Tagged: Meek’s Cutoff

Toward a block defended by boys and girls

I finally saw Joe Cornish’s science-fiction social comedy Attack the Block a few weekends back. And I mean, wow. Earlier this year, I tweeted that Kelly Reichardt Meek’s Cutoff deserved the Criterion treatment (and Kristen at Dear Black Woman, promptly called bullshit). Well, I don’t want to compare two very different movies, but Attack the Block might be my favorite movie of this year, edging out Meek‘s and Joe Wright’s underrated, superfun Hanna.

Part of what worked with Attack the Block was Steven Price and Basement Jaxx’s music. Following the Chemical Brothers’ propulsive, outsize work for Hanna, Block‘s score strengthens comparisons to John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 with its frenetic pace, ominous bass, and treble-heavy synth flourishes that ramp up the suspense. Music is also used to hail certain characters and orient the audience to their subjectivities, particularly for hipster stoner Brewis (Luke Treadaway). This follows British film and television efforts with similar investment in contemporary pop music, like Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank and the British TV series Misfits, which made good use of Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance,” Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up,” and especially Wiley’s “Wearing My Rolex” in its first season.

Extending the Carpenter comparison further, Block has some of the smartest, saddest, most bleakly funny commentary about urban blight, disenfranchised youth, and the cancerous effects of institutional racism. Hua Hsu linked the film to last summer’s London riots. The night-black, neon-fanged, fuzzy alien invaders Block‘s South London street gang defend themselves against works as a metaphor for law enforcement’s destructive efforts and lowered expectations of a multicultural youth aggregate they are grooming for incarceration. Leader Moses (star-in-the-making John Boyega) says as much at one point, comparing the monsters to the crack epidemic, which was politically engineered in the 1980s to target and destroy the urban poor. To me, Block‘s monsters also recall the mute black alien in John Sayles’ Brother From Another Planet and the silencing power of racial stereotypes in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. These monsters remind the gang of society’s racist expectations for them and have no regard for their home. They must be destroyed, even if it means cruel casualties from within the ranks (RIP and an avalanche of tears, Jerome). The cops reward their restorative efforts by arresting them for murder and vandalism. History, and hopefully the community, promise an intervention. Sam (Jodie Whittaker), a white female neighbor, reports their innocence and a crowd of young people chant Moses’ name. I remained hopeful of their exoneration through the credits, even though my eyes were full of tears.

Block also reminds me of is Mathieu Kassovitz’s La haine, a French film about three male friends of Jewish, African, and Moroccan heritage who struggle to survive in the banlieues. The points of similarity are fairly superficial. The characters identify strongly with hip hop, perhaps due in part to the constant threat of police brutality, which is reflected in both films’ music and dialogue. Both films also make a concerted effort to note racial and ethnic differences between the characters, as well as contextualize and develop those differences as something beyond problematically labeled “local color” or “flavor.”

The girls on the Block (from left): Dimples (Paige Meade), Tia (Danielle Vitalis), Gloria (Natasha Jonas), and Dionne (Gina Antwi)

A possible point of departure for me, though, is the films’ consideration for women. Not unlike Dick Hebdige’s influential Subculture: The Meaning of Style, Kassovitz’s vision of urban youth is one that ignores women and girls fulfilling anything but an ornamental or maternal role subordinate to their lovers and sons. Block makes some consideration for the gang’s female counterparts. Sure, two of the actresses go unbilled, merely cast to bicker with the boys and braid their hair. But Tia (Danielle Vitalis) and Dimples (Paige Meade) are two girls of color who differentiate themselves by voicing opinion, offering concern, and getting involved with killing the monsters. I cheered at Dimples resourcefulness when she stabbed one of them with her ice skate. Furthermore, Sam’s character undergoes some interesting transformations. A young nurse who is new to the neighborhood, Sam originally views the boys as adversaries after they mug her. But after circumstances require her to work with them, she recognizes their humanity and the ways in which society wants them to fail. Thus her claim of the boys’ innocence to the police at the end of the film is a small triumph, and further suggests the film’s rich, discursive interests surrounding age, gender, race, and class and the power of resistive politics. Not a bad start for an 90-minute monster movie.

I like the Carnie Wilson cameo, but Bridesmaids should have been nicer to fat ladies

Hopefully the inclusion of a certain late 80s pop trio isn’t a spoiler because you already saw Bridesmaids last weekend. Astute followers of SNL alum’s film efforts might note that it isn’t even the first time Wilson Phillips’ big hit made an appearance in one of their movies. “Hold On” is performed twice (two times) in Spring Breakdown, a movie that I maintain is a misguided mess but worth checking out because it’s nice to see Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, Missy Pyle, and Amber Tamblyn be funny in the same place. 

The bridal party; image courtesy of hitfix.com

Maybe Bridesmaids is paying homage to Spring Breakdown with their inclusion of the song like they might be recognizing Laverne and Shirley by setting it in Milwaukee. Regardless, cool that Bridesmaids actually made it into theaters. Better that it’s holding its own at the box office. Shitty that it’s getting trounced by Thor. Unsurprising that Kenneth Branagh’s foray into Aryan porn action movies is completely outside of my purview. I felt like I saw Bridesmaids several times since SXSW by the time my friend Cassandra and I caught a sneak preview last week. Bitch correspondents debated it. Dana Stevens loved it. Arianna Stern liked it. Molly Lambert was excited about it. Rebecca Traister thinks it’s our obligation to see it. LaToya Peterson wonders why Maya Rudolph is the only woman of color in it, an observation that I think has a lot of traction. In short, this one’s been blowing up my radar. 

How do I feel about Bridesmaids? I liked it fine. I didn’t love it and, like Genevieve Koski, I don’t believe it will or should save the chick flick. I’m pretty sure Roseanne is with me when I say that the chick flick is a patriarchal construct. Yes, I’m happy about the cast, Kristen Wiig’s co-writer credit, and the inclusion of Maya Rudolph in anything. I’m also happy about director Paul Feig’s involvement, as he seemed the more feminist-inclined person behind Freaks and Geeks. But at the risk of comparing apples to oranges (or popcorn comedies shepherded by men to cinematic think pieces directed by women) I’m going to see Meek’s Cutoff later this week and I’m totally planting my flag for that one. Accolades from my friend Curran, Rick Levin at the Eugene Weekly, and Caitlin at Dark Room only ramp up my excitement.

Bridesmaids itself is good. It’s a bit too long. Wendy McClendon-Covey and Ellie Kempner are underused. And echoing Annie Petersen‘s comments in a Facebook thread about the movie, the gross-out food poison scene is tacked on (and, since the culprit is Brazilian food, I think it’s also ethnically insensitive). I had a few more not-insignificant problems that I’ll outline below. But overall, I had a good time and recommend it. And Wilson Phillips is in it. Better yet, their cameo is an awesome punch line to a recurring joke about one character’s constant need to one-up Wiig’s protagonist Annie Walker by throwing money around as a means of proving herself to be a good friend. Best of all, Carnie Wilson is still harmonizing (or at least lip syncing) like a boss. Hug your friend and sing along.

I especially like that this movie isn’t about weddings so much as it is a barbed comedy about the ridiculous cultural rituals women go through when they get married. Generically speaking, it has little use for rom-com conventions and is ultimately a buddy comedy. Rudolph’s character Lillian Donovan is getting married to some guy named Doug, but Tim Heidecker (!) only has two wordless scenes with her. Wiig’s easy chemistry with Rudolph, tentative bonding with Rose Byrne, and tough love friendship with Melissa McCarthy takes focus. And unlike The Hangover, which it shouldn’t be marketed alongside, the ensemble doesn’t make it to Las Vegas.

Refreshingly, class is embedded in Bridesmaids‘ critique. Walker can’t afford a designer dress or a Vegas bachelorette party. Yet she feels pressure to spend money she doesn’t have because she wants to appease the whims of the better-off bridal party and perceives herself to be in competition for Donovan’s affections with society wife Helen Harris (played with nary a hair out of place by Byrne). Walker’s class position is drawn in detail. Her bakery recently folded and she’s working at a jewelry store because her roommate and mother (RIP Jill Clayburgh) pulled a few strings. She doesn’t even have the money to fix the broken tail light on her junker. I would have liked a bit more characterization for Donovan so that we understand how she’s more financially stable than her childhood friend, but it’s nice that there wasn’t some clumsy effort to explain her familial background. Her mom is white, her dad is black, and he is not paying for his daughter’s silly white friend’s extravagant vanity project. End of story.

The headache a dilapidated car produces certainly resonates with me. My partner and I are in the process of consolidating vehicles for our Midwest relocation and I’m pretty sure that my car has a busted transmission I can’t really afford to fix in order to sell it. To add to which, our cat has a left-field UTI and treatment is proving very costly. I know I’m less of a fuck-up than Walker and that there are far bigger problems in the world than planning a bridal shower or paying for a cat’s antibiotics. But I certainly know what it’s like to have none of my plans come together or feel like I’m disappointing friends who seem to have better lives than mine. I especially know what it’s like to get in my own way, so I appreciate that Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s script doesn’t let Walker off the hook for her less-honorable actions and gives Harris a little bit of dimension. 

McCarthy makes the most out of a potentially icky situation as Megan, the movie’s Zach Galifianakis stand-in. I do miss her as the crushworthy Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls. Though not a perfect show, it was pretty awesome that St. James was never the butt of any fat jokes. Sure, she was a chef and thus played with food. But she was awesome at her job. Also, she was a total sensualist. Sookie and her husband Jackson had three kids during the show’s run and were always obsessing about things like the integrity of their garden vegetables. You know those two were hand-feeding each other ripe fruit, exotic silks draping their nudity.

Not even exaggerating!; image courtesy of lyriquediscorde.tumblr.com

McCarthy looked like a goddess on Gilmore Girls. Bridesmaids isn’t so kind to her. For one, WB shows bathed their actors in autumnal light. Dawson’s Creek probably had a candle budget. Furthermore, McCarthy’s Megan doesn’t require it. She’s a salty broad working a high-level job in national security who seems to have as little use for make-up as she does Walker’s whining. I’m actually okay with this–or would be more okay with it if the audience I saw Bridesmaids with didn’t seem repulsed by the mere presence of a fat woman. I must give McCarthy credit for essentially walking away with the movie, because she’s very funny here. But I was annoyed that the movie ends with kinky footage of McCarthy simulating a blow job on her boyfriend with a hoagie. Ugh.

This isn’t Bridesmaids‘ only attempt at making fat women seem aberrent and gross. Before Walker moves in with her mom, she has a few scenes with her roommate Gil (Little Britain‘s Matt Lucas) and his sister Brynn (Rebel Wilson). Brynn is depicted as stupid, crass, lazy, racist, and disgusting. This tends to be a problem I have with Lucas’ show, which is often cruel to ugly people and confuses accents and costumes with characterization. These scenes are even more insulting and unnecessary than the orgiastic release of bodily fluids at the bridal shop, if because it’s kind of nice to see women shit and vomit all over bridal wear. These moments really took me out of the movie and I loathe a film industry that thinks they’re necessary to ensure a female-centered comedy’s success. At least they didn’t make Carnie eat a hoagie and I don’t remember if anyone caught the bouquet.