Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Seven Years of Magic-
al Thinking: The Com-
plete Book Club List


Here are the book club titles
from 2000-2004 (plus editorial
comments). An asterisk means
I didn't have time to read the tit-
le in question. For a history of
the group, please click
here.


***** ***** ***** ***** *****

11/00:
Cormac McCarthy - Blood Meridian* [I'd like to read this]
12/00:
Mikal Gilmore - A Shot in the Heart* [And this, too]

2001 2001 2001 2001 2001 2001 2001 2001 2001

02/01: Larry McMurtry - The Last Picture Show
[So good I read it twice; great movie, too]

10/01:
John Updike - Rabbit, Run and John Cheever - "The
Swimmer" (short story) [Depressing, but I liked them
both...haven't seen the film of the former; own the latter]

2002 2002 2002 2002 2002 2002 2002 2002 2002

01/02: Katherine Porter - Ship of Fools [Took me awhile
to get into this...but I did. Haven't seen the movie yet]

02/02:
Pete Dexter - Paris Trout
[I liked this; haven't seen the movie]

04/02:
Bill Buford - Among the Thugs [I loved this]



05/02: Susanna Moore - In the Cut [Some
hated this; not me...I liked the movie, too]

06/02:
Michael Chabon - The Amazing Adven-
tures of Kavalier and Clay
[I really enjoyed this]
07/02:
Raymond Chandler - The Long Goodbye
[Loved it; Altman's quirky adaptation, too]

2003 2003 2003 2003 2003 2003 2003 2003 2003

04/03: Joan Didion - Play It As It Lays
[Cold as ice, but I liked it...haven't seen the movie]

05/03:
Gabriel Garcia Marquez - Love in the Time of Cholera*
07/03:
Phillip K. Dick - Confessions of a Crap Artist
[Not science fiction, but I liked it. Haven't seen the
movie; Jacques Audiard adapted the screenplay]

11/03:
Jung Chang - The Wild Swans*
12/03:
Sylvia Plath - The Bell Jar
[I liked this; haven't seen the movie]

2004 2004 2004 2004 2004 2004 2004 2004 2004

02/04: Mian Mian - Candy [Girl gone wild in mo-
dern China. Like a film by Jia Zhangke come to print]

03/04:
Walker Percy - The Movielover [I liked this]
07/04:
David W. Maurer - The Big Con [A must for Mamet fans]
10/04:
Ben Hecht - A Child of the Century [Didn't finish this]



Endnote:
Joan Didion photo from Random House.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Turn On, Tune In, Drone Out...

The Black Angels, Passover, Light in the Attic

Emblazoned with a quote from epic miserablist Edvard "The Scream" Munch--"Illness, insanity, and death are the black angels that kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life"--Passover emanates from a very dark place indeed. The lyrics describe death and destruction ("You kill, kill, kill, kill / Kill what you can") and the sound is heavy and forbidding (tribal drums, "drone machine," and a twin guitar attack that alternates between superfuzz and bad-trip blues), but this Austin quintet never falls into the goth-rock rabbit hole. In the liner notes, they acknowledge fellow Texan Roky Erickson and Anton Newcombe/the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and that should give some idea as to their sonic stomping ground. This is the brown acid side of psych-garage: The Doors meet the Velvet Underground by way of the Kills.

In her New York Times review of Tristan and Isolde, Manohla Dargis claims, "You've seen it before. You'll see it again." I feel the same way about the Black Angels. They've synthesized a goodly portion of my record collection. As such, I should dismiss their debut as redundant or passé, but they're so damned sincere about all this doom and gloom, I can't deny it. (Sincerity is the new black.) Plus, it isn't just noise; Passover is highly melodic and quite lovely in its gloominess. The Black Angels aren't being ironic or tongue-in-cheek. Nor are they a retro act, despite the late-'60s flashbacks. They're as serious as a heart attack and I, for one, am more than happy to go to their dark place for the duration of this beautifully-designed release (a gatefold digipak with embossed optical illusion). I've heard it before. I wanna hear it again.



Endnote: Poster design from the Black Angels website. Incidentally, Passover includes a hidden track, an acoustic anti-war number. The Angels in protest mode ("Somebody stop that war / Please stop that war") are two tastes that don't go together. Nice try, though. Also, when I interviewed LitA's Matt Sullivan last year, here's how he described his new signing: "A wicked five-piece guy/girl psych-rock band from deep in the heart of Texas. The ghosts of the Thirteen Floor Elevators have risen!" I'll say.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Reviews: Scandinavia Calling

Magnet, Tourniquet, Filter US Recordings/Atlantic

Hailing from the same rainy city as wistful troubadour Sondre Lerche, Magnet's Even Johansen trods similar stylistic ground. The Bergen-based singer/songwriter's second US full-length, after 2003's On Your Side (2000's Quiet and Still was issued under his full name), also brings to mind such romance-obsessed chaps as Rufus Wainwright, Badly Drawn Boy, and Aqualung. In other words, Tourniquet is pleasant stuff, although more than a little generic. Throughout, Johansen croons in a gently keening tenor about love and loss atop a pillowy bed of acoustic guitars and keyboards. It's all mid-tempo, untroubled, pristine. In other words, nice, tasteful--boring. By the time he adds a couple of "fucks" to the 10th track ("Jaws"), it's too little, too late. Granted, Johansen sounds like a few artists I quite like, especially the more lively Lerche, but he's just not as interesting.

Figurines, Skeleton, Morningside Records

The press release compares this Danish four-piece to Pavement, Built to Spill, the Strokes, and Neil Young. For the most part, I don't hear it--any of it--but Skeleton isn't a bad album. It isn't a great one either. Mostly, I was expecting something more exciting based on that description. What I hear instead is a muted cross between Wall of Voodoo and the Violent Femmes. In other words, there's something very 1980s about Figurines and it's more of a new wave than a post-punk '80s. The beats are bouncy, Christian Hjelm's voice is boyish, and there are plenty of "oh-ohs" and "la-las" to go around ("Remember" even features handclaps). If I were feeling nostalgic for the 1980s or didn't already own a number of CDs by Squeeze, Split Enz, etc., I might be able to work up more enthusiasm for this quartet, but alas: I'm not and I do.

David & the Citizens, Self-Titled EP, Friendly Fire Recordings

Sweden's David Fridlund and his four Citizens have that upbeat pop thing down to a science. As influences, Fridlund has claimed the Pixies and Neutral Milk Hotel, but I hear more Beatles, Beach Boys, and They Might be Giants. To the usual guitar-bass-drums triumvirate, the Swedish quintet adds keyboards, trumpet, and tambourine. Consisting of material released between 2000-2004 and aimed at the American market, this self-titled EP follows two full-lengths, For All Happy Endings (2002) and Until the Sadness is Gone (2003), along with a bevy of EPs and singles. It's earnest and jangly, which isn't my usual cuppa, but D&tC are too good at what they do for me to resist. Bonus points for Brendan Monroe's whimsical cover art (note that the bubbles have faces) and Fridlund's band logo, an outline of his cat Beppe.



Note: "Beppe EP" cover art from the official David & the Citizens website . (Some of the English translations are a little shaky, but that just adds to the charm.) Also, here's an interview with Fridlund about his 2005 solo debut, Amaterasu.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Party Crasher, or the Axman's Annual Top 10 Party and Me

Happy anniversary, baby! Last night marked my fifth year as an attendee at Sean Axmaker's annual Top 10 party (I was first invited by Jeff Shannon). Every January, we get together to go through our top 10 lists, starting with number one and working our way down to 10. Who are "we"? A cadre of Seattle crit-types, some of whom write for daily newspapers, alternative weeklies, and the like. Then there's me. I don't really fit in, but I'm honored to be included, since I write mostly for the Web (Amazon, siffblog), various alt-culture pubs (Resonance, Tablet), and local non-profits (SIFF, NWFF).

As usual, I put my list together in October. I made a few tweaks since then, but not many. Since that time, all the major publications and most of the major awards groups have made their choices/nominations as to the best films, performances, etc. I suspected I'd be out of step with the masses--but not to the extent that I was. Just as my music list consists almost entirely of independent releases, my film list consists almost entirely of independent productions. This is what I like, where my head is at, and all that jazz. Consequently, some of my choices may seem precious and even trivial to some (that seemed to be the consensus regarding Me and You and Everyone We Know). Well, I stand by them--especially Thumbsucker, my number one pick.

To their credit, no one made fun of me for reserving my top spot for a film that failed to earn the accolades I hoped it would (I was chastised, instead, for including the more respectfully received Constant Gardener). At Sundance, Thumbsucker, like Miranda July's first feature, was one of the fest's most buzzed-about US indies. Upon its release, the reviews were generally positive, but its run was fairly brief, and by the end of the year, it had been virtually forgotten. In the Village Voice film poll, for instance, it doesn't show up in the top 100, while some of the titles that do are inarguably execrable. In the list of top performances, newcomer Lou Taylor Pucci, the film's lead, doesn't show up at all. For my money, he makes the movie. ("What an expressive face he has," my mom noted after the screening. You said it, sister!) Justin Cobb, who changes dramatically throughout the film--several times, no less--represents a perfect fit between character, actor, and director. It's too soon to say whether the kid's gonna be one of the greats. No matter; he's got one exquisite performance under his belt, and that's more than most actors can claim.

So back to the Voice poll. In the list of top 100 directorial debuts, Thumbsucker does make an appearance--at number 100. Talk about damning with faint praise! But there's a silver lining to this dark cloud in that three supporting performers were recognized: Tilda Swinton (who also got the nod for The Chronicles of Narnia), Vince Vaughn, and Keanu Reeves. Kathleen Murphy described the New Age character played by the latter as a "construct"--and she's right--but Anna Pacquin's nymphet is just as much of one in The Squid and the Whale. Reeves, at least, changes into a recognizably real, if less likable human being by the end of Thumbsucker (Pacquin, on the other hand, simply slips away when her work is done). In any case, all deserved the recognition. To that list, I'd add Vincent D'Onofrio, as Justin's dad, and Benjamin Bratt, as a fallen TV star who enters the Cobb family orbit.

Which leads me to my Thumbsucker defense. It isn't a review, just an explanation as to why the film was significant to me. I may never be vindicated in my belief that it was one of the year's best, but I can't imagine I'll be changing my mind anytime soon.

*****

Why Thumbsucker? Because first-time director Mike Mills, by way of author Walter Kirn, manages to squeeze a number of ideas, both big and small, into a surprisingly elegant vessel. Because the film depicts the closest mother-son relationship I've ever seen that isn't ultimately revealed as controlling, kinky, or otherwise sick. Because the adults in Thumbsucker, all of whom relate to minors as peers, are not unmasked as pedophiles or worse. Justin's mom speaks to him as an adult; as does his offbeat orthodontist (Reeves), his dorky debate coach (Vaughn), and his mom's star patient (Bratt). Of course, he isn't an adult and Justin doesn't always live up to their expectations, but he's shown more respect than your average teenager, both on and off-screen, and I found that refreshing. Because everyone in the film makes mistakes, but even the character who comes closest to being the "bad guy" (D'Onofrio) still earns our sympathy--even though he doesn't change. Because the film contains one of the funniest scenes of the year. "With a spoon!" is the key line, but context and Bratt's priceless delivery are everything. Because Justin represents every normal guy with a dirty--if harmless--secret who becomes the family scapegoat because it's easier to blame an embarrassing idiosyncrasy than to take responsibility for one's own failures. Because, by the end of the film, Justin is still a thumbsucker.

*****

With that, here's Sean's Party Recap and Results:

The Axman’s eighth annual Top Ten Party (Critics Edition) was convened at the cozy Queen Anne abode of Richard Jameson and Kathleen Murphy. My co-hosts for the evening were also responsible for the fine Italian meal that preceded the lists. I was, of course, suave and elegant and downright resplendent in my second-hand tuxedo and black fedora.

On hand were (in order of presentation) Jim Emerson, Andy Wright, Kathy Fennessy, Richard Jameson, Tom Tangney, Dave McCoy, Kathleen Murphy, Robert Horton, and me, Sean Axmaker. Jeff Shannon had mechanical problems and couldn’t make it; his list was emailed and read by Richard. Tom Keogh had to cancel due to illness and Keith Simanton was not able to appear.

The toasting began at 7pm sharp and the lists about 7:30pm. The first round went over three hours. It got faster, but some had to leave before it was over, which was sometime after 2am (see what happens when Keith isn’t there to move things along?). Coincidentally, that was about the time we gave up trying to get a fire going. (Quote of the evening: “Poke it hard, Robert!")

What follows is the compilation list of films. There is no “weighting” of points (as in the Village Voice list), merely a simple hierarchy: a first place pick receives 10 points, a second place pick nine, and so on to a tenth place pick of one point. (I toyed with weighing the lists and even did an alternate vote count, but this method tends to bring out more interesting results.) This has no official standing or bearing on anything. It’s just interesting to see the critical mass of this particular gathering. Usually this list is unveiled at the end of the evening, but everyone was heading home so quickly that I had no time to put it together at that time, so I unveil it for you now.

In the largest non-violent protest this event has seen, everyone abstained from including MILLION DOLLAR BABY for their lists. Or maybe everyone just figured it was overhyped by this time. Regardless, I followed suit and took it off my list as well. A large contingency slipped in their “real world” number one pick THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA at every opportunity and made noises about CACHE as well, both of which are set to open in Seattle in the next two months. Had they been eligible, they would surely placed high on the compilation list, even though many of the invitees had not had an opportunity to see them.

Only one film was the Number One pick on two lists, KINGS AND QUEEN, and it appeared on no other lists (discussion revealed that only a fraction of the group had seen it), and two Number One picks showed up on no other lists -- THUMBSUCKER and PALINDROMES.

1) A History of Violence (53 points, 8 lists, 1 “Best Film” pick)
2) The Squid and the Whale (49 points, 8 lists, 1 “Best Film” pick)
3) Grizzly Man (41 points, 7 lists)
4) Brokeback Mountain (38 points, 6 lists, 1 “Best Film” pick)
5) Munich (35 points, 6 lists)
6) Good Night, and Good Luck. (32 points, 6 lists, 1 “Best Film” pick)
7) 2046 (26 points, 4 lists)
8) Keane (24 points, 1 “Best Film” pick)
9) Head-On (23 points, 1 “Best Film” pick)
10) (tie) Kings and Queen (20 points, 2 “Best Film” picks)
Capote (20 points, 4 lists)

Other films on multiple lists:
Murderball (16 points, 2 lists), Hustle and Flow (14 points, 3 lists), Mysterious Skin (13 points, 2 lists), Breakfast on Pluto and Nobody Knows (12 points, 2 lists), Look at Me (9 points, 2 lists), Broken Flowers (8 points, 4 lists), King Kong (7 points, 2 lists), Batman Begins (3 points, 2 lists)

Orphans:
Thumbsucker and Palindromes received Number One picks but were on no other lists
Moolaade and Oldboy received Number Two picks but were on no other lists

Note: Thumbsucker image from Cinematical.com.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

New Reviews
for a New Year

Here's some of the stuff I've been working on this month.

Amazon: How to Lose Your
Lover
[okay indie with Paul
Schneider, Poppy Montgomery, and Fred Willard], Love, Ludlow (better indie with David Eigenberg, Alicia Goranson, and Bren-
dan Sexton III), The Thing About My Folks (lackluster indie
with Paul Reiser, Peter Falk, and Olympia Dukakis), SNL - The Best
of Alec Baldwin
, John Ford Goes to War (Kris Kristofferson-nar-
rated documentary), The Mill on the Floss (1979 BBC miniseries),
and Lie with Me (arty soft-core starring Eric "The O.C." Balfour).

Resonance: Wrote a review of local band Hypatia Lake's "...And We Shall Call Him Joseph." I have three reviews in the new issue: Animal Collective - Feels, New England Roses - Face Time with Son, and the Skygreen Leopards - Jehovah Surrender EP.

Siffblog: The Weeping Meadow (Theo An-
gelopoulos) and A Good Woman (Mike Barker).



Endnote: All hail busy character actor David Eigen-
berg
! In the real world, I suspect the 41-year-old actor,
with his twinkling blue eyes, would be considered a catch.
(Granted, his voice is a little odd, but you get used to it.)

In the worlds of Hollywood and Broadway, where he plies
his trade, however, Eigenberg usually plays underdogs.
Sometimes he triumphs over adversity, sometimes not.

In Sex and the City, he gets the girl, Cynthia Nix-
on's Amanda, but loses a testicle to cancer. Then he
loses the girl, but not before fathering Amanda's child.



In the first season of The 4400, he's one of several alien
abductees who suddenly, mysteriously returns to Earth.
A 98-pound weakling prior to his abduction, he finds he
has developed super-strength, so he becomes a vigilan-
te--and pays the price. Along the way, he becomes both
a hero and an inspiration to his inner city neighborhood.

In a recent episode of CSI, he plays an otherwise sane gent who
thinks
he was abducted by aliens. The truth is more depressing-
ly prosaic. And in Love, Ludlow, he plays what may be his most
"normal" character yet, a lonely guy in love with a feisty young
woman joined at the hip to her emotionally disturbed brother.
As is often the case, Eigenberg turns out to have hitherto unde-
tected reserves of strength and won't give up without a fight.

Eigenberg has also made notable appearances in Homicide,
The Beat (from the makers of Homicide), and Take Me Out.
According to the IMDb, he's a former high school athlete, ex-
Marine, and volunteer firefighter. Sometimes looks really can
be deceiving! Image from the David Eigenberg Worship Page.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

When the Shillelagh
Meets the Hood

Part Four: Maybe It's
Because I'm Irish

I would like to start with the seemingly trivial item that inspired this inquiry. A couple of years ago, I stumbled across a news item stating that Ireland's Jim Sheridan would be directing the 50 Cent biopic Get Rich or Die Tryin'. Not only that, but the movie would be filmed, at least partially, in Dublin. I immediately forwarded the notice to a few friends who write about film. Jeff Shannon, a contributor to The Seattle Times, wrote back with a message that said something along the lines of, "I can just see it now—'Fiddy' strollin' down the mean streets of Dublin with a shillelagh in one hand and a forty in the other." Hence the title of this series. (Incidentally, I must confess that I didn't know what a shillelagh was at the time; his email encouraged me to do some research.)

To me, Jeff's response represented the coming together of two cultures—and two stereotypes. I couldn't quite get my head around the concept of a 50 Cent film helmed by Jim "My Left Foot" Sheridan and yet, somehow, it made perfect sense. I decided it was time to examine this relationship further. Why did it seem so odd and yet so right? Hadn't Eminem and Curtis "L.A. Confidential" Hanson seemed like the ultimate odd couple prior to the release of 8 Mile? Who says an Irish man can't be "street"? Certainly not me!

Get Rich or Die Tryin', a film about a famous African-American figure directed by an Irish filmmaker isn't, of course, something completely new. What makes it significant, for the purposes of this piece at any rate, is that it's a more extreme manifestation of a development within the motion picture industry that's been building over the past decade, which is to say, "black" movies made by white directors and "white" movies made by black directors. I can think of plenty of examples of both, but when
you add the word "Irish" to the equation, they become scarce.

One of my favorite "Black Irish" movie moments occurs in Frank Darabont's The Shawshank Redemption (1994) when Tim Robbins' Andy first meets Morgan Freeman's Red (who doesn't, of course, have red hair). Both are incarcerated at Stephen King's fictional Shawshank correctional facility. "Red. Why they call you that?" Andy asks. "Maybe it's because I'm Irish," Red replies. Andy appears to accept Red's reply at face value and doesn't ask for clarification. What I love about the line, which is delivered perfectly—i.e. it's thrown away—is that it says nothing, yet it
says so much. Freeman's character may well be Irish, but how did he get that way? Except for his freckles, Red doesn't look Irish—or he looks nothing like the Irishmen usually depicted on screen. (Ten years later, Freeman would utter the line, "It seems there are Irish people everywhere—or at least people who wanna be," in Million Dollar Baby, the film for which he finally won the Oscar.)



In "How Green Was My Surname; Via Ireland, a Chapter in the Story of Black America" (The New York Times, St. Patrick's Day 2003), S. Lee Jamison notes, "So many African-Americans have Irish-sounding last names—Eddie Murphy, Isaac Hayes, Mariah Carey, Dizzy Gillespie, Toni Morrison, H. Carl McCall—that you would think that the long story of blacks and Irish coming together would be well documented. You would be wrong.
Randall Kennedy, a professor at Harvard Law School and the author of Interracial Intimacies; Sex, Marriage, Identity and Adoption, said that when it comes to written historical exploration of black-Irish sexual encounters, 'there are little mentions, but not much.' And most African-Americans do not know a lot about their family names." Jamison adds, "But the Irish names almost certainly do not come from Southern slaveholders with names like Scarlett O'Hara. Most Irish were too poor to own land. And some blacks, even before the Civil War, were not slaves."

As it turns out, Freeman's character was never written as African-American. In King's original novella, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, he's Irish-American (and his full name is Ellis Redding). Arguably, the line is in there as a nod to the author's original intent and as a joke. The audience—including myself—laughed. But why is it funny? And why did I laugh when I read Jeff's email about "Fiddy" and his shillelagh? Was it because movies like Leprechaun V: Leprechaun in Da Hood, with Ice-T and Coolio, and its follow-up, Leprechaun VI: Back 2 Da Hood, had already decided Irish plus black—stereotypes, that is—equals hilarity? (Probably not, but I couldn't resist mentioning them.)

Continuing into the 1990s and 2000s, more white filmmakers began making movies about black characters. Examples include Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai with Forest Whitaker (who had previously worked with Neil Jordan in The Crying Game), Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown with Pam Grier, and more recently, Craig Brewer's Hustle & Flow with Terrence Howard, which was produced, in turn, by John Singleton.

This wasn't a new thing either, but the number of such films was. At the same time this development was taking place, more black filmmakers were making films with white characters as leads or co-leads. Examples include Spike Lee's 25th Hour with Edward Norton and Singleton's Four Brothers with Mark Wahlberg and Garrett Hedlund as white adopted brothers and Tyrese Gibson and André "3000" Benjamin of Outkast as their black brothers—and yes, the film gets a lot of mileage out of the word "brother." Incidentally, Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan plays their mother.

That same year, 2005, witnessed the release of the poorly-received Honeymooners remake, featuring a mostly-black cast (led by Cedric the Entertainer of Barbershop fame). But what makes it notable is that it was filmed in Dublin, standing in for New York. The fact that the movie wasn't a hit, either critically or commercially, did not serve to diminish the attractions of Dublin as a low-cost alternative for New York. Which brings us to Get Rich or Die Tryin', the semi-fictional story of Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson. Filmed in New York, Toronto, and Dublin, the gritty drama is set in the South Bronx. Sheridan's previous feature, In America, which was also based on a true story—his own—took place in New York, specifically Hell's Kitchen, where he spent time as a boy. The film, which was released in 2002, featured the first major black character to appear in a Sheridan-directed picture, an African artist dying of AIDS played by Amistad's Djimon Hounsou.



Born in Dublin in 1949, writer/director Sheridan's best known movies include My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father, and
The Boxer. All three feature Daniel Day-Lewis, who won the Oscar for 1989's My Left Foot (and also appears in Martin Scorsese's Irish-American epic Gangs of New York). In addition, he has produced a number of Irish pictures, including Terry George's Some Mother's Son with the aforementioned Ms. Flanagan, Jordan's The Butcher Boy, and Paul Greenglass's Bloody Sunday. George, who was born and raised in Northern Ireland, most recently directed Hotel Rwanda with Don Cheadle, while Sheridan's next project, according to the Internet Movie Database, appears to be a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru, co-written by Richard Price who, as a screenwriter, is best known for Spike Lee's Clockers, John Singleton's Shaft remake, and HBO's "The Wire."

Due to Sheridan's involvement, it should come as little surprise that Irish talent is all over Get Rich or Die Tryin'. The film
was shot by Irish-American cinematographer Declan Quinn (brother of actor Aidan Quinn) and the score is by Quincy Jones with Maurice Seezer and Gavin Friday. As with 8 Mile's Eminem, who originally signed 50 to Shady Records and co-produced
the film, 50 Cent plays aspiring rapper Marcus, aka "Little Caesar." (Marcus possibly being a nod to his son Marquise.)

As an actor, 50 Cent isn't bad, but he's far from great. In the
film, however, his minimalistic performance is greatly enhan-
ced by that of some of today's most talented African-American actors. They include Viola Davis (Far From Heaven, Antwone Fisher) as his grandmother, Joy Bryant (also from Antwone Fisher) as his girlfriend, Adawale Akinnouye-Agabe ("Oz," "Lost") as his mentor, and most significantly, Terrence Howard (Ray, Crash, Four Brothers) as his manager, Bama.

Collectively, the cast helps to overcome 50's shortcomings and those of the script, which excels in depicting Marcus's desire to
get his by any means necessary—be it selling crack or selling rap—but falters in depicting his passion for the rhyme. Maybe this is because as Sheridan told writer Brooke Hauser in 2005, "I grew up in an area of Dublin that was very poor, and there was a lot of heroin. I had fights with kids, addicts, and I had to defend myself." Sheridan adds, "The Irish experience is very close to the black experience, down to the toxic nature of the way we speak."

Ironically, Terrence Howard is considerably more believable
as the pimp-turned-rapper DJay in Hustle & Flow than the real-
life dealer-turned rapper 50 Cent in Get Rich or Die Tryin'.
The passion DJay has for his craft is more palpable, just as his desire to give up the hustling game seems more sincere. In actuality, the 50-something Sheridan claims to be a gangsta rap fan, whereas Howard, who is in his mid-30s, told journalist Irini Arakas when she asked the self-taught musician about his musical taste, "I don't listen to hip-hop." According to Arakas, "[Howard] prefers the musical stylings of James Taylor and Paul Simon."



That said, all this talent—black, Irish, and otherwise—wasn't enough to save Get Rich from garnering one of the year's biggest critical drubbings. Granted, it may not have lived up to my expectations either, but the criticism seemed particularly harsh.

For instance, when I visited the IMDb earlier this year, I found that the film is in the site's bottom 100. Out of 10, users have giv-
en it a 2.3, making it the 37th worst film of all time. (1993's Leprechaun, meanwhile, garnered a more respectable 3.8.) Which begs the question, is this a result of hate for 50 Cent, hate for Sheridan, or hate for the movie as a whole? Or was it cursed by
bad pre-release press concerning its perceived pro-violence stance or the actual violence that accompanied its release? Near as I can tell, the answer is: hate for the movie. While I don't think its failure will destroy the careers of anyone involved with it—
50's 2005 recording, The Massacre, was one of the year's biggest—it wasn't the step forward I hoped it would be.

That said, if you look for signs of Irishness in the film, you'll
find them. Granted, you have to look pretty closely, but they're in there. The shooting of 50 Cent, for instance, is staged like an IRA hit. It's late at night, 50 is minding his own business, when a masked gunman suddenly emerges from the shadows and starts to shoot. He doesn't stop until he's plugged 50 nine times, leaving him to die, which of course, he doesn't. In fact, it's where the legend begins. If you've seen Alan Clarke's Elephant (1989), it's hard not to feel a sense of déjà vu while watching this sequence.

In Clarke's experimental piece, one man sneaks up on another
man and shoots him dead, followed by another man sneaking
up on yet another man and shooting him dead. And ad infinitum.
The point being—there is no point. According to the BBC's Justin Hobday, "The title comes from a quote by Irish writer Bernard MacLaverty who described the Troubles as like having an elephant in your living room, getting in the way of everything—but after a while you learn to live with it." Clarke's film, in turn, served as the inspiration for Gus Van Sant's Palme d'Or-winning Elephant (2003), a fictional look at the Columbine shootings.

Then there's Majestic, played by the imposing Nigerian-born actor Akinnouye-Agabe. In Get Rich, he's 50's drug dealing boss. As Majestic's fortunes rise, he takes to toting a gold-plated cane wherever he goes. It looks suspiciously like a shillelagh. Granted, a walking stick can't be considered an authentic shillelagh unless it's made from Blackthorn wood—supposedly the only wood harder than an Irishman's skull—but let's not split hairs. At the film's conclusion, the stick is revealed as a weapon and, for what may be the first and last time in the history of the cinema, Irish stick-fighting finds its way into a hip-hop film.

I may be biased, but I refuse to believe the failure of Get Rich
or Die Tryin' had anything to do with Sheridan's Irishness—
or even his age. After all, 8 Mile was considered a success and Hanson is from the same generation (he's four years older), just not the same country. As for race, I don't think it should make
a difference. 1973's legendary Wattstax, after all, was directed
by Mel Stuart, a Jewish-American, and it's one of the blackest films ever made—and yes, it just happens to feature an absolutely jaw-dropping performance from that great Irish-American black man, Isaac Hayes, who also appears in Hustle & Flow.

And despite Sheridan's purported affection for rap, there's a difference between liking a genre and truly understanding it. In Get Rich, unlike Hustle & Flow, I never felt that he, or screenwriter Terence Winter, who's best known for his work on The Sopranos, ever really had a feel for the milieu. Had 50 Cent simply been cast as a drug-dealing dreamer who isn't able to make it as a rapper, it would have been a better film and, arguably, a more honest one. After all, even DJay's success in Hustle & Flow isn't presented as a fait accompli. At the end of Brewer's film, DJay emerges from jail with an undergound hit on his hands, but there's no guarantee that he—like his former hero, Ludacris's Skinny Black—is ever really gonna make it. Although it probably never would have occured to Sheridan, or to anyone else involved in Get Rich, a film about Erik "Everlast" Schrody ultimately would have made for a better fit between subject and director. In the meantime, I'll keep my fingers crossed for Neil Jordan's take on the Kanye West Story—now that's a movie I'd be first in line to see!



Note: Images of Jim Sheridan (on the set) and Curtis "50
Cent" Jackson with Terrence Howard from ShowbizIreland.