and sometimes poetry


Anonymous (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

I don’t want to go into why Anonymous might be “bad;”

Its badness relative to its goodness discomfits me less than the coming onslaught of semester’s end;

The blizzard of Anonymous’s plots twists is of no interest;

Nor the ways in which narrative itself becomes lost in a white rush it both makes and is made from, stumbling through deep banks of its own inconsistencies;

Ill-timed and unmarked flashbacks;

Triple helpings of indistinguishable characters bearing the title “Earl;”

I don’t care that Anonymous stirred the tepid soup of its political intrigue with a splinter of moldy spoon;

That moments of drama sputtered up like stray sexual urges from Maggie Smith’s wrinkly loins; that its themes received more serious treatment in the Elizabeth movies, or Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet; nothing perturbs me about Anonymous because people spoke in complete sentences in it;

And some of those sentences were Shakespeare’s;

And the actor playing Shakespeare—

The fake one, the one actually named Shakespeare, not the writer, the actor, which Shakespeare also was, until he became a writer, which he doesn’t in this movie, because he can’t, because Shakespeare is the name of a nobleman, who is actually Shakespeare, though somehow Queen Elizabeth declares that “history will never know his name,” which, how is that possible, the point is it’s not! Complete sentences are the point—

Is a fine actor, and the name “Ben Jonson” is uttered at least 100x, and when was the last time a Cavalier Poet made it into a movie, huh Leidner?


Anonymous (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

As Anonymous wore on, I wondered if I would remember the world when I reentered it again.

Seven years passed while watching it. I hobbled out of the theater feeling as if I’d been paroled in the waning years of a sentence whose heinous crime I could no longer remember, but had surely committed.

I scratched my beard and wondered, “Was Anonymous more boring? Or confusing?” Impossible to know!

And I almost longed for the blustery drear from which I had been freed.

Rivers of rats are hard to tell apart as they panic and scurry about on important quests; the many figures in Anonymous are equally indiscernible.

A bloated backstory cinched into a present action whose stakes are never established, wrapped within a different present’s cliffhanger, further tucked into a present-day Manhattan playhouse act that elicited nervous LOLs in the first thirty seconds of the movie.

Anonymous was halfway done before I realized who the main character was in the backstory. All characters past and present looked unlike their counterparts in the other timeline; or looked, sounded, and behaved exactly like their foils in the same timeline. I also remember none of their names, titles, or  connection to Queen Elizabeth’s jizz-sticky throne.

The fact that none of the mistaken identity or generic incoherency was intentional ironically highlights Anonymous‘ epic fail: making it abundantly clear exactly who Shakespeare was and wasn’t in the first Act. This liberated the overcooked spaghetti that followed from the one thing that could’ve made it bearable: the mystery of authorship that brought us to the theater in the first place.

The next two hours aren’t insane or explosive enough to be fun. Scenes are orgies of exposition unlubricated by dramatic tension or directional clarity. Wait, who was that? Oh, yeah, okay. Wait, but? What emotion am I supposed to be feeling? Why did they have to do that? grumbled the groundlings in my brain every time someone grandstanded or threatened or stormed from a room.

The only thing that makes less sense than the plot of Anonymous… is why Olivia Wilde wasn’t cast as the young queen? Or any of the other generically buxom roles she could’ve strapped on a corset to portray? In order to entertain myself during the bewildering dullness of every conversation, I pictured a skit where Olivia Wilde gets all excited going to go see Anonymous, but walks out in a rage halfway through because she realizes she isn’t in it. Outside on the street she fires her agent over the phone. Then she listens to The Shins alone in the limo en route to her penthouse.

Payeth not to see this pile of crap / for life is but a dream that ends too soon / and already meaningful, and full / of Everests of crap we come to know / in the theater of human time, for free / by opening our eyes, and aiming them. / Why pay eight dollars for one nightmare more / twining tiny meaning to minor terror / to be piled upon the greater mountain-nightmare / of waking being, which we are ever given? / Heaven being everywhere an error / in an error, the rumor in the rune, / except for fools confusing truth for ruin / who would give new craters to the moon?

Jane Eyre (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

The male imagination is a windy, terrifying place.

Its appetites insatiable, unstable, black, pornographic, and endless.

Rare is the movie that makes you want to not just fuck, but love the female lead—rare as I suppose it is in life.

Rare is the girl so pure and beautiful that to love her would be enough.

In every scene, Mia Wasikowska coruscates this rarity.

Never more eloquently than in sparring Michael Fassbender’s magically smoldering Rochester.

The teary, electric passion between the two is nothing short of a gift.

They make the Lifetime movie-brutalized genre of melodrama not only forgivable, but venerable.

Rare is the movie that can make you believe an unbearable love is possible.

The billowing torch Eyre and Rochester bear along the gusted midnight plain of their narrative makes my own sporadic bursts of pussy-chasing look like a miniature flashlight not even bought—shoplifted—from the CVS of my imagination, whose only light is its own fluorescent torture.

Like all good movies, Eyre helped me realize I am a fool and an asshole, even as it gave me hope I might not be.

The function I suppose Jane Eyre herself performs for Rochester.

That she does not exist in life, in the dark, rainy parking lot of Amherst Cinema, as I walked out to my car, seemed mankind’s keenest tragedy.

If in Eyre’s braids alone I could not glimpse all the universe I beheld’s coiled splendor, I would be blinder than an underwater mountain.

When Rochester smokes his cigarettes in virile anguish, just as Fassbender’s British spy in Basterds, for a few nighmarishly tantalizing seconds I literally become homosexual…

If women looked at me the way they must at him in my imagination, I would fear nothing.

I would walk through walls, breathe fire, stick my head into the mouth of death like a large black lion and laugh  into the throat-hole like a metaphysical bullhorn.

The first act is slow.

The dialogue is rich, baroque, and conceptual—yet effortless.

Fukunaga’s engaging direction; Goldman’s cinematography is quite lush; Buffini’s screenplay shivers between competence and excellence.

The acting is so close to being, we see into the consciousnesses of our two leads that thing we have no easy name for, and so, throwing up our hands in gratitude and disgust, call poetry.

Ten women with a tenth of Eyre’s courage and mettle, working together, could rearrange the madhouse we call the world into a paradise.

Go see Jane Eyre if you want to relearn how pathetic, petty, impotent, simple, tepid, empty, shallow, and alone your own experience of love has been.

The King’s Speech (2010) | Review by Mark Leidner

David Berman, a poet of negligible academic value who nonetheless remains popular among the aging hipsters now clawing their way into positions of authority within the rotting carapace of the academy, has a line, “All my favorite singers couldn’t sing.” Voice, then, is a function of confidence, not talent. Poetry, then, is a function of faith, not intellect. The singer who believes against all countermanding evidence in his own truth, and who projects it most ferociously into the echo chamber of public discourse, tasseled in seeming unconcern for its critical reception, is heard for longer and listened to more fully than the smoothest nightingale. House limps. McNulty drinks. Whitman sheaths his penis in the anuses of boys. Christ bleeds. Tony Soprano feels. Obama is black. Palin is female. I am a sexually frustrated megalomaniac. Aragorn, son of Arathorn, is so burdened by honor he rides horses through Rohan while tumorous Gondor metastasizes into political cannibalism. The othering power of perceived defect is the bedrock upon which empire heteronormativity erects its omnipotent steeple. This is the paradox of the West, and the mystery warms the core of our every art form, personal relationship, and social endeavor. The song of singers who aren’t meant to sing is the only music or literature that matters, or will ever.

The King’s Speech hits every note in this symphony so effortlessly that even the most cynical elitist will find it at least periodically rousing, for cynicism itself is aaa critical stutter. Hate Hitler? The most talented singer of German of all? Then it’s hard not to root for his stammering Limey foil. Especially when everyone around Colin Firth is becoming a douchebag right when England needs a hero. I didn’t watch the Academy Awards. It’s everything horrible about poetry multiplied by money, fame, and the most corrupting influence of all, an actual audience—so I don’t know who or what movies won for what things, but after watching The King’s Speech, I bet it won for best adapted screenplay, direction, and picture. I also bet Colin Firth won best lead actor. Geoffrey Rush probably didn’t beat out Christian Bale’s virtuosic crackhead in The Fighter, but that’s not to say Rush doesn’t still soar in The King’s, racking up what must be a world record for tender, knowing twinkles-in-the-eye per scene. As Hannah found in January1, the lessons re: finding one’s voice that effloresce across  the consciousness after even cursorily reflecting upon Speech are so large and obvious that for a poet to illustrate them would be counter-poetically tedious and self-serving. But fuck it. We must stop trying to sound so much like each other. A good poem should make half of us hate you and half of us adore you, not all of us like you. Light dies without an anchoring darkness to break through. Voice is an iceberg of which technique is but tip; courage the voluminous, submerged most. Your nations need you. In a form unrecognizable now as then, the spirit of Hitler, of Voldemort, of Black Swan, of AWP is always calling the weak, increasing its flock, hissing across the world like wind between buildings. Who but a poet will reach inside, wrest the ember of their own weakness out with bare hands, let it burn through their fingers, and hammer it into a sword in the forge of creative writing workshops? Who will give neutral onlookers cause to open their mouths and whisper to no one, “Sweet, fancy Moses…” Who will give their voice to the voiceless.

Jane Eyre (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

My dearest lady friends,

You know that we have spoken of the Brontës, those poor, strange, and secret creatures we read too early, too often, believing in their portraits of love, and passion, and suffering, as we believed in little else at whichever of the tender feminine ages we happened to be when first we chanced upon their fat, flooding novels. We have spoken of Catherine, and of Jane; of Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester, choosing to align ourselves with the version we felt most encapsulated what we were certain was to be both the nature of our incipient womanly selves—wild, long-haired, glorious—and the character of our eventual true loves—brooding, raven-eyed, devoted to none save us. And having cast ourselves in the vast movie that each novel performed inside our extravagant minds, we have looked askance at actual cinematic portrayals, for how could anyone other than we—those bursting stars we flamed as—inhabit fully the jealous vicissitudes of Catherine Earnshaw, the fierce modesty of Jane Eyre. Impossible! We thought at twelve, at fifteen, at twenty. The Brontës wrote for us, and us alone, and neither the BBC nor Orson Welles nor Juliette Binoche nor, diminishingly, Anna Paquin nor Joan Fontaine nor Ralph Fiennes could understand this. And thus they doomed themselves to failure.

And yet now, my good gentle women, we find an adaptation perhaps worthy of our intelligence, and our distressing youths. Jane Eyre! Jane Eyre! Mia of the long last name is Jane Eyre! As Michael Fassbender’s Mr. Rochester—his eyes glowing with the unearthly passion we have sought ourselves—sputters to her pale, braided Jane, “You transfix me quite.” It was as though, and finally, he spoke from out the screen to me. Delicious in its dialogue, its snatches of late Early Modern agony, its loving sweep of moor and estate, Cary Fukunaga’s version of our beloved Charlotte’s tale stayed my heart, my brain, my nerves, corseting me in the pleasantest, most despairing dream I ever dreamt. Watching this elegant candelabra of a film flicker and illuminate the dark corridors of my girlhood reading, I recalled my own nascent and dim understanding of the powers of eloquence, responding with a thrill to Rochester’s ability to articulate Jane to herself as I turned the pages on a long-ago family trip out West. To be seen, and seen truly, is the one wish of love—to be told mellifluously, the second. We have all of us waited most patiently through these last two decades of Jane Austen—the squabbles, the silliness, the oh-so-clever modernizations. But these are less glad times, we understand, as too the Brontës understood. The world darkens; the plots assemble, and thicken. We sit in our rooms and wring our hands and feel ourselves at once uncontainable and too easily dismissed. We pick a book from off the shelf. We purchase tickets and take a seat. We run out to meet ourselves.


Another Year (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

I had menstrual cramps during Another Year. And popcorn-for-dinner made them worse. I was really stressed out on account of having all these student essays to grade, and feeling like I couldn’t write a poem if my life depended on it right now, and too why should I worry about writing poems anyway, is there a more useless and banal activity out there for a woman of my age and class and ethnicity to be doing; I ended up buying Mark both a drink before and a ticket to the movie because I suddenly felt awkward while he was in the restroom and solved that awkwardness, as I am wont to do, by purchasing something; I also drove him home despite my cramps, and the popcorn, and the stress about all the stuff I have to do and am not doing; and then I thought about writing this review and how I would have to adopt the goddamned “we” again and turn whatever dumb argument I had been losing with him in the car about character and realism, and how the movie failed to convince me of the “realness” of its characters because it hewed too closely to the codes by which we all understand ourselves to be “real,” following, in fact, the conventions of “realism” into the deep morass of its inevitable anti-category, “dullness,” into something profound and how I am stupidly sensible, and conventional in my aesthetics, and have become the “straight man” by tacit consensus; and then I went home and took a shower and washed my hair which I have started to hate doing because it is long and becoming pelt-like and like a pelt sheds everywhere—just today I lent someone my pen, only to notice with horror a clump of strands wrapped around its cap—

and then I got up early and wrote some biographies and graded some essays and gave a presentation on “clear classroom instruction” to my fellow TAs that probably made me look super-lame and prepared; then I came home and started trying to think about what I will say in seminar tomorrow, but then remembered I had this review to write and wrote my two paragraphs in which I said things like, “There can be no such thing as a “real character”—really. There can be degrees of realness, approximations in fiction to life, but no exact equivalence. We like ‘characters’ because, unlike ourselves or our friends, they are discrete” and “It asks us to see its characters as just as infinite and complex and ‘real’ as we ourselves actually are, and in doing so it cedes its claim to our attention and becomes a product of its excellent craft—‘art,’” before I grew so disgusted with it, and bored with it, and almost angry with myself, and the ways in which I feint and hide and puff myself and my opinions up with plural singulars, and large words, and knowing attitudes when really I know nothing at all, that I started writing this, looking out the window and thinking I am just so tired of winter and now terribly frightened at what I am writing, and what Mark might post, and if you have ever felt the terror of starting something and not knowing will you be able to stop it, you know what I am feeling, and you are alive and exist, and should probably go see Another Year because I’ve written myself into a change of opinion and now I kind of like it (though I still think the main character’s “unlikeability” could have been more attractively fulfilled).

Another Year (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

In each scene of Another Year, the camera finds each character’s most subtle reactions. That the faces are older than the usual youthful Hollywood fare deepens director Mike Leigh’s exploration of how much more expressive those timeworn surfaces can be by virtue of restraint. Age, in a large sense, is the process of learning to express more with less. Poetry is not glowing language, but the voice of context coalescing around it; through the cracks between the lines it speaks; a jiggle of the jowl, the color of crooked teeth; the way we clutch a cigarette, how our eyes keep trying to sing a song our wrinkles and slouches unsing—and how these forms agree and disagree with one another—Leigh knows how to let the camera let them speak. Then zooming out one level from scene—sequence—a chain of these scenes—as if the architecture of the story were a camera of cameras; Leigh points it as sharply. In the outermost valences of narrative, electrons are bent to shed light on a nucleus, which we see fresh, bent itself to point at subatomic particles, which are bent to point at interior strings, dark matter, etc. Until we glimpse the inner, churning and mysterious thing which Hopkins named inscape and Merton equated to sanctity.  That being said, I understand how some might dismiss the movie as being “only” about one, stationary atom.

Perhaps that metaphor got beyond me; thankfully Shakespeare proved the path to greatness is paved with metaphorical excess. Like a great poet himself, Mike Leigh takes the most seemingly lifeless materials—old people who don’t change; the two main characters remain as boringly virtuous as their friends remain doomed—and by attention to detail, which is a less bombastic synonym for formal virtuosity, we see the life, the change, the seven levels of pride and shame and oceans of delusion and ice-thin epiphanies that flutter through our eyes when we feel our own dreams were broken long ago on the sharp rocks of youth and we try as hard as we can not to know it—not yet—because we’re still alive. Leslie Manville’s portrayal of Mary, a hapless alcoholic speeding past her prime in a spree of pathetic desperation, makes Melissa Leo’s best supporting actress Oscar for The Fighter look like an attendance certificate. Wrapped around Manville’s wiles, Leigh’s wise silence resounds—the boringness of happiness, the sniping judgments of piety, the abyss of self-absorption, the resignation love demands, the arrogance of our spurning of it, the indifference of death, the tragedy of self-awareness that blooms too late, the slightly comic tragedy of self-awareness that blooms at all, beauty’s hatred of that blooming, the gravitational gales familial expectations exert upon the starships of our egos—if not real enough, or too real, Leigh shows it is possible to make art reverent in life’s direction.