I never thought I’d see the day when UVa was 13-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Over on Twitter, I gave my quick and dirty assessment of Woody Allen’s latest film:
"Blue Jasmine" was very good. Cate Blanchett was very great.
— Chad Dotson (@dotsonc) January 22, 2014
Permit me to elaborate. As I’ve mentioned before in these pages, I’m a committed admirer of Allen’s work. His films over the last fifteen years have been uneven, at best, but there are some beauties sprinkled in there. Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona are fabulous, and 2011′s Midnight in Paris compares favorably to anything you’ll see from his peers.
The flip side of that coin is that Allen has written and directed some stinkers — You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, anyone? — but the best thing about Woody is that you only have to wait a year, and he’ll have another movie for you to pick over.
Which brings us to Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett as the title character. Jasmine is a Manhattan socialite who has her world tossed asunder when her husband (ably played by Alec Baldwin) is sent to prison for his role in various financial shenanigans. Broke, and broken, Jasmine moves to San Francisco to live with her working class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins).
Allen moves the narrative forward in very focused fashion, skilfully weaving flashbacks of Jasmine’s previous life (relaxing in the Hamptons, for example) with her struggles to adjust to her new life. It is well-written, with all the hallmarks of an Allen comedy, including very strong performances by an ensemble cast. No performance is stronger than Cate Blanchett’s.
Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Blanchett were to win her second Academy Award next month. (No, I’m not really stepping out on a limb there. Blanchett just won the Golden Globe for this role.) She is engaging from the time she makes her first appearance on screen, seated on an inbound flight to San Francisco, as she bores the woman next to her with a barely-uninterrupted commentary on everything that has gone wrong with her life. Blanchett’s Jasmine is never particularly likable, but somehow, she becomes eminently sympathetic throughout the course of the movie. If not a direct homage, the film was clearly inspired by A Streetcar Named Desire. More than once, I saw Vivien Leigh’s Blanche DuBois in Jasmine.
The most surprising performance, as you may have heard, came from Andrew Dice Clay, as Ginger’s ex-husband. Clay is legitimately good here, even if he didn’t utter a single nursery rhyme in the entire film. Also good was Louis CK, as a seemingly-sweet guy who woos Ginger.
My only quibble is that some of the working-class dialogue didn’t seem to ring particularly true, but that’s a small criticism. Blue Jasmine is well-executed, and is a worthy addition to the Woody Allen filmography. By almost any measure, Allen remains near the top of his game, a formidable filmmaker still, after nearly five decades in the game.
I’m not a TV critic (yet), and I don’t even play one on, well, TV. But this is my site, so indulge me, please. I don’t think it’s spoiler-y, but if you are worried about that sort of thing, you may want to stop now.
The Netflix original series “Orange Is the New Black” was released last July, and I finally got around to watching the 13-episode first season over the last couple of weeks. I do have some criticisms, but let’s make one thing clear from the outset: “Orange Is the New Black” is an outstanding show, nearly as good as anything else on television. I just wish it were on HBO.
There is much to love about “Orange.” It’s the story of a privileged woman — Piper, played by Taylor Schilling — who is engaged to be married and starting her own company, when she is charged with crimes committed when she was young and in love with a drug runner. Ultimately, she accepts a plea, and the story begins as she is incarcerated.
It’s a brilliant idea for a series, based on Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name. In most respects, it is well-executed. The ensemble cast is filled with great characters, most of whom are nuanced and interesting. Series creator Jenji Kohan displays a deft touch in slowly revealing each character’s backstory, and our view of several of the characters (notably Crazy Eyes and Mr. Healy) changes completely within the arc of one season.
There are notable exceptions, however. Two characters — Natalie Figueroa, a prison administrator, and Mendez, a correctional officer — are ludicrously over-the-top. “Orange” is a dramedy, so sometimes these characters are played for laughs, but their behavior is so exaggerated that it can be distracting. Often, it’s like these two characters were pulled straight out of an Adam Sandler movie. I’m love Billy Madison as much as the next guy, but that’s not a compliment.
Jenji Kohan probably should have toned that down, but subtlety doesn’t seem to be in her arsenal. To wit: listen to the music that plays whenever Daya (an inmate) and Bennett (a C.O.) are together. It’s ridiculous, and worthy of a 1980s Afterschool Special. And they play it Every. Single. Time. Before “Orange,” Kohan was known primarily for the Showtime series “Weeds.” I’ve never seen a single episode of “Weeds,” so I can’t compare, but I have real questions about some of the creative decisions on this show. (Also, I could do without the Jason Biggs-inspired American Pie inside jokes.) That’s why I mentioned HBO above; in the best HBO original dramas, these little wrinkles have all been ironed out. (Then again, it’s still the first season for “Orange” so there is time.)
When looking at the big picture, however, those are very small quibbles. In most respects, Kohan has put together a captivating portrait of life inside a women’s prison. Piper is a fascinating character study, but she is arguably the least compelling personality on the show. Taystee Jefferson may be my favorite character, but the entire group of inmates — Alex, Yoga Jones, track star Janae Watson, Sister Ingalls, Big Boo, and especially the Bible-toting meth-head Pennsatucky — are each engaging in their own way. I’m not sure how Kohan was able to make each of them a fully-formed character in only 13 episodes (the flashbacks to life before prison helped), but it works.
I was happy to be able to watch the entire season over two weeks, one episode a night, thanks to the Netflix model of distribution, but “Orange” is a series that would have benefited from the traditional model. At the end of each episode, I didn’t like the idea of waiting until the following night to see what would happen next (alas, my wife goes to sleep early, and she was just as engaged with the series as I). Imagine waiting a full week to see how Piper was going to resolve whatever issues were still lingering from the episode before. It’s a series that could have built even more buzz than it actually did by giving each episode some water cooler time.
Either way, I am definitely looking forward to the second season, especially after the eye-popping cliffhanger at the end of season one’s final episode. “Orange” isn’t as good as “Mad Men” or “Sherlock,” but it’s just a cut below. Which means that it’s better than most everything else on television (or whatever delivery device you prefer).
Yesterday, a 12-year-old told me this:
The only thing I know about judges is that they sit up there and yell at people to be quiet. I know there must be more to it, but I don’t know what it is.
That’s a pretty good job description, actually.
Yes, Georgetown exited the NCAA tournament early once again this year. I’m so sick of this.
I’ve watched every Georgetown game for 4+ months. I’d like someone to tell me why.
— Chad Dotson (@dotsonc) March 23, 2013
No, really. Why?
For Georgetown, Friday night’s upset win was just the latest in a string of disappointments for the program since John Thompson III took the Hoyas to the Final Four six years ago.
No fan base has endured more heartbreak and embarrassment than this one. Here’s the rundown on how G’town’s had good-to-really-good regular seasons end in flameout since the 2008 NCAA tournament.
Read the rundown, if you wish. I’ve lived it.
This will be Georgetown’s fifh straight loss to a double-digit seed in the tourney. That’s hard to accomplish.
— Chad Dotson (@dotsonc) March 23, 2013
Can someone explain this? There’s only one constant: coach John Thompson III.
Somedays, I wish I had just gone to Duke Law, rather than Georgetown.
Okay, that’s silly talk.
Double Indemnity (1944)
Director: Billy Wilder
Writers: Wilder and Raymond Chandler
Stars: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson
In the late 1990s, the American Film Institute released a list they called “100 Years…100 Movies.” Ostensibly, it ranked the top 100 feature-length American movies, and at the time, I thought it would be a fun project to watch all 100.
Here we are, fifteen years later, and I’m still working on that. (At some point, I’ll figure out how many I have remaining, but it can’t be very many.) Recently, I was able to mark Double Indemnity — AFI #38* — off my personal checklist. In one word: masterful.
The plotline actually seems pedestrian: “An insurance rep lets himself be talked into a murder/insurance fraud scheme that arouses an insurance investigator’s suspicions.” Fred MacMurray (of My Three Sons fame) stars as Walter Neff, a successful insurance agent who runs into Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck, in an Oscar-nominated performance) in the ordinary course of business. Dietrichson is married to a less-than-successful oil executive, one thing leads to another and — this always happens, doesn’t it? — murder and insurance fraud are committed. Dietrichson and Neff conspire to murder her husband and cover up their deed.
The actual criminal act occurs somewhat early in the film, and most of the film consists of the tension created when Neff’s boss, an insurance analyst played by the always-entertaining Edward G. Robinson, becomes suspicious and launches an investigation. No, that doesn’t sound high-concept, does it? You’ll be surprised. For instance, the viewer can never really be sure why these two team up to commit this act. Passion? I don’t know; at times, we aren’t even sure Dietrichson and Neff like each other (and, in fact, Dietrichson admits as much later in the movie). For the money? They don’t show much interest in it.
I have some theories, but I’ve already exceeded my allotted ten seconds. Suffice to say that many questions remain unanswered after my first viewing, but the film still worked brilliantly.
Double Indemnity is classic film noir, from the stylish cinematography, the superb use of black and white, and the snappy dialogue penned mostly by detective novelist Raymond Chandler. Oh, the dialogue. Chandler had me with the opening line of the film:
I killed him for money — and for a woman. I didn’t get the money. And I didn’t get the woman.
I love it.
Billy Wilder has always been one of my favorite directors. (I love Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, The Seven Year Itch, and Sabrina, in particular.) Double Indemnity, one of his earliest works, is unlike anything he did after. Add it to the pantheon. It’s good.
I’m really kicking myself for not making time to watch Double Indemnity before now. Rest assured, however: I will watch this one again. Five stars out of five.
*In 2007, AFI released an updated list. Double Indemnity must have aged well; a decade after the original list, AFI ranked it nine spots higher at #29.
Because everyone here is asleep, and I really don’t have anything better to do: a ranking of the James Bond films, from worst to best. Enjoy (or not). Please remember, these are just my opinions, so…no wagering.
23. Licence to Kill
21. The Man With the Golden Gun
20. Live and Let Die
19. The Spy Who Loved Me
18. Diamonds Are Forever
17. Quantum of Solace
16. Tomorrow Never Dies
15. A View To A Kill
14. The World Is Not Enough
13. Die Another Day
12. Never Say Never Again
11. You Only Live Twice
10. The Living Daylights
7. Casino Royale
6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
5. Dr. No
4. For Your Eyes Only
2. From Russia, With Love
A friend sent this to me today, and I have no idea what it means:
So I just finished “Paterno,” the latest from Joe Posnanski. Posnanski is the best sportswriter in America, so it’s obviously well-written, but no one is judging this book by the quality of the writing.
Poz was really in a no-win situation. He went to Happy Valley expecting to write a certain type of book — a celebration of the career of Penn State football coach and anointed saint Joe Paterno — and it turned into a completely different book after the revelation of the unimaginable horrors perpetrated by Paterno’s long-time assistant Jerry Sandusky.
I liked the book, and I thought it was even-handed. If you are looking for a slash and burn attack on Paterno, you aren’t going to get it here. Posnanski was very critical of Paterno’s actions in relation to Sandusky, but he also spent a lot of words talking about all the good things Paterno did in his lifetime. The contrast between the moral authority that Paterno spent his life building, and the way he went out — accused of ignoring, and enabling, contemptible crimes against the most innocent of victims — is stark. He helped hundreds of kids during his lifetime, but it’s the handful of kids that he did not help that has stained what had been a remarkable career.
It’s a terribly sad story, but I do recommend the book.