Category Archives: Movies in Real World

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

On a rainy Sunday afternoon, I found myself in a dilemma.  I needed to complete a movie watching assignment for class, but I was suffering from a concussion and was highly sensitive to loud noises and bright flashing lights.  What was the sensible conclusion?  Obviously to watch G.I. Joe: Retaliation… with sunglasses and ear plugs, of course.

It looks calm, right?

I need to get that out of the way, because, let’s be real, under those circumstances any movie watching experience was going to be bad, and it should be known that I was justifiably sour.  However, I don’t want that to discount the exact level of terrible that this movie manages to attain.  Don’t see it.  Don’t.  You will miss nothing.  It’s bad.  It’s hyperviolent mindless drivel with a script that isn’t willing to laugh at itself.  Well, there is a pretty cool ninja battle about halfway through.  Otherwise, it’s just a lot of guns and explosions.

Every scene in this movie can be recreated with the toys to generally positive effect

But from my experience, I’m guessing that actually sounds really good to a lot of people.  Actually, I tried to see this movie three times.  Twice on Saturday and then I finally got in on Sunday, because it was sold out at literally every showing.  A fact which blew my mind until I remembered that Transformers 2 was one of the highest grossing films of 2009, and I quickly put together that I am obviously not the target audience for most Hollywood films.  Nor am I probably the audience for movie theaters in general.  I actually very rarely go to see movies and was pleased that I was finally able to use the free movie voucher that I received when a popcorn machine lit the theater on fire during the midnight premier of Avengers (which is an infinitely better movie than G.I. Joe, BTW).

Don’t you wish you were watching this movie instead? I wish I was watching this movie instead.

As I was entering the theater, I was shuffled by the concession stand where I could still see the burn marks on the popcorn machine that is apparently still being used.  I decided to get a small coke, which must actually be something like 20 oz., and then go find a seat in a place that seemed to be marginally quieter than anywhere else in the room.  I then watched as the room slowly filled up with mostly Black, mostly male, mostly young adult attendees, decked to the brim with popcorn and candy.  I don’t know if any of them were queer, but I would put money on none of them being femme queers, at the least.  You could almost smell the testosterone.  Well, I’m getting cynical again, but these are all pretty accurate descriptions, and they shouldn’t totally surprise.  The theater I went to is located in West Philadelphia, so that could describe a good chunk of the population at virtually anything… less so the distinctly masculine part, but I blame that entirely on explosions and action figures.  Incidentally, the area also has a history of gun violence, which actually prompted the theater to change its name at one point so that it would stop being associated with all of the shootings that happened inside of it.

I do also just want to put special emphasis on the candy and popcorn.  I understand that as a vegan, I have an unusual diet, but I really had no idea that people ate so much of that stuff.  There really was hardly anyone in the theatre without something from the concession stand outside, even I had a coke on my armrest.  Considering the movie costs ~$10 to begin with, adding on massively overpriced junk food makes every movie outing roughly $20 per person.  It becomes more and more clear to me why I pirate my movies most of the time.

In any case, when the movie started the crowd got… mostly quiet.  At different points in the film, mostly around significantly more violent or erotic scenes, people in the audience would shout out different things, from a satisfied, “oh shit!” after a bad guy got his comeuppance, to a painfully horny, “oh shit!” when we got a sensationally sexy shot of Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki).  In other news, I’d like to see Flint (DJ Cotrona) put into some of Lady Jaye’s or Jinx’s (Elodie Yung) battle positions for the Hawkeye Initiative.  They do an impractically good job of dismembering their enemies while still highlighting their digitally enhanced feminine curves.  Interestingly, the brief scene in which DJ Cotrona appears shirtless, presumably to show off the new, highly advanced and durable body armor known as his abdominals, was actually cut from the film.  Womp womp.  Luckily, there were no ladies in the audience to be disappointed about this, but I was positively livid, of course.

If the movie was just 90 minutes of shirtless DJ Cotrona standing around, it would be an infinitely better movie than what it is now

THEY CUT THIS FROM THE MOVIE! WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!

On the subject of ladies, let’s talk a little bit about femme fatales.  Actually, this move has very fatale femmes.  They kill, like, hundreds of people each.  Jinx is basically a fembot.  She lacks distinctive character traits beyond some sort of troped idea of what lady ninjas are supposed to be like (see Psylocke from the X-Men if you are looking for further character study into this phenomenon), and she has no really identifiable feminine traits other than boobs.  Lady Jaye is a little different, among the central trio of Joes, she is ostensibly the “smart” one, because in this universe one is considered to be of exceptional intelligence when they can deduce that something is wrong when the president decides to replace the nation’s military with the most high-profile terrorist organization on the planet.  Brilliant.  As the head of intelligence for the Joes, one would think that she might employ some of the typical femme fatale tricks of getting what she wants, but she’s also the team’s gun expert and spends the majority of her time emasculating the men around her with impossibly huge rifles.  The myriad scenes in which she is dressed provocatively are primarily for fanservice, and not to reveal any type of social truth about the objectification of women.

As Chris Straayer points out, “despite her sexualized image, economic ambitions supplanted her [the classic femme fatale’s] libido and violence displaced sexual pleasure.  The classic femme fatale was known for her trigger-happy killings, not her orgasms.”  Lord, that could not be more accurate for these women (well, technically, Jinx uses a sword, but whatever).  The problem here is that good femme fatales, well-written femme fatales, express these traits because they live in a world that is so overwhelmingly dominated by men that this type of sexuality-fueled homicide is the only way that they can reasonably exert similar power to the violent men around them.  In G.I. Joe, these women are violent for the sake of violence.  Additionally, classic femme fatales are punished, “her narrative options were numbered: she either died, reformed, or turned out not to be a femme fatale after all.”  Jaye and Jinx do none of these things and are actually commemorated as heroes.  And so it raises this question of, how femme are these women really?  The answer is very little.  They are either feminine in this kind of robotic male fantasy sense or feminine in the everything about them is a man except for the boobs way, neither of which are actually feminine.  They say the best woman is a man.  There are no women in this film.

Don’t let the pretty face fool you

When people talk about films like this, and characters like Lady Jaye, there is a strong tendency to refer to them as “strong female characters,” which implies a certain feminism to it all.  In response to that, another highly violent, but probably actually feminist film series The Millennium Series she be used to contrast.  However where in that series, violence is perpetrated against women and Lisbeth Salander is forced to enter the system of violence in order to become safe and happy in a world that is so fundamentally geared against her, in this series, there are highly graphic scenes of women committing violence against others for little point other than to further the objectives of their male superiors.  As Jack Halberstam points out, a strong female character is not all that it takes to really be a feminist character.  “The feminist component to the [Millennium] trilogy rests partly with the character of Salander and partly with the complex plotting which repeatedly links family violence to larger systems of political and economic violence and which implies that any resolution to the plot has to seek social justice by connecting the intimate and personal politics of the home to the public and transnational politics of the economy.”  G.I. Joe kind of maybe satisfies the first half of that in strong female characters, which we’re going to give credit to, because maybe you don’t agree with me that they shouldn’t really even be considered women.  It completely fails when it comes to the second point, though.  In the G.I. Joe world, women are equal, I suppose.  Certainly nobody is getting raped, and the concerns of women when Cobra takes over the world are hardly the first priority.  Everything is driven by men, for men, and the women in the film are expected to be equal in all aspects to their male counterparts, which is a very different thing than saying that the men should be equal to the women.  Unlike what you’re algebra teacher told you, in social justice, equality is not reflexive.  The answer to LITERALLY EVERY problem in G.I. Joe is more violence.  And it’s expected that women are just totally on board to be blowing shit up, because obviously they benefit from that as well, instead of maybe recognizing that violence disproportionately affects women and that contributing to a system like that actually makes things even worse for women and totally reinforces the patriarchy and all of its fucked up rape culturey politics.

But really, it’s G.I. Joe.  If you were expecting a feminist opus, you were not going to this movie.  Again, unsurprisingly, there were not a whole lot of women in the audience.

The general consensus after seeing the movie from the people exiting the theatre seemed to be that it was pretty good.  Plenty of teenage boys imitating the action sequences (or, at least the guns) and talk of cool explosions and ninjas.  The women in the audience seemed maybe less amused, but there was little distinctly negative opinion from anyone that was willing to vocalize it.  Mindless action wins out again, and the system perpetuates itself for more mindless action in the future.  America!

Amurrica!

My other option was Tyler Perry’s Temptation, if you’re wondering why I chose G.I. Joe.

Halberstam, Jack.  “The Girl Who Played With Queer Utopia.” 2010. 2013. <http://bullybloggers.wordpress.com/2010/08/06/the-girl-who-played-with-queer-utopia/&gt;.

Straayer, Chris.  “Femme Fatale or Lesbian Femme.” Women in Film Noir.  2nd Ed.  Ed. E. Ann Kaplan.  London: British Film Institute, 1998. 153-161.

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The We and the I

I walked into the almost empty Ritz at the Bourse on 3rd and Ranstead with Andrea and Kareli on a snowy day. The Ritz was a small movie theatre in Old City that blended into the stores beside it. I expected to pay about the same price for a movie ticket at The Rave, but was pleasantly surprised by the slightly lower ticket price of $7.25. Immediately this reminded me of a movie theater back home near my high school. Our teachers would always take us there to watch foreign films and documentaries, which is where I saw An Inconvenient Truth for the first time. This place was quaint, quiet for 4 o’clock in an afternoon, and the people that we did see had probably taken advantage of the Senior Citizen discount at the ticket booth. I took a look at the coming attractions and in fact, this was a movie theatre that did not cater to big blockbuster films but rather catered to films that I personally think have more cultural meaning. When we headed downstairs, nothing more than the smell of popcorn encouraged us to make some purchases at the concession stand. We took our food and headed into the movie theatre where our movie was being screened which only had seven other people in it ready to watch Michael Gondry’s The We and the I.

I had learned about the movie The We and the I from a recent trip to New York City through the Latino Dialogue Institute at Penn. We had visited The Point which was a cultural center in the Bronx that was devoted to enriching the community with arts-related after school and summer programs. The executive director explained to us that Michael Gondry showed up at her door one day telling her he wanted to make a movie about her kids–that is how the The We and the I was born. The children from The Point worked with the director to develop characters and stories and they themselves were the teen actors cast in the movie. Because of this, the film ends up being an expository about the issues children in the Bronx face in their everyday lives. However, the story takes a unique perspective on exposing these issues by having a stoic setting, the city bus, which allows the characters in the movie to reveal their stories in the way they want to be portrayed. I’m hesitant to call this film a documentary but in many ways it serves the function of being “an instrument of information, education and propaganda as well as a creative treatment of reality” (106). The film addresses everything from family ties, sexuality, death, depression to more minimal issues revolving around high school cliques and Sweet Sixteens. In addition, The Point was particularly pleased by the way the children was portrayed because its was an accurate representation about the issues that their children encounter and the confusion that takes place during a person’s teenage years. The Point also received generous donations from organizations and foundations after the first screening of the film in New York City, which could technically label The We and the I a piece of propaganda for The Point.

One of main story lines that we see develop is that of Teresa’s. Teresa has apparently not been attending school for the last month and on this particular day, she comes back just to attend her last day of school. However, when we see all the high schoolers boarding the bus, she is literally an outsider looking in—she is watching all her friends from a Laundromat at the corner of the bus stop. This is foreshadowing of how much Teresa will not abide to society’s expectations and will continue to be an outsider in many ways. As the film progresses, the audience learns that at a party a few weeks ago, Teresa and Laidychan, the flirtatious and hyper-sexualized Latina in the film, had an intoxicated sexual interaction. While Laidychan does not remember any of it, Teresa does and that is why she stopped attending school. In many ways this reminded me about the way Ivan E. Coytoe and Zena Sherman describe the way that femmes “defy reductive stereotypes and inflexible categories” (Coyote & Sherman, 25). While Teresa seems to be ashamed of what happened with Ladychan, she never seems to express the fact that she is or is not attracted to girls. Femme might be too strong of a word to categorize Teresa in considering she is not completely comfortable with herself yet, but she definitely disregarded the gender binaries in that moment. This is also one of the reasons why Teresa chooses to physically place herself out of the vicinity of her peers. About halfway through the film, Teresa makes her way outside of her friend circle and moves to the front of the bus to speak for the bus driver for most of the way home. This could be interpreted as a way for Teresa to literally and mentally free herself from her friends.  Like Jewelle Gomez’ explains in herd story include in Coyote and Sherman’s book “once free to imagine ourselves as more than simply a reflection of an oppressive het culture, the binary of heterosexuality was forever transformed.” Physically having removed herself from the space of her friends, allowed Teresa to have a more positive attitude towards herself and feel better about the incident with Ladychan. It’s clear that Teresa does not necessarily fulfill the sexuality binaries as either a queer person nor heterosexual person but she gave herself the time to reflect and towards the end rationalize the confusion of her sexuality in a more positive way.

The small audience at The We and the I allowed me to observe more of what they were thinking. In many ways, I was familiar with the topics that Gondry addressed in the film either from personal experience or from talking to people who have experienced similar the things. The people in the audience were much older than we were and definitely saw things through a different lens. In one particular scene, the bus driver smells smoke on the bus and stops the bus to go looking for the culprit who is smoking cigarettes. The end of the scene reveals a sleeping baby with a cigarette in his mouth because the culprit did not want to be caught. While the three of us found this scene to be funny and laughed out loud as it progressed, the rest of the movie goers did not. This scene was definitely added in for comic relief but the rest of the movie goers maybe saw the inclusion of a baby with a cigarette in its mouth not something that should be reacted to with laughter. The age group and maybe even the socioeconomic status of the people who were viewing the film with us could have affected their perspective and interpretations of certain scenes and topics presented in the film. But I do not think this film was particularly targeted towards an older audience. Many references in the film revolved around social media and even the way that information was spread throughout the bus relied heavily on technology. This gave some indication that maybe the people in the theater did not interpret parts of the film the way I did because we came from two different perspectives and maybe it was not necessarily targeted towards that particular age group.

The We and the I was a good exposition to what life is like for many children in the Bronx and what their lives look like. Gondry did an excellent job of capturing the nuisances of high school along with the more serious issues that plague many of the children of The Point. While the movie may not have been targeted towards an older audience, it is important to have people who may not know the experience of these children see this film and contribute to the efforts of The Point.

Works Cited

 

Coyote, Ivan E., and Zena Sharman, eds. Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2011. 23-26, 67-78

Hayward, Susan. Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. 105-108.

The We and the I. Dir. Michael Gondry, 2012. Film.

Movie in the Real World Assignemtn

Lexi White

Queer and Feminist Film

 

Movie in the Real World Assignment

 

My “real world” film experience took place here on campus at a film screening of “Thick Relations,” in the Goodhand Room at the Penn LGBT Center.  The hour and a half-long screening drew an intimate crowd of sixteen and featured a post-film question and answer period with the film’s director Jules Roskam and writer, Alex Samets. I went to see this film on my own and while it was not screened in a traditional public theater, the setting of the LGBT center and the audience dynamics certainly had a significant impact on the film experience as a whole, and more specifically, how I experienced the characters in the film.

 I am particularly interested in the LGBT center as a space, its history, function, utility, and perhaps why this space was chosen as a location to screen “Thick Relations.” The LGBT Center has an important history and mission at Penn.  Founded in 1982 as the first LGBT Center in the Ivy League, and one of the first on any college campus in the nation, the center has historically served as a safe space for sexual and gender non-conforming individuals.  It is a cultural hub on campus that Lambda constituent groups, organizations from other Penn umbrella hubs, and local community groups and activists all have access to.  It is a space that celebrates education, community, diversity, non-conformity, support and mentorship, but it is not a space unmarked by violence or homophobia.  The center, after all, only formed and expanded in the aftermath of several homophobic incidents on campus including an incident when a gay sophomore was beaten up severely by a fellow Penn student.  The center is also a space that has had to fight hard for additional funding, staff support, and campus visibility over the years. 

In light of the fact that “Thick Relations” is a queer film, with a queer director and writer, that follows the intricate and intertwining lives of a diverse gender and sexual-nonconforming group of family friends in Chicago, it seems fitting that the LGBT center was the setting of choice for the film to be screened.  I coin the phrase “family friends” to signify that this group of queer friends depicted in the film served as each other’s family, sense of belonging and home away from home, a reality that was evident both in their interpersonal dynamics, embraces and interactions in the film itself, but also in the director’s anecdotal sharing of having acquired this “queer family” in Chicago with the individuals that he casted in the film.  This theme of family instantly reminded me of our class discussion of New Queer Cinema particularly, “By Hook or By Crook,” and the film’s similar theme of leaving home to find queer community elsewhere.  Director, Jules Roskam mentioned many of the common violences that his family friends had all overcome, violences and losses that characterized their everyday existence and queer identity in the city of Chicago, but also that brought them closer to each other and to the places that they deemed safe spaces, the same way the LGBT center serves as a save meeting space for queer students and allies at Penn; for many, a home away from home.    

One recurring theme throughout the film was the idea of gathering in the kitchen and finding family and friendship while cooking and breaking bread together.  The opening scene of the film, features seemingly real conversations as the four friends discuss work and relationships over dinner and wine.  In another scene, two queer female characters share intimate morning conversation while cooking and eating breakfast together before work.  The camera frequently zooms in on the food and beverages that they prepare and consume.  While watching the film, I kept thinking about times I have seen some of my own friends convene in the LGBT center’s kitchen just adjacent to the Goodhand Room and in the Goodhand Room itself.  I think about the role that food plays in fostering community and how the very space that I am sitting in has been used as a place for queer students to gather with food and drinks.  With this theme in mind, I find it interesting that the “Thick Relations” film-screening event did not provide food or beverages for the talk-back at the end of the film.  I think food and beverages would have been a strong addition to the experience that could have brought to life one of the major family themes in the film.

Another safe space for the friends in “Thick Relations” is the neighborhood queer bar that they frequent.  Jules Roskam shared how this bar in real life serves as a place where his friends can “happen to run into each other” on any given night of the week, a place where they find community, comfort, freedom of expression, and family.  While watching the bar scenes in the film and after hearing the director speak about his experiences in the bar, I thought about Halberstam’s account of the bar scene in “By Hook or By Crook.”  In Halberstam’s piece In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives, Halberstam writes, “Different key scenes from the film build, capture, and sustain this method of universalizing queerness” (Halberstam 95).  Halberstam describes the scene in “By Hook or By Crook” that is set in San Francisco’s notorious Lexington Bar, where the queer characters in the film and in real life find a sense of universal queerness and community, just as they do in “Thick Relations.” 

 In addition to thinking about the sense of inclusivity that I felt while watching a queer film in a queer-friendly space amongst a seemingly queer and allied audience, I think it is equally important to think about the politics of exclusivity that were present in my film experience as well.  For example, I think about the fact that even though the event was free for me as a student, reserving space at the LGBT Center does cost money, which could pose as a potential barrier for certain groups or individuals who lack the funds to accommodate reserving the space for their own communal gathering or activism.  Furthermore, I contemplate the “type” of audience that this event attracted.  In the small crowd of sixteen at the screening, I knew or recognized almost half of the crowd either as members of the queer and activist community at Penn, as fellow students from the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies department, or as professors whose courses largely engage with queer and feminist theory and themes.  While I think this recognizably well-read, queer-friendly crowd created an air of safe space for me while watching and discussing the film, I cannot help but wonder if there was an exclusion that took place in terms of who the event was marketed to.  I wonder if the same conversations would have taken place if there were more students in attendance who lacked a background in queer studies and identity politics, and I wonder what the advertising techniques and strategies were for this particular event.  Certainly, I think many of the conversations and themes that the film evoked are conversations that are most useful when they are not limited to the queer/allied community.  On the other hand, I feel certain conversations and observations are only made possible by safe space.  Perhaps art mediums such as film are the very vehicles that bring “outsiders” into certain spaces and bridge the gap between communities. 

A final observation about my “real world” film experience is that this film did not follow any particular storyline or timeline.  The focus of the film was always about the present, not the future, not the past.  In the talk-balk, the director spoke to the theme of present living and experiencing and the importance of applying this mentality to how we experience film and art. This means not being burdened by time and not comparing what we see to our own expectations of what should be or what conflicts should occur and/or be resolved.  The director addressed the anxieties and distortions that futuristic thinking can cause.  This reminds me of Robert McRuer’s assertion that the film “Bad Education” critiques the future by being “simultaneously futural and antifutural” (McRuer 18). “Thick Relations” director, Jules Roskam similarly claimed, “I could not be less interested in timelines and plots…time creates tension and that’s why the audience doesn’t grasp a sense of time in the film.”  While watching the film, I could sense that the audience was invited to feel a sense of ease about the queer community being depicted whose complete pasts, futures, and queer sexual and gender identities are never explicitly revealed.   

 

Halberstam, Jack. “Lovely and Confusing: By Hook or By Crook and the Transgender Look” excerpt from In a

 Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York: NYU Press, 2005. 92-6.

 

McRuer, Robert. “No Future for Crips: Disorderly Conduct in the New World Order; or, Disability Studies on

the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” Disorderly Conduct Conference. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. 25 July 2009.

Movies in the Real World

Oz, the Great and Powerful (Sexist)

The first couple of months of the year are a terrible time for cinema-goers (at least in terms of Hollywood fare).  The Oscars season is gone, and the advent of the summer blockbusters is a ways away.  Mostly, January, February and March are used as Hollywood’s dumping ground for dramas that weren’t going to win any awards and action flicks that would be ignored during peak season.  Admittedly, I could have sought out an independent film (which might have been more in keeping with this class), but the assignment is called “Movies in the Real World,” and I decided to pick a film that was as in the world, or rather, in the dominant culture, as I could find.  I felt that it might be interesting to turn an observant eye on the cinema-going experience that we all know so well through experience but perhaps never think critically about; I would actually now appreciate an opportunity to critically observe within a very different cinema context, to note the differences.

I saw Oz, the Great and Powerful by myself the Saturday after it opened at a matinee showing in The Rave, on 40th and Walnut Street, basically right on campus.  (I admit convenience was a factor.) Rave Motion Pictures, the company owning this theater, is a large US theater chain based in Dallas, Texas.  The University 6 Rave was up until recently called The Bridge, which I remember from when I was a freshman, but the theater has since changed hands.  The Rave is a fairly large theater, and seems to add new conveniences every day; now they not only sell typical theater food, like popcorn and candy and soda and chips, but they also have a little restaurant where you can get burgers and beer, and a lounge-type area for while you wait for the movie.  I eschewed all of that seeing as how they’re just out to rob you and I’d already paid $11 for my ticket.  Admittedly, I could have paid less, but I chose to see the film in 3D, not so much because I like seeing films in 3D but because I was already certain I would dislike the film and I wanted another reason to later abuse it.  So it was with 3D glasses in hand that I wandered into theater number 2, and placed myself somewhere in the middle of the upper rows.  It wasn’t too crowded, it being a matinee; one way to tell is if no one has sat in the bottom rows near the screen, which will give you a terrible crick in the neck.  There were mostly small groups of friends, and many couples, and a pretty even mixture of what seemed to be students and West Philadelphia residents.  It was quite loud through the initial round of TV promos and theater advertising, quieting down a bit for the trailers, although everyone seemed to think it was worthwhile to comment to their friends after each trailer to indicate whether they would or wouldn’t go see that film.  There was a burst of applause after the Iron Man 3 trailer, which I think was the most enthusiastic reaction during the entire cinema experience.

Oz, the Great and Powerful is a not a terrible film, but it is also not very good.  I had actually been paying attention to the film for a while, because the project originally had Robert Downey Jr. signed on to be the lead.  He dropped out, however, and was replaced by James Franco, who seems miscast.  The role of Oz, a sleazy, smarmy, slick conman magician, is simply ill-suited to Franco’s particular brand of understated charm.  Lines like “I am Oz, the great and powerful” take a particular brand of hammy charisma to pull off.  Franco just sounds like a kid playing with a cape and top hat in the basement.  He was so underwhelming in the role that he was actually upstaged by Zach Braff’s flying CGI monkey.  The (mostly CGI) landscape was pretty, but very fake looking, and the action sequences had a videogame aesthetic in that they were too fantastic to really be believed.  Scenes in which the main characters are running from pursuers while the ground literally crumbles under their feet seem to be de rigeur in action-adventure fare these days, at least if this film and The Hobbit are anything to go by.  As typical of the genre, attempts at humor were common, but very few of the laugh lines got much more than a tepid response, and I think that my fellow viewers were being generous much of the time.  Light chuckles (mostly at the monkey) were much more common than hearty guffaws.

The most alarmingly awful thing about the film, however, was its backwards and eye-roll-worthy treatment of its female characters.  Oz has three important female characters, a trio of witch sisters, all the daughters of the powerful wizard who had ruled the Land of Oz from the Emerald City.  To summarize the backstory, the wicked witch Evanora poisoned the wise and good wizard father, and then framed her good sister Glinda, who was cast out.  Oz does not, apparently, allow for female rule, because Evanora then takes charge of the city as a “caretaker,” while the kingdom waits for the “great wizard” that the witch sisters’ father had prophesized to come and “save the kingdom.” This “great wizard” turns out to be Oz, from Kansas, to whom we are first introduced while he is seducing a female assistant, who is absolutely mesmerized by him.  It turns out that this is a habit of his, and he winds up being chased out of the circus he performs with by the angry partner of another of his conquests.  He gets in a hot-air balloon to escape, and then is born by a tornado to Oz, where the first person he meets is Theodora, the third witch sister, who promptly falls in love with him.

Despite Oz’s fairly evident lack of power and complete caddishness, Theodora and Glinda immediately believe in him.  In fact, every female character who he meets (the witches, the small porcelain girl-doll, the girls back in Kansas) believe whatever he says; the only woman who is immediately skeptical of him is Evanora, who is, of course, completely wicked and desires to rule Oz herself.  In many ways, she fits along the lines of the femme fatale as described by Straayer (although Oz never expresses a particular interest in her); these characters “not only carry the mark of sexuality but also stand charged with deceit and potential violence” (152).  Evanora lies and commits murder to achieve power and, much like the femme fatale is eventually punished for her ambition.  Not only is she defeated and banished, but she is also magically transformed into a hideous old hag.  Similarly, when Theodora realizes she has been lied to by Oz and loses faith in him, she goes mad with anguish and is corrupted by her sister into an evil witch with green skin and a hooked nose; she becomes, in fact, the Wicked Witch of the West, and she too winds up banished.  Glinda, who is always faithful to her dead father and this new fellow who she know almost immediately to be magically inept and a liar, triumphs at his side and gets to make out with him at the end of the film.  It’s a classic dichotomy of ‘good girls’ and ‘bad girls’ (or, as Hayward points out, “virgin and whore”) in which cultural views of what women are “misrepresented” on screen, and it’s maddening to watch (135-136).  To add to the aggravation, both ‘wicked’ witches are brunettes, while Glinda is impossibly blond.

Early on in the film, Franco’s Oz explains to an ex-lover that he can’t marry her because he won’t settle down and be a good man because “I want to be a great man.”  This, ultimately, is what is at the heart of this film’s weird conception of gender relations; talentless men get to be “great,” while much more powerful women (as in, all the witches) are expected to help them along and get meager rewards or else be cast out of society and rendered ugly and unlovable.  Genuine outrage at being conned and tossed aside is considered unreasonable.  It’s even more irritating because the books and classic Wizard of Oz movie both have really great, strong female characters.  Perhaps the film’s greatest failing, however, is not managing to retain Robert Downey Jr. as its lead; as the Iron Man movies have shown, that man is capable of making even sexism sexy.  Such as it was, Franco was a pathetic consolation prize for the ladies, and the audience and I left the theater visibly underwhelmed.

Works Cited

Hayward, Susan. Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. London: Routledge, 2000. Print.

Kaplan, E. Ann. Women in Film Noir. London: BFI Pub., 1998. Print.

“Rave Cinemas – Get Showtimes, View Trailers, Buy Tickets and Coupons.” Rave Cinemas. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2013.

Movies in the Real World – Andrea Treus


Movies in the Real Work – The We and the I

 

            The experience of watching The We and the I at Ritz at the Bourse was new to me. I do not usually watch movies in a movie theatre, much less watch movies that are not highly popular in a movie theatre. I was glad that I got the chance to watch this film because I do not think I would have watched it otherwise. Ritz at the Bourse is located on 4th and Market Street. When I arrived at the train station stop, I almost missed the theatre because it was hidden between Market and Ranstead Street. It has been in operation for over 15 years and seems to be doing well. Its original mission was “to give Philadelphia residents an opportunity to see the best in independent, foreign, and documentary film,” which it seems to have been committed to. I went with Tiffany and Kareli and we were all pleased with the price of the ticket, which was only $7.25 for students. Although we already knew that we wanted to watch The We and the I, I looked at the other movies that were playing and I only recognized one of them, Argo, which I had watched a couple of days ago at home. I was not surprised when I noticed that Argo was the only “Blockbuster” film playing at the theatre. We bought popcorn, nachos and drinks, which were unfortunately the same price as other movie theatres.

The previews that were playing for The We and the I were all foreign films, which I expected because of the films that were currently playing at the Ritz. One of them was Everybody Has A Plan, which was entirely in Spanish and set in Argentina. The other film, Silence, was also foreign and was more of a thriller. There were not many people at the actual theatre or in the auditorium. There was a group of five elderly people watching The We and the I, who all sat in the same row. Three rows down, a man in his 20s was also watching the film. Two rows behind us, a man also in his 20s was also in the auditorium. We were all sitting in the same couple of rows, around the middle of the auditorium. One of the elderly men fell asleep half way through the movie. Everyone else seemed entertained by the film.

The We and the I can be considered a documentary in some senses, but in reality the director, Michel Gondry, gave them a script of what a regular day would be like for them. It was separated into three parts: part 1: bullies, part 2: the chaos and part 3: the I. A large part of the film was centered on the bullying that happens on the public bus ride after school. Since they attend a public high school in a low socioeconomic neighborhood, cell phones and other electronics are not allowed in the school so they have to pay a dollar every morning in the corner “bodega”. I was born and raised in Manhattan and I related to many aspects of the film. Although I was never really like one of the kids in the film, I remember being in middle school taking the public bus and seeing high school acting very similarly to the kids in the film. From my observations, just like the film, the back of the bus was where the “popular” kids sat and it was always a privilege to be able to sit there. Not only would they bother their peers but also passengers of the bus. It was a realistic depiction of the buses on the weekdays from 3 to 6 pm, when they usually get out of school. According to Susan Hayward in Cinema Studies, some filmmakers “saw cinema as an excellent means of education.” (Hayward, 106) This film can be considered educational or informative regarding the status of the public school education system and how it influences the students that attend the schools. It is the last day of high school and only one student mentions going to college, Teresa, who will be attending Cooper Union, one of the most prestigious universities for the arts in the country. No one else mentions any acceptances to college or the importance of it, instead they are more concerned with which parties will be occurring and the drama regarding a party that happened a month beforehand.

One of the most intriguing parts of the film was the fact that Gondry chose to present a very diverse group of students. There were the “popular” kids, the “nerds”, the artistic students, the queer couples and outsiders. Although they were all minorities, there were many racial slurs used to refer to each other such as “nigga” and “mango boy.” There were also many sexual references made and sexuality being explored. One of the main characters, Teresa, decides to leave school for three weeks because she had persuaded another one of her peers to get drunk to the point where she blacks out and does not remember any of the night. Teresa decides to kiss her while she is drunk and unconscious while her friends take photographs of them in bed together. She feels guilty and confused afterwards and is emotionally unstable. The title of the film, The We and the I, represents how all of the characters are conformed to a group and they are all generalized. This is why they are all influenced by everyone’s opinions and comments. There is a “transformation from ‘I’ to ‘we’” in the beginning of the film and eventually transforms into the ‘I’ again. (Mercer, 238) All of the high school students on the bus are united and seen as one entity to the other people on the bus. Once the film progresses, the students get off the bus at different stops and the characters left are Teresa and her friend, Michael. It turns into “I” again because Michael stops acting like a bully and opens up to another character on the bus. The progression and development of the characters was one of the main points of the film and how they are all subjected to peer pressure at different points in their lives.

The audience had different reactions to the film. One of the men left near the end of the film and one of the elderly men fell asleep. Everyone else seemed intrigued and laughed at many parts of the film. I enjoyed it partially because I felt like I could relate to a lot of it, culturally and because of my experiences living in New York City. I do not think it would have made a difference if I had watched it in my own home. Overall, it was entertaining and a new experience.

 

Works Cited

Hayward, Susan. “Documentary.” Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. 105-108.

Mercer, Kobena “Dark and Lovely Too.” Queer Looks: Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Film and Video. Psychology Press, 1993. 238-254

 

Movies in the Real World

Film: Zero Dark Thirty

When: Saturday, January 12, 6:30pm (opening weekend)

Where: The Rave, University City

I saw this movie at the The Rave, formerly called the Bridge. Despite its proximity to where I live, I’ve gone to this theater only a handful of times since freshman year because it focuses almost exclusively on high-budget Hollywood films that I’m not dying to see. When I go, I’m always quite surprised that I have found myself outside of the Penn bubble, even though geographically the theater seems like a natural extension of campus. Apart from the identifiably Penn people, the audience is usually on the younger side (teenagers), often in families, and often black. Based on the theater’s movie selections—lots of kid flicks, 3D, and action movies— it seems like The Rave is geared more towards appealing to the residents of West Philly neighborhoods than to Penn students. However, at this screening, I felt that the audience was decidedly Penn-affiliated. I’m around Penn undergraduates and graduate students enough to feel confident in categorizing the spectators as mostly white and Asian Penn students. Many of them were in packs of five to eight people, which pointed to the sense of excitement about the release of this film: it was an outing, a field trip that people planned in advance with many of their friends, not just an everyday screening. There were some middle to elderly white bourgeois-looking people. There were two groups of Muslims—women dressed in head scarves. I wondered about their interest in the film, and wished I could hear their perspectives when this super American movie was over. There were almost no black or Latino people in the audience, and no one under college-age or much older than fifty.

The mood was bustling and buzzing. My friend and I bought our ten-dollar tickets online, so we bypassed the lobby scene and claimed our seats in the already half-full theater. We arrived thirty minutes prior to screening, which I consider extra early, so I was pleased when our embarrassing eagerness to get good seats was rewarded. They really pushed the food there. There was not only a stand of popcorn and other popular consumables at the front of the theater, but attendants were taking orders and serving food to people in their seats. They made an announcement telling hungry audience members to raise their hands so attendants could come take their orders. I’ve never seen that service offered before, and I was impressed by the efficiency with which the couple next to us ordered and got their Styrofoam boxes full of chicken tenders and fries delivered. I was definitely a little pissed at the prospect of smelling fried food and sweet ketchup while watching my movie, but I knew that my olfactory nerves would stop signaling shortly, and the festive feeling of the screening soothed my usual extreme annoyance at people eating in theaters. I mean seriously though. Do you absolutely have to have a full meal in the theater? Isn’t it complete sensory overload to be blasted by light, color, sound, movement, and saltiness, sugariness, and crunchiness. It’s just excessive.

The audience interacted quite palpably with the film. People were engaged. They jumped when they were supposed to—the Marriott explosion that happens when Maya is mid-sentence got an especially strong response—and created few in-movie disruptions, probably because it was such a gripping experience. Even the not-that-late-comers who were relegated to the breakneck seats in this packed screening stayed for the whole duration. If even a single person left the theater early, I didn’t notice. Sometimes I felt uncomfortable with the reactions of people around me to what was happening on screen. For example, some people nearby giggled when one of the SEALs calls out, “Osama…Osama,” just moments before bin Laden cracks his bedroom door open and is shot dead. It was inappropriate in my mind, especially after everything leading up to that point—torture, suicide bombs, heartbreak. I really couldn’t understand how that scene could be perceived as funny.

Maya is a mystery. In some ways, she reminded me of the topic of knowability that we discussed at the beginning of this semester in relation to the femme fatale and Bound. It’s interesting to consider what Maya, a figure who bears little relation to the femme fatale, has in common with that Hollywood archetype. Maya’s background remains almost completely hidden. From dialogue we gather that she was scouted at a young age for the C.I.A., but Maya’s brilliance is on display the entire film, which makes that an unnecessary detail about her past. In terms of her social life, we know nothing of her family, her non-work friends, or her romantic involvements. We don’t know where she grew up, what her hobbies are (does she have any?), or what her long-term goals are. Perhaps most interesting is that the film withholds a psychological explanation for her intense drive and interest in the very field in which she is a master. Certainly we see her ruthlessness and sense of commitment to finding Bin Laden increase after the deaths of her colleagues—before that, she acts on the values of someone who hasn’t been personally wronged, and is even somewhat repelled by torture—but apart from that propelling even more intensity in the second part of the film, Maya’s motives and interiority remains fairly unknowable. She is a straightforward person, but her emotional landscape and deepest desires remain off-limits, even as viewers come to identify with and admire her.

Chris Straayer argues that the classic Hollywood femme fatale is an enigma who is intended to elude both diegetic characters and spectators (156). She is greedy, crazy, duplicitous, untrustworthy, and, most importantly, unexplainable (158). Maya does not exhibit very much in common with the femme fatale. She dresses in an aggressively modest and business appropriate way that conceals her body, works for one very public (though covert) cause, and does not use her sexuality for advancement. But her desires beyond finding and killing Osama bin Laden remain concealed. What is she trying to do with her life? And why? Where the unknowability of the femme fatale made her dangerous and suspect, Maya’s unknowability seems only to enhance her image as one of pure strength and intelligence. Without access to her vulnerabilities and such, viewers only see her in a working context, and her unknowability seems like a natural trait because good investigators and agents are anonymous.

I wonder what this shift in the meanings of knowabillity and unknowability says about Hollywood ideology. As Susan Hayward notes, “while ideology is dominant (and despite its ‘naturalness’) it is also contradictory, therefore fragmented, inconsistent and incoherent. Moreover it is constantly being challenged by resistances from those it purports to govern…” (216). What does the unknowability of the main female character and hero of Zero Dark Thirty say about our moment? Bigelow, like Maya, is difficult to puzzle out, especially because she evades questions about feminism in her work. Of course art always exceeds the artist’s intentions and cannot account for everything, but I am very curious to know more about Bigelow’s politics and views on depictions of mysterious women throughout film history.

Works Cited

Hayward, Susan. Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Straayer, Chris. “Femme Fatale or Lesbian Femme: Bound in Sexual Difference.” Women in Film Noir. Ed. Ann Kaplan. 2nd ed. London: British Film Institute, 1998. 153-61.

 

Movies in the Real World

On the Friday of spring break (March 8), I went to an 11:10 AM showing of Niels Arden Oplev’s Dead Man Down at Century Napa Valley with my 82 year-old grandmother. Although my grandmother bought my ticket, I checked the price: $7.00 for the “Early Bird,” the first show of the day.

Century Napa Valley

Century Napa Valley

Century Napa Valley opened on November 9, 2012, replacing Napa’s decades-old, single-story Cinedome, a (literally) pink building that made up for what it lacked in modern tech-trappings with character. But, in a scheme of modernity, quirky retro “character” doesn’t cut it. Century Napa Valley, on the other hand, is every bit the modern Cineplex. The theater is part of Cinemark, which accounts for this sort of standardized glamour and gloss. The building itself is equal parts glass… and brown; it’s one of those buildings that is obviously shooting for trendy and modern but just ends up being an eyesore (see above). Cinemark’s website touts a long list of the theater’s amenities. Many of these focus on marketing the theater as disability-friendly: wheelchair access, closed captioning, descriptive narration, and multiple types of listening devices. The rest emphasize the high tech nature of the theater. Essentially, the theater is an oasis of modernity in what has traditionally been a stunted small town. Napa is trying to use the theater to anchor a currently uninteresting patch of south Napa; just this week, the city announced plans for the new South Napa Century Center, which will feature two dozen shops and eateries (artist rendering below). It’s patently obvious that Century Napa Valley is an integral part of the city of Napa’s efforts to update and redefine itself as a twenty-first century city (well, maybe a miniature city).

Plan for South Napa Century Center

Plan for South Napa Century Center

Possibly the most notable internal feature of the theater was the wine bar in the lobby. Of course, Napa County is the heart of California’s wine country. Wine is basically everywhere. (No, really. Middle-income families start amateur wineries in their backyards.) Despite this ubiquity, the movie theater was one place wine had not infiltrated. So, seeing the wine bar was a surprise, even though it was completely deserted at 11 AM.  Ultimately, my grandmother and I did not have wine. We did, however, split an overpriced (but surprisingly edible) individual frozen pizza. My grandmother also had a Coke, commenting that she only ever has soda when she goes to the movies. We weren’t the only moviegoers at the concession stand, despite the early hour.

Overall, however, the theater wasn’t crowded. The audience was small, only a handful of the stadium seats occupied. Demographically, most of the patrons were elderly retirees. This makes sense, given that it was a Friday morning matinee. Who has the time to go to a Friday morning matinee except elderly retirees and college kids on spring break? They were a fairly unremarkable group in terms of their reactions to the film. There were no moments of gasps or tears, and no one angrily stormed out of the theater—but then again, that might have had something to do with the fact that the film wasn’t one to inspire strong emotional reactions.

On that note, whatever I expected Dead Man Down to be, it wasn’t. (See trailer below.) It’s marketed as a dual story of revenge, which it technically is, but the film isn’t really Beatrice’s (Noomi Rapace) story. She mainly exists as a prop for the character development of Victor (Colin Farrell). And in many ways, Beatrice was the nexus of my disappointment. Despite the convoluted and contrived nature of the plot, it was Beatrice who failed to live up to whatever subconscious expectations I came in with.

Those expectations may have had something to do with the casting of Noomi Rapace, or Lisbeth Salander in the Milenium Trilogy. Beatrice, however, is nothing like Lisbeth. Noomi Rapace is, of course, a conventionally beautiful actress, regardless of the wispy thin scars they paint on her face. Personally, this made viewing the film incredibly frustrating. Before her accident, Beatrice was a cosmetician; her entire identity seems to have been predicated on her beauty, the flawlessness of her appearance. After the accident, she views herself as a monster—a view no one else seems to share, except maybe the obnoxious kids in the neighborhood. Feeling out of control, she wants to take back some agency through revenge and the death of the man who scarred her. This would almost be reminiscent of Lisbeth’s vigilantism—if Beatrice actually did the deed herself or were clearer on her motivations. But she isn’t. Jack Halberstam notes Rapace’s transformative potential as Lisbeth. Halberstam describes Lisbeth as “a queer utopian and feminist vigilante,” worthy of celebration. What’s more, Salander is Halberstam’s “perfect queer heroine in terms of the intensity of her commitments, the flexibility of her sexual orientation and her gender and her complete commitment to a world beyond the conventional family.” There is none of that in Dead Man Down. Rapace is no longer a symbol of queer utopia, but rather something startlingly normative.

Beatrice (Noomi Rapace)

This brings up questions of national cinema. If Oplev and Rapace are constants in the equation, the main variable is production. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo comes out the context of Swedish cinema; Dead Man Down is thoroughly Hollywood, with all the conservatism that entails. Susan Hayward’s discussion of Third Cinema differentiates between the styles and investments of differing national cinemas. First World cinema is ultimately consumerist cinema (Hayward 415), and the private funding structure of Hollywood—as opposed to more extensive state funding for the arts in, say, Sweden—limits the types of stories that can be told. Like the venue itself, these films are often glossy and glamorous; like Beatrice, these stories may value style over substance.

Beatrice’s scars ultimately felt like an empty plot device. There was no true exploration of the meaning of disability or scarring, just her obsession with normative forms of beauty and a belief that those scars rendered her undesirable.

Something else that bothered me was how very invested Dead Man Down seems in leading its viewers by the hand. Yes, the plot is somewhat convoluted (that’s probably a generous evaluation), and the film simultaneously wants to bang audiences with its complexity (read: convolutedness) while making sure they don’t miss anything.

After the film, my grandmother and I walked out of the theater, we looked at each other, and we shrugged. “Well,” she said, “I guess there are worse ways to spend an afternoon.”

Works Cited

Dead Man Down. Dir. Niels Arden Oplev. 2013.

Halberstam, Jack. “The Girl Who Played with Queer Utopia.” Bullybloggers. 6 Aug. 2010.

Hayward, Susan. “Third Cinema.” Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. 414-422.

Huffman, Jennifer. “Eateries, Shops Coming to Theater Complex.” Napa Valley Register. 26 Mar. 2013. Web. 28 Mar. 2013.