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The Gravedigger's Daughter
The Gravedigger's Daughter
by Joyce Carol Oates
Edition: Hardcover
150 used & new from $0.01

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Music of Life, November 17, 2007
Rebecca Schwarts is the gravedigger's daughter. In many ways she is the ultimate Joyce Carol Oates heroine: flawed, cowed by life, the child of hysterically dysfunctional parents, orphaned by a family tragedy yet always hopeful, always wanting a better life, always yearning. Because of all that befalls Rebecca she builds a wall of despair and impotence around her: "All they knew of Rebecca was that she kept to herself. She had a stubborn manner, a certain stiff-backed dignity. She wouldn't take bs from anybody."
Rebecca's father held his family in terror: he lorded over them and kept them ignorant of the outside world: Mr. Schwarts bought a radio one day and rather than share the news of the day with his family (as in WW2) locked himself and the radio in his den. All that Mr. Schwarts' family (wife, daughter, two sons) knew was that Schwarts had escaped an unspeakable life in Germany: "her (Rebecca's) father had been grievously wounded in his soul."
Mr. Schwarts was fearful of the world, despised it even: "They do not know us Rebecca. Not you and not me. Hide your weakness from them and one day we will repay them! Our enemies who mock us."
Schwarts has invested in his daughter with a fear of the world, a wariness of anything "out there."
Somehow a man, Niles Tignor finds Rebecca, who while working as a housekeeper in a hotel and marries her: "Tignor had not asked about her parents and might not have wanted to know more."
Rebecca, always hopeful, always wanting to find someone that she can count on gives her all to her marriage to Tignor: she even has a child. "It was said of Tignor that you never got to know--but what you did know you were impressed by."
Rebecca's marriage to Tignor goes sour ("he (Tignor) could make her come like a dog when he snapped his fingers...") both on a personal, physical level and on an emotional one and Rebecca finds it necessary to escape and to change her name to Hazel Jones.
In large part due to her youth and good looks, Rebecca is able to make a new life for herself though always fearful that Tignor will find her. This fleeing is a major step for Rebecca, daughter of European peasants: "You made your bed....now lie in it...it was the gritty wisdom of the soil. It was not to be questioned. Her wounds would heal, her bruises would fade."
Then Rebecca and her son Zack are found by Chet Gallagher and both of their worlds change forever. ("She did love him, she supposed. In the man's very weakness that filled her with wild flailing contempt like a maddened winged creature trapped against a screen she loved him")
"The Gravediggers Daughter" is Oates's greatest accomplishment in a career of major, major work: "Missing Mom," The Falls" and my own personal favorite, "We were the Mulvaneys." But despite these career highpoints and probably because of them, Oates has even improved upon her best work with this sprawling, intelligent, gorgeously written novel of Redemption on the one hand and the Power of Love on the other.
The world that Oates has created here is one in which good acts are rewarded with a good life: a world in which there is hope and that hope is not smashed and assaulted but actually leads to a better relationships, a better understanding of love and a better life.
"The Gravedigger's Daughter" is Oates at her most hopeful, her most positive, her most forcefully repellent of all of her usual dark impulses and as such it is Oates at her most refreshing, her most emotionally thrilling and humanely thoughtful.
Comment Comments (10) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 31, 2008 11:04 AM PDT


No Title Available

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Duel, November 3, 2007
Ridley Scott's "American Gangster" is a film of contrasts: the have and the have nots and the have and the have more than enough. It is also about the American Dream: realizing it, losing it and striving for it and never quite achieving it.
All of this is centered on two characters: Frank Lucas (the incredibly strong and charismatic Denzel Washington) and Richie Roberts (the equally strong and charismatic Russell Crowe).
Denzel plays Frank Lucas, a Harlem gang lord who runs a heroin empire circa 1969 in New York City bettering even the Mafia on their own turf with shrewd and knowing procurement of the drug directly from the producers in Asia. Crowe plays Richie Roberts, a New Jersey Cop, who pursues Lucas.
Screenwriter Steve Zaillian has set up some interesting and dynamic contrasts here: Roberts (on the "right" side of the law) and Lucas (on the wrong side) are exact opposites in nature and in action. Roberts is a loose cannon at work (he is despised by his fellow officers because he turns in a million dollars that he and his partner find in an abandoned car: money that would have been divvied up among the cops on the take), craving a family (he has a wife and a son) who puts in none of the work that goes into sustaining such a relationship. Roberts's family is his group of fellow officers determined to bring down the drug traffickers. When Roberts's wife (Carla Gugino) wants to move to Las Vegas to begin a new life, Roberts half-heartedly makes an attempt to legally prevent her from doing so but in the end he concedes to her wishes because, basically a good, honest man, he realizes that his son would be better off without him.
Lucas, on the other hand, is all about a huge extended family: Moms (a resplendent Ruby Dee), Wife (Lymari Nadal), brothers and sister and a bunch of in-laws who not only work for Lucas but also make sure to sit down to dinner at Moms every Sunday. Lucas puts in the work necessary to keep his family together and functional yet the family is supported by the unlawful distribution of heroin.(When Lucas is being interrogated by Roberts he says, "I took care of Harlem, now Harlem is gonna take care of Me.")
Lucas is also the ultimate in cool and control. He dresses like a banker, conducts himself with reverence for his Moms and his wife. At his mentor's funeral, he wipes up a glass spill and sets down a coaster so as to avoid this from happening again. The movie is filled with this type of telling character and behavior traits. Roberts dresses like a bum, conducts himself like a man without any social graces, lives in a hovel yet he is going to school at night to become a lawyer which requires major dedication and work.
Zallian has set up an ambiguous and interesting situation in which our loyalties are torn between the ancient friction between good and bad: a bad man who does some good and a good man who does some bad. In the end we are genuinely disappointed when Lucas is caught and imprisoned.
All the time I was watching the big broad Epic of Ridley Scott's "American Gangster" all I could think about was: how much better, as in committed to this subject matter Sidney Lumet would have been. Lumet (all you have to do is watch what he does in "The Verdict" or "The Prince of New York" to see what I mean) would have brought a grounded sense of thoughtfulness and humanity to the proceedings that Scott almost achieves here which is not to say that "American Gangster" is without any of those things but more than anything this has to do with the exemplary performances of both Denzel and Russell Crowe who bring their best game to this film.
"American Gangster" is not a great film but it is a very good one with magnificent performances by Denzel and Russell Crowe. Don't come to "American Gangster"expecting clear, precise morality fed to you with your popcorn...because you won't get it. What you will get is a conflicted, obtuse treatise on the folly and foibles inherent when pursuing your dreams in a country where all is possible, all is available yet nothing is guaranteed.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 3, 2007 11:43 AM PST


No Title Available

5 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bloodless, October 27, 2007
"Rendition," though boasting a stellar cast of great actors (Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, and Reese Witherspoon) only fitfully attains anything approaching human and thoughtful: Reese Witherspoon going off on Meryl Streep about her Egyptian born husband who Streep has sent off and out of the United States to be interrogated for alleged terrorist activity.
The rest of this film lumbers along, stopping only to witness grotesque scenes of torture and massacre.
The problem here is that director Gavin Hood (of "Crash" infamy) does not make enough of a commitment to his material for us to care about what he is presenting. The entire film feels like it is shot behind a scrim which keeps us at arms length emotionally and morally. We watch but we don't care.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 20, 2008 2:41 AM PST


Private Fears in Public Places
Private Fears in Public Places
DVD ~ Pierre Arditi
Offered by MightySilver
Price: $16.16
34 used & new from $3.88

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars LoveBound, October 27, 2007
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The Paris of Alain Resnais' "Private Fears in Public Places" ("Coeurs" <"Hearts"> in France) is a cold, heartless place. A place in which people attempt to meet, talk at rather than with each other and try their best to make a real connection but that is not to be as the vagaries of life invariably get in their way.
All of the characters are of middle age: 40-60 years of age. These are people who have achieved a certain amount of success but whose personal lives are as messy as any 20 year olds.
The décor of "PFPP" plays a major role here: all hard, shiny surfaces, bright, fake colors that do not exist in nature...all of these things contribute to the erzatz 1970's feel of Resnais mise en scene: there is no doubt that the sets are indeed sets as Resnais makes no claim to reality here even going to extreme lengths to open up the 3rd wall and film from above.
Laura Morante, eye-poppingly beautiful as Nicole: frustrated with her fiancé, Dan (Lambert Wilson, recently separated from the Army and at odds and ends with what he is going to do for the rest of his life) are the most interesting of all the couples and quasi-couples. Nicole and Dan circle each other only fitfully making anything resembling contact. They dispassionately argue, they fake romance: they are empty vessels and seem happy to remain as such.
"Private Fears in Public Places" is bright and shiny though at times it gets dark particularly when the incessant snowfall gets denser. Resnais is after obfuscation here. He seeks to muddy what we want made clear. His people are symbols, not real, thoughtful human beings: they seek succor and immediate pleasure and enlightenment. What they get is God's hand squashing them like bugs.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 16, 2007 7:38 AM PST


No Title Available

2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Loss, October 20, 2007
Susanne Bier's first American film, "Things We Lost in the Fire" continues her thematic strain of isolation and families in conflict that she started in her Danish films, "Brothers" and the Oscar nominated, "After the Wedding." "TWLITF" stars the enigmatic Benicio Del Toro and the wondrous Halle Berry.
The facility of the Oscar-winning Benecio Del Toro with emotional material, very much in evidence here, is not a surprise. But it is especially satisfying to report that, as widow and mother Audrey Burke, Berry, who has made some unfortunate career choices, does what's easily her best work since winning her Academy Award for 2001's "Monster's Ball."
The tragedy of this film is that Audrey's husband, Brian (David Ducovny) dies and it leaves her and her children at a loss emotionally and psychologically: how will they deal with this? Out of no-where, because up to this point Audrey has avoided contact with him, she invites Brian's friend Jerry Sunborne (Del Toro), her husband's best friend since childhood, who has gone in and out of heroin addiction as long as she's known him, to the funeral.
"I hated you for so many years and now it seems silly," Audrey tells him when he arrives. Deprived of the only person who hadn't given up on him, Jerry is as much at a loss in his life as Audrey is. With nothing in common except the dead man, these two tentatively gravitate toward an emotional détente that might allow each of them to keep living.
Bier's mise en scene is so emotional and so thoughtful and prescient that
Audrey and Jerry's relationship pops with cosmic truth. Here are two people adrift in a morass of guilt, despair and grief which, instead of driving them apart, brings them together despite their reluctance to form a bond with anyone. They both approach their relationship like two sinking ships searching for the lighthouse that will lead them to emotional equilibrium. What they don't know is that this equilibrium lies within themselves first of all and then in their relationship with each other.
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No Title Available

85 of 107 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Bad and the Beautiful, October 12, 2007
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Tony Gilroy has already proven that he can weave/write a great story via his writing for the "Bourne" franchise. And the striking thing about "Michael Clayton" is how Gilroy has written ironic, conflicted, complicated characters that are at once "good" (and in the world that Gilroy has created here...this is in itself a term that is up for interpretation) yet are often bad as in unethical, mean, misanthropic. These characters can and do betray themselves and others: There's no one to truly love or hate, from Sydney Pollack's quietly devious law firm CEO, to Tom Wilkinson's holy madman of an ace courtroom defense attorney, to Tilda Swinton as a tricky senior partner in nice suits that peel off to reveal sweaty armpits and a gift for rationalization. Even our hero, Michael Clayton as portrayed by George Clooney is a loser: a 12 year veteran at his law firm who is utilized as a bag man, a fixer usually dispatched to do what amounts to private eye work.: cleaning up the firm's client messes. Clayton is a failure both professionally and personally: a failure as a father, brother, husband and Clooney strikes just the right notes here as Clayton struggles, fights to regain his dignity both as an officer of the court and more importantly as a father and a human being.
The central plot revolves around a large chemical firm's responsibility for sickness and deaths in a farm community and because Gilroy weaves and bobs among the big ensemble cast and among the various plot points, I was hard pressed to figure out just exactly what was going on for the first half hour. But this is to Gilroy's credit: he refuses to foreshadow or explain thus adding texture and ambiguity to the film.
Moral and social dilemmas multiply as "Michael Clayton" races to its exciting denouement: a denouement that satisfies both emotionally and morally. Yet all is not as it seems here as Gilroy manages to leave a small festering wound of deceit and decay not quite healed: ready to re-open and re-infect itself.
Comment Comments (9) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 23, 2008 9:37 AM PST


Private Property
Private Property
DVD ~  Jérémie Renier and Yannick Renier Isabelle Huppert
Price: $29.95
13 used & new from $2.45

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Desire under the Roof, October 6, 2007
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This review is from: Private Property (DVD)
"Private Property" (Nue propriété ) primly begins with the dedication: "To Our Boundaries," which I assume, after seeing this film, is written tongue-in-cheek for this film smashes any logical/accepted boundaries between a Mother and her sons for starters.
Pascale (a blowsy, de-glamorized Isabelle Huppert) lives with her two sons, Thierry (a mean, feral Jeremie Renier) and Francois (the opposite of Thierry yet in real life the brother of Jeremie, Yannick Renier) in a country home filled with memories of a brutal divorce, the events leading up to the divorce and the detritus of hate, longing and betrayal that a bitter divorce leaves in it's wake. You know the scenario: the sons basically blame Pascale for the divorce and she blames her ex.
Pascale also feels strangled about her lot in life: her boys, really men roughly 23 or so treat her like a maid, mostly spend their days shooting rats on the river bank and only briefly look for work. The house is a heady cauldron of stew boiling over from all the deceit, yearning, sexual impropriety and parental wantonness. In many ways we could be in 1919 New England and watching Eugene O'Neill's "Desire Under the Elms," what with all the heady, musty, suppressed sexuality on view here.
Director Joachim LaFosse has an excellent eye and the film is shot in the muted colors of a Renoir painting which proves to be an alluring counterpoint to the less than glamorous goings on in Chez Pascale.
Isabelle Huppert plays Pascale from the inside: on the one hand concerned, loving, maternal and on the other searching for ways to rid herself of her burdens and escape with her lover. Huppert, never one to shy away from working on screen without makeup when a role calls for it, looks like a 50 year old put upon, used up woman who has but one shred of a hope left in her body and that shred does not include Thierry or Jeremie who have bled her dry with their need for attention and care, demands for love and obnoxious shows of disrespect.
LaFosse and his screenwriter have some interesting things to say here but most have been said before: the perils of divorce, loving your children too much, the necessity of building and more to the point keeping your life though you are married...and so on. What elevates "Private Property" from the turgid melodramas of the `40's ("Mildred Pierce" for example) is the wondrous ensemble acting: the magnificent Huppert and the forceful and always interesting Renier brothers.


No Title Available

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Promises, September 30, 2007
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Viggo Mortensen is at the center of David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises" and as such all the characters and the plot points surround him as a Cobra surrounds it's prey. Far from a victim though Mortensen's Nikolai, a low level Chauffeur for the Russian émigré's closeted homosexual son of clan leader, Armin Mueller-Stahl, played by whacked-out Vincent Chassell, Nikolai is all seeing, all doing: he is an enforcer capable of doing the worse kind of jobs in this world without flinching and in several scenes Cronenberg stretches the bounds of good taste but somehow always manages not to snap them.
Naomi Watts is also on hand here as a Russian/English mid-wife, Anna and she brings empathy and humanity to this world of depravity, lust and violence. She also sees a kindred spirit in Nikolai though on the surface he is anything but.
Mortensen's Nikolai is a superbly complicated character: cynical, intelligent, world-weary and tough enough to stub out a cigarette on his tongue.
The centerpiece of "Eastern Promises" is Nikolai's attack in a steam bath by Chechen/Armani clad hit men bent on killing him. Nikolai is nude, his assailants are not. The scene goes on for a number of minutes and it is both violent and beautiful with Cronenberg's camera flying above capturing all the grandeur of his mise en scene.
The world of "Eastern Promises" is much more complicated than that of "A History of Violence" wherein small town values were contrasted with big city perversities. In "Eastern Promises," Cronenberg is after bigger fish: the natural order of things is questioned, the underworld is brought squealing and squirming into the light.
Cronenberg has a lot on his plate here dealing with not only the disenfranchised natural born English but also those forced into slavery by the Russian mob and brought to England to satisfy the mercurial as well as the sexual needs of a western nation. Angels vs. Devils, Good vs. Evil: it's all here in this elegiac, gorgeously photographed film, Cronenberg's most cogent, most visceral, most rhapsodic.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 30, 2007 7:56 PM PDT


Hairspray (Widescreen Edition)
Hairspray (Widescreen Edition)
DVD ~ John Travolta
Offered by arrow-media
Price: $6.44
287 used & new from $0.01

28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Edna and Tracy, September 25, 2007
Any film that features a touching love scene shot in a Baltimore backyard with laundry hanging on the line (as Moms used to say) between Christopher Walken ( Wilbur Turnblad) and John Travolta (as an almost scary Edna Turnblad) is OK with me. That that scene may also be one of the most romantic scenes of this or any year is crazy on the one hand and perplexing on the other. With that being said, director Adam Shankman has magically turned the stage musical into something that is more full of life, more effervescent than either the play or the John Waters slight, though terrific film of 1988.
Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky who almost makes us forget Rikki Lake from the film) is a Baltimore teenager: chubby of body, colossal of hair and bubbling over with good cheer and ironclad self esteem. The year is 1962 and the signs of change are everywhere Tracy goes foremost of which is the "Corny Collins Show," an American Bandstand-type show which features a "Negro Day" once a month: a situation that Tracy and her friends Penny (Amanda Bynes) and Link (Zac Efron) are desperate to change into an everyday occurrence. Edna, who hasn't left the house since 1951 and therefore very much aware and embarrassed of her size discourages Tracy from auditioning as a dancer for the show but Tracy, to her credit, feels confident enough about her dancing does so anyway and is finally accepted into the Corny Collins fold much to the chagrin of both Velma Von Tussle ( a gorgeous Michelle Pfeiffer) and her daughter Amber (Brittany Snow).
"Hairspray is also very much a capsule of its time and place: pregnant women smoking and drinking martinis, children in cars without seat belts buckled, boys and girls hair greased and sprayed to within an inch of its life (Tracy is accused of having a "hair-don't" at one point) and bigots spouting the kind of gunk that bigots do.
"Hairspray" is ultimately a big, calorie laden birthday cake of a film: you know you shouldn't imbibe but you can't help yourself. But along with the sugar rush of this spectacle there lays some lumps based on reality which point out, not only how much has changed since 1962 but more importantly how much has stayed the same.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 9, 2008 8:23 PM PST


3:10 to Yuma [Theatrical Release]
3:10 to Yuma [Theatrical Release]

34 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good and Evil, September 8, 2007
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The Western film: a truly American invention and in this new millennium a rare commodity. "Unforgiven" comes to mind and that was 10 years or so ago. There are others, of course but they are few and far between. There are Westerns that glamorize the Old West: "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" and those that don't: "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance."
"3:10 to Yuma" is somewhere in between the two mentioned above and it is about the eternal struggle between good and evil, between the have and the have nots, between those that would uphold the family and those that would demolish it and those who would preserve the peace and those that would let chaos rule.
James Mangold ("I Walked the Line") has chosen to remake, revise, re-invent the 1957 Glenn Ford starring "3:10 to Yuma" with a sterling cast of Russell Crowe (as outlaw, train robber, Ben Wade), Christian Bale (erstwhile Batman as Dan Evans: everyman, ranch owner-going broke) whose life is turned upside down when he accidentally comes in contact with Wade while Wade is in the process of robbing a Pinkerton protected stage of all of it's loot.
Crowe dominates the screen as Wade. His Wade is mercurial, slimy, sexy, brutal...seemingly willing to do anything for the thrill of stealing and killing. Crowe plays Wade quietly even sympathetically but always in control even when he physically isn't. Crowe dominates, both physically and cosmically, every scene that he is in: he sucks the oxygen out of a room upon entering and, in the one sex scene of the film, his "prey" has no choice, nor does she struggle by the way, but to comply with his wishes. In fact, she wants it as much as he does.
Bale's Evans is downtrodden, desperate as well as desperately poor. He is days away from losing his farm and more importantly losing the respect of his family: the more important of the two in the world of "3:10." For in this world you are nothing without family and property and less than nothing if you lose it.
On many levels Wade and Evans connect: they look at each other and their expressive eyes tell us something akin to "there but for the grace of God go I." But way down deep inside each man, inside their cores, they are brothers who have merely taken different roads.
There is lots of violence, murder and even a little sex in "3:10" and perhaps it is even a bit long by 20 minutes but ultimately Mangold pulls all the various pieces together into a cohesive whole. But the real magic of this film comes from the premiere acting jobs of Russell Crowe, Christian Bale and a terrific Ben Foster ("6 Feet Under") as Charles Prince: a grotesque killing machine, more "Mad Max" than Jesse James who, against all odds plots to save Wade from destruction.
Comment Comments (14) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 27, 2008 8:50 AM PST


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