White Christmas, Rosemary Clooney, The 2016 Election, The Ruined Body, and My Mother


White Christmas Trailer

This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen

Year of Release 1954

Spoilers? Nope

Yesterday as I ran some pre-Christmas errands, I turned on the radio to a classic Christmas music channel. I like the old stuff. I think if I hear Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” ever again I may puncture my own ear drums. Especially when things like Louis Armstrong’s “Zat You Santa Claus” are out there. As I was on the way to the grocery store, the station played Rosemary Clooney’s “Count Your Blessings.” For those of you who have lived your life in a cave, this is one of the featured songs from the holiday classic White Christmas. The recording I heard yesterday was a more recent one—I could tell. It was just Clooney, not Clooney and Bing Crosby. And Clooney’s voice was different, still wonderful, but older, raspier, more mature. She recorded basically up until her death in 2002, so I’m not sure what year I heard her singing from, but when I heard the song, I started to cry. And I’m not a crier.

2016 has been both a wonderful and difficult year. On the upside, my kids are doing well and I got my first book deal. On the downside, I’ve been in a state of depression since Donald Trump became president-elect. People in my own family actually voted for him. They didn’t care that he sexually assaulted women. They didn’t care that his running mate thinks my LGBTQ friends and family members deserve electro-shock treatment or worse. They didn’t care about the racist things he said and they didn’t care about obvious signs of his fascism, corruption, and kleptocracy. Trained in family loyalty, I didn’t know how to speak with or interact with family members who had just voted against my own daughter’s right to marry, to be Out, to hell, fucking even exist, I deactivated my Facebook account and haven’t spoken to those family members since the election. At this point, the betrayal I feel is so deep and thorough, I do not know if I will ever speak to them again. (I can’t even mention my sorrow over the deaths of Prince, Alan Rickman, Guy Clark, David Bowie, etc. etc. in 2016 or I will derail this whole Catch Up.)

One of the reasons I started to cry was because pretty much everyone in my family loved the movie White Christmas. Or at least they tolerated it enough to enjoy it around Christmastime. As unimaginable as it seems, I remember the days before all of this high (and low) quality content at our fingertips. I remember checking the TV listings in the newspaper of in the TV Guide to see what time and station White Christmas would be on. My mother especially loved this movie. The dresses, the voices, the dancing of Vera-Ellen and Danny Kaye.


My mother, late 1940s

My mother also really loved Rosemary Clooney, who I believe she identified with. She never said, “I really identify with Rosemary Clooney.” But now that I’m older and a mom myself, I can see that she did. Clooney had a difficult life—bipolar disorder, prescription drug abuse, many close friends and family members, including Robert F. Kennedy, died tragically. (Clooney was either in the room, or the room next door, when he was assassinated.) Clooney had a nervous breakdown, lost her fortune, suffered two divorces, bore five children, all while working. My mother’s problems were similar, but without the fame and fortune. My mother was also a prescription drug addict, had mental health problems, had seven children, and she also had lost so much in her life—all three of her brothers to cancer and her father when she was a young mother herself. My mother’s relationship with my father was not good. It was never what she wanted. HE was never what she wanted.


Rosemary Clooney, 1940s

I heard Rosemary Clooney’s older voice and I didn’t just have a single memory. I had an image. An image that I don’t even know if it happened, or if it is just an amalgamation of good times that did happen. I saw us in our tiny living room, most of us on the floor because there was never enough seating and my mother always got one whole couch to herself. I remember the blue carpet that we got as a handmedown from my grandmother. A lamp near my mother’s head that I had once seen shake in one of Michigan’s rare earthquakes. A large majority of the family watching White Christmas. My dad sitting at the kitchen table, smoking a cigarette, not able to see the TV, just hear it. A cup of coffee in front of him. An ashtray by his elbow. I can remember my excitement—my favorite songs then “Sisters” (which my sisters and I still sing somewhat sarcastically to each other) and “We’ll Follow the Old Man.” You couldn’t hear them any time. You couldn’t google and listen on YouTube, or even buy a CD. This was a once-a-year opportunity.

It was a good image. A good memory. There is no hint of betrayal that I currently feel. Just excitement for Christmas Day and a sense of longing at the pretty costumes in the movie. The lovely songs. No knowledge of the pain (or the joy) to come in my life.


Mom and me 2016

My mother was happy when Rosemary Clooney made her comeback. I don’t think she saw it, but she was pleased George Clooney had gotten his aunt a guest spot on the popular show E.R. She was nominated for an Emmy for that appearance.


George Clooney and Rosemary Clooney 1995

As Rosemary Clooney got more work on television again, I was living away from home, working, getting engaged, getting married. But I would still make the trip home for Christmas each year. I also paid more attention to how my mother spoke about Vera-Ellen’s body and her rumored eating disorder when we watched White Christmas, now on fancy VHS. My mother spoke of Vera-Ellen’s disorder as shameful. But I could also hear the envy in her voice as she looked down at herself, at what she considered to be her own ruined body.


Vera-Ellen dancing in White Christmas 1954

I sat in my minivan yesterday and I didn’t know what to do with all these emotions Clooney’s voice evoked. I thought of how hard it is to be a woman in the world. How hard it is to have a body that is considered to be without worth. I thought about the pain of losing family by death, by neglect, by misunderstanding, and by deed.

I thought of how two people in my pre-Christmas image/memory are dead after brutal lives and more brutal illnesses. I thought of how I’ve managed to go see my mother in the nursing home a few times, but that chasm is so great between us (the person I am and the person she thinks she knows) we can’t do much but talk about other family members, old memories, and my pets. I thought of how my country, throughout its history always both beautiful and tragic, had spat up such a narcissistic lying brute to be our leader.


How do I have a relationship with people who are so unfeeling and uncaring that they would vote for someone who stands against every Civil Right for the marginalized that has been gained over these last 60 years?

Count Your Blessings is a simple song from a time we pretend is simpler, but it really wasn’t. Look at the cast of White Christmas—look at the lives of those stars. Mental illness, eating disorders, divorce. Look at the systemic racism in Hollywood. But the song itself represents a simplicity we as Americans long for.

When I’m worried and I can’t sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all

But this sweet, rhyming song might be the only way forward. Listing blessings. Taking action. Praying for peace. Seeing the good when there seems to be nothing but bad surrounding us. (I’m fucking looking at you, 2016.)

And I fall asleep counting my blessings

Merry Christmas, Catch Up Readers. (Because despite what the conservative narrative says, liberals say that quite often.)

*Thanks to Google images for the lovely old photos. I don’t own them and am in no way claiming their copyright. The photos of my mother are mine.

Map to the Stars


This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen

Year of Release: 2015

Rating: R (for sexual content, nudity, and general fucked-upness)

Currently Streaming on Netflix? No

Spoilers? Nope

I don’t know how Maps to the Stars ended up in my DVD queue on Netflix. I saw a trailer? Someone recommended it to me? The movie came in the mail to me August 20, 2015 and quite frankly between work, family, and a lot of personal stuff going on, I forgot it was here. This week I was like “Oh shit. I forgot I do the ‘two DVDs a month Netflix’ thing with my streaming and I’ve had a movie here since August.” I was able to watch the movie last night and I. Loved. It. I didn’t realize until the credits ran at the beginning it was a David Cronenberg movie. One of my favorite Jeremy Irons’ movies is Dead Ringers, which is also a David Cronenberg film. And while Dead Ringers is fabulous (and even a warped and twisted version of sexy), it is also WAY disturbing, so I was glad I caught Cronenberg’s name so I could brace myself for the fucked-upness that was about to be on the screen.

The movie opens with Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) coming to California—we don’t know who she is and we don’t know if she is lying or telling the truth when she tells her limo driver Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson) that she is close, personal friends with Carrie Fisher. As the movie unfolds, we realize that Agatha is the schizophrenic daughter of Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) and Christina Weiss (Olivia Williams) and sister of Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird). Through Carrie Fisher, Agatha becomes personal assistant to Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) and Havana is a client of self-help guru and pseudo-psychotherapist Stafford Weiss.

Much of what follows could be seen as shallow Hollywood tropes. Now, as much I love movies, I don’t know Hollywood, and God willing, I never will. I am very much a person of place and my place is overall, Michigan (though I am willing to negotiate this when I retire. Especially in the months December through March). When I was younger I remember being quite star-struck by movie stars but now at 47, I realize that stars are just people. And a lot of times, not very nice people. I certainly wouldn’t say no to taking a selfie with Chris Hemsworth, but I would be far too lazy to go up and ask him for one. So mostly what I know of Hollywood culture comes from books and movies and what people have told me. This film seems to hit some of those stereotypes—the aging actress (Havana Segrand), the drug-addled child star (Benjie Weiss) with the controlling mother (Christina Weiss), and the false self-help idol (Stafford Weiss) helping stars fell less guilty and more entitled about their place of privilege in American society. What makes the movie rise about those stereotypes (and how much do I love this?) is a poem. The poem is the cadence, the anthem of this movie. It is repeatedly repeated.

On my school books

On my desk and trees

On the sand and snow

I write your name


On all pages read

On all white pages

Stone sand paper or ashes

I write your name


On the jungle and desert

On the nests and gorses

On the echo of my childhood

I write your name


On the marvels of nights

On the white bread of days

On the married seasons

I write your name


On the fields on the horizon

On the wings of birds

And on the mill of shadows

I write your name


On each puff of dawn

On the sea on the boats

On the demential mountain

I write your name


On health regained

On risk that is no more

On hope without memories

I write your name


And by the strength of one word

I start over my life

I was born to know you

To name you



-Paul Eluard.

Now if you know a little bit of this poem’s history, this movie goes from being “Gosh, this version of Hollywood is creepy” to a poised and controlled message about mental illness, dysfunctional families, and the authenticity of human beings. Eluard’s poem was dropped in leaflet form in World War II over Nazi Germany. With that little historical detail, the storyline, the poem and the march of the characters each to their own personal horrific fate expand far beyond a satire of Hollywood and journey into the Jungian darkness of the human soul.

Not a feel-good, fun movie, readers. But don’t miss this one.



Rise of the Planet of the Apes/Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen

Year of Release: 2011, 2014

Rating: PG-13

Currently Streaming on Netflix? No (But if you have a bloated cable package like I do, I’m sure you can find both of them.)

Spoilers? No more than a trailer


Let’s just start by saying that it takes an awful lot to get me to watch ANYTHING with James Franco in it. If Franco was only a mediocre actor it would be one thing, but in addition to being a mediocre actor, he’s an awful poet who has gotten published in very serious places basically because he is famous and has money. And this makes me very ragey, because I am friends with a lot of very good poets who would like very much to have a book published by Graywolf and whose poetry is better by every artistic and empirical standard. And he has literally taken the spot of someone who depends on their art for their livelihood. Someone who depends on a book for their tenure. Yes, I know capitalism affects art every day. It is just so so sad to see it to this extent. (His. poems. are. really. really. bad.)

So that fact that I watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes twice despite my middle-aged professor disgust and disappointment in James Franco, tells you how much I love this franchise. I was young in a time before cable. A time of four channels if you were lucky and certainly no Internet or your favorite movie on VHS, DVD or BluRay to watch over and over again. So, after school, there was a movie broadcasted five days a week on a channel out of Toledo, Ohio. (I grew up in Michigan but close to the Ohio border and the antenna picked up Toledo much better than Detroit.) I cannot remember the name of the feature—it was called something like That 4’oclock Show or The Big Show at 4:00 or whatever. The quality of their offerings movies varied greatly—sometimes they were Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, sometimes it was The Greatest Show on Earth but at least once a year or so, there was Planet of the Apes week which usually included Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. These all blur together in my mind a bit (note to self, rewatch all original Planet of the Apes movies). I was in elementary school when I could come home and watch TV—as I got older I had after school activities and/or a job. But I was ENTHRALLED by the talking apes and firmly on the humans’ side (of course).

When the franchise was rebooted in 2001 with Tim Burton directing, Mark Wahlberg playing an astronaut and Helena Bonham Carter playing a progressive ape, I had a five-year-old and two-year-old and I think I saw a picture of the movie in Entertainment Weekly. The only movies I saw in those days were kid-fare and whatever I could rent in my “free” time on VHS. (Many years later I watched the reboot and it was… okay.) But Rise of the Planet of the Apes (with James Franco *sigh*) is a pretty compelling movie AND it gets you to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which is AMAZING. The visual effects of Dawn are stunning, with the actors playing apes wearing motion capture suits, rather than the make-up and suits of the old Planet of the Apes and the 2001 reboot. The decision to use this technology results in the viewer being able to totally suspend their disbelief. The viewer isn’t at any level saying, “Wow, Helena Bonham Carter looks a little freaky in ape make-up.” I was awed by the seamlessness and realness of the action—not just CGI, but the actors WITH the technology.

The story of Dawn is also homage to the old movies, as well as those age-old questions–what is humanity? why is there war? Why can some people (and apes) forgive the wrongs done to them and forge new lives, and others hold on to those same wrongs, wanting only revenge and annihilation of the enemy that has done them wrong? The villain in Dawn is not only human beings and our guns, but also Koba, who has been experimented on repeatedly by human beings and wants them all enslaved or dead. Watching Koba fall from his loyalty to Caesar (the main protagonist, the chimp who was raised by James Franco’s character Will Rodman and his father, played by John Lithgow, in Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and give in to his hatred of humans is one of the most compelling and horrific parts of the movie. There is also an underlying parenting/psychology parable here as well—Caesar was loved by humans, making him capable of love and forgiveness. Koba was tortured by humans, sending him down the path of destruction and hate.

Even if you never enjoyed Charlton Heston screeching, “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” I think you will like these two latest offerings. Dawn evidently did quite well at the box office, grossing almost $709 million worldwide. And the third installment in the trilogy will hit theaters in summer 2017. Catch up on the third installment’s prequels and see if you can figure out why “humans don’t like smart ape.”

Kramer vs. Kramer


Catch Up written by Chelsea Cristene

Kramer vs. Kramer

Year of Release: 1979

Rating: PG (probably for the split second that you see a naked lady)

Currently Streaming on Netflix? I know that it was a few months back; not sure if it’s still there!

Spoilers? If you don’t want the ending revealed, stop reading three paragraphs from the end.

It is of very doubtful value to enlist the gifts of women if bringing women into fields that have been defined as male frightens the men, unsexes the women, muffles and distorts the contribution the women could make, either because their presence excludes men from the occupation or because it changes the quality of the men who enter it. – Margaret Mead, Male and Female

What’s with the epigraph? Isn’t this supposed to be a movie review? What does a 1949 book by Margaret Mead have to do with something set in the ’70s? Well, a lot. A whole hell of a lot.

In the late 1940s, much of Margaret Mead’s anthropological work was shaped by her time. She was one in a band of psychologists, social scientists, and other educators who had adopted the “biology is destiny” view of women’s roles, the reverberations of which are felt in every second of Kramer vs. Kramer. Thirty years after Male and Female, not much has changed in the household where Joanna (Meryl Streep) tucks her son into bed and waits for Ted (Dustin Hoffman) to “bring home the bacon.” Scenes of the drastically different spaces husband and wife occupy alternate in the first few minutes: Ted hustling through the streets of New York City, high from great career news; jobless Joanna milling around a tiny apartment. What follows is a sort of delicate explosion. Calm, cool, and collected, Joanna tells Ted, “I’m leaving you,” to which he first asks her to quiet down because he’s on the phone. (In one of my favorite devil-is-in-the-details moments from Meryl Streep, the way she nods lets us know that this is not the first time she’s felt ignored by her husband.) Joanna is out the door and into the elevator in a matter of minutes, but we know from her organization (“Here are my keys, here are my credit cards…”) and resignation (“I don’t love you anymore.”) that she’s been thinking about this for a very long time.

Whoops, we forgot about Billy (Justin Henry). And so has Ted, given their obvious lack of closeness while making French toast the next morning. Both father and son are shaken up by the disruption to their routine: Billy likes his breakfast the way Mommy makes it (that is to say correctly), while Ted has absolutely no idea what he’s doing and curses Joanna for leaving him with such a mess. We can certainly identify with Ted’s frustration, especially since Billy is an insufferable brat much of the time, but we can also probably see why Joanna left. Fully immersed in his role as “man of the house” as American family culture dictates, Ted isn’t involved in the domestic sphere because he’s never had to be. And as his relationship with Billy goes from being chastised for not being attentive like “the other mommies” to kissing Billy’s forehead as the doctor stitches up a playground injury, Ted also comes to realize that if he hadn’t been trying to “make [Joanna] a certain kind of person,” while refusing to be a more nurturing man, their marriage might have worked.

This isn’t to let Joanna off the hook. Just as quickly as she had left, she returns to New York City and, after a while of creepily watching Billy from a nearby cafe, decides that she wants him back. The subsequent courtroom scene is the most emotionally draining thing I’ve seen since To Kill a Mockingbird. Ted and Joanna, through the kind of brutality that only child custody lawyers can bring, are forced to confront the issues in their marriage that were overlooked or dismissed for years. (For instance, like a lot of young married women at the time, Joanna had stopped working because her husband didn’t approve.) Additionally, each lawyer attacks his client’s spouse’s inability to “succeed” according to the expectations of his or her gender. Ted is criticized for his oversight in watching Billy on the playground, which led to a bloody fall and ten stitches. Joanna’s lawyer also accuses Ted of being an unfit provider, as he was recently fired (notably for paying too much attention to his parenting responsibilities) and forced into taking a pay cut at a new position. Ted’s lawyer grills Joanna about her personal life, asking “how many boyfriends” she has had and if she currently “has a lover.” It’s implied that all of this romantic inconsistency makes Joanna unfit to raise Billy, exemplifying the stereotype of the “promiscuous” divorced woman that persists today. And when Joanna is asked if she was a “failure at the one most important relationship” in her life, I can feel all the divorced women I know holding back tears with her, having been asked the same question by family and friends as to why they didn’t try harder.

As a teenager, I used to understand Kramer vs. Kramer as the story of a hard-working dad who “wins” the custody battle against his negligent ex-wife. It was easy for me to villianize Joanna in the same way it is easy for those critical of divorce to villianize its initiators as the selfish destroyers of families, without acknowledging the identity crisis in all parties. “What if the grownups aren’t really grown up?” Roger Ebert asked in his 1979 review. “What about a family in which everybody is still basically a kid crying for attention and searching for identity?” In what for me is the film’s most powerful scene, Ted quells his son’s fears that Joanna left because of him and comes to terms with the real reason.

I think the reason why Mommy left was because for a long time, I kept trying to make her be a certain kind of person. A certain kind of wife that I thought she was supposed to be. And she just wasn’t like that. I think that she tried for so long to make me happy, and when she couldn’t, she tried to talk to me about it. But I wasn’t listening. I was too busy, too wrapped up… just thinking about myself. And I thought that anytime I was happy, she was happy. But I think underneath she was very sad. Mommy stayed here longer than she wanted because she loves you so much. And the reason why Mommy couldn’t stay anymore… was because she couldn’t stand me, Billy.

When men and women are not socially permitted to realize full versions of themselves, they are set up for a life of confusion and resentment; a life of choices made according to someone else’s idea of happiness instead of their own. Ted, through personal growth that extends well beyond finally learning how to make French toast (one of the film’s most touching moments), becomes a better caregiver than his female counterpart and redefines what it means to be a man. “You know, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what it is that makes somebody a good parent,” he tells the court. “It has to do with constancy, it has to do with patience, it has to do with listening to him. It has to do with pretending to listen to him when you can’t even listen anymore. It has to do with love, like she was saying. And I don’t know where it’s written that it says that a woman has a corner on that market, that a man has any less of those emotions than a woman does.”

Kramer vs. Kramer was the first movie of its time to speak candidly about divorce and child custody, made all the more real by dialogue that was improvised during many of its scenes. This movie, to me, is more than an Oscar-winning masterpiece: it’s required viewing for anyone who believes that a marriage should only end if someone cheats or throws a fist, assumes that a couple who divorces simply “gave up,” or otherwise feels the need to judge a situation they’ve never experienced.

Shutter Island


This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen

Year of Release: 2010

Rating: R (for violence and horrific flashbacks to the emancipation of Dachau)

Currently Streaming on Netflix? No (It WAS and now it’s gone. 😦 )

Spoilers? Slightly more than trailer

Here’s the thing about Shutter Island (one of my favorite movies that’s come out in the last five years) you have to make time to watch it twice. The first time through you’ll just be trying to figure out what is really going on in the film. In the second viewing you can pick up all of the clues and foreshadowing screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis and director Martin Scorsese give you. I’m serious here, the second time watching this movie is where the maximum enjoyment is. WATCH THIS MOVIE TWICE.

It’s 1954 and Leonardo DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, U.S. Marshal, who comes to Shutter Island, a facility for the criminally insane, with his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) to hunt down escaped patient Rachel (Emily Mortimer). Everything feels a little bit off as Daniels and Aule enter the grounds of the facility. The guards are nervous, and there are a LOT of guards. The head psychiatrist Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) refuses to let the marshals have access to any personnel records. A hurricane is approaching and no one is allowed in Ward C, a former Civil War fort turned high-security prison for the most violent of the violent criminals on Shutter Island. Daniels tries to discover what is going on, but he is plagued by WWII flashbacks. Daniels was one of the United States soldiers to emancipate Dachau and visions of the piles of frozen bodies and starving, tortured survivors flood his mind when he’s under stress. In addition to his obvious PTSD, Daniels dreams of his dead wife, and sometimes even “sees” her while he’s awake. She whispers advice to him and viewers are not quite sure Daniels should be listening to advice from a dream ghost.

The viewer is a little off kilter throughout the entire movie. Part of this is due to the heavy, foreboding soundtrack. Part of it is the physical darkness of the movie—Daniels has to light matches repeatedly as he enters Ward C to get clues as to where Rachel is and what exactly is going on on the island. Part of the off-kilter is the encroaching hurricane, the phones are down and there is no ferry access due to the wild wind and sea. Daniels is suffering from migraines and flashbacks, and Cawley and the other psychiatrist Dr. Naehring (played by Max von Sydow) are definitely hiding something and/or reluctant to talk to Daniels. All of this makes for a fun, suspenseful viewing experience.

The acting in this movie is incredible. DiCaprio is just gold in this. He’s paranoid (maybe rightly so?). He’s deeply sad and stressed. He’s glib, macho and at times, tender. Ruffalo is a calm foil to DiCaprio’s energetic performance and Kingsley is at turns comforting, creepy and confrontational. (I wanted to use some alliteration in this Catch Up, obviously.)

The movie clocks in at two hours and 18 minutes and it flies by. There are actually “two” endings to the movie—even if you saw the first one coming, you may not see the second one coming. I haven’t read Dennis Lehane’s book so obviously those of you who have will have some inside scoop. This movie is a lot of fun (and also quite sad and disturbing in parts) and if you love a good thriller, you want to put this on your rent list. (And you’ll never hear the words “Baby, why are you all wet?” again without a shudder. See what I did there???)

The Fall


This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen

Year of Release: 2013

Rating: TV MA (for nudity and some seriously creepy murders)

Currently Streaming on Netflix? Yes

Spoilers? Mild

Once again cheating here at the Catch Up to talk about TV—this time the BBC drama The Fall, starring the incomparable Gillian Anderson, who grows more compelling to watch with each passing year. Several friends had recommended The Fall to me but I was a bit leery after it took me over six months to work my way through Dexter. I wasn’t sure I wanted to enter the world of serial killers again so soon. I’m certainly glad I did because this impeccable drama isn’t about catching a different serial killer every episode—it’s about catching ONE serial killer in Belfast.

Eleven episodes are available on Netflix and they are one hour each. This is a very manageable binge if you are binge-minded (especially you college kids because hello FINALS WEEK).

Anderson stars at Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, who has been brought into review a murder that remains unsolved after 28 days. A few days into her investigation, Gibson notices a link between the murder she is reviewing and a previous Belfast murder. At the same time we see Gibson begin putting together the pieces of the two murders, we also meet Paul Spector (played by Jamie Dornan—who I guess plays Christian Grey in 50 Shades of Grey? Ick!). Spector is a grief counselor, husband and father of two, and he also happens to be killing the attractive, dark-haired, professional women of Belfast whenever the mood strikes him. I just icked 50 Shades of Grey but Dornan is really incredible in this show—handsome, charming, homicidally angry and obsessive, but yet at the same time, tender with his children. The character of Spector is all the more terrifying because the show takes time to develop him, it doesn’t just pass two quick brush strokes and call him a monster.

As the series goes on, Spector sees Gibson and becomes obsessed with her—even though she is not “his type.” In one particularly haunting episode, Spector steals Gibson’s diary and begins to play mind games with her.

Gibson is a wonderful character, at turns hard-headed and vulnerable. When she discovers a video on Spector’s phone of one of the women he has kidnapped and tortured, she begins to cry silently. Viewing her tears, I didn’t know if she was crying out of empathy, because she had failed to catch him before this happened, or because she was angry and upset. Regardless, it was a deeply moving scene.

After years of watching police dramas where white males solve crimes but surround themselves with a “team” of women and people of color as tokens, I cheered as Gibson over and over again confronts the sexism of her boss, the media, and the other investigators. “Someone once told me men fear women because women might laugh at them,” Gibson says. “But women fear men because men might kill them.” Gibson also is quite frank about her desire for sex, but not relationships, with men. At one point her boss (who Gibson slept with once, years ago) tells her that he would have done anything for her, including leave his wife and family. “That,” Gibson responds, “Would have been a mistake.”

Another thing I really enjoy about this show is the fact that each of Spector’s victims is a fully developed person and character in the drama. It is not a show that focuses on the disposability of the unnamed woman.

Sometimes when Netflix coughs up its recommendations for “strong female lead” I roll my eyes because it seems like it’s more of a recommendation of “Look! Here’s a woman who gets some serious screen time in this particular TV Show!” But The Fall truly showcases Anderson’s amazing talent and is a creepy pleasure to watch.

Note: Season Two on Netflix ends on a cliffhanger but Season Three has been ordered and should come to the United States later in 2015.

Another Note: Anderson’s British accent is pretty legit—she lived in England for a large portion of her childhood. She also lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For some reason, she doesn’t mention that as much.

Top Five


This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen

Year of Release: 2014

Rating: R (for nudity, drugs, swearing and a disturbing scene with Cedric the Entertainer, two sexy prostitutes and lots of feathers)

Currently Streaming on Netflix? No—available OnDemand and on BluRay and DVD

Spoilers? Mild

My husband and I saw Chris Rock on The Tonight Show last year promoting this movie he wrote, starred in and produced. Rock joked that since no one had called recently he had to make his own work. Since my husband and I rarely make it to the movie theater anymore (so many obligations at night) we looked forward to Top Five’s DVD release so we could enjoy it at home. We are long-time Chris Rock fans (since his Saturday Night Live days) and we were expecting the movie to be funny as Rock manages to lend a funny edge to even the most lackluster comedy (see: Grown Ups I & II). What we weren’t expecting from this movie was its satire of show business, press junkets (similar to America’s Sweethearts where Christopher Walken rolls in the last ten or 15 minutes of the movie with his “Blair Bitch Project”) and the one-day romance between Rock (who plays Andre Allen) and Rosario Dawson (who plays Chelsea Brown.)

Allen is a comedian who wants to turn serious after three cheesy but hilarious Hammy the Bear movies. His current project, where he stars as a Haitian slave during the revolution, is about to be released. Several clips are shown as he does his press junket and the movie looks laughably bad. Engaged to a TV reality star, he is just hours away from a Bravo-televised deluxe wedding and he agrees to let a New York Times reporter spend the day interviewing him in hopes of helping the box office of his slave-uprising epic.

Brown, the NYT reporter, is beautiful and interesting—a writer, a poet, a photographer and a recovering alcoholic, just as Allen is. Brown strives to get Allen to trust her (The New York Times eviscerated all of his Hammy the Bear movies) and just as Allen begins to trust her and even fall a little in love with her, he discovers a secret about Brown and is tempted to flush his four or five years of sobriety down the toilet because he is so disappointed in her.

The Top Five trope throughout the movie is various characters listing their Top Five rap or hip-hop artists. (One of the funniest scenes in the movie is a cameo by Jerry Seinfeld where he lists his Top Five and makes it rain in a strip club.) One of the most beautifully shot scenes in the movie is when Allen says goodbye to Brown and asks her Top Five (Salt-N-Pepa is included!)

All and all, this is a charming, romantic, funny and yes at times vulgar, movie—so I found it perfect fare for a Friday night. Rock obviously knows his strengths as a star and as a comedian and viewers will have fun identifying all the co-stars and cameos—which include Cedric the Entertainer, Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg, Jerry Seinfeld, Tracy Morgan and Kevin Hart.



This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen

Year of Release: 1944

Rating: NR (It’s G/PG but would be creepy for little kids)

Currently Streaming on Netflix? No—available OnDemand and on BluRay and DVD

Spoilers? No more than that awesome, melodramatic, classic trailer linked up above


This movie and its 1940 predecessor (which I have never seen) are the reason we have the phrase “gaslighting.” Gaslighting “is a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted/spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception and sanity.” This movie is an ideal to watch if you ever wonder how anyone could “let” themselves be abused or have ever asked “why on earth would a woman STAY with her abuser?”

Ingrid Bergman stars as Paula Alquist who, at 10 years old, discovers her aunt’s murdered body in their home. Paula, who for obvious reasons now loathes the house, (we call this PTSD in the 21st century) is shipped off to Italy to study music. There she meets an older pianist and falls in love. She marries him, sacrificing her promising musical career. Paula has had no mother and no father in her life for almost a decade, and all she wants is to be loved and have a family. Paula equates all of England with her aunt’s traumatic murder, but that is exactly where her new husband Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) wants them to move. Paula expresses her displeasure but wants to please her love and they do move to England. Arriving, Paula is in for the first of many ugly surprises, as Gregory insists they move into her aunt’s home since she owns it through inheritance.

Ensconced in England, in a house with horrible memories, Gregory begins his attack on Paula’s psyche. He moves objects. He talks to her like an invalid. Things go missing. Paintings move. Gas lights in the bedroom dim and brighten. There are strange noises in the house. Gregory leaves and returns at strange hours. He enlists the aid of a maid (a very young and smoking hot Angela Lansbury) as an ally, telling her in his charming way that his wife doesn’t know what is for her own good. In addition Gregory hires an almost deaf housekeeper who never hears the sounds Paula hears. Gregory bullies Paula consistently through the guise of love until Paula questions her own sanity. He slowly and systematically cuts her off from family friends and others who might be concerned for her welfare and then as coup d’état, tells the housekeeper and maid not to let anyone in the house or to let Paula leave it, for her own “good.”

Luckily for Paula, Brian Cameron, Scotland Yard detective, (Joseph Cotten) was a big fan of Paula’s aunt, who was a prima donna he saw perform when he was a child. He has taken a special interest in Paula and notices that Gregory seems shady at best. Brian has always wondered who killed Paula’s aunt, and Gregory looks a little familiar to him.

As the movie reaches its climax, Paula confronts Gregory. (I believe this scene was probably crucial in getting Ingrid Bergman her Academy Award for this role.) She is so angry and cutting—it is a beautiful to behold and the viewer wishes every woman (or man) who has been abused by a master manipulator, someone who took their love and trust and goodwill and turned it on them to make them question their sanity and their competence as a human being, would get a chance to face their abuser in the same manner.

What I find so interesting about this movie (in addition to its overall strong script and all-around solid acting performances) is that domestic violence and abuse was not exactly front and center in 1944. Certainly there wasn’t the information we have available about it now, nor the social services. (We still don’t have enough social services but we have many more than were available in the 1940s.) Yet, this movie captures perfectly what can happen when one person with a trusting heart, and one person with malicious intent (or a lot of issues) can do to just the average person who trusts them.

Even if the psychology of violence and abuse doesn’t interest you, you are sure to enjoy the performances of Bergman, Lansbury, Boyer and Cotten. This classic continued to hold up well, even over 60 years later.

ESPN 30 For 30: The Price of Gold


ESPN 30 For 30: The Price of Gold
This Catch Up is written by Chelsea Cristene
Year of Release: 2014
Spoilers: If you need a spoiler alert for this documentary, you were either not alive yet or living under a rock in 1994.
Currently Streaming on Netflix? Yes.
One of my happiest childhood memories is asking my mother to back the cars off of the carport so the neighborhood girls and I could skate on it until dark. We pulled our hair back in tight buns, strapped on some clunky neon rollerblades, and pretended that we were our famous favorites competing for the gold medal: Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski.
If you were a young girl in the 1990s, you probably remember being very much into figure skating. And if you were, I’m sure that it had a lot to do with the dazzling costumes, the spirited routines, and the refined elegance that so eludes gangly ten year olds. But it probably also had a lot to do with Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.
Twenty years later, director Nanette Burstein’s The Price of Gold explores not only the details of the scandal, but the dire poverty and abuse in Tonya Harding’s world that added fuel to an already competitive fire. Tonya’s background, as reporter Ann Schatz explains, is absolutely essential in understanding the attack. (Disclaimer: I don’t find Tonya Harding very likeable, and I don’t think I’m alone here. At 44, she is basically a bratty teenager in an adult’s body, complaining that the judges didn’t like her dress yet telling Nancy to “shut up” about her disappointing silver medal win. She’s brash, inarticulate, and stubbornly committed to proving her innocence. But after watching footage and hearing stories from her childhood, I can certainly see why she doesn’t have both oars in the water.)
Tonya Harding, as several of the interviewees discuss, grew up in a cluttered rental house in Oregon. Though her mother used what little money the family had to finance Tonya’s interest in ice skating, she often verbally abused and physically beat Tonya. The documentary captures one moment in particular when, over the phone after a performance, Tonya’s mother berates her for “looking terrible” on the ice. Suddenly, it becomes clear that Tonya’s drive is about more than just money – she has something to prove. Like so many children from broken homes, Tonya uses a hobby to temporary escape her pain. The problem is that despite all of her talent and dedication, young Tonya is given a very poor example of how loving relationships work, and later falls in love with the abusive Jeff Gillooly.
There’s also the issue of Tonya not fitting the proper “ice princess” mold. After Dorothy Hamill graced television screens with her glossy bob and feminine composure in the 1970s, figure skating demanded a certain image. Tonya, all curls and moxie, appealed to girls around the country who identified with her humble beginnings and boyish persona. But Nancy Kerrigan was the class act ‘90s figure skating had been waiting for – composed, polished, and strikingly beautiful. And so right along with Nancy’s popularity rose Tonya’s envy, which came to a head with one whack of a pipe.
I’m going to sound like Stefan from SNL here, but this documentary has everything. A soap-opera storyline: beloved ice princess nearly taken out by ‘bad girl’ rival and her band of thugs, only to fully recover and win an Olympic medal. A thorough detailing of the investigation for all the criminal justice nerds out there, followed by a disbelieving reaction to just how bad the entire plan was. Memorable clips for those of us who were hopelessly glued to our TVs in 1994: the interview with Ann Schatz that Tonya mostly spent looking fearfully over at her then-husband, Tonya’s oh so obvious body language during her pre-Olympic press conference. And Scott Hamilton! If you find yourself with 78 minutes to spare and are jonesing for some ‘90s nostalgia, The Price of Gold is a great use of your time.
Unsurprisingly, Nancy Kerrigan declined to contribute to this documentary. Tonya, however, relishes any opportunity to talk about herself, and when the film wraps up with even more of her adamant denial, I can’t say that I expected anything else. Like all the best tragedies, Tonya’s pride leads to her downfall, and in a self-fulfilling prophecy she is finally a household name. Just not in a way she had ever dreamed of.

The Equalizer


This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen
Year of Release: 2014
Rating: R
Currently Streaming on Netflix? No—available OnDemand and on BluRay and DVD

As you can tell from my Catch Ups, I love a good action movie but this one wasn’t my call—my husband read about it under new DVD releases and wanted to see it. Since 95 percent of the time I pick our movies, I said sure, let’s watch it. I knew nothing about the movie except what my husband told me, “Looks like an action movie and it has Denzel Washington.” Now Washington has owned a little corner of my heart ever since his performance in Glory so it is never a challenge for me to watch a movie that he’s in. I’m not sure how this happened but I believe Washington is now *60* years old. So this character—who is supposed to be semi-retired and working at a Home Depot-like store warehouse—is a good fit for the aging gracefully Washington.

I posted on Facebook that I was watching this movie and my sister Terese commented, “Didn’t this come from the old TV show?” so I went over to IMDB to check and sure enough, it is loosely based on The Equalizer TV series that ran from 1985 to 1989. I don’t believe I ever saw an episode of it—I was a senior in high school and then in college when it was on and those were busy years. But I do know my sister enjoyed it (hence the comment).

In the opening sequences of the film we see that Robert McCall (Washington) has a routine, segmented life. He enjoys the people he works with and is helping one young man lose weight and study to pass his security guard test. McCall goofs around with the younger Home Depot(like) workers, telling them when they ask about his past that he was a former Pip, forcing his younger coworkers to google Gladys Knight and the Pips to see whether he is kidding or not. McCall eats alone in his apartment each night and washes his single plate, glass, knife and fork afterward. But he cannot sleep so he takes whatever classic novel he is currently reading to a diner that is open all night, has a cup of tea and reads his book. It is here at the diner that he meets Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), a prostitute who is wholly owned by the Russian mafia. (Have you noticed that the Russian mafia is super big in the villain scene right now in television and movies?) Teri wants to be a singer, and Washington feels very paternal towards her and seems non-judgmental of her line of work–until she is beaten almost to death by her bosses.

Seeing McCall decide whether or not to get involved is one of the great pleasures of the movie and as things escalate, he goes from trying to get Teri free from her pimps to becoming so full of rage that he decides to topple the entire east coast operations of the Russian Mafia. McCall has a formidable opponent in Teddy (Marton Csokas—Celeborn from LOTR, for the LOTR nerds, me *cough cough* me) who is the trouble shooter for the mafia. Teddy is the guy they call when things in the mafia are going to shit. Teddy soon finds out McCall’s weakness—McCall has nothing to lose BUT the people he cares about at the not-Home Depot and his diner-friend Teri.

Things progress in a fairly typical action movie fashion, but since this is an Anthony Fuqua movie the acting is good, the explosions stylized and viewers actually care about the characters. My only complaint is not really a complaint about the movie but about the genre—wouldn’t we just love to see (just once) a man or woman without special ops training get the best of the bad guys? Maybe Melissa McCarthy’s The Spy will deliver?

The ending of The Equalizer definitely left room for a sequel, and with a worldwide gross of over $192 million, and a budget of a “mere” $55 million; we may well be eating popcorn to The Equalizer Returns before long.