October 26, 2011

The Interrupters is playing at a/perture in Winston-Salem on October 26th and 27th.  I highly recommend this film directed by Steve James, who is well-known in documentary circles for making insightful films on a variety of topics.  This time James looks at a violence prevention program that is working in some of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods.  The film is hard to watch at times but very moving.  It’s hard to think of anything that could be more powerful than a story of violence and redemption.  The Interrupters is an important story for our times and engrossing to watch.


Lost Weekend

October 24, 2011

I’m not talking about the classic Billy Wilder film from 1945 but about my actual weekend, which is misleading because my weekend was spent working on my kitchen renovation instead of drinking excessively (a reference to the film not meant to indicate anything else).

Mostly I took boxes and boxes of kitchen items and restocked the shelves of my new cabinets.  Why share this?  Because it explains why I have nothing to write about on the media front…unless you want to read about my weekend DVR maintenance…nah…who would want to do that?

Work in Progress Kitchen -- October 24, 2011


New TV Shows

October 19, 2011

I keep thinking that I’ll write a piece about the new TV shows I’ve seen, but that’s sort of depressing.  The only new shows I’m still watching are Prime Suspect (cop drama), Whitney (sitcom), and Homeland (Showtime).

On the other hand, some of my old favorites are back, Boardwalk Empire, The Good Wife, and Modern Family.  

And, I record a few others, too.  Maybe that’s enough…


October 9, 2011

I just finished slogging through the new Ken Burns documentary series The Prohibition.  Does it make me seem lowbrow to admit that I was mostly interested in it because I’m so engaged by the HBO series Boardwalk Empire?


October 6, 2011

Ryan Gosling is a big talent.  A really big talent.

I haven’t seen The Ides of March yet (probably tomorrow), but Half Nelson, Blue Valentine, and Drive are enough for me to make the case for Gosling.

Drive relies on a cast of strong actors – including Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, and Christina Hendricks – because the script is spare.

With the absence of character backstory, strong performances are necessary to engage viewers and propel what is essentially a lean storyline:  there’s not a lot of dialogue, and the plot is a bit elliptical at times, too.

But, these are not bad things in Drive.  The story involves a mechanic (Gosling) who works as a stunt driver when movie jobs roll around and drives getaway cars for criminals when it suits him.  His character isn’t even given a name.

Think that’s complicated?  Just wait.  It’s only when he falls for a single mom (Mulligan) in the apartment down the hall that what should signal a certain type of complication in more conventional films quickly becomes another (which I won’t spoil by revealing here).

The poignancy of the scenes between Gosling and Mulligan is nearly palpable, and it comes more from a bigger, unspecified longing than just garden variety lust. I love the tension and the surprising tenderness between the driver and the mom down the hall.

And, that’s not all.  The pacing works for me, too.  It’s all hurry up and wait, just like making a real movie, or driving a getaway car, or trying to suss out the prospect of a new relationship.

I also like the use of color in surprising ways that seems to echo the contrasting emotional tones in the film, which is really just another type of hurry up and wait, isn’t it?  I like the visual style, and the narrative surprises, and how I simply didn’t know what to expect from moment-to-moment when watching.

That can be refreshing, you know?  Drive works for me.


October 6, 2011

It hurts to list all three series in the same title because of the distinctions between Mad Men and the others, but that point will be clear soon enough.

I received an email from a colleague:

You probably don’t want to spend too much time on TV (I realize films are your area) on the radio, but I am wondering what trend you think might be indicated by all the new shows on women–Pan Am, Charlie’s Angels, Playboy Club–nostalgia, sex. big planes, big cars, success of Mad Men which has all those things but not a female protagonist (I love Peggy, Joanie, & Betty but don’t think they drive the plot).  Plus, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and all the other women comics who have their own shows and totally one-up(wo)manshipped the Emmy’s.  There seems to be a critical mass that has reached the tipping point. 

I answered her with what really amounts to a defense of Mad Men but also added my own thoughts about The Playboy Club – already cancelled this season – and Pan Am.

The short answer for the dramas is that the 60s series (of which I have seen Pan Am and The Playboy Club) are trying to capitalize on the success of Mad Men (which I adore) without understanding how ideologically complex the latter is…but that’s a much longer conversation. 

I think the critique of sexism and racism and heterosexism in the series is played out brilliantly in ways that are much deeper than who gets the most screen time on Mad Men.  Besides, who’s the more interesting character as we head into the next season, Don or Peggy?   

As the song says, “The Times, They Are a-Changin’,” but it doesn’t happen all in one mad rush and, certainly, not yet in any case for the men in the gray flannel suits still chain smoking and swilling multiple martinis at the expense account lunch.   

The real change is happening at the interstices of the world they think they control but which is about to being to implode.  That’s the kind of complexity that shows like Pan Am and The Playboy Club miss entirely with sloppy high-heeled mob murders and clumsy espionage subplots. 

My two cents…

Maybe Pan Am will bite the dust soon.  I have no interest one way or another because Mad Men will return at the first of next year.

Amanda Knox

October 6, 2011

Denise emailed that maybe I should post something on media coverage of the Amanda Knox story.  Problem is, I’m trying to avoid all media coverage of the Amanda Knox story, which takes a lot of skill.