Saturday, January 28, 2006

The challenge of the rom-com

The romantic comedy takes place between the meet (usually "cute") and the happily ever after. In between, the movie's job is to get us rooting for the couple while it comes up with entertaining ways to keep them apart long enough for us to finish our popcorn and well enough that we feel that they've earned that happy ending. Two traditional rom-com set-ups are immediate conflict (Bringing Up Baby, where a character summarizes the meta-theme of romantic comedies: "The love impulse in men frequently reveals itself in terms of conflict.") and what I call the "boy who cried wolf" theme, where someone tells a lie and gets deeper and deeper, afraid to tell the truth to the trusting soul he/she now adores. The first catgory ("African Queen," "My Fair Lady," "It Happened One Night," "Moonstruck," "When Harry Met Sally") depicts the sparks and the chemistry while the second ("Some Like it Hot," "Roman Holiday," "Guys and Dolls") is a metaphor for the conflicts we feel as we reach for intimacy and authenticity but resist the vulnerability. In dramas, we often see the barriers of family ("West Side Story," "Slpendor in the Grass") or history ("Casablanca"). But romantic comedies are usually about overcoming initial dislike or becoming more honest.

Two pre-Valentine's Day romantic comedies show how difficult it is these days to find some believable reason for keeping apart two people who are obviously (from the opening credits if for no other reason) meant to be together at the end of the movie. "Something New" is something old -- a very traditional "how will I know my love" plot with just one 21st century twist. The heroine is a black woman who is uncomfortable with the idea of a white boyfriend. (There is some reference to her wanting a professional man, but he is an architect even though he digs in the mud, so the real reason is race.) He is impossibly perfect, endlessly devoted and undemanding, which makes this more of a chick flick than a date movie. But Sanaa Lathan's performance has us rooting for her all the way.

The other movie is "Imagine Me & You" and its trendy twist is that the heroine leaves the man she thought she loved for the female florist who decorated her wedding. But the real departure is not the gender of the loved one -- it is the violation of the "almost" rule of comedy. Brides are supposed to run away just before the "I now pronounce." In this film, she goes through with it, one of several reasons that keep it from achieving the spirit of lightness and possibility that are essential for any romantic comedy, no matter what the gender of the couple.

Internet Entertainment Writers invite you to vote

We nominated; now it's your turn to vote.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I guess this explains the Three Stooges (also football, boxing, and the WWE)

A Nature study shows that men's and women's brains respond differently to seeing someone get hurt.  "At some level the study proves for the first time in physical terms what many people assume they already know: That women are generally more empathetic than men and that men are more prone to schadenfreude - malicious joy when faced with another's misfortune."

MPAA Physician: heal thyself

Can it be that the anti-piracy Motion Picture Association has itself pirated the documentary that ctitizes its rating system? Goose/gander and pot/kettle comments welcome. (Thanks to Jim Judy for suggesting this link.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sundance Producer Examines Film Ratings - Yahoo! News

Kirby Dick's new movie, "This Film is Not Yet Rated" does to the MPAA ratings system what "Super Size Me" did to Big Macs. About time.

Friday, January 20, 2006

'End of the Spear" interview

My interview with Steve Saint and Mincaye, who inspired the movie "End of the Spear," is up on Beliefnet.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

"Climate neutral" production for "Syriana"

The makers of "Syriana" put their money where their mouth is by making the production "climate neutral," offsetting their environmental impact with investments in renewable energy. I forsee a day when movie credits will include an environmental certification like the one they currently have for their treatment of animals, a sort of "no planet was harmed in the making of this film."

Here's the press release:

SYRIANA Fights Pollution with Renewable Energy

Warner Bros. Pictures, Participant Productions and NativeEnergy
challenge Hollywood to follow their lead

LOS ANGELES (January 18, 2006) ­ In a groundbreaking move, Warner Bros.
Pictures and Participant Productions have made Syriana, a multi-layered
political thriller about the global oil industry, the first major motion
picture to be "climate neutral" by offsetting 100% of carbon dioxide
emissions generated by the production during filming ­ an estimated 2,040
tons ­ with investments in renewable energy. Investments will be made in
wind and methane power and, specifically, in projects that may not otherwise
happen without this support.

NativeEnergy worked with Syriana's producers to calculate the amount of
carbon dioxide emissions from all of Syriana's production activities,
including filming, air travel, rental car and truck emissions, hotel energy
use, diesel generators used on location, office and warehouse energy use,
and emissions from shipping. NativeEnergy then offset those emissions by
purchasing renewable energy credits, or "green tags," from renewable energy

Investments are in two projects ­ the construction of a family dairy farm
methane generator and a wind farm in the Midwest. The wind farm is on Native
American land and is Native American owned. In addition to clean energy,
the wind farm will create jobs and revenue streams for the tribes from the
sale of electricity and the green tags.

Warner Bros. Pictures and Participant are bringing critical revenues to the
projects up front, contributing directly to their development and
construction. Renewable energy sources such as wind and methane provide
clean electricity and reduce pollution by displacing energy that would
otherwise have to come from fossil fuels like coal and oil. By making these
investments, Warner Bros. Pictures and Participant Productions are reducing
global warming emissions equivalent to eliminating 4 million average car

In the past, film producers and actors have planted trees to sequester
carbon emissions from production activities in order to make their films
carbon neutral. Syriana is the first to offset 100% of its carbon footprint
with new renewable energy projects, which will reduce the nation¹s reliance
on fossil fuels while helping Native American tribes and family farms
operate sustainable businesses in balance with the earth.

"Embarking on this project gives us an opportunity to both learn about and
educate the public about our air pollution and climate impacts from using
energy and fuel, as well as available alternatives for investing in and
promoting clean energy," says Shelley Billik, Vice President, Environmental
Initiatives, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. "Measuring one's footprint is
also a great way to learn about reducing energy and fuel consumption in the
first place. We hope that other studios and productions will embark on
similar projects."

"We took the initiative in making this film climate neutral because it is
the right thing to do and it is in keeping with our mission," says Meredith
Blake, Executive Vice President for Corporate & Community Affairs,
Participant Productions. "Participant exists to use films as a means for
social change and this is one more way we can lead by example and help to
bring awareness to the industry that offsetting carbon dioxide emissions is
a viable option."

Tom Boucher, NativeEnergy President & CEO, says that the film industry is
playing a leadership role that others will surely follow. "We hope that
Hollywood, businesses, and audiences everywhere will follow this example and
help fight global warming by diversifying our energy supply with clean,
renewable energy projects they actually participate in getting built,"
Boucher says.

Unless we take steps to reduce our global warming emissions, scientists say
that rising temperatures will lead to droughts, extreme weather, and rising
sea levels ­ endangering our safety, economy, and national security. "Global
warming is one of the most significant problems facing our planet, and
Participant believes that everyone ­ corporations, individuals and
governments ­ has a role to play," says Blake. "Making our films climate
neutral is an example of something we can do to reduce our impact on the
planet, leading the way to positive change."

About Participant Productions
Founded in January 2004 by Ebay pioneer and philanthropist Jeff Skoll and
headed by Ricky Strauss, Participant Productions' projects focus on
compelling entertainment that highlights important social issues so as to
awaken, inspire and empower audiences to make a difference. In addition to
Syriana, Participant¹s films include: Good Night, and Good Luck. produced
with 2929 Entertainment, directed by George Clooney, and starring Clooney,
David Strathairn, Patricia Clarkson and Robert Downey, Jr.; North Country
directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider) and starring Charlize Theron, Frances
McDormand and Sissy Spacek. Participant documentaries include the acclaimed
Murderball in partnership with THINKFilm and MTV Films; and the upcoming The
World According to Sesame Street.

About NativeEnergy
NativeEnergy is a national marketer of renewable energy credits or "green
tags," offering individuals and organizations a means to compensate for
their global warming pollution, or to effectively power their homes and
businesses with renewable energy. NativeEnergy's patent-pending business
process brings upfront payment to renewable projects for their future green
tag output, enabling its customers to help finance the construction of new
wind farms and other renewable energy projects, such as tribal wind projects
and methane digesters on Pennsylvania family dairy farms, which directly
reduce our reliance on fossil fuels to meet the nation¹s electricity needs.
NativeEnergy also offers Green-e certified green tags from operating wind
farms. Online at: .

Media Mom column on gender "humor"


Homophobic 'humor' is too widespread in kids' media

By Nell Minow
Special to the Chicago Tribune
Published January 19, 2006

Several movies released in the last part of 2005 had sensitive, understanding and compassionate portrayals of gay and transgendered characters: "Brokeback Mountain," "Rent," "The Family Stone" and "Breakfast on Pluto."

So why is it that so many films made for children and teens feature casually homophobic humor?

In one of this season's PG family comedies, a princessy teenager played by the wholesome Hilary Duff is annoyed at her pesky younger sister.

In the old days, Big Sis might have called Little Sis a brat. But in "Cheaper by the Dozen 2," the insult of choice is, "Whatever, Butch!" Later in the same movie, two warring fathers are mistaken for a gay couple, a situation viewers are expected to find wildly funny.

It's bad enough that this kind of "humor" is offensive as a matter of taste and tolerance, but what parent wants to explain to an 8-year-old what the "butch" comment means, or why it is supposed to be funny that one man has his arm around another man's shoulders?

This is the place where the ratings board run by the Motion Picture Association of America is at its worst, because it does not take humor seriously. Material that would get a PG-13 or an R in a drama gets a PG or even a G in a comedy.

This means that parents are not adequately warned about material that raises two issues of concern. First, it raises issues of gender and sexuality that many parents would not consider appropriate for children. The light-hearted insults in these films can even make it harder to have a thoughtful conversation with children about those issues because they reinforce a very limited notion of what is "normal."

Second, it suggests that it is permissible to make fun of people who are gay or who do not conform to the most narrow definitions of what it means to be male or female.

In the recent PG "Yours, Mine & Ours," it is supposed to be humorous that one of the young sons of a free-thinking mother is a junior "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," advising his mother about fabrics and trim on the purses she designs.

At least her view of him is loving and accepting. Later in the film, when the older children want to come up with the prank that would most upset their straight-arrow father, their idea turns out to be dressing up two 4-year-old boys in girls' clothes and having them talk about tea parties.

"Raise your hand if your brother's a homo!" is a frequent punch line in "Just Friends," a current PG-13 release directed at teenagers. This is a high schooler's insult to his twenty-something brother because the elder brother has failed to "boink" the girl he likes.

Even the darling Disney animated "Chicken Little" has "sissy" humor, when the mother of the high-strung and fearful pig character threatens to take away his Barbra Streisand collection as a punishment. More troubling, the outspoken "mean girl" in the movie, an outstanding athlete, is transformed into a sweet, ruffle-wearing stereotypical girly-girl. At the end, we see her happily dancing with the pig.

Other characters in the film make mistakes and find their way toward becoming more grown up, but only she undergoes such a complete (and presumably humorous) transformation. It would be fine to see her learn her lesson and become more considerate, but the implication here is that she has had to relinquish her strength, competence, independent spirit -- and overalls -- in order to do so.

It's unlikely that these themes and portrayals will create any confusion in children or teens about their own sexual orientation.

But they may create other kinds of confusion, for they send troubling messages about gender roles and even more troubling messages about the way we treat those who do not conform to the traditional models.

Movies, television, and popular music help children and teenagers determine the definitions of manhood and womanhood, and all too often they focus on the extremes. They show us men who keep all of their emotions inside, demonstrating manhood through physical courage and power. And they show us women who are softhearted and seldom rely on their wisdom and judgment to solve problems, achieving power through their beauty, vulnerability and sexuality.

These depictions can be especially appealing to children and adolescents who often cling to absolutes for a sense of security as they move toward growing up.

Parents need to make sure that children and teenagers see images of characters who show some emotional vulnerability along with physical and intellectual power. Books of stories like "Tatterhood and Other Tales" (edited by Ethel Johnston Phelps), "The Outspoken Princess and the Gentle Knight" (edited by Jack Zipes); the "Redwall" series of novels by Brian Jacques; and movies "The Court Jester," (1956 comedy starring a wonderful cast including Danny Kaye), "The Great Race," (1965 comedy featuring Jack Lemmon among the Hollywood "names") and the current "Chronicles of Narnia" are the sorts of family fare that show male and female characters who are strong, resourceful, and empathetic.

But for kids, no film or book can top what matters most: the behavior they observe at home. Parents should avoid using words like "sissy" and "tomboy," and they should openly object to jokes that make fun of someone's gender or sexual orientation.

Teenagers today, even those who consider themselves sophisticated supporters of homosexual classmates, often use "gay" as an all-purpose insult. This is an age group that responds better to questions than reprimands, so it may help for parents who hear this kind of language to ask -- sincerely -- why the term is considered appropriate and not bigoted.

Families also can discuss the way that rap music has often included offensive homophobic references as a part of its macho bluster. They certainly should talk about rap superstar Kanye West's challenge to all rap performers to stop mindlessly using anti-gay insults in lyrics.

In an interview on MTV in 2005, West explained that he became homophobic when he was younger because he was called "fag" and "mama's boy" in school, but, in part because he has a gay relative, he realizes how wrong and hurtful those gangsta definitions of masculinity can be.

And since we're not likely to get rid of humor that depends on stereotypes any time soon, the most important defense parents can provide is this: teaching children and teenagers that one core attribute of being a man and a woman is respecting the honor and dignity of others who are different.


Nell Minow reviews movies each week for Yahoo! and for radio stations across the country. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Stinkers - The Ultimate Bad Movie Awards

Those of us who sit through a lot of very bad movies get some revenge once a year with a chance to vote for The Stinkers - The Ultimate Bad Movie Awards.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Fake Products and the Movies That Loved Them - New York Times

I remember every one of the movies in this wonderful article from the New York Times about the movies' take on advertising. The 1950's in particular produced some wonderful satires on marketing and consumer culture, partly as a way for the movies to fight back against their new rival, television. The one film left out of this terrific list is "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" the most outrageous of the bunch, starring Tony Randall and Jayne Mansfield.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

BFCA awards kick off the season

The Broadcast Film Critics announced their Critics' Choice awards last night, with "Brokeback Mountain" the big winner (best picture, best director, and best supporting actress). In the new category of best comedy, the winner was "40 Year Old Virgin." Statistically, these have been the most accurate predictors of the Oscars. And the winners are:

Brokeback Mountain

Philip Seymour Hoffman – “Capote”

Reese Witherspoon – “Walk the Line”

Paul Giamatti – “Cinderella Man”

Amy Adams – “Junebug”
Michelle Williams – “Brokeback Mountain”


Ang Lee – “Brokeback Mountain”

Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco – “Crash”

“Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”

Freddie Highmore – “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”

Dakota Fanning – “War of the Worlds”

The 40 Year-Old Virgin

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Into the West

Kung Fu Hustle

“Hustle & Flow” – performed by Terrence Howard, written by Al Kapone – “Hustle & Flow”

Walk the Line

John Williams – “Memoirs of a Geisha”

March of the Penguins

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The endless fasacination of awards minutia

I don't much care who wins the awards but I do enjoy the scrambling for anything resembling a worthwhile detail on the way there. The Envelope is ground zero for this stuff. Jon Stewart is a great choice as Oscar host. Oh, and I sent in my ballot for the Critic's Choice awards this evening, so I get a special kick out of seeing it edge closer and closer to the Golden Globes as the most credible pre-O indicator. Be sure to watch the show!

Terrence Howard Gets Three Black Reel Nods - Yahoo! News

The Black Reel nominations are in -- with three nods to Washington Area critics' breakout star Terrence Howard. I was lucky enough to be invited to vote on these nominations and I am delighted by the way they came out.

Monday, January 02, 2006

ROTTEN TOMATOES: Bombs to the Bomb Special Feature

If the swarm of Oscar-prediction websites obsessing over all over the hothouse/arthouse critics' darlings has you feeling claustrophobic, the folks at Rotten Tomatoes have just what you need -- ROTTEN TOMATOES: Bombs to the Bomb, a delicious re-look at some of the year's worst movies to recast them (not, alas literally) as awards-bait. I loved it even though it includes "Supercross" -- which I gave one of its 2 (out of 55) positive reviews (and then completely forgot).

I also loved this year's Slate Movie Club discussion, always the year's best, most provocative, and most purely entertaining round-up (even if they do spend too much time on the "no one's ever heard of this movie and it only had one showing at the East Grinstock Film Festival and Bake Sale and it's in !Kung without subtitles but has a transcendent performance and a piercing depiction of government inhumanity and family dyfunction"-type films). It's smarter and more fun than most of the movies it covers.