Contest: Alice in Wonderland

Posted on January 23, 2011 at 3:47 pm

I am overjoyed to have two copies of one of my very favorite Disney classics to give away. This is the Blu-Ray/DVD 60th anniversary edition of “Alice in Wonderland.” I have loved this film since we watched it at my own 6th birthday party. Of all the many versions of the book by Lewis Carroll, this is my favorite. Alice took Walt Disney full circle, as he began his career with films that featured a real-life girl playing Alice in an animated wonderland.
In addition to the movie with its memorable score (“A Very Merry Un-Birthday,” and “I Give Myself Very Good Advice”), the package includes some behind the scenes footage hosted by Kathryn Beaumont, who provided the voice for Alice (and for Wendy in “Peter Pan”), and some deleted scenes — featuring a newly discovered Cheshire Cat song called “I’m Odd” and the “Pig and Pepper” episode. There’s also a Mickey Mouse through the looking glass cartoon, for the first time in Hi-Def.
Send me an email at with “Alice” in the title and tell me your favorite Alice character. On Feb 4, I will randomly select two lucky winners.

My policy on conflicts and accepting prizes from film-makers

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Skins — Another Challenge for Parents of Teens

Posted on January 22, 2011 at 8:00 am

MTV’s latest series is Skins, an American version of a controversial British television show about teenagers and starring teenagers. It was co-created by a teenager, the son of a television writer who was challenged by his father to come up with an idea.
Skins-popup.jpgThe characters in both the US and UK versions use drugs, have casual and sometimes predatory sex, and engage in a great deal of irresponsible and highly risky behavior. Hank Steuver of the Washington Post wrote:

By and large, “Skins” is a repugnant, irredeemably nihilistic viewing experience for grownups – the very thing for which “off” buttons are made.

For actual teenagers, “Skins” might be something of a vicarious thrill, in which a scheming, savvy twerp named Tony (James Newman) arranges a debauched social life for himself and his other working-class friends, each of whom have their own overblown emotional issues and troubles at home. Imagine a kid with Ferris Bueller’s self-assurance and Eddie Haskell’s duplicity plunked down with his ethnically diverse peers in a den filled with drugs, porn and a stack of unmade “ABC Afterschool Special” scripts with the final scenes (i.e., the saccharine conclusions) torn out.

That is the key point. Some shows try to have it both ways; they display all kinds of bad behavior and justify it with a moral lesson by showing the consequences. These can range from the “very special episodes” that put favorite sitcom characters in the path of danger to movies like “The Hangover,” which let us enjoy the out-of-control behavior of the characters and then let us enjoy even more the pain of coping with the consequences. “Skins” doesn’t seem to care about anything but giving audiences a transgressive thrill. Knowing that the actors really are as young as the characters they portray adds to the shock value — and the appeal.
Parents should know that this series pushes the boundaries already pushed very far by shows like “90210” and “Gossip Girl.” New York Magazine reports that MTV is concerned that it might violate child pornography statutes. Wrigley, GM, and Taco Bell have already pulled out as advertisers. If you are going to give your children permission to watch, I strongly suggest you watch it with them — though it’s hard to say which of you would be most uncomfortable doing so.

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Parenting Teenagers Television Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Ebert’s New Show Premieres This Weekend!

Posted on January 21, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Roger Ebert’s new show, Ebert Presents At the Movies, debuts this week on PBS stations across the country. The original show was an inspiration and a guide to me and I am honored beyond words to be invited to contribute to the new one. I’ll be tuning in this weekend, and I’ll let you know when I will be on.

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Critics Television

The Company Men

Posted on January 20, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Remember all those executives George Clooney fired last year in Up in the Air? Here is their story.

Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, and Tommy Lee Jones play characters who work at an enormous conglomerate and feel confident in their value to the organization and not at all the kind of people who get laid off. That might have been true in past recessions. But they come from the heavy building side of the company. That might have been how the company started, but in the post-meltdown world it is the past, not the future. CEO James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) explains that the future of the company is in health care, infrastructure, and power generation.

And so, “difficult decisions had to be made in situations where redundancies surfaced.” And therefore euphemisms had to used, the passive voice employed — so often the case when everyone else is pretty much unemployed.

The first to go is Bobby Walker (Affleck), a top salesman who has the bad luck to be selling something that is not health care, infrastructure, or power generation. He walks into the office bragging about his 86 at the golf course before work, and shortly after is walking out with everything in a cardboard box. Phil Woodward (Cooper), a factory guy who made it to the executive suite — and who has a daughter very excited about the senior class trip to Italy — doesn’t last much longer. And finally, the head of the division, Gene McLary (Jones), the CEO’s oldest friend, is riding the euphemism and cardboard box express, too.

It turns out that people who are fired go through the same Elizabeth Kubler-Ross stages that we experience in facing death, though not exactly in the same order. In these cases, it seems to be anger first, and then denial. They may skip bargaining and go straight to depression. And not everyone makes it to acceptance. Bobby goes from “I can’t let anyone know I lost my job” to “I need to look successful” to “We can’t leave our home,” to accepting the sequential blows of his wife’s return to work, moving back to his parents’ home, and asking the brother-in-law who always needles him about the big shot life for a job helping to put up drywall.

Writer/director John Wells (television’s “ER”) has a good feel for the corporate world — the analyst meetings in hotel ballrooms, the Wall Street jargon, the CEO pay packages. And he has a television writer’s economy for evoking the range of situations and emotions. While he also has a television writer’s feel for structure, he seems locked in to television drama’s three-part storyline, just too conventional, predictable, and neat, especially in the last half hour. It comes down too hard on the facts we all know too well, the imperial CEOs (with pay 700 times that of the average worker), the difference between what is legal and what is ethical, the difference between building something other than figures on a balance sheet, the “real people” honor and generosity of the people who get their hands dirty literally rather than metaphorically.

It’s the small details and moments that work best in this film. The layoffs come to people with busy lives predicated on keeping jobs they once thought depended only on ability and integrity. Everyone has an event to attend; everyone has a lovely house to pay for. Gene comes home to the gleaming surfaces of his gracious home and peeks at the five-figure price tag on his wife’s new table. Phil is told by a cheery but frank “outplacement” counselor that he should remove “ancient” references like service in Vietnam from his resume and dye his hair. There’s an understated moment where the brother-in-law (a fine Kevin Costner) shows that a real leader puts his workers first. Rosemary DeWitt can convey more about her understanding and support in putting lotion on her legs than most actresses can do with a page of dialogue. And the movie delivers the message that the workforce is not all that gets downsized; so do dreams, hopes, plans, pride.


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