Archive | Essays

Sparkly Pink Bows and Arrows

Divergent’s high box-office numbers, sparkly pink weaponry, Disney’s smash hit Frozen, the unprecedented role model that is Katniss Everdeen: I’m obsessed with the rise of girl-positive YA in America’s moviehouses. An excerpt from my latest Word and Film essay:

Divergent, the adaptation released last week of the bestselling dystopian YA novel, is no great shakes. It is faithful enough to the book – capturing protagonist Tris’ radicalization in a post-war Chicago divided into factions based upon personality traits – but doesn’t work well unto itself.  The big news is it performed like gangbusters anyway, especially for box office-inhospitable March. Chalk up the success partly to the power of Shailene Woodley, whose high-octane earnestness proves ideal for Tris’ evolution from wallflower to warrior. But the strong numbers may stem from something even more significant. The fact that “Divergent” received justifiably tepid reviews but is still soaring with audiences tells us female-empowering YA films have a built-in base now. We are in the dawn of a new cinema genre, one in which girls kick ass.” 

Of Apatow, Dunham, Girls, and the Godfather

In my latest Word and Film essay, I anticipate this weekend’s Girls season finale, and explore how Lena Dunham fits into Judd Apatown. An excerpt:

“The severity of the editing and swift tone changes in “Girls”–a sunny “Hard Days Night” cemetery caper followed by a darkly shot throwdown–do not cater to audiences so much as lead them, building upon a devil-may-carefulness that Apatow himself introduced in his first TV ventures. But Dunham takes it further. There’s a steeliness in her show that is inconceivable in the “family values”-laden, endearingly compensatory, slightly slobbering world of Apatow’s directorial efforts. (His confessed love for self-help books shows in good and bad ways.) She presents the denouement of Hannah’s book editor’s death but not of her grandmother’s; the abrupt evacuation of Adam’s sister; and a shakedown in which the Girls rip each other to shreds with terrifying accuracy. What’s more, none of these events are referenced again by characters otherwise well-acquainted with navel-gazing. There’s an incontinuity at hand that feels both deliberate and brutal. When coupled with all those nitpicking confessionals delivered in uptalk, it speaks of a generational callousness that is stunningly observed.”

For more, including a bevy of Godfather references, go here, Sirenaders!

A Double of Doubles

In my latest essay for Word and Film,  I focus on movie zeitgeists, in which a handful of films on the same topic come out at the same time. In particular I look at a recent double of “doubles”—Enemy (opening today), starring Two Jakes (Gyllenhaal), and The Double, starring a neurotic Jesse Eisenberg and a hustling Jesse Eisenberg. An excerpt:

Enemy, which opens this week, stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam, a hapless history teacher who feels threatened when he discovers Anthony, a small-time movie actor (also Gyllenhaal) who is his exact physical double. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, the film is based upon the Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago’s Portuguese novel The Double, a cheerless affair that tackles subjects like self-illusion in what seems like one endless, stream-of-conscious paragraph. The film veers from the book in some key ways – it’s set in Toronto and boasts such surreal touches as giant spiders and an “Eyes Wide Shut”-style sex club – but is no less grim. Gyllenhaal’s acting strength typically stems from his remarkable physicality but his “two Jakes,” perhaps taking their cues from the film’s gray and brown palette, are so lifeless that not even their gorgeous blonde mates (more mirrors!) can rouse them. Some of the problem lies with the normally deft Villeneuve’s one-note direction, which eschews any soulfulness – as though it would compromise his grinding theme of the elusiveness of identity in an empty world.

Here’s the rest, Sirenaders!

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy