The Write Idea


Three Sentence Reviews

Filed under: movie review — ljcollins @ 1:00 pm

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a book review, so I thought I’d post a few brief movie reviews for a change of pace.  Only one movie is currently in theaters, since I tend to watch movies several years after they’ve come out on DVD.  I’m guessing I’m not the only one who does this.  So, from oldest release to most recent:

Dogville (2003, starring Nicole Kidman): It’s good this is a 3-hour movie, because it definitely feels like a 3-hour movie. The minimalist set, narrated plot and stylized filmmaking keep all the attention on the characters, where simple actions and clipped dialogue create a strange emotional landscape.  The absurd quality of the story drew me in, the good acting held me, but in the end I wondered what the moral to this fable was, exactly.

The Squid and the Whale (2005, starring Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels): I’ve been meaning to see this divorce film for some time, both because the topic interests me, being divorced myself, and because I love the two starring actors.  Unfortunately, not one of the characters in the movie was likable (with the possible exception of the youngest son), so I found myself not really caring what happened to any of them.  Knowing that this movie was autobiographical (the writer and director being the older son in the tale), I cringed to think of how much anger he still carried toward his parents to portray them so unsympathetically.

Precious (2009, starring Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique):  I kept hearing how hard this movie was to watch, but perhaps because I’ve lived with ex-offenders, sat in lock-up with women in prostitution, worked in one of Chicago’s worst housing project with middle schoolers, and am currently working with a woman on a memoir with far worse details than this movie, I didn’t find anything in it overly shocking.  My biggest disappointment in the movie was the cardboard character of the mother, which I found completely lacking in nuance. Even characters as horrible as she was (and I know some in real life) are actual human beings who do have more than one dimension and it behooves any of us who set out to artistically portray evil actions, to do so with a sense of compassion for even the most despicable character or our audience will all too easily dismiss them, as I wanted to do in this case.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010, a Banksy film):  I just saw this one last week and I recommend it, even though I’m still scratching my head about it now.  If you don’t know who Banksy is, you’ll know a little more by the end of the film about this anonymous British street artist — or will you?  This documentary (or is it?) about graffiti artists (or are they?) raises far more questions than it answers about art and who gets to make it and who gets to define it and who gets to profit from it (note the title) and whether we’ve all been sold a bill of goods about what makes art, or even what makes a documentary.


  1. The best character in “The Squid and the Whale” was Park Slope. Sort of related: when I was in grad school, I had to read a short story by Mary Gaitskill. When I complained that I couldn’t stand either of the characters, the professor replied, “oh, that’s such an American thing — having to actually LIKE a character.” (The professor was born and raised in New York City, which I believe makes her technically an American, although some might feel differently. She was a piece of work anyway.)

    I would love to see the Banksy film. No desire to see “Precious,” but I appreciate your review… not to mention all the hard jobs you’ve done in your life. Mwah.

    Comment by PJ — 06/07/2010 @ 7:37 pm | Reply

  2. I’m not sure we have to like the characters in order to care about them, but there needs to be something about them that makes us want to keep reading about or watching them. “The Squid and the Whale” was less than an hour and a half and by the time it had ended I was glad to not have to listen to that whiney snob of a father for one more minute. I kept waiting for that moment of self-recognition, some little crack in the facade, and it never came. When they left the school conference and his voice cracked for a moment I thought, “Maybe this will be it.” No. When he had to go to the hospital I thought, “Maybe now.” No. Same in “Precious.” There’s a moment near the end when the mother breaks down and tries to defend her actions to a social worker and it’s too little, too late to be convincing or compelling.

    ETGS, on the other hand, will make you laugh out loud. And then later wonder if you were laughing at the characters or if they were laughing at you.

    Comment by ljcollins — 06/08/2010 @ 7:10 am | Reply

  3. I completely agree with you about “The Squid and the Whale,” and yes, it’s helpful when your literary characters change in some small way during their journey, for good or for ill. S&W feels sort of flat because no one ever changes or learns anything.

    Comment by PJ — 06/08/2010 @ 6:35 pm | Reply

  4. Right. I suppose the older son does have a small moment of growth at the end. It feels as if it were written by the son when he was still 17, with that lack of understanding of adult relationships, instead of by the son looking back from adulthood on the year he was 17. I also thought the movie suffered from poor editing. And given Wes Anderson as the producer, that kind of surprised me. Since I’m going on beyond my 3 sentences about this movie, can I just add how utterly irritating I found Billy Baldwin? Not one thing about him that would make me believe Laura Linney would like him. Not. One. Thing. And Linney got nominated for Best Supporting Actress and/or Best Actress by just about every award ceremony that year, in what I think was her weakest role ever.

    Is it possible I was just in a really lousy mood when I watched this? I didn’t think I was.

    Comment by ljcollins — 06/09/2010 @ 7:49 am | Reply

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