and sometimes poetry

good movies

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.


Barney’s Version (2010) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

Perhaps the occasional surprise is the best life has to offer—the milder, the better. For having one’s expectations gently overturned whilst simultaneously being thrust upward is surely the closest we humans actually ever come to anything like divinity. We provide ourselves with the tiniest of tinseled miracles; and the fact that they tarnish easily, smudge and vanish as quickly as chalk in rain, only allows for their quiet reoccurrence to press that much more insistently into the blinding momentary flash in which we only ever consciously live. To think things will go the way you think they will, and to be positive in your thinking so, to clutch your certitude sweatily in the palm of your point of view, and then to find—suddenly and almost inexplicably in the midst of the experience itself—that in truth the thing is going much better, that you are enjoying yourself much more, and in fact surprising yourself with the level of enjoyment you are experiencing—for you had quite forgotten that you were a person capable of unfettered enjoyment, of unconscious experiential glee—is to ride the random, miniscule rollercoaster of the critical act.

And so we found ourselves last night at the 9:45 showing of Barney’s Version, a movie at whose preview we had harrumphed so frequently, and with such vehemence, that it had gradually gained syntax, and vocabulary—curdling like Bailey’s in Jameson in Guinness into a diatribe against Paul Giamatti, narratives featuring middle-aged men and their sexual peccadilloes, mid-century American novels, and baby-boomer aesthetics as a whole. “Who wants to watch another unappealing bourgeoisie male sleep with a slew of beautiful women, mess up, be forgiven, crack some semi-entertaining jokes, and die?” we’d ask whoever would listen, stage-whispering in agitation, the tips of our braids flicking popcorn from the top of the bag with every emphatic jerk of our head. “This movie looks hideous.” Not for the first time, we confront the mystery of expectation. Had we believed the opposite, that BV was going to initiate our personal constellation of 2011’s poignant character-studies, to be the first disarming and honest cinematic daffodil to sprout in the humus of early spring, we probably would have been profoundly disappointed. There are some dull moments in this movie, as there probably were in the Mordecai Richler novel from which BV was unmistakably yanked: the amount of whiskey, and cigars, and bad behavior on display is yawningly retro. But overall we were charmed. We were pulled in. There were moments of actual tension we squirmed through, remembering with horror similar scenes in which we had unluckily been participants. For the chance to revisit your own disgraces through the aestheticized prism of art, to view what you once endured, is another instance where we are granted god-likeness. As it must be for god, watching our own dilemmas of soul re-cast and externalized is at once heightening and nullifying. It’s also the only occasional surprise we ask of art. Go see this movie if you used to have time to read books.

Barney’s Version (2010) | Review by Mark Leidner

Ten thousand generations were born, struggled with nature, made love, waged war, bore young, feared death, gazed into the grief-guitared eyes of their survivors, and then died—before we even discovered language. Ten thousand generations of joy, terror, and bewilderment—multiplied laterally across all the people in each generation— mothers, fathers, hunters, explorers, gatherers, thieves, weaklings, strangers—all before anyone we even know of was born. Sometimes this perspective buoys me when angst and longing have wound a ball of anxiety so tight behind my eyes I feel I might explode against the nearest brick wall. Even the comfort literature offers, like a pillow of all-time’s futile similarity to the present, is dwarfed by it. Those lost consciousnesses from which we all came, like an extra layer of past wrapped loosely around the already unfathomable body of known history, wrapped tighter around the unfathomable body of the present, form a kind of dim, halotic corona. An orb bereft of detail and of a scale too epic to picture. But still I like to think about it, when I want to tint the possibly tedious talk of say, reviewing another movie, with mystery. I picture this idea like the belt of golden letters scrolling backward at the beginning of Star Wars, before the movie of the review begins. Barney’s Version is about a man’s life. Not a particularly likeable man, and not a particularly interesting life, but its particularity is in its totality of scope. Had it been shot and scripted by Mike Leigh instead of Richard J. Lewis and Michael Konyves, B’s V might have been able to overcome uneven pacing, some forced plotting, and visual style that sags as much as it blossoms. But I still wept walking out of the theater, and on the walk home as the clock on my cellphone struck midnight, pulling close the collar of my jacket, zipping up because the temperature had plummeted ten degrees during the 132-minute runtime, watching the shadows cast by the streetlight stretch and collapse on the sidewalk under my shoes as I stepped, I felt saddened and buoyed by the stupid similarity of the titular character’s plight to my own, flooded with gratitude for how many scenes in which I’d silently pled with him to wake up, simply forgive himself, love himself and allow himself to be loved; wiping tears and flinging them into the Northampton night with the side of my hand, knowing I too could change if only because I’d wanted Barney to so badly. The cast shines. Dustin Hoffman oozes charm. Minnie Driver cloys lusciously. Rosamund Pike is the womanly embodiment of dawn. And pasty, bloated Paul Giamatti fucks bad acting in the ass with a skyscraper. Gorged on popcorn and tortured by thirst, I climbed the two flights of stairs into my dark apartment. Light painted my profile as I opened the refrigerator, found the Brita, and poured a cord of cold water into the bottom of the Jacksonville Jaguars glass I’d drawn from the cupboard. The music made as it struck and filled and danced into the vessel echoed the voice of an ancient angel.

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.

Rango (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

Toy Story 3 was the best movie of 2010 because it revived the cadaver of adventure with brilliant scripting, realistic characters, and inventive action. Rango takes that resurrected corpus adventura and jabs a syringe of adrenaline into its heart. The first scene—too surprising, weird, meta, and smart to describe—is the best opening since Inglorious Basterds. And Rango’s multiple chases, battles, and other staples of action are so aware of their historical predecessors that watching each is like gorging yourself like a hog at the trough of homage to and parody of all the most beloved tropes of spaghetti western, space opera, noir, Freud, and Homer. Constant, riotous, gonzo wit at machine gun pace obliterates all your defenses against Rango‘s eleven-layer irony-cake of visual and narrative gratification. In one scene, our not really-eponymous hero, an Odyssean lizard and archetypal chameleon with no name—Johnny Depp, perfect casting—turns to a kid and shouts, “Burn everything but Shakespeare!” It was like watching something written by a future, infinitely more successful and disciplined version of myself. As the crowd shuffled me out of the theater I looked back over my shoulder and thought, “I want to see that again.” Last time that happened was Fantastic Mr. Fox, and before that Basterds. What do these three movies have in common? One, an oneiric swirl of fulfilled conventions. Two, a reeling, panoramic sensorium of metaphor. Three, a seemingly suicidal level of self-referentiality grounded in tight storytelling. Four, an almost obscene amount of jokes. Five, cornea-crushing cinematography. Six, sincere, devoted direction. Seven, perfectly executed setpieces. Eight, all squeezed through the estranging eye of auteurial mise-en-scène. No windmill goes untilted at; no saddle goes unblazed. No god of cinema goes uncrucified and seconds later, raised. Rango is generous and savvy in these ways. Gore Verbinski also directed the first Pirates of the Caribbean, another epic that took me back to the theater multiple times. Rango is so decadently good, it seems passive-aggressively pathetic to point out its only flaw: an impatient dénouement. The film could’ve luxuriated in its coolest characters more. And there are many cool characters. Anyone who does not see Rango, or anyone who sees it and doesn’t like it, Fuck you!

Rango (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

1.     Why is Rango delightful

2.     What specifically delights us about the animal in human attire

3.     Not of dress only, but of attitude

4.     Lizards in Hawaiian shirts; some sort of bird thing in a poncho

5.     Is it an aspect of miniaturism

6.     And from the miniature do we extrapolate perspective

7.     Is it perspective that delights

8.    How is it possible that for the first five minutes of Rango I literally did not know what was going on

9.     Why was this so delightful

10.    Is there less at stake for an actor in an animated role

11.     Or do they consider it an exercise in formal invention

12.     Like a Mark Leidner movie poem, for example

13.     What is the equivalent in poetry to Jesse Eisenberg being the voice of a blue parrot in the forthcoming, highly sucky-looking Rio

14.     Is this like if Mark made a movie of a Tony Hoagland poem

15.     The Tony Hoagland poem

16.     Does a topic’s importance—its claim on the political, the social, the real—bar it from delight, not to say delightfulness

17.     Is Rango partly delightful to me because it is fundamentally concerned less with the social and more with the self

18.     Whilst acknowledging the awkward demands of the polis—its tug

19.     But what is perennial about the search for the self

20.     When we sense allusion without perhaps knowing the exact nature of the referent, what is the pleasure

21.     Is this an allusion of codes—the hilariously absurd shot of Rango’s posse riding against the pulsating semi-circle of sun, for example


22.     “Hilariously absurd” because Rango is a lizard, his steed some sort of pheasant

23.     Because Rango is the voice of Johnny Depp, his steed a roadrunner with a butt-full of feathers

24.     In intuiting allusion do we feel bound more closely to the culture in which we and it bask

25.     Is allusion thus a tool of tribalism

26.     Which, like racism, is not delightful

27.     When I laughed so heartily at its Star Wars allusion, was I simply pleased to have been allowed access to the cerulean depths of Rango’s cultural sea

28.     Access because it proved I too am deeply cultural

29.     Is delight predicated mostly on consciousness or un-

30.     Is delight more complicated than we generally consider it to be

31.     Are good children’s movies the cinematic equivalent of the medieval jester

32.     In that they allow adults levels of experience conventional grown-up fare assumes

33.     Bewilderment; delight

34.     And yet it is only through recontextualization of cultural knowledge—which depends on the experience of exposure—that such delight can function

35.     Is it better to be young than old

Cedar Rapids (2011) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

My grandma lives in Hanover, Illinois. To get to Hanover from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, where I grew up, you drive through a series of sad, small towns, the saddest of which may be Browntown, WI. It appears to be just a collection of split-levels along the highway, but its welcome sign reads “Browntown: A Community on the Rise.” Such cheerful poignancy is like much else in the upper Midwest—sincere and upbeat, with no real reason to be either. It’s a sentiment that suffuses Cedar Rapids, a movie that made me reconsider comedy as a genre uniquely capable, in the right hands, of transcending the attention so often paid to style so that it might say something entirely new and vital about form. Though Charles Olson set the terms of the debate, it’s becoming more apparent that content/form isn’t really what’s at stake in art anymore—not what kind of meat you choose, nor how you cook it, still less how you serve it, but why you might choose meat in the first place. By paying attention to a whole spice rack of conventions and codes that comedies usually forget to add, Cedar Rapids earns four totally unexpected Michelen stars for elegance, plating, presentation, and deliciousness.


I love being from Wisconsin. It’s a great state full of great people and good beer and much cheese. My states-people have been occupying the Capitol for two weeks now, making hilarious signs like “Scott Walker Blows Goats,” and eating donated pizza and drinking coffee provided by local coffee shops. I am glad that director Miguel Artera hasn’t mocked our kindly earnestness, nor have his ensemble cast skewered the nasal vowel sounds of most of our denizens. What they’ve done is make compelling narrative out of elements easily available for fun. By scratching at the shellac of style and unveiling the glorious mahogany of form, CR bequeaths you a complex world in which to believe, full of characters to care about. The situations and set pieces rolling the whole thing forward don’t depend on cheap laughs, but some approximation of your own understanding of choices, and friendship, and work—aka “life.” It’s a drama wrapped completely in the skin of comedy, which means that it’s actually some new kind of thing altogether. John C. Reilly shouts out “muff!” and “queef!” and wears a garbage can lid on his head in a tawdry hotel pool and it’s both funny and poignant—his character’s recourse to the tropes of comedy at once richer and realer because he also promises not to disclose Ed Helms’s moral conundrum, kissing him on the forehead and saying, “I love you.” And you believe that too! All of it is real, and funny as balls. Go see this movie if you are alive.