The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Posts from — November 2009


Right above my head
The plane twists and shears the air
Like a sheet of tin.

November 30, 2009   Comments Off on 234

Chick Flick Supreme

Pippa and Friend

One online reviewer said that The Private Lives of Pippa Lee contained too many improbable situations and characters to be believable, but that it worked, nonetheless, and was the most pure chick flick since Fried Green Tomatoes. I have no doubt the latter is true. I’m also certain the former is not. Because the film stretches one’s credulity beyond the point of no-return, it leaves one breathless with boredom. It’s simply impossible that all this stuff could happen to one woman.

Though I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy. Maybe I’m prejudiced. Maybe the normal rules of aesthetics don’t apply to chick flicks.

Holy shit, I’m having a moment of enlightenment here. It’s like Einstein’s law of relativity, isn’t it? If something is absurdly emotional enough, it stretches the normal dimensions of reality to the point where they no longer apply. Oh my god, that’s it, isn’t it? Chick flicks actually change the physical laws of reality.

November 30, 2009   Comments Off on Chick Flick Supreme

Waiting for Hockney

As the title suggests, Waiting for Hockney is a documentary about an artist who spent eight years on a drawing of Marilyn Monroe and then sought David Hockney’s blessing. Of course, even on the face of it, this is absurd. Although Hockney has been fascinated with photography at times, his interest is in extending it beyond the static image. He often cuts them up into rectangles and creates landscape montages. Hockney despises the idea that you can create an exact replica of something with the camera, so getting his blessing for a super-realistic portrait of Marilyn was doomed from the start.

Why someone would spend eight years on a drawing and, through this, seek to create a name for himself in the art world is the real story of the film. Though very sympathetic to the artist, the documentary suggests that his quest is more about fame than art. In a sense, this is typically American—the failed attempt at hitting a home run that leaves you $300,000 in debt and working as a bartender-waiter in a bar and grill in your late thirties. In another sense, though, it is also the story of every artist, anyone who has ever had a dream of creating a novel or series of paintings that touches a chord with the public. From this perspective, the film is both instructive and sad.

November 29, 2009   Comments Off on Waiting for Hockney

The Local

Dan Eberle wrote and directed an amazing, though distinctly amateur film called The Local, which is even more frighteningly visceral and wacko than Lars von Trier’s horror extravaganza, Antichrist. The film is hard to describe. Kind of like a Vin Diesel character in Brooklyn playing Billy Jack on steroids. All the blood and gore you could ever want. Lots of pathos and horror, too. The film would be a tosser if it weren’t so skillfully held together by Eberle’s flawless performance as a down-and-out drug courier trying to do the right thing in a milieu controlled by pushers, pimps, and killers. The fractured photography echoes this fragmented shadow world perfectly. Maybe our man Diesel is in trouble. We all love a new and unique hero. I’m curious to see what Dan Eberle will do next.

November 25, 2009   2 Comments

World’s Greatest Dad

The film, World’s Greatest Dad, was not what I expected. More than anything, it was a dark piece of chocolate (with almost 80% pure cacao), darker than any performance Robin Williams has done before, and, quite frankly, darker than anything I’ve ever seen on the screen. (I almost felt I was reading Lucky Jim again, Kingsley Amis’s famous comic novel, in that I sometimes didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.) Bobcat Goldthwait, the stand-up comedian who wrote the screenplay for the film, obviously knows too well what fame does to a person. Because it’s based on a fiction (in the film, an outright lie), the false image of fame hallows out the bearer like a pumpkin squash until there’s nothing left but a mask.

World's Greatest DadWatching World’s Greatest Dad is a visceral experience. There are moments when you cringe in disgust at how the characters behave. A few moments later you’re laughing your ass off. One of the funniest scenes is the one pictured here, where Williams starts crying uncontrollably in front of a display of adult magazines on the street. Of course, you have to know the twisted plot to understand why.

This is not a great film, but one that packs a wallop. Williams has never been better and the supporting cast is perfect for this comedy of manners turned on its head and dunked in sheit. The “world’s greatest dad” does the right thing in the end, and we are relieved, but one wonders how many others lack the courage. It’s much easier living behind an image, especially one that people like, rather than being true to yourself.

November 24, 2009   Comments Off on World’s Greatest Dad

Edward Woodward

Edward Woodward

This is a shot of the English actor Edward Woodward from the 1974 made-for-television film Callan, in which he played a reluctant and conscience-bound professional killer for a shadowy branch of the British Government’s intelligence services known as “the Section.” It’s all a bit cheesy, of course, and very typical of the time, a spy film without any real drama and intrigue. One needed Michael Caine for that. Nevertheless, the guy intrigued me. I couldn’t remember where I’d seen him before and then realized it was in Breaker Morant, where he played the chief defendant in a kangaroo court the British arranged for some Aussies during the Second Boar War. By the way, Breaker Morant is a must-see film. It’s one of those epic stories that stays with you the rest of your life. Interestingly, I first saw it on a Betamax machine. I figured the best horse would win, but, of course, it never does. Lobbying, advertising, and bribery in the right places always wins in the end.

November 22, 2009   Comments Off on Edward Woodward

For me

I do it for no one,
for me,
without reason,
knowing without understanding
that it means nothing
and changes everything.

November 21, 2009   Comments Off on For me

Stop Making Sense Everybody!

Stop Making Sense

November 21, 2009   3 Comments

The Lost City of Z

Scouting around for a non-fiction bestseller that would put his name in lights, David Grann, a staff writer for The New Yorker, hit upon the idea of tracing Percy Harrison Fawcett’s attempts to find a city he called Z in the jungles Brazil. Besides writing about Fawcett’s explorations, Grann also decided to make the trip himself. The contrast between Fawcett, one of England’s foremost explorers of the early part of the 20th century and Grann, an over-the-hill tenderfoot, is rather drool, as the author knew it would be.

The Lost City of Z is an important book, not because it presents Fawcett’s tragic quest in such well researched and graphic terms, or Grann’s own buffoonish one, but because it examines the roots and consequences of delusion and obsession in inescapable terms. Fawcett impoverished his wife and managed to kill both himself and his oldest son on his last trip to the Amazon in 1925. He became a raving maniac, adopting the tenets of Theosophy and occultism. Ironically, although he did not find his city, it may well have existed. Fawcett was not a trained scientist. The problem was that the jungle devoured it without leaving traces he was capable of seeing.

November 21, 2009   Comments Off on The Lost City of Z

Why in hell are you going to Budapest?

The biggest, baddest, and perhaps the best Jim Jarmusch film is his 1984 production of Stranger Than Paradise, a black-and-white montage of American life with only sixty-seven total shots. It is an important film. In 2002, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. In a sense, it marked a high water mark for Jarmusch who has struggled to top it ever since.

Like most of Jarmusch’s films, the plot is minimal. A young Hungarian woman (Eszter Balint) flies to New York and stays for a few days with her cousin (John Lurie) before moving on the Cleveland to stay with her aunt. On a whim, the cousin and his buddy drive to Cleveland, hang out for a few days, and then drive with the young woman to Florida, where they lose their money at the dog races. Stranger Than Paradise is a slice of life with no sex, lots of inane conversation, and gorgeous shots of the most dismal spots in New York City, Cleveland, Florida, and the freeways in between. In other words, life at its most mundane.

Jarmusch laughs at his characters all the way through the film. He seems to be saying, “You guys think you’re so hip, when you’re actually lost and clueless.” He saves his biggest joke for the end, when the cousin mistakenly flies to Budapest thinking he’s following the young woman.

November 21, 2009   Comments Off on Why in hell are you going to Budapest?