Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Girl Week Blogathon: The Quick and the Dirties - Girl Power

Hey there, boys and girls. We are on Day 4 of The Girl Week Blogathon, and loving every minute of it. Before we move onto today's entry, I must send a shout out and apology to Wanderer at Wandering Through the Shelves. She is the wonderful host of the weekly meme Thursday Movie Picks which I have contributed to every week consecutively for over a year. However, she finally hit a topic for which I have nothing to offer: non-horror films of South East Asia. Still click here to get to her site and see what others have contributed as I, myself, will be sure to do.

Now, back to what we've got going on here. In case you've missed it, The Girl Week Blogathon is all about films with female protagonists. Today is no exception, at least in that regard. Where this post is different from the others is that we're doing it quick and dirty style. Every post until now has focused on one specific movie. This time, we've got a whole slew of stuff to get into. Let's do it.

We follow Marieme, who goes by Vic (Karidja Toure), a young girl who is growing up in a rough neighborhood on the outskirts of Paris. While mom works long hours, Vic goes to school, tends to her little sister, and deals with an abusive older brother who comes and goes as he pleases. Shortly after we meet her, she falls in with three girls she happens to run into, becoming "the fourth" in their mini-gang. Vic trying to juggle all of those things ensues. It's a fascinating character study relayed by some expert story-telling. It grabs you pretty quickly and pulls you along without letting go. It manages to avoid preaching, but definitely has some things to say about being a girl, particularly the double standards they face. It also addresses the socio-economic divide in France, and strangely to us Americans, a racial divide. I say strangely because here in the States, we tend to think that we are the only country that is a "melting pot" and has to deal with such issues. To be clear, this movie is not about that, at all. It merely makes note of it. It is far more about growing up as a female in a very tough area. That is the story it tells, and it tells it wonderfully.

Pitch Perfect 2
The Barden Bellas are out on a tour celebrating their victory from the first movie. While performing in front of President Obama, Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) has a wardrobe malfunction for the ages, getting the girls kicked out of collegiate competition. With that, they turn their attentions to trying to win the World Championship of Acapella, something no American team has ever done. To do that, they'll have to contend with Das Sound Machine, the defending champs from Germany. Before that, they have to deal with themselves as in-fighting threatens to derail them. Let's be clear, this is total rehash of the first film in every way right from the start with Fat Amy's fashion faux-pas replacing Aubrey's (Anna Camp) vomiting. The German team stands in for The Treblemakers, who remain only as love interests for The Bellas. All of the secondary Bellas are still one-joke stereotypes of varying degrees of offensiveness. John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks are still the snarky commentating team for every aca-event. By the way, this is the directorial debut for Banks. However, it's practically impossible to tell if she has any talent for it or not since along the way we hit all the same notes en route to our story's climax. There a few changes, to be sure, but not enough to really matter. Anna Kendrick is not as miscast here as she was in the first film because she's thankfully not trying to pull off the whole alt-girl thing for which she was so ill-suited. She is also sexually intimidated by Kommisar (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen), leader of the German team. This yields a few nice, purposely awkward jokes. The biggest change is that Fat Amy and Bumper (Adam DeVine) show growth, the only characters to do so, as we watch their relationship evolve. The bottom line is that however you feel about the first Pitch Perfect is how you'll likely feel about this one since it's essentially the same movie.

Even if you've never seen any sort of Annie production, you should be familiar with the basic plot outline. A very wealthy man, here named William Stacks (Jamie Foxx), takes in Little Orphan Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis). Song and dance for everybody. The details of this particular version are as follows: Stacks is running for mayor of New York City and is advised by his handlers that taking in Annie, after a chance meeting between the two, is a good look for his campaign. The handlers are played by Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale. Cameron Diaz handles the role of Miss Colleen Hannigan, the e-e-e-vil lady that keeps a bushel of oprhaned girlsin her apartment just to collect the checks awarded to foster parents. Massive amounts of cuteness drips off the screen. It's enough to make you puke. Still, I don't get the the seemingly universal hatred this film has gotten from critics because I feel that way about every version of Annie. If I have any misgivings about this one, it's some curious performances by a very talented cast. Everything about Jamie Foxx feels forced, Rose Byrne is totally bland, Cameron Diaz is over the top in a bad way, and Cannavale is meh. I do like Wallis in the titular role. It's not that she's especially great, but she has an oddly commanding presence for one so young. We all know the songs. They're good enough, as performed here. It all adds up to a decent update on the material for a new generation of youngsters. That's who it's for. I think they're okay with it. And please, if it matters to you one way or the other that Annie is black, get over it.

Barely Lethal
Prescott Academy is a top secret government agency that trains orphaned girls to be super spies seemingly from the time they are able to walk. I know, just slightly different from Annie. Why they only train girls is never explained, but doesn't really matter. The place is run by Hardman (Samuel L. Jackson) in some isolated compound where the girls live and breathe the program twenty-four hours a day. Each of them only goes by a number. Number 83 (Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit) is a teenager with a hankering for the outside world. When a mission to capture the ruthless criminal Victoria Knox (Jessica Alba) finds Number 83 presumed dead, the agent takes it upon herself to integrate herself into the real world. Through a student exchange program she finds online, Number 83 adopts the name Megan, moves in with the Larson family, and enrolls in high school. While trying to adjust to normal life, her old life intervenes as both Hardman and Knox catch up with her. I feared the worst going in, but was pleasantly surprised. It constantly compares teen life as depicted through movies such as Clueless, Bring it On, and Mean Girls to our heroine's current reality and is amusing in doing so. The spy stuff is fun, too. Steinfeld is decent in the lead and propped up by a better supporting cast that appears to be having a blast. Chief among them, of course, is Samuel L. Jackson. Sophie Turner is pretty good as Number 84, our heroine's rival agent. Even Jessica Alba isn't terrible. It all adds up to a perfectly innocuous, but enjoyable teen spy flick.

Free the Nipple
The cause being fought for by activist Liv (Lola Kirke) is the freedom for women to go topless in public like their male counterparts. We meet her as she's being arrested during a protest for this right. This also catches the eye of fledgling reporter Cali (Casey LaBow) who later approaches Liv in hopes of securing an interview with her. Liv agrees, but only on the condition that Cali takes part in one of the protests. A movement is born and a friendship forms. If you've ever entered the word 'topless' and 'public' in a search field, you might know that his is based on a true story. No? Only me, huh? Whatever. Since you can't see my face, just know that I am rolling my eyes as hard as humanly possible. Anyhooo, let's get back to the movie. It's a decent flick about the growing friendship between two women at the forefront of a societal issue. Of course, there are others involved, but they're all flat-drawn characters that help propel the plot and nothing more. Strangely, their movement never feels bigger than the room these women operate from until one of those moments meant to make a film instantly triumphant near the end. We see them have lots of setbacks. Whatever victories they earn feel insignificant. As a result, that triumphant scene seems to come out of thin air, delivering far less joy to the viewer than is intended. It's a 'nice' moment, not an emotional one, unless this is an issue you already feel passionate about. This is what happens when your script spends all its time telling rather than showing. No, I don't mean boobs. We see plenty of those. Oddly, they're blurred out at the rallies during the film's first act, but not later. I gather that's meant to be some poignant aesthetic choice, but it comes off as either silly and extraneous, or the director trying too hard to be artsy. By no means is this is a bad movie It's just not the movie it sets out to be.

Dark Girls
This documentary focuses on how the world views dark-skinned women and how this affects them. Being a dark-skinned man, I did a lot of nodding in agreement as much of what's discussed is gender neutral and has been experienced by me, personally. It's a powerful piece of film I highly recommend for everyone, but especially for those who are not one of the affected. The one face most viewers might recognize is that of superstar Viola Davis who shares her own experiences. Please go on Netflix and watch this now. That is all.


  1. Girlhood, I have in my Netflix queue, but I'm not crazy about the title change. I know they're trying to capitalize on 'Boyhood' but it's a shit title.

    Barely Lethal looks terrible, but I'm glad you thought it was good enough.

    I didn't realize there was a Free the Nipple movie. I'm aware of the "cause." I think they make a good point, I just never thought it was really that important, but that's just me.

    I was also stumped this week on Thursday Movie Picks. lol

    1. Title change? Had no idea. What was the original title? Either way, I think it's far superior to Boyhood.

      I might be on an island about Barely Lethal. Everyone else seems to hate it.

      Yeah, Free the Nipple makes sense, but fails to rise to the level of urgent social issue.

  2. The last film does sound excellent and I will take a look when i get the chance. I will pass on the sugar rush called Annie but I am interested in Barely Lethal since I think the lead actress is quite good overall. Free the Nipple--nah, we haven't come this far where men will just think all is aok. Maybe I am showing my age but that kind of stuff turns me off actually. In Ontario women can actually walk around topless and it is legal. Sorry, most I wouldn't want to see anyway and besides men would be picking up their tongues off the pavement

    1. Really hope you watch Dark Girls. Would love to hear your thoughts on it. As for the Free the Nipple crowd, I get it. It makes sense, but women have a lot more pressing issues to deal with.