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October 27, 2003 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 2003-10-27

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8A - The Michigan Daily - Monday, October 27, 2003


Davies talks on a personal note


By K.K. Schmier
For the Daily
"How would I describe my writing style?" asks Michigan
Fine Arts Creative Writing Chair Peter Ho Davies, who was
recently listed as one of the 40 best young British novelists by
Granta. "I would describe it as 'indiscribable."'
While Davies prefers not to limit himself stylistically, much
of his work shares a common theme. "Most of my stories
have autobiographical roots," he said. "They are emotionally
In his acclaimed short story col- .
lection "The Ugliest House in the
World," the narrator, a young
medical student, describes a trip
to visit his aging Welsh father.
"Writers rehearse their fears in
fiction," Davies commented.
"This story represents my worst
fear for what my father might
become. I also have anxieties
about the aging process."
In addition to creating characters Davies
who manifest his own fears, Davies
often sets his stories in Wales, his father's homeland. Davies
stories also reflect the influence of his Chinese mother. "I am
torn between my Welsh and Chinese heritage," he said. "I
don't know either culture as well as someone who is only a
part of one of them. I have this sense of being an outsider,
which is something that many writers feel. Often, I write to
find out where I've come from. Fiction helps fill in the gaps."
It might seem that for Davies, whose work has been select-
ed repeatedly for Best American Short Stories, a writing
career would be a matter of predestination. However, Davies
was originally marked for a scientific path. "I have always
loved litterature and writing," he explained. "But when I was
growing up in England in the early '80s, you wanted a degree
that would help you get a job."
While studying physics at Manchester University, Davies
continued to write. "I had a short story published in a British
magazine, The Critical Quarterly," he said, "which gave me
encouragement as a writer."
Davies went on to receive a bachelor of arts in English
from Cambridge University. He then decided to go on for a
masters in creative writing at Boston University.
"In Britain, there were very few creative writing pro-
grams and less fellowships for writers," he explained. "I
had always wanted to go to the United States, so I thought
studying here would be exciting."
Since he began teaching at the University of Michigan in
2000, Davies has developed a certain philosophy in the class-
room. "I can't give talent, but I can help students maximize
their talent and learn aspects of the craft. I ask students, 'What
are you trying to achieve?' and then help them understand
whether they are achieving those goals."
In addition to teaching, Davies is in the process of writing a
novel, which will come out in 2005. "It is set in Wales after
World War II, when German prisoners of war come to work

Courtesy or Dimension

Want me to drag him outside, kick the shit out of him?


on the Welsh farms," he explained. "This creates a clash of
cultures." Because his two major published works, "The Ugli-
est House in the World" and "Equal Love," are short story col-
lections, Davies finds it "a challenge" to write a novel.
"You have to be more patient," he said. "In a short story
collection, you have the flexibility to move back and forth in
time and to shift stylistically. In a novel, the challenge is that
you are obliged to be consistent:'
Of his numerous writing awards and publications, Davies
considers his selection for Granta's list to be one of the most
significant. "This was an honor because the list first came out
when I was seventeen," he recalled. "At that time in my life,
seeing that young, living people write was something that
encouraged me." He added, "Also, one of my stories was
included in The Paris Review Anthology, on the opposite page
from Kurt Vonnegut, whom I idolized as a young writer."
Although Davies has received considerable recogntion for
his writing, he believes writers do not have to choose a single
path. "There are two types of writers: writers who feel that
they have to write because it's the only thing they can or want
to do, and writers who could be successful doing many differ-
ent things," he remarked. "I'm still not entirely sure which
category I fit into."

No relief for empty, slow 'Borders'

Movie 2" that the Wayans Brothers had nothing left to
satirize. After a rejection from Kevin
Smith for a rewrite (a smart man
indeed), an entire PG-13 diluted Scary
revamp is presented with veteran Movie 3
parody director David Zucker ("Air- At Showcase,
plane!") at the helm with writers Quality 16 and
Craig Mazin ("Senseless") and Pat Madstone
Proft ("Naked Gun") in tow. Dimension
In the tradition of parody, there is
an ensemble cast of all brands of celebrities, A and B
list, and plots mashed together in a hodgepodge for
maximum joke-a-second style humor that made films
like "Naked Gun" and "Airplane!" the populist classics
they are. However, that was 1980, and that style never
seemed more dead and stale than on display in "Scary
Movie 3." You get the feeling of Zucker sitting his
grandchildren down and showing them old highlight
reels. Not to say that this style of humor is completely
finished, but rather it was never executed with more dif-
ficulty than watching Ja Rule trying to be funny.
Using "The Ring" for a ridiculous amount of its plot,
the movie moves forcefully through all the recent and
most popular films as a way of masking its own ineptir
tude. No movie is spared as "X-Men 2," "8 Mile," "Signs,"
"The Matrix" and "Sixth Sense" all get lampooned (appar-
ently'it is still cutting edge to spoof a movie you spoofed
two movies ago). Anna Farris ("Lost in Translation"), mas-
ter of the ditzy shtick and the mild saving grace of the
film, returns as Cindy, who is on a mission to spread the
news of impending doom, this time in the form of crop
circles and ominous videotapes, to the masses.
With this type of film, the acting glasses are taken off
and the only things looked for are comedic timing and
adept physical humor, but instead we get Charlie Sheen

By Vanessa Miller
Daily Arts Writer

y . """
_ 4 _ n . . .

One could say Angelinaioheias
tried to go "Beyond Borders" in her
new film by attempting to escape Lara
Croft, and of course Billy Bob, as she
tries to once again claim the position
of a thought-provoking, Oscar-win-
ning dramatic actress. However, Jolie
gets trapped beneath the burden of the
film's narcissistic attempt to give an
enlightened approach to starvation,
death and relief
work in third
world countries. Beyond
"Beyond Bor- Borders
ders" could possi- At the Quality 16
bly succeed in and Showcase
exposing the dark Paramount
side of relief
work if it was done with a raw edge,
but instead it completes its prophecy
as being an overly commercialized
film focusing on a far-fetched star-
crossed love epic.
Jolie plays Sarah, a well-to-do
American, who after hearing about
the financial woes of relief work in
Africa suddenly feels the pangs of
guilt for living her cushy life in Lon-
don. She leaves her husband and goes
to Ethiopia clad in a designer white-
linen outfit, which is a staple in the
scenes where the images of starvation
and death are the strongest.
Amid the white linen and harsh
realities of Ethiopia, Sarah meets Dr.
Nick Callahan (Clive Owen, "Gos-

Courtesy of Dimension
it's a big building with patients, but that's not important.
banging his head repeatedly on a metal lampshade, Leslie
Nielsen looking rather lost and tired, flat Michael Jackson
jokes and people falling down holes. The hackneyed
notion of one character as whipping boy is also present
and it gets old quick, all depending on how funny a child
flying out a window for the eighth time is to you.
With such a high attack rate, the accuracy is dangerous-
ly low, since about three jokes hit. Mostly you just sitand
cringe. The onslaught of sight and sound gags, props,
spitfire one-liners and inept lampooning just feels like
your old uncle elbowing you in the ribs saying, "Funny
huh?" No, it's not. Stop.
But there is one truly scary thought to this all,
"Scary Movie 4" is in pre-production, and nothing dis-
turbs me more than the idea of another one of these
being mass distributed. Be afraid.

Courtesy of Paramount

if talking did shit, we'd be out of here by now.

ford Park"), the rough and tumble
leader of the relief program. Owen is
the one person that shines in the film,
making up for the pitfalls with his
dark charm. Unfortunately, to be
expected, a classic formula is
achieved: 1) Nick is rude to Sarah for
being a spoiled girl trying to save the
world because of her personal guilt
trip, 2) She then finds his rudeness
intriguing, 3) He begins to see her for
who she really is, 4) Five years and
three days of actual interaction later,
they reveal their love for each other.
But the two lovers acknowledge they
could never truly be together so their
desire is left to simmer as Sarah
returns home to be with her husband
and raise an illegitimate child.

The love struggle and trips to war-
torn countries continues over the span
of a decade as Sarah begins working
for the United Nations. "Beyond Bor-
ders" finally reaches true dramatic
conflict after two hours, when Sarah
has a feeling Nick is in trouble and
flees to Chechnya to research his sud-
den disappearance. Alas, she does
find him using little effort and having
magical ties to Chechnyan gangs.
"Beyond Borders" does succeed in
showing stark images of relief work.
It truly becomes a shame director
Martin Campbell ("Goldeneye") was-
n't able to deliver a full narrative on
relief work, which could have given
the film the impact the love story sim-
ply does not offer up.

Casa' a thematically rich adoption portrait

By Justin Weiner
Daily Arts Writer
Give John Sayles credit. No one
paints a scene like the director of
"Eight Men Out" and "Lone Star." In
his latest film, "Casa de Los Babys,"


Sayles chooses a
seemingly odd
setting, the adop-
tion market in a
South American
"Casa de Los
Babys" focuses
on six women
who have come to

Casa de Los
At the Michigan
IFC Films
South America to

greatest weakness and strength of
his movie. On the one hand, Sayles
forgoes quite a bit of character
Daryl Hannah, Marcia Gay Harden
and other cast members turn in stellar
performances, but no character gets
the screen time to really stick in the
audience's mind. On the other hand,
the film's nebulous nature allows
Sayles to explore an overarching
theme instead of focusing on only
one character.
Sayles' brush strokes are uniquely
highlited through richly textured
issues. By showing adoption from
multiple sides and angles, Sayles
explains what it is to raise a child, to be
a parent and to be a son or daughter.
The portrayal of the adoption process
is the film's most interesting facet.
"Casa de Los Babys" is not a
character study or a dramatic story.
Sayles' choice of setting, however,
provides a perfect microcosm of

adopt children. The women must
remain in the country for several
weeks to work through the bureaucra-
cy and red tape associated with adop-
tion. Sayles, however, does not make
this a story about these women. He
illustrates nearly every player in the

couny or Ire r5s
Johnny B! Where are you, Johnny B?
adoption market, from the pregnant
girls who give up their babies to the
owner of the local hotel.
Sayles' choice to display the adop-
tion process in its entirety is both the

( 00 r~rI . l hh r.1l


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