Librarian’s Pick of the Week: XX (Film)

Library patrons are always asking me, “what have you read (sometimes seen) lately that you loved?”  This is what I loved this week.

XX: Four Deadly Tales by Four Killer Women (film)

Directors: Roxanne Benjamin 
Karyn Kusama
St. Vincent (Annie Clark)
Jovanka Vuckovic

Why: XX is a complication of four short horror films either directed or written by women, about women.  The Box (JV), about a mysterious box whose contents wreak havoc on the well-being of a suburban family and the suspense in this film could not be more monumental.  The Birthday Cake (SV), directed by musician St. Vincent, is a quirky, beautifully shot and sometimes adorable tale of death and family.  Don’t Fall (RB), about four friends camping in uncharted territory in the wilderness with suspicious cave drawings and amazing creature effects.  The anthology concludes with Her Only Living Son (KK) about the love that a mother can possess for her child (possess being the operative word), sacrificing herself at all costs, whether to her detriment or not is debatable.  It’s plain to see why these four were chosen to accompany each other in this volume because though so dissimilar in content, each story is masterfully directed, creative and excitingly original.

Watchalikes: Grace dir. Paul Solet
Rosemary’s Baby dir. Roman Polanski
May dir. Lucky McKee
Contracted dir. Eric England

Ain’t Your Average Apocalypse: Exploring the “Cool Apocalypse” with Director Michael Glover Smith

Exploring Feminisms sat down with director Michael Glover Smith to discuss his forthcoming feature length film, Cool Apocalypse.  This is Smith’s fourth film to date, ranging from a tobacco-slinging thief, a misguided folk singer, a cigar salesperson who stumbles onto a murder plot, to finally, a 24-hour tale that takes the viewer on a journey through the gamut of relationship ups and downs.

                                            

JM: Tell me, what is your new film about and how did you come up with the title, Cool Apocalypse?

MGS: The film is about the relationships between two 20-something couples: Paul and Julie meet and go on their first date, while Claudio and Tess, who’ve been together for years, finally break up for good. All of these characters interact with each other over the course of a single summer day in Chicago.  It’s probably best categorized as a drama but I hope it’s also funny in a realistic way – the way that life can be funny.

“Cool apocalypse” was a phrase I had read a long time ago and I always wanted to use it as the title for something.  I like it as an ironic juxtaposition of words: we think of an “apocalypse” as something that is very hot and loud and obvious, but “cool” implies the opposite of that: that it might happen with a whimper instead of a bang.  When I came up with the idea for this film, I thought the title fit.

JM: Are we to assume the obvious, that the “cool” refers to the coming together of a couple, and the “apocalypse” is the breaking up?  Or could it be read another way, that out of apocalyptic chaos comes calm, like the calm after a storm, and we are to assume that the break-up of the couple will allow for positive transformation?

MGS: As far as the title goes, however you want to interpret it is fine. It’s like coming up with the name of a band: ultimately, I just think it has a nice ring to it.

JM: Where did you get your inspiration for the script?  Was it culled from memories of your 20s, or is it informed by your life now, in your upper 30s and expressed through 20 somethings?

MGS: It’s a combination of both of those things. All of the characters are amalgamations of different people that I’ve known in my 20s and 30s. I take aspects of people I’ve known (including myself, of course), and things that people I’ve known have said, and then spread them around among all of the characters. And then some things are just made up out of thin air. My philosophy is that if I feel like something fits, I’ll use it.

There’s a great French film from 1998, The Dreamlife of Angels, made by a guy named Erick Zonca. It was his first film — even though he was in his early 40s when he made it — and it’s about the friendship between two women in their early 20s. When I first saw it I thought, “This clearly represents a point-of-view on people in their 20s that was made by someone who’s older and wiser.” I hope that people have a similar reaction to my film — that they can sense that it wasn’t made by someone who is the same age as the characters. There have been a lot of low-budget indie films in recent years about “aimless twentysomethings” where the style and structure of the films also feel aimless. I want the style and structure of our movie to feel formal and elegant – but then also have spontaneous, naturalistic performances within that structure.

JM:  It’s interesting that you’ve taken personal details from your friends and from your own life.  I would think that it would help to make the experiences and dialogue more relatable, as opposed to it all merely being created out of thin air.  Sometimes, I watch films directed by men and find myself screaming out, “this would never happen in real life!” especially when it comes to parts for women written and directed by men–obviously most often in movies with sex scenes.

By writing for characters who are twenty years younger though, does it risk feeling inauthentic due to the experiences/dialogue seeming incongruous to what a typical 20 something year old may have experienced, or does it hope to serve as a cautionary tale to 20 year olds- learning from the mistakes that others have made when they were their age? Who do you envision as your prospective audience for this film?  Is it meant for people in their 20s specifically?

MGS: One of the things I tried hard to do in writing this script was to create interesting and realistic female characters. I think that the experience of being married and living with a woman for years has allowed me to be better at doing that. I don’t think, however, that the film risks being inauthentic just because the characters are younger than I am. As a filmmaker, I think I tend to be more interested in the aspects of relationships that are universal and timeless (rather than in, say, making pop culture references that might be specific to young people today) – so I hope that people of all ages will be able to relate to it. Having said that, I’m also looking forward to working very closely with the actors and allowing them some dramatic license with the dialogue. During auditions, for instance, I told one actress to put the dialogue in her own words. So instead of saying, “I really like your shoes,” she said, “Those are some sick-ass shoes.” What she said was way better than what I had written and so I consequently changed the line in the script.

JM: Do you think that actresses improvising their own lines, and again, the dialogue that you take from your own personal life, will help to make the characters more life-like and relatable, as opposed to the typical Hollywood drama or rom-com, a la Zooey Deschanel, Kate Hudson, and Kristen Wiig characters where they still fit so predictably into the same box?Mike on Catastrophe

MGS: Exactly. We’re going for the opposite of formula, the opposite of cliche. I hope that when people see my film they say, “These are the kind of people I know in real life but who I never see in the movies.”

Michael Smith (left) on the set of his last film, The Catastrophe

JM: I once heard you say that you have to separate the art from the artist (I believe we were discussing the homophobe who wrote Ender’s Game).  Given that so much of the script is taken directly from your personal life, wouldn’t you say that in this case, the art cannot be separated from the artist?

MGS: Ha! Not really. In my opinion, this film will be successful if people see it and then, when it’s over, talk about what they think it says about the world. Ideally, viewers will leave the movie wanting to talk about people, emotions and relationships – not what they perceive to be the personality or the point-of-view of the author.

JM: But you can admit that the characters – their experiences and emotions – are manifestations of your own experiences, and therefore the POV of you, the director, is inherent throughout the film?

MGS: Yes, but I would say that the film is personal, not autobiographical. To me there is a crucial difference between those things. I’m not interested in making the kind of art that is like an extension of my diary.

JM: How does Cool Apocalypse differ from your other three films?

MGS: I think everything I’ve done before this was the work of an amateur. Before, I was making movies to learn how to make movies. Cool Apocalypse is the first film I’ve made where I feel like a professional. In particular, I’m very excited about collaborating closely with the actors this time. Even something as simple as having the actors improvise during the auditions – that’s not something I would have had the confidence to do before. But it’s something I now look forward to continuing with throughout the entire process of rehearsing and shooting this film. We are going to treat each scene like a little one-act play and just go over every little moment again and again until everything feels authentic.

JM: When can we expect to see this film on the big screen?

MGS: We finish shooting in late August and then we’ll work on post-production throughout the fall. I hope to have it ready for a film festival premiere in early 2015.

JM: Awesome, I can’t wait to see it!  And who knows?  Maybe we’ll have to do a He Said/She Said after it premieres…

 

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My Top 10 Feminist Horror Movie Picks for 2013

In the Exploring Feminisms household, horror is one of the most common film genres playing on our television.  Of those out there, very few are what I would consider feminist, or at least having a feminist agenda of some sort.  So the task of the day is to find some that may lend a little hope to the genre.

As with every year, this task is always a lot more difficult than I think it will be, resulting in a lot of viewing, and a lot of discarded films.

While sifting through the plethora of bloody thrillers, teen screams, zombie flicks and vampire love stories, directed by both men and women, I came across a few that stood out as notable films ranging from masked and subtle to overtly feminist.  Overall, I saw two distinct motifs appear this year, and their themes timeless: coming of age stories and attaining beauty at any cost.

~~~

Aliens
(James Cameron, 1986)

Okay, I know that we’ve all probably seen this film about a thousand times on TBS, but as I watching it again (sans commercials) with a more critical eye, I was surprised to see a few nuggets of insight that maybe be somewhat hidden to the casual channel flipper.

In the second of the franchise, (Aliens being the follow-up to the classic, Alien) we learn that Ripley had a daughter decades before she was propelled through time, but who is now within the timeframe of the story, deceased.  This fact gives more weight to her self-appointed role of guardian of Newt, the newly rescued child who undoubtedly reminds her of her daughter.   What’s more, because the nature of the military is inherently male-dominated, based on a masculine ideology, it is extremely subversive that Ripley’s character makes a conscious decision in the face of her superiors and other military personnel to show compassion and nurturing qualities.

The cast also includes not only women, but a variety of races and ethnicities within roles of power.  Given that this film was made in 1988, seeing a measurable amount of minority cast members is arguable progressive for the time.

Aliens

American Mary
(Jen & Sylvia Soska, 2012)

 American Mary is the story of Mary, a med school student who is extremely adept in the way of suturing, but is having trouble making ends meet.  When her dominating (ok, asshole) male professor invites her to a party with only male doctors as guests, she is used as a human rag doll.  Too disturbed to continue her formal education, she becomes an amateur plastic surgeon for an underground body modification crowd.

The film can be categorized in the body horror sub-genre, and recommended for fans of films like Inside or In My SkinAM is a definite step up from the Soska sisters’ first film, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, by giving us some satisfying gore, a more fleshed out plot, and better acting with Katharine Isabelle from Ginger Snaps leading the way.  Though I do tend to feel that rape revenge movies, much like Holocaust films, by virtue of the content, already have the audience fired up and ready for revenge.  Lo and behold, I did get fired up and like Mary, wanted revenge, and we as an audience are not disappointed.

american-mary

Black Rock
(Katie Aselton, 2012)

In Black Rock, three old friends return to a deserted campsite in an attempt to reforge their fragmented friendship, though while on their way there, it becomes explosive due to painful betrayals in their past.  In an ironic twist, a group of violent, dishonorably discharged men back from the Middle East is what glues the women back together again.

The situation between the ex-soldiers and the three friends mirrors that of Americans invading the Middle East, and the reports of aggressive soldiers abusing civilians and prisoners of war.  Except in this instance, the three friends must go guerrilla style after the men try to murder them and turn into the hunters.  In essence, the women become the aggressors themselves, but do so in the name of their own survival.  This film is extremely suspenseful and at times uncomfortable to watch because of its complete unpredictability.

Black Rock

Contracted
(Eric England, 2013)

Contracted is a breath of fresh air not only within the horror genre bubble, but also to film at large right now.  When compared to any given contemporary Hollywood film, this indie flick puts them all to shame.  It’s funny, gory, shocking, cute, and original, and film that conveys all of those adjectives is certainly a rarity.

Contracted is about a down on her luck in love lesbian that makes an unwise, alcohol and drug induced mistake and sleeps with a strange guy.  What follows is a cosmic retribution, possibly by the lesbian Gods that be, where an unknown and horrific plague is cast upon her body.

Contracted

Death Becomes Her
(Robert Zemeckis, 1992)

Like Aliens, you may be surprised by this film making it on the list.  But, after watching it for the first time since the 1990s, the writers were onto something, and my assumption is an astute eye for observing the pervasive late 20th culture of Hollywood and the stigmatization of the elusive aging actress.

The title Death Becomes Her sums up the whole point of the film; death, or aging comes upon a woman, but for many actresses, aging is the proverbial kiss of death-the death of their youth, and subsequently in the youth-obsessed culture in which we live, the death of a career.  This concept is parodied in the film as two women drink “the potion” and stay young and classically beautiful forever.  However, the caveat is that they must take care of their bodies because if their physical bodies do in fact die, they will continue to live.  Though parodied to the extreme, we see the lengths of what some women will endure to stay forever “beautiful,” though for these women, beautiful is exactly the opposite of what they become.

Death Becomes Her

Dumplings
(Fruit Chan, 2004)

Mrs. Li, an actress in her 30s sees herself, in comparison to herself decades earlier in her films and to her husband’s younger lovers, as unattractive and undesirable.  Like the middle-aged actresses in Death Becomes Her, the not even yet middle-aged Mrs. Li also takes a potion of sorts, except instead of swallowing a glowing pink liquid one time for eternal youth, she needs to continually eat fetuses in the form of dumplings to remain wrinkle-free.

Dumplings is the perfect bookend to Death Becomes Her, and shows how regardless of the decade or country, women feel pressure to maintain eternal youth to feel a sense of relevance as they get older.  In Mrs. Li’s case, she finds complete legitimacy in skirting the lengths of infanticide.

dumplings

Excision
(Richard Bates, Jr., 2012)

 It is rare when a writer/director can tap into the the inner workings (similar to Jack and Diane (below) and Turn Me On, Dammit!) of a teenager with any modicum of accuracy, and this film does just that.

Excision depicts the darker side of a teenager navigating through their newly discovered, unwieldy sexual urges, and in this case, the main character fantasizes about necrophilia.  The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) describes lead character Pauline as, “disturbed and delusional,” but this description underestimates the difficultly of coming to terms with your newly developing body and all the psychological confusion therein.

Sex with corpses aside, the way that main character Pauline is portrayed is both unusual and empowering.  Though in high school and without any real friends, Pauline is preternaturally self-assured.  She owns her desires; she decides when to have her first sexual experience, with whom, and what type of experience she wants to have.  She recognizes the limitations of an encounter with a teenage boy, and instead of the typical first jackrabbit-like, awkward sexual experience for most teenage girls, she dictates how the experience will best pleasure herself.  This is especially rare in both film and real life as many women feel a sense of shame concerning their own bodies.

Excision

 Eyes Without a Face (“Les yeux sans visage”)
(Georges Franju, 1960)

Christiane is involved in a disfiguring car accident, but instead of letting her live with her less than perfect visage, her father kills young women in the hopes of transplanting their faces onto his daughter’s now lack of one.  Her father practices his untested medical procedures on stray dogs, puts her through a series of transplants where her face rots away from her bones, and even stages her own death.

Throughout the film, as her father continues to assert more authority over her life, Christiane begins to prefer death to a life of a virtual ghost with no autonomy.  Without her permission or the choice to make decisions over her own body, he prefers that she be dead to the world as opposed to being perceived as unattractive to a society that is universally understood to be obsessed with flawless beauty.

Eyes Without a Face

Grace
(Paul Solet, 2009)

When it comes to the horror genre today, in this case, the vampire genre, it is damn near impossible to glean any originality in most horror sub-sects today that haven’t been regurgitated, recycled or spread too thin.   In the story of Grace and her newborn child, we see originality brought to the genre by taking the vampire story a step further outside of the box as Grace finds that her baby is only satiated by the nourishment of blood.

Grace is thick with issues that are extremely personal to women specifically, including the loss of a child, breast feeding, women loving women, Oedipal issues, et al, but takes them a step further by stretching the limits of what women will endure to fulfill their more disturbing desires.

Grace Film

 Jack and Diane 
(Bradley Rust Gray, 2012)

Jack and Diane is one of those great coming of age stories that serves as a reminder that the experience of first love, whether you are attracted to the same or opposite sex, is the great equalizer.  Don’t you remember?  You acted completely irrational; you ignored your parents’ phone calls; you came home late without permission; you couldn’t sleep…you went crazy!  It was all very star-crossed lovers, and even Shakespeare understood hundreds of years ago the power of that innocent, all consuming love, except in Jack and Diane’s case, it would be more akin to Juliet and Juliet, but the passion remains the same.

Of course, with all the lovey-doveyness of the first love, there was always a deeper-seated, more sinister undercurrent: obsession, insecurity, doubt and all of those new, unchecked emotions.  Instead of, say, in Romeo and Juliet, resulting in double suicide of sorts, in Jack and Diane’s case, these emotions manifest themselves as ravenous monsters.

Jack and Diane is unique, sweet, and dares to step outside of the realm of the typical coming of age script by normalizing young, same sex relationships and offers us a quaint, original way of representing human emotions.

Jack and Diane

Afterbirth

After three years of feminist horror lists, a shocking thought came to me recently.  Is there such a thing as a feminist horror film? Considering one angle: in many of the films listed over the years, a common thread is the victim reclaiming power by exacting a bloody revenge against her aggressor.  Reclaiming power after being subjugated can be, well, empowering.  On the other side of the coin, if someone asserts their power over you, and you then reclaim that power and use it against them, it maintains that imbalance, and the question becomes: doesn’t asserting power over another make you no better than your abuser?  Or does appropriating that violent power from your aggressor empower?  You have to ask yourself, which kind of feminist are you?

Need more recommendations?  Check out my lists for 2011 and 2012!

Five French Films Worth an Hour and a Half of Your Time

Amélie
French: Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain
dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet (2001)

Arguably the most mainstream of the five films, Amélie is the epitome of quirky and whimsical.  The main character, Amélie, decides to dedicate herself to helping others find a glimpse of happiness, if only for a brief moment.  Amélie, the movie and the character, is reminiscent of an introvert’s Sex and the City; she lives alone in an extremely attractive apartment on a waitress’ salary in a small diner and galavants around an ideal France whilst spending most of her time playing reindeer games with her neighbors and a potential love interest.  It’s chock-full of bright colors, quick camera movements, and mischievous little surprises at every corner.

If you’ve never seen a foreign film or even a French film, I’d recommend this as a reliable primer.

Amelie

Heartbeats
French: Les amours imaginaires
dir. Xavier Dolan (2010)

It’s astounding that someone so young, at the tender age of 21, could have written, directed and starred in a movie so entertaining, beautiful and complete.  Heartbeats introduces us to two friends, Marie and Francis, and the introduction of  the blonde, Greek God lookalike, Nicolas.  The crux of the story is that Marie and Francis are friends, both are attracted to Nicolas, and it is ambiguous as to which one he is attracted to.  The ambiguity of his attraction, if at all, is relayed through subtle queues that just seem to linger a little longer than they should, i.e. a gaze, a kiss, a hug.  Not to mention sleeping in the same bed as both friends and inviting them away (and together) on romantic weekends.

Though this may seem like the typical Hollywood type of love triangle, it has the benefit of not being produced in Hollywood and therefore isn’t expected to follow the prescribed romantic comedy script that pervades American cinema.  The trifecta of the characters mirrors that of the film: wonderful cinematography, a solid story, and a perfect ending.

Heartbeats

17 Girls
French: 17 filles
dir. Delphine Coulin & Muriel Coulin (2011)

Based on the real life events that took place in Gloucester, Massachusetts in 2008, directors Delphine and Muriel Coulin tell the story of 17 high school girls who all became pregnant during one year.  Though not a documentary, the directors hold true to interviews and news stories of the time.  The film begins with a group of tight knit high schools girls where the leader (she sits at the head of the table, she accepts or rejects others, has sex first, et al) becomes pregnant.  All we know about the male partner is that he is out of the picture, and a quiet slight is alluded to.  After she decides to carry to term, one by one, her friends and girls outside of their posse begin seeking out random guys to impregnate them.  The result is an ever-growing circle of pregnancy, social acceptance, comfort and inclusiveness.  The teenage angst genre has rarely been expressed so subtly.

This is definitely an onion of a film.  At the end, I was left with a faint aura of a Sofia Coppola film circa the Virgin Suicides.

17Girls

Paris-Manhattan
French: Paryz-Manhattan
dir. Sophie Lellouche (2012)

From the age of 15, Alice has not only been in love with the films of Woody Allen, but has also been corresponding with the poster of him in her bedroom.  Mostly taking place in her 30s, she is still being fed words of wisdom from God-like Allen who answers her questions about love, life and struggle through quotes from his films.  As the main character Alice grows into a woman, one can’t help but be drawn to her independence and confidence (yes, I do want to be best friends with her).  Whether that is a result of Allen’s guidance or not is for the viewer to decide.

Of course, the Woody Allen fan would adore this film, but its appeal spans that of his fan base.  The script is solid, the characters are well-developed and you end up caring for them at the finish line.

ParisManhattan

Queen of Hearts
French: La reine des pommes
dir. Valérie Donzelli (2009)

Queen of Hearts is about a woman who gets dumped by her boyfriend, and spends the subsequent weeks unable to financially support herself and basically makes horrible decisions in judgement by sleeping with unavailable men.  The character is basically an emotional mess and her actions left me screaming at the screen at how incredibly awful she was.  Definitely not a queen of hearts.

As the film came to a close, I was truly turned off.  So why spend an hour and a half of your time watching?  It’s because if you’ve ever gone through a break up, been single, or young, or made a bad decision, then this film is extremely uncomfortable to watch because it is a mirror into your own life.  The realism of the sex, nudity, lapses in good judgement and heartache are all so tangible that they require a level of introspection on the viewers’ part that may be off-putting, but it’s worth the experience.

QueenofHearts

Chicago International Film Festival Overview-2012

Bound by Flesh
dir. Leslie Zemeckis

HiltonSisters

The documentary Bound by Flesh shines a spotlight on the first famous female conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton.  Given the current cultural popularity of what once were called Siamese twins, especially with the celebrity of Brittany and Abby Hensel and their television series on TLC, the release’s timing aids to illuminate their place in our collective history.

The way that Zemeckis presents the information is straightforward, using interviews of those who knew the twins and still photographs.  She gives us the facts without giving viewers a sense of her opinion and lets the research tell the story.  The film describes the twins’ lives from birth to death, their rise to celebrity and their humble endings in North Carolina, all peppered with moments of elation, fame, desperation, awe and sadness.  At the closing of the film, we are left to determine the tone of the documentary and also that of their lives.  In a strange way, I was reminded of the concluding scene in the Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke; the interpretation of what remains is based upon each viewer’s outlook on life.  It is hopeful?  Pitiful?  Glass half empty, or full?

The Final Member
dir. Jonah Bekhor & Zach Math

On paper, the Final Member is about the Icelandic Phallological Museum, or in layman’s terms, a penis museum.  The bare-bone facts are that the museum’s owner and originator has spent his life seeking out artifacts, aka the male reproductive organ, from every species on earth.  As you may have already begun to surmise, he seeks the final piece of the puzzle, the “final member,” the human penis.

The film, however, is not about penises.  True, you see a lot of penises, real ones and by way of art.  However, it is not a porno.  It does not titillate.  It does not glorify the male organ, portray it as grandiose or as the bringer of all life.  The film is actually about the curator’s life’s work; his family’s support and love; love of one’s country; Passion (with a big P) for one’s craft and even love for the preservation of native animal life.  It’s a true testament to the filmmakers’ ability to weave the facts into something beautiful that could otherwise be done so distastefully.

Holy Motors
dir. Leos Carax

HolyMotors

How does one exactly describe Holy Motors?  I’m reminded of a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills episode.  RuPaul was at one of Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurants and tells plastic surgeon Paul something to the effect of, “we’re all in drag,” much to Paul’s confusion.  In nine different “scenes,” the main character, by way of changing his hair and make-up in a limousine, transforms into varying personae, including a leprechaun, an old man, a hip father, and a man married to a species other than human.  With just a simple change of hair color or wardrobe, Mr. Oscar transforms into a completely different role in society.  The director does a fantastic job of expressing the numerous selves that easy of us play, or rather, the drag that all of us wear through even a single day.

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files
dir. Chris James Thompson

Jeff

If you want the gore and the gossip; pictures of body parts; descriptions of brutal murders; details of Dahmer’s demise and the like, then you’re in the wrong theatre.

The Dahmer Files documentary accomplishes several surprising tasks other than your typical murder-mystery roller coaster ride.  It first gives you the perspectives of only three people who were integral parts of Dahmer’s life towards the end of his murderous career, and does so with restraint and subtlety, unlike the typical half hour crime docu-drama.  The three people interviewed are the police officer who obtained his confession, Dahmer’s neighbor, and the Medial Examiner who exhumed the remains from his apartment.  The link between all three subjects is that their accounts were nothing if not ingenuous and in the case of the police officer and neighbor, vulnerable and tender.

The film also offers you a slice of humanity in the most dismal of circumstances.  Somehow you don’t leave the threatre hating Dahmer but instead leave with a greater understanding of human kindness and empathy.

John Dies at the End
dir. Don Coscarelli

johndies

Be ready to embrace the strange, the silly and the ridiculous; this film doesn’t take itself too seriously, and you should follow the same rule.  If you read any reviews during the film festival, you may have read the description, “Ghostbusters on acid.”  I would describe it as Ghostbusters injected with an absurd, adorable, and surprisingly solid story.

In a nutshell: two friends step into the paranormal world through happenstance and fight evil monsters that only they can see.  Again, the movie is goofy and little brain-work is involved, but that’s all part of it’s charm.  The story is fairly concrete and fleshed out for a horror-type of film, covering most of the whys and hows.  The two main actors are also perfect for their roles: the good-looking jock-type and the dark and somewhat brooding counterpart.  Mainstream comparisons could be to the gonzo comedy of the Wayans Brothers’ Scary Movie comedy series minus the cliche and flighty plots.

If you’ve ever caught yourself saying that you just want to see a movie that makes you feel good and laugh, then this one is for you.  If you’re a film snob sort, (eh, hem, White City Cinema) then this would definitely fall into the “guilty pleasure” category.

My Top 10 Feminist Horror Movie Picks for 2012

In the Exploring Feminisms household, horror is one of the most common film genres playing on our television.  Of those out there, very little are what I would consider feminist, or at least having a feminist agenda of some sort.  So, why not find some for ourselves?

Here’s the straight dope: this task turned out to be a lot more difficult than I thought–there are about a million and one horror films out there.  While sifting through the plethora of bloody thrillers, teen screams, zombie flicks and vampire love stories, directed by both men and women, I came across a few that stood out as notable films ranging from masked and subtle to overt feminist themes.

Here is my 10 top list of films watched during 2012, in alphabetical order.

Enjoy you feminist sickos!

~

Alien
(Ridley Scott, 1979)

If you’ve never seen Alien, then you most likely are aware of the oh-so-popular cultural references, namely aliens exploding from chests, the large black shiny alien with the elongated head and of course, Sigourney Weaver, aka Ripley.  Alien is about a crew in the future who investigates a “save our ship” message on a foreign planet and while there encounter a new alien species.  The movie is shocking, suspenseful and at times, really gross.

What is so refreshing about the film is that Ripley is tough, pragmatic, independent and smart.  She isn’t overly masculine or a woman in need; she’s there to do a job and her character doesn’t fall into any overt gender categories, as many horror films tend to do with their female characters.

Diabolique
(Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1955)

A kind school mistress with a weak heart plots to kill her husband with her husband’s lover.  After the deed is done, his ghostly presence is presumed to be lurking around.  This French director’s style is often referred to as a precursor to Hitchcock and definitely lives up to its reputation as it brims with suspense and intrigue.

Because this film takes place at an all-boys’ school, is haunted by past demons and is run by both compassionate and cunning caretakers, it is comparable to Guillermo del Toro’s film, The Devil’s Backbone and I would recommend it to anyone who felt a kinship to this movie.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose
(Scott Derrickson, 2005)

Finally!  An original possession flick besides the Exorcist!  Director Derrickson puts a new spin on the genre by making it half exorcism, half court drama.  Starring Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Campbell Scott and Jennifer Carpenter, the cast adds to the solid story by going all out for a horror film with not an ounce of ham, melodrama or condescension.  Linney is the defense lawyer for priest Tom Wilkinson and must reconcile the supernatural with the fact-based legal system.  Recommended for anyone who likes horror films that are devil/possession based but are tired of the constant regurgitation of unoriginal films of this genre.

Ginger Snaps
(John Fawcett, 2000)

This coming of age horror story follows the lives of two outcast teenage sisters who are embarking on the threshold of the unknown, namely puberty, guys, and werewolves.  Directed by John Fawcett and written by Karen Walton, Ginger Snaps was a window into my own mid-teen youth: hating the popular girls, wearing clothing that was black and big enough to fit Dom De Luise, and having an open love affair with all that is macabre.  Having been a teenage girl once, this movie was a stroll down an anguish-filled brick road that was my teenage years and is a tribute to Walton’s ability to recall her past with such vivid accuracy, and presenting it in a new and original way.

May
(Lucky McKee, 2002)

The VHS of May sat on my VCR for probably over a year.  After much harassment from its cult followers I finally saw it and I can finally say, I get it.  It’s rare that you watch a film about a young woman whose only best friend is her porcelain doll that may actually be alive, may be committing murder and hacking people to bits and think, “wow, that was a really cute film.”  Mission accomplished.

Resident Evil Series (1-5)
(Paul W.S. Anderson: 2002, 2010 & 2012; Russell Mulcahy, 2007; Alexander Witt, 2004)

Rumor is that the Resident Evil franchise was originally a video game, and friends have said that the first of the five holds true to the game.  Having never played the game myself, I can comfortably recommend all of them to someone who is less than game-friendly.

The series is a mix of horror and action and Milla Jovovich as Alice shoots and kicks her ass off as the protagonist against both an evil corporation and zombies.  Though she is a formidable force with which to be reckoned, she still is a woman who contemplates marriage and children, though these subtle cues are merely hinted at.

Tucker and Dale v. Evil
(Eli Craig, 2010)

This may seem like a rather unusual pick for a feminist horror film.  It’s about two hillbillies, Tucker and Dale, and their dashed dreams of remodeling their newly acquired cabin in the backwoods when a group of frat boys and girls show up and ruin the fun.  Despite our ideas of Deliverance-style backwoods folk, this film turns these stereotypes upside down by showing a softer side of woodsy types.  Tucker and Dale respect women, care about animals and love nature.  On the flip side, the rich, educated and upper-class college kids are aggressive, violence-driven, right-wing conservatives who treat women like sex objects, and the women seemingly have no objections.

This film is filled with delight, whimsy, gore, blood and bones, combined with a dash of pleasant surprise.

Underworld Series (1-4)
(Len Wiseman, 2003, 2006 and 2012 and Patrick Tatopoulos, 2009)

Much like Alien and the Resident Evil series, the four Underworld movies are led by a tough female lead who also happens to be a vampire.  The first, second and fourth films highlight Selene, a vampire whose family is killed by lycans (werewolves) and because of this, spends her life seeking revenge against the whole race (never judge a whole race by its worst specimens!).  In the third, and also the prequel, Selene takes a backseat as we are shown the history of the vampires and lycans and how the feud began.

What can I say, this year I’m into women who have huge…ovaries.

The Ward
(John Carpenter, 2010)

Carpenter picks up steam again with The Ward; a young woman is sent to an insane asylum that may or may not be haunted by a former “tenant.”  Not only is the lead terribly beautiful, but she’s also willful and possibly bat-shit crazy.  You be the judge.

The flick is classic John Carpenter with its female lead, gore, perfect music placement, suspense and a great surprise ending.

Witches of Eastwick
(George Miller, 1987)

Okay, yes, I’m going there.  Considering that this movie was made in the 1980s, by some standards it may seem old and younger generations may be completely oblivious of its presence.  But like major events in history, it would be a detriment to our society if this film was forgotten.

Basic plot rehash: three women live in a small town and the devil moves in.  Campy?  Yes.  Big hair?  Yes.  And yes, Jack Nicholson, who plays Satan in the film, not-so-ironically calls himself a “horny devil.”  Pretty corny.  But this film offers so much more!  It’s about sexual liberation.  It’s about the pressures of living in a small, conservative town where female sexuality and independence are seen as evil.  It’s also about Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon all being awesome actresses who are willing to have sex with Satan and not giving a shit—at least at first.

This film could arguably be an amazing feminist horror film, or an incredibly sexist flick from the 1980s.  I leave it up to you to discuss.

~

Need more feminist horror film suggestions?  Click here to see my top 10 list for 2011 and my list for 2013

Watch Your Women’s History!

Watch Your Women’s History

Let’s appreciate the varied feminisms of seven amazing female directors.

Daughters of Dust (Directed by Julie Dash)

Daughters of the Dust is told from the point of view of an unborn child, and draws in female family lines, displacement and the history of slavery in the United States and its effect on black women.  Daughters is one of those canonical feminist/black diaspora films that any feminist minded gal or guy needs to see.  Think film studies students not watching Citizen Kane–it’s just not done.

Antonia’s Line (Directed by Marleen Gorris)

This is the quintessential feminist film.  It’s egalitarian, woman centered, matriarchal, and there’s a lesbian sex scene not from a male’s perspective!  I get excited just thinking about it!

Eve’s Bayou (Directed by Kasi Lemmons)

Directed by Kasi Lemmons, Eve’s Bayou is about an affluent black southern family, the relationships within that unit and how the history of the family line, slavery and geography all intermingle.  Watching this film along with Daughters of the Dust is also a political act.  By using our renting/purchasing power in favor of these movies, we show our cultural institutions, whether they be the library, Netflix, or even Hollywood, that we support black female directors.

Fire (Directed by Deepa Mehta)

I was told recently that some people believe that Mehta makes Indian films for an American audience, and because of this her films are not taken seriously by Indian audiences.  Being an American gal, I can only speak from my point of view and will argue any day of the week that there is good stuff here.  Forbidden love between two women, arranged marriage, Indian food, and hope amongst all odds–all good stuff.  Maybe this film is geared towards Americans, but if it motivates more Americans to watch films directed by Indian women, then so be it.

Cleo from 5 to 7 (Directed by Agnes Varda)

This French flick details two hours in a Parisian woman’s life as she awaits what could be terminal results from her doctor.  We follow her as she walks the streets of France and with her we contemplate life, worry, and possibilities, and further, it shines a light on what we have in front of us.

Swept Away (Directed by Lina Wertmuller)

This is a true “exploring feminisms” film because of its divisive nature.  You could either love this film about a man and woman getting shipwrecked where sodomy, lust and coconuts ensue, or you can hate it.  What cannot be argued is it’s provocative depiction of how class affects men and women dissimilarity and will spark some great discussion.

Marie Antoinette (Directed by Sofia Coppola)

 Still considered by many to be an Indie director despite her famous director father and family, Coppola is one of my favorite contemporary female directors because she directs with the heart.  She also dabbles with a delicate touch that is so affective and yet has such an assertive voice.  Marie Antoinette is fun, whimsical and is so subversive for a period piece that you can’t help but become absorbed in the frosting and bubble gum that is this movie.  Celebrate Women’s History Month with one tough queen!