RogerEbert.com — XX

XX Movie Review“XX” begins with a promising premise: It’s a horror anthology consisting of four short films by women, about women. But the result is frustratingly inconsistent. Each film has its moments, but some are way stronger than others. Still, it’s encouraging to see so many women in one place working in what traditionally has been a male-dominated genre. My mixed RogerEbert.com review.

Read the review here

8 Comments on “RogerEbert.com — XX

  1.  by  Brian O' Hanlon

    Re: Films about women by men

    Christy,

    I took the recommendation from the ‘calculation what the odds are’, for the awards presentation on this evening, which the panel did during the week, to take a look at the ‘Sing Street’ movie and it’s sound track. The real take-away from ‘Sing Street’ movie, was actually the ability of it’s director Mr. Carney, to write such wonderful character screen plays, with the female parts in mind. In fact, if one were to look at Sing Street, it’s a very skillful study of the female character (and from a whole lot of different angles, even though the different angles of the female’s journey through life, are written by way of including several roles written for women in ‘Sing Street’). However, it’s like how Carney, used that device as a way to look at life from a women’s point of view, using that as a device, of separating the story across the number of roles played by women that are in that movie.

    Actually, the ‘music’ side of that movie is really the background. In the review, on WTF, it mentioned that the movie borrowed pieces from different previous movies. And in a way, that is what Carney was able to do – employing that skill of his to very efficiently, create that credible backdrop of the ‘boy band’ and the musical journey – so that the real story about the female condition, could be rendered sharply against that same background. In a way, the analysis of the movie, ‘Sing Street’ in a load of analysis of that movie – was ‘back to front’. And everyone seemed to miss all of that female stuff that was happening in front of our noses. And I think, that Carney wanted it that way too, so that he could branch into a whole different area, while everyone simply looked at it, and saw the story about the music. In fact, if you look at Carney’s previous movies too, which I’m not an expert on, but there was an element of that happening too.

    The problem for me, was that in doing this, Carney neglected the opportunities that there were in ‘Sing Street’ to develop a more interesting character exploration – of such characters in it, such as the priest. I wanted to know for example, when all of those ‘two hundred photocopies’ of the priest’s head, that all of the people wore as a mask – what happened to the priest when he exited the ‘School Disco’. I wanted to know how that resolution happened, and how that character ended up. But the movie camera, didn’t allow us to follow that. Similarly with other male characters in the movie, there was a lot of potential to take those characters a lot further, and it wasn’t explored.

    A this stage, in the work of John Carney, the story about the music and the ‘boy bands’ is just stage props, to tell the full story against. And there’s nothing wrong with using stage props, and male characters that are borrowed from previous movies – and can be inserted into the plot line as pre-designed templates – that hold up well enough to be credible. I’m reminded of an interview that was conducted recently – one of the original three founders of the ‘Napster’ experiment back in the 1990’s. He argued, that in software design (a lot like in movies, or in music making), a great team can take an average idea and make it into something. A lesser team, can take a great idea and screw it up, one hundred per cent of the time. The idea, that he expressed I think, was that ‘Napster’ was an average kind of idea, but that it had some great software talent working behind it, at various stages.

    It was a great interview, with one of those founders who went right back to the beginning of that story – and it explained how it all happened with three guys, starting up a small project together. Now, that is a story that I would like to see John Carney tackle some time. A lot of the dynamics in the design and engineering of software, are similar to those that one will find in the music band story often. I’m sure that someone like Carney could bring a lot to that kind of a project. Over and out.

  2.  by  Brian O' Hanlon

    Re: John Carney and his art of the ‘distraction’

    Christy,

    One other observation, or elaboration.

    I had another quick review of the panel’s critical review of ‘Sing Street’, and I’ve just figured it out. The professional movie critic has a job, which entails viewing a lot of movies in the space of a year. There’s only space in that type analysis, to ‘skim’ over the headline items, that are contained within a movie. Often, where a movie comes along, that contains a ‘story within a story’, then the professional movie critic approach, breaks down in that situation.

    For example, the panel’s critical review, had to focus a lot on the analysis, that John Carney’s movie’s are about romanticism – and not about realism. However, in a John Carney movie one has to be cautious about jumping straight to that conclusion – because it tends to deprive the critic of an ability to see – what’s actually going on. The realism is there in Carney’s work, it’s just that the audience doesn’t get hammered over the head, with that realism. The realism is all there, on the female character development side of his movie, Sing Street. But he’s like a magician in that respect – in that he shows you something on one hand that’s all about music and boy bands – while on the other, the real trick is happening and often the conscious side of one’s mind doesn’t register it.

    Like, all of the female character development in the movie in question, is telling the story of one female character. However, they are all projections of different possible outcomes, different realities in which the same female character may find their self in – going back to childhood ‘age sixteen’ – or going forward to, house, three kids and ‘in the middle of a separation’ (how did I get here, kind of question explored). Sometimes though, and not ‘in the moment’ a film critic can re-visit the work of a film director, ‘The Sound of Music’ or whatever it is), in order to discover what it is actually going on.

  3.  by  Brian O' Hanlon

    Re: Product-ization in the Movie Manufacturing Business

    Christy,

    It was something that actor Gabriel Bryne has been talking about on and off, when we get to hear from Gabriel nowadays back home. He explains the process of movie making nowadays, and how it has changed in some fundamental way. There’s a very good Twit TV podcast, with former New York Times technology correspondent John Markoff, in which he talks about the profession of ‘advertising’ (as in the old ‘Mad Men’ concept of it, that worked with ideas like establishment of strong brand identity), has been over-taken now by a subset within advertising, that is referred to as ‘direct marketing’. I.e. Where the marketing analysis now, can tell us more about ourselves than we know ourselves.

    It’s something to bear in mind in relation to movies. I remember that scene once upon a time (I’m sure that Ben will recall it), of the West Wing television series. All of the people attend a party in Hollywood, and there’s a guy from a movie production company, who is trying to pitch a job offer, to White House press liaison, C.J. Craig. He keeps asking C.J. if she’d like to be involved in ‘project development’ at their production company. C.J. keeps asking the man, what is ‘project development’ exactly? And he keeps on responding, it’s developing projects.

    Can’t beat Sorkin, for his script writing skills, I guess.

    What we were really looking at back then, when the ‘West Wing’ television series, was approaching towards it’s end – were two things. On the one hand, producers were scrapping shows such as the ‘West Wing’ that had a script, a story line and character development, and ‘real actors’, and instead the formula was moving towards ‘reality television’. The other thing that happened, was that ‘Big Data’ was coming more and more into the feature length production side of the business.

    And that is what I think, is what Sorkin’s sketch about the movie producer talking to the White House spokes woman was all about.

    In the same way as journalist John Markoff explained, that a subset of advertising, has subsumed the ‘Mad Men’ of the olden days (it’s a bit like in the series ‘Mad Men’, where they started to break out walls etc, to make room for the new IBM computer), . . . in a way, old-fashioned movie production, has been subsumed by this sub-branch, referred to as ‘project development’. The development of the project is, to decide way out in advance, before directors, actors, anyone has an opportunity to work on something – that this movie is either going to be aimed at ‘realism’, or romanticism. And it’s sort of binary, and an audience then get’s hammered over the head with it, and there’s no room left in the process any longer for the ‘story within a story’.

    Like, I’m perfectly confident, that when any movie critic would have watched a movie such as ‘Sing Street’, that their un-conscious side of their brain, registered ‘all’ of what was going on in that movie – even if the conscious side, the side that is required to produce a ‘review’ as a movie critic for example – only registered some of what was in the movie, and not all of it.

    John Carney, is an example of a movie director now, who tries to work outside of the ‘direct marketing’ process, so what one ends up with, is more like an old-fashioned project, a mixture that has little bits of realism, woven inside of all of that romanticism that Alonso, was so blown away by (or at the least, the conscious side of his brain, that is). Over and out.

  4.  by  Brian O' Hanlon

    Re: What are the real cat fights now in the movies?

    Christy,

    There’s a path-breaking feminine movie that is waiting to be discovered by some ‘project development’ team out there. It was an observation that Alonso stumbled across, in both reviews of ‘Lovesong’, and ‘Catfight’ movies. He explains, how the female side of the human race, have developed sophisticated cooperation techniques that can be used to ‘topple the patriarch’. What happens though, when feminism has become so successful in it’s execution, that all of the patriarchs have been toppled? Wouldn’t it make sense to allow a number of patriarchs to remain standing, in order to preserve a delicate alliance, between all of the females? Because, once you remove or ‘topple’ the last patriarch, what’s left?

    Something has to fill the vacuum, and something always does fill the vacuum.

    The ultimate ‘cat fight’ being the one that we see in Tom Hanks movie, ‘The Bridge’, where former allies are forced to find some delicate balancing act, that preserves enough peace, that they don’t destroy the entire world in the battle that happens, after they have removed the evil regime that had existed in central Europe in the 1940’s.

    There’s a movie that is waiting to be made, yet, about ‘post feminism’. Feminism itself, was like the ‘Normandy Landing’, the ‘Saving Private Ryan’, The Band of Sisters??, the march on Berlin. It was that blueprint. It was the collaboration of Monty, Eisenhower and Patton (you’ll notice that the old movie references are piling up at this stage). There was an elegant branch of feminism, sort of like ‘A Bridge Too Far’, the tragic story (it was Nijmegen, it was the road to Nijmegen, it was after Nijmegen, it doesn’t matter what it was).

    That’s the ‘Monty’ side of feminism. And there’s also the ‘Patton’ side.

    No one has figured out though, what’s meant to happen in a post-feminist world, where Berlin (and even Nijmegen, God help us), has fallen into the Allied hands of that loose coalition of commanders like Zhukov, and Patton etc. No one knows, what to do when all of these army group leaders, are standing together inside a small room together, inside some small space such as a Berlin that has been reduced to rubble (Good German, always something worse), and they’re left looking at each other, standing with a glass of Russian vodka in one hand, and a fat cigar.

    Because one thing’s for sure, that when Feminism does win the war – and it has to, because they’re ‘the good guys’ – we’ve got one heck of a problem. Because the skill set developed, on the way, in toppling all of those patriarch’s, happens to be a skill set that is difficult (if not impossible), to re-tool to make it useful in a post Feminism universe. I thought that the Jessica Chastain movie, about the Washington Lobbyist is a movie that I’ll enjoy watching. However, I also thought that the Sandra Bullock movie, the Marriage or whatever it was called, was a better movie about Feminism. Because in that movie, the woman has won, we’re into that post Feminist world – where the woman has become the dictator that everyone is scared of.

    The Sandra Bullock movie, was intended to be a comedy that made a serious point. The Chastain movie, and I understand that it’s writer was a Yale professor, was intending to be a serious movie, that may end up missing the whole point. It’s not that we’re trying to figure out what bridge, or what road or what town (there’s Nijmegen again), to acquire on ‘the road to Berlin’. What we’re trying to ascertain, is what to do with all of those generals when the coalition finally comes together in the same room, to sample on the vodka and the cigars. Wouldn’t I like to be a fly on that wall?

    Over and out.

  5.  by  Brian O' Hanlon

    Re: The war is never over

    Christy,

    I always hear the comment made, and it comes from veterans of feminist marches on the streets in countries such as Ireland, going way, way back to the sixties and seventies. One woman in particular, took the precedent setting case against the medieval notion of ‘chattel’, where children that he had subsequent to an initial marriage that didn’t work out, were all deemed to belong to the original husband. These veterans of the fifty years war, they always return to this point. Women find it hard to work underneath another woman.

    It’s a movie that hasn’t been made – or correct me, if I’m wrong.

    I think what it means, is that instead of ‘toppling all of the patriarch’s’, what happens in reality is that one cardboard cut-out man is left standing, so that everyone can pretend that the strategic coalition of forces of feminists, still has a job to do. And that helps to preserve the fragile equilibrium (there’s a word that should be used more often).

    I haven’t seen a movie, and maybe I’m all wrong about it – and don’t know a darn thing period – that challenges the notion of feminism as a ‘blueprint’ for battles to be won, before reaching Berlin – and how the world is meant to function, post Berlin. Over and out.

  6.  by  Brian O' Hanlon

    Re: Final Question : Movies about Women (made by women, or not?)

    Could the path defining template, in making a new cinema about Feminism, is that of a God(mother) type of trilogy. Starting with something like, ‘Ike: countdown to D-Day’, starring Tom Selleck?

    I read a description for this movie.

    I noticed, that I had neglected to mention the characters of Churchill and De Gaulle, in the above. My apology. The reason why ‘Ike’, and that story is important, is that his job was to hold all of these strands together – that threatened to pull apart.

    Monty with his elegant strategies and parachute adventures, in the northern theater.

    Patton using his direct approach, in the south.

    Zhukov fighting the battle against ‘chattel’ rights in the east.

    Churchill standing aloof, in London.

    De Gaulle, busy doing what he does best, with the underground resistance.

    Saving Private Deirdre, as part two in the trilogy.

    Ending with ‘Ike’ in office, and advising caution – the feminist industrial complex, part three of the trilogy?

    The mind does boggle.

  7.  by  Brian O' Hanlon

    Re: Big Little Lies

    I’m listening to another very entertaining banter amongst the expert panel from TYT network, on the web. I don’t get to catch up on a fraction of movies/shows of the experts. There’s a thread which they stumbled across, that deserves a comment this evening. There are many examples now, where successful European or Australian drama television, acts as a kind of feeder system of creativity and ideas, that flows directly into the American industry. That used to happen in movies too, and I listened to director Jim Sheridan here, only last week talking about it. The problem now, is that all of the available space/time in movie theaters around the world, is always ‘blocked up’ with America titles, with super hero’s and lots of muscle with which to force the product through the ‘cinema theater’ distribution channel. In other words, that model has become extremely broken. However, what the experts at TYT, who benefit from the rich flow of content that does make it’s way through HBO and other channels there – are saying is, in the opposite direction – some good stuff, does still manage to move from television outside of the United States, into that mass market, and from there it gets a broader platform that again travels around the globe.

    It’s important to think about it too. The ‘Betty and Joan’ saga is getting analyzed by the experts now, on a week by week basis. It’s interesting, this show from a point of view of understanding how ‘old’ the industry of movies, was in the United States. I often follow the pathway of TV shows, that begin say in Denmark and via some agreement with British broadcasters – they make there way using ‘sub-titles’ over here to Britain and Ireland. Then from there, they often get taken up and re-made under the same name – for example, in ‘The Bridge’ it changed from Denmark-Sweden, to US-Mexico. Or in the case of ‘Big Little Lies’, it changes from Australia to west coast America. What I’m always left asking however, in the case of things such as ‘The Bridge’, is what happens to the characters that are so central in that series, when it becomes American-ized. I think, there’s one important thing about European, or even Australian television. They started at it, later in history, when those industries outside of Hollywood could benefit from a model, that was more part of the 20th or even 21st centuries – and less, part of the 19th century.

    There was one interesting conversion, that I also looked at (the Australian version, and the later American one). That was the series called ‘The Rake’. The whole purpose of ‘the rake’ in that Australian story, was to type-cast men as these bumbling idiots. In doing so, the whole series was able to develop a narrative about what a woman’s reality is actually like – i.e. non-perfect. One’s life has to accommodate the plethora of situations that are created, when the men in their lives manage to generate tasks, situations, challenges and disasters – which wouldn’t otherwise occur. The Australian version of the movie, asks the question, why is it worth it? What is it, beyond all of the chaos, the relationship between the male and the female, has to offer in the 21st century. All of this got lost, in the American translation for some reason. There’s a whole media studies post-graduate thesis that could (and possibly should), be attempted, to ask why this keeps on happening. In other words, why when we do have this one ‘connection’ left, where ideas from outside of the American market, still have the potential to feed into what is happening in the American industry – why does it always get ruined in the process of turning it into the American equivalent?

    In a way, things haven’t changed a lot since the days of ‘Betty and Joan’. There’s still someone there, behind it all in the Hollywood lots making sure – that fully formed and full rounded female characterization isn’t allowed to make it’s way – on to either small, large or streamed media displays. In a way, we’re still largely in ‘Betty and Joan’ territory, as far as moving pictures goes. One only has to compare ‘like with like’, and judge what actually happens in the translations of titles, that I mentioned overhead. And if this is happening down at the level of television, it makes the rock that needs to get pushed, at the level of cinema, even greater. The one, one shining light that I did notice in American television – that offered one a glimpse of what is really possible – was the device employed, with ‘Sons of Anarchy’. I know from watching the various interviews with the cast on that series, the female actors in it, did enjoy the freedom that the story line and characters allowed them, to play those interesting female characters. I.e. By making the story (like in the Australian version of ‘The Rake’), about the males who sit on a motorbike, and ever day becomes ‘a crisis’ once they sped down the road on their bikes, and do something new, that’s both new, and stupid. The same question arises, why even bother having the male and female relationship in the 21st century. Beyond, all of the chaos and everything, what is there still left in all of that, that makes it all worth it? Over and out.

  8.  by  Brian O' Hanlon

    Re: Bring back the ‘John Henry’s’ of American Moving Pictures

    There is a vein of American cinema and television making, that dates back quite a long ways. Again, it’s another one of these media studies type dissertation topics, that someone ought to look into some time. The thing that the production team of ‘Sons of Anarchy’ stumbled across, how the men always head out on their Harley Davison, and always seem to become entangled in trouble. The wives and mom’s, left to figure out what to do. It’s one true vein of character development and dialogue that exists in American moving pictures, and that audiences around the world can relate to.

    “You ain’t expecting trouble, are you John Henry?

    Trouble? Maximilian on one hand, Jorge on the other, sandwiched in between. On top of that we’re, Americans in Mexico, take’in a caddy of horses to a very unpopular government. Why should we expect trouble?”

    That was James Lee Barrett, writing for a 1969 moving picture, ‘Undefeated’. He also happened to be screen writer, for one of Ben’s favorite motion pictures from the seventies (if I’m not mistaken, it was preferred back then by him, to the Force Awakes, or New Hope, or whatever it’s meant to be called now? Star Wars?). That was ‘Smokey and the Bandit’. So, one can actually date the transition point there – moving from horseback to Harley’s and automobiles. But it is the same beautiful, crisp, clean dialogue. It does resonate with audiences around the world, and it’s home grown American.

    What we can’t really get though, are those re-inventions of European or Australian drama or characterization done for Malibu beach – where much of the time, the female character is dialed all the ways down – to practically zero (so as not to distract attention away from the male stars in these shows, that must be it?). Bleh. One can still find the odd ‘John Henry’ character, written into those tiny, Tom Selleck movies, the kinds of characters that he plays, such as ‘Ike’. The Barrett lines of yesterday do still have some echoes, in the remote places in America drama and small movies. They ring true, they’re realistic, even though they’re based around cowboys and the ‘frontier’ era. Rather than be afraid of the 19th century male stereotype, bring back ‘John Henry’, I say. It was real.