What I’m Reading — Two Works of Non-Fiction

May 30, 2011

Funny, I thought The George Carlin Letters:  The Permanent Courtship of Sally Wade would be entertaining if not illuminating.  Actually, I thought love notes from a comic genius to the “love of his life” would be substantive and revealing, but I’m slogging through with dwindling enthusiasm.

On the other hand, the highly-acclaimed memoir by singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, Chinaberry Sidewalks, is a good read, partly because it feels so honest in its depiction of Crowell’s difficult (and often painful) childhood and adolescence and partly because he is such a good storyteller.


Where are the Jokes?

May 30, 2011

Adam Sternbergh has an insightful piece about contemporary comedies in the The New York Times Magazine.  I’m not just saying this because I agree with him — Judd Apatow’s film The 40 Year Old Virgin is a good film (his “masterpiece”) – but contemporary comedies are lacking for me, too.  Where are the jokes?


It makes me long for the wit and intellect of films like Annie Hall, which doesn’t get tired.  “A relationship is like a shark…”  If you can finish that bit of dialogue, then you know exactly what I mean.


May 28, 2011

So, I finally got around to watching Thor (yes, in 3-D).

Seems an odd choice for director Kenneth Branagh except that there are some good actors in epic situations.

I think the film picks up speed considerably when Thor gets the hammer back (now don’t accuse me of a spoiler – everyone knows that’s going to happen), and I like the chemistry between Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth.

Worth noting, though, is that I’m thinking more about the preview trailer I saw for Captain America (due in theaters in late July), which had a better look to me than Thor, than I am about the movie I actually saw.

One thing about Thor has given me pause, and it’s not really about the movie directly but about context.

Timing really is everything.  A troubling aspect of Thor for me visually (in addition to the fact that I think some of the other realms look a bit cheesy) is all of the tornado imagery on the ground in New Mexico.

Had I seen the film before recent tornadoes, especially in Joplin, Missouri, I might not have juxtaposed images of the effects on the screen with news clips of actual destruction and despair.

Some people go to popcorn movies to escape.  It takes a really, really good movie to make me shut down the competing narratives inside my head.

That’s not a bad thing…it’s just the way I am…and Thor wasn’t strong enough to push aside everything else in my cluttered brain.


May 26, 2011

The regular season run of network shows is wrapping up.

We still don’t know what will happen in Dillon, Texas, but Mike and Molly are engaged, and Alicia and Will are on their way to a hotel suite that costs $7,800, which is a high price to pay for a tryst but perhaps not so much when parsed by how long this union has been awaited.

After all, there was a convention in town, and the penthouse suite was the only room available when opportunity overcame all remaining impediments.

That’s what I continue to think about among the shows I follow – the final few episodes of The Good Wife this season.  The series is holding up well and continues to develop characters in interesting and unexpected ways.

My, how quickly the bad husband has reverted to his calculating ways when thwarted (I never trusted or liked him), and oh, my, how steamy that elevator to the penthouse suite must have been when Will and Alicia decided to seize their long-awaited hour of good timing.

Maybe I’m wrong to want this so keenly, but I sure hope the fall season premiere doesn’t dash my hopes that these two, who have long harbored “what ifs” inside their heads and hearts, will not be able to act on such intense longing.


May 23, 2011

Based on a true story, Of Gods and Men examines the deliberations of a group of Trappist monks living in Algeria who are caught between the government and a fundamentalist terrorist group during a time of civil war.

Should they stay and fulfill their calling or leave to preserve their safety?

Like many European films I favor, this story unfolds slowly and episodically with a sense of pristine authenticity.  It is also one of the most beautifully photographed films I’ve seen recently.  Of Gods and Men is simply stunning to look at in terms of lighting and composition.

There is a lot to think about here…and I do keep thinking about this film.


May 21, 2011

I have never understood the fascination so many people have with The Hangover.

It’s not that I categorically dislike raunchy comedies.  Some of them, or – more often – some parts of them, can be sidesplitting.

I’m not a prude, so vulgarity in and of itself is not a problem for me.  After all, I do like John Waters, but The Hangover is nothing special in my book.  I absolutely cannot figure out why anyone would see it more than once, and I’ve heard some people have seen it five or ten times.

I suspect something similar will happen with Bridesmaids, and I’m not completely sold on this film either.  Once is fine, but multiple trips to the multiplex?  Uh, no…

Still, I think Bridesmaids is a much more interesting film than The Hangover because it does break new ground.

Basically, the storyline is simple.  There is a main character facing a period of time in which everything is going wrong for her at the same time when everything seems to be going perfectly for her best friend, who becomes engaged and is in the midst of planning a wedding.  It’s a pretty conventional set-up.  The complications arise from the different trajectories their lives are taking and from the other personalities involved in the wedding party.

What’s different about Bridesmades is that men provide the backdrop. Bridesmaids features an ensemble of women quite capably pulling off gross-out humor in a script written by women, too.  Instead of women characters functioning as the butt of jokes in comedies featuring male characters in the starring roles, these women are writing the jokes, delivering the jokes, and making a lot of people laugh.

The bottom line is that I like what this movie represents in terms of proving that women can be as funny and as gross as men, but I guess I’m just not that into gross-out comedies unless there is some intellectual and subversive layer to the grossness.

I kind of hate how that makes me sound (elitist), but it’s true.

Also, I have to say that that I like the second half of Bridesmaids more than the first half.  It did grow on me.  I like the more emotional parts when we see more about the internal lives of the characters, and that kicks in later on during the story.  This is probably the same point at which diehard fans of The Hangover checked out of Bridesmaids.

My advice?  You know what you like and can tell from the preview trailers, commercials, and word of mouth whether or not this film is for you.  There are laughs throughout the film, but for me there were more smiles and chuckles not so much guffaws and belly laughs.

Not your conventional wedding party...


May 16, 2011

I’m trying to prepare myself for the inevitable (and quickly approaching) end of this relationship.

Although I love Friday Night Lights – it was love at first sight – the relationship is doomed by poor ratings that have persisted despite critical acclaim, a small but passionate fan base, and a creative production partnership between NBC and DirecTV.

What can I say?  A populace that has continued to tune in to Two and a Half Men despite the misogyny and tired punch lines is never going to appreciate something this good.

Friday Night Lights is well into its final season, and I’m already feeling wistful.


There is so much to admire about this show:  the rural landscapes, the emotional authenticity of the Taylor’s marriage, the tricky and sometimes painful transitions that teenagers make, and the cultural touchstones of football, family, school, church, and, yes, parties.  Oh, did I forget to mention the writing, the performances, and the production values?

My best friend from my college days, Katie Scarvey, is as obsessed with this show as I am (maybe even more), and we actually call each other sometimes to check in about the latest episode and admit our absolutely understandable crushes on the “molder of men” Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and the totally inappropriate crush we share on the too young, too rowdy, and currently incarcerated Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch).

We’ve remarked before that it really feels like we know these people.  I mean, these characters.  That could be because Katie grew up on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and I’m one generation removed from maternal and paternal farms in Cleveland County, North Carolina where I spent a lot of summers and holidays as a child.

We get it.  Dillon, Texas is real.  Neither one of us wants to live there, but we’ll sure miss visiting it on TV.

Katie recently posted on Facebook that this is the best show on television.  I quibbled that it’s the best show currently on broadcast TV, but why should I quibble?  It is great television airing on NBC at a time when most of the television worth watching is on cable stations, and there’s not as much of that as I would like!

Go East Dillon!  If you’re not watching Friday Night LIghts, start catching up on DVD.