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Preview: Storied-Living: A site dedicated to film review and our own storied-living

Storied-Living: A site dedicated to film review and our own storied-living



"The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head. There is the illusion of aliveness." ~Tim O'Brien i



Updated: 2017-10-06T22:41:31.867-04:00

 



POEM

2008-04-17T18:26:23.727-04:00

Roses are red
If they aren't dead
I'm the greatest
Muhammad Ali shakes a lot
(Not that that's a laughing matter)
The devil is hungry
For peanut butter and jelly
(On Wonder Bread)
But you can't get the jar open
So he just breaks it.



BLah Blah Blah

2008-12-09T19:20:55.759-05:00

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2008-12-09T19:20:55.975-05:00

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Art School Confidential

2006-11-14T01:08:45.511-05:00

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5 out of 7

Art School Confidential goes a long way out of its way to make a very simple, but needed point: Every artist has his/her muse. Pulling from the old cliché of Pablo Picasso and his mistress/muse, Jerome Platz (Max Minghella) journeys to art school only to find that it is filled with stereotypes and cardboard cut outs of artists. He, however, does not want to give up on his notion of art, however romantic it may be, and is edified in his belief when he meets Audrey Baumgarten (Sophia Myles). She instantly becomes the woman he pines for and who inspires his art. Sadly, though, he cannot have her.

The film’s message is a great one, but unfortunately it gets quickly bogged down with a lot of boring plot (i.e. Jerome’s American Pie-esque search for a sexual partner and a serial murderer around campus). These elements add very little to the overall moral, which seems then to maybe even confront the moral for now there exists a piece of art, made, assumably, by an artist(s) (Daniel Clowes writes and Terry Zwigoff directs in a return of the same guys who brought us Ghost World), who would then have their own muse(s), but then they create an art that gives a message of the importance of a muse and surrounds it with a bunch of gibberish that detracts from the message. See the conundrum?

Ultimately, though, romantic notions of art are always necessary and that Jerome learns that the reality of art needs more than a muse may be implicit in the movie’s need for subplots. Basically, if one is going to create a film that is really an essay on the essence of art, one had better surround it with some action.



Ordinary People

2006-11-14T00:21:34.267-05:00

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7 out of 7

The Judith Guest novel turned Robert Redford directed Academy Award wining film, Ordinary People, is a touching and honest look at the strength it takes to recover from loss.

The film begins in media res, so to speak, after the death of the eldest son in the Jarrett family and the attempted suicide of the only remaining son, Conrad (Timothy Hutton). The initial half hour of this 2-hour film is slightly confusing because exactly what has happened isn’t spelled out. Rather, Redford directs the film so as to allow the audience no further narrative perspective than any one in the family is permitted, especially Conrad, from whose eyes the film is viewed most frequently and forcefully. Part of Conrad’s narrative perspective involves his seeking psychiatric counseling from Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch). Through his relationship with Berger, Conrad begins to rediscover one of the elements that keeps people, people: emotion. After his brother’s death, Conrad shut down his capacity to feel so as to avoid the pain that would result. The film then does a great job of watching Conrad as he begins to reengage feelings – for all their ups and downs – and begins to heal from his past wounds. Sadly, though, the movie ends with he and his father (Donald Sutherland) sitting on their back steps after his mother (Mary Tyler Moore) has left. For his mother, who has also shut down her feelings (Conrad’s father even says at one point in the movie that she and Conrad are quite alike), it is better to cling to what is left than try to regain what is lost. The film makes the point that such a stance toward trauma will not work, as all of her clinging still results in her losing the rest of her family.

Made in 1980, I believe that this film was probably influential in helping remove the taboo around psychiatric counseling (a taboo that, one lifted, did manifest itself in the form of self-help books in the 90’s sadly, but a taboo that probably needed to end all the same). The scenes between Dr. Berger and Conrad are the best acted in the film and never lean too far into psychology/psychiatry, but rather shows how the articulation of pain and trauma is the first step to healing from it.

For anyone who has experienced loss (and that would denote most everyone) this film is a must see. For those who have lost someone recently, avoid it. The acting is too good, which makes for a much too realistic portrayal of hurt. If you’ve just recently experienced hurt, it is probably better to deal with it rather than a film.



Edmond

2006-11-14T00:21:34.186-05:00

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3 out of 7

William H. Macy continues his cinematic plight to make people act right in this surprisingly disturbing indie release written by David Mamet. Macy plays Edmond Burke, who after meeting with a fortune teller, decides that he must change his life. He does this by leaving his wife and searching for fulfillment in sex, though sex that he doesn’t have to pay too much for (the ironic part of this all is that his wife, who isn’t even given a name in the film (Rebecca Pidgoen) is very sexy). He tries first in a strip club with an “Allegro B-Girl” (Denise Richards – Allegro B is the name of the strip club). Then with a girl in a peep show, appropriately titled “Peep Show Girl” (Bai Ling) and then with a high-scale gentleman’s club girl, whose cast name is “Whore” (Mina Suvari). All of his searching only results in him being used or disregarded, until, within the same night, he purchases a brace-knuckle/knife combination from a pawn shop (where he pawns his wedding ring) and beats up a pimp who tries to rob him. After this, Edmond is feeling much more alive and finally finds the sex he wants in a waitress, Glenna (Julia Stiles). Sadly, though, this fulfillment doesn’t last as Edmond kills Glenna. He is ultimately arrested, sent to jail and sodomized by his cellmate, cast name “prisoner” (Bokeem Woodbine). The film ends with Edmond accepting his “bitch” role in prison and falling asleep cuddling with “prisoner.”

The film’s only redeeming quality is that Edmond regularly seeks humane interaction among people, even if he is seeking it within the underbelly of society (and, it should be noted, after not acting humanely with his wife in the up-scale part of society). Ultimately, the film boils down to some sort of exercise in karma, as Edmond does not act responsibly, but then seeks to find it in others. I’m sure there’s plenty of psychoanalysis that could be done on this film, but that isn’t really my schtick.

The film’s one redeeming quality (besides the all-star cast)? It’s only 80 minutes long. So, if you don’t like it, you won’t suffer for long.

P.S. Watch out for George Wendt, Norm from Cheers, as the Pawn Shop Guy. His role isn't big or interesting, but its "Norm!"



Judgment at Nuremberg

2006-11-14T00:21:34.030-05:00

7 out of 7I watched this film as an extra credit assignment for my Intro to Ethics class at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. What follows below are the questions I had to answer for the extra credit and my answers. The questions and answers, I feel, provide plenty of information...at least enough to suffice as a review. The film stars Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland and a young William Shatner. 1. What sort of competing pressures does the tribunal judge, Judge Hayward, face as he tries to make the right decision?Judgment at Nuremberg does a great job of never allowing the viewer an objective stance on the dilemma at hand, that is to say that the viewer is constantly (if he or she is watching carefully) wrestling personally/emotionally along with Judge Hayward, as the film’s narrative perspective is through him. With that said, the pressures on Judge Hayward are many and change throughout the development of the plot. This question, however, probably necessitates a more concise answer, thus the predominant pressures on Judge Hayward are to “…find a code of justice that the whole world will be responsible to” and to define what it means to be an accessory to a crime. These pressures are intensified by his personal relationship with Mrs. Bertholt, the widow of a former Nazi General, by his experiences in war-weary Germany and by the Russian invasion of Berlin and the impending “Cold War.” 2. How do the defendants, their defense attorneys, and Judge Hayward each see the ethical responsibilities of the judges during the Nazi regime? What do they each see as justice, and whose view seems most correct to you and why?The defense attorney, Hans Rolfe, sees the ethical responsibility of the judges of Nazi Germany to uphold the laws of the State. His opening comments includes an old American adage “my country, right or wrong.” For Rolfe, ethics ends where the State’s rules begin (not exclusively, that is, but potentially). By and large, three of Rolfe’s clients (Emil Hahn, Werner Lampe, and Friedrich Hofstetter) all agree with such a claim to the point that Hahn even says, upon his guilty conviction, “Today you call me guilty, tomorrow the Bolshevik’s call you guilty.” The fourth, and most credible of the judges on trial, Dr. Ernst Janning, believes that the judges had an ethical responsibility to stop the Nazi regime, but says they did not do so out of a desire for a better life, that they had accepted what they thought was a “passing phase” for “a way of life.” Judge Hayward would most likely agree with Janning (indeed, his ruling suggests as much) and says that “The principle of criminal law is that if any person who sways another to commit murder… …is an accessory to the crime” and “is guilty.” Within each character’s view is a sense of justice, with Rolfe being much more Utilitarian in his approach (he supports the removal of a few for the benefit of many, if not in his own personal action, then as a historical fact in Germany’s actions. More so, he sees the purpose of the trial as not a means to bringing about justice, but as a means of leaving the German people a shred of dignity. This very sentiment, once articulated, puts him on a different ideological playing field than the client he represents), while Janning and Hayward see justice much more as a pursuit of a virtue, in which every action either moves one closer to the virtue or further away from it and there can be no short-cutting the long road to justice. I would certain fall in line with Janning and Hayward (and Aristotle, for that matter) and say that the law, even as it is pragmatically practiced, must be in pursuit of a higher order, namely Justice. It is just as Judge Hayward says, “A country isn't a rock. And it isn't an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for, when standing for something is the most difficult![...]



Manderlay

2006-11-14T00:21:33.955-05:00

7 out of 7Lars von Trier’s second film, Manderlay, out of what may yet prove to be an amazing trilogy is an exploration into the psychical affects of oppression.Von Trier, who has been criticized for making a film about racism in America, though he’s never visited, hits at a very sensitive spot in our collective conscience as he points out that our racism was not (and is not) a black and white issue (pun fully intended).The story tells of how Grace Margaret Mulligan (Bryce Dallas Howard), while traveling with her father and his “men” (her father is obviously a mob boss of some sort) discovers the small plantation of Manderlay, which has never been emancipated, even though the Emancipation Proclamation occurred 70 years prior (the film is set in the 1930’s South). Grace, whose name may be a little too heavy-handed, storms the plantation (with the backing of her father’s men and their guns…you know, just how Jesus did it) and demands that all the slaves be let free at once. Mam (Lauren Bacall), the aging and dying matriarch of Manderlay, tries feebly to explain, but passes before any clarity can be shed on the situation. What follows is the tenuous negotiations between Mam’s heirs and Grace and her men. Grace lobbies that the slaves be given equal share of the plantation and, in order to secure justice, she decides to stay, taking half of her father’s men with her for security. She also places the heirs (former oppressors) into a form of bondage, making them take on the roles that they had previously demanded from the slaves.The rest of the film traces this newly-freed community as they work through the spring and summer to bring about a successful crop of cotton. They work through a dust storm and learn how to use the democratic process to right wrongs and bring about justice. The process is difficult, but they do make it to the fall, where they sell their cotton at a record price and all share in the wealth equally.Yet, not all is well (nor would von Trier be criticized if this were the entirety of the film), as the former slaves begin to show their true colors (pun not intended that time) after Grace’s men leave. All along, throughout the film, Grace read Mam’s old journal, which detailed exactly how to keep slaves in check and ranks them on a 1-7 scale, with each number being some different type of insulting ranking. Reading this journal enrages Grace and she spends much of the time trying to systematically correct the systematic wrongs in the journal. At the end of the film, however, the viewer discovers that the conditions of the plantation were intentionally constructed as they were, not by Mam, but by Mam and Wilhelm (Danny Glover), the oldest slave, after both decided many years ago that the Emancipation Proclamation was not necessarily advantageous to everyone. Furthermore, Wilhelm now explains that Grace must take on the role of Mam and be the enslaver that she fought so hard against. This plot twist only gets resolved after Grace flees Manderlay for Washington D.C. and, assumably, the third installment of the trilogy.This film vexed me much after watching it (and nearly destroyed my friends Ben and Karen, who had so nicely agreed to watch it with me), until I read an article by Karen Lebacqz titled “Implications for a Theory of Justice.” This article, with which I strongly disagree, claims that “It is the stories of injustice as experienced by the victims that count.” The basic thesis of the article is that injustice is only corrected when the oppressed are given a voice. With this voice, assumably, they will be able to tell both what is wrong and how to correct it. As Lebacqz writes, “This means that justice begins with stories of injustice….” Indeed, this is exactly what Grace tries to work out in Manderlay, a fact made even more obvious by the existence of a journal (story) of how to [...]



Little Miss Sunshine

2006-11-14T00:21:33.883-05:00

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4 out of 7

Little Miss Sunshine could be a commentary on modern notions of beauty and how it impacts the youth of our culture. It could be a commentary on the dependence every individual must maintain on his/her community (i.e. family) and how this inescapability, when truly pondered, isn’t bad. It could just be a funny film with a quirky plot and one of today’s funniest comedians (Steve Carell). Sadly, the film falls somewhere in the middle of all those wonderful stories and suffers for it.

Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) is crowned winner of a regional beauty contest for seven-year-olds (after its initial winner is found to have been taking diet pills) and is all-the-sudden thrust into a frenzied weekend trip to California with her parents, her Nietzsche-loving brother, her heroine-addicted grandfather and her gay, suicidal uncle. After a fury of debate in the first 20 minutes, it is decided that for Olive to have her chance at beauty pageant fame, the whole family must pile into an old VW van and travel 16 hours to the national contest. What follows is completely unbelievable (as is to be expected in a good road trip comedy) and completely philosophical/meaningful (as is to be expected in a good drama). The specifics and a chronological recap of the events only serve to vex me, so I won’t do it. Only those who desire to feel perplexed as to what they’re supposed to be feeling should watch this film.

My friend, Greg, argues that this film is “anti-Disney” in its approach to success and I suppose I’m inclined to agree with him. However, the film doesn’t so much say that winning is bad, but more says that what we call winning may be inappropriate and, within this paradigm, “losing” is good. Of course, there is also a hint of post-modern irreverence as the film might also just be encouraging the viewer to seek and do what makes them happy and move forward regardless of communal critique. Those seeking drama could look elsewhere. Those wanting Carell’s humor should turn to “The Office.” Those wanting to think, though, for awhile and then end feeling frustrated should certainly bump this one up in their Netflix queue.



Friends with Money

2006-11-14T00:21:33.808-05:00

6 our of 7Jennifer Aniston continues to search for cinematic success to compliment her triumph in television and might have found it in Friends with Money.Friends with Money is an unique film, insofar as it deals intimately with the lives of women, but simultaneously stays accessible to men. The film follows the lives of three couples and Olivia (Jennifer Aniston). This odd group is, apparently, the persistent friendship of the four women from their mutual single days. But, as life trudges onward, the bonds that once bound are called into question, as is the purpose of the future. Each character takes these questions on differently and each critiques the other for how they pursue their search. Ultimately, as one would hope, the group remains friends and better for the trials through which they have come.To relive the entire plot, character-by-character, would tax this review unnecessarily and not even to the advantage of the reader, so I’ll say no more. Rather, I’d like to explore further the writing and directing (Nicole Holofcener, in both roles) and just why this film, whose plot isn’t too terribly different from most of “chick lit/chick flick,” (the latter term is, I believe, completely unique to me, but then, I doubt it) still works for men. I would reason that this film involves its male characters/actors enough to present a balanced version of both sexes and, in doing so, transcends its genre to a place of realism that makes watching drama personally fulfilling. Indeed, enough can’t be said about the male characters, especially Aaron (Simon McBurney), whose metro-sexual character serves as a metaphor for the film as a whole, as he too must rise above the standard genre expectations to surprise the viewer.Holofcener shines as a writer/director in what is arguably her first major film (she has a few other films to her credit, but mainly her work has been in television, including four episodes of “Sex in the City,” whose influence shines through in the film. Really, four friends? Isn’t that a little convenient?). Again, though, it is the pleasure of watching a film starring women (the female leads are much bigger names than their male counterparts and include Frances McDormand, Catherine Keener, and Joan Cusack), written and directed by a woman, focusing on the lives of women that still doesn’t turn every man into a convenient stereotype, of whom it is easy to know who to root for and who to root against.As a final note, Aniston does well, once again, taking a role that is quite far removed from Rachel Green, her “Friends" persona. The only critique might be that watching Aniston play this role will feel a little too familiar to her character from The Good Girl. Olivia, like Justine from The Good Girl, is direction-less and purpose-less, but with the hope for more that keeps the viewer engaged in her life and happenings. Thankfully, Aniston isn’t all just down-trodden and depressed in her roles, so maybe the rehashing of a similar character is permitted. Also, maybe, playing Rachel Green for a decade might force a few role choices that would get that taste out of her mouth.Anyone who is in a relationship, be it with a significant other or friends or both, will see the reflections of their lives in this film and cinema that can get that close to real is always worth watching.[...]



Shop Girl

2006-11-14T00:21:33.738-05:00

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6 out of 7

Steve Martin writes and stars in this story of finding one’s self beyond one’s employment. The film is not so plot driven as it is character driven, with the main character, Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes), serving as chief protagonist.

Mirabelle is from Vermont, but now working as a “shop girl” at Saks in Los Angeles. She meets, at the laundro-mat of all places, Jeremy (Jason Schwartzmann), and has a one-time romantic affair with him. Simultaneous to this meeting, Ray Porter (Steve Martin) woos her with dinner, gifts and a hope of a life she could not otherwise achieve. Jeremy conveniently leaves the scene to tour with a rock band (in some form of a glorified roadie role) for four months. During this time, Mirabelle and Ray’s relationship sees its ups and downs, including a meaningless affair Ray has (and immediately admits to) with a former flame. Mirabelle and Ray’s relationship ends in time for Jeremy to re-enter, which is convenient for Mirabelle and the story in general.

Her time with Ray taught her a number of lessons, including a reliance on herself that does not exist at the film’s beginning. Through this new-found identity, Mirabelle feels empowered to leave the counter of Saks for – and this isn’t all that glorious, but thank goodness, for it is much more realistic – the help desk at a museum. This job, though, permits her contacts with the art world and the film ends with Ray providing some form of a benediction on their relationship at the opening night of her art display, where she stands boldly and proudly along side her charcoal drawings with her new lover (and, the film I believe would have us understand, her true lover), Jeremy.

Steve Martin’s role is an interesting note in the film, as he is writer, actor and narrator. This cacophony of voices creates some confusion (or paradox, if you’re a post-modern fan) as to who he is when he’s narrating. If he’s Ray, then the film stinks. If he’s the writer, then why does it have to be his voice (writers are typically content making a narrator that says what they want them to say, but doesn’t force them to be the one to say it)? If it is an independent narrator, then who is this person and why use Steve Martin’s voice? An answer is not immediately forthcoming and maybe that’s for the best. This review, at least, would be much shorter without this quirk to the story.

Shop Girl is in that same vein as Bill Murray’s recent work, particularly, Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers. There maybe a Master’s Thesis in trying to understand why the greatest comedians of the last generation are becoming so reflective in their old age, but then again, maybe its as simple as understanding that this is what age does to us all.



Spanglish

2006-11-14T00:21:33.635-05:00

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7 out of 7

James L. Brooks writes and directs a great story with even better acting in Spanglish (2004), which traces the life of a mother-daughter combination who illegally immigrate to America for a chance at a better life.

Life is rosy for the duo in Los Angeles (48-percent Hispanic) until Cristina (Shelbie Bruce) begins adolescence and Flor’s (Paz Vega), her mother’s, maternal instinct kicks in and necessitates that she leaves her two jobs for one that will permit her evenings at home. As such, she finds her way into the Clasky household as a housekeeper and soon finds herself intertwined with the family and all of their drama. Complicating matters is a summer home that both Flor and Cristina move into with the Clasky’s so that Flor can keep her employment. Once there, a faux-romance is kindled between John Clasky (Adam Sandler) and Flor and Flor must combat the influence of her Anglo-employers, particularly Deborah Clasky (Tea Leoni), on her daughter, who fights between her heritage and her society. Simultaneous to the struggle of Cristina and Flor is the mounting problems between John and Deborah, particularly around issues of child rearing and fidelity.

The film shows just how intertwined lives can become when they all must co-exist under one roof. It does a great job of staying light enough to keep the viewer laughing, while not shirking its responsibilities to its heavier issues (multilingualism, fidelity, child-rearing, cross-culture struggles).

The film is benefited from acting that is nothing less than stellar from every cast member. It is rare to find a film where there is no critique and only compliments of every line, every expression, every pause, breath and sigh. Furthermore, Brooks writes little morals into the story, though with a style that is far removed from didacticism. For instance, when Evelyn (Cloris Leachman), Deborah’s mother, confronts her about her affair, she says, in response to Deborah’s claim that her mother has lowered her self-esteem, that “Lately, your low self-esteem is just good common sense.” Such poignant and calmly delivered lines make this film a pleasure to watch time and again.

Finally, the film achieves a sort of realism that does justice to its sensitive topics, as well as allows certain personal and cultural issues to be worked out in as real a manner as possible on the screen so as to help the viewer work through the same issues in their own lives. This is truly a story that exists to be engaged with by the viewer and can enrich that life thereafter.



16 Blocks

2006-11-14T00:21:33.536-05:00

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3 out of 7

Bruce Willis updates (though not officially) his character from the Die Hard Trilogy, John McClane, as he plays aging detective Jack Mosley in this uninteresting, stereotypical cop drama.

16 Blocks (2006) traces a morning’s events as Mosley tries to get Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) from a jail cell to a court house in time for Bunker’s trial. What Mosley doesn’t know is that Bunker is schedule to testify that morning against many of Mosley’s colleagues, including his former partner of 20 years. Vengeance and violence ensues as Mosley tries to escort Bunker the “16 blocks” (eh? Isn’t that witty?) to the courthouse. The real “drama” unfolds when it’s discovered that Bunker’s testimony would also indict Mosley in some of his own corrupt behavior and have legal consequences for him. Thus, Mosley’s aiding of Bunker becomes an exercise in responsibility and redemption. Through this little twist comes the film’s ultimate message (which later adorns a cake – you’ll just have to watch it to understand) of “People can change.”

Sadly, while the film’s message is nice, the means it employs to get to it are boring and trite. The action sequences are good enough, but better ones have been done (see: the Die Hard Trilogy), thus there is no real reason to watch this film.



The Matador

2006-11-14T00:21:33.474-05:00

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2 out of 7

Pierce Bronson kills off his James Bond persona in The Matador (2005), as he tries to show the actual consequences of just such an espionage lifestyle. Unfortunately, the film isn’t about James Bond, a character which millions care about and has traversed at least 2 generations, but about a character named Julian Noble (his last name undoubtedly a pun meant to illicit a favorable response from the viewer) and since this movie isn’t about James Bond, it suffers from “why should I care” syndrome.

The Matador is about a hapless salesman, Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) and a professional hitman (Bronson), who get entangled in an odd friendship while on business in Mexico City. Noble shows Wright the ropes of killing a man and Wright shows Noble just what is lacking in his life (assumably, though never directly stated, the love of a good woman). After their odd encounter, the film follows Noble as his skills begin to wane due to the psychological pressure of the job. No amount of smoking, drinking and carousing with women will make Noble the hitman he once was and soon he is “out” and running for his life. After a late-night intrusion on Wright and his wife “Bean” (Hope Davis), Wright must travel from Denver to Phoenix to help Noble in one last hit to clear his name. The hit goes well enough and Noble is able to leave Wright free of any danger. Sadly, this poorly composed paragraph does the film justice.

The film suffers, undoubtedly, from some pacing issues. It spends too much time watching Noble either succeed or fail at his job (and all the drunken ribaldry that goes with it) and not enough time creating a single, real emotional attachment to his character. Wright, on the other hand, is a little more accessible (certainly a commentary on the acting abilities of Bronson versus Kinnear), but the film isn’t about him (it is, after all, titled The Matador). Similarly, the actual conflict (Noble’s need to clear his name and save his life) isn’t revealed until 30 minutes left in the film and is then resolved with 10 minutes left in the film, thus, the entirety of the plot (as plots are defined by conflict and resolution) takes all of 20 minutes and, considering that the rest of the time does little for character development, the whole piece feels like a waste.

The only interesting point of the whole film is that it tries to flesh out exactly what would happen to a person whose life is centered on death and deceit. Of course, though, if one needs a film to understand that, one might find oneself in a bad place personally. Thus, the whole film can be chalked up to an okay story told poorly.



Short Cuts

2006-11-14T00:21:33.407-05:00

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6 out of 7

Short Cuts (1993), starring an ensemble cast and under the direction of Robert Altman, tries to integrate a number of Raymond Carver short stories (mostly about love and relationships of all sorts) into one cogent film, lapsing over a three-to-four day period…and it works!

Serving as an obvious precursor and inspiration for P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia, Short Cuts earns its name by never leaving one scene on the screen for more than 90 seconds (with maybe one or two exceptions). While I didn’t actually time out each scene (which would be quite the task at 3 hours and 7 minutes for the film), it is obvious that Altman is going to tell many stories at the same time by jumping from one to the other. And while it sounds nauseating (literally) to jump so quickly between shots and stories, after 15 minutes, the pacing makes sense and the stories unravel nicely.

Altman treats Carver’s stories with respect, taking some liberties but never trying to re-write his chosen muse. He also picks some of the best stories of Carver’s to use.

The actors are almost too many to list (click the title of this review and it will link you to the Internet Movie Database’s listing for the film and you can see for yourself), but it is enough to say that everyone plays their parts wonderfully. Even Lyle Lovett does well.

What makes this film so important is that it legitimizes film as a vehicle for story-telling. While most would not want to fight for such an established cause, it is important to remember that many films can work just as well as novels or plays and, if this is so, why tell a tale on film. Short Cuts’ story can only work on film. The logistics are not there for a play version. Nor could a novel be written with the same quick jumps of character, dialogue and plot. Any reader would become annoyed and probably more than a little confused. Yet, since the medium benefits from face, voices, and body language of these characters, which aid the viewer in remembering each story that is going on, Short Cuts works.

Any more of an in-depth review than this might accidentally turn into a Master’s Thesis, so I too will keep things short (in the spirit of the film) and just say: Watch this film.



Bullets Over Broadway

2006-11-14T00:21:33.319-05:00

4 out of 7Reviewing a Woody Allen film is one of the most intimidating projects a film critic can take on. It isn’t that he’s particularly vengeful to those who write negative reviews, but rather that any critic had better be as well read as this writer/director…and that is quite the feat.As such, I will proclaim now that Allen is far more educated than I, but in the wonderful world of opinion, this must only limit me, not stop me.Bullets Over Broadway (1994), a period piece that combines genres, is a story of a writer, David Shayne (John Cusack), who desperately wants his third play to receive the success and credit he feels his previous works warranted, but never got. To achieve this end, he must cast a mob boss’s girlfriend, Olive Neal (Jennifer Tilly), in a minor part, regardless of her lack of acting ability. He then suffers from a sort of artistic-integrity breakdown as he tries to negotiate between the many forces pushing on his art. Ultimately, after Neal’s bodyguard, Cheech (Chazz Palminteri), has re-written his entire play and then, because he cannot stand to see Neal destroy his work, kills her, Shayne breaks down under the pressure.Of course, in true Woody Allen fashion, the story is one that is meant to disclose some sort of philosophic question. In this case, the question is: Which is more important, art or human life? The debate begins in a Greenwich Village debate about which is worth saving more, the only copy of a Shakespearian play or a no-name person. Shayne takes the artist’s answer of the play, only to later have that resolve tested by Neal’s death, which is done because she is destroying the art of his/Cheech’s play.The movie ends after Shayne avoids the limelight finally due to him after a rave opening night in New York to rekindle his relationship with his girlfriend, who left him after he started to have an affair with one of his actresses. Not out of place, this also answers the above question, as Shayne chooses the woman who loves him, over the woman who inspires him as an artist.The only real problem with this story is that Shayne, for all his mention in this review, is not the main character…or at least, not the most interesting. The most interesting is Cheech, this mobster-turned artist, who, upon discovering that he can tell a story in a very human voice, begins to value his art above all else. So, while the film may appear to support a life-over-art argument, Cheech, who eventually dies for murdering his mob boss’s girlfriend, proves that art is worth more than life. Indeed, his final words to Shayne are a new ending to the play, demonstrating his whole-hearted love for art, even over his own life.The film gets such a low review, then, because it tells a fine story, but in doing so, opens a question that it does not then answer. Of course, one could say that this is the paradox of life/art and that Woody Allen is smart enough to avoid making a concrete answer, but such a stance then forces Allen’s work into a very post-modern reading, which does not seem to be what the author, nor the work, want at all. Therefore, if this isn’t a piece of post-modern work (and it isn’t good enough to say that merely asking the question is what is important, for it is hardly the first work to engage such a query), then we are only left to think that Woody Allen did not achieve with the film what the film should have achieved. As such, it is only a sub-par film.From a story-teller’s point-of-view, all of Woody Allen’s work is great. He can tell an interesting story with interesting characters (often himself as the most interesting) and he can make you laugh and maybe a little[...]



Clerks 2

2006-11-14T00:21:33.249-05:00

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5 out of 7

Kevin Smith once again dusts off his old casts of idiosyncratic characters (and his old cast of cameo appearances) in Clerks 2, his update to the film that began his success as a writer, director and producer (Clerks).

The film follows the lives of Dante Hicks (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Jeff Anderson), who are now employees at Mooby’s, a fictitious burger joint, after their beloved Quick Stop burns down. Like the first film, the entirety of this film takes place in one day and begins in the morning with Dante picking up best bud Randal. From there, it’s a quick run through the conflict (Dante is moving to Florida with over-bearing fiancée), the other conflict (he’s slept with and impregnated his beautiful boss Becky (Rosario Dawson)), and the third conflict (Randal hates that his friend is leaving).

There is nothing superb about this story, but the film is worth it because of the characters. It is a too often forgotten truth that watching normal people do normal things is boring; watching interesting people do normal things is exciting. In Clerks 2, there are plenty of interesting people doing plenty of normal things and every second is worth it.

What Smith does so well is play on pop culture references (which if you don’t get, does unfortunately hurt the humor of the film). But the self-referred “fat man” also creates these same sort of pop culture references. I can say quotes like “Oh we do…we definitely do” and a non-viewer of this film will only stare blankly at me (ask my fiancée…she’ll affirm this to be true). The same is true for terms like “interspecies erotica” and “pillowpants.” Don’t know what I mean? Gotta see the film.

Thus, Smith not only plays off of the culture that comes before him (including a riveting debate about Star Wars vs. Lord of the Rings), but gives back something for future jokesters and pop culture junkies to work with.

The acting is decent only because one must respect being able to keep such a straight face during such funny scenes. Particularly interesting is just how beautiful Dawson is and just how many crummy-jobbed twenty-somethings are right now Googling for more pics, info, etc… about her. I don’t often trace pop culture trends, but this film may do something for her in terms of dork-chic.

Clerks 2 is a great chance to laugh…and sometimes, that’s good enough.



The Weather Man

2006-11-14T00:21:33.175-05:00

5 out of 7The Weather Man (2005) delivers a child-like message in a VERY adult manner.Since we’ve been young, assuming we had decent role models, parents, etc…, we’ve been told to just be ourselves. For David Spritz (Nicolas Cage), this message has yet to be taken to heart, even though he’s in his thirties, has two kids and is estranged from his wife. Sadly, the http://www.imdb.com/ plot outline sums up the entire film when it says “A Chicago weather man, separated from his wife and children, debates whether professional and personal successes are mutually exclusive.” For Spritz, he believes that if he can be something bigger, something better that all will go as he desires. As such, he sees his profession as a weather man as a hinderance to his personal happiness, though he complicates that idea with his desire to make it to the national stage as a weather man, with its big pay check and supposed greater esteem.Yet, before this critique begins to paint this film in a bad light, it should be remembered that even though an old story (message) is being told again, it might still have meaning and, how it’s told is important.The Weather Man succeeds in delivering this little moral on being one’s self through very adult situations and, especially, language. Very rarely does a film use “fuck” as many times as this film and still maintain its dignity. And while, the word is often used to its comedic end (which is no accomplishment when it comes to vulgarity), it also uses it well in dramatic ways. For a character who has “nothing to knuckle down on,” as Spritz refers to himself, sometime the most appropriate way to portray and articulate frustration, anger, and fear is through a few “fucks” (no joke implied there).Finally, there’s a comedic part in the film that centers the message, where Spritz’s overweight daughter, who is called camel toe by the boys at her school, explains that she is called such because she’s tough. Spritz, of course knowing the true, vulgar meaning of this term, allows his daughter this illusion, if only to keep her in childhood a little longer. In this strange scene, the viewer can find the entirety of the film: Here is vulgarity, though here also is a moral, a message.What the film succeeds in doing is capturing something quite real. It uses vulgarity as it is used in real life (ever have a fight with a lover and use fuck one too many times? Ever get mad at a friend and call him/her a name? If so, you’ve danced the same dance as this film). The film also gives a moral as one might find one if one were to spend some time in introspection. In the end, of course, the best story ever told is our own, but the ironic part is that we spend more time listening to/watching other people’s stories…even fictitious ones. What this film features is a fictitious character, who undergoes vis-à-vis a number of stimuli, a lot of personal reflection. To highlight this reflection, the film gives a lot of its story in the form of voice over from Nicolas Cage, which breaks one of the rules of good story-telling by telling, not showing. In the end, though, it works.The film also takes on father-son relationships, a topic that very few films engage honestly, which allows Michael Caine (who plays David’s father, Robert) the screen time his talent deserves.It was billed as a comedy, which its funny scenes certainly warrant, but do not be afraid to watch The Weather Man prepared to feel something, to learn something.[...]



In the Company of Men

2006-11-14T00:21:33.116-05:00

6 out of 7In the Company of Men (1997) is a prime example of Foucauldian ethics played out in everyday life.The film traces the actions of two business men on a 6-week project for their company who feel run-down and beat up in contemporary society. As a means of backlash (particularly against women, who they view as one of their chief enemies), the two devise a plan to “hurt somebody.” The plan consists of finding a slightly insecure woman to both pursue and then, when their time in Phoenix is up, break her heart. Their reasoning being – as it’s articulated early in the film – that no matter what happens to them in the future they can always look back and say that they were the victors in that situation.The plan goes into motion when Chad (Aaron Eckhart) discovers a deaf girl, Christine (Stacy Edwards) working at the Phoenix office as a typist. He woos her with dinner and then dinner and drinks and so on. Simultaneously, Howard (Matt Malloy) begins to woo Christine as well. Now this once lonely girl has two men treating her like a princess and allowing her to feel feelings previously denied to her.The plan begins to unravel when Howard actually falls for Christine, though Christine has already pledged her love to Chad, who Chad is not to be stopped and ultimately crushes the girl the night before he leaves to go back to his normal life. Howard, however, cannot get over Christine and becomes sick with the notion of what he and Chad have done to her, a feeling only enhanced when Chad reveals that he hadn’t had the love problems he claimed to have had (and which served as the impetus for the whole project). This revelation means that Howard had acted vulgar, while Chad – who had also acted vulgar – was able to return to a comfortable life with his girlfriend/lover. The film ends with Howard taking a red eye back to Phoenix, only to be turned down by Christine while he screams for her to listen to him (the irony of this is enhanced by the narrative point of view switching from objective to Christine’s, allowing the viewer to see Howard as Christine sees him – shouting, but unable to hear him).The reason Michel Foucault plays so well into this film is because the whole premise is about a power relationship. Even the most meager reading of Foucault shows that human relation (within his philosophical framework) is a form of power relation. In this case, Christine has a need (intimacy) and she uses both Howard and Chad to fulfill that need. Howard, too, has a need (revenge, as well as intimacy) and he uses Christine to that end. But, it is in Chad that the greatest example of power relation is fleshed out, as his need is merely to always be in control. He even goes so far as to say “Never lose control, that’s the key” (http://www.imdb.com/). Chad’s character is exactly what Foucault wrote about, as well as a prime example of life in the Foucauldian schema.If the viewer feels disgusted by the actions of Chad and Howard (and there are enough juxtaposed scenes of “love” between each and Christine and scenes of plotting to easily achieve that feeling), it is probably a response to a life without ethics – or, more fairly put, a life under Foucauldian ethics. The problem is that, within the film (that is to say, a viewing of the film where the viewer does not impose his/her own ethics), no one does anything wrong. If Christine gets hurt, it is only because she pursues her need to a point of punishment. Had she shown more self-control or, as Chad would advise, “never lost control,” then she wouldn’t have ended up [...]



Badlands

2006-11-14T00:21:33.058-05:00

3 out of 7Badlands (1973) is a bad film. No. Badlands is a bad story. Yes.This sort of introduction is probably true for most Terrence Malick films, as Malick finds little value in characters, plot, dialogue or any of those other elements that makes stories what they are.To ask what this film is about may be a moot point, as Malick does not write stories. Rather, he creates images – spectacular images – and lets them speak for themselves. The problem being, though, is that analyzing images, particularly multiple images within a greater story, is as difficult as explaining why one love poem is better than another love poem.A quick synopsis of the film goes as follows: Kit (Martin Sheen), a James Dean rip-off, falls for Holly (Sissy Spacek). Holly’s father doesn’t approve and after Kit can’t talk to the man reasonably, he kills him. Because of this murder the two go on the run and in the process kill countless others. Much like True Romance (1993) with a little Natural Born Killers (1994), the film follows the couple in chronological order until their undoing. The real value, though, comes in some of the shots.Of most significance is the hide-out the two take after the initial murder of Holly’s father. They build a little home in the trees of South Dakota, where they steal or shoot the food they need and spend their days not-so-romantically together. The real importance in these scenes is the contentedness in which the two find themselves. They aren’t passionately wrapped in one another’s arms, nor are they planning any sort of return to civilization. They are contented being together and away in a manner that is not easily scripted nor shot. This may be the first key to understanding this cinematic poetry: Malick appreciates nature and its value over all else.To continue this point, the two spend the rest of their days (after being flushed out of their Swiss Family Robinson-esque home) in the Badlands of South Dakota, traveling across the dusty and rocky land at night and dancing in the moonlight. One of the most poignant shots is of Kit holding his gun across his shoulders, turning himself into either a scarecrow or crucified man, staring at the moon as it makes its appearance in the dusk sky. Somehow in a film about a man with a gun who is killing people, the real star (no pun intended) of this scene is the sky…nature.What destroys this film is that it is still telling a story. In fact, it is based on the “Starkweather-Fugate killing spree of the 1950's, in which a teenage girl and her twenty-something boyfriend slaughtered her entire family and several others in the Dakota badlands” (www.imdb.com). Much like In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, Malick tells the story of treacherous doings in the gentle and idealistic parts of America. Capote, though, knows he’s telling a story and never loses sight of that. Malick, apparently, can’t keep his lens off the grasshoppers long enough to complete the task he started.Is the film beautiful for what it’s doing? Sure. Should it be doing that? Maybe not.If you’re looking for an aesthetic experience, visit your local museum. They’re in much more need of your attendance (and may be lost if you don’t) than this film is.[...]



Failure To Launch

2006-11-14T00:21:32.983-05:00

4 out of 7Its tough to screw up a romantic comedy with two of the most attractive people in cinema today, but Failure To Launch (2006) comes eerily close to doing so. The film, which stars Sex in the City goddess, Sarah Jessica Parker (as Paula), and Texan stud, Matthew McConaughey (as Tripp), delivers an odd plot that never gets fully fleshed out.The main problem with the film is that the viewer is supposed to join in on the woes of Tripp’s parents – Sue (Kathy Bates) and Al (Terry Bradshaw, of all people) – as they try to get their son to leave home. Yet, because the film starts with Tripp and his friends talking about how they love living at home, the narrative perspective gets a little screwy, so that when the parents begin to complain with other parents who have the same problem, the scene feels out of place. The viewer doesn’t know who he/she is supposed to side with, but all the sudden he/she is thrown into a plot with the parents against their son.The plot is, of course, to hire Paula to come and woo Tripp away from living at home. Her diagnosis for his syndrome is “failure to launch,” a convenient term given Tripp’s profession as a boat salesman and his love for the open seas. Her confidence is all there and she’s had success in the past with a certain formula (a formula that treats men like dumb animals…whether justified or not, I will not commentate). The steps include making him like her (easy enough, she is beautiful), making him enjoy her company (by just liking whatever she likes), never having sex (it demotivates men…maybe the most honest point to the whole film), having the man help her through a trauma (faked, of course), getting the friends to like her (complete with “the nod” – you’ll just have to see it to understand) and then allowing the man to teach her something. Tripp clips along through all these steps nicely, but a few problems begin to arise, chiefly, Paula is falling for Tripp.Of course, one of Paula’s rules is to never sleep with her clients, but once she realizes that she’s fallen for Tripp and that, subsequently, he is about to dump her (its his modus operendi for dealing with women), she breaks this rule, but under the justification that its to keep his therapy going. The problem with this is that it is supposed to be the physical representation of the turn in the film, with the turn being that Paula actually likes a man instead of wanting to fix a man. The turn, emotionally, happens while at sea and is believable enough. The turn, physically, happens with the sex, but is unromantic, unsexy and plain disappointing (she was on Sex in the City and while she never bared all, the average viewer has seen what SJP can do in bed). Again, this is just another little chink in the armor for the film.Naturally, too, when it rains, it pours and Paula is discovered for who she is by Tripp’s friends, who then tell Tripp. AND Paula discovers (and this is the real twist to the film’s plot) that Tripp lives at home because a woman he was once going to marry, Amy, died suddenly. After which, he moved back with his parents. Now Paula knows that she must end the treatment (he isn’t, after all, your normal slacker, loser) as there are just too many elements working against it (including, still, her own attraction to him). Tripp, however, having been told about the whole plot by his friends, makes a big production out of ending it with Paula and letting his parents know that he discovered their little rouge to move him out.So the whole[...]



The Notebook

2006-11-14T00:21:32.925-05:00

6 out of 7There isn’t much to say about overly sappy love stories, except that anyone with a heart will inevitably be drawn to them. So it is with The Notebook (2004), the Nicolas Sparks novel turned sentimental sensation.The film has a metanarrative of Duke reading a story to Allie in a retirement home. It doesn’t take long (or much guessing for that matter) to discover that the young lovers in the story Duke reads are Duke and Allie in their youth. Time, however, has taken its toll, particularly on Allie, whose mind has begun to falter to the point that she no longer recognizes her husband or children. But Duke, who begins the movie with some of the most touching sentiments in film when he says, “I am nothing special; just a common man with common thoughts, and I've led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten. But in one respect I have succeeded as gloriously as anyone who's ever lived: I've loved another with all my heart and soul; and to me, this has always been enough,” has a stance that love may just conquer all.The main story (that of Young Noah and Young Allie) is touching, if not a little trite, but by surrounding it with the greater story of love in its twilight years, everything witnessed takes on a deeper meaning.With a constant whirlwind of debate around marriage in our culture, all would probably benefit from an honest viewing of this film. Don’t get caught up in the romance (though it is great), nor allow yourself to cry (except when appropriate), but really ponder the significance and power of pure matrimony. Such a viewing puts petty debates of tax rights into their appropriate place.The story’s moral can’t be found in the story of the two young lovers, but rather the story of the two old lovers. When a doctor cautions Duke from trying to revive Allie’s deteriorating memory by reading to her, he calm ticks off that “where science ends, God begins,” and so the viewer is left no option but to try to understand love in its deepest meaning.The film ends with the two lovers – once young, now old – dying together in a nursing home bed. For these two it is a miracle of Love and the film does little, if anything, to dissuade the viewer from such a stance. On their final night together, Allie recognizes Duke without the aid of the story and questions how long they have and how long they’ve been living like this. It is she who hopes that Love will bring them to an end together.What is interesting about this film is that its significance is found in love that has aged and matured and weathered all sorts of toil and trouble. In fact, it might be that for any love story to truly succeed, it needs to be told from the perspective of love near its completion. A friend challenged me after viewing the film to try to think of a romantic film (not a romantic comedy) that isn’t a period piece. He reasoned that by using the time period of the 40’s and 50’s, there is an implicit innocence that amplifies the love on the screen. While I certainly see merit in such thoughts, I believe more that love in its infancy, while magnificent to live through (and even enjoyable to view), is less significant if we don’t know how it ends. Inevitably this film would have boiled down to some simple conflict of man vs. man or man vs. society if not for the metanarrative. The viewer would be left with Titanic – just a story of a boy overcoming social classes and another lover to be with the woman he[...]



The Family Stone

2006-11-14T00:21:32.852-05:00

4 out of 7Anyone who has ever gone through the awkward task of meeting their significant other’s parents will spend the first hour of The Family Stone in complete awkwardness, which will then give way to half an hour of anger and finally 10 minutes of confusion (and in this reviewer’s case, bitter cynicism).The Family Stone (2005) follows the arrival of Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) with the put together son Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) to the Stone family’s three day Christmas celebration. The “hilarity” that ensues is exclusively at the expense of Meredith while her future mother-in-law and Stone matriarch, Sybil Stone (Diane Keaton), and future (and bitter) sister-in-law, Amy Stone (Rachel McAdams), work systematically to embarrass and discourage Meredith at every turn. What, however, gives this sort of behavior its true tartness is the obvious closeness between the family, including Thad Stone’s (Tyrone Giordano) gay life partner, Patrick Thomas (Brian J. White). Thus Meredith is regularly put down in one of the happiest, family-oriented homes in cinema; the contrast is irritating.Simultaneous to the family togetherness is a deep, unspoken secret about the return of Sybil’s cancer, which, as the viewer discovers in a later scene, has already claimed her right breast. In fact, it is only an ambiguous scene between Kelly Stone (Craig T. Nelson), Stone patriarch, and his other straight son, Ben Stone (Luke Wilson) that allows even the slightest understanding of the trauma the family has come through and, apparently, must go through once again.The holiday progresses with more troubles for Meredith, while her boyfriend (who incidentally wants his grandmother’s wedding ring to propose to her) stands around and intervenes only at the worst times, slowly allowing his family to perceive his future bride as an idiosyncratic, uptight bigot. Soon Meredith sends for her sister, Julie Morton (Claire Danes), for support. Julie’s cool arrival and quick fit into the family only serves to amplify Meredith’s outcast status, which sets the scene nicely for Christmas Eve dinner, and the turn in the film.Over this dinner, Julie begins to question Thad and Patrick about their adoption process. An innocent question of race is asked, given the couple’s bi-racial status (Patrick is African-American). The conversation prompts Sybil to comment that she wished all her sons were gay. This outrageous proclamation confuses Meredith, who questions the claim on the grounds that being gay makes life more difficult and wonders what parent would desire such discomfort for their child. Her big snafu comes when she stammers out the word “normal,” causing Kelly to shout-down the conversation and Meredith (again) leaves the room crying. Thus ends the awkwardness.To begin the anger is the completion of the above scene, which includes three ridiculous events. First, Sybil tells her gay, deaf (I’ve yet to mention that, I know) son, who is in a bi-racial relationship that he is “more normal than any asshole at the table.” Even if this assertion is viewed as a completely ideological claim, there is absolutely no reason to lose focus of reality. This liberally-charged, didactic proclamation dips into absurdity when one considers the character it is directed toward. Thad, while a lot of nice things as a character, is not normal and there is no reason to go about changing the definition of normal to allow him in. What the movie reaf[...]



Welcome to my Blog

2006-11-14T00:21:32.769-05:00

So, I did this not because I want a blog (when I feel I need to express my thoughts, I just go talk to people...a lot), but because I wanted to leave more than annonymous posting on my friend Greg's blog (make sure to check it out at www.gregpveltman.blogspot.com). At any rate, I may say something here or there about something or another, or this could be my first and my last. Peace.