On the August Edition of the KPBS Film Club of the Air host Maureen Cavanaugh and film critics Beth Accomando, Anders Wright, and Scott Marks discuss the women's films "Eat Pray Love" and "Cairo Time."
Related Story: Review: 'Cairo Time' and the Women's Picture
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. The summer movie blockbuster season is just about over but not quite. On this edition of the KPBS Film Club of the Air, we'll talk about two of the summer mega movies, "The Expendables" (with a cameo by our ‘Governator’), and Julia Roberts’ star turn in "Eat Pray Love." But, as usual, most of our Film Club will be devoted to those movies you may not see much advertising for. A wistful middle-aged romance set in Egypt, the life story of a notorious French gangster, and a follow-up film to one of the ‘90’s most controversial domestic satires. Joining me for the KPBS Film Club of the Air are Beth Accomando, KPBS film critic and author of the blog Cinema Junkie. Scott Marks is the author of the film blog emulsioncompulsion.com. And Anders Wright is the film critic for San Diego CityBeat. And welcome to you all.
ANDERS WRIGHT (Film Critic, San Diego CityBeat): Howdy.
SCOTT MARKS (Film Critic, emulsioncompulsion.com): Good morning, Maureen.
BETH ACCOMANDO (KPBS Film Critic): Morning.
CAVANAUGH: Good morning. Now we’re going to start out with one of the summer blockbusters that I was talking about, “Eat, Pray, Love.” Julia Roberts stars as a woman who has everything but is just not happy with her life. She gets a divorce and eventually embarks on a life-changing trip around the world. This movie is based on the bestselling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert. It explores the delights of other cultures and their ability to teach lessons and enjoy… Not yet. Hold it. Wait for it. And their ability to teach lessons in enjoying life and honoring pleasure. I get the feeling that this was not…
ACCOMANDO: I’m sorry.
CAVANAUGH: …a complete success with our critics. Beth, what did you think about “Eat, Pray, Love?”
ACCOMANDO: Like I said, I called it “Eat, Pray, Gag” because that’s how I felt by the end of it. You know, I wish after my divorce and my husband took half my money that I had enough money to go and travel around the world and go to Italy and eat great food and then to go India and then go to Bali and never be – once be concerned about, you know, anything other than myself.
MARKS: But she had a hit play that six people were in the audience and walked out on.
ACCOMANDO: Come on.
MARKS: Where did she get the money? I’m with you. That made no sense to me.
ACCOMANDO: And, I mean, she was – To me, kind of the problems of the film were kind of summed up in the Indian girl that she meets. The girl has to go into a forced marriage and Julia Roberts, who has just left a marriage for what we perceive as not terribly great reasons, she just wakes up in the middle of the night and goes, I can’t be married, kind of gives her a little, you know, nudge on the chin and goes, well, kind of like buck up, it’s okay. And she looks at the picture of the intended boy and he says, well, he looks kind of sweet, I think it’s going to be okay. I mean, this girl’s going into a forced marriage. She doesn’t want to do that. She wants to do something else. And here’s this woman who has so much and a lot of freedom who would be outraged if anybody told her you have, you know…
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, right.
ACCOMANDO: …you’re forced into this situation. And she has absolutely no concern or compassion from this girl – for this girl at all. And, to me, that kind of summed up the problem of the film, which is that she’s so wrapped up in herself you just can’t care about her. And then you can’t care about the film.
CAVANAUGH: Scott, was one of the reasons you didn’t like this because it’s a rich person’s fantasy?
MARKS: That has nothing to do with it.
MARKS: You have a, let’s see, you have a young woman who goes to a magical land and encounters three male role models and a wizard. It’s the “Wizard of Oz.” What are people saying this film is so – and at the end it’s practically “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Short of throwing the cat out of the car, you have the whole lecture at the end, you know, stick it out. Any film about a woman who goes out to discover herself and liberate herself and does it solely through the eyes of men is worthless.
ACCOMANDO: But they keep insisting that she’s not. It’s like she keeps making – Everybody tells her, you need to be married or you need to be with a man to complete yourself and she kind of makes this – this fake show of no-no-no-no, I can do this all on my own. I mean, when I was…
MARKS: Yeah, but then – and then she goes with a man.
ACCOMANDO: No, she does, yeah. No, no, no. I mean, it totally cops out to that. I mean, when I was writing my review for it, I kept thinking back to the films from the seventies like “An Unmarried Woman” and “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” and they go off on their own, and these are women who deal with real problems.
ACCOMANDO: I mean, they have kids or they don’t have the money to do what they want to do or, you know, pursue whatever dreams they have, and they were so much more interesting and real than what Julia Roberts creates in this film.
CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, to be fair, in the book apparently, she has a book deal to travel and to write a memoir so that’s where this sort of money comes from.
WRIGHT: Boy, that’s rough.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah. In order to fuel these travels of hers. But, Anders, I know that you have not seen this movie.
CAVANAUGH: Are you staying away…
CAVANAUGH: …for a reason?
WRIGHT: I’ll be very honest. I am not. In fact, the evening that it was screening for press, my mother-in-law was flying into town. My wife was out of town. So, in fact, in dealing with all of the women in my own life, I was unable to deal with this particular film.
MARKS: Wish I had a mother-in-law.
WRIGHT: Well… You know, though, I – I – it’s – The thing that’s interesting to me is that, you know, we call this sort of the end of the summer blockbuster season but I don’t really know that I would call it a blockbuster at all. It also – It made about $20 million…
WRIGHT: …over the weekend. It didn’t do huge money.
MARKS: But if it made $60 million, would you call it a blockbuster then?
WRIGHT: I don’t know. I mean, I guess what I feel like is when you look at this movie on the surface, when you watch the trailer, it doesn’t really look that appealing. It looks very sort of superficial. And I feel like, you know, this…
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, but look at “Sex and the City.”
WRIGHT: Yeah, but, you know what…
ACCOMANDO: That’s so superficial and it didn’t…
WRIGHT: Yeah, but “Sex and the City 2,” this last one, made twice as much money overseas than it did here. And it made money but it didn’t make…
MARKS: That’s par for entertainment.
WRIGHT: …that much money and you really felt like when people saw it, you know, I mean, I think we’re sort of learning like women as an audience are not suckers.
WRIGHT: And you – they want things that are smart and…
ACCOMANDO: Oh, well, wait, wait, wait. Maybe don’t go that far because there was a good chunk of the audience for “Expendables” that actually turned out to be female. And so…
WRIGHT: Sure. Absolutely.
ACCOMANDO: …and not that that was smart film but, I mean, I don’t think there…
WRIGHT: But – but my…
WRIGHT: But my point actually is that that’s, in fact, a movie that you would not expect women to go to or that the studios would not expect women to go to.
ACCOMANDO: Didn’t they learn anything from “300?”
WRIGHT: And, well, I mean, my point is this, is that you’re – you’ve actually hit it, is that you – they’re trying to pigeonhole women as an audience into these movies, the “Sex and the City” movies, the “Eat, Pray, Love” movies when, really, it’s like no one wants to be pigeonholed into what they’re supposed to see.
CAVANAUGH: Scott, let me…
MARKS: Yeah, but “Sex and the City” made a ton of money.
ACCOMANDO: The first one made a ton.
WRIGHT: The first one did.
WRIGHT: And by all accounts, the people who were fans of the show liked the movie. The second one was a terrible movie.
CAVANAUGH: “Eat, Pray, Love,” is one of the reasons whether you like or dislike this movie hanging on the fact of whether you like or dislike Julia Roberts, Scott?
MARKS: No, because I actually like Julia Roberts. I mean, I think she’s handed in some terrific performances. She’s a movie star who occasionally can act. I just don’t think she brings anything to this character.
ACCOMANDO: Well, I mean…
MARKS: There’s nothing there aside from the grin.
ACCOMANDO: And the script is bad, too. I mean, it’s not just that it’s hard to buy her in this part, it’s just all around…
MARKS: It’s so didactic.
ACCOMANDO: …the film…
MARKS: Eat Rome, pray India, love Bali.
CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm. Yeah, I know.
ACCOMANDO: And you don’t get any food in India and you don’t get any…
ACCOMANDO: It’s like suddenly all the food is…
MARKS: By the time you get to Bali, you’re praying.
MARKS: Everything in this film—and you’re going to hear this when I talk about another film today—close-up, close-up, close-up, close-up, except when they want to pull the travelogue in then they pull the camera back. But anytime someone talks, close-up, close-up, close-up, close-up.
CAVANAUGH: Well, that gets to the direction and, of course, we have as the director of this movie…
MARKS: He’s a TV…
CAVANAUGH: …Ryan Murphy of “Glee” fame, does it…
MARKS: Yeah, wow. Wow. A TV director. We all know – you know, I should’ve checked the specs. I probably wouldn’t have gone if I saw it was a TV director. It’s a horribly directed film, and it’s a badly scripted film. But there are certain messages in this film that I would rather people concentrate on than misogynistic comic books or watching people blow each other up. But even when you think about the spiritual message in this film, it’s all pro-consumerism. So it – it – it’s a…
ACCOMANDO: Oh, the spirituality in India is so fake. We get – I’m going to…
MARKS: She touches an elephant.
ACCOMANDO: She – she washes the floor to get in touch with your spirituality…
MARKS: Oh, that was wonderful.
ACCOMANDO: …while people outside are starving?
ACCOMANDO: I mean, it’s so superficial.
CAVANAUGH: So, okay, I know – And, in fact, I did see this movie advertised satirically as “Eat, Pray, Love, Shop.” But shouldn’t people – Let me get your feeling on this. Spend an evening, pluck their money down, go into the theater and see this, Beth?
ACCOMANDO: No, I don’t want to see money go to this movie.
MARKS: As opposed to what?
ACCOMANDO: I don’t…
MARKS: As opposed to certain other films, yeah.
MARKS: But for the – no. No. I mean, but they’re not – People who want to see this film are not going to go see “Cairo Time…”
MARKS: …or they’re not going to go see something with subtitles. I mean, it’s bad enough that “Eat, Pray, Love” has a couple of subtitles in there.
WRIGHT: So you’re saying it’s “Eat, Pray, Save Your Money?”
MARKS: I didn’t hate it. I mean, I think it’s about – I would rather see this than “The Expendables.” So…
ACCOMANDO: Oh, God, no.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. We’re going to talk about “The Expendables” later in the show. And, of course, Anders has that mother-in-law excuse that he – Okay. “Eat, Pray, Love” is playing everywhere and will be apparently for quite some time. Next movie is what Scott mentioned “Cairo Time,” another movie about a foreign getaway. Long-time married couple, Americans Juliette and Mark, plan to meet each other in Egypt for a much-anticipated vacation but Mark, an official with the United Nations, is held up on business in Gaza. Knowing that Juliette will be bored waiting in a hotel in Cairo, Mark sends his security guard, Tareq, to make sure he is okay (sic). With Tareq, Juliette begins to learn about the ancient city of Cairo and to learn things she never knew about herself. Anders, okay, so “Cairo Time,” “Eat, Pray, Love,” you can’t really contrast them but what is the biggest selling point of “Cairo Time?”
WRIGHT: Ah. The biggest selling point, I mean, there’s a couple things. Number one is Patricia Clarkson, who is always so great, and she’s so great in this, too, doing something that’s kind of off from what we’re used to seeing her do lately. I also like Alexander Siddig, who is just – he’s charismatic and interesting and funny. And it’s nicely shot and Cairo looks great. You know, it actually – it’s a small movie but the two of them have – I mean, chemistry is the wrong word for it, you really just see these two sort of kind of come together in a way that’s very friendly and very easy and you just feel as though it’s two grownups who are slightly attracted to each other who spend a lot of time together.
CAVANAUGH: And how does this compare, Beth, to “Eat, Pray, Love” in your mind?
ACCOMANDO: Well, I mean, I think…
MARKS: Could be the silliest question you ever asked, Maureen, and…
ACCOMANDO: Well, no…
MARKS: …that’s easy.
ACCOMANDO: I mean, it’s far superior but, I mean, it’s similar in the sense that it’s focusing on a woman who may feel, in less of a degree than Julia Roberts’ character, but feels a little bit trapped or unhappy or dissatisfied on a certain level but, to me, “Cairo Time” is more about things that don’t happen and don’t get to happen because part of it is about, you know, these people come together but they’re very timid kind of about admitting their affection or admitting what they’re feeling and by the time they get to a point where maybe they could, things kind of happen that get in their way. So it seems to me more about the stuff that doesn’t go on. But it’s much more focused on the characters and on developing them and giving them some depth so that you get to the point where you really care about them. I mean, I never felt I cared about any of the characters in “Eat, Pray, Love.” I could care less what happened to them.
MARKS: Oh, we forgot – Yeah, Richard…
MARKS: …Jenkins. Oh, we forgot to…
MARKS: There’s five minutes of “Eat, Pray, Love” that make it worth seeing.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, it does.
MARKS: Richard Jenkins, he has a scene on the rooftop that is the best bit of acting I’ve seen all year, and I don’t know that you can argue that.
ACCOMANDO: No, no, no, he was good.
MARKS: He is phenomenal.
ACCOMANDO: He’s like – he’s the only like dose of reality, like little grain…
ACCOMANDO: …of reality you get in that film.
MARKS: But I digress. I’m sorry. But that – that – when you said that, that just came to my mind. I forgot what we – I forgot we – to mention him because he is phenomenal.
CAVANAUGH: Important to put that in.
CAVANAUGH: But you’re a fan of Clarkson as well, Patricia Clarkson’s style.
MARKS: Yeah, no, she’s a terrific actress.
ACCOMANDO: She’s good.
MARKS: My problem with this film is that I think the script tips a little – a couple of things. Her name is Juliette and when they meet, the woman, oh, Romeo and Juliette. And then you have the other woman who said, well, my husband was here and I fell in love with his security guard. This stuff is way too heavy-handed, especially from a film that is so eager to show us and not tell us. There are wonderful moments in this film. When you see the guy playing golf with the great pyramids in the background.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, those…
MARKS: Where, I mean, they completely reduce the great pyramids to a tourist trap. That was ingenious. I thought that was very clever. And I love when she just pulls her chair out on the balcony…
MARKS: …and sits and watches life. Beautifully photographed, great use of cinemascope.
CAVANAUGH: It’s sort of a…
MARKS: I mean, a nice balanced frame.
CAVANAUGH: …a lovely postcard of Cairo.
WRIGHT: You know, you know, what else I like about it is that it’s – the humor is very just ingrained in it and the moments that are funny are very casual and also very, very funny.
WRIGHT: Because it’s just about – it’s like someone making a very casual joke in conversation. It’s sort of like in real life. And it absolutely – There’s a moment where they’re walking along talking and the security guard, Tareq, is like – he’s talking about her husband, he’s like, Mark, that traitor. But in – but he’s joking and it’s terribly funny and it’s exactly the way someone would talk. I think the dialogue is generally okay.
MARKS: You’re right. You’re right.
WRIGHT: But the – I – I mean, I don’t really know that so much is tipped because there’s not that much that happens in this movie. And that’s kind of why I like it.
MARKS: But they do tip what does eventually happen.
WRIGHT: But, I think you can see it coming from – from – there’s only two people.
MARKS: True. Yeah.
WRIGHT: You know?
CAVANAUGH: Beth, what is the chemistry like between Clarkson and Alexander – what is his name?
WRIGHT: Siddig, I believe.
CAVANAUGH: Siddig. Yes.
ACCOMANDO: Well, it’s like the film. It’s very subtle and quiet and kind of laid back. Nothing is forced or kind of, you know, shoved in your face, and you slowly really grow to like and care for these people and that’s what’s so nice about it. You really feel like you’ve come to know these characters as your friends. And there is a chemistry between them but it’s not like some hot, steamy chemistry like “Body Heat” or something like that. It’s more kind of along the lines of the old British film “Brief Encounter,” where it’s this kind of very…
CAVANAUGH: Oh, “Brief Encounter,” yes, yeah, yeah.
ACCOMANDO: You know, very low key…
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, umm-hmm.
ACCOMANDO: …subtle but quite charming and elegant. And I…
MARKS: And it ends just the way you’d want it to end.
MARKS: Which, to me, in this day and age is very, very hard to find.
CAVANAUGH: I have just a couple of questions more about “Cairo Time.” We have to take a short break. When we continue on the KPBS Film Club of the Air, we will talk about a dark comedy, French gangsters, and “The…
CAVANAUGH: …Expendables.” Thank you.
ACCOMANDO: She had a drop in testosterone right there.
CAVANAUGH: I appreciate that. We’ll return in just a minute.
CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. This is the KPBS Film Club of the Air on These Days. My guests are Beth Accomando, Scott Marks and Anders Wright. And just – We’ve been talking about a film “Cairo Time,” starring Patricia Clarkson, and I just want to ask one last question of you all. There – Do either of you feel that this movie is just perhaps a little slow? A little bit meandering?
WRIGHT: It’s slow, absolutely, but, I mean, the reason I like it actually is that it sort of is slow. I mean, life is like that. People don’t often make the big snap decisions that we see in like “Eat, Pray, Love.” People spend time working things out and trying to figure out how they feel about situations that they’re in, and that’s what this film does quite well. But it is slow…
ACCOMANDO: Well, and…
WRIGHT: …and you have to get used to that pacing.
ACCOMANDO: And, I mean, I think the title alone, “Cairo Time,” it’s trying…
ACCOMANDO: …to tell you we’re putting you into some different time zone and things are not going to function exactly like they might somewhere else. And…
MARKS: But slow isn’t bad.
MARKS: I mean, some films – I wish more films would take their time in unraveling their narrative and let us see the characters, how they react to their environment, how they exist. I mean, this is what makes the movie sometimes.
ACCOMANDO: Well, and especially when you have actors like that. I mean, Patricia Clarkson is not boring to watch at any point in time. I mean, you’re always engaged with what she’s doing. So, I mean, I never got bored.
CAVANAUGH: Great. Okay. “Cairo Time” opens on Friday at Landmark’s La Jolla Village Cinemas. Let