Archive for the 'Movie Reviews' Category


Dear Reader,

When I went to see Alice in Wonderland, I had no expectations for it other than the kookiness portrayed in its trailer. And kooky it was, and often funly so. The Hatter’s tea party goers were as wonderfully disheveled as  the Hatter’s suit was bizarre. And Johnny Depp, as the Hatter, spoke with an irresistable tongue-thrusting British accent. (I wish I could remember the boxer who talked with a tongue thrust.) And the White Queen, played by Anne Hathaway? Hmm… seems like she had fun floating her arms about, a la Captain Jack Sparrow times 3.

For the most part, I readily imbibed in Tim Burton’s spell.


Then the  jabberwocky showed up, and the spell was broken. It screamed the same annoyingly high-pitched  scream as every  other mucous-mouthed Komodo  dragon creature  since Alien II. Boring! I’d intended to slam the jabberwocky itself and say it was a cliche’, but then I saw the saw how it was illustrated in Lewis Carroll’s novel, and I had to back off.  (It’s kinda the real thing.)  Even so, something wasn’t right about about the jabberwocky scene. It felt like the fantasy movie went bonkers and turned sci-fi. Curiouser and curiouser.

Also but…

I greatly thought the Hatter’s futter-wack (a kind of happy dance, I guess) was dumb. Both the music and the worm dance it accompanied  were jarringly out of character with the movie. Didn’t look real at all. I suppose that could have made it funny to some people. To me? Dumb.

I give the costume 5 stars, silliness 4, and the big head jokes 3 stars.

With Appreciation For Your Time,

The Editor


Kate Winslet and THE READER

Dear Reader,

When I learned Kate Winslet was cast in The Reader, I wondered if she’d be able to dampen her natural luminosity enough to convincingly portray the part of Hanna Schmitz, a notably unluminous woman in Bernhard Schlink’s novel of the same name.  I knew Winslet’s physical presence could be powdered over with makeup and lighting, but had no clue how she’d powder over her fire, her internal presence, to be less than she is. I imagined this role would tire her, exhaust her, even, like when I ask myself to be quieter, humbler, and more constricted than I am. It’s easier to expand, I think. But I could be wrong.

Does it exhaust writers to mute their natural talents? For, say, florid vocabulary, poetics, or meticulous descriptions to write simpler prose? I think so. It’s hard not to allow their obvious talents to shine, to sacrifice their egos for the good of their characters and stories. Yet when they do, they often create memorable, Oscar-worthy writing. And I’m glad they do, just as I’m glad Winslet creates characters like Hanna Schmitz, a woman I’ll never know or forget. I’m also glad she won the 2009 Oscar for best actress. She earned it!


A Writer’s Thoughts About SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

Dear Reader,

(Note: To take in the full magnanimousness of Slumdog Millionaire, see it on a BIG screen.)

Slumdog Millionaire is an oft-told rags-to-riches story, but it’s much more than a story: it’s an experience. It’s pure-eyed Indian children. It’s filth. It’s expansive poverty; orange, red, rust, and turquoise; it’s corrugated steel; breakneck cinematography; claustrophobic population; clangor, crash, and dust. It’s “Ta Ki Di Ma Ta Ki Di Ma…” bols (North India rhythmic mnemonics) machine-gunned out of the soundtrack. And it’s flecks of a orphan boy’s accrued knowledge thrown up to save his life, knowledge not buoyed by fuller knowledge: the name of a poet, the face printed on a particular American currency, a sports figure.

Flecks of knowledge. I recognized “Ta Ki Di Ma” in the soundtrack because when I was a college dance major the department percussionist and professor Tigger Benford taught me the fundamentals of playing the tabla, which included this phrase. Other flecks? I know how to test the moisture content of field corn. Why? When I was 15 years old, I worked in my uncle’s grain elevator, weighing loads of corn and determining and recording its moisture content. I know that spell checked “facial latte” in a text I’m editing should read “facia lata” because I once studied anatomy. That a fleck of Norwegian, potet sekk, means potato sack. My grandfather used to call me this — lovingingly, of course.

Flecks illuminate stories. Illuminate films. Illuminate lives, writers’ lives.


Sweet Beauty: The film THE GROCER’S SON

Dear Reader,

“It is summer, and thirty-year-old Antoine is forced to leave the city [Paris] to return to his family in Provence. His father is sick, so he must assume the lifestyle he thought he had shed—driving the family grocery cart from hamlet to hamlet, delivering supplies to the few remaining inhabitants. Accompanied by Claire, a friend from Paris whom he has a secret crush on, Antoine gradually warms up to his experience in the country and his encounters with the villagers, who initially seem stubborn and gruff, but ultimately prove to be funny and endearing.” (This synopsis is from Film Movement.  Film Movement provides “Early Access to Award-Winning Independent Foreign Film.”)

I don’t mean to lessen the impact of The Grocer’s Son by describing it as a sweet, beautiful film, but it is a sweet, beautiful film. After all, it stars Provence’s bucolic sumptuousness and actor Nicolas Cazale′s boyish-lips-and-all-man seductiveness. But there’s more: it doesn’t force its characters into bloom; it provides the right amount of light, and darkness, to urge each character’s vulnerability—sweetness—to open up and gradually scent his/her and viewers’ understanding. And no character is required to “change” into something s/he hasn’t been all along. Petunias remain petunias, lilies remain lilies, and thistles remain thistles, but all are infused and brightened  by internal and external tenderness. The viewers are also infused and brightened.

So, I suggest you treat your eyes, nose, taste buds, and your writing to The Grocer’s Son. Why? Sweet beauty.


“Control” – the Movie

Dear Reader,


I can’t stop thinking about the movie “Control,” a 2007 biopic about Ian Curtis, lead singer in the British band Joy Division. Why? I’m not sure. Is it because Curtis is dead? Because he hung himself? That he was only 23 when he did it? Or maybe I’m puzzled by his hip-locked arm dancing? His baby face? His epilepsy? His painful inability to carry on as a husband, father, boyfriend, and rocker? His music? That he wanted everything and in some way I wanted him to have it? His passion? Other’s passion for him? His drive to create? All of this? Yes, all of this.


The movie is based on Deborah Curtis’ (Curtis’ wife) memoir Touching From a Distance (1995). I’m curious about how it was translated from book to screenplay, so I’ll read the book and compare the two. I’ll also look that the DVD’s special features again, particularly the feature in which the screenwriter discusses how he gathered his information and decided the movie’s focus. (I love that stuff.)


Will you like “Control”? Again, I’m not sure. But I urge you to give it a look and try to enjoy the unique way the director chose to express Curtis’ deeply felt but short life.


THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES: The Movie vs. The Novel

Movie Poster
Movie Poster

Dear Reader,

Does the movie The Secret Life of Bees reflect the novel it’s based on? Yes and no. Yes because all the characters are present, and Lilly and August are still main characters. And because there still is Lilly’s quest to unearth memories of her mother, and there are the bees, and bigotry and poverty and black men and women who defy stereotype. There’s even that line from the novel that stunned me: “Before coming here, my whole life had been nothing but a hole where my mother should have been…”

And no, the movie doesn’t reflect the novel. The Black Madonna’s significance in August and her sisters’ lives shows up as a comedic interlude rather than as a bubbling story that fully revealed toward the end of the novel. The bees are there, as I said, and August loves and respects them, but the perfect purpose of each bee’s life doesn’t shine the way it does in the novel.

Did the movie move me in the same the novel did? No, but I was moved – to tears – when Lilly (Dakota Fanning) confessed she was unlovable. I owe this to Fanning’s right-on acting in this scene. But, do I recommend that you, dear reader, see The Secret Life of Bees? Yes… and no.


Will THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES Movie Reflect the Novel?

Dear Reader,

One of my favorite novels is The Secret Life of Bees. Why? Because author Sue Monk Kidd’s writing led me to believe narrator Lilly Owens was a real 14-year-old girl with real 14-year-girls’ perceptions and problems. She never let on that an adult wrote the story, which means she’s a good writer and trained actress. (I don’t know if she has any acting experience, but her writing makes me want to think she does.) I also liked the book because it read like a ballet, with its dances performed by the queen bee and her corps, the corps and beekeepers, and the beekeepers and Lilly.

Today I’m going to the film adaptation of the book, and I wonder if I’ll like it. I know Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah will impress me, ’cause they always do, but I don’t know if the depth of Kidd’s storytelling will show through costumes and sets and musical score. I hope it will. I’ll let you know, okay?