The aristocratically named Gina Prince-Bythewood directed her well-intentioned magnum opus The Secret Life of Bees, adapting it six years after Sue Monk Kidd released her novel of the same name. After being interested, with apprehensions of course, to seeing it in that interesting movie year of 2008 when it was released, I finally got around to watching it in the same weekend as The Wicker Man. Which got me confused. What was I supposed to think of bees and women and America and men now? This strangest of double bills made me realize that I wish movies work in such an interactive way so that the casts of these two movies could switch around. Both movies have the same character archetypes anyway.
I again understand the sexism attack against The Wicker Man and that the script labels them all as duplicitous but the actors execute their performances in shades as opposed to delineated borders. The class differences between them isn’t as plain because we see them through Edward’s perspective, and that they don’t out-yell Cage because no one should. The characters in Bees, however, don’t exude that same surprise, no matter what kind of dark secrets they have in their histories. We know the purpose they serve in the story and each other when the movie introduces them to us. They are stereotypes and their flaccid character arcs don’t change and deepen our understanding of them.
Basically T. Ray Owens is the entitled, emotionally stunted and volatile white man (Paul Bettany). His sense of entitlement eventually motivates him to chase his daughter, Lily (Dakota Fanning) out and find where she is and ‘rescue’ her for her own good. Lily (Dakota Fanning), instead of T. Ray, is the perspective with whom we see the narrative. She’s between the close-minded world of her dad’s and the matriarchal world that is tolerated and more secretly powerful. She eventually knows how to gain this power over her father. Rosaleen Daise (Jennifer Hudson, this movie shamefully under-utilizing an Oscar winner), the distraught one, is also between two worlds as Lily’s companion. They leave for a Pepto-Bismol coloured house in Tiburon, South Carolina where Lily’s mother once stayed. Her race is one of the factors that make us assume that unlike Lily, her bond with the women in that manor is easier to meet.
These new friends live in one of whom is the mansion’s owner, August Boatwright, (Belated Happy Birthday, Queen Latifah!). Latifah plays the maternal and soft one, only showing her edge and she and Lily talk about the latter’s mother who happens to be one of the children August took care of as a former black maid. August has a sister named June (Alicia Keys). We know she’s the mean one because she’s the mean one because she’s hostile to the newcomers as well as wearing the most make-up and the most tailored clothes in an already sartorially sharp family.
If this is going to fail in aspects of writing and directing, it also doesn’t succeed as an acting exercise with the exception of the third Boatwright sister May, the simple one (Sophie Okonedo). There are things about Okonedo’s performance that elevates it from two-dimensionality, the lower timbre in her voice stopping us from thinking that she’s just an overgrown child. But when something, like a gash on Rosaleen’s forehead or any mention of a sad or traumatic thing, the ticks and the mannerisms come out. There are no transition between these two spheres of her personality but that doesn’t mean that she makes it look jarring – she makes the attacks look seamlessly beautiful. This makes her the MVP in this flawed movie.
The first look I’m gonna be talking about comes from my first movie in 2010, Martin Scorsese‘ Shutter Island. Yes, there’s Teddy Daniels’ (Leonardo di Caprio) wife (Michelle Williams) in yellow, but among many things we wonder why Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) has a better suit than Teddy, his supposed superior. Then Chuck stands there, his fake benevolence makes him seem sinister, and he reveals to Teddy and to the audience a pulpy ending we don’t want.
There’s also the literally punk ethos generations later. There’s gonna be another movie on this list that covers the same time period, the style The Runaways being the more stereotypical if you have to compare the two. But say, younger Cherie Curie (Dakota Fanning) taking style cues from David Bowie makes us all reminisce even if we’ve never been there.
It’s been known that Tilda Swinton can do anything, including wearing Jil Sander dresses and not look like a clueless model wearing a box. I am Love focuses on Emma Recchi’s (Swinton) facade of womanhood, or how lovers try to hide and find each other through cities and nature. And when Emma puts up her hair in a bun, it reminds me of Madeleine Elster. Emma Recchi (Swinton) is allowed little bits of freedom, but is she willing to risk it all?
Now we move on to chunky sweaters! Such as the staple in Never Let Me Go. The youth from Hailsham and the other special schools get to wear browns and greys while the people they watch on television are more wild and colourful. But I actually like this, since it shows the Armaniesque minimalism that was just as prevalent in the 70’s and 80’s. If you look Cher in Moonstruck, both films take the same approach in costume.
I’ll probably get hanged if I didn’t talk about Rodarte’s textural touches in Black Swan‘s costumes both onstage and off, the outer layers that ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) have to put on and peel off. I also like the scarves that both Nina and alternate Lilly (Mila Kunis) wear. Why are they dressing alike? What they wear outside reminds us that their season starts in winter, when hibernation (repression) is something that Nina can either adapt or rebel against.
One of the most painful cinematic experiences I’ve ever had is also one of my first in the newly erected Bell Lightbox. Fortunately, there’s the little moments of fashion in L.A. Zombie, and it helped that I knew that they were created by Bernard Wilhelm, one of the designers whose whole collections I wanna buy when I get rich enough. That and they’re worn by one fo the sexiest men to ever live, Francios Sagat. I hate this movie partly because of Catholic guilt. Are you happy I admitted that?
This year was the year of the blue dress, like the Balenciaga inspired ones in Attenberg and Amy Ryan’s ill-fitting yet fabulous dress in Jack Goes Boating, but the one that knocks it out of the park is Miriam’s (Rosamund Pike) in Barney’s Version. To be able to catch the eye of a just married man like the anti-hero Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) and come out like an angel doesn’t always have something to do with what’s inside a person.
Hey look, another hot guy in a suit. The titular hero of Carlos (Edgar Ramirez) audaciously wears white or light coloured suits while motorcycling through the streets of Beirut and other cities in the Middle East. He is smooth, a conundrum, presenting himself as a terrorist while looking like he’s spending money on a Saturday night. The film will also show him in Speedos and his birthday suit if that’s your thing.
There’s young Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld) in a movie that might be the only one in this list to get an Oscar nomination for Best Costume, True Grit. Mattie chooses subtlety and fit, unlike the wild colours of the Ann Sheridan types or loose-fitting sloppiness of the men. She is the daughter of Frank Ross, a man of manageable wealth and assets. Although she dresses more ‘manly’ when she goes into Indian territory to find her dad’s murdered Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).
Rosamund Pike reappears in this last entry but for another movie where her talent is better used – made in Dagenham. The red Biba dress that Sally Hawkins’ character is originally her characters’ anyway. The dress reminds me of how Britain had power in the garment industry before the Central Saint Martin school came along. And even female politicians will talk to each other about clothes. Make of that what you will.
You may or may not have read every review of Floria Sigismondi’s “The Runaways,” but to summarize: shit script, gritty tone. NOW’s Susan G. Cole, however, said that Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett is better in the movie than Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie. Twilight zombie bitch out-acts the future Hollywood grand dame? That, my friends, sounds like a dare. And she’s kind of right by an inch. Again, I can’t believe I’m talking about Kristen Stewart like she’s a de Haviland sister, but the spark in her eyes, the boom in her voice when she tells Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) to shut the fuck up, how I have a suspicion that she knows Kim Fowley’s (Michael Shannon) lines as well as she knows hers. She’s a girl you hate to love.
And again, Michael Shannon gets paid to verbally abuse women. It’s pretty much the same character in Revolutionary Road, but this time a guy wearing lipstick, make-up and Ascot is telling teenage girls to think with their cocks. As other bloggers have noted, I’m not doubting that any of this movie ever happened, but why are five teen girls hanging out in a trailer with some guy in his 30’s. Despite of its writing, the movie also has a great supporting cast. I wanna be stubborn and say that Sandy West (Stella Maeve) is secretly the star of the show, but Riley Keough and Tatum O’Neal disappeared in their roles. I just wished Alia Shawkat had a line or two, as Sigismondi used her as decoration in the movie.
1970’s America was a country that made the Soviets feel good about themselves, and “The Runaways” makes no exception in proving that. I agree with every other reviewer who points out the grit in this movie. Most of the 70’s movies I’ve seen are about New York, while this one takes place in Los Angeles, where everything is more spread out. I’m not sure if the sparseness of LA watered down the movie, but if you want real grit, go see other movies actually made in the 70’s.
This biopic leads us to an expected end, Jett achieves ubiquity and role model status as singer of “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll,” SPOILER, Currie looks virginal while working for some pink wedding bake shop, I don’t know. Jett goes on a radio show to promote her hit song and tells the listening public that “If it wasn’t for Rock and Roll, I’d be in jail or dead.” The DJ invites callers, which gives Currie the opportunity to say that she’s neither rocking nor jailed nor dead. The film presents it as a reconciliation but I see it more as a challenge to a woman who pursues her passion from another who has gone through a phase. Yes, Jett as the founder of the first female rock group is more of a renowned name, as any woman who became the first head of state or to push suffrage or climb a mountain. Curie in the movie ends up having a man telling her to chop-chop (If anyone ever tells me that, I will do the closest legal thing to killing them), but she’s alive and has a future and that counts for something.
In an interview, Kristen Stewart said she wants to play Kate in a new adaptation of East of Eden. Get an audition, a guy who’s old enough to play old but not old enough that it’s creepy, and best of all, bring it.