Saturday, January 22, 2005

Screening: Hideous Kinky

Y'all, I am touching the void up here in Ithaca. Yesterday it was only 1°F (-32°C) at 7pm, without wind chill. Today, we're in the midst of a 10" snowfall. I just walked a mile in this mess to get to the library to diss it up. And yeah, it was uphill the whole way. If you know Ithaca, you'll believe me.

One good way to combat weather like this is to rent movies that take place in more temperate climes. If you turn off all the lights and draw the blinds, you cna forget. I didn't rent Hideous Kinky for that explicit reason, but it turned out to be a bonus side-effect. The whole movie takes place in Marrakech, Morocco, where 25-year-old "Julia" (a surrogate figure for Esther Freud, Sigmund's daughter, and the author of the novel Hideous Kinky) has absconded with her two young daughters in search of enlightenment, independence, and something a little cozier than the English fog. Julia will look anywhere to feed her appetites—Sufism, itinerant tourism, a casual love affair with an Arabic street performer. It's never altogether clear that she's going to find what she's looking for, nor is it clear that she won't. The distinguishing achievement of Hideous Kinky is that, compared to several movies about young sojourners—especially when those sojourners are women, and even more especially when they are mothers—this film does not exist to judge Julia. Neither an endorsement of her free spirit nor a condemnation of her behavior, Hideous Kinky manages to represent the texture, risks, and pleasures of this lifestyle without much editorializing, and the characterizations of everyone involved, including the young daughters, is pretty compelling. It helps to have Kate Winslet in the lead role of Julia; as we've come to expect, her performance is as committed, lucid, and notably unglamorous (despite her startling radiance, even when she's sweating, which is a lot). Saïd Taghmaoui (La haine) is also a bonus in the key role of Julia's sometime paramour Bilal.

If the tone and characterizations of the movie are kept nicely ambiguous, the visual motifs and the soundtrack straddle their own fences in less persuasive ways. The heavy reliance on 60s and 70s anglo-rock (America, Neil Young, Crosy, Stills & Nash) threatens to collapse the movie into kitsch a couple of times, and director Gillies MacKinnon is not invulnerable to Orientalist temptations. Though several shots imply that Hideous Kinky is a sort of dream-record of the characters' experiences—and that the archetypal exoticism of certain Arabic places, people, and spectacles might thus be taken as character points rather than simple weaknesses of the film—it's still a little distancing. (Jane Campion did something similar with the "Holly Holy" opening of Holy Smoke, also starring Winslet, but the visual technique and sound design made her intentions a little clearer.) Still, this is the kind of movie that you enjoy as you watch, appreciate even more as it continues to reveal new layers, and continue to reevaluate in the hours after you finish. Check it out: it's neither hideous nor kinky, and that's probably for the best.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Listen Up

A liberal blog called Running Scared has a special blogroll in the right-hand sidebar that lists several blogs written by Iraqi men and women. Particularly on our bleak inauguration day, this is an especially apt time to check in with some of these blogs and hear directly from some of the people whose lives are being terrorized and destroyed by the Bush administration's decisions—and by everyone who publicly endorses or voted for this administration.

Gender Trouble

If for some reason you are forced to witness this morning's presidential inauguration, make sure you look through a strip of film. Don't you know that watching a moral, political, and cultural eclipse can scar your vision forever?

But now there's double trouble. Just when we've got one moron running around as president, my alma mater has to ante up with its own version. Lawrence H. Summers, the president of Harvard, made a speech last Friday in which he suggested that innate biological differences may play a role in the rampant gender inequities on the faculties of so many (okay, all) university math & science departments. Go figure why people haven't taken kindly to these aspersions, even within the longer list of other "explanations" that Summers has cited as the original context for his remark.

Harvard already wasn't doing a great job at recruiting, nurturing, or tenuring women faculty while I was a student there; the case of Bonnie Honig was especially upsetting. And that happened under the previous president's watch (the illustrious Neil Rudenstine), so I guess Summers can just believe he's continuing a "tradition," which is one of Harvard's favorite words for everything that works and everything that doesn't.

Don't get me wrong: I got an amazing education at that school, and I'll always be grateful for it. But also don't get me wrong: most of my very best professors, advisors, and TAs at that school were women. Anytime anyone mentions "innate sex differences" as the reason for almost anything, some idiocy is usually going down. I thought this was one point on which educated people mostly agreed?


I'll take "Mood Indicators" for $1000, Alex...

I treat you now to two of the most famous ass shots in modern movies:

This, as you probably recall, is what it looks like when the huge, hulking behind of the Titanic is suddenly looming large in the night sky, towering over the poor sots who had the good luck to make it alive off the ship and into the open water, but who are now a) freezing, and b) about to have the biggest ship in the world plunk down on their heads.

For one, I am already freezing. It's 21°F in Ithaca right now (that's -6° for my Celsius peeps), and my apartment is drafty. And beyond that, why do I feel like I have a huge-assed ship waiting to crack in half and rain down on me? The beginning of the "Spring" Semester, as we at Cornell perversely mis-name it, always feels like this. You start the Fall a little jealous that your summer is over, but kind of eager to get moving. But you start the "Spring" in a breathless rush to recover from the holidays, to finish what didn't get done in the Fall, to fret about what didn't even get started in the Fall... And I've got a dissertation to complete, a job talk to finalize (but no complaints there, 'cuz I'm a lucky duck with that one), an essay to re-jig for possible publication, and a new class on International Cinema & Global Politics to prepare. We'll be watching and critiquing movies every day in this course—but then, as I just found out today, I've been assigned to a classroom with no A/V.

I said, brrr. It's cold in here! I said this must be Cornell up in the atmosphere. At least I love my job enough to complain about it affectionately.

Helping to lighten the mood, as always, will be the on-campus moviehouse Cornell Cinema, whose delicious January/February programming commenced tonight, with a little bit of Marlon B. and the old butter trick. In the coming weeks, I'm especially psyched about Blissfully Yours, from Thailand; Last Life in the Universe, a coproduction of Thailand, Japan, and Hong Kong; and Wong Kar-wai's Days of Being Wild. That one was playing at the Film Forum in New York City in November and December, and the trailer I saw there looked amazing. So it's Asian Film-a-Go Go till early February. My hopes are high, even as I'm treading that icy water.

(Photo from Titanic, © 1997 Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and Lightstorm Entertainment)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Barbara Boxer Is a Million Dollar Baby

That sounds patronizing, but is meant in praise. In movies and in politics, gutsy women are coming out swinging...

Yes, it's true: I really am going to bounce from what Uma Thurman was wearing to the somber proceedings on the Senate floor. But I'm schizophrenic like that; Deleuze and Guattari say it's the best way to live, and some of my favorite pop stars have been following that path for years now. Y'all are going to have to keep up. (Wait, is anyone even there?)

So, as I was saying. Barbara Boxer ripped into Condoleezza Rice today on the Senate floor, telling the S.O.S.-to-be, "I personally believe, this is my personal view, that your loyalty to the mission you were given, to sell this war, overwhelmed your respect for the truth." There's nothing to be done about Condi (S.O.S. indeed), but I'll enjoy it if American politicians on the Left actually do start saying what they think, and big newspapers actually do start printing the words. First John Conyers, and now Barbara Boxer. With Diebold paying out Consumer Protection lawsuit damages in California, the GOP and their friends aren't having a great week. (I know, I know - Thursday morning. Don't remind me.)

Condi does kind of remind me of that villainous East German boxer in Clint's movie, the Blue Bear, whose string of victories is based on cheating and dirty tricks. Barbara Boxer landed a couple of great blows yesterday, evidently ruffling her opponent. But is there any way to bounce Condi out of the ring?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Globes '04 Fashion Parade

Okay, so obviously this blog is my new favorite toy. I won't usually be posting three times a day, I promise. I literally have a two-person audience right now anyway.

But also, there was no way I was going to leave my discussion of the Globes fashions in such a paltry state. Here, as I call them, were the Magnificent Seven of the evening: in alphabetical order, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Annette Bening, Cate Blanchett (even with the weird flower pinned to the front of her dress), Sandra Oh, Sophie Okonedo (check out that amazing hair), Uma Thurman, and Kate Winslet.

The Blanchett and Okonedo pics are © 2004 the HFPA and the 62nd Annual Golden Globes. The rest are © 2004

There were a few fashion disasters, but they were bad enough to look at once, why commemorate them? But let me just say to Diane Kruger, Why you wanna hurt me? What did any of us ever do to you? And Renée Zellweger, I'm sure the hair is for a role, but sweetheart: eat, re-dye, pick a new color and new shoes, and get in the Primer machine.

Sometimes people are all, what about the best-dressed men? And frankly, shame on most of those men last night, who apparently consulted with each other and went in together on a bulk crate of black suits, white shirts, and silver ties. Credit at least to Clive Owen for showing us that the Tux is still The Thing; to Marc Forster for being a bad director but doing great things for baldness; to Jamie Foxx for wearing a sassy suit in fun colors; and to Patrick Wilson, who basically underdressed, but Patrick Wilson can pull that off.

All images © 2004

Piece of Cake!

All righty then! This blog thing doesn't seem too tricky after all... Proof that 27-year-old dogs can still learn new tricks.

As I stated up top, the real action will all still go down at my website, where I've just finished a whole raft of year-end features, including profiles of my top ten movies of the year (though my understanding of the word "ten" is a little shaky), plus my finalized list of Oscar nomination predictions (tune in on Jan. 25 to learn who's happy!), and, best of all, the full list of the 2004 Nick's Flick Picks Honorees, which encompass not only the best movies of the year but the best performances, documentaries, foreign-language films, creative achievements, and everything else that fits in 20 categories. Plus some honorary citations for those exquisite little movie moments that don't fit anywhere else.

So that's the website. But the blog. The blog. Here is where I'll be dishing on events like the Golden Globes, which are as good a place to start as any. If you tuned in Sunday night, you know that Kate Winslet was the most gorgeous woman in the room, Annette Bening is a foxy fortysomething even if she seemed a little, shall we say, "stiff" at the podium, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind really is destined to be overlooked by Oscar, despite being the best American movie since at least The Thin Red Line. Have you got thoughts on the subject? On other subjects? Does the prospect of a Nick's Flick Picks blog bring you pleasure or fear? Be the first to click the "Comments" link, and let me know.

This blog will also be a great place for me to post brief comments on movies that I never quite get around to viewing in full, and for you to reply with your own thoughts and feelings. Every once in a while, I even experience a work of art that isn't a movie (!), and since my site isn't named Nick's Book Picks or Nick's Theater Picks, this will be a great place to write 'em up. And for those of you out there who are sick enough to be curious about what it's like to be a late-career graduate student, plugging away at a dissertation that just won't budge (hmmmmm... maybe because I watch so many movies?), you will hopefully tolerate a post or two about, you know, what I've been up to. Or about world events. Or charities and non-profit campaigns you should know about. Or local Ithaca happenings, for those of you up in the 14850. Karen Carpenter said it best, people. We've only just begun. A kiss for luck, and we're on our way!...

(Photo from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, © 2004 Focus Features)

Testing: One.... Two.... Three....

One small step for me, one giant leap forward for my website, Nick's Flick Picks. Or maybe vice versa—who knows if I'm just entertaining myself. After all, if a blog originates in the deep forests of the web, but no one's there to hear it, is it really a new blog?

Either way, the blogosphere just got a little more polluted, folks. Now let's see if this thing really works...