Riding Waves, Forging Communities: Surfing, Gender, and Feminism in 20th Century California

frieda surfing

"I like surfing because I feel like the true me. I think that surfing can show off to people that you can actually do something," Salinas, CA resident and pre-teen surfer, Mari Howarth, told filmmaker Jay Dunn. "If somebody says really mean things like 'Boys can do this and girls can't,' that's a stereotype. If you really want to do it, just believe in it and you can do it." As a participant in the Wahine Project, an organization and movement founded by Salinas native and surfer Dionne Ybarra, Howarth represents the upcoming generation of female surfers, and Ybarra's program embodies the multiracial, transnational, boundary eschewing nature of the sport. Established in April of 2010, the … [Read more...]

Maps to Nowhere: David Cronenberg Takes on Hollywood, for Better or Worse

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Birdman was the boffo Hollywood navel-gazing opus par excellence—the sort of thing the Academy just can’t resist. I’m told that the film was supposed to be a satire of actorly self-indulgence, and I just didn’t get the joke. To me, the wafer-thin paper cut-outs that populate the film—the pompous stage actor, the druggy blonde actress, the humorless critic with forever-pursed lips—were not so much knowing jabs at the business as they were boring stock characters. Alejandro Iñárritu’s flair for the dramatic was certainly on display—in, for instance, the film’s wildly frenetic soundtrack and the feeling of immediacy created by its crazy long shots—but overall it felt to me more like a … [Read more...]

Coping with the Legacy of Child Sexual Abuse in John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary

Brendan Gleeson and Chris O'Dowd in John Michael McDonagh's Calvary.

“I think she's bipolar, or lactose intolerant, one of the two.” -- Jack Brennan, Calvary What could be more suited to 2014 than a film about collective punishment? It was a year when skin color seemed to prejudice police offers to exercise lethal force against Eric Garner and Michael Brown; when members of the Muslim Brotherhood were cavalierly sentenced to death en masse by Egypt's new, US-backed dictatorship; and when ISIS committed unthinkable acts of savagery in Iraq and Syria, decapitating innocent bystanders and burying women and children alive because they belonged to the wrong ethnic or religious group. Random people seemed to suffer for the sins of the system, or the nation, or … [Read more...]

ToM “Besties” of 2014

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Hello there. You are now witnesses to a kind of confrontation between me and these three men. And it ain’t so simple, treasonous crime. No it ain’t so simple and there’s reasons why When Detroit’s Protomartyr released their 2014 album Under Color of Official Right (itself eerily descriptive of public discourse from all sides this year), how could they have known their mix of Wire-like punk dirges would be emblematic of the last 12 months? The year seemed punctuated by rough arguments, sometimes violent confrontations, and the kind of disagreements that as Protomartyr sings, “Ain’t so simple and there’s reasons why.” Yet, our little blog dedicated to engaging these sorts of “conflicts” … [Read more...]

Scrooged: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Yuppie Christmas

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“It was obviously intended as a comedy, but there is little comic about it, and indeed the movie’s overriding emotions seem to be pain and anger. This entire production seems to be in dire need of visits from the ghosts of Christmas,” the late great Roger Ebert wrote in his review of the 1988 holiday film, Scrooged. Calling the film “disquieting” and “unsettling,” Ebert left no confusion as to his opinion of the movie, giving it one star. Whatever the famed Chicago critic’s views, Scrooged went on to secure holiday favorite status and will no doubt soon be in semi-constant rotation along with Gen X classics like A Christmas Story and more recent hits like Love Actually. If not quite as … [Read more...]

Letting It All Burn: How A 2013 “Best of” serves as a reminder of 2014’s “Worst of”

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“This police department here in Philadelphia could invade Cuba,” Mayor Frank Rizzo told reporters. “What I’m saying is that we are trained and equipped for war.” Rizzo’s appraisal might have been made nearly 30 years ago, but it now seems eerily prescient. With the events of the last few months, few films from the past couple years capture the current angry zeitgeist like Let the Fire Burn (2013) a documentary investigating the disastrous May 1985 confrontation between the Philadelphia Police Department and the back to earth, black power, anti-technology, commune/organization known as MOVE. After all was said and done, three city blocks, about 60 houses, lay in ruin and eleven MOVE members, … [Read more...]

Do Wes Anderson Movies Actually Make Money?

moonrise kingdom sam susie

Indie and art house film has always extended the possibility of artistic freedom—at least as much as it’s possible for any auteur to pursue a singular vision in a medium that requires the input of everyone from actors and producers to key grips and the tweakers on craft service. Hollywood is to film what Nashville is to music, the thinking goes—where formulaic pap is churned out for the general public, whereas indie (like alt-country or Americana) allegedly offers the possibility of something less polluted by conformity and commercial concerns. Of course, cinematic liberty can be a bad thing. Just look at the chronically self-indulgent and mediocre films of Woody Allen, which have cried … [Read more...]

Sideways at Ten: Shut Up and Drink the Damn Merlot

sideways giamatti and church

Americans are awash in wine. We sniff it, eyeball it, drink it. We bathe in it.[1] It is a marker of cultural superiority and hipness. Things were not always so. For the Depression and Beat generations, wine was culturally denoted by the wino rather than the connoisseur. Even the heady Baby Boom generation, which drank a lot, preferred smart cocktails to Pinots and Chardonnay. So how on earth did wine enjoy such a turn around? Usually these things are complicated, but thankfully we can pin the entire wine revolution on one cultural moment: the theatrical release of Sideways in 2004. In the words of one authoritative and disinterested individual, Sideways “changed the international wine world … [Read more...]

Dick: The Forrest Gump of Stoner Movies

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It is the fate of the cult movie to be ahead of its time. One thinks of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, which opened to middling reviews and pitiful box office receipts in 1983, only to see its dark media fantasia look far more prescient as video games and the Internet matured in the 1990s. Mike Judge had the distinction of directing two modern classics that tanked at the box office but flourished in video release; 1999’s Office Space resonated with the deepening economic malaise of the early twenty-first century, while 2006’s Idiocracy makes more sense today than ever before. Sometimes, though, a film manages to be both ahead of and behind its time—as the 1999 alternate-history farce Dick … [Read more...]

Noiring LA: Mildred Pierce, The Reckless Moment, and Reinforcing Postwar Suburban Gender Roles

The Pierce's home in Glendale, CA

"Often like a ghost in the shadows, the mother haunts film noir," observed Kelly Oliver and Benigno Trigo in 2003. "She is mentioned but never seen, yet she leaves her traces throughout film noir. Paralleling the dichotomy of the bad omnipresent or bad absent mother, in film noir the mother is everywhere and nowhere."1 Yet, as the two critics note, a handful of film noirs placed mothers and women at their center, ultimately both pushing back against noir restraints, but still reinforcing domestic, gender, and racial normatives of the day. In two such films, "Mildred Pierce" and "The Reckless Moment," Los Angeles and its suburbs provide the backdrop for film noir's judgment on the role of … [Read more...]

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