“Cops vs Capital (Destruction), Bling vs Boys”

Ahhh, Summer-time!  As summer hits The City, with San Francisco in the 80’s this weekend, June slides into July with a big bang, and there is much to celebrate!  In case you aren’t sitting in Dolores Park with a cool beverage, marching or watching a parade or just enjoying the sun and fun…here’s my recommendation for this weekend’s films:

Save White House Down for the July Fourth weekend, when you can show your patriotism with some fun action and big screen destruction.  Instead, get your funny on, and see Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in the cop comedy, The Heat.  We need to turn out in big numbers on this opening weekend to show the studios that Americans want more movies featuring women!  Sure, there are moments of crass humor, but nothing to rival the antics of the “boys” of This is the End.  Perhaps you could rent the men-behaving-like-boys film or wait a week instead?  Everyone should have the freedom of choose…just choose wisely!  Big Brother, the almighty studio, is counting every film dollar!

You could also bring your favorite teenager to The Bling Ring, the latest Sofia Coppola film.  Spending some time with the shallow, bland teens onscreen as they act out their sense of entitlement should give you much to discuss!  The lovely Fill The Void is also directed by a woman and a good film to catch before it leaves theaters.  Or to search out if you don’t live in the Bay Area.

This is the final weekend to see some wonderful queer films at Frameline!  The programming at Frameline 37 is very strong, plus, there’s a wealth of short films (over 50!) and a wide variety of queer Asian films.  Many of these films feature strong female roles and some films were even made with an entire female  film crew!  Huzzah!

I also highly recommend Byzantium (reviewed in an earlier post) with the fabulous Gemma Arterton and soulful Saoirse Ronan playing vampire witches traveling through the centuries.  Directed by Neil Jordan, this atmospheric thriller “isn’t a movie about male appetites. It’s about women who, with blood, power, wit and will, ably satisfy an entirely different hunger.” (http://movies.nytimes.com/2013/06/28/movies/byzantium-draws-on-caribbean-vampire-folklore.html?_r=0), Manohla Dargis

So get out there and enjoy the weekend!  If you seek the cool hush of the cinema, do so to quench the hunger for strong storytelling featuring females!

Also still playing in Bay Area Theaters and featuring women in strong roles (in front of and behind the cameras): The East, Frances Ha, 20 Feet From Stardom and Before Midnight 

“Frances Ha” — Indecision, in black and white

Great Gerwig & Mickey Sumner

Greta Gerwig & Mickey Sumner

There are times I feel like a character in one of the movies I’m seeing…  As I sit in the theater watching the trailer for “Frances Ha”, I think to myself, “Wow, they’re sure giving away a lot of the relationship”. Then the title appears and I realize, “DOH, this is the film I’m here to SEE!”.  So, obviously, I’m not just a passive audience member, I’m as indecisive as our heroine!

Filming in black and white, Noah Baumbach has given “Frances Ha” an older, European feel.  There’s even a John Cassavette vibe in the New York setting and the focus on intimate relationships.  The soundtrack is fantastic.  Something about the David Bowie songs and the characters exuberant walks around New York City…it’s a perfect fit.  It’s refreshing to have a coming-of-age story about a 28 year-old woman, who’s prone to some bad decisions, yet isn’t portrayed as a child.  Greta Gerwig plays Frances as an intelligent young woman with an education and a calling; just not the drive or the connections to get where she needs to go.  This is no Man-Child comedy of potty humor and pratfalls, but a sweet relationship drama that’s not focused on a romantic relationship!

Frances may be prone to moments of whacky behavior and over-sharing, but she’s not an idiot.  She may be socially-akward and she doesn’t land a hot boyfriend, but she’s kind and hopeful and loved by many.  Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig co-wrote the script and “Frances Ha” has a nice balance of characters that all seem to act their age.  There are wonderful performances by all members of the cast with well-rounded male performances that are endearing. Mickey Sumner is a delight as the best friend.

Frances hasn’t hit her stride and when she moves in with two younger men, they treat her like a whacky older sister but not as a failure.  Her main relationship is with her female best friend and the scene where she’s achieved success and looks across the room to share her triumph with the one person who truly “gets her” — is not only sweet, it’s feels like an act of empowerment…for all women!   What a change — a film featuring a woman who’s striving for success but isn’t waiting for a man, acting catty or in need of a fashion make-over to achieve her goals!

Rating: 4 glasses of French wine…purchased, unwisely, on a credit card

“Women’s Films” —Are we still here?

“There has been a “trending” topic this week following an NPR article titled “At The Movies–The Women Are Gone” (http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2013/06/14/191568762/at-the-movies-the-women-are-gone).  There has been a series of male-dominated action hero films; the traditional tent-pole films of the summer, that have have been labeled as “under-performing”.  This means, they’ve only earned one gazillion dollars as compared to their 10-gazillion-dollar budgets.  Some reporters are even labeling these films “flops”!

Here’s reporter Peter Knegt from today’s (June 16, 2013) Indiewire (http://www.indiewire.com/article/specialty-box-office-sofia-coppolas-ring-scores-serious-bling-in-solid-limited-debut)–bold-type is my addition:

“This summer continues its parade of exceptional indie debuts, with Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” following in the footsteps of “Frances Ha,” “Before Midnight,” “The East” and “Much Ado About Nothing” to score an excellent limited debut, grossing $210,001 from just 5 locations for a $42,000 per-theater-average.

Counter-programmed against the male-centric studio likes of “Man of Steel” and “This Is The End” (a trend this summer, with most of the specialty success stories being geared toward women while the studios continue to largely consider male audiences), “Bling” — distributed by upstart A24 (which had a big success with the similarly themed “Spring Breakers” earlier this year) was a major improvement over Coppola’s last film “Somewhere,” which averaged $17,012 from 7 theaters back in 2010. And though their screen counts differ a bit too much to warrant a fair comparison, the film also topped the $40,221 “Lost In Translation” averaged from 23 locations in 2003 to find Coppola’s best per-theater-average (though adjusted of inflation “Translation” would be the winner).

“We are thrilled with the results. Sofia Coppola’s latest and greatest has certainly entered the zeitgeist and we look forward to capitalizing on this great success as we expand nationwide next weekend,” A24’s Nicolette Aizenberg said.  Perhaps appropriately overshadowed by celebrity-themed “The Bling Ring” was backup singer doc “20 Feet From Stardom,” which also had a very strong debut.”

So what do we, as film-lovers do?  I don’t label films in such black and white manner as “women’s films” and “men’s films”.  I think most people would agree that the Summer Movies are primarily aimed at the younger audience, not men.  The idea is that when the teens get out of school, they have the time and the money to see this big bombastic films over and over.   3-D versions can be expected to bring in an even higher gross!

Do we want our movie screens to be dominated by three versions (2-D, 3-D, IMAX) of the same action film?  Do we want our teenage girls and boys to see only representations of cartoon men with women as sexualized accomplices or long-suffering girlfriends and wives?  Is it fair to ask those who want a little less boom for their buck to have to search long and hard for the art-house fare?  What’s a thinking person of either sex to do about this situation?

Linda Holmes, in her article featured on NPR, did a little comparison of the films screening in her DC Metro area.  She found that 90% of the films screening were stories featuring men with 31 screenings having a somewhat balanced pairing of men and women (relationship dramas) and only 25 screenings featuring women or girls.  Man of Steel had 6X the number of screenings as all of the films about women put together.  How does the Bay Area stack up to those odds?

I would like to think that as a cinema-loving culture that puts great stock in the fact that we support art-house, animation and documentaries (many made here in the Bay Area!), that in comparison, the Bay Area would be more balanced.

And indeed, we do fare better, but I did add in the documentaries and animated films (there’s only 2 screening currently) to make the rating fair to what is offered here.  This accounts for screenings in the Bay Area according to Fandange (trying to keep to Linda Holmes study) for movie theaters not including Moraga, San Leandro or San Mateo but with Marin County.  I also eliminated any film festival or museum screenings.

Bay Area screenings (note: this isn’t a count of SCREENS, but a count of screenings): total 250.  Of those screenings, a full 38 are Man of Steel!  There’s even one chain that’s has FOUR screens devoted to this latest blockbuster!  Films featuring mainly men account for 71 screenings (28.4%) and those with a fairly even balance of men and women (Before Midnight, The Great Gatsby, Epic, a few documentaries), 51 screenings (35%).  There are only 15 screenings featuring mainly women-driven stories or mainly female casts! 6%!  Here are the women-centric films on screens in the Bay Area: Fill the Void, Frances Ha, The East, The Sapphires (a single screening),  and Stories We Tell (also one screening, Rialto Cinemas Elmwood).  There’s even one screening of Oblivion still showing; the only action film that features strong female roles!  So hunt these films out!

How do we rank with the DC Metro area?  Rather than the 90% of screenings featuring men, we can see a more balanced representation when we add back in animated and documentary films.  And Bay Area audiences do enjoy those films.  This weekend screens are still dominated by Summer Blockbusters but we do have 35% of the screens shared by men and women. We may make up 51% of the population of humans but women are still short-changed in our movie choices.  But next weekend we’ll add Bling Ring to the mix and even a comedy, The Heat!

What do we do to send a message to the studios?  I think you know this answer.  Hunt out the independent films featuring strong performances by men and women.  Most importantly, see them OPENING WEEKEND if you can.  And at the very least, wait to see the latest Summer Blockbuster (or lame men-behaving-badly comedy) till after Opening Weekend.  Please use your movie dollars wisely!  We all know that it’s not common sense that the studio machines hear…it’s the cash register!

That’s my two cents…and I spend them wisely 😉

“A Hijacking” — Not Your Hollywood-style Pirates!


Pilou Asbæk in A HIJACKING, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

“Kapringen”, the Danish thriller, is a gripping drama with a ripped-from-the-headlines reality. There are no Disney pirates here!  Opening on “Day One”, cargo ship MVRozen is headed to harbor on the Indian Ocean.  In a movie called “A Hijacking”, the assumption is that the count starts from the day the ship is taken, so every passing moment builds tension as we wait for the pirates to appear.  Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek), the ship’s cook, goes about his daily routine as the camera follows him through the ship.  The audience scans the sea, anticipating approaching danger and holds their breath at each turn of the corridor.

There’s a quick scene change to Copenhagen and the shipping offices, where another drama is unfolding. Peter, the company CEO is called in to close a tough negotiation with a Japanese firm.   Adjusting his tie and pulling down the sleeves in his crisp business suit, Peter (Soren Malling) is calm and in control.  As the celebration begins at headquarters, the action cuts to the hijacking already in progress.

The tension increases as the audience shares the uncertainty of the crew — there is no translation for the Somalian pirates.  The crew has been separated — and no one, not the three crew members trapped in the galley, not the men in the boardroom, nor the audience, knows their fate.  Conditions on board the ship worsen and supplies dwindle as the company management team consults with a negotiation specialist.  The families are brought in to be informed and coached on what to say to the media.  Everyone is in crisis management mode and the team is assembled.  The drama onboard is mirrored in the conference rooms.  Peter must hold his emotions in check in the tense phone calls with the pirate’s negotiator.  On the other end of the line, a tormented Mikkel has a rifle at his neck.

The toll of the hijacking is driven home as Peter, previously calm and collected, loses his temper with his wife.  And when gunshots are heard over the phone as negotiations break down, he leaves the conference room struggling to maintain his composure.  Collapsing into a chair, alone, emotionally shattered, he may have gotten someone killed.  The effect of the hijacking takes a physical and psychological toll on the ship’s crew as the pirates play cruel games tormenting them with guns.  The days tick by with no relief from the heat or from stench of their sweating bodies and the single pot they are forced to relieve themselves in.  Interactions with the pirates are fraught with danger as they try to hold on to some dignity and beg for some fresh air.  Oceans away from the sanitized pirate movies of Disney fare, these young Somalian pirates are clearly desperate and not to be crossed.

The few moments of brevity only serve to drive home how insane the situation has become.  When the prisoners are finally allowed out for air (Day 147), they catch a fish and everyone becomes wild with joy — even sending the fish around to be kissed!  By focusing the film on two men, the contrast between the corporate world (and access to clean, pressed shirts) and that of captivity and the hard (and messy) work that is the life at sea is brought into sharp relief.   Both men have been hijacked: Peter, losing his composure and control of his company, and Mikkel, losing his sanity; tormented by thoughts of his family and desperate for freedom.  Both men have lost control: of their lives, their livelihoods, and perhaps even their minds when a few desperate men with guns take over the ship.  Tobias Lindholm has directed a well-crafted thriller that keeps the tension building, and there are excellent performances by the leads, including the engineer played by Roland Moller.  Hijacking; a concept that most people can only imagine based on the headlines, is in “Kapringen” made real; a tragedy for everyone involved.

Rating: Instead of “yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” — 4 shots of Danish whiskey, neat

*One small quibble: men who’ve been in captivity on strict rations usually lose their pot bellies and their muscle tone.