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

"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’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