Monday, December 22, 2008

Golden Globes: And the Nominees Are...

Ahhh, awards season: my favourite extended guessing game of the year. Let the fun begin!

First up? The Golden Globes nominations are in, and there's plenty of lovey-dovey, chick flick-esque stuff to discuss.

Of course, the Globes are always a better option than Oscar for chick flick lovers, thanks to the division between comedies (and musicals) and dramas, which lets some worthy fun-loving material sneak in alongside all the oh-so-serious heavy-hitters.

But this year, even the drama category has some romance to it -- in stark contrast to, say, last year's roster of man-heavy, bloody flicks.

In Best Picture - Drama, The Reader, Revolutionary Road and Slumdog Millionaire all got the nod; between them, the trio also landed 3 acting nominations, 3 shots at Best Director, and a couple of screenplay nominations.

Meanwhile, in Best Picture - Musical or Comedy, Happy-Go-Lucky, Mamma Mia! and Vicky Cristina Barcelona are all vying for the top prize. Between them, they've also got 5 acting nominations.

And there's more beyond the Best Picture nods: Anne Hatheway's nominated (for Rachel Getting Married) as Best Actress in a Drama, as is Kristin Scott-Thomas (for I've Loved You So Long - also a Best Foreign Language Film nominee). Classifying Doubt and Changeling as chick flicks might be a stretch, but if you want to count them, Meryl Streep (surprise!) and Angelina Jolie round out the nominees.

Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson both took Best Actor/Actress in a Comedy or Musical nominations for Last Chance Harvey, and Ralph Fiennes landed a Best Supporting Actor nod for The Duchess.

Quite the field, by chick flick standards! And yes, I realize I've used "chick flick" pretty broadly here -- but considering the dearth of romantic or even remotely "feminine" plots we've seen at awards shows in the past few years (see: There Will Be Blood, both Cronenberg/Mortensen flicks, No Country For Old Men, Half Nelson, etc, etc) I think that's fair.

So, I have to confess: I have yet to see any of these. (I know, not even Mamma Mia!) I plan on remedying that asap, but in the meantime, here are some uninformed predictions:

Slumdog Millionaire is getting an awful lot of the buzz so far, so don't be surprised to see it go big. As far as guaranteed also-rans, I'd say it's highly unlikely that Mamma Mia! will win in its Best Picture category.

Meryl Streep should never be counted out, but this year she's got two nominations for Best Actress, one in each category. Kate Winslet's also got a pair, in Best Actress and Best Supporting, so keep an eye on both of them. In fact, the whole Actress field is much, much deeper than usual, this year!

That's something to celebrate -- but, taken in conjunction with the greater range of "romantic" storylines up for awards this year, it begs the question: Is Hollywood incapable of creating serious, meaty, well-written roles for women outside of the chick flick rubric? Why don't any of those bleak, bloody movies we were discussing earlier feature any strong, hard-ass women?

Hmm. More to come, as Awards Season 08-09 gets under way!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Did 'Sex and the City' Get "Snubbed" by the Golden Globes?

Uh, in a word? No.

The Hollywood Reporter seems to be confused. In a roundup of GG snubs, Gregg Kilday writes:

Perhaps most puzzling of all: The movie version of "Sex" failed to register in the comedy categories.

During the run of the TV series, the Globe voters lavished their attention on star Sarah Jessica Parker (seven nominations, four wins) and the show (six nominations, three wins). But the movie? Nada.

Must have been a case of been there, done that.


Puzzling? Not at all.

To quote the Magic 8 Ball, the answer is obvious: The HFPA rewarded the show because it was good, and ignored the movie because it was baaaad.

More on the Golden Globes nominations, and awards season more generally, coming soon!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bad, Bad Blogger!

So I've been doing a horrifying job of keeping this puppy going for the last two months. Sadly, my life has been nearly as devoid of chick flicks as it has been blog posts about chick flicks, too.

I've been working hard (crazy hard) for the last six weeks or so (the two weeks before that, I plead bridesmaid duty) but the results have borne fruit: I'm inching slowly but surely towards being able to call myself a paid, honest-to-goodness arts and entertainment writer!

Stay tuned for news on a) even more movie-related posts (travel-themed, of course) over at World Hum, b) an article about movies - including a couple of chick flicks that have been featured right here - in WestJet's in-flight magazine, and c) renewed efforts here on the blog.

Coming soon: an ode to dance movies, and a column mulling the Judd Apatow "chick flicks for dudes" phenomenon.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Dana Stevens on Nick and Norah

I have to admit - with the release of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, I was a little worried that Michael Cera's magic might run out.

After all, how many sensitive, awkward indie-music-loving hipsters can one kid bring to the silver screen?

Thankfully, though, early signs are positive. Dana Stevens offers an effusive review:

Teen viewers accustomed to the rapid-fire vulgarities of Superbad and Pineapple Express may snort at this movie's emo guilelessness. But like its source, a young-adult novel of the same name by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Playlist is unabashedly romantic. Some people really were made for each other, the movie asserts, and New York does look beautiful by night. You got a problem with that?


No, ma'am. No problem here!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Simon Pegg: Leading Man

The Times of London has an interesting profile of Simon Pegg, the man who invited the zom-rom-com and who's been romping around Hollywood ever since.

The story calls Pegg "the world's unlikeliest rom-com hero" (even less likely than Ricky Gervais?) and attempts to explain his appeal:

He doesn’t have Brad Pitt’s abs, Daniel Craig’s jaw or Johnny Depp’s smoulder. He is an everyman with dreams - letting men think that they, too, might kiss Kirsten Dunst while allowing their girlfriends to believe the slob beside them might yet shape up.


The whole thing is worth a read. Pegg's latest, How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, hits theaters this weekend.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The 60th Primetime Emmys... In Real Time

Before we head into the real awards season, I figured I ought to work on my live-blogging skills. Consider this an experiment. Here goes!

8:02pm - Am I the only one who caught Susan Sarandon rolling her eyes when Oprah was introduced?

8:14pm - I had forgotten that the five nominees for "Best Reality TV Show Host" would be co-hosting the show. I wish the Emmys had forgotten, too. Was their intro designed to prove that they don't, in fact, belong at the big show?

8:22pm - You know it's bad when the winners are coming up with the best jokes of the night. Thank you, Jeremy Piven. The television writers aren't still on strike, are they?

8:39pm - Ricky Gervais and Steve Carell just made this show worth watching. Give them both awards - for Most Awkward Man In History, and Best Poker Face On Prime Time.

8:58pm - Nice to see the Colbert Report's writers get their due. (Also nice to see Conan O'Brien's Heigl bit!) Is it me, or is the writer crowd getting an unusual level of attention in this year's show? Post-strike fall-out, I guess.

9:00pm - I wonder what Steve Martin thinks of Howie Mandel and Ryan Seacrest. It must be tough to craft a show that has room for the likes of both. Steve Martin, in my mind, stands for everything that's right about TV - Jeff Probst, on the other hand...

9:04pm - Two questions spring to mind: First, are Heidi Klum's constant outfit changes designed to mask her inability to read a teleprompter? And second, has Josh Groban secretly been voicing Cartman all these years?

9:08pm - First "community organizer" line of the night goes to... Laura Linney!

9:27pm - Television is so lucky that they have someone like Tina Fey on their side: talented, articulate, and a bona fide hottie to boot. But is it just me, or are the Emmys turning somewhat Oscar-like in terms of honouring shows that hardly anyone watches?

9:40pm - That was probably the least boring message from an Academy president that I've ever witnessed. That's not saying much, though.

9:49pm - Stephen Colbert just induced my first real guffaw of the night, with his "dried up old prune" bit. "You can never have too much... What could possibly go wrong?"

In other news... 9 minutes since the last commercial break? Weak.

9:54pm - Sandra Oh had a favourite line for the night: "My parents are here with me tonight, and they could not be prouder... Unless I actually was a doctor."

10:01pm - Don Rickles should henceforth host all award shows and present all awards. The man made my night - and I'm pretty sure most of the audience felt the same way!

Also - did anyone else notice that NO ONE clapped for the Amazing Race when they won Best Reality TV Series? I guess it's a room full of writers and actors - neither of whom reality tv bothers to employ..

10:03pm - Whoever was in charge of the teasers before each commercial break is under the mistaken impression that we care about the winner of the reality TV awards. Memo To Whomever It May Concern: We don't.

10:33pm - Yup, it's a regular writer love-fest at the Emmys tonight. Alec Baldwin called Tina Fey "the Elaine May of her generation" - I'm going to have to google that.

In the meantime, all the writer love is re-kindling my occasional fantasies of somehow writing something, someday, that qualifies for nomination at a fancy televised red-carpet event, wearing a designer gown, and giving a Hollywood hottie a kiss on the cheek before gracefully accepting my award...

10:36pm - Elaine May

10:46pm - Ahhh... Now I understand! They included an award for Best Reality TV Host so they could trot out Jimmy Kimmel to mock the nominees. Almost makes it worth it. Almost.

10:59pm - That's all, folks!

The Buzz On 'Ghost Town'

The reviews are in on Ricky Gervais' rom-com debut - and the results are...mixed.

In a mostly-glowing review, the Globe's Liam Lacey calls Ghost Town an "innovative romantic comedy that is a mixture of British spice and American sugar." (Lacey also notes that Gervais is part-Canadian... File that away for future cocktail party trivia!)

Meanwhile, over at the CBC, Martin Morrow calls the flick a "tepid supernatural rom-com" and "a largely uninspired parody of Ghost." He praises Gervais, though, and here's a bang-on excerpt from that bit of the review:

Like some of the great comedians (Peter Sellers springs to mind), Gervais seems to possess an inner core of melancholy. At his best, he walks the knife-edge between laughter and pathos beautifully. Think of that funny/mortifying scene in Extras when David Bowie made up a nasty song mocking Andy Millman — Andy sat there, listening politely, his ego crumbling like a biscuit in hot tea. Ghost Town doesn’t give Gervais the same opportunity for subtlety.


Slate's Dana Stevens agrees that Ghost Town "doesn't do justice to the manifold gifts of Ricky Gervais" - but she's willing to give the film some credit. It does, she writes, have "inspired casting, a few memorable scenes, and enough laughs that mainstream U.S. audiences may finally get the point of that doughy English guy with the pointy canine teeth and the high-pitched giggle."

As for me, I'm still planning to catch this one in theaters. I said above that Martin Morrow's comment was bang on - but that's exactly my problem with Ricky Gervais. That "core of melancholy" throws this cheesy-ending-loving gal right off: too much of 'The Office' and I've been known to sink into a deep funk.

If Ghost Town is vintage Gervais with some syrup mixed in, that sounds just sweet enough for me.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Screening Log - The Holiday


Ah, the power of low expectations.

I went into 'The Holiday' with vague memories of the dismemberment the flick underwent at the hands of reviewers a couple years back, and I was braced for the worst.

What I got instead was... a mixed bag.

Jack Black as Mr. Nice Guy, a devoted softie who always gets the shaft? Come on. The man has evil (or at least, mischief) in his eyes at all times. Call me narrow minded, but I couldn't see it. But on the other hand, Jude Law as Hot Dad? I've never been a Jude woman (or, for that matter, a Hot Dad woman) but damn, the scene with the girls slayed me. Meanwhile, Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet did their things, I guess, but both characters were so extreme - Extremely Emotionally Repressed, and Extreme Doormat, respectively - that they were hard to relate to, or take seriously at key moments. (Really? She can't cry? Really??)

Still, with those rock-bottom expectations as my starting point, I enjoyed the movie a lot. The ode to Hollywood's Golden Age was inexplicably tangential, but the relationship between Winslet's Iris and Eli Wallach's Arthur was, for me, more interesting than any of the romances beginning and ending on the main stage.

Plus, for once, it was a flick about women seizing control of their problems and (pardon the Oprah moment) making positive change in their lives. Sure, sure, the men come along for the ride, but really this was all about Iris and Amanda being pro-active - for maybe the first time ever? - about their own happiness.

And that's worth raising a glass to, during this rapidly-approaching holiday season. Am I right?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Screening Log - Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2

I'd be lying if I said Sisterhood 2 was everything I hoped it would be.

But then again, with this kind of movie, sometimes you have to blame the hopes, not the flick.

Though I didn't know it at the time, Sisterhood 1 set an impossible task for its sequel. (Yep, even more so than usual.) It messed with a couple of key plot lines from the first book, thus leaving any future films based on the other books to either, a) attempt some serious plotting acrobatics, or b) diverge entirely.

Either would have been tricky. But the producers of the sequel, instead, opted to land somewhere in the middle: mashing together plots from all three remaining books (hence the acrobatics) while also omitting generously, and even making a few things up where it suited them. (Funny, didn't one of the characters have a quasi-affair with a married man in the print version? Yeah, I thought so too. But that wouldn't fly with the under-12 set, would it?)

I know, I know. Comparisons to "the book version" are tiresome - but in this case, where some plot lines have been entirely altered or omitted (and not all that adeptly), they're hard to avoid. To my eye, as someone who's read the books, the narrative felt rushed and awkward. I'd guess even film-only Sisterhood fans would feel the same way. (Carmen's mom got married? What about her father and stepfamily? Brian and Tibby are together, and Lena and Kostos aren't? Wha...?)

Okay, enough about the plotting. The gals were great - Amber Tamblyn in particular impressed me - and still had that natural, fun, "BFFs 4eva!" vibe. The eye candy on display was man-tastic throughout. (Who knew Leonardo "The Perfect Score" Nam was hiding those goodies under his ironic t-shirts?) And, of course, the flick provided that gooey, feel-good Sisterhood message that we all (okay, some of us) know and love.

Sure, they dropped some of my favorite sub-plots. I can always re-read the books the next time I hit a beach, and in the meantime, I'm going to bed smiling.

Just a reminder: Here's what I thought of the first installment.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ricky Gervais Does Rom-Com?

Yep, Britain's own Most Cringe-Inducing Man (beating out Steve Coogan and, uh, dozens of other "awkward is funny" comedians in a tight race) is playing a romantic lead in his next film.

It's called Ghost Town. Here's what CBC had to say:

In the film, Gervais portrays a cranky ex-pat British dentist who is suddenly able to see ghosts. They, naturally, want to use him to liaise with the world of the living, especially Kinnear, who seeks to disrupt the romantic life of his widow.

"I just thought 'I can do this. This is me … I don't need to be George Clooney or Brad Pitt,'" Gervais said, also dubbing the film funny, sweet and perfect.

Admitting to being generally intimidated by the experience of co-stars like Greg Kinnear, one thing that did concern Gervais was avoiding the trappings of a typical romance.

"My fear was people thinking I was taking myself too seriously," he said. "I didn't [want] that thing where the music swells up and I get the girl and that's just the way because it'd be nauseating."


But you DO get the girl, right, Ricky??

The flick opens September 19. Here's the trailer:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Coming Soon - The House Bunny

I was about ready to write this one off from the first time I got wind of its existence - but then, tonight, my eye caught the CBC headline: 'The House Bunny is funnier (and less sexist) than it looks.'

Huh? Really?

Jason Anderson writes:

Some may find it depressing to learn that a lowbrow comedy about a former Playboy bunny who becomes a sorority house mother is one of the few recent Hollywood movies to be marketed chiefly on the basis of its female star (Anna Faris) and one of an equally tiny number to be written and largely co-produced by women.

But you’ve got to turn that frown upside down, sunshine; consider this a lesson in post-post-post-feminism. Any bitter aftertaste related to experiencing The House Bunny is mitigated by two factors: 1) Faris is the most gifted comedienne working in Hollywood today; and 2) the movie is often very funny.


Hey, I was wrong about Legally Blonde the first time around. (Though I make no apologies for pre-judging the sequel...) So maybe I ought to give this flick a chance, too?

The House Bunny opens tomorrow. Here's the trailer:

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Spreading the Chick Flick Love!

Well, it's official. I have my first published, paid, chick-flick-related clip. It's the first step on the road to global rom-com domination.

Here it is: a Speaker's Corner essay at World Hum, called Affairs To Remember - On-Screen and Off.

And here's the accompanying Top 10 list of "Euro-romances" - movies in which two characters meet on holiday in Europe and fall "suddenly, inexplicably, madly in love".

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Screening Log - Definitely, Maybe


Okay, first of all: Would the real Ryan Reynolds please stand up?

Because I never figured the guy who made his name as Van Wilder would be able to pull off the role of Will Hayes in this flick.

In case you're not already familiar with the story: Will Hayes is in the midst of a divorce. As she tries to come to terms with the change, his daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin) asks him about his past loves, and how he wound up with her mother in the end. He agrees to tell the story, without revealing which of the three women is actually his soon-to-be ex-wife.

The tale is told in flashbacks, and Reynolds is the key player. It's no easy task to play a single dad, an earnest young college grad, and the leading man in three different romances - all in one movie. The way the character woman-hops alone could be enough to put the audience off, but Ryan Reynolds pulls it off completely. He's believable, endearing, and offers up a huge range of emotion with subtlety I never knew he was capable of. Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz and Isla Fisher all do fine jobs as the leading ladies, but for me the real story is about Will and his daughter - and Reynolds and Breslin connect in those roles really well. On top of that, the script is funny and smart, and the New York scenery is the icing on the cake.

Definitely, Maybe is a reminder of what the genre is capable of - I don't know if this one will go on my annual re-watch list, but I sure enjoyed it this time around.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Screening Log - Step Up 2: The Streets


This latest variation on the 'hip hop meets ballet/ballroom' dance movie is so formulaic, it almost could have come straight from those plotting graphs my high school writing teacher used to hand out. Remember that early peak, where the protagonist meets a challenge from the antagonist and loses badly, only to return to face down that same challenge victoriously in the finale?

In Step Up 2, that translates to: Team of misfits puts together a dance crew and eventually challenges the reigning champs at a club, where they get stomped. Later, they face down those same reigning champs in a final contest. (Spoilers? Come on. You already knew they win in the end.) Insert a couple of romantic sub-plots, and you've got yourself a movie. The formula is tried and true. Don't believe me? Hey, guess what - if you substitute 'dance crew' and 'reigning champs' for 'Team USA' and 'Team Iceland', and 'club' and 'final contest' for 'World Junior Hockey Championships', you wind up with D2: The Mighty Ducks.

All that being said, though - a formulaic plot didn't stop me from enjoying some great dancing and lots of pretty people. Briana Evigan pulls off her role as simultaneously tough and feminine Andie, and by the standards of this sort of movie, she makes a relatively interesting female lead.

The bottom line is this: Step Up 2 is a fun riff on an old theme. If you liked Step Up 2's predecessors, you'll like this one, too.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Last one, I promise

How could I forget? One last Sex and the City link - my own round-up of SATC tour info, over at World Hum:

Move Over, Frodo: 'Sex and the City' Tourism Takes Off

Zingers of the Week - SATC Edition!

Finally! My self-imposed ban on SATC reviews and responses is rescinded. This'll be a round-up of worthwhile Sex and the City movie links in general, with some zingers thrown in.

Over at CBC.ca, Katrina Onstad has a review that's mostly laudatory, not to mention a little misty-eyed about the glory days of the TV show and what it meant to so many women.

"Women with sexual appetites choosing their own futures, subverting expectation and propriety – that’s a pop-culture image that didn’t really exist before SATC debuted a decade ago, and has faded fast since the show’s conclusion," Onstad writes. "At a time when the oldest women in popular culture are Miley Cyrus and the Gossip Girl teens, the film is sure to curry favour with female audiences who are hungry to see women – no matter how unlikely their wardrobes – on screen again," she adds later.

CBC also has this great (unlikely as it might sound) comparison between Sex and the City and Little Women, and of course, a pop quiz.

In The Globe and Mail, Rick Groen gives the flick a stinging ZERO stars - and this masterful take-down.

Want some highlights? I hardly know where to start. Here's one: "Bad summer films, full of furious hype and signifying nothing, are hardly exceptional these days, nor is the sound they typically make: the dull scrape of a culture hitting rock bottom. Yet this one seems uniquely bad; this one is a threshold-breaker with a different sound, the crack of rock-bottom giving way to a whole deeper layer of magma." Or this: "To be sure, the impending nuptials hint at the presence of something akin to a plot, which lazily diverges to include all the girls in something akin to subplots." Or how about: "The male characters, straight and gay, are essentially just window-dressing here, and since that decorative job has historically been women's work in the movies, I suppose the picture can at least claim the distinction of transferring the inequity across gender lines – hoping, perhaps, that two wrongs add up to Mr. Right."

Ouch!

Slate's Timothy Noah asks a provocative question: "Is Sex and the City our culture's consolation prize to Hillary Clinton's supporters?" Here's an excerpt:

Sex and the City and the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton will, at the very least, be perceived in the distant future as twin manifestations of a weirdly conflicted feminism. As the first serious female candidate for president, Clinton broke a glass ceiling. But it's problematic that this symbol of women's progress achieved prominence as the wife of a successful male politician—one whose flagrant affair with a White House intern nearly destroyed his own presidency but not his marriage. And indeed, a fair number of prominent feminists, including Barbara Ehrenreich, Katha Pollitt, Susan Sarandon, and Mary Gordon, cast their lot with Obama.

Sex and the City, meanwhile, is a narrative that on the one hand celebrates female independence, sexual fulfillment, and career success—all important feminist goals—but on the other hand portrays women as clothes-obsessed, money-obsessed, status-obsessed, and hell-bent on catching a rich husband. (Or so I've gleaned from watching a few episodes of the TV show and reading reviews of the film.) Clinton and Sex and the City both represent a somewhat compromised female dream of power. Hillary Clinton nearly won the Democratic nomination, but only after marrying Mr. Big. Sex and the City celebrates camaraderie among strong women, but don't ask these ladies to sacrifice their Jean Paul Gaultier pajamas to pay for government-guaranteed, quality universal child care.


And that's just the beginning of the coverage from Sex-happy Slate. Dana Stevens is bang-on as usual. Second only to her reference to Jennifer Hudson as Carrie's "Girl Friday", here are the highlights:

The show's values are reprehensible, its view of gender relations cartoonish, its puns execrable. I honestly believe, as I wrote when the series finale aired in 2004, that Sex and the City is singlehandedly responsible for a measurable uptick in the number of materialistic twits in New York City and perhaps the world. And yet … and yet … there's a core truth to the show's depiction of female friendship that had me awaiting the big-screen version with exactly the kind of cream-puff nostalgia the movie's marketers are bargaining for. I want to know how the girls are doing, what's happened to them in the four years since I last joined them at brunch, and what in the name of God they're wearing.


She goes on to note: "The movie is mercifully light on those self-searching Carrie-at-the-computer scenes that were one of the series' recurring disappointments: Why did she have to be such a bad writer?" But, in the end...

If you bear even a grudging affection for the show's utopic vision of female bonding as the greatest love of all, you may get choked up when Carrie appears at Miranda's door one shitty New Year's Eve (clad only in pajamas, a sequined cloche, a full-length fur, and what appear to be patent-leather spats) and reassures her friend, "You're not alone."


More from Slate: The Medical Examiner column on the sexual habits of city girls vs. country girls. Julia Turner wonders when Carrie became a label whore. ("On Sex and the City, clothes have always served as a metaphor. Carrie's sartorial creativity symbolizes what's most appealing about her character: her openness to life and her belief that there are countless good ways to live it. The film shows us a Carrie with narrowed horizons—both sartorially and romantically. Television Carrie created her own fantasies; movie Carrie gets hers off the rack.") The Moneybox column tackles the movie's jam-packed product placement schedule. And, finally, four Slate writers really dig in and assess the movie - spoilers and all.

Every review I've read has mentioned Jennifer Hudson's character - Slate's sister site The Root offers a full article on "Saint Louise" and the phenomenon of the Black Best Friend (BBF).

Finally, fittingly, we'll close with Ella Taylor of The Village Voice:

The show's lifeblood — its trippy, backtalking, très gay script — sags into the garden-variety sassiness you'd find on any network sitcom. After sampling the movie's bloodless dialogue, I missed the show's bitchy one-liners like hell. And despite the pubic hair, well-hung penis, and mildly graphic Malibu copulating that won the movie its R rating, there are more bad sex jokes than good sex.


And so ends the chick flick event of the year.

Screening Log - Sex and the City


The genius of Sex and the City, the television show - in addition, of course, to the tightly-paced, funny writing, the occasionally revolutionary messages behind the gals' sexual behaviour, and the fabulous Manhattan backdrop - was the way each episode hung together while following four distinct story arcs. Every week, Carrie's over-arching question linked the action in each woman's life; that question, as much as the brunches and Cosmos, was what kept the ensemble together.

It's that tight, linked plotting that the movie lacks more than anything else. Instead, Carrie's story dominates all the rest. (I know, I know. She's technically the "main" character - but she's also most fans' least favourite. Didn't the producers get the memo?) Samantha's and Charlotte's lives are practically reduced to footnotes; Smith, Harry, and Stanford Blatch to virtual cameos. Miranda, meanwhile, has big things happening in her life - but her friends, inexplicably, ignore her storyline to obsess about Carrie's. Jennifer Hudson's "Saint Louise" is an odd, somewhat forced, deus ex machina - and also one of the more shameless bits of tokenism I've seen in awhile. And did anyone else think the extended intro/re-cap was reminiscent of the first chapter of a Baby-Sitters Club book?

The dialogue is uneven, with some moments finding the old spark and others that are cringe-worthy. There are at least two instances of totally gratuitous slow-motion. And Smith Jerrod, in the few times we see him, just isn't as smokin' hot as he used to be.

But with all that said, we all know reunions can be hard. I laughed. I cried a little. And even with the awkward moments, it was still fun to spend a couple of hours catching up with four old friends.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Screening Log - Breakfast at Tiffany's


I checked this classic out just before I left for New York, and I've been puzzling over what I thought of it ever since. I had expected to love, love, looove it - Hepburn + NYC? What's not to love?

Of course, Audrey Hepburn is delightful as always, and I definitely had a crush on George Peppard. But there wasn't as much of a "travel porn" factor as I'd expected (read: lots of juicy Manhattan close-ups) and I had trouble wrapping my head around Holly Golightly. What motivates her? Is she enjoying her life? If she really has more substance than what she shows to the world, then why is she so certain that gold-digging is the only way to go?

And of course, Mickey Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi is one of those awkward, tough-to-stomach caricatures that can make a classic slightly less 'timeless'.

Still an enjoyable movie, though - just won't be an annual must-watch for me.

Waiting For Manolo

I know, I know - I've gone silent during the biggest Chick Flick week of the year.

But I have an excuse! I was in New York City all last week, getting my Miranda and Samantha on. I had a few good wanders through Greenwich Village, the East Village, Soho, the Bowery, Chelsea and more of the gals' stomping grounds. And everywhere I went, posters and billboards for the Sex and the City movie watched me pass...

Friday night, when the movie opened, I was stuck on an Amtrak train somewhere in upstate New York, getting welcomed home (and by that I mean interrogated) by Canadian customs. So no, I haven't seen it yet. (I'm holding out for Cheap Tuesday - very un-Charlotte of me, I know.)

I also haven't read a single review or talked to anyone who's seen it, and I plan on keeping it that way for another 24 hours. So no spoilers!

I'll be back tomorrow night with a Screening Log and a belated Picks of the Week from the zillions of reviews out there.

Friday, May 23, 2008

What, no Monster-in-Law 2 in the works?

So there won't be any zingers of the week today. No one is paying any attention to anything besides the new Indiana Jones movie, apparently. (In fact, hardly anything else seems even to have been released this weekend - are the studios combining forces to make sure they get at least one uber-blockbuster weekend opener, to prove the talkies still have what it takes? Huh.)

Anyhow, with no new chick flicks to heap love (or hate) on, we'll have to settle for this: Rotten Tomatoes' list of the Top 20 Sequels We're Still Waiting For.

It's in honour of the return of Indy, of course. And guess what? It's all man-tastic action movies (or comedy-action spoofs), all the time. What, no one's holding their breath for Bring It On Again Again? And am I the only one holding a torch for a Dirty Dancing three-quel?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Coming Soon: Not A Whole Lot?

Aside from the Sex and the City movie (coming very soon!) and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (yeah, I'm way excited for it, and only a little embarrassed by that fact), it's actually looking like kind of a bleak summer for new chick flick releases.

I've just been perusing the Comingsoon.net listings, and I honestly didn't see a whole heck of a lot. (Of course, I mostly just read the titles, many of which I'm not familiar with - chick flick titles are usually pretty obvious, though! Wedding references, or the word 'love', are both dead give-aways.)

Anyhow, the one thing I'm kind of excited about (besides S&C and Sisterhood 2) is The Accidental Husband, starring Uma Thurman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Colin Firth. The main reason I'm intrigued (besides being a big Jeffrey Dean fan) is the presence of Colin Firth as the guy who should - according to the formula - lose the girl. But I ask you: in the whole history of chick flicks, has Colin Firth ever not gotten the girl? Is he branching out into second-fiddle roles? Or is there a plot twist to be had?

Here's the trailer:

Zingers of the Week

Up for ridicule this week: What Happens in Vegas.

We'll start with a one-liner that I came across courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes, from Mike McGranaghan in The Aisle Seat: "Ultimately, What Happens in Vegas resembles a drunken night in Sin City; when it's over, you don't really remember what happened except that it wasn't good."

Next up, some chick flick wisdom from the AP: "Come on, now. You already know What Happens in Vegas. You've undoubtedly seen the ubiquitous television commercials in which Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher bicker and beat each other black and blue but, secretly, seethe with lust. And you already know that they'll end up softening their stances and falling for each other in the end — it's pretty standard stuff by now. One does not go to a romantic comedy for the Shyamalan-style plot twists." Touche.

Back to Rotten Tomatoes again for a line that gets bonus points for dissing several chick flicks at once. Thanks, Creative Loafing! Here goes: What Happens in Vegas is "less obnoxious than Fool's Gold, less forced than Made of Honor and less formulaic (well, by a sliver, anyway) than 27 Dresses."

Screening Log - Made of Honor

Anyone who's been following along knows that my powers of suspension of disbelief are enormous. (We are talking, after all, about someone who adored Sweet Home Alabama, gaping plot holes and all!) But even my credulity isn't unlimited, and Made of Honor was just too forced, too awkwardly constructed, too false.

Even if the movie had been put together a little more smoothly, it would still have been a formulaic and not-terribly-funny chick flick outing. But as it is, the creators felt the need to beat the audience over the head with every vital symbolic moment ("Look! He can say 'I Love You' to dogs, but not to humans! He's emotionally stilted, see?!") and, perhaps most absurdly, to create a bizarre caricature and call him the competition. When Patrick Dempsey's rival is a cartoonish Scottish lord who lives in a grim medieval castle, hunts his own venison, and tosses trees for fun, is the outcome really ever in question?

I'd honestly be curious to know if this movie was released in the UK. I could picture it touching off riots in Glasgow - or at least, cementing British folks' already firm opinions that your average American (and certainly your average Hollywood producer) is utterly ignorant about the world outside her own borders.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Zingers of the Week

As I may have mentioned before, I'm nearly as big a sucker for vitriolic witticisms directed at chick flicks as I am for the flicks themselves. Hence, a new feature for the site: Zingers of the Week, courtesy of new (or recent) chick flick releases and the reviewers who dislike them.

First up, the Globe and Mail's Jason McBride, who asks of Canadian pseudo-ironic indie comedy Prom Wars: "If it's lame, derivative, and doesn't make you laugh, is it really a comedy?"

Next is Robert Wilonsky, writing for the Village Voice. He notes the similarities between Baby Mama and a January 2007 episode of 30 Roc, and concludes: "Baby Mama extends the joke, then softens it, then smothers it in its crib—an unpleasant picture perhaps, but not any more disagreeable than the phrase 'Produced by Lorne Michaels'." Ouchie!

Made of Honor gets not one but two mentions - incidentally, both imply that the answer to the question I asked yesterday is: My Best Friend's Wedding.

After some hilariously vicious commentary on McDreamy's career, Robert Wilonsky comes down with a verdict: "Director Paul Weiland and the three (!) screenwriters it took to boil down thousands of bad movies into 101 minutes haven't provided this one with a single original thought; it should only entertain those still getting adjusted to the idea of talkies."

And finally, after some digression (be sure to read her full anecdote about I Liked It Better Guy!) Katrina Onstad decides that bride-to-be Kathleen Monaghan is the best thing about the movie:

"If I knew how, I’d make a Youtube mashup of Made of Honor and My Best Friend’s Wedding in which Monaghan ends up with Dermot Mulroney, leaving Cameron Diaz for Patrick Dempsey, and Julia Roberts alone — I liked that best the first time."

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Made of Honor: I'm In Suspense

Is it wrong to seriously contemplate seeing this movie for one reason only?

(Okay, two reasons, counting Dr. McDreamy.)

Seriously. All I want to know is: In between the vaguely homophobic jokes about boys having to do girly things like picking out centerpieces, will they opt for the When Harry Met Sally ending to the well-worn co-ed friendship rom-com template, or the My Best Friend's Wedding version?

The suspense is killing me... It might even be twelve bucks worth of suspense. Maybe.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Screening Log - Riding in Cars with Boys


Hmmmmmmm...

The credits rolled 45 minutes ago, and I'm still struggling to decide how I felt about this movie. My initial instinct was dislike - Drew Barrymore's teen mother, Beverly, was too angry and childish and thoughtlessly cruel for me to feel much sympathy, and too many of the crucial scenes (you know, the ones where the characters talk about just exactly how much they're traumatizing one another) felt overdone. I was mixed up between the humor and the drama, too - were we supposed to laugh when the young mother starts to bawl hysterically after her child is born? Or cry along with her?

On the other hand, maybe the point is that Beverly is angry and thoughtlessly cruel, and yes, childish - because she is a child. I thought the scenes where nearly-grown son Jason is carrying the story were done with subtlety and skill; unlike the other characters, he doesn't have to announce that we've just shared a memory that scarred him deeply. And then there's the fantastic cast: whenever I'm not wild about a movie with a cast I greatly respect - not just for their acting abilities but for most of their script choices - I start to question my own instincts. Maggie Gyllenhaal, making a bad call? Say it ain't so!

Steve Zahn is impossible to dislike, Drew Barrymore makes me pull for Beverly even if she is a selfish bitch a lot of the time, and of course, Adam Garcia is delicious.

Worth a rental? Yeah. Brace yourself, though. After some reasonably dark build-up, the ending comes across as a bit too quick and tidy.

Monday, April 28, 2008

S&C - The Movie!

So I had almost managed to forget about the upcoming Sex and the City movie - there's been so little hype since the first announcement that all the gals (and all the guys) were signed on. Then, a couple weeks ago, I saw re-runs of Big's famous dash to Paris. Last week, I saw the trailer on TV for the first time. And now I'm way excited!

Of course, a fave TV show going to the big screen is no different than a fave book - caution must be exercised to avoid having high hopes crushed. Still, the folks at HBO have always been so responsible with this series - aside from that phase in Season 5 when Carrie was even more of a selfish bitch than usual - and I'm hoping/assuming that they wouldn't have done the movie if they couldn't do it right.

The other potential problem, of course, is the need for conflict. Everything was tied up so nicely at the end of the show, and naturally they'll have to tear some of that happiness apart in the movie. The big question will be whether the new inevitable happy ending is as satisfying for all us long-term fans as the original one was? Will 2 hours be enough for us to approve of a new man for one of our girls? Will whatever tying-up of loose ends that they do feel forced or predictable?

I guess we'll have to wait and see... Here's the trailer:

Friday, April 25, 2008

Y Tu Mama Tambien gets the roundtable treatment

I never posted a Screening Log for Y Tu Mama Tambien, which I tracked down in a suburban Memphis Blockbuster back in mid-March, because I knew I'd be covering it over at World Hum for the monthly World Hum Travel Movie Club. Yes, email dialogues between two or more reviewers are, like, so hot right now - and I have shamelessly jumped on the bandwagon. I'm not sure how often the movie club is going to overlap with the content of this blog in future (there's talk of tackling Crossroads, Chasing Liberty or the like) but in the meantime, here's Part One of our take on the Mexican buddy road trip flick.

(Wondering how this qualifies as a chick flick? Dude, there are hot guys in it. And they're naked a lot. And they talk about their emotions sometimes. Comprende?)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Screening Log - P.S. I Love You


What is it with the chick flick marketing people anyway? I've noted here before the times I've been pleasantly surprised by movies that I had assumed, from the previews, would be complete crap - or at least, something entirely different from what they turned out to be (see: Prime, in Love in New York), and P.S. I Love You is another example. Not that I thought the trailer looked like crap. But I thought it looked like a light-hearted, upbeat romp (from a grim starting point, sure) wherein Hilary Swank's widow moves forward with her life, re-learns how to party and meets cute boys.


I guess in some ways it's all those things, too. But Gerard Butler's letters have as much to do with the past as they do the future. His dead Irish husband forces Hilary Swank's character to confront who she was and who she became, to think about who and what she cares about most, and to see in herself what he always saw. (Yeah, you know I cried my eyes out.) It's touching and funny, and doesn't lead you exactly where you might expect it to - and all three leading men (Gerard Butler, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Harry Connick Jr.) are dreamy.


In the end, this movie was about coming to terms with an old relationship rather than starting a new one - that part, I suspect they're saving for a sequel.

Screening Log - Juno


Finally! I've been following the Juno good/bad debate from the sidelines for much too long. Now, thanks to the pay-per-view offerings in a Fort Myers, Florida motel room not so long ago, I can at long last weigh in myself.


And the not-so-original verdict is... Dana Stevens was right. My teeth were inspired to start grinding almost instantly by the too-cute indie banter in the early scenes ("honest to blog"? are you serious?) but I gradually learned to overlook the overdone witticisms and just see the people hiding behind them. (As Stevens said, "Many critics, including me, pointed to the 20-minute mark as the point when irritation gave way to affection.) There's Juno herself, of course, with that mix of toughness, humour and vulnerability that earned Ellen Page her Oscar nomination, but I thought that the characters played by Michael Cera, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner were equally layered. Cera's "whose idea was it...?" was a heart-breaker.


If I must address the whole teen pregnancy issue (and, considering the movie has been kicked around a lot in a role model vs. inappropriate viewing debate, and also been adopted by some as a pro-life vehicle, I suppose I must) I'll say this: I think the movie may have underplayed, slightly, the potential emotional consequences of giving a baby up for adoption. Juno's final "It never really felt like ours, anyway" moment strikes me as a little too easy. I also think the kids at Juno's school were remarkably easy on her, at least compared to the treatment pregnant girls got at my high school. Do I think that means this movie is going to convince teenage girls everywhere that there are no consequences to being knocked up? No. I don't. It's just one person's story, and an enjoyable one at that.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Screening Log - Rumor Has It...

Despite being packed with heavyweight stars - Jennifer Aniston, Mark Ruffalo, Kevin Costner, even Shirley Maclaine - this one totally bombed in theaters. And ever since, it's been that movie that every Blockbuster has a zillion copies of in the sale bin. It's also been my "if I can't find that one I actually want to see tonight" back-up plan for almost two years, but I never quite took the plunge. I finally found it on TV the other night in a Pensacola motel room.

I think I can see why it didn't get a great reception. For one thing, it relies pretty heavily on "The Graduate" to explain its own storyline - and for the younger generation, "Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson?" doesn't mean a whole lot. For another, it's hard to sympathize with Jennifer Aniston's Jeff vs. Beau dilemma; I was too busy having an "ick" moment over the whole grandmother/mother/daughter sharesies situation.

Still, I had rock-bottom expectations, but it was really pretty inoffensive. Not especially hilarious, not quite a tear-jerker, but - aside from the "ick" moments - really nothing wrong with it either. I wouldn't go out of my way to rent it unless you're a huge fan of one of the stars (Mark Ruffalo, anyone?) but if you catch it on TV, it's worth a couple hours of your time.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Chick Flick Tourism: Coon Dog Cemetery

I made my first-ever pilgrimage to a chick flicks landmark this week - since I guess a failed hunt for the bench Woody Allen and Diane Keaton sit on in "Manhattan" doesn't count. About a half-hour outside Muscle Shoals, in north western Alabama's Freedom Hills, lie the remains of maybe a couple hundred faithful "coon dogs" - the Coon Dog Cemetery is the only site of its kind in the world, and a crucial scene in Reese Witherspoon's "Sweet Home Alabama" (covered recently in Dames from Dixie) was filmed there.

It was a slightly rugged drive through the middle of nowhere: plenty of blind corners, hairpin turns, tumbledown shacks and big empty blue skies with the occasional hawk (or similar bird of prey) circling in the sun. I amused myself as I crawled along over the pitted road picturing a whole film crew trying to haul themselves up into the hills...

Here are some pics:




Monday, March 3, 2008

Awards Season Pt. 4: Belated Post-Oscar Fall-out

Joke of the night goes to Jon Stewart for the line about the Vanity Fair Oscar party being canceled in solidarity with the writers. (It goes something like this: If you really want to help the writers out, you might want to try inviting some of them to the Vanity Fair Oscar party... Zing!)

Katrina Onstad has witty and vitriolic play-by-play here. Slate's post-op is here. (The line about Diablo Cody looking like a grown-up Pebbles Flintstone nearly made me spit out my iced mocha latte...) The chick flicks generally got stomped (though Diablo stepped it up in the original screenplay category) but hey, awards aren't really our thing, are they. Unless we're talking Teen Choice Awards, and then we own that shit.

It's going to be chick flicks lite this month around here, since I'm on the road and I'm not sure how many bad two-year-old rom-coms I'll be able to find on my motel pay-per-view. I'm hoping to find a theater to see Step Up 2: The Streets (it's a pun, get it?), but we'll see how it goes...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Awards Season Pt. 3: Red Carpets and Not-So-Bated Breath

Well, the show starts in two hours, and the endless pre-game shows are well under way. I've got Ben Mulroney and Co. on mute for the time being... If you're also less-than-engrossed in the Red Carpet interviews and the Hot vs Not commentary, here's some final pre-Oscar Night reading material: two email roundtables (those darn things are so popular these days) from Slate and The Globe and Mail. Witticisms and vitriol abound...

Monday, February 18, 2008

Classic New York Movies

Jaunted, the pop culture-focused travel blog that fuses two of my very favourite things, has been running a series of posts on Classic New York Movies, with an NYC movies map to match!

Five entries in, and two chick flicks have made the cut: Working Girl, and of course Woody Allen's Manhattan, which kicked off the series. I'll be very surprised if When Harry Met Sally, Annie Hall, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and even An Affair to Remember don't make the cut, too.

Stay tuned for more, and be sure to check the map if you're headed to New York and want to follow in Woody and Diane's footsteps...

See my take on the modern NYC rom-com here.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Screening Log - The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants


I was pleasantly surprised by this one – in part because I had low, low, low expectations. From what I remembered of the previews, it was a sort of “Babysitters Club Goes Traveling” – like those special edition books where the sitters go on vacation, or the one where Dawn and Claudia get trapped on a desert island – or a Now and Then re-make without the cool soundtrack and the young Devon Sawa. I expected it to be aimed squarely at the 8-12 set, the Lizzie McGuire demographic.

But it was a little more grown-up than I’d anticipated, still without trying too hard to be anything more than a sweet movie with a nice moral about friendship – and the real key was the cast, which was fantastic. Four reasonably big names from TV – Alexis Bledel from Gilmore Girls, America Ferrera from Ugly Betty, Amber Tamblyn from Joan of Arcadia, and Blake Lively from Gossip Girl, all teamed up to create a realistic circle of loving friends. They were actually friends, they were actually young, and it came through really well. The script didn’t have any real groaners or gaping plot holes, and the four characters take on some pretty heavy stuff with a reasonable level of realism, most of the time.

There are plenty of angles I could take to criticize this movie, if I were dead set on doing so – but for tonight, I’d rather just sit back and enjoy a feel-good flick about female friendship. I’ll look forward to the sequel, due out this year.

P.S.: I’ll add this to my list of chick flicks that depict genuine emotional bonds between women. Take that, Leah McLaren.

Awards Season Pt. 2: The Show Must Go On!

Well, it's official. Now that the Hollywood writers strike has ended, the 80th Academy Awards will be going ahead next weekend as scheduled! (Sigh of relief.)

I know, I know, they would have given out the awards anyway. But that's not really the point of the Oscars, now is it?

And now, the nominees...

The big movies seem even more male-dominated than usual this year (not even a good dysfunctional family drama a la American Beauty!) - it's all about There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton, No Country For Old Men, or even The Assassination of Jesse James and Eastern Promises in this go-around. Nonetheless, here are some chick flicks (in the broadest sense of the term) to keep an eye out for. There doesn't seem to be a clear-cut front-runner this year, so it should be an interesting show!

Best Picture: Juno is representin' here of course, and then there's Atonement, the latest gloomy period romance starring Keira Knightley. My money's on this one going to one of the big man movies, though.

Directing: Juno pops up again in this big category, but again, I'd bet on one of the big three: Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood, and No Country For Old Men.

Actress in a Leading Role: Julie Christie's turn in Away From Her and Ellen Page in Juno both have a shot here, but rumour has it Marion Cotillard is favoured, and I never like to bet against Laura Linney or Cate Blanchett come awards season.

Actress in a Supporting Role: Saoirse Ronan gets a shout-out for Atonement, but we all know Cate Blanchett's Bob Dylan is taking this category.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay) : Atonement and Away From Her get shout-outs here. I never have any clue who's going to win the writing awards, though.

Writing (Original Screenplay) : Juno is in the fray once again! Does Lars and the Real Girl count as a chick flick? Hmmm.

Animated Feature Film: Go, Persepolis, Go! She's in tough against Ratatouille, though.

Atonement also gets a nod for Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, and Score. Thank goodness Knightley wasn't nominated again - I can't stand that pouting one-trick-floozy, and I don't see what everyone thinks is so great about her. (See me get indignant! See me get sassy! See me pout! Now give me an Oscar!)

Between them, Atonement and Juno have made sure that chick flicks get some surprisingly decent representation this year. We'll see in just one short week if they can bring home the bling!

See the full list of nominees here. And see Slate's Hollywoodland blog on who won the writers strike here.

Dana Stevens on Juno

Over at Slate, Dana Stevens chronicles the rising Juno backlash (and the anti-backlash backlash) as the Oscars come closer, and the "little movie that could" takes its shot at becoming the first comedy to win Best Picture since Annie Hall. (Sound familiar? See: "Little Miss Sunshine".)

Here's a sample:

"Juno may not have had me at hello, but it managed to win me over by the time Juno's carapace of cleverness finally shows its first chink, as she admits to her disappointed father (J.K. Simmons), "I really don't know what kind of girl I am." Maybe it was Ellen Page's luminous face and brazen self-confidence, or the unexpected transformation of Jennifer Garner's character—beautifully played by Garner and, yes, beautifully written by Diablo Cody. Michael Cera's exquisite comic timing makes even his underwritten character come alive. And I know I'm supposed to sneer at the precious indie-rock soundtrack, but some of those songs are really catchy."

'Carapace of cleverness'? Best. Job. Ever. And people wonder why I want to be a film critic...

(As for Juno, I STILL haven't seen it!)

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Katrina Onstad on Definitely, Maybe


As I've noted before, Katrina Onstad often rips my beloved chick flicks to pieces (with her bare hands... or her vicious rhetoric - name that reference! anyone, anyone?) but she also does so in style, with insight and wit. So when she gives one a half-decent review, I pay attention. And lo and behold, the latest offering from Ryan Reynolds, of all people, has gotten a slightly-more-than-lukewarm reception in a great review over at CBC.ca:

"Definitely, Maybe does a neat trick: It engages in the superficial appeal of the romantic comedy, the chess-piece manoeuvring of stock archetypes, but it stops just short of the saccharine punch line... For all its gloss — and a kind of awkward pacing imposed by the structure — the film’s message is the opposite of the princess fantasy that little Maya is seeking; the big reveal would probably crush a real-life 11-year-old. But for the rest of us, it’s radical to see a film proposing that love is fluid, and that there can be several happy endings in one long life. That may not be the Valentine you were expecting, but it’s definitely — maybe — a sweet one."

Sounds like my kind of rom-com.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Dames from Dixie


Sweet Home Alabama (2002)
Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

“What we need,” a friend tells Evelyn Couch early in Fried Green Tomatoes, “is an assertiveness training class for Southern women – but that’s a contradiction in terms, isn’t it?”

If these two movies are anything to go by, the only contradiction is the idea that Southern women need any assertiveness training at all. There are so many movies out there about feisty Southern gals (see also: Steel Magnolias, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, or even Gone With the Wind) that they could almost form their own sub-genre. And in honour of my upcoming road trip through the Deep South, I decided to revisit a couple of old favourites.

Sweet Home Alabama, I’m willing to admit, is in many ways a deeply flawed film. Dangling plot threads abound (what is the deal with Mel’s mom, anyway?), Mel’s miraculous two-day turn-around – after seven years of pretending Alabama didn’t exist – is a bit hard to swallow even for a chick flick-lover like myself, and of course, if anyone punched out the Mayor of New York, Secret Service would probably shoot the perp on the spot. But still, I love this silly little movie. I love it so much, I watched it twice in the course of a seven-day rental. Next time I see it on the sale rack at the pharmacy, I’ll probably buy it, and add it to my collection of pure comfort food flicks.

In case you’re not already familiar, it follows the story of Melanie Carmichael (Reese Witherspoon), an up-and-coming New York fashion designer who’s just gotten engaged to the highly-eligible bachelor Andrew Jennings (Dr. McDreamy himself, Patrick Dempsey). There’s just one catch: Mel’s been hiding an awful lot from her pals in New York, including a trailer-trash background in rural Alabama and a ne’er-do-well husband named Jake (the delicious Josh Lucas). In a whirlwind trip home to demand a divorce, Mel makes stops in all the right places: the honky-tonk, the county fair, even the local Coon Dog Cemetery. Along the way, she confronts her past, her parents, and her ex-soulmate, Jake. Sparks fly, naturally, and we all know how it ends. (Note to the producers of Here On Earth: the country boy is always supposed to win!)

Yes, it’s predictable. Yes, it has plot holes big enough to lose an old beat-up pickup in. Yes, a lot of the comedy comes from tired Yankee-vs-Southerner stereotypes. And yes, the slow-motion final kiss is totally over-the-top. But Josh Lucas and Reese Witherspoon have great chemistry, and his intensity makes you really believe he’s been pining for years, while Witherspoon can make any movie look good without even trying. Plus, all flaws aside, it’s a really nice story about remembering our roots and being ourselves. I’m getting an urge for another re-watch just thinking about it…

Fried Green Tomatoes, on the other hand, is a movie that’s difficult to find a flaw in: fantastic, understated script; fully-fleshed characters, wonderfully brought to life; great, evocative music; and a level of attention paid to the set and the costumes that’s rare in movies these days – every detail is perfect, and each contributes in its way to the development of the characters and the advancement of the storyline. As I wrote in a Screening Log entry over at Not Coming To A Theater Near You, Fried Green Tomatoes is possible “the best evidence I can come up with to prove that ‘chick flick’ doesn’t have to be a slur.”

There are two interconnected stories here: one follows Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates), a modern-day housewife whose frustrations with her weight, her marriage, and her life more generally, are threatening to overwhelm her. On a visit to a nursing home she meets Linny (the fantastic Jessica Tandy), who introduces her to the characters of her youth, in a tiny town called Whistle Stop. Evelyn finds herself coming back week after week to hear more about Idgie, the rebellious daughter of the Threadgoode family, and Ruth, the proper young woman she befriends. As Idgie and Ruth confront death, poverty, racism, and domestic abuse, almost always with a large dose of humour and sass, Evelyn begins to learn how to take control of her life, too. It’s beautiful, funny, and will almost certainly make you cry. Highly recommended.

Sweet Home Alabama is not likely to go down well with the lads (although if you meet a guy who loves this movie, please give him my contact info), but is great for girls nights, solo viewing, or even a night in with Mom. Fried Green Tomatoes is technically a chick flick, but anyone who enjoys a good story, well-told and well-filmed, should appreciate it.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Sentiment vs. Sentimentality

Over at The Globe and Mail, I was surprised this morning to find a (sort-of) defence of the tear-jerker - from Rick Groen, of all people, one of many (okay, all) Globe reviewers who is no friend of the chick flick.

It's a little academic, but a really good read nonetheless. Groen tries to parse the difference between sentiment and sentimentality, and the subjectivity of our judgments of the one over the other. He writes:

"On the positive end of the aesthetic spectrum, you have sentiment. Now sentiment is terrific. Sentiment is exquisite. Sentiment is thought pierced by real emotion. By contrast, way off on the spectrum's low-rent side, sentimentality is a whole other bag of cheap tricks. It's tawdry, it's commercial, it's the crocodile tear and the mawkish sob."

In other words: Pianist good, Notebook bad.

But that's just the starting point - an honest description of the view most critics (professional and amateur) probably have of the way things shake out. With some personal examples (who knew Rick Groen would be a sucker for The Way We Were?) and some impressive literary references, he works his way to this generous conclusion:

"A great film, where the sentiment is genuine and earned, liberates the emotions, and the experience is transcendent. A sentimental movie does none of that. However, it may have moments that draw you in, that don't so much free your emotions as briefly encircle them, wringing out a tear or a smile or a burst of pride or a bout of anxiety. Even if the picture itself often feels false, those moments do not, and it's okay to treasure them — that's personal, that's your own affair to remember."

Thanks, Rick Groen. I'll enjoy my next good movie crying session all that much more, now.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fool's Gold: Another Hollywood Chemistry Reunion

Funny how things work out - just a couple days after my latest re-watch of How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, I get a reminder that Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson have been reunited, in the upcoming Fool's Gold. It's no secret that this movie was put together with the explicit goal of re-creating that great chemistry from How To Lose A Guy, but I'm a little skeptical - Hollywood's deliberate chemistry reunions don't always work out.

Some other chemistry reunions I can think of, off the top of my head? Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, following up Pretty Woman with Runaway Bride. Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks channeling (or trying to channel) their Sleepless in Seattle magic in You've Got Mail. And Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, chasing The Wedding Singer with 50 First Dates. Of the three, I'd say 50 First Dates was my favourite follow-up. We'll see how Fool's Gold ranks on that list, hopefully in just a few days...

The trailer is here, and an interview with McConaughey and Hudson, about how they work together, is here.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Screening Log - How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days


This was my first re-watch since I wrote Revenge of the Scribes almost exactly one year ago, and I can’t say anything’s changed. This is still a favourite (though I’m still not quite ready to call it a capital-c Classic), Matthew McConaughey is still paralysingly attractive, and I still lose my grip on that whole “suspension of disbelief” thing when Andie tries to sell her boss on a story about Tajikistan.

Do I have anything new to add? Well, I’d say 27 Dresses co-stars Marsden and Heigl give Hudson and McConaughey a run for their money in the “Worst Rom-Com Karaoke Scene” sweepstakes. Also, this was the first time I’d seen the bonus footage: no blooper reel and no original theatrical trailer, but some cool interviews in a series of spots about casting. As bonus footage goes, I guess that’s about a 3.5/5.

If you haven’t seen this one yet, seriously, get on it.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Awards Season Pt. 1: Razzies, Golden Tomatoes, and Because I Said So


I’m a little late getting to this one – must be because it doesn’t really feel like awards season this year, what with the Golden Globes being reduced to a bad cable newscast and even the Oscars themselves in jeopardy.

Anyhow, the annual Razzies (or in full, Golden Raspberry Awards) honouring the year’s worst in cinema, have come and gone, and the chick flick genre has come out largely unscathed. (Thanks to Jessica Alba, Eddie Murphy and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, for taking most of the heat!) We do have one casualty though – Diane Keaton was nominated for Worst Actress, for her turn as my girl Mandy’s overbearing mother in Because I Said So. The film also garnered the Moldy Tomato award for worst film from RottenTomatoes.com’s Golden Tomatoes awards.

I know, I know: who am I to argue with Rotten Tomatoes? But worst movie of the year, seriously? Did they not see I Know Who Killed Me?

(Neither did I - I don’t do horror. But from what I heard, it could have been up for worst movie of the decade, let alone worst movie of the year.)

Sure, I’ll agree Because I Said So was no diamond in the rom-com rough. But it wasn’t that bad, was it? I mean, Diane Keaton was so aggravating I had to close my eyes and plug my ears a couple times, but wasn’t that part of the point? And I thought it was just a tiny bit fresh and sassy, compared to a lot of the bubblegum stuff that comes out these days. Mandy Moore doing two guys at once? That’s envelope-pushing stuff by chick flick standards. That’s at least an attempt at grounded, real-world messiness, isn’t it?

Plus, Gabriel Macht is so unbelievably smoking hot (I get “un-bloody-hinged” just looking at him – bonus points if you can name that Mandy Moore reference!) that I can’t agree to any movie with him and his dimple in it being named the worst of the year.

In related news, Rotten Tomatoes also gave Juno the award for best comedy of the year. And I still haven’t seen it!

Golden Globes 2008

SAG Awards 2008

Razzies and Golden Tomatoes 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Screening Log - 27 Dresses


If you ask me, Katherine Heigl has a serious future in chick flicks. For one thing, she does comedy a lot better than your average Hollywood blonde, and for another (in addition being a bona fide hottie, duh) she’s got this kind of approachable, everywoman quality to her. That’s key, because after all, it’s the gals who bring in the dollars for these movies. You can’t be a leading lady in rom-com world if women instinctively dislike you. (Hence why Keira Knightley and Liv Tyler only seem to wind up in dramas… Hos, the both of them.)

Anyway, all that to say there’s a lot of potential here. But 27 Dresses is certainly not going to be Heigl’s Pretty Woman. For the first hour or so it has touches of sass and genuine laugh-out-loud humour, and some good fun commentary on Weddingpalooza and the plight of the eternal bridesmaid (eternal witty sidekick Judy Greer has a few moments of pure genius), but it’s uneven and feels contrived at times.

And the last 20 minutes or so of the movie? Forget uneven and forget sass – try consistent, over-the-top cheese.

I hate to say it, because I’m a Heigl fan and most definitely a Marsden fan (oh, Cyclops – I could look into that pretty blue eye all day), but this one’s a rental.

The trailer is here.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Katrina Onstad on 27 Dresses


Over at CBC.ca, Katrina Onstad is one of my favourite movie reviewers. Although she often takes my precious chick flicks to pieces, she always does it in style, with wit and humour.

Her latest gem is a vicious-but-fun dissection of 27 Dresses, and of wedding flicks in general. Here's a quality moment:

"A film as schematic as 27 Dresses should be, if nothing else, a sexy escape hatch from the real world. But the romance is as neutered as High School Musical. Marsden, so pretty, is trapped in a vague role as Jane’s counterpoint, but he never really comes off as the edgy challenge Jane requires. A courier bag doth not a brooding artist make."

I'm off to see 27 Dresses myself on Tuesday! Stay tuned...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

R.I.P. Heath Ledger, 1979-2008


Well, after the death of Brad Renfro last week, I didn't expect to be writing another obit post so soon. But I was shocked and saddened when I got home from work tonight to hear about the death of Heath Ledger.

10 Things I Hate About You, the teen rom-com that brought Ledger to Hollywood's attention (and to the attention of millions of teenage girls), has never been one of my real favourites. Brokeback Mountain, on the other hand, the movie that completed Ledger's transition from pin-up prettyboy to heavy-weight actor, touched me the way few other films have. And his mostly-silent cowboy Ennis was the main reason for that. Each clenched jaw said more than another actor's yelling or hysterics ever could. I'll look forward to seeing I'm Not There and Dark Knight even more now, although both will be sad occasions. I'm very, very sorry that we'll never get the chance to see what Heath Ledger would have done next.

Full story (well, the story so far) is here.

Update: The Washington Post has one of the more thoughtful obits/retrospectives here.

Test your Chick Flick knowledge...

CBC.ca has just posted a quiz called "What a Girl Wants: Test Your Knowledge of Chick Flicks". I always enjoy CBC's quizzes, they're quirky and usually manage to slide in a few inside jokes or jibes in the questions and answers. This one was a little on the easy side for a Chick Flicks enthusiast though, particularly if the 1980s and early 1990s are your bag.

Check it out here!

I scored 9 out of 10. I blame Hugh Grant for spoiling my perfect game.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

R.I.P. Brad Renfro, 1982-2008


I'm normally the type that always tries to cut an awkward or emotional moment with a joke, but I was so saddened to hear about Brad Renfro's death today that I can't even come up with a bad one-liner at the expense of Happy Campers.

Although he never really starred in anything that could be called a pure chick flick (at least not while I was still paying attention - maybe one of the 'B' movies he made later in his career?), Brad Renfro was in many ways single-handedly responsible for my conversion to girly movies, and girly-ness, as documented in my first-ever post on this blog. When I was 13, I decided that I was in love with him. I bought The Client, The Cure, and yes, even Tom and Huck, all on VHS. When I was 14, I snuck into Sleepers. At 15, I plastered my locker and my bedroom with photos of Brad, mostly cut out of Bop, Sixteen and Tiger Beat magazines that I had bought on the sly. (I was supposed to be a bad-ass, remember?)

But see, that was the thing about Brad Renfro - he was such a bad-ass himself, even while posing for the cover of Tiger Beat, that I didn't feel like a big GIRL when I was crushing on him. I mean, the guy acted on film for the first time ever opposite Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones, right? And totally held his own. (That scene where he takes the cigarette out of Sarandon's mouth and starts smoking it himself...? Wow. I was sold.) He seemed like such a legit talent, I figured the teen-dream phase would pass and eventually I would be crushing on a real actor with real cred. So yes, while I mocked the girls who had lockers full of Barry Watson or Jonathan Taylor-Thomas, I swooned over pictures of Brad Renfro.

Sadly, of course, he went the classic child-star route before he even made it out of high school: drugs, drugs, a faded career, and more drugs. And for a few years now I've hoped he might resurface one day, Drew Barrymore-style - clean himself up and make a comeback as an adult. It's a real shame that we'll never get to see what he might have made out of himself, given the time and the help he needed.

I remember, back when I read every word written about Brad Renfro, someone or other compared him to James Dean. They were talking about his good looks and rebel persona at the time, but today that's turned out to be a sad comparison indeed.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Screening Log - Saved!


I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard someone say, “I can’t stand Mandy Moore, but I loved her in Saved!” So I was curious to see my own reaction to the movie.

Because the truth is, I love Mandy Moore. I have a recurring daydream where we meet somehow, and become BFFs. She styles my hair and takes me shopping at cool vintage boutiques in Brooklyn, and I console her by saying that she’s better off without that quirky, self-obsessed loser Zach Braff, even if Scrubs is my favourite show…

I digress. Back to the movie: in my book, Saved! is everything a teen comedy should be. You’ve got the physical comedy, the silly romantic entanglements, the social isolation most everyone can relate to, a bit of commentary on “tolerance” and “difference” and all those other –nce words, and finally the heart-warming pay-off that I always look for in a teen rom-com, even one as smart and sassy as this.

Saved! has officially joined my short list of teen movies that entirely validate the existence of the genre, alongside things like Jawbreaker, Mean Girls, and The Girl Next Door. If only we could have more of these, and fewer straight-to-DVD American Pie sequels.

Plus, who knew my girl Mandy could do “conniving bitch” so well?

Renewing my vows, Redux

So I’ve just completed the move from Toadfire over here to Blogger, and I’m really pleased with the new set-up. One of my New Years Resolutions was to get this blog fired up again, and I think having a new home and fun pink sidebar text will definitely help me do that. I know I made a lot of big promises last time I “renewed my vows” to this project, but this time – at the risk of sounding like the bad guy in a dead-end relationship – I really am going to change…

From now on, here’s how things are going to look: features or columns once per month, screening logs as and when (hopefully a few per month), and a lot more short items – gossip, movies I’m excited about (or NOT excited about, as the case may be), links to interesting reviews, that sort of thing. The new content should help to keep things fresh between major features.

Looking forward to it!