3 Women: Personal Shopper, Ghost in the Shell and Beauty and the Beast


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Warning: SPOILERS
Kristen Stewart, as far as I was concerned, did not have a particularly auspicious start in films as an actress. She came to fame by making big movies. But I found the Twilight series, and her acting, impossible to watch (I couldn’t get through the first in the franchise). She followed that up with Snow White and the Huntsman, which I did manage to get through, but definitely no thanks to Stewart’s underwhelming performance.
Then something happened. She became good. I was astounded, but still it happened.
This came to pass around the time she made Still Alice and The Clouds of Sils Maria (for which she became the first American to win a César award for acting-here in the supporting actress category). Continue reading

FROZEN and PHILOMENA


Frozen is a fairy tale about a kingdom that is in, well, let us say, deep doo-doo.  There is no one to rule it and it has been, well, frozen (hence the title) over.  But since this is a story with two females at the center, the real focus of the story is on whether the younger one will find the right man for her life and the older one will learn to hide a power she has, a power that makes her one of the most powerful people in the world, a power that no one else has (there is actually something similar here to the television series, Bewitched, in which the wife, who is obviously the more talented of the two in her marriage, has to suppress her true abilities in order to be a normal woman—I guess we haven’t come a long way, baby).

 

I’m sorry, but I really don’t get it.  I really don’t.  Is this really the message we want to send our daughters (and I use daughters in a more catholic sense, I don’t have any myself)?   I mean, this is a movie in which the rulers of a kingdom die, leaving their two daughters as heirs, but neither of the daughters are taught how to rule.  In fact, one of the more ridiculous aspects of the film is that everyone talks about how important this port city, this Arendelle is, yet no one seems to be running the place.  For years.  And no one is grooming the next in lines to take over.  It’s mind boggling.

 

But since both characters are future queens and/or potential mates for kings and princes, shouldn’t the story be about them learning how to become princesses and queens?  Shouldn’t Elsa (voice by Broadway songstress Idina Menzel), the older sister with the power to freeze things, not be hidden away in solitary confinement, but taught how to control her power and/or how to use it for the good of the kingdom, even if she must hide it to some degree for fear of being thought a witch, since she will eventually take over the throne?

 

And shouldn’t Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell), the younger sister, also be taught how to be to the manor born?  Instead all Anna seems to learn how to do is become incredibly annoying (and I mean, incredibly; dude, she is like on of the most annoying characters I’ve seen on celluloid for some time now).  I’m surprised the two ever learned how to read and write, the screenplay is so shoddy in this area.  But no, the story is not about how women can learn to be effective rulers or groomed to take on power positions, but about how important it is to find a boyfriend and how important it is not to stick out as a strong female.

 

Even at the end when Elsa learns how to rein in the more dangerous aspects of her abilities, all she does with it is create a skating rink.  No, really.  I am not making this up.  The ruler of one of the most powerful kingdoms in the area, and her main contribution as queen is…a skating rink.  I mean, sure, it’s a pretty neat little rink, I grant you that, but, I mean…c’mon.  Here the author (screenplay by Jennifer Lee from a story by Lee, Chris Buck and Shane Morris—Buck and Lee also directed) goes to all the trouble of giving her lead character this incredible power that at the end turns out to be rather worthless when it comes to her calling as a queen.  So what’s the point?

 

Look at it this way.  If the two central characters were male, do you really think the plot would work itself out remotely like this?

 

And since this is an animated tale and since this is Disney, it is also a musical.  And I don’t know where to start here.  The songs were written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and they all sound like rejects from Wicked, the style feels so similar (as do all the songs to each other).  Now I love the songs from Wicked as much as the next person (well, based on the person sitting next to me, probably more), but that approach here actually never meshes with the style of the story (it should, since both are fantasies, but every song in Frozen just seems to belong in another film).  And the lyrics are so simplistic, I wasn’t just agog, I was often mind numbingly agog.  I realize the movie is meant for children, but, I mean, c’mon, so was The Lion King.  What’s worse, they all seem to be anthems and give new meaning to the word “stop” in the phrase show stopping.   And I swear, with Menzel voicing Elsa, I kept expecting her to start belting out Defying Gravity at any moment (or maybe I just so desperately wanted her to so we could have a decent tune).

 

I do have to admit that there was one part of the film that I did find myself laughing at and quite enjoying and that was the character of Olaf (Josh Gad), an anthropomorphized snowman who always looks on the bright side of things even when he can’t find the bottom part of his body or he’s stuck through by an icicle.  It’s gimmicky, true.  But it’s also one of the few things in this ice storm of a movie that was actually quite heart warming.

 

It should be noted, though, that at the screening I went to, the movie was preceded by a sorta, kinda new Mickey Mouse cartoon.  It starts out with the Steamboat Willie Mickey of the early 30’s and has Minnie Mouse, a cow with lots of udders and a really bad, bad guy who wants Minnie.  At one point, the animated characters start breaking through the 2D black and white and enter a movie theater, becoming fully colorized 3D characters (like in Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo).  The interplay between the two worlds is genius and the whole thing is hysterical fun.  I highly recommend it.  It almost makes the whole thing worth the price of admission.

 

 

The movie Philomena is definitely a story that deserves to be told.  I’m not quite sure, though, it’s gotten the telling it really deserved.  It’s written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (which is kind of an ironic name when it comes to the movie, but more of that later) and is directed by Stephen Frears (but a long way from The Hit, My Beautiful Laundrette and The Grifters, I’m afraid; will we ever that side of Frears again?).

 

Steve Coogan also stars in the film, playing Martin Sixsmith, a disgraced journalist who is also one of those atheists with an unpleasant, offputting personality (you know, the Bill Maher type).  In fact, he’s so unpleasant and offputting that whenever the screenplay turns to a debate on religion (and it does quite often because the character is unpleasant and offputting and that’s just the way it goes), the whole thing not only comes to a crashing halt, it comes to an embarrassing and clunky one as well.    Judy Dench (the title character) plays one of those older women who gets laughs because she says things about sex we don’t think that women her age should know about, much less say (yes, that old warhorse is still employed for cheap giggles these days, I guess).

 

As a teen, Philomena got pregnant and was put into a convent run by an evil Abbess.  How evil was she?  She was so evil, that when Philomena had a breach birth which could have killed her baby, the Abbess refused to interfere (the baby was saved by a younger nun with a heart).  The Abbess then forces Philomena to be an indentured servant for four years to pay back the cost of the birth while selling off all the babies born at the convent to American couples who are the only ones rich enough to afford the $1,000 cost (okay, so she’s not Hannibal Lechter evil, but still, she holds her own, I’d say, and I told you Pope’s name was ironic).  The basic plotline is that Philomena and Martin join forces to try and find Philomena’s son and in the process all the familiar tropes and character arcs are employed (Martin becomes a kinder, gentler athiest and Philomena becomes more cynical about the church).

 

I’m making the movie sound terrible, and it’s not.  It’s perfectly…okay.  There’s nothing that special about it, but you do want to stick around long enough to find out how it all turns out and it does take a few surprising turns.  Coogan and Dench work hard at their rolls, though Dench easily comes out the winner here.  But the screenplay is uninspired and the movie is obvious, manipulative and cloying.  This doesn’t mean that your throat doesn’t catch and your eyes never fight off those tears, but generally speaking that is not due to any of the actions of the behind the scenes people involved, but the story itself, which is often horrifying and moving in the historical details it provides.