Thursday, November 29, 2007

Women writing Violence

I'm just finishing a great book called Zen and the Art of Screenwriting: insights and interviews by former UCLA prof Willaim Froug. As the title implies, there are several interviews inside, including one with Callie Khouri, who wrote Thelma & Louise.

Froug asks her about the possibilities for women writers, and her response is very telling:
As long as violence and sex are the hottest-selling ticket, I doubt that women are gonna be making great strides, because we’re not schooled in violence in the same way men are…

There’s a lot of violence specifically directed to a male audience, things that have a certain amount of appeal to their base instincts. But it’s not there for women. There’s not violence that’s specifically directed to a female audience. I think that Thelma and Louise had a kind of violence, even though I don’t think of it as violence. Even blowing up the truck wasn’t really violent. They way they took the driver out of the truck – they didn’t kill him, they didn’t shoot him in the knee. You see those kinds of things in other movies all the time. I was shocked to hear Thelma & Louise referred to as violent.
I decided to do a little research and came up with only a few examples of violent films written by women:

Debra Hill was the Queen of the genre. She co-wrote the original Halloween, Halloween 2, 5, 6, H20 and Resurrection. She also co-wrote The Fog (1980). She was also an impressive producer not only of the Halloween franchise, but in a variety of genres (from Big Top Pee Wee to World Trade Centre.) [Hill died in 2005]

Fran Walsh co-wrote The Frighteners, a horror film, and also Heavenly Creatures, which involves murder by teenage girls. But this is a single act in a film much more interested in the relationship between the girls. (she also co-wrote the Lord of the Rings series, and King Kong 2006).

Patty Jenkins wrote Monster, the true story of a rare female serial killer.

Another writer who has looked at an unusual (fictional) serial killer is Melissa Rosenberg, executive producer of Dexter. She has written a few episodes, as has newcomer Lauren Gussis. In Canadian television, Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik created the violent Durham County after writing on Cold Squad.

Pamela Wallace received the Academy Award for Witness, which contains violence and suspense, but again, the focus of the film is on relationships.

Anyone else got a name to add to the list? Khouri herself has followed up T&L with Something to Talk About, and an adaptation of YaYa Sisterhood.

So I think Khouri is still right, that women are not writing violent films, but these films are not necessarily still the "hottest ticket." If you look at the top 50 grossing films of 2007 so far, only 10 of them are violence/horror -focused:
  • Bourne Ultimatum
  • 300
  • Live Free or Die Hard
  • American Gangster
  • Ghost Rider
  • Disturbia
  • Saw IV
  • Halloween
  • Resident Evil: Extinction
  • Premonition
Of these, the only woman writer involved is Debra Hill, who gets a credit on Halloween, as she co-wrote the original.

What about the other 80%? If comedies and relationships make up the balance, how many women are involved in these? In the next couple of weeks, I'll look at all the top movies of 2007 and let you know how many were penned by women.

[edited Dec 9]

Monday, November 26, 2007

Brothers & Sisters and babies

A few eps ago, Kitty found out she's pregnant, but then lost the baby. Her fiancee Robert, who is running for President, is relieved, as the timing would have made things tough for him. However, Kitty, seemingly having lost every modicum of common sense and the savvy that makes her his PR manager, decided she wants them to try again to have a baby -- as soon as possible. Really? You couldn't wait say til at least after the primaries to see what your work load it going to be? Robert pretends he thinks this is a Really Good Idea too.

And though Kitty is on paper still Communications Director for a presidential campaign, she spends the entirety of this episode getting dance lessons and picking out a wedding dress -- for like the third time this season. I'd like to see her on the blackberry at least while she's doing all this, taking some interest in the campaign...

Meanwhile, sister Sarah, CEO of the family company, lost a custody fight for her children, apparently because she was the primary bread earner and her partner was the stay-at-home dad.

Brother Tommy does have a baby, but his wife Julia, depressed at losing the baby's twin, went off to convalesce with her parents. Tommy, feeling abandoned and frustrated, decided having an affair with office manager Lena would be a Really Good Idea. His business partner, who had a long-running affair with Tommy's father, told him in no uncertain terms that she wouldn't tolerate it, and he finally breaks it off.

In this ep, Lena decides that dating Tommy's brother Justin, who is in recovery for drug addiction, would be another Really Good Idea. Is it revenge or is she actually attracted to him? Does she have a "top" in mind that she's sleeping her way toward?

Julia returns home this episode, happy again and clueless about the affair. Her role up to this point has been completely tied to emotions around making the baby (through IVF with one of Tommy's brother's sperm!) and the death of her second baby. She is a teacher by training, but so far it looks like she'll be a stay-at-home mom. Which is fine, but I'm hoping that once the affair is inevitably revealed, her reaction to that -- hopefully something more interesting than running back to her parents -- will finally give her character some definition.

And now that Mama Nora has passed the crisis of adult baby Justin's relapse, she can focus her energies on dating Chevy Chase! More happy casting by this show! (and bonus Lyle Lovet moment this ep!)

(We can only hope the AMPTP can pony up to the bargaining table with a reasonable offer so these stories can keep coming.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Reinventing the Women of Sci-Fi TV

I've got an article up at Den of Geek on the failure of US Network television to follow Battlestar Galactica's lead in creating Sci Fi women characters of enough depth.

Clearly I'm psyched for this weekend's premiere of the 2 hour BSG special Razor on Space and SciFi (simulcast Sat 9 pm EST). I was reassured to read that although the episode will revolve around the actions of ice-cold Helena Cain, Admiral of the Battlestar Pegasus, the story will be told in flashback, so we'll get to see all our fave characters... <> Starbuck < /sigh > (That's my Geek move of the day!)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lust, Caution

[Pseudo Pspoilers follow]

Ang Lee's gorgeous new film Lust, Caution (Sie, je) winds its way through themes of subterfuge, choice, identity and betrayal.

When the film opens, the lead, Wang Jiazhi (in a knock-down performance by Wei Tang), is a school girl in Japanese-occupied China. She is invited to join a political drama group and proves to be an adept actress. Her skills as an actress come in handy as the group moves on to infiltrate the lives of the Yees, a wealthy couple who are collaborators, with the intention of assassinating Mr. Yee.

Jiazhi's transformation from school girl to sophisticated seductress is amazing. She fully adopts her new persona, and we only see her once more in her everyday personality. The only way I can grasp her character and the choices she makes is to believe that in the years in her role, however, she comes to believe it is her true self.

Because we know of Yee's bloody ruthlessness, we know that Jiazhi is in constant danger, and must be a consummate actor under a variety of stressful circumstances, including hiding the affair from Mrs. Yee and her circle of friends.

We are all actors of one kind or another, and certainly there is a long tradition of women "faking it" in bed to make a man feel powerful. (or just to get it over with...) But so much is left ambiguous in the film. Does Jiazhi have any true physical attraction to Yee? Or is she full of disgust, as she claims to be to her fellow conspirator Kuang, with whom it is clear there is a mutual physical attraction? Most intriguingly perhaps: if she is attracted to Yee, does this lessen her bravery?

Jiazhi's final choice at the end of the film puts into question all of her actions up to that point. And most frustratingly, for me, upends and even erases everything that has passed before. This is me, moaning quietly in the theatre as the credits roll: "Noooooooo!"

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bionic Woman - a man in the picture

After the pilot, this show felt very slow-paced, especially compared to an adrenaline-fueled show like Alias. Some episodes even had flashback - ugh.

The action scenes were always rocking (though I'm a little specious of her ability to leap from the ground to the top of a building), but I found myself fast-forwarding through talking scenes. (which is the opposite of several other shows, where I'm much more interested in the human drama and banter than the blood-spillage.)

I think the writers have caught on though, and are taking themselves less seriously, allowing some fun in to over-ride the ultra-serious lab crowd. In the last couple of episodes, I've become almost as interested in Jaime's conversations as I am in her kick-boxing moves.

It helps that they've pulled back from the politics at the lab and brought in a relaxed cute CIA Agent, Tom. This was definitely a mid-season decision as he's not listed in the original materials. The introduction of CIA Agent Tom as a partner/love interest could have gone very wrong. But I think it's succeeding - it gives her someone to verbally spar with, however heavy-handed that may come across at times.

He's a far better foil than her sister or any of the guys back at the lab. And I'm enjoying the comedic effect of his self-titled "chivalrous" attempts to protect her. As Antonio says to him "You're in so far over your head and don't even know it."

In their first operation together, he's all "I'll go down - you stay here and cover me." Jaime warns him "Don't underestimate me..."

Next ep, she chastises him, saying she's not a "trophy spy." When he's unable to kick down a door, she "helps" him. His response is a classic "I loosened it."

The conflict heats up when he says "I'm going in alone... It's too dangerous."

Jaime snaps back "You may think you're being a gentleman but it's condescending. Get over yourself."

Actions speak louder than words and he finally gets it, even though she tries to take it back, saying she didn't mean it:
Him: "Clearly you can kick some ass"
Her: "I can"
Him: "You can."

Compelling, eh? But then he has to make sure we know what's really important: "God you're beautiful." Gag.

At the beginning of this episode (107 - Trust Issues), Jaime's partner Antonio warns her, "Relationships and counterespionage don't mix."

And he has a point - she's so busy chatting up Tom on her cell phone that she forgets to watch the briefcase she's supposed to be following. Thank god her bionic eye helped her find it again.

The humour continues when she kicks the butts of the CIA agents sent to "check up" on her.

Tom's overprotectiveness rears its head again in the form of chasing down Jaime to an assignment and yelling at Antonio for sending her out without a gun. But even Jaime has her biases - when Antonio says the assasin is a woman, she repeats, surprised, "Her?"

By the end of the episode, Jaime is in Tom's arms crying, "I can't do this. I'm not cut out for this." She's gonna have to toughen up, and everyone at the lab knows it.

Her tears are because they've now killed off the second moderately important character (at the hand of a female assassin, no less!). I admire that, because it means that no one (with the exception of Jaime herself of course) is safe. That's a good thing to keep us on our toes instead of presuming all the good guys will make it out OK.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Journeyman Ep 7

You might think a show with the word "man" in the title would be no place to find a SFL. And unfortunately you'd be right.

The show revolves around reporter Dan Vassar, who suddenly develops the ability to travel through time, apparently to help other people at important junctures in their lives. And when I say "revolves around" I mean it. It's all about him.

Dan is part of a love quadrangle made possible by his time travel. In the past, his wife Katie, dated his brother Jack, and Dan was engaged to a woman named Livia, who died in a plane crash. When he travels back in time, he often visits scenes from the past of the foursome. It can get a little awkward -- in the best possible way, which makes it the most interesting part of the show, as the actual changing people's lives plots aren't that stunning.

In the pilot episode, the moment I became most intrigued with the show was the moment Livia shows up. I was captivated by her sudden appearance as a fellow time-traveler, and was hoping we'd get to follow her story too, see what she's been up to, time-hopping for the last 6 years, see the bigger picture of what the time travel is all about.

Instead, Livia seems to just hang out waiting for Dan, but she doesn't really help much. Finally in the most recent episode (107 - "Double Down"), she does take the bold action of driving a car to help him get away.

I presume she knows more than she tells Dan, but she remains cryptic about what their role is and how it all works. In the third episode, she reveals that she had been time traveling before she met him, and then when they were together, she stopped for a while, until she traveled before her plane went down. Which leaves lots of questions: Is her only job to help him? What does she do when she's not hanging around waiting for him?

One problem is there's no sexual tension at all between Dan and Livia. And we've never really seen him as someone worth mooning/fighting over. The potential to cheat is purely theoretical. Instead of seeing an emotional struggle, this episode features a ridiculous literal fight between current-Dan and past-Dan. And there's the moment when she finds out that he married Katie. Although she now seems to be glued to Dan as he zips around in the past, apparently she never travelled to a moment in his life when she would observe Dan's current married with child state?

In this episode, we finally get to follow Livia somewhere, but yet again, it's All About Dan. She pops into Dan's current-day house to spy on Katie and get Dan's money. Sigh. But at least she's doing something useful.

Which is more than Katie gets to do. A reporter in her own right, the last 2 eps have focused around her basically asking Dan's PERMISSION to go back to work as an anchorwoman. Talk about time travel!

In this ep, fulfilling the role of these two women to help and save Dan, time-travel Livia helps current-Dan help past-Katie save past-Dan from his self-destructive gambling problem.

The other figure in the love quad, brother Jack badgers Katie to find out what's going on with Dan, as he can see it's taking a toll on her. Though he presumably has a continued emotional tie to her, it comes across as bullying, which is too bad, because he could do it in a gentle way, that would make him more appealing as a character instead of making sure we don't root for him. But you know what, I'm annoyed enough by Dan that I now appreciate Jack turning on him.

Tellingly, the photos of Katie (Gretchen Egolf) and Livia (Moon Bloodgood) on the official website are of them posing and vamping. Note to writers: you've got two great women available - use them.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Blood Ties

I watched the fun two-part pilot of this show back in August, and caught a couple eps after that. For Halloween, I watched a few episodes on my PVR and remembered how much I enjoy this show.

The set-up is detective show. Vicki Nelson (Christina Cox ) works cases with and in conflict with her ex-partner on the police force, Mike (Dylan Neal), who is also an ex-lover.

Vicki's assistant Coreen, was her first supernatural-case client - her boyfriend was killed by a vampire/demon. At first Vicki is tough to convince, but by the end of the pilot, she has encountered dark supernatural forces first-hand, including being branded by the demon herself. And she has made a new partner in Henry, a 350-year old vampire investigating the murder himself to keep dark forces at bay.

The production values are decent for scifi, and very importantly both Cox and Schmid are hot hot hot. (sorry Dylan -- on a supernatural show, you're vanilla. Which is how Vicki feels too I think - once you've tasted the kink, it's tough to go back...). The chemistry between them is hot. The first time we see Henry, he's in bed, using his vampire ways for mutual sexual satisfaction. Later, Vicki lets him suck her blood to save his life, and they are bound together. Henry is very much the ladies' man, but always puts his woman of the week aside to help Vicki when she calls. Meanwhile Mike is super-jealous and over the course of the first season, learns the truth about who Henry is, which increases their mutual distrust.

The competitive sparks between Mike and Henry over Vicki, which might on another show feel silly, are fun to watch, because Vicki truly is shifting her alliance, and she's not an airhead. She is a tough fighter and can kick butt without Mike or Henry's help. Together, Vicki and Henry are a formidable team. One personal reason I like Vicki is she's practically blind without her glasses (though the writers forget this occasionally). I'm not positive, but I think her eye condition is why Henry can't mesmerize her with his vampire eyes. Or maybe it's her strong mental powers.

Season two is showing on Lifetime, where you can supposedly watch recent eps. But I can't get it to load - probably because I'm in Canada, and you've got to watch out for those tricky Canadians. Ditto iTunes. Space is also showing season one on Friday nights. Canucks can catch the show on CityTV Sunday nights in East/Central, Wed for Pacific and Thursdays Mountain. Some people wonder why it's hard to find a Canadian audience. Others wonder how the Canadian audience even finds the shows.

You can learn more about the show and keep an eye on where to find it at writer Dennis McGrath's blog.

Based on books by Tanya Huff.