March 26, 2013

“After all, we are nothing more or less than what we choose to reveal.” 

–Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey)


There are things to recommend this series, a show that follows House Majority Whip Underwood as he exacts revenge on everyone who kept him from a plum political appointment he expected.  But, despite moments and scenes and even sequences that engage me at times, I remain ambivalent about the series as a whole.

That’s why I have put off writing about this series.  As television goes (Netflix streaming…but still an episodes, television format), it’s pretty good, but I’m not finding it memorable.

Maybe one reason is that Francis/Frank Underwood does not reveal very much (especially for a guy prone to direct address to the camera!), which limits my investment in him. 

Or, maybe it’s because I don’t feel like these are real people but automatons of some vague, political ilk that is so cold, cold, cold. 

Either way, my emotional distance from the series is less that I don’t like Underwood than that I don’t feel that I know him or most of the supporting characters, for that matter.

Underwood and his wife (Robin Wright) are cold and unknowable, yes, but also given to excess.  Now, that’s something interesting because the distribution model Netflix used for the series (making available all of the first season’s episodes in a single day) indulges a penchant for excess.

How American, really. 

We like to stuff ourselves with a good thing to a point exceeding satiety.  I’m guilty, too, and frequently like to “dive” into series.  But, there is something that bugs me about diving in without abandon. 

This series, unlike others I have become captivated by over the years, inspires no wanton desire.  The feeling is more detached interest or a desire to finish the lot of episodes or a sense of responsibility to join the conversation about House of Cards.



RiverRun Screeners

March 24, 2013

Up to my eyeballs in RiverRun screeners in the category of Documentaries in Competition and liking what I’m seeing.  Details to come!


March 20, 2013

There is a Sneak Preview tomorrow night of the new docu-comedy called Always On.  Disclaimer: the documentary film is produced by two of my MFA students, Palmer Holton and Brenton Richardson, and profiles a police detective in Myrtle Beach who splits his time between cracking cases and cracking jokes as an aspiring stand up comedian.

It’s a fun film and exhibits a lot of craft.

The event is at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 21st, in Pugh Auditorium on the Wake Forest University campus.  The screening is free and open to the public.

RiverRun Screeners…

March 20, 2013

I picked up a batch of RiverRun screeners of the documentaries in competition…details to come as I watch them…

My Son’s Car Died, So I Watched a TV Show on My Phone

March 12, 2013

Weird title, huh?

I have never understood why people watch movies and TV shows on their phones.  That application for my smart phone holds no appeal for me.

Since my college-aged son’s car died over the weekend, I’ve become a de facto chauffeur at least until tomorrow.  It probably bothers him more than it bothers me because I like to catch a glimpse of him as often as I can while he wants to be as independent as possible.

Anyway, today I had to take him to Horse Power for an hour of volunteering (part of a 20 hour requirement for a service learning course he is taking at UNCG).  I was pretty much stuck there unlike his work shifts where I drop him off then return later to give him a lift back to campus. 

So, I had an hour to kill late this afternoon and thought I’d return to the Netflix series House of Cards, but there was no wi-fi at the stables in Colfax where Dalton was working so the iPad I had brought for viewing pleasure was out of commission. 

(No, my son’s name is not Dalton Dalton, and I did not name him after the character in Roadhouse.)

With a bit of a grimace, I pulled out my phone and decided to watch the next episode on my phone.  Would I feel young like most of the people I see watching their phones?  Would I become a convert to repurposing my phone to watch movies and TV?  Would I remember my Netflix password?  Could I manage to tilt the phone just right to keep glare and my reflected image out of the way?

No, no, yes, and sometimes. 

More than ever before now that I am an informed viewer, I can’t figure out why people would want to watch anything they care about on such a small screen with such small sound.


March 10, 2013

The logline says a lot:  “A young woman’s world unravels when a drug prescribed by her psychiatrist has unexpected side effects.”

Steven Soderbergh has said that Side Effects will be his last theatrically released film.  Though I like it rather than love it, I hope this is not the end because his films usually engage me tend to either display a nice attention to craft and storytelling or attempt something more experimental in a way that he plays with the form. Generally, his films intrigue me.

For the first two-thirds of Side Effects, I was along for the ride and trying to figure out whether this would be a neo-noir thriller or more of a social issue take-down of big-pharma and the docs who pimp for the corporations. 

Without answering that question for you, let me just say that the resolution of the film seems choppy and less clearly conceptualized and articulated than all that precedes it, which is why the film ends up feeling a little pat rather than satisfying for me.

I like the performances (Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, and Catherine Zeta-Jones), the color choices in production design and costuming, and some of the other aesthetic choices visually.  The subject matter deserves a serious treatment, and I hope that part of the narrative is not overshadowed by the movie itself.

Still, given the options out in theaters right now, this is the picture to see.


March 4, 2013

I think about stories all the time.  Narratives are how I frame the world and my relationship to it.  Even so, this week brought the interface between my professional life and the way I understand the world into sharper relief than usual.

Thursday night, the Communication Department at Wake Forest sponsored an alumni panel to talk about careers.  Three of my former students and I were among the panelists.

Sam Swank talked about how he finds fulfillment in helping others develop their strengths, a natural fit for the standout kicker turned coach.  I couldn’t help but think about him as a “molder of men” and recall the papers he worked on for me as a graduate student (drawing on a television show we both love, Friday Night Lights) and as an undergraduate in my seminar Culture and the Sitcom when he wrote about another show we both love (King of the Hill).  He makes a difference for young men to need role models with character and grace.

Each panelist supplied quotes for a projected image behind the stage.  Cagney Gentry’s read:   “I was a closeted artist in a math and science wiz kid’s body.  I met Mary Dalton and the rest was history.”  I swooned.  Okay, it was a quiet, internal swoon.  Like me, Cagney is a teacher and filmmaker.  I still remember the first time he came to my office as a first year student at Wake Forest who just wanted to talk about film.  He has a rare intellect and a feeling for the story that is rare in its intensity and understanding.  I can’t wait to see his next film project…and the one after that…and…

Shelley Graves Sizemore visited one of my classes as a high school student then turned up later on the roster.  She earned a masters degree, took a job at Wake Forest, and is poised to continue her studies in the same doctoral program at UNCG that was such a happy fit for me twenty years ago.  Shelley talked about how she sees life as a series of arguments, people explaining themselves and how they see the world and what that means through discourse. 

Two days later Shelley and I had occasion to talk at a screening of my first documentary (I’m Not My Brother’s Keeper:  Leadership and Civil Rights in Winston-Salem, North Carolina) for Wake Forest students about to take an alternative spring break trip to the Deep South to visit important civil rights sites.

I told her that I see the life as a series of stories, and she smiled.  We really aren’t so far apart on this; it is more a matter of tone than substance.

In class, I often tell students that popular culture is important because those stories give us a set of “scripts” that set out possibilities and limitations for our lives, which can be good or bad depending on the media texts we encounter.  And, we talk about intertextuality and how everything is grounded in narrative because even events in our daily lives are stories when you get right down to it.

That was brought home to me at another campus event I attended Saturday, Herstories:  Breast Cancer Narratives and Counter-Narratives, an interdisciplinary symposium sponsored by the Wake Forest University Humanities Institute.

One of the panelists at the closing session turned out to be one of my favorite professors in my doctoral program.  I had not seen her in years.  Hephzibah Roskelly presented “Experience as Theory:  A Pragmatist’s Guide to Breast Cancer.”  I learned so much from Hephzi in class about reading and writing and thinking and teaching and – most especially – about how narratives help us create the world and ourselves as part of it. 

On Saturday, the learning continued, and my passion for the story continues to grow…