July 23, 2015

Earlier in the week I desperately needed a movie break and went to see Trainwreck.

The next morning my mother left me a voicemail message about how all the commentators on Morning Joe had been discussing the film during a segment, and they were shocked by how vulgar the film is. She wanted my opinion.

I told her just as I’m going to tell you that the film is coarse and funny and also – and this is what really hooked me – sweet and surprisingly romantic.

Now, let me ask you, do you think those same commentators took up valuable airtime to discuss the vulgarity of The Hangover? I doubt it.

What a double standard.


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July 23, 2015

I have a predilection for intimate dramas that unfold in realistic, slice of life segments. I’m a political junkie and care deeply about the issues of our day. And, I very much want to see more women telling stories about women on screens large and small.

That being the case, Runoff is my kind of indie pic.

This is writer-director Kimberly Levin’s feature debut, and it’s a promising start informed by a rich perspective that yields a powerful film. There is an authenticity to the film that emerges from Levin’s growing up in Kentucky and her background as a biochemist, but ultimately it’s the little details and larger emotional truths in her storytelling that carry this beautifully photographed film.

Joanne Kelly, whose rural roots rest in a Newfoundland fishing village, gives a particularly strong performance as Betty, a farm worker, wife, and mother under intense pressure to try to figure out how to save their home and enhance future prospects for her children.

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July 23, 2015

The Mad Men series finale was discussed a great deal at the time, but several signature series have ended this season and a little reflection on all of them is, perhaps, a good thing.

For me, the Mad Men finale was perfect.

At the outset, Don Draper is his own best invention, and the series explores over time his history as Dick Whitman as well as the man he becomes. During the early years of the show, Draper hits his stride as an advertising man and seems to have an enviable lifestyle because of his ability to tap into the fears and desires of others and craft effective advertising to take advantage of his insights.

As the seasons unfold, culture seems to move on without him. He doesn’t understand the music his second (even younger) wife enjoys. He’s in a rut at work. While still able to attract a variety of women, he starts to seem – gasp – old and maybe a little out of touch. The series concludes as we see Don get his mojo back by tapping into the California youth culture and using his new inspiration to create a new campaign and make himself relevant yet again.

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Television Musings

July 23, 2015

Stuff I’ve been watching and thinking about…

Borgen – I binge-watched this Danish series while on vacation. It’s marvelous. Politics, media, unusual but realistic characters, and great writing make this a winner. It makes me wonder, too, whether we should reconsider our political system. Political junkies will want to binge just like I did! Available on DVD (thirty episodes).


Deadwood – I’m teaching a course spring 2016 called Critical Media Studies: Deadwood exceptionally good, which reminds me of how much I do not like True Detective. Available on DVD and streaming.


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Playing Catch-Up Again

July 23, 2015

Several weeks ago, I went to the North Carolina coast for a week by myself. I planned to take my computer to finish up a little work but mostly to relax and clear my head. When I arrived at the cottage in Swansboro where I was staying, I realized that I brought everything I intended to bring except my computer case.

After a beat, I laughed out loud.

I think the message was clear; I needed a break and took it. Now, it’s time for me to play a little catch-up with things I’ve been watching but not reporting in this space. Here’s I’ll make a little report on movies then will devote a second post to television musings.

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July 8, 2015

I don’t remember seeing another film that made me feel so sad and uneasy without relief while watching. Without the usual narrative peaks and valleys, this artful Brian Wilson biopic is relentless in its descent.

Director Bill Pohlad has an extensive background as a producer (Wild, 12 Years a Slave, Into the Wild, Brokeback Mountain, etc.), and Love & Mercy makes me eager to see his next film, too.

Paul Dano plays the 1960s era Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson, whose creative growth is coupled with a mental collapse. John Cusack plays Wilson during the 1980s when he is under the control of an unscrupulous (mild description) therapist, and his prospects seem less than bleak.

The shifting back and forth between the two timelines and the choices Pohlad makes within each are unconventional, but the film works. What emerges in this unlikely biopic is a sensitive story, an uncommonly revealing portrait of a gifted musician battered by the pressures of fame, family dysfunction, and a succession of people who want to abuse his talent for their own ends.

Expect to leave the theater feeling that your own problems have shrunk in proportion to what you have witnessed.

Highly recommended.

Love and Mercy

HELP! Need Film Titles!

July 5, 2015

I need your help! One of my summer research projects is a revision of the third edition of The Hollywood Curriculum: Teachers in the Movies. This is a major overhaul that will include various updates as well as two new chapters.

Below, I’ve included the filmography for the book with new films I’m already planning to include listed in boldface font. Please send me an email with the titles of movies you think I should add to my list!

Not only will I be grateful for your suggestions, but I’ll also thank you in the acknowledgments if I use a film you recommend. My email address is


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