Koch On Film

American Splendor (-)

This flick got rave reviews from every critic I read. When leaving the Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema, I asked two middle-aged women what they thought of the film. One replied, “It was wonderful; it was seamless.” The other said, “I loved it.” I saw the film with HS and AL, both of whom enjoyed it. I was nonplussed. I thought it was awful.

The movie is based on the lives of real people. The principal character is Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) a self-described loser who works as a filing clerk in a Veteran’s Administration hospital. His second wife walks out on him early on in the picture.

Harvey loves to collect things ranging from 78 records to comic books, reselling some of his vast inventory stored throughout his apartment to fellow employees. He meets Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis) via the internet who is very lonely and aggressive. At one of their early meetings she says, “Let’s skip the courtship and just get married.” They do, because he said he was willing to marry anyone who would marry him.

Harvey becomes a success by creating a new cartoon idea, with himself as the central character, uttering apparent pearls of wisdom which are simply common-sense observations very much in the style of Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard Almanac.” His cartoons are drawn by a famous cartoonist R. Crumb (James Urbaniak).

Why am I going into such detail? Because there is nothing to this flick and very little to write about. Nonetheless, I owe my employer a review. It is true that the format is sui generis. The movie is sometimes presented as a cartoon in appearance with a framing of the scenes.

We meet not only the actors who play the roles, but also the real people on whose lives this film is based. They are seen being interviewed on television shows years ago. Does it add anything to the movie? Not for me.

If you see this movie, write to me here at the paper and let me know whether or not you agree with my review.

“Open Range” (-)

This film, starred in and directed by Kevin Costner, has been hyped by some critics. Others, like The New York Times critic A.O. Scott, wrote negative reviews using a satirical pen. I’m with Scott on this one and perhaps even a bit more negative. The picture is a bore.

During the first 20 minutes, beautiful outdoor, panoramic shots of the West’s rolling hills and green pastures are shown. Robert Duvall gives a very good performance as Boss, head of a party of four, moving a small herd of cattle further west. Kevin Costner plays the role of Charley, second in command, with a history of violence that occasionally torments him. The performance of Annette Bening, who plays the role of Charley’s love interest, Sue, is ordinary. She is aging like the rest of us, and while she is no longer a stunning beauty, she is still handsome. Michael Gambon portrays Baxter, a rancher who owns the town.

The script is leaden, cliché ridden and often ridiculous. Just before Boss and Charley’s showdown with Baxter, either Boss or Charley says, “It’s a pretty day for making things right.” I recently read, perhaps in another review, that before going into battle, the Indians at Custer’s Last Stand reportedly said, “It’s a good day to die.” Much more poetic.

Regrettably, the film is a crashing bore not up to the standards of so many good westerns that have preceded it. An example of a far better flick in almost every aspect is “Unforgiven,” starred in and directed by Clint Eastwood.

– Ed Koch

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