Media Review – The Triplets of Belleville

The Triplets of Belleville 

Directed by Sylvain Chomet

2003

Well, that was….unexpected. Almost understated, in the sense that no one makes a statement throughout the movie, barring the beginning and the very end. Being an American raised on Disney animation, I’m used to hearing my animated characters babbling a mile a minute. It took me a while to accept the non-verbal qualities of these characters, who are anything but silent. The soundtrack is brilliant, adding an individuality to both characters and locations. But beyond formalism, beyond its stunning good looks, what’s the heart of this very deliberate work?

I’m mostly stricken by the movie’s very passionate portrait of aged womanhood. Old women in this cinematic world are protectors, strong, indefatigable, entertaining and unique. They are vital, full of life, and that’s why I said I was stricken. The contrast between how I view age and how Grandmother Souza and the Triplets express their age…..it’s the difference between quiet, colorless institutional walls and the heat and sound of the club where the Triplets perform. Can any of us imagine our grandparents and great-grandparents performing in a sleazy club….?

How about hunting for their dinner every night? Throwing explosives? Biking uphill? Or the most impossible of all, enjoying every minute of everything?

Ebert says,”Most animated features have an almost grotesque desire to be loved. This one doesn’t seem to care. It creates a world of selfishness, cruelty, corruption and futility — but it’s not serious about this world and it doesn’t want to attack it or improve upon it. It simply wants to sweep us up in its dark comic vision.”

Did we watch the same movie? Of course the film doesn’t want to be loved; when you’re old, you get your priorities straight. And if it is nothing else, Triplets is aggressively old. It does the unthinkable: equates female age with vigor, and youthful manhood with passivity.
Champion, the grandson, cannot do anything for himself, ever. He has to wait to be rescued by Souza, his grandmamma. Poor, horse-faced boy.
The film indicates to us that her grandson is Souza’s prized possession, exactly like a pure-blooded racehorse. He has no agency of his own. In fact, the men in this world are either passive like Champion or violent like the mobster villain. Cynical, right, but perhaps that’s how age always views youth? The young need direction, or they’ll grow into petty thugs…
I do agree with Ebert on one thing; these women Chomet has created are ferocious. And I don’t want them any other way. Willfulness, determination, and energy….for every tooth lost, another cackle and another song! That’s one vision of aging, and it is beautiful.
(Time to break your faith in humanity. Who did this film lose the Academy Award to? Pixar’s Finding Nemo. Ufff! Thank you, and good night.)
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Media Review – “Tea and Sympathy”

“When you speak of this in future years…and you will…be kind.”
1956
Starring:  Deborah KerrJohn Kerr
They sure don’t make movies they way they used to. Everything about this film is slow and mannered, taking its time to never climax, but instead reflect on society through consequence and controversy.
The premise is simple enough: gender identity and its weight worth in gold.
The plot is a little more dynamic: young Tom Lee, played by John Kerr, is a student at the promininent Chilton boarding school for boys. He doesn’t fit in and doesn’t want to. Tom prefers to sew instead of play football and talk to the professors’ wives instead of his peers. It’s not that he flaunts his unquie masculinity, it is that he doesn’t actively try to supress it. He is bullied and mocked and seemingly diseased on campus when it comes to trying to socialize or bond with any of the other boys. They want nothing to do with him and it is only his manly roommate, Al, that tries to teach Tom to “walk right” and even encourages his down-and-out roomie to “be with a girl alone,” cause that’ll sure make him a real man. Long story short, Tom’s housemaster’s wife, Laura Reynolds, played by Deborah Kerr, takes pity on him, but wants to do more for the lost boy that just offer him some tea and sympathy. Laura wants to connect and heal the sullen student on more levels than one and for more reasons than one, including that the Tom reminds her of her former husband, sent off to war and killed, and that she’s apparently getting no loving at home. As things unravel and Tom is bullied into a sucide attempt by a loose woman he is trying to get his rocks off with, he and Laura end up coming together in a innuendo-filled scene that cuts away just before the good stuff.
Whoa.
I feel a little conflicted. Is this film actually about gender identity in the 1950’s? Yes. Is it creative and political? Theoretically. Does a married woman try to “fix” someone with her vagina by having sex with a minor and then leave her husband and run away? All signs point to yes.
This film is filled with wretch-worthy moments of male dominance and all too realistic scenarios of bravo and meat-headedness. From Laura knelt next to her husband, asking for his approval and his “touch” to Tom ridiculed for his sensitive side, it’s amazing that this film was even released when it was!
Nonetheless, with any issue I do have with the movie, which in comparison to the positives I see is very small, it is so important that mass media makes headway with issues that society has problems comprehending and  dealing with. Issues like how to be a man or a woman that are so fully loaded and charged with confusing gender and cultural norms.
Some people argue that male dominant and aggressive behavior is innate and that a woman’s delicate touch and caring disposition is born into them, but I am a nurturist and I believe that nature has very little to do with how we turn out. The human mind is just so impressionable and to think that something as superficial as “girls like pink” could be a genetic or biological trait boggles my mind. It confuzzles me.
This movie handles the distressing parts of youth in a way that is not necessarily ethical, but gentle and compassionate. The two souls lost in the   film are born in the wrong time period with too much tolerance to try to change their worlds. Today there are more opportunities and communities open to those that do not “fit” the strict roles our society expects us to adhere to. Using media and art to start the conversation is a creative way to begin early activism and breech language barriers and cultural norms. We need more movies like this one that say that women can make a difference, are not just here to offer men a little “tea and sympathy” when they’re down and that they can go after their sexual needs. We need more movies like this one that say that men are not all brawn and no brain, that they can have an acceptable gentleness to them and that sensitivity is a virtue, not a flaw.
I recommend this movie to anyone interested in gender and women’s studies and to everyone else in general. I think I might just write a paper on it for class…

Media Review – “Payphone”

“An Enjoyable, Mini-action Movie?” ENJOYABLE FOR WHOM??

2012

Maroon 5

“Payphone” from Overexposed

The last time I used a payphone was in Europe, because I didn’t particularly want to deal with international charges on a cell phone. I’ve never seen a working U.S. payphone booth actually in use. But out of all the things wrong with this video, that is a downright trivial detail. First of all, who thought it was a good idea to overlay the sound effects onto the music track? It’s percussive and distracting. Not that I’m sure I really want to hear Levine’s voice whining, “fairy tales are full of shit/one more fucking love song I’ll be sick.”

If this video is his idea of a fairy tale, imagination really is dead. The cliches are never-ending. I was particularly entertained by the transformation of the nameless “office girl” from uptight working girl to desparate, fleeing criminal. This begins at 1:28, where Levine’s character signs to her to take off her high heels. Now barefoot, she is dragged through the masses of her hiding co-workers by Levine, who’s toting a gun. Like this:

Couldn’t be more generic, right? Also, we don’t even get her face. Just the heroic man. I’ll get to him in a second. After losing her heels, being shot at, running down sidewalks barefoot, our girl also loses her updo. Well, heck. She was too uptight anyway! She looks MUCH more attractive like this:

Yep, he’ll definitely notice her now. Running for your life together is remarkably akin to a roll in hay. Sweat, adrenaline, disheveled clothes, the whole shebang. And naturally this happens:

(It’s okay, he has glasses and a business suit!  He’s not really a threat.) But then, instead of a kiss, Levine just lets go of her and bolts. Supposedly trying to draw the chase away from her. How noble. Except for the part where it’s his fault to begin with!

At 2:30, barely halfway into the video, the girl’s part is over. Fin. The rest of the film is just (another!) generic police car chase, complete with inappropriate balls of flame and impossible car escapes. The girl was just a catalyst to turn Mr. Meek Levine into an action hero, of course.

And what’s going on with men’s roles? Well, we have a screamingly-obvious dialogue between the Male Protector vs. the Male Aggressor. The obvious aggressors are the robbers at the beginning, whose violence threaten the girl. Levine takes the gun to protect her and himself. However, the police mistake him for an aggressor, which forces him to become aggressive, apparently. Instead of turning himself in and explaining the situation, he chooses to steal a car.  Because clearly there is no better way to handle it.

Maroon 5 could do well to look at some fairy tale literature–then at least they might think of something better than a regurgitated adolescent outlaw fantasy. And by the way, Levine, women are not props for your action hero dreams. We don’t owe you something for “saving us” from a predicament you created. As far as we’re concerned, this looks like an ego-stroking exercise in pointlessness.

Don’t call us anymore.