December 12, 2008

Review: Doubt

Sister Aloysius Beauvier likes order, clarity and keeping things just the way they are because that is how she controls the students and her fellow nuns at the St. Nicholas school in the Bronx. Problem is the world is changing around her in ways she has no control over. It's 1964 and the culture as well as the church are shedding the 50s much to Sister Aloysius' dismay. The parish priest (played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is trying to make the church friendlier and more nurturing and that brings him in direct conflict with Sister Aloysius (played by Meryl Streep.)

Their conflict is emblematic of the changing culture not only in the church but, between men and women. Women in the church at that time (at least in the movie) wore habits that were restricting in many ways including not giving them the ability to see all that was happening around them -- literally and figuratively. They could only see straight ahead and with no peripheral vision you miss many of the nuances of life. Father Flynn wants to be loved by his flock because he is already respected as a priest. Sister Aloysius has no need to be loved, she wants to be respected, and demands that respect through discipline and order.

When young Sister James (played by Amy Adams) observes an overly friendly and potentially inappropriate relationship between Father Flynn and the school's first black student, Sister Aloysius immediately moves forward to confront the priest. His explanation is sketchy, yet there is no evidence. She only has the "certainty of my convictions."

But nothing is certain and that more than anything is what stands out in the film.

The question of the potential abuse of the boy sometimes gets lost in the power struggle between good and evil between right and wrong between the past and the future in the wordy battles of Hoffman and Streep. But the question, did Father Flynn abuse Donald is never answered leaving that up to the viewer which is a bold and necessary decision.

Viola Davis gives a breathtaking performance as the mother of the potentially abused boy. Class and race issues are thrown into the conflict as Davis' Mrs. Miller implores Streep's sister Aloyisus to help her son get through the school year so that he can have a future. She unhesitatingly chooses Father Flynn and what he might be doing to her son over the persistent beatings he receives from his father. In that one scene, Mrs. Miller leaves Sister Aloyisus shaken to her core.

The thing about Doubt as a film is that because it is so focused on the words you really need to concentrate to get everything. It is the type of movie that I enjoyed better on my second viewing because I was able to fill in some of the pieces that I missed the first time out. Streep is great as always as Sister Aloyisus, but I was disappointed with Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Amy Adams again proves that she can hold her own, but her part, though pivotal, is small. It will leave you thinking, talking and questioning which is what I loved about it.

Check out the trailer:

What the Hell is a Co-Director Anyway?

Slumdog Millionaire is the feel good movie of the season. It's generating a lot of good reviews, great word of mouth, award nominations and award wins. Critic and blogger and all around expert on things women and film, Jan Lisa Huttner has raised a question about the directing credits on Slumdog Millionaire that is worthy of further conversation.

If you look at imdb (the film data bible), Danny Boyle is the director and right below his name it lists Loveleen Tanden as co-director (India- where the whole film was shot). So the question that Jan is rightly posing is, if you are a co-director should you also be nominated when the director is? And, what is a co-director and how does that credit come about?

If you look back to last year's Academy Awards nominations the Coen Brothers are both given a directed by credit (and won) for No Country for Old Men. And in 2006 Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are also both given directed by credits for Little Miss Sunshine. Both of those teams have worked together as teams for years. That's just how they do their work.

Jan pointed me to the film City of God which was directed by Fernando Meirelles and also has a co-director Katia Lund listed. The film did very well in the 2002-2003 cycle winning numerous awards at film festivals and in getting nominations from the major awards organizations. While Meirelles alone won numerous awards for his directing, there are two instances -- the AFI audience award and the Washington DC Area Film Critics association -- which gave the award to both Meirelles and Lund.

The point is that awards and nominations matter A LOT. Think of the the career that Meirelles has had since his nomination. He has directed The Constant Gardener and Blindness which won the top award at the Cannes Film Festival. Talent aside, think he would have gotten those gigs had he not been nominated for a foreign film like City of God? No way. What would it have meant to Katia Lund's career had she been acknowledged in some way as the co-director of City of God? We'll never know.

But, since I don't know how credits are negotiated and it looks like festivals and critics kudos all have different rules its hard to 100% say that Loveleen Tanden is not getting her due because she is a woman. Tanden is very supportive of the film and has been on the press tour with Boyle and others. And, Huttner spoke with Boyle about the issue and he was very complimentary of her work.

Since women have such a hard time breaking into the directing ranks at the top level -- only three women have ever been nominated for an Oscar for directing -- this is a really interesting conversation to be having this year when women's films have been so successful at the box office.

Yesterday, Slumdog scored Golden Globe directing nomination. Jan Lisa Huttner is requesting that people send a letter to the HFPA asking them to add Tandan's name as co-director to the nomination. Get the letter here. I'd love to understand what the hell is a co-director and if women get put into the co-director position more easily than men.

Meryl Streep Makes Golden Globe History

With her nominations for Doubt and Mamma Mia!, Streep becomes the most nominated actor with 23 nominations. She has six wins (which ties her with Jack Nicholson).

'Mamma Mia!' — No 'Doubt' Meryl Streep makes Golden Globe history (LA Times)
photo: Sylvain Gaboury/PR Photos

December 11, 2008

Women & Hollywood on ABC

ABC News ran a story on the canning of Catherine Hardwicke which quoted me. Check it out:

"She's done exactly what Hollywood said we have to do as women -- delivered a successful box office movie," Melissa Silverstein, who runs the blog Women & Hollywood, told "It does not add up."

Silverstein wrote a blog about Hardwicke's departure under the headline: "What Does a $70 Million Opening Weekend Get Catherine Hardwicke? Fired."

But some industry watchers question whether Hardwicke was treated fairly. After one blog quoted a Summit insider as saying Hardwicke was "difficult" and at times "irrational," Silverstein shot back, "Why don't you just call her 'bitch?'"

"It's a boy's town," Silverstein said. "Directing is the ultimate job. You are the king, you tell people what to do and you're in charge. And there's a very small list of men who are on it. Here's a woman who made it on the list. She worked her butt off, achieved a big box office success and has been summarily kicked off the list."
Read the full piece: Why Was 'Twilight' Director Axed From Sequel?
Also check up this EW update piece about the situation. It just gets stranger.

The Life of a Female Theatre Director

Directing on Broadway is still a boys club just like it is in Hollywood. If you are doing a new play you need to have one of the guys in the club like Michael Mayer, Scott Ellis, Doug Hughes, or Joe Montello to direct your play. What I hear from a friend who is a playwright is that most theatres won't consider a woman to direct. Anna D. Shapiro broke into the club with her Tony win for August Osage County but she is happy at Steppenwolf in Chicago and don't think she will be working in NY regularly.

One female director who has gotten close to Broadway -- with Theresa Rebeck's play The Scene at Second Stage -- is Rebecca Taichman, a Yale educated director who works a lot outside of NY, especially in DC where she is spending two years as associate artistic director at the Wholly Mammouth Theatre. Her credits there include Sarah Ruhl's Pulitzer Prize winning play The Clean House before it made it to Lincoln Center (with a male director.)

The Washington Post just did a profile on her in conjunction with her new production of The Taming of the Shrew. There's no denying that she's busy but

Although she has been keeping a healthy presence in Washington, the freelance directing life is taking Taichman around the globe. "Twelfth Night" moves to New Jersey's McCarter Theatre after its run here (Taichman is working on a new musical there), then she heads to San Francisco for Edward Albee "At Home at the Zoo" (previously known as "Peter and Jerry"). After that it's off to East Africa under the auspices of the Sundance Institute; Taichman is collaborating with a Rwandan artist she met during a Sundance residency last summer.

Long-range, she rules out nothing, proclaiming an interest in everything from new plays to classical tragedies to Broadway larks. Especially Broadway larks.

Here's a woman with a ton of credits yet Broadway still eludes her. Is this common? Check out this three year old piece from the NY Times on the lack of women directors on Broadway:
OF the 39 plays and musicals that opened on Broadway this year, 3 were directed by women (a husband-and-wife team directed a fourth, the short-lived "Blonde in the Thunderbird"). Of the 34 new shows in 2004, women directed 2. These are not particularly encouraging figures for those looking for the new female directorial voices. Many women can be found directing shows off Broadway and running regional theaters, but the best-known and biggest-budget venue has not been all that welcoming.
photo: Dominic Braccoli/Washington Post

Remember This Name: Zoe Kazan

Zoe Kazan is a young woman with a unique pedigree. Her grandfather was Elia Kazan, the director. Her dad is the screenwriter, Nicholas Kazan and her mom is screenwriter/director Robin Swicord.

That's a lot to live up to. But she has. Seriously.

She made her Broadway debut last year in Come Back, Little Sheba and she blew me away as Masha in current Broadway production of The Seagull that stars Peter Saarsgard and Kristin Scott Thomas. She's also in the upcoming Revolutionary Road. But to top it off she has clearly inherited the writing talent of her parents. Her first play, Absalom has been accepted into the prestigious Humana Festival of New American Plays.

All this and she just turned 25.

December 10, 2008

The Girlywood Invasion

Nightline did a short piece on the successful female centric movies that came out this year asking if these films will finally get Hollywood focused on any other audience besides the 18-24 year old boys.

Readers of this blog won't learn anything new. The piece was fine (but too short and didn't get into any of the deeper issues as to why so few movies about women are made.) It laid out the successes all the way back to Titanic and The Princess Diaries. But I hate the title. The Girlywood Invasion. We are not invading anything. We just want some movies about women. Condescending.

Watch the piece through the link below (it's less than 4 minutes)
The Girlywood Invasion

Hat tip to Beverly Wettenstein for the heads up

Hollywood Feminist of the Day: Oprah Winfrey

Less than a week after being named the most powerful woman in Hollywood, Oprah uses her power to talk about the issue that has plagued her all of her life -- her weight. In a world obsessed with thinness (especially in Hollywood) Oprah shows you can be powerful and not thin. As a person who is involved in that daily struggle, her honesty about "falling off the wagon" makes me love her even more.

Oprah: I Weigh 200 Pounds (AP via CBS)

Review: Wendy and Lucy

Kelly Reichardt wants to make small, intimate films about people and their lives who most of the world ignores. That's not exactly the formula for a hit movie. But Reichardt could care less and I find that impressive. Wendy and Lucy is not going to break any box office records, but it's going to break some hearts, especially dog lovers like me. Michelle Williams stars as Wendy, a young woman (we really don't know her age) driving herself and her dog to Alaska in her beat up car in search of a job at a cannery. That's not exactly the pursuit of the "American dream." But Wendy is a symbol of how people just trying to do the right thing still fall through the cracks. She doesn't have a lot of options and the best one she sees is to drive thousands of miles for a potential job that will probably be physically taxing and difficult.

This film has become even more relevant in our economic meltdown. It's like the news that you can't avoid on TV and newspapers has come to life. And it's not pretty. Wendy's only companion is Lucy, her dog. People will do anything for their dogs (I know that for a fact) and when Wendy shoplifts some dog food she gets arrested. After spending several hours in jail and having to pay a fine with some of the little money she has left, she returns to the store to find her dog gone. Of course, nobody has seen anything. To top it off, her car is dead and being off the grid she has no cell phone and no support system. Her dog is all she has keeping her together. The rest of the movie is a search for Lucy with absolutely no resources, except for an borrowed cell phone from a security guard who takes pity on her. Her vulnerability continues to grow and becomes more palpable. You feel scared for her especially when she winds up sleeping in the woods and gets robbed. She is all alone in the woods in the middle of the night with someone rooting around through her stuff. Scary.

It's really amazing how far Michelle Williams has come from her days on Dawson's Creek. She's got some serious talent. She is onscreen for practically every second and sucks you into her plight. The film was made on a minuscule budget in 15 days. But it works and it makes you think. This is a movie that I am excited to see again. What's also exciting is the talent and vision of director Kelly Reichardt who is a clear auteur (a word I don't use lightly.) She's unafraid and actually embraces silence which is quite bold compared with other movies in this day and age.

Wendy and Lucy opens in NY today, LA on Friday, and will roll out across the country over the next couple of months. Here's info on where it will be playing.

The Women & Hollywood film club will be seeing the film together in NY this Saturday at 4:30. Here are details.

Check out the trailer:

Other info:
Kelly Reichardt, director of WENDY AND LUCY, Interview (Spout)
An Actress Moves On, Or Tries To (Newsweek)

December 9, 2008

Blaming Nicole Kidman

I take offense to two harsh pieces about Nicole Kidman's box office prowess (or lack thereof) in the LA Times and The Guardian. The titles are even inflammatory- The Guardian: Nicole Kidman is queen of the flops; LA Times: Nicole Kidman: Movie star or box-office loser? Let's be honest, Australia has some good things in it, but it is not a good movie. It just doesn't work. That is Baz Lurhmann's fault, not Kidman's. While her performance was way too stiff in the beginning, she, and her character relaxed and I wound up enjoyed her and Hugh Jackman. But the story was dreadful, and again that is not her fault.

Has anyone taken the time to write about Hugh Jackman's box office issues? He's made a bunch of duds (Deception, The Fountain) but is a star (and the Sexiest Man according to People Magazine) because of the X-Men franchise. Get a guy a franchise and and he's a star. Women have a harder time being franchise players. For example Halle Berry. No one is going to make a movie about her X-Men character, but they sure did make a movie about Wolverine.

It's strange that there are a bunch of articles written about Nicole Kidman as a box office star when we don't get articles like that for women like Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet and until recently Meryl Streep. They are just fantastic actresses.

Kidman really has never been a box office star on her own (and I would venture to say that she could care less about it) but she for some reason has been painted with this brush. Is it because she was married to Tom Cruise or that she was in a Batman movie? The films she took that are supposed to be commercial have sucked (Bewitched, The Stepford Wives). Her non-commercial ones are better. However, I couldn't get through Fur, (as I couldn't get through Jackman's The Fountain) but liked Birth and Margot at the Wedding a lot. Her most recent "flop" before Australia, The Golden Compass made $70 million in the US but over $300 million overseas which is a big deal since the story was about a girl. (God forbid she should get any credit for that, she only gets blamed for the flops.)

But most importantly, Kidman is just emblematic of the obsession with opening weekend dollars and how women still can't rate compared to the guys. Instead of blaming the actresses why don't we figure out a way for them to be successful?

From Patrick Goldstein at the LA Times: What's really depressing is that when you ask marketing execs to name the actresses that do earn their keep, you're usually met with silence. There are always caveats: Meryl Streep in the right role, as with "Mamma Mia!" Angelina Jolie, who can put some extra oomph in a genre film like "Wanted." Reese Witherspoon or Sandra Bullock in the right kind of comedy. In today's Hollywood, it's a lot easier to build a career as a respected actress than as a box-office icon. Whether you're Nicole Kidman or anyone else, it's a man's, man's, man's world.
No wonder she talks about quitting acting. She can't do anything right. I for one will keep pulling for her simply because her performance as Virginia Woolf in The Hours was breathtaking and I am hopeful she has a couple of more of those inside her.

photo: Insodefoto/PR Photos

More Love for Tina and Rachel

I know we don't have a woman president (I am I'm kind of over that) but aside from Barack and Michelle Obama, the other most interesting stories this fall have been about women especially Tina Fey, Rachel Maddow and Katie Couric (btw love the new hair Katie).

Tina and Rachel have been everywhere. The latest love for these two women is in Vanity Fair and Newsweek. A common through line in both pieces is how they are outsiders which I found so interesting and endearing and probably why I like them so much. Most of the comments about the Fey Vanity Fair piece has been about how she got her scar and weight loss (Yeah Weight Watchers!- you should sign her up as a spokesperson!) but here are some other interesting tidbits that intrigued me.

Fey’s friend Kay Cannon, a 30 Rock writer, says that Tina has remained self-deprecating even as she has glammed up. “She’ll always see herself as that other, the thing she came from.”
Fey’s acerbity comes from her mother (the Greek side), who has what Richmond calls “drag-queen humor—that bitter, extremely caustic kind of stab-you-in-the-heart humor.” Mrs. Fey played a weekly poker game with her friends. “I loved hanging out with the ladies, because they were very funny, and a little bit mean, and had lots of Entenmann’s products,” Fey says.

Her friend Damian Holbrook, a TV Guide writer who attended a nearby high school and whose first name she took for the gay character in Mean Girls, says she was like the Janis character in that movie, the sweet girl in an oversize Shaker sweater who didn’t run with the cool crowd or strut around to get guys, yet had the wit to burn the mean girls if she wanted to.
She didn’t have great athletic ability but played tennis, and, citing Kay Cannon, says that team sports breed “a different kind of woman,” with a “game-on, let’s-do-it work ethic”; she hopes her daughter will grow up to play sports.

And Maddow in Newsweek
All the ensuing hype and excitement about Maddow's rapid rise, and her quirks—the smart, self-described "butch dyke" who somehow broke into the cable-news boys' club—has masked the true reason for her success. It's not despite her differences from other talking heads, but because of them.
Maddow seems to have genuinely charmed younger viewers, a Twitter-savvy, podcasting generation that has hankered for someone more like them and delights in her use of "duh," her obvious intelligence and authenticity, and her ability to be both idealistic and skeptical about politics. She eschews vanity and insists she won't stop dressing "like a 13-year-old boy" when she can.
Maddow's partner, artist Susan Mikula, believes the "unlikely" label is just code for lesbian: "She goes from Stanford to Oxford to activism to radio, then TV? What's so unusual about that? Is it because she is a gay lady?"
The reason she and Mikula stay happily unmarried, says Mikula, is because "we both have a real fondness for the outsider part of our gay culture."
What Tina Wants (Vanity Fair)
When Left is Right (Newsweek)

December 8, 2008

Female Actresses Still Make Less Money Than the Guys

No shocker here. Women earn less than men and everyone earns less than Will Smith. The Hollywood Reporter unveiled it's annual salary report in conjunction with the power list.

Here are the top money making women:

  • Angelina Jolie- gets $15 million per picture and is also getting backend gross points.
  • Julia Roberts- she's back and earning $15 million for Duplicity.
  • Reese Witherspoon- $14 million for Four Christmases
  • Cameron Diaz- Was making $15 million, she made $10 million for What Happens in Vegas
  • Katherine Heigl- one of the only women who is a TV and movie star. She made $6 million and 6% of the backend for the upcoming The Ugly Truth and makes $225,000 per episode for having sex with a ghost on Grey's Anatomy.
  • Kate Hudson- I still can't believe that people are still giving this woman jobs. She made $7 million for the upcoming Bride Wars (saw a preview yesterday and it is so offensive).
  • Anne Hathaway- Made $5 million for Bride Wars (please tell me how she made less than Kate Hudson?) and now could get $8 million of the great reviews and possible Oscar nomination for Rachel Getting Married.
  • Jennifer Aniston- Made $8 million for the family comedy Marley & Me.

Here's the list from last year
1. Reese Witherspoon -- $15 million-$20 million
2. Angelina Jolie -- $15 million-$20 million
3. Cameron Diaz -- $15+ million
4. Nicole Kidman -- $10 million-$15 million
5. Renee Zellweger -- $10 million-$15 million
6. Sandra Bullock -- $10 million-$15 million
7. Julia Roberts -- $10 million-$15 million
8. Drew Barrymore -- $10 million-$12 million
9. Jodie Foster -- $10 million-$12 million
10. Halle Berry -- $10 million

What Does a $70 Million Opening Weekend Get Catherine Hardwicke? Fired.

The press release was sent out yesterday afternoon. Catherine Hardwicke, will not be directing the sequel to Twilight which Summit wants to have in the theatres by the end of next year or at the latest in early 2010. The release said that Hardwicke passed on the project due to "timing issues" because she wanted more prep time to work on the script which scribe Melissa Rosenberg turned in on opening weekend. Summit wants to film sooner rather than later.

Nikki Finke is reporting that Hardwicke was actually fired because she was "difficult" and "irrational." Geez, they just should have called her a bitch and been done with it.

Who knows what the real story is, probably somewhere in the middle, but this rubs me the wrong way. First, the film is opening all over the world and Hardwicke is currently in Europe promoting the film. Awkward.

Second, I can't help but think that a guy director who has brought in over $140 million on a budget of under $40 million would be treated differently. Hardwicke did everything she was supposed to do, that every director dreams of doing, directing a big box office success. (The film will probably turn out to be in the top 10 domestic grossers of the year.)

Everyone keeps saying the power job is the director and that having more women directors show box office prowess will open up the directing ranks. Guess not. Just goes to show that the gender issues are just much deeper than anyone is willing to discuss.

No Hardwicke for 'Twilight' sequel (Variety)

Seen and Heard at the Power Breakfast 2008

(Amy) Pascal, when asked what she'd like to change in the industry:
"I wish all of us would be a little braver. I wish all of us would make the movies that made us get in the business. I don't think I always do that. And that’s what I'd like to do."

Amen, Amy. you have the power, now do it.