AMERICAN SPLENDOR: Written and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. Producer, Ted Hope. Associate producer, Julia King. Cinematography, Terry Stacey. Production desing, Thérèse DePrez. Editor, Robert Pulcini. Costumes, Michael Wilkinson. Composer, Mark Suozzo. Music supervisor, Linda Cohen. Starring Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner. With James Urbaniak, Judah Friedlander, Toby Radloff, Maggie Moore and Madylin Sweeten. HBO Films. Fine Line Features, 2003. R. 101 minutes. 2003 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize.
Originality: an elusive quality sought by critics and moviegoers alike, usually in vain. Here's the exception. American Splendor is as fresh in its cinematic, biographical approach to the life and writings of Harvey Pekar as the acclaimed, autobiographical comic book series of the same name. It's rare to find a film that takes risks these days, but it's even more uncommon when the subject is a prickly individual with strong opinions on every frustration life has deliberately set in his path.
Pekar shares each disappointment that comes his way and airs all grievances life bestows. This lifelong resident of Cleveland finds a lot to say. In addition to his personal, daily gripes, Pekar also has a good ear for conversations overheard in the cafeteria, workplace or on the street. Pekar worked as a file clerk for Cleveland's VA Hospital for 35 years, until he retired in 2001, and many of his fellow employees find their way into his books and the movie.
Banality: a quality of a commonplaceness much dreaded by intellectuals and others. Most of us do not spend our limited energy or waste precious time describing to others in great detail how no amount of planning ahead will actually get you through the checkout line at the grocery store any faster, especially if you're behind an argumentative senior citizen. Fear of the banal does not occur to Harvey, however, and it's his incorruptible honesty that makes him so endearing. Unlike most of us, Harvey does not question whether his complaints are appropriate, he simply recounts them, dispassionately or with anger, as if all of life's letdowns were one, of equal value, and two, of real interest to others.
How fortunate for those of us looking for a unique experience at the movies that producer Ted Hope connected with Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini to make this fittingly strange and wonderful film. Their vision meshed with Pekar's intent to reveal real, working-class life as it is lived. As a result, Hope, Berman and Pulcini have made a clever, entertaining and stimulating movie that's true to the American original it honors.
They also have enfolded the real Harvey Pekar and his real wife, Joyce Brabner, into the narrative of the film, which grounds the whole production. The best supporting performance is Judah Friedlander's as Pekar's friend, Toby Radaloff, who actually makes his own cameo appearance.
Additionally, we see documentary footage of Pekar on David Letterman's late night NBC show. And we see Harvey and Joyce drawn by a variety of cartoon artists and in animation sequences. Artists include R. Crumb, Dean Haspiel, Gary Dumm and Mark Zingarelli.
After fabulous intro credits, Harvey (Paul Giamatti) is in the dumps because his second wife has left him. Harvey is an expert on jazz, and he combs yard sales for old vinyl, which is where he meets cartoonist Robert Crumb (James Urbaniak). These two odd ducks hit it off, and Crumb hangs out with Pekar, listening to jazz and drawing. Later when Pekar shows him some panels he has in mind, Crumb agrees to illustrate his story. The first issue of American Splendor comes out in 1967.
Financial success eludes Pekar, and so does romance. He's very bright, a student of American naturalist fiction, but a lousy housekeeper and probably depressed. In spite of himself, he attracts the interest of Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis), partner in a Delaware comic-book shop. Her hippie partner had sold the last copy of American Splendor, so she writes to Pekar. One thing leads to another, Joyce comes to Cleveland, and they get married.
American Splendor is a generous, good-natured film. Maybe it's not for everyone, but anyone interested in a sophisticated treatment of an unusual man of letters shouldn't miss it. Opens at the Bijou Friday, Oct. 17. Very highest recommendations.
INTOLERABLE CRUELTY: Directed by Joel Coen. Written by Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. Story by Ramsey, Stone and John Romano. Produced by Ethan Coen, Brian Grazer. Executive producers, James Jacks, Sean Daniel. Cinematographer, Roger Deakins. Production design, Leslie McDonald. Editor, Roderick Jaynes. Costumes., Mary Zophres. Music, Carter Burwell. Starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones. With Geoffrey Rush, Cedric the Entertainer, Edward Herrmann, Richard Jenkins and Billy Bob Thornton. Universal Pictures, 2003. PG-13. 100 minutes.
Romantic Hollywood screwball comedies from the 1930s is the latest film genre to interest the irrepressible Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan. They tweaked the script for Intolerable Cruelty, and their prints are all over the evidence — double entendre, double takes, sharp-edged witticisms, unbridled greed, eccentric supporting characters and self-absorbed leading characters.
The film's a contemporary tale set among the upper registers of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles society — the wealthy, ruthless, competitive divorce lawyer, Miles Massey (George Clooney), and the scheming, gold-digger divorcee, Marylin Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Miles is quite taken with himself, even has a challenge-proof prenuptial agreement named after him, but Marilyn is the smooth, elegant queen of seduction and deception.
The film opens as TV show producer Donovan Donaly (Geoffrey Rush) drives through traffic snarls, singing along with his music, going home early on a beautiful day. But Donovan finds a strange van parked in his driveway and his wife, Bonnie (Stacey Travis) between the sheets with the swimming pool cleaner (Jack Kyle). Donaly is the aggrieved partner, but Bonnie hires Massey, and she gets everything.
Massey may be ethically challenged, but he knows he's met his match when he takes the case of serial adulterer Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann) and lays eyes on his wife, Marilyn, for the first time. Massey cannot pass a mirror without looking lovingly at himself and checking his white, white teeth and brilliant smile. But Marilyn is so composed, so cool and self-assured that she doesn't even notice the looks she attracts as she walks into Massey's office with her lawyer, Freddy Bender (Richard Jenkins).
Once again, Massey wins the case at all costs, in part because of the testimony of an ostentatiously gay, European concierge, Heinz, the Baron Krauss von Espy (Jonathan Hadary), who knew the beauteous Marilyn before she married Rexroth. Another ace comic performance comes from private investigator Gus Petch (Cedric the Entertainer), whose professional impairment equals Massey's and is much funnier. Petch is as crass as Massey is a dandy.
Massey and Marilyn have many more moves before their dance is done, and I would not spoil the enticing twists and spins the Coens have in mind for you. Between these two, falsity has no place, but avarice is assumed. Miles' motto is "Struggle, challenge and the ultimate destruction of your opponent — that's life." He admires Marilyn because she's good, a real pro. She admires Miles for his frankness and because he admires her. Both get to play their games with her next suitor, Howard D. Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton), a rich, grinning Texan who hasn't got a lick of good sense.
Clooney gives Massey the class, the élan that eluded the last Coen protagonist he played, Ulysses Everett McGill in O Brother Where Art Thou? But like McGill, who was also narcissist, Massey becomes a blithering fool when he falls for Marylin. He doesn't care about money, about winning, about destroying his opponents anymore. He's not himself.
Massey delivers the message of love to his fellow jaded lawyers at the National Association of Matrimonial Attorneys, Nationwide (NOMAN), and instead of being booed offstage, he is congratulated, given a standing ovation. Some weep. This is when you know for sure you're in a Coen brothers film.
Now playing at Cinema World and Cinemark, Intolerable Cruelty is surprisingly sophisticated, quietly hilarious and genuinely subtle. Highest recommendations.
American Splendor: Cleveland crank Harvey Pekar, writer and file clerk, is celebrated in this excellent film for his ordinary, working-class life and daily gripes, made famous in his illustrated comics. Stars Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis and a host of great supporting actors. Very highest recommendations. R. Bijou. See review this issue.
Inspector General, The (Russia, 1954): Vladimir Petrov's satiric farce about worker mistaken for Czar's Inspector General). Local officials panic because of their corrupt ways. Russian, with English subtitles. At 9:15 pm on 10/20 in 115 Pacific Hall, UO campus. Free.
Journey, Warren Miller's: The 78-year old master of the mountain brings his 54th annual movie about skiers, snowboarders, free-fallers and a personal trip with Miller himself. Freebies for all who attend the Eugene performance at 8 pm on 10/23 at McDonald Theatre.
Ma Vie En Rose: Tale of a school-age boy who likes to dress in girl's clothing, much to his family's consternation and the neighbors' outrage. Sad for the little boy who has strong creative desires only his grandmother understands. Directed by Alain Berliner. R. At 7 pm on 10/17 in International Lounge, EMU, UO campus. Free.
My Boss's Daughter: Comedy directed by David Zucker stars Ashton Kutcher, whose boss, Terrence Stamp, asks him to look after his house for a night. But he has company, including the beautiful Tara Reid and strange visitors. PG-13. Movies 12.
Mystic River: Directed by Clint Eastwood; written by Brian Helgeland, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, this tragic masterpiece stars Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney and Emmy Rossum. Not to be missed. R. Cinema World. Cinemark. Opened 10/15.
Radio: High school football coach (Ed Harris) shocks a Southern town by taking on a mentally challenged youth (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and developing a decades-long friendship with him. PG. Sneak at 7:30 pm on 10/15. Cinemark.
Runaway Jury: Gun manufacturer's explosive trial stars John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz. PG-13. Cinemark. Cinema World.
Step Into Liquid: Documentary feature directed by Dana Brown, whose dad Bruce made the movies on surfing. L.A. Weekly writes the film indeed has no stereotypes and that Brown " happens to have captured some genuinely awesome surf footage." NR. Cinema World.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Remake of Tobe Hooper's1974 horror classic is directed by Marcus Nispel, music video guru. Backwoodsy killer clan runs amok. Stars Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour and Andrew Bryniarski as Leatherface. R. Cinemark.
Veronica Guerin: Based on the true story of courageous Dublin journalist (Cate Blanchett), this treacherous game of can-and-mouse set in the mid-1990s is directed by Joel Schumacher. Also stars Gerard McSorley, Ciaran Hinds and Brenda Fricker. R. Cinemark.
American Wedding: Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are getting married. Now if their friends and family will just stay on their best behavior. Right. American Pie's crude humor lives on. Also stars January Jones, Fred Willard, Eugene Levy, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Seann William Scott. R. Movies 12.
Bad Boys II: Martin Lawrence and Will Smith reunite with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay. Smith and Lawrence play Miami narcotics detectives assigned to stem the flood of designer ecstasy into Miami. R. Movies 12.
Bruce Almighty: Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Aniston star in this tale of a at TV reporter, who has a really bad day, rages against God and receives more than he expected. PG-13. Movies 12.
Finding Nemo: Pixar's computer-animated fantasy of two Clownfish, Marlin and his son Nemo, who get separated in the Great Barrier Reef. Written and directed by Andrew Stanton (A Bug's Life), with voices by Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Willem Dafoe, Geoffrey Rush, Allison Janney. Very highly recommended. G. Movies 12.. Online archives.
Good Boy: Doggie sci-fi comedy stars Liam Aiken as a dog walker who finally gets a dog of his own, Hubble (voice by Matthew Broderick), only to discover he's really an alien agent from the Dog Star Sirius. PG. Cinema World. Cinemark.
House of the Dead: Based on a video game, horror flick's about teens who go to a deserted island to hold a rave only to learn it's inhabited by zombies. R. Cinemark.
Intolerable Cruelty: The Coen brothers comedy about L.A. divorce attorney Miles Massey (George Clooney), who falls for gold-digger Marylin Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Also stars Geoffrey Rush, Cedric the Entertainer, Billy Bob Thornton, Edward Herrmann and Richard Jenkins. PG-13. Cinema World. Cinemark.
Italian Job, The: Back in town again. Mark Wahlberg leads a heist that's double-crossed by one of his crew. Charlize Theron plays a safecracker in this cool revenge movie. Also stars Edward Norton, Mos Def and Donald Sutherland. Highly recommended for its pure entertainment value. PG-13. Movies 12. Online archives.
Kill Bill Volume 1: Quentin Tarantino's first of two films stars Uma Thurman as a woman with a mission: Kill Bill (David Carradine), the former boss who betrayed her. With Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, LaTanya Richardson, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen and Samuel L. Jackson. R. Cinemark. Cinema World.
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life: Angelina Jolie stars as action heroine Lara Croft who saves the world, again, from unspeakable evil. Directed by Jan De Bont, also stars Gerard Butler and Noah Taylor. PG-13. Movies 12.
Lost in Translation: Directed by Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides), this highly acclaimed film was shot entirely on location in Japan. It stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson as lonely Americans in a Tokyo hotel who become friends. With Giovanni Ribisi. Very highest recommendations. R. Cinema World. Cinemark. Online archives.
Medallion: Jackie Chan action comedy co-stars Lee Evans and Claire Forlani. A mysterious medallion turns police detective Chan into a superhero, but the bad guys want it back. Gordon Chan directs. PG-13. Movies 12.
Out of Time: Directed by Carl Franklin, stars Denzel Washington as a Florida small-town police chief where a double-homicide is discovered. He must solve the killings before he is suspected of the crimes himself. Also stars Eva Mendes, Sanaa Lathan and Dean Cain. PG-13. Cinemark.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Non-stop adventure directed by Gore Verbinski stars Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. Depp sashays, Rush dissembles, Bloom fences and Knightley swashbuckles. Depp and Rush's over the top performances are great. Recommended. PG-13. Cinemark. Online archives.
Rundown, The: Peter Berg directs Seann William Scott, The Rock, Rosario Dawson and Christopher Walken in this adventure about a kingpin's son who disappears in the Amazon in search of a valuable artifact. PG-13. Cinemark.
S.W.A.T. Police Special Weapons and Tactics unit buddies Samuel L. Jackson and Colin Farrell star in this action-thriller based on the 1970s TV series. Also with Michelle Rodriguez, LL Cool J. PG-13. Movies 12.
School of Rock: Faking it as a substitute teacher, wild guitarist Jack Black turns elementary musical prodigies into a high-voltage rock band. Directed by Richard Linklater, it also stars Joan Cusack, Mike White and Sarah Silverman. PG-13. Cinemark. Cinema World.
Seabiscuit: A has-been racehorse becomes America's Depression-era success story, along with jockey Tobey Maguire, trainer Chris Cooper, and owner Jeff Bridges. Written, directed by Gary Ross based on Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling non-fiction book, also stars Elizabeth Banks, William H. Macy. Highest recommendations. PG-13. Movies 12. Online archives.
Secondhand Lions: Haley Joe Osment is sent to his great uncles' rural Texas farm, where the city boy has much to learn. Robert Duvall and Michael Caine may have been bank robbers. Written and directed by Tim McCanlies (writer, The Iron Giant). PG. Cinemark.
Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas: DreamWorks animated pirate adventure tale stars the voice of Brad Pitt as Sinbad, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Marina, and Michelle Pfieffer as the goddess of chaos. Joe Fiennes plays Proteus, a rival pirate. Directed by Tim Johnson and Patrick Gilmore. PG. Movies 12.
Thirteen: Two 7th grade girls, played by Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed, become entangled in a fast world where media images dominate dress, behavior, values and attitude. Holly Hunter plays the mom who tries to save them. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Searing, honest representation of what it's like to be a teenager today. Highly recommended. R. Bijou. Online archives.
Under the Tuscan Sun: Diane Lane plays writer Frances Mayes in this screen adaptation of her best selling book about buying a run-down villa in Italy and creating a new life. Escape from real life — beautiful people, gorgeous scenery, everybody's got money. PG-13. Cinemark. Online archives.
Underworld: Set in a world where vampires are a clan of aristocratic moderns, and lycans (werewolves) are a gang of street thugs, Len Wiseman's film stars Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman. When they fall in love, they trigger an ancient feud. R. Cinemark.
Uptown Girls: Brittany Murphy stars as the freewheeling daughter of a late rock legend, but when her inheritance is stolen, she's forced to get a job as a nanny to precocious Ray Schleine (Dakota Fanning), an "eight-year-old going on forty." In a comedic battle of wills, each discovers in the other a true friend. Directed by Boas Yakin. Also stars Heather Locklear. PG-13. Movies 12.
RELEASES ON VIDEO
Adventures of Indiana Jones: Complete 4-disc DVD of all three digitally remastered films, plus 3 hours of brand new footage.
Battle Star Galactica: Complete 1978 series in a 6-disc set. Contains all 24 one-hour episodes and footage not seen before.
Charlie's Angels Full Throttle: McG again directs the angels — Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, and ex-angel Demi Moore — to save the government's witness protection program, from which classified info has been stolen. Written by John August. DVD includes rated and unrated versions as well as director's telestrator commentary. Loaded with extras. PG-13. Online archives.
Dark Angel: Six-disc set contains all 21 episodes from second and final season.
Hey Is Dee Dee Home? New documentary about The Ramones' Dee Dee Ramone.
It Runs in the Family: Fred Schepisi directs Michael Douglas as a father trying to avoid his father's mistakes. His father, Kirk Douglas, plays his father onscreen. DVD includes extras.PG-13.
Respiro: Set on the Italian island of Lampedusa, this uneven but gorgeous film shows the difficulties of village life for a vibrant, beautiful young mother, played by Valeria Golino. Both stirring and disturbing, the film is highly recommended. PG-13. Online archives.
Taken (2002): Six-disc set of Steven Spielberg's Sci Fi Channel miniseries. Lots of extras.
Twenty-eight Days Later: Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) directs scary horror film set in a post-cataclysmic future, where a deadly virus sweeps through earth's population, leaving people in a chronic state of killer rage. Stars Christopher Eccleston, Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Megan Burns and Brendan Gleeson. New possible ending. DVD includes alternate endings, extended and deleted scenes and more. R.
Next week: Alien Hunter, Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary, City of Ghosts, House of Fools, The Hulk, The Sopranos (4th season) and Whale Rider.