TV – The Wonder Years Episode 608 – “Kevin Delivers”

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I love those episodes that focus on one character doing one specific task or facing one particular problem. They provide unique insights, and the narrow scope really makes for rewarding character development and, for the viewer, an opportunity for introspection right along with the one or two characters who do the same. These episodes are also a surprise because they are a departure from the typical episodes that involve all or most of the cast having their typical conversations, interactions, fights, and reconciliations.

All of this was the case when I was watching The Wonder Years (1988-1993) tonight. I am re-watching the series on Netflix and have arrived at the final season. The second of two episodes I watched back to back was “Kevin Delivers” (25 Nov. 1992 – wri. Frank Renzulli, dir. Arthur Albert). After a “typical” episode involving Kevin’s 18-year-old brother, Wayne, meeting and moving in with a woman, I had that pleasant surprise (and a reminder because I didn’t remember) of an episode that focuses exclusively on one of Kevin’s nights out on his job delivering Chinese food. We all order delivery, but only a few of us have actually had a job as a delivery person. I love this show because I love the way it tells stories, so I appreciate the opportunity to see a typical night from the delivery person’s perspective. And in this case it is from Kevin Arnold’s viewpoint. It is the typical night, and he encounters the typical people—and deals with his “difficult” boss—all while trying to get to the end of the night so that he can take his money and go be with Winnie.

But, of course, there are obstacles. Kevin Arnold is a magnet for frustrating (and hilarious) setbacks. Even he frequently laughs at himself. And then there is the ending—the moment that reminded me why I love this show and makes me feel optimism in spite of every obstacle. It made me smile and really appreciate these episodes—the ones what focus on one or two characters on some quest, in the span of a day or a night—because they are a much-needed departure—an opportunity to slow down and be introspective along with the characters—and to learn something.

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The Wolfpack – The Outside World of Movies

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When Mukunda Angulo gets a job as a production assistant and displays in-depth knowledge about filmmaking in that setting, I had the thought that he and his brothers possess more skill than many young people I know who leave their homes every day. The situation in Crystal Moselle’s The Wolfpack and in the outside world is, of course, more complicated than that, but it is worth noting the roles of curiosity, enthusiasm, outlook, companionship, and imagination when it comes to facing life’s opportunities and restrictions. The six Angulo (two brothers have since changed their names) grew up with parents who wanted a different, freer life for them. Unfortunately, the inability to get out of Manhattan and a distrust of the city and the people in it (essentially, “the world”) caused the father to restrict them to the walls of their apartment where they stayed locked in. He had the only key to the front door and controlled entry and exit.

The boys watched movies—thousands of them. They watched with the creativity and the drive to absorb, appreciate, and reenact the scripts with a seriousness that has them, as we see in the film, watching and rewatching in order to hand-copy entire scripts in order to play the roles among themselves. They create their own costumes, create their own sets, and inhabit roles with deep understanding of the process they learn so much about from their keen powers of observation and from the sheer amount of time they spend with films. They create a (literal) interior world (the rooms of their home turned movie sets) that grew from the interior world of their creative minds spurred on by their love of cinema.

They began to venture outside to explore New York. Moselle discovered them one day on the street early on. When watching the film, I was most saddened when watching interviews with their mother, Susanne. It seemed that she was always negotiating in the gulf between her husband and her children. She says “there were more rules” (set by her husband) for her “than there were for them.” What of her life and her own self-expression? I was struck by how she shows her deep love for her sons while balancing her relationship with her husband, who is estranged from most of them. Their lives have affected each brother in different ways, but that they have each other is what I took from the film—and what I mentioned earlier—the roles of curiosity, enthusiasm, outlook, companionship, and imagination when it comes to facing life’s opportunities and restrictions—is definitely something to think about.

For updates, see this New York Times piece (June 10, 2015) from Cara Buckley.

Mad Max: Fury Road – So Much on that Road

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As someone not into “action films” and not familiar with the Mad Max franchise, I, at first, wasn’t sure if I would go see this film. Then, after becoming a bit more familiar through my friend’s post, I decided to go. The names Charlize Theron (and Tom Hardy—please see Lockeit also involves a road) also had something to do with my decision, as well as a trailer (that I’d seen many times at the movies) so fast and intense that I was left breathless; I had to have been paying enough attention to it in order for it to leave me breathless.

I am glad I saw Mad Max: Fury Road and did not lump it into the “action” category in my mind. I will, however, continue to avoid those action films that portray women as objects and “prizes” to be won by the male leads who are defined by their fancy cars, money, nice homes, nice clothes, and, well, male privilege. Unfortunately, they’ll continue to make plenty of money without my support. Fortunately, there are movies like Fury Road to give us something, within the genre, more authentic to watch.

Everything happens on the road—birth; death; a relationship involving a balanced exchange of support between a man and a woman, not defined by gender roles; falling in love; “car” trouble; teamwork; bitter struggles between opposing ideologies; nostalgia; letting go of the past; facing the future. . . . There is also a dangerous patriarchal society that should remind us of all the work needing to be done in real life. It is very nice to see Theron’s character in a role of power and at the same time see her need to rely on others at times, because one-dimensional representations of women who can only show strength and no vulnerability strip those characters of their humanity and leave even fewer examples of truthfulness in the culture. The same is true for Hardy’s character. He needs to be saved but also saves. I saw the relationship between the two as a positive one. I saw women represented as complex, which is something I hope to one day not have to point out because that would mean that there has been an important step toward seeing and presenting reality for what it is.

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2015 Emmy nominations (Yay for Moss, Tomlin, and Mo’Nique)

Here are my thoughts about the 2015 Emmy nominees about whom I am most excited. View the complete list here. The 67th Emmy Awards will air on FOX at 8 p.m. on September 20, 2015.

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Elisabeth Moss – Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series – Mad Men
always and forever. My Elisabeth. My Peggy. Favorite television character of all time.

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With all the changes going on, Peggy holds her own. Refusing to be treated as less than a creative-director-to-be, her choices have shown she is well on her way to achieving everything she has set out to achieve since the day she began to believe that it was all possible. Pete says she’ll be a creative director by 1980, which strikes Peggy as flattering, but she is unsettled by the prospect of a ten-year wait. I believe she’ll be there quicker. And, yes, I approve of Stan. I have for years.

None of these outstanding traits of power, vulnerability, passion, and dedication would have been possible if Elisabeth Moss had not brought them to us. I have savored every single performance, and season seven is the culmination of Peggy as a woman who has figured out who she is. Moss has conveyed Peggy’s deep insecurities and brought her to a place of finding her own balance (not anyone else’s) of life as a career woman with love and friendships. It is her own balance because I do not for one second believe that Peggy actually believes in “balance.” She believes in getting done what needs to be done.

Moss can deliver facial expressions that convey everything from sarcasm to helplessness. She offers one liners that deserve to be in some sort of hall of fame. Also during part 2 of season 7 she delivers two iconic moments—her strut into her new office after refusing to even enter the building until it is ready, shades, cigarette, moving box, and confidently defiant look completing the message that she is there to take care of business and nothing else,—and her roller skating routine through the old building while reminiscing with Roger. Elisabeth Moss brilliantly conveys Peggy’s new security that has allowed her to be herself at a level we have never seen. That level will make her an even huger success in the future years. While I’d love a spinoff about Peggy (I say she’ll rule the world by 1979), I am perfectly willing to leave Peggy at the end of “Person to Person” and have fun imagining what she’s up to. Thank you, Elisabeth Moss, for bringing life to Peggy.

Christina Hendricks – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series – Mad Men

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Joan realizes that she is, above all, a woman who can and will stand on her own feet. Step by step, we see this emerge. She wants her life on her terms, and her friends and colleagues know her professional abilities and seek out her expertise. This is what leads to Holloway Harris (because two names sound better than just one, of course). I love imagining how things are going for Joan—because I know she won’t be operating out of her apartment for much longer. Hendricks has interpreted restraint like none other, and blowups that I will never forget. Hendricks’ gift of conveying, during part 2 of Mad Men’s final season, both verbally and nonverbally, everything that is Joan—knowing she is right when everyone else is clueless, feeling like, no matter how competent and frankly brilliant and smart she is, there are those who will only see her as an object, reveling in success but still feeling alone—is why Hendricks deserves this nomination, and why Joan Harris is a classic and unforgettable.

Mo’Nique – Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie – Bessie

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Mo’Nique can do anything, and this nomination is just another representation of that. As a powerful and talented, yet compassionate true friend to Bessie Smith (Queen Latifah) in Bessie, she yet again shows the layers of a character who makes a way for herself despite forces constantly at work to destroy her. She is a beautiful survivor, and when the film returns to her near the end after departing to tell us the bulk of Bessie’s story, I was so so happy to see her again. Mo’Nique makes that excitement possible.

For Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, congratulations to Mad Men’Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner and Matthew Weiner for the third-to-last-ever episode, “Lost Horizon,” and for the series finale, “Person to Person,” respectively.

Lost Horizon   Person to Person

Of course, always and forever.
Mad Men – Outstanding Drama Series. Favorite television show of all time.
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“Election Night” – Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series – Simon Blackwell (teleplay and story), Armando Iannucci (story), Tony Roche (teleplay and story)

VeepNominee

This episode had me on the edge of my seat and completed a reminder of how much I love this show and how good it is. A cliffhanger—why am I always surprised when there is one? There is always one, and I must admit I love it. Here is a bit of a conversation about today’s nominations with my friend Erin. Follow her blog here. (Yes, Jon Hamm has two nominations!) I will always stick by Veep.

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Lily Tomlin – Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series – Grace and Frankie

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I love this show. It has me laughing until it hurts and I cry—especially the hospital scenes during the episode “The Fall.” I love Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen. I more than love Jane Fonda (I adore, admire, and idolize her). I am thoroughly enjoying the performances by June Diane Raphael (Brianna), Ethan Embry (Coyote), Baron Vaughn (Nwabudike), and Brooklyn Decker (Mallory). But of everyone, Lily Tomlin most deserves to be the one to get this nomination. She has made me laugh and cry at once. She has made me sit and wonder about how I deal with my own problems. She has made me sit in amazement about her talent. Her character, Frankie, is a hippie who teaches art to convicts and makes (and cans) her own (organic) personal lubricant. She vlogs with her iPhone and burns incense and even convinces her foil and friend Grace (Fonda) to try these techniques to get in touch with her subconscious—and it works! She has her weaknesses and cannot get over her husband who has just come out (Sam Waterston). When she is low, I am with her. When she is up, I cherish every moment. Frankie, I am with you. I am with Lily Tomlin in the ups and the downs she goes on with Frankie. She is remarkable. Watch Grace and Frankie.

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Also, I’d like to acknowledge Viola Davis (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series – How to Get Away with Murder—talk about conveying realness and complexity. You never know what is happening behind closed doors.), Cicely Tyson (Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series – How to Get Away with Murder—oh, the things a parent does for a child—the things that that child may never know. Tyson brings us all the human emotion involved with those choices and those confrontations), and Jon Hamm (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series – Mad Men—give this man an Emmy already.)

I’ll See You in My Dreams (to be “aware both of the attraction of an imaginative dream world without ‘disagreeables’ and the remorseless pressure of the actual”)

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John Keats may have died at 25, but he was able to articulate the feelings of mortality better than anyone. What urged him on in his poetic career was the foreboding he felt about life ending too soon. In order to achieve what he believed to be the true poetic task, he allowed himself to feel intensely, including the opposite emotion present in every feeling—for example, the “melancholy in delight” and the “pleasure in pain.” (See also the subtitle of this post). I turned to my Norton Anthology’s biography of John Keats because the same sentiments came to me a few days after I saw I’ll See You in My Dreams.

I enjoyed the film because of the main character, Carol Petersen (the wonderful Blythe Danner), with her unapologetic attitude and cozy if not monotonous (but classy) routine. She is a widow in her 70s who has friends (Yes!–June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place) who themselves want to continue to live active lives. They encourage her to do the same, which means entering into the dating scene (Sam Elliott). Carol is reluctant because that has not fit into her lifestyle for quite some time. I also enjoyed the film for its (what I call) realistic treatment of a person’s life. The film, directed by Brett Haley and written by Haley and Marc Basch, has the tagline “Life Goes On. Go With It.” To me the film is about the difficulty of taking that advice. The difficulty comes as the result of many circumstances. Age and one’s capacity (willingly or unwillingly) to experience the sadness in joy or the fear in exhilaration are two of those.

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Danner and Haley

How we allow ourselves to have (or not have) experiences, which is usually a reaction to what we have been through in our lives, has a major impact on the choices we make. For people who do desire romantic love or companionship, the prospect of being alone for the rest of their lives (although the word “alone” does sound strong, people use it) seems to be felt more keenly with age because we tend to look back at the amount of time we’ve been in a certain situation. Still, others are new to the experience because they’ve either just decided that they would like a long-term relationship or one has just ended after a long time. I’ll See You in My Dreams gives us insights into these questions, and it certainly lets us know that life does not end because we reach a certain age. Also, through a key relationship (Martin Starr), there is something else I love in film—the mixture of youth and experience. Despite all of the discouragement I carry when I think about my future, when I think of this film I think of possibilities—no guarantees, but of what could happen.


“I loved my feet on the boards” -Blythe Danner talks about her love of theatre acting, among other things, in this interview (also below) from DP/30.

“That’s what a good script will get for you—a good cast.” -Mary Kay Place. This is a must-see! I’ll See You in My Dreams DP/30 interview with Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place, and June Squibb!

The Salt of the Earth (What is grief? What is resilience?)

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When events of uncaring disconnection (from fellow human beings, from history) happen—when people pull others into their pain, insecurities, and fear, as I believe is the case most of the time—the consequences turn into the greatest crises we see—terrorism, unjust laws and systematic practices, murder, genocide, everyday hatred, etc. It is hard for me to continue to believe in the “grieving process” or “human resilience.” And it makes me especially uncomfortable to hear people praise victims for their “dignity” and “grace” in handling injustice. People would not have to grieve or be resilient in these cases if we made our world better and did not waste our human potential—not our potential to build buildings or bridges or “win” a war—but our potential to treat each other humanely and with empathy and actually learn from history. But I guess a historian in a podcast I recently listened to was right—there is no such thing as learning from history. We learn the wrong things from history. But—still—I believe we can learn.

Sebastião Salgado spent decades depicting, in exquisite black-and-white photographs, horrific human events humans have perpetuated against other humans. He finally had to turn away from war, genocide, starvation, famine, and unspeakable horrors lived. After covering the Rwandan genocide, Salgado lost faith in humanity; his psyche was done. He says, “We are a ferocious animal. We humans are terrible animals. Our history is a history of wars. It’s an endless story, a tale of madness.” He’d reached the “maximum,” as he explains, because photography makes the photographer “part of the subject.” It was nature that rejuvenated him. He captures the beauty of the natural world (and how it does replenish itself) with the message that we must preserve it. This work became Genesis. In this interview with Benedikt Taschen, Taschen expresses that it is his hope that the book will “make a significant contribution to the awareness about the world we live in.”

The Salt of the Earth (2014 Academy Award® nominee, Best Documentary Feature, directed by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado) shows us that that—contributing “awareness about the world we live in”—is exactly what Sebastião Salgado has always done. With his remarkable spirit as an economist turned photographer, he shows us the land, the water, and the human condition in intimate ways that should bring us closer to one another. I know it made me feel more connected. This stunning documentary reflects Salgado’s stunning life’s work.

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Sebastião Salgado | Click photo for Amazonas images