2011 Summer Line Up!

Finally, after some delay due to logistics with the films, I’m happy to announce the Stilwell Summer Film Series Line Up!  This year we’re heading to the wild west with two Westerns and two Western influenced films!

July 8: Rio Bravo, the Howard Hawk’s classic starring John Wayne, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson.

July 15:  Bandidas, the 2006 western comedy starring Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek as bank-robbers in turn of the century Mexico, and co-starring one of my favorite actors, Steve Zhan!

July 22: Rango, the 2011 animated film with Johnny Depp as a chameleon transplanted into the middle of Chinatown and High Noon!

July 29: Our 2011 finale: Star Wars IV: A New Hope, George Lucas’ western inspired sci-fi classic that started it all!

As always, all films start at dusk on the southern wall of Stilwell United Methodist Church (19335 Metcalf Ave), and it is outdoors, so bring chairs and blankets to sit on.  In case of bad weather, films will be moved indoors.  Popcorn is free, and other food and drink are available by donation.

This year, we are looking to expand on the experience by providing pre-film entertainment, so check back often to find out about all the action!  More information about the films will also be posted over the coming weeks, including ratings, running times and reviews, but if you have any questions in the mean time, email info@stilwellfilm.org or follow us on  twitter.

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2010 Line up coming soon!

Next week, we’ll be announcing the 2010 Stilwell Film Series films and dates, and it’s got us excited!


And the nominees are…

The Oscars air next Sunday (March 7) at 7PM Central on ABC.  Needless to say, the entertainment world is all a-twitter, and most people seem to think the big duel of the evening will be between James Cameron and Avatar vs Kathryn Bigelow and The Hurt Locker.

The question on everyone’s mind is will this be the first year a female director is honored with one of the highest directing awards?  With the new 10 Best Picture nominees, it’s really anyone game.  With more films to divide the votes, I wouldn’t be surprised if neither of the front runners win.

Over the next week, I plan to see as many of the nominated films as I can get a hold on here in Scotland, but in the mean time, visit Oscar.com and leave a comment with your predictions, preferences, and if you’d like to see any of the films at this year’s series.


Avatar

This review is not featured on Bitch Flicks as part of their review of the Oscar Best Picture nominees.

Admittedly, Avatar isn’t my thing, I’m not big on James Cameron or any alien films (not only his), I’ve never been interested in Star Wars or Star Trek (though I have seen enough of both franchises to hold a conversation), so I wasn’t planning on watching Avatar at any point in my life.  However, this afternoon, I changed my mind, when a free screening became available to me.  With my original plans canceled and a spare 2 and a half hours available, I tucked into James Cameron’s latest film.

Well, Avatar wasn’t what I thought it would be, but it wasn’t any better.  During the first half of the movie I spent most of it developing alternative titles ending with “in space.”  “Pocahontas in space,” “Dances with Wolves in space,” and “Titanic in Space” all sprang to mind.  For the most part, it seems Cameron has taken plots from various other films, thrown them together, died it blue and placed it on the fictitious planet, Pandora, to create a Sci-fi retelling of the Pocahontas mythos.

In this version, instead of John Smith, it is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), the wheel chair bound ex-marine who takes over his dead twin’s avatar mission, who falls in love with the Na’vi people, and specifically, the clan leader’s daughter, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana).  He begins as an undercover spy, trying to learn about the Pandora natives’ culture to help the visiting Earthling’s military and big businesses.  However, as all stories like this go, he falls in love and is torn between the two worlds and races.  The plot is laid out in the previews, and if you need help, Cameron lays the foreshadowing on thick through out the film, but then the plot isn’t why most people are seeing this film, is it?

Special effects wise, the film is pretty fascinating.  What more can one say?  Seeing this on the big screen and in 3D, would probably have held my attention more, but alas, my free screening wasn’t at such a high standard.  Would I sit through it again if I could get a free ticket to the 3D IMAX experience?  No, but if you’re debating seeing it, definitely spend the extra and get your full money’s worth.

As much as I would like to sit through a movie like this and enjoy it for what it is (ground-breaking Sci-fi entertainment that will go down in history), I simply can’t as James Cameron’s attempt to create a more spiritual, natural, and peaceful society, leaves me annoyed that once again this idea being filtered through a white, Western male member of patriarchal society.  Some theorist will consider Cameron’s Alien trilogy feminist texts, because of Sigourney Weaver’s  empowered Ripley  (and legend says, it was written to be asexual–with casting deciding the character’s sex), but still has to prove her femininity and womanliness by saving cats and small children.  I fear, that many feminist theorist will attempt to assign some prestige on Avatar as well, for creating a world where the people worship a female entity, “Eywa,” the Clan leader’s female mate/wife is as powerful as him, and the female lead is as empowered as Ripley.  However, like Ripley, Neytiri as her feminine trappings as well, as her power can be explained away through her heritage.

When Neytiri first meets Sully, she commands the other warriors to stand down and allow her to take him to their leader–who just happens to be her father.  The warriors listen and obey her, but is it because she is a powerful woman, or because her father and mother are leaders among the Na’vi?  Does she earn her power or inherit it?  Similarly, in the legend of Pocahontas,* would John Smith have been saved if it was by any other girl in the village or because it was the Chief’s daughter who “saved” him?  Furthermore, to add to Neytiri’s street cred, her great-grandfather was Toruk Makto, a legendary Na’vi leader, basically giving her a birth right to power and respect among her people.  For those who don’t believe it, I ask, would Sully have survived his first night among the Na’vi if the one speaking for him was any other woman and not the daughter of the clan leader and shaman (or would that be sha-lady in this case)?

I’ll leave you with that to ponder, while I try to flush the symbolism that taming a wild animal is as simple as penetrating it with your mystical hair, and end this review on a generally positive note.  The first two-thirds are fairly entertaining, but the large battle scenes were just that–large battle scenes.  Perhaps at an IMAX or in 3D, I wouldn’t have lost focus, but I simply wasn’t interested and played on my phone instead.  A lot of people will see this and love it, but if Science fiction, action, and special effect-laden films aren’t you’re cup a tea, you probably won’t leave the theater an Avatar fan.

The Stats:

Director: James Cameron

Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Signourney Weaver

Rated: PG-13

162 minutes

*I refer to the story of Pocahontas as legends and myths, because it is questionable how much of John Smith’s accounts are exaggerated, not to mention that he was also rescued by a Turkish princess when captured in what is now Hungary.  The stories are similar, so the question is: did John Smith make a habit of being rescued by pre-teen girls or did he blend the two together for his own benefit.


The Princess and the Frog

Disney’s The Princess and the Frog is amazing. Need I say more? I suppose I should.  Tiana is, of course, Disney’s first Black princess. She is also their first American (as in US citizen) princess, which I find just as interesting as her race, especially since the movie doesn’t focus on her race. There is one line in the movie that sort of refers to Tiana’s race: the real estate man says “a little woman of your… background,” when explaining why she shouldn’t have the building she wants for her restaurant. This line is repeated later on during her Facilier-induced nightmare. This could easily refer to her race or class, or probably both. The fact is, this movie is more about class than race. What race is Naveen? Maldonian. That’s all I can tell you. He has not particular race. But what’s important is his class: he is royalty. He comes from a fabulously wealthy family. This makes him part of Charlotte’s rich society, and this is what makes him so different from Tiana. But I don’t want this review to be about race; I am much more interested in the characters, romance, and relation to previous Disney movies.

Ok, so the characters in this story are so great that I simply don’t have words for it. Tiana is strong, independent, hard-working—everything people have been complaining Disney princesses are not. She has two jobs, and she has a dream other than get-the-prince or please-her-father. And she grows and changes during the story! Charlotte is more like the traditional Disney princess; sitting around, waiting for her prince, doesn’t have a job. And she is HILARIOUS. Yes, I used caps lock, because that’s how serious I am about this. You’re supposed to laugh at her intense desire to marry a prince and become a princess, no matter what else happens. Prince Naveen is truly outstanding. He has a personality! Say what? Since when do princes have personalities? Aladdin, Beast… that’s pretty much it. They also both have their names in the titles of their movies. Eric kind of had a personality, maybe? He’s not very memorable. I guess Shang has a personality, but I have a problem with him, because his romance is just sort of there out of necessity, and he’s not as awesome as Mulan’s friends; of course, he is also not really a prince. I’m only mentioning him because Mulan is considered one of Disney’s princesses. Naveen has a personality, a past, and he matures and develops, like Aladdin and Beast. And he is Disney’s sexiest prince yet. No question.

Dr. Facilier is a great villain; I’d say he’s like a mix of Ursula and Scar. His magic is very reminiscent of Ursula (more on that later), but more charismatic, sort of like Scar. I am officially in love with Keith David. “Friends on the Other Side” is my current ringtone. I just love it. And don’t forget Ray, the Cajun firefly! He leads the song “Gonna Take You There” and has the solo “Ma Belle Evangeline.” In the previews, Ray seemed like the most problematic and downright annoying of all the characters, but in the movie, he is possibly the best. He’s so sweet and smart and wise, and I love him. Of course, this was just a brief overview of my favorite characters. There are plenty of other great characters, but I really don’t want to describe my love for everyone in this movie.

Naveen and Tiana’s romance was so great. It was definitely not love at first sight. When they first see each other, Tiana sighs and rolls her eyes, and Naveen just shrugs and walks off. For most of the movie, they plan on marrying Naveen to Charlotte. This was simply the best Disney romance yet. It was between two characters with real personalities. I guess you could compare it to Beauty and the Beast, but I was reminded more of Fox’s Anastasia. Two characters forced together, at first don’t like each other, but start to fall in love. Demetri uses Anya to escape Russia and get money, and Naveen plans on using Tiana to escape his frog form so he can marry rich and get money. The problem with comparing it to Beauty and the Beast is that Beast and Naveen are not similar. Yes, they are both pretty selfish, but that’s about it. And Beast is selfish in a mean way, while Naveen is selfish in a more unthinking way. He doesn’t try to hurt anyone; he just doesn’t always realize the consequences of his actions.

One of the greatest things about this movie is its relationship to previous Disney movies. This is Disney’s return to classic animation, and the movie contains references to other movies. As previously mentioned, Dr. Facilier is rather similar to Ursula; he keeps Naveen’s blood on a mask-thing on a necklace, rather like how Ursula traps Ariel’s voice in a shell-thing on a necklace. His plan is for Lawrence to marry Charlotte, who Naveen wants to marry, like how Ursula plans to marry Eric, Ariel’s love interest. Additionally, King Triton is on a Mardi Gras float. Charlotte’s dance with “Naveen” looks similar to the dance in Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Tiana wishes upon a star (Pinnochio), and the star turns out to be Evangeline, who Ray eventually joins (The Lion King). In the book The Art of the Princess and the Frog, they describe how the artists watched old Disney movies, and took a lot of inspiration for the drawing style from Lady and the Tramp.

So, to sum up: this movie is totally awesome, and everyone should see it. And I want to visit New Orleans. And marry Prince Naveen. And open a restaurant. And own Charlotte’s wardrobe.

Stats:

Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker

Starring: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Jim Cummings, Keith David, John Goodman, Oprah Winfrey

Rated: G

97 minutes


Nine

Nine

It took long enough, but I finally saw Nine this week.  I had been uber excited to see it for a good 6 months, only to have my hopes dashed by the critics panning the film.  Nevertheless, I held on to some hope.  After all, the critics tend to be extra harsh on musicals.  Sadly, the critics were being too kind, as the first thing from my lips as I left the cinema were “Rob Marshall must hate women!”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the stage show, I’ve seen Fellini’s 8 1/2 (the 1963 film which Nine is based on), so I knew there were misogynistic undertones.  I understood that all the women were either whores, virgins, or mothers to Guido (Daniel Day-Lewis).  However, nothing could prepare me for the sexist changes Marshall’s team made to the original script.  This film, and his earlier work which focused on weak (Memoirs of a Geisha 2005) and stupid (Chicago 2002) women, leads me to believe he just hates women.

Let’s begin with the biggest travesty of the film: Lilli.  In the film, Lilli (Judi Dench) is Guido’s sounding board, a maternal figure, a former member of the Folies Bergére, and the costumer/make up artist for his films.  However, in the stage version, she is still the voice of reason, but also his producer.  SAY WHAT?   You’ve got to be kidding, women don’t know how to produce films.  Guido would never be subordinate to a woman.  No, no, we must change this!  Let’s make this old woman in charge of making younger, better looking women even more beautiful.  Ah, yes, that’s better.  Now, let’s add insult to injury and keep the producer, but change it to a chauvinist man, who wants to Guido to cast his sexy, nubile mistress in the film.  If someone can give me one good reason they stripped Lilli of her title, hats off to you.  In the meantime, let’s move on to Luisa.

According to my understanding, in the stage production, Luisa and Guido visit the spa together in a last-ditch attempt to fix their floundering marriage.  In the film, Guido runs away from the film studio to hide out at the spa.  Luisa (Marrion Cotillard) doesn’t even physically enter the spa until 30 minutes into the film.  Much like Lilli, Luisa’s stripped of any strength and agency.  She comes when Guido calls, (well, actually she comes when Lilli calls as Guido tells her not to come so he can get with his mistress), sings a song, puts up with his crap then finally leaves him–only to return in an ambiguous ending that leads the audience to think she might forgive him for his betrayal.  The basic story character arch is there, but any sympathy for her is missing.

In the same boat is Carla (Penelope Cruz), his long-term mistress, who decides to take a bunch of pills in hopes to end her life when Guido ends their relationship.  Once again, that’s the movie’s version.  In the play, she takes action, she divorces her husband and rushes to tell Guido they can be together, only to be ignored and rejected by him.  She comes to her senses and leaves him as well.  I realize the story is about these women being obsessed with a man, but why did Carla have to attempt suicide?  Why can’t she develop from the stereotypical mistress, to a woman who finally realizes she can be on her own?*  Furthermore, why did Marshall and company strip the script of any character development?

I could handle the rest of this crap, if Guido at least matured as he does on stage.  After all the women leave him, he contemplates suicide but finally his 9-year-old self comes in, convinces him it’s time to grow up (song: “Getting Tall”) and Guido can finally get back to work.  Once again, Marshall gives us nothing.  Guido disappears for a few years comes back, and finally can get to work, but does he really mature?  Does he make any amends?  Does he realize he’s a jack ass?  Of course not, because he’s Italian!

Apologies are in order, this “review” has become more of a bitter rant.  I really, really, really tried to keep it together, even waited a few days to let my blood cool, but it hasn’t worked.  I could go on about how they cut important songs (see “Be On Your Own” and “Getting Tall”), cut a major female character altogether, or completely WASTED Sophia Loren, but that would lead to a hole in the wall and my fist bleeding.  Instead, I’ll end this on a happy note, and I’ll share with you what I did like about Nine:

Saraghina**.  She’s a whore.  She owns it.  The End.

The Stats:

Director: Rob Marshall

Starring: A bunch of Oscar winners/nominees that were hired to add street cred to this hot mess.

Rating: PG-13

*Be On Your Own is actually one of the big numbers from the stage play and a major theme in Guido’s developing maturity in the course of the musical.

**Played by Fergie (aka Stacy Ferguson), but mainly because I love her song and I love this clip from the original


Sherlock Holmes

Photo sourced from the film's Warner Brothers website.

Regardless of his troubled past, Robert Downey, Jr. has proved repeatedly that he is one of the greatest actors of his generation.   Even with his pesky drug problem, he has managed to carve out a nice (if bumpy) career since the mid-1980s, and perhaps it was his problems that leads me to believe he was bornto play the equally troubled, but gifted, Sherlock Holmes.  It is the ease in which Downey slips from one character to another that has endeared him as one of my favorite actors since I first saw Heart And Souls (Ron Underwood 1993), and his performance in Guy Ritchie’s take of the classic sleuth never ceases to entertain, even when the film seems to lag.

First, let me admit that the closest I’ve come to reading a Sherlock Holme’s story was watching Wishbone on PBS during the mid-90s, so I’m no expert on the characters.  However, Downey manages to capture the soul of Holmes while bringing him into the 21st century.  Not only does his Sherlock use his intelligence to solve crimes and out smart his foes, but to physically best them as well.  This is shown in two early fights where the audience is taken through Sherlock’s mental plan of attack and then witnesses him take down his opponent by implementing his plans.  While interesting, and a great way to marry the action to the genius, the second scene, was a bit gratuitous.  It provided an interesting introduction to Rachel McAdam’s Irene Adler, and her lure over Holmes, but didn’t serve any pressing purpose to the plot.

Guy Ritchie, who’s cannon deals with crime lords and London’s underbelly, succeeds at bringing a gritty Victorian London to the screen, and providing plenty of action for a post-Iron Man Downey to work with.  However, what impressed me the most with this film (aside from Jude Law finally proving he’s more than a pretty boy) was the wit, which, sadly, went over the heads of most the audience at my screening.  The verbal sparring between Holmes and Watson was wonderful, and I was happy that this Watson dished out as much as he took, but the best thing about the pairing of Downey and Law was their ability to play up the homoeroticism, with out crossing into parody.  The subplot involving Watson’s impeding engagement, not only prevented Watson from becoming a cartoon, but perfectly articulated one of the most famous “bromances” of all time.

Bottom line: the overly complicated plot and action dragged down the characterizations and performances from the leading men.

The Stats:

Director: Guy Ritchie

Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams

Rated: PG-13

128 minutes.