No Impact Man (2009)

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We recycle. We carry our groceries in cloth bags. We shop local farmers’ markets. And we’ve even traded our traditional light bulbs for long-lasting, energy efficient spiral fluorescent bulbs. We do the best to reduce our carbon footprint and be more ecologically-sound. Still, we know we’re making an impact on our planet. Could we possibly make no impact?

Colin Beavan, a Manhattan-based writer, decided to become more “green” and lessen his family’s impact on the planet. In fact, he wanted to make no impact at all, thus becoming “No Impact Man.” Beavan began his experiment in 2006 and blogged about it soon gaining media attention from both the New York Times and Good Morning America. And his (and his very patient family) journey is captured in the Justin Schein and Laura Gabbert documentary No Impact Man.

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Beavan’s experiment went a bit further than most of us would be willing in the pursuit of making no impact. He and his family lived without electricity, public transportation, driving, television, toilet paper (yes, toilet paper) and new clothing other than the bare necessities. Beavan rode his bike everywhere, bought local produce at the farmers’ market, walked up countless stairs instead of taking the elevator and composted food scraps.

Along for the ride is Beavan’s wife, Michelle Conlin, and their adorable toddler, Isabella. Not surprisingly, Michelle is less than thrilled with her husband’s grand scheme. She’s a writer for Business Week, and is a girl with a yen for Starbucks and retail therapy. But she loves her husband, and figures she can do this experiment for a year even as she goes through serious caffeine withdrawal, and expresses her desire for another child.

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Not quite sure what he’s getting into, Beavan embraces his experiment with giddy zeal. Using no toilet paper? How exciting! And it’s not long before his blog gets media attention. Though some people find his experiment intriguing and inspiring, many write him off as an affront to capitalism, abusive towards his family and a smug, humorless yuppie. Or as Michelle plainly puts it, “They’re calling us bourgeois fucks.”

Beyond the media attention, things don’t always run smoothly. Beavan and his wife bicker about having another child. Milk gets spoiled when the family relies on using two clay pots for refrigeration. And remember, no toilet paper, which makes them subjects for ridicule.

But still, the family soldiers on in their quest to lessen their impact on the environment. It’s not long before they find out that some things about their experiment are pretty cool. They enjoy spending time at the park and riding their bikes together. Even an old-school games of charades turns out to be more fun than a night in front of the boob tube watching reality TV.

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No Impact Man can at times be exasperating (no toilet paper), but you can’t help but come away with some more awareness. It helps that Beavan (and his family) is rather likable, frustrating, yet likable. Sure, Beavan can be a bit rigid, but he’s no finger-wagging scold. He knows what he’s doing is experimental. Sure, Michelle whines at times (that must be the caffeine withdrawal), but she’s no bitchy shrew. In the end, you see a family that truly loves and appreciates each other, and you also learn a few things. Shop at local farmers’ markets? Why yes. Stop using toilet paper? You’ll get my Charmin Double-Ply when you take it from my cold, dead hands.

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The September Issue (2009)

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To a lot of us, fashion seems like a fluffy and superficial profession. But to countless fashion insiders everywhere it is a deadly serious business. This is a business where people know the difference between puce and plum, and where hemlines and necklines are of utmost importance. And that cute handbag you just bought from Target? Quite likely it’s a knock-off of a pricier designer handbag a fashion editor claimed was the “must have” of the season.

And there is probably no more important fashion magazine than American Vogue. At the helm is the British ex-pat Anna Wintour and Vogue is the bible to fashionistas everywhere. And no issue of Vogue is more important than the mammoth September issue, chock full of fashion and beauty layouts, articles, celebrity profiles and yes, lots and lots of advertisements.

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Documentarian RJ Cutler (The War Room, which focused on the 1992 Clinton presidential campain) turns his unblinking camera lens to the creation of the 2007 September issue of Vogue in the documentary The September Issue. The September Issue follows Wintour and crew as the September Issue begins with some nuggets of ideas to a fully-formed magazine on the newsstand.

The September Issue begins with Wintour reflecting on the power of fashion and how it can make some people nervous. Known mostly for her whippet-thin figure, swingy bob and dark sunglasses, it was a bit jarring to hear Wintour speak. Sure, she’s not warm and fuzzy, but there is a reflective side to her that makes her quite human.

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During the film we see Wintour meeting with staff to discuss the issue. We see her jetting off to London, Paris and Rome to attend fashion shows and meet with designers. Wintour can make or break a designer with one raised eyebrow so I wouldn’t be surprised if even established designers like Jean Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfeld felt a bit nervous about meeting her. But when Wintour likes a designer she is behind that person 110%. Wintour was an early supporter of Thakoon (one of Michelle Obama’s fave designers). Her support of him, dare I say it, is almost sweet.

Wintour is also the editor that put celebrities on the covers of Vogue over models, and the chosen celebrity for this September issue is British actress Sienna Miller. Sienna comes to the Vogue offices and is outfitted in beautiful couture gowns, many which will end up in the magazine. However, the staff is flummoxed by Miller’s hair, which is growing out awkwardly, and not quite up to the magazine’s standards. Later, Wintour is not happy with Sienna’s photo layout shot by legendary photographer, Mario Testino, and the design staff scrambles to make a viable cover.

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Though Wintour is at the top of the Vogue heap, she is not alone in making Vogue what it is. In September Issue, we get to meet editor-at-large (literally) Andre Leon Talley, the cape wearing and Vuitton-loving male Auntie Mame who seems to be employed to kiss Wintour’s skinny ass. I can’t imagine what Talley actually does for the magazine, but he definitely added a fun element to the movie. If he didn’t exist, a Hollywood  would have to create him.

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And then there is the brilliant creative director Grace Coddington. Coddington started out as a fashion model in the swinging sixties. But after suffering a horrific car crash, Coddington turned her talents to fashioned a role behind the camera. Coddington is the yang to Wintour’s yin. If Wintour is all about commerce and wondering if it will sell, Coddington is all about art and creating beautiful and over-the-top fashion layouts that are all fantasy.

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Not surprisingly, Wintour and Coddington don’t always see eye to eye. As the issue is being put together, Coddington is creating a 1920s Parisian cafe society fashion layout inspired by the designer Galianos. Coddington’s vision is pure magic, yet Wintour is not pleased with one of the photos, and wants it deleted. Coddington is not happy. This layout is her baby. Yet, I could see both their points. The shot is gorgeous, yet it doesn’t quite work with the rest of the photographs. The offending photo is cut.

However, Coddington does get to make one final decision. During a last minute photo shoot for another layout, Coddington taps the documentary’s cinematographer, Bob Richman, to join the model in a photo. He happily obliges. Wintour takes a look at the resulting photo and wants to airbrush Richman’s slight pot belly. Coddington nixes the idea, saying, “Everybody isn’t perfect in this world.” Richman’s belly stays in the picture. Finally, after months of preparation, the September 2007 issue of Vogue is released. It weighs over four pounds and is over 800 pages, the largest issue in Vogue history.

RJ Cutler’s “fly on the wall” film making style is what helps make this movie so interesting. You get to see everyone in their element without film maker commentary. I was stunned to see the staff look at the mock ups on a huge wall where pictures and layout can be moved by hand rather than doing it on a computer. I was also pleasantly surprised to see how un-Botoxed and unmade-up the staff was even though most of them, like their leader, is very, very thin. Also, I was surprised how plain the Vogue offices are. I was expecting something ostentatious and grand, but the offices are quite non-descript.

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But most of all, I was surprised how much I didn’t despise Anna Wintour. Sure, she isn’t at Vogue to make friends, but she isn’t the vicious harpy the media makes her out to be. Yes, she’s reserved and exacting but so are a lot of people in any cut throat business. And I doubt any negativity thrown Wintour’s way would be applied to a successful man. But still, Wintour does show some vulnerability as when she talks about her siblings, all of them in more serious professions, who are quite “amused” by her career.

September Issue is a fascinating look at both a legendary magazine and the talented people who make it happen. It is the “must have” for both fashion and film lovers.

I Watch It So You Don’t Have To: Intern (2000)*

 

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If any industry seems perfect for satire and parody it’s fashion, especially the rarefied world of fashion magazines. Fashion doyennes decide where our hemlines will be this season with the same seriousness as preparing military readiness in the Middle East. Bulimia and anorexia are considered virtues. And Botox is as necessary as air and water. Ugly Betty was a successful television sitcom immersed in the world of fashion, and The Devil Wears Prada was a huge smash, so I had big hopes for the indie movie Intern. Sadly, Intern turned out to be as big of a Glamour fashion don’t as see-through jeans and pretty much every outfit you see on the Kardashians.

Dominique Swain plays Jocelyn Bennett, an intern at the fashion magazine Skirt. Jocelyn is apparently a photographer, though you never once see her take a picture, and she is fan of Skirt’s innovative layouts and photography. Sadly, in the brief moments we get to see Skirt, the actual magazine, you wonder if the layout was done by a third-grader on Power Point back in 1998. Yes, I know this movie was low budget, but you think someone could have tried a bit harder.

When Jocelyn isn’t making copies, faxing, running errands and cleaning up Skirt staffers’ desks, she’s pining away for the magazine’s art director, Paul Rochester (Ben Pullen). Paul is a fashion magazine rarity, a straight man. And he’s also allegedly related to Prince Charles. Paul is very fond of Jocelyn but at the moment he is involved with a bitch-on-heels fashion model named Resin (Leilani Bishop).

As Intern begins we find out a Skirt insider has been selling Skirt’s secrets to rival magazine. Jocelyn figures finding out who this insider is just might make her a hero at the magazine, and she goes about trying to find out which fashionista has betrayed Skirt. This also gives her a chance to get closer to Paul. Of course, mayhem ensues, blah, blah, blah. But by the time the movie reaches its dénouement, we really aren’t that invested.

I should have known this movie was going to be crap when it began with a cringe-worthy musical number. Most of the observances of the fashion industry, like when an editor makes herself vomit after finding out the milk in her coffee is 2%, not skim, fall flat. The dialogue is clunky, and when Paul tells Jocelyn that she has the whole world inside of her I audibly groaned. A majority of the performances are wooden; only Kathy Griffin as Cornelia managed to get a laugh out of me.

A lot of blame also belongs on Swain whose acting in Intern is amateurish. At times she rushes through her lines and she has no comedic skills. Her Jocelyn is supposed to be the heroine but in the end you don’t care about her and her future at Skirt. Plus, if Jocelyn is supposed to be so much in fashion why does she dress like such a frump?

A lot of fashion designers and other fashion insiders make cameos playing themselves, and I have to admit that I did have fun naming them. “Hey, there’s Diane von Furstenberg!” “Hey, is that Simon Doonan?” And Vogue editor-at-large, Andre Leon Talley seems to have the ability to poke fun at himself.

Sadly, those cameos can’t make up for a dimwitted film. Intern was written by Caroline Doyle and Jill Kopelman, two women who claimed to have worked at fashion magazines. Buddhist monks could have written a better script. If you want to watch the fashion magazine industry skewered to great effect, you are better off staying home and binge watching Ugly Betty.

*Not to be confused with the 2015 movie The Intern starring Ann Hathaway and Robert DeNiro.

To Die For (1995)

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Based on a novel by Joyce Maynard, with a script by Buck Henry, and directed by Gus Van Zant, To Die For combines dark comedy, traditional drama and “mockumentary” interviews to very entertaining results.

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Nicole Kidman plays Suzanne Stone, a local cable weather girl with huge dreams of finding fame and fortune as the next Barbara Walters. What Suzanne lacks in talent and intelligence, she makes up for in manipulation and ruthlessness, and nothing, including her marriage, will get in her way.

The movie commences with Suzanne marrying Larry Moretto (Matt Dillon), the biggest catch in Little Hope, New Hampshire. It’s not certain why Suzanne falls for Larry other than she thinks his close Italian-American family has mob connections, which can help her achieve her goals. Larry is lovable, albeit a bit dim, and completely clueless to Suzanne’s calculating ways. All Larry wants to do is settle down in Little Hope, run the family restaurant and makes lots of babies with Suzanne.

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Of course, Suzanne has different plans. Despite her lack of journalistic and television experience she’s able to charm a local cable TV manager in giving her a gofer job. She parlays this lowly position into a regular stint as a weather girl. It’s not long before she recruits some local teens in producing a subpar TV special called “Teens Speak Out.” Jimmy (Joaquin Phoenix), Russell (Casey Affleck) and Lydia (Alison Folland) are the hardly the type-A achievers you’d expect on a teen-oriented TV show. They’re inarticulate and not good students, but apparently being in awe of Suzanne is the only job requirement necessary.

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Larry gets a bit fed up with Suzanne’s ambitions and tells her it’s time to get busy with making babies. But Suzanne will have none of this. She tells her mother-in-law that being pregnant on TV is a career killer. Oh, if only Suzanne had waited a decade or so. Today, baby bumps and stupidly named off-spring are the “must have” for any celebrity. You can even become famous for simply having kids.

Suzanne realizes Larry, and his meddling family, is getting in her way of achieving TV success. There is only one thing she can do, recruit Jimmy, Russell and Lydia in bumping off her husband. Now having an affair with the devious, yet seductive Suzanne, Jimmy does the deadly deed. This local murder becomes national news making Suzanne the “star” she always desired and she revels in her tabloid notoriety. Not surprisingly, the hapless Jimmy is not so lucky.

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However, Larry’s family is very wise to Suzanne’s scheming ways and they make sure Suzanne gets her comeuppance. The mousy Lydia, who Suzanne disdained as “white trash,” tells her story in a television interview and becomes famous in her own right.

Every performance in To Die For is near perfection. Matt Dillon is very good as a man who’s happy to have the prettiest girl in town but really wants the homebound hausfrau. Illeana Douglas as Larry’s sister Janice is dryly sarcastic and figures out Suzanne’s BS early on in the game. Both Phoenix and Affleck show a great deal of promise early in their careers in their respective roles.

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But To Die For is truly Nicole Kidman’s film. With Kidman’s acting chops, Suzanne Stone is hugely self-absorbed but not very self-aware. Her calculation and cunning is as transparent as a plate of glass, but her telegenic beauty and media-savvy charm succeeds in drawing you closer. Despite ourselves, we want Suzanne Stone to be in front of the camera. Kidman won a very deserved Golden Globe for her portrayal of Suzanne Stone. She is simply a bewitching mix of evil and charisma, and Suzanne Stone is a person we recognize in everything from reality TV to national politics (ahem, or both).

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Both the film and the novel were inspired by Pamela Smart, a teacher and wannabe TV personality who convinced a young man to kill her husband. But instead of telling this story straight, the film takes a very satirical look at our obsession with celebrity, fame and notoriety. Merely entertaining when it was released over ten years ago, in our celebrity-entrenched culture, To Die For is a pointed take on a very interesting phenomenon, the desperate need for fame at any cost.

The Spotlight

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***There is a good chance there will be a writers’ strike via the WGA (Writer’s Guild of America) according to Variety Magazine.*** (H/T Tari Jordan)

Move ticket prices are getting higher, and Hollywood Reporter tells us why.

Summer of 2017 movie preview courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.

Women directed films that are must-sees in 2017!

Geena Davis celebrates the 25th anniversary of A League of Their Own’s release.

Salma Hayek’s Beatriz at Dinner sounds like my kind of film, one that connects with my “Power to the People” mindset.

Talent agent Sandy Gallin dead at 76.

New documentary Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent celebrates the eminent chef and his connection to California cuisine and the renowned restaurant Chez Panisse.

Will Netflix end its mail order DVD service in the age of streaming?

Director John Waters new summer camp for adults, Camp John Waters.

 

 

 

 

The Soloist (2009)

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The Soloist portrays the importance of the printed word in the time of the decline of major newspapers. It also tells the story of the power of music and friendship.

Robert Downey, Jr. plays Steve Lopez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. While on a break from work, he hears the beautiful sounds of a violin. He looks for the source of the music, finding Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a homeless man and musical virtuoso whose two-stringed violin is his one comfort in the world as he plays it under a statue of Beethoven, his favorite composer. Though a bit hesitant about talking to a clearly mentally-unstable man, the reporter in Lopez sees a story. And soon he begins to write a column about Ayers.

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It turns out Ayers was a musical genius as a child, and later studied at Julliard. But it was at Julliard where the darkness of schizophrenia took a hold of Ayers, and before long he was on the mean streets of Los Angeles, pushing his belongings in a rickety shopping cart, trying to survive, music his only friend.

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Lopez’s columns soon make Ayers a celebrity among his readers. And in one pivotal scene, a reader sends a cello to the newspaper office for Lopez to give to Ayers. Ayers, who studied the cello in his younger years, is overcome with gratitude over this simple act of kindness.

Lopez’s relationship soon goes far beyond his byline, and he wants to help Ayers, not just write about him. Of course, wanting to help and actually helping do not always work out easily. Lopez tries to get Ayers involved in Lamp Community, a skid row homeless shelter for the mentally ill. The scenes at Lamp Community are about as far from the glitz and glamour of LA as one can get. The Soloist does not shy away from the ugliness of mental illness. The drug use and violence are very much on display. But The Soloist also gives these people their dignity, often letting them speak in their own words. And Nelsan Ellis, as the Lamp Community’s social worker, David Carter, is very convincing in his role. He is both realistic and compassionate when it comes to the people he is helping at Lamp Community.

Beyond getting Ayers help at the Lamp Community, Lopez also tries to get him medication and an apartment. He also acquires Ayers cello lessons with a local musician, and gets him into a Los Angeles Philharmonic rehearsal at Disney Hall. But not surprisingly, things don’t always go so smoothly. Ayers isn’t too happy about the apartment, feeling more comfortable on open streets of LA. Perhaps, the four walls of the apartment would only remind Ayers of the time he was in his New York apartment as a young man when the tormenting voices of schizophrenia took over his mind. And when Lopez sets up a recital for Ayers to entertain music patrons Ayers becomes overwhelmed and breaks down. Lopez becomes frustrated with Ayers need for him, and at the same time, his tendency to push him away. Yet, Lopez knows he can’t give up on Ayers.

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Both Downey and Foxx are tremendous in their roles. Downey is subtle, the straight man in the relationship. The reporter side of him is curious, but the human side of him is both patient and exasperated with Ayers. Foxx, as Ayers, is at turns paranoid, talkative, angry and fearful. His eyes and body language convey the terror of mental illness, and he often talks in a slipstream of jumbled words that seem to make sense only to him.

At times The Soloist falters like when it uses a light show to show how music affects Ayers. The light show looked right out of a middle school dance circa 1978 and cheapened the experience. I also didn’t like the liberties the movie took with Lopez’s personal life. In the movie, Lopez is divorced from his wife (played by Catherine Keener) who is also his boss, Mary. In real life, Lopez is still very much married to his wife. I have no idea why the screenwriter, Susannah Grant, had to do this. Maybe she did it to bring more drama to the film.

But The Soloist doesn’t need any extra drama. The relationship between Lopez and Ayers is strong enough. The Soloist never gets preachy or wrap things up with a treacly happy ending. Ayers will always be mentally ill, and Lopez will always have to find a story. And just a warning, if you do watch The Soloist, you might want to have some tissues nearby. You’ll find yourself shedding some tears.

Live Nude Girls (2000)

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I doubt you think “union organizer” when you hear stripper. When you think of stripper you probably think of breast implants, drug addiction, exploitation, slutty, uneducated, lap dancing and so on. The stereotypes of stripping aren’t exactly positive. But if you watch the Live Nude Girls Unite you just might be surprised.

Narrated by Julia Query and filmed by Vicky Funari, Live Nude Girls Unite tells us about the long journey Ms. Query and her fellow strippers took trying to unionize the Lusty Lady, a strip club in San Francisco. Just like any other working person, the strippers wanted fair wages, health insurance and progressive work policies. However, they were often seen as dirty girls who deserved their bad lot in life.

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But Query and her fellow strippers to not let prejudice and stereotypes deter them. Nor do they get discouraged when Lusty Lady’s management tells them they’re not working “real jobs.” But just like working in an office or in a factory, stripping for 10 hours a day is work. Yet there is this idea that sex workers do their jobs because they enjoy it, not because they are trying to get paid. Perhaps earning a paycheck isn’t as sexy to the customers.

Some of Query’s fellow strippers strip because it gives them the flexibility to raise their families or because they are in school. Sometimes they strip to earn extra income. Query strips simply to make ends meet. She’s a lesbian, a feminist, a grad school dropout, a stand-up comic and a nice Jewish girl. Her mother happens to be Dr. Julia Wallace, an advocate for sex workers. During one moment in the film we see a segment from 20/20 where Barbara Walters accompanies Dr. Wallace as she passes out condoms and counsels prostitutes in New York City.

Live Nude Girls Unite shows the strippers’ working conditions, and informs the viewers why they decided to unionize. A couple of non-strippers who work at the club join the unionizing efforts. The film shows them meeting with lawyers and union organizers, and negotiating their contract, which was not a simple task. We also get to see the workers picketing the Lusty Lady with the hilarious chant “2, 4, 6, 8, don’t go in to masturbate.” Working to unionize the Lusty Lady was difficult and at times the workers were disappointed, but they refused to back down, and their tenacity is inspiring.

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Live Nude Girls Unite also shows a very personal side. Despite working to unionize the strip club, Ms. Query has yet to inform her mom of her job. It is one thing for Dr. Wallace to pass out condoms to hookers, it’s quite another to find out your daughter is a stripper. Dr. Wallace reacts in a way we expect any mother to react, and for a while she and her daughter were estranged.

Made on a G-string budget, Live Nude Girls Unite lacks the polish of other documentaries, but that’s part of its charm. It is honest and gritty, and you really do find yourself cheering the strippers on. Live Nude Girls Unite whether you work a job where you keep your clothes on or strip down to your birthday suit, you deserve a workplace that is fair and just.

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Filmmakers Vicky Funari and Julia Query

Iron Jawed Angels (2004)

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“Well-behaved women seldom make history” – Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

On August 26, 1920 the women of the United States got the right to vote. This did not come to be without the tireless efforts of many women, some of them known, some of them nameless. I am very grateful for the women who literally put their lives on the line to give me the right to vote, so I highly recommend the movie Iron Jawed Angels.

Iron Jawed Angels tells the story of two very brave women, suffragettes Alice Paul (Hilary Swank) and Lucy Burns (Frances O’Connor). In the beginning of the film, the two have returned to the United States after spending time in England where they’ve been very involved with women’s suffrage. They soon join forces with Carrie Chapman Catt (Angelica Huston) and other seasoned activists in the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to help American women get the right to vote.

However, NAWSA finds Paul and Burns much too frivolous and rebellious. Paul and Burns are seen as way too radical for Catt and her cohorts when it comes to gaining women’s suffrage. Both young suffragists want a constitutional amendment for American women to have the right to vote. The older suffragists want to use a more conservative state-by-state approach.

Before long Paul and Burns break away from NAWSA and start their own organization, which they call the National Women’s Party (NWP). One of NWP’s goals is to oppose any candidate who is against a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote.

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After disrupting President Woodrow Wilson’s speech to Congress after he refused to meet with the suffragettes to discuss the issue, Paul and Burns go on a country-wide speaking tour to drum up support for their cause. They join forces with influential people like labor lawyer Inez Mulholland (Julia Ormond) and political cartoonist Ben Weissman. There is even a strong attraction between Paul and Weissman, but she holds off on romance because she wants to devote her time to the cause.

While in San Francisco, Mulholland passes away. Paul is devastated. She feels guilty because she convinced Mulholland to go on tour with them even though she was seriously ill. Very depressed, Paul goes back to her family’s home. But soon Burns convinces her that she is desperately needed. Both ladies go back to Washington DC to further the cause.

The country is now involved in World War I. The idea of women getting the right to vote is seen as silly during war time, and public opinion is not favorable towards the suffragettes. While picketing on the sidewalk in DC, the suffragettes are arrested for the trumped-up charge of “obstructing traffic.” The suffragettes refuse to pay the fine and are sentenced to sixty days in a women’s prison.

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While imprisoned, Paul goes on a hunger strike after being put in solitary confinement and denied any legal representation. The other suffragettes join Paul in the hunger strike, and later they are violently force-fed by the warden.

Paul starts writing about their experiences after a guard smuggles her a pen and some paper. One of the suffragette’s husbands, a prominent senator, is so horrified by the conditions the suffragettes are living in that he gets the word out. Formerly despised, the suffragettes are now supported by the American public who calls them “iron jawed angels.”

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Despite her misgivings about Burns and Paul, Catt is impressed by all the work they have done in name of women’s right to vote. She convinces President Wilson to support women’s suffrage and soon the suffragettes are released from prison. After getting the appropriate amount of states to support the Susan B. Anthony amendment, American women were given the right to vote on August 26, 1920.

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Iron Jawed Angels is wonderfully acted and truly riveting. The story of these brave women is not very well-known but so important. And despite covering a very serious topic, Iron Jawed Angels has its lighter moments. In one scene, a young suffragette sees the cutest hat a store window and just has to have it proving one can be a feminist and a fashionista at the same time.

Iron Jawed Angels should be shown in American history classes. Every young woman and young man in America needs to learn this story. After watching this movie, you will never take the right to vote for granted again.

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Things Behind the Sun (2001)

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For the past few years, singer/songwriter Sherry McGrale (Kim Dickens) shows up at the same house out of control and completely drunk. Just what is going on, and why does Sherry do this on the same day year after year?

In Things Behind the Sun, Sherry sings and writes music that is deeply personal and filled with raw emotion. Her most notable song about getting raped as a young girl is getting a lot of play on college radio, and the music magazines are starting to take notice of her.

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Owen Richardson (Gabriel Mann) is a rock reporter with a vague connection to McGrale. He mentions to his editor (Roseanna Arquette) that he knows who raped Sherry, and she assigns a story to him to profile this up and coming singer with the tortured past.

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Getting to Sherry for an interview is not easy. First, Owen has to deal with Sherry’s immensely protective manager Chuck (Don Cheadle). Chuck’s protection goes beyond the professional realm. Chuck and Sherry used to date, and Chuck still has feelings for her that are often put to the test when he sees how quickly she can degrade herself. Yet, he also knows this degradation is the consequence of her being violated so many years ago.

After some finagling, Owen finally gets his chance to talk to Sherry and possibly interview her for the magazine. Despite their past friendship, Sherry barely recognizes Owen. This is partly due to being in a drunken haze most of the time and also due to trying to bury the past.

But Sherry soon realizes who Owen is as he drops hints of their childhood friendship and their shared love of music. In fact, Owen probably wouldn’t be a writer without Sherry’s influence. But unfortunately, Sherry and Owen’s past also deals directly with Sherry’s rape. It was Owen’s older brother Dan (Eric Stoltz) who initially raped Sherry, and then forced Owen to violate Sherry, too. Will Owen’s confession further scar Sherry’s emotional wounds (and his own, too)? Or will it lead to some much needed healing for the both of them?

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Things Behind the Sun could easily fall into Lifetime movie territory, but in the expert hands of the woefully underrated Alison Anders, it never does. Anders herself was a raped as a young girl, and bravely captures the raw degradation of sexual violence and its fall out. And though the ending is slightly pat and tidy, most of the film is raw and riveting. Most of this is due to the very honest performances. Dickens is brutally real as Sherry, victim and victimizer. Mann makes Owen sympathetic and pathetic at the same time. Cheadle is at turns nurturing and tough. And the late Elizabeth Peña brings a compassionate pathos as the current owner of the house where Sherry was raped. Dickens and Peña’s scenes are brief, yet commanding. In fact, Things Behind the Sun is a deeply potent film that combines tragedy and healing one that truly makes you think.