In Which I Think People Are Missing the Point of The Devil Wears Prada

Devil Wears Prada

Several weeks ago, I watched The Devil Wears Prada for the first time. The movie was released in 2006 (and the book, which I haven’t read, in 2003), so I thought I was a little late to this party.  Imagine my surprise, then, to come across recent articles on the Internet where people were talking about how much they loved the movie and how many times they’ve seen it.  Imagine my greater surprise to see many, many people saying how they think Andy’s boyfriend Nick is a horrible person for breaking up with her and “not supporting her career.” I generally try not to be too snarky online, but in my complete bafflement I must ask: Did these people even watch the same movie that I did???

The entire point of The Devil Wears Prada is to show how Andy’s career (and her boss, Miranda Priestly) take over her life in completely unreasonable ways. Even if we ignore the other issues the movie raises about the fashion magazine industry (for example, how much the employees are judged on appearance and how frequently Andy is insulted for being “too fat” or eating the “wrong” things), the core argument of the movie is that Andy is consumed by her job–and that she has to be consumed if she wants to keep it, if she wants what people in the industry call “success.”

Nick breaks up with Andy because he literally never sees her. One prime example is when Andy is responsible for delivering “the book” (the mock-up of the magazine issue) to Miranda.  “The book” isn’t done until 10 pm. Andy must wait in the office until it is done. Then, she must deliver it to Miranda’s home. Then she has to go to her own home (which is likely nowhere near Miranda’s since Miranda is rich and Andy is not). Basically, Andy probably got up at 6 am to go to work, and she will not return to her apartment until, say, midnight, when she will immediately go to sleep so she can get up at 6 am the next day.

It’s one thing for Nick to feel generally happy for Andy if this is the type of life she wants to lead (and the movie suggests it’s not anyway). It’s another thing to expect that Nick will stay in a relationship for someone he sees only on the weekends (and maybe not even then).  Nick-critics have argued, for instance, that he’s a baby for being upset that Andy misses his birthday celebrations because, as an adult, he should realize they can celebrate on a day that isn’t actually his birthday.  But the argument of the movie is that there is no other day. Andy will never be free.  She will never have more than a few minutes here and there to spend with him.

People may leave watching The Devil Wears Prada with different views on the fashion magazine industry. (Is it fair to expect this level of commitment from people? Should they have to choose between a career and a relationship? Between a career and any other outside interests? Is that what it honestly takes to be “the best?”)  However, Nick isn’t the one who signed up for the lifestyle; Andy is.  I think he gets a free pass for breaking up with someone he literally never sees anyway. That doesn’t make him a bad person; it makes him someone who actually wants a relationship with his girlfriend.

Briana

Movie Review: The Red Turtle (2016)

Information

Director: Michaël Dudok de Wit
Release: 2016

Summary

After a man is shipwrecked and marooned on a deserted island, he tries to escape.  Each time, however, he finds himself thwarted by a red turtle.  Then a woman arrives.  And the man is no longer so sure he wants to leave.

Review

The Red Turtle is a special film, 80 minutes without dialogue.  Emotion is conveyed through the music and the visuals.  It is quiet, repetitive, seemingly aimless.  It is the story of a life.  There is no plot.

This being said, I suspect that this is a film I did not fully understand.  I love Studio Ghibli and I was excited to watch The Red Turtle at last.  I expected beauty.  A delight in nature.  A quietly reflective film.  This was present.  But somehow, I just didn’t get it.  I found myself counting the minutes until the end.

Admitting as much makes me feel somewhat uncultured.  The film has been nominated for plenty of awards.  It would seem that other people see something in The Red Turtle that I do not.  Maybe one day I will watch it again and I will see something new.  But that day will not be for awhile.

Movie Review: Only Yesterday (1991)

Information

Director: Isao Takahata
Release: 1991

Summary

As twenty-seven-year-old Taeko goes to visit her relatives in the countryside, she begins to remember her fifth grade self.  Taeko has always lived in the city.  However, as she picks saffron flowers and begins to fall for a handsome farmer, she wonders if she’s living the life she has always wanted.

Review

Only Yesterday is a quietly reflective film, one that moves between past and present as Taeko attempts to discern who she was, who she is, and who she wants to be.  It is a not a plot-driven film, but rather a character-driven film.  Not all the pieces fall into place and some memories that emerge seem unrelated to much going on in Taeko’s adult life.  But it’s that randomness that makes the film feel so charming, so very real.

Taeko herself is an engaging character who will earn viewers’ sympathy with her dedication to hard work, her delight in beauty, and her spirit.  That spirit is somewhat hidden in the twenty-seven-year-old woman, but it emerges in Taeko’s recollections of herself as a fifth grader.  Quiet, easily embarrassed, and often childish and petulant, the fifth-grade Taeko still has hope in life.  She enjoys simple luxuries like a bath.  And she’s asking her future self to wake up and to move her life in a direction that will make her happy.

Fans of Studio Ghibli will want to check out Only Yesterday.  It is a heartfelt endeavor that emphasizes respect for the land and finding one’s self in nature.  At times the message may feel heavy-handed, but the message is sincere.  And it’s difficult not to want Taeko to buy into it and to find her happily ever after working on a farm.

4 stars

Movie Review: Ran (1985)

Shakespeare 2

Summary

Akira Kurosawa reimagines Shakespeare’s King Lear as the story of  Hidetora Ichimonji, an aging samurai warlord who divests himself of his power and splits his kingdom among his three sons Taro, Jiro, and Saburo.  Saburo protests that Hidetora has taught them nothing but war and that he can expect no loyalty from them once he has relinquished control.  Angered, Hidetora banishes Saburo.  But immediately Taro and Jiro begin vying for power, and Taro’s wife Lady Kaede insists that Taro need no longer show respect to his father, since Taro is now the head of the family.  So begins the end of the Ichimonji clan.

Review

Kurosawa’s adaptation of King Lear  reimagines the titular character as an aging warlord, Hidetora Ichimonji, who spent his life conquering other clans and now plans to retire in peace (but still with the title of Great Lord ) while his sons take care of the kingdom.  Hidetora’s past drives the story.  As his youngest son Saburo points out, Hidetora has taught them nothing of loyalty or the arts of peace; they grew up learning how to betray and conquer, how to take power.  To expect his sons to live in any other way is madness.

Hidetora, of course, ignores Saburo’s wisdom and banishes him along with the one faithful servant who also dares to protest his abdication of power.  Thus he sets in motion the familiar Lear plot of familial betrayal and a mad wandering through nature.  But Hidetora is haunted by his past deeds.  The betrayal here begins at the urgings of his daughter-in-law, Lady Kaede–she married Hidetora’s son Taro and then Hidetora killed her family.  And as Hidetora wanders through the fields he repeatedly stumbles upon the sites of his past conquests and the remnants of the families he broke apart and the lives he took.  Hidetora’s madness is not only the madness of betrayal by his children, but also the madness of realizing that it is all his fault, that he a destroyer of peace and of families as well.

Thus Kurosawa transforms the story into a powerful commentary on war.  Are the gods at fault for the suffering of mankind, or is man himself to blame for never resting content with what he has?  How should individuals respond to suffering and pain?  Is there any way to break the cycle of violence?

The vision is bleak, the misery unrelenting, and the ending, of course, tragic.  Love and loyalty are shown, but only so they can be cut off and destroyed.  It’s difficult to find a moment of redemption in this vision of King Lear.

5 starsKrysta 64

Movie Review: Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Shakespeare 2

shakespeare-in-loveSummary

It’s 1593 and William Shakespeare needs a new play, but he’s feeling particularly uninspired.  He needs a muse.  Then he meets Viola de Lesseps, a merchant’s daughter who dreams of being a player in a time when women were forbidden on the stage.  Shakespeare is in love, but can a married man and an engaged woman find a way to make their romance flourish?  And will his new play, inspired by Viola, impress the queen?

Review

Shakespeare in Love won an Academy Award for Best Picture, but I have to admit I have never enjoyed this film.  It has its funny moments, sure, including a lot of delightful theatre humor and a few “in-jokes” for Shakespeare enthusiasts.  Who isn’t tickled by seeing an anachronistic Stratford souvenir mug in Shakespeare’s room or by watching him practice his signature–an allusion to the various forms of his name that have come to us through the years?  And yet, the Romantic image of Shakespeare espoused by the film has always annoyed me.

The Shakespeare of this film does not refer to historical chronicles, old stories, or the works of his contemporaries for inspiration.  Rather, his adulterous love for Viola becomes his muse and, once he meets her, the words just seem to flow.  Yes, he gains dialogue from some of the other people around him and even gets some ideas from Christopher Marlowe, but the general idea is that we’re seeing the genius serving as the instrument of inspiration.  No hard work here.  No acknowledgment of Shakespeare’s large debt to other authors.  Shakespeare is singular in his greatness, not the guy who reworked another plot to write  Romeo and Juliet.

This Romantic idea of authorship imposed upon an early modern writer is annoying enough, but then the film expects audiences to sympathize with Shakespeare’s love affair.  Shakespeare is, at this point, married with children.  His fictional love interest is engaged to a man of status.  But we’re supposed to cheer on their relationship because, I guess, Viola’s betrothed is a jerk.  Faithfulness and marriage vows are apparently irrelevant.  Chase whatever person captures your fancy at the moment, the film insists.  (We might also note here that Viola’s lot as a Renaissance woman is actually pretty good, despite her impending marriage to man she doesn’t like.  Her obliviousness to her luck in being born wealthy doesn’t make her any more likable as a character.)

I’ll gloss over all the historical inaccuracies because I grant that a popular audience is not likely to care, though I will note that the hopeful ending of Viola having a happy life in the New World at this time period is pretty rich.  And that the idea of Queen Elizabeth ever sitting in a public theatre is absolutely hilarious.  The rest of it is also somewhat horrifying to the soul of a historical purist, but it’s not likely that most people will notice.  In fact, most of them might even be glad that the movie depicts naturalistic acting as existing in the sixteenth century.  Would a modern audience be nearly as moved by watching Romeo and Juliet as it must have been performed at the time?  One wonders.

The idea of re-presenting Romeo and Juliet is, however, an intriguing idea.  It’s a play that’s entered our cultural consciousness, so one does not even need to have read the play to recount the plot or recognize the lines.  Shakespeare in Love tries to make it feel new, like audiences are hearing of it for the first time, watching it for the first time.  We are the audience of the film, the audience who does not yet know how the play will end.  In recapturing the excitement original audiences must have felt, the movie does, I admit, a spectacular job.

But does that make me forget the sappy view of Romantic authorship or the morally repugnant love affair?  Not really.  I still can’t invest myself emotionally in a film about two people cheating on their partners.   Shakespeare may be in love, but I’m sure not.

Krysta 643 stars

TV Drama Review: To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters

Summary

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë secretly harbor dreams of publishing their stories.  However, writing, they have been told, is not the life for a woman.  Unfortunately, their brother Branwell is slowly descending into a life of degeneracy and madness, and their father is aging and blind.  Faced with the prospect of having to support themselves, the sisters hatch a plan to publish their work under pseudonyms.

Review

Based on Charlotte Brontë’s letters, To Walk Invisible highlights the struggles the Brontë sisters faced as women writing in nineteenth century England.  To publish would be, as Emily notes, to expose their characters–rather than their writing– for public judgment and scrutiny.  They realize that in order to be taken seriously, they must publish under male pseudonyms.  And thus begins two hours’ worth of dramatic whispering and sneaking about their own home.

Some of this sneaking about seems funnily obsessive considering the fact that their brother Branwell is often away or too drunk to be cognizant of anything happening around them and that their father Patrick never shows any desire to stifle his daughters’ creativity.  What exactly are they hiding and from whom?  Maybe the sisters fear one of their two servants will gossip?  At any rate, the show really works to play up the drama of the situation, perhaps realizing that it is difficult to make three sisters living in isolation on the moor a very action-packed story.

However, anyone willing to watch a two-hour drama on Masterpiece about the Brontë sisters is probably already invested in the work and will not need the high stakes to be so obviously emphasized.  The show does a nice job recognizing the fan base by bringing in some historical details and nods (such as Charlotte’s awkward future husband) and highlighting the personalities of the three sisters: wild Emily, level-headed Anne, and passionate Charlotte.  The effects of the moor on the sisters’ personalities (especially Emily’s) is also predictably emphasized through a series of long walks throughout, and some readings of Emily’s poetry are brought in at strategic moments.

Unfortunately, Branwell Brontë also makes an extended appearance, but he adds little to the story.  Brontë fans know of the sister’s hapless brother who died before he could fulfill all the great things expected of him.  He certainly has a place in the story of the sisters’ lives.   However, the sisters’ efforts at publication are far more compelling than Branwell’s debauchery.  No one expects Branwell to give up his drink, to become suddenly responsible, or to publish all the great works he says he will.  His wild lifestyle probably is meant to contrast with the sisters’ quiet lives and to add some more action to the story.  However, I don’t think many viewers are particularly interested in Branwell and it’s certainly difficult to be invested in him when it’s obvious from the start (from history or the drama) how he will end.

To Walk Invisible is a compelling story, but one that I suspect will mostly interest viewers who are already fans of the Brontë sisters, though it’s also possible that the drama will introduce new audiences to their works.  (Anne Brontë is, I would argue, still unfortunately overlooked in favor of her sisters.)   It’s an intimate glimpse at the lives of the Brontës full of fun historical nods that fans will love to spot.  I just wish we had seen far less of Branwell.

4 stars

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

The trailers for Beauty and the Beast (starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens) indicated that this would mostly be a shot-for-shot remake of the original animated Disney film, but I suspect few movie goers have a problem with that.  When you combine a beloved story, excellent songs, gorgeous visuals, and the star power of Emma Watson, you are surely heading for cinematic gold.  Beauty and the Beast may not surprise, but it delights–and that’s all it needs to do.

The film does flesh out a few parts of the story, adding motivations for the protectiveness of Belle’s father, showing why Belle is such an outcast in her village, and elaborating a little on the Beast’s past.  Some moments in the original story that may have puzzled viewers are explained or modified.  For instance, in the original it’s unclear how a bookseller says in business in a village where the only reader borrows and does not buy books.  This version gives a nod to viewers’ questions by creating a more realistic scenario for Belle to borrow books.

Questions of feminism and how this version would address it and the potential of Stockholm Syndrome surrounded the film before release.  Belle’s character is fleshed out more so that her strength, kindness, and fearlessness are highlighted.  And there is at least one extended scene where viewers can see the Beast’s kindness and the connection he and Belle forge.  Belle also directly addresses her status as a prisoner.  These moments are few and short, however, so that the bulk of the story focuses on the familiar scenes, with a few dialogue changes to keep things fresh or add humor.

However, the story really does not need many changes to be strong.  The makers seem to recognize that the relationships are what really drive the story.  By focusing on the bonds between individuals, whether it’s a father-daughter relationship, a romance, or a friendship, the film finds its heart.  Love in all its forms is supportive and powerful and transformative.  The message may be as old as time, but it is a message that continues to resonate.  No modifications needed.

Movie Review: Castle in the Sky (1986)

castle-in-the-skySummary

When Pazu rescues Sheeta, a girl who falls from the sky, he suddenly finds himself on the run from government agents and pirates.  All of them want the jewel that hangs around Sheeta’s neck, but what mysterious power does it hold?

Review

Castle in the Sky stuns with its gorgeous visuals, its imaginative landscapes, and its fantastical worlds.  The story of a young boy from a mining town and a  mysterious floating girl, it combines a sympathetic look at the working classes and those connected to the land, along with an understanding of the need for humans to fly.  But even as the film revels in the possibilities of exploration and the wonders of technology, it remains grounded in its characters.  Pazu and Sheeta’s bravery and devotion stand at the heart of this story, ensuring that it is not merely visually beautiful but also a thoughtful look at the costs of doing the right thing.

The film begins with mystery and excitement as viewers find themselves witnesses to a pirate raid of an air ship.  A man in a suit seems to guard a girl, but the girl fears him and tries to escape.  Who she is, why she is under protection, and why a group of pirates has attacked will remain unclear for some time.  The film moves to Pazu, a cheerful and hardworking orphan boy who cannot be fazed even by girls falling from the sky.

This mixture of the serious with the everyday gives the film its special charm.  Destruction occurs, lives are lost, and injuries sustained, but the characters travel on.  When life hands you the opportunity to stop a group of villains, you stop them.  No questions asked.  And you’ll want to be sure to bring your workday lunch with you as you go on the run.  No use evading the military on an empty stomach.

This attitude of “everything is normal” helps make the film far less frightening than it might otherwise be.  It also helps that the pirates are fierce but ultimately comedic.  In Miyazaki’s world, there is often hardship, but the majority of people are kind and want to give you a hand, even if you’re a complete stranger.  It’s a beautiful vision, one that enchants me every time I watch a Studio Ghibli film.  Who doesn’t want to live in such a wonderful world?

Castle in the Sky is somewhat longer than other Studio Ghibli films, but it’s well worth the watch.  Beautiful, heartfelt, and just a little humorous, it’s a film that makes you feel better after you’ve watched it.

5 starsKrysta 64

Movie Review: Whisper of the Heart (1995)

whisper-of-the-heartInformation

Director: Yoshifumi Kondô
Writer: Aoi Hiiragi (comic), Hayao Miyazaki, Cindy Davis Hewitt, Donald H. Hewitt
Release: 1995

Summary

Shizuku Tsukishima begins to develop a crush on the boy whose name appears before hers on the checkout card of every book she borrows from the library.  But who is the mysterious Seiji Amasawa?  He can’t be that annoying boy on the bike, can he?

Review

Whisper of the Heart follows the story of an ordinary girl–not particularly beautiful or gifted academically, struggling at home because her parents work too hard to pay much attention to her, desperately wishing for a fairy tale to come true but finding that love is much more complicated than the stories sometimes suggest.  Many a bookworm will recognize themselves in Shizuku, a girl who feels a little different from her peers and worries that her talents will never be enough.

Magic, however, occurs in everyday moments and Shizuku finds herself going on an adventure the day she decides to follow a large white cat.  Through him she meets the friendly owner of antique shop and learns the romantic past of a cat statuette.  Through him she also meets Seiji Amasawa, a boy who dreams of becoming a master violin maker.

Shizuku and Seiji begin a beautiful friendship in which they support and encourage each other as they pursue their dreams.  They are young and hopeful, but also young enough that every setback seems an insurmountable obstacle.  Their growth as individuals as well as a couple is what sets this film apart.

Cute, inspiring, and altogether delightful, Whisper of the Heart is another masterpiece from Studio Ghibli.

5 starsKrysta 64

Movie Review: Moana

moanaSet in ancient Polynesia, Disney’s Moana tells the story of a sixteen-year-old girl who goes on a sea voyage to save her people.  Smart, funny, and full of emotion, this may be one of the greatest Disney films released, not just in recent years, but ever.  The old Disney standbys are there from the animal companion to the wise grandmother to the tension between an adventurous girl and her strict father.  But somehow it all feels new.

Early details about the movie made much of the fact that this Disney princess does not have a love interest.  However, focusing on what the film does not include seems potentially counterproductive to me.  The storyline works the way it is.  Moana is on a mission to save her people.  She doesn’t need a romance and adding one would have felt extraneous.  Where would Moana pick up a man, anyway?  Would the creators have needed to add a subplot where she washes ashore on an island and finds one, in between her doing her saving the world stuff?   That would have surely felt forced.

The film is confident enough that it largely does not need to reference other Disney princess films (though it does land at least one jab at the tropes) to establish itself as doing something different.  And this is the way it should be.  I don’t want to be comparing every minute of the story to Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and Snow White and wondering if Moana did it better or is feminist enough or if it’s somehow significant that a heroine is seen saving the world without a romantic interest.  At least not while I’m watching it–dissection can come later.  Moana‘s strength lies in the fact that it just assumes its heroine’s agency as a matter of course, and does not need to defend it or or use itself as a means of defending Disney’s record of princesses and agency in general.  Yes, the film says, women are smart and strong and funny and they can save the world.  Why would you assume anything else?

The film gets questions about Moana’s abilities out of the way by just assuming she has them, so we can focus on everything else.  The film is filled with an endearing cast of characters, has gorgeous visuals, has perfect comedic timing, and depicts some breathtaking action scenes.  And, of course, there’s the music!  You’ll leave the theatre wanting to learn all the songs, which are integrated seamlessly into the film, but also work well on their own.  Even when I considered that I might want to critique something in the film, such as the villain’s song (which seems stylistically out of keeping with the rest of the music), I just couldn’t.  I love the film too much.  It pulls on your heartstrings in all the right places.

And the heroine’s anthem?  Her final recognition of who she is?  It’s stunning and really the centerpiece of the film.  Moana the character ends her character arc by, again, just assuming that she is strong and capable and knowledgeable.  She declares that she has performed amazingly throughout her journey.  She owns her skills.  I have done this, she says.  To hear a female on screen take credit for her work and be celebrated for it, rather than being labelled aggressive or out of place, is truly an inspirational moment.

So go see Moana!  You won’t regret it!

5 starsKrysta 64