December 26, 2014

I probably wouldn’t have watched this movie if someone had not tried to keep me (and everyone else) from it.

The Interview held little appeal for me from the previews and associated commentary, and watching it online yesterday with millions of other people did nothing to restore my faith in the product.

The comedy isn’t that funny to me, the geopolitical content offers no insights, and the bromance theme seems really tired by now.

Still, I watched.

People have a right to make all kinds of things that don’t appeal to me, companies have the right to try to cash in on them, and artists have to accept responsibility for the work once it hits the marketplace of ideas.

I’m talking here about responsibility for jokes that often fall flat, women characters that exist only as sex objects, and satire that is more juvenile than useful.

Watching The Interview made me yearn for something more akin to Wag the Dog where smart and funny coexist.

The Interview



December 26, 2014

I went in expecting funny, after all, Top Five is written and directed by Chris Rock, who also stars in the film, but I wasn’t expecting romantic.

That’s the selling point for me with this film. It’s a charming, ultimately, as it is funny.

Rock plays a popular comedian and actor who is trying to make serious films at the same time his fiancé is turning their upcoming wedding into a reality show event.

The title refers to riffs in different scenes when characters list their top five musicians or groups of all time.

I’m not much for lists, but I did think of my top three in terms of love and longevity: Leonard Cohen, The Rolling Stones, and Terri Clark. Don’t expect to find a pattern here.

Chris Rock and co-star Rosario Dawson have great chemistry. No, she doesn’t play the fiancé (that’s Gabrielle Union), but that’s as much of a spoiler as you’ll get from me!

Check out this entertaining film.

Top Five


December 21, 2014

My favorite Ridley Scott movie is Thelma & Louise. That didn’t change when I saw Exodus.

Grand scale, some interesting moments, and a classical style that seems like the biblical epics of the 1950s and 1960s now seen mostly on Turner Classic Movies.

It’s fun to watch at times but not indelible or fresh or provocative. We saw that movie earlier in the year – Darren Aronofsky’s Noah.


Two Must-see Movies

December 21, 2014

I am reminded of the joy that comes from seeing movies that move me, and no, that is not the Beaujolais Nouveau talking. (As I write this, I am celebrating the Winter Solstice with a glass. Happy Winter!)

Wild and The Homesman are both inspiring films that don’t pull any punches.

Friday afternoon, I caught Wild with a couple of friends. It’s no exaggeration to say that I love this film and not just for Reese Witherspoon’s impressive performance.

For the first time, director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, The Young Victoria) lives up to his promise for me.

I’ve not read Cheryl Strayed’s memoir upon which the film is based, but her work with Nick Hornby (who is usually on point in print and adaptations, including About a Boy and An Education) takes a very difficult story, built equally around a journey and flashbacks, and brings it to life perfectly.

Talking about the film over dinner, it seems my friends were more traumatized by Cheryl’s grueling trek than I was.

I kept thinking about the HGTV show Fixer Upper, which has become a minor obsession of mine after I stumbled onto it over Thanksgiving. Stick with me here.

The renovations that engage me the most of those where a house is stripped to the studs and rebuilt, and it seems to me that this is what Cheryl Strayed did with her life. After she spiraled out of control, she had to start over again and push herself to the limits in order to become the woman her mother always knew her beloved daughter could be.

What does Cheryl gain as she hikes the Pacific Coast Train? Strength, wisdom, purpose, and – ultimately – herself as she comes to terms with her mother’s life and her death. It’s a beautiful thing to watch unfold.


Like Wild, The Homesman deals with a journey over rugged terrain with women in distress. Three women have been driven mad by the hardships of life on the Nebraska frontier. They languish until a remarkable woman and the drifter she coerces into helping her set off on a dangerous journey to transport the farm women back to civilization for care.

Hillary Swank plays Mary Bee Cuddy, a settler who is smarter, harder working, more ethical, and stronger than the men farming nearby and the townspeople not far away. She is also a woman who carries an ineffable sadness deep down inside. When husbands falter or fail their wives, she steps forward to do the right thing and assist these women who seem beyond help.

Director Tommy Lee Jones plays George Briggs, a man like many who makes mistakes and selfish decisions and often cannot be trusted. Sometimes, he is downright mean. But, there are other times when he rises to the occasion.

There is not a false note in the film. The storytelling is strong, the performances are nuanced, and the film is beautiful to behold.

Life can be hard. Try to do the right thing. And, life goes on…

The Homesman

A Pocket Full of Ticket Stubs

December 6, 2014

I have neglected my blog.

This has been the busiest semester I can recall – teaching four classes (including a Lifelong Learning course) and enjoying them all despite it being twice my usual teaching load, chairing the United Way Campaign for Wake Forest University, serving as a Faculty Fellow in an undergraduate residence hall, revising a book manuscript, starting a new film…and other assorted things…you get the idea…I have not had time for many important things.

But, I’ve missed the blog and don’t intend to overextend myself again to the degree that it means falling behind with updating you about what I’m watching.

Look for a television catch-up to come, but today I’ll write brief comments on most of the movies I’ve seen but not shared in this space.

Before I Go To Sleep – the best thing I can say about this film is that I saw it on Halloween! Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth (cast against type) are fun to watch, but there’s not a great deal to recommend the film otherwise.

Birdman – did not quite live up to the hype for me. I love the concept and the performances, but the ending is not satisfactory for me. My friend Chad saw the film at the same time I did but in different cities, and he has a better take on the ending of the movie that I did at the time (quoted with permission from a text): “My reaction is that they are both mentally ill and share that connection and understand each other more than anyone else understands them. And they both want desperately to escape their lives.” I admire the film but am not moved by it.


Dear White People – is an important film for me. I saw it twice, in fact, once alone and a second time with students. If you accept that some characters are “types” representing “ideas” (especially administrators), then some concerns I’ve heard expressed about the film are allayed. It’s clear that we have a race problem in America and that most whites have a different perspective on a variety of topical issues than most people of color – even when it comes to lived experiences as direct evidence. This film can be a useful catalyst for conversation, and as we know from recent events at campuses near and far, the situations and events in the movie that cause student unrest are not unrealistic.

Dear White People

Dial M for Murder – one of my Wake Forest seminars this semester is Gender and Hitchcock, and it was a delight to take some students to see the film projected in 3D on the big screen at a local cinema. Not one of my Hitchcock favs for assorted reasons, it was nonetheless a fun evening.

Interstellar – is filled with ideas that interest me, but the film itself is only partially successful in engaging my head and my heart. Honestly, I liked it more than I expected because I often find Christopher Nolan’s work too gimmicky, but sections still felt too long, and I was more interested in the daughter’s story than the father’s narrative, which left me feeling shortchanged.

Last Days in Vietnam – pacing is a problem. The archival materials are captivating, but the storytelling is uneven. The first half hour or so of the film should have been compressed into a very short exposition to give the several compelling stories that follow greater impact.

Rosewater – would have been a terrific play. I’m sympathetic to the story, but the single perspective of the narrative limits dramatic opportunities that would have made it a much stronger film.

St. Vincent – surprisingly good because Bill Murray is such a convincing grouch, Naomi Watts can play anything, Jaeden Lieberher is believable, and Melissa McCarthy can handle a straight role. The lack of sentimentality and performances make this film more than the sum of its parts.

St. Vincent

The Judge – a family drama in the classic style is, like St. Vincent, good, old-fashioned storytelling. I’d watch Robert Duvall in anything, and Robert Downey, Jr. is accomplished, too. While not indelible and remarkable, it is a solid picture.

The Theory of Everything – ah, now this one I love. Maybe I’ll see it again. Maybe I’ll write more about it later. Maybe it will be on my annual Top Ten List. This story about Jane and Stephen Hawking’s courtship and marriage is wonderful and unexpected in its emotional truth. Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne are perfect – and I am nearly convinced he can play anything, too. Maybe he should team up with Naomi Watts in something totally unexpected and dazzle us. SEE THIS FILM!

The Theory of Everything

This is Where I Leave You – utterly forgettable. I’ve already forgotten it and can’t think of anything to say!

Two Faces of January – students in my Gender and Hitchcock class and I went to see this one afternoon because someone in class reported that it had been described has “Hitchcockian.” We decided collectively that while story elements are similar in some ways to those commonly found in Alfred Hitchcock’s work that the more realistic aesthetic disqualifies it from serious comparison because, as we know, Hitchcock is not only the “master of suspense” but also a master of formalism.

Two Faces of January