Monday, March 27, 2006

The Hot Topic: Kleenex or Adreneline - A Look at Chick Flicks

After a long hiatus, the Hot Topic is back...and this time we've invited a girl to kick things off.

Within the Sinister Cabal that is, there exists a Double Secret Society of Men. Manly Men, who wear plaid, spit, swear and scratch private parts. These are the Manly Men of Mondo. Their existence has been whispered about and speculated upon and soon, a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks will be released to show the world the truth behind the Mondo Myth. To get to the kernel of that truth took cunning, bravery, and a decidedly feminine touch. I took on the task to infiltrate this conclave, this cabal within a cabal. I brought coasters, doilies, chamomile tea, and a case of beer. Ingratiatingly charming but ready to fling the fucks with the best of them, I am - The Gurl.

From: Mary
To: The Hot Topic Team
Re: Chick Flicks

So, here I am, yakking about movies. A gurl at that, in the midst of the Boys of Mondo, talking about movie preferences based on gender. Well, do I go to see a movie based on the stud appeal of the leading men? No, that's not the driving force. There are a lot of hot leading men out there that I like to look at, but it takes more than that to earn my crumpled, sweaty dollars. So, assuming I'm not seeing a movie for my kids, assuming I'm seeing something just for me, what turns me on? Ah, I dunno. I have been thinking of my favorite movies, and why they remain favorite movies.

Some I like purely for the talking. Tons of dialogue, doesn't have to be witty (though, I love witty too), just deep. Dialogue that provokes conflict, which speaks to some dark part inside me. Take The Anniversary Party. Although some of the more interesting dialogue occurs after the characters have taken ecstasy, I enjoy this kind of slow moving film. Maybe part of the allure is the fine cast, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Alan Cumming (both also wrote and directed the flick) Jennifer Beals, John C. Reilly, Jane Adams, and Kevin Kline. Or maybe I just like talky movies with Kevin Kline. The Big Chill hit me in a big way when that came out. Tons of talking! That's all they did! Oh they had a little sex, did some drugs and played football. Or maybe I just like the movies where they take drugs. Who knows?

But hey, I like action movies too. I don't know if they are just fun to watch, or because it's what you do when you're in a house full of men. The technology has advanced in film making that for me anyway, watching today's Batman Begins or Mr. and Mrs. Smith can be so jaw-dropping. Of course, not to discredit some older action flicks, 1981's Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark was incredible. I remember seeing it with a girlfriend, and the momentum of the movie stayed with me as we left the theater. I wanted to drive very fast afterwards.

A recurrent theme that flows throughout my favorite films is music. I wonder if The Big Chill would have been as great if there were no Motown beats running through it. Would the church scene have been as good without the Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want"? A little film that made it big at Sundance 2004 and across America - Napoleon Dynamite - was a success not only for its writing, acting and directing, but also for its musical scoring. The instrumental "Music for a Found Harmonium" is a piece I have fallen in love with. "Harmonium" is good music on its own, but now, when I hear it, it's forever colored by the sweet last few scenes of Dynamite. And then a decidedly more masculine view is how much I love "Down With the Sickness" by Disturbed in Jet Li's movie, The One.

And that brings me to another point. It seems as if my yang (masculine) is more predominant than my yin (feminine). Or maybe they are equal, but I'm maybe more in touch with my masculine side then other woman? Would that explain my martial arts interests? My propensity for vulgar comedies? My desire to cuss?

Yet there are plenty of typically girly things that I like, movies included. lists a bunch of 'chick-flick' movies. I read through them and to me it could just be a list of any movies with no special gender connection. My reactions ranged from, "eh" to "Yes - LOVED it", to "since when is Lara Croft just for chicks?"

Ultimately, I have movies I like, and movies I don't. A favorite film, You've Got Mail, has some lines that eloquently express the combination of hope and vulnerability of the lead character, Kathleen.

What will NY152 say today, I wonder? I turn on my computer. I wait impatiently as it connects. I go online, and my breath catches in my chest until I hear three little words: You've got mail. I hear nothing. Not even a sound on the streets of New York, just the beating of my own heart. I have mail. From you.

Girly stuff? Yes. Good stuff? Definitely. And I'll beat up any boy who disagrees!

From: Mark Saleski
To: The Hot Topic Team
Re: Chick Flicks

I love "chick flicks". Honest. I really do. They...are...awesome!

OK. OK. That was just a transparent attempt to not get my ass beaten by Sir Mary, resident black belt of the House of Mondo.

Still, the movies that I like to tend to share some of your basic chick flick tendencies: emphasis on relationships and character development, lots of dialog, not so much action.

Some of this, to be sure, comes from my contrarian nature. Working in the software industry, I'm just supposed to be into things like Star Wars, Star Trek, and Lord of the Rings. Nope. Nothing there for me.

Similarly, the "guy movie" is often full of action and violence. Don't get me wrong. I'm not anti any of this stuff. It's just that it's kind of, well, boring. Seriously. When I see a movie trailer and somebody pulls out a large gun, or maybe a building explodes into a ball of flames...I'm just not interested. Why that is, I'm not sure. I guess it's just that none of it feels like it's got anything to do with my life.

Of course, there are counter-examples. What? You want internal consistency? Dirty Harry. Apocalypse Now. Blue Velvet. Terminator II. Pulp Fiction. A Clockwork Orange. Is there a line to be drawn through all of those films? Maybe "purposeful violence." Dunno. It seems to me that you can lose yourself inside the characters in those movies, no matter what kind of ugliness they're experiencing.

Relationships and dialogue: The Big Chill is a good starting point. Add to that Ruby In Paradise, Babette's Feast, Manhattan, Fandango, High Fidelity, and Paris, Texas. The one thing that links all of these completely different movies together is their memoir-ish nature. I love this stuff. Some folks enjoy flinging the label "navel-gazing". To me, observing how others make a way through their lives is endlessly fascinating.

So why do most guys not care about this kind of thing? Or is that a stereotype?

From: Mat Brewster
To: The Hot Topic Team
Re: Chick Flicks

Chick flicks? Quotes from You've Got Mail? Man, who let the girl in here? What kind of Gentlemen's Club lets girls in? Wait, don't answer that question.

So Sir Mary wants to hang with the men of Mondo, and we let her right in the front door. I guess that's okay. I mean we're all enlightened men here. This is the twenty-first century. And it's not like this club is full of big burly men anyways. I mean we're all aspiring writers (and ain't a one of us look like Hemmingway) who sit around debating the merits of organic food, Ryan Adams and Asian cinema.

At least Sir Mary curses like a boy, unlike that girlish Aaron Fleming chap who cries when he chips a nail.

Okay then, so movies are the subject at hand. I can't really say I like flicks that get labeled for chicks or dicks. I'm not really hip to the Norah Ephron romancers or the gun toting, action packed testosterone packages from the Governor of California.

I want to say that I'm an indie film kind of guy, but truth be told, all too many indie flicks are just rotten. The budgets are miniscule, production quality is shoddy at best, the acting is about as good as you'd get in community theatre, and the stories are bloated, convoluted messes.

The heart of my film life lies in directors. Where many people follow actors around, I pant over directors. Let's face it the controlling factor of a film lies in the director's hands. A great cast, and script, and special effects team will still go limp without a good director behind the camera.

Kurosawa, Welles, Truffaut, Scorsese, Bergman, these are the words that tell me a film has potential. Not over boiled marketing terms like "romantic" or "heart warming" or "action-packed" or "thrill ride."

But I'm digressing from my digression. What I'd really like to say is that labels and generalizations don't mean anything. Are there women who love the collected works of Steven Segal? Surely. Are there men who love to sit in a dark theatre with Meg Ryan, Audrey Hepburn and a box of hankies? Most definitely.

I like good movies, whatever that means. I want something interesting and well made. If that takes a story about a group of commandos fighting an alien in the jungle, then fine by me. Or if it means a three-hour drama about a homosexual AIDS patient dealing with the loss of her cocker spaniel, then so be it. In the end I don't care how they market a film, or what labels they throw on the DVD box, as long as the cinema moves, excites, and changes me.

From: Bennett Dawson
To: The Hot Topic Team
Re: Chick Flicks

I'm not much of a "guy flick" kinda guy. I enjoyed the hell out of the Terminator series, but have never had much interest in Rambo or anything starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. I need more than blood an' guts an' fast action to keep my attention, I need PLOT, and intelligent DIALOG, and crafty camera angles that add to the overall feel of the scene.

That said, some flicks are SO girly that I won't even give 'em a chance. My lovely wife has no chance at all of getting me to watch such sappy crap like Bridges Of Madison County or Little Women or An Officer And A Gentleman (gag). Ya gotta draw the line somewhere!

But there is a middle ground in film land, and it's filled with gems that appeal to the inner me, my unique mix of mach-emo, the yin-yang of my center. Borderline stuff like Fried Green Tomatoes, Ghost, Chicken Run, Forest Gump, Little Big Man, True Lies, American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption... Okay, not all of those were borderline examples, but I do love 'em all.

I believe that truly Great films have scenes that lodge somewhere in your brain forever and ever.

It's funny, but one of the best chick-flick/macho-flick comparison scenes comes to you courtesy of Sleepless In Seattle. One of the ladies is weepingly describing how romantically tragic An Affair To Remember is, and the guys in the room use the same weepy, sobby descriptions to tell the story of The Dirty Dozen.

"...An' then (sob) OJ gets shot (weep weep) an' before he (choke) dies, he (sob sob) drops the (weep weep) hand grenade down the (gasp sob) chimney." It's a scene worth watching, even if it comes from an admittedly classic chick flick. Guys, bring a hanky.

But what I really need is more flicks like Fight Club. A masterpiece what grabbed me by the sack with the hottest 15-second sex scene ever printed to celluloid, great acting, amazing screenplay, and masterful cinematography.

Is that too much to ask?

From: Aaron Fleming
To: The Hot Topic Team
Re: Chick Flicks

Hmm, is film taste connected to gender? Stereotypically it is of course, ya know, guys (that is, real men with their hairy chins and...vests and stuff) like the kind of movie that features males with heaving musculature brawling with other males of similar dimensions, and the ladies like it when a mother and daughter have a soul-bonding trip across middle America involving massive increments in Kleenex's profits. Is that indeed the case?

I don't know. Generally I'd sneer off a floating projectile of `meh' in the direction of each of those sub genres. True, if it were a toss up between explosion-laden action flick and weepy true story, I wouldn't waste any time announcing the declaration of "bring on the Lundgren!" At least there'd undoubtedly be a collection of moments where one inept actor is forced to express emotion but fails miserably due to that inextricable lack of talent, or we find ourselves embroiled in some sort of drunken dancing shimmy, where our very essences have been refracted onto the screen in a flash of hand canons
and gatling guns.

I don't envision any such happenings in the weepy, or in the relationship film. When was the last time Meg Ryan decided she would break up with her man (Peter Gallagher or someone) by spouting an assortment of biting one-liners? Or Sandra Bullock went into training under some mystic in order to woo her male conquest? I don't think it happened I'll tell you that much!

As for my own tastes, I'll have to align myself with Mr. Mathew Brewster's inclinations to give more credence to a film's director than any cluster of genre buzzwords. Stick a wonderfully embolden Cronenberg on that flick and I'll be sycophantically wandering around telling all the infidels about how it'll be the film of the year and how it'll blow the metaphors out your very analogies. Look at the symmetry on the `v' in Tarkovsky, or the wonderful shadow below the
`i's in Miike, it's a veritable orgasm of class.

So whether Jean-Pierre Jeunet makes a film about nasty cannibals hanging around a butcher, or a film about how some lovely lady touches the lives of her neighbours, it's all good to me.

From: DJ Radiohead
To: The Hot Topic Team
Re: Chick Flicks

I have all the stereotypical aversions to chick flicks most guys would likely have. Of course, I think most of the action films aimed at men are rubbish as well. A movie whose main ingredients are former wrestlers and giant fucking explosions are about as likely to be shit as a Julia Roberts movie.

Johnny Cash summed up what is wrong with most love songs and love stories whether written or filmed in the liner notes of his Love, God, Murder box set:

What has happened to our love language? We have brought it down to three-minute sound bites - sandwiches in cute words that rhyme. And it's a shame that those love songs are played everywhere with no follow-up kisses to seal the words.

So many of these movies have cheapened the experience and feelings of love. Hollywood makes movies about immature love. I am all for escapism in films. I am all for seeing love and humanity portrayed as it should be or as it could be. However, real love and the love Hollywood depicts are about as different as a wank or dry hump is from making love: the entire time you are going through the motions you find yourself wishing and yearning for the real thing. Your loins will settle for a dry hump but your heart, mind, and soul are not so easily fooled.

Titanic tells the story all wrong and it won thirteen fucking Oscars! Kate Winslet meets Leonardo DiCaprio on a fucking boat and mistakes those intense feelings of infatuation and lust for undying love. The love story of Titanic is not the three hours we spend watching Kate and Leo run around on a sinking-ass boat. The love story is the lifetime Kate Winslet's character spends with the man she later marries and the family they raise together.

Even on the rare occasion when the stories being told are less insipid than the characters telling them, they do not seem real or even believable. I do not know the people in these movies. I love Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer as actors and have enjoyed many of their films. Al Pacino looks only slightly more like an ex-con turned fry cook than Michelle Pfeiffer looks like a waitress trying to escape the pain of an abusive relationship in Frankie and Johnny. Should that matter? Probably not, but it does to me. In what parallel universe is Janeane Garofalo so repulsive she would need Uma Thurman to fill in as her body double to get her a man (The Truth About Cats and Dogs)? Granted, Uma Thurman ain't too bad ugly, but you get the idea.

I guess I sound bitter and I suppose I am. I can attribute this bitterness to a lifetime spent developing well-honed neuroses. I never fancied myself much an object of desire in the eyes of the fairer sex and this was one area where most of the fairer sex seemed to agree with me. Watching a load of beautiful people decry their lack of sex or how they could never meet anyone interesting went up my ass sideways.

I used to feel bad when I watched chick flicks during my single years because they fanned the flames of those well-honed neuroses. I did not feel inspired or touched or moved. I felt cheap and bad and lonely. I do not know why I continued to watch them. I guess I was just bored or I really was that lonely. Caricatures would profess undying love in dramatic language and I was just positive no one would ever feel that way about me.

I was wrong about that. I met the Wife to Whom I Am Married while in college and I experienced love "Hollywood style." Then we grew up and our love grew up and we grew together. That is what Hollywood leaves out and that is what Johnny Cash meant. Love gets so much better than the acrobatic sex acts (not knocking those, by the way) or the roller coaster ride where each and every moment feels 1,000 times bigger and more intense than it actually is. The flames die down but the heat never does.

Maybe that does not make for such a good film but then someone in Hollywood approved the script for Can't Hardly Wait.

From: The Duke
To: The Hot Topic Team
Re: Chick Flicks

It might be that I'm a big ol' poof and a ponce and a nancy-boy girly-girl, but the fact of the case is as follows:

I adore the very sodden guts out "chick flicks".

Or at least the good ones. Because here's the thing, like everyone has said, pretty much, a good film is a good film, whatever genre it fancies itself a part of.

But if we are to assume, as Sir Fleming did, that two flicks are being presented to yours truly, and that I know nothing about them save for the fact that one's called some shit like Zero Degree X and the other's called Two Folks Love For A Time, I'm gonna go with the fella meets the lady and the lady likes the fella but woe! He's married to some filthy whore treats him like a bag o' busted bladders. Dump that ho, I'll say, and get with that woman writes you songs and then sings them to you but pretends they're covers of Sheryl Crow b-sides cause she knows you got a ring on yonder finger.

Also, such a motion picture is more likely to feature Kirsten Dunst and be written and directed by Woody Allen.

I don't think it's a gender thing; it's just a taste issue. It's a damn filthy lie that folks are more likely to wanna see Steven Seagal (with Vinnie Jones as "Henry") blowing shit out a freight-train if'n they've got a willy twixt their pegs. You either dig the smush or you don't, I dunno if a hoo-hah makes any difference.

As Sirs Saleski and Dawson pretty much said, guns and explosions just bore the shit out my belly-pipes. But a shot of two folks holdin' hands side the river, well, most likely that'll have the tears carvin' trenches 'long my jowls and a smile size o' Kansas on my yap.

But if the rest of the flick sucks, well, don't matter how many montages it's got all about he misses her, she misses him, maybe they should put their differences aside and get filthin' again, it ain't gonna save it

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