Review: Her

Her was, to me, one of Those Movies. The ones you read and hear about before you get the chance to actually watch it for yourself. I missed that chance in January at the Gothenburg International Film Festival, which irked me, but lucky for me – thanks to the cast and crew it showcases – it garnered an expected Swedish release and I got a second chance at savouring it in a movie theatre. (Movie theatres are the s**t.)

The plot of Her revolves around Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) who is trying to move on after a heartbreaking, world-dissolving divorce. This is all very standard relationship drama, but hang on a few more lines because it does get better. Her is set in a not too distant future and Theodore makes the decision to invest in the hottest thing on the market – a new OS1 system that just so happens to be the first product to ever feature artificial intelligence. Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansen) may be nothing more than a voice in Theodore’s ear, but she is directly linked to his computer, which in turn, naturally, is directly linked to his mobile, which means that he can carry her with him everywhere. She becomes his personal assistant and constant companion. And more over – she swiftly becomes his friend. Told you – better.

HER

Samantha has a great understanding of humour, she takes a nanosecond to learn and comprehend whatever subject matter Theodore may want to discuss and is constantly evolving by exploring humanity’s history, as well as our present day, by surfing the internet. Well, clearly this is a set-up demanding things to get shaken and stirred.

And those things are mostly Theodore och Samantha. They start a relationship to blow every border around what the word ”relationship” can possibly entail. The question I, the audience, is forced to ask myself is of course: What constitutes a relationship? What is love? Samantha doesn’t have a physical presence, but human beings throughout the ages have been infatuated by a photograph or through letter correspondence, and this attraction and the accompanying emotions have found a place to grow without the two people ever having physically met each other.

Theodore’s susceptibility for this type of attraction is nicely illustrated by his employ with a large, established company that specializes in letter writing. Theodore, by way of dictating the contents to a computer, creates beautiful”hand written” letters for his clients. They are letters filled with warmth, wit and an intelligent understanding of the customer’s relationships and needs. He communicates in an old fashioned and romanticized way for other people, he follows their day-to-day and is a part of their lives without ever taking any space in it for himself. In that way he is a reflection of what Samantha is to him when they first get to know one another where he has paid for a service and she is there to make his day-to-day flow more easily.

Aside from the fantastic script, which poses a row of philosophic questions while at the same time offering up just as many thought worthy comments; and the masterful acting and voicetalent on display – Amy Adams does a deliciously low-key turn as Theodore’s closest (human) friend Amy; one of my favourite things about Her is the clever way with which writer-director Spike Jonze approaches the future on this planet of ours, and more specifically Los Angeles, which is where we set our scene. He creates a realistic and well-thought-out vision of where we are most likely headed.

The Los Angels of Her does not boast flying cars (by God, where would we ever get a biofriendly fuel for those?) or insanely minimalistic interiors (perhaps not everyone is okay with living in a white/gray/beige oasis), but instead there are technical solutions and social details that feel true and relevant. After all, how we live today in this world we share, if we are completely honest, isn’t that different from the way we lived in it two centuries ago. At least not as far as tastes go when it comes to our more basic needs. Everything evolves and yet it all circles back to where it first began, right?

So instead of taking the science fiction aspect of his story and putting the weight on fiction, Jonze has smartly made the choice of focusing on science. He has looked at the technology available to us today and with a steady eye for detail drawn conclusions about what it may evolve into. He has also, in this same way, taken a good look at our modern social habits and woven into the core of his script an observation of how accepted it is to hold a conversation with your mobile during a coffee break, rather than with your colleague, friend or even, per chance, a complete stranger. The majority of us carry this small piece of technology around with us and it has become like a second heart: without it we sorely feel its absence. It is our link to the world around us, despite the obvious detail of how the world around us in actuality is right next to us or opposite us or a mere glance away from us.

Perhaps we are all related to Theodore in some way or other – a little bit afraid of the real thing. Of being hurt and left and rejected. Of letting reality get close and personal. But doesn’t that land us right back with the first question about relationships and love? Because what is it that dictates what is harmful or harmless? Is it even possible to live and know what it means to be alive if one is too afraid to take a chance and thereby risk something? And this thing called love – can it get more close and personal than a voice whispering sweet nothings or important somethings in your ear?

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Review Week

This week I will post reviews, whole reviews and nothing but reviews. So help me Whedon.

These reviews will consist of:

  • Her
  • The Budapest Hotel
  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • The Lunch Box
  • Mes Héros

Please be aware that I am situated in Sweden, which means some of these reviews may feel sad and dated to you, but are perfectly fresh and undeniably hip to me. 

Posting starts Thursday.

Publicerat i By Annelie Widholm, Entertainment | Märkt | Lämna en kommentar

Trailer Tip: La Belle et La Bête

I get chills. And they are multiplying. This trailer is no less than grand. It would seem the world of the fairytale is allowed to continue to spellbind us and I am excited to see that France is here to offer an updated version of their national treasure because, in my honest opionin, there are not many fairytales that hold the promise of light and dark quite in the same way as Beauty and the Beast.

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Game of Thrones: The Responsibilities of Female Representation

Last week I read a fiery debate on the Swedish website Moviezine regarding how women are represented in the TV-series, Game of Thrones. The debate was mainly between two members of the website and touched on topics of gender equality, something which also served to lay bare how the concept is often perceived. It was mostly this latter part of the debate that got me riled up and feeling the need to partake, but I refrained from diving straight in in order to reflect on my own true reasons for being so tired of naked female bodies in conjunction with completely dressed male counterparts on the screen (and in media in general) today. So I asked myself a few questions.

Firstly: Do I believe that Game of Thrones would be, or would be perceived, as more equal if there were as many male parts as female parts on screen (be they prosthetic or no)?

I personally am not opposed to nudity on television or in film, if there is a reason for it being there. If nudity adds something to the scene by way of character development or as a tool that is used to show the true nature of the relationship between two characters (it may be loving, or engaged in a power struggle, or both) then nudity can be very effective and definitively motivated. I begin to shift in my seat when nudity becomes nothing more than a showcase of undressed women. My annoyance comes from these undressed women usually not having any bearing on the plot or characters involved whatsoever.

However, my answer to the question above is “no”, Game of Thrones would not be, nor would I perceive it to be, more equal if there were as many male sex organs as female sex organs. Equality does not come from measuring the nudity of either sex and comparing the screen-time of each. Rather it comes from using nudity as a storytelling tool instead of a gimmick.

Secondly: Does the fact that the show uses nudity largely in situations where the female characters are prostitutes ease the inequality issue – that is to say, is it not a storytelling technique that is used intentionally to underline visually how the women of the Seven Kingdoms are exposed to male dominance?

One of the participants in the aforementioned discussion remarked that a lot of the nudity in Game of Thrones has to do with prostituted women in situations where it could be deemed natural that they are taking their clothes off or appear without a thread of clothing throughout the scene or, for that matter, appear in the nude and then slip something on towards the end of it. This is absolutely true, but the prostitution which is a part of the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin – upon which the TV-series is based, for those of you who were unaware – is not more at the forefront than any other theme that is woven into its pages.

To be perfectly honest I would even go so far as to say that the prostitution, when it comes to being described in greater detail, is somewhere in the periphery of things that are of weight to the narrative. It is most prominent in the relationship between Shae and Tyrion, where her low status as a prostitute is not merely the focal point due to the fact that she has found her way into the bed of a member of one of the most powerful families in the land, but also due to the fact that said man truly loves her with complete disregard for her past and knowing how it would affect him and his relationship with his already distanced father if they were to be discovered.

Aside from this, one could comment that there is prostitution and rape that occur in all corners of the Seven Kingdoms, and that these elements are an interwoven part of a tale that deals with situations of war, destitution and many other realistic scenarios. Either way, prostitution, rape and nudity are given a much less dominant role in the books than the series.

The woman’s subordination in relation to the man’s dominance is a strong theme throughout the books and is brought into the TV-series in the same convincing and telling way: the female subjugation is shown through strong, smart, driven female individuals of whom none have the same freedom, power or multitude of choice as the men surrounding them, simply because they were born women.

But there are layers added even to this most basic of realities as the women who are held back and forced into submission in a social context are highborn women locked in political games and intrigue (Cersei, Margaery, Sansa, Catelyn, Melisandre), while the women who are a part of the lower classes – or who can easily be taken for being a part of them – are allowed a broader playing field and wider freedom of conduct (Osha, Ygritte, Arya, Brienne). On top of which there are highborn women who will not be cowed into a destiny they have not chosen for themselves and refuse to be second to any man, such as Daenerys (who, among other things, takes control and secures herself an equal position next to the husband she is forced to marry), Asha (Theon’s sister) and the Dorne princess Arienne (who has yet to make her entrance into the TV-series).

My point is that the books tell female life stories that consist of depth, insight and a definitive respect for what women are capable of. The female characters are allowed to show courage, strength and intelligence (attributes that are classically thought of as “masculine”). The creators of the TV-series – David Benioff and D.B. Weiss – adopt this approach without pause and the characters that have an actual name all have an emotional anchor in the books they stem from.

I circle back to the comment in the discussion thread, which proposed the use of prostitution as a so called viable reason to show naked women. It begs the question: why has it become the norm to show completely naked women in some form of subjugated position in a room with fully clothed men? My problem with this is not that the woman is naked or even that the man is dressed – my problem is that these scenes take place when there is not even the least bit of narrative reason for them to do so, and these become the instances where the problematic representation of womankind as a gender is perpetuated and restated again and again.

Do we need a naked woman for the scene to work? Nah, but isn’t it always nicer with a naked woman?

I am agog at those who would argue that this is not a problem to be given any real weight because ”the majority of the viewers want naked women in the show”. It would be spectacularly interesting to start a very serious campaign to investigate exactly by how much the ratings would fall if one were to ask all those viewers who are bothered by the unwarranted nudity– and yet love the show – to forego having a seat in front of the television on Sunday night. I suspect this would reveal that viewers do not watch the show because one expects naked women, but because the show has a fantastic level of production that never lets the viewer down.

And so, to answer the question above: no, it in no way eases the inequality issue that nudity is used in situations where the female characters are prostitutes, especially since these prostituted women are nameless, substance free stereotypes who in the series seem to take nothing but pleasure from their work. If all these naked women were to be taken out of the series, and only the female characters that bear actual names were to be shown in moments when they choose to undress, this would help somewhat with what now bothers me as a viewer. Although this would naturally act as a foundation for a whole new debate when it comes to how women are viewed, as well as prompting discussions of gender inequality in representations of sexuality within the series.

Thirdly: Are there never any moments in Game of Thrones when female nudity is used in a way that empowers the woman, rather than the man?

Of course there are! And it’s something that does the show credit. Ygritte and Melisandre are two female characters that use their sexuality in a way that puts them in a position of power. Their sexuality comes from a character driven motivation that not only shows who they are as individuals, but also affects their character development and the part they have to play in the progression of the plot. Ygritte uses her sexuality to seduce Jon, and once they are lovers it’s on equal ground, as they have fallen for each other while Melisandre places herself in a position of power with Stannis, even when – or possibly even more so in those instances where – she is undressed.

What always should be sharpened into a point in any discussion or debate concerning female representation, is the question of who holds the position of power in a scene, an image, or a message. In the Moviezine thread someone frustratingly remarked that these things need not be taken so seriously – that a simple TV-series perhaps doesn’t warrant such close inspection. Of course, HBO and the creators of Game of Thrones have not set out to diminish womankind by contrasting naked women with clothed men. The show is not a political statement and the scenes containing naked women are not plotted to be anti-feminist in tone.

However, what I feel is important to be conscious of (especially for the creators of images that will reach millions), is the deeper meaning these images still inherently hold. Not to say that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss – who both hail from a background in advertising – are not perfectly aware of this already, I simply believe that they choose to see it as norm and until more creators choose to see things differently, nothing will ever change. The series as a whole can lean on its portrayal of a whole gallery of strong female individuals, but due to these scenes that are in practically every episode, consisting of nameless women undressing, the show is still bogged down by the meaning behind these images. The naked woman becomes a representative, whether they want her to be one or not, of the fixation, which quite plainly exists in this patriarchal society, of the woman being subjugated to the man.

And we are fed this fixation daily. And from it we hear these never-ending arguments to the tune of “the majority wants to see naked women”. It has become such an integrated part of modern society, and we have such free and constant access to material furthering it that it is even considered nagging, annoying and deviant to oppose this view of women. But it is this view of women that leads to rape: the female subjugation; the woman is willing even if she says no; every woman is a whore if you can only get her on her back.

I’ll admit it’s possible that I am painting it a shade too black, and that I may be drawing the line too sharply. As a creator I do however believe in the creative responsibility to represent the world in a truthful way, but also in a way that could contribute to positive change. The Seven Kingdoms may be an entirely separate universe, but it is ultimately a reflection of our own.

This essay appears here as edited by James Curnow before its addition to Curnblog

 

Publicerat i By Annelie Widholm, Hot Topic, Regarding Women, TV, Up for Discussion | Märkt , , , , , , , , , | Lämna en kommentar

Writing 2: Paragraphs

I would like to discuss paragraphs, because I have come to realize that my paragraphs are the bricks of the story I am creating. Once the story is finished – and I mean truly and completely reworked, edited within an inch of being deleted, read through for the hundredth time finished – mortar will magically appear. Then, and not before then, will those bricks be fused together because, honestly, I can’t possibly know which brick is essential and which isn’t until I take a step back and view the entire structure.

I find this comforting because there is room for messing details up (what first version of anything was ever ready to be published? I’ve reworked the first paragraph of this post about five times already) and, even more importantly, there is leeway for changing my mind. The bricks are loose, my building adaptable to my needs. My needs will fluxuate as the characters begin to take more of a proper form. Their characteristics will undoubtedly come to influence the look and feel of what I am attempting to create and so, for me, being flexible with my vision is essential for it to become something solid enough to share with others. Because I only share the mortarless building with a very few and very trusted – it wrecks so easily.

Now, let me get into the brick of things. A paragraph is the ultimate tool in structuring your story (or any writing for that matter) as one can always take into serious consideration whether a paragraph is used to restate information that has already been given to the reader, or furthering your story as a whole. Hint: the second option is the good option.

Now, don’t get me wrong – if you mention on page three that Old McDonald has a farm and this information is a foreshadowing of the murder, discovered on page one-hundred-and-fifty-eight, having taken place on Old McDonald’s farm, then you may need to reference said farm a few times in the pages leading up to the discovery of this gruesome death to ensure that the importance of the location is somewhere in the back of the reader’s mind. But I am not talking about foreshadowing when I say restate information. I am talking about repetition of inconsequental details. Repetition gets old.

You know what I’m talking about.

You know what I’m talking about.

You have come across those stories, too. When a writer seems to fret that the reader is unable to remember that all-important detail and so they hammer it home on every other page. Or the plotless stories that stamp their feet without ever really going anywhere, with characters that have no character traits and dialogue that makes your eyes water. To avoid this all-dreaded, soul-swallowing place I try to consider key things:

What is this paragraph telling me of the characters, the place they’re in and the plot of the story?

Stands to mention that this is pretty much how I also approach a scene I’m writing in a screenplay. What information does it provide and what is it saying about the different blocks of my story that has enough of an impact that I want to keep it there? If the paragraph is not doing much for any of these three extensive building blocks mentioned above – character, setting, plot – then the paragraph is weak and should either be rewritten or taken out completely. I might also find that it’s not optimally placed – as I said, things will change, and shifting paragraphs or whole blocks of them around is part of the building process.

Why exactly am I addressing the paragraph as part of my writing process? Because as the movable bricks of my storytelling I find it rather a relief to be able to think of going from one paragraph to the next instead of from one page to the next or one chapter to the next. I can concentrate on that moment of finding the right phrasing to start a new paragraph and allow myself the satisfaction of having created one more brick for my building, once that paragraph is finished. Baby steps will look like leaps and bounds once you’re about to cross the finish line and turn to look back at what you’ve accomplished.

So what I am saying is simply this: don’t sweat the big stuff, take pleasure in the small stuff  because that is what ultimately gets you where you need to go.

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Ten Movies: I Can’t F*ing Believe I Don’t Own Yet (Laura M)

These titles were kindly provided by guest blogger Laura Moore.

1. Pitch Perfect

2. The Avengers

3. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

4. The Way Way Back

5. Steamboat Willie

6. Beauty and the Beast

7. Some Like it Hot

8. White Christmas

9. The Heat

10. Bridesmaids

 

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Speaking of: Easter Entertainment

Christmas. Halloween. Holidays that are easy to access storywise, easy to relate to a certain theme audiencewise. Family, jingle bells and, not unusually, some sort of redemption story for the big X. Blood, blood and look you missed a spot for the deathsploitation that is the grimmest holiday of them all. (And, undoubtedly, the most entertaining. If you’re into that sort of thing……….)

But this week my writer self has been thinking: what of Easter? For goodness sakes, it’s filled with delightful plot possibilities that… but wait! I Wiki! And lo and behold, there have been movies made with an Easter backdrop. Well, okay, of course there has. And an overwhelming amount of them are directed at kids and feature animated characters while another hefty amount are horror films. Bless the Child is a favorite of mine, one which I had completely forgotten takes place during Easter, but as a title it sits amongst others such as Easter Bunny Kill! Kill! and Yogi the Easter Bear. (That last one is not a horror film.)

Taking into account that the only film title having to do with Easter that came to me off the top of my head was 2011’s Hop I began to feel that something needs to be rectified. Or at least straightened out.

Because why must Christmas lights twinkling or pumpkins grinning their flickering smiles into the night be the token setting for a holiday movie? Haven’t we had our fill? Does it not seem slightly askew that these holidays get all the glory? Why shouldn’t tulips and pastels and eggs eggs eggs be tantalizing in the same way? It is, I tell you. I am here to sound the horn (sound the horn? Yes, damn it, if I can only find one) for Easter as the perfect choice for a harrowing family drama or a sweet romantic comedy or a wackity-wacky comedy or a disaster movie or a touching indie film or a short film, for that matter.

So what would be my approach, you may ask.

Sincerely?

 

That is a good question.

Well, I would angle it on the candy side to things, rather than the religious, and I would make a touching family drama bordering on a disaster movie with an indie romcom at its core. Yeah. Something like that. And the title?

God.

No, not ”God”, then it would have to be religious, wouldn’t it? No, I mean that as in ”God, I hate finding the right title”.

Hiss.

Sigh.

Grunt.

O’Hare.

That is the title. O’Hare shall be the name of the family. Who are all in the candy business. And are distant relatives of the family for whom O’Hare airport was named (so I suppose this movie is taking place in or near Chicago, then. …Or is it?). And that airport may just come to play a big or huge role.

Yeah. Something like that.

Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it in one way or another. Happy Holidays all the same to those of you who don’t.

 

Publicerat i By Annelie Widholm, Entertainment, Film, Holidays, Speaking of | Märkt , , , , | Lämna en kommentar