November 23, 2015

I had a late lunch at my desk (soup I made last night) and watched the latest episode of The Affair on my computer.  (Thank you, Showtime Anytime.)

Best episode yet.

The series dragged a bit for me during the first season at times, but expanding to include the perspectives of more characters this second season is really working well for me.

The characters are multi-layered and complex. The story is unfolding in surprising ways that, nonetheless, are believable.

I am really getting into it…

The Affair.jpg


November 23, 2015

Recently I was corresponding with a friend about music, something I don’t believe I’ve written about in this space.

While I don’t consider myself an expert in anything, I know even less about music than about most things. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy it and that it doesn’t play a role in my life but just that I’m not naturally musical.

In our discussion, it unfolds that my friend prefers music that is original and noticeably unconventional. He likes “risky” music.

For me, on the other hand, it is a matter of resonance and is contingent on the words (sometimes as little as a single, searing phrase) that imprint on me as a mirror of my own feelings or experiences (real or imagined).

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OUT @ the Movies Fest

November 13, 2015

How am I going to spend my weekend? Happily watching a bunch of movies at the second annual OUT @ the Movies Fest in Winston-Salem.

You still have time to get a ticket for the opening night film Baby Steps, which will be preceded by the short Noam tonight at 7:30 at the UNCSA ACE Theatre Complex, for the affordable price of $8.00 then join filmmakers and festival pass holders at the Celebrity Reception at The Old Fourth Street Filling Station at 9:30.

By all means, check out the festival schedule. There’s something for everyone. I saw Out to Win (screening Saturday at 12:30 p.m.) at GAZE International LGBT Film Festival in Dublin and was quite taken with it. Even though I’m not a huge sports fan, this is an important, human story that transcends sports in any narrow sense. I also saw Naz & Maalik at GAZE (screening Sunday at noon), and think it is a story whose moment has come in an international, political sense because it speaks to the under-represented experience gay men who are Muslim.


My latest documentary short Queer Knitter in the Queen City is showing out of competition Sunday afternoon at 5 at a/perture cinema before the feature Upstairs Inferno, and it’s out of competition because I am honored to be a juror at the festival.

Check the schedule carefully because there are several venues for the festival.

Tonight’s screening and the daytime screenings Saturday, November 14th are at the UNCSA ACE Theatre Complex. Tomorrow evening’s screening of PACKED IN A TRUNK: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson is at Calem College’s Hanes Auditorium. Screenings on Sunday, November 15th will be at a/perture cinema.


November 6, 2015

There’s not much to say about the latest Bond picture. In terms of the Daniel Craig chapter of the movie franchise, Casino Royale is still the best, Skyfall comes in second place (elevated by the strength of the final act), Spectre ranks third, and Quantum of Solace is still a frightful mess.

I admire certain sequences of Spectre, appreciate the deepening backstory written for James Bond, and enjoy some of the performers, especially Léa Seydoux, who dazzled me in Blue is the Warmest Color but seems (I have to say it) too young for Daniel Craig here.

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Two to Recommend

November 6, 2015

I liked both Bridge of Spies and Steve Jobs much more than I expected.

In the case of Bridge of Spies, I often experience Steven Spielberg’s work as too sentimental or otherwise manipulative and (sorry) find Tom Hanks over-exposed to the point I’ve become weary of him. For this film, too, the preview trailers seemed boring to me.

Happy to report that my preconceptions were completely unfounded.

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October 11, 2015

Friday afternoon I went to see Black Mass.

The preview trailers made me ambivalent because it evoked a “been there, done that” feeling in me after having seen the recent, conventional documentary Whitey: The United States of America v. James J. Bulger.

But, I ended up at the movie anyway because one of my students didn’t follow directions while writing an assigned movie review.

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Guest Post — Jack McKinney

October 4, 2015

I love it when former students take the time to reply thoughtfully to my posts. I think Jack makes some excellent points and — with his permission — I am including his comments here on my blog in the form of a guest post.

Fair warning, some spoilers may follow but I’ll contain them as best I can. Watney’s lack of family (as well as the clear decision not to focus on emotional entanglements between ANY of the characters) was a welcome change from the norm for us as well. I think something like, say, a forced romantic undercurrent would have distracted from what the movie was really trying to do and I would likely have spent the whole running time thinking “Ridley, your manipulations are showing”. As for our lack of character knowledge for Watney, I think that was a very intentional creative choice and here is why: Watney is not a stand-in for each audience member in the usual sense. He is a representative of our country as a whole first and as a personal stand-in second and the filmmakers didn’t want anything in there that might prevent an audience member from projecting themselves into Watney’s shoes. Thus he has no overt political or religious leanings. As soon as we walked out, I commented on how nice it was to see a movie that celebrated intelligence, science, and working peacefully and openly with other countries. This thing is like a liberal utopia of what the future could be (consider that Mars where “nothing grows” makes a pretty nice symbolic stand-in for a future earth that has been ravaged by climate change). From there you can jump straight to the closing statements of the film as a thesis for what the filmmakers were trying to say. Overwhelmed by climate change? Ignore the big picture and just work on the problem right in front of you. String enough problem-solving together and you can save humanit…er….a single astronaut. Even if you don’t buy into my larger symbolism, I do think that those final words really are a justification for Watney’s lack of character depth. In the context of this story, they’re saying that it simply doesn’t matter. The choices he has to make personally and the decisions make by NASA are exactly the same no matter what we know or don’t know about Watney. That may be frustrating on some level but ultimately it really is thematically consistent. Watney can’t allow himself to be distracted by anything other than triage so neither can the audience. All that said, I loved it. I don’t know about transcendent but it was by far the smartest, most complete mainstream film I’ve seen in quite a while. While I agree that the end felt slightly off somehow (I think there are some correctable editing issues–most of them deal with the pacing of the communication between Watney and the rest of the team as well as how long it takes to implement plans once a decision is made), I can’t tell you how relieved I was that science and problem-solving wasn’t thrown out the window in favor of some giant FX spectacle. In fact, another great relief for me was that despite a film full of them, not a single effect rang fake for me. The CGI was seamless, appropriate and in service to the story. Definitely the best thing Ridley Scott has made in some time and in many ways it is the kind of film that I often lament that they don’t really make any more. It reminded me of some of the better late 20th century action-adventure films like Hunt for Red October (which the film lifts a beat from in one of the only parts of the movie that I actively disliked–it involves a map and a magic marker). Ok, must sleep. More tomorrow after somebody shreds my analysis.


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