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 “Cooper’s Dreams” [1990)

Television doesn’t get any better than this.

We all want to be Sherlock Holmes.

We all want to be James Bond.

The analytical in the United States might gravitate towards the FBI.

And the adventurous towards the CIA.

And why would a director of the stature of David Lynch (a true auteur) ever lower himself to doing TV?

Money.

The film studios won’t support a crackpot genius.

Because his whims will be their asses (come annual board meeting time).

And so film’s loss is TV’s gain.

Television is the most disposable medium of all.

It’s like air.  Constantly flowing.  Into every stop on this highline hell.

There are precedents.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents is the direct ancestor.

But the greatest film of all time was made for TV.

And so we must give credit to Canal+, France 3, the late La Sept, and the late Télévision Suisse Romande.  You see what supporting genius gets you.  You might just cease to exist!

But La Sept and Télévision Suisse Romande never did anything more important and timeless than supporting Histoire(s) du cinema.

Perhaps we could count Gaumont as a television player (they deserve thanks regardless).

Likewise, there was the French CNC.

What the fuck does any of this have to do with Twin Peaks?

It’s the red drapes.  The big rig.  The details.

The myna bird.  The poker chip.  The cuckoo clock.

Birds in general.

[meant in all possible ways]

Two eyelids?  Per side?  Red light was my baby?  Blue light was my mind?

BBC 1?  BBC 2?

Television can’t possibly get any better than this.

Episode 5.  Season 1.

We talk about David Lynch.

And we should.

He’s the big gun.

But we don’t mention Mark Frost.

Genius needs organization.

Who’s who?

And who reeled it in (fishy coffee)?

A:  Lesli Linka Glatter.

Director.

We’re all Icelanders.

“Ich bin ein Berliner.”  [with Addison’s disease]

And just as he reaches for the jelly donut (lots of donuts [my favorite])…no, a strudel.  No.  A sort of maple syrup concoction.  Brisk?  Bisque?  Bris?

Long John!  [I was way off]

Just as he reaches…no-look…opening the cabinet…a little secret altar…all with secret places…false bottoms (and real fronts).-

We see the joy of mental activity.

Of solving a puzzle.

Of feeling the brain cells (all two in my case) rub up against one another.

Many problems we have.

This would be a good point to end.  Poorly.

Ms. Glatter’s fine direction brings authorship (in the auteurist sense) into question.

Was Lynch too busy?

Was he deemed unqualified for network work?  Work.

I can’t answer all that.

Not right now.

Gather and interpret.

Orlando looks as fake as a three-dollar bill.

reality erupts within the spectacle

“and the spectacle is real”

There’s more than one way to pretend to skin a cat.

And the same venal studio system.  The same generally repugnant mass media.

Which pipes digital air (pollution) into your home.

Only needs to be controlled at the choke points.

Yale.  Princeton.  You know.

Like the Strait of Malacca.

 

-PD

Spies, Lies & Naked Thighs [1988)

“Made-for-TV movie” used to have such a cheap ring to it and this flick would be defying the odds to have aged well, but it is surprisingly charming in a Night Court/Roxanne sort of way.  Often on my site I take the opportunity to wax geopolitical under the pretext of reviewing a rather vapid film.  I think, for once, I’m going to stick to the basics.  There are just too many endearing qualities about this bastard film for me to dissect the gross ethno-cultural generalizations at any great length.

I was reminded recently about Airplane! (1980).  Indeed, I picked the wrong week to quit tobacco.  So, sometimes we have to revel in the yucks and let some water go under the bridge (or some such hackneyed expression).

This movie depicts Arabs as blood-thirsty caricatures, but if you haven’t figured out that the Charlie Hebdo attack was a false flag by now…you’re never gonna get it.  If you didn’t look up Operation Gladio the last time I mentioned it, then you probably just don’t give a fuck about the truth.

Ah, touchy touchy…  Yes, I’m tired of the 24/7 propaganda of Fox News.  Same goes for MSNBC, CNN, all of them.  All crap.  The only, ONLY person I saw get it right and write an elegant article about it was Paul Craig Roberts.  It was a featured story at infowars.com.  It should be cached there.  If you want to know the truth about the recent wave of fake terror, look there.  HOWEVER, I must say that the quickest to call BS were Wayne Madsen and Webster Tarpley.  Madsen’s pithy comments are usually right on the money.  He can be found at waynemadsenreport.com.  Tarpley is at tarpley.net.

Ok, now we’ve really deviated from film review.  Wow.  See, that exercise in not caring did not work.  Sorry guys.  I care.

So, basically two Arabs in this film draw their short swords (gladio, anyone?) at the very beginning of this film during an argument on the floor of the UN General Assembly.  Actually, it is a very cheap made-for-TV rendering, but that is ostensibly what we are to be looking at.  And so they insult one another and act like animals (comical, of course) and one infers that the other is involved in bestiality with his camel.  Ah, another time…  It’s almost like rewatching 48 Hours.  Some of that humor is just TOO RAW now.

But anyway, blah blah…a generic Asian character is cinematically accused of eating dog.  You know, those sort of ethnic stereotypes from this chestnut:  1988.

But…BUT…it IS a charming movie.  If you can get past all that other stuff as the world is being manipulated into further war through Islamo-Gladio, then there is much to like about this little classic with Harry Anderson from Night Court and Ed Begley Jr. from Spinal Tap (ha!).  Linda Purl is actually pretty darn good in this.  Same for Wendy Crewson.  Hey, director James Frawley obviously didn’t have a big budget here…and so this is a nice little homage to the Pink Panther series and other spy spoofs.  Oh, pro tip:  my “espionage” category is all spy spoofs…so far!  Might have to keep you people on your toes.  Ah, but it’s not like anyone is actually reading this.  So to the bought-and-paid-for enemies of humanity (the intel agency assassins/military special ops) who continue to turn bloody trick after trick like the prostitutes you know you are:  fuck you.

-PD