Category: Female Filmmakers

Movie Review: Clueless (1995)

I saw this in a good used DVD deal at Blockbuster and couldn’t help myself, because Clueless is awesome and I am rarely not in the mood to watch it. This modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma focuses on privileged Beverly Hills teenager Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and her life as a popular, fashionable student trying, along with her friend Dionne (Stacey Dash) to use her lofty status and considerable persuasive skills to help others, often in the form of matchmaking. She sets up her teachers (Twink Caplan- who also produced- and Wallace Shawn) to secure better grades for her classmates. She spots impressionable new student Tai (Brittany Murphy) and, after a makeover, seeks to set her up with hot shot Elton (Jeremy Sisto). She even tries to snag a man herself when slick Christian (Justin Walker) rolls into town James Dean-style. When not busybodying she hangs around the house with her snarky ex-stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd), a college student helping her lawyer father (Dan Hedaya) with a case. Of course ultimately her matchmaking and makeovering backfire, and we learn that even rich people have to deal with regular teenager problems. But everyone finds love in the end!

As shallow as it seems at first glance, it is actually a very smart and funny adaptation of a classic story. The characters are exaggerated for satirical effect, but still manage to be relatable. The cast is swell, with most of the teen characters actually played by young adults. Amy Heckerling wrote a wonderful script, with great interactive dialogue (especially, of course, any conversation with Paul Rudd), plus the 90’s lingo and fashion are always fun in retrospect. There are jokes about art (Claes Oldenburg, he’s way famous!) and jazz music (Do you like Billie Holiday? I love him!) and cosmetic surgery (She died when she was young- a freak accident during a routine liposuction). There are people of different lifestyles and backgrounds. It doesn’t shatter teen-comedy standards or cause any great revelations, but it’s a really enjoyable, easy-to-watch movie with a very sweet center.

4.5/5

In the 4 years since I wrote this Clueless has turned into one of my absolute favorite movies, so it’s easily a 5/5 by now. Maybe I should write a better review of it. Some day…

My original poster design for this film is for sale.

Movie Review: Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed) (1926)

The Adventures of Prince AchmedA few weeks ago I was playing around on Wikipedia, looking at articles on Pixar and Brenda Chapman when I stumbled across the silent German movie The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the oldest surviving animated full-length film (and some consider it the first ever). Directed and animated by Lotte Reiniger, with assistance from her husband Carl Koch, it is one of the few feature-length films to utilize silhouette animation, in which figures and backdrops are painstakingly cut out of cardboard and moved over a backlight. The story is a mash up of several Arabian Nights tales: An evil magician creates a horse that flies and presents it to the king in order to obtain his daughter. The king’s son, Prince Achmed, tries it out and rockets up into the heavens. He eventually lands on a mystical island, where he falls for Peri Banu, princess of demons. After some coercing she decides to love him back, only to be kidnapped by an Asian king. Achmed rescues her, but must now defeat the demons who don’t want her to leave their island. They get the help of The Witch (the evil magician’s enemy) and meet up with Aladdin, who’s been trying to win the hand of Achmed’s sister. They defeat the demons together, with the brunt of the work done by The Witch (female empowerment!) and arrive home safely just in time for a double wedding. Sweet.

The Adventures of Prince AchmedThe story is interesting and told well, with minimal intertitles and good pacing, but really it is apparent that Reiniger made this film almost purely for its visual stimulation. It is breathtaking to see- the movements of the characters are so fine-tuned and choreographed, reflecting her interest in Chinese puppetry. Each individual set piece and figure contain a wealth of details and intricacies of design. Her dedication and sacrifice for art are easily recognized in every frame. In the spirit of the Expressionist movement influencing German cinema at the time, experimental smoky effects populate the magic scenes and the prints were evocatively color-tinted with soft blues, greens, and yellows, though unfortunately the original final print is missing and the available version is a restoration of the black and white. Additionally, the music is gorgeous and emotional, composed by Wolfgang Zeller as his first film score (the start of a prolific career). The Adventures of Prince Achmed is fascinating for any animation enthusiast, and will surely be entertaining for any fan of fantasy and adventure stories. Also let’s support women in animation! For once! (And really, female filmmakers in general.)

The Adventures of Prince Achmed4/5

Here’s a collection of scenes from the movie. Ignore the song; I watched it on mute.

Movie Review: Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008)

Nick-and-Norahs-Infinite-Playlist

Don’t you love those movies that take place all in one crazy night, with characters finding love and friendship and music and hilarity along the way? Me too! Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is a pretty good example of exactly that kind of movie. Heartbroken Nick (Michael Cera), still pining after his air-headed ex Tris (Alexis Dziena), is convinced by his queercore band mates to leave the house and play a gig in New York opening for Bishop Allen. Snarky Norah goes to school with Tris, and knows Nick only through the mix CD’s Tris throws away. Her favorite band, Where’s Fluffy?, known for ultra-secret late-night shows in the city, is rumored to be playing that night so she and her best friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) plan to spend the night in New York looking for it. The two girls end up at Nick’s show, where Caroline gets extremely drunk and Norah, in an attempt to keep her cool in front of condescending Tris, makes out with pretend-boyfriend Nick.

After a mish mosh of interactions, Nick’s matchmaking bandmates Thom (Aaron Yoo) and Dev (Rafi Gavron) and nameless friend (Jonathan B Wright from Spring Awakening) hoist Caroline into their van to take her home while Nick and Norah hop into his tiny yellow car to search for Where’s Fluffy? (also Nick’s favourite band). Nick’s obsession with Tris frustrates Norah, while meeting her sort-of-boyfriend Tal (Jay Baruchel) is off-putting for Nick. Thom and Dev lose Caroline, who wanders drunkenly around the city for most of the evening, while Tris stalks Nick. The pair switches cars and objectives as they hunt for Caroline while still keeping an eye out for Where’s Fluffy? clues. All this and more is happening with pretty cool tunes playing in the background (I felt pretty hip for recognizing most of the songs), and at the end everything wraps up like it should. Great job everyone!

I just had a really good time watching this. The story was interesting, not too complicated, and held the promise of satisfaction at the end- of course Nick and Norah will eventually realize they’re perfect for each other, the question is how much semi-sarcastic banter must first be exchanged? The cast is wonderful: Ari Graynor plays a hilarious drunk, Michael Cera is an adorable wit, Kat Dennings is very likeable and intelligent, and the bandmates were just great. I like that they talked so much about music- it didn’t seem to be in a pretentious, “look how hipster my movie is” way, but more in a realistic, this-is-how-these-kids-would-actually-talk way. The movie didn’t do anything very special but it did a good job updating the falling-in-love-in-one-night story for a young 2008 audience. I haven’t read the book it’s based on, but regardless of how true it is to the source material it’s still a really fun, laid back movie.

Movie Review: Slap Shot (1977)


Well, I guess it’s time to catch up on all those Paul Newman movies I still haven’t seen. Slap Shot is one that my dad and little brother talk about all the time, quoting it to me and aghast when I remind them I haven’t seen it. So I finally saw it. And it was good, but I’m not about to reach their obsessive quoting status.

Slap Shot chronicles the descent of an unskilled, on-the-brink-of-termination minor league hockey team, the Charlestown Chiefs, into complete barbarity in order to secure enough interest and wins to be sold for profit to a different owner. The coach and oldest player, Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman), does his best to encourage violent games, incorporating the Hanson Brothers, newcomers with brutal methods, into the lineup. He also hunts down the elusive owner of the team, beseeching her to sell the them instead of completely disbanding them. The movie follows them through many games, but focuses more on the the players off the ice, especially Dunlop’s fragile relationship with his ex-wife and growing attraction to/sympathy for teammate Ned Braden’s (Michael Ontkean) wife Lily (Lindsay Crouse). Braden himself has a lot of problems with the way Dunlop has been playing the game, while simultaneously trying to smooth things over with Lily. Everything sort of works out, in true dramedy fashion.

This is a pretty good movie, but I guess I thought it would be more of a straight comedy. It was funny but not uproarious, and parts of it were a bit sad or hopeless. If I had gone into it with different expectations I might have liked it better. Or it might be one of those movies that grows on you after repeated viewings. Also I’m not that into sports. Anyway Paul Newman’s there so there’s really not much more to know about it! And it’s kind of cool that it’s mostly based on (or inspired by) a true story. The writer, Nancy Dowd, had a brother on a team called the Johnstown Jets who played the game pretty rough. The Hanson brothers are based on the real Carlson Brothers and are played by two of the Carlson brothers themselves plus one other guy from the real team (the third brother couldn’t make it). Most of the other characters are based on real people too.

I was surprised and excited when I saw the movie was written by a woman. Because it’s so male character-centered and has the kind of humor that caters to my dad and brother, and a sports movie from the 70s, I guess I just wouldn’t have expected it. Pretty cool though. She’s penned or helped pen several other movies from the 70s and 80s (sometimes under male pseudonym Rob/Ernest Morton), written for a season of SNL, and won a screenwriting Oscar for Coming Home. What a cool lady! I can’t find what she’s up to now, if anything. Anyone have any information on Nancy Dowd? Or movies to recommend? I just added Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains to my Netflix queue, and I’ve already seen Ordinary People.

Here is a short article she wrote about Slap Shot and its origins.