The MPAA and "Bully"
Published on March 29, 2012 by Sara Foss

Most cinephiles hate the MPAA, the secretive, studio-controlled board that provides movie ratings; I know I do.

Anyway, the MPAA's decision to slap the new documentary "Bully" with an R rating is prompting protests, mainly from critics who believe the documentary should be viewed by teens and older children, and that the content considered problematic - bad language, mainly - isn't exactly going to shock the nation's youth, who have heard it all before.

One of the more interesting discussion of the issue is between Salon critic Andrew O'Hehir and film critic Tim Grierson. As much as I think "Bully" probably doesn't deserve an R rating, I kind of agree with Grierson's take on the matter: In making its decision, the ratings board followed its own stupid guidelines, which hopefully will be gotten rid of, because they're stupid, but in the meantime, do we really want the MPAA making exceptions based on some vague concept of which films are important, and which are not?

Visit Criticwire to read the whole discussion.

Also good is this interview with Kirby Dick, who made the terrific documentary "This Film is Not Yet Rated," which looks at how the MPAA makes its decisions and the secretive nature of the board. Key findings: The board doesn't mind violence, but is leery of sexuality, particularly of anything that could be viewed as unconventional, such as homosexuality and even women's sexuality.

The Week also provides some links here.

"Bully" comes to Albany in April. I will most likely see it, because it interests me and because I hate the ratings board. Take that, MPAA!

A Sculpture for the High Line
Published on March 29, 2012 by Sara Foss

A few weeks ago, I wrote about walking the High Line, an elevated railway in New York City that's been converted into a public park.

Now I learn that a replica of a 1943 Baldwin 2900 steam locomotive, created by artist Jeff Koons, might one day hang over the High Line. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, the sculpture, at least as its depicted in an illustration provided by Friends of the High Line, looks crazy. On the other hand, I like crazy things.

Click here to see what I'm talking about.

Firing Up An Old Mix CD
Published on March 29, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the experience of listening to a mix CD my college roommate gave me in 1999. It's got some great stuff on it, including a remix of Blondie's "Atomic" and "Born Slippy" by the UK electronic dance band Underworld.

Click here to read more.

Two By Criterion
Published on March 28, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over the past couple months, I've worked my way through two sets of films released by the Criterion Collection, the premier DVD releasing company in the country. The sets introduced me to two filmmakers I was mostly unfamiliar with: Pedro Costa and Aki Kaurismaki. 

Let's start with Pedro Costa, since he's the filmmaker I delved into first. Criterion released three of Costa's films in a box set titled "Letters from Fontainhas," after the Lisbon slum where the films are set. The Portuguese director cast residents of the Fontainhas in key roles, and although the first film, "Ossos," is structured around a fictional story, while the two later films, "In Vanda's Room" and "Colossal Youth," are an unusual hybrid of documentary and fiction, with the residents largely playing themselves, or at least versions of themselves. Many of the residents are impoverished and addicted to drugs, and hail from the island of Cape Verde.

Costa's films are good examples of the burgeoning slow cinema movement, though the term is so broad as to be almost meaningless. Movies in this genre tend to feature long takes, contemplative (some might say boring) silences, stunning scenery and locations and relatively thin plots.


Lessons in Parenting
Tagging Along
Published on March 27, 2012 by guest author: J LeBlanc

When I received a call reminding me of a dental check-up, I was faced with a dilemma: whether or not to arrange childcare. I debated asking someone to watch my son, but felt as though asking for those kind of favors should really be saved for times when they are truly necessary. Also, I felt it would be good to set a precedent with my son of getting used to having to tag along on these sorts of errands once in a while.

I remember the first time I faced this dilemma: It was a mere few weeks after my son was born. I had made the appointment thinking I would be on maternity leave and I wouldn’t need to worry about the time of day, but without thinking about what I would do with the baby. Luckily, it was an early appointment and my husband went in to work a little late so he could watch the baby for me. At the appointment, my dental hygienist said it was fine to bring my son with me.

A few months later I did, for my next six-month check-up. At least he still fit in his infant carrier and when he began to cry, I rocked him with one hand while my teeth were being cleaned. I was reminded of that today, as he sat opposite me in his stroller, alternating between babbling and slowly going from whiny to crying, then back again as soon as anyone paid him any attention. The hygienist was very friendly and kept drawing his attention to the decorations around her: a brightly painted gecko on the ceiling and a plush flower with a fabric covered wire stem that was wrapped around the light over the chair where I sat.


More Cowbell
Published on March 27, 2012 by Sara Foss

A group of Vermonters are planning the "world's largest cowbell ensemble," which sounds totally awesome to me. 

Click here for details.

Watching "The Lorax"
Published on March 27, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review "The Lorax.

Here's an excerpt: 

"When I learned that a Lorax movie was in the works, I got really excited.

After all, who doesn’t love 'The Lorax'? The book, written by the great Dr. Seuss, was extremely popular at my old summer camp, and I used to read it to kids on a regular basis, along with 'The Stinky Cheese Man' and 'Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes.'

'The Lorax' is a charming and fanciful story, but it is sadder and more serious than the other Seuss books that have been adapted for the big screen, such as 'Horton Hears a Who!' and 'The Cat in the Hat,' with an underlying message about the dangers of ecological catastrophe, and the importance of taking care of the earth.

In some ways, 'The Lorax' struck me as a potentially risky film. Would audiences really flock to a story about a weird little creature who warns about the dangers of cutting down all the trees?"

Click here to read more.


Early Spring
Published on March 26, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about the ugliness of early spring, and how it gives way to growth.

Here's an excerpt:

"'Are you going a different way?' my daughter asked as I drove the usual back roads to her friend’s house about two weeks ago.

'No,' I said. 'It’s just a very ugly time of year. Everything looks like mud.'

She looked more closely, and began to recognize landmarks. 'You’re right,' she said. 'It’s hideous.'

People wax poetic about the beauty of spring but the start of the season, pre-spring you might call it, is nothing but ugly. The snow and ice — yes, we still have some up north where I live — have turned brown. The exposed earth is the same color. Driveways are deep trenches of mud and the yards smell like dog turds.

Even the houses look like they’ve been coated in grime, dingy and dull, surrounded by mud in a barren landscape of sticks.

But it doesn’t last long. Soon the dun-colored world starts greening up and the fresh smells of spring cover up the musty old smells that emerged from under the ice."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Socialized Medicine
Published on March 26, 2012 by Sara Foss

David Sedaris writes about his experiences with the French health care system here.

Reading "Olive Kitteridge"
Published on March 26, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I offer my thoughts on the 2008 Pulitzer Prize winning novel "Olive Kitteridge."

Click here to read more.

Mike Daisey and Ira Glass
Published on March 25, 2012 by Sara Foss

I caught the This American Life episode where Ira Glass retracts Mike Daisey's Apple expose over the weekend. It was interesting, but I felt like Ira Glass came across as someone who couldn't get over the fact that Mike Daisey lied to him and hurt his feelings.

Both men should have walked away from this story the moment Glass asked to contact Daisey's interpreter. Instead, Glass took Daisey's word for it when he said he couldn't find the translator, and Daisey lied so that the piece could be passed off as actual journalism. I have no idea what was going through the mind of Rob Schmitz, the Shanghai-based reporter who uncovered Daisey's deception, but perhaps he was motivated by a desire to show This American Life what real reporting looks like, and what it really means to fact check.

Anyway, here's a link to Columbia Journalism Review's critique of the episode. 

I also like film critic Jim Emerson's take on it.

Not Saying Never
Published on March 25, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about why I try never to say never.

Here's an excerpt:

"At this stage in life, there are certain things I’m fairly confident I’ll never do, like own a motorcycle.

But you never know.

Maybe someday I’ll decide that I really want a motorcycle, and purchase one. That’s what my friend Bruce did. One day he said, 'I saw this cool motorcycle online, and I bought it.' Now he says things like, 'I think it’s time to get out my bike,' and 'I think I’m going to go for a long bike ride tomorrow.'

Will this happen to me? I doubt it. I don’t really care about motorcycles, although there’s a part of me that thinks it would be fun to ride one around.

My friend Kristina was pretty leery of motorcycles — until she married a motorcycle-loving man and bought one for herself. Then they got divorced, and she sold her motorcycle. Kristina’s life has changed so much since then that it’s difficult to remember that she ever went through a phase where she was married, lived and worked in New Hampshire and rode a motorcycle. Now she lives in Guam and runs marathons. What will she do next? I have no idea. But I wouldn’t rule anything out."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Where Does Creativity Come From?
Published on March 25, 2012 by Sara Foss

Salon has an interesting interview with the author Jonah Lehrer about his new book "Imagine: How Creativity Works."

Lehrer refutes a lot of myths about creativity, including the theory that artists need a visit from the muse to produce something special. I've long believed that being creative takes work, and if you sit around saying you don't have any ideas, well, you'll never have any.


Wearing a Hoodie
Published on March 25, 2012 by Sara Foss

I wore my hooded sweatshirt the other night when I went out to eat with my family. My sister's boyfriend wore a hooded sweatshirt, too.

"We're lucky nobody tried to kill us," I told him.

But nobody looked at us askance for wearing hooded sweatshirts, perhaps because we are white people from New England. However, according to Geraldo Rivera, wearing a hooded sweatshirt is asking for trouble - if somebody shoots you while you're wearing one, it's your own damn fault for dressing like a thug. Of course, Geraldo Rivera is an idiot, and would rather blame a hooded sweatshirt for the death of Trayvon Martin than talk about something like racism or whether Stand Your Ground laws make any sense. Yup, blame the victim and his scary hooded sweatshirt.

I wore my hooded sweatshirt the other night because I was cold. But on Sunday churchgoers wore hooded sweatshirts to honor Trayvon Martin. You can read about that here.


The Heat Make a Statement
Published on March 23, 2012 by Sara Foss

It's hard to hate the Miami Heat when they do stuff like this.

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