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Movies You Haven’t Seen But Should: “Grace”

February 11, 2011 Leave a comment

The Bride and I were discussing feminist horror the other day (doesn’t every couple), spurred by the DVD cover of the “I Spit On Your Grave” remake. The remake’s cover offers a variation on the original’s poster, and while both are essentially offering up a combo of sex and violence, each movie comes down to being revenge fantasies about a woman taking out her rapists. The original is notable for a gut-wrenching rape sequence years before “Irreversible” gained notoriety of a similiar sequence, while the remake apparently pulls back on that somewhat and focuses more on the revenge aspect of things.

There’s an attempt by the filmmakers of both the original and the remake to call them “feminist horror,” since ultimately they both tell the story of women delivering a deserved come-uppance onto groups of men. It’s the same attempt that Eli Roth put out with “Hostel 2” that it had a feminist overtone because (SPOILER ALERT), in the end, the woman with money had more power than the poor and thusly emasculated man.(END SPOILER) 

The Bride’s contention, and I tend to agree, is that castrating a man does not feminist horror make. You have to go deeper than that, and a movie like Paul Solet’s vastly underrated  “Grace” does just that thing. It’s a movie I’ve debated on writing about for months, that I had to chew on for weeks afterwards, one that has kept popping up into conversations with the Bride . “Grace” is, and I say this with the deepest of sincerity, one righteously effed-up movie.

By rights, I shouldn’t like “Grace.” The director, Solet, was unknown to me, and the star, Jordan Ladd, was not exactly someone who had impressed me at any point with anything she’d been in. But I remembered the boys over at CHUD discussing it following Sundance back in ’09, and Devin’s open letter to the film’s eventual home, Anchor Bay, imploring for a theatrical release for the movie. Eventually it landed on DVD and it lived in our Netflix Instant Streaming queue for a while before we decided to kill part of a Saturday afternoon with it.

“Kill” is the key word there.

I won’t go into the plot, because plot isn’t really what makes “Grace” an unsettling and effective movie. The gist of the story is about Ladd’s Madeline, a pregnant woman who seems stuck in a marriage she’s not entirely pleased with. She and her husband are involved in a car accident that kills the husband and forced to deliver the baby, the titular Grace. What proceeds to happen from this point on is best experienced, preferably with the lights dimmed and the baby monitor turned off.

Most horror directors don’t understand tone. They don’t understand that oftentimes it is what is left out that is more important than what is left in. Solet, in his first feature, nails tone. He creates an incredibly disturbing tone from almost frame one, with a painful dinner conversation between Madeline, her husband, and her in-laws. Everything is painted in small, strong strokes, with off-putting glances and clipped dialogue. He continues the contrast with Madeline, a vegan, watching PETA-esque videos of animal cruelty.

Solet never lays it all out on the table the way many directors would have. When characters appear, their motives may appear clear, but their motivations less so. What drives Madeline, unhappy in her marriage (Ladd conveys a world of hurt and disinterest in a sex scene with the husband) and possibly having a baby only because that’s what society expects of a young married woman, to care for the “baby” speaks volumes about societal pressures and the very concept of motherhood and protecting your brood without ever once trying to answer any of those questions, knowing that there are no easy answers.

Solet does seem to acknowledge, however, the tacit power which lies in motherhood and, by proxy, womanhood. The mother-in-law, played by Canadian actress Gabrielle Rose, is a woman who is past childbearing years, and instead she clings to the fragile power of lording over her son and cuckolding her husband. Her attempts to take Grace from her daughter-in-law reflect her own fear of aging and how deeply connected the power of conception and birth are to our own ideas of youth. Meanwhile, Madeline’s midwife Patricia (Samantha Ferris) struggles to get control over her feelings about Madeline following a hinted-upon relationship. (Sollet’s script is brilliant in never explicitedly telling you anything, and respectfully thinking you might just be able to piece things together on your own).

“Grace” is a film about women struggling for control and for power. Don’t go into it expecting strong men; every male character is essentially neutered, from Madeline’s husband, who is still connected to his mother by apron strings, to the OB/GYN (Malcolm Stewart), who is a cretin of the highest (or lowest) caliber. But the women are shrews, they aren’t harpies, they aren’t witches and nags. What they are are women battling generations and millennia of expectations from men and society, looking for some way to exert their own power, and it is soon evident that it is in motherhood that they find their greatest strength.

And yes, “Grace” will scare the hell out of you too. It manages to succeed where a movie like Lucky McKee’s “May” was only partially successful, in building a complex portrait of a woman and then imbuing her with massive reserves of strength (“May” has a stunning first hour and then falls apart, sadly; that said, I’m looking forward to McKee’s “The Woman,” which massively divided audiences at Sundance this year, and actually drove people out of the theater). “Grace” builds and builds with dread, where a simple fly becames a harbinger of death, and once that is surprisingly unviolent until one sudden, shocking act turns everything on its ear and it almost becomes a Greek tragedy.

The ending on “Grace” may not be perfect, but it feels almost inevitable. Ladd taps into depths that nothing she’s been in prior even hints at, and shows that with the right director and script, she could easily move to the next level of film. Sollet is a name to watch from this point on, because he’s made a movie that will upset you, disturb you, and make you think long after the final credits.

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Road Trip

October 13, 2010 1 comment

They’ll be no word count update for today or yesterday because, well, no words were written as The Bride and I road-tripped out to Lexington, Ky. for an overnighter to see Citizen Cope in concert at the beautifully named Buster’s Billiards and Backroom. If you haven’t seen Citizen Cope or haven’t even heard of him, shame on you. One of the finest purveyors of neo-acoustic-folk-whatever you’ll hear, Cope blew through an hour and 45 minutes of performance, stopping mostly to change guitars, keeping stage patter to a minimum and ripping through what would constitute his greatest hits provided he actually had a hit song.

What Citizen Cope does have is one hell of a repertoire of music, a lot of it you’ve seen in movies or heard on commercials (“Bullet and a Target” probably the most ubiquitous of his tunes). It was a great show outside of some college kids hitting their party limit a little early in the evening, well before the show even started. There’s a sharp decline in concert etiquette, agreed The Bride and I, and as we each wore the spilled beer of drunken sorority girls, we thought back to those glory days where Greeks didn’t want to go see stoner rock. Ah, memories …

We also reveled in the glory of Joseph A. Beth’s, a Lexington bookstore where you can spend money faster than Takashi Miike in “Hostel.” We scored various and sundry goodies, including Paul Malmont’s “The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril,” an ode to the pulpy fiction of olden days (one of my favorite genres — I’m looking more forward to this book than I can admit), and a goodly number of magazines that aren’t always easy to find when you’re on the last outpost on Mars.

And, of course, we got to see the insane number of Rand Paul bumper stickers and forced ourselves to ponder just how stupid people have to be to think this asshat presents a realistic option in Washington.

“Our nation’s finest institution of high-ish education”

At first I thought it was a joke. Until I found out that it wasn’t.

Kinda wants to make you throw up in your mouth a little, doesn’t it?

I love Glenn Beck for the very reason that if he didn’t exist, Jon Stewart would have had to have created him TO make fun of him.

Meanwhile, Sarah Palin’s over on Fox News still scribbling notes on her hand because she’s afraid she’ll forget a number (oh, and by the way, she’s still lying: the Dems DID NOT enact a $3.8 trillion dollar tax increase. Do you suppose she said “trillion” because the note in her other hand told her to not say “gajillion”?). 

And you’ve got Sen. John Kyl, an Arizona Republican, saying we should repeal the 14th Amendment, which gives children of immigrants born in the United States, regardless of legal status, U.S. citizenship. Republicans are astonishing because they’re the only group that want to tack on amendments to the Constitution that actually TAKE AWAY freedoms from individuals.

Are we, as a nation, this scared and stupid? We’ll take a pseudo-education from a shmuck who never even attended college while ensuring that the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave” doesn’t let in anymore of those icky brown people?

I weep, boys and girls.

Citizen journalist, military intelligence, and other oxymorons

This blog is written by a guy who is a recovering journalist who screwed up a lot. I mean, A LOT. I mean, to the point I had a macro set up for writing corrections. I once had to run a correction to a correction. I’m not one to disparage someone for getting something wrong.

However, when you blatantly lie, when you manipulate facts to get your “point” across … well you just get called Fox News. Or you’re Andrew Breitbart.

And here’s the thing: Andrew Breitbart is such a D-bag I won’t even link to his site. Under the veil of “citizen journalism” and battling the “liberal media,” Breitbart ran footage that had been severely edited of a speech by a female African-American Agriculture Department worker who said she had not worked as hard as she should have to help white farmers early in her career. That was two minutes of the speech. The OTHER 38 minutes discussed how she overcame her own racial prejudices and ultimately strove to understand that yes, we’re all in this together, regardless of race, color or creed.

Breitbart, who has spent several years operating right-wing websites, ran the footage which then resulted in the woman getting fired. When the rest of the footage showed up, Breitbart offered no apologies, saying he had been manipulated in the process also, that he just ran the footage the way he received it.

Well, then. WHEW! At least he didn’t do anything wrong. Oh, wait, that’s right. Nothing but NOT CHECK THE FACTS!

Breitbart displays the growing problem that exists in the media. Once we had three networks and read the newspaper everyday and we knew what was going on; now you can get all the news you’d ever want 24 hours a day via television, radio, or the Internet. Journalists were chain-smoking alcoholics with cheap suits and rings under their eyes and a fierce determination for the truth. Now anyone with a digital video camera and an Internet connection can go and claim they’re a “citizen journalist.”

What we’re forgetting in this day and age, however, is that journalism was always built around the truth, not your existing opinion and mysterious video footage that showed up in your email inbox. Journalism was about checking the facts in the search for the truth, not creating the truth out of what you already believe.

NPR has an excellent piece by Jonathan Chait, the senior editor of The New Republic, that expounds on this far better than me. However, there is a lengthy quote he mentions from Breitbart which points directly to not just the arrogance of Breitbart and his kindred, but the fundamental flaw of “citizen journalism” as a whole:

No steadfast journalism rule is unbendable when it comes to justifying and protecting the racket that is modern journalism, specifically, political journalism in the United States today. The ends justify the means for the Democrat Media Complex. They lie when they claim to be objective. They lie when they claim to be unbiased, because these so called “truth seekers” are guilty of engaging in open political warfare… most media organizations are either complicit by participation in the treachery that is Journolist, or are guilty of sitting back and watching Alinsky warfare being waged against all that challenged the progressive orthodoxy. The scandal predictably involves journalists posing as professors posing as experts. But dressed down they are nothing but street thugs.

Journalism that comes with a ready-made opinion isn’t journalism; it’s editoralizing at its best, blogging at its worse. This blog will never claim to be “journalism” (hell, one of my categories is “leftist politics). 

This blog is basically the assorted rantings and ravings of one person. But in the content-hungry media whirlpool that passes for news today, everyone seems willing to stretch the veracity of the truth in an effort to garner some attention and to sell their point of view. Even Dan Rather, one of the most respected journalists of the past 50 years, fell victim to it with the “Killian documents” scandal, concerning former President George W. Bush’s military record.

I’m not saying Rather had a viewpoint he was trying to get across (though his opinion on the Bush presidency has become obvious in recent years). But our rush to feed the media beast has given license to almost anyone to throw out anything they want to world to know without the background research and legwork needed to back up the story. No, now it’s just a matter of posting it up onto your website and then hiding from the repercussions. The virtue of experience and steadfastness has faded and given way to Breitbart and others to scandal, to slander, to work to destroy, and then just shrug it off. “Oh, I was manipulated too,” they say.

Manipulation isn’t an excuse. If you can’t back up what you’re ready to run, be it in a newspaper or a website or on television news, DON’T RUN IT! Check facts. Be a real journalist. Be an adult. Understand that there are causes and effects in this world. Know that when you screw up, it reflects back on thousands of others who call themselves “journalists” and might, just might, be battling to shine the light out across the darkness. Know it could hurt hundreds or thousands who get caught up in your “manipulation.” Know that you’re not an island adrift in an Internet ocean. Know that responsibility comes when you call yourself by a title. And stop embarrassing yourself and others. No matter of our race, our color, our political belief, we’re better than that. We all deserve better than that.

Just to make sure this is clear …

June 8, 2010 1 comment

So Helen Thomas, one of the most revered journalists of the 20th century, retires due to, well, stating her opinion on the news (gasp!) and then (OMG!) says she’s wrong, but in two separate elections we have states ready to elect a pair of dipwads who (1) thinks that the government shouldn’t have passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and (2) would actually vote to repeal Medicaid and Social Security.

Just to review: Have an opinion and you have to quit your job, unless you’re running for office, and then we’ll elect you so you can roll back decades of social progress.

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Categories: Leftist Politics