The Junk Food of Writing

Friday, December 23, 2005


"Yikes" seems like a likely candidate to become my new overused word du jour (or whatever "month" is in French). Such past excessively-uttered words (or noises) have been "shite," "meh," "silly," "blah," and "eek (and sometimes I would substitute the 'k' with a 'p')." I believe that "Yikes" will be a worthy addition to such an esteemed bunch.

Well, it seems as if I am officially finished with my first semester ay my new university. I e-mailed my Fiction professor at 5:30 AM on Tuesday with my final portfolio. I had to revise two of my short stories, which were apparently too verbose, thematic and “idea-driven.” Let’s just say that I slept very well after I sent the e-mail out. Regarding my new location, I am very content with my choice to transfer to Boston. If I continue to talk about the reasons why I have had such a fantastic semester, I may start to get sentimental, and I can’t handle that mawkishness. I’ll just drop one word: Mongooses. If you’re confused, don’t worry -- even I don’t know what that means.

Tis the season to…see a lot of films? Well, I went to five films in the theaters in the past six days (one was a repeat, Wong Kar-Wai’s luscious 2046). Apparently, final projects/portfolios are subordinate when I need to see films. I have priorities, you know.

The Matador (Shephard, 2005): B-, 6/10 [I went to a screening of this nearly a month ago. While not much resonated, it is a testament to the film that I am actually writing about it now. This, of course, means that I did not completely forget about it like some other releases this year (Isn't it a shame to see so many films and only truly recall a handful? Perhaps, however, it is better to repress the fact that I ever saw Derailed). For a practice in wicked frivolity, this film slightly pleases, but ultimately disappoints. Think Analyze This, but with a hit-man instead of a mafia boss. Actually, that is exactly what this is; well, it is more like Analyze This mixed with a domestic surrounding, which I believe Analyze That included (judging by trailers, I haven’t seen that film, fortunately). The comedy within The Matador is not hilarious, but most of the clever lines work – as do the absolutely ridiculous one-liners that Brosnon’s washed-up “facilitator of fatalities” utters. Hope David and Greg Kinnear are serviceable, and their acceptance of Pierce Brosnon's profession, which plays out in a rather “matter-of-fact” manner is amusing. I admire the director’s attempts to create a character study within an antithetical-buddy-movie formula, but the attempts to reveal insight into the characters outside of characterization and through symbolism just falls completely flat. The metaphor of a matador is constantly stated – it is as if the filmmaker doesn’t understand that the audience will understand it the first time Bronson explains it; that’s not the only overt symbol, though. The identity-conflicted Brosnon looks into a mirror a dozen times throughout, and I began to cringe after the third occurrence. In the final, anticlimactic scene, he looks into the car mirror and disappears into the distance. His humdrum arc is a completely joke and when he screams at Kinnear’s character “Danny, I’m a fucking parody,” you cannot help but nod in agreement.]

Boys of Baraka (Ewing/Grady, 2005): B/B-, 6.5/10 [This is not a film which will likely be endorsed by the Baltimore Board of Public Education. The film opens with this staggering statistic: 76% percent of black males do not graduate high school. Contrary to the stimulating opening scene, the film would rather exhibit the drama and hobbies of the children than psychologically investigate their inevitable adaptation to their African surroundings. Although there is a plethora of opportunities, the film does not take advantage of its sociologically rich circumstances. The relocation of these children is what intrigued me the most and I yearned to see more of their assimilation. There is the occasional moment of insightful observation: the impoverished boys take their first plane trip on which they experiment with all the gadgets and a boy takes note of the gorgeous clouds in the barren African landscape. These instances, however, are unfortunately cut short (literally, they are 30 second scenes). Aside from these complaints, the film is successful in making its point. Most profoundly, it effectively juxtaposes these children’s parallel situations in Africa and Baltimore (upon returning to Baltimore, the children find themselves alienated by the “street life” of many Baltimore youths). Essentially, it is an inverted Born into Brothels (it tries to move children out of the United States, instead of into it); Baraka, however, is not nearly as affecting, perceptive or precious as Born into Brothels.]

Syriana (Gaghan, 2005): C+, 5/10 [Not short on ambition, yet sorely lacking in clarity. This muddled production may actually be proving a point with its impossible-to-follow intertwining storylines (I believe the confusion is deliberate), yet it also defeats its own purpose by doing so. The film touches on many points, and it has a lot to say, yet it obfuscates almost all of the “pressing” issues it addresses. Therefore, no real commentary on the oil situation is deeply explored and communicated to the open-minded audience this film is likely to draw. In an attempt to capture the unrelenting speed of such dense proceedings, it never gives the audience a chance to become involved and absorb the material. This, however, did not bother me as much as the film’s attempts to ALSO be an “ensemble picture.” The film unfortunately reminded me of another inept ensemble drama of the year: Crash. Both, in a pathetic attempt to inject their characters with emotional baggage and delve into their personal lives, give certain character’s weak subplots (a drunken family member seems to be the favorite for filmmakers in need of a quick character catharsis). Mr. Gaghan has, fundamentally, taken the plot-paradigm he created for Traffic and replaced drugs for oil. Traffic, however, was a brilliantly crafted political statement an ensemble drama. Fortunately, Syriana is uniformly acted (with the exception of Amanda Peet, who cannot act dramatically, because even when she is trying to be dramatic, it comes off as comedic) yet it is also inconsistently riveting and sorrowfully two-dimensional.]

Semester grades are posted tomorrow morning. Yikes.


  • Mawkishness is a worthy word. If it meant something other than lame schmaltz (hello Yiddish!) I would overuse it.

    By Anonymous MERYL, at 11:38 PM  

  • Meryl, did I tell you about the time that I used 'schmaltz' in an essay for my college application? My mother and guidance counselor adamantly recommended that I should remove that word since I was applying to St. Joe's, a jesuit (read: not jewish) university.

    Yeah, so I kept it in anyway. People are silly.

    By Blogger Nick M., at 12:12 AM  

  • Funny, there's probably no word I use more than "yikes." Yikes.

    So you're liking Emerson, huh? I've been looking at it for a Grad school possibility... but it doesn't seem to have exactly what I'm looking for. Anyway, I'm glad to hear all is well.

    By Anonymous Jesse, at 3:10 AM  

  • Congrats on being done, although I've been free for a week longer than you (more than that actually). I'm evil, I know. But you win, because you got to write short stories, whereas I had to contend with analytical essays. I need to start creative composing again; school has just sucked the imagination out of me.

    Of the three movies you've reviewed, Syriana is the only one I've seen, and you know my thoughts on that film. Boo-urns on you for your Amanda Peet comment.

    Merry Christmas.

    By Blogger Ali, at 1:19 PM  

  • Jesse: Nice to see you make an appearance. What exactly are you looking for in Grad school? Creative Writing, correct?

    Ali: You are, indeed, an evil child. When, if I may ask, do you return to university? Is it before the 17th of January? If so, then the joke's on you, buddy.

    And I do NOT win, acdemically at least -- I actually prefer analytical essays to short fiction. And, believe me, I had plenty of both this semester (My 'Nature and the Self' writing class was rather demanding, and the professor is one of the most difficult/pedantic instructors at my university). Fortunately, she loved me -- and I got an A. Hell yeah (the final research oral defense put me over the top, I think).

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