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Entries in Kathryn Bigelow (19)


Women's Pictures: Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark

Welcome, guys and ghouls, to our special October edition of Anne Marie's "Women's Pictures!"

 This month, rather than focusing on 5 films by 1 female director, we will be watching 5 films by 5 female directors with 1 thing in common: horror. Because what's the one thing scarier than working in a boy's club industry? I reached out on social media to ask the internet what it wanted to see, and got an overwhelming response for these five films. Going chronologically, the first film on our list is a vampire flick by beloved Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow.

In true 80s Bigelow fashion, Near Dark is a grim action thriller; part Western, part gang movie, part family drama, with enough explosions and gruesome special effects that you might miss the moralistic AIDS allegory underneath. Whenever the mainstream heaps praise on Kathryn Bigelow, their focus is usually on the fact that Bigelow does not work in "women's genres," which is to say films with "feminine" themes or plot lines. However, beneath the edgy synth soundtrack, the sex, violence, and hair gel, Near Dark is a surprisingly conservative film about the redemptive power of family. More...

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Women's Pictures - Kathryn Bigelow's K-19: The Widowmaker

Anne Marie's 'Women's Pictures series' continues with July's subject Kathryn Bigelow...

Films about the Cold War are an unusual bunch. Whereas most war movies have a streak of jingoism necessary to the action ("fight the enemy, kill the enemy, win the war for God and country!"), the point of films about the Cold War - barring any alternate realities - is to actually avoid conflict. Men in these movies are forever preparing for war, even as they frantically try to prevent it. Instead of fighting soldiers, men fight bureaucracy, accidents, and misinformation. Done poorly, these films can feel like a trip to the DMV: too much paperwork and waiting in line. Done well, the looming cloud of Doomsday can overshadow even the most seemingly insignificant decision. There may be no genre more anti-war than the Cold War Film.

K-19: The Widowmaker, Kathryn Bigelow's first war film, is a fictionalized retelling of the misfortunes onboard Russia's first K-19 nuclear submarine that nearly caused World War III. Amidst government negligence, rushed manufacturing, and political malarky, Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford) is assigned to captain the submarine's crew, led by the former captain, Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson). 

Neeson & Ford's Gruff-Off after the jump...

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Women's Pictures - Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days

On April 29th, 1992, the Rodney King verdict set Los Angeles on fire. Over 6 days, crowds rioted in South Central LA, protesting the acquittal of four LAPD officers who had been videotaped beating a black man. This was not LA's first race riot, but it came at a fraught time for the city, when the skyscrapers that were supposed to signal the start of a new era of prosperity loomed over widening economic and social gaps. By May 4th, it was clear that though the riots had "officially" ended, they had left a scar on the psyche of the city. Over the next few years, that scar would surface in one of Los Angeles's most prominent exports: film. After the Rodney King riots ended, a series of scifi blockbusters - including Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days - took to the streets of LA to predict the worst for the city's future.

Strange Days (another collaboration between Kathryn Bigelow and ex-husband James Cameron) is part of a group of dystopian action thrillers that cropped up in the wake of the Rodney King Riots. Escape from LADemolition Man, and Strange Days used their futuristic settings to do what science fiction does best: they created an allegory for contemporary fears about violence, inequity, and police brutality. 

Los Angeles is a good setting for a dystopia. Unlike New York City, America's Melting Pot, where people from different socioeconomic backgrounds intermingle on the street, Los Angeles is more a series of villages connected by highways. In LA, communities whose names are synonymous with wealth and prestige set their gates a handful of miles from infamously poor neighborhoods. But the two worlds never meet.

According to the movies, only three groups travel between these separate-but-unequal islands: cops, criminals, and entertainers. Lenny Nero, the protagonist of Strange Days, is all three: an ex-cop turned con-man who sells recorded memories and emotions via a "SQUID" machine - data discs that play directly in your cerebral cortex. When an anonymous donor leaves Nero a clip of his friend's rape and murder on New Year's Eve 1999, Nero and his friend Mace (Angela Bassett) get pulled into a plot that involves murdered rappers, police coverups, music producers, and Nero's lost love (Juliette Lewis). But bubbling under this detective story is a growing sense of unrest between police and the populace.

James Cameron's screenplay sets up a lot of ideas - drug allegory, the nature of memory, police militarization, the right to riot, institutional racism - and it is Kathryn Bigelow's very heavy duty to sort through these themes while also keeping the film on track. Miraculously, she is mostly successful. Though the structure of the script sometimes lags under the weight of its own ideas, Bigelow keeps the film moving at a clipped pace. Her fascination with point of view also becomes literal in Strange Days. the SQUID machines record from first person POV, which Bigelow uses to occasionally comic, often thrilling, and (in one incredibly intense murder scene) chilling effect. By virtue of its technical difficulties, First Person POV can look gimmicky on film, but Bigelow overcomes the difficulties to instead stage a series of fantastic action pieces.

The only failure of the film is not in its setup or its action, but in its conclusion. The complex problems of racism and violence which had occasionally bubbled to the surface - mostly in a B plot surrounding Angela Bassett's character - are neatly solved at the end of the film, though this denoument does give one intense image: a SWAT team beating an unarmed woman. It's probably too much to ask for moral complexity from an action thriller. Though insipred by riots that had proved there were still no easy answers in reality, Strange Days is still a product of its genre; commodified violence for the sake of box office. 

This month on Women's Pictures...

7/23 - K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) - Hands down the most requested film after Point Break, this film follows Harrison Ford racing to prevent a nuclear holocaust via submarine. (Amazon Prime) (Netflix)

7/30 - The Hurt Locker (2008) - The film that put Bigelow's name down in history as the first female director to win the Academy Award is a thriller about a bomb squad in the Iraq War. (Amazon Prime)


Women's Pictures - Kathryn Bigelow's Point Break

I have a confession to make: people have been telling me for years to watch Point Break, and I always blew them off. "Sure it's a great genre film," I thought, "but the genre is action and the film is about bank robbing surfers." Oh, Anne Marie. You did not give bank robbing surfers (who also skydive, by the way) enough credit. After having watched it (twice in a row), I confess that Point Break is quite possibly the perfect early 90s action flick: that brief bridge between the buffed up ridiculousness of 80s action movies, and the self-serious grittiness of later 90s action films.

It's a space and genre that Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron (who were married in 1989 and divorced in 1991, the same year Point Break came out) occupied gleefully. Point Break was a collaboration between the two writer/directors (though because of Writer's Guild rules, neither's name appears in the writing credits). Together, they created a spectacle-driven, tightly-plotted action movie that manages to both poke fun at, and take advantage of, the hyper-macho tropes of the genre. Action was, after all, the genre of Stallone and Schwarzenegger's muscles, as well as Willis and Gibson's swagger. A lot has been written about movie masculinity and homoeroticism in action films, but I believe that what makes Point Break so good, beyond the adrenaline-high sports scenes and the tense action, is the way director Kathryn Bigelow examines (with a thankfully very thorough lens) the men in her film.

Point Break is a film that improbably can have its beef-cake and eat it too.

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Women's Pictures - Kathryn Bigelow's The Loveless

If you're new to Anne Marie's 'Women's Pictures' it's a weekly series that takes on a new female director each month. Previously covered: Ida LupinoJane Campion, Sofia Coppola and Agnes Varda. - Editor

Kathryn Bigelow & Andy Warhol in 1981. Photo: Philippe LedruWelcome to Kathryn Bigelow month!

Considering that July is traditionally one of the bigger blockbuster months, it seemed like the perfect time to delve into the career of one of the most famous female directors currently working. Undoubtedly, Bigelow is most famous for being the only woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director. In 2008, she and The Hurt Locker unexpectedly became the symbols of art "fighting back" against bloated CGI behemoths represented by Avatar, directed by her ex-husband, James Cameron. The irony of this is that before making smaller, serious war movies, Bigelow had made her name (occasionally working with Cameron) on action flicks. So, pop some jiffy pop, lie back in your recliner, and let's get ready for some gun fights!

...But maybe not just yet. Surprisingly, 1981's The Loveless is virtually devoid of any explosions, catch phrases, car chases, or fun. Co-directed and co-written by Monty Montgomery (who would eventually produce Jane Campion's The Portrait of a Lady), The Loveless is a biker movie that falls into genre cliches even as it tries very hard to shed them.

Willem Dafoe (in his first credited film role) plays Vance, one of a gang of bikers who stop in a small town to fix a bike on the way to Daytona in the 1950s. The presence of the oversexed, understimulated bikers sends violent ripples through the stifled town, but the movie takes a long time to build to its climax. First, there are scenes of nearly shirtless Dafoe staring moodily into the distance while smoking. There are homoerotic knife games between gang members. There are downright voyeuristic shots of the biker boys as they leer at women. It's a sex-obsessed movie, is what I'm saying. Just not in the way I expected.

There is either a lot going on in this movie, or nothing at all...

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Somewhere That's Link

Defamer Elizabeth Berkley finally coming to terms with the love out there for Showgirls -- like Faye Dunaway with Mommie Dearest this has been difficult for her
Towleroad ...and there's video of the event, too!
Theater Mania to say that I am excited to see Ellen Green reprise her Audrey Little Shop of Horrors role this week (I bought tickets the day they went on sale, long before Jake Gyllenhaal nabbed the Seymour part) would be the understatement of the summer. I'm more excited for it than any upcoming movie. Yes, even Magic Mike XXL. She talks about returning to the role.
Awards Daily Kathryn Bigelow (our filmmaker of the month for Anne Marie's "Women's Pictures" series, every Thursday) pens an op-ed on endangered elephants

Birth.Movies.Death New Spider-Man movie will have a "John Hughes Vibe" and they're not going back to the Goblin again for a villain. Wow... you mean they realized that three times as villain in 12 years was enough?
Hayley Atwell continues to ace her social media game 
VF Meryl Streep asking Congress to revive the Equal Rights Amendment 
EW why Inside Out kept "Bing Bong" a secret (would that more films would keep em)
Nicole Kidman just celebrated 9 years with Keith Urban 
Interview Kyle Maclachlan talks about returning to Agent Dale Cooper for Twin Peaks
Dissolve upcoming movies for EuropaCorp including a sequel to Lucy... even though Scarlett Johansson morphed into an entirely digital entity by the end? well, ok!
The Movie Scene on all this talk of gender equality in "objectification" for the cinema which is usually lusting after only women
Ant-Man gets a "meet the crew" tv spot so finally David Dastmalchian, T.I., and especially the always wonderful Michael Peña show up in the promotional material

Oscar Talk
Hot Blog setting the Best Picture field -is Carol the only possibility thus far that's been seen
THR on the more inclusive more foreign Academy invites 

Must Read
Vulture's TV Awards series has been fairly cool, including entries from actual TV artists, but they ended incredibly strong with this piece by Matt Zoller Seitz on Mad Men as TV's Best Show overall. Frankly, it might well be the best essay on Matthew Weiner's masterful achievement that I've ever read and I've read a lot of them! Love this 'graph near the opening:

All of the episodes, even the ones I don’t especially like, are inexhaustibly detailed: packed with comic and dramatic moments; period-accurate clothing and hairstyles and music; imaginative, hilarious, and often deeply moving performances; and screenwriting that depicts the complexities and contradictions of the human personality with more insight and empathy than any American series in recent memory. It’s a historical drama about how individuals are and are not affected by the local, national, and international history that’s constantly unfolding around them. It’s a psychodrama about how our personalities are shaped by our parents, our lovers, our friends, our bosses, and everyone else we know, as well as by people we’ve never met but feel as though we know: the politicians, civil-rights leaders, athletes, movie stars, musicians, and other icons who inspire, entertain, confound, and sometimes anger us as we muddle through our daily lives. It’s also a series with an unusually strong affinity for mythology, spirituality, religion, psychoanalysis, pop psychology, literature, poetry, cinema, and all the other means by which human experience is transformed into narrative. And at every level — the scene, the episode, the season, and in total — it is a masterpiece of construction, filled with major and minor bits of foreshadowing and recollection, lines and images that seem to answer each other across time.

Read it! And hope along with us that it pulls off a historic fifth win at the Emmys in September. Mad Men (2008-2011 wins) is currently tied with Hill Street Blues (1981-1984 wins), LA Law (1987,1989-1991 wins), and The West Wing (2000-2003 wins) for the most Drama Series wins (4 each). The leader for nominations is Law & Order which was nominated 11 times, far outdistancing its nearest rivals (The Sopranos, Mad Men, ER, Studio One, and The West Wing)

P.S. on the TV Front:  I just watched my first episode of Fresh Off the Boat since y'all were complaining about Constance Wu not making our Best Actress list. It's really funny. They won "best couple" at Vulture 

I was feeling so much love for heroes of the past (and present -- it used to be that only Broadway had multiple out stars but now every medium does) but I was especially pleased that I wasn't the only one singing Madonna's praises... she supported the LGBT community long before it was par for the course with celebrities but gays can be fickle and though her iconic status will never be undone, sometimes people are assholes about her what with all the ageism and so on. 

All in all it was a good weekend. And all the marriage equality will eventually lead us into a less homophobic world as there are endless examples of people being less prejudiced once they are familiar with the "other" (any kind of prejudice applies). On this note, Variety is wondering when film is going to catch up with TV when it comes to comfort with the gays?  

Sirs Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi were the Grand Marshalls of the NYC parade. And anyway, gay geniuses of the past and out talents of the present should both be celebrated. And not only on Pride Weekend. So how about some Cole Porter via John Barrowman in the movie De-Lovely as we move into a new week. (That movie is kind of a mess -- anyone remember it? -- but this seen is lovely) 


Women's Pictures - Vote For Your Favorite Female Filmmakers!

Hello, it's Anne Marie. Since the first month of "Women's Pictures" went so well (and because I have an extra week in February to fill), today I would like to hear from all of you charming readers and commenters. When I first asked for suggestions of female filmmakers on which to focus this series, you all chimed in with over 50 directors from 8 countries and 9 decades in movie history. We can't write about all of them (yet), so I've narrowed the list down to 10 Female Filmmakers. Please know that this is not meant as a list of the best 10 female directors. When winnowing down the original suggestions, I took into consideration size of filmography, ease of access to their films, and reader interest. The goal is to find 10 women within those restrictions who represent a variety of genre, vision, nationality, sexuality, and focus. And these 10 women are pretty incredible. 

Vote for as many as you like and tell us why in the comments

In alphabetical order, our ladies are...

Dorothy Arzner - Years active: 1927-1943. Arzner is best known as the "only female director during Hollywood's Golden Age" (more on that at the end of this post). Arzner was a lesbian proto-feminist credited with (among other things) inventing the boom mic, looking dapper in menswear, and dressing Katharine Hepburn in that bizarre Moth Gown. Best known films: The Wild Party, The Bride Wore Red, Christopher Strong.

Kathryn Bigelow - Years active: 1981-present. I mean, we all know who Kathryn Bigelow is, right? She's the only female director to win an Academy Award so far! (For The Hurt Locker in 2010.) Divorced James Cameron in 1991 and beat him for Best Director two decades later. Makes action films, war films, and defies silly questions about what kinds of movies women "usually make."  Best known films: The Hurt Locker, Point Break, Zero Dark Thirty

Jane Campion - Years active: 1982-present. For her film The Piano, native Kiwi Jane Campion was the first female director to win the Palm D'Or at Cannes, and became the second woman in the history of the Academy Awards to be nominated for Best Director. Most recently, she returned to the scene of her earlier triumph to be the head judge for the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Best known films: The Piano, Bright Star, Sweetie

Sofia Coppola - Years active: 1999-present. Another fruit that fell from the ever-blossoming Coppola family tree. In 2004, Sofia Coppola became the third woman in Oscars history to be nominated for Best Director for her film Lost In Translation. Since then, she's taken on everything from historical fiction to memoir to true crime, all with a distinct pop art sensibility. Best known films: The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette.

Mira Nair - Years active: 1979-present. Indian director Mira Nair has had a globe-trotting career over the past few decades. She's made documentaries, big budget Indian movies, indie films set in the American South, period pieces, shorts and more. About the most consistent thing you can say about Nair's career is that she's consistently refused to be tied to just one genre. Best known films: Monsoon Wedding, Vanity Fair, Salaam Bombay!

Miwa Nishikawa - Years active: 2003-present. Miwa Nishikawa is the newest addition to this list, having only 7 films and a little over a decade of experience so far. However, while her movies haven't travelled much outside of Japan yet, she is already heralded as a strong new voice in Japanese film. (Thank you, reader BRB for the suggestion!) Best known films: Dreams for Sale, Dear Doctor, Wild Strawberries. 

Leni Riefenstahl - Years active: 1932-1958, 2002. Best known for her Nazi propadanda film, The Triumph of the Will. It was supposedly so well-made that when the US government requested that Hollywood re-edit the movie to show Germany negatively, they were told it couldn't be done. She pushed forward documentary film & experimented with genre. Best known films (besides that one): Olympia, Lowlands, Underwater Impressions.

Julie Taymor - Years active: 1999-present. This MacArthur Genius Grant recipient is a theater director-turned film director-turned theater director who turned off the dark (and the safety precautions) for Spiderman on Broadway. Before that, she turned lions into puppets for Disney's The Lion King. Her films are visually vibrant, beautiful, and totally bonkers. Best known films: Frida, Across The Universe, Titus.

Agnes Varda - Years active: 1955-2011. The only female member of the talented boys club that was the French New Wave. Varda was an artist before making her way to film, a journey for which she attributes her unique perspective. She's still alive and kicking (and occasionally at film festivals), but seems to be enjoying resting on her well-deserved laurels now. Best known films: Cleo from 5 to 7, Vagabond, The Beaches of Agnes. 

Lina Wertmuller - Years active 1965-2009. This Italian director was the first woman ever nominated for Best Director, when the Academy nominated her in 1975 for her film Seven Beauties. One of her films also holds the record for longest title (it was shortened to Blood Feud). A highly vocal political activist, many of her characters reflect her more extreme stances. Best known films: Seven Beauties, The Seduction of Mimi, Swept Away.

Who do you vote for? (You may vote for more than one.)



Coming in March: IDA LUPINO

The noir-actress-turned-writer/producer originally became a director out of necessity, but quickly made a name for herself by writing the kinds of films that the big studios wouldn't touch. Using her buddy Howard Hughes's money and support, Lupino started a production company, and a directing career that lasted two decades. Follow along as we watch a blonde bombshell turn herself into a behind-the-scenes bigshot.

March Schedule:

3/5 - Never Fear (1949) - Ida's first directing credit about a dancer who contracts polio. (Available on Amazon Prime)

3/12 - The Hitch-Hiker (1953) - A foray into film noir with a hitch-hiker holding two men hostage. (Available on Amazon Prime)

3/19 - The Bigamist (1953) - Ida Lupino and Joan Fontaine are married to the same man. (Available on Amazon Prime)

3/26 - The Trouble With Angels (1966) - Lupino's last feature film involves Rosalind Russell, Hayley Mills, and nuns. (Available on Amazon Prime)