Sunday, April 24, 2011

Boys, girls and swords

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark (Image: HBO & Stellar Four)
Let me lay my bias on the table right away: I'm a huge fan of George R.R. Martin's series of doorstop-size fantasy novels collectively titled A Song of Ice and Fire.  And no big-screen cinema event this year eclipses, in my mind, the unveiling last Sunday night of HBO's new ten-episode, small-screen adaptation of the first volume, A Game of Thrones.  For the most part, it did not disappoint me - more on that in a few weeks when I put up a fuller review, after I've absorbed the initial installments. 

So clearly, I'm far from objective when evaluating criticisms of the series - especially the significant number of accusations floating around in the online chatter, from professional critics and blog commenters alike, that the grim, graphically violent and sexual show is misogynistic.  A pretty representative sampling includes pop culture columnist Whitney Matheson at USA Today ("a 13-year-old boy's wonderland"); an articulate-if-enraged Salon reader going by the handle of Setsuna777 ("Sexually violent, sexist, nauseating"); and, to a lesser extent, critic Ginia Bellafante in an already semi-notorious New York Times pan that didn't explicitly address issues of misogyny but dismissed the entire fantasy genre, and GoT in particular, as "boy fiction" that no woman she knows would bother with. 

My own pre-formed opinions notwithstanding, I think I'm on solid ground when dismissing these complaints, almost (but not quite) entirely - and I say that with full awareness that, given the pervasive sexism that still exists in contemporary entertainment, a feminist is well justified in approaching what she watches with some skepticism. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

How do you say "Nouvelle Vague" in Cantonese?

(Image filched from Eigawatchlog)
Among the nice things about being really sick, besides the raw throatful of gluey phlegm and the sensation of having been beaten all over by hammers, is that you can sit around and watch a bunch of DVDs without feeling guilty about the other, practical stuff you ought to be doing or the people you ought to be out socializing with.  So this post comes to you courtesy of some sort of flu virus.  Thanks to said microorganism and its rapidly multiplying family, I was able recently to get through a few more of the Hong Kong movies in a stack I borrowed about a year ago from a friend, which remains embarrassingly unfinished (the stack, not the friend... although... well, anyway).

On a whim, I concentrated on rare, hard-to-find crime movies from the "Hong Kong New Wave" of the late '70s and early '80s, mostly in the form of DVD-Rs copied from crummy, full-screen VHS tapes, one of them without even subtitles.  Admirable dedication or masochism?  This question is left as an exercise for the reader.

The paradox of plenty.

Sometimes it's hard living in a culturally rich and diverse city.  Here are the film-related events that are competing for my finite time and money over the next week or so:

The W.C. Fields retrospective at Film Forum.  The late films of Indian master Satyajit Ray at Lincoln Center.  The retrospective of Japanese director Kaneto Shindo at BAM Rose Cinemas, including his never-before-seen-in-the-U.S. classic Children of Hiroshima.  The retrospective of pioneering Soviet master Dziga Vertov at Anthology Film Archives.  And of course the Tribeca Film Festival, with dozens of every kind of movie, including the latest blockbuster starring the great Hong Kong star Chow Yun-fat.  This is to say nothing of the new movies in general release that I actually want to get around to seeing, including Insidious, Hanna, Incendies, Meek's Cutoff, Blank City, Certified Copy, and I can't even remember what else.  Plus there's all those other things that aren't movies.  Yes, I do some of those things.  And only one of them is work.

So if you haven't seen anything in this space lately, that's my excuse: my brain is melting and I'm sinking into a slough of despair over all the things I have to abandon seeing in order to see any of the other things.  Expressions of heartfelt sympathy are hereby solicited.

(image courtesy of TVRecappersAnonymous)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Does everyone care about Uncle Boonmee? Should everyone?

(Image courtesy of Kick the Machine and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's blog)

In his rave review in the current issue of Film Comment magazine, Chuck Stephens makes the rather remarkable statement that "everybody who cares about cinema has already long been stoked about seeing Uncle Boonmee."  In case you are somebody who Just Does Not Care About Cinema, I shall inform you that he refers to Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the latest feature by Thai avant-garde filmmaker Apichatpong "just call me Joe" Weerasethakul and the upset winner of the Palme d'Or for best picture at last year's Cannes Film Festival.  As usual for The Joe, it includes Buddhist and animist mysticism, animal transmogrifications and ruminations on reincarnation, references to Thai folklore and more oblique references to Thai history and politics, homey low-key humor, and lots and lots of jungle vegetation and chirping cricket sounds.  I suppose this is as good a paragraph as any to fulfill my obligations under the law governing all writers on Uncle Boonmee by mentioning the monkey ghosts with glowing red eyes and the disfigured princess who receives oral sex from a talking catfish.

Now, as someone who Cares About Cinema, and who is furthermore a fan of Weerasethakul's work, I was certainly stoked about seeing it long before I did last fall at the New York Film Festival, and was almost equally stoked about seeing it a second time, as I did last month at Manhattan's Film Forum when it was finally released for a U.S. run.  But the combination of that second experience and Stephens' above-quoted assertion got me thinking again about the gap between the quite small group of cosmopolitan-intellectual-professional film pundits and the more-or-less-casual paying audience, and how wide that gap often is even in the cineaste circles of a town like New York.