George Lucas’ ‘Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of the Sith’ (2005)

The Star Wars franchise began in 1977 and now, 28 years later, the saga is complete. And, wow, do I have pity for those people who have waited almost thirty years to discover the end, er, beginning of the story.

The film’s offenses:

  1. The script. The trick to prequels is maintaining dramatic tension despite the audience’s awareness of the events’ effects. Even I, a casual Star Wars observer, knew that Obi-Wan and Yoda would survive the attack on the Jedi, Anakin would become an unattractive, bald asthmatic and strap on his plastic suit, Padmé would produce two offspring, the babies would be split up, etc. Hindered by his ability to write dialogue that only barely resembles human speech, Lucas succeeds in creating that dramatic tension about 30% of the time. Here’s an impressive example of Lucas’ writing craft—and by “impressive” I mean “produces that vomit taste at the back of your mouth”:

    Anakin: You’re so beautiful.
    Padmé: That’s because I’m so in love.
    Anakin: No, it’s because I’m in love with you.
    Padmé: Are you saying that you’re blinded by love?
    Anakin: That isn’t quite what I meant.

    And here, I believe, lies the series’ greatest problem: the relationship between Anakin and Padmé. Lucas wants the audience to see Anakin/Darth Vader as a tragic figure because he embraces the Dark Side to save his wife. The first two movies should have, and indeed tried, to develop the relationship between the two so that the audience would understand Anakin’s feeling as though he had no other choice than to embrace the Dark Side to save Padmé. But see the above dialogue for an example of Lucas’ skill at writing love scenes. And he made the grave mistake of casting Hayden Christensen against Natalie Portman with whom Christensen has absolutely no screen chemistry. The actors try, especially in this film, and they even succeed in creating some sexual tension for the span of about five seconds, but even their great efforts cannot invest the relationship with romance and significance. Besides dialogue, Lucas’ other great script offense lies in the number of scenes he feels the story needs. Going back to dramatic tension, tension is built through sustained contact between characters and the audience. Having five lines of dialogue and then an annoying scene wipe to a few hours later does not build tension so much as destroy it. Perhaps Lucas intends the jumps to increase the film’s momentum, but they tend to have the opposite effect for me because the wait to discover pertinent information feels artificially imposed rather than an organic part of the storytelling.
  2. The acting. Lucas is not an actor’s director. I know that Natalie Portman can act—her recent performance in Closer is wonderful—but the three Star Wars films in which she participated have no evidence of her great acting ability. Even her brief appearance in Cold Mountain showcases more of her ability than her three Star Wars performances combined. Hayden Christensen has also displayed real acting talent in two of his films, Shattered Glass and Life as a House, but his performance in Episode II portrayed Anakin as a one-dimensional, petulant teenager. His acting is markedly improved in this prequel but does not reach the complexity he displayed as Sam, for example, in Life as a House, a young man not unlike Anakin. Ian McDiarmid offers the most offensive performance of the film as Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious. The film’s limited sets must have his teeth marks on every prop. Granted, McDiarmid manages to be genuinely creepy at times but his melodramatic performance ruins many of the dramatic moments of the film.
  3. Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side. That was it? That was it? Man, that sucked. I can think of at least five other ways to play out that moment that would have been more realistic and more dramatic. In Lucas’ version, Anakin is lecturing Mace Windu about the “Jedi way” two minutes before he says, “Sure, wrinkly master, sir, I’ll be a sith. Do I get a nifty cape too?”

And speaking of a cape, way to telegraph Anakin’s turning by dressing him in black, giving him a scar and bad hair. All he needed was a British accent, which he inexplicably slipped into every now and then anyway. (Lucas couldn’t have used another take or looped those lines?)

The film’s assets:

  1. The visual effects. As usual, Lucas presents a visually impressive film. Though I hesitate at whether to put the visual effects as an asset or an offense. I suppose the effects are truly an asset because people will want to watch this film again to experience the detail of the visual landscape. However, I think that Lucas’ obsession with visuals hinders him as a filmmaker. He becomes so concerned with effects that everything else becomes secondary: the story, the characters, the pacing, etc. To repeat one of my critiques, Lucas has many more scenes than necessary, probably to service his desire to impress the audience with visionary effects. And this film suffers the same fate as The Matrix Reloaded: some of the effects do not look real enough so that the viewer feels as though she is watching a video game instead of a film. At this point, Lucas should have lost the live action actors and made Episode III a digital animation film. The original trilogy’s effects were not nearly as sophisticated, but the films felt more real because the sets were real and not a green screen and the robots and monsters were practical rather than digitally inserted. Even though Lucas’ saga is supposed to take place in another world, I want to feel as though it could occur in a real world and not a land of digital animation.
  2. The intercuts. Lucas manages some effective intercutting between the fight with Yoda and Darth Sidious and the fight with Obi-Wan and Anakin and between Anakin’s death/rebirth as Darth Vader and Padmé’s death and the birth of Luke and Leia.

I can honestly call this film the best of the prequels, but that statement does not mean much. Episode III is entertaining enough and, of course, visually impressive, but Lucas has finished his epic series with a decent film rather than a great one.

'Embroideries' by Marjane Satrapi (2005)

Marjane Satrapi’s Embroideries culls similar source material as her autobiographical graphic narrative Persepolis, which depicts the conservative political climate in Iran after the revolution of the late 1970s. While Persepolis is personal in the sense that it is Satrapi’s story of growing up in pre- and post-revolution Iran, it has a larger scope as it also describes the effects of the revolution on Iran at a national scale. Embroideries is a more personal novel, occurring during the span of an afternoon and depicting the conversation of nine women having tea.

In Persepolis, Satrapi used a traditional panel form in telling her story, but in Embroideries she abandoned the panels.


In an interview with Fire on the Prairie, Satrapi comments that she did not use panels to facilitate and mimic the fluidity of conversation. Indeed, the lack of panels allows Satrapi to move from past to present – from the conversation to a memory – and allow her characters to interrupt each other, returning abruptly to the present again. But without boxes, this conversation seems less defined by time or by space. Satrapi’s drawing style is very minimalist: she draws her characters and whatever furniture they are sitting on or objects they might be touching but rarely provides details of the background. There are definite indications of Iranian culture in this novel, but often they come as a surprise. When Satrapi recounts a story in which two women are seen outside in the street, it was jarring for me as the reader to see them suddenly wearing hijab – I was very abruptly reminded of the cultural context of the story. Persepolis can only occur in a specific time and place, but Embroideries is a more universal story.

However, the very candid conversations about sex in which the women engage are not found in every culture. Most people view Iranian women as sexually repressed and oppressed, therefore the explicitness of the stories these women tell might be shocking to some readers. Indeed, I think that Satrapi intends to stretch people’s comprehension of the sex lives of Iranian women. One of the women, a mother of five, has never seen a penis and the women discuss hymen restoration surgery – the title is actually a reference to a slang term for such surgeries – but most of the women speak freely of enjoying sex.


Satrapi’s drawing style fascinates me because the white space seems to define the black areas instead of the opposite.

Embroideries strikes me as a story or example of survival. The title, like the women in this novel, is subversive. The idea of “embroideries” calls to mind afternoons of women sewing together, rather than the more disturbing connotation of hymen reconstruction to prevent women from being harmed for not being virgins when they marry. I do not think that Satrapi intends to criticize these women who have embroideries – as her grandmother says, “If people want to be sewn up, let them be sewn up” – but rather she is presenting the situation in Iran as it is. As disturbing as hymen reconstruction might seem to a woman like myself, Iranian women might see it as a logical solution for wanting to have premarital sex without taking the risk of not being a “virgin” on their wedding night. They are adapting to their cultural climate, seemingly conforming to the establishment while actually subverting it.

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson (1948)

I was not overwhelmed by this story but I do not feel as though reading it wasted my time. I think that Jackson had an interesting premise, but the ending did not offer enough of a punch. In the beginning of the story, Jackson tried to make the lottery seem so benign that within a few paragraphs I guessed that someone was going to die at the end. Granted, I did not suspect that the townspeople would use the pile of rocks that the children gathered gleefully at the beginning of the story.

When does this story take place? The town is called a “village” and the relationships between men and women do not seem to be particularly modern. But Mr. Summers is wearing “blue jeans.” Shirley Jackson lived from 1919-1965, but elements of the story seem to pre-date this time period. So is Jackson suggesting that this story is taking place in the future perhaps? When society has regressed?

I wish that the reader had more context about the origin of the lottery. Is the lottery meant to prevent murders by allowing everyone to purge violent tendencies? Is a socially acceptable murder meant to discourage others? Or is the lottery a way to curb population growth? Or is the society in the same state as the world of Delicatessen and the only available meat comes from people? I wish the reader had more information. Even a brief description of what the village folk do with the corpse would have been helpful.

Jackson very obviously is exploring the darker aspects of tradition in this story. Traditions can be nice—I enjoy my Christmas Eve cup of milk tea with my mother even though I don’t celebrate anymore—but traditions also act as a shield against progress. I cannot think of the name of the golf course off hand, but I remember a couple of years ago the club’s major argument against letting women join their prestigious organization was that the club had been traditionally composed of men. Considering her era, I can understand why this subject might be of interest to Jackson. This story also suggests that all humans have innate tendencies toward extreme violence. Jackson insinuates that people need someone to victimize and that violence becomes easier when many people attack one.

“Light Can Be Both Wave and Particle” by Ellen Gilchrist

From Lin Tan’s simplified speech to the more formulaic “man meets woman, man and woman fall in love, man and woman live happily ever after” plot, “Light Can Be Both Wave and Particle” exists in that romantic realm of fairy tales.

Both of the main characters live in a romantic surreality. Lin Tan is a geneticist who works with fetuses, a time of a person’s life that everyone experiences yet no one remembers. Humans can observe the fetus’ experience in the womb but cannot recreate the experience or remember their experience. Therefore, the fetus’ time in the womb is magical, and Lin Tan describes his work with fetuses as magical or in rather magical terms. His practice of Zen meditation also elevates him beyond reality in a way.

At the place where her car had been, several pigeons flew down from a roof and began to peck at the sidewalk. Lin took that for a sign and went back into the hotel and sat in meditation for an hour, remembering the shape of the universe and the breathtaking order of the species. He imagined the spirit of Margaret and the forms of her ancestors back a hundred generations. Then he imagined Margaret in the womb and spoke to her in a dream on the day she was conceived.

From his position to which meditation lifts him, he feels as though he can communicate with Margaret in a meaningful way. Lin Tan is also captivated by poetry. He envies and respects Margaret for her father being a poet. Margaret also seems consumed by her father’s poetic world. She continually compares Lin Tan to her father and seems enchanted by him because of the connection.

Formation and development seems to be important in this story. Part of the attraction between Margaret and Lin Tan seems to stem from their interest in how things become. Lin Tan, as mentioned, studies fetuses and Margaret studies the development of language. She teaches first-graders because she is interested by their discovering how to form language on paper as words and then stringing the words into sentences. The fact that these similarities attract them to one another interests me because they meet over destruction. Margaret wanders to the bridge where she encounters Lin Tan because an acquaintance had committed suicide there recently.

I have not read any more of Gilchrist’s work, but from what I have read about her in critical texts, she likes romantically pairing characters from opposite backgrounds. Roy Hoffman notes in his review of Light Can Be Both Wave and Particle,

In previous works the white Southern woman, Protestant or Roman Catholic, who becomes involved with men of markedly different backgrounds usually writes her own prescription for failure.

However, in this story Margaret and Lin Tan’s relationship does not fail. As the title implies, “light can be both wave and particle”—people from two very different cultures still have something in common. Some unnamed element of human nature connects them. The ending of this story, with Margaret’s father challenging Lin Tan to a game of chess, suggests a number of possibilities for the future of these young lovers, as many as there are moves in a chess game.

Miguel Arteta’s ‘The Good Girl’ (2002)

For most people routine is comforting. We rely on our lives being predictable and change is something that usually causes anxiety and turmoil. But Miguel Arteta’s film The Good Girl offers an interesting portrayal of the life of a woman for whom routine has become smothering.

The film’s assets:

  1. The script. Mike White’s script is probably the film’s strongest asset. It is perceptive and funny; the dialogue is witty and the characters are quirky, without being too over-the-top, and multi-dimensional.

    Cheryl: You’re going to want to take a whole bottle of this home with you. It’s got quite a lot of ingredients in it, so you’re getting a good deal. It’s got ginkgo extract in it. Do you know what that is?
    Big Haired Woman: No.
    Cheryl: It’s extract of the ginkgo, and it makes your skin real slick so that any liquid will roll right off you, be it water, or lemon juice, or urine. I’ll put it in a bag for you.

    All of these characters are trying to escape in some way: Corny through religion, Gwen through her diet, Cheryl through her random bursts of profanity and insults, Bubba through marijuana and Justine, Phil through pot as well. Justine is trying to escape through having a child, but Phil’s sterility has prevented her. Holden and Justine try to escape the banality of their lives through their affair; however, Justine finds her relationship with Holden another trap. That relationship does give her the baby that finally allows her some semblance of an escape.

  2. Jennifer Aniston’s performance. Aniston’s portrayal of Justine breaks her from her Friends image. Her low-key performance effectively conveys Justine’s feelings of loneliness and entrapment. John C. Reilly and Jake Gyllenhaal’s performances also deserve a mention.

The film’s offenses:

  1. Pacing. I love the script, but the film does tend to lag at times. The bit with Bubba and Justine could have been cut from the film without damaging the overall story. But it does have the interesting effect of making Justine more sympathetic to the audience rather than less likable. The narration….eh. I think that perhaps it detracts rather than adds to the films at times. I like bits of the narration very much, but I think that it could have been used more sparingly.

Okay, I have to address this bit from Roger Ebert’s review of this film:

Certainly the last big scene between Aniston and Reilly is an unexpected payoff, delivering an emotional punch while at the same time we can only admire Aniston’s strategy involving the father of her child. She says it’s Phil’s, and that claim cannot be disproved on the basis of Phil’s information; having confessed to cheating, she allows him to suspect someone who could not have a black-haired child; therefore, the father is the dark-haired Phil.

First of all, it should be “Justine’s strategy” not “Aniston’s”. And, more importantly, his genetic theory is pretty wrong. Justine has dark hair so even though she points the finger at Corny, who has blond hair, as the person with whom she had been unfaithful they could have still produced a dark-haired child together because blond hair is a recessive trait.

“Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep” by Amy Hempel

I was pleased to find a piece of Amy Hempel’s work in a short story collection because I have seen her work lauded by many sources. Based upon my impressions of this story, her praise is well-deserved. And I want to learn how to knit. Well, I wanted to learn how to knit, but after reading this story knitting seems a little pathetic.

This story deals with abortion in an unexpected, in my opinion, way. While I liked Alice Walker’s “The Abortion”, I didn’t find the content too surprising. But Hempel’s using knitting as a surrogate for reproduction was truly unique.

Learning to knit was the obvious thing. The separation of tangled threads, the working-together of raveled ends into something tangible and whole—this mending was as confounding as the groom who drives into a stop sign on the way to his wedding. Because symptoms mean just what they are. What about the woman whose empty hand won’t close because she cannot grasp that her child is gone?

I’m still trying to puzzle out this paragraph. It quite clearly introduces the idea that the main character has become consumed by knitting as a “symptom” of some emotional experience—an abortion as the reader learns later. The phrase that most puzzles me is “this mending was as confounding as the groom who drives into a stop sign on the way to his wedding.” “Confounding.” Why does she use “confounding” there? Perhaps Hempel is trying to emphasize the apparently contradictory actions: a man on his way to a supposedly joyous occasion causes tragedy by driving into a pole; a woman who has just destroyed a “child” spends all of her time creating things. But where is the paradox in a mother unable to close her hand?

I also found this passage intriguing:

I remembered when another doctor made the news. A young retarded boy had found his father’s gun, and while the family slept, he shot them all in bed. The police asked the boy what he had done. But the boy went mute. He told them nothing. Then they called in the doctor.
“We know you didn’t do it,” the doctor said to the boy, “but tell me, did the gun do it?”
And yes, the boy was eager to tell him just what the gun had done.
I wanted the same out, and Dr. Diamond wouldn’t let me have it.

What does she want the out from? Conceiving the child or aborting the child? Or maybe both? Perhaps this suggestion sounds a little silly, but I would imagine that an unexpected and unwanted pregnancy might make a woman feel as though her body had betrayed her. The gun (her reproductive system) had done it and not her. Her boyfriend(?) has a similar reaction to her being pregnant, saying that “he had never made a girl pregnant before. He said that he had never even made a girl late.”

Translation of the title: “Begin, Slip Together, Increase, Continue, Repeat.” I’m trying to figure out the significance of the title. Obviously, it is significant to the main character’s obsession with knitting. But does the title suggest something besides knitting? Like sex, maybe? Eh, probably not. I considered the possibility given that the story pertains to reproduction, but Hempel only discusses pregnancy really and not the sex that causes it. And “begin, slip together, increase, continue, repeat” doesn’t have the same resonance with reproduction as it does with sex.

Besides serving as some kind of penance, knitting also seems to provide the main character with an elite group to join. When the main character finally sees Dale Anne’s baby, she instantly wishes that she had what she does not. However, while she cannot understand Dale Anne’s position, she can understand the language of knitting:

I scan the instructions abbreviated like musical notation: K 10, sl 1, K2 tog, psso, sl 1, K2 to end. I feel I could sing these instructions. It is compression of language into code; your ability to decipher it makes you privy to the secrets shared by Ingrid and the women at the round oak table.

She also mentions at the end of the story the few women of Fair Isles who know how to knit, who knit with undyed wool because there is no lichen to color the wool. Denied the possibility to reproduce, this woman has submerged herself in an activity associated mostly with women, an activity that few women still pursue.

Niels Mueller’s ‘The Assassination of Richard Nixon’ (2004)

This film is like a modern-day Taxi Driver….only not because the story takes place during 1974. Anyway, the plot of the film is similar to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver: a man’s extreme social and physical isolation drive him to madness and violence.

I found this film quite compelling, probably because Sam Bicke’s thoughts about modern life are not so very different from my own. The Assassination of Richard Nixon is a rather brilliant character study of an idealist crushed by his perceived imperfections of society.

The film’s assets:

  1. Sean Penn’s performance. I keep reading in various reviews that Sean Penn has proved himself to be one of the greatest actors of his generation. And while I thought that his performance in Mystic River was overly lauded by critics, he is quite good in this movie. In his carriage, his gestures, his facial expressions, Penn conveys this man’s social awkwardness and pathetic eagerness. But he does take it over-the-top at times.

Because of her admittedly impressive turn in 21 Grams, Naomi Watts has been receiving a lot of praise from critics. Besides the aforementioned performance, Watts has yet to really impress me with her acting talent. Her performances in this film and I [Heart] Huckabees are good but not great. Don Cheadle provides solid support as Bonny, but the real standout supporting performance is Jack Thompson as Jack Jones. He really manages to sell the sleazy salesman type.

The film’s offenses:

  1. The narration. Maybe I’m being too hard about this aspect of the film. The screenplay was based on a real events so perhaps the real Sam Byck sent such tapes to Leonard Bernstein. However, in a film format the narration becomes superfluous. The viewer can understand Sam’s state of mind and his reasons for doing what he does without the aid of the voice over. If Mueller wanted to include the tapes for historical accuracy, then perhaps including a brief narration over the final shot of Sam racing a toy airplane around his apartment would have been appropriate. The film-length narration, however, becomes annoying. And hearing Sean Penn say “maestro” really took me out of the film.
  2. The “zebra” scene. The credibility of this film rests heavily on Sean Penn and the screenplay’s ability to sell Sam as a pitiable human being. The scene in which Sam suggests that the Black Panthers change their name to the Zebras in order to expand their membership to white people is laugh-out-loud funny. It provides a light moment amongst many heavy ones, but it paints Sam’s idealism as laughable, which affects his credibility.

I cannot classify the screenplay as either an asset or an offense. Obviously, I had a few problems with the script—the narration and the inclusion of the “zebra” scene—and Mueller and his co-writer Kevin Kennedy seemed to be trying a little too hard to make Sam pathetic. But I cannot dismiss the screenplay. Without Sean Penn’s performance the screenplay might have resulted in a mediocre film, but it isn’t terrible enough for me to consider it an offense.

Speaking of 21 Grams, which features another fine performance by Sean Penn, Sam reminds me of Benicio del Toro’s character. When Jack Jordan kills Cristina’s husband and children with a truck he thought God had put into his hands, he has a crisis of faith and of self, wondering why God wanted him to kill people, and ultimately becomes self-destructive. Was he such a terrible person? Jack Jordan is a warning against brands of Christianity that emphasize God’s will over human will. While Sam Bicke does not seem to practice Christianity, he does stringently subscribe to another religion: the American religion. Bicke so completely believes in the American Dream that when he is unable to attain it, rather than blaming himself as Jack Jordan does, he blames the easiest target, Richard Nixon, but also becomes self-destructive.

“Love, Forever” by Joyce Carol Oates

Yeesh, what a disturbing story. I read the first bit last night before falling asleep, so after I read the second part today I re-read the beginning and shivered. If someone had given me this story without an author name attached, I could have made an educated guess that Joyce Carol Oates was the author because of the characterization of the main character and the descriptions of violence.

In her essay “Women and Madness in the Fiction of Joyce Carol Oates,” Charlotte Goodman notes, “Oates’s female characters often experience acute psychological malaise because of their powerlessness, and many ultimately become suicidal or psychotic.” Or, in this case, homicidal. Goodman’s essay concentrates mainly on Oates’ female characters in her novels, which, understandably, receive more character development and background story than the main character of this very brief short story. Thus, one cannot conclude whether the main character’s mother influenced her actions, as Goodman notes, but some of Goodman’s other observations are pertinent: the main character does expect the attentions of a man to validate her existence and, ultimately, her “search…to better [her] status or find happiness and fulfillment through relationships with men, marriage, and motherhood…ends in failure.”

In a story about a mother killing her children in order to keep the affections of a man, probably one of the creepiest sentences to use as the final sentence must be, “Sherri was the one Mommy always loved best.”

Oates uses an interesting style of writing for the second part of the story. Her sentences seem hurried or child-like and lacking proper punctuation. For example:

The entire day, the sun was hidden behind clouds, one of those gauzy gray days you feel like screaming but she was calm, she was in control. Six-year-old Tommy ran inside when the school bus let him off all excited saying the bus driver had almost hit a buck in the fog and she smiled and kissed him and walked past as if she hadn’t heard. She’s been smiling all day. It wasn’t practice, it was her natural self: as, in high school, she’d smiled all the time. She was waiting for a phone call, she’d left a message on the answering service of one of the girls she used to work with, when she was working, and when the call came she had something planned to say she’d memorized, a strange man prowling the woods behind the trailer, a man with a beard, or maybe without a beard, probably a hunter, she hadn’t wanted to stare out at him wasn’t worried really but she’d mention it, then talk of something else. Not too much detail—that gave you away. From TV you learned that.

The sentence structure seems to be somewhere between stream-of-consciousness and….uh, not stream-of-consciousness. (How would you describe it?) Oates’ writing style seems indicative of the main character’s machination and excitement and, perhaps, her psychosis as well. The style also offers the reader access to the character’s mindset, but doesn’t quite submerge the reader in her thoughts as a complete stream-of-consciousness style would have.

Nicole Kassell’s ‘The Woodsman’ (2004)

I must recognize both director Nicole Kassell and screenwriter Steven Fechter for the courage involved in attempting to portray a sympathetic pedophile. And the result of their attempts is an unsettling, disturbing and yet poignant and very human film.


  1. Kevin Bacon’s performance. While all of the performances in this film are solid, Kevin Bacon is outstanding as Walter. He was a good choice to play this role because, come on, he’s Kevin Bacon. He’s sexy in an I-can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-why kind of a way; he has a boyish, likable smile and those big blue eyes that can look so, so sad. But he’s also an incredible actor who prefers understated to overly dramatic. In every moment of this film, Bacon conveys that demons lurk beneath Walter’s surface without any gnashing of teeth or twirling of a dark moustache. He easily switches from conflicted and tormented to creepy and revolting as Walter decides to follow a girl in a mall or talk to Robin.
  2. The screenplay. The script was adapted from a play, but it doesn’t feel like a play. Even good play-to-screen adaptations like Closer tend to betray the format of their source material. But Fechter’s adaptation of his play manages to avoid the telling signs, such as excess dialogue, long scenes in one space, and limited locations. The screenplay also succeeds because it trusts the actors to convey emotions and the audience to draw conclusions. Also, the image of the title is used effectively and not too obviously. Walter is a “woods man” in that he works with wood for a living, but also his dream of a molestation and his near-molestation of Robin both occur in woodsy areas. The more obvious woodsman image that Fechter includes—the woodsman in “Little Red Riding Hood” who cuts open the wolf’s stomach and frees an unharmed Little Red Riding Hood—also applies as Walter stuggles to be a woodsman and not a wolf with Vickie, Cherub, and Robin.
  3. Sound. Kassell uses sound very effectively and very subtly in this film. She unobtrusively takes away sound as Walter gives into his desires and then suddenly brings back the sound as he is jarred into reality.


  1. All the incidences of molestation. The contrivance fairy seemed to wave her wand quite a bit in this film. Walter happens to pursue a relationship with a woman who was molested by her brothers as a girl and does not hate them. He happens to live across the street from an elementary school where another pedophile is trolling. He happens to try to seduce a girl whose father is molesting her. This film makes it seem like every male likes molesting little girls. Granted, there is a high percentage of women who are molested at some point in their lives, but I don’t think that suggestion was on the film’s agenda.
  2. Inequitable nudity. I don’t mind nudity in films, but I am a proponent of equal opportunity nudity. Kyra Sedgwick’s breasts made an appearance, but there was no reciprocal shot of Kevin Bacon. And why not? The guy loves being naked. I bet he would have allowed a butt shot. Well, I guess I can try to rationalize the instance of inquitable nudity in this film because the sex scenes actually serve a purpose. In the first scene, Vickie has opened up more than Walter has, thus the breasts and less of Walter’s body. But in the second scene, I believe that he has revealed his secret by that point, so seeing more of Walter’s body would not be inappropriate. In the third scene both are covered because Walter is distancing himself from Vickie and is retreating further into his old practices with girls. So, yeah, still irked about the nudity.

Kassell does not ask the audience to like or even to sympathize with Walter, merely to try to understand him. And even though I was still repulsed by Walter on some level at the end of the film, I wanted him to succeed. I rallied for Walter to resist temptation.

Garth Jennings’ ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ (2005)

I saw this film more out of curiosity than any expectation of quality. I didn’t expect it to be great by any means, but I never expected it to be that bad. When the first five minutes of the film were composed of a dolphin montage and a very silly, unamusing musical number, I should have known where the film was heading and left the theater.

The film’s offenses:

  1. Poor realization of characters. I like Mos Def quite a bit and while he was very funny as Ford Prefect, he just wasn’t Ford Prefect. He ran about like a confused simpleton too much; he was too silly. During their journey, Ford is supposed to be the stolid one, accustomed to hitchhiking in space, while Arthur is supposed to panic to overly dramatic and ridiculous extents. And Sam Rockwell as Zaphod? I don’t even know where to begin. A character who is a cool, somewhat sinister mastermind in the book became a weird, annoying, southern, obnoxious dual personality. And Slartibardfast should have been more irritable.
  2. Obligatory love story between Arthur and Trillian. Hitchhiker’s is such an extraordinary book—why would the screenwriters want to muck it up with something as banal and trite as an underdeveloped romance?
  3. Cheesy special effects. Yes, some of the effects were extraordinary, but others were downright embarrassing for a film with Hitchhiker’s budget.
  4. Tedium. I was bored. BORED. I think that I read the book in one, at most two sittings, but the movie bored me. Usually when screenwriters change the plot of a book, they are trying to generate more momentum for the film, not bring it to a screeching halt for fifteen minutes at a time. All of the changes, for the most part, resulted in unfunny, insipid, poorly-paced lulls.

The film’s assets:

  1. The book. The animated segments of entries in The Hitchhiker’s Guide were the best parts of the film. In these moments, Douglas Adams’ voice was fully realized within the movie, thanks to….
  2. Superb voice work. While the live-action actors couldn’t seem to become comfortable with their characters, the voice actors—Stephen Fry, Alan Rickman, and Helen Mirren specifically—were marvelous. Of particular note is Stephen Fry’s narration.
  3. Jim Henson’s puppet shop. The Vogons and Marvin were very nicely realized and were one of the least disappointing aspects of this screen translation.

I think that Hollywood needs to admit that Douglas Adams’ novels cannot be realized within a film context. The books’ inherent charm is the narration, and its absurd, philosophical meanderings can never be captured visually. I have heard a radio interpretation of the book that I enjoyed quite a bit, but both this movie and the mini-series were terrible disappointments. Granted the script was not very good, but what studio would trust such a film to a director like Garth Jennings whose only previous experience was directing music videos?

Oh, and as a vegetarian, I have to say that I disliked the unnecessary brutalization of animated crabs in this film.

“The I of It” by A.M. Homes

I’ve always found A.M. Homes’ subject matter intriguing because she usually chooses to write about male sexuality, and deviant male sexuality at that. Not having a penis, I would never attempt to describe the experience of having one, especially in the explicit terms of this story, which is all about a man’s relationship to his penis.

The first few paragraphs offer some interesting images. The image of the narrator “shuffling one foot in front of the other as though in shackles” made of his jeans and underwear suggests that his genitalia have somehow become a burden. But the second paragraph offers rather contrasting images: his penis, like a pet, rubbing up against his ankle, kept in a drawer like a fond memento.

In his memories of his childhood, he remembers his penis as the thing that separated him from his mother and sisters. Because it made him unique, people treated him differently, which empowered him in a way. He understood his penis as something to be admired. I understand his sexual liaisons with men as also intended to represent nonsexual social interactions between males, which Homes suggests is based upon admiration of their common parts. So is Homes suggesting that women are willing participants in empowering men through their genitals? ….That didn’t sound right. Or, considering that the narrator is male, is Homes implying that males think that women respect or admire or idolize their penises, but really only they appreciate their genitalia?

As is the case with all of the stories in The Safety of Objects, the main character of this story is dealing with identity and the slipperiness of it. Homes implies, though does not specifically state, that the narrator has AIDS and that the disease, while it emaciates most of the body, does not affect the penis.

I see sick men, friends that have shriveled into strangers, unwelcome in hospitals and at home. They can’t think or breathe, and still as they go rattling towards death, it never loses an ounce, it lies fattened, untouched in the darkness between their legs. It is strikingly an ornament, a reminder of the past.
Should I ask for a divorce? A separation from myself on the grounds that this part of me that is more male than I alone could ever be has betrayed me. We no longer have anything in common except profound depression and disbelief.

The disease, as diseases often do, has created a fissure between the narrator and his body, or in this case a part of his body. It has attacked his masculinity, in a way, by not attacking what he considers the source of his maleness. I suppose the, er, fortitude of his penis compared to the ailing of his body makes him feel as though he never fulfilled the potential of his sex. The ending suggests that such essentialist ideals of gender lead to self-destruction. As the title implies, the narrator is trying to separate his “I” from the collective idea of “It”—how is he a part of this thing called masculinity.