Tag Archives: James Urbaniak

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).


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Bitter Orange (2013, Hope Larson)

Hope Larson’s Bitter Orange is a precious short set in 1920s Hollywood. For the most part, I mean precious as a compliment. The production design is fantastic, something Larson showcases in the first scene. The way the film deals with nostalgia is interesting too–it’s present, but maybe the viewer shouldn’t pay too much attention to it.

The story involves the lead, Brie Larson, needing gin for a work party (during Prohibition). She engages an incompetent, but lovable, underworld type (Brendan Hines) to help her.

Larson’s performance is fine–got a couple Larsons to keep straight here (no relation)–but Hines sort of walks off with the picture. Writer-director Larson doesn’t give actor Larson as much to do because the plot hinges on her being mysterious.

James Urbaniak has a nice little cameo.

Good direction, good photography, divine editing from Spencer Houck… Bitter Orange is a fine little film.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Hope Larson; director of photography, Tarin Anderson; edited by Spencer Houck; music by James Bladon; production designer, Lauren Malizia; produced by John Swartz and Shay Weiner.

Starring Brie Larson (Myrtle), Brendan Hines (Jack) and James Urbaniak (Sweetie).


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Henry Fool (1997, Hal Hartley)

I remember seeing Henry Fool years ago, but I remembered it being laugh-out-loud funny. This era, my 1999 film-watching era, is highly suspect to me now. It’s pre-Traffic, I suppose.

I’ve tried watching Hartley since. No Such Thing was a particularly terrible experience… or however much of it I saw.

And for most of Henry Fool, I was moving between some low rating, one to one and a half, in line with movielens. What’s important–what’s funny–when you’re twenty isn’t necessarily funny when you’re not. I used to think Mallrats was good, for example.

Henry Fool, which I’m hardly writing about because it’s 2:03 in the morning and I’m tired, does something amazing. It takes one hour and forty-five minutes of one to one and a half star material and then spends twenty-five minutes turning it all into three and a half star material. I’m not aware of a film that becomes so notable so quickly. I really don’t think it’s been done since or before….

Too bad the other Hartley I tried was such a momentous failure. But see Henry Fool. If only for the Parker Posey’s great performance.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written, directed and produced by Hal Hartley; director of photography, Michael Spiller; edited by Steve Hamilton; music by Hartley; production designer, Steve Rosenzweig; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Thomas Jay Ryan (Henry Fool), James Urbaniak (Simon Grim), Parker Posey (Fay), Maria Porter (Mary), James Saito (Mr. Deng) and Kevin Corrigan (Warren).