This is a collection of stories and articles created by writer / artist Holly Dare. All materials, including photographs, on this blog are copyright protected and are the sole property of the writer or original publisher. Do not steal intellectual material!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"Cinderella" Story on DVD

"Cinderella Man"
Director: Ron Howard
Features: Russell Crowe and Renée Zellweger
5 out of 5 stars

"Cinderella Man," back in theaters and new on DVD this week, is worthy in any format. It is one of those rare, moving, true stories - if submitted in a non-fiction writing class, it would get an F for being unbelievable. The film is certainly worthy of the price of theater admission and the DVD has some really outstanding features.

"Cinderella Man" is the life story of '30s boxer James J. "Gentleman Jim" Braddock and his wife Mae, passionately portrayed by Oscar winners Russell Crowe and Renée Zellweger. Braddock had some success in the late 1920s, but after the stock market crash, the family - the couple had three children - fell on difficult times. Braddock's bad luck followed him into the ring. He lost his boxing license and struggled to find work to feed the family and keep the heat on during those frigid New Jersey winters.

That's where the story took its Cinderella-like turn. In 1934, a last-minute cancellation on an undercard fight gave Braddock an unexpected chance. And to everyone's surprise, he won and kept on winning, eventually facing the much-feared Max Baer for the title.

The movie provides a look into the life of a man who publicly rose to greatness but was driven by far simpler motivations: the love of his wife and family and the need to keep them together and fed. Directed by Ron Howard ("A Beautiful Mind," "The Missing"), "Cinderella Man" truly gives the viewer a sense of the desperate times this country faced in the Great Depression.

The film is back in theaters, presumably to give Howard, Crowe, Zellweger and company a run at the Oscars. When the movie was first released earlier this year, Universal Studios took the unusual step of offering a money-back guarantee to viewers as a show of faith in the movie.

The DVD is loaded with extras. There are three voiceover commentaries from Howard, and one by each of the writers. Howard's is the most relevant; it would have made sense to combine the two writers' tracks into one. The DVD also features a descriptive visual service (DVS) audio track for the blind.

On the flip side of the disc, there is a deleted scenes section - a must see. Often these scenes were left on the cutting room floor for a good reason. Not so with these. Each deleted scene gives even more insight into these characters as well as the actors' performances.

There are also several documentaries included. They cover casting, making the film, boxing history, and the real-life family of Braddock.

Boxing fans will enjoy the boxing history feature with Angelo Dundee, trainer of Muhammad Ali, who has a small role in the movie. Everyone will enjoy the interviews with the Braddock family. Their pride in the accomplishments of their father and grandfather as well as their love for the man comes shining through.

James Braddock was a rock-solid, good and decent man. "Cinderella Man" beautifully portrays his life and times.

First published 12/14/05 in the Valley Life Section of the L.A. Valley Star.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

"Jarhead" Provides Jarring Look at War

4 out of 5 stars

"Jarhead," based on the acclaimed book by Anthony Swofford, provides a fresh and unsettling look at the first Gulf War, which was packaged so antiseptically by the armed forces and news media. The title refers to the nickname Marines give themselves because their newly shaven heads resemble jars.

We follow "Swoff," beautifully played by Jake Gyllenhaal ("Moonlight Mile," "Day After Tomorrow"), as a third-generation enlistee from boot camp to active duty as a sniper. We experience it all: the hazing by fellow troops, a friendly fire killing of a fellow trainee, Swoff's demotion for drinking on Christmas Eve, which led to a fire in the camp, and his punishment - burning the crap from the latrines.

Throughout, Gyllenhaal provides a voice-over check list for every detail of his hurry-up-and-wait life: "Things a marine needs to burn [the contents] of a latrine: five gallons of diesel, a long metal pole and an incendiary device."

The cast is rounded out by Peter Sarsgaard ("Flightplan," "Skeleton Key") as a fellow sniper, Academy Award-winners Jamie Foxx and Chris Cooper ("Adaptation"), and the always-reliable Dennis Haysbert ("Far From Heaven"). Sam Mendes ("American Beauty," "Road to Perdition") helmed.

The movie is a beautifully shot, no-holds-barred look at Marine life that takes us along on the roller coaster of emotions faced by this group. We fear for Swoff and company as they take fire from both Iraqis and Americans. We feel their anguish as they realize wives and girlfriends have moved on with their lives stateside. Shock fills the theater as the viewer realizes how all the watchful waiting wears on Swoff.

Time is the most important element of the film. The Marine's naiveté at just how long it will take them to "kick Iraqi [butt]" and end this war- two days. The long, drawn out waiting in the Saudi Arabian desert for combat to begin - 175 days, 14 hours and five minutes. The length of Swoff's actual war.

Early in the film, Swoff explains that, to him, the nickname Jarhead is not only literal - the way the Marines look - it also implies that they are empty vessels waiting to be filled. Each Jarhead takes away experiences that will last their lifetimes. "Jarhead" will have a lasting impact on the viewer as well.

First published 11/09/05 in the Valley Life section of the L.A. Valley Star.