September 30, 2013

Some random observations about the Breaking Bad series finale:

It was fitting but not surprising. The surprises came in episodes leading up to the finale.

My mother, who as never before watched an episode of the show watched last night’s episode because all of the media hype made her want to see for herself what all the hoopla was about. I was shocked to learn this morning that she watched it. Mama’s verdict: it was very dark, and she prefers The Big Bang Theory.

I watched most of this season’s episodes in a residence hall with a group of first year college students. I brought snacks each week, but they were really there for the entertainment instead of the happy bonus of free food. My verdict: binge viewing and easy access to episodes really helped the audience building up to the finale.

The students love the series but don’t quite know why beyond the unexpected plot elements. I think we need more television studies classes to help viewers with burgeoning good taste understand why their taste is good and to articulate their growing awareness in oral and written forms.

Yes, I’m serious.

Breaking Bad



September 30, 2013

It is hard for me to ascertain how well this biopic works for viewers who have never heard of philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt and her mentor Martin Heidegger. I don’t claim a deep understanding of either’s work but did come to the film with a bit of knowledge and context, which makes the film fascinating to me.

I did not know, however, that Arendt, a German Jew, went to Paris from Germany in the wake of rising anti-Semitism and was held in Camp Gurs, a French detention camp, in 1940 before she escaped and emigrated to the United States with her husband.

With flashbacks to flesh out the story, Margarethe von Trotta’s film focuses mainly on the period of time when Arendt traveled to Israel to cover the war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann for The New Yorker and the stormy reception of her surprising analysis of the trial and “the banality of evil” phrase she used in describing Eichmann.

Barbara Sukowa gives a terrific performance as Arendt, a character who is bold, brilliant, brave, and sometimes funny but always human. I also enjoyed the film’s insider’s view of academe in Germany during the flashbacks and in New York during the other scenes. What a pleasant surprise to see Janet McTeer as writer Mary McCarthy, colleague and stalwart friend to Arendt.

I don’t know how well the biopic works for others, as I said, but it is engaging and works well for me. It’s hard to make a film that is more about ideas than events, but this one succeeds.

Hannah Arendt


September 20, 2013

The synopsis from the official movie website says it all:

Luke and Kate are co-workers at a Chicago brewery, where they spend their days drinking and flirting. They’re perfect for each other, except that they’re both in relationships. Luke is in the midst of marriage talks with his girlfriend of six years, Kate is playing it cool with her music producer boyfriend Chris. But you know what makes the line between “friends” and “more than friends” really blurry? Beer.

Well, maybe it doesn’t tell you everything. Olivia Wilde (Kate), Jake Johnson (Luke), Anna Kendrick (Jill), and Ron Livingston (Chris) are perfectly cast.

With Drinking Buddies writer-director Joe Swanberg makes what we could term a “craft movie” in that it is analogous to the Chicago “craft brewery” that functions as a central location. It’s a small film with a personal feel; let’s call it individual, independent, authentic, tasty, and occasionally surprising but not quirky.

That’s not a criticism. Who would want a quirky beer?

drinking buddies

Brendle Screening Wrap-up

September 19, 2013

Nice article in the Winston-Salem Journal about last night’s sneak preview of Living in the Overlap.

Thanks to all who came out and supported the film!

Lennie and Pearl at screening


September 16, 2013

On Wednesday, September 18, 2013, there will be a special, “Sneak Preview” screening of Living in the Overlap at 7:30 p.m. in Brendle Recital Hall on the Wake Forest University campus.

This half-hour documentary is co-directed by my colleague Cindy Hill and I and is produced by us along with Ellen Hendrix.

Living in the Overlap is the improbably true story of two girls growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940s, falling in love in the Midwest, and making a life together in North Carolina.  Lennie Gerber, retired attorney, and Pearl Berlin, retired professor, still have an indelible spark after 47-years.

Recently, David Ford interviewed composer Evan Richey and me about the film, and you can listen to that interview here.

Lennie and Pearl will have a Q & A session following the screening.  This event is free and open to the public with seating available on a first come/first served basis.

Folks on Facebook can access the event page and sign up at  The project website has a trailer, webisodes, and other information of interest, too, at

Putting the Romance into Romantic Movies

September 15, 2013

After seeing The Grandmaster recently and viewing three other recommended Wong Kar-wai films this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes me experience a given movie as romantic.

There are a couple of lines in the (very romantic) Leonard Cohen song “Ain’t No Cure For Love” that keep coming into my head:

“I need to see you naked

In your body and your thought”

The emphasis is really on seeing and on thought because without those two elements, little else matters as much as it should.  In this context, body is a bonus, an expression of deeper connections and feelings.

There are plenty of romantic movies that contain great sex scenes (The Painted Veil, Henry and June, The Big Easy, Say Anything, The Piano, I Am Love, The Song Catcher, etc.) but that is not what makes them romantic because there are plenty of other romantic films with limited sex or even no sex scenes at all (The Secret In Their Eyes, Last of the Mohicans, Casablanca, In The Mood for Love, Bright Star, Dr. Zhivago, Before Sunset, Adam’s Rib, etc.) that are equally powerful and romantic and, yes, erotic.

The Grandmaster, which sparked this line of thinking for me, is in the latter category, a beautiful story of unrequited love.

It is the act of two people really seeing one another and connecting in a mystical and knowing way that is what brings the deep romance to these films and sparks my enduring love for certain movies, including those listed above.

My heart beats a little faster just thinking about them.

In another case, The Last Picture Show, the connection is so strong and evocative that we never see these characters perform their love for one another but get the power of their past connection nonetheless.  Just hearing Sam the Lion talk about Lois Farrow and hearing her talk about him is enough to know how deeply they connected with one another years before and how persistent the feeling remains for both of them.

I started to post some lines from the scene between Lois and Sonny when they talk about her relationship with Sam, who has recently died, but I’d rather you just see the film (or see it again) instead.

Well, okay, here are a couple of lines:  “I’ll tell you, Sonny, it’s terrible to only meet one man in your whole life who knows what you’re worth. Just terrible. I’ve looked, too. You wouldn’t believe how I’ve looked.”

I couldn’t resist sharing those lines, and I have to amend what Lois says.  It’s only terrible if the situation is as impossible as theirs was.

Or, to amend my amendment, maybe what’s terrible is if the connection – the seeing and the knowing – never happens at all.

The Last Picture Show Lois


September 15, 2013

Now I have a mental checklist and am actively comparing all of the contenders for a permanent gig hosting my weekly media fix on CNN Reliable Sources.

This morning Politico’s Patrick Gavin is doing a repeat turn as host.

There is a certain presence required to make the show work, and I still find Eric Deggans the strongest of guests yet to occupy the seat.  I always liked him well enough as a guest when Howard Kurtz was the long-time host, but Deggans really shines as host.

Time to call off the round robin (for some shaping up as a double round robin) CNN and offer Deggans the permanent gig.

Eric Deggans