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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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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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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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A Woman’s Work Is Never Done

An Analysis of Documentaries About Women in India

A look at how women’s work has changed to make a more modern India.

After 60 years of national independence and the election of the first woman president, Pratibha Patil, India is one of the world’s most rapidly developing nations.  With nearly half of its population below the poverty line, India’s diverse economy is built on the cultural effects of women’s roles.  Here are five documentary films illustrating the intersection of Indian culture and gender over the last decade.  See how women’s rights issues and cultural traditions collide to create a more modern India.

Miss India Georgia (1997)

Topic:  Cultural Pageant Contestants

Awards:  Athens International Film & Video Festival; New England Film & Video Festival

Summary: In America, first generation Indian mothers work hard to teach their daughters the balance between their Eastern past and Western future.  With pageantry as the backdrop, this film follows four contestants and their families as they prepare for a cultural pageant.  Watch the girls explore “being Indian enough” and being “like everyone else.”  Don’t miss the colorful teen angst and 90s fashion trends depicted in this film about beauty, gender roles, and cross-cultural family values. (Duration: 57 minutes)

Eye-Opening Extract: “You gotta always put in that cultural crap.”

Nalini By Day, Nancy By Night (2005)

Topic:  Off-Shore Outsourcing

Awards:  Black Maria Film & Video Festival

Summary: After receiving a call from a telemarketer who pronounced her last name correctly, Indian-American Sonali Gulati explores the boom of outsourcing in India.  In cities like New Delhi, calling centers are the most coveted positions for many middle-class urbanites who don’t mind answering to a pseudonym like Nancy Smith and practicing an “American” accent.  This film focuses on the economic benefits and contradictions between the U.S. and India with a sense of humor. (Duration: 27 minutes)

Eye-Opening Extract: 1 Telemarketing Position Creates 1-2 Additional Jobs

Born to Bondage (1999)

Topic:  Overview of Women’s Traditional Roles

Awards:  None

Summary: For centuries women have been treated as second-class citizens in India.  Treatment towards poor and “untouchable” women is even worse.  The dowry custom, child marriage, female infanticide, child slavery and prostitution, are common practices. This film investigates the detrimental effects of cruel gender customs, ineffective legislation and illiteracy. Find out why women’s rights are violated and how the economy and population are affected at the expense of women’s lives.  (Duration: 40 minutes)

Eye-Opening Extract: “In my next life I want to be born a boy.”

Science for Survival (1995)

Topic:  Women’s Progress and Influence in Modern India

Awards: None

Summary: As more women enter science, technology and medical fields, doctors like Vandana Shiva are dedicating their work to a more balanced and sustainable, “polyculture,” ecosystem for India by embracing biodiversity and seed varieties in farming.  They have also discovered the positive effects of blending modern and traditional medical practices.  This film is a well-organized and fact-filled piece about how women are improving the future of India. (Duration: 50 minutes)

Eye-Opening Extract: 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of silk is sold for 141 rupees ($3.55).

Born Into Brothels (2004)

Topic:  Children of Sex Workers

Awards:  Academy Award for Best Documentary; 12 Film Festival Awards

Summary:  This film is the Oscar-gold standard for films about India.  Provocative, yet, stunning shots of the red light district in Calcutta combine with a lovable cast of would-be photographers.  Fly as high as the kites they play with on rooftops or sink down to the reality of their lives in the brothel.  Either way, this film lets you walk in the dredges of Sonagachi, where the cluttered streets are framed in the kids’ camera lens as they momentarily set aside the physical and emotional abuse they experience daily. Become invested and involved in their escape from a life where their mother’s work hinders their way out. (Duration: 85 minutes)

Eye-Opening Extract: “Now I feel like taking pictures.”