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Sit, Watch, Enjoy: A Night at the Movies

Eat, Pray, Love
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I first read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert during my own four-month stint in India. I was riveted by the story she told, but for some reason, some sections felt self-indulgent and disingenuous — I’m not sure why. This was not the case when I watched the film on Tuesday.

Like the book, Gilbert takes a tri-country trip to find herself, first to Italy, where she abstains from sex, while consuming an orgy of pasta and wine. Next, she prays in India at an ashram where she learns to clear her mind and guilty conscience about her life choices. Finally, in Bali, she learns to love, not just friends and family, but herself.

Before seeing the movie I was quite skeptical. I feared that the worst parts of the book would be the basis for the film, or, the director would turn Gilbert’s story into a romantic-comedy schmultz-fest. Thankfully, neither occurred. The pacing of the film, along with the casting, were fantastic. Each actor seemed perfect in his or her role.

I rarely see such raw emotional performances in mass market films. Billy Crudup as Stephen, trying to convince Gilbert that “she is his dream,” while she is trying to divorce him, was devastating. Yet, I thought James Franco as David, was a perfect foil to Stephen and his mundane relationship with Gilbert. Franco has the charm, passion and immaturity you can see was impossible for her to avoid, but there was something incomplete about him as well. And, from Julia Roberts’ performance, you knew something was incomplete about her too.

When she meets Richard Jenkins’ character, Richard from Texas, Gilbert is really struggling with finding god. But there’s a special relationship of support between the two characters that I found so evocative. Jenkins is very talented, evidenced by his dynamic dialogue with Roberts at a table outside and when he reveals why he’s at the ashram on the roof. His pain and past torture him — you can almost feel it in your gut.

Javier Bardem as Felipe is as magic as the cinematography in Bali. His lust for Roberts onscreen oozes from the screen like one of Wayan’s health concoctions, making the audience feel good and right with the notion of love. I was particularly touched by the scene with his son when Philipe cries when saying good bye and Gilbert gets choked up too.  To have that ability to love, so completely — Gilbert didn’t stand a chance.

Most notable about the film, and I don’t mean any disrespect to Gilbert as the author, was the genuineness of the journey portrayed by Julia Roberts. I’m not a Gilbert hater, nor am a jealous of her trip and success like some, but at times, in the book, she came across as selfish. Roberts’ acting seemed to combat that feeling I had from the book. I felt compassion and sympathy for her in the film, like so many others experiences when reading Eat, Pray, Love.

I know that sounds totally backwards to think Julia Roberts’ acting was more authentic than reading Gilbert’s words, but there was something amazing about her performance — an honesty that made me want her to overcome those emotional demons and find the inner peace she desperately wanted.

And, who could deny the emotional performances of those four men? I feel like this strong supporting cast really enriched the story and made for a better film. It was great to see actors who could hold their own with Roberts and to finally get the Eat, Pray, Love moment millions felt when they read the book a few years ago.

All in all, a great night at the movies.

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Angelina Jolie: Super Mom and Super Spy

If you thought motherhood would slow down the Hollywood mega-star and self-proclaimed “Goofy Mommy,” Angelina Jolie, she’ll have to

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bring you in for questioning!

Jolie is all business this month with the release of her new spy-action film, Salt. From premieres across the globe, to promotional interviews, Jolie is in the spotlight while also balancing her role as a parent.

After hitting the Hollywood Boulevard film premiere with boyfriend Brad Pit, 46, last Monday, Pitt is back to work on the set of Moneyball as Jolie, 35, continues to promote her role as Evelyn Salt with countless interviews and landing the cover of People. You’ve probably seen the dozens of photos of her in the airport with her brood of kids.  She is so busy! I can’t even imagine having such a high-powered career and six very young children to look after. Yet, I guess if you are the Guiness Book of World Record’s most powerful celebrities, like Pitt and Jolie, you can pretty much handle anything.

I’m really interested in seeing Angelina Jolie’s new movie because the part was originally written for a man. The character, a CIA agent who is accused of being a Russian spy, is very James Bond and I’m excited to see a woman in such a strong role.

“I had done a lot of action movies but none that were based in reality. So it was such a big challenge, [people] weren’t sure it could be pulled off,” Jolie told E! Online. “Anytime someone questions if something can be pulled off, it’s hard not to want to try.”

With amazing stunts any 007 fan will envy, Jolie faced extensive training for the film because she wanted all combat scenes to be seamless with little editing. “I remember my first day on the Salt set because I hadn’t worked for like a year-and-a-half. I was home and I had babies. I did my first day back and I thought, ‘What am I doing? I’m somebody’s mother,'”she explained to

So, what the Jolie-Pitt kids think of  mommy in her CIA agent role? In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Angelina Jolie revealed that the kids hadn’t seen the movie, but enjoy the fun aspects of their mom’s job, “They like coming to set and (seeing) the wigs. But in the clip, though, there’s someone tying my feet up and they did not like that at all.”

Despite any misgivings the Jolie-Pitts face with the new release, they support each other — especially given their history of action spy movies like Mr. and Mrs. Smith. “You know, I met Brad (Pitt) doing stunts together, so we are kind of that family. It is expected of mom to go out and be dangerous.”

A mom who is a provider, role model, special agent and nurturing — now that’s someone who’s worth her salt.

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More Than A Wolf Six Pack

Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) & Jacob Black (Ta...
Image by Nayara - Oliveira via Flickr

After writing my previous post on men’s fitness, I started thinking about how their bodies are exposed the media in comparison to women’s. You’d have to live in a cave (or coffin) to avoid all the Eclipse hoopla this month. And, you’d have to be in denial to be unaware of all the drooling over Taylor Lautner who plays Jacob Black, a werewolf and love interest for Bella Swan in the Twilight series.

Yet, I have to say, even though I think he’s attractive and the movie creators knew what they were doing to cast him without a shirt for most of the film, I’m a little creeped out by all the sexual exploitation this guy is facing.

I mean, yeah, women go through this stuff all the time, but it’s very interesting how much sex, his body and his character (and therefore him, in real life) are connected (which is funny because his character doesn’t have sex).

In fact, so far, no one is having sex in the Twilight films — and maybe, it’s this presence of desire without fulfillment that make people think it’s ok to objectify him? Hmm… I’m not so sure it’s works that way.

Anyway, what got me thinking was the Twilight special on Jimmy Kimmel. Every question from the predominantly female audience was about the male characters’ sex life or bodies. One girl even asked Taylor Lautner to lift up his shirt so she could see his sixpack. Kimmel said it was probably sexual harassment, but I couldn’t help but wonder how difficult it must be for Lautner to be a male sex object at such a young age and with such a fierce following.

Lautner can’t even get away from it on set. According to some quotes by co-star Robert Pattinson, he even gets teased while wearing spandex. I’m sure it’s all in good fun, but how far will it go among his fans and in the film industry? Will he forever be typecast as Jacob Six Pack? At least people aren’t throwing blood on him like Pattinson experienced last year, but that doesn’t discount the crazed attention he receives. Is this the new sexism? Or are we tipping the scales toward balance?

Even Jezebel found reasons why they think it’s alright to objectify men in a piece about World Cup players. Yet, I’m still not convinced this is a step toward equality.

Not sure how men can be treated as objects? For a look at some pretty intense instances of sexual objectification of men’s bodies, look at this slide show by Trend Hunter.

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No Sex in a Far Away City

Alright, I’ve avoided writing this post for over a week now, but since I promised to watch and comment on Sex and the City 2, here goes. First off, I didn’t like it. And let me point out that show is my favorite TV series of all time. So, there’s no anti-SATC bias here.

Second, unfortunately, I was not proven wrong about the film, as I had hoped when I wrote about the publicity for the movie. I really wanted the film to be good, but the terrible movie posters, stupid previews and the coinciding publishing of the Carrie Diaries represent the hollow shell of the series that lives on in this new sequel, Sex and the City 2. (For more about this, read “Why Sex and the City Never Stood a Chance.”) After seeing the film over Memorial Day weekend it was clear that this movie was made to make money, not because there was more to say and do with the narrative of the series and those characters.

Aside from this very basic and critical flaw, why didn’t I like it?

To start, it wasn’t in the right setting. The Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte spend little, to no time in New York City during the film. What I enjoyed about SATC when it was on HBO, is how much it showed what life is like for women living in Manhattan. It was a gorgeous video fashion magazine in one of the most chic cities, complete with real hot spots where New Yorkers dine, sip on cocktails, meet people and wear designer clothes. And, it was characterized by how their friendships inform their decisions and perspectives.

Sex and the City 2 was not about urban living or a real woman’s experience. The film was all about escaping reality, which, yes, has its place in entertainment, but not in a narrative about four friends who aren’t afraid to tell the truth about themselves and their choices, which, in my opinion, is the point of the show. I mean, it’s one thing to showcase the fantasy of couture and a writer’s ability to have a closet full of it, but it’s entirely another to simply choose to ignore some of the hot topics facing women in our current economy, and world.

Being in Abu Dhabi ruined the film for me. It was too retro and weird for them to ignore some of the realities of being in a Middle Eastern country. They made it seem like a good vacation spot if you covered up (sort of) and didn’t have sex on a beach. Were they trying to promote tourism there? Yes, it’s luxurious, but at what price? I’m not talking about money, why would you encourage people to visit a place where women are oppressed and lack civil rights? I mean yeah, they ended up leaving, but only because they couldn’t afford the hotel room.

I completely agree with Aviva Dove-Viebahn‘s assessment of the film in her post on the Ms. Magazine Blog:

“The women coo over the city’s beauty, food and wealth, and over the generosity of their hosts and the individual town cars and personal butlers who cater to their every need. But glaring classism and conspicuous consumption notwithstanding, the most problematic aspect of this vacation narrative is that the film makes light of cultural differences, juxtaposing the lives of these ‘carefree’ American women with their veiled counterparts in a way that is, at worst, thoughtlessly colonialist and, at best, naïve.”

They lightly touch on the traditional roles women face in the scene when Carrie analyzes how a woman eats a french fries with a headscarf, but by the end of the movie when Samantha encounters trouble by the police for her outspoken and sexual behavior, they don burqas to successfully escape the mob of angry religious men in the market place. Was that necessary? What is this movie telling women? If it gets too difficult being a strong, independent and confident woman — and to defy traditions — you should return to convention to evade the challenging bits? That doesn’t sound right…

The other thing that was strange: there was little sex. This film seemed to focus on the absence of it, in fact. The characters talked about other people having sex, or how sex would be inappropriate for Samantha, Carrie, Anthony or Charlotte’s nanny. Yes, in the end, Samantha had sex on the hood of a car, but by that time, it seemed odd because the movie wasn’t about sex. For Carrie, it was all about wanting to have that rush of excitement with Big. And, when she didn’t get it anymore, she nearly slept with Aidan in Abu Dhabi. I mean, I know people actually have those sorts of infidelity problems, but there should have been a little more variety in story lines for the characters or the people they meet. They seemed to plug in those couple of things, but in essence it was more about traveling and opulence, rather than human connections and relationships.

There are two things I did like about the film. The fact that it opened with a gay wedding, given the current debate over same-sex marriage rights, and the conversation between Charlotte and Miranda about the challenges of motherhood. It seemed silly that these two never connected over their role as moms in the first film, so I was happy they finally got to it. The problem was, there were so many scenes in this film that counterbalanced the good ones for me (particularly anything involved with singing!), making me wonder how it ever made it to the big screen.

As for the fashion…I was unimpressed. Many of the outfits the women wore looked like last year’s Vogue threw up on them…it was all too much. Everyone else is paring down and simplifying — let’s see the ladies doing that in their own style, that would be interesting. I would have also liked to see a better mix of looks and economically and environmentally conscious clothing choices. At least Samantha carried this recycled material bag in one scene.

What also bothers me about this film is, if this were not titled SATC2, and it was a film about four older women who skip town to run around the desert in overpriced heels, acting like tourists, we wouldn’t even be talking about it. There are so many terrible movies made for women it wouldn’t even be on anyone’s radar. Why did they have to take one of the few good things written, filmed and created for women and miss the mark so much? This movie robbed the integrity of the iconic show in an attempt to make a ton of money. The show encouraged life long female friendships, self-expression, unique fashion, culture and the liberation of women in any role that she chooses. The movie fell short, despite it’s excessive run time.

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Not Worth Carrying On About

When Candace Bushnell published the Carrie Diaries, I bought the book and read it in an effort to get excited about the upcoming movie and get a glimpse into what she imagined her famed character, Carrie Bradshaw, was like as a teenager. Dear Diary, it was a mistake.

Not only did it seem like the book was written over the course of a weekend in an effort to tap into a new, younger audience for the franchise (and to make a couple extra bucks), the writing was bad AND the character didn’t fit in with traits or things we’ve learned about Ms. Bradshaw in the show.

First off — Bushnell used bizarre phrases to describe Carrie’s thoughts and feelings that didn’t make sense. At one point Carrie described a feeling in her stomach like light shining through diamonds when she sees a guy she likes. What does that even mean? Are there sharp pains? Is you stomach hot? Cold? Do you feel like you are glowing? Do you feel heavy? Or maybe just bloated with purple prose?

I know writing for a younger audience can be challenging at times (trust me, I do it every day at a teen news site), but seriously, just use metaphors and analogies that are clear and practical, not weird.

Another odd thing, aside from the fact that the book meanders along as Carrie complains about her crush and wanting to be a writer (but seldom DOES anything inspiring or noteworthy), toward the end of the book teenage Carrie makes Coq au Vin for her friend, sisters and father (her favorite dish to make, supposedly). Well, as any SATC fan knows, in the show, Carrie used her oven for storage, I HIGHLY doubt anyone who makes a dish and likes to cook from the Julia Child cook book would cease to use their kitchen. Those skills don’t curdle in the fridge.

In addition to several annoying moments of, “Would Carrie really be like this?” there was also a naming issue. A woman nicknamed “Bunny” who is not in fact, the mother of Trey MacDougal, the ex-husband of Charlotte in the show — meets Carrie and has an effect on her future. I won’t spoil who she is or how she affects Carrie (in case you do read this against my advice), but it is not related to the matriarch of the same name. Anyway, couldn’t Bushnell think of another name?

I know these things seem like three minor details, but they are just a couple of examples of the larger problem, it was a bad book and there’s not point in wasting time writing about it. If this had not been The Carrie Diaries, but some other YA novel about a teen (which it could have been), people wouldn’t have read it.

The worst part about it was, after reading this young adult novel (and I’ve read my fair share), I felt like chucking it out the window and asking Bushnell if she ever even watched the show that built her career. There was nothing fun, charismatic or interesting about it. I mean, yes, she created the characters, but there’s so much more to them and what the fans know about them from the series. She could have done so much more with it!

Why write such a stupid book? Well, according to one Jezebel writer, who went to a publicity event for the book, it’s probably best to not ask … anything about it. I just don’t get it at all… the grotesque publicity for Sex and the City 2, the back tracking on important themes of love, sex and feminism in the films — the whole thing is just too much.

Why revive a phenomenal franchise and then as Charlotte would say, “wrap it in brown paper and just smear some dog poo on it!?”

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Getting Carried Away with Sex and the City 2

The much anticipated sequel, Sex and the City 2, releases in theaters today, but I think we should all proceed to the theaters with caution and low expectations.

After the first film, I feel some apprehension about seeing it. There’s been much media attention garnered over the film after the Ms. Big box office success of Sex in the City with $152 million earned domestically, plus another $262 million internationally. And, frankly, I’m concerned this movie is simply about money.

In a time when people are desperate to find jobs, pay their mortgages, keep their relationships together and their self-worth intact, it is a perfect time to feel empowered by the strong and successful friendships of four independent and intelligent women like Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte.

However, the last film was contrary to the ground-breaking feminist notions of love and sex in the series and we accepted it, because in essence, the film was about forgiveness (why shouldn’t we?). And, who didn’t want to know what happened to the characters once they received their modern version of a happily ever after in the Big Apple. As for round two, there are few reasons why I feel nervous to watch this second film.

First, I hear that the new film’s wardrobe budget was $10 million in a time when even fashion magazines are cutting back and providing “recessionista” options for readers. As a fan of the show with an affection for fashion, I want to see how these leading ladies are pinching pennies and staying fab on a budget. But, according to Michael Patrick King, that’s not what the new movie is about.

“I sat down to write in what was the beginning of an economic downturn, and we’re still in it. Like in the Great Depression, I thought Hollywood should take people on a big vacation that maybe they couldn’t afford themselves. I wanted to make it a big, extravagant vacation,” says Michael Patrick King at a Bergdorf press conference.

Yeah, but just because historically, lipstick sales were up during the Depression, it doesn’t mean the sale of designer bags worth thousands of dollars are up now too. At the time, maybe wearing lipstick was about feeling fashionable, special and confident (for a small price), whereas buying thousands of dollars worth of clothes and handbags without job security, would just be stupid in our current economic climate.

Plus, the average woman who watches the film can dream about wearing the clothes, but doesn’t the extreme level of luxury and escape from reality, seem a bit much? And weren’t these characters all about facing reality, even in the harsh light of their mistakes?

I think the wardrobe budget is especially contrary to our current times knowing that the actors who play these extravagant roles aren’t necessarily on a budget and they get to keep the clothes from the movie. Doesn’t seem fair, when they could auction the $10 million wardrobe and donate the proceeds to a women’s charity or an education fund. Now that would be empowering.

In addition to the $50,000 outfits, it’s as if the promoters of the film are banking on the idea of fantasy to get women to buy more clothes and movie tickets with a virtual closet of Carrie’s Upper East Side walk in that features outfits from the film you can buy, even though, she doesn’t live in that apartment anymore. Now, if the virtual closet included a retrospective of her iconic clothes of the series, it would be a more interesting and glamorous for viewers to explore. As is, it’s a sad attempt to get people to buy a couple outfits the characters wear in the SATC2.

And, who can ignore the horrific airbrushing on the movie posters — they are unbelievably disturbing! Isn’t Sex and the City about embracing who you are and what you look like at any age? It’s illogical, and insulting to the women stars to make the cast look like Barbie cyborgs, especially during a time when some women are shunning the photo retouching practice in order to portray real beauty. SATC should be on the cusp of what’s going on with women, not retreating to conventions about age and beauty.

Look at these photos. Sarah Jessica Parker is a force in the fashion and film industry, they do not need to over-edit her face to look like that. People know what she looks like and that’s not what matters. It’s her talent, business savvy, courage and style we admire.

These edited versions don’t look like actual women, it’s like a hollow shell of what their characters — and the story — used to be when it was a TV series. The whole point of the show was to deny and usurp the traditional pressures women face, but now they look fake and their movies characters have turned into the cliches they despised.

And, aren’t we supposed to appreciate their 40+ ages in the film? Photo editing their faces and bodies to make them to look virtually younger than when they were in the show, puts even more pressure on women’s appearance in their 30’s and 40’s. Sigh.

So, needless to say, I’m concerned that this movie was created to make money, rather than empower women.  I love Sex in the City and I appreciate the integrity of the show even though I was dissatisfied with the first movie, but this antithetical publicity is an even bigger disappointment. Now, maybe the wardrobe, photoshopped posters and plot rumors are not a good representation of the movie and my thoughts on this topic won’t matter.

Will I see SATC2? Of course, in hopes of being proved wrong.

Let me know what you think of the movie after you see it! Come back and post your thoughts about the film!

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Mothering Movie Stars

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

If you watched the Academy Awards on Sunday, you may have noticed the resounding success of women in film and the collective mothering of young actresses like Carey Mulligan and Best Picture and Director winner Katherine Bigelow, by other ladies in the industry. Yet, the most beautiful display of compassion and mama-she-power was Best Actress winner Sandra Bullocks’ acceptance speech after winning the Oscar for playing Leigh Anne Tuohy, a passionate, real-life Southern mother in The Blind Side.

In case you missed it, she accepted the award on behalf of her counterparts and in honor of  “the moms who take care of the babies and the children, wherever they come from.” She also thanked her own mother, who died of cancer in 2000, “for not letting me ride in cars with boys until I was 18.”

Bullock’s exquisite speech was a moving mix of humor and grace reminding us all of the importance of support, love and nurturing by and for women.  And I think it’s also important to mention that Bullock has held many feminist roles, with The Blind Side as the perfect example of a person who strives to promote equal rights among people.  Now, you’re probably thinking, wait a sec, she helps a disadvantage boy — not a girl — how is that a feminist role? Feminism is about creating equality among all people, not raising either gender above the other. In this case, it was about a determined woman who saw a boy who needed a family, so that’s what she provided.

This year’s Academy Awards was filled with a mix of talent whether the stars, producers and directors were men or women. Though Katherine Bigelow is only the first to win the award for Best Picture, she has now paved the way for women to be considered as equals in that category.  Despite people’s dislike of the word “feminist,” by selecting a woman who deserved the award, the Academy made a feminist decision.

If you didn’t catch it, Barabara Streisand’s role as a presenter for Best Picture was no accident. In 1991, there was much controversy over Barabara Streisand’s Oscar snub for her film The Prince of Tides.  Many thought the film should have won and that she didn’t receive an Oscar because she is a woman. I’m not an Academy insider, so I do not know the real reason why she didn’t get it, but I can say you that it’s disgraceful that Bigelow is the first woman director to win for Best Picture.

On the up side, within the film industry there seems to be a lot of comraderie among women.  From Bullock’s speech — as she individually complimented the qualities of the other nominees (including Meryl Streep‘s ability to kiss (LOL) and Carey Mulligan’s grace) — to Oprah’s phenomenal introduction of Gabourey Sidibe — feminism was alive and well-dressed in Hollywood.

Many of the nominated films featured a wide variety women characters outside of the typical gender stereotypes — some are powerful, creative and revolutionary — Julie and Julia, The Young Victoria, Coco Before Chanel, The Blind Side, Music By Prudence and the Princess and the Frog — while others are deeply affecting like Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire and An Education.  Each brought a new view of what it means to be human, to have the strength to survive despite the challenges gender creates. And, what a gift that the women in them are equally as powerful, affecting and revolutionary.

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