October 27, 2006

Set It Off

The overall plot of Set It Off plays out like your typical story about getting out of the projects by turning to crime. But at the same time, it isn't. This movie has a meaning, a compulsion, a human desire for freedom usually not seen in other gangster/robbery films. In this movie there is true hope, and true redemption for at least one character; all the way to the tragic end.

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As it examines the motivations that spur the friends into crime, Set It Off perhaps over-exaggerates the overwrought depictions of the abuses heaped upon the women by the injustices of the social system. In a rivetingly shot opening action sequence, Frankie the bank teller is unwittingly thrust into the middle of a bank-robbery crossfire. Because she recognizes the stick-up man from the 'hood, this girl from the projects, who we believe until now has advanced in the world by doing the right thing, is unjustly fired for her relation to the robber. Her unjust dismissal is what drives Frankie's desire for revenge.

All of the women have in someway been screwed with by the government system. Tisean abruptly loses custody of her baby after the child suffers an accident while at her workplace, and Stony sees her younger brother, whom she had hoped to send to college, fatally shot by ruthless cops in a case of mistaken identity. Cleo, a swaggering butch lesbian, has the fewest gripes with the system (whereas Stony wants to use her share of the heist money to get away from the projects, Cleo can't imagine any life away from the 'hood). Although thrills and excitement are Cleo's initial motivations, it is she who winds up being the group's hell-bent mouthpiece for sisterhood and defiance.
Queen Latifah brings an extraordinary presence to the proceedings of the film with her character, Cleo. It's more than just her no-fuss approach to the sexual orientation of her character. Latifah shows real skill in the way that she scowls and glares at her adversaries and the way that she delights in her friends' company and her new-found job skills. Latifah brings something new and startling to the traditional screen depiction of women, something that comes across as so completely indifferent to how she's perceived by any camera or viewer. I thought she played her role was flawlessly.

One gripe I had about the movie was with the character of Stony. She is constantly talking about how she doesn't feel free living in the projects. She instead feels like a caged animal that's being held back by the government. If she really wanted to be "free", she would have taken her chance with Keith, the banker. Keith offered Stony a life of freedom that she had never previously had access to. It is how the movie deals with their relationship that troubles me. If Stony was truly meant to feel free, she would have left her life of crime behind her, even if that includes distancing herself from her friends (who mostly seem to be nuisances). Stony would have gone to start a life with Keith, instead, she throws everything in her life away for one final bank heist.

The movie concludes with everyone being killed except Stony. Stony takes the money and runs off to Mexico to be "free". Somehow I don't feel that she is really free. My definition of freedom does include isolation from my home country and all of my friends dying. Perhaps the director, Gary Gray, could have done a better job interpreting the script, because I think he is sending mixed messages with the resolution of the film.

October 4, 2006

Blue Piano

Colors play an essential role in Jane Campion’s “The Piano?. They tell a story all of their own. By paying attention to the use of color alone, you could grasp a feel for the movie’s plot without ever turning on the sound. Colors hint at the moods and feeling of the characters and also provide subtle hints at the deeper meaning of the film. By studying how a particular director uses color throughout the film, you will eventually gain a deeper understanding of material. You will observe and decode messages that other viewers will miss. Gaining knowledge of the use of color will allow you to see new angles and meanings in films you may have seen a dozen times. Different colors often mean different things to different directors. Directors will often have varying interpretation and views on the meaning of each color and thus where each color belongs in the film.

In general, it is never as easy as black and white when it comes to finding the colors in modern movies. The overall color of a room or setting is usually your best hint at decoding a film’s use of color. Most of the time, however, the director won’t give you that easy of hint. The majority of a film’s use of color as imagery comes from key objects in each individual scene. Jane Campion shades in colors in some of The Piano’s most important items. Jane does a terrific job at using each color of the film. I will now give you my opinion on the use and meaning of some of those most important colors.
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Green is used for the luscious landscape and wild vegetation of New Zealand. Throughout “The Piano?, green posses some kind of dark beauty throughout the movie. Whenever we see bright, vivid shades of green in the film, the overall feeling is brighter than in most other parts of the film.

Black is used in dresses, the dead trees around the Husband’s house, and the piano keys that Ada has to work for to get the piano back. I cannot be certain what the black signifies, but I believe it means change. When Ada gets a new marriage, she and her daughter are both wearing black (Ada is wearing a black dress under the white wedding dress). The black trees are around their house represent a new life. The black piano keys are, in my mind, each a change in Ada’s feeling, her feeling for Baines and herself.

Red is shown whenever there are moments of intense passion or emotion. The bed Ada and Baines have sex in has a red sheets; although this is perhaps a turning point of the film, it is not as emotion filled as the confrontation Ada has with her husband. The blood that comes out of Ada’s finger is red. The most dramatic moment in the film, when Ada’s husband cuts her finger off, uses a very bright red that splashes on the daughter, so it’s very noticeable. I would argue that it is the most red that appears in the film, the strength of the color representing the emotion of the moment.

The whit in this film might be the easiest to figure out. Whenever a character is shown wearing white, it represents their innocence and purity. The wedding dress Ada wears is white (as most are), but I believe that the dress is a fake symbol of purity for Ada. Ada tears off the wedding dress, as if she’s rejecting what it represents: purity. Ada is not a pure woman; she cheats on her husband, I think this is why Jane Campion has her tear off the dress. Jane is making a statement about the character of Ada. White is shown most commonly on the daughter. The daughter wears different white garments and white wings. The daughter is shown to be the stereotypical, pure and innocent little girl and her outfits represent this.

Blue is the most common color in this film. The lighting is blue, as well as the clothes Blue represents sorrow and is in most of the film because the film has a depressing overtone to it. The blue tint on the screen only goes away when there is something on a lighter note that’s happening. There is blue in the beginning when Ada and her daughter move, there is blue when Ada gets married, blue when Ada’s husband hurts her and blue at the end when Ada is pulled into the ocean. The blue finally disappears in the end once Ada begins her new life with Baines.

September 28, 2006

The Piano

I can honestly say I've never seen a movie quite like "The Piano". As a guy, I mostly only watch "guy" type movies. I am not a big fan of "chick flicks" or any movie lacking comedy and/or action for that matter. I would assume that I have almost never watched a movie directed by a woman. Jane Campion's film was my first introduction into the world of feminist movies and it was not what I expected.
I was so used to the “male gaze? perspective of viewing films that I was a little confused and yes, weirded out by Jane Campion’s ideas and methods. The “Female gaze? as it was presented in “The Piano?, portrayed us men in a negative light for the most part.
All of the male figures in the movie were shown as clueless brutes whose job it was to serve the women in a grudgingly manner. The movie began with the crew of the boat helping the Ada and her daughter to land by carrying them and all of their things. Ada’s new husband is gone most of the time doing work and other chores while Ada goes about doing whatever she feels. The Husband seems to be a stern, hesitant man who doesn’t have much care for his new wife’s needs. Baines comes across as a pervert who has no respect for women. The only positive male figure is ironically Baines in the end. Somehow, Ada falls in love with Baines. Afterwards, Baines is no longer a pervert, but a respectable gentleman.
I had a hard time understanding why the men were presented to the audience a more or less negative way until I realized that this movie is seen through Ada’s eyes, the “Female Gaze?. In this film, the camera looks through the female character’s eyes and the male character is looked at. Perhaps the female gaze is most noticeable when the film turns towards sexuality.
The first major instance is when Baines first acquires Ada’s piano. After seeing Ada play the piano, once she leaves, he strips off his clothes and slides his hand over the piano. The audience sees Baines fully nude. In most films, the male character won’t get naked unless there is to be sex and even then, we don’t see much of his body, it’s always the females. Later on in the film we will see Baines naked again, and this time we see “every inch? of his nakedness. Although we also see Ada nude, it’s not as prevalent and focused as it is with the male characters. One instance in which I winced was when Ada was stroking her husband’s backside. A male gaze would never focus directly on the male’s bare butt because the majority of guys don’t want to look at another man in a sexually provocative manner. I was uncomfortable looking at the husband in that way. I wonder if that’s how women feel in most movies where the camera focuses its lens on other females.
I believe that Jane Campion accomplished something with “The Piano?. It definitely changed my outlook on cinema and the portrayal of the sexes. I think that after watching this film, I will be able to better analyze all films in general, whether they were directed men or women.

September 22, 2006

Beauty Standards

The other day in class, we discussed what both men and women are judged on and the “Normative Gender Expectation?. We compared the emotion and nurturing traits of women to the hard, “stone walled? traits of men. Although we discussed many more commonalities and difference between the two genders, the topic that I felt generated the most debate among the class was on the topic of body and beauty standards.

One female student spoke quite passionately on how much of what we judge women on is based on there outward appearance. She claimed that only the women that the media deems as attractive get on television and put on magazine covers. She added that men don’t have to deal with the same standards and expectations of beauty as women.

Another male student spoke up to counter his classmate’s view on men and beauty. He argued that men can face just as harsh criticisms on their appearance and style as women. He remarked that in major metropolitan cities such as Los Angeles and other high fashion places, men are judged by their look just as much as the women.

I felt that there was truth to what the students had to say and then a bit of exaggeration on both parts. I would like to break the concept of “beauty? and “style? down so we could get a clearer idea of where each student was coming from.

One point we as a class discussed was the concept of body composition. It was said that women in films are supposed to be tall, thin, and slim. This then works its way into society until all women are want to fit that particular image. Well, if you exclude the tall part, all women have it within themselves to be fit and in shape, although it often varies from person to person on the exact description of “fit?. This point is wrong because there are many female actors both in movies and in television that are not slim, or fit at all. Why? Because television shows and movies try to mimic real life (duh!). Most people do not have perfect bodies, that being, a majority of movie and show casts are made up of people with all body types. Just look at such shows as “The Office? or movies like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding?.

Now magazines are different. On the cover of most popular magazines today you will see someone who is an example of perfection: their body seems flawless. Why? Because generally, if you’re reading Cosmo or other fashion magazines, their main message is about being healthy and in shape. Why would you put someone on your cover who doesn’t fit the theme or message of the literature? It wouldn’t fit. It’s the same way in every magazine whether it’s directed towards women or not. You wouldn’t put a clown on the front of a bridal magazine, nor would you put a runner on the cover of a body builder magazine.

Standards for men aren’t that much different from women’s. I read a magazine called Men’s Health and I can honestly say I’ve never seen a guy on the cover without a “6-pack?. The fact is, men face the same criticisms.
Where women are expected to be thin and slim, men are expected to be strong and athletic. Where women are expected to where make-up, men are expected to be clean shaven or have well groomed facial hair.

On the topic of clothing and attire, I would argue that men have it harder than women. When it comes to trying to look attractive or professional most women could get away with a nice dress and some fancy heels. Jewelry aside, a man’s wardrobe is much more complicated and expensive. A typical male has to wear a sport coat, slacks, a button-down, collared shirt and a pair of leather shoes in order to look professional.

Although standards might be similar for both sexes, it’s the females that we see more frequently used in commercials and movie previews. Attractive females appear more often than men in the media because they hold sex appeal for males and they can relate to women. Men are used less because it’s often other males that are the target audience and males want to see girls. I believe the reason why it seems females are judged more on their looks than males is because we see images of what the women shown in the media more than the men.

We live in a society that values attractive people, it’s quite simple. Standards are high for both sexes because we set them high. We are the ones who decide what’s in, what’s out. What’s attractive and what’s not. We all want to be attractive towards the opposite sex (or same sex). If we didn’t want to appeal towards one and other our standards would be much more relaxed.

September 6, 2006

Steve's favorite channels

I don't watch a lot of tv mainly because I'd rather be out doing things than sitting in wherever. If my name didn't give it away, I am a guy. I can attest that this list is accurate and truthfull! So don't try to call me out later for not including the Spice Channel in my list, that would have been number 11 incase you were wondering. -Is he joking?

Here's a list of the tv channels I watch most frequently.

1. Comedy Central - I like to laugh.
2. Discovery Channel - I like to learn, plus I have a crush on Carrie from Myth Busters.
3. History Channel - History can be Interesting too!
4. CNN - I'm a journalism major so I'm a bit of a news junkie.
5. ESPN - What guy doesn't watch some sports?
6. G4 tv - They talk about new technology, gadgets and games, all of which I find facinating.
7. Spike tv - There's nothing like sitting on your couch with a bag of cheetos after class and watching "The Worlds Scariest Police Chases."
8. Cartoon Network - I still got a little bit of kid left in me.
9. NBC - This channel hosts my favorite idol... Conan O'brien! Damn! I love that guy.
10. Food Network - Watching other people cook successfully is a constant reminder of all of my failures in the kitchen.

That was actually tougher than I thought it would be. I didn't think I could make it to a full 10. I should really watch more tv.