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

Twin Peaks “Coma” [1990)

And here the trail goes cold…

I’m not at liberty to reveal the nature of my work.

Space gibberish. [do͞owäp]

Creamed corn.

The owls are not what they seem.

Cooper Cooper Cooper.

Pentagon.

Deliver the message.

No more notes.

Do not underestimate the importance of doo-wop as a key to understanding David Lynch.

Jimmy Wales vs. Jeff Bezos.

The Pepsi-Coke challenge in Palestine.

Charlie Hebdo…back when it was a newspaper…and not a (false flag).

Indefinite article followed by différance.

brisure

It was Wayne Coyne sung,

“Forcing it off with their hands
The trap door came undone
Above our heads it swung
The privilege had been won”

A spoonful weighs a ton iS tHE nAME oF tHE sONG.

Softly, the bullet went in.

Because it was fictional.

sangre azul

I figured must be freckled.

Veins of copper.

And the Basque mystery.

“The owls are not what they seem”

NYPVTT

It is the ongoing conversation between military rationality.

And the pluri-dimensional eccentrics of Marabar Caves.

Austin Lynch in microcosm.

Anton Yelchin, dead.

Amjad Sabri, dead.

Spectre [2015)

There’s a moment in this film when a character says “shoot” instead of “shit”.  It is the linchpin of the film.  What follows is the strangest cut in James Bond history since Roger Moore abruptly went gaucho in Moonraker.  But what we cut to is perhaps the first truly vicious, self-inflicted attack of self-parody the James Bond franchise has ever experienced.  Yes, self-parody.  Vicious.  Like a postmodern vomit of confetti.  This whole film.  But mainly starting at the amorous activities which follow the word “shoot”.

Derrida would find his hinge for deconstruction at “shoot”.  As if the film could not bear one more mild expletive and still retain its PG-13 rating.

But let’s dig a little deeper.

A series notorious for running low on creativity must have been thrilled to have the intellectual property rights to S.P.E.C.T.R.E. following the death of Kevin McClory.  It was not just the death of McClory which allowed the franchise to resurrect its proto-NWO, but also the acquisition by MGM and Danjac LLC of McClory’s estate in late 2013.

And so things must have looked rosy for Eon Productions.

Sadly, they made a few blunders.

Those blunders became the ramshackle, mutilated would-be masterpiece Spectre.

And so just what were these mistakes?

My guess is that many of them occurred behind closed doors.

There are moments in this film at which a film school freshman could have done a better job reeling in the mise-en-scène than did Sam Mendes.  But there’s a problem with that equation.  Sam Mendes is not that bad a director.  NO ONE wielding a nine-figure budget is that bad a director.  And so chalk another crappy movie up to the real villains:  MGM and Colombia Pictures.  Credit Eon Productions likewise with rubberstamping this high-school-science-fair of a picture.

But we can’t let Mendes off that easily.  I hope it was a good payday (again) Sam, because this film is generally a piece of shit.

HOWEVER…there are moments of what could have been.  If the executives had kept their noses (and asses) out of the production process, this could have been a homerun.

Christopher Waltz is good when approached with Hitchcockean framing.  As a silhouette.  You can feel Mendes reaching for Mulholland Dr.  But as per the Sony hacks, eventually you have to show the guy (or do you?).  Suffice it to say that Mr. Waltz is the least-scary Bond villain ever and barely more creepy than Jar Jar Binks.

And so it becomes obvious that cost cutting has its downside.  Who was the other bloke they were going to get for the villain?  Who cares.  Waltz sucks royally.  And yet, he is more competent as an actor than the film is solid in structural integrity.

As a whole, Spectre is a disaster which should never have made it out the door of the dream factory.  Anyone with an artistic bone in their body could have “fixed” this film.  Mendes was apparently not allowed to actually direct.

Fix number one would have been cutting an hour’s worth of superfluous meh.  I mean, really godawful, expensive, explosive meh.  Jesus…this film didn’t need to try and compete with Spiderman or whatever the superhero flavor of the week is.

The writers (God, the writers…) of this film are not worth their weight in rancid butter.  I heard rumors that the dialogue was bad.  Truth is, it is dry-heave bad…but mainly near the end of the film (the last quarter).

Next time, spend $200 mil. on a single, competent writer (Pynchon perhaps) and <$1 mil. on stunts and CGI.  This film experiences a leveraged shite effect throughout.  Oh, by the way…the opening scene in Mexico City is probably the weakest part of the film.  I would rather see Daniel Craig take a moist crap on a silver platter.

But let’s be fair…

This film tried.  It had grand aspirations.  SPECTRE…yes, bringing it all back home.  Establishing credibility from New World Order to Snowden.  Awesome.  Well-done in that regard.

As for the execution…for fuck’s sake.

I’d rather have a clumsily-performed lobotomy than watch this film again any time soon.

The biggest upside of the film is Léa Seydoux.  Ok, so casting got one thing right.  It almost makes up for Christopher “The Last” Waltz.

There are very important themes addressed in this film.  This could have been a light for liberty.  Someone sabotaged it.  Find that corporate person and you have found the real head of the real SPECTRE.

-PD