Tag Archives: movies

Decrypting the Secret Flower Messages of Enola Holmes

Enola Holmes is the new movie imagining a feminist, charming, brilliant younger sister to famous detective Sherlock.

One of the critical moments early on is a gift of the Victorian book Language of Flowers, which turns out to be a clue in the bigger mystery. But this movie also leaves floral clues strewn throughout the movie. They are very clever and subtle; I thought I’d decode them.

[Spoilers for the movie follow!]

The first flower we see is when Enola is unwrapping the gift of the Language of Flowers. It’s a pink tulip on a card that says “use these gifts wisely.” Pink tulips stand for caring.

Sherlock reviews the flowers in mother’s room: Chrysanthemums, and Queen Anne’s Lace, symbolizing a steady familial attachment and truth, and sanctuary, respectively. Of course, Chrysanthemums are also called “mums,” a little play on the British term for mother.

Enola finds another card, this one decorated with delicate blue flowers and the words “our future is up to us.” They are only on the screen for a moment, but these seem to be forget-me-nots. In flashbacks of Enola’s mother, she is wearing a blue flower pin: no surprise, this is also a forget-me-not, very suitable for memory, and the very plea that forms the name: please, don’t forget me.

Her mother’s middle name is “Violet,” which means devotion or faithfulness. Even when absent, her mother is devoted to Enola.

When Enola buys a dress, she wears a necklace that seems to have a flower on it. Unfortunately, I can’t see what flower that is, so this one will have to go unsolved! Since the dress is red, perhaps we can assume it is a sweet pea, the symbol of delicate femininity, which is, of course, a joke.

The dress is covered all over in a flower brocade. Perhaps roses? Burgundy roses symbolize unconscious beauty, meaning Enola doesn’t realize how attractive she really is.

While investigating a mystery, Enola takes on the surname “Posey.” This is a play on words as well; she is “posing” as someone else at the time. But a “posey,” to Victorians, was a small collection of flowers, often the means by which these flower messages were transmitted.

The lady of the house wears a blue dress with faded yellow brocade flowers. Unfortunately, I can’t tell what kind, but I’m certain the costume designer has left a reference here, too.

Enola, while on a search for clues on a side mystery, discovers a pressed flower. It looks to me like a cornflower, also known as a “bachelor’s button.” The Victorian book of flowers I cross-referenced here also indicates it stands for hope in love. Because the boy ends up being Enola’s beau, of course!

When she surprises the boy in a flower market, he offers her a white rose tinged with red; innocence and, of course, love. It’s very sweet.

Tellingly, there are no flowers at all in the finishing school. Ms. Harrison’s strict school is unyielding, but also lacks depth. No secret messages here.

Toward the end, Enola’s mother is seen wearing a dress covered in flowers. They are pansies, which can be said to symbolize long-standing love and thinking. Appropriate for the Holmesian mother.


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Movie Music Marathon

I had this whole post I’d intended to write, but then I discovered this, and it was so amazing and sweeping that I don’t want to write about that other thing, I just want you to listen to this.


Movie soundtracks can get a bad rap as not being “real” music, but without the soundtrack, a movie would suck. This walk down memory lane really highlights both the emotion of the Tim Burton films featured as well as the pure musicality and skill put into developing the sound and the feelings these songs produce. I don’t love every movie in this mix, but wow, is it powerful when all showcased this way, with first-class musicians and high-quality behind-the-scenes art. Take a moment to drink it in. It’s really fun.

So go listen to it, already!

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Lifetime Movie: Unofficial Biography

Several months late, I just watched “Saving Mr. Banks,” the not-quite-biography of Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers, and it got me thinking: assuming I make it big, I don’t think I want to be movie-fied.
While it’s fun to think “who would play me in a movie of my life?” I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie biopic of an author that didn’t make them seem somewhat crazy.
Officially, of course, “Saving Mr. Banks” is about the making of the movie version of “Mary Poppins.” Really that is just an excuse, however, as the movie uses a lot of flashbacks to Travers’ childhood to explain her fears about the movie production.
(If you’re late to the movie, too, skip down until the line to avoid spoilers.)
The movie strongly implies–if doesn’t 100% outright say–that the whole reason Travers created Mary Poppins and the Banks family was to exorcize her childhood demons related to her loving, carefree, alcoholic mess of a father, who died when she was young and for whose death she has already blamed herself. This seems to embody her whole purpose of being, creating her into the rigid, unfriendly, unpleasant person she at first appears to be.
It isn’t until the magic of Mr. Walt Disney comes into her life and persuades her to let him try to make a movie that Travers is able to find some closure.
Now I don’t know much about Ms. Travers’ personal life story, but I frankly find it hard to believe that her whole life was fixated on this one thing. Surely it takes more than a tragic backstory to create an enduring childhood fixture?
But Beatrix Potter perhaps has a worse treatment in her author-biography movie, “Miss Potter.” This one is an outright biography, no pussyfooting around with it, and serves up a large dose of personal tragedy, and then dogpiles onto her by making it seem like she literally talks out loud to her characters…essentially making her into either a sweet creator or, more realistically, a benign crazy person.
I think all authors can commiserate with the idea that our characters “speak” to us in some way or another, but animating Peter Rabbit and the like and having her literally talk to them makes her seem nutty.
Check out the trailer for a hint:
Perhaps tragedy is a requirement for a biopic to be made of you. I love/hate to watch “Finding Neverland” because poor J.M. Barrie is positively tortured. Allen Ginsberg fares a little better in “Howl,” but I’m not really sure it doesn’t make him seem less like a rebel with a cause and more like a drug-fueled lazy addict.
In short, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a biopic where the author seems like someone you’d like to know. I don’t know what tragedy scriptwriters would concoct, dig up, or construct for my life, and I think I’d prefer it to stay that way.

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‘Don Jon’ is the Most Feminist Movie

It helps that the leads in this movie are both totally yummy.

Joseph-Gorden Levitt’s new movie “Don Jon” has more naked breasts, mostly naked butts, and revealing outfits on skinny, attractive women than any other movie I’ve ever seen. It probably deserves a Razzie for “most naked boobies to appear in film without losing its rating.” It features a caveman-like guy who aims to score with a different chick every weekend and an uptight controlling bitch.

It’s also the most feminist movie I’ve seen in years.
Before I go any further, let me say I LOVED “Don Jon.” It is a great film. The ending is a bit open-ended, and I’m not in love with that style, but the rest of the movie is so smart I didn’t mind that my fiance and I paid $22 bucks to watch an 86-minute movie. It’s also not for everyone; in fact, I’m really surprised it got made at all. It’s not a movie you should see with any friends or family that you would be uncomfortable watching porn with, so, um, beware before you go. But I absolutely think you should see it.
The movie is about a New Jersey-ite named Jon, considered so good with the ladies his bros have given him the appellation “Don,” thus “Don Jon.” He’s a man of simple tastes: he cares about his “pad,” his family, his Roman Catholic church**, his “boys,” his “girls” (a different one every night), and… his porn. He sees nothing unusual about the inclusion of the last one, and goes into great voiceover detail about what exactly he likes about porn over “smashing” with real ladies.
**(Sidenote: There’s also potential for a really interesting theological discussion when it comes to the Catholic church and Jon’s ability to wipe his sins clean every week, to the point that he uses the number of Hail Mary’s he’s assigned as a marker for how “well” he’s done that week. But that’s for another time.)
But then he meets a ‘dime.” Barbara (Scarlet Johansson) is a perfect 10 for Jon, and when she goes home without sleeping with him, he thinks maybe he needs to change his strategy. So he tracks her down and asks her out.
What about this setup is so brilliant? Because “Don Jon” lures you in by telling you it’s about porn and sex, when really it’s about the way the media we consume makes us think about gender roles.
[Moderate spoilers below!]


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Where Are The Super-Moms?

Hollywood/Marvel/DC, I’ve got a beef with you guys.

See, I finally got around to seeing Man of Steel, a movie I’ve been looking forward to because Superman, duh. And it was a fun movie and a worthy inclusion in the Superman films.

And I noticed something.

Kal-El’s dad, Jor-El, is really important. He’s got big dreams for his son, and is willing to sacrifice himself to make those dreams happen. And Jor-El can’t be stopped from helping his son even in death, because he magically imported his unconscious into a memory stick (or something. I wasn’t really clear on the how of that part).

And Jonathan Kent, as ever, is hugely important. He’s full of practical, hard-knock advice for this son that fell from the heavens to be his boy. And he is willing to sacrifice himself to save the family dog and to protect Clark’s secret. It’s Jonathan’s death that could be said to motivate Clark/Superman/Kal-El to greatness and noble sense of duty.

Martha Kent is looking for any sign of a superhero movie mom who is really important, not just supportive. I think she’s going to be disappointed.

But CK’s two moms? Well, Lara-El (is that how you’d do her name?) quite nobly …pushed a button…to launch her son to Earth. And stood…nobly? …while politicians sentenced the bad guys to jail time. And then she…nobly?…died when her planet blew up.

Martha Kent is every bit as practical as her husband, but CK leaves her to go grow a beard and play on boats. And she’s very supportive, but doesn’t have a lot of advice. Her biggest moment is talking to Clark through a panic attack. And she does that from the other side of a door. She, um…knows the value of her family photo album? Has a natural mistrust for Lois Lane?

Lara’s subconscious couldn’t be imported into that memory stick? Did that not even occur to ol’ Jor-El, there? And what the hell, Martha, you didn’t even try to rescue your husband! You didn’t even seem all that upset when aliens blew up your barn! You didn’t even seem upset that your son wandered off without leaving an address for, apparently, years! I mean, running a farm alone must be hard work…couldn’t you use a strong back? Or company, at least?

In other words, Man of Steel has two moms that could potentially be really significant in Clark Kent’s life, and both, in the movie, are reduced to being complete background characters. I can’t think of a single action that either of them does that had any real effect on the movie.

And Supes has four parents, so he’s got double as many chances to have a meaningful and significant moment from his mother. Judging from the movie, though, all he gets from mom is clean laundry and cookies when he comes home after long trips.

Seriously? That’s sad. I mean, I got more from my mom than that. I learned all sorts of life lessons from my mom, and I’d guess most people have. So what is going on here?

The bad news? It’s not just Man of Steel. It’s not even just Superman.

Moms in Movies

Luckily, there have been a lot of really awesome superhero movies in the past decade. Surely we can find an awesome mom-character in one of them.

Okay, Spider-Man. Peter Parker doesn’t have a mom around, but he’s got Aunt May, arguably the nicest woman alive. But… it’s Uncle Ben who utters that incredible quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And it’s Uncle Ben’s death that spurs Peter to become Spider-Man. In the first movie, all Aunt May does is cook a mean Thanksgiving turkey and struggle to pay for her house. Oh, and get kidnapped.

She doesn’t even get a single genuinely important line.

She fares a little better in the next movie, Spider-Man 2, when she talks about why people need heroes, but …she doesn’t even know Peter is Spider-Man, so while this is a lovely moral statement, she doesn’t do much.

Batman: Everyone knows Batman’s parents die early on and it’s very sad and makes him want to fight crime his whole life. But do you even remember Batman’s mom in Batman Begins? I didn’t even remember her name, if that tells you anything. Martha Wayne has three lines in Batman Begins, and one of them is “Dear…”! Thomas Wayne is a doctor! He’s a philanthropist! He is a business man! He saves his son from a well and tells him not to be afraid of the bats, and that we fall to learn how to pick ourselves up!

Martha Wayne worries about nightmares and screams as she is shot by Joe Chill. *sigh*

Thor: I couldn’t even remember Freyja’s name. She doesn’t say anything, anyway.

Captain America: Sarah Rogers wasn’t in the movie. In comics, she died in Steve’s teens.

Fantastic Four: No parents.

Wolverine: No parents.

Iron Man: Maria Stark isn’t in the movie. Her husband, Howard, is very distant and yet still manages to be a major motivator for Tony.

X-Men: Okay, we’ve got a group film here, lots of potential. Magneto’s mom is ripped away from him during the Holocaust–I guess that makes her significant, but she’s not the instigator so I don’t think it counts. We don’t see Storm’s, Professor X’s, Wolverine’s, or Cyclops’ parents, so we can’t analyze them at all.

Rogue’s mom (Mystique) is in the movie, but considering she’s evil and abandoned Rogue at birth, I think we can leave her out.

Iceman’s got a mom, but neither of his parents do much other than send him away to school. No moms to speak of in X-Men.

Green Lantern: I had to look this one up, because, like the rest of America, I didn’t see this movie. But the internet tells me Janice Jordan has zero quotes in that movie, though there is at least an actress listed and she is named (unlike Rogue’s adopted parents, who don’t even get movie names).

That covers all the superhero films since 2000, and frankly, it’s getting depressing, so any further will have to wait. Besides, I think I’ve made my point.

What Do They Do?

The moms in these movies do share some characteristics, despite being overwhelmingly background characters. They don’t serve as the moral guidance that their husbands do, and they aren’t the ones who set the hero on his journey, but they do provide emotional “care packages” along the way–a reassuring word, a cookie, a hug after they’ve nearly been blown up by the bad guy.

These “care packages” have the potential to be important and significant, but for the most part, they are just the sort of throwaway comments that sound good but have very little impact.

These moms are universally patient and kind. And supportive, loving, and loyal to their (often dead) husbands. (Actually, that’s pretty sad, too–can no super-moms date after their husbands die?)

Those are indeed characteristics often assigned culturally–we expect “good moms” to kiss our boo-boos and ask us if we’ve found a nice boy/girl to date. But I find it odd that, in super-cinema at least, moms can’t be the moral tentpole–can’t even really have enough initiative to do something themselves at all, really.

Super Comics Moms

The thing is, Hollywood/Marvel/DC, you DO have great material to pull from if you want to make some legitimately super moms. You could start with Aunt May and Martha Kent, each who in TV shows and comics have managed to be incredibly significant to their sons.

I understand Diana Prince/Wonder Woman has a pretty awesome mom–probably expected in an Amazon society where she’s queen, but still–so you could go ahead and make that Wonder Woman movie already.

Hippolyta crafted Diana from clay. Despite being Queen, it’s good to know she has time for art.

And I consulted my SO, who has read a lot more comics than I have so far, and he says there are some other epic moms you could look into:

  • Steve Rogers/Captain America– In canon, he has an abusive dad. It’s his mom who teaches Steve Rogers to “get back up” after a fight. (In the movie, that moral moment was erased, and Steve gets back up just because.)
  • Genis-Vell/Captain Marvel-His mom’s a single parent, having impregnated herself with baby Marvel using her futuristic technology. (It’s comic canon, that stuff can be really weird, okay?)
  • Kyle Rayner/Green Lantern-His dad abandoned the family when his mom was pregnant, so he’s also the son of a single mom.

We Need Strong Moms

But maybe you’ll notice the problem with all the above moms in that “good mom” section: They’re all single parents. In that sense, it can be assumed that those moms have to pull double parent-duty–they didn’t get the strong mom stuff because they are inherently strong characters, they got it because there isn’t a dad around to do it. And that’s stupid.

While positive portrayals of single moms are really important and worthy of inclusion, there is a distinct dearth of strong-mom figures in a two-parent household. Either there’s no dad around to give our hero his “hero moment,” leaving it to mom, or mom is a supportive background character only. (Even Martha Kent and Aunt May fit into that analysis, as they both only really pick up the leadership slack after their husbands die).

That is a damn shame.

It’s bad enough that we can’t get a female superhero movie made: why can’t we have a super mom?


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Science of Pacific Rim

This is exactly what I wanted after I saw Pacific Rim. Don’t get me wrong; I loved the movie. I think it’s the best movie all summer, and there have been a lot of really good movies this summer! It’s particularly good if you’re up for the most destruction ever in a movie, and are interested in giant robots fighting giant aliens. (You know you are).

But me? Give me the jaeger with the alloy metal!

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July 27, 2013 · 10:00 am

Review: ParaNorman

I wasn’t planning on reviewing movies: a lot of people do that, and do it really well, and I just don’t watch enough TV to keep up any sort of pace. But I just watched “ParaNorman,” and wowza.

Long review short:

  • If you are an adult who loves stop-motion or just really fantastic visuals,…
  • If you are an adult who has always loved quirky kids’ movies,…
  • If you are interested in supernatural tropes and twists on your expectations,…
  • If you are a parent of a child who is bullied, or who you think may be acting as a bully, you and your child…
  • If you are a parent of an older-age kid who fits in one of the above categories, you and your child …
  • If you’ve always been or are the parent of a kid who likes movies that might be a little bit scary for other kids, …

…Watch “ParaNorman.”

I wish this movie had made a bigger splash when it came out. After hearing it was stop-motion from the guys who did “Coraline,” I was interested, but none of the ads made me actually want to see it. For one thing, they seemed to focus a lot on ghosts and “talking to the dead.” And overall the ads didn’t seem to have a clear idea of what it was.

Ghosts are in the movie, and talking to the dead is significant, but you know what 90% of the movie is? Zombies. Funny zombies, scary zombies, bad b-movie zombies, regular people that are pretty much zombies because they’re kinda dumb…

It’s a movie about Norman, a kid who can talk to/see the dead, but no one in town believes him and he’s bullied and teased by pretty much everyone. Except then it turns out that the town legend about cursed pilgrims and a witch is, um, actually true. Oops! And Norman is the only one who can rescue them, but he’s a little fuzzy on the “how” part of that. It takes awhile for him to work it out, and he does, in a better-than-the-grown-ups solution he decides upon all by himself. He makes a lot of friends in the process, and most of the townspeople realize how stupid they’ve been (and the rest deny it).

And did I mention it is visually stunning? There were times I wanted to pause the movie just to look at all the detail. I can’t believe this was claymation/stop-motion. I mean, it’s nothing like “Wallace & Grommet,” and those are some incredible movies. I wish I could see the set and the props up close. It would be an amazing miniatures display!

For some of the supernatural elements, they’ve overlaid some light CGI. It’s not distracting, but is really excellent at emphasizing the “otherness” of the spooky bits. And it was great! Drool-worthy.

If you’re still on the fence about “ParaNorman,” (or you’re just looking for other good stuff) consider this list. If you’ve liked something else here, odds are good you’ll like “ParaNorman,” too.

“The Graveyard Book,” book by Neil Gaiman
“Coraline,” by Neil Gaiman (book or movie. Personally I found the movie a lot scarier).
“The Corpse Bride,” movie by Tim Burton
“The Nightmare Before Christmas,” by Tim Burton
“Frankenweenie,” by Tim Burton (my goodness, can you imagine how epic it would be if you got Neil Gaiman together with Tim Burton?! Minds would explode)
“Anya’s Ghost,” comic by Vera Brosgol
“Monster House,” movie directed by Gil Kenan

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