My Weekend with the Gyllenhaals

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I spent the weekend watching two new movies that star the Gyllenhaal siblings: The Kindergarten Teacher, starring Maggie and Wildlife, with Jake. In both films, I thought the Gyllenhaals were especially well cast. I know they aren’t to everyone’s taste — and when I got home my husband and I got into a debate about whether or not Jake Gyllenhaal is actually a good actor — but I found them both to be pretty magnetic and appealingly odd. Neither really melt into a role and both have a way of throwing things off-kilter. So, they need the right movies for their talent.

Continue reading “My Weekend with the Gyllenhaals”

Falling Leaves and O. Henry

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The other day I discovered, quite by accident, that Alice Guy Blaché’s short film, “Falling Leaves” is based on the O. Henry story “The Last Leaf.” I was reading Meg Wolitzer’s editor’s introduction to 2017’s Best American Short Stories, and she mentioned that her favorite O. Henry story was about an artist who convinces a girl suffering from pneumonia that she will survive. The girl believes that she will die when the last leaf falls, so the artists paints an incredibly life-like leaf outside her window. It never falls, and the girl survives through sheer belief. But — and here’s the O. Henry twist — the artist dies from standing out in the cold and taking all the time to paint the leaf.

Initially I thought, hmm, did O. Henry see the Blaché film about the girl who ties leaves to a tree in a vain effort to save her sister, who is dying of tuberculosis? But I checked the dates and O. Henry’s story was published in 1907 while Blaché’s film was released in 1912:

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Then I did some googling and sure enough, Wikipedia already has it covered:

The plot of Falling Leaves owes elements to the O. Henry short story “The Last Leaf” (1907). The child hero is a recurring theme in Guy-Blaché films; the first film produced by Solax, A Child’s Sacrifice (1910), which also starred Magda Foy, is another example.

It’s just a little thing, but I thought it was a fascinating glimpse into Blaché’s creative process. By the way, you can watch the original film, “Falling Leaves” for free on Kanopy as part of the program, “Three Films by Alice Guy Blaché.”

 

Review: Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy Blaché

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On Sunday I went to the New York Film Festival to catch a screening of Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy Blaché. This is a new documentary by Pamela B. Green about the first female film director, a young Parisian woman who began making films in 1897, just as film cameras were being invented and refined. Not only was she the first female director, it’s possible that she was the first narrative director, period. And yet, her contributions have been lost to history, while the achievements of the men she worked with have been lionized.

Co-written by Joan Simon, who curated an exhibition of Blaché’s films at the Whitney Museum, this is a documentary that aims to be accessible to someone who knows nothing or very little about Blaché — so, perfect for me. Although I’ve now seen a few of her films, I discovered her when I was looking for a title for this blog and wanted to find another female film pioneer to go with Thelma — preferably someone with a two-syllable name. Yes, my search was exactly that superficial, but sometimes the best bits of research are happy accidents.  Discovering Blaché has brought me back to the birth of cinema, something I’d never given much thought to — and it’s been a delight to find that someone like Alice was there at the beginning. Continue reading “Review: Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy Blaché”

September Streaming

It’s the first week of October and I’m still catching up on all the movies I meant to review last month. I lost track of time with school starting at the beginning of the month, and then for the past couple of weeks I’ve been consumed by the Kavanagh hearings and aftermath. More to say about that, but I’ve been struck over the past few days by how easily people can see Kavanagh’s point of view, and sympathize with him, and how much that has to do with the fact that we are all accustomed to reading the male point of view, through decades of male-authored movies, television shows, novels, comic books, etc. Conversely, people are able to listen to Blasey Ford, and feel bad for her, and maybe even believe that she was assaulted, but they disregard the details that place her story in a shared reality, i.e. her naming of Kavanagh and his friend Mark Judge. It’s as if she doesn’t exist in the world as completely as Kavanagh does.

Anyway, here are five quick reviews of some movies that are streaming now. All are worth a watch, and one is a masterpiece.  Continue reading “September Streaming”

Review: I AM NOT A WITCH

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The title of this movie drew me in: Was it a declaration? A denial? A defense? At the end of the screening I attended, the director and writer, Rungano Nyoni, said she was first embarrassed by her title, because it struck her as an overheated, reminiscent of a Lifetime movie. But over time, she said, she grew to love it, and it became a feminist mantra: “I am not a witch!” The idea of a woman being accused of witchcraft is, on the one hand ridiculous, but the idea of women as irrational and in need of control is very much alive in cultures across the world.

In Nyoni’s remarkable debut, an orphaned girl is singled out as witch for no discernible reason. Continue reading “Review: I AM NOT A WITCH”

Trending on Netflix: Female Filmmakers

When I was working on my most recent update of 2018’s women-directed films, I noticed a small trend: Netflix acquired a lot of the best women-directed movies and documentaries from film festivals, and they’ve also financed a number of women-directed movies. Netflix has such varied offerings that it’s a little difficult to come up with definitive stats, but just eyeballing it, they seem to have an unusually high percentage of female-directed and/or written movies on offer, including well-established directors like Nicole Holofcenter and Tamara Jenkins. Finally, Netflix has already been getting a lot of press for their recent efforts to bring back the rom-com, but I’m not sure anyone has noted that almost half of these movies are directed or written by women: Set It Up, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Nappily Ever After, and Us and Them.

Here’s a complete list of upcoming films. I’m especially excited about the ‘coming soon’ section, which contains a couple of film festival acquisitions, including The Kindergarten Teacher, a remake of an Israeli film, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Proustian-sounding documentary, Shirkers, about a writer who recovers film from a movie she shot in 1992.

Continue reading “Trending on Netflix: Female Filmmakers”

A Little Love Note To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

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Well, this movie was as charming and sweet as The Great British Baking Show, and like GBBS, you can find it streaming on Netflix. It’s based on a Jenny Han’s much-beloved YA novel by the same title and it’s been generating a lot of conversations about representation because the story centers on an Asian-American girl, something that is still rare in Hollywood. Even more depressing is that the author and director had to fight to cast an Asian actor in the lead role because, according to producers, “there was nothing in the story that required her to be Asian.”

Thank goodness the author and director did insist on Lana Condor for the lead, because she had the perfect mix of dreaminess and intelligence for Laura Jean, a character I immediately liked and could relate to. She’s a smart girl, who’s grounded in family life and schoolwork, but at the same time, she’s naive and nervous about social life. She wants romance but doesn’t know how to find it. Han said she wrote the novel thinking about her own high school experience: “Particularly being in early high school and younger, and the idea that you want these sort of [romantic] relationships and love, and [how they feel] so comfortable in your head, but then can feel so uncomfortable in real life.”

Laura Jean also reminded me of one of my favorite literary characters, Anne of Green Gables. Like Anne, Laura Jean has a rich imaginative life and romantic ideals that aren’t quite met in real life. Like Anne, she unexpectedly finds herself falling in love with the most popular boy in school (and he with her). Also, like Anne, Laura Jean doesn’t have a mother, and I found myself tearing up a little when Laura Jean talks with her kinda-sorta boyfriend about their parents. It wasn’t the content of the conversation so much as the fact that the two characters were listening to each other. There was a lot of sweetness in the moment, and in this movie in general, of the kind that you don’t usually see in teen rom-coms.