The story of my 100 hour obsession with Mila Kunis

For a while now, I have been nurturing a serious gripe about the silver screen. The movies once were dominated by glamorous, enigmatic and captivating dames. And, then, somewhere along the way... something happened. Perhaps it was Julia Roberts... Perhaps it was Michael Bay... Perhaps it was Thelma and Louise... Somewhere along the way, less and less was asked of leading ladies, while the male leads somehow became man-crush-inducing charismatic.

Indeed, we are in an age where there is a mind-boggling proliferation of Cary Grants and Steve McQueens. We are in an age where the heady cocktail of machismo, presence, smolder and talent no longer sits on a dusty shelf by the Galliano in a bottle labelled Dirk Bogarde 1965.

No, in fact, it has been reported recently that 672 women got pregnant (including 16 over the age of 40) just as a result of seeing Shoot 'Em Up. Add that to the upwards of 20,000 men who came out to their wives or grown children after seeing Croupier, and you understand that we are dealing today with an unprecedented imbalance of masculine starpower on the silver screen.
Not since the Renaissance has an art medium been this heavily lopsided towards the portrayal of masculine over feminine beauty.

In addition to Clive Owen, there is the versatile, adrogynous and finally earning a paycheck:

The "I don't care if it's about professional wrestling, as long as he's in it":

The man voted most likely to never have broken a sweat:

The guy you'd like to have as your best friend, but only if you didn't care about ever having a girlfriend ever again:

And the other guy you'd like to have as your best friend, but only if you didn't care about ever having a girlfriend ever again:

We are, by the way, deliriously happy to have seen the trailer for Pineapple Express and to realize -- not only that Paper Planes is ubiquitous in a good and much deserved way -- but also that James Franco has finally gotten a big screen role that exploits his strength as a comedic actor.

Now, it used to be that one could go to the movies and be much moved by the actresses -- what am I saying -- the icons!!! But now, quite frankly, the major actresses working in film today are interchangeable and innocuous. Can someone tell me the difference between Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, and Emily Watson? What about between Michelle Monaghan and Liv Tyler?

Not only that, interesting roles merely don't exist. As such, compared with male actors, very few women in Hollywood or in overseas studios are asked -- as Bertolucci famously required of the aforementioned Liv Tyler in Stealing Beauty -- to act through their "intelligent skin." This school of acting, of which -- among today's thespians -- Clive Owen is quite clearly the master, begot many fine performances from Isabelle Adjani in the 70s and 80s.

In Nosferatu, the combination of Kinski and Adjani formed perhaps the most beautiful pairing of human beings in the history of the twentieth century.

But where is today's Isabelle Adjani?

I realize that Adjani is still making movies, but that doesn't count. The "Gerard Depardieu rule" (La regle Gerard Depardieu) holds that once a French cinema icon makes his or her 25th film, every succeeding performance is self-caricature and thus, doesn't count as acting.

For a while, it seems some industry people were trying to have Monica Bellucci fill her stylish pumps, but then they realized that she's not actually an actress...

Cate Blanchett is clearly an exception, given that she has taken and stretched countless roles in many superb movies, including a particularly fascinating character as Bathsheba Hart in the 2006 film Notes on a Scandal (which I have not yet seen, but the Zoe Heller novel was one of the best of 2003). I have always had a soft spot for her among contemporary actresses, all the more since she does not have, to my knowledge, the annoying propensity of her contemporaries for taking off their clothes in front of Harvey Keitel...

While it would not be fair to say that she squandered her talent on the gimmicky I'm Not There and the overwrought Elizabeth the Golden Age... since after all, the greatest icons are also, a la Klaus Kinski, the most profligate with their talent... one has to admit that the quality of her performances, the sheer and obvious substance of her talent, dulls that certain whiff of ether that characterizes our Adjani at her finest.

(Also, she's no longer getting cast in sexy roles. I bet if she was French or even -- as Charlotte Rampling -- living in France, she'd be totally getting hot, sultry roles... )

Sofia Coppolla, Michel Gondry, and Francois Ozon have all challenged the paucity of complex roles for women in today's movies, but rather than developing a symbiotic working relationship with an actress like Sautet with Beart and Chabrol with Huppert, the strength of their visions rather transcends acting.

Kerry Washington peeled the onion of a meager part in Last King of Scotland and then peeled the grape with a spot-on performance in the charming, Eric Rohmer tribute I Think I Love my Wife, and it appears she will continue to show more range and -- umm -- intelligence in her upcoming roles.

Alice Braga, who gets something like tenth billing opposite Chiwetel Ejiofor in Redbelt, was one of the many convincing reasons to see City of God. Then, she quite perspicaciously proved her acting chops in Lower City, which, like the perfect City of God, was a righteous vision of realism and social disorder. Still, she has yet to break through.

Of course, I can't bring up Marion Cotillard here, because I would fear being labelled un-American...

And so it was that, resigned to have my movie-going become a purely homosocial activity replete with wistful man-crushes, that -- just the other day -- I went to see Forgetting Sarah Marshall. This was a perfect movie: the best comedy about love since Le Genou de Claire by Eric Rohmer.

Really, great things have long been expected of Jason Segel, whose Nick Andopolis is one of the most touching, painful, ridiculous and heroic characters ever to grace the small screen. And, finally, he delivers: with a brilliant screenplay about, essentially, Nick Andopolis all grown up.

As a whole, every element in the movie worked perfectly to depict the process of decristallisation that was the hallmark of Gerard de Nerval more lucid tales, taking the analysis of Stendhal before him and describing that process by which the illusions with which each gesture, each trait of the beloved becomes a premise for new transports crumble away and leave us with the recognition of ourselves, in a state of dereliction. Rohmer later worked magic with both Stendhalien and Nervalien dynamics. And now, Nick Andopolis reveals himself a modern day Pierrot, his lanky clown chasing illusions with sublime pomp and self-loathing. His Sarah Marshall is a masterpiece in watching the psychology of love dismantled and re-centered.

That dying love is rebuilt into a beautiful Chateau in Virginia Waters, with a parallel tale of nascent love and self-actualization underscores the sleek harmoniousness of Sarah Marshall's construction. The new beloved, unnamed in the title, and yet relentless in her ascent through the narrative, takes the form of the most beguiling female romantic lead since Catherine Deneuve in the Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

Wide-eyed... dark... wispy... umm... tough-minded and funny in a way that was much more real than the sort of screwball or flaky model heroines we have been spoon fed for quite some time now...

So, I never really watched That 70s Show... During its run, I was either overseas or obsessed with 7th Heaven. So, thankfully, Mila Kunis was never on my radar until quite recently... and it appears that her next movie will be one of those ubiquitous video game adaptations that don't really make much sense. But then, even Angelina Jolie and Daniel Craig had their Tomb Raider moment... and besides, she's Jewish! (She and James Franco -- so I can no longer complain that Hollywood is bad for the Jews.)

It will be good to follow the choices she makes with her career and how filmmakers use her admirable talent in the future. Until then, though, I will have to wait until Forgetting Sarah Marshall comes out on DVD. It will be just like that time, many years back now, when, far from Claudine... she had told me that Jodie Foster was her favorite actress. So I would watch Maverick and Little Man Tate, pausing and advancing the tape in slow-mo, just to collect from Ms. Foster's apparition on the screen, that essence that drew Claudine's admiration, to capture from the actress, the woman who loved her.

And so shall it be from now: A patient, subdued appreciation for the woman who may save the American movie.

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