Men, Women, and The Three Stooges

Posted on April 26, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Thanks to Thelma Adams for her thoughtful discussion of two perennial questions: Why do men like The Three Stooges?  Why don’t women like The Three Stooges?

That’s Not Funny! Why Comedy is Different for Men and Women” is Adams’ post on why men find head-bonking and eye-gouging funny while women look on, mystified.

Of course there are women who are fans of Moe, Larry, and Curly and men who don’t get the point.  But in general, men laugh at them and women do not.  As I told Thelma, there is scientific research showing that women respond to seeing others in pain with empathy while men take pleasure unless they feel it is unfair.

In other words, women empathize with the victim of violence (hence the wincing every time Moe pulls Curly’s hair out by the roots), while men experience schadenfreude when folks get their comeuppance. Men enjoy watching someone get whacked — as long as it isn’t them. Maybe it’s because every time someone else gets picked on, they get a reprieve.  It may simply be that women see pain where men see pratfalls.

Or, it may be that women identify with the victims and men identify (or fantasize about being) the perpetrator.

We certainly have a lot to laugh about, and an abundance of potential story lines — as “Bridesmaids” proved so well. Just don’t expect us to howl at “The Three Stooges,” OK?

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

My Interview with Adlai E. Stevenson III About Five Generations of Politicians and Statesmen

Posted on April 26, 2012 at 12:16 pm

I was lucky enough to interview former Illinois senator Adlai E. Stevenson III about his new book collecting the wisdom of five generations of his family for the wonderful Viral History blog from Ken Ackerman.  Here is an excerpt:

  Illinois has had its problems with elected officials, but it is also the home of Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama.  In between those two Illinois Presidents, great public servants from the state have included five generations of the Stevenson family.  Most recently, Adlai E. Stevenson III served as United States Senator from 1970 to 1981, following terms as Illinois State Treasurer and representative to the state legislature. His father was Illinois Governor and the Democratic candidate for the presidency in 1952 and 1956, losing both times to Dwight D. Eisenhower.  After that, he served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, memorably confronting the Soviet Union over the Cuban Missile Crisis.


Going back further, Senator Stevenson’s grandfather held state office in Illinois and his great-grandfather was a Congressman and Vice President of the United States under Grover Cleveland. His great-great-grandfather, Jesse Fell, was Secretary of the Illinois Republican Party. He proposed the historic Lincoln/Douglas debates and persuaded Lincoln to run for President. He did not run for office himself but set his family an example of citizen statesmanship that still resonates today.

Senator Stevenson is currently active through the Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy, with an upcoming event on the Presidential Debates featuring my father, Newton Minow, whose work with Governor Stevenson during his Presidential campaigns in the 1950s formed the basis of the current system of Presidential debates.

The Stevenson family has a tradition of collecting thoughts and quotations about politics, history, and related topics, and Senator Stevenson has now edited what the family calls The Black Book with 150 years worth of insights and advice.  It is an enthralling compilation, rewarding a quick look at a random page or careful study of chapters on topics from “Congress and the Legislative Process” to “Religion and Politics,” “Lincoln, War, Peace,” and even poetry — a treat for fans of history, politics, and just good reading.
I was delighted to have a chance to interview Senator Stevenson, for whom I worked as an intern in the summer of 1973, when I was in college and the Watergate hearings were underway.   Here is some of what he told me:
The Senate

NM: What has been the biggest change for the worse since you were in the Senate? What has been the biggest change for the better?

AES: In the Senate I entered, there was no partisanship. We worked across the aisle – remember Nixon supported Environmental Protection, product safety, OSHA, even supported wage and price controls. The center was broad. Reason still reigned – and some wise men (yes, mostly men). Nowadays anybody can be elected without sufficient money or notoriety. The process is paralyzed. Civility broke down as ideology and money invaded. Now a handful can stop consideration of measures and paralyze Congress. I haven’t observed any favorable changes.

NM: Do you think there is any way to limit the impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens Uniteddecision on corporate money in politics?

Campaigns and Politics



AES: Yes. The Court may reconsider the issue. Campaigns could be shortened – and ballots to reduce costs. The Federal Communications Act might again be enforced so licensees of public air waves are held to some public, convenience, and necessity standards as in the past. Partial public financing may be the most doable solution. I am skeptical about a Constitutional amendment and proposals to take limits off contributions to parties and candidates to counter super PACs. We could also fund public TV and radio adequately as other democracies do. We just had an Adlai Stevenson Center program on the subject but I did not hear any easy answers.

NM: There are a lot of wonderful quotes in the book. Did any of the selections collected by your father surprise you? Do you have a favorite?

AES: Remember, the quotations came from everywhere and were added over four generations, probably most by me. As I say, every page uncovers a surprise that I added for illustrative, not so much argumentative, purposes. (The open letter to Santorum was ahead of its time like others). I have many favorites, for example:

  • ” With all the temptations and degradations that beset it, politics is the noblest career; any man can choose. Andrew Oliver, ca 1810.
  • “Ever’ once in a while some feller with no bad habits gits caught,” Will Rogers.
  • And my cardinal rule: A politician owes the public: “his conscience and his best opinion…not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” Edmund Burke, 1774


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Books Media Appearances

Mo Willems’ Pigeon and Pals: Complete Cartoon Collection, Vols. 1 & 2

Posted on April 26, 2012 at 11:55 am

Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: NR
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2012
Date Released to DVD: April 26, 2012 ASIN: B005B0QYMW

My favorite series for children has a wonderful new collection: Mo Willems’ Pigeon and Pals: Complete Cartoon Collection Volumes 1 & 2.  Emmy Award winner and Sesame Street veteran Mo Willems is the author/illustrator of the delightful book series about the irrepressible pigeon who is determined to drive a bus and eat a hot dog, as well as the Knuffle Bunny series and more.  This collection includes six stories on two DVDs and extra features with Willems visiting a school and a Spanish version of “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale.”  I have one copy to give away.  Send me an email at with “Pigeon” in the subject line and tell me your favorite picture book.  Don’t forget your address!  (US addresses only.)  I’ll pick one winner at random on May 2.

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Animation Based on a book Contests and Giveaways DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Early Readers Elementary School Movie Mom’s Top Picks for Families Preschoolers

Watch Ebertfest Streaming and Follow on Twitter

Posted on April 25, 2012 at 11:46 pm

Ebertfest began tonight and I’ll be there tomorrow.  You’ll hear my thoughts but you can also be there yourself — virtually.  And follow us on @ebertfest

Note my appearances with “Higher Ground” and “A Separation.”


The intros will be brief; the Q&As can run 30-45 minutes. Start times for Q&As are approximate. Onstage personalities are subject to change.

For Ebert’s intro and comments on every film in the festival, see his blog entry here.

The master list:

• April 25, 7:00 p.m.
“Joe Versus the Volcano” introduction with Chaz and Roger Ebert:

• April 25, 8:30 p.m.
“Joe Versus the Volcano” Q&A. Moderator, Christy Lemire. Guests: Stephen Goldbatt and Brazillian film critic Pablo Villaca.

• April 25, 10:00 p.m.
“Phunny Business” and “The Truth about Beauty & Blogs” introduction by Chaz Ebert.

• April 25, 11:45 p.m.
“Phunny Business: A Black Comedy” Q&A. Moderator: Chaz Ebert. Guests: Director John Davies, producer Raymond Lambert, comedians Ali LeRoi, Kelechi Ezie.

• April 26, 9:00 a.m.
Panel: “The Personal and Political in Film.” Moderator, Nate Kohn. Guests: Paul Cox, Robert Siegel, Jacob Wysocki, Seema Biswas, Azazel Jacobs, Alrick Brown, Prashant Bhargava, Kevin B. Lee, Ali LeRoi (tentative).

• April 26, 10:30 a.m.
Panel: “Far Flung Correspondents: What’s New in Cinema Around the World?” Regular columnists for Ebert’s website. Moderator: Omer Mozaffar, Chicago. Members: Micha? Oleszczyk, Poland; Gerardo Valero, Mexico; Pablo Villaca, Brazil; Grace Wang, Canada; Wael Khairy, Egypt; Ali Arikan, Turkey; Krishna Shenoi, India; Scott Jordan Harris, Great Britain; Olivia Collette, Canada.

• April 26, 1:00 p.m.
“Big Fan” introduction with star Patton Oswalt.

• April 26, 2:30 p.m.
“Big Fan” Q&A. Moderator, Christy Lemire. Guests; Patton Oswalt, Robert Siegel, Steve Prokopy of Ain’t It Cool News.

• April 26, 4:00 p.m.
“Kinyarwanda” introduction with director Alrick Brown.

• April 26, 5:30 p.m.
“Kinyarwanda” Q&A. Moderator: David Bordwell. Guests: Alrick Brown, writer/director; Darren Dean, producer; Ishmael Ntihabose, executive producer and story; producers Tommy Oliver and Deatra Harris.

• April 26, 8:30 p.m.
“Terri” introduction with writer-director Azazel Jacobs and Chaz Ebert:

• April 26, 10:15 p.m.
“Terri” Q&A session. Moderator, Christy Lemire.
Azazel Jacobs, writer-director; Jacob Wysocki, actor.

•April 27, 9:00 a.m.
Panel: “Underrepresented Cinematic Voices.” Moderator: Eric Pierson, Guests: John Davies, Doc Erickson, Carolyn Briggs, Darren Dean, Michell Davis, Hadidja Zaninka, Richard Leskosky, Ishmael Ntihabose, Jaideep Punjabi, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Kelechi Ezie, Raymond Lambert.

• April 27, 10:30 a.m.
Panel: “ON DEMAND: Movies without Theaters.” Featuring critics on Ebert’s web site who write advance reviews of films On Demand. Moderator, website editor Jim Emerson. Guests: The Demanders (Steven Boone, Odie Henderson, Jana J. Monji, and a shout-out to Jeff Shannon in Seattle). Other guests: David Bordwell, Steve “Capone” Prokopy, Nell Minow, David Poland.

• April 27, 1:00 p.m.
“On Borrowed Time” introduction: Paul Cox and Chaz Ebert,

• April 27, 2:30 p.m.
“On Borrowed Time” Q&A. With Paul Cox, Chaz Ebert and Nate Kohn.

• April 27, 4:00 p.m.
“Wild and Weird” introduction with David Bordwell.

• April 27, 5:30 p.m.
“Wild and Weird” Q&A. Moderator: David Bordwell. Guests: The Alloy Orchestra (Terry Donahue, Ken Winokur, Roger Miller), David Poland, David Lee.

• April 27, 8:30 p.m.
“A Separation” introduction. With Michael Barker.

• April 27, 10:30 p.m.
” A Separation” Q&A. Moderator: Nel Minow. Guests: Michael Barker, Ali Arikan.

• April 28, 1:00 p.m.
“Higher Ground” introduction. By Michael Barker.

• April 28, 2:45 p.m.
“Higher Ground” Q&A. Moderator, Nell Minow. Carolyn S. Briggs, writer; Michael Barker.

• April 28, 4:00 p.m.
“Patang (The Kite)” introduction, by Prashant Bhargava.

• April 28, 5:30 p.m.
“Patang (The Kite)” Q&A. Nate Kohn, moderator. Guests: Prashant Bhargava, director; Jaideep Punjabi, producer; Seema Biswas and Nawazuddin Siddiqui, leading actors; Vijay Bhargava, executive producer; Omer Mozaffar.

• April 28, 8:30 p.m.
“Take Shelter” introduction by writer-director Jeff Nichols.

•April 28, 10:30
“Take Shelter” Q&A. Moderator, Michael Barker. Guests: Actor Michael Shannon, writer-director Jeff Nichols.

• April 29, 12:00 p.m.
“Citizen Kane” introduction by Roger Ebert.

• April 29, 2:00 p.m.
“Citizen Kane” Q&A. Discussants: David Bordwell, Jeffrey Lerner.

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Interview: Philippe Falardeau of “Monsieur Lazhar”

Posted on April 25, 2012 at 3:32 pm

“Monsieur Lazhar” is an Oscar-nominated Canadian film about an Algerian immigrant who takes a job as a substitute teacher even though he is not qualified and ends up learning a great deal from his students and teaching them more than either they or the school expected.  I spoke to writer/director Phillippe Falardeau about his remarkable, if almost accidental, start in film-making, how he worked with children to create such sensitive performances, and the challenges of adapting a one-man play to tell a story on film.

How do you work with children on such a sensitive and difficult subject? The film opens with two of the children finding that their teacher has committed suicide.  Ho do you take children to whom nothing bad has happened and help them create that performance?

There are some important things in what you’re saying. First of all, how do you work with children to craft a film that’s saying that and the fact that you’re saying we want to protect the children from that. I think the school wants to do the same thing.  The school has all kinds of protocols and rules and regulations trying to figure out all kinds of possible situations, but the film is saying no matter how many protocols we have and how many rules, we won’t be able to prevent stuff from happening, because life happens, period.

And some of those rules have the opposite impact, like saying that a teacher cannot touch a child for any reason.

Exactly.  So, working with the children—it’s interesting, because, we see the film and we see the stuff happening through the children’s characters.  But you have to remember that when you’re crafting the film, these things happen over a period of three to four months so they see the stuff coming.  There’s an audition, and then you talk about the subject with the parents and with the children, and so it’s slow in happening. It’s never a traumatic experience for the young actors, because it’s an abstract idea on paper, first, and when we’re on the set, we’re at three months later and we’ve talked about it a lot. And I found out that at that age, ten eleven, twelve, they’re often dismissed as too young to talk about it, but that is not true.   Even though none of these events happened to me when I was a young kid—I hated it when adults were saying, “It’s not a subject for you. We can’t talk about it. You’re too young for that. You’re too young for that.” Especially when I had a question about something. So, I wanted a film that would say, “No, they’re not too young for that, actually,’ and Bachir Lazhar is not treating them like that—he’s treating them like equals.

Even when he makes a mistake in thinking they’re capable of more than they are.

Exactly, and I think life finds a way—or the children will find a way—of saying, well, this is just a little over our heads. Because there is the issue of competence: are they able to do a dictation taken from Balzac?  And there’s the issue of life and the questions that are raised by some events; you cannot hide them from children, even if they’re ten years old. So for me, it’s just a long process of audition, taking your time, not just throwing them in front of a camera and saying, “OK, read your lines,” and then, “Bye.” It’s meeting the person, giving them 15, 20 minutes—and if I like them, I invite them back for another audition that’s more complex, and then I work with a coach—she’s an actress also—but she’s good with kids, so, she rehearsed with me and she knows where I want to go in terms of tone, so when I’m off on other tasks, she keeps working with the children. We never leave the children alone. And the third part which is probably the most important, I tried to make the set a summer camp. They know it’s work—but if they have fun, I believe that they trust you, and if they trust you they can reach into their own emotions to give you some personal stuff, like the cathartic scene with the boy.  I wish I could say I have a director’s trick I can use on children. I don’t. It’s just life happening there, because I think the children feel comfortable. With the young girl, it’s a little bit different because she’s a very good actress, and she could snap out of the emotion and just look at me and say, “Do you want another one? Do you want another take?” and she could get back into it. The boy was a slow process and difficult process. But in any case, I think trust is the key to work.

And they seemed to develop a very nice relationship between the two of them—a trust relationship.

Yes, yes, absolutely. And all these kids became friends for the duration of the shoot.  At the end of the shoot, it was really emotional—it was like the end of a full school year–and they had this nice experience. I wish I would’ve been them when I was young, living through that experience. Some of them probably won’t become actors.  I think they she will, the young girl named Sophie Nélisse who plays Alice, if she wants to, but she’s a gymnast and she’s a gymnast at a very, very high level—and that’s her goal in life, so I think she’s an accidental actress.

You took quite a challenge to adapt a one-person play into a movie and can you talk a little about that? You worked with the playwright, I think?

A little bit. She was the first person who read my different drafts and we bounced ideas, although I didn’t want her to co-write, and she didn’t want to co-write either. She knew the play had to transform and become something else. On stage, there’s one man interacting with people who are not there and that we don’t see or hear, but by his reaction we can make them out in our minds.  As members of an audience, we’re actually making a film in our head while we’re watching the play. so it’s not that difficult for me to make that into a screenplay.

Tell me what is important about making your main character an immigrant.

In Canada, we have so much land, so much space, and so few people. Now we’re up to 32 million.  We’re a country of immigrants. First of all, French immigrants and then the British immigrants, but soon after the Confederation in 1867, you need to colonize all the West, the farming land; so Ukrainians, Polish people—they all came from Eastern Europe to the west, there’s Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta, and then the new wave of immigrants, the Chinese immigrants, and the west of to Vancouver.  And in Quebec during the 1990’s, there were a lot of immigrants from Algeria because of the civil war there. Because they  speak French, it’s more natural for them to go to France, but they have a difficult relationship with France because it was an ancient colony, so it makes sense for them to come to Quebec.  America is so good at integrating and assimilating culturally and identity-wise with people because it’s such a strong political melting pot. In Canada, it’s a tapestry. It’s really something that immigrants can continue being immigrants for at least one generation without really embarking on what is Canada. You know, because, I don’t think Canada has a strong identity, except for some political choice we make, like health-insurance, for instance. We have a hard time defining ourselves…we often define ourselves negatively, we are not Americans.

In Quebec it’s different. We don’t have that identity crisis because we speak French, but we have this crisis of “will we exist in still 50 years” because we have linguistic assimilation. So, in the past ten years I’ll have to admit that our policy has been aligned to the U.S. politics in the post 9/11 era—we’ve been closing our doors to immigrants and refugees.

I was interested in having an immigrant character, but for me the most interesting thing that I was able to revisit who we are through his eyes.  You have this guy who comes to school, he knows nothing about the rules and protocols, and he’s kind of clumsy, and he’s not a teacher. I like the fact that he’s lying to get his job, and he’s telling the truth to the immigrant officer—so it’s a nice way for us to look at where we’re at and it allows us to ask ourselves, is that a comfortable place? It’s like the Polaroid of where we’re at, and on certain issues like touching or not the children, I think we’ve gone too far…but by using this man who knows nothing about our values here, he’s like candid, in a way—he just does what he does we see ourselves through his eyes.

One thing that I thought was really strong in the film was the look of it. Can you talk a little about what your discussions were with the cinematographer and what you were trying to say? I thought the look of it matched the emotional tenor of it very well.

The first decision I had to make was with the format. Was it going to be the normal rectangular format or the cinemascope?  Since it’s not an action movie or there’s no landscape, you don’t think of cinemascope. Then my director of photography, said, “I think you should shoot your first cinemascope format,” and I said, “Why? I want a documentary feeling.”  He could not tell me why rationally, yet he had this instinct. So I said, “Ok, I’m going to do some tests.” So, we’re testing, and we have children in the classroom, and it’s two weeks before shooting, so I’m testing the different formats and I’m holding the camera at the height of the desk, and I’m realizing that with the cinemascope format, you have a feeling that you have more children, because you’re horizontal. You’re skipping the roof and the bottom. You don’t have more children, but you have the sense that there are more children.  So that was the first decision. The second decision, I wanted only natural light from the exterior, I wanted it to be very bright, very luminous, colder at the beginning, just bluish at the beginning, and as the season progressed and as the film progressed, just a little warmer. So the premise of that film is so dramatic that I didn’t want the film to drown and be heavy—so I used the photography to pull the film towards the light.  I also used also the music to do that. The music is not dramatic; it’s Mozart, it’s Scarlatti, and the music composer—when I pitched him the film, I said, “There’s going to be Mozart in there, so, bring your A-game on that one!”

I so admire the work of the National Film Board of Canada.

Unfortunately, they’ve been struggling and the conservative government has done some major cuts.  It is ironic because we just had three films at the Oscars and the Minister of Culture was proud to announce that Canada had funded a film that was nominated for an Oscar at the same time they were making cuts.  The National Film Board is still way up there in terms of animation, but for documentaries they are struggling and they have not financed a feature film since at least 18 years.  It was a nice place to do films without engagement from distributors and television for financing a film so they could take risks.  But I was influenced by them when I was younger.

Most directors say that they were inspired to make films by the movies they watched as children, but that was not what got you started, was it?

I knew I would make a feature film only at the age of 27.  I studied political science and international relations and had the intention of becoming a journalist or work in foreign affairs.  I had no intention of making a film.  The first person to make me realize there was someone behind the film was Steven Spielberg.  I saw his name on “Close Encounters” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “E.T.” and said, “I want to see what he does next.”  He was my first influence but it is ironic because he is everything our film industry is not — big Hollywood movies.  And then I saw “Amadeaus” and what Milos Foreman did and it brought me into another spectrum of what film could do.  And then then I participated in a contest from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the French side, a contest called “The Race Around the World.”  Every year they would chose eight amateurs and give them cameras.  We had to travel alone for six months and do 20 short films in 26 weeks in 20 different countries.  The movies were shown before a panel of judges live on television.  When I came back from that my life had changed and I wanted to make documentaries.  Ken Loach and Mike Leigh became my real inspirations.


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Directors Interview
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