Establishing an all-new stronghold

Women in cinema

Analysing statistics derived from 2008’s top grossing 100 films, a USC Annenberg School of Communications study — posted on its website — has found high percentages of female teen characters costumed in scanty, sexually provocative clothing with exposed cleavage, midriff and/or upper thighs. 

For male teens, the numbers were significantly lower. The report also found that for every woman who directed, wrote or produced a movie in 2008, there were nearly five men chosen for the same creative positions. That’s depressing. And yet this trend seems to be changing, with some great movies being made by women, putting women in terrific, serious roles. 

The first one is Jodie Foster’s latest directorial effort, The Beaver. It is an unusual family drama in which Foster also stars as Meredith, whose husband (Mel Gibson), finds relief from severe depression and social alienation by expressing himself through his alter ego, an ever present beaver hand puppet. Don’t let Gibson’s infamous off-screen misogynistic tirades dissuade you from seeing this film. It touches, in a positive and loving way, many important contemporary family and relationship issues.

Continuing with the theme of relationships is Last Night, written and directed by Massy Tadjedin. It stars Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington as a happily married couple who face difficult issues of fidelity when they spend a night apart — he on a business trip with an attractive colleague (Eva Mendes) and she during a chance encounter with a former lover (Guillaume Canet). This is a steamy and seductive film and as far as what else happens, you’ll find no spoilers here. Then there is An Invisible Sign, Marilyn Agrelo’s first feature film. It is based on Aimee Bender’s sweet and quirky novel, An Invisible Sign of My Own: A Novel, about Mona (Jessica Alba), who had escaped her childhood emotional traumas by focusing on heady mathematical equations and who, as a shy and troubled 20-something, finds her vocation in teaching math in a grade school. There she reluctantly allows a handsome science teacher to add unexpected romance to her life’s equation. 

Giving a glimpse into the dramatic world of a teenage girl is Daydream Nation, a tense coming-of-age narrative about a city girl (Kat Dennings) who brings her street wise sense of adventure to a small town and winds up in a tawdry love triangle with her high school teacher (Josh Lucas) and a stoner classmate. Written and directed by Michael Goldbach, this one nails teen angst. Based on Emily Griffin’s eponymous best-selling novel is the traditional rom-com Something Borrowed, scripted by Jennie Snyder and directed by Luke Greenfield. In it, a love triangle develops among 30-something and should-know-better best friends. Loyalties are tested when Rachel (Ginnifer Goodwin) lays claim to her law school crush (Colin Egglesfield), just as he is about to marry her best friend Darcy (Kate Hudson). The plot is pretty much chick flick cliché and if you’re looking for a film that allows Hudson to reclaim her career’s better half, this isn’t it.

Another pre-nuptials seasonal comedy is Bridesmaids. It is a send-up of girly behaviour during wedding preps and pomp headlines, with comedienne Kristen Wiig, who co-wrote (with Annie Mumolo) the screenplay, starring as Annie, the maid of honour, head wedding cheer and ringleader. Bridesmaids is a barrel of sitcom-style laughs but has a few sidesplitting surprises. If women can make you laugh, they can certainly turn up the serious quotient as well. The Vintner’s Luck is an adaptation of the Elizabeth Knox novel set in 19th century France. A peasant winemaker attempts to better his circumstances by creating the perfect vintage. Director Niki Caro, who co-wrote the screenplay with Joan Scheckel, has already given the audiences larger-than-life heroines in Whale Rider (2002) and North Country (2005). Here, she does it again with Celeste (played by Keisha Castle-Hughes) and Countess Aurora de Valday (played by Vera Farmiga), the two influential women in the winemaker’s life. As in all of Caro’s films, the cinematography is exquisite.

Another book-turned-motion picture is Hey Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird. It is Mary McDonagh Murphy’s must-see biographical documentary about Nelle Harper Lee, author of just one novel, the popular masterpiece from 1960 that remains a bestseller.

Murphy’s tribute uses archival footage of Lee’s childhood and of the mature author mingling with New York literati, including close pal Truman Capote, as well as significant scenes from the brilliant 1962 cinema adaptation of her book. The documentary shows how Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird were prime movers in the anti-segregation movement.
Acclaimed screenwriter Ann Peacock has penned The First Grader, a truth-based tale about an 84-year-old Kenyan, who fights for his right to an education, enters primary school with a class of first graders, who are one-tenth his age, and teaches everyone a good lesson about moral strength and righteous determination. Go For It! is about determination, too. Carmen (Aimee Garcia), who hails from a working class Mexican neighbourhood in Chicago, toils at a grocery store to put herself through college, but all she really wants to do is dance. Her professor, who just happens to see her in a street performance, encourages her to audition for a prestigious California dance school.

Written and directed by Carmen Marron, the film presents familiar plot twists — moments of self doubt, familial dissent, boyfriend pressures, a physically abused best friend — that have fuelled other determined-to-dance films ranging from Save The Last Dance (2001) to Billy Elliot (2000). However, the dancing and music are quite entertaining.

Deborah Chow has written and directed The High Cost Of Living, a dark and brooding psychological drama about fate, circumstance and personal action. Henry (Zach Braff) and Nathalie (Isabelle Blais) become involved when their lives collide in a fatal accident that forever changes their outlook and future. Again, no spoilers here about this high-stakes, low-budget indie film.

Bringing in the animation fun is the second edition of the blockbuster Kung Fu Panda. Jennifer Yuh has directed the sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2, which features Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Po (Jack Black), Monkey (Jackie Chan) and other celebrated voices in new adventures battling evil as only an animated panda, big cat and other fantastic creatures can. Fair game as family fun, but not quite adult fare, strictly speaking.

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