Tag Archives: family drama

The Secret Life of the American Teenager, a Minimalist Review

Brenda Hampton’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager is a TV show, in that it has characters with their own personalities, desires, coming into conflict with each other within a plot of sorts. However, it is hardly more than that.

TheSecretLifeoftheAmericanTeenagerWhile the overall storyline plays out like an immature daytime soap, characters and conversations give the impression that the show is being written by a sheltered 14 year old virgin guessing at how adults and teenagers must act in the “real” world, with limited understanding about relationships and the facts of life. The end result is a weird demonization of sex that confuses hormones, love and lust in ways that are inaccurate, misleading and downright harmful. If teenagers are using this show as a guide to navigating their teen years, they will be in for a considerable shock.

Episode plots are absurdly repetitive, so skipping 1 or 5 episodes results in landing on the exact same issues you left on. Most of the show’s screen time is spent pounding outdated morals and values over the heads of their teenage characters.

Despite being set in Los Angeles–one of the most multi-cultural cities in the US–the cast is almost entirely white, with one representative couple for each other ethnicity. But even those groups are played as “white” for all intents and purposes.

Character arcs rarely surprise as they take on predictable lines. The principals tend to fall back into the same issues repeatedly. The main female lead proves herself the most heinous of the bunch, acting selfish, petty, demanding and spoiled to the point where she ends up as a sort of villain to her supporting cast. If you want to a watch a show where nearly every character ranges from unlikable to downright loathsome, you’ve come to the right place.

While the characters themselves are rather well-formed, their dialogue seems to be written by someone who has never heard of subtext…or a thesaurus. The collective ensemble ends up wielding a combined vocabulary equivalent to that of a single 10 year old.

To sum up…

The Secret Life is one of the worst television shows to survive more than one season on the air, let alone a mind-boggling five. It is a show that exists for reasons beyond reason. If any script from this show came across my desk for analysis, it would have been an easy PASS/PASS.

Rating: 1.5/5

Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary film by David Gelb

poster for Minimalist Review of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary film by David GelbBy James Gilmore

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a small film, minimalist in every respect. Tender, intimate, and honest, this documentary demonstrates majestic simplicity. Crisply shot with the Red One and Canon 7D, David Gelb ability to capture compact but meaningful cinematic visuals reveals a subtle storytelling genius. The film’s flavorful imagery all but places each dish onto your watering tongue. Although Jiro lacks the polish of a high-budget studio film, raw elements such as the modest, inconspicuous soundtrack (as minimalist in composition as the movie itself) work in favor of the film instead of against it.

Superficially, Jiro provides an insightful cross-section into the alien microcosm of a world-class sushi chef in Japan and its thematically related orbiting satellites.  But on a deeper, more profound level Gelb’s documentary illuminates the relationships of fathers and sons—and by extension, masters and apprentices—as universal, transcending both culture and context.

Simple, honest, gorgeous. A masterful accomplishment for a young filmmaker, worthy of the praise of foodies and cinephiles alike. Place Jiro Dreams of Sushi on your must-see list—and then plan on going out for sushi.

Rating:  5 / 5

Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon, a novel by Jules Verne

By James Gilmore

Among the great works of literature by Jules Verne are such classics as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Around the World in Eighty Days and The Mysterious Island.  What you will not find nested among those works is a novel called Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon (La Jangada is the original title)—and for good reason.  One wouldn’t be so surprised at the quality (or lack thereof) of the novel had it been Jules Verne’s first attempt at the craft, but it mystifyingly appears at the very heart of his career alongside the greats.

Book cover for Eight Hundred Leages on the Amazon, a novel by Jules Verne, on Minimalist Reviews.

Despite pretense of adventure, 800 Leagues is for all intents and purposes a family melodrama with only trace amounts of “adventure.”  The novel is a dull read and hardly believable.  Sorely lack in conflict, the text is often insultingly redundant, the author reiterating known facts in such a fashion that the reader can’t help but feel like he is trying to fill space in a balloon filled with hot hair.  This effectively reduces the pacing of the novel to that of a dying snail.  The linear, predictable story submarines the uneventful plot with rare exception.  Any changes in the story occur entirely by means of deus ex machinae, which leaves the hands of the characters out of events almost entirely, save one or two instances, scuttling their raison d’être.

Overshadowing the weak dramatic impact of the book is the fact that it reads like a pedantic love letter to the Amazon River, like a wan excuse to wax poetic about this illustrious body of moving water.  Although informative, it reduces the novel’s literary value to a mere historical survey of Amazonian river tribes who would cease to exist a century later.

The characters in the novel tend to be shallow in depth and over dramatic.  The antagonist is the most interesting and compelling of the cast.  Unfortunately, his presence is minimal.

Despite some interesting tangents concerning facts about the Amazon River and a few florid descriptions, the novel is thin, flat, artificially contrived and obvious.

A caution to all who tread here: Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon is Jules Verne’s worst.  Despite a 5-star rating (from 2 reviews) on Amazon.com at the time of this writing, place this novel on your list of “books to avoid at all costs.”  Feel free to sample the free Kindle book (if you dare).

Rating: 1.5 / 5

The Fighter, a film by David O. Russell

by James Gilmore

Movie poster for The Fighter, a film by David O. Russell, on Minimalist Reviews.

The Fighter is not so much a story about one boxer trying to make his way in the world as a story in which every character is a scrappy fighter in their own respect, each trying to achieve his or her dream in a gritty, realistic world bristling with testosterone and raw emotion, unstained by the airbrushing of Hollywood gloss.

This modern day Cinderella story appears to be about boxing on the surface, an inspiring underdog story about a man who literally never quits. But in truth the film is much, much more. The pseudo-documentary style and directing create an unglamorous world which examines poverty, family, loyalty, love and, of course, boxing, all with a humanistic eye. At the core of the film’s strength is its impressively detailed peek into the complexities of family and family politics.

Acting performances in the film deliver an array of raw emotion in a steady one-two of jabs and thrusts without the forceful injection of artificial drama, while its bold, aggressive characters allow Amy Adams and Christian Bale to thrive in their best acting roles to date—an impressive achievement considering both actors’ extensive experience.

The Fighter, obviously more a labor of love than a labor of money, proves itself to not only be one of the best boxing films ever made, but one of the greatest family dramas of all time.

Rating: 5 / 5

The Kids Are All Right, a film by Lisa Cholodenko

by James Gilmore

The Kids Are All Right (but the parents are not)—the anti-hollywood movie; or, an advertisement for ultra-liberal living.

Movie poster for The Kids Are All Right, a film by Lisa Cholodenko, on Minimalist Reviews. Somehow Lisa Cholodenko has managed to turn slow pacing, low conflict, and a nearly directionless plot into a film that is oddly intoxicating, sucking the viewer into a strange microcosm of uber-liberal Californianism. Although laughs are unevenly distributed, the comedy is always natural and never forced or artificial as is seen in so many Hollywood films, but grows organically out of the emotional content of the scenes. Despite its ability to entrance, the ending is so poorly handled it begs the viewer to second guess the film’s anti-Hollywood nature and instead wonder whether the filmmakers simply didn’t know what they were doing.  The final sequence—the most crucial in any film—is not only unsatisfying, but is handled with complete ineptitude and lack of relevance to the story.

Also problematic with this character piece is, in fact, character. The story could use a little more diversity among the adults, who all feel like they are part of the same social circle from the start. And while the sex of the director should not interfere with the storytelling, somehow all the male characters in The Kids Are All Right receive unfair treatment. They fail to compare in dimension and emotional presence to any of the female characters. Paul (played by Mark Ruffalo), a principal character and the lynchpin which the entire plot of the story hinges upon, disappears after an ambiguous, noncommittal confrontation with Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and doesn’t even make it to the conclusion. Laser (Josh Hutcherson) lacks both character development and depth, being stereotyped as the typical “insensitive” male in a story unevenly weighted in favor of the females. Even the extraneous gardener character, also male, serves no appropriate purpose except an artificial construct to hinder (although he fails to do so) the developing physical relationship between Paul and Jules (Julianne Moore).

Finally, the acting gems of this film: Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska. Mark Ruffalo also delivers a commendable performance.

The Kids Are All Right could have been a 5 / 5 film but pitfalls in character and the ending of the story severely hamstring the film.

Rating: 3 / 5