Author: Jessica Schneider

Jessica is a novelist and poet. Visit her Amazon Book page for a glimpse into what she's shared. Her unreleased works include several trilogies and poetic novels on religious themes. She is currently working on a poetry collection on French painters. She also runs a YouTube channel on the arts.
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A stylized side-by-side portrait of Ted Hughes and Robinson Jeffers.

‘But They Both Wrote About Hawks!’: Robinson Jeffers’s “Hurt Hawks” vs. Ted Hughes’s “The Hawk In The Rain”

When contemplating writers, it is not uncommon for many to lump them together on account of subject matter. Sure, it is shallow, but it is easy marketing. Imagine it—any nature writer is ‘just like Loren Eiseley’ and any gay, black political essayist who writes on race is ‘just like James Baldwin.’ Anyone who writes of death is ‘just like Sylvia Plath,’ or anyone spiritual is ‘just like Rilke.’ (How convenient a comparison, albeit even if the writing itself is lacking in skill or depth.) Years ago, I got into an argument with a professor who claimed that some random ‘nature’ writer was ‘just like Loren Eiseley.’ She argued this after having complained about the lack of intellectual writing presented within university courses. And while I did agree with her initial statement regarding the dearth of quality writing as presented in universities, when she got to examples, she was running on full emotion. (Where goes the intellectualism?) In short, she merely ‘liked’ certain banal nature writers and lumped them beside Eiseley ‘just because.’ Why? Well, it is easy. They both write about nature! […]

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A shot of a hooded "glasses man" from Chris Marker's "La Jetee".

Shadows & Windows: On Chris Marker’s “La Jetée” (1962)

It is not uncommon for one to imbue more into another than what is actually there; where time and memory are no longer obstacles, and on the outside exists some narrator. Everything then becomes ordered according to some standard. Memories uphold our moments as though they were poles in a tent, but remove them from our minds and we are left formless and limp. Free, possibly, to build into some other identity. Or perhaps left wandering some empty wartime world.

Chris Marker’s La Jetée finishes in just under 30 minutes and offers a narrative via voiceover and still pictures. Before us lives the war torn cities, the silence of metal and transport. Time is no obstacle, as humans can easily cross from one moment into another, seamlessly and without plans. […]

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A stylized picture of snowy Minneapolis, the setting of Bruce Ario's novel "Cityboy".

A Cityboy Finds Meaning: On “Cityboy” by Bruce Ario

Whenever reviewing any writer, objectivity is important. But what when you have known that writer personally? What then? This is my third time reading Bruce Ario’s novel, Cityboy*. The first was in 2000, when he introduced it. At the time, I’d become familiar with his poems via the Uptown Poetry Group, albeit I knew not what to expect from his prose. Hell, at that time, I hadn’t even begun my trip into prose, and so what did I know? The second time I read it was in 2009, for creative purposes. I was working on my own novel and I needed to revisit the masculine perspective. And now, my third read occurred after his death, in 2022. Each read brought about a visceral reaction, with each experience growing in intensity. All I can say is wow—did Bruce hit a home run with this one.

Firstly, within Cityboy there is the notion of the city as every bit a character as that of John Argent Jr. The city never changes—it is the one lone, solid, dependable thing. It never changes, but John’s perception of it does. When he is young, the city lives as its own entity—a breathing, living being that holds endless possibility. But as John ages, the city grows more menacing. It strangles him, much like a vine within the wilderness. It overwhelms, and it sucks the life from him. Yet John is both attracted and repelled by its expectations. The city—it is this lone love, this mysterious, cosmopolitan, wonderful thing. […]

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A stylized shot of actor Evan Peters in Ryan Murphy's "Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story".

Why Ryan Murphy’s “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” (2022) Misses All Perspective

I have always believed that there is no subject too dark or grisly for one to explore. All topics, regardless of the comfort involved, should carry a freedom of expression within a work of art. This includes politics with which one might not agree, historical perspectives, and even murderers. If handled well, quality is certainly possible. However, with this comes the potential of over-indulgence. Is this topic worth a film, much less 10 hours of one?

Netflix has released Monster, its 10-part series on serial killer Jeffery Dahmer and just by the length alone, it reeks of self-indulgence. There have been other well-made works on serial killers, including previous films on Dahmer, which were good. My Friend Dahmer (2017), as example, is based on a novel by Derf Backderf and is told from Backderf’s perspective. In Netflix’s 2019 film on Ted Bundy titled Extremely Wicked; Shockingly Evil and Vile, the story is told from the perspective of Bundy’s girlfriend, Liz. In both instances, the outsider perspective offers a unique slant, as we only see as much as the limited narrator knows. […]

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A stylized shot of the two lead actors practicing shooting bottles in Carlos Saura's "Deprisa, Deprisa".

Poverty & Criminality in Carlos Saura’s “Deprisa, Deprisa” (1981)

What to say regarding a life of crime for four juveniles who, in an attempt to finance their way out of poverty, are constantly on the run and yet living a nebulous life of nowhereness? Carlos Saura’s Deprisa, Deprisa, which translates to Faster or Hurry, caries an underlining irony to the question of what else is there for them in their otherwise motionless lives if not committing crimes? Perhaps visiting the occasional dance club or shooting cans in a broken, trash-filled field when they’re not burning the cars they robbed—in any event, their lives are equally split between intense boredom and momentary fragments of excitement. This is their present, their future, even, as their lives amount to a nebulous, a bland pulp.

How the story goes is this: Pablo (Jose Antonio Valdelomar González) and his friend Meca (Jesús Arias Aranzueque) steal cars. They do this regularly, then carry out a robbery, and once done they burn the car they stole. They frequent the occasional bar where a young girl named Angela (Berta Socuéllamos) works. Pablo approaches her and asks her out. She agrees. He likes her and she returns the feeling, despite his living within a one-bedroom hovel. Without hesitation, she becomes his girlfriend and begins to accompany him and his two friends on various crime-filled excursions. […]

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A shot of Michel's thievery in Robert Bresson's "Pickpocket".

A Lesson In Intricacy: Robert Bresson’s “Pickpocket” (1959)

Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (1959) is a study of human intricacy. With compulsive desperation, Michel (Martin LaSalle) is a Parisian loner who, living separately in a run-down flat, has developed a fixation on perfection. The stressful tricks he must perform to gain that wallet or purse seem not worth it, but for him they’ve become a substitute for intimacy. In fact, what he lacks in human intimacy he makes up for in manual dexterity. Unable to get close, even his ill mother he keeps at a distance. Is it humiliation? Shame? The only time we witness him approach anyone is when he employs a sleight of hand near a pocket or purse. On the metro, Michel nervously reads a newspaper in his attempt to pull a man’s wallet out from his jacket pocket. Bump ever so slightly and now the wallet is swallowed by the grey newspaper folds—gone forever. But Michel hesitates. Not because he lacks the addiction or is succumbing to second thoughts, but often his nerves overtake him. […]

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A stylized shot of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the T800 in James Cameron's "Terminator 2: Judgment Day".

Father & Son: On James Cameron’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991)

I recently reviewed Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy, wherein I noted the hardening of Celine’s character. We see her in the first film, where she goes from a Romantic idealist, to the third film, where she expresses both disillusionment and anger within her marriage. While Celine’s evolution is not as extreme as Sarah Connor’s (Linda Hamilton) in James Cameron’s Terminator series, over time we witness both women engendering a toughness to their respective characters.

The first Terminator film is well-crafted, excellent sci-fi. While it lacks the emotional and intellectual depth of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, craft is still omnipresent. My reasons for wanting to review The Terminator films alongside Bergman, Bresson, and Tarkovsky is not to make claim that they rank among those other auteurs, per se, but rather to debunk the notion that 1) Hollywood commercial films can’t be great; and 2) if something is an action film, then it must immediately lack depth. While I do think that most sci-fi genre is trite and doesn’t qualify for the greatness canon, with well-sketched characters, transcending the genre is most possible. Also, the other problem I have is sci-fi lovers who rank ‘plot-driven’ narratives above everything else. (Were that true, there would be no reason to ever rewatch anything.) […]

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A shot of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) watching TV in James Cameron's "The Terminator" (1984)

Great Action is Great Storytelling: James Cameron’s “The Terminator” (1984)

I have a long history with the first two Terminator films. James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) I watched on VHS, following a visit to a video rental store. I was nine and the film came recommended. Those who were never kids in the ‘80s will never know what it was like to ‘rent a movie,’ where it wasn’t uncommon to spend upward of an hour poring over empty cassette cases, carefully deciding on which one. This required commitment, in contrast to today where one can begin streaming and stop if the film is boring.

So, what I am getting at is that these first two films carry personal significance. Not that I was ever excessively into sci-fi, but I must have known quality writing, even then. Now, years later, I have watched this film numerous times and so I am able to view it from a distance. The Terminator isn’t a poetic film per se, but rather, it is well-written, ‘prose-driven’ cinema. Its success is proof that a film can be commercial and of quality, but more on that later. […]