- The Washington Times - Friday, September 18, 2009

Few young writers in Hollywood engender more excited reactions than Diablo Cody. The screenwriter went from being praised for her quirky characters in “Juno” - for which she won an Oscar - to being derided for their affected, tongue-tying dialogue with shocking speed.

One gets the sense from early critical reception that her new picture, “Jennifer’s Body,” won’t do much to sway these polarized opinions one way or the other. And she couldn’t care less.

“Honestly, if there’s anything that I have learned in the last couple of years, it’s that you absolutely cannot please everybody,” she says during a recent phone interview. “You just have to speak to the people who get it. And the people who don’t get it, don’t waste your time trying to win them over, because they’re off enjoying what it is they enjoy.”

“Jennifer’s Body” is aimed at those who appreciate the intersection of humor and horror, audiences nurtured on classic Sam Raimi flicks and the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series (which Miss Cody loves). But on a deeper level, the movie is about the trials and tribulations girls face as they navigate the high school years and their changing bodies.

“It’s about the experience of being a girl, and kind of feeling like you’re in this pressure cooker from birth,” says Miss Cody, who proudly proclaims her own feminist ideals. “I feel like women kind of naturally become catty and competitive because they have to. It’s not our fault as a group of people; it’s the fact that we’re encouraged to pick each other off.”

In the movie, Megan Fox plays a devilish girl (the titular Jennifer) who literally plays host to a demon after being sacrificed by a rock band seeking superstardom. The demonic presence only heightens Jennifer’s natural tendencies.

“Jennifer is kind of the worst possible example of the kind of girl society can create,” Miss Cody explains. “The only work that she does is in her looks and her sexuality. And she is kind of monstrous for it: She is monstrously vain, totally self-absorbed. She is reduced to feeding off of male bodies to survive.”

High school, of course, is a time of stress and transformation anyway, and Jennifer’s change accentuates those themes.

“Obviously, the theme of adolescence as a horrific transformation has been explored in the horror genre, but to me, it’s just a really powerful metaphor, the idea that your body’s changing and there are feelings that are seizing you,” she says. “I remember when I was growing up sometimes feeling that my body was betraying me: Why am I so tall, why is my skin doing this? I found myself grotesque, and there’s just something a little bit monster movie about that.”

Returning home

Howard University professor and filmmaker Haile Gerima’s new movie, “Teza,” is set for a run at the Avalon Theatre after holding its American premiere there last night. This is an intensely personal film for Mr. Gerima, who was born in Ethiopia and raised there before coming to the United States for schooling.

“For me, it’s a form of exorcism,” he says of the picture. “It’s not necessarily the definitive story of my generation, but it’s a slice of the dramatic placement of my generation and the historical circumstances.”

It’s a story not well known in America outside of Ethiopian immigrant communities: Caught in the middle of the Cold War, the nation overthrew its emperor, and a Marxist dictatorship came to power. “Teza” examines the lives of those who left the country to gain knowledge and come back armed with the ability to save the lives of their countrymen.

“It’s different from going to the river to fetch water,” he says of going overseas to fetch knowledge. “You come across human beings; you come across social orders, political structures; and you begin to question what is modernization. … It’s not easy; you can’t just go to Europe or America and be a doctor and return and everything is hunky-dory.”

-Sonny Bunch

New direction

Guillermo Arriaga began his career as a novelist and found international acclaim as a screenwriter. Now, at 51, he finally has embarked on the job he’s wanted since childhood - director.

“When I was at school studying communications, I didn’t have technical abilities,” the Mexican director says by telephone from New York. “I began to detach myself from being a director, thinking you must know a lot about lenses and everything. Then I read a quote by Einstein that says imagination is more important than knowledge. A good friend of mine says, ‘Concentrate on actors and the screenplay. The people working beside you will have the knowledge.’ ”

“The Burning Plain,” a nonlinear drama with intertwined stories starring Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger, is the directorial debut of the writer, whose screenplay for “Babel” was Oscar-nominated. He says working on “Plain” was “the most enjoyable experience of my life” but he has no plans to stop writing novels.

“I consider myself a storyteller who likes to find the right medium to tell the story,” he says. “Sometimes the third person wishes for a visual. ‘21 Grams’ started as a novel. Right now, I’m trying to write a screenplay which didn’t work as a screenplay, so it’s going to be a novel.”

Neither does he plan to uproot himself to Hollywood. “Mexico City gives me more sense of the human condition,” he explains. “It gives me focus on things I wanted to be focused on - to be a good father, to be a good husband.”

He’s part of an astonishingly talented generation of Mexican filmmakers, which includes a trio of friends we’ve dubbed “the three amigos.” He made three films (“Babel,” “21 Grams” and “Amores perros”) with one, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, but no longer speaks to him - or his friends Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo del Toro.

Mr. Arriaga won the screenplay award at Cannes for “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” in 2005, but was famously banned from attending the festival the next year - by Mr. Inarritu, who complained in an open letter that Mr. Arriaga had an “unjustified obsession to claim sole responsibility” for “Babel” and did not “recognize that movies are an art of deep collaboration.”

“It’s something I never said in my life,” the writer responds. “My position has always been that film is a collaborative art, there is never one author, but several authors. The fair thing to do is not to put ‘a film by,’ but ‘written by,’ ‘directed by,’ ‘produced by’ and respect each other’s contributions to the film.”

The pair’s first film together, “Amores perros,” was a triumph. “I can modestly tell you that I’m very happy to be known as a maker of the film that gave confidence back to Mexican filmmaking,” he says. “Mexico has a very powerful culture. But Mexico is a country that traditionally lacks self-confidence.”

Yet he doesn’t communicate with three of his country’s top fellow filmmakers. “It’s not tough, because I have a relationship with other filmmakers. Many in Mexico. Carlos Cuaron, he’s a good friend of mine,” he says of Alfonso’s brother. He also names director friends from around the world, including Americans Darren Aronofsky, Marc Forster and Alexander Payne. When they get together, though, they don’t sit around and talk shop. He says with a laugh, “We basically think about other things.”

-Kelly Jane Torrance

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