June 29, 2014

I finally made myself see it. Soon, it will be displaced by other summer titles, and I knew that if I wanted to see it on the big screen, time was of the essence.

Why did I go? Someone I respect urged me to see the movie because of the writing, and I resisted because of Tom Cruise.

So, the story is fresh and clever, and the direction and editing complement the narrative and keep the story moving. As always, I admire Emily Blunt, who brings an authentic intensity to every role I’ve seen her play, and the supporting actors are well-cast.

The sticking point for me is still Tom Cruise. I don’t think I’ve really liked him in a film since Born on the Fourth of July (fitting to remember that this week) and Magnolia.

I wish someone else had played Cage in Edge of Tomorrow…almost anyone, actually…



June 29, 2014

It’s a bit of comedic fluff and about what I expected. I kept trying to read some critique into the intensity and ubiquity of the bromance theme, but (at best) it is parodic. Amid the predictability, there are some laughs, and that is probably all that is intended.


June 28, 2014

Despite its deceptively understated aesthetic, Obvious Child is both a complex reworking of the romantic comedy and a carefully crafted statement about reproductive freedom.

This film represents more than an auspicious feature debut for writer-director Gillian Robespierre; it is a revisionist genre film that is as smart as (500) Days of Summer and more important as a cultural document.

(500) Days of Summer gives male characters a (mostly depressed) fresh voice and stylish perspective that separates this movie from the glut of interchangeable and frequently tedious rom-coms.

Pushing the genre forward is a good thing.

But, making a serious attempt to demystify abortion as a medical procedure and to talk about the political in personal and generational terms is a more important thing.

The fact that Obvious Child is able to integrate discourses on reproductive rights into a charming, compelling, and convincing romantic comedy is a staggering accomplishment.

By anchoring the story in a main character, Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), who is a stand-up comic, there are enormous opportunities to weave personal experience and cultural context in a way that is organic rather than forced. And, Robespierre takes advantage of those narrative opportunities brilliantly.

Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann, and David Cross give spot on performances, and it is fun to see Richard Kind and Polly Draper as Donna’s parents. (The moment I saw Draper’s face, I felt a longing to binge watch thirtysomething!)

Obvious Child is easily one of my favorite films of the year…but it is so much more than that, too.

Obvious Child

RiverRun Brought Them First…

June 28, 2014

Three of my top films of 2014 played at RiverRun International Film Festival this year, but if you missed them at the festival, you can still catch them now.

Ida is still at a/perture this week, Obvious Child is play at a/perture in Winston-Salem and at the Carousel Grande Cinemas in Greensboro, and The Case Against 8 is on HBO.

If you haven’t seen them yet, check them out. If you want to revisit any or all of the, I understand the sentiment!


June 25, 2014

This is an informative and, frankly, thrilling look behind the scenes look at the legal case mounted to overturn California’s ban on same sex marriage.

I remember when the unlikely pairing of Ted Olson and David Boies (who squared off on opposite sides of Bush v. Gore) hit the news and couldn’t believe that Olson was part of the team arguing this case. I was a little confounded at the time, but it was a brilliant move.

The two couples at the center of the case are engaging, and moments they share on camera are profoundly touching.

After winning accolades on the festival circuit, HBO has released the film, which makes it available to a much wider audience. Don’t have HBO or even cable? I bet you know someone who does. It’s worth making an effort to see this top-notch doc.

HBO also offers a viewing guide that may be of interest.

The Case Against 8


June 19, 2014

It is unusual to see a film about ideas; it is rare to see a film about ideas that is also a joy to watch. And, I can’t remember the last movie I saw that was more pleasurable to me as pure entertainment – touching both head and heart – than Words and Pictures.

For over 20 years, surveying depictions of teachers in popular culture has been a special research area of mine (resulting in published articles, book chapters, the book The Hollywood Curriculum: Teachers in the Movies, and the co-authored book Teacher TV: Sixty Years of Teachers on Television).

Let’s just say that I have seen a great many movies about teachers and have spent a lot of time thinking about the conventions that define what I have argued is an established film genre.

Words and Pictures is now one of my favorite teacher movies. Far from falling back on typical representations of “good” teachers who fit a conventional model, Jack Marcus (Clive Owen) and Dina Delsanto (Juliette Binoche) are complex, flawed characters – just like real people.

Marcus represents words, an English teacher and poet whose alcoholism has put his job in jeopardy despite the fact that he can be inspiring in the classroom. Delsanto represents pictures, a celebrated artist whose painful rheumatoid arthritis demands adjustments in her process and, perhaps, the end of her ability to sell paintings.

The chemistry between Owen and Binoche flashes and crackles, and both performances are alternately powerful and nuanced as the story demands. There are a few pacing problems early on, but that’s a minor quibble. Once the war is on between the two to prove which is superior, words or pictures, and students become involved in producing work to make arguments on behalf of their mentors, the film gains considerable speed.

There is no sentimentality here of the type that is often found in teacher movies. Jack Marcus is an out of control drunk, and Dina Selsanto has an icy exterior that is as tough and uncompromising as the debilitating disease that takes her off course. Even so, their attraction is as authentic as it is ill-advised.

What happens? Go and see for yourself…go and enjoy the acting…go and engage with the ideas…go and be entertained…

Words and Images


June 19, 2014

I remember taking my son, then 11-years-old, to see Super Size Me when it was released in theaters. For years and years after that, he refused to eat fast food at all (and only rarely does now), and he gave up soft drinks completely, a ban that persists to this day.

If you read a lot about food, there’s nothing particularly new in the documentary Fed Up, but it is an extremely useful educational tool that packages very important information about how the food industry (with government cooperation) is fueling the obesity epidemic in America and the host of health problems that go along with it.

I’ll give you some clues: calories are not all the same, exercise alone is not the answer, and sugar is the real culprit in our massive, national weight gain over the last 30 years.

Even if you know the basics, we all need a reminder, and Fed Up, which clocks in at a brisk 92-minutes, covers a lot of ground while also sharing some emotional moments with several teenagers (and family members) from across the country who are struggling with their weight.

The most exciting sequence to me (because it feels fresh) is the comparison between the tactics of big food and big tobacco. The similarities are eerie, and – I hope – convincing enough to rebut a lot of the “personal responsibility” rhetoric floating around, which is another topic addressed in the documentary.

This is a great family film. Kids need to see it. We all need to see it. It’s sort of like a feature-length public service announcement, but the pacing is good enough to sustain the message.

You know the old saying about how you shouldn’t eat any foods that your great-grandparents wouldn’t recognize? That’s about right. Eat real food.

Fed Up