The Girl

October 30, 2012

I watched the HBO film The Girl shortly after its initial broadcast, but for some reason, I’ve resisted writing about it probably because I’m not comfortable evaluating the TV movie on its own merits.

Over the years, I’ve taught a seminar called Gender and Hitchcock and have done quite a bit of reading about Alfred Hitchcock and his films, including Donald Spoto’s book (a source for the film) The Dark Side of Genius:  The Life of Alfred Hitchcock.

There are numerous reports supporting the creepy and cruel side of the renowned director (played by Toby Jones), the portrait focused on in this film recounting his relationship with Tippi Hedren (Sienne Miller) from her discovery as a model through the shooting of their two films together, The Birds and Marnie.

There are also reports, some by family members, discounting the negative accounts.

Certainly, the tone of The Girl fits well within the former.  But, since I’m able to fill in so many gaps from other reading and from seeing most of Hitchcock’s films, it’s difficult for me to evaluate the film as a standalone work – I know, I know, that’s what I always advocate in making judgments about films.

I will say that although Jones and Miller do not particularly look like Hitchcock and Hedren that they evoke the iconic director and his star believably and Imelda Staunton and Penelope Wilton are good as Alma Hitchcock (the director’s collaborator and wife) and Peggy Robertson (his secretary).

It is also fun to watch some of the behind-the-scenes sequences on the soundstage and on location and to look for resonances between this film and the Hitchcock classics.

But, does it work beyond this framework?  I just can’t say definitively, which may ultimately be a way of saying that it may not.


Lena Dunham’s First Time

October 28, 2012

Have you seen the ad?  Here is it:

I admit that I’m partisan (which is one reason I seldom blog about politics here) because I’m all about social justice issues.

Still, what’s the controversy?  Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls is much more risqué than this ad.  Gosh, many product ads are more risqué than this.  And, have you watched the evening news lately?

I think her “First Time” ad is rather sweet, actually.

As a redux (and in anticipation of the new season), here’s what I wrote about Girls when it premiered:

There’s been a lot of buzz about the new HBO series Girls, created by Lena Dunham (who stars in the series and also writes many of the scripts and directs episodes) and produced by Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner.

The series is influenced by (and references) Sex and the City and, like the earlier series, centers on the friendship and romantic and professional entanglements of four twenty-somethings living in New York.

These are privileged women in transition who exhibit no recognition of that privilege, which reflects the self-absorption they share with the characters of Sex and the City.

The good thing and the bad thing about Girls is how authentic it all feels.  The show is entertaining and absorbing, frequently funny, and more often than all of that sad.

In the second episode, a physician testing the lead character for STDs says she wouldn’t want to be 24 years old again for anything.  I agree…and will keep watching these girls to see if they become women.

TREME Star Shot

October 22, 2012

Still loving Treme and what a delight to see Isabella Rossellini turn up last night in New Orleans.


October 21, 2012

Expectations were…well…it’s better to say hopes instead of expectations to be perfectly accurate.  Hopes for this movie adaptation were high because I have read this novel twice in the last few months.

It’s as unusual for me to read a novel twice as to see a film twice in the theaters (last time I did that was The Secret in Their Eyes).  In this case, it was an unusual circumstance that led me to read it twice, but nonetheless I knew the book fairly well going into the screening.

I’ve always maintained that books and movies are separate stories that should be judged individually and on their own merits, but it is hard to totally perfect the separation, especially when the time between reading a print text and “reading” a film text is so slight.

The result?

I like them both, though they are quite different in tone.  The book is more intellectual, and the movie is a little sweeter.  Stephen Chbosky wrote the novel, adapted it into the screenplay, and directed the film version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

The novel is structured around letters that the protagonist, an awkward but brilliant boy beginning high school, writes to an unknown recipient.  Charlie has endured trauma, and the letters document his first year of high school with its attendant ups and downs as he struggles to find his place.

Logan Lerman brings a sensibility to Charlie that – I believe – makes the boy more believable than the character seems in the novel.  All of the performances are strong, but standouts are Lerman, Ezra Miller as Patrick, Emma Watson as Sam, and Mae Whitman as Mary Elizabeth.

There is little point in discussing the plot.  This is a coming of age story.  It is familiar to all of us either because parts of it reflect our own experiences or the experiences of our friends.

This should not be read as a criticism, however.  When such stories are told well, they resonate with us no matter what our age, and this story is told well both in written form and in visual form.

A note about the visuals – I love the way this film looks because it is so fitting to the story.  The production design is real enough to feel authentic but not overdone with “look at me” nods to period.  The cinematography is a little grainy and a little soft, just like a memory.  The shallow depth of field emphasizes the characters and their feelings instead of the period props and settings.

That look matches the context of youth when fitting in seems the most important goal to teenagers, and feelings have an intensity that has yet to be tempered by time and experience.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower looks like nostalgia but feels like survival.


October 21, 2012

As I’ve lost interest in most of the new TV sitcoms (except The New Normal and…maybe…The Mindy Project), I’ve started checking out some of the dramas.  I’ve already lost interest in most of those, too.

The problem is that they feel like stories about characters rather than about people and the formats feel ever so predictable.

Elementary (CBS, Thursdays at 10 p.m.), which is supposed to be a modern day Sherlock Holmes series featuring an Englishman in New York and a woman Watson hired by Holmes’ father to keep him off drugs, is just another transparent detective procedural with a bit of diversity (Lucy Liu plays Dr. Watson) and an elegant accent (Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes).

Speaking of procedurals, Dick Wolf of Law & Order fame oversees production of this new series, Chicago Fire (NBC, Wednesdays at 10 p.m.), which is more in the mold of ER than the other franchise shows.  The problem is that in ER, the hospital was the locus of activity where the regulars worked and flirted and faced a variety of stories involving patients and paramedics and other characters who sometimes emerged in the lull and sometimes amid full-fledged chaos.  I loved ER and stuck with the series through great seasons, good seasons, and a few that missed the mark.

Chicago Fire has the fire station as its locus, and not a lot happens there in the lull except fairly predictable jealousies and pranks and unrequited love scenarios.  Several times an episode, when things get particularly dull at the firehouse, there is an emergency call.  Because the characters are first responders, the potential for dramatic development of these storylines is either truncated or, if it carries on past the initial encounter, a little forced.

Callie Khouri is the creator of the new ABC drama Nashville (Wednesdays 10 p.m.), which makes me want to like it.  After all, Khouri wrote Thelma & Louise, which was a cultural signpost as well as a fine film (that won her an Oscar for screenwriting), and I still use that film in introductory film studies courses.  She also wrote and directed what I consider to be an underrated (and more complex than it appears on the surface) feminist film Something to Talk About.

Nashville stars Connie Britton (whom I loved in Friday Night Lights) as Rayna Jaymes, a country music star facing competition from an upstart who is eager to sleep with anyone who can benefit her ascending career.  Interesting premise, but it’s pure soap.  If Powers Boothe weren’t chewing so much scenery in a one-note performance as Rayna’s controlling and powerful father, I might be able to watch more than two episodes.  But, I don’t think I can take it.  What happened to nuance?

Certainly, there is no nuance in Vegas, a CBS drama (Tuesdays at 10 p.m.) starring Dennis Quaid as a rancher sheriff and Michael Chiklis as a mob-affiliated manager of a casino in Las Vegas in 1960.  Despite the pedigree of Nicholas Pileggi as one of the creators of the series, it doesn’t have the edge we’ve come to expect from cable series and suffers from the watered down characters and storylines.


Recent Books V

October 21, 2012

I’ve been reading more than I’ve been writing about it, but here are a few short takes.

Actually, in an unusual turn of events, I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower twice, but I’ll save that discussion for a subsequent post when talking about the film.

Night Circus is an imaginative novel of love and magic, though maybe not in that order.  Midway through the book, I wrote the friend who sent it to me:

The story is getting quite romantic.  Do we have books like this because writers are trying to create something magical that doesn’t exist in real life, or do we have books like this because writers are trying to capture the magic that sometimes does exist in real life? These questions don’t pertain to literal magic.

I wish I knew the answer to that question.

Last month I read Michael Parker’s unusual novel The Watery Part of the World then had an opportunity to hear him read from it and from a new work.  I knew he would be smart because the novel is so unusual, featuring people unlike any I’ve ever met but bitingly authentic in the rendering.  What I didn’t know before the reading is how charming, funny, and humble he is.  Parker is a faculty member at UNCG.  Support this local writer; you won’t regret it.

Last week I read Anne Panning’s tough but tender coming of age story Butter and look forward to hearing her read from it Wednesday evening.  It is poignant but understated, and the pop culture references resonate with me because of the time period.



October 21, 2012

Meh…forgettable…I like Emily Blunt, though.