Archive for the ‘author Jennifer Boulden’ Category

Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld in the Coens' "True Grit"

by Jennifer Boulden

At its entertaining core, True Grit is a story of opposites thrown together in conflicting dichotomies. The story begins in the last bastion of law and order before Indian Territory, a place of both murder and retribution, my adopted hometown of Fort Smith, Arkansas. There the salty Marshal Rooster Cogburn replete with his legendary vices teams up with a young girl whose prim manners, innocence and idealism stand in oxymoronic contrast to everything he represents. The one trait they share is grit. These two spirited characters have courage, resolve and undiluted gumption in spades. It turns out they, and the film, also have a surprising amount of heart.

To its credit, True Grit is a hard film to pinhole. It’s a Western where action for once sits back in the saddle while character development charges forward, idiosyncrasies blasting. It’s a family film that older girls and boys alike will enjoy, but far from a Disneyfied one, more akin to a PG-13 Deadwood. Like most of the Coens’ work, it is full of iconic imagery and remarkable dialogue that is laugh-out-loud funny and highly quotable, but see the film with the wrong audience and you might miss the humor entirely. (more…)

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Two Lovers


by Jennifer Boulden

Like good jazz, the rhythms of Two Lovers are all a little off. And like good jazz, this makes for a more engaging experience with the audience-we are never quite sure what to expect next as it lilts and hops forward in playful dissonance and broken harmonies. Yet Two Lovers’ rhythms, we come to realize in the course of director James Gray’s small film, feel off not because they are so dissimilar from what we expect in life, but because they are so dissimilar from what we expect to find in film.

The people of Two Lovers feel real, full of ambiguities and complexities. These are far from stock characters, even as they fill stock roles. They are fully realized individuals that we can tell have had lives before they appear on screen and lives that will continue long after the theater lights are all dark.  It is a tiny slice of life film that feels much more European than American. American romances, however convoluted, rarely approach this level of subtle sophistication and insight. (more…)

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by Jennifer Boulden

Much to my surprise, the magic of Watchmen never happened for me. It did not happen for me with the graphic novel, and it most definitely did not happen for me with the film.

I was sure it would, for one of them at least. I’ve read so much about what a dizzying accomplishment the graphic novel was, marrying hard intellectualism to dark artistry, subverting every superhero-or even regular hero-cliché it could find to subvert, broaching topics from rape and torture to geopolitics and nuclear proliferation with an unflinching eye, and weaving together a piecemeal narrative from wildly disparate and unconventional elements in a startlingly complex feat of structural engineering. It sounded great.

I’d read this, heard this over and over. I’d known dozens people who loved it and I knew of countless critics’ praise and hushed respect for Alan Moore’s groundbreaking accomplishment, named one of the greatest novels ever written. The implication surrounding it often seemed to be that if you didn’t enjoy it, you were superficial, shallow, naïve, sheltered, stupid, or else just not paying close enough attention. I definitely didn’t want to be among those; I wanted to be one of those geeky gals who got it.

When I started reading Watchmen, I was indeed amazed at how well it was drawn and how confident the narrative voi ce was, especially as it veered off in unpredictable directions each time I started to get comfortable with a segment. I liked the idea of superheroes as just ordinary people with skewed self-identities and a penchant for dressing up to fight crime. I appreciated the inevitable and unenviable ethical quandaries that would ensue with a rash of masked vigilantes doing law and order’s dirty work. I was somewhat puzzled by Moore’s need to also integrate Dr. Manhattan, the godlike once-man with a supreme command of physics and a supremely detached view of humanity-into a story that already seemed to have enough meat to chew on, but, whatever. It’s his story. I can let him tell it. (more…)

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by Jennifer Boulden

Note: In forming my top 10 list, I decided to define it as my 10 favorites list. There are some films that may technically be “better” than some of my choices, but these are the movies I will take from 2008 and hold closest to my heart, for whatever reasons that they connected with me. It is also, though late, terribly premature as there are a great many films listed at the bottom of this post I have yet to see. Still, I’m happy with it.

It is an entirely subjective list, except for all the places where I am unequivocally right.


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“Jenny Bee,” one of Craig’s Kennedy’s most revered commenters at his fantastically-popular ‘Living in Cinema’ site today had fellow bloggers breathless and in awe of her defining treament of the Pixar masterpiece, ‘Wall-E’ today on the ‘Watercooler’ thread and its deeply-moving effect on so many critics and moviegoers.  The film was the year’s most critically-praised.

Explore the piece for yourself here…


WALL-E is at its heart a celebration of humanity’s ingenuity, creativity, and capacity to overcome even our worst selfish, slothful impulses and grow into something better, for the sake of something bigger than our own bloated selves. It’s about the power of one, the power of two, the power of many. WALL-E himself is as much a human invention as the mess he was created to clean up; his character traits (resourcefulness, curiosity, loneliness, dilligence, loyalty, friendship, love, rashness, courage, the ability to learn) are a direct reflection of our own. Eve, too, is a product of us, directly or indirectly. It’s a story, not new, but told in new ways, that reminds us through hyperbole and metaphor of how much we, today, now, need to remember to cherish life in all its forms and have the courage to trust and reclaim our own creative spirit.

WALL-E tells this story in a dazzlingly beautiful technical feat of animation that on a somewhat meta level itself makes the same thematic case: Look what beauty we can create, how warm and imaginative this technology can be, bringing us closer together and to our best selves. We mortals cannot be underestimated, and neither can the possibilities of animation. The art direction, animated cinematography, editing, sound, all the technicals are top shelf.

And as a bonus for film critics, WALL-E simultaneously draws from eight decades of cinematic history–most notably, from the dawn of cinema–to quietly honor film’s most powerful and poignant role in our lives, that of sustaining us in the dark times and reminding us, through whatever improbable means (Hello, Dolly, of all films, is the one highlighted), of what’s really important. It’s a film rich in symbolism and layers of meaning that is steeped in film history and makes a strong argument for film’s future.

The screenplay gives equal weight to humanity’s dual talents for destruction and construction, using the current gathering environmental crisis as a trope that grounds the otherwise sci-fi fantasy in relevance to our immediate future. The real villains in the picture aren’t mutinous AI, but the demons within ourselves that compel us to consume more and more and faster and easier and forget what it is that makes us human, that creative spark and need to forge a path ever forward.

Meanwhile, it has a timeless love story between a bumbling but charming and well-intentioned Chaplin-esque male and a fierce and feminist female who connects to her softer core self, each of whom changes and grows better for knowing the other during the course of the film. That’s what real romance does, makes us better people individually and as a couple for discovering that soul-sustaining partnership. It is a love that was never programmed to be, and yet, must be.

It’s a film that like the best of sci-fi asks, “What if?” and then takes us on a bleak path that does not have to be. It’s a film that channels the deep undercurrent of hope, even amidst the darkest of crises–the death of our planet and the devolution of our species–and has a resounding echo of the rallying cry of a very frightening 2008: “Yes we can!”

To top it off, and almost as asides to its other many treasures, WALL-E also contains significant amounts of humor that don’t rely on fart jokes and pop culture allusions, a misshapen band of merry Island-of-Lost-Toys-esque robots who discover they still have value, a prolonged and joyfully magical cinematic sequence of robots in love spiraling through space, and an endearing cockroach who just won’t die.

 It’s one heck of a great film, in my opinion.

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