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.

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.



This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene.
Year of Release: 2014.
Rating: R for sex, drug use, and a whole lotta “fucks” as the harsh wilderness teaches Reese a thing or two.
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: No, but it’s in theatres!
Spoilers: Very mild. Cheryl hikes and stuff happens.

I’m pretty sure this is the first theatrical release review that I’ve written on this blog. Welcome to awards season, y’all.

If your Nerve deny you, go above your nerve. The quote featured in the beginning of the trailer is from Emily Dickenson, and even though my feelings on this poet are less than pleasant (a fellow English major I knew in college used to wear a shirt emblazoned with “Hey Emily Dickenson – the vacuum wants it suck back!”), it’s great advice for the new year. Reese Witherspoon is rightfully earning all sorts of buzz for her role as Cheryl Strayed, who wrote the memoir on which the film is based. In 1995, Strayed hiked over a thousand miles of the Pacific Coast Trail in order to come to terms with her mother’s death and a menagerie of subsequent bad choices, all of which drive the film into unsettling places.

In the first few scenes – after a flash-forward of our protagonist furiously hurling her hiking boots down a mountain – Cheryl is your typical 26-year-old novice hiker. She’s small, weak, and packed way too much shit. For a solid five minutes, she squirms around on her hotel room floor under the weight of her provisions like an overturned potato bug until finally dead-lifting to her feet. And then she is ready, or as ready as she’ll ever be.

At first, as Cheryl hikes, she is too focused on costly errors in judgment to be preoccupied with anything beyond her immediate needs. After realizing that she bought the wrong kind of fuel for her stove and quickly tiring of cold mush, she thumbs a ride back into town for a hot meal and supplies. It is this initial human contact on the trail that causes Cheryl to think about her own family, and here we start receiving more bits and pieces of her backstory.

This is when Laura Dern enters the picture as Cheryl’s mother. This is also when I decide that if Laura Dern does not receive a best supporting actress Oscar nod, there is no justice in the world. Because as accurately as Laura portrays Cheryl’s rendering of Bobbi in the book, she is somehow simultaneously everyone’s mother. Bobbi Grey is the financially strapped single woman who leaves her abusive husband in the middle of the night in order to protect her family, but her performance never feels cliché or trite. There’s a warmth and authenticity that anyone raised by a mother who tried to make the best of poverty or emotional/physical abuse in the home can identify with. “How much do I love you?” Bobbi asks her kids, smiling in the kitchen doorframe. “This much? This much?” She moves her hands farther and farther apart, but her love is always greater.

If this film doesn’t leave you wanting to hug your mother like those Sarah McLachlan commercials make you pine away for your dog or cat, there might be something wrong with you. Just saying.

There’s a scene in the first season of Orange is the New Black when Piper, during a “scared straight” stint, tells one of the delinquent teenagers that the truly scary part of prison is “coming face to face with who you really are.” “I’m scared that I’m not myself in here,” Piper says, “and I’m scared that I am.” In longer stretches than a stress-relieving run or a nice walk through the park, solitude can be a very ugly thing. My creative writing students discovered this on a wilderness trek assignment where they had to visit an outdoor place of personal significance and write a narrative chronicling their journey. Prepared for a peaceful stroll, all of them were surprised to have confronted some very dark places. Lost loves, abuse, deaths of family members and friends, and even a miscarriage surfaced. Like Cheryl, they all came back from the assignment changed. Also like Cheryl, they were finally able to let some things go.

Solitude causes time to operate in funny ways. While watching Wild, I felt as though past and present were moving parallel to one another, alternating between splices of hospital stays, heroin binges, and unraveling relationships and the very real threats that Cheryl cannot take her mind off of in the present. I’ve always loved a good survival narrative, but I appreciate the special attention Wild gives to female hikers and travelers, illuminating the very real dangers we face every day in traditionally “off limits” spaces. Through this navigation, Cheryl reaches the bridge to Washington State and finds herself with a power she never knew she had. The power to withstand the elements and the psychological strain and the potential rapists, yes, but also the power to forgive herself.

American Beauty


This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene.

American Beauty
Year of Release: 1999.
Rating: R for…yeah, pretty much everything.
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: Yes.
Spoiler Alert: Lester dies.

There admittedly wasn’t a whole lot to cheer about in the way of new Netflix arrivals in December, but after an appropriate amount of time mourning the loss of Spice World I found the silver lining: finally, American Beauty. So if you’re one of the five people in the U.S. who hasn’t ever seen this movie, and it’s too late to rent the VHS from your friendly neighborhood Blockbuster like I used to do in high school, here’s your chance.

I’ve always been a sucker for suburban angst (Little Children, In the Bedroom, Revolutionary Road) but American Beauty has always seemed like the most relatable film in the genre because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Case in point: the nonchalance of Lester (Kevin Spacey)’s voiceover during the opening scene: My name is Lester Burnham…in less than a year, I’ll be dead. Lester is a suburban husband, father, and unhappy white collar worker who mostly disappears behind his manic, demonstrative wife Carolyn (Annette Bening), and pissy teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch). Until he doesn’t, and against all odds becomes a pretty likeable guy.

During the halftime show of the high school basketball game Carolyn has dragged him to, Lester finds his muse in Jane’s dance teammate Angela (Mena Suvari). What follows is a sequence of fantasies in which Angela performs a seductive dance for Lester, stares at him wantonly from the ceiling, and asks him to give her a bath – all while covered in the red rose petals that appear throughout the film. This is all very creepy, especially when Lester goes out on a limb to find Angela’s number and dial it while Jane is in the shower, but perhaps forgivable once we realize that Angela is the catalyst for Lester learning how to live life on his own terms.

There’s plenty of despair in American Beauty, particularly in the home of neighboring Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley), who copes with his abusive Marine father (Chris Cooper) and catatonic mother (a surprising role for Allison Janney) by filming all the beauty he sees in the world with a small camera. Ricky, who decided to play by his own rules a long time ago by selling high-quality marijuana to pay for his film equipment, is the right inspiration at the right time for Lester. And so American Beauty’s high points arrive when Lester follows Ricky’s lead in shoving off unhappiness: standing up to Carolyn’s rage, quitting his humdrum job to take a fast-food position with the least possible amount of responsibility, buying his dream car, and getting really stoned and pumping iron to Bob Dylan in the garage. The dinner when Lester throws a plate of asparagus at the wall and finally voices his disdain for Lawrence Welk is easily some of the most fluid and effortless comedy I’ve ever seen. As is everything involving the subplot of Annette Bening having an affair with Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows.

I could go off on a lot of tangents when it comes to American Beauty. That Annette Bening was robbed at the Oscars. That Chris Cooper is still one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. That this film did for homosexuality in the 1990s what Kramer vs. Kramer did for divorce in the 1970s (and that’s not a hint at a future movie review or anything; no). But this time around, I couldn’t watch it without remembering a speech that Ashton Kutcher (stay with me) gave a few years ago on Steve Jobs.

When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way that it is. And that your life is to live your life inside the world and try not to get in too much trouble, and maybe get an education and get a job and make some money and have a family. But life can be a lot broader than that when you realize one simple thing, and that is that everything around us that we call life was made up by people who are no smarter than you. And you can build your own things; you can build your own life that other people can live in. So build a life. Don’t live one, build one.

Nearly all of the characters in American Beauty are completely miserable because they have resigned themselves to lives that someone else told them they should want, or because they’re masking something they feel cannot be made visible. When Lester first meets Ricky, he reminisces about a summer when all I did was party and get laid. I had my whole life ahead of me. At its core, American Beauty is a dare to flip burgers while the rest of the country barks at you to work a soul-sucking 9 to 5 – if flipping burgers is what makes you happy. Lester dies at the end, yes, but he dies happy. How many of us will be able to say the same?

One Day


This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene
One Day
Year of Release: 2011
Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, language, and substance abuse.
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: Yes.
Spoilers: Moderate. (General ending is revealed, but the crucial final details are not.)

Sometimes, on nights when even your favorite television shows have gotten stale and nothing in your Netflix cue sounds remotely appetizing, there’s little left to do but ask yourself, “Hey, there’s that shitty movie I saw three years ago; wonder if it’s still shitty?”

The film I’m talking about is One Day starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. My mom and I saw it in theatres mostly because it was the only thing we could agree on, as our options (Conan the Barbarian; Spy Kids) were rather limited. After the credits rolled, our reviews closely matched the general consensus of the good people over at Rotten Tomatoes (which awarded One Day with a cringe-worthy 36% approval rating): monotonous, dull, shallow. But last weekend, I decided to try again.

One Day is the story of two friends, Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess), told over the span of twenty years. Emma and Dexter first meet on the night of their college graduation from the University of Edinburgh, and after deciding to forgo a one-night stand for reasons that are still unclear to me (how cute is Emma posing with her academic regalia thrown over her skivvies?), the two decide to stay friends. From here, the film follows a rather unconventional format of “checking in” with Emma and Dexter, be they together or apart, on July 15 of each consecutive year.

At first, Emma and Dexter function as two necessary halves of the same whole, each with qualities that the other lacks. Though Emma fancies herself a writer, she lacks the free-spirited flexibility that would bolster her creativity and instead commits to waitressing at a Tex-Mex restaurant. Dexter’s career in television, in contrast, is taking off. His rise to fame as a tacky game show host enables him to do what he does best – womanize – while Emma reluctantly settles down with her well-meaning albeit dumpy co-worker Ian (Rafe Spall). But when Dexter shows up to visit his dying mother (Patricia Clarkson) heavily under the influence, it becomes clear that his TV persona façade can’t hold out much longer.

Predictably, Emma and Dexter’s relationship navigates a sea of ups and downs – substance abuse issues, unsatisfying romances, career changes, job losses, weddings, divorces, and even a terrible fight in their late twenties that halts their correspondence for four long years. Also predictably, despite all of the conflict Emma and Dexter ultimately wind up together (though there is more to that ending that I won’t disclose because Huge Spoilers). Too predictable? Could there have been another option? Let’s start here.

It’s a common dramatic trope to have the male protagonist end up with the first female character introduced to the audience. See also: the recent conclusion of How I Met Your Mother. This formula works because it creates its own plot arc, allows for plenty of conflict as each character sorts themselves out, and concludes with the “full-circle” feel we look for in a narrative. Realistically, there was no other option for either Emma or Dexter in One Day – we knew that Ian was boring, that Sylvie (Romola Garai)’s personality was likewise entirely too flat and dismissive for the rambunctious Dexter, and really, where were things going to go with Emma’s Parisian jazz musician?

I’ve always liked this trope because it flies in the face of so much of what we’re (I believe incorrectly) taught about love: that “true romance” is an instantaneous deus ex machina flash of revelation rather than a strong and complex connection built over time. While chasing storybook fantasies, we treat romantic love as an altogether different beast than friendship, when in fact foundational friendship is crucial for any relationship – familial, platonic, romantic – to last. Dexter begins to grasp this for a brief moment when he and Emma go on vacation together in their early twenties. The problem is, I pretty much fancy everyone, he admits during an impromptu skinny dip, but with you it would be…different. Of course, having said too much, Dexter quickly backpedals by proposing a casual summer fling, to which Emma responds by holding him underwater. The bond he shares with Emma is way beyond fling material, but like many of us, Dexter needs time to mature and figure this out.

Rewinding to 2011, I think that my main beef with this film was that I didn’t feel genuinely connected to the characters because the audience was only privy to periodic splices out of their lives. I didn’t feel that I got the proper chance to know them, but now, taking the sequence year by year, I understand that I had to develop myself in order to better identify with Emma and Dexter’s development. The dynamics between the two, particularly as they hit career shifts, are expertly crafted: my favorite scene by far is the “those who can’t do, teach” argument, given that I’ve been on Emma’s end of this before and experienced her fury. Frustrated with his own shallow, failing career, Dexter attacks Emma’s, resulting in the blowup that won’t be resolved for four years. I love you, Dex, Emma says before running off, I just don’t like you anymore. And there it is: in order for there to be love, there must first be like. So while there are several of things to criticize about this film – the awful repetition of the same four measures of score at every yearly transition, Anne Hathaway’s frustratingly inconsistent Yorkshire accent – this central concept is not one of them.

Good Night, and Good Luck.


This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene
Good Night and Good Luck.
Year of Release: 2005
Rating: PG for mild language.
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: No.
Spoiler Alert: Murrow: 1; McCarthy: 0

Is there anyone more badass than Edward R. Murrow? The answer is no. There is no one more badass.

I confess that this Catch Up might be a bit of a cop out, as Good Night, and Good Luck. is a movie that I showed my speech class last Tuesday and truthfully the only movie I’ve watched in weeks. In an effort to make public speaking slightly more educational than “here’s how to make my mom’s famous chocolate chip cookies,” I decided over a year ago to integrate films like Good Night and Good Luck, Network, and All the President’s Men into the mix to demonstrate the power of speech in mass media. The result, so far, has been overwhelmingly positive. The kids just love Ed Murrow.

Let’s set the stage. The film is black and white, the year is 1953, and television is steadily eclipsing radio as The Next Big Thing. The role of journalists is to report the news, not make it, but what to do when fearmongering Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy throws the country into its second Red Scare? When Lieutenant Milo Radulovich is discharged from the United States Air Force following suspicions that his father and sister have leftist leanings at best, communist ties at worst, the CBS newsroom must come to terms with an obligation bigger than impartiality: truth.

Murrow (played by David Straithairn, whom after this performance I can now finally forgive for The River Wild) and his team, including CBS president Fred Friendly (George Clooney) and correspondent Joe Wershba (Robert Downey Jr.) quickly go on the offensive, using their primetime news program See It Now to expose McCarthy’s attack of Radulovich, which, as fits his pattern, is based mostly on hearsay. As a result of the telecast, Radulovich is reinstated. And though an exuberant Murrow is warned by his boss Bill Paley (Frost/Nixon’s Frank Langella) not to push too hard lest their sponsors jump ship, he wastes no time in plotting his next maneuver.

It isn’t long before an all-out war erupts between Murrow and McCarthy, and CBS broadcasts McCarthy’s response defending the purpose and actions of the House Unamerican Activities Committee. As anticipated, McCarthy deflects by accusing Murrow himself of having communist ties via membership with the Industrial Workers of the World. False charges, but charges heard around the country nonetheless, and the higher-ups at CBS are sweating. Not wanting to be caught up in controversy, aluminum giant ALCOA retracts their sponsorship and delivers the network a significant financial blow.

The ending to this true story is bittersweet. McCarthy is publicly exposed, condemned, and eventually censured by the U.S. Senate in a dazzling choice of original footage selected by actor, producer, and director Clooney. No actor plays McCarthy, you see, and while watching the crisp splices of the senator’s tirades we momentarily forget that, yes, this is the man himself, and the man himself really was that batshit insane.
The final nail in McCarthy’s coffin is Army counsel Joseph Welsh’s famous zinger, “Have you no decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” But afterward, Murrow, who by all rights should be drinking his weight in celebratory scotch, is informed by Bill Paley that See It Now is moving from primetime to a Sunday afternoon slot and that only five more episodes will air. Despite See It Now’s award-winning history (four Emmys and a Peabody during a six year run), quiz shows like The $64,000 Question are sweeping the nation and capitalism, as we see, has clearly prevailed.

Good Night and Good Luck bookends with Murrow’s 1958 speech, which, like the film in its entirety, serves as both a history lesson and a cautionary look to the future:

For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must be faced if we are to survive. I mean the word survive literally. If there were to be a competition in indifference, or perhaps in insulation from reality, then Nero and his fiddle, Chamberlain and his umbrella, could not find a place on an early afternoon sustaining show. If Hollywood were to run out of Indians, the program schedules would be mangled beyond all recognition. Then some courageous soul with a small budget might be able to do a documentary telling what, in fact, we have done–and are still doing–to the Indians in this country. But that would be unpleasant. And we must at all costs shield the sensitive citizens from anything that is unpleasant.

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box.

In the information age of 2014 we can surely see this insulation brought to life by journalists whose hands are tied by the politicized agendas of their networks; by a public who would rather be distracted by the antics of Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber than give a second thought to ISIS or Internet Neutrality. It is the journalist’s duty to unveil the world’s realities, no matter how unpleasant, and to balance such truth-telling with a willingness to speak independently of a predetermined mission. Edward R. Murrow is not only a reminder that this can be done; he is a model of how.

Silver Linings Playbook


This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene
Silver Linings Playbook
Year of Release: 2012
Rating: R for occasional sex and violence, but mostly lottttts of profanity.
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: No.
Spoiler Alert: Mild, moderate by at the very end.

Silver Linings Playbook is one of those rare movies, alongside Dazed and Confused and Clerks, that isn’t necessarily one of my all-time favorites but one that I never get sick of watching. One of my top five desert island picks, for sure, but not just because it’s a fun romp – it’s a romp with substance.

In media res takes on a whole new meaning during the first few minutes, which catapult us into Pat (Bradley Cooper)’s release from a Baltimore mental hospital. He’s up up up, as his father (Robert DeNiro) will chastise him for later, because he’s going to win back his wife, Nikki, who has for reasons not yet disclosed severed all contact with him. Armed with Nikki’s high school English syllabus, a positive new motto (excelsior), and his buddy Danny (Chris Tucker) who really isn’t supposed to be released from the hospital yet but tags along for part of the journey to Philadelphia anyway, Pat is bound and determined to save his marriage.

If all of this sounds a bit overwhelming, it is. We learn during one of Pat’s therapy visits that he was sent away for nearly beating Nikki’s co-worker-turned-lover to death after catching the two of them in the shower together, and it comes as no great surprise after his “Ma Cheri Amour”-induced freakout (the song that was playing during the attack) in the waiting room that Pat is “undiagnosed bipolar.” Pat’s bipolar episodes punctuate the early sequences of the movie (it’s hard for me to imagine a better reaction to Hemingway than Pat’s hurling A Farewell to Arms through a closed window) and intensify after he is propositioned by Tiffany, a neighboring young window.

Let’s talk about Tiffany, the role that won Jennifer Lawrence the Oscar. Tiffany is bold and brash and wears steel grey nail polish that I have exhausted myself trying to find in stores. Deep in mourning over her husband, who was hit and killed while helping some motorists on the side of the road, Tiffany dulls the pain by sleeping with a bunch of people – eleven co-workers, to be exact – and is fired for her conduct. She finds an unlikely friend in Pat, and barring a few fights (pay particular attention to the “who’s crazier?” diner scene, and you’ll see why Jennifer Lawrence easily took home the trophy), the two start to spend all sorts of time together. Tiffany tells Pat that she’ll gladly pass on a letter to Nikki via her sister Veronica (Julia Stiles), but in exchange, Pat has to train with her for an amateur dance competition.

I remember talking to a psychology major/occupational therapist friend of mine about Silver Linings right after seeing it in theaters. We had concluded that a cooperative relationship of any kind between Pat and Tiffany would never work, at least not in our universe, because they’re both so explosive and volatile and self-absorbed. Maybe it’s something about Philadelphia, I volunteered, having recently marathoned the first few seasons of It’s Always Sunny. The characters in Silver Linings remind me somewhat of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh cast, all with different psychological disorders. Pat has bipolar disorder, Tiffany, if I were to guess, has borderline personality disorder given her issues with attachment, intimacy, and impulsive behavior, Pat Sr. exhibits OCD symptoms all over the place, and Pat’s mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) is always anxious and on edge, though I’d argue that she’s probably just trying not to lose it most days. This is why David O Russell’s everyone-talks-over-one-another dialogue style, though it irritated me irritated me occasionally in American Hustle, worked well for Silver Linings. Every character is so consumed with internal noise that it eventually spills out in “more inappropriate things than appropriate things”: tune out for even a second and you’ll miss uncensored mumblings like Pat’s “well Tommy’s dead, so he’s not going to fucking do it [referring to the dance competition].”

Silver Linings Playbook epitomizes John Lennon’s idea that “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans” as Pat reaches a level of clarity and wellness by the film’s end, though not in the way he expects. (This is also adorably reinforced through the soundtrack when Pat and Tiffany dance to “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” – Stevie Wonder is somehow both damnation and salvation.) Bottom line? Maybe Pat and Tiffany aren’t so wrong for each other after all. We all come with baggage, but with a little help from the right people at the right time, we’ll eventually get where we need to be.

The Band That Wouldn’t Die (ESPN 30 For 30)


This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene
The Band That Wouldn’t Die
Year of Release: 2009
Rating: PG
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: Yes.
Spoiler Alert: The Colts leave Baltimore in 1984.

In the spirit of Telaina’s post that broke new Catch-Up ground earlier this summer with her review of Buffy, it’s time for something completely different: an ESPN documentary.

I’m a little late to the party, but the ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries are fantastic. Many of them (including the one I’m reviewing today) are available on Netflix, and clock in around 60 to 90 minutes. Each documentary explores an area of the sports world that either hasn’t gotten a lot of exposure (like Ice Cube’s Straight Outta L.A., which chronicles the Raiders’ relationship with ‘80s west coast rap) or remains intriguing to this day (like Ron Shelton’s Jordan Rides the Bus on Michael Jordan’s highly misunderstood move to baseball). More importantly, the films have provided me with a great reward system for grading over the summer term – for every ten papers I grade, I treat myself to one of these bad boys – and gotten me all sorts of excited for football season even in the face of disheartening news.

The Band That Wouldn’t Die, the second documentary in this series, is directed by Baltimore native Barry Levinson of Good Morning, Vietnam and Rain Man fame. This doc tells the story of The Little Marching Band That Could: the original Baltimore Colts band that stubbornly refused to disappear during the twelve years that Baltimore was without a team. I was drawn to this film for two reasons: I’m a Maryland native all too familiar with the sad story of the Colts, and I proudly marched with my middle and high school bands as both a drum major and a clarinetist.

As a Steelers fan, I’m trained to detest all things Baltimore Ravens. I grimace at the purple and black, the angry red-eyed logo, but I will never be able to watch the 1984 footage of the Mayflower trucks hauling all things Colts through the snow to Indianapolis without a little lump forming in my throat. I was nothing more than a twinkle in my parents’ eyes in 1984, but I remember hearing all about the Colts’ disappearance as I grew up in the ‘90s, listening to my grandfather bemoan the loss felt statewide. The members of the Baltimore Colts band choke back tears in the documentary as they listen to the original broadcast, the mayor’s devastating speech, and then they reveal how, against all odds, the band played on.

The one part of the Colts dynasty that didn’t make it onto a Mayflower truck? The band uniforms, which were very luckily at the cleaner’s that evening. Band president John Ziemann recounts being told that the business couldn’t legally hand over the uniforms, but that he was more than welcome to “take the truck for a walk.” When Ziemann opened the truck doors, the uniforms were all accounted for, accompanied by a sign that read “Go Get ‘Em!” The film documents the band’s retention and use of the uniforms during public parades alongside a barrage of Baltimore Colts highlights: some good (Johnny Unitas leads the team to a last-second championship win over the Giants in 1958), some bad (infamous fan “Loudy” Loudenslager sits in an empty Memorial Stadium as the first Indianapolis Colts game is underway), and some very, very ugly (I’m referring to what else but Irsay’s drunken, pottymouthed tirade at the BWI Airport). But eventually, Charm City arrives at a happy ending when, shortly after a spirited performance on the steps of the Maryland State House, the band brings football back to Baltimore and finds a new home with the Ravens franchise.

As much as is wrong with professional sports today, particularly in the wake of running back Ray Rice’s very public domestic assault (the NFL truly does have the memory of a goldfish), The Band That Wouldn’t Die is a great reminder that football can be a unifying force when done right, and that heroes like John Ziemann are often found in the unlikeliest of places.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower


This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Year of Release: 2012
Rating: PG-13 for mature themes, drug and alcohol use, mild sexual content.
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: No.
Spoilers: No spoilers here! Carry on!

I’m a community college instructor. I spend many hours a day with eighteen and nineteen year old “young adults.” So each time I’ve answered “no” to the question “but you’ve read/seen The Perks of Being a Wallflower, right?” I’ve been met with a considerable amount of shock and confusion. Fortunately, some friends of mine in Pittsburgh remedied the problem last week when they gifted me a shiny new copy of Perks for my birthday. The movie, not the book. (Yep, I’m not going to make it through this Catch Up without committing multiple cardinal sins, one of which is watching the film adaptation before reading the book.)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower might be called the Catcher in the Rye of our generation with its loveably awkward and impressionable protagonist, smattering of life-changing experiences, and mentoring English teacher figures (Paul Rudd’s Mr. Anderson brings the kind of soft touch to this film that Miss Honey does to Matilda). Charlie (Jack & Bobby’s Logan Lerman) is a high school freshman navigating new territory after a vaguely alluded to stint in the hospital. His older sister isn’t much help in showing him the ropes, as she is much more wrapped up in her boyfriend, “Ponytail Derek,” and Charlie eases his loneliness by writing in a diary to a friend he hasn’t met yet.

Enter Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), a hip step-sibling duo of seniors who recognize Charlie’s isolation and include him in their social gatherings. The bond between the three friends grows tighter and tighter as the school year progresses, and it is gradually revealed that each character faces his or her own inner demons. Charlie frequently grapples with memories of his deceased Aunt Helen, particularly her car accident. Patrick is gay, and fooling around with a closeted jock named Brad (Johnny Simmons). Upon giving Charlie a typewriter for Christmas, Sam reveals that her first kiss was with her father’s boss, and kisses Charlie so that his first time is with someone who cares about him. Needless to say, Charlie is head over heels for Sam (who has a boyfriend) at this point, but his shyness prohibits him from making his feelings known. Instead, he rather passively ends up with Sam’s demonstrative friend, Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman).

Whenever I talk to friends or students about abuse of any kind – verbal, emotional, physical – I always catch myself saying something along the lines of, “It happens more often than you think it does.” The Perks of Being a Wallflower charmingly captures the rocky transition from child to teenager to college freshman, but the film’s (and book’s) universality applies in a much deeper sense. Beyond raging hormones and new experiences, each of Perks’ characters is guided by what The Breakfast Club’s Allison Reynolds would deem “an unsatisfying home life.” They are discovering, as are many of this generation’s adolescents, that it is not so easy to separate ourselves from our parents’ problems, that despite our best wishes, we often “accept the love we think we think we deserve.” Though a few scenes are pretty unsettling (the cafeteria fight between Patrick and Brad is particularly hard to watch), the ultimate message of the film is reassuring without being trite: even though all of us feel like a Charlie at times, we can get through just about anything with a little help from our friends. And, you know, David Bowie’s “Heroes.” Which I will definitely be blasting the next time I cruise through the Fort Pitt tunnels.



This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene
Year of Release: 2013
Rating: R for sexual content and language.
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: Yes.
Spoilers: Much review. Such spoilers. Wow. (Read on, but stop at the last paragraph if you don’t want to know how it ends.)

What do you get when you take the incestuous coming-of-age premise of Flowers in the Attic, subtract the abusive grandmother, and move the setting from an old gothic mansion in Virginia to the cerulean waters of New South Wales? Adore, apparently.

Naomi Watts and Robin Wright star as lifelong best friends Lil and Roz, who live in neighboring HGTV Dream Homes on the eastern coast of Australia. The film opens at the funeral of Lil’s husband, Theo, who leaves the two women (along with Roz’s husband, Harold) to raise their young sons, Ian and Tom. In Theo’s absence, Lil and Roz encourage their sons to cultivate a relationship with one another, which deepens as the years go by.

In a time splice to an ethereal Phillip Glass-esque piano piece (Australian composer Christopher Gordon is actually responsible for Adore’s score), Ian (Xavier Samuel) and Tom (James Frecheville) paddle into the waves as boys and emerge as men: strong, chiseled, glistening men. Their mothers watch newly spellbound from the shore, noting that their surfboarding sons now “look like young gods,” which is a totally normal observation to make about your children, right?

After a comment like that, it’s easy to see where the rest of the film is headed. Harold (Ben Mendelsohn), whom Roz couldn’t be less interested in if she tried, announces that he has just accepted a drama professorship in Sydney. But Roz laments that this change would mean moving away from her cozy seaside utopia. No one is prepared to give up the long nights of wine, cards, and provocative dancing, and so poor Harold’s is left questioning the nature of Lil’s and Roz’s relationship and trekking to Sydney solo. Additionally, the unattached Lil must ward off the advances of John Locke from Lost (seriously, how is that not Terry O’Quinn? the actor is actually Gary Sweet) who eventually assumes that Roz is her partner. And though the two women aren’t sleeping together, Harold and Saul aren’t entirely missing the mark.
The longstanding tenderness of this “modern family” coupled with the lean, tan stuff of Harlequin Romance fantasy comes to a head one night when Ian dares to make a move on Roz – and Roz reciprocates. Tom, who watches Roz sneak out of Ian’s bedroom in the middle of the night with her jeans in her hand, puts two and two together quite quickly. A few days later, Tom manages to seduce Lil and reports his vengeful conquest to Roz, earning him a furious slap.

This is where the group dynamics get particularly interesting. Lil and Roz confront each other, but the discussion isn’t at all what you’d expect: there are no angry words exchanged, just the brief recognition that “it needs to stop.” Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t, and Lil and Roz finally admit to one another that they’ve never felt happier. Nothing – not even affairs with each other’s sons – can shatter this bond of sisterhood.

Critic Christy Lemire called this film “good trash,” and I get where she’s coming from. The scenery and eye candy are close enough to savor, while the melodrama remains at a safe distance because it’s not happening to us. But as someone who has always been drawn to material that examines a close-knit group under a microscope (think Virgina Woolf’s The Waves, Sheila Kohler’s Cracks, and yes, even Flowers in the Attic), I thought there was more here than just fantasy pap. Despite the luxurious high that these affairs bring Lil and Roz, both women recognize the need for their sons to find “real relationships” with women their own ages while combating their own fears and realizations associated with aging. When they finally put a stop to things, Roz transitions back into a stern maternal figure whom Ian now resents, further blurring the line between mother and lover.

Things go south after a number of years, of course, but not among this group of four. As Adore concludes with the recycled image of Lil, Roz, Ian, and Tom sunbathing on their old dock in the middle of the Pacific, it becomes clear that after the ruin of their conventional lives, all they have – for better or worse – is one another.