Category Archives: Second Chance Cinema

Sex and the City 2: Great Expectations

Yes, I’m asking that you take a second look at Sex and the City 2 during its first week of release. Why? Because most of the reviews out there say that it’s a terrible movie about overconsumption. Well, yes. It is ubermaterialistic and filled with many stereotypical orientalist fantasy elements. But SATC2 is a satire about how “liberated” we think our culture is.

The original television series advanced woman’s liberation. It celebrated the supposed sexual freedom of the modern woman, embodied by four different avatars: Carrie the neurotic girl, Charlotte the good girl, Samantha the bad girl, and Miranda the career girl. The show definitely did break down boundaries and made it okay for women from different generations to talk about sex. The avatars slowly changed into characters, into women making complicated and difficult decisions.

The first movie chronicled the rites turning Carrie from a single girl to a married woman. She finally achieved her supposed “happy ending.” The second movie attempts to answer the question – did Carrie really enjoy her happy ending? Of course not – at heart she’s still the avatar of the neurotic girl. Dramatically tackling those issues would be a downer of a film, not what the target audience wants or expects from the franchise. So the filmmakers chose another time-honored tradition to explore these issues: the satire.

Everything in this movie – the fashions, the settings, the choices, the desires – has been exaggerated. The characters have been flattened back into stereotypes, into girls. It definitely fetishes the superficial; but the assumptions underlying these appearances are overtly and covertly challenged throughout.

SPOILER WARNING – I give away plot points below, but really this movie is anything but plot-driven. If you can’t figure out what happens when Samantha cavorts in a sexually repressed society, well, just think about it a little bit longer.

The TV series began in the decadence of the 1990s and carefully navigated the post-9/11 world. The second movie begins with flashbacks to the 1980s – another celebrated era of overconsumption. The first set piece is the over-the-top-of-the-Empire-State-Building wedding of Stanford and Anthony, Carrie and Charlotte’s respective Best Gay Friends. Liza Minelli officiates, much to the amazement of the wedding guests and the Sex and the City Men’s Choir who were in attendance. One of the best sequences in the movie is Liza singing and dancing All the Single Ladies.

But all is not well at this gay wedding. A fan gushes at Carrie and Big until she finds out that her dream model couple are not planning on having children. They are knowingly going against their society’s traditions. Though they can articulate this decision and were prepared to accept some societal disapproval, Carrie and Big did not anticipate the coldness of the other couple’s reaction.  The main characters’ expectations are also challenged. When Anthony relates that Stanford will allow him to cheat during their marriage, though, the girls become uncomfortable. Faithfulness in marriage is a tradition that the foursome did not expect to be challenged. To them, two men getting married is normal. Sanctioned cheating, however, is not.*

The last part of the movie takes place in a fantastical version of Abu Dhabi.** The United Arab Emirates has usurped Manhattan to become the epitome of decadence. SATC2 walks a fine line between two different Western myths of the Middle East. The “traditional” UAE is Muslim, sexually conservative, restricts women, and run by men. The sheik who treats the foursome to the junket in Abu Dhabi wants to hire Samantha to do PR for “the NEW Middle East.” Ostensibly he wants to prove to the world that his hotel and the UAE have become liberated, comfortable for Westerners. How does he do that? By catering to Western tourists’ Oriental fantasies. In the luxury Jewel Suite, each woman has a personal butler, complete with turbans. The women ride camels, drink tea in a tent in the middle of the desert, and go shopping for spices and shoes at the local souk.

Yet signs of the “OLD Middle East” abound. At least one of the butlers is actually Indian. His character is the nicest man the foursome meet in Abu Dhabi, and he’s not even a native. In fact, he seems to be an indentured servant, slightly better off than a slave since he can visit his wife every 3 months. In a restaurant, the girls stare at a table of women in burkhas and hajibs. None of them asks why these modern women eating french fries and talking on cell phones are still veiled while eating at a restaurant in a hotel that caters to Westerners. By virtue of their clothes, these women are deemed “other,” though Carrie does admire a bedazzled robe. Fashion is always on the surface.

Throughout the Abu Dhabi section, Miranda chastises Samantha for showing too much skin. Samantha (un)consciously pushes the boundaries of the “NEW Middle East.” For all of the “I Am Woman” karaoke and sisterhood pep talks, none of the foursome realize that they have only been viewing the culture solely through the male gaze. Men have arranged the junkets and their outings; most of the waitstaff  they encounter are men.*** It is not until the end of the film that the girls make any connection with the female side of the “NEW Middle East.” Women wearing black robes invite them into a store to avoid a brewing lynch mob of men. These “others” have created a female-only space where they have a book club and wear couture under the burkas. Fashion is no longer a superficial signifier of status; it is rebellion. Suddenly the women in the so-called repressed society (Abu Dhabi) have much in common with the women in the so-called liberated society (Manhattan.)

All the problems that the girls (and the BGFs) experience are variations of expectations crashing against traditions. By having a large part of the movie take place outside the US in a foreign country it highlights the restrictive traditions and expectations of our own culture. Women should get married, have babies, love the babies, and not have careers.

Carrie navigates personal spaces and the choice of not having children in a marriage. Stanford and Anthony negotiate a relationship where they are faithful to each other only in the 5 states that recognize gay marriage. Samantha is fighting aging, trying to keep her body young through hormones, creams, and dresses that Miley Cyrus would wear. Charlotte tries to come to terms with the fact that she is not the perfect mother who loves her children all of the time. In fact, Miranda helps her realize that that  this idea of a “perfect mother” is a mirage. Worst of all (or most relevant to my life), Miranda bumps up against male chauvinism in her law firm.

Each character confronts an expectation of society, a tradition, and makes changes in her (or his) life to vanquish it. Miranda changes law firms and becomes happy at work. Big and Carrie keep an extra apartment for them and their friends to temporarily escape from their overwhelming lives. But most of the changes are mental, accepting oneself while no longer worrying so much what “society” thinks of you. This theme is explicitly spelled out in the preamble to Anthony’s wedding vows: Stanford is the only man to accept him for who he really is. Too bad it takes the rest of the 2.5 hour movie for the girls to figure it out for themselves.

And if you don’t agree with my analysis, please read this review of SATC2 as science fiction story of “four damned immortals, condemned to live in a couture-drunk fugue state by a extradimensional puppet master (who may or may not be New York City itself).” I so love multiple interpretations!

Lastly, I wrote this review while watching a 1998 adaption of Vanity Fair, a satirical novel by William Makepeace Thackeray that lampoons his contemporary decadent and superficial society, London in the 1810s. Becky Sharp is a “heartless mother” and a “faithless wife” who uses her sexuality and intellect to rise way above her station. Both of these unlikeable heroines challenge their society’s traditions; we must have improved some since Becky Sharp is punished while Carrie Bradshaw is celebrated.****

* Unsanctioned cheating is normal, or at least not unexpected. In the first movie, Miranda’s husband had cheated on her.

** I’ve wanted to go to Abu Dhabi since I was a child. Some friends across the alley lived there for two years. They actually filmd SATC2 in Morocco; I want to go there too.

*** Exception that may prove the rule: the flight attendants on the airplanes were all female.

**** Weak ending, I know. Means I need another cosmo, stat!

Good Reviews of Bad Movies

Reading reviews (much less spoilers) affects the movie-going experience. When I was a teenager, I saw a comedy suggested by  a friend. All I knew about it is that it was a comedy. Hadn’t read a review, no ads or posters had made any impression. I really enjoyed this movie; it made me laugh and feel giddy and full of joy. It was Splash. Part of my enjoyment was realizing that I had no expectations for the film.

And yet I love reading movie reviews. For films that I am really excited about, I will attempt to avoid reading them until I’ve seen the movie. They seem to give away so much plot! (At least more plot than can be given away in the trailers, another way to ruin a movie. Arlington Road is a prime example.) After seeing Pulp Fiction, I read 3 different reviews that tried hard to not spill many of the plot twists. However, each of them spilled a different twist, each from a different section. Oops. And when there is a twist ending, they will tell the readers that it exists. Dear reviewers, please don’t. I’m going to spend the movie anticipating the ending. Though appropriate for mysteries, it can be annoying for comedies. Or I won’t even see the movie. After hearing the plot set-up of The Sixth Sense and finding out that there was a big twist at the end, I deduced that either Bruce Willis or the kid was a ghost.

NB: I am not totally against spoilers. In fact, here is a recent defense of spoilers. It makes some good points. Myself, I try to savor the mysteries of the unknown in order to restrain my inner uberfangirl tendencies.

Despite being disgruntled, I still read the reviews. My favorite type of review is when the piece is better than the actual film. Here are a few examples:

Michael Bay Finally Made An Art Movie by Charlie Jane Anders. io9.com. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. 24 June 2009.

Since the days of Un Chien Andalou and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, filmmakers have reached beyond meaning. But with this summer’s biggest, loudest movie, Michael Bay takes us all the way inside Caligari’s cabinet. And once you enter, you can never emerge again. I saw this movie two days ago, and I’m still living inside it. Things are exploding wherever I look, household appliances are trying to kill me, and bizarre racial stereotypes are shouting at me.

TV Apocalypse Now! by Heather Havrilesky. Salon.com. Impact. 18 June 2009.

I love apocalyptic television. From the awkward dialogue to the terrible CGI effects to the “Let’s fall in love/resolve our differences while the world ends” relationship scenarios, End Times TV makes me feel warm and nostalgic inside. Like a giant glazed doughnut for the soul, disaster TV allows us to savor the supreme stupidity of it all and feel grateful that planet Earth isn’t imploding or exploding or spinning straight into the sun.

Reading this review of an upcoming TV miniseries sparked this post. I had to seek out the review of Deep Rising.

Deep Rising, Boston Globe. 30 November 1999.

It’s basically a video game without the joystick. Having said that, this noisy, violent, dumb-as-a-stump actioner is more mindlessly fun than it has any right to be. “Deep Rising” is basically a C-grade monster movie, the kind that used to run endlessly on “Creature Features” a thousand Saturday nights ago. To the credit of writer-director Stephen Sommers, he never aspires to do anything grander than that.

This review brightened a dismal day. Almost made me want to go see the film that opening weekend. I did see this film eventually … on cable. Kevin J. O’Connor gets all the best lines.

I often confuse that will with the one below. Its review is only one paragraph (I swear I remember a longer one), but it also applies.

Ghost Ship,by Ty Burr. Boston Globe. 25 October 2002.

”Ghost Ship” is the kind of movie that you catch on HBO at 1 in the morning just before you go to bed and you’ve maybe had a beer or three and you end up watching the whole damn thing because the opening scene of stomach-churning carnage is certainly … novel.

I have been racking my brain trying to remember another review of a water-based thriller from the mid-1990s published in the Boston Globe. One that name checked Army of Darkness and possibly came out around the time of Ed Wood or Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Again my memory may be playing tricks on me and I am conflating reading a good review or a bad movie while finding editorial mistakes. Though not in the same league as my hometown paper (The Examiner-Enterprise) which has misspelled words in headlines, The Globe did not always get its facts straight regarding movies.

And for something a little different, here is a pan about a good movie. This student really, really, really hated this Hal Hartley flick. In this case, his review (plus my love for the film The Unbelievable Truth) made me was to see this movie even more. (For the record, I liked the film.) Again, I remember this piece a bit differently. I thought that the reviewer explicitly stated why he spoils the main plot points in order to discourage anyone from seeing it.

“Simple Men” Is Proof of Incompetence in Filmmaking. By John Jacobs. The Tech (MIT student newspaper), 20 Nov. 1992.

I guess the director also recognizes talent where there isn’t any. The movie is replete with bad acting (or no acting). The plot isn’t interesting and the “musician” who does the soundtrack needs a few more years of practice before he will be qualified even to do beer commercials. I highly recommend this movie to anyone who isn’t aware that there are third rate artists in America, damn it. And something should be done about it.

UPDATE: When I returned to work this week, I found another gem in my email. Excerpt from the Action Library Media Service Newsletter by Charlene Birkholz about Pink Panther 2. (I’ve taken out the links since you have to subscribe to the service to get to them.)

Do not purchase this film. You will only encourage the people behind it to make more of them. It was directed by Harald Zwart, who brought you One Night at McCool’s and Agent Cody Banks (and no, there will be no links to these films).
As you might surmise, Zwart is no Blake Edwards. And Steve Martin is, alas, no Peter Sellers. If you want to understand why the Pink Panther films are beloved enough to drive one dismal continuation after another, these are the films you should seek out.
And if, for some reason, you are driven to see a Pink Panther film without Sellers, there is this collection: It contains four films made without the man who brought Clouseau to life, including one in which Alan Arkin takes on the role of the infamous French detective.


Quick and the Dead (1995)

Who

Sam Raimi, director
Sharon Stone, actor
Russell Crowe, actor
and many, many more

What

Redemption’s somewhat annual quick-draw tournament (and the huge pot of money to the winner) has lured in the best and/or foolhardiest shooters, including a mysterious woman who wears men’s clothes. Most of the contestants seem to hate Herod, who runs the town in the absence of a marshall.

Why

This is an awesome modern Western! And it’s also a very tense film. Every quick draw contest is replete with creative shots, especially of the clock tower and the inflicted wounds. Most of the violence is cartoonish and the guns are definitely fetishized. Audiences were confused because Sharon Stone never takes off her clothes (a love scene was cut). Russell Crowe is amazing; he pulls off horror, resignation, and despair in one look.

IMDB entry

Hudson Hawk (1991)

I Love Hudson Hawk

October, 1997

Hudson Hawk is the film that inspired this site. I missed it in the theaters because I wasn’t interested in seeing yet another action-comedy with Bruce Willis. The rotten reviews and the ubiquitous bus billboards in Boston did not help either. And yet i wondered about it – was it really that bad of a movie? why did so many people hate it? was it maybe a movie so bad that was good? And so in 1993, I rented it. And it changed my life.

Continue reading

Evil Dead (1983)

Who

Sam Raimi, director
Bruce Campbell, star
Ted Raimi and others, Fake Shemps

What

Five college students go to an old, abandoned cabin in Tennessee and instead raise up some nasty presences. Actually, the former occupants of the cabin, an archaeologist and his wife, raised the evil spirits; the students are just new fodder.

(Evil Dead 2 is not really a sequel, but a remake as a slapstick comedy. Both movies have the same plot, though the second devotes more time to the archaeologist. I prefer to think that it takes place in an parallel universe. Indeed, in all universes, Ash will be drawn to this lonely cabin and have to dismember his girlfriend.)

Why

Overlooked by the much funnier Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, the first film in that series deserves another viewing. First, it is truly scary. The rape sequence near the beginning justifies its moniker as “the ultimate experience in grueling horror.” Second, its low budget does not hide its joy of filmmaking . The only thing I have against it is slightly misogynist, in that the first victims are the women.

IMDB Entry

Second Chance Cinema

Good Movies with Bad Reputations 

A long, long time ago I began a site devoted to films that deserve a second chance. Like many projects, I started it and never finished. One reason was because of IMDB. Why create my own database when other people were contributing to this gigantic database? And yet the concept “second chance cinema” remained in my mind.

So, here is the revised mission statement. I promise to occasionally post about movies that deserve a Second Chance.

Greetings and salutations! This site exists to praise movies overlooked for at least one of these following reasons:

  • The critics hated it
  • The critics hated it but the public saw it anyway
  • The critics loved it but the public stayed at home
  • Both the critics and the public hated it
  • It only played in regional or very limited release
  • It was marketed to the wrong audience
  • Because in Hollywood, no reputation is a bad reputation
  • Too many people have forgotten its existence
  • I like it

I have tried to adhere to the above criteria, but I have snuck in a few cult movies like “Evil Dead 2.” I will be adding movies as the whim takes me, so please visit often. Better yet, add it to your feed reader.