Designing Women

GTY-Jessica-Chastain-ml-170530_12x5_1600If you’ve been following the film festival circuit, you no doubt have heard the fascinating observation from Cannes Film Festival jury member, Jessica Chastain about the current role of women in films. If you are unfamiliar with Chastain’s comments, the basic gist is that it is uncommon to find a female character whose main motivation is not simply reacting to what the male characters do. This complaint is not unfamiliar territory for Hollywood; however, Cannes is a renowned international film festival. In fact, most of the films that screen there are not from American filmmakers. Additionally, many of these films do not even get distribution in the United States, including the winning films.  My point being, the inferiority of women’s roles in film is often attributed to the American film industry, but Chastain’s comments open the conversation to a global stage.

What makes Chastain’s words ring even more true than most is the genuine way she presented herself. She introduced herself as someone who loves movies, and then discussed the unique experience of viewing 20 movies in 10 days, which is the process for the Cannes jury members. Having that broad and expansive experience allowed Chastain to make a relevant and sustained observation that with few exceptions, women in film are “mostly passive and empty shells of characters,” rather than resembling any woman she’d encountered in real life.

And, to put an even finer point on things, all of this occurred on the eve of the release of the American film Baywatch, a film supposedly all about the women starring two men, Zac Efron and Dwayne Johnson, and some women presumably – I don’t believe the trailer or promotional posters gave any names of the female stars.

Speaking of Johnson, just to prove I am not simply a bandwagon feminist, please take my review of another of his films, San Andreas, a film I enjoyed actually, but contained plenty of blatant and institutional misogyny…and also raked in $474 million globally.

Here’s the interesting thing though. Money is not necessarily where the sexism is. As I mentioned, the Cannes Film Festival is not the destination for films that generally rake in the box office dollars. Cannes is more of a home for the prestige pictures that hope to play in awards circuits. In many cases, these films represent a more accurate picture of how artists see the real world. Blockbuster films present, in many cases, a fantasy that can and often does include well-developed female characters.

Top grossing film of each of the past three years:Rey-Star-Wars-Rogue-One-mother

2015: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (female protagonist, Disney)

2016: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (female protagonist, Disney)

2017: Likely to be a battle between Beauty and the Beast (female protagonist), Wonder Woman (female protagonist), Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (female protagonist) – Disney, Warner Brothers, Disney.

Best Picture for each of the past three years:

2014: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (male protagonist fighting with another male who wants to be the true protagonist)

2015: Spotlight (a bunch of male protagonists uncovering criminal conspiracy of men molesting boys)

2016: Moonlight (three separate actors portraying one male protagonist)

So what does all of this mean? It means that as an art form, the studios, auteurs, actors, writers, and directors who are responsible for the underlying reputation of the business are compelled to depict the stories that matter most to our culture from an overwhelmingly male perspective. It’s not that these artists or the system is sexist, but rather the society of which they wish to reflect is.

Fortunately, the art that imitates life has an impact and the response from Jessica Chastain is evident of this. As our Cineplex’s continue bombard us with the traditional summer fare, take notice of the entertainment the film industry thinks we want to see and how the stories are portrayed. More importantly, after the blockbuster season, be aware of the films that are selected as the year’s best and think about if they represent the society and culture you want to live in!

 

The Oscars: The People’s Critic Reacts

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Image credit: Oscars.org

Well, I think we all can agree that journalists who were looking for their headline for the Oscars broadcast were handed a gift at the very end. For those of you under a rock for the past several days, let me briefly summarize the events that unfurled for the Best Picture winner at the 2017 Oscars.

It’s 12:05 am EST; the natives are getting restless, but it’s been a relatively enjoyable Academy Awards show and while La La Land was nominated for a historic 14 awards, it’s sitting with 6 wins with Best Picture being the only award left to announce. Moonlight, a film that had gained steam all season had won Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay, two big wins. Enter Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to announce the final award. A Bonnie and Clyde reunion! Only this time La La Land was about to get riddled with bullets. If you haven’t seen the awkwardness that is Envelope-gate, you need to see it immediately. Words fail to express the bazaar episode. Still, here’s my best go at it. Everything is running smoothly until Beatty opens the envelope. It’s not clear something’s wrong necessarily, but it looks like Beatty is trying some shtick. He’s delaying, the audience is laughing, Dunaway is jabbing at him in that, “he’s so incorrigible,” kind of way. Several beats pass though as Beatty just stalls and pauses as he stares at the card, and then he shows it to Dunaway, who just blurts out, “La La Land!”

The place erupts. The La La Land producers take the stage, make their speeches, and a

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Image Credit: Oscars.org

decent population of people probably turn off their televisions and go to sleep. However, what happens next is La La Land producer, Jordan Horowitz takes the stage to reveal that there’s been a mistake. It turns out, the accountants for Pricewaterhouse Coopers who handle the envelopes had mistakenly given Warren Beatty an alternative envelope (#alternativefacts) for Best Actress. This explains why he took so long to read the card; he was staring at Emma Stone’s name. When he showed it to Dunaway, likely in order to get her confirmation that something’s gone awry, she just saw La La Land and blurted it out. Once things were sorted out, Beatty grabs the mic to explain why he made the mistake, saying he was not trying to be funny, but the envelope he had said Emma Stone, La La Land. The true winner was Moonlight, and an obviously stunned group of produces for Moonlight take the stage and commence the most awkward and heartbreaking experience of literally taking Oscar statues away from other people who thought they won.

 

Anyway, this whole thing was bad for La La Land, really bad for PWC, great for Moonlight, and really great for viewers! Other than this, The People’s Critic did a fairly good job of calling the winners. La La Land did steal the show with 6 wins, but the 7th was stolen from them when Moonlight was announced as the real Best Picture winner. I correctly predicted 15 of the 24 categories. I went the wrong way on a few of them, but in a night of several upsets, 15 ain’t bad. I was correct in predicting an upset with Lonergan winning over Chazelle for Screenplay, and my biggest lock, Viola Davis, played out as well. Her speech was highly anticipated given her intensity and her role in introducing Meryl Streep for her Cecil B. Demille Award at the Golden Globes. It was a very inspired speech, but I found a little fault in her claim that acting is, “the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” I think there are limitless creative outlets in the professional sphere where people can truly understand the value and enormity of living a life without being paid to read dialogue in front of a camera.  And then there’s that whole exhume the bodies from the graveyard thing. Anyway, that hereby ends my rant on pretentious actors saying pretentious things.

Hacksaw Ridge and Arrival did not come up empty as I had predicted; Arrival won the Sound Editing award and Hacksaw Ridge received Sound Mixing and the impressive Film Editing Oscar! I was correct in predicting Lion to leave empty handed, however. As far as the big ones, I got 5 of the big 6 awards right, and in an alternative universe, I got all 6 correct. Check out  my Awards Spotlight page if you want to see all of the results and all of my predictions.

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Image Credit: cnn.com

I thought Jimmy Kimmel did a fantastic job as host. His monologue was political, satirical, but also on point with the tone of this year’s nominees. I give him a lot of credit for not disappearing after the opening monologue like so many hosts do. He took the stage multiple times throughout the show, made plenty of good jokes, and ran some gags including one where an unsuspecting group of tourists was ushered into the Dolby Theater during the Oscars and suddenly found themselves front and center with Hollywood’s finest. I’m always a sucker for Kimmel’s relentless attacks on Matt Damon, and he did not disappoint there whatsoever.

It was a fun Oscar night, and of course The People’s Critic’s Oscar dinner did not disappoint either, as we rolled out the red carpet for all of the celebrities, and everyone enjoyed some La La Lamb. Take a look at some of the fun!redcarpet

Office Christmas Party

officeDirector: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

Screenwriter: Justin Malen, Laura Solon, and Dan Mazer

Cast: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, and Courtney B. Vance

I’m a sucker for a good holiday movie; I even devised a gimmick to perpetuate my ability to release an annual top ten list of my favorite holiday films. That means Hollywood always has $10 up for grabs from me this time of year, if they want it. Last year, The Night Before got it, and if not for the church scene, I’d say I was ripped off. This year, Office Christmas Party got my $10. As I mentioned, I am a sucker for a  good holiday movie, but it looks like I’ll have to settle for adequate.

Office Christmas Party is the clichéd story of a dull- named man, Josh (Jason Bateman) having a stereotypical divorce conveniently before entering the stereotypical flirtation zone with Tracey (Olivia Munn), who is stereotypically a tough gal who literally “locks people out” of her life. When dull-Josh and stereotypical Tracey can’t land a major client for their tech company, a formulaic conflict emerges about doing something crazy to keep the branch from being shut down.

Now I know what you’re saying, “Peoples Critic, didn’t you say this was an adequate holiday film? Where’s the adequacy?” Well thank your lucky stars that directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck prayed to the comedy gods and the gods delivered T.J. Miller, Kate McKinnon, and Jennifer Aniston.  They make the movie. Miller and Aniston play sibling branch manager and CEO, respectively, of their father’s tech company, and their dynamic and conflicting nature of how to run a business is quite entertaining. These two have buckets more on-screen chemistry than Bateman and Munn have, and they’re playing siblings! Aniston is at her snarky best playing the tightly wound Carol, who is fed up with her brother Clay’s disregard for bottom lines and irresponsible management. After reviewing Clay’s branch, she delivers the ultimatum that there will be no extraneous spending, and jobs will be cut in the new year. So what does Clay do? He works with Josh to throw the most extravagant office Christmas party possible and use it to try to woo the client (played by Courtney B. Vance) Josh and Tracey couldn’t land. There you go, plot-premise delivered. So is it funny?

The short answer is, occasionally. Kate McKinnon’s stressed out, high-strung HR manager, Mary certainly helps. The biggest revelation I had during this movie is that McKinnon is ready to break out. She needs a vehicle (other than her Kia minivan in this film) to star in right now! Other than that, Office Christmas Party is a string of gags that have about a 50% success rate. Is that a good rate of return for a comedy? Not really, but these days (especially 2016), it’s par for the course, I’m afraid. The marketing obviously wanted you to be hearkened back to the outstandingly funny film Horrible Bosses from 2011. It’s about bosses, it’s got Bateman and Anniston, but what it doesn’t have is director Seth Gordon or writers Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, and Jonathan Goldstein. So let’s be clear, it’s not Horrible Bosses. But it’s also not horrible. Miller channels his character, Erlich Bachman from Silicon Valley in all the right ways, and his line at the end about describing his pain to the doctor is still making me chuckle when I think about it. The premise makes way for plenty of bit players to swing in for a gag and back out again, but I wish more of the gags landed. Also, I don’t’ understand why the final act of these types of movies has to go so far off the rails. There is always an attempt to crowbar in a sudden sense of danger, but this is Office Christmas Party; leave the danger to Die Hard! And while I’m on the subject, *spoiler alert – go to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know about a minor plot point* there is a rule in screenwriting that if you’re going to show a bomb, it needs to blow up. There is a scene early in the film where Clay talks to Josh about how much velocity you’d need to jump the Franklin Street Bridge in Chicago when it’s opened up. Then, surprise, there’s a car chase at the end of the film, and where are they headed? You guessed it, but they don’t jump the bridge! Why set this up? You are already inventing a false sense of ridiculous danger; why not go for it? Totally annoying.

Ok, spoiler free from here on out. Office Christmas Party does exactly what its title suggests. There is an office Christmas Party. It is also full of funny people being mostly funny, which makes it worth my stupid $10 holiday donation to Hollywood. But if movies like La La Land, Moonlight, and Manchester by the Sea would quit with their dumb limited-release BS and just open like you know they will in a month or so, then I’d be far happier to give my donation to something more worthwhile. B-

Office Christmas Party is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes.