Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story [2003)

Happy Birthday to Thora Birch, my favorite actress of all time!

Yes, I know…I know.

A film critic whose favorite actress is a young 35-year-old whipper snapper???

Yes.

That’s alright.

Laugh at me.

If the question was, “Who was your favorite classic Hollywood actress?,” then I would answer, “Lauren Bacall”.

But I said favorite actress of all time.

You can search my “Thora” category here on my site for why exactly this actress is my favorite.

Because otherwise, we’re going to be here all day.

And I have a movie to review!

One of my favorites:  Homeless to Harvard.

It is, indeed …The Liz Murray Story, but I will be using the shortened title hereafter for brevity’s sake.

It is my contention (and I have made the point elsewhere…probably on this very site of mine) that Thora Birch produced a trilogy of acting performances which are more-or-less analogous to Bob Dylan’s classic trilogy.

Let’s start with Dylan.

The three (at unity from a similarity of intense expression):

Bringing It All Back Home

Highway 61 Revisited 

and

Blonde on Blonde

And now the Thora films which correspond in my mind:

American Beauty

Ghost World

and

Homeless to Harvard

Sure…Birch didn’t direct these films.

But her acting is so strong, she might as well have.

By this point she was no longer a prodigy.

She was a mature actress.  A master of her craft.

And the story here is one to really sink teeth in.

[In which.]

We recently touched on homelessness here in the review of Alicia Vikander’s stellar turn as Katarina from Till det som är vackert.

Pure.

But the esthetics of Homeless to Harvard are different.

This isn’t European arthouse.  It’s a Lifetime made-for-TV film.

But don’t go running anywhere!!!

This is as gritty as any Lou Reed tale.

And it’s all real.

Too pure.

Heroin addict parents.

Mother schizophrenic.

Blindness.

Genetic.

Mother with HIV.

Father with AIDS.

Vice versa ice Ursa.

Father in homeless shelter.

Mother wielding knife.  Vomiting.

Alcoholism.

Really appealing, eh?

But you gotta stick with it.

This isn’t Darren Aronofsky mise-en-scène.

It’t not, “Let’s win an award at Sundance.”  Or, “Let’s sweep at Cannes.”

It’s more like one of Aesop’s fables.

It’s the message, man!

And so first, let’s honor the director.

Peter Levin.

Who knew a television film could be so artful?

Well, when you combine the history of Histoire(s) du cinéma with the precedent of Twin Peaks, you should know by now that television can produce good stuff.

Hell…

Your TV can even WATCH YOU! (as per WikiLeaks Vault7).

But I digress…

The weeper (no masonry) sob story…had me crying in my Junior Mints…we must attribute to the excellent writing of Ronni Kern.

Who the hell is Ronni Kern?!?

Male?  Female?

I’ve had less trouble finding the gender of completely unknown foreign movie people.

But Kern is pretty invisible on the Internet.

And maybe there’s a point here.

  1.  It doesn’t fucking matter.
  2. You should judge someone on their work, not their gender.

Hopefully Ms. Birch will appreciate this flash of liberalism should she read this review.

[I’m not holding my breath]

But we have just celebrated International Women’s Day.

And the fact that Birch’s character here is a “feminist” is a running pseudo-joke.

Which brings us to the performances.

Michael Riley is stellar, stellar (I know…) as Liz’s father Peter.

Kudos to the styling department.

That beard.  And that hair!

Crazy, man, crazy!!

But Riley’s performance is really special.

It touched my heart.

Long ago.

When I first saw this film.

And dare I say, this movie made me appreciate my own family.

It made me miss my folks.

And so I salute Peter Riley and Lifetime and all involved for that effect on my heart.

Jennifer Pisana is really fabulous as the young Liz Murray here.

It’s an unenviable task.

To precede Thora Birch’s entrance.

But Pisana is indispensable to this little masterpiece.

Those sweaters.

And the full pronunciations…”Mommy”…”Daddy”…

Ms. Pisana affects the necessary naïveté to be juxtaposed against the sad schizophrenia of Kelly Lynch (who plays Liz’s mom).

And Lynch is great.

Think Cries and Whispers.

[cris et chuchotements…(( (( ((…et chuchotements]

Robert Bockstael does a fine job as Liz’s teacher David.

Very convincing.  Excellent craftsmanship.

Makyla Smith is piquant in her depiction of Liz’s best friend Chris.

[God…the Magic Marker…and the pine box…fuuuuuuck]

Yes, friends…this is Lifetime Television.

So the brisure (bonjour, monsieur Derrida) is “crap”.

“Crap happens.”

Whoa…watch thy mouth, Kelly Lynch!

So again…Peter Levin does a fantastic job shoehorning a true X-file into PG territory.

We see a syringe here and there.  A tourniquet.

Riley cleaning a spoon.

But the real heartbreak is Wheat Chex with tap water.

Yeah…

Hello Gummo.

Ellen Page has a small role here.

And she’s good.

Fine actress.

But we’ve been waiting to roll out the big gun.

Thora Birch.

On this, her birthday, I am only just now getting towards a handful of reviews honoring her unique thespian gift.

What to say?

That every look is magic?

That every glance is gold?

That she has crafted her microexpressions in solitude…and wielded them like an Arthurian sword for the duration of this flick?

Yes, yes, and yes.

[and an Oxford comma]

Because kids take it for granted.

Rich kids.

Harvard.

Penn.

Princeton.

Maybe…

But even more so the lesser ivied walls.

I won’t name names.

But the spoiled kids.

Not turning in homework.

Bragging about shortcuts.

Those, ultimately, will be life’s losers.

But Liz Murray worked her butt off to get into Harvard.

From sleeping on the B Train.

Four years of high school in two.

And Thora Birch has worked her butt off too.

She hasn’t gotten the roles her talent deserves.

But the roles she has gotten, she has largely smashed out of the park.

Like the Babe Ruth of leading ladies.

And so there are other actresses I admire.

But Thora Birch was the first.

The first to give me that magical feeling which only Neil Young has adequately described:

“I fell in love with the actress/She was playin’ a part that I could understand”.

Happy Birthday, Thora Birch!

And may all your days and films be filled with the joy which you have put into the world through your cinematic brilliance.

-PD

Casino Royale [2006)

This is the best Bond film.  As of 2006.  On my site, you will find reviews of the 20 preceding Bond movies.  The reviews were not written to lead up to this conclusion.  They were written to assess the series as a whole.  While I realize that said series has continued since 2006, I will address that extended life at a later time.  My previous reviews slowly culled the catalog down to three (and now four) films of unmatched greatness (in terms of this series):  The Man with the Golden Gun, A View to a Kill, License to Kill, and now the one which far exceeds even those three::  Casino Royale.

Why?  Because…Martin Campbell.  His effort on GoldenEye was just that…a good try.  His work here is timeless:  an auteur.

Why?  Because…the first time Bond and Vesper Lynd meet.  The best dialog in the entire history of Bond films.

Because…Eva Green is the most beautiful Bond girl in 44 years (which is to say, as of 2006, ever).

Because Bond falls in love…really.  Like no time since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

That speaks to the feminine ideal of Eva Green.

But let us delve deeper…into why “the bitch is dead”…

Yes, those are the words.

It is one of those rare times when I can refer back to the book with knowing alacrity.

By George W. Bush’s second term in office, the bitch was beginning to die.  The bitch in question?  Propaganda.

People are becoming too informed.

And so a film such as this only gains credibility by mentioning the 9/11 put options.

http://www.globalresearch.ca/9-11-attacks-criminal-foreknowledge-and-insider-trading-lead-directly-to-the-cia-s-highest-ranks/32323

Sure, there is propaganda…such as the child soldiers in Uganda, but it is tentative.  The sweeping generalizations of past Bond films had mercifully vanished.

Sure, there’s a lot of pish about terrorism, but it is at least somewhat tempered by reality.

This is all the nations of the world are asking of intelligence agencies as their first order of business:  just admit that you are a bunch of fucking scumbag assholes.

And so:  a concept even Donald Rumsfeld could probably appreciate.

A little concoction of my own:  may it live long and serve humanity as a judo virus.

To wit:  there is good evil and evil evil.

Even Dostoyevsky might get a kick out of this game.

Don’t get me wrong:  I am not playing your garden variety of “the end justifies the means”…

No, no…far from it.

With Daniel Craig’s first Bond appearance we see the most brilliant portrayal of good evil.

Evil is active.  Good is passive.

If my entire mission was to confuse you, I would do well to mention such in the course of my exegesis.

The drone strikes are extrajudicial.  Good evil is extra-Jesus.

Ah, my Venetian history crumbles into the canal.  Dear Henry VIII…

Let me pull myself from the stake…like John of Arc.

The first code is ELLIPSIS.  It is the fire in the guts of Louis-Ferdinand Céline…the splitting of the literary atom.  Professor Y.

Good evil.

Fortunately there is no sportscaster to reveal just how ludicrous the plot devolution is…a Texas hold ’em tournament in Montenegro.

No.  It had to be, Beethoven.  No one plays baccarat anymore.  We need to put asses in seats.

Sure, it becomes complex.  Mathis is tased.  Bond is dazed.  Even perfect films have bad cuts…perhaps this game is making you perspire?

I noticed you changed your shirt…

They finally got it right.  Just the right combination of Titanic (1997) and Lars von Trier.

Good enough for a blockbuster.  It would never hold water at the arthouse.

And Martin Campbell’s great contribution?  Restraint.  Knowing when to yell “cut!”///

-PD

Bande a part [1964)

I need a word.  Just a word.  A word.  To start it off.  Nothing fits.  Frustration?  Yes, perhaps.  Ferment?  That might work even better.  It is a feeling.  I search for it on the Internet.  I cast my net to the blog sea.  Ahh, Valentine’s Day…  Yesterday.  How I wanted to write, yet I abstained.  Abstinence.  Discipline.  Youthful anarchy.

I needed a word.  As so I sought.  Abandoned, abandonment, abstract expressionism.  No.  Alex Chilton, Anna Karina.  Yes.  After two films she was back.  Here.  Anne Wiazemsky?  No.  We will wait for her at the Tout va bien café.

Art house, arthouse, Astruc?  Yes. Alexandre. camérastylo.  A free-flowing style.  Freewheeling.  Big Star, Bilinda Butcher?  Yes.  Feed me with your kiss.  Do you know how to kiss?  With the tongue?  That’s correct.  You stick your tongue out and I will kiss you on the cheek.

So I found my word?  No.  I found Bob Dylan, Boise, bored to tears.  A phrase.  Bresson.  Wiazemsky.  No, not yet.  But, pickpocket.  Yes.  Money.  A big stack of money!

Broken heart.  Ok, now we are getting somewhere.  And how does a heart break?  Neil?  Love.  CSS.  No, not the computer language.  Language?  We are barely passing English class.  Romeo and Juliet.  Verona.  Valentine’s.  The world’s shittiest Starbucks.  Right by my house.  Trust me.  I’ve been to Starbucks in middle-of-nowhere Arizona…in a fucking Albertson’s.  No, Target.  Maybe Wal-Mart.  No more depressing than the one by my house.  Sure, the buck-toothed high school senior was not much on the eye candy scale, but I am living in the same wasteland.  Neu Mexique.  The place where they tested the bombs.  Long ago.  Trinity.  I have become the destroyer of worlds.

No, the other CSS.  Tired of being sexy.  That one.  And Cary Grant.  Yes, my jacket’s at the dry cleaner…and I don’t have any money…so I won’t take off my coat.  Tou bi or not tou bi contre votre poitrine:  dat iz ze question.  Something like that.  Claude Brasseur.  What a brute!  What a fucking asshole!! !

Chris Bell.  The singer.  The white one.  Yeah.  Dead.  No.  Cinémathèque Française.  O-kay!  Now we are getting somewhere.  But I keep searching.  The English classes are not enough.  Maybe the Chinese will prevail.  Sami Frey is betting Chinese:  5-2.

Cocteau.  Yeah.  We’ll sit in the car and listen to the radio.  No, I’m not allowed to do things like that.  Hey, how old are you anyway!?!  Conlon Nancarrow?  Yes.  And the last time Michel Legrand on the big screen [English broken].

When it should be sad, the jazz kicks up impossibly happy.  Happily.  Hereusement?  I don’t know.  I am on the other side of the pond.

Crying.  Depressed, depression, depress-o-rama.  And then she feeds a tiger.

Doldrums.  No.  The other ones.  Not the horse latitudes.  Ennui.  Yes. She is bored, but she doesn’t know she’s bored…until she’s not bored anymore.  Euros Childs.  No.  Completely inappropriate.

Farfisa.  Maybe.  Pasolini.  Frankenstein.  Rasputin.  Claude Brasseur.  What’s your family name, Arthur?  Rimbaud, like my father.  But he’s dead.  As I pump a bull’s eye into the midway target.  Can I keep my chart?  [Crumples and throws away.]

Leave no traces.  Like the Situationists.  No more poetry.  Arthur Craven.  Shitty family.  It’s no joke.  We need that money.  I was in Indochina.  Don’t fuck with me.  Like Raoul Coutard.

Back to black and white.  Truly a film noir. Série noire .  Gallimard.  Says so at the end.  Dolores Hitchens.

Forlorn.  Ooh!  That’s a good one!  Any catch?  French cinema.  French film?  Harmony Korine.  No.  Later, later.

Henri Langlois.  Yes.  Now we’re back on track.  A name.  We needed a name.  Like Tarantino.  His production company.  Like the car scene with Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson.  Same thing.  They’re talking about nothing.  But they are incredibly rude.  Crude.  Blow a fucker’s brains out.  2.0

But the travesty is that Godard is forgotten in France.  ;that Quentin is cooler than Jean-Luc.  Quel dommage.

Howard Hawks.  To Jean-Luc.  And then who?  David Lynch?  Not very often.  Too many misses.  Same with Harmony Korine.  But those two are as good as it gets now.

Balls.  Giant figurative testicles.  The Madison.  Joseph Beuys balls.  Wolves and coyotes and felt and fat and goldleaf.  Heathen child youthful anarchy.  La Düsseldorf.  Klaus Dinger?  Motorik.

Driving like madmen.  Park on the curb…like Billy the Kid.  Drive on the sidewalk.  The Simca.  Do wheelies…no, donuts.  The mud.  The giant spools for wire.  Tightrope.

Lovelorn.  Ooh!  Nice!!  Lovesick.  Mauricio Kagel.  Yeah, now we’re getting somewhere.  Because, obviously, there’s a smokin’ hot girl out there in blog land into Mauricio Kagel.  Good strategy.

We are Sami Frey, here at Dossier du cinema.  We are Anna Karina.  We are schmucks.  We haven’t learned yet to embrace our inner Claude Brasseurs.

How ’bout that chick?  Yeah, like her!  Except……………….monotony.  Morose?  Yeah, book it!  Nerval.  Hanging from the streetlamp.  Certainly.  Ophüls?  Nothin’.

Psychogeography.  Clichy.  The Louvre in 9:43…surpassing Jimmy Johnson of San Francisco.

AND THE SUBWAY SCENE!!!

Regret, rejection?  Yes.  Print it.  The man sleeping on the sidewalk.  Teddy bear or TNT.  Richard Hell or Richard Lloyd.  Routine.  Buy groceries.  Aunt Victoria.  Like the Queen.  And a big pile of money upstairs with the door unlocked and just a jacket draped over it.  200 million francs perhaps.  In 10,000 franc notes.

Silver screen.  It has to be silver, you fucks!  Spider Man does not qualify.  It has to be Louis Feuillade.  Jurassic Park does not cut it.  Did you see her thighs?  So white.  Black stockings over your heads.  Undo the garters.  It’s like Le Petit soldat all over again, but this time the terrorists are up and walking around.  That’s what terrorists do.  They terrify.  Burglers burgle.  Etc.  No torture…handcuffed to the robinet.

I don’t have time for this shit.  Shortcut.  Dying.  “Cheat death on the other side.”  J. Spaceman.

Someone to be nice to me for like five minutes and then I’ll leave you alone.  This was Jean-Luc “Cinema” Godard on fire.

-PD