and sometimes poetry

historical

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?


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.


The Eagle (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner

The Eagle has all the appeal of swishing back the warm sperm from a used condom found on a playground. The feeling I have right now reminds me of being an undergrad and going to the poetry readings I was mandated to by the creative writing class I was taking to get an easy A, and then becoming radioactive at what I heard there. So much that I pointed myself in the general direction of poetry, and detonated my life. Poetry is a sacred trust with the power to change nations, alter sea levels, raise the dead, unify the lonely, etc;  at the very least it reveals the seething majesty of the universe to those whose minds and eyes the cruel machinations of culture have stabbed out. Poetry can never save the writer; but it can save the reader; as Whitman saved me; and to see the responsibility of that power abused and squeezed into the sequined bullhorn of the bourgeoisie, or erudition-sparklers, ought to shake to the core the conscience of anyone with a shred of honor. Poetry doesn’t belong to anyone, least of all the privileged; but that is who has it and that is who misuses it to freestyle steam-shine their lifestyle curtains.  That being said, The Eagle is so bad, it makes me want to abandon all this rage, this judgment, this passion for poetry altogether and start all over in the same vein with movies. It makes me want to raise an army, storm the gates of Hollywood… not to demand better stories… but to wrest the cameras and booms and grips and scripts away from our lazy, lying, parasitic ruling class and make better movies myself… for the people.

To treasure art which pushes the limits of its materials to the brink of imaginative catastrophe—in order to exfoliate the shadows those holy materials bear—before bringing it back to the simple kernel of communication for which the form was born. A painting into which hours of physical and psychic labor have been poured by the painter; and then to think of movies as moving paintings, that could do the same thing faster and farther without having to hold still; that could enrich exponentially by virtue of their exponentially varied materials? Where do you stand on this important issue, Kevin MacDonald (director)? Duncan Kenworthy (producer)? Jeremy Brock (screenwriter)? If we have a gladiator fighting a slave in an arena, do we need Donald Sutherland repeatedly telling us, too, that a gladiator is fighting a slave in an arena? If we have painfully long scene in which nothing is said that has not already been said… after painfully long scene in which nothing happens that has not already been telegraphed… do we really need another painfully long scene in which nothing is said that has not already been said…  followed by another painfully long scene in which nothing happens that has not already been telegraphed? What is a camera for? You don’t know. You don’t know what light is for. You don’t know what sound is. You don’t know what life is.


The King’s Speech (2010) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

Nobody will say so, but the real arias of The King’s Speech belong to its interiors. People will talk about the sprezzatura of Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth as they foam and froth their ways through dueling cadenzas of acting virtuosity; or the rich vibrato of the movie’s slow but penetrating character development; or the quiet bloom of historical drama it manages to tend with organic gravitas; or Helena Bonham Carter’s bravura attempt at queenly corpulence; or any number of metaphors that have liberal, NPR-ish things like opera, or gardening, or social issues such as obesity as their vehicle. For the tenor of this movie—it’s really most definitely a “film”—is worthy in a Terry Gross kind of way. Ask any of the aging baby boomers with whom we giggled, gasped, and heart-warmingly smiled through its showing at at one of those Robert Redford Sundance cinema places (we sent Mark a photo of its popcorn: “nastily, healthily white” he texted back). But we insist that despite being coated in Oscar-worthy performances, with an uplifting “true story” core, The King’s Speech is best consumed with one tooth gnawing on the problem of how to utilize its plum-and-mustard color scheme in your own hardwood-accented domicile.

Besides its vintage wallpaper, what is really great about The King’s Speech? One answer: watching Colin Firth conquer his stutter by shouting obscenities as he staggers around Geoffrey Rush’s charmingly Anthro-esque office. We could have watched Firth in tails nursery-rhyming “bugger-bugger-buggity-bug-shit-ass-FUCK!” literally all day. But this film has bigger couches to upholster. As a movie about characters, we spend much time understanding the psychology of Colin Firth’s Prince Albert and not as much with Geoffrey Rush’s Australian speech therapist-cum-charlatan-cum-savant. And yet Rush gets the best interiors, the happiest home life, and (we still don’t know how this is possible) a hotter wife than Helena. We suspect a little digging at the monarchy is not beyond this film’s purview. We also had lots of thoughts about the truism “finding your voice” and how this movie might help us think through our own burgeoning experiments with prose, and white space, and aphoristic abstraction—form is the fun in content’s life lesson? The surf to its turf?—but these are too secretly tedious to share here. Go see this movie if you’re still majorly crushing on Mr. Darcy, we mean Colin Firth.