God, Heaven, and Noah

May 27, 2014

Check out my most recent segment on Triad Arts Weekend if you missed it on the air. Follow the link and scroll down to find the segment:

Behind The Scenes

Lots to think about…


Playing Catch Up

May 21, 2014

The Lunchbox
The problem with seeing a film right before it closes is that there’s little immediate impetus to write about it. That’s the only problem with The Lunchbox, which is a wonderful, gentle, and yet frustrating film because of its poignancy.

Who knew that a mistaken delivery could have such consequences? My favorite quote from the film is, “Sometimes the wrong train takes you to the right destination.” And, so it is.

It’s not dismissive to say that it’s a bit like a less heartbreaking, Indian version of Wong Kar Wai’s masterful film In the Mood for Love. I have enough love for both of these films. No DVD release date has been announced, but The Lunchbox is well worth the wait.

The Lunchbox

Finding Vivian Maier
If you’re interested in street photography, character studies, or mysterious documentaries, this film will more than hold your interest. Co-director John Maloof (working on the film with Charlie Siskel) bought a treasure trove of negatives and worked to track down the mysterious woman who took them over decades and decades.

Only when he finds an obituary for Vivian Maier and starts tracking down some of the families she worked for as a nanny does the story begin to take shape. Even with the fascinating pieces Maloof uncovers and shares, Vivian Maier maintains some of her secrecy and mystery even as her photographs are printed and appreciated by an ever-growing audience.

Would someone who worked as hard as Maier did to maintain her privacy want this exposure? The evidence is mixed about whether or not she would have shared her art if the reception she is receiving now were guaranteed before, but it seems more than likely that she would have been horrified by what others have to say about her and by the lengths Maloof has gone to in trying to piece her story together.

While incomplete, the result is not overly speculative, and the film is as satisfying in its own way as her evocative photographs. Highly recommended.

Vivian Maier

Locke
This is basically the story of a man talking on the phone during an hour and a half journey. Writer-director Steven Knight (known for writing gritty films like Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises) pulls off a compelling story under enormous self-imposed constraints. Lots of credit goes to Tom Hardy in a remarkable performance as Ivan Locke, a man facing multiple crises at work and on the domestic front, and to cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos for keeping things visually interesting inside the car. Locke is definitely worth seeing.

Locke


GODZILLA

May 18, 2014

Graduation weekend is always busy for me, and tomorrow’s Wake Forest Commencement promises to be more exciting than usual with Jill Abramson as the speaker. I’ll likely have more to say on that tomorrow and may tweet live from the speech (@MaryMDalton).

Today between Baccalaureate and Academic Departmental Receptions, I took a break and went with a couple of friends to see Godzilla.

When I was nine-years-old, I went with a group of neighborhood kids to see Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster. I think I really liked it but can’t remember much in particular about the movie.

That was about the same time period when I enjoyed Blacula and Dr. Phibes Rises Again at the cinema while preferring to watch classics at home on our PBS affiliate and also the Dialing for Dollars Movie series, which aired for years locally on WGHP.

Though I’ve seen other movies featuring the giant monster (both older and newer) since, Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster is my strongest recollection of Godzilla until today, and – as established – it is pretty weak.

Here are my general impressions of the new release:

It was about what I expected, and it’s doubtful I’ll give the film another thought after posting this.

The film would be better if it were half an hour shorter.

The movie starts out stronger than it develops and finishes.

The casting is somewhat inspired – American favorites Bryan Cranston and David Strathairn, French star Juliette Binoche, English talent Sally Hawkins, and internationally familiar Japanese actor Ken Watanabe – and includes international names and faces to enhance worldwide marketing opportunities.

I love that Godzilla is a good guy and so cute.

So, should you see it? If you like Godzilla movies, sure, go check it out. It’s not great, but it sure could have been a lot worse.

Godzilla


BLUE RUIN

May 14, 2014

From the time he sat on my lap at age two for The Lion King until his middle teens, my son used to go with me to the movies regularly. I think it was an important bonding experience for us, right up there with watching King of the Hill together on Sunday nights for years and years.

Until a few days ago, the last movie we had seen together was Black Swan on one of his holiday breaks from college (we are both Aronofsky fans). When I told him that I’d like nothing more for Mother’s Day than for us to go to the movies together, I was thrilled that he seemed enthusiastic about the prospect.

I chose carefully to find a film that I thought would appeal to a 21-year-old with sophisticated taste in cinema and came up with writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s film Blue Ruin.

Macon Blair plays Dwight, a reclusive man living in his blue ruin of a car, who returns home to exact his revenge on a man who destroyed his family years before. The mechanics of the plot should not be revealed; just know that there are enough twists and turns to keep viewers engaged and enough suspense to cause a few white knuckles.

What is equally interesting as the story is the revelations that unfold about Dwight and his interactions with various characters throughout the film. The scenes opposite a high school friend played by Devin Ratray (Nebraska) are particularly effective. I can’t wait to see what roles Ratray will take from this point forward. He is riveting onscreen.

While I find the film satisfying and always appreciate when a movie produced on what is presumably a shoestring (budget not listed on Box Offic Mojo) succeeds in terms of narrative and style, I couldn’t help but run the comparison in my head between Blue Ruin and Winter’s Bone as I was watching and, as a result, found myself wanting just a bit more in terms of character development.

Still, a minor complaint, and this was a satisfying Mother’s Day trip to the movies with one of my favorite people in the world. I hope that the next shared viewing experience will be sooner rather than later.

Blue Ruin


Nerd TV

May 13, 2014

So, last week I was having a conversation with one of my favorite graduate students. Let’s call him Richard after the main character of the new HBO series Silicon Valley. As I was watching the series premiere, I texted him immediately to get his take on the show. After he declared it funny, I felt validated.

Richard will readily admit that he is a nerd. He’s great with computers – from concept to programming to design. He knows a lot about social media and how to market ideas. He’s into gaming and lots of other stuff I don’t even know enough about to enumerate here.

He’s great with a lot of things, but he’s not so great with The Big Bang Theory.

Now, I understand the show is retro and tired and subpar compared with Silicon Valley, but I still watch it. I’m happy Penny and Leonard are engaged finally. I smiled when Sheldon hugged Leonard. It’s nice to see Raj dating (and I think he may have had sex last week – that’s more surprising than the engagement).

But, a part of me is kind of waiting for the storylines to all wrap up with a series finale so I can move on to other things. I don’t want to give up on it, but I’m sort of bored.

After talking with Richard, I now feel a little guilty that I keep on keeping on (Curtis Mayfield is now taking over space in my brain) and allotting DVR space to the sitcom. I’m starting to get what he means when he says, “When will it end?”

While Silicon Valley has an aura of authenticity (Richard confirms this), The Big Bang Theory offers a veneer of “geek chic” in which people who don’t understand the culture use it as a springboard for formulaic, multi-camera situation comedy.

While noting that he is in no way diminishing the egregious past of blackface performers, such as Amos ‘n Andy, or suggesting that the caricatures of geeky characters can be equated with racism, Richard does admit that the term “nerdface” comes to mind when he thinks about The Big Bang Theory.

It’s no wonder that, according to Richard, The Big Bang Theory is widely hated by nerdy people even as it is embraced by the people who love nerds.

Richard told me a story about the time his mother got his the first season of the sitcom on DVD. He could see how his parents may have thought he would like it, but to him it was exploitative of those who are actually quirky, smart, and nerdy people.

Every time I see Rick Matthews, beloved Professor of Physics at Wake Forest University, I am struck by a story he told me once. (While I don’t remember many things I should recall, I generally recollect the offhand story, so be careful what you tell me!)

When the very first episode of The Big Bang Theory premiered, Rick’s daughter called him and said something to the effect of, “Dad, turn on the TV. There’s a show that you have it see. It’s the story of my whole life growing up.” Rick has been a fan ever since.

Now that I see The Big Bang Theory from Richard’s point of view, it’s hard for me to watch it, but since Rick is still a fan, I’m going to stick with it to the end just to see how things turn out.

Thankfully, I have Silicon Valley, a show both Richard and I can discuss together. And, if something comes along that I don’t understand in terms of the cultural context, I can ask him without feeling embarrassed.

The Big Bang Theory


THE NEW BLACK

May 8, 2014

Don’t miss the Cineclub free community screening of The New Black at a/perture Monday (May 14) at 7:30 p.m.

Yoruba Richen has woven together a moving story with personal, historical, and political narrative threads to form a powerful documentary about struggles within the African American community over gay rights. A specific focus of the film is a ballot initiative in Maryland over gay marriage.

See the trailer.

Just so you know, I like the film even better than the trailer, and the trailer isn’t bad.

The New Black will air on PBS’s Independent Lens series on June 15, but see it first at a/perture. Cineclub is a year-round partnership between the RiverRun International Film festival and a/perture.

The New Black