Archive | Feminist Matters

Of Lady Jolie and ‘Maleficent’

The following is a review I originally published in Word and Film:

It’s hard to comprehend the career trajectory of Angelina Jolie. In the 1990s, she was the premier wild child, so fully in possession of her sexual powers that she seemed to do everyone a favor just by training her gaze upon them. When she announced she was “so in love with her brother” during her 1999 Oscar acceptance speech after jumping in a pool upon winning a Golden Globe earlier that season, two things seemed clear: We were all in her thrall. And none of us knew what she’d do next.

Certainly we never expected the girl with the blood vial necklace to evolve into such an upstanding citizen. In the ensuing years, she’s become a U.N. ambassador of goodwill, the doting mother of six, the long-term partner of Brad Pitt, the outspoken survivor of a double mastectomy, the director of mediocre message movies, and an actor. Arguably in that order. These days, the extraordinary promise she once exhibited on screen has mostly been eclipsed by a great puff of tabloid coverage even when she does appear in films. As of now, Maleficent, in which she plays the title character in a Disney retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the villainess’ perspective, is one of her last scheduled acting jobs. (She has announced her retirement before but might mean it this time.) This may be for the best. This sort of film hinges upon the voltage of the old Angelina – a ferocious, and ferociously gorgeous, creature who inspired equal parts fear and admiration in a whirl of feral improvisation – and Lady Jolie, though as visually compelling as ever, does not seem up to the task.

Instead, the true star of Maleficent is its lavish design. Director Robert Stromberg (the production designer of the equally lavish “Alice in Wonderland,” “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” and “Avatar”) has created a 3D netherworld of streams, meadows, caves, and forests that soars at us like an ever-shifting Mucha painting. It’s an effect so pleasing that for a while we don’t mind how little else commands our attention – not even Angelina’s already-impressive cheekbones, which are so digitally enhanced that other characters’ faces look downright doughy in comparison. This whole film hangs off her cheekbones. Continue Reading →

Casting Season 2 of ‘True Detective’

Ever since the season 1 finale of True Detective, HBO’s Louisiana occult mystery series, tongues have been wagging about what season 2 will entail—even though, to date, a second season has yet to be confirmed. (Show creator Nic Pizzolatto reports he is writing one now but that HBO has yet to pick it up.) And ever since it was announced that season 1 stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson would not be returning, even more tongues have been wagging about who should take their place.

So far, all Pizzolatto has revealed about a next season is that it would focus on “hard women, bad men, and the secret occult history of the United States transportation system.” Rumors abound that Brad Pitt will join the cast but the series creator has only said “who we cast and what their schedule is will likely determine at least some part of scheduling, and scheduling will determine at least some part of casting.” (Such labyrinthine answers makes us wonder if Pizzolatto used himself as the model for McConaughey’s philosopher-detective Rust Cohle.) If history is any predictor, chances are good that the new True Detectives will be men, but a quickly deleted tweet from the show runner suggests at least one lead might be a woman. One thing is for sure: Intriguing possibilities abound. For a breakdown of my dream team, go here.

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.” 

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