Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Professional Website

I'm proud to present my professional website, which you'll find at jessicaferri.com. The site includes my published work, bio, blog, column, magazine, resume and links. Take a look and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where the Wild Things Aren't

So I lied about writing that review on Tuesday. Sorry, here it is!

Spike Jonze is a very talented director; everyone knows this. His past films, Being John Malkovich and Adaptation are excellent. The success of these films is also largely due to the creative genius that is Charlie Kaufman, their writer. Jonze is also the creator of endless music videos, including the Beastie Boys "Sabotage," and Weezer's "Buddy Holly." I'll be first to admit his body of work, at age 40, is very impressive.

When hipsters all over the world (but mainly right here in Brooklyn) heard Jonze was going to tackle the cult children's classic Where the Wild Things Are, American Apparel panties were in a twist. We all waited with bated breath for at least two years for the film to finally come to fruition. That's okay; it takes a long time to make a movie, and Jonze had trouble finding a studio to finance the project. I don't blame producers for hesitating: Jonze wants to adapt a book with less than ten lines of text into a feature length film. How? And, why?

In this iteration, Max, our protagonist, is having a rough time. He's about 10 or 11, and his parents are divorced. His sister is an asshole and his mom is dating. That's some upsetting stuff. And in the first ten minutes of the film Jonze does an incredible job of illustrating just how isolated and angry this little guy is. The young actor who portrays Max is also named Max in real life, and bears an uncanny resemblance to Ellen Page. This is not pertinent to my review, but whatever, I think it's so strange.


After an argument with his Mom (always superb Catherine Keener), Max runs off, gets in a boat, and finds himself in the land of the Wild Things. There are five of them, all different animals / monster types, with very human personalities. This works well, mainly because these Jim Henson created puppets are voiced by some of the finest working actors today: James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Lauren Ambrose, Forest Whitaker, Chris Cooper, and Paul Dano. Their voices are undoubtedly the best part of the film, and the main reason to see it - next to the puppetry and digital work which is gorgeous.

The Wild Things name Max as their king under the condition that he "keep the sadness out," which, of course is an impossible task that he fails at, for the most part. The monsters seem to function as extreme manifestations of Max's own personality, but really they could be anyone: they're neurotic, funny, and sad. They're also a family. To put it simply, this film is an exercise in how fragile people are, especially in intimate relationships. James Gandolfini, as Carol, the leader of the group, and Lauren Ambrose, as his ex-girlfriend-ish, do the best job of voicing the despair over a frustrating relationship.

All of this isn't really new or unique or interesting in any meaningful way. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the artistry that went into this film. Several people said "Spike Jonze has really shown us what it is to be child." I resist this. That would be some kind of achievement. I don't think Wild Things delves deep enough into Max's life to give us that kind of a statement. For this reason, and the overall lack of purpose, I was disappointed.

Jonze is venturing into interesting territory with this kind of Monet-ish movie-making that reminds me of his ex-wife's work. Sofia Coppola is constantly criticized for making these kind of visual-centric films. Marie Antoinette, in particular, took it pretty hard from critics. Movies, after all, are supposed to be amount the image. Otherwise we'd read books or listen to the radio to entertain ourselves (some of us still do this). But it's my hope that filmmakers will use their medium, which incorporates writing, visual, sound, and dialogue into the package. That's what makes a great film. Where the Wild Things Are isn't it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Jerry Maguire, 1996

As you may or may not know, my life has been in full-on red alert crisis mode since June 19th, 2009, when I lost my job. Because of these mitigating circumstances, it is not at all difficult for me to relate to Jerry Maguire.

I never thought I would say that I relate to Tom Cruise, but he's actually perfect for this part and he does a decent job. Jerry is a sports agent who, in a fit of moral and philosophical guilt one night, writes a memo about how the sports agencies could be more fair to their clients and focus more on their value as human beings rather than walking dollar signs. At first, everyone in his office seems to love the memo. But within a week, Jerry finds himself with a big fat pink slip. As he leaves the office he asks, "Who's coming with me?" And, to his surprise, Dorothy, played by Renee Zellweger, responds in the affirmative.

She leaves with Jerry because she's in love with him, but she's also bored and she "wants to believe in something." She admits to being moved by his memo, and the two enter into business together with Jerry's one remaining client, a footballer named Rod Tidwell, played by Cuba Gooding Jr. You may remember his acceptance speech when he won the Oscar for best supporting actor for this role.

Essentially the film is the story of Jerry attempting to "make it," in his new world with no clients, no support, and no money. Of course he and Dorothy are bound to fall in love, or at least try to fall in love, and her status as a single-parent makes us love her. It doesn't hurt that her kid, Ray, is maybe the cutest thing ever.

The highlights of this film are its humor, the writing and direction of Cameron Crowe, and the incredible supporting performances of Cuba, Renee, Regina King (who plays Rod's wife) and Kelly Preston (who plays Jerry's ex-fiance). While it's disconcerting that Dorothy gives up a steady job with health insurance to work with some dude she doesn't really know but thinks is cute, the love story between the two of them ultimately ends up being believable. And so in the end the movie becomes a story about how the crises in our lives eventually help us to discover who we want by our side and what we can do to keep them there.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Sherman's March, 1986

A friend of mine recommended this film to me about a year ago, and I only got around to watching it last week. It's streaming on Netflix right now! Sherman's March is not really a movie about General Sherman's March to the Sea. So if you're looking for a Civil War movie this isn't it. It's much more.

In 1986, burgeoning filmmaker Ross McElwee set out to make a documentary in which he would follow Sherman's path from his notorious march through the South. But before Ross can set out to the South, his girlfriend (who he had been living with in New York) dumps him. Distraught, Ross travels down to Charlotte, NC, his hometown, camera in tow.

His Mom immediately introduces him to Pat, the daughter of some family friends, and he spends practically all of his time talking to her and filming her. Pat wants to be an actress, and she's very fit (there she is above, doing one of her crazy cellulite exercises). She's a little loony, but after a while she starts to grow on Ross, and on us. It becomes obvious that Ross doesn't seem to concerned about sticking to Sherman's story. Instead, he's creating his own.

After Pat has to leave for an audition, Ross meets Claudia, a friend of his sister's. Claudia is a single mom. She's also pretty religious.

Ross decides, after meeting Claudia that he had better get back to his project, so he heads way down to the Georgia islands, where he meets several more lovely ladies and checks in on two of his ex-girlfriends, one of which he appears to still be in love with.

I can't even begin to explain this film. No one makes documentaries like this anymore, and if they do, they end up being plainly unsuccessful. Ross McElwee has made a film about people. About women, to be specific, and they are all trapped in this time capsule of a movie that is one of the most charming, beautiful films I've ever seen. There's something about hearing the soft, endearing tilt of the Southern accent that made me proud to be a Southerner. I think McElwee has really captured Southern womanhood and Southern culture perhaps better than any other director. And he's done it all seemingly by accident. This movie made me think about life, about friends, home, family, lovers: my past. I really cannot recommend Sherman's March enough.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


Urg. I have contracted strep throat and I can barely muster the energy to string this sentence together, much less write about two great movies I saw this week. As soon as I'm feeling up to it I'm back!