October 31, 2009

Best media news in awhile…Turner Classic Movies is now available in HD on local cable service!


Still Mad about MAD MEN

October 26, 2009

Mad Men gives lie to the saying – and I’ve often said it – that there is nothing to watch on television.  I admit that I missed this series when it premiered then was turned off by the media hype.  But I caught up just before this season, the third, caught fire (AMC 10 p.m. Sundays).  You might say I became obsessed with the series.  I watched the first two seasons in just a couple of days and celebrated the advent of DVDs with each back-to-back episode.

Mad Men seems fresh as a multi-layered counterpoint to films and television produced during the early 1960s that depict the era as modern and uncomplicated.  This resonates particularly with me this fall because I’m teaching a seminar called Culture and the Sitcom (check out The Sitcom Reader:  America Viewed and Skewed edited by Laura R. Linder and myself if you have an interest in this area), so my students have been watching sitcoms ranging from the early 1950s to shows that are still on the air presently in order to get a critical and historical overview of the genre.

In some ways, it seems that television as a medium plays a minor supporting role in the series.  We more than the major characters know the growing influence TV is about to unleash on families and the employees of Sterling Cooper.  Occasionally, we see the Draper family plopped in front of the TV set, but more often the show reveals the initially unsophisticated ways advertising executives are working to understand and exploit the medium.

In addition to providing a contrast to popular shows from the period like Leave It To Beaver and Bewitched (which also had an ad agency as part of the narrative), Mad Men also contrasts with films like Revolutionary Road that cover some of the same terrain of suburban angst and the ill-fit of the gray flannel suit, but the series is more nuanced than most of those stories.

Mad Men deals with the issues of the day, particularly sexism and racism, in ways that let us look anew at how much culture really has changed in the last fifty years while also prodding us to recognize ways in which changes have been incremental.  But the series is also fun to watch.  This is what TV used to be like when there were shows you loved, those appointment TV episodes that you watched then discussed with friends and family because the drama was so compelling.

After a tiny bit of a slow start, season three is living up to the promise of the first two seasons.  If, like me initially, you’ve been slow to get on board, I recommend that you get your hands on the DVDs and start catching up!

GOOD HAIR Is A Good Time

October 25, 2009

So, Denise Franklin and I went to see Good Hair over the weekend.  (We had dinner afterward, and the conversation was similar to what you hear if you listen to us on Voices and Viewpoints except that I let her talk more than she gets to when we’re on the radio.)

I think we both liked the documentary, though Denise was more measured in her response than I was.  Basically, I think the movie is entertaining and sometimes quite revealing.  I wish there had been a bit more critical context (maybe even a few academics or public intellectuals providing some informed insights about how hair functions as an element of ethnic identity) and a bit less grandstanding, but I recommend the movie overall.

Something Wild

October 20, 2009

I must have read Where The Wild Things Are to my son hundreds of times when he was little.  It was in heavy rotation with The Giving Tree, The Runaway Bunny, Fox in Socks, and others.  I loved each of these books, but my favorite line above any other was “Let the wild rumpus start!”

A lot of people seem ambivalent about the movie or reluctant to see it because they didn’t want the book to be adapted into another form.  I don’t think I ever felt strongly about it because I see the book and the film as fundamentally different things, though I do think the emotional authenticity of the film reflects major themes in the book.  It expands on those themes but always feels true to the spirit of Maurice Sendak’s slim volume.

Maybe I was not disturbed about the prospect of the adaptation because director Spike Jonze was shepherding the project.  Jonze has an interesting background that includes music videos and commercials, and he has a track record of making projects that might seem impossible to bring to the screen in a way that makes sense let alone in a way that succeeds.

Up until now, Jonze probably best-known for two collaborations with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, the movies Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.  I have to say that I think Adaptation is brilliant – and I don’t use that word very often.

I probably wouldn’t use the word brilliant as an overall description for Where The Wild Things Are, but the film does have moments, mostly small moments, of brilliance.  The scenes before and after Max’s dream journey are flawless, absolutely flawless.   This is a movie about children not so much a movie for children, and the film captures perfectly the exploding emotions the little boy experiences as well as his inability to figure out what to do with those feelings.

It is his interactions among the wild things he encounters during his dream journey that give Max an opportunity to work through some of the things that are bothering him at home and at school.  This is an atypical fantasy sequence involving a child.  The palette in this dream world is filled with earth tones that give Max’s fantastic journey a curious sort of realism.

There are indelible moments to be appreciated throughout the film.  So, yes, I say that a wild rumpus can be a very good thing.  Let it start.


October 17, 2009

When I went to see Jennifer’s Body several weeks ago, I was hoping screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) would deliver a feminist punch to infuse the horror genre with some (much needed) revisionist ideas.  Sometimes it’s not a good idea to have too many expectations.  While there were flashes here and there that suggested a desire on the part of filmmakers to revise some of the sexist conventions of the form, the film failed to offer a coherent ideology and was a bit boring and silly by turns on top of that.

I went to Zombieland this week without such lofty expectations, and thought the film struck just the right tone.  There is silliness, to be sure, but it fits this story and is used to good effect.  I haven’t seen any prior work from director Ruben Fleischer or writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, but they understand the zombie genre and know what it takes to satisfy an audience looking for some laughs and a fresh perspective on the subject (provided here in part by a hilarious celebrity cameo).  Zombieland won’t make my top ten list of the year, but it is good for a laugh.  It’s better to have a film exceed your expectations than fall short.

My Favorite TV Show

October 11, 2009

If I were to ask you to guess my favorite (current) show (so The Wire is not on the table), I bet you couldn’t do it.  Some of you who know me well might say “Friday Night Lights.”   That’s a good guess, because I do love it intensely.  But, you would be wrong.

It’s Reliable Sources.  This is must-see or DVR TV for me.  Howard Kurtz’s show on media ethics airs on CNN Sunday mornings at 10 a.m.  As much as I have nagged some of my friends to watch it regularly so we can chat about it, I haven’t had much luck.  Maybe I’ll have more success with some of you!

I generally record This Week With George Stephanopoulos (ABC 11 a.m. Sundays), too, though I often fast-forward to the roundtable and the closing segments.  While I used to make it a point to catch or record Meet The Press (still the top-rated of the Sunday morning news shows, NBC 9 a.m.), I’ve not been able to reconnect with the show on a regular basis since the death of Tim Russert.  For me, it has lost some edge.  Besides, you can always see the best interview clips from the Sunday morning news shows online, so I don’t feel like I’m ever missing too much.

Then, there’s Sunday Morning (CBS 9-10:30 a.m.). I never record it, but if I’m home, it’s the perfect accompaniment to reading The New York Times and The Washington Post online.

Say No To Fame

October 5, 2009

When I heard about an “update” to the 1980 film Fame, I thought, “Why?”  After seeing it, the question remains.  The new release has none of the edge or the affecting moments of the original movie.  The narrative, such as it is, still focuses on a group of aspiring performers at a highly selective, public performing arts high school in New York City, but the remake seems blander than bland compared to the original (more like a remake of one of the TV series by the same name).  Never have the stakes been so low for an ensemble cast…