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Weather Fail, Feminist Film Fail (Oceans 8)

I ducked upstate this weekend to avoid the three-digit temps of NYC, not to mention the Mars retrograde kerfuffle (and, boy, do I have some stories for a later date). But even here in Hudson the weather’s been too swampy to do anything but cower in air-conditioning. Yesterday I fetched things from greenmarkets and farmstands: beets, tarragon, mint, cilantro, green cabbage, rainbow carrots, boston lettuce, cherries, blueberries. I thrifted: two dresses, one skort, one vintage slip, three milkglass candle holders, one pyrex pitcher, all for 20 bucks! I assembled meals: chopped greens and herbs and roasted chicken and beets, all dressed with plain yogurt and tarragon and mint and cilantro and lemon.

Twas an embarrassment of simple pleasures.

Today was too hot for that level of activity, though. So I decided to put my money where the women were: Oceans 8 at the local cineplex. The screening was well-attended, I’m happy to report, not only by my fellow retirees (lately I’ve been taking dowager chic a little too seriously) but, surprisingly, by a handful of fathers with their young sons and daughters. I’m less happy to report that the lady-packed sequel felt like another H-Wood sloppy second: boy director, boy co-writer, boysboysboys behind the camera. Every one of these brilliant female actors-Rihanna, Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina, Sandy Bullock, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway– were reined in by electric dog collars, the plot points and joke setups languishing on mobile fainting couches. I’m guessing this was meant to read as what my colleague Odie Henderson calls “ratpack laissez-faire.” Really it read as thorazine shambles.

It’s high time we female-identified people ran more shows from top to bottom.

Still, twas a much-needed visual model in feminine competence and solidarity, if one not nearly as funny as its individual performers. Cate and Sandy were searingly hot with sexual chemistry galore and a distinctly grownup swagger. Elliot Gould in a fur coat and Swifty Lazar glasses waddled through a much-welcome cameo. And the air conditioning? Killah.

‘En El Séptimo Día,’ In Plain Sight

What follows is a transcript of a talk I gave about En el Séptimo Día for the Westchester Film Club, where I often deliver lectures on new independent and foreign film releases.

This may sound odd, but I am very grateful to have watched this film with you fine people. As a critic I embrace any film that does its job well, regardless of the genre. But I admit I most embrace films that shed greater light on the human condition. En el Séptimo Día achieves this and then some by providing a window into the everyday challenges of an immigrant existence that is too often ignored in cinema.

It is, as David may have told you, the first feature in 15 years from much-revered Brooklyn independent director Jim McKay. A few weeks ago when we were discussing the biopic Mary Shelly, I said that a gifted and empathic person could tell any story regardless of race, gender or any other identity marker. This is very true of McKay, who made his mark with two no-budget movies, Girls Town (1996) and Our Song (2000), which both depicted female high-school students of color. It’s safe to say McKay’s approach to filmmaking is classic neorealism, which I consider to be the opposite of reality TV. By this I mean that that through careful research, scripting, and casting he labors to achieve an accurate glimpse of woefully underrepresented subcultures. Continue Reading →

American Horror Stories (‘Rosemary’ Turns 50)

Rosemary’s Baby turns 50 today, and I’ve been thinking a ton about this film and about the genre of horror overall. For a few decades, dystopias were the alarm clock we all needed, but because the dystopia is now and no satire could possibly outstrip the grotesque burlesque that has capsized the highest chambers of the land, horror is the perfect lens for examining the greatest biases and ugliest fears prevailing in our dying (dead?) republic. That’s why Get Out blew everything else in 2017 out of the water, and that’s why films like The Exorcist and, yes, Rosemary’s Baby haunt us still. The former was about an America possessed–why else do you think it took place within spitting distance of Nixon’s White house?–and the latter was about the way that women are gaslit about everything including their own intellectual and reproductive powers. It’s also why I’m so flatly unimpressed by the emptyheaded Hereditary, the Toni Collette everything-and-the-kitchen-sink horror film that has everyone’s tongue a-flapping this month. Continue Reading →

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