’em, bag ’em, tag ’em”). They work under Artie Nielson (Saul Rubinek), an elderly agent with a temper and a past, and with young Claudia Donovan (Allison Scagliotti), who’s a wizz at the keys and has quite a mouth on her. The warehouse’s keeper is Mrs. Frederic (CCH Pounder), a woman who is closer attached to the warehouse than anyone wants to admit or think about.

One great thing about this show is the fact that we have actually more female than male characters – and yes, this is important because it is such a rare occurance in tv (and movies…). It is an ensemble show and the chemistry is delicious, it’s fun, it’s quirky, and at times silly. The whole show has an undeniable quality of fan-hysteria. You just have to look at the long list of science fiction related guest stars: Kate Mulgrew, Jeri Ryan, Brent Spiner, Lindsay Wagner, Rene Auberjonois to name a few – and you know: here are people who love science fiction.

The light-heartedness is broken by great dramatic story-telling under the helm of a personal favorite: Jane Espenson whose credits cover many a Josh Whedon project, plus Battlestar Galactica, plus Gilmore Girls, etc. No wonder this show is AWESOME.

And then there is subtext, and I don’t mean anything to do with Pete and Myka. Love finds nerdy agent Bering in the second season with villain H.G. Wells (yes, the writer who is coincidentally a woman – her brother provided the mustache). Well, H.G. turns out less the villain and more of someone who is hurting a lot – and really we would forgive Jaime Murray’s lovely face just about anything.

There is a lot to love about the show, and believe you me: I love it all! (There is actually not a single thing I do not like about this show… nothing to rant about… hell, I feel a little bit cheated by the lack of wrong on this show…)

Snow White and the Evil Queen

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) by Rupert Sanders

I am not sure what Hollywood’s current fascination with fairy tales is all about. Two Snow White-movies and Little Red Riding Hood, not to mention other mythical creatures that haunt us since Bram Stoker… I would like to blame it all on Stephenie Meyer but I guess that would be too easy.

And the premise (or the trailer) of this one was quite good: Snow White as independent amazon-like figure who will fight the evil queen with a sword – and looks awesome in chain mail. Who didn’t want to see it after the first glimpse of the trailer. And then, of course, tumblr was all aglow with bits and pieces of interviews with the female leads – who flirted shamelessly (with each other). After that the rest of the world (or was it only the lesbian world?) was enchanted and rushed to the movie theaters.

So did I. And as mostly everybody else I was disappointed. It actually has me believe that Hollywood should just produce trailers and leave the actual story to our imaginations. Then we can use platforms like these to talk about our various versions of a movie and not complain about an actual production – because let’s face it: that happens more and more often.

I don’t want to go into the details of why I think Hollywood produces so many bad movies right now, let’s discuss instead why Snow White and the Huntsman is one of them.

Fairy tales do not easily adept to feminism, that is a basic truth, as mostly these stories were there to scare women off. Not just off seeking a different aim in life than marriage (because marriage obviously makes a princess out of any girl) but off seeking an independent sexuality. And I am not talking only lesbianism here as you might think, I am also talking about women wanting to experience an orgasm… women were there to fulfil male sexuality not establish an own sexuality. Women who tried that were deemed witches (not just in fairy tales but in medieval Europe as well). This is what the beginning of Snow White and the Huntsman tells us as well. Ravenna (Charlize Theron), the evil queen, gets married to Snow White’s dad (Noah Huntley) and poisons him in their wedding night. But the poison does not kill him, Ravenna does as she plunges a knife into the man.

Let’s talk about the obvious symbolism of this act. Wedding night constitutes the first time man penetrates woman. Ravenna turns it around (literally as she flips her new husband over and straddles him) and penetrates him instead – with a knife to his chest. She explains this to be her feminist manifesto against the injustice of women having to be beautiful while man only having to have a penis.

Of course, there is some truth behind her reasoning. But it is so obviously done as if to say: look, we make women in fairy tales feminist and strong women now, we are not sexist, men do understand woman’s need for independence (the makers and shakers of the film are mostly male). Yeah, well, and no! Especially since they make the evil queen not just a feminist, they make her a lesbian – and quite deliberately so. You think I am delusional?

So, during the wedding night, Ravenna penetrates her husband – put in here one of the early sexolgists, and you have the typical penis envy scenario. She keeps a beautiful young girl (Kristen Stewart) prisoner in a tower, not killing her (and if you wondered what her brother [Sam Spruell] has to do with the story at all, why not see him as her male alter ego so that she can watch Snow White…), she sucks the life out of young women with a kiss (yes, I know, they finally refrained from executing the kiss but what do you think it stands for? CPR?) – this takes us back to 19th century “lesbian” literature that protrays lesbians as sucking the life out of young (and straight) women using a higher social standing (hello, queen) to seduce them (the vampire myth is linked to this, as well). The queen wants the heart of the fairest of them all – do I really have to point to the symbolism of the heart? Ravenna coaxes Snow White into sharing her first kiss with her – in the guise of a man but still… why not just plunge a knife into her (also note that Ravenna never actually kisses the king but she kisses his daughter – what does that tell us?)? And finally: Snow White’s last words to the evil queen – ‘I can’t give you my heart’ – in a movie that is so forceful with it’s many symbols… I guess, this last line seals the deal.

So, here we have another dead lesbian, a witch, an evil woman. Sure, they try to build a little story around her vanity and her strangely symbiotic relationship with her brother but that is more confusing than anything else. Just because your mother tells you that your beauty is your only worth, does not make it right to suck the life out of female citenzry and land.

But let’s come to our damsel in distress who is also more of a fake feminist and more of a virginal (and Christian) standard. The girl has been in a tower for a decade, no one knows she’s alive and no one (especially not the audience) knows why she’s still alive. Maybe so that the queen’s brother has someone to peep at other than his sister (that guy creeped me out). Her beauty does not just stem from her lovely red lips, the black hair and the white skin, it is mostly an inner beauty (here they went all out with the beauty-comes-from-within-message that Hollywood sells so well…). Albeit the fact that she has spent the last ten year in a prison cell, she is in pretty good shape when it comes to escaping the castle (I especially like the sliding into the… medieval canalization thingy). Make no mistake, she’s a feisty one but she is also not quite the amazon princess the trailer makes her out to be. ‘Cause her main fighting skill is a move the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) shows her early in the film and, of course, it is the way she finally kills the queen (this is foreshadowing waving at you).

Don’t get me wrong, Kristen Stewart sells this girl well and, I guess, compared to Bella Swan every girl is a feminist but still, the message does not sail. Why? Snow White is a virgin, stays a virgin to her death, is awakened by true love’s kiss (from the Huntsman), and, as far as we know, stays a virgin until she is crowned (I must say, though, that this crowning scene had me a little confused – and not just because of the head-nodding at the very end – but she is wearing red and she and her huntsman have a little bit of an eye-shagging accross the entire room… this could mean that they have been intimate, but the fact that she is crowned and not married at the end of the movie could also mean that she will be one of those “virgin queens” history has invented as another means to suppress woman’s sexuality).

On the whole the movie overdoes it’s showy feminism when it is about beauty but forgets about setting female sexuality free. It also mixes too many mythical tropes. I mean, we knew there would be dwarfs (because, hello! it’s Snow White!), but then there were fairys, and then there was a shiny white stag (if it had started speaking at one point, I would have left the theater), there was witchcraft and then there was Snow White, reciting a Holy Father in front of her fire place while holding voodoo dolls (or something). And this already freaked me out after half an hour. It was just overdone.

And don’t get me wrong, the movie was visully stunning, it looked gooooood. But other than that… and this is especially sad when you look at the acting. I mean, KStew was great, she really was, but even Charlize Theron, who I consider a very good actress, overacted. At some point in the movie I stopped thinking of her as evil queen and thought of her as the drama queen…

There are still so many thoughts in my head about this movie: what they did well, they overdid (like slowmo… why did they need it 1.5 hours into the film to tell us that, yes, Snow White is the heroine?!), what they screwed up, they really screwed up (that whole brother figure was a disaster!), and then they put a quasi-amazon village into the film and neither did these women help Snow White hone her fighting skills nor did they show much resistance against a handful of guys raiding their village in search for Snow White… the only good thing about that was Rachel Stirling as the amazon queen (or whatever you want to call her) – I actually sat in the the theater and said: is that Rachel? (the guy next to me probably wondered if I was talking to him, who Rachel was and why he always had to sit next to crazy folk at the movies…).

So, there you have it. Another movie which could have been great but wasn’t…

From my DVD collection: Johnny Guitar

Johnny Guitar (1954) by Nicholas Ray

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(that’s the German dvd-cover – with the German subtitle ‘Wenn Frauen hassen’ [trans. ‘When women hate’] – and yes, that is my ugly orange carpet)

So, last night I surveyed my dvd collection and thought it would be fun to watch Johnny Guitar again. I may have been a little wasted – only a little – but I was still right: it was fun.

A couple of years back, I was supposed to do a presentation about this movie. I didn’t quite do the movie justice. But sometimes you are so overwhelmed by a good movie that you hardly know where to begin. Yes, there was the aspect of McCarthyism, of denouncing someone to save one’s own skin but this movie is about so much more than that.

What is truly remarkable is the chemistry/antagonism between the two female characters, Vienna (Joan Crawford) and Emma (Mercedes McCambridge). The story is conducted around the premise that Vienna had a thing with The Dancin’ Kid (Scott Brady) who Emma has a thing for as well. But The Dancin? Kid is not husband-material, so Emma denies her attraction and is instead determined to pin some crime on him. When her brother is murdered, it gives Emma the opportunity to do just that and destroy Vienna in the process. Vienna could be the first of many settlers to flood the territory where railroad tracks are already being built. But Emma is a rancher and she doesn’t care to  share her land with “farmers.”

Easy enough. But Emma is actually so poisonous and murderous – especially toward Vienna – that one can easily interpret her hate for the other woman as attraction. We could argue that she and Vienna had a thing and that The Dancin’ Kid interfered. And, no, I am not the first to suggest such an intepretation. It is surprising to have a Western with two strong female characters. Vienna is wearing pants, and one of her employers suggests that she shows a great amount of male characteristics. Of course, these are not really male characteristics, they are just characteritics men don’t want women to have, like determinism to do whatever it takes to make their business successful, a head for business. The character Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden) is, of course, the ploy to make a real woman out of Vienna once again because she has only turned into this half-man because he had left her.

But, as I said, the real attraction of this movie is the chemistry between Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge who play the love/hate between Vienna and Emma to the max.

Mercedes McCambridge makes a great opponent. Emma is mad, there is a wild flicker in her eyes, she absolutely lost her marbles. Her voice is so intense, it’s scary. And you finally understand the saying about a woman scorned… and I don’t know if you have watched Welles’ A Touch of Evil (I have and I consider it one of the worst movies ever) but her role there is only described as Gang Leader – a male role for a female actress and this was 1958, people. And she looks it, too.

Well, if you have a chance to watch Johnny Guitar, do. It’s a classic and a good one at that.

Book vs. Film – Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go (2005) by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go (2010) by Mark Romanek

Yes, I have written about this movie before but now I have also read the novel. And let me tell you: it is just as good. Actually book and movie are not that different. And this is quite an accomplishment if you consider that the book is written by I-narrator Kathy. Ishiguro has written the screenplay together with Alex Garland and they succeed in telling the same bittersweet, touching, and complex story.

Obviously, the novel takes a closer look at the feeling of the narrator, the reader learns more about the issues of the homes and the kids that are to donate.  But Kathy and her peers seem just as naive as they are in the movie. Miss Lucy tells Tommy that things are not explained enough and this holds true even in the novel. Sometimes it gets a little tiresome to have Kathy explain things repeatedly but it works well within the context of the story, Kathy’s wish to preserve memories.

I wrote in my former post that I read some subtext into Ruth’s feelings for Kathy. This also holds true for the novel. Ruth does not seem to care much for anybody, at least not romantically, yet she is bound to Kathy not only by acquaintance, or the coincidence that they grew up together. And one has the feeling that she always fights Kathy more than is necessary…

The book tells us more about Miss Lucy’s story. She is a key character in both versions but the book explores her more thoroughly, is giving her more time with the other characters – especially with Tommy. Tommy’s dilemma with his art and creativity is further elaborated on which is good because this aspect of the movie seemed rather confusing. In all, the novel fills the gaps that the movie cannot fill. It is also well-written. If you find the time, put it on your reading list, it certainly is worth your while.

This Kiss, this Kiss

So, over at Afterellen.com people are a-voting the best lesbian kiss in entertainment. Flipping through all the pix and amazingly wonderful characters that have also formed some of my most memorable tv and movie moments (I am not that much of a comic-fan), I not only voted my favorites I also thought about the kisses that I missed there, or the kisses that were especially important to me.

Yeah, I know, not really lesbian that one. But it actually was the thing that made me watch the show because it was the first thing I saw and I didn’t know that it was not a lesbian kiss. It ran hot and cold up and down my spine, and I mainly watched the next episode because I hoped it would be explained to me – both my reaction to a seemingly lesbian kiss and the kiss itself and whether it really was between two women… well, what can I say, I was 18 and a babe in the woods. But this kiss changed my life. It did not make me a lesbian, I also did not discover that I was one but it made me watch Xena: Warrior Princess. If nothing else, it made a fan-grrrl out of me. And I am eternally grateful for that.

I would say that the first lesbian kiss I remember seeing – it could be the first I saw but with all the stuff I saw on tv it’s rather unlikely that it really was – was the one between Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey in Heavenly Creatures. The film fascinated me on an obsessive level (not because I saw girls kissing, more because I saw girls killing), I became a heavenly creature (I did not kill anyone but to this day I am convinced there is a fourth dimension… I hope it’s where I go when I die – to spent eternity with Kate Winslet, mostly). The lesbianism in it is disturbing on more than one level (one of these levels is Freudian), it is distructive and clichéed and if you tell me you hate the movie because of it – that’s your prerogative. Still, it was important to me – these two girls made sense to me, their love, their friendship, yes, their madness, too. Let’s face it, sometimes it is maddening to be different, and I certainly knew how that felt.

Tara and Willow. It is strange because I must have actually missed their first kiss. I do know that I did not see every episode of season 5 – because it bored me to pieces. Since I have just watched the whole show (including season 7 which I have not watched before, so now at least I can rightfully jump onto the I-hate-Kennedy-bandwagon), I actually discovered that most of the things I thought happened in season 5 actually happened in season 4 – I must have completely zoned out when 5 was on. I remembered Tara getting brain-slurped by Glory and Buffy jumping to her death, that’s it. But it also held that marvellously disturbing kissing scene when Willow prepares for Joyce’s funeral. Very sensual if your girlfriend sobs into your face, snot and tears running everywhere, very classy. Okay, this was not one of the important kisses – as I said, I didn’t even remember it – but rewatching it, it makes sense: OMG, Willow and Tara-shippers want them to kiss! What are we gonna do?! I know… let them make out during a marvellously traumatic storyline… when someone died or something. We can sell it as a comfort scene, nobody will be the wiser – and thus it was done… RMB when creators of shows had to come up with rediculous storylines like that just to put in a lesbian kiss – crazypants.

But, of course, then there was that massive making-out/having sex scene just before they killed Tara off… putting it like this is not really giving this scene enough credit. But it was wonderfully acted out by both actresses (Alyson Hannigan and Amber Benson). It was important – and they kinda killed the importance along with Tara, implicating that evil lesbians must die and all that crap.

But let’s face it, if it wasn’t for these two and Xena and Gabrielle, Emily and Maya (and Emily and Paige and Emily and Somara) would probably not have happened – not in the way we can see them nowadays.

And kissing is so important, too. I mean, who doesn’t remember last Xmas when twitter was all aglow with lesbian rage when some writer of Glee actually insisted that Brittana had kissed… oh yeah, that kiss! What?! No, they never did. And they didn’t and now they have. I guess, you could say that the Glee-powers handled this badly. They told us these two had sex, these two were casual and then they gave them a lesbian story line and it all ended up being about THE KISS… The ultimate scene was well-handled, refusing to give THE KISS a big, dramatic moment with violins playing in the background. It made fun of the whole discussion surrounding it and then gave us the little peck that was the introduction to the Valentine’s kissing concert that was mostly well-acted by Naya Rivera and Heather Morris.

A kiss is still a kiss – but this one blew every other kiss right out of the water. And I guess it will win since Glee seems to take all the awards these days. Is it my winner? No. I am way beyond my teenage years and it would probably have rocked my world if I had seen it when I was a teenager. I liked it but my favorites are these:

Because these days, it’s all about them… and even months after All My Children ended I am still rewatching Minx-vids.

This movie always depresses me – I cannot fathom how real it feels to me and how lonely I feel when it is over… but I keep rewatching it because it also makes me incredibly, stupidly happy. Just believing there is love like that – yeah, and that kiss.

And, of course, this (yeah, yeah, I know, not an actual kiss, just life-saving measures… but ROC sure got into it pretty good):