Romy Shiller

Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

My thesis

In 3rd Wave Feminism, Academic, Drama, Film, Uncategorized on March 23, 2016 at 3:02 pm

My thesis: A critical exploration of cross-dressing and drag in gender performance and camp in contemporary North American drama and film


Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

In Drama, Fantasy, Film, review on December 13, 2014 at 4:01 pm


About: Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a 2014 American black comedy film co-written, produced, and directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. The film stars Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts.

Plot: Riggan Thomson (Keaton) is a washed-up Hollywood actor who once played the superhero Birdman in three blockbuster movies, before leaving the multi-billion-dollar franchise. More than 20 years after Birdman, Riggan wants to reinvent his career by writing, directing, and starring in a play, an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. The play is produced by Riggan’s best friend/lawyer Jake (Galifianakis), and stars Riggan’s girlfriend Laura (Riseborough), first-time-Broadway-actress Lesley (Watts), and Mike (Norton). Riggan’s daughter Sam (Stone), a recovering drug addict, serves as his spunky, bedraggled assistant. In order to afford Mike as a replacement actor (after Riggan supposedly tries to kill the first actor by causing a spotlight to fall on him during a rehearsal), Riggan refinances a house that should belong to his daughter, Sam, rendering him flat broke. Throughout all of this, Riggan from time to time hears his voice as Birdman either mocking or bolstering him; he also performs small feats of telekinesis and levitation when he is alone.

I liked this film but it is a wee bit pretentious. I am generally a fan of films that push the boundaries of cinema. The thing is, even within difference there is a spectrum of good and bad. Birdman falls right in the middle. I liked that I read the French philosopher Roland Barthes [mentioned in the film], I liked that I knew that a homeless man was reciting Shakespeare, I liked that I knew that some of the drumbeats were ‘diagetic’ but at the same time I was like, so? None of these things were necessary, you didn’t need to recognize any of this – It was more like a wink to those in the know and that, my friends, is pretentious to me.

We review many films here that are action or fantasy or started out in comic books etc. so it is very interesting to see the angst of an actor who made oodles of money in a big action/fantasy blockbuster but who wants to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor.

The story is interesting in that it emphasizes ‘reality.’ These are actors in a drama about actors in a drama. Notions of fantasy vs. reality are underscored by Riggan who played Birdman and might be a superhero or not. Edward Norton, as a Method actor, lives his role. Emma Stone, plays a drug addict, which calls into question her perspective etc.

The behind-the-scenes perspective and wonky personalities of celebrities or actors are priceless really. There is an unflattering commentary on reviewers and journalists. In Time magazine, the director Alejandro Gonzalez claims that the portrayal is not personal but “true to the universe of the film.” He says; … the critic represents what he has been fearing all this time, which is to be judged. And I think that in the theater scene, it’s not a secret that a few people have the power to finish a production. It’s a reality and everyone knows it. It’s almost like a dictatorship, represented by Lindsay Duncan playing a critic who has enormous power and incredible disrespect for what Riggan Thomson represents. She tells him she hates him and what he represents — they are polar opposites. What she says to him is right, and it’s powerful.

Entertainment Weekly says; the 63-year-old actor [Michael Keaton] plays the former star of a superhero franchise, now begging for a comeback. It’s a role that seems custom-crafted for the guy who used to be Batman, and the kind of mesmerizing meta-performance that milks Oscar votes. But Keaton isn’t buying (or selling) that story.

I too thought of the similarities, briefly, but they just didn’t stick. Keaton says, “In terms of the parallels, I’ve never related less to a character than Riggan.” I guess that I resonated with the difference.

Anyhoo, we spend much of the film listening to the voice of Birdman, who is our hero’s inner monologue. This voice is contentious because we don’t know if it really exits apart from Riggan’s imagination. He also displays remarkable physical feats. No one sees these feats and when his manager walks in on one, we still are uncertain about the manager’s perspective. Maybe others are not allowed to witness these feats…

Edward Norton co-stars in “Birdman” as a prima donna actor who joins Riggan’s play as a last minute replacement. Emma Stone plays Riggan’s rehabbed daughter. She is an angry waif with an attitude. They are brilliant.

After seeing that most of the cast, the director and the film have been nominated for many awards, I am in complete agreement.

St. Vincent

In Comedy, Drama, Film, review on November 8, 2014 at 10:38 am


ABOUT: St. Vincent is an American comedy-drama film written and directed by Theodore Melfi, making his feature film debut. The film stars Bill Murray as the title character with Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, and Naomi Watts.

Plot: Vincent, a drunken, gambling war veteran retiree, gets recruited by his new single-mom neighbor Maggie to watch over her small grown 12-year-old son Oliver. Vincent’s ideas of after-school activities involve racetracks and strip clubs, but eventually the mismatched pair begin to help each other grow up.

Bill Murray. Wow – as usual. He might win many awards for this film. This film might win several awards too. It did come in second place for “People’s Choice Award for Best Film” at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. The film was straightforward in that it did nothing to challenge narrative or the act of watching cinema – so, it was extremely good for the genre. Speaking of genre this film is a dramedy but because there usually is not a blend category, most award shows will probably categorize this film as a comedy.

The Web Magazine, Splitsider recounts a story from The Wall Street Journal: Ted Melfi got Bill Murray to star in his debut feature film St. Vincent, and it’s just as strange and amazing as you might expect a Murray casting story to be. After getting access to Murray’s famous 1-800 number and leaving messages for months, Melfi says he finally got a response from Murray’s lawyer with a request from Murray for a one-page letter regarding the project. A few weeks later, Melfi was driving and got a call from Murray himself:

“Listen,” Mr. Murray said. “I read your script, and I think it’s great—and who are you? I don’t Google people, so tell me about yourself.”

They went on a drive and ate grilled cheese and voila! The directing was excellent and I’m sure that good acting helped. Naomi Watts plays a pregnant, Slavic, stripper/’lady of the night’ – fantastic.

Naomi WattsSteven Zeitchik McClatchy Newspapers says, In fact, when Watts, 46, was first sent the “St. Vincent” script she thought she was being considered for the part that went to Melissa McCarthy. “I mean, that was the Naomi part, so I just assumed that’s what I’d be asked to do.” That role, incidentally, is of an embattled single mother.

She won the funnier part, though, and wound up even doing some improv, particularly in scenes where she looks to get under the skin of Murray’s curmudgeon. “I was going all out, and possibly too far at times,” she told The Los Angeles Times at the Toronto International Film Festival. “But it was new territory and I just wanted to bust out. I felt like I’d been in chains, like I was a wild animal getting out of this cage.”

When a new neighbour (McCarthy) moves in next door, [Murray] forms an unlikely bond with her young son (Jaeden Lieberher).

TV Showbiz notes that Melissa McCarthy has certainly come a long way since her Gilmore Girls days.

The breakout star of 2011 smash hit Bridesmaids is not only starring in sitcom Mike & Molly, which was recently picked up for a fourth season, but she has a plethora of movie roles keeping her busy.

She is very good but in this film her role is minor. The upside is her move into the dramatic instead of the comic. This was a very smart move for her, in my opinion.


Murray was most recently seen in The Monuments Men.

The friendship between the man and boy felt familiar. Rolling Stone magazine says, Murray plays the title role in Déjà vu Vincent: a Vietnam vet with a weakness for booze and gambling. He becomes the cantankerous baby sitter for the kid next door, in a relationship that feels like a reprise of 1979’s Meatballs, if Murray’s counselor character, Tripper Harrison, had a few decades of hard living under his belt.

Yeah, it may have felt déjà vu but it was really different here. Anyhoo, we mainly have a story about a young boy, who needs a father figure and ends up befriending a cranky older man who bets at the race-track, drinks, hangs out with a prostitute etc. Not a role model by conventional standards but this man has a heart of gold. He pays for the prostitute’s ultra-sound and teaches the young boy to defend himself. Also, he’s Bill Murray so…

There is a lot of strength and compassion in this film. There is a necessary warning against judgement and preconception. What might appear offensive hides an alternate way of being.

Gone Girl: A Commentary

In 3rd Wave Feminism, book, Drama, Film, review on October 12, 2014 at 11:43 am


(The following commentary of Gone Girl (2014) contains a necessary plot spoiler. If you’re planning to see the film and have no knowledge of the plot, perhaps read this afterwards. – RS)

About: Gone Girl is an American mystery thriller film directed by David Fincher. It was adapted by Gillian Flynn from her 2012 novel of the same name. It stars Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, and Carrie Coon.

Oh, people will be divided here – no question, but the ideas in Gone Girl are much bigger than me and require a defender. So, here we go. I had absolutely no intention of reviewing this film because Piers McCarthy already did – REVIEW  so I just wanted to see Fincher’s new work.

Plot: On the day of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Affleck) returns home to find that his wife Amy (Pike) is missing. Her disappearance creates a media frenzy, and his awkward behavior and lies surrounding the marriage are interpreted by the media and public as characteristics of a sociopath, implicating him for her apparent murder. Flashback sequences told from Amy’s perspective reveal the disintegration of their once-happy marriage.

On one level, a cinematic one, you know; direction, editing, style, casting, acting…. Gone Girl is very good and that is why I am going to call this a dangerous film. It is dangerous to create a female lead character that lies about domestic abuse. It is dangerous to show that cameras lie about rape. We live in a world where a football player beats up his wife on camera.

Mail Online says, “Baltimore Ravens terminate contract of running back Ray Rice after he was caught on camera punching fiancée in lift.” He plead ‘Not Guilty.’ He was caught on camera punching her -Yup.

The Guardian reports, “It is easier to believe that a woman “provoked” catastrophic violence from a supposedly otherwise peaceful man than it is to come to terms with the fact that a well-liked public figure is abusive. It is easier to conceive Palmer as an accomplice in her own beating …” Their words, not mine. Sounds like the film, kind of…

‘But a woman wrote it!’ So? Are women outside of cultural influence? ESPN says that Janay Palmer married Ray Rice soon after the violent incident.

The marriage came one day after Rice was indicted by a grand jury on third-degree aggravated assault for striking Palmer unconscious. She publicly defends him. He punched her until she was unconscious! Yup.

‘But it is based on an existing novel!’ There is a choice here to bring it to a wider audience.

‘It’s only a film, you need to chill!’ Sure – when there is no more domestic abuse, when there is no more rape, when women are not scared to come forward about being assaulted and then called liars – I’ll chill.

Obviously, it is very good to create strong female leads but when our lead is a lying, crazy, murderous, sociopath it is not good. Calling women crazy liars is old-school and a part of our current thought-process, unfortunately. The Monthly, from Australia says; What does it say about us, in a society where domestic violence and rape are actually on the rise, that Gone Girl is so popular? I think it says that we still want to keep assuring ourselves that when women talk about rape and violence, they are making it up. That we are lying, scheming bitches. In one of the film’s closing scenes, Nick slams Amy’s head against the bedroom wall in frustration at her continued hold over him. We are invited, quietly, to wonder if he might be justified in doing so. And that makes me feel crazy. 

A Disney princess is not the answer. We need to see realistic, strong, competent and flawed female characters. I want layers, complexity – not clichés or stereotypes. ‘But Gone Girl is a great film!’ On one level yes but ideologically and culturally – no.

It is very hard to find a review that sees the blatant misogyny in this film. I found a great one in The Guardian – it is even critical of Affleck who directed, produced and starred in the Academy Award-winning film Argo, and will be taking on the role of Batman in 2016: For Affleck, some relation to reality is clearly important. So why doesn’t that apply to domestic and sexual violence? Admittedly Affleck’s character in Gone Girl – he plays the husband, Nick Dunne – is particularly bone-headed, but the actor isn’t, so why didn’t he demand a disclaimer? Affleck wouldn’t dream of suggesting that the US had clean hands in events such as its historic support for the Shah of Iran, but recycling the most egregious myths about gender-based violence is, apparently, another matter.

The Monthly says, Gone Girl fails as a crime thriller in part because it is far too long … It is impossible to discuss the plot without giving the game away, but I’m going to do it because the architecture of the story is bound up with its misogyny, so here goes: Amy faked it all. She faked her disappearance and murder because she resents her husband’s selfishness and dependency, and it turns out that this isn’t the first time she’s brought a good man down.

In the words of an ex-boyfriend, “She’s graduated from faking rape to faking murder.”

The twists in this film hinge on important social commentary. This film underscores ideology and dangerously reinforces the idea that rape and domestic violence victims lie. It may be ‘just a film’ but it is a mirror too.

Under the Skin

In Drama, Film, review, sci-fi on June 12, 2014 at 8:01 am

under the skin poster

About: Under the Skin is a 2013 British-American science fiction film directed by Jonathan Glazer. Produced by James Wilson and Nick Wechsler, it was written by Glazer and Walter Campbell as an adaptation of Michel Faber’s 2000 novel of the same name. The film stars Scarlett Johansson who preys on men in Scotland.

Plot: In Scotland, an attractive young woman travels the country in a van picking up men. As she lures her victims into a trap with the promise of sex.This film is brilliant and odd. I was wondering if I could talk about this film and veil what is actually going on. After doing tons of research I noticed that nobody is doing this and actually raising the curtain to reveal the wizard helps, it does not hurt the film in any way. Now, I went into this film knowing nothing so everything was metaphor. I had my own narrative about a new visual language going which is still relevant but much was literal and not metaphorical. When I see this film again it will be a completely different experience.

I am of two minds about this film. On the one hand I think that maybe it should not be in mainstream cinemas because it is so different. Then I think that it should be in mainstream cinemas because it is so different. I mean, as an audience, we are used to seeing killings and serial killers in a very usual way. This film-style kind of reminds me of Lars Von Trier in that we might need a new visual language to talk about death and being human. Maybe the horror of kidnapping or murder should not be ‘usual’ at all.

The impassionate, unemotional luring of victims is a good way to show the horrific. It is only comprehensible as a foreign experience. It can only make sense as Other.

Glazer, the director, says, “When people ask me what the film’s about, it sounds ridiculous, so I just don’t say what it’s about! I think people may go see it who are Scarlett fans but maybe not fans of a film like this, and then there are people who are fans of a film like this but maybe not fans of Scarlett. It’s quite interesting to put those two ingredients together, I suppose. I’m hopeful that people will see it because it’s quite exciting to have something so experimental to be seen.”

Everything here is new and this newness is shown through the experience of our lead character. The experience of being human is fleshed out on many levels. How she experiences the ‘new’ in life, death, sex, love, food, the environment etc. is very revealing about the nature of passion and curiosity.

The camera work is stunning and there are some unique angels. Daniel Landin — has worked as a lighting designer for Alexander McQueen’s fashion shows and as a DP for music videos for Radiohead, Robbie Williams, Madonna and others — about the unique challenges he faced in bringing Glazer’s vision to the screen, including working with existing light sources, filming non-actors (without their knowledge) and camouflaging a Hollywood star.

He says that he, “started out as a filmmaker myself and essentially fell into music videos at a point when they were quite experimental and were very much director-led short pieces that would go along with music. As a result, I had a very good opportunity to explore lots of different techniques of filmmaking, which is essentially where I started the process – being more influenced by experimental cinema, primarily early Soviet cinema, expressionist German cinema, post-WWII French cinema. I don’t really see in essence that influence by commercials and videos, but rather that I’ve been able to work within those areas in ways that are creatively satisfying.”

Landin says, “Preceding the shoot, we explored the possibility of using very small cameras. What was available to us was either not small enough or not good quality enough. As a result, we ended up developing our own camera which enabled us to record very high quality raw data on a very small camera. Initially, that took the form of putting Scarlett inside the van which she drives with 8 cameras hidden within that van. So she could drive into any situation without it appearing that there was any kind of filming process going on.”

The script is sparse. The acting is good. It was complex for me to reconcile this Hollywood actress with a serious role. However, Johansson did do Lost in Translation and Her, both of which are phenomenal films. I gave her the benefit of doubt. There’s only about three lines of dialogue in the entire film, so it can hardly have been the standout script. The main point of her character is that she doesn’t actually have a character. She doesn’t do emotion. And it was filmed in Scotland. In winter. And most of the film consists of her standing around in wet boots and a too-thin coat. Or stripping off her clothes in a derelict squat and luring men into a vat of black ectoplasm. (At one point, she appears naked. Johansson fans, of which there are many, most especially the male variety, have been lighting up message boards for months with discussion of this particular fact.) Nakedness was not gratuitous and so integral to the character and plot that her decision to do this made her a serious actress in my books.

Johansson says, “I heard Jonathan was making a film and originally it was a very different story. But I met him, and it was very clear that he was struggling to figure out what he was doing with it, and what had attracted him to it… I thought it would be incredibly challenging to play a character that’s free of judgment, that has no relationship to any emotion I could relate to.”

I lovelovelovelove experimental film but I saw this film with sci-fi fans, not experimental film fans, and they adored it. I think that the fragility of being human transcended the unique form of the film. I am really looking forward to seeing this film again.


Only Lovers Left Alive

In Drama, Fantasy, Film, review, Romance on May 6, 2014 at 10:50 am

Tilda Blood 

About: Only Lovers Left Alive is a 2013 British-German romantic drama vampire film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, starring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, and Jeffrey Wright. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

Hmmm. I have seen pretty much every vampire-themed film and television show, My bible was ‘The Vampire Chronicle’ books by Anne Rice. So yeah, I’m kind of a vampire expert if I do say so. There is a darkness or alternative feel to most good vampire fiction. To me the Swedish vampire film ‘Let the Right One In’ (2008) was the best followed by ‘The Hunger (1983).’

This film is very good, there is a blending of art, beauty and music: Yes, another vampire movie. But Mr. Jarmusch is not Stephenie Meyer, Ms. Swinton is not Kristen Stewart, and, despite its title, ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ is less about sex than about art. Vampirism, in other words, serves in this film as a metaphor not for insatiable desire (as it has, to different effect, in the “Twilight” movies and the HBO series “True Blood”), but for passionate creativity. Mr. Jarmusch imagines the tribe of the blood-consuming undead as a kind of aesthetic aristocracy, counting in their ranks most of the world’s geniuses of painting, fiction, cinema and music. Byron and Shelley are name-checked, a careful selection of books (including “Don Quixote” and “Infinite Jest”) are packed into Eve’s suitcases, and Adam’s walls are hung with portraits of Buster Keaton, Mark Twain, Robert Johnson and others.

Plot: Set against the romantic desolation of Detroit and Tangier, an underground musician, deeply depressed by the direction of human activities, reunites with his resilient and enigmatic lover. Their love story has already endured several centuries at least, but their debauched idyll is soon disrupted by her wild and uncontrollable younger sister. Can these wise but fragile outsiders continue to survive as the modern world collapses around them?

Someone I saw the film with remarked upon the slow pace: When you live for hundreds of years without the inevitability of a natural end, there is no reason to hurry, and Mr. Jarmusch is a practiced hand at slow filmmaking. What sustains “Only Lovers Left Alive” is less a story than a sensibility, an attitude of nostalgic and somewhat cranky connoisseurship. Plots are for squares, which is not to say that nothing happens.

As I’ve said, the metaphors for the vampire are clear: Ideas such as eternal youth, beauty, strength and never ‘dying’ – in the sense of being gone forever are prominent. The vampire embodies the cultural desire for youth [creams, Botox, plastic surgery etc.] and strength [gyms] in addition to other things.

This film is chock full of metaphors and names borrowed from literary fiction and elsewhere: One of Eve’s passports has her name as Daisy Buchanan. The Great Gatsby reference is not lost on me. The literary allusions are plentiful. Watson is the name of a doctor. Adam calls himself Dr. Faust when obtaining a blood supply from a hospital. The actual Christopher Marlowe is a close friend of our leads and there is talk of Shakespeare. There are biblical references – our leads are called Adam and Eve… There are scientist references and Adam makes a Quantum Theory analogy, there are musician references etc.

Adam and Eve are not the type to go out and bite necks: They purchase their nutrition from medical professionals (including one played by Jeffrey Wright) and drink it from long-stemmed, shapely goblets. But the film does not hesitate to make another familiar metaphorical link — one between vampirism and addiction. After these vampires taste blood, their heads roll back and the room starts to spin. And when supplies dwindle, things grow desperate in a hurry. It is also clear that not everyone manages the habit as well as Adam and Eve, as demonstrated when Eve’s wild sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), shows up for a visit.

The soundtrack is incredible. This is by far, the most original mixture of film music I have ever heard. Yes, EVER. We have goth, classic rock, middle-eastern music, classical, jazz etc:The brooding NYC rock outfit SQÜRL, (Jim Jarmusch, Carter Logan and Shane Stoneback) have created an epic score in collaboration with Dutch composer Jozef Van Wissem of stoner riffs, minimal orchestration and haunting vocals, courtesy of guest appearences from Zola Jesus, Yasmine Hamdan and Madeline Follin of Cults. It pulses with vigour and romance, much like Jarmusch’s film itself.

What’s wonderful here is a tapestry or aesthetic … a blend of high art, music, sensibility and fragility. Immortality is very uncertain here and an appreciation for beauty is like breath on a spider-web.