Superman Returns (2006)

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I woke up to the awful news that FOX is remaking (or reimagining) The Rocky Horror Picture Show for TV so I’m going to publish this happy ramble about Superman Returns, which I finally watched last night, to distract myself.

Superman Returns (2006) was a film that I put off watching for a long time, because I’d assumed it wasn’t that good from what I’d heard from others. This was obviously a mistake because I don’t remember the last time I was filled with such pure glee watching a superhero film (and, okay, my movie viewing is a little thin in the superhero department but it still stands). To be a little cliched it made me feel like a child again, filled with wonder and awe and all that jazz. Not just at the visual qualities (though some of the CGI was on the nose even on my small analogue – yes, analogue! – TV so I’m not sure how it rated on the big screen) but the atmosphere of the film, in general, and also at the gentleness of Routh’s Superman.

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Let’s talk about that, before I go back to the aesthetics. It’s difficult, watching this now, not to compare it to Man of Steel; Routh’s Superman was refreshing after the disappointment I felt in MoS (though I do think Cavill could be a great Superman in other hands) but, of course, it’s a very different film and one that shows a more seasoned Superman. After all, it follows on from Reeve’s performance in Superman I & II, just as the plot follows on from those films. The calmness and, as I said, gentleness of Routh’s Superman was just lovely to watch. It was so upsetting to watch Luthor and his thugs beat a kryptonite sick Superman; I’m usually not that affected by violence in these types of films.

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I think Routh may be my new favourite superman? I’m not sure, yet. Could anyone really supplant Reeve in my heart? Perhaps they can hold equal billing, but I feel like Routh’s performance is slightly more relatable. As much as his performance – the whole film, obviously – owes so much to Superman I & II it’s less cartoony without resorting to being overly ‘realistic’. The scene with his son at the end made me a little misty-eyed, despite its corniness (I’m assuming. in the planned sequel, there would have been more exploration of that relationship – well, I’m hoping so, anyway, and that Superman didn’t just fly off and leave Lois and their son without trying to connect as a family).

superman-returns-movie-screencaps.com-9016Back to the aesthetics! The muted tones were gorgeous and made me think of sepia toned photographs (mostly the daylight scenes). The perfect blend of modern and retro styles in the sets and costumes also made me think of Burton’s Batman films. The scenes with Lois & Superman floating together (though I did wonder if Lois could breathe at that altitude), embracing, were breathtaking as was the scene of Superman, sick from kryptonite, falling back to Earth after jettisoning the black crystal mass into space. He doesn’t merely plummet inelegantly, but swoons back delicately, cape fluttering…it was honestly one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. (Looking at the screencap, now, it’s quite a Christ-like pose, isn’t it?) This probably sounds either absurd or effusive (perhaps both) but I felt compelled to write about it and I tend to get a little cheesy.

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I really liked Bosworth as Lois. The glimpses of what she was like as a reporter (in the plane at the beginning and following up on the blackout story) were enough for me to get a sense of her determination. Plus, the scene where she dives straight into the ocean, without second thought, to save Superman was awesome. I love when women get to save men and not just because it reverses the damsel in distress trope, but because that’s just what you do when you love someone. (Or when you’re a decent human being and have the capacity to help, I guess.) It makes it more believable for me.

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The whole cast was great, really. Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor was genius. And Parker Posey as Kitty Kowalski was pretty fantastic. (But when do I not love Parker Posey?)

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I’ll try to wrap this up because this ramble has gone on too long (I tried to keep it short!). But I want to add that I loved that everything is resolved without too much destruction or death. It was something I really needed, right now. I’ll be the first to tell you I’m a huge cynic, but I’ll also admit it’s just nice to watch a movie that gives you hope, that lets you believe the bad guy (or gal) can be beaten without having to kill them, the world can be saved without destroying so much of it in the process, and so on. Perhaps it’s hokey, (or maybe not), but isn’t that nice sometimes?

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I’m sad I missed out on this film for so long, but now that I’ve seen it (and it’s become an instant favourite), I shall definitely be watching it many more times. If you enjoyed Superman I & II, I would recommend watching Superman Returns, if you’ve not already. It has its own unique qualities that makes it more than a copycat sequel or pure homage, but it embodies the feel of the Reeve Superman films. Or, even if you’ve not seen them, watch it, anyway. And you don’t have to be a hardcore comic book/Superman afficianado to enjoy it (because I’m not, and I did!)

Screencaps from here.

 

Girlhood/Bande de Filles (2014)

!!!girlhoodThere will probably be spoilers in my rambling thoughts below.

Another film that’s been on my ‘must see’ list was Girlhood aka Bande de Filles and I was lucky enough to get to see it at the French Film Festival, a little while ago,. If you get a chance to see this film: go see it. This film is so important. It doesn’t take a lot of pointing out to realise that (western) depicitions of ‘girlhood’ are overwhelmingly white (and cis, straight, etc.), reflecting only a small portion of girls’ lives. This is a point that has come up a lot in my interactions online (mainly tumblr) as well as being made by several authors when I was researching my thesis (it was on girlhood in photography and cinema).

That’s why the film Girlhood, directed by Céline Sciamma, is so important. How many films centre on a black girl, versus the amount centring on a white girl? How many are cast entirely of black girls? And, yes, while there are fights between them, the strength of the friendship between Vic (the nickname given to Marieme), Lady, Adiatou & Fily, and the support they offer each other is profound. While it doesn’t have the same lightheartedness as, say, Clueless or Mean Girls (which do tackle some serious topics but in a much more ‘feel good’ way) it wasn’t the depressing feature I feared it may be. There is a lot of levity to balance the dark topics (like domestic abuse, gang violence, drugs, etc.), mostly seen in scenes with Vic and her friends doing regular teenage stuff. They dance and sing along to Rihanna (one of the most beautiful scenes in the whole film), have dance-offs, play mini-golf, go shopping etc. It is seriously gorgeous. Not just in the way it is filmed (because the cinematography is stunning) but because so many scenes left me grinning ear to ear with glee.

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As I mentioned, it does address some less easy to watch topics – domestic abuse, (gang) violence, bullying, drugs, etc. – through what Vic experiences in her own life. We see how the violence of her older brother has affected her, not just by making her wary of him, but in the violence she, herself, exhibits toward others. But we also see how this troubles her. Mariema aka Vic may feel helpless at times but she is also shown as in control in many scenes, best illustrated when she decides to have sex with her boyfriend – everything that we see happen is on her terms.

I thought it touched on some interesting things about gender, too, but only very briefly. (If you’ve seen it, you may know what I mean near the end – I’d love to talk more about that). Racism was addressed in the one interaction Vic and her friends had with a white person (also the only one with a speaking role, from memory) where the shop clerk starts following her around the shop. But the dominant theme, or at least the majority of screentime, was focussed on Vic and her (girl)friends. They were funny and smart and beautiful and all a joy to watch. There was conflict within the group but they were there for each other in their struggles.

My only issue with the film was that the ending was quite abrupt. I enjoy an open-ended ending but I felt like the last little bit of this film was rushed but not so much so that it detracted from the feature as a whole.

It is a pity that the film doesn’t seem to have a very wide release internationally (though correct me if I’m wrong) because it deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. It’s certainly not the best film I’ve seen, objectively speaking, but for the reasons I’ve said it’s a very important film and I hope we get more like it. Where black girls or other girls of colour don’t have to be the (token) best friend to a white girl in order to exist onscreen. I hope it’s not too long before this spills over more and more into mainstream cinema (this is one of the reasons I supported the remake of Annie) and gains momentum rather than to fall away again as it has before. I don’t believe people should have to put so much effort into seeking out films where they are not only represented but represented in lead roles. Or in every role. To be represented as multi-faceted people and not always relegated to stereotyped or narrow roles.

I know I’m getting away from the film to sort of get on my soapbox here but films like this are what I want to be seeing more of. What we need to see more of. I know it’s a complex issue, especially when it comes to studios and what-not (I was going to ponder the differences between French cinema and Hollywood but I feel they may be similar in terms of representation). I also know I’m not the first person to talk about this but films like this give me hope, at least. So, if you can support it, then do so! It’s worth it.

La Belle et la Bête (2014)

la-belle-et-la-bete-photo-52cc32a725361Thanks to the Alliance Française French Film Festival I was finally able to see Christophe Gans’ live action adaptation of La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast), last week. (I say ‘finally’ but it was only released last year, so not too long to wait!) It was interesting to see this film not long after the announcement of the Disney live action film. I’m still not sure I’m excited for that one or not – not in the way I’d been excited for this version, at least. Belle is played by Léa Seydoux, who is steadily becoming one of my favourite actresses and la Bête by Vincent Cassiel.

I’ll admit, I’m a very aesthetic person so I’m highly affected by how things look. Luckily film is a visual medium, so I suppose that comes in handy (maybe – I’m not sure if one is really meant to admit to being somewhat of an ‘aesthete’ these days). I also have fairly specific visual styles that I prefer when it comes to cinema, most of which I can’t entirely describe (because I haven’t taken the time to think about it – could be an interesting blog post one day?). I can say that this film fell distinctly into one of them. If it had been less good looking I probably wouldn’t have liked it as much but I can see myself watching this several more times, and drooling over the beautiful visuals again and again. Some of the CGI/effects were a little OTT (but not jarring) and the small creatures I’ve forgot the name of looked a bit too much like the big-eyed TY Beanies for my taste (though Belle’s playful teasing of them was charming). But just so beautiful, overall. I honestly wanted to cry at how beautiful is is (did I mention I’m really affected by the aesthetic qualities of things?)

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I wish more movies looked like this (but, then, would it become less exciting?). Not Surreal, because that word is always misused. It was more than reality. Hyperreal. But still a little bit fake.The scenery looked like matte paintings from old technicolor films. The colours were sumptuous. And then there’s the costumes by Pierre-Yves Gayraud. It looked exactly like I think a fairy tale film ought to.

The wikipedia article on the French critics’ response describes what I felt in a more succinct way (and the references are spot on):

They praised the colours and contrasts of the landscape, which they said recalled the work of American painter Maxfield Parrish, and the visual style, which they compared to films by Mario Bava and Tsui Hark.

la_belle_et_la_bete_pixIn terms of content, I would’ve liked more development of Belle and the Beast’s relationship. I like the use of Belle’s dreams to find out more about the Beast’s life as a human (and, with one issue I shan’t go into, I loved the reason he became the Beast) but there was still a large jump, for me, from Belle being scared of the Beast to being in love with him. I think if she had been less scared of him or they had spent more time together, I’d have found it less unsettling and not too quick. I think there will always be uncomfortable elements in the relationship between Belle and the Beast but many people have gone over these and I shan’t rehash it. It is still a story I (and obviously many others) find compelling, which is very interesting to me. Something to ponder.

There definitely could have been more for Seydoux to do but we got a feel for her character, despite that. Most of her character came through in the scenes with her family, especially with her father, but we still see both her loyalty and playfulness when she’s at the castle. The ending of the film was lovely and immensely satisfying (after a vaguely frightening confrontation between the ‘baddies’ and some giant statues, which were once the Beast’s pals). It’s right up there with Ever After for endings of fairy tale films for me.

I doubt this film will be to everyone’s tastes but anyone with an interest in fairy tales (even if it is one of the many we see over and over again), costume design nerds and anyone with an appreciation of a beautiful looking film ought to see it.

Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, 1997

This was another post that had sat in my drafts for months. It’s not as polished as I’d like it to be, nor does it say everything I wanted it to, but I know I would never publish it if I waited for it to be ‘perfect’.

When I wrote about The Virgin Suicides, I mentioned some of the movies that were important to me in my teen years. One of these was Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. I was probably 14 or so when I watched this film, with my best friend at the time (she was the Michelle to my Romy, the Betsy to my Arlene and so on) and since then it has been one of my favourite films. I’ve not only shared it with that particular friend, but other friends, too, equally important to me over the years. The two friends that I shared it with most are still very important to me and in my life.

It became a favourite because I liked the clothes, it had one-liners that my friends and I could quote, a great soundtrack as well as being a funny, feel-good film.

But, why is Romy and Michele still an important film for me? There are a few reasons, one of which is nostalgia/sentimentality, but the biggest one is that it prioritises friendship (between women) over romance and it shows just how important friendship can be.

When Romy and Michelle fight it’s not over a guy in one way or another – it’s because Michelle feels undervalued in the friendship. That Romy doesn’t view her as an equal contributor. And, yeah, they do fight over who’s cuter but the catalyst for the argument is that Romy doesn’t think anyone would see Michele as a ‘thinker’ and it hurts Michele’s feelings.

But then Michele has a dream (one of the stranger dream sequences inserted into a film) in which she and Romy grow apart and grow old, without being friends, and she is heartbroken. She asserts herself to Romy at the same time as making it up to her, realising that most of their fight stemmed from Romy’s own insecurity that her life wasn’t impressive enough to present at their high school reunion.

Michele does end up with a boyfriend but the film doesn’t end with them together in their ‘happily ever after’ – it ends with Michele’s ‘happily ever after’ with her best friend, Romy, and their new boutique.

I also like that neither Romy nor Michelle are wealthy – in fact, Michelle is unemployed and Romy is undoubtedly working minimum wage. And, even though they have great clothes (which they design and make themselves), their apartment is fairly small. I mean, they even share a room! I’ve always wondered what happened if they wanted to invite someone over for the night, actually…

It’s not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination. Romy and Michele are white, hetero and conventionally attractive cis-women. And when cinema does present women’s stories it is still overwhelmingly through women such as them. I think it’s important to address that and to address the limitations of films. But as a film that is important to me, personally, there are few more important than this one. And it’s never not satisfying to see Romy tear into Christy.

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Oh, and there’s Alan Cumming. He joins Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino in one of my all-time favourite dance sequences, which I shall leave you all with. (I get a little misty eyed each time Michele says ‘Only if Romy can dance with us.’ <3)

Ever After: A Cinderella Story, 1998

So, long time, no see, huh? Oops! I have a bunch of posts saved in my drafts I was trying to ‘perfect’. Well, they’re never going to get posted that way, so I’m just going to go for it and start posting again.

In my early teen (or possibly pre-teen) years I went through a period where I was obsessed with Drew Barrymore – I know I’m definitely not alone in this. I cut out pictures of her from magazines, I hunted down a copy of her book Little Girl Lost, I had a poster-picture book (some of the pages made it to my wall, others were just perused) and I tracked down as many of her movies as I could at my local video stores.

I don’t remember exactly what age I was when this happened but I know that I had pictures from Ever After: A Cinderella Story cut out from magazines and stuck on my school diary. And I know that I saw it at the cinema. In fact, I’m fairly certain I saw it twice. I instantly fell in love and, to this day, it remains a favourite.

Source.

Then I grew up and realised that so many women around my age list it as a favourite, as well – in Sarah Hentges’ book Pictures of Girlhood she notes that it’s often cited as the favourite Cinderella retelling by feminists. (And many, no doubt, cite Barrymore as an important part of their childhood and/or adolescence.)

I find it interesting that this film both subverts and upholds fairy tale tropes (many of which we are familiar with through watered down Disney versions of the folk tales, if not always the original tales themselves). Danielle is not your Disney version of Cinderella – she not only saves herself (from Pierre le Pieu played by Richard O’Brien who does slimy so well!) but also saves the prince when they meet a band of travellers who try to rob them.

Danielle asks if she can have anything she can carry and, when assured she can, simply picks Henry up and puts him over her shoulders, and begins to walk off with him. The result is one of my favourite scenes of all-time. The astonishment of both Henry and the travellers at Danielle’s actions could be seen as poking fun at a woman doing such a thing, but I just think it shows Danielle’s ingenuity and courage.

Danielle also saves Henry symbolically: from the ennui that threatens to overtake his life and by making him see that his privilege is something he can use to help other people, rather than the cage he believes it to be.

Danielle may not have complete control of her life, but she is not simply waiting around for someone else to complete her life or make her happy, either.

Unlike Prince Charming and Cinderella, who only meet at the ball and dance together, Henry and Danielle get to know each other over a series of meetings and Henry falls in love with Danielle for her personality. There is no love at first sight, here. But there is love under pretense – Danielle’s personality is all real, but Henry believes her to be the Comtesse Nicole de Lancret, not the servant she truly is. When Henry finds out who she is he shuns her but eventually realises his mistake (after being scolded by Leonardo da Vinci, an amusing addition to the tale) and goes to save Danielle…who has already saved herself. (As I mentioned earlier, from Pierre le Pieu.)

“In all my years of study, not one tutor has ever demonstrated the passion you have shown me in the last two days. You have more conviction in one memory than I have… in my entire being.”

Henry to Danielle, whom he thinks is Nicole

Henry also gets a lot more personality than the early Princes Charming of Disney. And Dougray Scott with that floppy, swoopy hair. Swoon.

Anjelica Huston is fantastic as Rodmilla, the not-very-nice-but-not-entirely-evil stepmother, who is clearly more complex than the mean women of fairy tales; she was a woman abandoned by the death of her second husband and has become increasingly desperate to keep up appearances.

Another trope we see in Ever After is the virgin/whore dichotomy, though it is more subtle than in other films. Danielle is rarely, if ever, presented as sexualised, even when she is kissing Henry. This is possibly due in part to the younger target audience, but she is also often associated with nature and can be read as ‘pure’. This is largely  in direct opposition to Marguerite who is flirtatious and overtly sexual at times. The camera never ogles Danielle, but it does highlight the provocative nature of Marguerite’s outfits.

Rodmilla and Marguerite are still punished (for their ambition and vanity as well as their cruelty to Danielle) but in such a way that allows Danielle to show her compassion. At least they didn’t have their eyes pecked out, right?

And, just as in the tales we are familiar with, there is still the ‘happily ever after’, though as the voiceover of Jeanne Moureau says, it’s not important whether or not they lived happily ever after, but that they lived.

Like all media, it’s not perfect. Sarah Hentges has cited it as the favoured Cinderella of feminists, while still critiquing the problematic aspects, and others have dismissed it as a feminist retelling entirely. Me? I think Danielle fits in well with the (pop)feminist rhetoric of the ’90s, and I still see her story as a refreshing retelling of Cinderella. The film will always hold a place in my heart because of childhood nostalgia, too. And I will never be over that iconic ballgown. Sigh.