This piece was inspired by Steve James’ moving documentary Life Itself, which I watched via Amazon’s Video On Demand service earlier this week. What follows is not exactly a review. I experienced the film as a Roger Ebert admirer first and a critic second. Any insights that I have about the filmmaking would be tied to my own feelings about the subject matter. Especially given that the subject matter is movie criticism itself, the connections seem too close to warrant a straightforward review.
Suffice it to say, I really enjoyed the film and found it worthy of Roger’s towering presence in the film world. I particularly appreciated that the movie was tonally diverse and willing to acknowledge its subject’s faults and limitations. Steve James carefully modulates the tone so that the movie celebrates Roger’s professional achievements and examines his personal ones. He affords plenty of screentime to Roger’s remarkable wife Chaz, and the scenes that depict their loving relationship are among the film’s most poignant. No single film can capture the implications of this one’s title, but Life Itself offers a potent memorial to a man whose legacy towers over film criticism.
His presence also lingers in my own life. I think about him often. Here’s why.
Roger Ebert taught me to love movies.
I never met him, and I never will. But I read his words, and I understood what it meant to sit in front of a movie screen (or a TV screen, or a computer monitor, or a tablet screen, or a smartphone screen), feel something, and then convey that feeling using the written word.
Listen to Episode 34 of The M&M Report here.
On this episode of The M&M Report, Devin Mitchell and I break down this year’s Emmy nominations. We’re outraged that Elisabeth Moss didn’t get nominated and a bit peeved that Jeff Daniels did. We don’t get the love for Downton Abbey or the broad support for House of Cards, but we’re on board with the embrace of Orange is the New Black and Fargo.
The Emmys air on NBC on August 25, 2014 at 8pm.
Listen to this week’s episode of The M&M Report here.
On this episode of The M&M Report, Devin Mitchell and I discussed World Cup 2014 and 22 Jump Street. Devin is more knowledgeable about soccer than I am, so his insights are particularly valuable.
Click through for the time breakdown:
Early in Boyhood, a young boy and his slightly older sister pile into their mother’s car with all of their belongings crammed in around them. It’s moving day. Mom is exasperated. The kids are equal parts anxious and rambunctious. But the journey begins. Almost instantly, the kids start fighting, because what else do they have to do in the back seat? Mom tells them to use their pillow as a divider, and then she suggests the quiet game. A successful round of that game has never been played, especially in a vehicle. The kids slap at each other in frustration. But suddenly, they start giggling, even though they haven’t stopped hitting each other. What was infuriating a moment ago just became hilarious. The camera lingers for a moment before the next cut.
Boyhood is made up of moments like this – all but unexplainable glimpses of the world as we know it but rarely see it onscreen. The movie follows the youth and maturation of Mason, a feisty young boy with a beleaguered mother (Patricia Arquette), a petulant older sister (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter), a frequently absent father (Ethan Hawke), a succession of drunken stepfathers, and a rotating panel of love interests, friends and acquaintances. Mason is 6 when the movie starts and 18 when it ends. In between, seasons change, love comes and goes, youthful naivete turns to adolescent cynicism, and a young boy becomes a slightly older boy. Boyhood is not the first movie to tackle the topic in its title, but it might be the first to do so with the temporal sweep and technical restraint of writer-director Richard Linklater’s latest.
Much has written about the rise of bro-country, a subsection of country music that consists almost entirely of young white men singing about trucks, beer, Friday nights and their beautiful, anonymous female love interests. Last December, Grady Smith posted an illuminating video tracing these cliches through the lyrics of last year’s popular hits. I’m zooming in a little closer to look at one particular cliche – the prominence of “the night” and other night-related vocabulary in the lyrics of recent country hits. A few caveats before we begin our journey into the night:
1. I’m not necessarily attacking any of these songs for being lazy. I’m pointing a trend into which these songs fit. The merits of each song is another matter entirely.
2. I’m not suggesting that this phenomenon is entirely new, or inherently a symptom of lazy writing. After all, the night is often a time of drama and excitement, and music thrives on drama and excitement. If you looked back at country hits from previous years, you might find a similar pattern. But this trend is worth noting nonetheless.
Without further ado, let the night begin.
After an entire TV season of speculation, the 2014 Primetime Emmy nominations were finally announced at the ungodly hour of 5:30am Pacific Thursday morning. (Perks of being on the East coast: waking up was no big deal!) As usual, the nominations provoked a mixture of reactions: surprise, resignation, disapproval, even bitterness. As Alan Sepinwall put it in his pessimistic but reasoned analysis, the television business is evolving too quickly for the Emmys to keep up, especially given that the TV Academy has a history of being slow to adjust to major changes in the industry. With a higher volume and wider array of TV shows than ever before, some quality shows are always going to get left behind. But when the Emmys continue to make apologies for shows that they previously loved, it’s worth wondering how long these awards can stay relevant.
Below, here are five of my thoughts about the nominations list. For more on the list’s weirder surprises, here’s my USA Today article from Thursday. For my dream ballots, click here and here.
Presenting the second half of my mock ballot for tomorrow’s Emmy nominations. I’m looking forward to seeing the majority of my hopes crushed in favor of mediocre or unsurprising choices. But that’s the game Emmy fans play. Check out the first part of my ballot for my thoughts on the supporting categories.
Without further ado, the nominations are…
The 68th annual Emmy nominations will be announced at 8:30am Eastern/5:30 Pacific this Thursday, July 10. As I did last year, I’ll be formulating my own ballots in this space in the days leading up to the big announcement.
A few caveats:
1. (Copied from my 2013 Call Me Emmy posts) I’m not paid to watch television. I can only watch what I have time to watch, so I can’t nominate undoubtedly high-quality shows like Game of Thrones, Scandal, The Good Wife, Masters of Sex, Shameless, Girls and Veep, just to name a few. In other cases, I can’t nominate a particular show because I haven’t seen the current season, as with Homeland, Downton Abbey and Modern Family.
2. Boiling down a remarkable season of television into just twenty-four commendable supporting performances is a fool’s errand. I’ve done my best to choose my favorites, but if you ask me tomorrow, I might choose slightly different groups. These awards, as much as they have weight in the industry, don’t dictate my tastes, and they should exist primarily to shine a spotlight on the best that television has to offer in a given year.
Without any further ado, the nominees…
If Orange is the New Black were primarily plot-driven, the second season finale “We Have Manners, We’re Polite” might have been unsatisfying. Instead of culminating in a massive prison-spanning battle or a bloody showdown between Kate and Vee, the season ends with an unexpectedly macabre and darkly funny exclamation point, as the ailing Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat) takes out the villainous Vee (Lorraine Toussaint) with her car on her way towards a few final weeks of freedom. After an entire season of swirling contraband and shifting loyalties, the season’s principal villain is dispatched in a matter of seconds, learning none of the lessons she probably ought to have learned before she passed on.
But Orange is the New Black is not primarily a plot-driven show. It’s well established that Orange is the New Black has one of the most diverse casts of any “television show” ever. There’s no use making like a broken record and praising the show yet again for opening a space filled by a diverse array of voices and perspectives. The show’s true genius, and the key to its success, is the way in which it takes full advantage of its diverse cast to tell stories about complicated people who have made irredeemable mistakes and yet still retain shreds of humanity.