Friday, June 6, 2008

Are Judd Apatow Movies Sexist?

While rewatching most of Knocked Up last night with my roommate Sky, I noticed something that I hadn't the first time. (For the record, I enjoyed it but didn't think it was that great.)

The female characters aren't very good. Yes, they are funny at times. (Leslie Mann is funny pretty much the entire time.) But they aren't very realistic or given any true depth.

Since there's been talk of sexism in this film as well as Superbad, I thought I'd take a look at recent films associated with Apatow and give my take on whether or not they are sexist.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Well obviously. That's pretty much the point. The film is little more than a parody of the blatant sexism that existed in most workplaces in the 70's.

Still, it gets most of its laughs from making us laugh AT the ridiculous actions of the horny, chauvinistic male characters. And by making Christina Applegate's character a plucky professional who fights back, it avoids being completely sexist.

The 40-Year Old Virgin

Sure there are some one-note female characters (the drunk, the inappropriate older woman, the slut, etc.), but Catherine Keener plays a believable, complicated, emotional (without seeming crazy), well-rounded woman. And her daughter is pretty good too.

I still think this is the sweetest of all his films and the best one that he's personally directed.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

I'm not saying I didn't laugh, but let's examine the female characters: Bobby's mother (the awesome Jane Lynch) is the only one that is semi-believable and not entirely one-note. Leslie Bibb, who plays his wife, is an airhead that clings to money and success. Molly Shannon is a drunkard.

And as much as I love Amy Adams, her role is this film is ridiculous. She appears for like, five seconds, disappears for the entire movie, then shows up to be the love interest.


I have to defend this one a little bit. Yes, the film's main characters are definitely sexist towards women. But I must remind you that they are high school boys. You'd be hard pressed to find a high school boy that ISN'T. Some are more vocal than others, but just wait until they get alone with other guys. Believe me, I've been there.

The two main female characters, while relegated to very little screen time, are actually pretty interesting. We find out one character isn't all about sex and getting drunk. In fact, she doesn't drink. It's not much, I'll admit, but it is interesting.

The other character gets trashed and suddenly turns sexy. Well...tries to be sexy. But vomit isn't so sexy. At least to most people.

It's not as if this take on a character hasn't been done before (see Allison Hannigan in American Pie), but I wasn't expecting it.

Knocked Up

After watching this film again, I have to say that the two main females are pretty ridiculous. Sure Heigl's character is pregnant, but even taking that into account, she's excessively crazy. As my roommate pointed out, part of her reason for breaking it off with Rogen's character is because he didn't read the baby books. But as proven later, she didn't read them either.

Mann's character is a little more believable but is ultimately depicted as someone who loves her husband...and that's it. Everything else she does or says is a response to that. Even in her breakdown scene while trying to get into the nightclub, she's mainly worried about being old because she thinks her husband is leaving her.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

I haven't seen it, but considering that it's a parody of musicians' life stories where they are with a woman and then leave her for another woman, I'd imagine the female roles are pretty shallow.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

I thought it was a pretty believable film, in a weird way. And the two main female characters, played by Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis, are very believable in their actions and well-developed with their motivations.

But considering that the only other female characters are Jack McBrayer's unsatisified horny newlywed and Bill Hader's cloying, naive girlfriend (Or wife? I don't even remember.), the overall female component fails in comparison to the numerous male characters that could have been one-note but are given time to shine.

What really stuck out to me is that ultimately Bell's character is called the "devil," and since we don't really see any resolution, it appears that we are supposed to agree with that assessment. Sure, she cheated, but she seemed genuinely troubled by the pain she had caused and really DID want her old beau back. Branding her as Satan in female form seems a bit harsh.

I don't think you can accuse Apatow of being sexist. Unless sexist means that "his" films don't usually have very well developed or believable female characters. But if that's the case, then almost everyone in Hollywood is sexist.

P.S. I'd really like to see an Apatow film centered around a female lead. I'm curious what he could do with it.

Don't Mess With Eastwood


Recently Spike Lee had some harsh things to say about Eastwood's recent film Flags of Our Fathers. While it's probably true that reporters started the discussion by point-blank asking Lee why Eastwood didn't include any black soldiers in the film, Lee's response went over the line:

"He did two films about Iwo Jima back to back and there was not one black soldier in both of those films," Lee said at the Cannes Film Festival. "Many veterans, African-Americans, who survived that war are upset at Clint Eastwood. In his vision of Iwo Jima, Negro soldiers did not exist. Simple as that. I have a different version."

First off, it should be "either" of those films, not "both," if you want the phrase to be correct. Secondly, where are these upset veterans that Lee is talking about? Do they have a website?

During a recent interview with The Guardian, Eastwood had this to say about Spike Lee: "A guy like him should shut his face."

Eastwood then went on to explain further, which is unfortunate, because it would have been awesome if he had left it at that.

Clint pointed out, as others had done on his behalf prior to his response, that no African-American soldiers participated in the flag raising, which was the central issue of the film.

He then talks about his 1988 film Bird, a biopic about jazz musician Charlie Parker. Apparently, Lee criticized this film back when it was released, essentially saying that it was a limited view of a black performer's life as told by a white screenwriter and a white director.

While I'm all for a discussion of the inequality of race in Hollywood (which undeniable exists), there's nothing gained by critiquing individual films at a time, especially if those films are made by Clint Eastwood.

To hopefully satisfy Lee, Eastwood promised that in his forthcoming film about the life of Nelson Mandela, he would keep Morgan Freeman in the lead role and "won't make Nelson Mandela a white guy."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Category Five: 5 Questions Posed By The "LOST" Finale

I think it goes without saying based on the title, but here's a warning: THERE BE SPOILERS!

#5: Are Jin & Claire really dead?

Both of these questions were actually posed in earlier episodes, but since they went unanswered in the finale, we still want answers. It seems odd to me that they'd reveal two deaths in the "present." Sure, it creates the mystery of what happened to him (I know I was clenching my fists hoping Jin wouldn't be stubborn and stay in the room with Michael.), but it's a gimmick that can't work over and over. Locke's definitely dead, and we want to know why. Jin's situation is still up in the air.

Considering that we never actually saw him die, I think there's a good chance that he's still alive. After all, Sun must be up to something if she's offering to help Mr. Widmore. (The obvious reason would be that she discovered it was Ben's actions that caused the explosion that killed Jin, but "LOST" has never been one for the obvious.)

Claire very well could be dead, but if she is, they handled it in a very strange way. She wanders off (or is lead off) into the jungle and dies somewhere? It's unfair to not at least show something that could imply her death. (At least we saw Dr. Shepard's dead body off the island before he started hanging out in Jacob's pad.)

After Kate's dream I was inclined to believe that Claire was 100% absolutely dead until I remembered that Walt has appeared to people and is still very much alive. (Correct me if I'm wrong, but he's the only live person that's appeared to people like that.)

I'd say the odds are high that only one of them is dead, and my money's on Claire.

#4: Who's where?

Of course, if Jin ISN'T dead, then where the hell is he? And what happened to Faraday and the people in the motorboat with him? Did the island somehow take everyone in the surrounding water with it when it moved, but leave the helicopter?

It's possible that the helicopter was just "out of range," but the boat that blew up was further away. So if Jin (and anyone else on the boat) didn't die in the explosion, he either got transported or drowned, because there was certainly no sign of life later.

If the island DID take Faraday and the boat with them, then it seems like a bad safety device. If people are approaching, and you need to escape, it doesn't really help if you bring them along with you.

#3: How exactly is lying protecting anyone?

I've been wondering this for awhile now, and the finale did little to answer this question. By lying about what happened, the Oceanic Six are preventing the media and...well, the entire world, basically...from investigating and trying to find this crazy island.

But the real threat is Mr. Widmore and his people, and he already KNOWS they are lying.
While I believe they'd lie to prevent an investigation, I don't see how it's protecting them from him. Couldn't he just kidnap and torture them until someone starts talking? (Not that they could really tell him that much, since the island disappeared and all.)

Perhaps the survivors quickly realize this plan isn't working. After all, it's implied that Nadia was killed simply because of her connection to Sayid. But while they're being watched, no one seems to be doing anything about it.

Sure, they could just be waiting to follow them back to the island, but hasn't Mr. Widmore ever considered practicality.

#2: How/why did Locke leave the island?

Given what we saw in the finale, this might seem obvious. He moved the island, perhaps as a necessity to save it from all the "bad things" that happened after Jack and the others left. But that might be too easy.

Obviously this was the biggest cliffhanger of the finale. We want to know what lead to Locke's departure from the island and eventual death. Do other people attack it? Do the Others revolt against him?

I fail to see how the story of Jack and the rest of the six heading back in the present can rival the "backstory" of what went down on the island without them. But the writers have surprised me time and time again, so I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

#1: Did Ben know he was merely a placeholder?

The "Cabin Fever" episode gave us a lot of insight into Locke's story. Ageless Richard visited him when he was a mere boy, but he wasn't ready. This is very similar to young Ben finding Ageless Long-haired Richard in the forest and being told the time wasn't right. Given that Ben and Locke seem to be around the same age, I'm still not sure which of the two encounters came first.

Considering Ben's huge resentment against Locke (testing him, shooting him, leaving him for dead, etc.), it seems that he discovered that it was John's fate to take his place as leader of the Others. And though he seemed perfectly composed when he shot Locke near the end of last season, we know for a fact that he loses his cool from time to time. So maybe he just got jealous.

I think it wasn't until the island healed John, and he did everything he could to prevent the freighter people from finding them that Ben finally accepted that he had to hand over the reins.

There's a chance they'll go into more detail about this, but there's also a chance they won't address it any more. I'm not necessarily saying that I NEED any more details. I just think it was the most interesting revelation of the episode and adds a lot to the mythology of both characters, especially Ben.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Women Wear Pants Too: Kristen Wiig

From time to time, I'll highlight a lady that gets to do more in Hollywood than just play the wife/girlfriend/romantic interest.


There are a lot of people out there that think women aren't funny. I've heard it said a lot that the women on "Saturday Night Live" aren't funny.

After a quick look over the cast list, I can say that Kristen Wiig is EASILY the funniest female cast member the show has ever had. Gilda Radner is a close second. (Tina Fey, who happens to be one of the funniest women on the planet, was a writer, not a cast member.)

But that's only comparing Kristen to other women. I'll take it a step further. She's definitely the funniest and most talented member of the current cast. And I REALLY LIKE the current cast.

Before I barrage you with six million clips of her hilarious SNL characters, let's take a look at some of her other performances. While researching her, I was SHOCKED to discover that she appeared on the first season of Spike TV's "The Joe Schmo Show."

The basic idea for that show was that it was a fake reality show. Everyone was playing stereotypical reality show characters. Except for one guy (the so-called Joe Schmo), who thought it was all real.

Kristen played a quack psychologist who always tried to help people and talk about their feelings. While I don't remember specifics, I remember her being very funny. (Since I own it on DVD, I will DEFINITELY be checking it out again soon.)

As someone who's not a big fan of most reality shows, I loved the way it made fun of them. It easily had the best elimination ceremony in the history of television.

In Knocked Up, Kristen played the jealous coworker of Katherine Heigl's character. Her delivery of the "I was so surprised too" line in the beginning of the this trailer is one of the funniest things in the entire film.

What's great about her is that she can play such a diverse range of characters. And even when she's given a throw-away character, she totally owns it.

My favorite sketch featuring Kristen has her playing a woman who's VERY excited at the idea of throwing a surprise party. Never in my life did I think I would be left crying from laughter because of an SNL sketch that feature Christopher Walken as the straight man.

Okay, okay. I promise that's the last link I'll put in here.

Just kidding.

After seeing the full list of her credits, I realize that there's a lot of films I need to check out if for no other reason than to see her. I hope you'll do the same.

Just Add Money: Cancer Betting

As a writer, whenever I come across an interesting story or experience a unique incident, I find myself pondering how it could best be used in a movie or television show. While I don't plan to give away all my secrets, from time to time I'll give up an outline for free. If you have the money to make it, then you can go ahead and take it.

Take this story for example:

Title: Obviously you've got to have some sort of play on words with the whole idea of gambling. Something along the lines of "Betting the House" or "You Bet Your Life."

This screams "made for TV movie." I really don't see it any other way. Unfortunately, the majority of made for TV movies aren't any good. But if you follow my suggestions, I think you'll have a keeper.

Tone: There's the potential for this to be uber-cheesy, but that does appeal to a lot of the older TV audience out there. Personally I'd rather see it go the route of Wit and be incredibly depressing while also managing to illicit a few laughs.

Story: Introduce the main character. He's a loner and kind of a curmudgeon. Lives next to an orphanage or something similar and is mean to the kids. But we see him secretly do something endearing, so we like him. Then he gets the bad news about the cancer. People hear and try to comfort him, but he pushes them all away, except for one little boy who he makes a strong connection with. Somehow he hears about the possibility of making a bet. He does it because at first he wants the money for something selfish, but as he becomes better friends with the boy, he pledges to give it to the orphanage (or whatever it is).

Ending: While I hope the real life man keeps winning his bet for years to come, the guy in this story has to die. Off the top of my head, I picture one of two things:

1. Everything seems fine, and on the day that he can collect, the boy goes over to accompany him to the bank and finds him dead. It's very sad. But people hear the story and begin to donate money and the orphanage makes more than it would have from the bet and builds something named after the old guy.

2. The old guy gets sick close to the end of the bet. Hospitalized. Doing everything he can to hang on. Probably an estranged family member shows up and has a heartwarming moment. And all of the kids from the orphanage show up with the bet collector people on the day the bet ends, and he signs the stuff over. We never actually see him die, so it's a little less depressing. But schmaltzier.

Ode to an Ad: "The Silence of the Lambs" Poster

After looking at this poster, you're probably confused and disturbed. That's the effect it goes for, and it achieves it with flying colors. It might not tell you anything about the movie, but it does leave you feeling as if you just got some horrible news about a loved one.

This poster asks a lot of questions: Who is this woman? Why is she so pale? What is she staring at? And most importantly, why is there a freaking moth where her mouth should be?

The image has little to do with the film. The movie DOES feature moths. And the mouthless image conjures the idea of "silence." But that's it. It's all conceptual, based on making you feel a certain way instead of telling you anything about the movie.

What you might not have noticed (and probably can't see in this particular picture) is that the "skull" image on the moth is actually made up of a bundle of naked women. Perhaps one of the only instances in history where a group of naked women have made something creepier instead of sexier.


While you may not have known it, it should still come as no surprise that the inspiration for the poster was Salvador Dali. After all, he's basically the king of images that are breathtaking, confusing, and unnerving all at the same time.

The "skull" image on the moth is actually a minaturized version of the above Dali portrait, In Voluptas Mors. Somehow it gets even creepier once it's shrunk down.

Though moths are featured in the film, its use on the poster is most likely a reference to images in Luis Bunuel's and Salvador Dali's surrealist film Un chien andalou, which is most famous (or infamous, really) for the scene where a razorblade cuts open a woman's eyeball. (Second would be the scene where ants come out of a man's hand.)

It was a totally natural fit for the creepy, disturbing content of The Silence of the Lambs to be advertised in the vein of Dali and his love of bizarre creations that make you feel weird inside.


I wasn't a fan of The Descent as a film, but I have to admit that this poster is extremely intriguing. To be fair, it's a straight-up reproduction of the Dali portrait with no real ties to The Silence of the Lambs, but I think we all know that they would have never thought to do this without that poster's existence.

In particular, I like what they did with the face of the one woman that we can see. In the Dali portrait, her mouth and eyes are closed in a feeling of contentment. In the above poster, it's a scream of pure terror.

There's also the idea that something is lurking just out of view, in the shadows on the corners of the poster. But you'll have to see the movie to find out what.


When I first saw this poster I laughed to myself, but that laughter immediately became uncomfortable laughter because there's something profoundly disturbing about this image. I've since decided that it's somehow simultaneously completely idiotic and chilling to the bone.

Clearly this was borrowing heavily from The Silence of the Lambs poster. At first glance it seems normal enough, but after a moment you realize that what you're seeing isn't actually what you're seeing.

I haven't seen this film, but I still feel confident enough to say that I'd rather stare at The Silence of the Lambs poster for an hour and a half than watch One Missed Call.