Roxana Hadadi on “Michael Clayton”

Posted on July 6, 2020 at 12:36 pm

Copyright 2007 Castle Rock
On Rogerebert.com the wonderful Roxana Hadadi writes about “the deserved anger” of “Michael Clayton,” a 2007 George Clooney film that seems even more timely today. Her gorgeous writing and illuminating insights make this a must-read.

A hypnotic thriller about a law firm’s “fixer” realizing that the agricultural company he’s defending is involved in a murderous conspiracy, Tony Gilroy’s “Michael Clayton” used George Clooney’s wounded eyes, Tom Wilkinson’s frenzied soliloquies, and Merritt Wever’s soft-spoken melancholy to wonder how much commercial corruption we could fall victim to, and how much blatant immorality we could tolerate. Lauded at the time for its unrelenting tension, its steady pacing, and its sharp script, “Michael Clayton” was a critical darling, topping numerous critics’ best-of lists and netting seven Academy Award nominations, including a win for Tilda Swinton for Best Supporting Actress.

In the years since, though, as various other lauded films from 2007 have been reassessed and reconsidered, “Michael Clayton” has faded from memory. It’s an undeserved dynamic, given that the film has so much to say about how skewed the relationship between American corporations and the people they’re supposed to serve really is—an imbalance that remains as drastic today as it was back in 2007.

The corporate world that “Michael Clayton” depicts is flimsily held together by favors and handshakes, rife with insults and threats. The workers trapped within it are beholden to a class structure that discredits and undermines them, overwhelms them with paranoia, and drowns them in debt. “What kind of people are you?” someone asks Clayton, aghast at the backstabbing and the deceit with which Clayton fills his days. How to fight against that, at the sacrifice of human lives for business interests? By playing dirty.

Related Tags:

 

Commentary Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Ten Years Later: The Finale of Lost

Posted on May 24, 2020 at 3:37 pm

No one knows Lost better than Jen Chaney, so there is no one better to look back on the finale, which disappointed many fans. It’s an unsovable problem; people who stuck with the show loved its ambiguity and puzzles. So, if the finale answered all the questions it would annoy fans. And if it didn’t, it would annoy them, too.For Vulture, Chaney writes:

Many people, myself included, appreciated the emotional way it wrapped up Lost’s story. If you go back and rewatch “The End” now, you may be surprised to learn you appreciate it too, especially if the one and only time you watched it was on the night of May 23, 2010.

I recently did that, and in connection with another story I’m writing, I convinced Lost showrunners and co-creators Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse to rewatch it as well. It was the first time either of them had seen “The End” since it first aired, and it brought back what Cuse described as “a jumble of emotions.” He recalled parts of the finale as though he had just done it yesterday, while other moments he had completely forgotten. “I was a little, kind of, out of time,” he said….

They were especially moved by the events that take place in the flash-sideways, where, one by one, each major character is suddenly awakened to memories of the island, often when someone who also had been there touches them. “I got emotional watching that stuff because it felt like the characters were in a Lost reunion show that they didn’t know they were in,” Lindelof said. “It was like The Truman Show. It was like, ‘Oh, Jack, you were actually on this show called Lost where you had all these adventures on an island.’”

Those moments, in which physical contact sparks recollection of a life left behind, got me choked up for a similar reason. I was watching the characters flash back to their island existences, while I also was flashing back to my experience years ago of watching them live on the island for six seasons. But I got choked up for another reason, too: Aren’t we, at this moment, also living a little out of time? In the third month of quarantining, when we can barely recall what it felt like to live normal, unrestrained, mask-free lives, those scenes packed a whole different punch. I imagine that when we’re allowed to hug our friends again, the flood of what pre-pandemic life felt like will come rushing back, the same way island life did for Locke, Kate, Sun, Jin, Sawyer, Juliet, and all of the rest. It hurts to think about that because we’re still not there yet.

“I felt that the thematic intentions of nobody doing it alone — you need them and they need you — a lot of the emotionality of the themes was very poignant in this particular moment, when we’re all separated from each other by a pandemic,” Cuse said.

Looper’s version:

Mashable on Lost:

Related Tags:

 

Television Understanding Media and Pop Culture

ReFrame’s Stamp of Gender Equality and the Movies that Qualify

Posted on May 24, 2020 at 3:23 pm

Copyright 2018 Warner Brothers
You know how movies credits include an assurance that no animals were hurt in the making of the film? That is a certification that is independently verified and taken very seriously. If a bug is discovered in the studio, okay to kill it. If a bug is on screen, someone will be there to make sure it is alive and healthy when filming is over.

And now ReFrame has adopted that model to ensure that films are made with gender parity on and off screen. Watch for their new “stamp” in the credits, from “Bumblebee” to “Crazy Rich Asians” and “A Simple Favor,” Films already showing the stamp of gender equality are listed here.

Related Tags:

 

Gender and Diversity Understanding Media and Pop Culture

How We Got to Sesame Street

Posted on May 11, 2020 at 8:00 am

Copyright Simon and Schuster 2020

There’s a terrific history of Sesame Street by Jill Lepore in The New Yorker, based in part on a terrific new book called Sunny Days: the Children’s Television Revolution that Changed America by David Kamp. I appreciated the mention of my dad, who, as Kamp’s book reveals, played a critical role in obtaining the first funding for the show. I remember his telling us about it at family dinners, and I was lucky enough to watch the very first episode, which I loved instantly.

Half a century ago, before “Sesame Street,” and long before the age of quarantine, kids under the age of six spent a crazy amount of time indoors, watching television, a bleary-eyed average of fifty-four hours a week. In 1965, the year the Johnson Administration founded Head Start, Lloyd Morrisett, a vice-president of the Carnegie Corporation with a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Yale, got up one Sunday morning, at about six-thirty, a half hour before the networks began their day’s programming, to find his three-year-old daughter, Sarah, lying on the living-room floor in her pink footie pajamas, watching the test pattern. She’d have watched anything, even “The Itty-Bitty, Farm and City, Witty-Ditty, Nitty-Gritty, Dog and Kitty, Pretty Little Kiddie Show.”

Not much later, Morrisett fell into a dinner-party conversation with Joan Ganz Cooney, a public-affairs producer at New York’s Channel 13. The first time Cooney had seen a television set was in 1952, when she watched Adlai Stevenson accept the Democratic nomination. She’d gone on to champion Democratic causes and had moved from Phoenix to New York to work at Channel 13, where her documentary projects included “A Chance at a Beginning,” about a preschool program in Harlem. As David Kamp reports in “Sunny Days: The Children’s Television Revolution That Changed America” (Simon & Schuster), both Cooney and Morrisett were caught up in Lyndon Johnson’s vision of a Great Society, his War on Poverty, and the promise of the civil-rights movement, and they’d both been stirred by a speech delivered in 1961 by Newton Minow, President Kennedy’s F.C.C. chairman, which called television a “vast wasteland.” Minow, a former law partner of Stevenson’s, had gone on to rescue Channel 13’s public-broadcast mandate during a takeover bid. At that dinner party, Cooney and Morrisett got to talking about whether public-minded television might be able to educate young kids.

Educational television for preschoolers seemed to solve two problems at once: the scarcity of preschools and the abundance of televisions. At the time, half of the nation’s school districts didn’t have kindergartens. To address an achievement gap that had persisted long after Brown v. Board of Education, it would have been better to have universal kindergarten, and universal preschool, but, in the meantime, there was universal television. “More households have televisions than bathtubs, telephones, vacuum cleaners, toasters, or a regular daily newspaper,” Cooney noted in a Carnegie-funded feasibility study, “The Potential Uses of Television in Preschool Education.” With that report in hand, Morrisett arranged for a million-dollar grant that allowed Cooney to begin development of a show with no other title than “Early Childhood Television Program.” In a fifty-five-page 1968 proposal, “Television for Preschool Children,” Cooney reported the results of a national study of the increasingly sophisticated scholarship on child development: she’d travelled the country, interviewing scholars and visiting preschools to find out about what was called, at the time, the “sandbox-to-classroom revolution”—the pressing case for intellectual stimulation for three-, four-, and five-year-olds.

That proposal brought in the eight million dollars in foundation and government funding that made possible the founding of the nonprofit Children’s Television Workshop and the production of the first season of the still unnamed “Early Childhood Television Program.” “Nothing comparable to such a program now exists on television,” Cooney observed. “Captain Kangaroo,” broadcast on CBS beginning in 1955, had educational bits, but it was mainly goofy. (Bob Keeshan, who played the captain, had started out as a Sideshow Bob clown named Clarabell on “Howdy Doody” and then starred as Corny the Clown on ABC’s “Time for Fun.”) “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” a half-hour show produced by WQED, in black-and-white, had gone national in 1968, but reached mainly a middle-class audience. The new show would be broadcast nationally, every weekday, for an hour, in color; it would be aimed at all children, from all socioeconomic backgrounds; it would be explicitly educational, with eight specific learning objectives drawn from a list devised by experts; and its format would be that of a “magazine” made up of “one- to fifteen-minute segments in different styles”—animation, puppetry, games, stories. The “Early Childhood Television Program” would also be an experiment: its outcome would be measured.

Cooney put together a board of academic advisers, chaired by the developmental psychologist Gerald Lesser, and in 1968 she began a series of seminars loosely affiliated with the Harvard School of Education, where Lesser was a professor. To one of those seminars, she later recalled, “this bearded, prophetic figure in sandals walks in and sits way at the back, ram-rod straight, staring ahead with no expression on his face.” She thought that he might be a member of the Weather Underground. She whispered to a colleague, “How do we know that man back there isn’t going to throw a bomb up here or toss a hand grenade?”

“Not likely,” he said. “That’s Jim Henson.”

Related Tags:

 

Books Television Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Running in Movies — Showing Character as Well as Story

Posted on May 11, 2020 at 8:00 am

Great piece by James Parker in The Atlantic about how actors use running styles to show character in movies. Well, most actors.

Running in movies is always toward danger or away from it. No one in movies is ever just running.

And like ballet dancers, the great runners in movies express character through movement, through the whirling and thumping of their limbs. Matt Damon, as Jason Bourne, is a brain-wiped super-soldier having an identity crisis, so he runs like a frightened washing machine. Carrie-Anne Moss, as Trinity in The Matrix, runs like an equation from the future—which is what she is. Harrison Ford in his prime had a distinctive bowled-over running style: Look at him in The Fugitive, blundering and floundering and grimacing and reeling, an everyman dislodged—as if by an explosion—from the everyday, knocked out of his life, and frowningly, head-buttingly determined to get back in there.

(Tom Cruise is different. Whatever part he’s playing, Jerry Maguire or Jack Reacher, he runs like Tom Cruise, with piston knees and piston elbows and the face of an angry Christ. And that’s okay.)

Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook, pounding around the burbs with a garbage bag sort of medievally layered over his hoodie, is jogging. People do jog in movies, for fitness—but interiorly, as they jog along, they’re still firmly located on that into-trouble/​out-of-trouble axis. They’re still going one way or the other. Cooper is running—so he hopes—away from madness.

Related Tags:

 

Understanding Media and Pop Culture
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2020, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik