ChickFlicking – A Reflection Brought on by Sci Fi (Nadia Sandhu)

The Monsters and Martians Science Fiction Film Festival recently showcased the festival sensation “Dimensions,” a film which has been wracking up Best Film and Best Director Awards from science fiction film aficionados the world over (Best Film at 2012 London Independent Film Festival, Boston International Science Fiction Film Festival, and Long Island Science Fiction Film Festival)

However, despite this pedigree my male blogging colleagues showed no interest in attending the screening or reviewing the film – even though most of these same gents were at Fan Expo this weekend, a convention that science fiction built.  So science fiction was clearly not the issue at hand.

What was it then, that kept these self-confessed film nerds from embracing this festival darling?  Was it the marketing emphasis on steampunk or was it the period costumes?  It couldn’t have been the time travel plot, because I know these guys speak glowingly of films like Back to the Future, The Terminator and even Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. (Watch the trailer and decide for yourself.)

As I mulled things over I kept coming back to the period costumes and the British accents.  I thought back to the screening I attended for Hysteria, which in retrospect was mostly female even though the film was an honest to goodness sex comedy.  That film too featured British accents and period costumes.  Then there was that whole The Social Network vs. The King’s Speech divide. Curiouser and curiouser.

Simplistic as this may sound then, British accents and period costumes are integral to the definition of a chick flick.  Armed with this evidence it has become clear to me that what we have here is a clear case of a Science Fiction Chick Flick that will require special handling for its inevitable release.

So while this summer we’ve been getting our feet wet, feeling our way around the boundaries of the chick flick before we plunge into more complex academic dissections, at this early stage it seems safe to categorize films that are largely the provenance of chicks thusly:

–       A plot concerned primarily with romance/romantic relationships

–       A comedic plot concerned primarily with romance/romantic relationships

–       A plot revolving around family dynamics

–       A plot revolving around a female protagonist

–       An adaptation of classic literature or chick lit

–       A period piece (British accents optional)

–       Musicals

These are the films we take/drag our significant others to.

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ChickFlicking at Fantasia 2012 – Afro Tanaka Review (Nadia Sandhu)

We now interrupt comprehensive Fantasia Film Festival coverage from Matt Hodgson for a surprise installment of Chickflicking.  A surprise because neither of us was ready for a relationship comedy right smack in the middle of this genre filled festival line up.

Fantasia Film Festival 2012

Afro Tanaka (2012)

Starring Shota Matsuda, and Nozumi Sasaki (One of Japan’s “Most Beautiful Women”)

Directed By Daigo Matsui

Don’t let the whimsical title mislead you, Afro Tanaka is no send up of ‘sploitation cinema.  Afro Tanaka is a heartwarming coming of age story about a boy-man, his fro and his bros.

The story opens as our lovably clueless hero is shocked out of a suspended state of boyhood by the news that one of his buddies, the fat one no less, is set to be married. In fact, all of his buddies have girlfriends, which means Tanaka will be the only dateless one at the wedding.  This is bad in and of itself, but it seems everyone remembers Tanaka being pretty vocal about having more time to lose his virginity and meet women when he impulsively dropped out of high school years ago. It is now a matter of honour that Tanaka get into a relationship and he quickly maps out a plan. Enter a cute new neighbour and the story unfolds from there.

Comedy is hard to do on a good day, it is even harder when it has to translate across cultures, but the humour in Afro Tanaka comes from a very real, very relatable emotional core that immediately connects with viewers – because if you haven’t been desperate to get a girl/boyfriend, you certainly have had a friend who was. This movie works without relying on three stooges style slapstick sight gags and extreme in your face over-acting but that’s not to say there isn’t some well timed mugging and stylistic homages to the films “gag manga” roots, charmingly sold by the comedic timing of a cast lead by rising young star Shota Matsuda (who also happens to be the lead in another Fantasia title Hard Romantiker).

“But what about the Afro?” you ask. Well, Tanaka has one and that is the extent of it’s involvement in the story. His decision to style his naturally abundant mane into the titular fro is in fact his only discernible claim to coolness.  At least the ladies seem to dig it even if our hapless hero hasn’t noticed that fact.

Afro Tanaka screens once more at Fantasia.  If you happen to be in Montreal, get thee to the cinema for 1pm on Thursday, August 2.  You will laugh, you will cringe, you will cheer.

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ChickFlicking – People Like Us Review (Nadia Sandhu)

People Like Us

Starring Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Hall D’Addario, and Michelle Pfeiffer

Directed by Alex Kurtzman

The first thing I noticed when I saw the trailer for “People Like Us” was the amazing chemistry between Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks, which would be great if this was a rom-com, but it isn’t.  This is a film about siblings – a brother and a sister, only she doesn’t know they are related.

Now that I have seen the film, I’m sorry to tell you that this ick factor apparently wasn’t unintentional- seems the entire plot hinges on Sam (Chris Pine) not revealing to Frankie (Elizabeth Banks) that he is her half-brother.  Instead we spend fully half the movie in standard rom-com mode with Sam meeting and charming not only Frankie, but her young son Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario) too.

The film is written by director Alex Kurtzman and writing partner Roberto Orci – better known for their work on Transformers, Cowboys vs. Aliens, and the Star Trek reboot.  The plot was apparently inspired by events in their own lives, and they don’t do too badly with the emotional authenticity.  The main problem lies in the plotting and what appear to be two entirely different films mashed into one narrative.

Sam is a slick “barter” salesman whose wheeling and dealings have taken a wrong turn with the loss of a shipment of boxed soup whose cheap transportation arrangements did not include refrigeration. With a boss expecting him to make up for the financial loss by buying the client a new house extension and the FDA investigating, Sam gets a call from his Mother (Michelle Pfeiffer is playing older mom’s now!!!) – his father has died. When Sam finally shows up after the funeral, he finds out that his cold distant music producer father has left him his vinyl collection, and entrusted him with a shaving kit full of money for a sister he didn’t know he had.

It would appear that Kurtzman and Orci felt the film would be over if Sam revealed his relationship to recovering alcoholic Frankie.  So instead he leads her on.  As you do.  Our writers clearly couldn’t imagine any other ways that this film could play out, and that is the real shame here.  This could have been a Cameron Crow film about a son coming to terms with his family dynamics, or it could have been a really good rom-com.  Instead it is overlong, with a maternal subplot suddenly tacked on at the end, shifting the tone and focus of the story and needlessly dragging the ending on.

BTW Olivia Wilde is in this film, not that you would know it from the marketing.  A sign of how fast her star has fallen in just one year.

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The Passing of a Chick Flick Auteur – Nora Ephron (Nadia Sandhu)

Nora Ephron hated the term “chick flick” per Pete Hammond at Deadline (click here for that great memorium)  but I don’t think she would mind the way that the much maligned, and ultimately unfair label, has been reclaimed here at chickflicking.

Ephron was a prolific writer but she will long be remembered for reviving and reinventing the rom com genre for a new generation.  Her screenplay for 1989′s “When Harry Met Sally” came on the heels of a testosterone soaked decade at the box office and addressed a complex modern dilemma that everyone could relate to: can a man and woman ever really be just friends?

On the heels of that success, Ephron went on to write and direct “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993) and “You’ve Got Mail” (1998) and “Julie and Julia” (2009) amongst numerous other rom coms listed on her imdb page that will no doubt ring a bell with film fans everywhere. The secret to her success was crafting smart, funny, and morally confused heroines who dealt with real life issues in idealized rom com settings.  Everyone knew when they were watching a Nora Ephron film, and her work has become the gold standard against which other rom coms are compared.

Ephron received three Academy Award Nominations for Best Original Screenplay – for her first screenplay “Silkwood,” “When Harry Met Sally,” and “Sleepless in Seattle”.

In addition to being one of Hollywood’s most successful female filmmakers, Ephron was also a journalist, an essayist, a novelist, and a playwright.  Nora was 71 years of age.

NY Times Obituary

ChickFlicking – Weekend Box Office: A Tale of Two Chick Flicks (Nadia Sandhu)

This was supposed to be a positive review of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, but a funny thing happened on the way to posting. The first box office projections started coming in and I found myself enthralled by the widely diverging fates for Friend and Pixar’s Brave, the two big chick flick contenders this weekend.

The source of my fascination is a question that keeps popping into my head with each successive tent pole’s release – simply put, and pardon my language in advance, ‘WTF is going on at the marketing departments in Hollywood?’ It could be just me, but the campaigns this summer are looking increasingly slap dash and a little clueless even. This looks to be the case right across the board with films as divergent as Rock of Ages, Prometheus, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter,  Spider Man, and so on.

Both films this weekend had counter-intuitive marketing campaigns, and while things turned out great for Brave at $66.7 million domestic, the results were really dire for Friend which barely grossed $3.8 million for a tenth place finish.  Both campaigns decided it was best to hide the fact that ultimately, these were flicks for chicks.  The primary quadrants were definitely female here and I can’t help but wonder what suddenly gave Hollywood the idea that women of legal drinking age don’t go to see films, but there you have it.

Disney was very nervous about the first Pixar fairytale and the first Pixar film to feature a female lead. Disney of course has cause to worry – their past is littered with failed female princess vehicles like Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid…(yes, sarcasm is absolutely necessary here).  They went the warrior princess route with their campaign and the gamble paid off.  They got us into cinemas to see for ourselves, and the result was  both heartwarming and action packed enough to make up for the shock of the film we received versus what we were expecting.

For Friend, it was the weight of expectation that doomed it.  Audiences were set up for a comedy – and while this film does deal with the impending apocalypse with some levity (the asteroid is innocuously named Matilda after all), ultimately this is a film about relationships, regret, and the meaning of life.  This is most definitely a bittersweet relationship drama, and one that I actually found to be quite touching.  There is just no way that a sentimental romance like this can live up to the expectations of a screwball comedy-road movie as set up by marketing, and the damning word of mouth bears this out.  If you set the dinner for steak, you better produce a steak!

For what it’s worth, a completely unscientific exit poll of my film going companions post-Friend did reveal a definite fault line forming along gender lines.  Does this mean men were never going to see it, or could this have been the date movie of the weekend with a different approach?  We’ll never know for sure, and that is too bad.

It will be interesting to see the figures for Brave’s second week, now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag and the boys know what the movie is about.  I’m betting it won’t matter and expect to see a standard drop here, nothing disastrous.

Brave is sitting at 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, significantly lower than the average for a Pixar property ( which generally hover closer to 90%) and some are blaming the mother-daughter theme for the perceived shortfall.  Again, I can’t stress enough that if you set up a warrior princess story in the trailer, you can’t substitute will o’ the wisps, witches and bears and expect people not to be jarred.

In the meantime, I am simply breathless with anticipation for the results of the next bizarre tent pole campaign  (I’m looking at you Magic Mike).  Will it be a success?  I honestly can’t say, but the buzz is building nicely and I do think I owe it the Eye Candy treatment at the very least.

Now excuse me while I go ponder on the fact that I used Magic Mike and tent pole in the same sentence.

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