March 28, 2008

Nanette Burstein is Clearly Influenced by John Hughes

Or the folks at Paramount Vantage are. Check out this poster for Burstein's Sundance award winning documentary American Teen coming out this summer. It is practically identical to the poster art from the Hughes classic The Breakfast Club.

Women at the Box Office This Weekend

Opening This Weekend

Directed by Kimberly Peirce. It's not about women, but it's a great sophmore effort from Peirce. Check out my review: Stop-Loss

Hats Off
Documentary profile 93 year young actress Mimi Wedell. Directed by Jyll Johnstone (NY)

Remember when Demi Moore was starring in big budget flicks way back in the 90s. She's become another one of those mid-life women who have just disappeared from film. We see her in the tabloids but not in the movies. She makes her return as a female jewelry executive in 1960s London who continues to get passed over for promotions. When a janitor played by Michael Caine proposes a plan to get even she takes him up on it. Good suspense coupled with righteous sexist indignation makes an enjoyable film.

Remaining in Theatres
La Misma Luna - expanding to 390 theatres
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day -please check out Nicole Hollander's (author of the comic Sylvia) take: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Girls Rock!
The Other Boleyn Girl
Mad Money

Opening next weekend
My Blueberry Nights- starring Norah Jones (yes, the singer)
Nim's Island- starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin
Flight Of the Red Balloon- starring Juliette Binoche
Jellyfish- co-directed by Shira Geffen (NY)

Review: Stop-Loss

It's a common conversation in Hollywood that women don't make genre movies, you know, the kind that actually make money where things blow up and people die. Kimberly Peirce, in her second film coming almost a decade after the brilliant Boys Don't Cry, goes where few women directors have gone before -- a war film. While Peirce herself says this is not a technically a war film, in my book, it falls into that category. The opening 20 minutes takes place in Iraq first with a sequence of these young soldiers first making an MTV like video of their lives at war, followed by one of the most difficult to watch battle scenes.

Then, they come home all changed and screwed up. Ryan Phillippe, who has a tendency to be only as good as his material and director, is great here as Sgt. Brandon King a good ol Texas boy who signed up for duty after 9/11. He's home and ready to get out and move on with his life. As he arrives to sign his discharge papers he is told that he has been "stop-lossed" and must prepare to ship back to Iraq. Brandon, always the perfect soldier, loses it, and goes AWOL trying to figure out a way not to have to go back.

What's great about this film is that it's not preachy. Hopefully, because it's produced by Paramount and is targeted at the youth market, the kids who have missed the other war films will finally get into the theatres and see for themselves the fruitless brutality of war.

Much of the pre-release press has focused on why it took Peirce so long to make her second film. If she were the only woman who took many years to make her second film it would be news, but it's not uncommon. (Tamara Jenkins took almost a decade too to make The Savages and she got nominated for a writing Oscar this year.) For Peirce the success of her first film raised the stakes on her second. Here's what she told the NY Times:

“I had given everything to that movie,” Ms. Peirce said. “I was exhausted, and I got offered millions of dollars, many different movies. But it’s like starting to run before you’re ready to run. You’re still the same.

“ ‘Boys’ set the bar very high artistically for me. I wanted to be that much in love with my next character. I wanted to feel it was taking over my whole life. I was lonely when I wasn’t able to work on a movie at that level again.”
By all accounts the actors adored working with Peirce, and Phillippe addressed the woman director issue head on in some comments to the Washington Post.
He found it strange, however, when he realized she was the first female director he'd ever worked with.

"That is shocking," Phillippe says, "because I've made about 30 films, and it's a strange commentary on this business. We need more female writers and more voices, and that's one thing I've been encouraging Kim about -- don't wait another nine years to make a film. People need to have that kind of inspiration she can provide."

On the other hand, he says, gender had very little relevance in regards to making the film. "She's tougher than a lot of the men I've worked with," he says. "Tougher than Eastwood or Altman."
So Kimberly Peirce has done several important things with this movie. She's made a great film about war that young people can relate to, and she's proven that women can direct tough material just like the guys. We always knew that was true. Why doesn't Hollywood?

(photo: WireImage)

News Briefs

  • La Misma Luna broke the record for a Spanish language film opening. The Patricia Riggen film scored $2.8m last weekend with a 10,414 per screen average (which was the highest per screen average for the weekend.)
  • Bonnie Hammer currently the head of USA and Sci Fi is taking over all cable production for NBC Universal.
  • Amy Madigan will join Grey's Anatomy for the remaining episodes this season which start airing at the end of April.
  • The late Wendy Wasserstein's children's book Pamela's First Musical has been turned into a musical and will get its first staging in May as a benefit for Equity Fights AIDS and the Theatre Development Fund's Open Doors program which Wasserstein founded. Musical will star Donna Murphy and will be staged by Graciela Daniele.
  • HallMark Channel seems to have woken up to the older female demographic. Upcoming movies include: Dear Prudence starring Jane Seymour an advice columnist and TV personality who becomes involved in a murder mystery while on vacation. (August) Ladies of the House starring Pam Grier, Florence Henderson and Donna Mills as three women who renovate a house as a church project and discover themselves along the way. (November) Thanksgiving Reunion starring Jacqueline Bisset based on a short story by Louisa May Alcott (November 2009) (Cynopsis)
  • Most cable stations use the summer to debut their new series when boradcast TV is on hiatus. This summer USA will premiere In Plain Sight starring Mary McCormack a U.S. Marshal helping people in the witness protection program relocate while juggling her own erratic family. (June 8, 10pm) The Starter Wife based on lat year's mini-series starring Debra Messing will begin its 10 episode run in October. (Cynopsis)

March 27, 2008

Who Are the Women Comedy Directors Influenced by John Hughes?

Two days ago I posted some comments about an LA Times piece that talked about the influence that John Hughes has had on today's comedies. Check out the original piece here for a recap: The Difference Between John Hughes and Judd Apatow

I emailed the writer, Patrick Goldstein with this response: Just wanted to comment on your John Hughes piece this morning. I think you missed the boat a bit by not talking about the influence that Hughes has on young female characters.

Surprisingly, Goldstein responded with this:

I think you make a good point. I actually quoted Stacey Sher, who produced Reality Bites, talking about Hughes' influence, but we had space issues at the last minute and the copydesk had to take her out of the story. But I confess that everyone I asked who came up with a list of filmmakers who were influenced by Hughes ended up giving me an all male list. Who would you cite among female filmmakers that you think was influenced by him in a big way?
So I put the question to you: Who are the female filmmakers who were influenced by John Hughes? Please don't say Amy Heckerling. She made Fast Times at Ridgemont High before Hughes made Sixteen Candles. They are contemporaries. The fact that everyone has cited Heckerling to me just goes to show that we need more women directors period.

Send me your thoughts.

Shootout with Charlize Theron and Patricia Clarkson

I've been critical of the insider Hollywood show Shootout with Peter Bart (editor of Variety) and Peter Guber (uber-producer) as being so boy-centric. I was catching up on some recent episodes and was happy to see Charlize Theron, Patricia Clarkson, Cheryl Hines and Joan Rivers interviewed.

I was also surprised to have the Peters take on the issue of how Hollywood neglects the older market. Bart believes (as I do) that this strategy is self-defeating since this is a growing demographic that has money. Guber responded that the studios know the audience is there but getting them into the theatres is another story. It requires more patience and older people don't necessarily come to sequels or buy merchandise.

Just goes to show how uncreative the marketing arms of the studio are and how overly obsessed they are with the first dollar instead of long term performance.

Here is some of what Charlize Theron and Patricia Clarkson had to say. Charlize Theron talked about being a producer as well as an actor. She co-stars and produces Sleepwalking currently in theatres.

I believe there is an audience for these [indie] films if you are smart about marketing. They need special care, they are not studio films.

I believe you can make a great film and it can get lost in the marketing campaign.

I asked Michael Seitzman who wrote the screenplay for North Country - why don't you write these kinds of stories more, why don't you write these kind of roles for women? And he said, Charlize, I would write every movie like this but there isn't a demand for it.
This makes me so sad. I believe that people would see the movies if they are good. Lots of the female-centric films released are very weak and watered down in order to appeal to a wider audience.
It's reflective of who we've become as a society. We've become completely fluff obsessed.
Patricia Clarkson's mom Jackie is a Councilwoman in New Orleans so she knows a thing about women in politics. She came on to promote her film Married Life but wound up making comments about women in politics.
Peter Bart: Do you think there is residual resentment of strong women in politics?

PC: Yes. It is difficult. There is this underlying misogyny that exists. It's American and it's difficult for women to rise to power.


The people who are most difficult on women are women.
Amen, Patricia.

(Photo credit: Wireimage)

Laura Linney Talks...

Haven't you noticed that Laura Linney is always good in everything? I really can't think of any missteps in any of her performances. Can you?

She's costarring in the awesome HBO miniseries John Adams and she took some time out from rehearsing Les Liaisons Dangereuses at the Roundabout Theatre in NY to answer some questions about herself and her experience playing Abigail Adams. Linney is heavily featured in episode four of John Adams "Reunion" which airs this Sunday on HBO.

Here is part of the conversation:

Women & Hollywood: Do you think Abigail Adams was a feminist?

Laura Linney: She was certainly progressive in her thinking, but you also have to realize where she was. Within her context, she was progressive, but at the same time, she still very much believed that a woman’s place was at home. It’s sort of tricky when talking about her as a feminist, she was more like a humanist, I think. But she was very, insightful and very aware of – in her personal politics as well as governmental politics.

Her entire life she regretted that she wasn’t able to have an education. And the fact that she was a far superior writer to her husband, which he admitted...So she always, I think she realized that there was injustice there.
W&H: I was particularly interested in seeing Sarah Polley join the cast last evening (the episode that will air this coming Sunday). She's a very talented young actress and director. I’m wondering if you had any conversations with her.
LL: Yes. She’s an amazing, amazing person. Away from Her, was just hitting when she was there. It was so sweet because I don’t think she was quite aware of what was happening. I mean, she knew that her movie had done well, but I don’t think she had realized the impact that it had particularly within the U.S.
W&H: Both of your trajectories are not typical in Hollywood so I found it just so interesting that she would be cast as your daughter.
LL: Sarah is having a remarkable life. And as the years go by, it’s will be really interesting to see what she chooses to do next. She has a lot to give. There’s a lot for her to do. I think she’s going to have the opportunity to do it.
W&H: Please talk about the way women are treated especially as they age in Hollywood.
LL: It’s a complex topic. And a lot of it is just what you will participate in. I can only speak for myself. I don’t know what anybody else should do. But you just have to surround yourself with the right people and keep yourself concentrated on the things that you think are important and do the best you can.

I don’t know how, you know, completely tackle this because I don’t spend all of my time there. I do work in the theater, and I work in television, I’m not completely 100 percent focused on just film. So I’m certainly aware that it’s there. I’m very lucky and grateful that I’ve somehow been able to keep working. But I think you have to be you and not let people tell you what to think about yourself, quite frankly.

March 26, 2008

Guest Post: Nicole Hollander

The amazing Nicole Hollander creator and author of the comic strip Sylvia gives us her personal take of the new film Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Check out her site: Sylvia

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day: on my list of movies to see if you’re past your 47th birthday.

I’m wiping the tears off my face and Gail says to me: “Thank god, I thought that piece of crap was never going to end.”

“Well,” I say, striving for balance. “ I can’t defend it, but I enjoyed it. In fact I loved it. It isn’t often you get to see a movie where a very plain woman, full of gumption and good sense, hungry and jobless, forced to stand at a soup kitchen for a bowl of Dickensonian-looking porridge magically lands a job as secretary to a dippy pretty young thing with a complicated love life and a dazzling social circle, all within hours.

Whereupon this same woman changes the life of everyone she meets and ends up with a man her own age (Ciaran Hinds, fabulous Irish actor, last seen in There Will be Blood) who is a great success as a designer of woman’s lingerie, but finds it unrewarding and decides to go back into men’s socks because really their structure is more complicated than you think and who tells her quite matter of factly (it’s the same performance he gave in There Will be Blood ) that he’s been looking for her all his life.

Really, what’s not to like?” I ask her. “How many movies have you seen lately when a 40 plus woman ends up with a successful, handsome man, with no obvious health problems, who’s like her same age?”

She says: “It was a great big boring mishmash of every 40’s musical comedy I’ve ever seen and it didn’t even have any good dancing in it.” I retire from the argument… she goes to the ladies room and meets a young woman who loved it and now she’s rethinking the whole thing.

March 25, 2008

The Difference Between John Hughes and Judd Apatow

I am still on my anti-Judd Apatow rant. I still can't quite believe how a schlub from Long Island became one of the most powerful men in Hollywood (I guess I shouldn't be surprised since its been done before...Jerry Seinfeld.) Today's LA Times has a story about the influence on John Hughes on today's comedies. Just in case you were wondering, Hughes has virtually disappeared from Hollywood since the early 1990s and has written a couple of movies (Maid in Manhattan) under a pseudonym.

Of course the LA Times writer, Patrick Goldstein, talks only to male filmmakers especially Judd Apatow about how Hughes brilliantly wrote about the outsider boys in our culture completely ignoring his influence regarding young female characters.

"You see Hughes' influence on all TV comedy, especially the stylized single-camera comedy," says Apatow. "His great film characters, starting with Anthony Michael Hall in 'Sixteen Candles,' were big inspirations. When we were growing up, we were all like Hall -- the goofy skinny kid who thinks he's cool, even if nobody else does. 'Superbad' has that same attitude, that mix of total cockiness and insecurity."
In case you have never seen Sixteen Candles, I just want to state for the record that Sixteen Candles was about Molly Ringwald's character Samantha and her struggle with being noticed and counted in our crazy world as she is on the brink of becoming a young woman.

In the mid 1980s, John Hughes did something that is lacking from today's comedies -- he made movies that spoke to both boys and girls. The list is mind boggling:
Sixteen Candles - 1984
The Breakfast Club - 1985
Pretty in Pink - 1986
Ferris Bueller's Day Off -1986
Some Kind of Wonderful- 1987

Hughes characters shaped the values Gen X's both boys and girls. He wrote young women characters with respect in a way not seen in mainstream Hollywood comedies today.

Molly Ringwald with all her angst and despair was my teenage hero. I even got a ghastly red dye job. Hughes influence can be seen in recent characters like those in in Mean Girls, and The Princess Diaries. Thank you John Hughes, I think the young men making movies today could use your advice.

March 24, 2008

Sarah Jessica Parker: Hollywood Feminist

Way back in October Maxim, the misogynist magazine that masks as a "lad" magazine called Sarah Jessica Parker the "unsexiest woman alive" How disgusting. Words do matter because all these months later it still bothers her and her husband. Might I suggest that the female actresses who pose for the cover oft his magazine make a decision not to. Maybe if women said no to this type of language and misogynist behavior they might shut up.

PS- We love you SJP and can't wait for Sex & the City!

Sarah Jessica Parker Hurt by Unsexiest Label ( via Charlotte Observer)

27 Rue de Fleures- a New Musical

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas have always been fascinating figures I know very little about. I barely had any sense of what they looked like except from the cover of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (which I shamefully admit to have never gotten through), but I have been fascinated nonetheless to learn and read about them - their lesbian marriage, how Alice was Gertrude's wife, how they hosted the most interesting salons in their Paris apartment, and also how the Jewish Stein was able to evade the Nazis while living in the French countryside. Everything was written about them like they were one. Yet always it seemed like Gertrude was dominant.

A new musical at Urban Stages in New York City takes a look at the most famous "Boston marriage" from the perspective of wife, Alice B. Toklas. It explores their days in Paris and the salons where they hosted Picasso and others of the artistic intelligentsia.

The all female cast is led by Cheryl Stern as Alice and the indomitable Barbara Rosenblat as Gertrude. Book and lyrics are by Ted Sod, music is by Lisa Koch and the show is directed by the Urban Stages artistic director, Frances Hill.

While making a musical on a small scale is quite a challenge there were some touching and funny moments especially from the supporting cast playing a revolving band of characters in Gertrude and Alice's lives.

I'm still just a s fascinated as I was before -- maybe now when I next pick up the The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, I'll be able to get through it.

Play runs through April 6. Get more info and tickets: Urban Stages
Read Janet Malcom's New Yorker piece on Gertrude and Alice: Strangers in Paradise

Marketing Judd Apatow's New Movie

I've been noticing lots of stealth ads around New York City for the new Judd Apatow produced anti-romantic comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It's about another schlub who gets dumped by his overachieving girlfriend and winds up at the same hotel in Hawaii with her and her new musician boyfriend. You can't really tell they are for a movie, but they are really offensive and have started to piss me off.

The one that set me over the edge was: "Yes you do look fat in those jeans- Sarah Marshall" "You Suck Sarah Marshall" and then today I saw one that said: "My Mother Always Hated You."

Way to ratchet up the misogyny, Judd. I'm definitely boycotting this film. Anyone want to join with me?