Looking at Content Out of Context

Recently I watched the movie Observe and Report. (There will probably be spoilers.)

I don’t want this to turn into me going on an angry diatribe about marketing and why I liked this movie (and for the record, yes: I really, really liked it) and feel like it was cheated by being advertised as a goofy romp. So, just to start out, since this post is about content in context, I’d like to say:

Observe and Report is a dark comedy. With HUGE emphasis on the “dark” part. Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which came out around the same time was (I imagine, I haven’t seen it. I may be way off) a movie about a man working a mall security job that wanted to prove that he could be more than a just “rent-a-cop.”

This isn’t even close to what Observe and Report was about. It was a character movie. And the mall cop job served mostly as a demonstration of Ronnie, the main character’s clear mental instability. He has serious delusions of grandeur. He doesn’t understand social interaction–and not in a funny Napoleon Dynamite-y way. In a “this man is sort of frightening” way.

Also it’s funny. (And it’s really upfront with its problematic virgin/whore complex. One girl is literally a born-again virgin, the other isn’t literally a whore but she does get around.)

Anyway, this movie caused a certain amount of controversy when it came out–not because it ended up being something it wasn’t initially presented as (that already happens all the time), but because it has its main character raping a girl in one scene.

Or “date raping.” Or “potentially raping.” There’s a lot of argument around whether or not it’s actually a rape (or if it is, whether or not it was, as Whoopi Goldberg put it, “rape-rape”).

Some context: Ronnie (Seth Rogen) convinces Brandi (Anna Faris) to go on a date with him. Since he’s footing the bill, she buys a ton of drinks. While they’re eating, Ronnie takes some pills–his prescription for bipolar which he takes “every 4-6 hours.” Brandi asks for one, Ronnie doesn’t get her enthusiasm but lets her keep the bottle–he’s been feeling good lately, like maybe he doesn’t need his meds good. Brandi takes at least two. And drinks some more.

Later he takes her home, she barfs a little, but Ronnie’s still smitten. They have sex. What we see of it: Ronnie, really enthusiastic, Brandi, passed out. Ronnie stops for a second when he notices Brandi’s passed out, she drunkenly slurs “Why did you stop, motherfucker?” but doesn’t bother to move at all. Ronnie goes back to work.

So, when I saw this thing the first thing my mind leapt to wasn’t “OH MY GOD THAT IS RAPE THIS IS SO REPREHENSIBLE.” Which I’m sure lots of feminists would find sad.

But it’s not like I thought that because I don’t actually think that was a rape.

For the record: it definitely, DEFINITELY was. There’s no question here. Surely we all know by now that consent while intoxicated isn’t consent. The fact that Brandi didn’t seem to regret sleeping with Ronnie later doesn’t matter. Legally, this was rape. End of story.

I didn’t automatically leap to “what a disgusting movie, this is rape.” But it’s not like in the moment you think what is happening is good at all. It’s in the context of a movie about a man who doesn’t see the world around him as what it actually is–he’s delusional. What makes Brandi’s “Why did you stop, motherfucker?” line funny isn’t the fact that she’s insanely drunk and passed out while they were having sex, it’s that Ronnie thinks this means she’s enjoying herself and thus he continues.

If we think this movie is condoning rape–and apparently, people HAVE said it’s at least placing the blame on Brandi–then we’re saying that it’s condoning Ronnie’s actions. It’s not. This is a guy who savagely beat a LOT of people at various points in the movie in moments of crazed fear and rage (respectively). And while it’s a little bad ass, it’s bad ass in the context of “this is terrifying, this is what this man who up until now seemed sort of full of himself and out of it but basically sweet and harmless, is capable of.”

I heard similar arguments about Superbad when it came out (and yep, I have heard people say that Rogen himself is the problem. I’ve got a pretty enormous crush on Seth Rogen so I’m not exactly unbiased, but frankly that seems like a ridiculous accusation).

Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill, another big Carrie crush) discuss at the beginning of the movie their ultimate plan is to “get a girl so wasted she can’t say no” (this is a paraphrase).

Which would be rape, obviously. But the point is pretty clearly made that this is NOT a goal someone should aspire to. Evan actually DOES get the opportunity to have sex with a girl who’s so drunk she “can’t say no,” and it’s really, really unpleasant and he clearly thinks it’s the wrong thing to be doing.

Meanwhile the girl Seth wants to sleep with doesn’t drink at all. She even reveals the extent to which (in Seth and Evan’s case) the idea of thinking a girl would need to be so seriously intoxicated that she wouldn’t be able to refuse is just a really, really sad form of self-deprecation on Seth’s behalf–she talks to him because she likes him and thinks he’s funny, but he doesn’t even realize those things are assets. He doesn’t think she would ever have any reason or desire to talk to him. In his case, these are the disgusting words of a rapist, they’re the misguided words of a teenager who doesn’t really understand sex or how to talk to girls and has pretty low self-esteem.

Basically what I think is going on here is sex is being used as a tool. We’re exposed to more of who these characters ARE because of how they relate to sex (this was John Cameron Mitchell’s reasoning for using unsimulated sex in Shortbus–it’s not about the sex, it’s about what the sex says about the person). In Seth and Evan’s case, the date rape-yness of it is played a lot more for laughs. Date rape is essentially the reason to story happens–but we’re not supposed to agree with that as a wise course of action. In fact, we’re told expressly that it’s a bad idea and the boys would have been better off just talking to the girls as if they were normal people.

In Ronnie’s case, rape is used to further demonstrate his “in his own world”-ness. It’s not that it’s okay. It’s that he doesn’t realize it’s not okay because he is 100% convinced that he is in love with Brandi and that she is his girlfriend. If you think he’s a sick, horrible person when watching that scene, then you’re on the right track. Maybe a bit of an extreme track, but the right track nonetheless.

The reason I think it’s interesting to focus on these movies (other than the fact that I literally just watched one of them) as opposed to other misunderstood films (Antichrist comes to mind–the feminist community is busy tearing itself apart over the question “is it misogynist or is it about misogyny or is it both?”) is because I think comedy in particular gets a lot of flack for things like these. It’s easier to take a joke out of context and repeat it and be offended–it happens with Family Guy ALL THE TIME (note: I’m not defending Family Guy, I don’t particularly like it), even when their jokes are those sort of meta-joke things where the joke is that someone’s making an offensive joke (the episode about Judaism has a song in it (I DO like the Family Guy songs. Seth Macfarlane has a pretty heavenly voice) with a (censored when aired) line that went: “Even though they killed my Lord, I need a Jew.” Or, to go further, the things Peter Griffin needs a Jew for?: “To teach me how to whine and do my taxes.” At face value that’s a lazy joke, but it’s not an anti-Semitic joke, it’s a joke on an anti-Semitic joke: look at this idiot and the dumb things he’s saying).

So really, to me, this is a plea: PLEASE don’t get mad about something in a movie if you’re only familiar with it as taken out of context. As in the WHOLE MOVIE. Watch something before you critique it. If you’re still disgusted by it afterwards, that’s fine. But don’t take content out of context.

Think I’m a disgusting person for being pretty okay with the presence of a few rape jokes in movies? I’m far from surprised. Think all my opinions are wrong? Have a question or just general reaction? Want to talk to me about how Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen are bother super-adorable?

If you said yes to one or more of these questions, please, consider leaving a comment. I’d really like it.

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James Cameron? James Cameron. I have no idea.

Recently the New Yorker did a really, really long piece on James Cameron to promote Uncanny Valley: The Movie Avatar. At first, to me the theme of the article seemed to be “James Cameron possibly has a rage disorder.”

Then for some reason it seemed to become “James Cameron is full of emotion and romance, apparently.”

And then the alternating possible gaffes/possible smart statements started happening and I got very, very confused.

As it turns out, Avatar is kind of a love story about a dude who falls in love with a nature-loving alien princess (except she only knows him via his alien avatar, so…metaphor for internet dating? Anyone? No? Okay, it definitely isn’t, let’s move on). It’s, according to him, his quintessential guy movie:

“With ‘Avatar,’ I thought, Forget all these chick flicks and do a classic guys’ adventure movie, something in the Edgar Rice Burroughs mold, like John Carter of Mars—a soldier goes to Mars.”

I don’t really want to argue anything in that statement–I’m willing to let the “classic guys’ adventure movie” thing slide, give him the benefit of the doubt and say in terms of numbers and marketing and other things I don’t understand too well, this is something that would typically skew male.

Well, okay, I do want to argue something: when did James Cameron ever make a chick flick? Well okay Titanic but that’s ONE movie. It hardly seems justified to say “forget all these chick flicks” when you’ve made one in the entire span of your career (I’m probably wrong here but I’d rather someone yell at me about it than look it up–at least then I’d know somebody’s out there).

Anyway, he goes on to put his foot in his mouth and undermine all the slack I’ve been cutting him. After the article describes at length how the movie sort of turns into a love story:

“Of course, the whole movie ends up being about women, how guys relate to their lovers, mothers—there’s a large female presence. I try to do my testosterone movie and it’s a chick flick. That’s how it is for me.”

Blah blah blah, gender binaries, blah blah blah mistaking characters that have strong affects on his male leads for strong characters themselves. I’m really not here to pick apart the dumb ass things like this. I mean, I think this is more indicative of an overarching problem with films today as a whole. I don’t blame James Cameron for them so I don’t want to demonize him (okay, here’s where I guiltily admit that the last entry sort of seemed like I DID want to demonize Judd Apatow for this problem…sorry Judd, I still love you!).

Oh, okay I don’t want to comment on this but it IS hilarious, so I must share. When describing Cameron’s start in film, his artwork and specifically talk of spaceship design comes up. Dana Goodyear writes:

Each spaceship reflected the character of its pilot, and also Cameron’s instinct for the iconic, literal image; to the mother ship, Nell, he gave a curvaceous shape and a pair of heaving breasts.

Oh cool, so it’s like how the Planet Express Ship from Futurama has the Groening Overbite

But with breasts.

Anyway, the thing I find interesting which comes about halfway through this 12 page monster of an article, is Cameron’s apparent go-to method for writing female characters:

“You write dialogue for a guy and then change the name.”

(Let’s ignore that he stole this trick from Alien. Which admittedly stole it from His Girl Friday. Which probably got the idea from something else.)

So in light of all his marginally sexist off the cuff remarks, he has this sort of…weird gem of a statement that is either completely ludicrous or the secret key to creating better roles for women (or at least encouraging them).

I recently got into a discussion with another forward-thinking lady fan of Judd Apatow about the portrayals of women in his films (on IMDB no less. Who would’ve thought you could find anyone on there interested in talking about anything other than whether or not someone’s gay (guys seriously can we stop arguing about whether or not Zachary Quinto is gay and start arguing about whether or not Zachary Quinto has the best eyebrows of the Hollywood Thick Eyebrows Gang? (I think maybe he does, it’s possible. Which is quite a feat))).

Her basic defense of him (while still take issue with the state of ladies in comedy) was “he (and other such comedy writers) is a man and it’s EXTREMELY hard to make writing in general work when you’re writing for a different gender, let alone COMEDY.”

I realize now in our discussion I largely took the James Cameron stance here: “why can’t he just write good characters without worrying about the gender.”

I’ve taken a lot of writing classes in the past (I know, it’s impossible to believe that based on this blog. But bear with me) and this was one major criticism I’d received from my professor over a story written in first person from the point of view of a man: “It’s not that he seems feminine. It’s that he seems gender-neutral. Nothing about his suggests ‘male’ to me.”

This raises up another set of questions that I have no idea how to answer even slightly at all.

I would normally respond (in my head, not out loud to my professor, obviously) with “does it matter if anything distinctly suggests ‘male’ or ‘female’ in a character? Aren’t those suggestive identifiers rooted in our learned gender roles and wouldn’t including them reinforce an artificial dichotomy that encourages sexism?”

But in saying that am I denying a difference of experience in the lives of men and women? Wouldn’t someone with my same socioeconomic upbringing, my same radical feminism, my same movie preferences end up reacting to and writing a completely different blog about, say, torture porn if they were male?

Does the swapping-gender-after-writing-the-character ploy seem like a good idea in light of this?

Commenting on entries is great! If you comment on an entry, it will be like the meet cute for our own personal James Cameron action/love story. We’ll fight some scary monsters and/or icebergs and then we’ll kiss and stuff I bet! Okay, you got me, the only James Cameron movie I’ve ever seen is Titanic and I don’t know what happens in any of the others.

The James Cameron Article in the New Yorker can be found here:

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/10/26/091026fa_fact_goodyear?currentPage=1

On the New Yorker website no less! Shocking.

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Guy Walks Into a Bar and Does Something Funny, His Girlfriend Crosses Her Arms and Shakes Her Head Disapprovingly

I want to talk about women in comedies.

I want to, but I don’t think I will ever, EVER successfully cover the whole topic. Obviously that applies to everything I write about here–films are layered and multifaceted and open to interpretation and there are a damn lot of them. But at least in some cases, there seems to be a general, identifiable trend that we can recognize (the ladies of horror, for example. Yes, that’s right, I can’t go one post without at least referencing horror).

But comedy–ESPECIALLY given the film industry’s recent trend towards (at least slightly) alternative comedy–seems to be doing its damnedest to evade general, identifiable trends for their female characters (not that this automatically connotes anything positive).

Like with horror (there’s that word again), I highly suspect this is something I will come back to again, either re-visiting things I’ve already written about or exploring a different facet of the genre. Like horror, comedy is something I love a lot and care about a great deal.

So this time I’d like to be incredibly specific and talk about the ladies in various Apatow Productions (this will likely be part 1 of an on-going subject of focus for me. I love the Apatow Crew and their movies and I think the way women are portrayed in them is fascinating).

Side note: under “trivia” on Judd Apatow’s IMDb profile, it states that he “discovered Jay Baruchel.” Obviously as a fan of Undeclared I really, really love Jay Baruchel and don’t mean this in an insulting way at all, but if you’re going to claim you “discovered” someone (or rather, if you’re going to claim on behalf of a famous director that he discovered someone) don’t you usually go for somebody a lot more recognizable? I mean, even if you didn’t want to go the obvious Rogen/Segel/Hill route, couldn’t you TECHNICALLY claim he discovered John Francis Daley? That kid’s a regular on a TV show that I’ve been told is very popular!

Anyway, moving right along.

An important thing that I want to get out of the way as soon as possible:

A lot of feminists seem REALLY big on claiming that Judd Apatow is a sexist. I think that’s a pretty specious claim and I think many feminists are maybe even aware of this. I think it’s more along the lines of “Judd Apatow’s films tend to be good in many respects, particularly when it comes to portrayals of actual people, which just makes it that much more frustrating to us that the women aren’t exactly the most feminist-friendly in the world.”

It’s sort of like me and Juno. I didn’t like the movie Juno, and somehow as a result have spent the past few years arguing with people about it. The thing is, while I didn’t like it, Juno wasn’t a bad movie. However, in light of what it seemed like it could have been to me (mixed in with its EXTREME popularity), its flaws seemed more apparent and more annoying. I thought it could have been something really, really great and it didn’t live up to my expectations. As opposed to say, Transformers. I thought that would be idiotic. And it was. And I almost never discuss it with people.

Similarly, while I’ve gotten into very long debates about the portrayal of women in Knocked Up, I don’t think I’ve talked to anyone about the women in Scary Movie.

Not to mention it’s basically giving 100% credit for the way one specific character comes across in a film to Judd Apatow. Which is just stupid. It takes a lot of people to make a sexist character in a movie, not just one.

Moving on.

It seems very simple (and plenty of people have done it) to call attention to the very, very obvious Madonna-whore complex present in a lot of these movies. There’s a tendency to focus on Knocked Up here because…well, the film’s star was even willing to call it sexist (that said, Katherine Heigl is in no position to judge. This is the woman who starred in 27 Dresses and The Ugly Truth). The central female characters are paragons of perfection or at least Good Person-ness put on pedestals. The less-central are very, very insane, often angry, Heigl would say “shrewish” (I wouldn’t because it’s not the eighteenth century).

While I find this annoying, I don’t necessarily think it’s THE big flaw of Apatow ladies (especially since Very Very Insane Woman was basically Leslie Mann’s tiny role in The 40 Year-Old Virgin and I thought her part was hilarious).

My issue with the Apatow ladies is that they never really seem to have any fun. The very beginning of Knocked Up, for example, shows Seth Rogen hanging out with his hilarious friends (including international superstar Jay Baruchel), having some kind of crazy American Gladiators-style fight, drinking, getting high, riding on rollercoasters, generally having a good time. While this becomes something that is criticized, I think it’s notable that this scene is intercut with Katherine Heigl, alone, living in her sister’s pool house, quietly getting dressed and going off to be a career gal. And it isn’t “look how little fun she’s having at the expensive of trying to live up to the idea of being a Strong Independent Career-Centric Women.” It’s “look how this woman’s life is going to be fucked over by getting mixed up with this guy.” But frankly, in her situation, I’d be happy to get mixed up with the likes of Seth Rogen (maybe not pregnant with his child). It’s a movie about Seth Rogen’s character become a mature adult. But it’s missing out on even mentioning how Katherine Heigl’s character has basically sacrificed the fun aspect of her life entirely.

If anything, I think this is an issue of being too concerned with feminist-friendly characters. So much so that it’s missing a key problem that I think Paul Feig once summed up rather nicely when discussing his comedic preferences as a child:

“When I was a kid, I used to hate watching kids on TV who were smart or snappy. I liked watching adults being stupid. That’s why I liked Monty Python, because these were adults acting insane, whereas when a kid came on, hey, he knew everything, and I was like, ‘I don’t wanna see that, because I don’t know everything, and I don’t wanna see a kid who’s more together than me.'”

Apatow’s movies are praised for their realistic depictions of men and what men’s interactions are like. He’s talked about wanting to give a voice to the underdogs which, for men, I think he’s done quite nicely. I think he’s overlooking all the female underdogs and female screw-ups in the world, though.

I don’t have anything together. I’m not a tough, successful career gal. I identify more with the Rogen character here (even though I’m terrified of rollercoasters and have never been cool enough to know where to get weed). And while I have no problem identifying with male characters, it becomes frustrating when over and over again, I see these women who are better-looking, smarter, more mature, and more successful than me and am told “men in the real world are like this which must mean women in the real world are like this.”

I think the Leslie Mann character in Funny People comes damn close to and possibly does successfully make a comment on the women not having fun. Her character has abandoned an acting career in favor of family, which she seems to regret to a certain extent–it’s all very Daisy Buchanan. This movie will likely get its own post, though, so for now I’ll leave it at that.

Anyway, while I think it’s frustrating and notable that the ladies in these movies tend to seriously have their shit together and are the “emotionally mature adults” of the films, that’s actually not what bothers me the most about Ladies Not Having Fun.

What I find to be the most obvious and singularly annoying issue is that regardless of the characters themselves not seeming to have fun, I don’t have as much fun watching them because generally speaking, they’re not funny. Not as a fault of the actresses and no, I’m not trying to start an “are women funny” debate because there are few things I could imagine that are dumber than that. They simply don’t get the laugh lines. Even when they’re complex, interesting, more-than-watchable characters i.e. Leslie Mann in Funny People (or to a certain extent for that matter Leslie Mann in Knocked Up).

Oh, unless they happen to be played by Jane Lynch. I’m pretty convinced Jane Lynch could make anything funny.

Anyway, I once heard (on a podcast, and I don’t remember which one so I’m sorry, I’m not citing sources here) the following description of…well, I think this was being broadly applied to just about every role Rashida Jones has been in, but I’d like to more specifically apply it to her part in I Love You, Man: she’s basically inoffensive, and the film instructs us to like her, so generally we do. And the movie itself is funny. But she’s not funny in it. Funny things happen around her, but she doesn’t react to them in funny ways. Her boyfriend does something weird and goofy and hilarious and rather than even reacting in a funny way while still maintaining her straight-woman role, she just sort of crosses her arms and shakes her head.

Again, I think this is more notable and interesting in Knocked Up (did I say I didn’t want to focus on that movie at some point? Oh well) because one of its two lead roles has so few actual laugh lines. In fact, trying to go 100% from my personal memories of the film, the funniest moment I can remember involving her was a scene involving she and Leslie Mann (it would be great if I remembered the characters’ names or just plain wasn’t too lazy too look them up) trying to go to a club. It’s a funny situation, with Craig Robinson being very, very hilarious (“You’re too old! Not like…for the world, but for this club.”), but their reactions don’t even register.

(Again, in a bit part we see Kristen Wiig really delivering. It’s one of the things that I think makes Apatow movies at the forefront of feminist rage: it’s clear that he can write for women and he can and has allowed women to be hilarious. But female hilarity only seems to happen for a few minutes.)

More than anything it seems like a waste to me. There are a lot of GREAT comic talents not being used to the extent of their abilities–especially girls Apatow has worked with before. Carla Gallo (whose recent appearance on Mad Men involved what was, for me, the funniest combination line/line reading in the entirety of the show (and I think basically every non-serious thing Pete Campbell says is hilarious): “I have a couple rules. One of them is that I don’t like sailors.”) has had a few small roles: toe-licker in The 40 Year-Old Virgin, period pants girl in Superbad. Not to mention the crazy-funny Christina Payano and Monica Keena. Not to mention Millie (Sarah Hagan) and Tuba Girl (Jessica Campbell) from Freaks and Geeks. And BUSY PHILLIPS, for God’s sake! Do you know what Busy Phillips is doing right now? She’s on the show Cougar Town. Kim Kelly is on Cougar Town. You guys, she was supposed to be a lawyer:

I’ll leave it there for now.

I bet it would be fun if you commented and discussed this topic with me. Seriously, do it, I’m a lady so I don’t get to have fun very often.

Or email me at carogriffin at gmail dot com to talk about writing something for this blog. Or if you just want to chat. I’m pretty friendly.

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Women watch horror movies like this, but Men watch horror movies like this

Every year, as Halloween draws nearer, film critics, magazines, that never-ending “Scariest Movie Moments” thing on Bravo that I can’t seem to stop watching ever (I ask myself: “Do I really want to listen to Jennifer Tilly and Guillermo Del Toro talk about this one time they watched a scary movie and saw a thing that was scary and how it scared them?” and I invariably answer myself: “Fuck yes I do.” It should be noted that I have spent the past year or so being VERY unemployed and living with my parents), podcasts that only I listen to (you should probably check out Battleship Pretension and/or Double Feature Show), and of course, bloggers begin preparing lists of horror films that everyone should watch, or of their favorite horror films, or of the horror films they plan on marathoning this year, etc.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to do that. I pick two or three new horror movies completely on a whim and watch those and The Shining and MAYBE a zombie movie or Texas Chainsaw Massacre if I’m not too tired every year. I like tradition. Also I’m boring.

No, I want to address (albeit very briefly) another “writing about horror movies” trend that seems to crop up around this time every year.

Though it seems like the amount of these sorts of articles have doubled or tripled or increased by some other multiple that I made up off the top of my head with the release of the apparently feminist horrorish movie Jennifer’s Body.

I’m talking about the “Why Do Women Like Horror Movies?” discussions.

Diablo Cody herself gave what seemed to me to be the best response you can give someone asking you such a question outside of an exaggerated eyeroll:

“When I watched movies like ‘The Goonies’ and ‘E.T.,’ it was boys having adventures. When I watched ‘Nightmare on Elm Street,’ it was Nancy beating up Freddy. It was that simple.”

It’s not that simple from an analytical stand-point at all, but she makes at least an interesting point with a sort of asinine question, which is more than I can do (it’s sort of a problem that I’d love to be friends with Diablo Cody but I hate her movies. That would definitely come up in conversation, right?).

I understand that there are things that suggest that horror movies are geared specifically towards a male audience. Boobs, for example. Megan Fox looking slightly more sexy than usual and implying that she maybe wants to make out with Amanda Seyfreid a little doesn’t appeal to me (in fact, it annoys me).

But it seems to me that the reason this is a question at all is just because of old, sexist stereotypes. That certainly men love a good ol’ fashioned blood-fest whereas ladies are too delicate for such things and would instead prefer something involving a marginally-overweight-but-not-fat-by-any-means woman who works for a fashion magazine taking a much-needed vacation around Christmas time to somewhere where it’s very snowy and also everyone has English accents. While she’s there, she’ll meet and fall in love with either Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Jude Law, or possibly Gerard Butler. Or some more modern equivalent of any of those men. Whichever man it is, he’ll definitely be tweedy and awkward and he’ll wear thick glasses and will occasionally by mistake make sexual innuendos when he doesn’t intend to and it will all make him very uncomfortable because both he and the lady are too pure to even think about what sex is (until about 45 minutes into the movie when they have sex that one time BUT IT’S OKAY BECAUSE THEY’RE IN LOVE). After some misunderstandings and shouting and a LOT of cute pop culture references, they’ll both slip and fall in the snow and kiss and move into an impractically isolated cottage in the country.

Those are the only kinds of movies women like, right?

Well, obviously no. For every stereotypical romcom-watching female friend I have, I’ve got at least two male friends who are upset by violence and as a result spend most of their time with said stereotypical female friends watching romcoms. And vice versa.

Women go to horror movies because women are people. Not some separate species that likes smelling good and cute shoes and ponies and can’t handle anything that’s even a step above a bikini wax in its depiction of violence. Just people. PEOPLE in general tend to go to theaters to see horror movies in large numbers around October 31st. Our general increase in interest in horror as of late is perhaps more interesting and worth pursuing as a topic.

Why do women go see horror movies? Well, we know Diablo Cody’s reason. Now all we have to do is ask every other horror-going woman in the world, separate their various reasons into “reason categories” and see if we can’t get some sort of a graph out of this.

But it WILL take interviewing every single woman who sees horror movies. There’s no one catchall sociological “Men watch horror movies like this, women watch horror movies like this” answer out there.

So please stop asking this question. You’re just coming off as sexist and pissing me off.

Want to say something that comes off as sexist and pisses me off? Leave a comment! I totally love those things.

Want to write something for me? Email me at carogriffin at gmail dot com with something along the lines of “ATTN: Guest Blog” in the subjectline. I’d like that a lot. In fact, you’d become my new best friend! We’d high-five and hug and stuff. I’d get you a heartfelt, in-joke-y gift during the holiday season and we’d stay up late getting drunk and being WAY too open and candid with each other WAY too early in the friendship. But we’d only be better friends for it in the end! Come on! Do it!

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(500) Days of Summer: What’s going on there?

I just saw (500) Days of Summer and I don’t know how to feel about it.

In advance: there will almost definitely be some spoilers in here. That said, the movie itself is incredibly predictable–the characters and performances are what kept me interested. Not the story (not that it was a dull story).

Before I get started with anything real, I need to get some pointless stuff out of the way first. Pointless stuff that I feel NEEDS TO BE SAID, clearly.

First, even if this movie was terrible, it would be totally worth it just for Geoffrey Arend. If you don’t know who he is, here are a couple of facts:

1) He’s hilarious. This isn’t my objective opinion, this is a quantifiable fact. He plays Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character Tom’s friend/co-worker and he honestly sort of steals every scene he’s in. Even if some of his lines are pretty sexist, he delivers them with earnest good humor that attempts to draw attention away from what I think is the essential flaw of the movie (which obviously I’ll get to later) on gender terms, at least.

2) He’s marrying Christina Hendricks who plays Joan on Mad Men. This isn’t important at all, I just love Christina Hendricks and any excuse to mention her. Guys, wouldn’t it be awesome if Christina Hendricks played a horror movie heroine? And even though she’s just about the hottest woman on the planet, she was dressed sort of plainly/practically? And if her weapon of choice for defeating whatever movie villain she faces was a SCISSOR JACK?! I would love that. So, so much. Sam Raimi, you can have this idea free of charge. Just make it happen.

3) And probably most important of all: he played perhaps my favorite guest character (obviously other than the KopyTown guys) in an episode of Undeclared, Rachel’s boyfriend who does impressions. And he is a DAMN GOOD impressionist (even though, like everyone in the world, his Christopher Walken is really more an impression of Kevin Pollak doing his Christopher Walken impression):

Moving on.

A pointless grievance: if you’re going to get a guy with a VERY AWESOME voice to narrate, you should use him for more than two minutes. Or cut him. You should probably cut him. Even though his voice is pretty great.

Some other pointless grievances: this movie is a little bit painfully hip. Okay, not a little bit. It’s painfully hip. It took me a good 10-15 minutes to settle down and not just want to punch it in the face. Guys, I wanted to PUNCH A MOVIE IN THE FACE. That’s not even physically possible.

Also, anyone who knows me knows that I’m a complete asshole-ish snob about music. I’m BASICALLY the angry chick version of the two guys Rob works with in High Fidelity (book or movie, take your pick though the movie version of Dick is considerably more adorable than his description from the book). I’m not annoyed by the mere appearance of indie pop in movies (have I mentioned lately how I secretly want every movie soundtrack to feature at least one Jon Brion song?), but I DO think lately it’s been used in an attempt to produce a sort of knee-jerk “I love Belle & Sebastian therefore this movie and I have something in common therefore I like it” response. The pop songs on a movie’s soundtrack seem to be too important these days (guys, what happened to SCORES? I mean, I even prefer “we’re picking one hip alternative musical group and having them do all the music” a la The Graduate to a mish-mash of semi-recognizable songs (wouldn’t it be awesome if someone did this with Jonathan Coulton?). But I seriously miss scores. It seems like the only places they show up these days are re-appropriated for Quentin Tarantino movies). Comic case in point:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Also: I don’t know when listening to The Smiths and The Pixies or liking Ringo Starr became uncommon, “quirky-cute” things. Especially since The Smiths and The Pixies have been incredibly influential on a TON of modern music. And Ringo Starr was a Beatle (PLEASE stop sending him mail, you guys. I know that video’s very old, but I still think it’s funny).

OKAY. So let’s discuss things that are maybe halfway interesting to anyone who isn’t me now.

If you’re not familiar with the phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” then I congratulate you. While it’s nice that we’ve got a name for my #1 Least Favorite Recent Trend in Movies (yep, it even beats out the whole “peanut butter and chocolate” thing people (INCLUDING women) have been using to justify cheap objectification of the ladies in horror movies (sidenote: wouldn’t it be awesome if I could go five minutes without mentioning horror movies?)), it’s a phrase that’s about as useful as “torture porn.” It’s fun to have a cute little buzzword but since it can be applied to so many things, it can become incredibly reductive. Even disrespectful, as in “torture porn” being applied to anything Takashi Miike does, or MPDG being applied to, I would argue, Zooey Deschanel’s character Summer here.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotype is easier to explain through examples than through actual description of characteristics: she’s basically Natalie Portman in Garden State. Or Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown (a lot of people put Penny Lane from Almost Famous in this category, but I don’t know what movie those people were watching). They’re sort of like…what John Hughes girls would be like if they had no personality whatsoever: a collection of semi-trendy-but-still-sort-of-alternative quirks. And always, ALWAYS super-indie cute. Which tends to mean enormous blue eyes and brown hair.

Full disclosure, I’m a homely version of this. I’m an indie music snob/film nerd/brown-haired-blue-eyed/occasionally quirky/ukulele-playing lady who is okay with dudes dumping their emotional problems on me. Yep, I’m a walking stereotype!:

I'm a single lady, so guys, I think you know what to do: prepare for a long, boring discussion about the relative merits of considering putting a ring on it.
I’m a single lady, so guys, I think you know what to do: prepare for a long, boring discussion about the relative merits of considering putting a ring on it.

Well, okay. I’m more like the WEIRD weird, Asian doll-collecting girl in this XKCD comic:

(If we’re honest, I’m probably flattering myself here. I am boring and not that different from anyone else. But I DO love street theater.)

Anyway, one of the usual complaints (by feminists) is: MPDGs are often a sort of empty shells of a characters who seem well-rounded and interesting because their various quirks make them seem less like the generic flat characters we’re used to. They’re really meant as catalysts for the male characters’ personal growth (in many cases, i.e. Garden State, literally allowing the male characters to basically dump all their emotional flaws on the table so their cute girlfriends and help them and teach them to enjoy life or something. In case you couldn’t tell, I didn’t like Garden State).

Summer is an interesting character because she simultaneously is this and is commenting on how this character type works in movies. It’s telling that, as Tom is decided to pursue his love of architecture (by the way, movie, if that’s supposed to be a metaphor it’s REALLY heavy-handed), we realize that we have no idea what Summer actually DOES–all we know about her is what she LIKES. Our attention is actively drawn to our shallow understanding of her as a person. This is doubled about a million times over when she ultimately ends up making decisions (i.e. getting married) that seem completely counter to her claim that she “doesn’t believe in love, blah blah blah” (I’ve met people who say this and they are ALL annoying. I don’t care if you believe in love or not, but if you go around ANNOUNCING that you don’t you are likely to infuriate me). If we knew her better, we might understand why she did this instead of being surprised and confused and thinking she’s awful. As Tom does. She gets a very nice scene where this becomes apparent to us–her explaining how she found herself in caught in love (see?! I can make hip Belle & Sebastian references too), and Tom digging himself into a hole by blaming her for his current emotional state (bleak), their break up, etc.

Here, the fact that Summer is presented as a sort of character shell with quirks (jeez, I sound like Buster Bluth: “It was a brownish area…with points!”) actually works in the film’s favor rather seeming like some writer just didn’t care to write a female character who seemed like a real person instead of just his indie-cute wet dream. It actually makes for a pretty nice insight about the nature of some relationships: Tom’s placing Summer on a pedestal. He prefers his idealized version of her and their relationship (to the point that he never actually gets around to discussing it with her out of fear that the reality will spoil his nice fantasy). This is what we see.

But this is just my reading. I think a major flaw of the film itself is that this is never THAT apparent (the “Expectations/Reality” scene, while very well-done, actually confuses this even more, making it less clear that the film isn’t as omniscient as we might think it is. And the narrator DEFINITELY screws this up). Obviously we get some clues: the timeline itself suggests Tom going back through his memories (though not all that strongly). The most obvious is the Halls and Oates dance sequence (this is how every day goes in my head, though it’s more likely to be set to ELO’s “Turn to Stone” and not everyone’s wearing blue).

But we also get cues from the movie that maybe we’re NOT supposed to sympathize with or forgive Summer, that we should think “what a cold bitch leading poor, almost annoyingly handsome Joseph Gordon-Levitt on.” Her opening description suggests we should view her as a sort of unattainable tease (also, pointless qualm: average weight for women in the US is about 140 lbs. Which this movie suggests is 20 lbs overweight. Which isn’t quite but is almost as annoying as Bridget Jones being considered obese at 140 lbs max). Not to mention the absolutely RAGE-INDUCING early line: “There are only two types of people in the world: men and women.” Beware, feminists–this movie is a fun watch but it takes QUITE a while to get over how incredibly thoughtless and frustrating this line is. I referred earlier to Geoffrey Arend’s character’s sexist statements: while drunk at a bar, as Summer is busy declaring that she doesn’t believe in love, he starts shouting “SHE’S A DUDE.” I don’t know what to make of this. Obviously, Summer and Tom’s characters subvert this (if we’re going off stereotypes, which this movie is, she’s more “male” and he’s more “female”). But why even set up the “only two types of people” thing to point out that men and women are apparently VERY VERY DIFFERENT as if it was fact if you’re just going to subvert it? The “I’m Sid, you’re Nancy” conversation again draws some attention to this subversion but again doesn’t comment on it and just makes a (slightly cheap) joke out of it (Tom: “Oh, so I’m Nancy?”). I’m not asking the movie to explicit here in explaining itself. I appreciate subtlety. But whatever the point is here, it’s so subtle that I can’t tell if it’s an intelligent commentary or just thoughtless and accidentally sexist.

Most telling (and frustrating) to me is the movie’s completely superfluous need to name-drop a real-life ex-girlfriend. It opens with joke text, reminding us that it is a work of fiction and any resemblance to real people is pure coincidence. Especially Jenny Beckman, apparently an ex-girlfriend of the writer of the film. She gets credited as a “bitch.” It would be a cute joke if it didn’t undercut a nice message that at least half-relates that an ex is automatically a bad person, that people break up for complicated reasons, that you shouldn’t blindly hate someone you used to love.

It seems telling to me that there’s a lot of debate and discussion (on IMDb, at least) about how horrible Summer was or who was at fault for their break-up. That’s sort of missing the point.

Either that, or I got something out of the movie that literally no one else did (it seems like the same thing happened with my reading and everyone else’s of the Basterds and their horrible, brutal actions in Inglourious Basterds. What’s going on there, rest of the world? Do I read too much into minor details, is that it?).

I think the worst thing I can say about this movie (other than some of it was so gratingly cutesy that I wanted it to somehow be a singular human entity so I could punch it in the face–but keep in mind, I AM a rusty-hearted robot who hates adorable things. Though I DID love Tom’s incredibly cliche group of goofball friends and annoyingly precocious sister, which is weird for me) is that it seems pretty first-filmy to me. But not in a bad way. It shows a lot of potential on behalf of its relatively new director and writers.

And Joseph Gordon-Levitt really is adorable.

Hey, let’s argue about things! It would be pretty great if you commented and we talked about our opinions. I like doing that. I like people. I really do, I promise.

Or if you don’t care about my opinions or anyone else’s and just want to share your own, email me at carogriffin at gmail dot com if you want to write something for this. I would totally love that! And it would mean you get to not listen to me ramble about how I want Christina Hendricks to fight people with scissor jacks while wearing dowdy clothing ever again.

Some stuff relating to this topic that I enjoy or at least read:

Jezebel had a LOT of debate about this when it was about to come out:http://jezebel.com/5348489/500-days-of-summer-writer-really-wants-his-ex+girlfriend-to-feel-bad-for-dumping-him

I basically agree with everything said in the AV Club’s review of this movie:http://www.avclub.com/articles/500-days-of-summer,30422/

Dealbreakers is a Tumblr that I like to read some time that had a hilarious commentary on the MPDG in movies vs. in reality:

http://dealbreaker.tumblr.com/post/145586547/that-super-cute-quirky-girl-from-that-movie

I disagree with this article’s ultimate opinion of (500) Days of Summer but I’m pretty on-board with their general message about the women in these types of movies:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-07-20/indie-dream-girls

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Polanski Apologists

The following is not particularly analytical. In fact, some of it is just me sort of going on aimlessly talking about my personal history as a film fan. I’m not sorry, though, because it takes actual effort to write decent entries for this thing (as you can plainly see I haven’t put any actual effort into it at all). If you’ve got a problem with this or think you’d like to write something on topic, please contact me. I would be happy to hear from you.


Nowadays, I’m a big horror fan. I didn’t used to be. There was a time when I wasn’t even that interested in movies–I was a normal kid, I wasn’t one of these VERY COOL film geeks that I’m so jealous of because they’ve been obsessed with movies since they were old enough to follow basic plotlines. These people have seen minimum 20 times the amount of movies I’ve seen and I’m desperately trying to catch up so I can join their conversations (side note: “I’m desperately trying to catch up so I can join their conversations” is basically a summary of my entire life). I didn’t become interested in film until I was about 15, when I became friends with a girl whose earliest movie memory was The Exorcist. Mine was The Lion King. She became an incredibly close friend and horror movies were something she loved. They were very, very important to her and I wanted to share that with her (I was with her the first time I ever saw a horror movie in a theater. I’m embarrassed to admit it was as late as 2002. The movie was May).

But, as I said, I was a pretty normal kid and like a lot of normal people, horror movies really freaked me out. The first horror movie I saw was The Shining. I think I was about 12 when I saw it and for weeks I couldn’t get those twin girls out of my head. I’m surprisingly easy to frighten for a horror fan (I have been known, before going to see a horror movie, to try to Google the percentage of “things suddenly jumping out at you or making a very loud noise”-based scares to gauge whether I want to see it in the theaters or if I should maybe consider embarrassing myself in the privacy of my own home (It should probably be noted that I’m a single lady who often goes to moves alone, making my public terror more embarrassing than fun in any way. Folks: if you’re going to a horror movie, I suggest you bring a friend if not a significant other)).

Anyway, as I was saying: I wanted to become comfortable watching horror movies so my friend and I could enjoy them together but I was too easily frightened. I realized I was going to have to work up a tolerance to movie-based scares.

The best way to do this, in my opinion, is to start with old horror which tends to be less graphic if not less frightening (though yes: the sudden violin stings in Psycho do scare the shit out of me every single time) and work your way up.

One of the first horror movies I can remember specifically renting and watching of my own accord was Rosemary’s Baby. I didn’t love it and I still don’t, but I did find myself intensely interested in it. I think if I started with any other horror movie there’s a good chance I would have been just another blood-and-guts horror lover (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and not the film fan I am today.

I am eternally grateful to Roman Polanski for ushering me into the world of film (I’m both proud and ashamed to admit that these days, movies have the capacity to destroy or at least badly wound my personal relationships). And for Chinatown. Obviously like everyone else in the world I love Chinatown (and yes I do feel guilty about giving all the credit for this movie to one person especially when the strongest thing in that whole movie was the script).

I think we can agree (for the most part): Roman Polanski is a stunning, fantastic director.

That said, I’m incredibly disheartened by the film community’s response to his arrest. For the crime he plead guilty to. And then spent 30 years running from.

Separating the art of the artist doesn’t exclusively refer to the sort of “So-and-so had father issues so every male authority figure represents his dad.” Or, to get more personal, “Woody Allen fell in love with and married a girl who was 17 when they met and was (legally speaking) his daughter, which I think is sick so I’m never going to see another thing he makes” (that said, if my parents had taken that approach, my opinion of him may never have been tarnished by seeing The Curse of the Jade Scorpion). It can work the other way around. The Pianist being a wonderful film doesn’t automatically mean Roman Polanski  must be the best of all men.

I find it shocking and depressing, as someone who would like to one day be able to consider herself part of the filmmaking community, to see people that I respect and look up to (my hero for many years Woody Allen, Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo Del Toro, Matin Scorsese, Tilda Swinton, and Terry Zwigoff to name just a few).

Regardless of the victim’s forgiveness of her attacker, Polanski is still a criminal. And still, sexual crimes aside, he DID spend 30 years resisting arrest. This arrest was to be expected.

Film festivals aren’t magical places where the judicial system can’t touch the Sensitive Artists. I think The Hater from the Onion AV Club summed up one of the defenses against Polanski’s arrest pretty aptly:

“It sucks that this happened because…he didn’t think it was gonna happen!”

Or maybe Chris Rock, discussing the “Polanski is a great filmmaker” defense:

“Even Johnny Cochran didn’t have the balls to say ‘Yeah, but did you see OJ play against New England?'”

In Other Hot-Button Potentially-Feminist Issues:

No, I don’t think Letterman sleeping with his staffers is a feminist issue. Mostly because I feel like with it out in the open now, if any of them felt “taken advantage of” or whatever they’d be free to come forward. Which no one has. It sort of seems like…a consenting adult man and some consenting adult women stupidly thought having sex with your (famous and in a committed monogamous relationship) co-worker would be no big deal.

But I’m really, really biased. Letterman could basically do anything he wanted and the second I remember that time he wore that Alka Seltzer suit, I would forgive him.

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Lady Assassins: Well Played, Heroes!

I finally started watching Heroes this week. I know, I’m at least three years behind the times. I’m also excited by the prospect of a black president and this whole “Twitter” thing. I’m joking about those, obviously, but I am actually still basically amazed with the Wii.

(I’m not really bothered by spoilers, but if anybody ruins whatever the crazy conspiracy from season 1 is for me I’m going to fly into a rage. I haven’t even actually gotten to an episode with Zachary LaQuinta Inn Quinto yet.)

It came at a weird time–I was getting all ready to post a big, long rant about my issues with “sexy lady assassins.”  “Assassins” being used in place of the more general, applicable “ass-kickers,” because I’d like to include superheroes and action stars. “Actionistas,” let’s call them.

So anyway. I’ve been working on my opinion of Actionistas and the way they’re treated as opposed to their male counterparts (actionistos?)–your Jason Stathams, your Christian Bales. More specifically the way in which their bad assery seems to be undercut by how seriously objectified they are and/or their lack of any semblance of depth of character(point of irony: I think Shoot ‘Em Up is an amazingly fun movie and I actually loved Monica Bellucci in it. And no, I’m not trying to claim Statham plays a lot of complex characters).

And then little Heroes came along. The differences between the depiction of women in film vs. in TV aside (that’s a totally different, HUGE discussion), Heroes feels refreshing.

I want to talk about Claire Bennet. If you’ve never seen Heroes, Claire Bennet is the cheerleader you have to save in order to save the world. She’s got that sort of Wolverine I-can-heal-very-quickly-and-am-nearly-impossible-to-kill power. She’s a tiny, bubbly blonde who is literally described by a male character on the show as “dainty.”

Sometimes, she looks like this:

cute little bad ass.

cute little bad ass.

I’m really easily put off by these sorts of hyper-conscious subversions. The “oh my god, it’s so cool because she’s basically a bad ass superhero but she’s a PRETTY GIRL and a CHEERLEADER. It’s SO CRAZY!” With that sort of automatic “we assume this ‘type’ couldn’t look out for herself so we’re being very clever and feminist here.” Don’t get me wrong–that is both a low-to-medium level of clever and a fair amount of feminist. I just find it a little garish and showy (especially when your chances of topping how well Buffy the Vampire Slayer did that are slim-to-none).

Claire never comes off that way to me. There is no conscious winking to the audience, no “look at this cute little bad ass we’ve created.” The first time we see Claire, she’s climbing up an oil rig–yes, she’s in a cheerleading outfit, but our first experience of her as an actual character as nothing to do with her cheerleader-ness. It really has nothing to do with her bad ass-ness either. These both factor into it, as Claire and her non-hero nerd pal Zach (if their relationship turns romantic then at the moment I’m blissfully unaware but for now, as always: I LOVE male/female characters who are friends with no underlying sexual/romantic tension) discuss soon after she “tests” her healing ability, but they serve more as a function of showing us something about her as a character.

The fact that she’s fifteen might be a contributing factor to my love of the character. She’s not sexualized. There’s a distinct possibility that she’s not sexualized as a result of her youth (we’ll leave creepily sexualizing the young to Big Love). It certainly simplifies my reaction to her (Niki is a slightly more complicated character for me–I have a not-very-popular opinion regarding the importance of female sexual power. Niki’s a pretty cool bad ass herself, but for now we’ll leave it at: my thoughts on her are more muddled).

But that aside, I think she works as an impressive example of what Actionistas could be: actual characters, bad asses who are portrayed as such rather than sexy ladies who can kick pretty hard but are ultimately sexual objects.

There will definitely be more on Sexy Lady Assassins in the future. Until then, comment if you want to and email me if you’re interested in writing something for the blog. carogriffin@gmail.com

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