July 20, 2012

What an odd day.

Yesterday, I bought a ticket to see The Dark Knight Rises and was enthusiastic about the fact that my movie-going companion is an expert in comic book heroes.  I knew I’d learn something from him, that conversation after the film would help me see things in a new way.

Early this morning another friend called to ask if I’d heard the news about the attack at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado in which a shooter, apparently inspired by the villain of other Batman movies and comics, killed 12 people and injured 59.

Once again the national conversation turns to a tragedy as people try to make sense of the incomprehensible.

The Winston-Salem cinema where we went to see the noon show today was not swarming.  Our screening room had about a half dozen viewers including us.  My friend, who had not heard the news from Colorado until I told him, noted that all of the preview trailers before our film were stories about vengeance.

That comment, which added to the surreal experience of seeing the film while thinking about the implications of it and the tragedy so far away (yet in our living rooms and on our mobile devices), has stuck with me all day.

On some level, we do become what we consume, and too many stories about vengeance – like too much junk food – crowd out stories that privilege compassion, cooperation, and grace.

Before I heard the news today, I was thinking about Rush Limbaugh’s bombastic (nice word for it) commentary on the fact that the villain in The Dark Night Rises is named Bane, which sounds suspiciously (to Rush) like Bain Capital, the company Mitt Romney ran before he didn’t (whenever that was).

In truth, the Batman films have often felt a little rightwing to me.  After all, it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to think that The Dark Night makes a case for rendition, and it is equally easy to make a case that Bane’s followers are the disenfranchised on steroids — some amalgamation of radical lefties and hardened prisoners, which on some level is just weird.

Not that the rich and powerful come off much better in the film because most of the elites are corrupt and even Batman himself is deeply flawed, but it is a matter of scale in this film.  Rightist values — the importance of nature over nurture, absolutism over relativism, individualism over communitarianism, and so on — dominate the narrative.

So, forgetting all of previously discussed context (which I could never do), how’s the film?

For a picture that runs two hours and 44 minutes, the pacing is surprisingly good.  Great production values are expected, and the film does have a good look to it with strong actors reprising their roles in the first two installments.  I don’t think fans will be disappointed.  It’s a good movie.

My favorite in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy is still the first one; Batman Begins the most thrilling of the three to me.




July 20, 2012

After I reflect a bit on The Dark Night, I’m going to take a week to unplug.  After that, I’ll probably have some thoughts about the experience of taking a hiatus from most of my daily media transactions.  Stay tuned…or…take a break yourself so we can compare notes.

THE STATE OF THINGS — Andy Griffith Redux

July 17, 2012

I’m scheduled as a guest on The State of Things (WUNC-FM)tomorrow to discuss The Andy Griffith Show at noon.


July 16, 2012

Wake Forest alumnae Jessica Devaney comes to town this week for a screening the new film by Just Vision, My Neighbourhood  ( ) at Krankies downtown at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.  The runtime of the documentary is 25 minute, and a Q & A session with Jessica will follow the screening.  Here are the event details:


July 16, 2012

Why don’t people just call it a mini-series?  The USA network bills Political Animals a “limited series event,” and at first I had no idea what that meant.

Honestly, I’m glad there are four episodes. (It appears that it was originally six but some broadcasts extend beyond the hour slot.)  I can commit to that even if I like but don’t love the series.  Which is the case:  I like it – don’t love it.

Sigourney Weaver is a joy to watch as Elaine Barrish, a Hillary Clinton-ish character who dumps her husband after an unsuccessful campaign then the series picks up when she is Secretary of State and her husband Bud Hammond (Ciaran Hinds) starts dating a busty television star.   One of the minuses of the series for me is the writing and performance of Bud’s character.  He’s a former president and former governor of North Carolina.

The Elaine and Bud have two sons, one working with his mom and about to marry a woman with a secret and the younger one who is struggling with substance abuse problems.  Did I mention that the younger son is also gay?

It’s just a little too-too much for me.  Sigourney Weaver’s role is carefully crafted, and her performance is subtle.  Ellen Burstyn is fun as her outspoken mother, but how many over the top characters and fortuitous plot points can one limited series event juggle?

A little bit of nuance can go a long way, and Political Animals could use more of it.  But, I like it…as a four-week diversion…in the middle of the summer…when not much else is happening.

Time Warner – Hearst

July 13, 2012

A contract dispute between Time Warner and Hearst has left 16 Hearst-owned television stations off the air in markets across the country, including WXII, the NBC affiliate station in the Greensboro/High Point/Winston-Salem market.

Time Warner claims that Hearst wants a 300% increase in the amount the cable company pays to distribute the Hearst stations while Hearst says the increase is 3%.

What?  That’s a big discrepancy.

In the end, despite the griping of some folks in older demographic groups, it’s Hearst that stands to lose.  With so many ways to access local news and weather content these days, preferences and allegiances are fickle.  Viewers will find another source for the local content.

True, the weather and traffic reports are useless, but that’s a minor part of the overall broadcast day, and Time Warner is filling the NBC slots for the time being with other affiliate stations so that network offerings are still available locally.

I don’t have the resources to ferret out the truth in corporate negotiations (300% vs. 3%), but I can see who has the most to lose in this contest.  It will be interesting to see what WXII’s next Nielsen book looks like if this standoff is not resolved.



July 12, 2012

The first time I ever jumped into a series and watched all the episodes (on DVD) was years ago, and the series was The Sopranos.

There’s something delicious about sitting down and watching a series or a season of episodes that feels like taking a vacation to a different world.  After all, don’t all the best series (yes, The Wire) evoke something real, distinct, and new for us?

The most recent mini-break (term learned from reading Bridget Jones’s Diary and appropriate for the show at hand) I’ve enjoyed via television is the BBC series Luther.

Weighing in at a manageable ten episodes and streaming on Netflix, Luther is a police procedural with less of a paint-by-numbers feel than the US counterparts (airing endlessly on cable) and possessing more psychological subtlety.

Idris Elba (yes, from The Wire) stars as detective John Luther, and he commands the screen.  Of course, he gets a lot of help from the cinematography.  The use of a narrow depth of field in all but the widest shots throws all of the actors into sharp relief against soft backgrounds, which leads the viewer to focus on the strong performances and the good writing.

(I won’t bore you by talking about some of the rare but stunning deep focus wide shots that I’m carrying around in my brain right now like photographs, but they are all the more memorable because they are used sparingly in the series.)

John Luther is bright and brave and has an uncanny ability to get inside the heads of some very sick characters, though often not in time to save human life.  There is an elliptical quality to the storytelling that I find engaging because all of the blanks are not filled in and that style keeps me from thinking of the series as being overly formulaic.

In the end, John Luther’s intriguing character and some of the others introduced along the way are a major selling point of the series.

Another is the look of the show.  It’s set in London but not the city captured in the mind’s eye of a tourist, which is another reason the show feels fresh instead of clichéd.  As noted, the cinematography is an important element of the show with lighting and UK weather contributing mightily to the overall mood – hint:  it’s not rainbows and sunshine.

As the close friend who directed me to the series advised, watch all ten episodes (six from season one and four from season two) to get come closure.  There’s talk of a third season, perhaps two two-hour movies, but there is enough here for a mini-break.

One thing about the show bugs me, though.  I wonder why John Luther traded his sleek loft apartment (with purple sheets on the bed) from the first season for the grimy, roach hotel with peeling wallpaper where he lives in the second season.

Elliptical storytelling…