Tag Archives: Hope Davis

American Splendor (2003, Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman)

American Splendor has a little too much going on. Directors Berman and Pulcini seem to want to do something different–Splendor opens as a cross between a docu-comedy and an attempt at time period preciousness (which gets them into trouble later as the film doesn’t progress, visually, out of the eighties). Paul Giamatti plays Harvey Pekar from the sixties through the nineties. Harvey Pekar narrates and gets interviewed.

Berman and Pulcini don’t really give Giamatti a part so much as a comic book character. Splendor is the dramatized true story of Pekar, who dramatized his own life in a comic book. So it’s a comic book adaptation once removed or something. The filmmakers don’t actually do anything with it–Pekar, in the narration, recounts how he’d become a quirky, exploited outlier at the height of his eighties celebrity, but the filmmakers don’t do it much different.

Then Hope Davis shows up as Pekar’s wife. And Pekar’s wife shows up for a bit too in the interview sequences. If Berman and Pulcini only give Giamatti a caricature based on Pekar to play, they give Davis even less. When there is actual dramatic material–cancer, a foster child–the filmmakers go straight to summary. Splendor’s all artifice.

Maybe if Berman and Pulcini were better directors–Terry Stacey’s photography, presumably on location in economically depressed Cleveland saves a lot of the visuals–the film would work out better.

Giamatti’s really good, he just doesn’t have much material.

Splendor’s too slight.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman; screenplay by Springer Berman and Pulcini, based on comic books written by Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner; director of photography, Terry Stacey; edited by Pulcini; music by Mark Suozzo; production designer, Thérèse DePrez; produced by Ted Hope; released by HBO Films.

Starring Paul Giamatti (Harvey Pekar), Hope Davis (Joyce Brabner), James Urbaniak (Robert Crumb), Judah Friedlander (Toby Radloff), Joyce Brabner (Real Joyce) and Harvey Pekar (Real Harvey).


RELATED

Advertisements

The Lodger (2009, David Ondaatje)

Okay, I thought Lodger auteur David Ondaatje was really his uncle (English Patient author) Michael Ondaatje. I wished I’d checked before starting the movie… even with Hope Davis in it, I’m not sure I would have watched it. It really changes my impression of it. All of the stupid zooming and fast-forwarding and post-production nonsense, I was going to give Michael Ondaatje, author, the benefit of the doubt. Like he was trying to do something with film one can only do in fiction, with pacing and choice description. It doesn’t work in The Lodger, but at least I thought I knew where Michael Ondaatje was going with it. Where’s David Ondaatje, filmmaker (of no other features), going with it in The Lodger?

On the express train to Crapsville. (Oh, how is Crapsville not a real word, Apple spell check… you don’t think lollygag is a real word either and it is). David Ondaatje doesn’t even have a good reason for making The Lodger, a Jack the Ripper novel adapted four times before. Michael Ondaatje got the benefit out the doubt, again, for trying to do a post-modern adaptation (it doesn’t work, but then I assumed Michael Ondaatje, who writes novels I’d probably never read–Miramax fiction should be a genre–was bound to fail). Is David Ondaatje writing a post-modern Jack the Ripper serial killer movie?

No, he’s not. Unfortunately, I can’t even tell you, the person reading this response, what Ondaatje is doing. But I’ll give you a clue. He references, rather well, actually, The Matrix in some dialogue. What Ondaatje is doing with The Lodger is very similar to what another 1999 big studio release (but not a successful one) did. Why’s he doing it? Because he doesn’t really have much of a story. I just figured Michael Ondaatje wrote a couple outlines for short stories and turned them into a movie… You know, I could at least understand how Michael Ondaatje would get a green light to make this film, but I can’t figure out how David Ondaatje did.

Davis is good. She doesn’t deserve these kinds of roles. Watching The Lodger, I kept remembering all the great work she’s done through her career and how she’s never gotten the respect an actor of her stature deserves. Similarly, what’s Alfred Molina doing in this kind of a movie? His harried cop slash suspect isn’t a great character, but Molina brings some real professionalism to the role. He’s great. The two cast members who kind of belong in this movie, which is very similar to USA original movies from the mid-1990s, are Shane West and Donal Logue. Logue’s a lout. Whoop dee doo, Logue’s always playing a lout. Slightly more interesting is West, who showed a lot of promise at some point in his career; he isn’t terrible, but he isn’t any good. Philip Baker Hall shows up to cash a paycheck in what might be the laziest performance I’ve ever seen him give. Rachael Leigh Cook has gotten less terrible over the years.

And Simon Baker, as the titular Lodger… he’s not in it enough. Baker’s basically playing a cipher, but Davis works well with him and it would have been nice for the film to have better scenes throughout.

Ondaatje’s plot actually isn’t terrible. It’s a pointless mystery running ninety-some minutes… you know, just like a USA original movie.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by David Ondaatje; screenplay by Ondaatje, based on the novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes; director of photography, David A. Armstrong; edited by William Flicker; music by John Frizzell; production designer, Franco-Giacomo Carbone; produced by Michael Mailer and Ondaatje; released by Stage 6 Films.

Starring Alfred Molina (Chandler Manning), Hope Davis (Ellen Bunting), Shane West (Street Wilkenson), Donal Logue (Bunting), Philip Baker Hall (Captain Smith), Rachael Leigh Cook (Amanda), Rebecca Pidgeon (Dr. Jessica Westmin), Simon Baker (Malcolm), François Chau (Sam) and Mel Harris (Margaret).


RELATED