Picture Me: A Model’s Diary (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Sara Ziff and Ole Schell’s documentary focused on Ziff’s journey as a fashion model from when she was eighteen years old on her first flight to Paris until she was twenty-three with prospects of attending Columbia University. Sara didn’t plan on becoming a model. Her parents valued education and she thought she was eventually going to follow their footsteps. But when she was approached by a photographer on the street and asked if she was a model, her life changed. Before she knew it, she was traveling all over the globe and getting paid $80,000 per job. But was the money worth losing her health and sanity? “Picture Me: A Model’s Diary” is the kind of film I would recommend to anyone thinking of entering the fashion industry. While it did acknowledge that being a model did have its perks like having a healthy salary (assuming the model eventually becomes an “it” girl which is a rarity), it was more concerned about showing us the ugly side of modeling and what magazines and television channels dedicated to fashion purposefully hide from us. By interviewing actual models, allowing their faces to be shown, and sharing their painful experiences with sexual harassment, the film successfully highlighted the exploitation inherent to the business. It also tackled issues like eating disorder and body image, drugs as a tool for a model to have the energy to keep going from one show to another, and modeling agencies hiring girls as young as fourteen years old but ultimately failing to protect them from elements that no young person should be exposed to. The latter was of special interest because the fashion industry loves to use very skinny and tall girls with no breasts and no hips because the dress just hangs on the body. But is it morally right to put such young girls in fashion shows where they were expected to get naked backstage in which photographers were free to take pictures and watch them undress? How is that different from watching child pornography? I admired the film because it wasn’t afraid to ask difficult questions. Furthermore, the documentary surprised me when it acknowledged how Ziff’s salary affected her relationship with her boyfriend (Schell) and her family’s opinion of her earning more money than them. On one hand, Schell was proud of Sara and said things like, “I’ve never held so much money in my hand!” On the flipside, there certainly was jealousy there. On their trip to Las Vegas, Sara asked her boyfriend why he never paid for her. He claimed that he did. Sara was reluctant to discuss it further because the camera was on. It was real and it felt incredibly awkward to watch. I do have favorite fashion models. I follow them on Twitter and read their blogs. With all their traveling, photoshoots, and runway work, it’s easy to admire them. But then there are moments when a model would Tweet about being so exhausted and not having eaten for almost twenty-four hours other than some candy or a piece of bread and a cup of coffee. Then I’m reminded of the models, both male and female, who decided to take their own lives. Maybe “being pretty and on time” is not the only requirement in becoming a model.
★★★★ / ★★★★
Francis (Xavier Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri) were best friends. They relished vintage fashion, enjoyed watching classic films, and quoting respectable poems. But those weren’t all they had in common. When they met Nicolas (Neils Schneider), a curly-haired blonde with a bone structure of a Greek god, the foundation of Francis and Marie’s friendship was tested. Written and directed by Xavier Dolan, “Les amours imaginaires” told its story through the senses. Slow-motion shots were prevalent for a reason. Francis and Marie’s rivalry was mostly shown in an insidious manner. It was only natural that two friends would hide their jealousy from one another to avoid hurting each other and themselves. The slow movement of the camera magnified the little things like a fake smile or a judging look. It also highlighted the pain when reality did not meet one’s expectations. For example, when Francis and Marie greeted Nicolas at a party, Francis noticed that Nicolas hugged Marie for much longer. Francis tried to play it off as if it was nothing but we knew better. The slow motion revealed to us the many questions in his head. Did the Adonis adore Marie more than him? Dolan’s use of bold colors was quite Almodóvar-esque. A scene shot in which red reigned supreme suggested fiery passion, perhaps even obsession. Green signified jealousy as Francis shared a bed with another man knowing that Nicolas and Marie were probably having a good time together. Lastly, I felt the need to point out the lack of a gratuitous sex scene. I admired that the material remained true to itself. The relationship between the trio wasn’t about sex. It was about the longing for someone who may or may not be willing to reciprocate. The fact that the writer-director chose to explore the funny, awkward, painful space between the three characters instead of allowing them to get together sexually proved to me that he was confident with his project. However, what I found less effective were the scenes that involved broken-hearted romantics who pondered over men and women who hurt them. I felt like I was in group therapy where no one made sense. Instead of relating to them, I ended up somewhat disliking them. Most recalled waiting for someone they were interested in and the person being late for over thirty minutes. It was suggested that they felt used waiting when the relationship ultimately didn’t go anywhere. If I was supposed to meet someone for the first time and he or she was thirty minutes late, that person could forget about it. I was there on time so I wouldn’t place the blame on myself. Either those scenes should have been excised or someone should have criticized their way of thinking. Despite its weak miniature intermissions, “Heartbeats” pulsated with creativity. I was addicted to its beauty.
★★ / ★★★★
A syndicate of fashion designers assigned Mugatu (Will Ferrell), a fellow successful fashion designer, to find an extremely dim-witted male model and brainwash him to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia, the man who would be responsible for passing laws against child labor. Mugatu thought Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) was perfect for the job. Zoolander was blessed with great bone structure but he lacked brain power. The poor man-child couldn’t even spell the word “day” (he spelled it “d-a-i-y-e”). Written and directed by Ben Stiller, “Zoolander” was an effective spoof of the fashion industry when its humor wasn’t all over the place. Strangely enough, it had a one-dimensional main character but it worked because he was supposed to be unaware about everything that was happening around him. Much of the film played upon the stereotype about models being dumb and self-centered. For instance, Zoolander claimed he wanted to find meaning in life so he decided that he would establish a center for kids who wished to learn. However, Zoolander didn’t know the first thing about charity or education. His hypocrisy was wild but still amusing to watch because we knew he meant well. There were two scenes that were downright hilarious. The first was Zoolander’s reaction to Mugatu’s model for the children’s center. The man-child was at the forefront; it was as if he had no concept of representation, something that children normally learn during an early age. The other was the walk-off between Zoolander and his blonde rival named Hansel (Owen Wilson). It was cheesy, ridiculous and completely unnecessary, but I couldn’t help but smile because the lead actors and the spectators were obviously having fun. I could just imagine how many takes it must have taken the actors to complete a scene as they struggled to keep a straight face throughout the farce. I do wish, however, that there were more models that were featured. Milla Jovovich was great as Mugatu’s villainous assistant with an edgy haircut and Tyson Beckford milked every second he was given during the walk-off. I wouldn’t have minded crazy Tyra Banks appearing out of the blue and lecturing how important it was to “smize” (smiling with your eyes). There were also some surprising appearances from a young (and barely recognizable) Alexander Skarsgård and David Duchovny, an expert in delivering lines in a monotonous voice but still keeping us interested. “Zoolander” lacked in story and character development but it had memorable lines and manic energy which helped the picture stay afloat. It’s one of those movies I won’t watch for a long time but when I do see it playing on cable while flipping through the channels, I couldn’t help but sit down and enjoy the ride.
Pirate Radio (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
British rock and pop music had very little exposure on the airwaves despite their undeniable popularily so the colorful crew members (Bill Nighy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris O’Dowd, Nick Frost, Tom Brooke, Tom Wisdom, Rhys Darby, Katherine Parkinson) on a ship decided to broadcast songs every hour of every day. Back in the mainland, England’s minister (Kenneth Branagh), along with his minions, tried to come up with ways to make such broadcasts illegal. Watching this movie was strange because I thought the plot was somewhat weak and unfocused. However, I couldn’t help but love it because the characters were interesting even though some of them were more like caricatures, the humor had a healthy dose of rudeness and crudeness but was never truly offensive, it consistently inspired me to guess what random event would transpire next and, best of all, it showcased my favorite type of music. Essentially, the picture made me want to live in 1960s England so I could be around wicked fashion, freewheeling individuals willing to experiment, and great music that fully defined a generation. Since I felt like the movie was a tribute to people who grew up in the 60s and younger generations who wished they lived in the 60s, I hoped that, despite the movie simply wanting to have fun, the film focused more on Tom Sturridge’s character. He was a rebel (he got kicked out of school for drugs) yet we could not help but love him (he’s still a virgin but lacking experience with girls since he attended an all-boys school) because he was more sensitive and reserved than he let on. I wanted more scenes of him interacting with his neglectful mother (played brilliantly by Emma Thompson) and his supposed to love interest (Talulah Riley). Furthermore, I wanted to see more of his struggles concerning a lack of a father figure. The elements that could contribute to being alienated–and therefore turning to rock and roll–were present but the movie failed to look beneath the surface and offer insight that could surprise or even us. I believe that if “Pirate Radio,” written and directed by Richard Curtis, had a more defined emotional core, it would have been stronger because the risks it had taken would have had stronger payoffs. A movie about sex, drugs and music will fail to grow beyond the obvious if it does not have the heart and the energy to construct three-dimensional characters and storylines. It is particularly difficult for ensemble films but Curtis managed to be successful in “Love Actually” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” Nevertheless, I’m giving “Pirate Radio” a recommendation because I appreciated its gesture to fans of British pop and rock and roll. The film was a nice escape because nowadays I can’t even turn on the radio without wanting to bash my head against the wall.
Eleven Minutes (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
This documentary, directed by Michael Selditch and Robert Tate, was about Jay McCarroll, the winner of the first season of the internationally successful “Project Runway,” and how he and his crew (working with him for free) put together all the elements to make a fashion show. The fashion industry being a cutthroat world, the question was whether he would succeed or fade into obscurity. I have never seen an episode of “Project Runway” so I didn’t know who Jay McCarroll was. I decided to see this film because, even though I’m more interested in male and female models, I wanted to learn more about the behind-the-scenes elements and what it took to create such amazing clothes come fashion week. I must say that this picture did not disappoint because I felt like it really immensed itself in the many levels of frustration involving things like the right products not being ordered, working with difficult fabrics, people stressing out because nothing seemed to be going right, people flaking out, determining what was sellable and what wasn’t and a whole lot more. I think if I were put into their world, I would have no idea what to do or how to even start. Granted, I don’t have the amount of experience that they have but even if I did, I still think it would be a very daunting task to put together a fashion show, especially if it’s a designer’s first “official” collection. But I liked that the movie was also about McCarroll’s struggle to step out of the shadow of the show that put him on the radar. Even though McCarroll projected this huge, scandalous personality, there were moments when it was easy to see the panic in his eyes and the questioning whether he and his team would be able to pull through. The film was very dramatic and I loved it because it put me in the edge of my seat. Basically, this movie was eye candy for me because I loved clothes. I really wanted those pants with the hot air balloon designs and the huge alien sunglasses. I had a sneaky feeling that I could rock those walking down the streets. If one is interested in fashion but has not seen the show, I don’t think it would be a problem because the documentary’s goal was to show that McCarroll and “Project Runway” were two completely different camps (even though he clearly showed his appreciation toward the television show). I certainly learned a lot more than I thought I would such as the length of time to put together a collection, the importance of business knowledge in the fashion industry, dealing with the unknown elements and just rolling with the punches.
Sex and the City 2 (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
It’s been two years since the first highly successful “Sex and the City” movie and the same amount of time had passed since Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Big’s (Chris Noth) wedding. Written and directed by Michael Patrick King, the four best friends–Carrie, Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis)–decided to go to Abu Dhabi for an all-expenses-paid trip because they figured they could use a break from their respective battles regarding career, marriage, having kids, and menopause in New York City. As usual, hilarity and drama ensued when the girls visited bars, talked about sex and faced their problems before heading home. Although not as glamorous as the first (though it certainly did try), I enjoyed this installment because it took us somewhere new, featured a culture other than New York City’s, and there were moments of real sensitivity such as when Miranda and Charlotte talked about their frustrations about work and raising kids. I liked that it didn’t try too hard to top the first movie except for the very cheeky, self-aware, over-the-top gay wedding (with Liza Minnelli singing and dancing to “Single Ladies”) in the first twenty minutes. However, there were some elements that I felt were unnecessary like the appearance of a former lover (John Corbett) that was solely and conveniently designed to make Carrie realize how much she really loved Big and how petty she was for worrying about becoming a “boring couple.” Most of the lessons were pretty obvious (at least to me) but the main reason why I’m a fan is because of the fashion and the glamour. I guess most people don’t realize that the whole thing is supposed to be a farce. I mean, who in their right minds would wear designer clothing in the middle of the desert? It irks me when I read reviews from both critics and audiences concerning the movie’s characters being shallow and the plot being unrealistic. But I guess the joke is on them if they come into the movie expecting the events to reflect real life. For me, “Sex and the City 2” delivered the goods because I got exactly what I signed up for: about two and a half hours to escape my problems and realize how good my life is in comparison. At first glance, these women might be bathing in jewelry, expensive clothes and ridiculously well-designed apartments but they have so much unhappiness in their lives. Sometimes, they even create their own problems in order to make their lives more interesting. As for those who claimed that the movie was politically incorrect, I say it’s nothing new. In fact, the television show flourished because it was exactly that–politically incorrect. “Sex and the City 2” is a good movie to watch with your best gal friends because it’s not just about romantic relationships but also friendship. I just wished that the guys (David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, Jason Lewis) were in it more so we could see things from men’s perspectives from time to time.
America the Beautiful (2007)
★★ / ★★★★
I was reluctant with giving this documentary a mediocre rating because I did enjoy watching it. However, as a movie that tried to explore the issue about the American society’s standard for beauty, I felt that the arguments were all over the place and sometimes contradicted itself. Written and directed by Darryl Roberts, he mostly targeted the fashion industry, its unrealistic expectations when it comes to its models and the messages that they knowingly impart on people, especially children, on what is considered beautiful. For me, one of its biggest flaws was that it failed to admit to itself that the fashion industry is, in fact, a business and a good one at that. When it makes the argument that the industry treats its models like nobodies, that’s not anything new or insightful (at least for me because I’m familiar with fashion to an extent) because the models work FOR the fashionistas and they ARE products that needed to be as glamorous as possible so that money would be made at the end of the day. Placing most of the blame on the fashion industry is a bad move because there are other types of media out there that are arguably more influential (like music artists and music videos). The movie also tackled what was shown on television and magazines. Now, I think it did a pretty good job showing younger people perusing through magazines and pointing out the media’s unrealistic expectations on how to have the “right” look. However, I thought the film became evasive once again because it didn’t really explore or even mention personal responsibilities. An interviewee made a good point about the act of choosing to open up a magazine but it was as if as though Roberts had already put the interviewee under a negative light so what the interviewee said was pretty much thrown away the minute she stopped talking. I was very alarmed by this because when Eve Ensler (“The Vagina Monologues”), from the opposite spectrum, was being interviewed about the media and its effect in society, I got the feeling that the director wanted us to listen to her and really think about was she was saying. Granted, what she said about the media’s subtle ways of influencing people was indeed quite smart. However, my point is that the documentarian was obviously biased. I would have given this movie a less forgiving review if it wasn’t for Gerren Taylor’s journey from being a frontrunner to becoming the next supermodel to “just another model” who can no longer get booked (especially in Paris) because she was “too fat.” Personally, I think she’s thin. You don’t have to major in Biology to be able to tell that a girl who is six feet tall and has a waist of 96 centimeters is skinny. (The agencies wanted her to be at most around 90 centimeters.) This documentary had its ups and downs but I’m giving it a mild recommendation because either way, one will have a strong opinion about it when it’s over.