December 7, 2007

December 7, 2007

This Weekend in Theatres

Busy weekend at the box office. I encourage everyone to get themselves to the theatres this weekend to see at least one of the several female-centric films. Some of them are quite good and enjoyable.

Options include:
The Golden Compass (which I have not yet seen)- this film really needs our support. Here's why. It is a potential franchise film starring a girl which happens rarely, and if it tanks the person who will most probably get the blame is Nicole Kidman and I am sick and tired of her getting shitted on for her films not living up to bullshit box office expectations. The religious freaks are also out for the film because the book preaches atheism so they are trying to organize a boycott. The film opens on over 3500 theaters so everyone should be able to see it.

Other new films that should be on your list:
Juno- 8 theatres
Atonement- 32 theatres
Grace is Gone

Still playing
The Savages
Margot at the Wedding
August Rush

Grace is Gone - review
Another film that I saw an enjoyed was the new John Cusack starrer, Iraq film, Grace is Gone. In this film John Cusack has finally grown up. He plays Stanley Phillips, husband of Grace, a soldier deployed in Iraq left at home to raise his two daughters aged 8 and 12. Cusack at first acts like he is in the army himself with short commands to his kids and rousing troop-like cheers to inspire his staff at work. In fact he still wants to be in the army, and would have been, had he not been kicked out for his terrible eyesight.

One morning the doorbell rings and his family is changed forever. His army-like facade of life crumbles instantly. He is truly lost and is unable to fathom a life without his wife, especially because he feels at a loss at being able to raise, let alone communicate with, his two daughters.

In order to delay telling anyone, and to give his girls one more chance to be kids, he puts them in the car and asks them where they wants to go. They wind up at a Disney like theme park several days drive away. Shelan O'Keefe, a local Chicago girl, makes her feature debut as Heidi the 12-year-old on the cusp of growing up yet still very girl-like. She is the family caregiver and worrier, who has been having trouble sleeping due to the anxiety she feels when her mom is away. The younger daughter Dawn, played by another Chicago girl Gracie Bednarcyzk, is more care-free than her older sister. Yet she deeply misses her mom and each day at the same time her watch alarm beeps and she pauses from whatever she is doing to take a moment to connect with her mom a world away.

Most of the images of war that we see are pictures of men deployed, and men coming home to their families. This film shows the other side of the coin, how men and their families deal with women in combat. Film was written and directed by James C. Strouse. I thought it was quite moving.

Atonement- review
I love a good British period piece and Atonement is a good British period piece that has been getting quite a lot of Oscar buzz. It's probably going to get one of the five best picture nominations. Everyone seems to be talking about the romance between rich girl Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and Robbie (James McAvoy), son of the housekeeper who works for Cecilia's family.

But the story of Atonement is not the story of the lovers, it is the story of Briony, Cecilia's highly imaginative and talented younger sister, who on one very hot evening spins a tale that devastates all three of them forever and causes Briony to seek atonement throughout the rest of her life.

Because Keira is a huge star and James is being groomed to be huge, of course, they are going to be put forward in all the ads for the film. But persoanlly, I think that Keira is overrated, her acting is at times stiff, and through the whole movie I couldn't get the images of another couple of lovers Kristen Scott Thomas and Ralph Fiennes from the English Patient out of my mind. Forbidden love needs to be hot and Keira just doesn't seem to have the heft (probably because she weighs as much as a bird) for it which could be due to the fact that she is still only 21.

The film is based on the Ian McEwan novel with a screenplay by Christopher Hampton and is directed by Joe Wright who also worked with Knightley on Pride & Prejudice and the new Chanel commercials.

Another films I saw that opens this week is The Walker, Paul Schrader's third film in his "lonely man" trilogy which began with American Gigolo and continued with Light Sleeper. The description "lonely man" trilogy totally pisses me off, can you imagine a woman director talking about her trilogy of "lonely woman" films? Firstly, no one would ever let a woman make one lonely woman films let alone three, so Schrader should really get over himself.

The film stars Woody Harrelson as a "walker" of rich powerful women in contemporary Washington DC. I went to see the film because of his co-stars which include Lauren Bacall, Lily Tomlin and the seldom seen lately Kristin Scott Thomas. The story turned out to be a lot more interesting than I expected and Harrelson is quite good as the gay society man who knows and protects everyone's secrets but who gets thrown to the wolves when the going gets tough.

Women in Film and TV UK gave out their annual awards this week to J.K. Rowling and producer Alison Owen (Brick Lane)
WIFTV Honors Rowling, Owen (Variety)

Slamdance, the hipper version of Sundance, which runs concurrently to it announced its selections.

Film by and about women in the fest include:
Narrative Feature Competition
"Jetsam," North American Premiere (UK) Written/Directed by Simon Welsford
Starring Shauna Macdonald and Alex Reid
An amnesiac woman is washed up on a beach and attacked by a man who washed up next to her. On the run from this stranger, she pieces her life back together, uncovering a world of spies, obsession and betrayal.

"Portage," US Premiere (CANADA) Written/Directed by Matthew Miller, Ezra Krybus, Sascha Drews
In this sensual, intense drama, a quartet of teenage girls embark on a canoe trip with a male guide. After his accidental death, they find themselves trapped in the wilderness and have to fend for themselves to find their way back to safety.

"Under the Snow," North American Premiere (SPAIN) Written/Directed by Candela Figueira and Maitena Muruzabal
Following the unusual connection made between four workers at different stages of their lives, capturing factory life in a way rarely seen: personal, flirtatious, introspective.

Documentary Feature Competition
"Circus Rosaire," (USA) Written/Directed by Robyn Bliley
For nine generations the Rosaire family has entertained audiences all over the world with their legendary animal acts. However, the circus industry is changing and attendance has dramatically declined. The Rosaire's livelihood and future are at risk as they struggle to continue the family tradition.

"My Mother's Garden," World Premiere (USA) Written/Directed by Cynthia Lester
The story of one woman's extreme attachment to material objects and how her estranged children reunite to help her let go.

"Neo-Lounge," (CHINA) Written/Directed by Joanna Vasquez
Arong An Italian aristocrat, a Bulgarian jazz singer, a Colombian coroner, a French hair salon entrepreneur, all together for a short moment in time at Beijing 's hippest nightspot Neo-Lounge.

"Sync or Swim," World Premiere (USA) Written/Directed by Cheryl Furjanic
A splashy look at a marginal sport: U.S.A. 's top synchronized swimmers endure rigorous training and overcome unthinkable obstacles to compete for Olympic glory.

"View From the Bridge: Stories from Kosovo," World Premiere (USA/KOSOVO) Written/Directed by John Ealer and Laura Bialis Peace
Told through the first person stories of Serbs, Albanians and Roma (Gypsies), this documentary juxtaposes the nightmares and dreams of Kosovars as it portrays a society trying to build a future while inextricably bound to the past.

Narrative Special Screening Features
"Goodbye Baby", World Premiere (USA) Written/Directed by Daniel Schechter
When Melissa Brooks discovers she can't afford college she moves to New York City and gets a job as a waitress at a comedy club. Living with her eccentric older brother, she enters a love triangle while trying to muster the nerve to get on stage and perform.

Documentary Special Screening Features
"Frontrunner," World Premiere (USA) Written/Directed by Virginia Williams
A woman's heroic, relentless run for the Presidency of Afghanistan.

Interview with Jennifer Vendetti whose film Billy the Kid opens today at the IFC in NY.

Halle Berry will receive a film achievement award at the Desert Palm Film Festival in January.

There is another film professional in the Fiennes family, director Martha who has a new film, Chromophobia coming out in England.
The Price of Being a Fiennes (The Telegraph)

December 6, 2007

December 6, 2007

Interview with Tamara Jenkins writer and director of The Savages

Women & Hollywood: What made you write this film?

Tamara Jenkins: Little impulses go into writing. People think there is a light bulb moment. When it comes to writing it is a slow accumulation of obsessions or repetetive thoughts and things that haunt you. I had my own personal experience with two family members with dementia who lived their last days in a nursing home. I also had a simultaneous desire and interest to write about grown up siblings and they merged into this screenplay.

W&H: Did you always intend to direct the screenplay?

TJ: Yes

W&H: What do you want people to walk out of the theatre thinking?

TJ: To feel a sense of connection with the subject matter. Once the film started screening I realized it was a subject lots of people are dealing with but also don't talk about -- it's sort of on the margins of discourse because its so uncomfortable almost taboo. An interesting by product has been that people have started sharing their experiences and that's been amazing. One of the things that is nice when you make a movie is that there is a sense of community, a sense of connection, that you are not alone out there.

W&H: Why did it take you 8 years between films? (her first film was the cult hit- The Slums of Beverly Hills)

TJ: It was a combination of things. My first film was the first time I had ever dealt with the world of commerce. Before that I was in film school and before that I did theatre. I was making art in an isolated way and entering the world of commerce was very strange for me. There was a huge learning curve in terms of holding onto your own intentions and getting enormous input, comments and pressure and negotiating that minefield is complicated and tricky. I personally don't think I am cut out for all this. It's not a natural fit. (Impressive that a director would actually admit this.) I'm older now and I've learned how to deal with it but its still not easy for me.

I made my movie and afterwards got sucked up into other projects that never transpired one of which was a film based on the life of Diane Arbus. I worked with a producer who ended up making a totally different movie with a totally different director on the subject matter. He owned the rights and I was invited to work on it and devoted many years to it. I call that period the Bermuda triangle period. But, in a kind of weird way it prepared me for this. The disappointment was very profound and made me very fierce. When I found my way to this story I was very protective in a way that was inspired by professional disappointment.

W&H: Do you and your fellow female directors ever talk about it being harder for women directors?

TJ: All the women I know bristle that every time we go to a film festival and if you wear a bra you are subjected to a women in film panel. They don't want to be a part of a ghetto or special Olympics. There is no denying if you look at the numbers it's pretty grim. What are we going to say? Yup it sucks- it's still depressing. I wonder if there is a weird post-feminist self loathing that occurs in regards to feminism & film making?

W&H: What advice would you offer a young woman who wants to be a director?

TJ: In a weird way I would tell her to learn how to write because I really think there is power there. Materials and scripts are gold and there is not a lot out there. If you can find your voice as a writer with the intention of making your own thing I think that's important and could create an environment where you could find yourself directing. I feel that writing has saved my life many times in all different ways. I think that personal storytelling is really interesting and hopefully you are interested in being a filmmaker not because they want to straddle a dolly and act macho but because you have something to say.

The Savages is currently in limited release. Here is W&H review:
The Savages

The National Board of Review handed out its awards yesterday. Female winner include: Best Actress, Julie Christie for Away from Her; Best Supporting Actress, Amy Ryan for Gone Baby Gone; best original screenplay, a tie between Diablo Cody for Juno and Nancy Oliver for Lars and the Real Girl and Ellen Page won the breakthrough actress award. Body of War co-directed by Ellen Spiro won best documentary. Award ceremony will be in January.

Diablo Cody: From Stripper to Screenwriter (LA Times)

December 5, 2007

December 5, 2007

Women in Entertainment - Hollywood Reporter/Lifetime Power Breakfast

The Hollywood Reporter publishes an annual issue about the status of women in the entertainment business to coincide with its annual power breakfast. While its great that women are celebrated and acknowledged once a year, what pisses me off is that there is no sense of history.

A USA Today story reports that women at the event were commenting on the lack of potential female Oscar nominees this year.

Last year, I felt there were so many phenomenal women's roles, like Helen Mirren (The Queen) and Penelope Cruz (Volver). That category was just overflowing," offered Grey's Anatomy's Elizabeth Reaser, a Spirit Award nominee for her role in Sweet Land. "I don't know about this year so much. Nothing's coming to mind, and that's just sad.
Strong roles for women in film is cyclical with an up year followed by a couple of down years. Last year was stronger than usual but even in a stronger than usual year, if you follow the prognosticators closely they had the same women on the list precisely because the list is always so short. This year potential nominees include: Julie Christie, Marion Cotillard, Helena Bnham Carter, Laura Linney, Ellen Page, Keira Knightley, Angeline Jolie, and Amy Adams.

There's no denying that this is a down year and it seems to be getting worse. So again I put forward the question- why is it so hard to make movies with female leads?

Here are a couple of my theories:

1- Women do not go to the theatres on opening night in big numbers, and since box office is the only thing that matters, why should a studios make movies that star, or are geared to women if they don't buy tickets on the opening weekend.

2- Movies with women leads are not easily transferable overseas. Films that do best overseas star men, are action films and have little dialogue. Also, Muslim countries won't see movies with women and those markets are growing.

For more theories, you'll have to wait for the book I am writing. (If you are interested in talking to me for my book drop me an email)

In case you're fuzzy last year the nominees were: Penelope Cruz; Judi Dench; Helen Mirren (winner); Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet. The year before the nominees included: Judi Dench, Charlize Theron, Felicity Huffman, Keira Knightley and the winner was Reese Witherspoon.

The USA Today story tries to wrap a nice bow on the piece:
Future female roles may prove more promising. Tilda Swinton revealed that she and the just-attached Jude Law will be taking on a retelling of the Macbeth saga (Come Like Shadows), most likely to be shot this spring in Iceland. And (Jodie) Foster is looking forward to the 2008 release of Nim's Island, a family adventure.
WTF?? Neither one of those interests me and neither one gives me any confidence that future films roles may prove more promising. Really stupid observation.

At the breakfast Sherry Lansing presented Jodie Foster with the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award. They both recalled the days when hardly any women worked in the business. Foster was as self-deprecating as usual denying her power (I'm starting to get tired of it- embrace it - you are the shit!)
For her part, Foster was modest about receiving the leadership award. "I'm not sure why I'm here today," she said. "I'm not powerful. I'm fragile, unsure, and I struggle to get there -- wherever there is. I've been in this business for 42 years; there's no way to do that and not be as nutty as a fruitcake," Foster quipped.
Queen Latifah and John Travolta (who played a woman this year) gave keynote addresses and the event's co-sponsor Lifetime put out a call to the women in the room to work more at the network.

Susanne Daniels, Lifetime's president of entertainment had a good quote:
Seeing how far we've come reminds us that we've got a way to go," she said, noting that there's "a celluloid ceiling," (thank you Martha Lauzen) not a glass ceiling. "The description is apt because it's not easy to see a dent.
Power Breakfast (Hollywood Reporter)

Building on the discussion above there is another interesting piece in the Hollywood Reporter package which takes a look at the lack of strong women in film and the growing strong women on TV.
Why women should be relegated to minor or cliched roles is puzzling, given that women are reaching new levels within society at large. As Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Amy Pascal points out, "We could soon have a woman president. And wouldn't that be awesome?"
OK, Amy you are one of the only women who can actually make a difference. Step Up! Will Hillary Clinton in the White House help women in film? Hardly, her husband's presidency coincides with the rise of the "chick flick."

Nikki Rocco, president of distribution at Universal is at least honest:
Like it or not, she says, it is the males who go out to the movies on a Friday night, when all too often young females stay in with their friends -- as Rocco says she did when she was younger. Because of that, she says, "we are targeting mostly males and hoping females come along. But the films that open the biggest are, without a doubt, films that are driven by the male audience.
Here is one of the most important points which people are in denial of:
With women in retreat onscreen, it was perhaps inevitable there would be a parallel retreat behind the scenes. And that has been remarkable in an industry where, until just a couple of years ago, one could safely say women were on the rise and indeed appeared poised to share studio leadership on an equal basis with men.
Women are disappearing in front of and behind the scenes.
If this were true throughout Hollywood, one might believe there has been a "backlash" against women in Hollywood, to use the title of an earlier Faludi book. But what complicates this argument is that the very opposite seems to be true in television. If strong women are disappearing from movie screens and are in retreat within the studios, they are doing better than ever in television.
I do believe there is a backlash in film. TV is much more forward thinking than films. They have to deal with advertisers who know that women are customers and viewers. (which film people can't deal with).

Read the full piece. It's one of the best written this year.
Power Shift

Tube Tonight

The American Cinematheque Tribute to Julia Roberts airs. Seems to me she's a bit young for a tribute of this kind. (8pm, AMC)

December 4, 2007

December 4, 2007

Power 100 List
Today out in Hollywood, The Hollywood Reporter in partnership with Lifetime, hosts its annual breakfast honoring women working in Hollywood. It's the one day of the year where Hollywood stops and recognizes the under appreciated, and underemployed women. I'm sure all the speeches will talk about how great everything is for women and how far women have come in the business - but we all know the real story- it sucks to be a woman in Hollywood, especially on the movie side of the equation.

The breakfast coincides with the release of the Power 100 list.
Here are the top 10:
1. Anne Sweeney, co-chairman, Disney Media Networks; president, Disney-ABC Television Group
2. Amy Pascal, chairman, Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group; co-chairman, Sony Pictures Entertainment
3. Nancy Tellem, president, CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group
4. Stacey Snider, co-chairman and CEO, DreamWorks SKG
5. Judy McGrath, chairman and CEO, MTV Networks
6. Oprah Winfrey, chairman, Harpo Inc.
7. Dana Walden, chairman, 20th Century Fox Television
8. Nina Tassler, president, CBS Entertainment
9. Bonnie Hammer, president, USA Network and Sci Fi Channel
10. Shari Redstone, president, National Amusements; vice chairman, CBS Corp., Viacom and Midway Games

Read the rest of the list: Power 100 List

Katherine Heigl- Movie Star Feminist
Heigl best known as Dr. Izzie Stevens on the ABC hit Grey's Anatomy jumped to the top tier of female film actresses with her role in this past summer's smash hit, Knocked Up. As the cover girl of the January issue of Vanity Fair, she reveals that she thought that Knocked Up was

"a little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I’m playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you’re portraying women? Ninety-eight percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie.”
Her pricetag has gone up from $300,000 for Knocked Up (Judd Apatow- don't you think you should give her a bonus or buy her a house or something since you have made millions off the film?)

Can't wait to read the full piece. The writer of the piece is feminist author Leslie Bennetts.

Early Hollywood Films Tackle Social Issues
The Museum of Modern Art in NY this week is featuring early Hollywood films that focused on social issues. This was the time in Hollywood when women writers and directors were plentiful. Several of the films feature screenplays by Jeane Macpherson who worked regularly with Cecil B. DeMille. Other women featured at MOMA include: Julia Crawford Ivers; Elizabeth Pickett; Helen Holmes.

Have you ever heard of any of these women? Probably not. We need to take back our history.

A four DVD boxset with even more films including a 1916 one by Lois Weber entitled Where Are My Children which was about abortion is now available.

Info on the MOMA screenings: Social Issues in American Film 1900-1934
Buy the box set: Social Issues in American Film 1900-1934
Listen to the Steven Higgins, curator of the film series at MOMA, on the Leonard Lopate Show:
Steven Higgins

Sucks to be bought by a multi-national corporation. 65 of Oxygen's employees are losing their jobs in the transition which is 25% of the employees.

DVDs Out This Week
I never heard of this film but it looks quite interesting.
Antonia- Wide-eyed with the collective dream of turning their all-girl rap group into a viable enterprise, four Sao Paulo friends (Negra Li, Cindy Mendes, Leilah Moreno and Jacqueline Simão) embark on an all-or-nothing quest to succeed in a cutthroat industry. Along the way, they sacrifice everything -- including their close friendship -- to overcome preconceived notions about their abilities, as well as the poverty, violence and sexism surrounding them. (Netflix)

Battlestar Galactica: Razor- if you missed it on Sci-Fi over the Thanksgiving weekend, you can now get it on DVD with added scenes and commentaries.

December 3, 2007

December 3, 2007

Juno- one of my favorite movies of the year
I have not been to a movie recently that immediately when it ended I wanted to see again because I missed too many lines laughing. I was pretty desperate to like this film and I am usually diappointed, but not this time. Make no mistake - this film is one of the best and freshest movies I've seen this year.

The film is about Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) who finds herself pregnant after an afterschool experiment with fellow outcast Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). In a star making performance Ellen Page, best known for a role in X-Men 3, shines as the quirky, smart girl who is caught up in every 16 year old girl's potential nightmare.

I really can't do justice by quoting any of the one-liners here but what makes this film so different is first, that it's about a girl, and second that it doesn't judge her for being pregnant. Yeah, it sucks and she knows it, but the film doesn't send her off to the school for pregnant girls or have her parents go crazy, it has them all deal with the issue. When she tells her father and step mom about the pregnancy her father says "I didn't think your were the kind of girl who would get pregnant" and she responds, "Dad, I don't know what kind of girl I am." Awesome.

Unlike in Knocked Up, the other pregnancy movie which is basically from the sperm's perspective, Juno does actually deal with abortion. As Juno looks at the ads in the phone book she calls the Women Now clinic "to procure a hasty abortion" because they "help women now."

She does back out out of the abortion and she and her best friend Leah decide to find a couple to adopt the baby from ads in the Pennysaver. They sit on a bench drinking huge blue slurpees looking at the pictures in the Pennysaver of couple looking for a baby.

I also loved how her stepmom, played by Allison Janney, goes with her to her sonogram and when the technician judges Juno, Janney just shuts her down and stands up for Juno.

I can't wait to see it again.

Here are a couple of stories about the film. The first on Ellen Page and the second on Diablo Cody. How refreshing to read film stories that feature female players.
Grounded in Indie Angst, Ellen Takes a Mainstream Comic Leap in Juno (LA Times)

The freshness and frankness of Diablo Cody continues to stun me. As a newcomer in Hollywood she quickly realized that women are treated like crap, and she is unafraid to point that out. I think that Juno is totally original she has become a flavor of the month because she is such an anomoly as a female screenwriter, but also for the fact that she used to be a stripper which every single article mentions.

Some quotes from the NY Times profile:

As with her history as a do-me feminist, she makes no apologies for what she said. “I actually think everything is prostitution. We’re kind of constantly bartering with our dignity in life,” she wrote in an e-mail message after the lunch, adding that she always thought it was hilarious when strippers would draw the line at certain activities. “Same goes for people’s ideas, talents, emotions, etc. There’s a price on everything.”
She said she would like to direct at some point, partly because she loathes the way women are portrayed in most contemporary films.
“The attitude toward women in this industry is nauseating,” she said. “There are all sorts of porcine executives who are uncomfortable with a woman doing anything subversive. They want the movie about the beautiful girl who trip and falls, the adorable klutz.”
Off the Stripper Pole and Into the Movies (NY Times)

Visibility Matters
The women over at After Ellen have taken a page out of the Speechless campaign and created their own set of videos reminding the writers and Hollywood in general how few queer women there are on TV.
Visibility Matters

European Film Awards
The 20th annual European Film Awards were handed out this weekend. The abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days won for best picture and Helen Mirren won for The Queen (hasn't she gotten enough awards already for this?)

Other awards given out this weekend International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam include: Tamar Varom's To See If I'm Smiling, about women in the Israeli army, which won both the Silver Wolf competition and the festival's audience award; and Elizabeth Rocha Salgado Senses, Doors of the Soul won the won the Stimuleringsfonds Documentary Award 2007 for her film about obsessions. (Indiewire)

Lifetime Film Winners
Liliana Greenfield-Sanders of New York and Jessica Marie Sutherland of Berea,Ohio, have been named the inaugural winners of the Lifetime Movie Network Student Filmmaker Competition. The pair will be honored Tuesday in Los Angeles at the 2007 Women in Entertainment Power 100 Breakfast,hosted by Lifetime Networks and The Hollywood Reporter. Greenfield-Sanders’ first-place film,“Anna,”will premiere Dec. 11 on Lifetime Movie Network and also will be webcast on (Hollywood Reporter)

Eva Green plays the witch queen in The Golden Compass opening Friday.
All About Eva (The Guardian)

Olivia Williams had a Hollywood moment a decade ago- remember her in Rushmore? She's much happier on the stage in London.
No Regrets

Oscar winner Jessica Yu has a new film out - The Protagonist.
Jessica Yu's Protagonist Examines Extreme Obsession

Tube Tonight
The Closer offers a two hour episode where Brenda goes to Atlanta for the holidays. Anytime Kyra Sedgwick is on I am psyched. (8pm, TNT)

Saving Grace is back with four new episodes. (10pm, TNT)