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Everybody’s Favorite Little Human Trafficking Musicale.

9 Oct

Nestled in a beautiful corner of the American west, the stage is set for a ‘beautiful morning’. Instead, open on a band of sex-starved brothers who live in a cabin in the woods (Unibombers much?). In a charming adaptation of everyone’s favorite tale of Roman pillage and plunder, the brothers kidnap six girls they’re crushing on from a nearby village (the oldest brother managed to get a lady to actually agree to marriage), they trap them in their hilltop shack and force them into marriage.

It’s Broadway baby!

Why am I writing about this goofily sexist product of an earlier age?

I’ve recently been experiencing a resurgence in affection for classic Broadway standards. I have a not entirely unabashed affinity for these classic songs. High school musicals were the cultural events of the season in my childhood and adolescence, I was raised on the Sound of Music and I can belt out OH what a beautiful morning with the best of them. While I have occasionally felt the urge to commit to an indie-band public listening persona, it would be dishonest to imply that I didn’t binge-listen to Les Mis on occasion.

Anyway, so I’ve been listening to some oldies lately. I’m not talking West Side Story, and certainly not Wicked. I’m talking 42nd Street, Guys and Dolls,  and my all time favorites from Cole Porter, Rogers and Hammerstein, Gilbert and Sullivan etc. In a thirst for more music, I was trying to remember musicals I’d seen as a kid, and I remembered watching ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ on a family road trip.

So I revisited it.

Various Artists – Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Well, obviously there’s some problematic misogyny  issue happening here. Actually, it goes way beyond misogyny and doesn’t just verge on but walks right on into full-on human trafficking issues. But it’s still a little bit charming…right? The thing is though, this ultra-macho story of forced marriage is presented in technicolor. The songs are bouncy and catchy, the dancing is really great,  the costumes are cute and the setting is America at its most beautiful.

Which must be the reason that this retelling of Plutarch’s “Rape of the Sabine Women” (See track 6: Sobbin’ Women) is still somehow not absolutely repulsive. Granted, it’s a somewhere between a little and a lot repulsive- but I don’t feel the need to burn every DVD copy in the real-fire kind of way. I’m even feeling a little drawn into the world of swinging axes and gingham skirts.

I mean, I’m probably being dramatic, it’s not like these women are in chains- they put them up very nicely in their mountain cabin and they do after all, kind of like the brothers. The story ends as a love story, albeit perhaps made possibly only via Stockholm syndrome.

Another possible reading is that it’s a story of the desperate sexual politics of the American frontier, where the male to female ratio was far too high. So, I get that joke…but ladies of the old West, the joke’s on you.

Either way, it’s the plot of a Roman tragedy with a uniquely American ultra-masculine ethos, lit like a My Little Pony dreamscape, punctuated with song, dance, lots of fringe and ending with a group wedding.

The moral of the story: We’ve produced some super weird cultural relics over the years, and Broadway is a prime culprit. Don’t even get me started on Brigadoon (which is more awesomely weird than sexistly weird, but still)…


The Best Craftsmen in France

14 Mar

You know that moment in a documentary when you’re so invested that suddenly you are devastated that Philippe’s sugar sculpture shattered. Kings of Pastry takes you there. While I don’t necessarily recommend viewing this documentary during a Lenten swearing-off of desserts, as it could cause extreme pangs of regret for that foolish promise, I do recommend it in general.

Now, this Spring I have to visit the Chicago French Market to try some macaroons and cream puffs.


16 Feb

I have to go to class in like 15 minutes and I’m still in my pajamas so here’s the Cliff Notes version

1. Alternately sweet and funny

2. Marisa Tomei at times looks like a very cute little mouse

3. It was refreshing to see John C. Reilly in a more serious role (I mean, more serious than Talladega Nights)

4. Marisa Tomei’s house in this movie is the cutest

5. Totally honesty. Hot or not?

6. Final verdict: Let’s say 6.5-7 stars, not a work of genius, but well done, fun to watch and very genuine.


Inch’allah Dimanche

12 Feb

This movie was so moving for me. The story of a young Algerian immigrant family, set in the 1970s, just when French law began to allow the families of male immigrant  workers to join them in France. Maybe it’s because the filmmaler, Yamina Benguigui is in fact a member of an Algerian French immigrant family, but this movie really poignantly captures the immigrant experience.

I am currently in the midst of research for a paper on Franco-Algerian relations in regards to migration- which is why I took note of this film on the syllabus of my French class- and took a study break to watch it- (am I a diligent student or am I a diligent student!). The main character, Zouina is so well captured, so well played. It really drove home for me how desperately heartbreaking the immigrant experience can be- especially knowing what I do about French prejudice toward North Africans. Really a great film and a fascinating subject!

The Kids (And Coco Avant Chanel) Are (more than) All Right.

29 Jan

In the past week I have had the pleasure of seeing two very good movies. Very very different movies, but both quite good- and both really notable for marvellous lead actresses.

The Kids Are All Right is about Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening)- a lesbian couple who are raising their two biological children somewhere beautiful in California. There is 18-year old Joni (Mia Wasikowska, from Alice in Wonderland) and 15-year-old Lazer (Josh Hutcherson)… (For the record Lazer was a horrible choice for a name, but let’s not dwell). Joni and Lazer are each from different moms but they share the same sperm donor “dad”. The movie takes place the summer before Joni goes to college. Lazer, taking advantage of the fact that his sister is ‘of age’ pressures her to call the sperm bank in an attempt to contact their biological father. It works, and the appearance of sperm donor “dad”, played by Mark Ruffalo, causes a wealth of emotion turmoil in the family- for better or for worse.

As the we are led to believe, the kids are in fact, alright, as is Mark Ruffalo. On the other hand, the moms are more than alright, they’re great. Julianne Moore gets the silver medal for her self-doubting, failed-career starting, emotionally insecure “Jules”, but the gold has to go to the type-A Annette Bening. Her performance is as natural as it is powerful. I don’t want to give away any major plot twists, but if you’ve seen the movie or if you plan to, the scene at the dinner party at Mark’s house- blew me away.

Movie #2 this week is pretty much a 180 degree turn around (at least more than 90 degrees) from The Kids Are All Right. Coco Avant Chanel is exactly what it says it is, it’s the life of Coco Chanel before she became the Coco Chanel. I’m not very into, as the French say,  l’haute couture, but even I can pick out the Chanel look from a lineup. I’d never really thought of the impact someone like Coco Chanel could have on society, on culture, on the way we think about ourselves. After seeing this movie I have a newfound respect for her life and her work, which of course, I think was the point. Chanel simplified fashion, making comfort (read: less whalebone corsets, not sweatpants and a t-shirt) a priority and promoting a more simple and natural style in a very frilly world.

Like The Kids Are All Right, the standout in this movie is the performance by the lead actress. I’ve been a fan of Audrey Tatou since a friend introduced me to Amelie a few years ago. She seems to pop up in about every other French movie I watch- and I always like her performances, but this particular role sent the message home than Audrey Tatou is a force to be reckoned with. As the director said in the bonus features, it makes it easier for a director when the actor utterly becomes a character when the camera is rolling, which definitely seemed to be the case with Audrey and  Coco.


11 Dec

I feel like this film’s title makes it seem fraught with cliché. Paris: city of light, city of love, n’est-ce pas? It sounds cliché, yes, but, though I can’t speak from personal experience, films like this only serve to convince me that Paris truly is a beautiful and magical place. This film has a couple of different centers. Perhaps the emotional focus of the film is the relationship between Pierre (Romain Duris) and his sister Élise (Juliette Binoche). Pierre is dying from a chronic heart condition and his sister moves in with him to take care of him. As he is too sick to go out much, Pierre watches the world around him from the balcony of his Parisian apartment. The film chronicles bits and pieces of the lives of the people he watches go by. In this way, the film shoots very close and very wide, portraying both a very intimate story of life, death, and family and a very broad story of Paris and the people who live in it.

My French professor discussed this film in our class while we were studying life in Paris, saying it does a good job of capturing the “Parisian attitude” toward life, and the French attitude in general. That is, somewhat cynical, but still hopelessly romantic. It also touches on the issue of wealth disparity, social services and racism in Paris- as the city’s socioeconomic structure is quickly stratifying- leaving no room for a middle class Paris.

Definitely not a fast-paced movie, but it is both hilarious, horribly sad, very intelligent and very genuine- all qualities I like to see side by side any day.


Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

6 Nov

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is the directorial debut of The Office and Away We Go’s John Krasinski. I am a big fan of all of the above, so I had to see it. The movie is really, quite great. First of all the idea, (based on the book by David Foster Wallace) is rather brilliant. The basic narrative follows a woman through her process of interviewing a group of men as part of empirical research in feminist theory. She asks the men to be candid, about their sexual lives, their dreams, their fears. Her theory is that there is a lot you can learn about women by talking to men.

The movie is very interestingly shot. It moves in time and space quite fluidly, taking us back and forth in time as we piece together the various stories at play. The characters move in the setting in very interesting ways as well. For example, as one man sits in the interview room talking about his memories of his father, his father’s workplace appears around him as he describes it.

The film is both hilarious (Will Forte’s character is supremely funny) and powerfully insightful. The one criticism I might have is that occasionally the acting gets a little monologue-y- something that would read more effectively on the stage than on screen. However, having said this, there are some great monologues in there. All-in-all I enjoyed it- I am excited to see if Krasinki continues to direct in the future.

For perhaps a more intelligent take on things:

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