October 24, 2008

Women at the Box Office This Weekend

Check out my reviews of I've Loved You So Long starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Changeling starring Angelina Jolie.

Films Remaining in Theatres
The Secret Life of Bees
Happy-Go-Lucky (I left this accidentally off my weekly email)
Rachel Getting Married
Nights at Rodanthe
The Duchess
The Women
Trouble the Water
Mamma Mia!
The Longshots

The Renaissance of Kristin Scott Thomas: I've Loved You So Long

Kristin Scott Thomas was on the cusp of Hollywood leading ladydom a little over a decade ago after her smoldering Oscar nominated performance in The English Patient. Her two subsequent mainstream American films where she was teamed with Hollywood's leading men -- Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer and Harrison Ford in Random Hearts -- were both flops artistically and commercially, so she returned to her family in her adopted France and has been working on smaller mostly European films and theatre.

But she's back on the Oscar radar with her exquisite performance in I've Loved You So Long the new film written and directed by French novelist Phillipe Claudel which opens today. She's also plays a pivotal role in the word of mouth movie of the summer the French thriller Tell No One by Guillaume Canet based on the novel by Harlan Coben. It's a wonderful thriller with great twists and turns. And she made her Broadway debut this fall as Arkadina is the spectacularly reviewed The Seagull opposite Peter Sarsgaard and I'm sure is already shortlisted for a Tony next spring. I personally felt that Sarsgaard was miscast and that the two of them had very little chemistry, but I am in the minority with this opinion.

Her new film I've Loved you So Long tells the story of a woman just released from 15 years in prison for killing her son. This is tough stuff and not a movie for the faint hearted. But it is a good movie, so good because the story of her life is seen on her face not through the words, and Scott Thomas bares herself in a way that you can't help but sympathize with her. Her performance (even though it is a foreign film) is so good that it has propelled her to the top tier of contenders for the best actress nomination.

We first see her sitting in an airport looking drab and sallow with not a stitch of makeup on. The stillness of her face sucks you in. Her much younger sister (Elsa Zylberstein) willingly takes her in after her release desperate to get to know her sister and to find out why she would kill her own child. The film is about these two women getting to know each other again, and about Juliette's (Scott Thomas) reintegration into society. As Juliette thaws after her long incarceration, color is restored to her face and to the film's palette.

The circumstances surrounding the death of her son are complicated and not totally plausible when the truth is revealed (which I don't want to give away.) But the death of her child doomed Juliette to prison no matter if she was locked up or free to roam. You see that sadness and emptiness on every frame of the film.

Here's the preview:

Review- Changeling

Here's the problem with Changeling the new Clint Eastwood film starring Angelina Jolie, actually it's one of the problems, but it's the biggest, the brightest and the reddest -- Angelina Jolie's lips. Every single person I've talked to who has seen the film -- especially the women -- the first thing out of their mouth is what a distraction her lips are. One actually said, "am I making too much of this" which I have been thinking to myself over the last couple of days. As a feminist, I really try to see beyond the looks and lips but this film made it virtually impossible because they were so big onscreen and were a total distraction. I think this has become a real problem for Angelina Jolie the actress because she seem to be getting in the way of herself.

The lips are a reflection of the tone of the film which is a male interpretation of a woman, and Jolie is the perfect person to embody that reflection. She's gorgeous and sexy, yet is always seen through the reflection of her family. This could have been a feminist story -- a woman fights back after being thrown in the nut house because she refuses to tow the party line -- but sadly the whole movie rings hollow.

Jolie plays a single mom whose son gets kidnapped. (The film is based on a true story.) When the police find a child that is clearly not her son, but kind of looks like him they convince her to take him home. She of course knows that he is not her son but the cops need a win and they do everything they can to convince her that the boy is hers even though he's shorter and his teeth don't match. But nobody listens to her and they conspire to make her come off crazy. She fights back and goes to the press and the price she pays for speaking out is being locked in the psych ward where she discovers a whole band of women just like her being held for no reason other than speaking out against the police. One of her fellow patients is the always fantastic Amy Ryan is a weird perm.

She is able to get released by the anti-police corruption crusader Gustav Briegleb played by John Malkovich and then takes on the system and fights to get the other women released. I guess that fight would be too much of a leap which brings me to the second big problem with the film -- you never get the sense of why she becomes an advocate. You understand intellectually why she does it, but it never comes through onscreen. One minute she's in the mental ward and the next minute she's standing outside as the women are released. You don't see any character development. It just doesn't work.

There was also no energy in Jolie's performance -- she yelled once and cried non-stop but it felt that she was literally wearing a straght jacket the whole time. I thought that we would get to see the Angelina of Girl Interrupted a decade ago when she got committed but that actress doesn't seem to exist anymore as far as I can see. I don't know if celebrity and the exposure has restricted her onscreen but it kind of feels like it has. Her partner, Brad Pitt seems to be able to still disappear into his roles but maybe its different for women, especially those with big lips.

More Tina Fey

I can't decide who I love more lately, Rachel Maddow or Tina Fey. Isn't so amazing that smart women are the talk of this election cycle?

Tina's going to be photographed for the cover of Vanity Fair by Annie Leibovitz - solo. Here's some great quotes from today's big USA Today piece on her.

In an industry in which a woman can be either gorgeous or funny but rarely both, she's the rare exception. Fey can star in her own American Express ads, chasing Martin Scorsese through an airport, and rock a fancy David Meister frock on the red carpet. But she's still a comedy nerd, not entirely at home in the spotlight and still most comfortable in her broken-in Dansko clogs, which she slips into on set when the camera stops rolling.

And therein perhaps lies the key to Fey's appeal. Even when she was first garnering attention for her writing on Saturday Night Live, Fey came across not as a ham, but as the smart, polite girl next door — even as she gently layered on the sarcasm and wit.

"She deals with (fame) the same way she deals with everything else. She just works harder," says Lorne Michaels, executive producer of SNL, where Fey became the show's first female head writer. "She's strong and she's smart, which is a very appealing combination. You trust her way of looking at the world. There's nothing strident about her. She knows who she is."
Here's her on last night's SNL Weekend Update Thursday with Will Ferrell playing George W. Bush.

Don't forget that next Thursday night is the premiere of 30 Rock. You can see the whole episode now on Hulu. But this show needs out support so everyone should tune in next Thursday at 9:30pm on NBC.

October 23, 2008

Men Play Presidents in the Movies and in Real Life

On the eve of the presidential election, Harrison Ford (Air Force One) was picked as the best movie president in a moviefone poll that got 1.1 million votes. The rest of the top five includes most of the leading male actors of our time: Morgan Freeman (Deep Impact); Michael Douglas (The American President); Bill Pullman (Independence Day); Kevin Kline (Dave)...you get the drift.

Of course, there are no women in the top 10 (or the top 20) probably because we've never had a woman president. The last time a woman played the president on the big screen was 1999 when Lynne Thigpen took on the role in Bicentennial Man. (Thank you Wikipedia) Most of the women who have played president on the big screen did so decades ago in movies I never heard of: Ernestine Barrier in Project Moonbase in 1953; Polly Bergen in Kisses for My President in 1964 (I have heard of this one); Sally Champlin in 2001 in The Woman Every Man Wants (huh, so never heard of this); Joan Rivers in 1987's Les Patterson Saves the World; Loretta Swit in Whoops Apocalypse in 1986; and the one we all know- Glenn Close as Acting President in Air Force One.

On TV we've done a little better with Geena Davis in Commander in Chief (I still miss this show); Patricia Wettig (Prison Break) and Patty Duke in Hail to the Chief. All of those shows lasted one season. But this winter we will see Cherry Jones as the President Allison Taylor on 24.

Counting the amount of men who have played presidents on the big screen I got around 90. Roy Schneider has played a president three times, Gene Hackman, twice, both Randy and Dennis Quaid have played presidents, as well as five African American men. On TV, men have played the president on TV 26 times.

Now that we've had a woman almost as the democratic nominee (sigh) and a woman as the republican VP nominee (yikes) will we see women as the president on the big screen?

Harrison Ford voted best movie president: poll (Reuters via Yahoo)

News Briefs

  • Penelope Cruz -- who's appearing in two current films, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "Elegy" -- will be honored as the outstanding performer of the year at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, which runs Jan. 22-Feb.1. Cruz will be presented with the award at the Arlington Theatre on Jan. 31. (HR)
  • Dakota Fanning will collect the Rising Star Award at the 20th Annual Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival. (Variety)
  • Kristin Scott Thomas will receive Hollywood actress of the year honors from the Hollywood Film Festival. (Variety)
  • New York Women in Film and Television will honor Laura Linney, Kyra Sedgwick, Nickelodeon prexy Cyma Zarghami and ad exec Linda Kaplan Thaler at its 28th annual Muse awards in NY on Dec 9. (Variety)
  • Walden Media has purchased ``Tough Cookies,'' a script centered on life in the Girl Scouts by sisters Carley and Chelsea Steiner about a judge ordering a deadbeat dad and his rebellious daughter's friends to form a scout troop. They then use their unconventional ways to compete against snobbish rivals to win a national scout competition. (HR)
  • Actress Charlotte Rampling will receive the lifetime achievement award for her "impressive portrayals of some of the most memorable female characters in modern cinema," at the Stockholm International Film Festival. (Macleans)

October 22, 2008

Rachel Maddow is Kicking Ass on MSNBC

If you're not watching or as of yesterday, podcasting the show - what are you waiting for? Her show totally rocks, is so interesting and informative. What I like best is that there are not 10 different people thinking they are smarter than everyone else competing for their two minutes of airtime. I used to watch AC 360 on CNN but haven't since Rachel went on the air.

Here's some interesting facts about Maddow:
She doesn't own a TV set (but is thinking of buying one).
Her show has only been on a little over a month and she is beating Larry King in the key area of 25- to 54-year-olds.
Has increased viewership during her 9pm hour to 1.7 million from 800,000.

Go girl.
Fresh Face on Cable, Sharp Rise in Ratings (NY Times)

Attention Women Filmmakers: MadCat Women's International Film Festival is Accepting Submissions

Direct from the folks at Madcat:

The MadCat Women’s International Film Festival was founded in 1996 to exhibit provocative and visionary works that are original in their use of the medium. MadCat is committed to showcasing women directors who challenge the use of sound and image and explore notions of visual story telling. MadCat sets itself apart from other women's festivals by curating its programs thematically and thus accepting a range of films about many different issues. By providing a dedicated exhibition venue MadCat encourages women and girls to take creative control behind the camera, increasing visibility and opportunity for women in the arts.

MadCat accepts submissions for a national touring program. The Festival curates approximately 12 programs of films and videos to tour around the country to universities, art houses, museums and microcinemas. The tour takes place each Fall.

MadCat accepts films and video of all lengths and genres: experimental, narrative, documentary, animation, collage and whatever else you can think of. The Festival also accepts pieces produced in any year. MadCat’s only parameter is that the films and videos are directed by or co-directed by women.

Early Bird Deadline: Nov 17, 2008
Late Bird Deadline: Jan 25, 2009

Send your submission in today
ENTRY FORM: Please fill out and sign the MadCat Submission Form. A separate form is required for each film submitted. Feel free to photocopy this form or download a copy from our web site at Madcat

Please email us your full name, contact information and film title AND include a hard copy with your preview tape. You may fill in the fields in the form below and print this page from your web browser, or you may download and print a version of the form in Adobe Acrobat .pdf, or Microsoft Word.

Get to it!

The Aussies Get it: Women Want Sistahood Onscreen

Interesting piece from the Age in Australia on the opening of The Women.

There were women who cried when they watched the Sex and the City movie, and it wasn't because they couldn't afford the shoes. These same women probably flocked to see Mamma Mia!, which The New York Times called "the worst performance of Meryl Streep's career" and yet, simultaneously, gave it a positive review. (They likened it to getting drunk on cheap cocktails.) All of these women will again probably go see The Women because, hey - they're mentioned in the very title! They want to see a movie about sistahood.

They've been dubbed GFFs - girl friend flicks - and it's evident that girrrl power has never been so strong in the cinema.
I kind like this term way better than chick flick.

Quote from Diane English
"The old ideas that females have to be rivals and there's only room enough in this town for one of us - that is very old-fashioned, and it's kind of disappeared over the years as women have begun to embrace each other and form networks and comfort each other when there's a divorce or a bad breakup, and just really be there for each other and appreciate each other. I think those kinds of friendships are something very special to women, to being female. I don't think men really have those kinds of friendships as strongly as women do, so it makes sense that that is going to make its way on to the screen."
And now The Women, a remake of the 1939 cult classic that starred Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell and Norma Shearer...But, like its recent predecessors, it's really about the power of a girl gang.
I think it's kind of interesting that all these films were framed in this story about women's friendship. So many of the US stories never even touched on that, or if they did it was done it was done in a negative, catty way.
Giving women the flick (The Age)

October 21, 2008

Women Directors Support Obama

This video "Family Values" comes from Women & Hollywood readers, the Burton sisters of Five Sisters Productions.

It's produced in conjunction with Mamas for Obama

Happy-Go-Lucky Signed Poster Giveaway

Women & Hollywood readers have been offered two Happy-Go-Lucky posters signed by director and writer Mike Leigh and star Sally Hawkins.

Answer the following three questions and you could win:
1- What actress from Secrets & Lies is now a regular on a US series and what series is she on?
2-How many Mike Leigh films did Katrin Cartlidge star in and what are the names of those films?
3- What does Vera Drake's do in secret that gets her arrested?

Please email the answers to melsil@earthlink.net and include your name and address in the email. Contest ends October 24.

Happy-Go-Lucky opens in wide release on Friday October 24th. Info on the film: Happy-Go-Lucky

Hollywood Feminist of the Day: Susan Sarandon

This past week at the at the Middle East International Film Festival she highlighted the voices of activist women from around the world. She narrates "The Shape of Water," which is about five women from Brazil, India, Jerusalem and Senegal as they deal with the issues facing women including harassment and economic justice.

"These women represent films which have resulted in a tipping of consciousness and made a difference," Sarandon said in a panel discussion after the screening. "In the U.S. we don't have the opportunity to see these films; even English(-language) documentaries are hard to find. Festivals are a wonderful opportunity for people to see documentaries they might not normally see."
photo: Sylvan Gaboury/PR Photos

October 20, 2008

Will This Be a Good Year for Women at the Oscars?

Award season is the time of year when occasionally the critics and prognosticators focus on women. Of course, their focus is always on the acting nominees. I have heard not a peep about any potential women directing nominees, but that's not surprising since a woman will probably win a directing Oscar...when we have a female president. I'm not holding my breath.

The Envelope at the LA Times took an early look at the field this year.

Aside from Melissa Leo (Frozen River) and Penelope Cruz (Elegy or Vicky Christina Barcelona)

This year, however, it is already clear that the race, for all intents and purposes, is backloaded with the most imposing and competitive list of genuine best actress possibilities in many years.
There are so many great female performances still to come this year. Here's a watch list:
Meryl Streep- Doubt
Kate Winslet- Revolutionary Road and The Reader
Angelina Jolie- Changeling
Cate Blanchett- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Nicole Kidman- Australia
Keira Knightley - The Duchess
Kate Beckinsale- Nothing but the Truth
Sally Hawkins- Happy-Go-Lucky
Emma Thompson- Last Chance Harvey
Kristin Scott Thomas- I've Loved You So Long

I started a list on the left side of the site. My list will be a bit different from the typical Oscar watchers because I will include performances from films that will not get noticed by the awards community because they just didn't get enough buzz or have the right pedigree. Keep in mind, awards are a very political business.
Hottest actress race in years heats up (LA Times)
Could this be Meryl Streep's year? (Variety)

Sunshine Cleaning Trailer

This Amy Adams/ Emily Blunt film premiered at Sundance. Film is written by Megan Holley and directed by Christine Jeffs. Here's the description form TrailerAddict.com:

A single mom and her slacker sister find an unexpected way to turn their lives around in the off-beat dramatic comedy Sunshine Cleaning. Once the high school cheerleading captain who dated the quarterback, Rose Lorkowski (Academy Award nominee Amy Adams) now finds herself a thirty something single mother working as a maid. Her sister Norah, (Golden Globe winner Emily Blunt), is still living at home with their dad Joe (Academy Award winner Alan Arkin), a salesman with a lifelong history of ill-fated get rich quick schemes. Desperate to get her son into a better school, Rose persuades Norah to go into the crime scene clean-up business with her to make some quick cash. In no time, the girls are up to their elbows in murders, suicides and other…specialized situations. As they climb the ranks in a very dirty job, the sisters find a true respect for one another and the closeness they have always craved finally blossoms. By building their own improbable business, Rose and Norah open the door to the joys and challenges of being there for one another—no matter what—while creating a brighter future for the entire Lorkowski family
Opens March 13th.