Back in the Saddle?

February 27, 2014

I was just about to post something about how I might not watch the remaining episodes of season two of House of Cards when I got a message from Jennie — whose opinion I expressly trust — telling me that she thinks it’s one of the best seasons of television she’s ever seen. Since she’s a terrifically talented television writer (and I’m not saying that because she’s my dear friend), I’d better listen up!

Guess I’ll try to work in a little binge viewing over the weekend…



February 27, 2014


Periodically, I find myself falling behind and scrambling to catch up. I went out of town for work…caught a virus…had to make up things due to snow…had midterms to grade…you, know, the same things we all go through.

Here are a few short takes to catch us up (in the order I saw them):

Labor Day: I liked the last 20 minutes or so, which had none of the pacing problems of the rest of the film. Jason Reitman does interesting work. Juno has the biggest cult following, but Diablo Cody’s dialogue is too arch for me; I prefer Thank You For Smoking, Up In the Air, and the under-appreciated Young Adult, which is incredibly uncomfortable to watch but is also well-conceptualized with a slow reveal that is hard to accomplish. Labor Day? I won’t give it another thought after writing this paragraph, but it’s not the fault of Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, who perform their parts well.

The Lego Movie: Love it! I went without a child, and so can you! Actually, my friend Chad and I may have been the only two grown-ups there without one, but there’s plenty happening to engage adults. In fact, there is so much going on ideologically in this movie that I need to see it again to begin to process the film on a deeper level. Really! Remember, “Everything Is AWESOME!” Not! But, the movie sure is.

Endless Love: It wasn’t as terrible as I thought it would be. But, I won’t give it another thought after finishing this sentence.

About Last Night: I really liked the original in 1986 (when Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, and I were all considerably younger), and this remake with an African American cast (which includes a cameo clip of the original film) is true to the original but funnier. Still, both movies make me a little sad. Why is it so hard for people to connect? Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, and Joy Bryant are all well-cast as the leads.

The Monuments Men: You know how you turn on TCM and watch a movie from the 50s or 60s about WWII that plays on all the usual tropes and conventions, and the film is pretty good but utterly predictable? That’s this movie. Great story (I suppose) in actuality, interesting exercise to make a contemporary film in the classic style, and it results in a modestly entertaining movie that feels a little forced.

The thing is, my Media Theory and Criticism class watched two classic films this week by Alain Resnais, Night and Fog and Hiroshima, Mon Amour. These remarkable films, lyrical and elliptical, deal with memory and time in indelible ways. These films break my heart, engage my head, and remind me with every viewing that film is art and art is political. So, given the comparison, The Monuments Men seems even more clichéd than it would absent this context.

George Clooney has served me far better in the director role with Good Night, and Good Luck and, even, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, though it is quite possible that he made exactly the film he set out to make in The Monuments Men.

But, remember: “Everything is AWESOME!”

Everything is Awesome


February 14, 2014

“Hunt or be hunted.”

Wow. No spoilers here, but episode one of House of Cards season two offers up one jaw-dropping moment. Never have Francis and Claire Underwood been quite so devious in their respective spheres. They give new meaning to political hardball (surely never what Chris Matthews intended).

Here’s a bit of what I wrote about the series originally:

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.

So far, I have not changed my mind. The series remains for me viewing in one of these categories (1) detached interest or (2) a desire to finish the lot of episodes or (3) a sense of responsibility to join the conversation about House of Cards than it is a passion series.

No more episodes today unless I get a lot of work done. Though, admittedly, the season opener includes a startling plot twist. If this is your cup of tea, enjoy.

I feel like I need a shower. Okay, so I’d take a shower right about now anyway, but I feel like I need two showers after watching the season opener.

House of Cards


February 13, 2014

Looking for something to watch before House of Cards drops? Check out Jill Soloway’s pilot Transparent on Amazon.

This is a family with secrets, and we learn a few of them in the pilot. Great cast – Jeffrey Tambor, Gaby Hoffman, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, and Judith Light – and intriguing characters.

I hope the series gets picked up. Check it out.



February 13, 2014

If you’re like me, you record a bunch of stuff then periodically engage in DVR maintenance to manage the backlog. A snow day like today is perfect for that, and sometimes the effort yields a wonderful viewing experience.

I admit it: the 4.5 hour runtime of Fredrick Wiseman’s latest film, At Berkeley, makes watching it a commitment of time, but the payoff is worth the investment. Thank you PBS and Independent Lens for bringing this film to my house.

Wiseman, who resists the terms observational cinema and cinéma vérité because he appreciates the fact that all films are mediated, does what he can to minimize the distortion by shooting sequences with a minimum of intervention and finishing his films without interposing elements like narration, interviews, and superimposed titles identifying characters.

The effect, in all of his films, is a democratic approach I appreciate.

Wiseman makes films that examine various institutions, and this time around higher education comes before his lens. His view of The University of California at Berkeley explores the tensions over the value and meaning of higher education and discussions about how to move the university forward when state revenues are shrinking.

There’s plenty of drama in meetings of administration and faculty, classes with dynamic teachers, labs, student protest events, extracurricular activities, and even quiet moments such as when a custodian sweeps the dusty stairs.

After all, Wiseman is trying to give us a sense of place, and I do feel now as if I have visited Berkeley. What a gift this film is…

At Berkeley

Valentine’s Day Episodes

February 13, 2014

Maybe you’ll choose to spend Valentine’s Day binge watching House of Cards (there seems to be something wrong with that unless you are a cynical sort), or maybe you have plans that don’t involve any type of viewing, but it seems appropriate to note that there are a couple of good sitcom choices this season for you to access On Demand or online.

The February 6 episode of The Big Bang Theory (no title listed) and the February 12 episode of Super Fun Night (“Lesbihonest”) are two of the best Valentine’s Day episodes of sitcoms I’ve ever seen.

Both episodes revolve around kisses that could seem unlikely but don’t. Kisses that are sweet but not the least bit cloying. Kisses that work within the stories and that inspire ooooohs and aaaaaahs. And, with Super Fun Night, there are two such kisses…

Super Fun Night

The Beatles

February 10, 2014

In honor of the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show fifty years ago today, I watched Across The Universe this morning and plan to listen to some of my favorite Beatles songs when I get in my car.

I know Beatles aficionados were skeptical (at best) about Julie Taymor’s 2007 film (and many may still feel that way), but I love it and think the film is remarkable in expressing the myriad of personal ways people listening to the music at the time may have filtered it into their own lived experiences.

It’s a beautiful film…

Actoss the Universe