Movie Review: The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)

Monday, April 6th, 2009

A disappointingly superficial Bettie Page biopic.

After reading Eric Schlosser’s REEFER MADNESS (which details, among other things, the history of pornography and “adult” entertainment, including the U.S. government’s attempts to outlaw such vices, First Amendment be damned!), I rented THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE, thinking that it might be interesting to see the ’50s “war on porn” brought to life. While the film does begin with a Congressional inquiry into the “illegal” activities of Irving and Paula Klaw (who employed Page for a time), this angle is used as a vehicle with which to explore Page’s life, and the anti-pornography craze soon fades to the background. When the topic is covered, it’s done so superficially, with little attention to detail.

Which is all fine and good – after all, the film is called THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE for a reason – except the movie also fails to offer much insight into Page’s childhood, her path to becoming a pinup model, or her life after sex work. Page’s conversion to Christianity, for example, concludes the film – but the audience is left with little idea as to the how’s or why’s of her newfound fundamentalism.

All in all, THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE is stylistic but superficial – which is frustratingly disappointing, given the subject matter. The filmmakers missed an incredible opportunity to examine not just the rise and retirement of the Notorious Ms. Page, but also government corruption and censorship, the beginnings of the sexual revolution, the effects of sexual abuse on women, and the state of feminism in the ’50s.

Though THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE is rated R, I thought it was rather tame. Only two of the photo shoots involve nudity; while risqué outfits and poses are depicted throughout the film, it’s nothing you couldn’t find on the cover of MAXIM or FHM nowadays. Two instances of rape are implied, though never shown, which is a relief – too often, violence against women is sexualized and glamorized, and I admire the filmmaker’s decision to merely hint at the sexual traumas endured by Page.

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

Movie Review: Doomsday (2008)

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Wicked Fun

four out of five stars

I’ve long been a fan of grim, macabre and/or darkly humorous post-apocalyptic science fictions films: 28 DAYS LATER, CHILDREN OF MEN, FIREFLY and SERENITY, the Terminator and Alien franchises. As a feminist, I also enjoy stories which are driven by strong women. Naturally, I loved DOOMSDAY.

The movie opens in Scotland, which has been thrown into chaos by a deadly and unstoppable viral outbreak (called – what else? – the Reaper Virus). Whereas science has failed to find a cure, the corrupt and panicked government’s only solution is to wall of the city in hopes of containing the outbreak. Infected and healthy citizens alike are left for dead.

Fast-forward thirty years to present-day England. Scandalized by the unethical quarantine imposed on Scotland during the initial Reaper Virus outbreak, England’s former global allies have ostracized the country. With England’s economy in ruins and corruption running rampant, citizens are only slightly better off than their Scottish counterparts. That is, until the Reaper Virus resurfaces on the other side of the wall – in England. Having failed to develop a cure in the interim, the British government’s only hope is to locate a survivor in the quarantine zone, and perhaps construct a vaccine using her DNA. But who might volunteer for what is, in essence, a suicide mission?

Enter Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra), the perfect (wo)man for the job. Eden was born in Scotland not long before the viral outbreak. Her mother managed to smuggle the young child out of the quarantine zone as the country descended into panic and anarchy. Equipped with a creepyawesome cybernetic fake eye and a team of military specialists, Eden infiltrates the quarantine zone in search of survivors.

DOOMSDAY is a loud, violent, highly stylized and deliciously over-the-top film. The story sports a few plot holes, sure; and the action sequences, while beautifully executed, defy real-world logic. If you can manage to suspend your disbelief, though, DOOMSDAY is a wicked fun ride. Rhona Mitra kicks some serious arse, and stuntwoman Lee-Ann Liebenberg is hella fun as a tattoeed punk named Viper.

From a feminist perspective, the two parallel societies which have arisen in Scotland since the outbreak are fascinating studies in sociopolitics (and probably more realistic than the action sequences, to boot). One segment of the population, led by the scientist formerly known as “Dr. Kane” (who became stranded in Scotland whist studying the virus during the height of the pandemic), has reverted to a medieval state of existence; retreating into the mountains, Kane’s society now lives in the ruins of old castles and get about town on horseback. Meanwhile, Kane’s son Sol commands the urban dwellers, an anarchistic society made up of undisciplined, spiky-haired, tattooed-n-pierced punks. The two communities are more alike than they are different: both are violent, misogynist patriarchies, ruled by ruthless male dictators. Perhaps unintentionally, the filmmakers offer a peripheral look at the nature of hierarchy, dominance and oppression: thrown into chaos, yet given the opportunity for reinvention, Scottish citizens revert to a patriarchal existence, marked by obedience, subjugation and male ego.

In this vein, the film’s ending (which I won’t spoil here) offers an intriguing new direction for a sequel. IBTM, anyone?

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

Book Review: Alien Woman: The Making of Lt. Ellen Ripley, Ximena Gallardo C. and C. Jason Smith (2006)

Monday, December 1st, 2008

“The Making of Lt. Ellen Ripley”

five out of five stars

In ALIEN WOMAN, authors and pop culture critics Ximena Gallardo-C. and C. Jason Smith examine “The Making of Lt. Ellen Ripley” – a process which is both informed by and reflects the differing sociopolitical landscapes present during the creation of the respective installations of the quadrilogy. While the first ALIEN film was a radical (perhaps even feminist) reimagining of the slasher/horror genre, ALIENS represented a return to retro Reagen-era “family” values. ALIENS 3 joined the “hero” and the “monstrous creature,” and allowed Ripley to subvert the patriarchy by destroying both herself and the alien; ALIEN: RESURRECTION went a step further, creating a sisterhood of two non-human females (alien-human hybrid Ripley and second-gen android Call), which represents the future of humanity – humane, if not necessarily human.

Whether you love the ALIEN quadrilogy, yearn for more feminist fare, or simply enjoy watching strong heroines kick serious arse, ALIEN WOMAN is a must-read for pop culture junkies of all stripes. A background in cultural studies is a plus, but not a prerequisite; though psychoanalytic concepts such as the “monstrous feminine,” the “womb-tomb,” and the “monstrous generative mother” figure heavily into the discussion, the authors gradually unpack their thesis, piece by piece, resulting in an accessible, highly enjoyable volume. ALIEN WOMAN is the rare scholarly work that’s suitable for laypeople and post-grads alike.

As a longtime fan of the ALIEN series, now that I’ve read ALIEN WOMAN, I’m eager to re-experience the films through fresh eyes. I don’t think I’ll view Ripley’s probing of Call’s bullet wound the same way again.

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

Vantage Point passes the Bechdel test, but barely.

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Vantage Point (2008)

Last night the Mr. and I watched Vantage Point while we chowed down on our Thanksliving Day feast. (Yes, I realize that Tofurky Day was actually two days ago, but therein lies the beauty of not being married to a holiday – if you choose to “celebrate” it, you can party any mofo day you want. More on that later, though. I have FSMas decorating to do this weekend!)

Without throwing in any spoilers, Vantage Point chronicles the assassination of the US President and the subsequent series of terrorist attacks during an anti-terrorist summit in Spain. The same sequence of events is viewed through the eyes of various characters, including the media, the Secret Service, an American tourist, the local police chief, the President, and the terrorist group. Each “vantage point” offers a different piece of the puzzle, so you’re kept guessing until the final point of view is presented. Clocking in at 90 minutes, it’s a tight, action-packed film; just when the rewind-replay gimmick starts to feel repetitive, the vantage point switches to that of the terrorists, and the whole story is recounted from beginning to end. As long as I leave my feminist hat in the closet, Vantage Point earns an A.

From a feminist perspective, Vantage Point passes the Bechdel test, but barely.

While it’s largely an ensemble cast, most of the primary characters are male:

* All the Secret Service agents are men; Dennis Quaid (as Thomas Barnes) and Matthew Fox (Kent Taylor) are the main “eyes” of the Secret Service, and as the source of the Secret Service’s “vantage point” and the hero of the movie, Quaid can be considered the film’s lead. Another pair of agents share a lesser role, chasing down the local police chief after the assassination and explosions, and there are several additional agents with bit parts.

* Forest Whitaker (Howard Lewis) is the American tourist who captures most of the action on his video camera. He figures prominently in several of the character’s POVs, and is one of the “secondary” heroes of the story.

* Enrique (Eduardo Noriega), the local police chief, is a man. While a bit of a patsy, he also acts heroically, both before and after the attacks.

* Four of five of the terrorists are men. Of these, three of the terrorists have what I consider prominent roles: Édgar Ramírez (Javier), Saïd Taghmaoui (Suarez), and Ayelet Zurer (Veronica). Of all the females in the movie, Veronica is most integral to the plot (and she also commands the most screen time of all the women); however, she’s not given a backstory or her own “vantage point,” since the terrorists share a POV as a group. The only terrorist whose motivation is examined is Javier’s.

* President Ashton (William Hurt) and Mayor De Soto (José Carlos Rodríguez) are both men. (Though, to be fair, the Mayor is only seen introducing the President.) The President is a likable guy, while his staff (again, two men) is most certainly not.

(More below the fold…)

VeganMoFo, Day 31+: King Kong, Vegan Junk Food & Reflections on VeganMoFo

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

Spoiler alert! – Namely, for Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005). Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

OK, so perhaps this post is six days late, but I’ve been busy enjoying the last throes of warm, sunny weather here in the Midwest. Plus, there was this minor matter called the presidential elections on Tuesday…maybe you’ve heard of it?

As I mentioned previously, Shane & I have a longstanding (three years now?…maybe four?) Halloween tradition: namely, we spend the day watching horror movies and scarfing junk food. This H-day was no exception, although we didn’t get though as many scary movies as we usually do; we watched three flicks, compared to the normal five or six. Probably because the first film, Peter Jackson’s King Kong, ran three and a half hours! Also on the roster were Identity and Untraceable.

Aside from some dreadful “primitive tribal heathen” stereotyping early on, King Kong is an incredible film. There’s definitely a strong (albeit most likely unintentional) animal welfare message underlying Kong’s story, and it’s handled beautifully by director Peter Jackson and actor Naomi Watts. Jackson’s Kong is the last of his (her?) kind, living a life of solitude and loneliness on Skull Island – that is, until Carl Denham (Jack Black) and crew arrive in order to film a movie. Leading lady Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) is kidnapped from her ship by the island’s natives and sacrificed to Kong (cue awful stereotypes), presumably to keep the “beast” happy, content, and out of their camp. Kong, instead of devouring Darrow, initially keeps her as a sort of “pet.” (Kong is taken with her comedic vaudeville stylings, it seems.) Darrow soon escapes, but finds herself lost on a prehistoric island filled with rampaging dinosaurs and giant bugs. Kong, distraught at his only companion’s disappearance, tracks Darrow down, just in time to save her from two raptor-like dinos. Once Darrow is safe, Kong skulks off, injured both physically (from the battle) and emotionally (at Darrow’s desertion). Whether from fear or compassion (or, most likely, a combination of both), Darrow rejoins Kong.

Meanwhile, in the face of stampeding brontos and an angry Kong, Denham’s crew has abandoned their search for Darrow. Instead, they leave Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) to continue the search for Darrow (with whom he’s fallen in love), while the crew heads back to the ship in order to set a trap (unbeknown to Driscoll) for Kong, who’s sure to pursue the pair. Driscoll manages to find Kong’s den, which is littered with the bones of Kong’s long-dead relatives. Darrow is asleep in Kong’s palm; the two, who have formed a reciprocal, interspecies bond, watched the sun set and then nodded off together. Driscoll wakes Darrow, and the two attempt to sneak away without rousing Kong. Kong awakes in time to see the two creeping away together, and in the ensuing scuffle, a hoard of bats stir from their cliffside perch and attack the trio. Driscoll and Darrow manage to hitch a ride on one of the bats’ backs, and Kong runs after them in frenzied pursuit.

Naturally, this is where the story becomes a tearjerker. Kong is tranquilized, captured and caged during his attempt to retake a regretful Darrow. Back in NYC, Kong becomes part of a grotesque monster display, wherein Darrow’s sacrifice to the beast is reenacted for the entertainment of “horrified” audience. Darrow, who during her time with Kong had come to recognize his humanity, intelligence and sentience, wants nothing to do with the circus act, so director/showman Denham hires a Darrow lookalike to play the part. Kong begins the show partially sedated; as he comes to, he initially starts at the blond actress: I know her! Kong reaches out to Ann – only to become enraged when he realizes that it’s an impostor. Now furious, he rips free of his shackles and storms New York in search of his Ann. On the streets, he scoops up any and every thin blond he can find, only to toss the women aside when he realizes they aren’t the ones he wants.

Performing in a small, low-budget vaudeville hall, Darrow hears the commotion and runs towards Kong while throngs of flee in the other direction. Once Kong is reunited with his Jane Goodall, the two enjoy a few brief moments of reconnection. Kong, who hails from a tropical island, has never before seen ice or snow, and he delights in skidded across a pond in Central Park with Darrow perched safely in his hand. This playful scene is interrupted by a hail of gunfire; Kong, though he hasn’t intentionally harmed anyone (and is in fact a captive slave in the city, there against his will), must be destroyed! You probably know the rest: Kong is pursued by the police and military to the top of the Empire State Building, from which he is eventually gunned down.

Kong dies for our stupidity, greed, selfishness and speciesism.

(More below the fold…)

The Handmaid’s Tale(s): On the 1990 Film Adaptation by Volker Schlöndorff

Friday, September 19th, 2008

This is part eight in a nine-part series on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. A full TOC, complete with links for easy navigation, is included at the bottom of each post.

Spoiler alert: Danger ahead, oh the horra! Plot spoilers abound! If you haven’t yet read the book, consider yourself warned. In fact, back away from this blog asap, go borrow The Handmaid’s Tale from your local library, and come back when you’re done. We’ll still be on the internets, promise.

The Handmaid’s Tale, The Film (Volker Schlöndorff, 1990)

The Handmaid's Tale (Movie - 1990)

If you’ve never read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the 1990 film adaptation by Volker Schlöndorff might seem an interesting enough movie. Set in a future in which Christian fundamentalists have overthrown the government, the film paints a terrifying picture of an American theocracy. Women, homosexuals, religious minorities, people of color, political dissidents – all suffer under the oppressive thumb of The Republic of Gilead.

Those familiar with the 1985 novel will see that much of the basic story remains the same in Schlöndorff’s on-screen adaptation. The former United States is in the midst of a Civil War; The Republic of Gilead holds much of the East Coast, while dissenting religious and secular groups wage war to the South and West. Within the Republic’s borders, a strict social structure is enforced. Men are ranked according to prestige and merit (Commanders, Eyes, Angels, Guardians, and businessmen and professionals), while women are grouped according to social function, which is primarily determined by their reproductive health and racial makeup (Aunts, Wives and Daughters, Econowives, Handmaids, Marthas, and Unwomen). While no Gileadean citizen is truly free, it is the females who bear the brunt of Gilead’s religious tyranny.

It is in this context that we meet Kate (Offred), a Handmaid who has been assigned to Commander Fred (“Of Fred”) and his Wife, Serena Joy. The Handmaid’s Tale is Kate’s tale, told in her very own voice, through a disjointed series of flashbacks and present-day narrations. Through Kate’s eyes, we reflect upon “the days before”; we learn how the Sons of Jacob were able to destabilize and eventually topple the American government and institute their own patriarchal theocracy; and we get a glimpse of what daily life in the Republic is like.

(More below the fold…)

Dear Bust:

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

Rape does not equal sex.

Correspondingly, a “rape scene” does not equal a “sex scene.”

Thus, your profile of actress Summer Bishil in the August/September Bust is disappointingly misogynistic. And anti-feminist. Yes, I understand that you’re about as feminist as Planet Green is, well, green, but still. Even for a superfluffyfunfeminism magazine, this is beyond the pale.

You’re better than this:

The first question I want to ask Summer Bishil, star of Alan Ball’s new film, Towelhead, is what it was like to do a sex scene with Aaron Eckhart. “I thought he was attractive prior to meeting him,” she replies, laughing, “so I was pretty nervous.” The response catches me off-guard, because the scene in question is a harrowing one in which Bishil’s character, 13-year-old Jasira, is raped.

Wow, Jasira is raped and raped while underage. Where does the “sex scene” come in, exactly?

Seriously, I’ve come to expect this sort of woman-hating, rape-denying/-minimizing bullshit from the mainstream media; the mental gymnastics they sometimes perform in order to avoid using the word “rape” in a news story about rape truly are Olympian in nature:

‘World’s greatest dad’ charged in online child-sex sting (USA Today)

Child rape sting! ‘World’s greatest dad’ charged in online child-rape sting!

Mental Health Expert, 78, Charged In Internet Child Sex Sting (Tampa Bay Online)

Child rape sting! Mental Health Expert, 78, Charged In Internet Child Rape Sting!

Police: Men had sex with teen runaways (The News & Observer)

Raped! Police: Men raped teen runaways!

Guilty Verdict In Videotaped Sex Slay Case (CBS News)

ZOMFG! Rape slay case! Guilty Verdict In Videotaped Rape Slay Case!

Richard D. Davis and Dena Riley raped, tortured and killed a woman! While videotaping it! Where the mofo was this “sex” of which you speak!?!

Former Coroner Employee Had Sex With Body (WKRC TV Cincinnati)

Raped! Former Coroner Employee Raped Body!

Seriously, I am this close to losing my shit now. How on earth does a corpse consent to anything? That’s not a rhetorical question, I really would like an answer. I’m talking to you, anonymous WKRC TV Cincinnati headline writer!

Rape is not sex:

“The word ‘sex’ implies consent,” she said. “I never once would describe (what happened) as sex. He’s making me commit perjury.”

“Sex” implies mutual consent, while terms such as “had sex with,” “engaged in sex,” etc., say as much; after all, you can’t mutually engage in an act or perform an act with someone unless your partner is doing it, too. Rape victims aren’t “having sex” with their assailants, they are being raped.

So, Ms. Priya Jain & Bust mag editors, I am extremely disappointed, disgusted and appalled to find you, of all peoples, regurgitating the language of the patriarchy. The language which implies that a rape did not, in fact, take place (no matter what that self-hating whore says the morning after); the language which denies and minimizes rape (what are you talking about, I didn’t rape her; we had sex); the language which allows all of society to turn a blind eye to the realities of rape. After all, if the word “rape” never graces the headlines, where’s the problem?

Call me naive, but I expected more from an indie/feminist media outlet.

Signed,

– A soon-to-be-ex-subscriber. (But not because of your unfortunate choice of words to describe rape. I’d already made the decision not to renew when I leafed through your latest issue. I just totally like Bitch better.)

Oh, and P.S.: Decorating your Twin Peaks fashion spread with a decapitated deer head? Totally uncool. Really, would it have killed you and your grand artistic vision to just substitute in some wrought iron doohickey instead? Random acts of violence are so 1942, dontchaknow.

Life and Death on La Frontera

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

I’m bogged down with implosion-inducing allergies, so I thought I might recycle share this review of Bordertown that I posted on Amazon a few months ago. I agree with Melissa at Women & Hollywood – it’s not the best movie, but still worth a look.

Bordertown (2007)

Disposable women, disposable society

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Loosely based on several of the many Ciudad Juárez murders, BORDERTOWN is two parts docudrama/political commentary and two parts suspense/thriller. Though the subject of the film is an important one, the movie does suffer from a few major flaws.

Most likely, you’ve heard little or nothing about the 15-year serial killing spree(s) in the neighboring Mexican cities of Juárez and Chihuahua. Probably you’ve read a short article, maybe buried in the back of the “international” section of your local paper, about the latest death toll. Maybe you’ve seen a few pieces over the years, each giving rise to an eerie sense of déjà vu: “Haven’t I read this before? Didn’t the police already catch this killer? Surely this is a different case…”

Between 1993 and the present day, at least 400 women, primarily employed in the maquiladoras established along the Mexican/American border, have been found dead. Raped, murdered, strangled, mutilated. Dumped like trash. Another 5,000+ women are reported missing. Most likely they are dead, but their families will never know, can never rest, because there is no outcry, no investigation, no justice. Government corruption, police incompetence, and international indifference have all conspired against justice. After all, these are poor brown women we are talking about. Disposable women in a disposable society.

(More below the fold…)

YOU DON’T MAKE HEROES OUT OF WARLOCKS!!!1!

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

OK, so I’m way late on this one, but here’s my review of Jesus Camp, which is every bit as awesome (awesomely scary, rather) as you’d expect. In my defense, we’ve had the DVD for awhile, but every time I suggested we watch it, Shane passed, reasoning that it’d get me too worked up and why don’t we just watch a comedy instead? See, I have a awful habit of abusing the pause button in order to rant about this-or-that when whatever it is on the teevee pisses me off a great deal. I confess, I can be downright insufferable. So I finally decided to watch Jesus Camp solo, and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have hit pause a single time had I watched it with someone else. It’s like a car wreck, there’s just no looking away, if even to discuss the horror you’re witnessing with the rest of your carpool.

In sum, it is so awesome that it managed to shut even my overactive yapper.

Oh, and the icing? The three families profiled are all from the Kansas City area. I live in the Kansas City area.

*Shudder*

Jesus Camp Poster

(More below the fold…)

Movie Review: 30 Days of Night (2007)

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

A darker take on the vampire flick

four out of five stars

30 DAYS OF NIGHT is based on the first three-issue series of graphic novels by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith (also called “30 Days of Night”). I have not yet read any of the graphic novels (according to Wiki, there are 13 series), but after watching the movie, my interest is certainly piqued. Since I have little knowledge of the novels, my review is only of the movie – not how it compares to the graphic novels, or how it fits into the series as a whole.

The story takes place in the isolated oil town of Barrow, Alaska – a town so far north that, for 30 consecutive days each winter, the sun does not rise (hence the title, “30 Days of Night”). Anticipating thirty days of uninterrupted darkness, a group of bloodthirsty vampires descends upon Barrow, quickly picking off most of the townspeople. A brave few, including the local sheriff, Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) and Stella, his fire marshal wife (Melissa George), manage to survive, taking refuge in hidden attics and making supply runs to the general store under the cover of blinding blizzards. The film’s climax comes on the 29th day, in the form of a fight between Eben and the head vampire, set amid the backdrop of a town in flames.

Overall, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT is a good enough horror flick. The dialogue is a bit choppy at first, but it evens out as the movie progresses. The acting is solid enough, though no one really delivers a stand-out performance. The movie’s greatest asset is its setting: an isolated town, blanketed with snow and darkness. The blue and grey tones cast on the set and actors are eerily beautiful. The overhead shots, of which there are many, are simply stunning. The town even looks gorgeous when it’s on fire.

As for the vampires, they aren’t what you’d expect; they’re more animalistic than your usual horror movie vamps. Complete with bat-shaped faces and pterodactyl-like wails straight out of the Cretaceous Period, they resemble alien-animal-Slavic zombie hybrids. Kind of like James Carville, but more evil (only slightly, though). One of them even looks like he might be Marilyn Manson’s undead cousin. For the most part, the vampires don’t talk, but communicate through wails, screeches, body language and at times telepathy (or so it seems). The head vampire is allowed several lines of dialogue (all in subtitles…I suspect it’s probably Russian, through it sounds a bit like Klingon), and he occasionally reaches the brink of philosophizing, for example, about the existence of god. Yet, these moments are prematurely truncated. Consequently, we never really get a sense of the vampires’ back story – their origins, their hierarchy, their future plans for humanity. Which is a shame, since the graphic novels sound as though they do flesh out (pun intended) the vampiric characters in greater detail.

Even though the filmmakers failed in personalizing the vampires, I generally enjoyed the movie – up until the last ten minutes or so, that is. The film’s climax is silly and unnecessary. My quibble isn’t with Eben’s poor showing in the fight scene; indeed, given the circumstances, you’d expect that the vampires would whip his hybrid arse up and down Main Street. Rather, the fight (and the plot twist leading up to it) is wholly unnecessary, as the sun rose soon after the climax. (Like, in a matter of minutes.) Neither Stella nor Eben’s hideouts were compromised by the fire, so both could have waited it out. The whole silly spectacle might possibly have been redeemed it if had been used to set the film up for a sequel – which is what I’d expected – but it didn’t seem to easily allow for a second film, at least not involving our hero and heroine. As a result, the ending was just…weird. Weird and incomprehensible. However, after researching the graphic novel series, the ending makes much more sense; yet, it just doesn’t work in the context of a single movie. A sequel would certainly go a long ways towards salvaging this movie’s ending.

By the by, is there anything hotter than a grizzled Josh Hartnett in a thermal undershirt? Meow!

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

Movie Review: The Initiation of Sarah (2006)

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

CHARMED meets MEAN GIRLS

three out of five stars

I loved Summer Glau in FIREFLY, SERENITY and TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES, so when I saw THE INITIATION OF SARAH on Netflix, I decided to give it a try. (You might say I have a girl crush on her, and you mightn’t be wrong.)

The story centers around two competing covens of witches, both set up as rival sororities on the same college campus. The “good” coven is comprised of natural-born witches – those who derive their power from Mother Earth – while the “bad” coven must occasionally feed The Eternal Flame with the blood of a very powerful natural-born witch (“The One”) in order to maintain their powers. Believing newly arrived freshman pledge Sarah (Mika Boorem) to be The One, both sororities try to lure her and her fraternal twin sister, Lindsey (Summer Glau) to their side in the battle between Good and Evil.

THE INITIATION OF SARAH is an entertaining enough flick; a pleasant piece of fluff for those nights when you’d rather sit down with a bowl of Soy Dream and zone out on the couch. Though it was made for TV – and ABC Family, at that – it’s not as cheesy as you’d expect. Think MEAN GIRLS meets CHARMED, but not quite as satisfying as either.

Oh, and Jennifer Tilly rocks as the magi. Love me some Jennifer Tilly, too!

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

The Spoils of War (A review of The Kingdom, 2007)

Monday, February 18th, 2008

The Kingdom (2007)

The Spoils of War

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THE KINGDOM opens with a bang – literally. A group of Saudi Arabian terrorists attack an oil company’s housing compound during a softball game, in what is obviously a highly planned and coordinated series of attacks. Once the day is over, over 100 people are dead, with another 200+ injured. While most are employees of the oil company and their families, first responders to the initial attack – including Saudi police forces, health care workers, and one FBI agent – are killed in a larger, secondary bombing.

Because “the FBI is the lead agency whenever US citizens are attacked abroad,” as the film’s opening helpfully informs us, Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) implores his bosses to let him take a team to the scene in order to investigate the crime – and the sooner, the better, as evidence starts to degrade after the first 36 hours. Wary of the political ramification, his higher-ups resist, so Fleury circumvents the system with a little international blackmail. Once Fleury and his team (Jennifer Garner as Janet Mayes, Chris Cooper as Grant Sykes, and Jason Bateman as Adam Leavitt) arrive in Saudi Arabia, the rest of the film alternates between diplomatically frustrated investigation and a suspenseful race to catch the terrorist mastermind behind the bombings before the team’s five allotted days run out.

Aside from the initial suicide bombing scenes, the first third of the film moves at a snail’s pace. It’s front-loaded with dialogue and very little action – just a lot of mind-numbing bureaucracy and miles of red tape. Indeed, many of the deleted scenes featured on the DVD were obviously cut from this section of the film, while much of the end of the movie apparently remained intact. Even with these changes, the opening scenes still tend to drag.

Once the action picks up, THE KINGDOM is a gut-wrenching ride. The special effects are incredible, and the two major action sequences – a car wreck and a subsequent apartment shootout – will have you gripping the edge of your seat. The realism, I think, makes the “terror” scenes much more painful and horrific to watch. As I’m writing this, Google’s headlines scream at me: “The jihadi and the beheading plot,” “New Afghan suicide attack kills dozens,” “Death toll in Afghan suicide blast tops 100.” THE KINGDOM may be a work of fiction, but the images are all too familiar.

In addition to the standard “making of” featurettes, the DVD has one really cool and unusual extra that makes it worth the price of a rental, even if you’ve already seen the movie in the theater. You can replay the apartment shootout four times, viewing it from the different perspectives of the various groups of characters (Fleury and Al-Ghazi; Mayes; Leavitt; and Sykes and Haytham). One action-packed scene, four vantage points. It’s one of the most inventive extras I’ve encountered in awhile. Yay DVDs!

While the action sequences take center stage, the acting is superb as well – with the sole exception of Foxx, who mumbles his way through the movie. Ashraf Barhom and Ali Suliman are excellent as the Saudi policemen who assist in the investigation, and I just wanted to squeeze Jason Bateman’s baby cheeks by the end of the movie. Jennifer Garner, in particular, kicked arse as Special Agent Janet Mayes (welcome back to the genre, Syd! – err, Jen). Personally, I think Congress ought to pass a resolution limiting her to action/adventure movies, at least until she hits 60. When they’re done breaking the whole steroids in baseball scandal, that is.

Aside from being a gripping action/adventure/suspense flick, THE KINGDOM also delivers a surprising message on the nature of war and peace – and the human condition. Far from being another “git the brownies,” xenophobic, imperialist, neocon wet dream, the film’s conclusion stresses that we aren’t really so different after all, especially in our lust for revenge and our intolerance of the “Other.” War, violence, oppression – all are a never ending cycle, as old as humanity itself. “An eye for en eye” isn’t true justice; doubly so when neither side can remember who poked out whose eye first. An unexpectedly progressive “war on terra” movie, perfect for hawks and doves alike.

Once the film was over, I turned to my husband and asked, “A Department of Peace* doesn’t seem so silly after all, does it?” He the libertarian (small “l”, thankyouverymuch) didn’t bother arguing, as is his normal knee jerk reaction. Hell, he couldn’t even muster a bit of mockery for Kucinich’s hippie idealism. Given the vicious and oppressive nature of our species, a department devoted solely to studying and promoting peace, cooperation, and human rights and dignity is just what we need, I think.

And I suspect that he might finally think so, too.

* As proposed by Congressman and two-time former Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, the vegan woodland elf of hippie lore. Yeah, I voted for him. Twice.

Crossposted from Amazon.com. You know the drill – go give me a gold star over there, so you don’t have to give me a gold star over here. Or something like that.

Ingrid Newkirk Is An Animal

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

Ingrid Newkirk, the founder of PETA, is the subject of Matthew Galkin’s documentary I Am An Animal. The film won the Hamptons International Film Festival’s Golden Starfish for Documentary Feature. Before accepting the award, filmmaker and subject spoke with Plum.

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So, Shane and I saw Transformers today…

Sunday, August 5th, 2007

…and the early battle scenes in Qatar? In poor taste, to say the least. Watching American soldiers and Middle Easterners being blown to smithereens isn’t so much entertaining as it is depressing.

Also depressing was this statement, part of Optimus Prime’s endless moralizing: “All sentient beings deserve freedom”. (Or perhaps it was more along the lines of “All sentient being deserve the right to live”…I forget now.) Really? All sentient beings? Because, like, “sentient” isn’t codeword for “human+”.

Sentience refers to utilization of sensory organs, the ability to feel or perceive subjectively, not necessarily including the faculty of self-awareness. The possession of sapience is not a necessity. The word sentient is often confused with the word sapient, which can connote knowledge, consciousness, or apperception.

Sadly, and despite the obvious implications of such an animal-friendly statement, Transformers was hardly a pro-AR movie. On the contrary; one of Optimus Prime’s cronies (you know, the “good” “guys”) wanted to kill a dog (which he* saw as evidence of a “rodent infestation”) for pissing on his foot. Uh, yeah, maybe y’all should modify that statement to “All sapient beings…” I hate to break it to the screenwriters, but dogs are sentient, you dumbasses.

The effects were pretty cool, though.

* Though Shane doth protest, the Transformers are all clearly uber-masculine entities. Androgynous they aint.

(Crossposted.)

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LCA: Dealing Dogs Nominated for Emmy & PSPA moves forward!

Sunday, August 5th, 2007

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Last Chance for Animals – campaigns [at] lcanimal.org
Date: Aug 3, 2007 6:20 PM
Subject: Dealing Dogs Nominated for Emmy & PSPA moves forward!

Great news for the animals! The Pet Safety and Protection Act passed the House of Representatives, “Dealing Dogs” has been nominated for two Emmy Awards and HBO is re-airing “Dealing Dogs” – keep reading for all the details!

You made the difference! Thanks to your phone calls and faxes, the House of Representatives accepted the Pet Safety and Protection Act (aka “Buck’s Bill”) as an amendment to the Farm Bill, which prevents companion animals from being sold into research! More good news is the amendment also bars the use of live animals in medical device sales demonstrations and increases fines for violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.

This is a major step forward for “Buck’s Bill” (shown in photo, rescued from Martin Creek Kennels) and for companion animals across the country. But this fight is not over! We will keep you updated on its progress and how you can help push “Buck’s Bill” to victory.

“Dealing Dogs” Nominated for Two Emmy Awards!

“Dealing Dogs,” HBO’s Genesis Award winning documentary about LCA’s undercover investigation into pet theft, has been nominated for two Emmy Awards – Best Cable Documentary and Best Investigative Documentary. This is a great opportunity for a whole new audience to learn from “Dealing Dogs” and to get involved.

(More below the fold…)

DawnWatch: "Year of the Dog" has opened this weekend — 4/13/07

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: DawnWatch – news [at] dawnwatch.com
Date: Apr 14, 2007 3:56 PM
Subject: DawnWatch: “Year of the Dog” has opened this weekend — 4/13/07

A few weeks ago I wholeheartedly recommended Amazing Grace as powerful feel-good movie bound to appeal to anybody involved in social justice movements, including animal rights. On Thursday I saw another animal friendly film, the Sundance festival hit, “Year of the Dog.”

While I also recommend this film, I do so with a couple of caveats: It is quirky. If you love Mike White films, you will love it, if you generally hate them, you will probably have some problems with this one. I think, however, all animal advocates will be glad they saw it. I saw it at a screening full of animal people who generally adored it. I had somewhat mixed but mostly positive feelings about it, and find that days later it is still on my mind — an unusual film feat.

My mixed feelings came from my discomfort at seeing animal rights activists portrayed as utter dweebs, and even worse, as crazy. This is what Manohla Dargis’s New York Times review says about the film and its leading character:

“‘Year of the Dog’ is exactly the kind of story you would expect Mr. White to make for his directing debut. It’s funny ha-ha but firmly in touch with its downer side, which means it’s also funny in a kind of existential way. It stars the comic Molly Shannon as a woman who discovers her true self through a love of animals, though, not that kind of love. She’s not Catherine the Great, just Peggy the Good. It’s a film about what it means to devote yourself to something other than your fears and desires, to shed that hard, durable shell called selfishness. It is, rather remarkably, an inquiry into empathy as a state of grace. And if that sounds too rarefied for laughs, rest assured, it’s also about a stone-cold beautiful freak.”

(More below the fold…)

DawnWatch: Amazing Grace opens this weekend! 2/23/07

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: DawnWatch – news [at] dawnwatch.com
Date: Feb 22, 2007 5:00 PM
Subject: DawnWatch: Amazing Grace opens this weekend! 2/23/07

As I have been overwhelmed with other projects, DawnWatch took an inordinately long President’s Day weekend. I will be playing a little catch-up today. The highlight of that weekend was an HSUS advance screening of Amazing Grace, directed by Michael Apted, which opens tomorrow, Friday February 23.

Amazing Grace is the story of William Wilberforce’s parliamentary battle to end the British slave trade. What I had not known before seeing the film, but was not surprised to find out, is that Wilberforce was also one of the founding members of the original Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The film opens with a scene in which Wilberforce intervenes as a horse is being beaten. There are many references to his passion for animals throughout the movie.

Even without the animal friendly theme, I would fervently recommend Amazing Grace to all activists. It shows what can be achieved against what appear to be insurmountable odds. It is inspiring. It is also beautifully acted and directed — a pleasure to watch.

DawnWatch generally encourages animal friendly media by asking people to respond to it favorably with emails to media outlets. The best possible way to show support for an animal friendly film is to go see it — not to wait for it on DVD. Box office sales the opening weekend are the most important, influencing the length of the movie’s run and its distribution to other theatres. Big sales on opening weekend also let the production company know that the public is eager for movies that matter.

So if you are thinking about a movie this weekend (even if you weren’t) — why not show support for messages about making the world a better place, by going to see Amazing Grace? And please forward this recommendation to anybody you know who cares.

Yours and the animals’,
Karen Dawn

(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at http://www.DawnWatch.com. You may forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts if you do so unedited — leave DawnWatch in the title and include this parenthesized tag line. If somebody forwards DawnWatch alerts to you, which you enjoy, please help the list grow by signing up. It is free.)

To discontinue DawnWatch alerts go to http://www.DawnWatch.com/nothanks.php

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HSUS: See the power of film to help animals

Monday, February 19th, 2007

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Humane Society of the United States – humanesociety [at] hsus.org
Date: Feb 16, 2007 6:07 PM
Subject: See the power of film to help animals

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The Humane Society of the United States
THE POWER OF FILM: Watch, Vote For, and Create Movie Magic for Animals
February 16, 2007
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Sometimes all it takes is a good story. And when that story is told through the language of film, its power can inspire viewers to change how they think and act. Today I want to share with you three ways you can celebrate the power of film to change animals’ lives.

See Compassion in Action in Amazing Grace

Next weekend, you won’t want to miss the true story of William Wilberforce (1759-1833), a political activist who was not only a leading abolitionist but one of the founding figures of the animal protection movement. The film captures Wilberforce’s determination to end the cruelty and suffering imposed on both humans and animals in his era, and it’s an inspiring story of how one person can make a difference. I loved Amazing Grace and hope you’ll see it on opening weekend, beginning February 23.

Watch our exclusive movie preview: https://community.hsus.org/ct/-1S7Mss1Rzm6/

Find a theater near you: https://community.hsus.org/ct/J1S7Mss1Rzm7/

Vote for Your Favorite Animal-Friendly Film

Academy Award-nominated Happy Feet (shown at left) is one of three animated family feature films nominated for our 21st annual Genesis Awards, which acknowledge positive portrayals of animal issues in film, television, and print. Which movie will win? Vote for your favorite film in this and each of three other
categories, and we’ll enter you in a drawing to win a free weekend trip to New York, courtesy of Southwest Airlines and W Hotels.

Vote now and enter to win. Click here: https://community.hsus.org/ct/-pS7Mss1RzmI/

Make Your Own Film for Animals

If you’re 16-25 and an aspiring filmmaker — or just someone who wants to do more than upload funny home videos to YouTube — then check out the Film Your Issue (FYI) competition. FYI invites young people to create short films that address issues that are important to them. The Humane Society of the United States is a featured partner, and we’ve even provided “B roll” you can use to create your own movie about our top campaigns.

Make your own movie. Click here: https://community.hsus.org/ct/-7S7Mss1RzmW/

Thanks for all you do for animals.

Sincerely,

Wayne Pacelle
President & CEO
The Humane Society of the United States

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Copyright (c) 2007
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
All Rights Reserved.

humanesociety [at] hsus.org | 202-452-1100 | http://www.hsus.org
The Humane Society of the United States
2100 L Street, NW
Washington, DC 20037

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"There’s something wrong with the sheep!"

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

Coming soon eventually to a theater near you (if you’re a New Zealander) – The Violence of the Lambs:

Pair this with Mad Cowgirl, and you’ve got yourself one sa-weet double feature at the drive-in.

Time for me to get the flock to bed.

(Via.)

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DawnWatch tip: Artivist Film Festival November 9-12, 2006

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: DawnWatch – news [at] dawnwatch.com
Date: Oct 25, 2006 8:37 PM
Subject: DawnWatch tip: Artivist Film Festival November 9-12, 2006

The following comes from the Artivist Film Festival organizers. It might be most relevant to Angelenos but I send it out to everyone as it an event with which all activists should be familiar, and because for some it might even be a good excuse for a trip to Los Angeles.

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“Merging Art & Activism For Global Consciousness”. Join us November 9-12, 2006 at the renowned Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Celebrity Activists Joaquin Phoenix, Daryl Hannah, Matthew McConaughey, and activist Films from around the globe will be honored at this year’s 3rd Annual Artivist Film Festival & The 2006 Artivist Awards. 65 International Films will be presented during the 4 day Festival. Filmmakers from around the world unite at the annual Artivist Film Festival to address the importance of art and activism in our global community.

“ARTIVIST” is the 1st international Film Festival dedicated to addressing Human Rights, Children’s Advocacy, Environmental Preservation, and Animal Rights. Its mission is to strengthen the voice of international activist artists – “Artivists” – while raising public awareness for social global causes.

During the past 3 years, the Annual Artivist Film Festival has screened 159 international activist Films from 34 countries, has reached millions of people with its public relations campaign, and has received renowned international support.

(More below the fold…)