Friday, 28 May 2010

Sex and the City: Sinking in Quicksand?

Tonight, I went to see 'Sex and the City 2' and I had a blast. The reviews for the sequel to 2008's smash hit silver screen adaptation of the long-running HBO series have been mostly negative. Criticism ranges from charges of racism (a large chunk of the movie is set in the United Arab Emirates and the way these American women view the traditional Muslim culture of their host country is surprisingly condescending considering that they are supposedly cosmopolitan New Yorkers), misogyny (due to references to Samantha's desperation to maintain her youthful vitality) and being cultural irrelevant (for a film that was conceived, written and produced during one of the worst global economic downturn in recent history, the film's blatant materialism could be viewed as either much needed escapism or a film about four white women with the kind of problems that the rest of us could only dream of having). Worst of all is the charge that the movie is completely lacking any genuine drama. Considering that the movie has already earned $14.2 million at the North American box office on Thursday alone (presumably from midnight screenings since the movie officially opened on Friday), it looks like what critics have to say won't affect the film's commercial success too much.

As someone who loves the legacy of the groundbreaking original series and was genuinely moved by the dark places the first film dared to go, I must confess that I found it slightly disappointing that this movie does not have the same emotional impact as its predecessors. Furthermore, it was not the smartest decision for Michael Patrick King, the writer and director of both films and the main creative force behind the latter, and arguably best, seasons of the show, to lose the so-called fifth lady of this group - Lady New York herself. When I saw the preview for the film for the first time, I thought that the trip to the desert would be a brief retreat from the Big Apple but I was wrong. Still, there is so much to enjoy. The movie is a visual feast with lush cinematography and production values truly worthy of an old Hollywood musical. What the movie has to say about the challenges of sustaining romance and 'sparkle' in a marriage when domesticity starts to take over is interesting and there are some very enjoyable moments that shine in their high camp appeal, like the four stars singing karaoke to 'I Am Woman', Liza Minnelli performing 'Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it)' at a gay wedding (the film's not so subtle wink to its gay audience) and a fun flashback sequence when we see what the women looked like in the 80s.

However, the film's biggest assets continue to be the four actresses who have brought these characters to life for almost 14 years. After all this time, these ladies can work miracles with even the most limiting of material. Sarah Jessica Parker is never less than engaging as the iconic Carrie Bradshaw (now Carrie Preston, as Stanford reminds her) while Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis are endearing in a scene where they discuss the pressures of modern motherhood. Best of all is Kim Cattrall as the insatiable Samantha Jones who refuses to give into both menopause and the conformities of a conservative society. Seeing these four women continue to be fabulous as they grow older is a testament to the lingering theme of female empowerment of the original tv series and honors what fans have always loved about this enduring cultural phenomenon.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Thai Palme d'Or

A Thai film won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for the very first time on Sunday. As well as having the most original title amongst the competition at this year's festival, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's 'Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives' also won the top prize from the jury, which was headed by US director Tim Burton. The timing of this crowning achievement for Thai cinema comes as the country is reeling from months of civil unrest and bloodshed so it is particularly poignant that the people of Thailand have this source of pride to briefly distract them from the political turmoil that they have been enduring at home. The movie has been getting positive reviews from The Hollywood Reporter and Variety but it was still considered a longshot for the top prize, especially when there were more popular contenders like the UK's 'Another Year', directed by Cannes favorite Mike Leigh. Mr Weerasethakul is not exactly a newcomer to Cannes himself, having won a Jury Prize at the 2004 Festival for 'Tropical Malady'. This win is significant not just to Thai cinema but to Asian cinema as a whole as it is the first time that a film from Asia won the top prize in Cannes since 1997, when Japan's 'The Eel' tied with Iran's 'The Taste of Cherry'. Accepting the award, Mr Weerasethakul said: ' I would like to thank all the spirits and all the ghosts in Thailand who made it possible for me to be here. '

The actor and actress prizes went to European stars who are best known to international audiences for their respective Oscar-winning turns. France's Juliette Binoche was recognized for her performance in Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's film 'Certified Copy' while Spain's Javier Bardem shared his Best Actor award (for his work in Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'Biutiful') with Italy's Elio Germano for 'Our Life'.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Golden Girl meets Golden Boy?

Following the successful Facebook campaign to get her to host Saturday Night Live and her stellar performance on the show last weekend, Betty White is finding herself at the centre of a brand new Facebook campaign – this time, her fans want her to be appointed the host of the next Academy Awards. At last count, the group already has over 13,000 members.

As much as I love Betty and thought that her stint as SNL host was a true class act, I wonder how much sense it would make for her to host the Oscars. Sure, the lady is a pro at performing live, having come in the entertainment industry at the advent of radio and live varieity shows on television but the gig itself is a demanding one for anyone, let alone someone who’s pushing 90. It would be too much to ask of the fabulous Ms White but who knows? The woman is still a ball of energy and charisma that most people a quarter of her age can’t muster so if anyone can defy our expectations of senior citizens, it's Betty.

As for whether or not the Academy would even consider this idea, I say, they would be stupid not to! After all, the ideal host for the Oscars should be someone who’s funny and charming and most of all, so beloved by their peers that they can get away with poking fun of any of them. Furthermore, can you imagine the ratings bonanza that it would create? Betty’s stint as host was the highest-rated episode of SNL in 18 months, since the height of the 2008 US Presidential Election. Finally, never underestimate the power of a grassroots campaign!

Speaking of Betty White on SNL, how awesome was it to see on the same show the return of many former female SNL cast members (such as Molly Shannon and Ana Gasteyer) from the recent past in this Mother’s Day-themed special. It was like 2006 all over again with Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch and Maya Rudolph popping up in support of Betty White. What a treat to see many past favorite characters like Maya’s Whitney Houston and Amy and Tina on Weekend Update doing a ‘Really!?!’ segment with Seth Meyers.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The end of an era...

After 13 years of Labour rule, the United Kingdom has a new Prime Minisiter in Conservative Party leader David Cameron, who, at 43, becomes the youngest British PM in almost 200 years. Gordon Brown resigned today and in his speech, graciously took full responsibility for Labour's defeat in last Thursday's General Election. It is going to be interesting to see Mr. Cameron lead a minority government in coalition with the Liberal Democrats and I sincerely hope that they can bring about some positive changes to the UK. Even if it is for just one day, as we acknowledge the dawn of change, we must put aside our cynicism because now is the time for optimism and action.

Love is your color...

...not mine! Still, as anyone who knows me can attest, 'Sex and the City' is my gospel so songs from the soundtrack are my hymns and I looooove me some hymns! The soundtrack to 'Sex and the City 2' will be released May 25th but already, a new song written just for the soundtrack has been leaked on the internet. It's called 'Love is Your Color' and it's a duet between Leona Lewis and Jennifer Hudson, the latter having acted and sung the closing credits song 'All Dressed Up in Love' in the first film. 'All Dressed Up in Love' holds a special place in my heart because of its association with a certain memory from my recent past. Other surefire highlights from the soundtrack include Liza Minnelli's rendition of Beyoncé's 'Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It) (rumored to be performed at the 'secret' wedding between Stanford and Anthony) and the four stars of the movies (Sarah Jessica, Kim, Cynthia and Kristin) performing the female empowerment anthem 'I Am Woman' by Helen Reddy. In the meantime, enjoy 'Love is Your Color'.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Tony, Tony, Tony!!!

Scarlett Johansson became a Tony Award nominee today (in the category of Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play) and, in the process, reaffirmed her claim as an actress of substance. In 2003, at the tender age of 18, Johansson became a critical darling for her leading role in 'Lost in Translation', winning a Bafta and a Golden Globe nomination for her minimal, precocious performance. Although I would definitely call myself a fan, it feels like she has not lived up to her potential in recent years, with her acting career becoming increasingly sidetracked for her full-time career as a celebrity, one who is more visible for her ad campaigns, selling products as diverse as Moet & Chandon champagne, Mango clothing, Dolce & Gabbana cosmetics and Calvin Klein fragrances, than for her acting. I am glad that with her Broadway debut, in the highly-acclaimed revival of Arthur Miller's 'A View from the Bridge', Ms Johansson can redirect attention to her acting talent.

Other screen favorites, from both film and television, proved their mettle as 'legit' actors today by scoring their first Tony nominations. Amongst the nominees are Emmy-winners Kelsey Grammar (La Cage aux Folles) and Sean Hayes (Promises, Promises), as well as Oscar-winners Denzel Washington (Fences), Christopher Walken (A Behanding in Spokane) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (A Little Night Music). Zeta-Jones' 'Night Music' costar, the legendary Angela Lansbury, is poised to win a record-breaking sixth competitive Tony, this time, for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical.

Speaking of acting greats, I must pay tribute to the magnificent Oscar and Tony-nominated Lynn Redgrave, who passed away after a long battle with breast cancer on Monday. The Great White Way will dim its lights in her honor tonight.

For the full list of nominees for this year's Tony Awards, click here.