As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Archive for the ‘Riffs and Ruminations’ Category

The Dark Knight Rises, comics, and… Magic Mike?

Posted by Hedwig on July 22, 2012

No “what’s making me happy” this week, since what I really want to talk about is the new Batman movie, and it unfortunately didn’t make me very happy. I hesitated to write this post because of the violent response to early negative (or not positive enough) reviews, but by now the virulent fan boys have seen the movie, and they’ve been much quieter since…

Note: a minor spoiler for The Dark Knight occurs further in the text. I’ll warn beforehand.

For me, the film illustrated how valuable film criticism can be. See, I liked, but didn’t love, the first two batman films, BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT. There was plenty to admire – many of the performances, with Heath Ledger’s joker as a stand-out; the fact that Gotham became a tangible place; the sheer scope of the thing, the epic scale. But I never really got into them, never really managed to lose myself in the films, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on the why. I knew that part of it was that the themes were stated over and over, and that the film mistook being dour and “dark” for being intellectual and deep, but that wasn’t everything.

Then I read many of Jim Emerson‘s many pieces about the films, and it clicked. Read the rest of this entry »

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On rape jokes

Posted by Hedwig on July 11, 2012

I don’t really want to get specifically into the whole Daniel Tosh thing, because a) I’d never heard of him before this and b) it’s been covered well elsewhere, for instance by Alyssa Rosenberg. However, the incident has made me think about rape jokes, and whether they’re even funny.

First of all, a disclaimer: I’m lucky enough never to have been raped. Some boob gropage aside, I’ve never even been sexually assaulted. This means I can’t speak as to how triggering jokes can be, and I won’t attempt to. I’ll stick to analyzing some jokes and the messages behind them. I also feel like I should place a TW here: I’ll describe a fairly violent visual rape joke from a movie later on, so adjust accordingly.

Thing is, I don’t think a blanket “rape jokes are never funny” is true. Nor do I think declaring rape jokes taboo is a good thing. I think rape jokes can be funny. In fact, just this weekend, a friend showed me Wanda Sykes’ “detachable vagina” bit:

Now, to me, that’s funny. And a big chunk of it falls under the qualifier “rape joke”. Likewise the “Here’s your rape!”-bit I came across recently – I’m not a big fan of the execution of that one, but the premise is good.

What distinguished both these examples is that instead of feeding back into rape culture, they expose it. For the jokes to work, you need to be aware of just how pervasive the idea of rape is in a girls education, in a woman’s life.  I’m stubborn enough that I don’t let it affect me much in my daily life – I often bike home alone late at night, for instance, and dress however the hell I please – but I’m aware that this means that if anything happens to me, people are likely to shake their heads and think I should have been more careful. And I’m aware it’s not so easy to shrug of for everyone: I have a friend who doesn’t want to come over to watch a movie if it means biking home alone after dark. These jokes acknowledge this reality, and manage to make it darkly funny.

Talking the issue over with BF, he mentioned another rape joke, in the Dutch movie NEW KIDS NITRO, that’s in a very different category.

Background about the New Kids thing (more here): originally a series of online sketches, it’s about a group of decidedly lower-class, none-too-bright guys from Brabant, speaking an exaggerated version of the local dialect, and swearing a lot, with “kut” as their preferred insult (guess what english word that’s etymologically related to…). I watched the first movie made from the show, NEW KIDS TURBO, and thought it was very funny: the makers have an impeccable of timing, and their strength lies in repetition and exaggeration, taking jokes to absurd extremes. As an example: remember the moment in MEAN GIRLS where Regina George is suddenly hit by a bus? Well, NEW KIDS NITRO has not one or two but four (4!) of those, with progressively bigger vehicles, and progressively bigger laughs, too.

According to BF, at a certain point in the sequel, in the middle of a battle, a lady from the (admittedly easy to ridicule) “bond tegen het vloeken” (“association against swearing”) shows up, and lectures them. Now, there’s a way to make this funny: the “do you have to use so many cuss words?” “The fuck you talking about?” exchange from THE BIG LEBOWSKI comes to mind. The “joke” in NKN, however, involves the woman getting bent over and raped with a pool cue.

Yeah. See, I get that one of their things it to push limits. The movie also involved zombies, which are put on a train to Germany as an “endlösing” – clearly,  shock is their objective. But aside from being tasteless, the pool cue thing is just… lazy. It’s not just an easy target, but it’s hit with the least amount of creativity possible.  Echoing “let’s teach that uptight bitch a lesson” – original thought, there. Worst of all, it’s simply not funny – unless you think upsetting/annoying women if funny in and of itself.

It’s not like it would have been difficult to think of something better, even. For instance, wouldn’t it have been unexpected to have one of the New Kids (or all) suddenly turn around, and lecture the woman in extremely posh and articulate Dutch about the importance of swearing for language? And then show a reaction shot of the woman looking shocked, and then saying, after just the right length of pauze “kut…”*?  It may not be comedy brilliance, but if I can come up with a funnier alternative in ten minutes as an amateur, professional comedians should have no trouble finding something better. Something that doesn’t depict rape as a deserved comeuppance for being a prude, preferably.

There is one obvious difference, of course, between these jokes: the first two were made by women, the latter by men. I don’t necessarily think that only women can make good rape jokes, or that they can never make an unfunny or unacceptable one. I just think the lived experience of men and women is very different, so it might require a bit more empathy from men – just like I’d really have to think before I ever made a joke about, say, what it’s like to be a black person. In fact, I’d probably just reconsider telling the joke. So guys: unless you’re willing to put yourself in women’s shoes, and I mean really make an effort, I’d probably just stay away from that particular topic.**

“It’s just a joke!”, you might say. Sure, just like “it’s just a movie!”, “it’s just a saying!”, “it’s just a word” etc. These things all reflect and shape society, and as such are worth examining. And the fact that the most “shock-jock” or “anti-PC” jokes tend to reinforce the status-quo, tend to uphold existing hierarchies? Well, that’s just very fascinating.

*while the New Kids (and, apparently, much of Brabant) uses the term as an equivalent of “cunt”, it can also be more of an exclamation in the same way as “shit” or “fuck”. It can also become a preposition: a “kutdag” is a shitty day. Versatile word, really, and one I kind of like despite its gendered nature. The hard “k” makes it very satisfying to say.

** for those tempted to invoke the first amendment, or call this “censorship”… please.

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On being a “girl”

Posted by Hedwig on April 18, 2012

“…or at least a voice of generation”

You can’t put a quote like that in the pilot of your show, and even assign it to the character you play yourself, without inviting a lot of comments, and Lena Dunham certainly got that in the past days/weeks. Specifically, since her character is 24, she’s 26, and I’m 27, and we furthermore share a gender, race, sexual orientation and approximate socio-economic background, the generation would be my generation, and it’s tempting to dive into a list of differences and similarities between her characters’ situations and, trying to rate just how “true” or “representative” or whatever the show is.

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Angelina Jolie’s leg

Posted by Hedwig on February 29, 2012

So, everyone’s in a huff, because of this:

 

 

It was mocked (brilliantly, imho) right away by Jim Rash, adopting a similar pose when accepting his screenwriting Oscar, many twitters and tumblr’s were born, etc. And the concern trolling started: cries that she should eat a sammich/cheeseburger – always either of those two, somehow – speculations about drugs and/or a mental breakdown, designations of “Most Try“.

 

Everyone just seems so… peeved. My pet theory? People expect women (or at least “hot” women, and glamorous stars in particular) to perform femininity and sex appeal – but they don’t want to know it’s a performance. Kind of like women are expected to look flawless without revealing any of the effort it requires. Jolie made the performance aspect of it undeniable, glaring even, and the backlash is immediate: she “tries too hard”, and (burn!) isn’t-all-that-sexy-anyway-look-how-bony-ugh.

As a not-really-conventionally-pretty* girl not employed in the entertainment industry, I have the luxury of opting out of a lot of the performance elements – I never wear make-up, for instance, and few people will even notice if I show up to work in a hoodie. Jolie, for obvious reasons, can’t (remember the time Julia Roberts forgot to shave under her armpits?). Her bankability and perceived employability depend on her looking the part of a sex symbol. I wouldn’t even be surprised if the photographers actually asked her to show her leg on that red carpet, as appears to be the case – and her response was both hilarious and, in its way, subversive.

 

*note: I like the way I look, and this is in no way to be interpreted as a call for re-assurance.

 

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La Piel Que Habito

Posted by Hedwig on November 23, 2011

Oh Pedro. You magnificent bastard.

I really should no longer be surprised. I did a count – this is the tenth Almodovar movie I’ve seen. I’m used to the vibrant colors and grand compositions by now, and I should no longer be surprised by the twists, the outrageousness, the sheer bat-shitness (bat-shittedness?) of it all. I spent the movie being first curious, then apprehensive, then highly uncomfortable followed by angry, and finally, when the twist finally starts emerging, shaking my head in both disbelief and admiration. Nobody else is foolish enough to attempt these things. But then again, I know of nobody else who could pull it off.

Read more after the jump, but SPOILERS beware. Usually I leave it at that, but really, I loved that I saw this film knowing next to nothing about the plot, and I would strongly recommend that people who a) have not seen this one but b) do want to watch it, stop reading right here.

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TUMBLR – Legitimizing female desire, or: girls who like boys who kiss boys

Posted by Hedwig on July 29, 2011

As you may have noticed, I’ve kind of been sucked into this whole tumblr thing, and it’s kind of glorious and scary at the same time. From an outside perspective, looking just at Notes on Films, it looks like a normal (maybe slightly minimalist) blog, but there’s a whole interface behind it that’s more reminiscent of twitter: people following people, people “liking” posts and re-blogging them, etc. This also means that, like twitter, tumblr is anything but monolithic. If you’d put all the relationships in one of those sparse matrices BF works with and laid it out in graph form, you’d see all kinds of busy, intricately interlinked hubs with barely any connections between them. In what follows, some observations, and the meandering thoughts it inspired on the changes in the way female desire is reflected in current movies/media. Warning: long.

Adoring Anton

The hub I’m mostly in is the (classic) movie one, which seems to be dominated by fairly young girls (i.e. younger than me), and which is characterized partly by a lot of fawning over male movie stars*. One of the most prominent is current it-boy Michael Fassbender (just do a tumblr search for “sassy Fassy”, if you dare), but what’s most noticeable to me is the sheer diversity that’s on display: the classic heartthrobs make an appearance (Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, etc.), but there’s also tumblrs that feature Gene Kelly over and over, or Buster Keaton, or Robert Donat. There’s one girl who loved Anton Walbrook so much she got a tattoo of his name, and many others. Point is: people who still maintain that woman are “just not that visually motivated” can find literally thousands of counterexamples of tumblr, and that’s a good thing.

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In defense of vegetables

Posted by Hedwig on June 12, 2011

It’s been a while since I dared immerse myself in a blogosphere dispute, but here goes. The whole thing started with a NYTimes piece by Dan Kois, talking about how he has less and less stamina for the “cultural vegetables” he feels he has to consume. A.O.Scott and Manohla Dargis responded, as did many others. I don’t pretend to be able to add new insight to the discussion, but it’s made me think, and I thought I’d put some of these thought on (virtual) paper.

The thing is, I understand where Dan Kois is coming from, to a certain extent. More precisely, I recognize the feeling that with some movies, the desire to have watched them is stronger than the desire to actually watch them. Films that stay on my watchlist for a long time, because in the moment, watching a short, entertaining noir or a fluffy classic Hollywood musical seems more appealing that doing the effort to immerse yourself in something more demanding.

That, however, is as far as I’m willing to go along with Kois, and not just because I disagree with his metaphor (just look at those veggies above. Don’t they look delectable? I don’t need any feeling of obligation to eat those). Digging in and watching these movies is, to me, almost always in some way a rewarding experience. Take one of his examples, SOLARIS. It took me a while to get up the energy to watch it, partly because my only previous Tarkovsky experience was in my first year of college with STALKER, and most of what I remembered was an insistent and annoying drip-drip-dripping sound, and a weird kind of drowsiness. But one night, after re-watching THE PASSENGER* for the nth time (with Nicholson’s awesome commentary), I felt in the correct mood to give SOLARIS a try.

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