March
21st 2010
International flight film reviews

Posted under: American history, art, childhood, Gender

I don’t really get out much to see new movies–the best I can do is get them on NetFlix and hope that I can manage to stay awake past 9 p.m. to watch them.  So, international travel permits me an almost unparalleled opportunity to watch a variety of recent movies!  Herewith are a few short reviews of the movies I saw (and/or dozed through) on the flight back home from our spring vacation:

  • The Blind SideO.  mai.  Gawd.  I’m shocked that anyone involved in this movie was considered for an Academy Award.  This by-the-numbers plot traffics in some of the worst stereotypes I’ve ever seen in pop culture in my lifetime.  It’s like a bizarro world view of how the U.S. really works, wherein the “bad guys” who threaten the African American protagonist are all black (drug dealers and a rep from the NCAA), and the “good guys” helping the protagonist are all rich, white people (the adoptive family, the tutor they hire, and top U.S. college football coaches.)  One exception:  one white “bad guy” is a high school teacher who dares to assign the young football hopeful a D for his schoolwork!  Yeah, that’s a reasonable representation of how power works in America:  if only the evil high school teachers and drug dealers would yield all of the power to rich white people and let them do whatever they see fit, all of our problems would be solved!  I saw nothing special in Sandra Bullock’s performance of a stereotypical pillar of True Womanhood, although I thought they could have afforded to give her a better dye job.  (How she beat out Gabourey Sidibe for Best Actress is beyond me.)
  • Whip It:  A totally awesome movie about a high school misfit and reluctant beauty pageant contestant from Bodeen, Texas who goes to Austin and becomes a rocking Roller Derby queen, starring Ellen Page, Juliette Lewis, Kristen Wiig, Marcia Gay Harden, Alia Shawkat (“Maeby” from Arrested Development) and Drew Barrymore (who also directed the film), among a bunch of other women actors of all ages.  It’s a great coming-of-age movie, with some of the classic markers of the genre (the first love affair, the confrontation of parental foibles, tensions among friends), but it’s smart and sensitive without being overly sentimental.  If like Tenured Radical you also didn’t like The Hurt Locker because of its simplistic and hackneyed portrayal of masculinity in war and because of its exclusion of women charactersWhip It is the antidote. 
  • The Informant:  Dozed through it, although I noticed that it had an almost exclusively male cast.
  • The Violinist Soloist:  I dozed through it, but Jamie Foxx sure made the most of putting on the full crazzy for the camera.  Man oh man, the Academy sure likes to reward biopics and characterizations of real people (The Violinist Ray, The Blind Side), don’t they?  This is another movie that (surprise!) focuses almost exclusively on male characters.  America really loves seeing stories about nice, white people helping out poor black people, don’t we?  Why is that?  (Dr. Mister saw the whole thing–he said it was incalculably better and more complex than The Blind Side.)
  • Precious:  Just kidding.  Do you really think Delta Airlines–or any other airline–is going to pick that as an in-flight movie?  Not in a million years!

An incredibly adventurous friend of mine decided a few years ago at the age of 42 to join a team that skates in the Detroit Derby Girls league.  (When she was deciding on her derby name, I voted for “Helen Surly Brown,” but I don’t think that’s the one she went with.)  I learned a lot about the modern roller derby demi-monde through hearing about her experiences.  (You gotta respect a sport that chronicles its injuries in such loving detail.)  Do any of you have experience either watching or participating in roller derby?  It looks like a blast–but I’m too much of a chicken myself.  (Especially after my friend blew out her knees after one season with the DDGs!)

24 Comments »

24 Responses to “International flight film reviews”

  1. digger on 21 Mar 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    You’ve convinced me to finally rent Whip It. I’ve not been to a Roller Derby (though I’ve watched some of it on YouTube). I’d go in a heartbeat! The team up in Ithaca, NY near Seneca Falls are the SufferJets; apparently they incorporate discussions of suffrage into their public outreach stuff. How cool is that?

  2. thefrogprincess on 21 Mar 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    Actually, The Soloist got no love from the Academy; Jamie Foxx got his Oscar for Ray. Same thing though…

    And are we really surprised Sandra Bullock got an Oscar over Gabourey Sidibe? Wake me up when beautiful, large, dark-skinned black women start getting awards in something other than the supporting categories. But it wouldn’t surprise me if Virgin Atlantic puts Precious on their in-flight menu. They don’t shy away from anything on that list.

  3. Comrade PhysioProf on 21 Mar 2010 at 3:15 pm #

    I haven’t seen a movie in fucking years (and like it that way), so I don’t know about any of these. However, based on multiple reviews of the movie Blind Side, I can tell you that the book is much less full of shit. It presents a nuanced view of the motivations and actions of the white christian peeps: complex individuals with both decent and despicable aspects, not as white angels saving a black kid from a horrible life of blackitude.

  4. thefrogprincess on 21 Mar 2010 at 3:17 pm #

    Actually I just checked b/c your question got me thinking: Virgin Atlantic is indeed playing Precious on their flights this month.

  5. Comrade PhysioProf on 21 Mar 2010 at 3:17 pm #

    It seems that some of the roller derby players have missing front teeth. Are those injuries from face-planting on the rink?

  6. Indyanna on 21 Mar 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    I grew up watching the New York Chiefs skate against their bad-boy/girl rivals from the other coast, the Bay Area Bombers. Then the whole sport died, before being reincarnated in somewhat different cultural dress many years later. This was in the day of jai-alai frontons in coastal Connecticut, and a show called “Home Run Derby” filmed in black and white on what must have been a high school baseball field with distant fences, but real time big major league stars who must have needed the extra $100 or so you got for winning.

  7. Indyanna on 21 Mar 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    p.s. Speaking of Sufferjets, Historiann, while you were gone, the town/village of Seneca Falls apparently voted itself out of political existence, through some sort of local government agency merger with its surrounding township, also named Seneca Falls. This is sad.

  8. Historiann on 21 Mar 2010 at 5:45 pm #

    thefrogprincess–thanks for pointing out my errors–I’ve made the corrections above. (Jet lag–sorry folks! And, like I said: I was dozing during The Soloist.) I’m very surprised that Virgin Atlantic is showing Precious–good for them. (I wonder if it’s because it’s not a U.S.-based company? It seems like airplane movies are calculated to satisfy the broad and undiscerning middle. Or at least not to pi$$ travelers off if it can be avoided.)

    Love the name “SufferJets.” Love it!

    Seriously–go see Whip It. Anyone who reads this blog will dig it.

    Indyanna: whatever happened to jai-alai? I remember taking the train back and forth between Boston and Philadelphia in college in the late 80s and seeing those jai-alai palaces from the train at almost every other town during that long, slow slog through Connecticut. What the heck is it anyway–some kind of indoor lacrosse, or team racquetball or something?

  9. thefrogprincess on 21 Mar 2010 at 5:53 pm #

    I think two things are going on with Virgin Atlantic. First, it’s a British company so they’re working with looser standards of what can be shown. (I also noticed that Precious is rated 15 in the UK, not 18, which is more in line with our R rating.) But Virgin Atlantic’s big selling point is the sheer number of movies (60+) and tv shows you can access so there’s something for everyone.

  10. Bronwyn on 21 Mar 2010 at 5:55 pm #

    I initially tried Roller Derby exactly for the reasons you listed: It was a cool, different athletic sport where physical contact was okay, you could take on a persona, it was a DIY culture, and it did not require years of previous sport experience, unlike, say many of the women’s rugby/netball tournament league in NZ.

    However, all of these pluses became minuses. Major injuries are common largely because a) a large number of incoming players are not even at a passable level of health to take on the demands of Derby, which are dumped on you pretty quick and hard and b)at the moment, no one has really sat down and figured out what actually constitutes good derby training in terms of the physical aspect. Most exercises are hold-overs from the 1970′s or taken from other sports with the added challenge of being on skates.

    What most incoming skaters do not anticipate, and what isn’t made clear in Whip It, is that in order to make the team that actually participates in bouts, is that it requires ~ 500$ investment in skates, wheels, safety gear, and 6-8 hours a week at practice alone. It is a major time and money committment and teams will not think twice about dropping you if you miss more than one or two practices.

  11. Indyanna on 21 Mar 2010 at 6:04 pm #

    jai-alai is more of a ball-and-wall game, comparable to say handball, except that you use these gigantic wicker basket-like extensions of your hand that are sort of gracefully-curved and strangely bird-like in aspect, and they achieve tremendous accelleration of a small and very hard ball. I believe it’s a Basque thing, and that the old wampum frontier in Connecticut and somewhere in Florida are/were its two major U.S. hearths. I have a colleague who is Basque-descended, so I’ll ask hir.

  12. Digger on 21 Mar 2010 at 6:08 pm #

    Indyanna, I was surprised they voted the Village out of existence, especially given how many of the details of the merger with the Town were along the lines of “we’ll figure it out later.”

    For what it’s worth, the Seneca Falls Village Historic District remains.

  13. Historiann on 21 Mar 2010 at 6:23 pm #

    Bronwyn–thanks for your insider’s view. What I liked about the movie is that it seemed to capture that moment when a team or league tips from being a pasttime that serves as an excuse to play and drink beer (as the Hurl Scouts appear to operate at the beginning of the movie), and when a team gets serious and starts to train and be more competitive. I wonder if that’s what’s going on with roller derby in a lot of towns now–the beer-drinkers may in the end yield to people who can train 6-8 hours a day and make it their principle occupation.

    thefrogprincess: ahhh–so Precious would be something that’s an option among many, not something beamed on communal screens. (I think U.S. airlines stick to G and PG-rated flicks because of this.)

  14. rootlesscosmo on 21 Mar 2010 at 6:57 pm #

    Bay Area Bombers
    Their local matches at the Cow Palace in San Francisco were shown on local TV in the 60′s–Ann Calvello, the team star, was a very popular skater. I had the impression at the time that the fights and rivalries and even final scores were pre-arranged, as in pro wrestling; I know I never heard of anybody taking bets on Roller Derby events, but maybe I was just going in the wrong bars.

    And: I see that album cover lists the Jaynetts. “Sally Go ‘Round the Roses” is my favorite of the Girl Group hits of the early 60′s, which means I like it even better than “Nowhere to Run,” and that’s saying a lot. Highly recommended.

  15. Indyanna on 21 Mar 2010 at 9:30 pm #

    Re “Surly” Brown: The legendary Josephine “Ma” Bogash was 47 when she started with the Derby back in the Depression, and she skated for years. We never heard of Ann Cavello; we just thought the Bombers came in from outer space. Geraldine “Gerry” Murray was the NY Chiefs’ champion-goliath, and her big battles were with Midge “Toughie” Brahsun, who captained the Brooklyn Red Devils. There was a lot of WWF to it, for sure, but I think the rivalries and athleticism were real. The best part was when the attacking team joined hands to “whip” a skater past the blocking “jam” up front. Is that what the title of the movie reviewed above comes from?

  16. Level Best on 22 Mar 2010 at 9:44 am #

    “(How [Sandra Bullock] beat out Gabourey Sidibe for Best Actress is beyond me.)”
    Answer(s): She’s white, skinny, and obviously knows the right people in Hollywood.

  17. John S. on 22 Mar 2010 at 10:04 am #

    @CPP: FWIW, Michael Ober (the football player protagonist of the Blind Side) refuses to read the book or see the movie. Apparently, after having friends read the book and describe its contents to him, he became convinced that it portrayed him in too negative a light (helpless and weak before the white family comes to save him, etc.). From the sound of that, I think it’s fair to say that his response to the movie might be worse. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, so I can’t say if that’s entirely fair. But I find it interesting that he’s uncomfortable with the entire project.

    @Level Best: That’s true about Sandra Bullock, but I wouldn’t discount the general “this is the story Hollywood likes to tell” factor. Think of SB’s other Oscar winning movie: Crash. To my mind, this is one of the worst movies ever to win Best Picture. But its embrace of cheesy faux-liberal racial platitudes (along with the Academy’s Brokeback Mountain problem) pushed it over the top. Her presence in both these movies suggests that Bullock may just have that perfect sense for picking the “feel good” stories voters love.

    (But some may disagree with my review of Crash. My departmental colleague who teaches the history of race in the US loves the film, calling it “profound.” S/he even teaches it in class. So, YMMV.)

  18. Historiann on 22 Mar 2010 at 10:20 am #

    John S.: (The protagonist of The Blind Side was Michael Oher.) Interesting that he distanced himself from both the book and the movie–they show him in media clips at the end of the movie. (And he’s MUCH better looking than the actor who plays him! How often does that happen?)

    Level Best and the frogprincess (yesterday)–I should have perhaps noted that my supposed bewilderment about how Bullock beat out Sidebe was sarcastic. The Oscars are all tres politique, aren’t they?

  19. John S. on 22 Mar 2010 at 11:25 am #

    Ah, my bad on the name! I neglected to use that most basic of research tools (according to my students), Wikipedia! I read about Oher’s feelings on this in an NY Times article from either the tail end of 2009 or beginning of 2010–after the movie’s release, while the Ravens were in their playoff push.

    I wonder if him distancing himself from the film in 2009-10 has to do with the relative popularity of books versus movies in America. I mean, it’s one thing to have Michael Lewis write about your story in a book, it’s another for your life story to appear in a major movie. Many more people learned about Oher through the latter than the former. Maybe Oher had seller’s remorse by the time his narrative made it to the big screen? It may just feel different when millions of people “know” about you and how you needed saving by the white lady (Sandra Bullock). Not nearly so many read the book, I am sure.

    (I also wonder, BTW, what kind of money Oher made, if any, when the Blind Side when from page to screen. I suspect–but don’t know–that Lewis pocketed the dough himself. Shouldn’t the subjects of a film like this get some remuneration? What are the ethics here?)

  20. Kathie on 22 Mar 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    I haven’t seen The Blind Side, but I wondered if Bullock benefited in the Academy voting by a kind of vote splitting, where votes were otherwise divided four ways between two older more experienced actors (Streep and Mirren) and two newbies (Sidibe and Mulligan), and Bullock ended up winning. I think all four of the others were better received by critics. I realize that votes are always distributed oddly, but the particular set of 5 female actors this year made me think that Bullock was the odd one out, and then she won. Being skinny and white were certainly not the only criteria, though knowing the right people was probably a factor.

    I loved Whip It, my daughter highly recommended it, and then I was able to watch it with one of my sisters; we all thought it was great and greatly under appreciated. Good job, Drew Barrymore!

    I also wanted to agree with John S.’s assessment of Crash as a terrible movie, which my circle of Los Angeles residents particularly resented for its fantasy view of LA in general and LA race relations in particular. And I despised The Hurt Locker for similar reasons – bad story telling, ridiculous dialogue, and completely unrealistic concerning the actual life experience of the people being shown.

    But since when has reality had anything to do with the movies? I should know better by now.

  21. Kathie on 22 Mar 2010 at 12:43 pm #

    Oh, and I should have mentioned The Soloist, which I quite liked. It was based on real people and a real story in Los Angeles, but while it deviated a bit from the real story, it didn’t travel quite as far down the fantasy trail as some other films.

  22. thefrogprincess on 22 Mar 2010 at 2:33 pm #

    Historiann, I figured you were being somewhat sarcastic but I just wanted to drive home the point about how Sidibe never had a chance. The reports I heard said that if Bullock didn’t get it, Meryl Streep would, so Gabby was never in the running.

    You and I also completely agree about Michael Oher being significantly more attractive than the actor.

  23. cgeye on 23 Mar 2010 at 9:50 am #

    Oh, dear, the tipping point’s already reached. The sport’s been invaded by ex-Olympians (which was noted in WHIP-IT through Zoe Baird’s character), either through ice, hockey or speed skating. Lots of teams now have a speed skater as jammer, which means either evolving a strategy involving more speed or extra-slow packs — and either strategy creates rifts between fans who just want an excuse to watch skimpily-clad chix while drinking PBR, and those who want the game to evolve.

    Heavy sports management’s getting involved, too. Both Denver teams have contracts with the big firms for their venues, and WFTDA’s holding its breath to see if other teams can make the leap.

  24. Indyanna on 28 Nov 2010 at 8:47 pm #

    (Verrry) belatedly to report that I was up in Ithaca last week, for the first time in an epoch, and the SufferJets have now been joined by a second squad, the BlueStockings. The Ithaca League of Women Rollers seems to be at the epicenter of a kick-ass local or grass roots culture of the sport that extends from Rochester through Syracuse to at least Utica. The Burned Over District may be flaring back to life, who knows?