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

Burn After Reading [2008)

This film just goes to show that intelligence work might best be described in the terms of humor.

A very dark humor.

Half of U.S. intelligence agencies fall under the purview of the Department of Defense:

-Twenty-Fifth Air Force (25 AF) [Air Force intelligence]

-Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) [Army intelligence]

-Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI)

-Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA)

-Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)

-National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)

-National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)

and

-National Security Agency (NSA)/Central Security Service (CSS)

Then there are those executive departments which oversee two intel services apiece:

-Department of Homeland Security (Coast Guard Intelligence [CGI] and Office of Intelligence and Analysis [I&A])

and

-Department of Justice (Intelligence Branch [IB] of the Federal Bureau of Investigations [FBI] and Office of National Security Intelligence of the Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA])

In addition to these 12 agencies, there are four “peacocks”:

-Central Intelligence Agency (CIA [an independent entity])

-Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence (OICI [of the Department of Energy])

-Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR [of the Department of State])

and finally George Clooney’s armory in Burn After Reading:

-Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI) [of the Department of Treasury]).

But we must remember that the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) was, until 2003, also part of the Department of Treasury.  Clooney’s character Harry Pfarrar speaks of his previous work protecting diplomats as a “PP”.  Personal protection?  Personnel protection?

Nevertheless, we learn something of which even the other D.C. “natives” in our film seem unaware:  that certain Treasury Department employees carry guns.

This, of course, ends up being a big detail in Burn After Reading.

And so the main thing is to understand the CIA analyst played adeptly here by John Malkovich.

The Balkans Desk.

-Joint Base San Antonio, Texas

-Fort Belvoir, Virginia

-Suitland, Maryland

-Suitland, Maryland?  Or Quantico, Virginia?

-Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C.

-Fort Belvoir, Virginia

-Chantilly Lace and a Pretty Face, Virginia (oh baby that’s 9/11!)

-and Fort Meade, Maryland

[continuing]

-Anacostia? [D.C.]

-DHS Nebraska Avenue Complex, Washington, D.C.

-J. Edgar Hoover Building [D.C.]

-Arlington County, Virginia? [DEA]

-Langley, Virginia

-James V. Forrestal Building (D.C.) [DoE]

-Foggy Bottom (Harry S. Truman Building) [D.C.]

and

-1500 [sic] Pennsylvania Avenue (USA)

All of this is to say that Osbourne Cox (Malkovich) is “a damned good analyst”.

But forget the “PP”.

Georege Clooney is a U.S. Marshal.  And thus under the Department of Justice umbrella.

Right?

All of this makes me sympathize with the witless Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt).

But the funniest part is the repartee between David Rasche and J.K. Simmons over at Langley.

The implication is that a couple of athletic trainers and an alcoholic former analyst (plus a U.S. Marshal) have spun a web of inexplicable disaster even more boneheaded than the Bay of Pigs invasion.

And so it is priceless to hear these two gentlemen speak in tones of which Leo G. Carroll would no doubt have approved.

“We do nothing.”

When in doubt.

Ah, but Zugzwang?

Nein.

Nichts.

Nothing is scarier than a know-nothing.

Completely transparent.

Like water.

The most terrifying mask.

Princeton pulls the trigger in full-on mental illness.

And with a healthy buzz.

Maybe a bathrobe.

Can’t recall.

But felt very Harry Nilsson (if not Brian Wilson) sartorially speaking.

But the best thing is the CIA in the plastic surgery/philanthropy business.

Slushing the funds.  A little churn.

If only.

The absurdity of it all (for the CIA) most accurately can be explained by the Situationism of Guy Debord.

Like snowflakes.  Overlaid onto life views courtesy NRO.

Photo interpretation.

NGA.  Or even an NGO.

Who knows?

Clap on, clap off, the Clapper.  X X

 

-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

خمس كاميرات محطمة‎ [2011)

[5 BROKEN CAMERAS (2011)]

Israel is the most shameful country on Earth.

But America is not far behind.

Israeli soldiers are cowardly, repugnant beasts.

With their high-tech weapons.

It is the same for America.

The Jews of Israel who occupy the Palestinian West Bank are disgusting semblances of human life.

They need their walls.

They need to steal land.

Oh, sounds very progressive for the cause of Zion.

So very brave that these automata in their yarmulkes move in to the olive fields of Arabs.

They set the olive trees on fire.

That sounds like an outrageous claim.

But it is nothing compared to kidnapping children.

The Israeli military kidnaps children in West Bank villages.

Why?

To try and terrorize these subsistence farmers into ceasing their protests.

And why are these farmers from small villages protesting?

Because their land is being gobbled up little by little.

“Hey, I was using that land…by the way.”

Picking olives.

So the Israeli Humvees roll in at night.

Spielberg’s pathetic imagination could never conjure what documentary filmmaker Emad Burnat captured on film.

Israelis should be puking in the streets and smearing themselves with their own shit…in shame for what their military does in their name.

And America is not far behind.

Israeli soldiers with weak faces knocking on the doors in a West Bank village.

If there are children inside, the children are taken.

It is shock and awe…Stockholm syndrome…terroristic tactics of which Goebbels would have approved.

The weak Jews who move into settlements (concrete apartment blocks) on stolen land.

All they can yell is, “I’ll sue you.  I’ll sue you.”

How dare you film me as I move into my new patriotic Israeli home?

How dare you film the scramble of settlers eager to establish false legitimacy?

What kind sick people allow their military to shoot at children?

In this film.

Never a single gun among the Palestinians.

The only rocks they throw are when the Israeli stormtroopers roll through their village in an arrogant convoy.

But the children who are shot…

The incessant tear gas…

The stun grenades thrown at people…

These every day occurrences…rather, every Friday.

The villagers of Bil’in protesting a wall.

A nonviolent protest.

And every time (every fucking time) the Israelis disperse the crowd by means of violence.

People die.

People holding nothing but Palestinian flags.

Unarmed.

In the middle of fucking nowhere.

But it’s THEIR nowhere!

It’s where the olives grow.

“Hey…your wall has cut us off from the trees.  Our trees are now on your side of the wall.”

This film, 5 Broken Cameras, shows the struggle of a filmmaker who suffered more in making this film over five years than Jean-Luc Godard suffered making films over a lifetime.

And yet, Godard is the best of the Westerners.

The only one with a conscience.

He was in Palestine in the 70s.

No other filmmaker comes close to the integrity of Godard.

Except for Emad “The Real Deal” Burnat.

Immense credit is due to the Israelis who joined the struggle with their Palestinian brothers and sisters.

Co-director Guy Davidi was one.

Immense credit is due to Kino Lorber for releasing this film.

Immense credit is due to Hulu for currently streaming this film.

Last I checked, it was also available on Apple iTunes.  Great work, Apple!

Emad Burnat threatens to unseat Abbas Kiarostami as the most relevant Middle Eastern director.

Emad Burnat lays his cards on the table in a metaphorical game of poker with Abdellatif Kechiche.

There are real tears to be cried, do you understand?

I like a good lesbian fuckfest as much as the next bloke, but these are real tears, do you understand, Adèle Exarchopoulos?

We want to see beauty.  We want to see stories which mirror our pathetic little lives.

But 5 Broken Cameras shows you hell on Earth.

Palestine.

Norman Finkelstein is a two-face Janus (which is to say, a Janus).

And so am I.

But I am so out of fear.

I am human.

[Finkelstein attacked BDS for not boycotting 5 Broken Cameras.  That’s an intel op move.  Princeton.  Princeton.]

If you’re not afraid to post something, then it’s probably not important.

 

-PD