American Splendor


      “American Splendor”

      Written and directed by Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini;

      A Fine Line Features release;

      Running time: 1:41. MPAA rating: R (language).

      Harvey Pekar – Paul Giamatti

      Joyce Brabner – Hope Davis

      Toby Radloff – Judah Friedlander

      Robert Crumb – James Urbaniak

      Himself – Harvey Pekar

      Herself – Joyce Brabner



Review by Jade Sharma 


It is widely said that one of the primary functions of cinema is a means of escape. People go to the movies, to get away from the monotony of there daily lifes, to laugh, to cry, to visit another world. At the price of ten dollars a ticket, it is one of the cheapest drugs. And when you get a good hit, it is one of the best highs you can get.


Most Hollywood films, take you on exciting thrilling car chasing gun fighting journeys where beautiful people meet and have sex with other beautiful people. And you get to go along for the ride. But afterwards you walk into the street, and back home to your apartment with your sick cat and your fat wife, and all of a sudden what you thought was an alright life seems pathetic and lame in comparison.


Then there are those movies, that serve to make you feel better about your life. American Beauty showed us that even in the suburbs you can find beauty, like a bag blowing in the wind. Seabiscuit proved once again that anyone, no matter what obstacles are in their way can still attain the American Dream. And now American Splendor is here to say, yea, even a file clerk in Cleveland can make something out of nothing.


American Splendor is about the real life story of Harvey Pekar. The movie starts with Harvey‘s second wife leaving. He works nights as a file clerk, reads, and collects jazz records. He begans writing comics based on his real life. He asks his friend R.Crumb to illustrate his comic books, and then soon after meets a woman, and quit abruptly marries her. But this is no rags to riches story. This is no success overnight. As Crumb, becomes a celebrity in the world of underground comics and begans making a living off it. Harvey still works as a file clerk in a VA hospital. In fact the most fame Harvey gets is an invitation of the David Lettermen show. The film show actual footage of these interactions, so that you see the actor leave the green room, then you see the real Harvey Pekar with Letttermen. The New Yorker, I think put it best to describe the style of this movie, “It is a documentary and narrative that look at each other, but never touch.” Throughout the movie Pekar comments on the action of the narrative, and says things like, “this is the guy who is going to play me in this movie.” It is very self-reflective, and self-conscious. Constantly showing us that yea, indeed reality is stranger then fiction. In this way, it reminded me very much of Adaptation, which also kept referring to the film that you are watching.


I think in some ways this innovative style proved successful, and in other ways it seemed sloppy, and intrusive. For instance, there were times where watching the narrative absorbed in the incredible performance of Paul Giamatti as the lack jawed squirrelly eyed Pekar, then all of a sudden, it cuts to the real life Pekar sitting in a white room talking. Although in this way, it may give you a more expansive understanding of Harvey Pekar, it also can be jarring. Getting absorbed in the narrative, and then being pulled out. It was like someone tapping your shoulder saying,”It’s not real, it’s not real.” It detaches you from the narrative.


What I think is it’s most redeeming quality is nothing that happens to Harvey is over the top wonderful, everything is shown within the monotonous landscape of real life cleave land, USA. He meets a woman, they get married. She sleeps all day, ever gets a job and critizes him. But they still love each other. He never becomes a billionaire for writing his comics, but it does give him fulfillment and fills the void within him.


The movie ends, with the actor Paul Giamatti fading, replaced with the real Harvey Pekar walking home from dropping off his daughter on the school bus. He says, that it’s no happy ending, and that his wife still don’t work, and his kid got ADD and is a real handful, and that every day is a major struggle. Although Harvey doesn’t win at the end, you still get the feeling that he has had a good life, and in-between the sinks of dirty dishes and the dullness of your life, maybe you do too.


The Dream






      Director: Gary Ross

      Writer: Gary Ross

      Studio: Universal Pictures

      Starring: Tobey Maguire, Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), Elizabeth Banks, Gary Stevens, William H. Macy, Kingston DuCoeur, Eddie Jones, Ed Lauter



      Director: Jeffrey Blitz



Review by Jade Sharma 


My boss says to me today, “You know what the only free thing in this country is? I say, “What’s that?” He says, “The only goddamn free thing in this country is to pay your rent. It’s free to pay your rent, that’s all these bastards let you get way with anymore.”


Although my boss, a middle aged artist from a working class background in Detroit, who makes art out of garbage is not a fair representation of the general public. He does convey a popular sentiment, that to put it bluntly, that America well, kind of, sucks. There’s a lot to gripe about, you can choose among the following: economic hardship, vast unemployment, blackouts, ban on smoking, Iraq, George W. Bush, on which ever scale, local or international, problems are plentiful. If you are complaining today in America, odds are the person listening to you is nodding in agreement and chiming in with their own grievances.


It is true that America is in need of a collective self-esteem boast, where can they look? The movies, in particular two films have come out, to help America feel a little bit better about herself. Seabiscuit, is a tale of horse, a jockey, and the owner of a horse, defying all odds and ending up on top. It is set in the depression, another time when Americans had a lot to gripe about. It opens with the hard luck story of the jockey, Red Pollard (Tobey Maquire)whose parents were forced to give him up, because they didn’t have any money. Then through twists and turns, on thing leading to another, his life is intertwined with Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) who is going through his own hard times. He has just lost a child, and his marriage has ended. We meet him as he is finds his new wife, and decides he wants to buy a horse to race. As he wanders prospective trainers, he stumbles upon the eccentric recluse trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper). Cooper spots Seabiscuit, and is convinced the horse will be winner, despite its lazy nature and small body. So finally the team is formed, each of which their own problems to overcome: the horse (1.too small, 2.tempermental), the jockey (1.too big, 2.bitter, 3.attitude problem), the owner (1.death of child), and the washed up trainer. If it sounds a bit over the top and formulaic, well, that’s because it is.


It is “one of those” movies. It even sounds like “one of those movies.” It has one of those generic intrusive scores, if you close your eyes, you will know what to feel because it uses that same score that has been in Hollywood movies for the past decade. It’s the most awful, annoying attribute of the film, it feels as though someone is poking telling you, “feel this way”, “now feel this way.” This film is one of those big guy v.little guy. A team with everything against them overcomes (I.E. The Mighty Ducks). What makes it a little more interesting is the character of William H.Macy who plays a radio journalist covering the horse racing, his fresh snippy banter throughout this movie, add a much needed touch of wit and cleverness. Also there are passages in the film, small little history lessons in black and white interwoven depicting the changing time of America in it’s journey toward modernity. Despite that, it is your basic hard luck boys overcoming the obstacles. So why is it so popular?


I saw it in a theatre in upstate New York; the audience’s median age was about 60, and white. There was applause all through it. Afterwards I was standing in the lobby waiting for my friend, when a 70 year old white woman, with an almost teary eyed smile on her face, turned to me, and said, “Wasn’t that just wonderful?” I nodded in agreement. And she began telling me about how her husband had read the book. She said, it was the best movie she had seen in a long time. That Hollywood had finally made a movie that she liked.


It was then I realized this movie was more like a photo album to her, it wasn’t just the actual time period, that she was nostalgic for, the depression is a time I don’t think most people want to re-live, but of the feeling that America offered. A time when things were changing, printing presses, the assembly line, and the feelings of opportunity these changes evoked in the American spirit. The feeling that if you worked hard and you had experienced your due of hard times, you would eventually be successful. The American Dream. But for people in my generation, there is no nostalgia for that time. The whole time I was watching it from a multi-cultural, historical perspective. I kept thinking where are the black people? Are they being lynched? I think that’s why young people, are more apt to be cynical about this film. The American Dream may have always been a myth, for the every one of the immigrants who came here with a quarter in there pocket who became wealthy, there were thousands that didn’t. But it was the possibility of the dream.


For all of you cynical Americans who feel that that dream has died, check out Jeffrey Blitz’s documentary, “Spellbound”, which chronicles eight kids hoping to win the National Spelling bee. Blitz’s subjects are as diverse as they get: suburban kids, city kids, rich kids, poor kids, and kids of different races. What all these kids have in common, is there desire to be the National Bee Champion, though at least in one case it seemed the parents wanted it more so.


The first part of the film is portraits of each of the kids. First there was Angela, from Texas, who’s parents immigrated her ill legally. Neither her mother or father speak English, though when she wins the regional spelling bee, her father is so proud he cries. Her brother articulates that this is the reason his father came to America, to provide better education for his kids.


There is also Neil, a second generation America, who’s parents are from India. It seems his father is the driving force of Neil’s participation in the Spelling Bee. Neil’s father has hired tutors to teach him French and Spanish, so he knows how to break down words from these languages. He goes over 7,000 words with him a day. Neil’s father, says in the film, that if you work hard in America you are guaranteed to succeed, this he says is not true of other countries.


There is also Ashley who is from the ghetto in D.C, who memorizes words out of the dictionary, and Nupar who’s a upper middle class Indian American.


The second half of this film is the actual spelling bee, where you see the kids compete, which makes you feel as nervous as the parents are when you watch it. Blitz shows each kid spelling each word, each participant hesitantly utters each letter, taking deep breaths, nervously looking around. This is what makes it so suspenseful. One by one you see each kid fall round by round, till one is declared the winner.


The National Spelling Bee, epitomizes the American Dream. Any of these kids can win, they all have an equal chance, no matter where they’re from or what they look like. Although luck does come into play, if you work hard, you will win.


Jeffrey Blitz got this movie made by acquiring twelve credit cards, and charged the entire production. This is part of the sentiment of the American Dream: risk. He risked his financial safety on his product. The whole movie was shot on DV, which only adds to its authentic feel.


Seabiscuit is a formulaic predictable Hollywood “feel good” piece of propaganda to make you feel better about America. While Spellbound is a quirky honest look of the wrestling human heart of the American dream in all its beautiful hopeful glory.





      Director/Screenwriter: Patty Jenkins

      Starring: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, and Bruce Dern

      review by Jade Sharma


Life can be easy. You can be born in a safe warm place, grow up sheltered by picket fences, act out your teenage rebellion by dying your hair, fall back in place just as you graduate college, and then find yourself a productive member of society on your way to buying a a nice job buy a house and having a family of your own. But for some like, Aileen Wuornos there is a different kind of faith awaiting you. One thing is clear after watching Monster, even if Aileen Wuornos hadn’t become one of the only female serial killers in U.S. history, from the moment she was born: she would have a hard life. After watching Monster, I wanted to know more about Aileen’s past so I did some research on the internet, the following is what I found out. Aileen Wuornos’s father was a child molester and a sociopath who killed himself in prison. Her mother abandoned her, and her and her two siblings were raised by there maternal grandparents. Her brother died of throat cancer at 21, her sister committed suicide. Aileen started selling her body at age thirteen, got pregnant at fourteen, and was forced to give the baby up for adoption. She moved to Florida, and continuing being a hooker as an adult.


The movie begins on a rainy night, suicidal, determined not to let her last John have a freebie, Aileen decides to spend the money she made on her last trick and then kill herself. As she’s drinking up her earnings she meets 24 year old Tyria Moore. After a belligerent initial exchange, the two spend the night getting plastered and getting to know one another. At the end of the night Ty invites her to spend the night with her, and so begins there romance.


The story unfolds in the whittrash landscapes of central Florida: seedy bars, lawn furniture and interstate highways. The only time we see places like this in the media, is when Hollywood is mocking it like Harmony Karine’s Gummo, or on re-run of cops. To us city dwellers, this is the America we wish we could forget of bush supporters, racists, N.R.A members, and Christian fundamentalists. Aileen and Ty’s relationship from the beginning is portrayed in the film as intimate, and tender, even sweet. They go roller skating together, they laugh, and cuddle. It is clear that Aileen is starved for intimacy, finally, the promise of happiness is possible and she will do anything to hang on to it.


On her way to meet Tyria for their second date Aileen is propositioned by a John. She decides she has enough time for a last trick. The John takes her into the woods, where he hits in the face. She awakes to find her hands tied, he begins kicking the shit out of her. She struggles so hard she frees herself, reaches in her bag, and shoots him multiple times as she screams in curses. This is the dramatic turning point in the film. While she is shooting this torturing rapist, she is a hero, but this well is the last time in the film, that you root for her to kill. Although she has killed him she can’t go to authorities she’ll get no sympathy there. She’s a”cheap whore” and she knows it will do no good to go to the”good old boys” for help. So she covers her tracks.


She returns to Ty’s house, and the two run away together. First in a cheap motel, and then moving into a real house. After the first murder, she makes a last ditch attempt to turn her life around which from the start seems doom to fail. Her clumsy attempts to join the straight world are met with rejection. At one law office, the lawyer berates her,”you think you can just wake up one day after the party, and decide you deserve to have what people work there whole lifes for?” Her life has hardly been,”a party” and she reacts to his smugness by cursing him and storming out. At the employment office she makes a pathetic plea to the clerk that she’s a hooker and needs a chance to turn her life around. She is met by a stone wall and the woman’s back. Again she erupts in rage.


With no other prospects, she returns to being a hooker, largely due to her desire to support her young girlfriend. Tyria implicitly encourages that decision. And appeared to be disappointed with Aileen’s decision to change her life around. But since the murder, she has transformed. She sets off on a path of madness and delusion killing johns, partly in fear of being raped again, partly as retribution for her past victimizations by men, and partly, as she explains to Tyria, because “that’s the way life is, its the way people are.” The film shows several of these episodes. She spares a couple johns, one of which is a retarded virgin, whom she intends to kill, but after hearing him speak, she decides instead to jerk off.


Although the film depicts a likeable Aileen Wuornos and gives you enough hints of her tragic upbringing, there is not much to sympathize with as she brutally shoots these men. And I think that is what is at the core of this film. It shows you the monster, the killer, the ugliest predator of them all, the one you felt was a victim in the beginning, turns out of the monster in the end. The men she begins killer, turn your sympathies around, one of the johns turns out to be married to a woman in a wheelchair, making you conclude that it is only out of neccessity that he seeks the company of prostitutes. Also it becomes clear, that Aileen isn’t so delusional to think every man is responsible for her pain. Her only friend in the film, Bruce Dern, tells her he understands her circumstances and sympathizes with her. The last man it shows her kill doesn’t pick her up to have sex with her. Instead he consoles, even offers to let her stay at his house. And as she’s about to shout him, he begs and pleads for his life. This is the complete transformation from the first murder scene. In the first scene where she murders the rapist, she is the victim, and he is the monster. In the last killing scene, she is the monster, and the man is the victim.


This film, maybe due to its”True Crime” genre feels like a T.V movie. It feels low budget, and is juicy with murder, insanity, and twisted love with a cheesy 80’s soundtrack. But the acting sets it apart from similar movies of this genera. Charize thereon is such a powerhouse of energy and emotion, that at times, it makes her on-screen girl friend Chrina Riccie look deadpan and flat in comparison. There seems to be a lack of chemistry, though I’m not sure how much chemistry there’s suppose to be, as the film portrays there relationship more of a fucked up dependency and longing then a soul mate love affair.


In the end, Ty is the one to throw her to the wolves. She is arrested, at a bar and taken to jail. It is there that Ty caller her, and attempts to extract a confession from her, over the phone which is being tapped. Aileen is hip to the wire tap, and at first uses code words and is vague. But Ty convinces her that if she doesn’t confess that she will be locked up too. So she says that it was all her, and that Ty had nothing to do with it.


The film shows, the judge giving her death penalty, and which Aileen responds to by cursing out the judge for sending a rape victim to death. The film fades to white as she walks down the prisoner hallway.


In the first voice over of this film, she talks about how she always believed there was something special about her, that she was beautiful. She says, that she read that Marilyn Monroe had been discovered in a drugstore. And she spends her childhood and adolescence waiting in drugs stores, on highways, in bars, to see that kind of beauty in her. This is a common enough fantasy, what makes it so poignant in this film, is Aileen’s life turns out to be in such stark contrast to this starlit life and the grim reality that she would live.


The scene when the undercover cops finally bust her struck me. The way it happened was, two undercover cops persuade her to come to there car where they will give her some change to call her girlfriend. At this point Aileen is wasted, and these two burly men are convincing her to go to with them. As your watching, you began to fear they will rape her. But as she follows them the cops surround her, and she goes to jail. And you can’t help thinking, well, either a man was going to fuck her in the ass, or the law will. It isn’t that she doesn’t deserve to be prison, but it seems like everyone who ever entered Aileen’s life fucked her in one way or another.


What it doesn’t tell you in the movie, which I read in an article on the Crime TV website, is that Aileen Wuornos, signed her own death certificate. Instead of appealing the case, as most people do when sentenced to death row, she refused to follow the case with other appeals. It was then that Jeb Bush stepped in, and ordered a stay of execution, and had her undergo three psychiatric tests, to determine if she understood that she would go to death if she didn’t appeal the decision. It was found, she understood. And Bush conceded her decision. She then spent twelve years on death row, she became a media figure, granting interviews, and describing her tragic past. Feminists rallied for her as a victim, and a born again Christian woman ended up adopting her while she was on death row as a show of support. She died of lethal injection in 2002.


In the end it was Aileen that really made the decision to die, not the courts. She said, “Let God be my judge.” She didn’t fear death. Aileen Wuornos lend a lonely life, clinging to the only intimacy she ever saw, and when that was taken from her too, she took her sentence, and cursed out the judge that gave it to her.


Lost In Translation

“Lost in Translation”

Director: Sofia Coppola

Producer: Sofia Coppola, Ross Katz

Screenwriter: Sofia Coppola

Stars: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris

MPAA Rating: R

Review by Jade Sharma


The cinematic seventh seal has been broken with Bill Murray’s deconstructionist Karaoke version of Roxy Music’s “More Than This” in Sophia Coppola’s second movie, Lost in Translation.  Murray plays the role of Bob Harris, a fictitious character mimicking his own real-life stardom, struggling with the both success and ultimate meaninglessness of his grandiose life. While filming a multi-million dollar whiskey commercial in Japan, Bob meets a young American woman named Charlotte also staying in his same swanky Tokyo Hotel. Charlotte, a young twenties-something Yale graduate is struggling to find her identity within in her new marriage to a glitzy photographer (Giovanni Ribisi) who remains out of focus when it comes to their seeming incompatibility. Bob, a married man of 25 years, is always trying to come to grips with his struggling relationship coupled with a career crisis.


When the two jet-lagged Americans finally do connect with each other in the cocktail bar after hours, it seems they find an easy and fun oasis with each other amidst the desert of isolation. Bob has a week alone to himself in the city, while Charlotte is mostly waiting for her husband to return from a photography shoot in some other city in Japan. And so the two begin to enjoy each other’s company, experiencing the strange outings in the highly gadget-oriented city, rife with confusion and urban stimulus.


Yet it is within this chaotic urban cityscape that director Sophia Coppola has introduced the third, and perhaps most important character, the city of Tokyo itself.  Filled with quiet sequences unveiling the visual panorama of various buildings, people, and buzzing streets, the personification of Tokyo envelops both Bob and Charlotte as their fast-forming companionship seems to render a stronger connection than originally anticipated. Though it is relieving when the movie neglects to focus on the gratuitous angle of yet another much older man and fresh flowering woman finding love with each other, it certainly does provide an interesting delineation of companionship somewhat difficult to categorize. Both characters have come to independent realizations that they’re lost in the translation of their own lives as well as in the foreign city hosting them ­ upon meeting each other an indelible connection is made.


Equally important in this film is the soundtrack. Light scoring by Kevin Shields throughout the movie helps along the swells of silence accompanying Coppola’s cinematography serving as the keyhole into this Asian capitol.  Along with a few older songs by My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain and the aforementioned  “More Than This” by Roxy Music, the sweetness of the movie’s music is tinged by the light sadness of the story.


Lost in Translation gives the audience an open-ended sense of possibility in the small ways connections can have an enormous effect on people. Bob and Charlotte couldn’t find themselves, but they found each other, and because of that, their worlds opened up with new breath of life.

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