Stories We Tell

Stories We Tell is one of the most talked about documentaries from 2013, appearing on many critics Top 10 lists. My list will appear later this week, so no spoilers for now! I will say, it does live up to the hype.

The premise is very basic: in a family in Canada, one of the daughters may not in fact be the biological daughter of the man who raised her. However, the innovative presentation of the story makes the film about much more than that, touching on the very nature of truth and how we tell it. The daughter in question is Sarah Polley, a Canadian writer, director, and actress. She wrote and directed the documentary, which consists mostly of interviews with her own immediate family members and friends of the family about her deceased mother and the circumstances leading up to Sarah’s conception–a story which starts many, many years before.

Continue reading

This Week in the Box: Grand Hotel

Note: This Week in the Box is a year-long series where Sam works through the entire Warner Brothers 50 Film Collection box set. To find reviews of the other films in the series and see the complete list, click here.

Grand Hotel is the oldest film in this box and I would be shocked if it were the worst. Directed by Edmund Goulding and starring an ensemble cast including, among others, Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, and Lionel Barrymore, Grand Hotel is a sweeping epic slice of life.

Continue reading

This Week in the Box: An Overview

What’s the best way to learn about movies? By watching movies, of course.  A whole bunch of them.

To that end, I have this particular lovely box set, the Warner Brothers 50 Film Collection, and 50 films is very nearly 52 films, so clearly the best course of action is to watch one movie a week for the next year.  Since the year began on a Wednesday, the weekly schedule for these also starts on Wednesday. That is, the review for Grand Hotel will appear sometime in the week of January 1- January 7, the review for Mutiny on the Bounty will appear somewhere in January 8-January 14, etc.

Continue reading

NFL Wildcard Weekend Picks

Look! Football picks on a pop culture blog!


This weekend, 1-4 and 1-5, is the first round of the playoffs. Now I’ll tell you who’s going to win all of the games, in spite of my massive homerism as  Colts fan.



Saturday afternoon, 3:25pm Central Time: Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts

So, I have a hard time being rational about this game on either side. On the one hand, I desperately want my Colts to win, because that’s what sports fandom is. But I’m a pessimist at heart and it’s easier to watch a game expecting to lose and being pleasantly surprised when they win than expect to win and be crushed when they lose. Of course, that’s a pretty Vulcan take on things because it’s awfully hard to watch a team play after play and not care what happens to them, unless they totally screw up repeatedly right out of the gate. Also, these teams just played two weeks ago and Indy crushed Kansas City. So what I’m saying is that I’m a mess and cannot say anything straightforward about this game.

Indy has the better QB, Kansas City has the best running back in the league, and I don’t have faith in either team to win another game after this. But the Colts won handily two weeks ago and they’re playing at home, so I’m going to go ahead and pick the Colts.

Continue reading

Graphic Novel Novice: The Walking Dead Issue 1

I often think that I should be a person who is into comics and graphic novels. I’m a self-proclaimed nerd. I like movies based on comic book characters, especially the more recent Marvel movies. I’m a voracious consumer of pop culture in general. Still, there always seems to be some kind of barrier keeping me away. Part of it is that the worlds that I’m most familiar with are DC and Marvel and they both seem impenetrable. There’s so much history and the completionist in me can’t stand to start from somewhere other than the beginning. Another problem is that on the few occasions where I’ve tried to read comic books or graphic novels in the past, I find that my eye wanders around the page. I’m unable to take in the story through both the text and the art.

I am determined to fix this hole in my pop culture diet. I’m starting with The Walking Dead because it’s independent from a larger universe and because I’ve always wanted to read it in order to compare it with the AMC series. Each week, I will read one issue of The Walking Dead and comment on it as a new comic book reader here. We’re only going to run this series while the TV show isn’t running so this series will disappear for awhile starting the week of February 9. That way, even if I want to compare the TV show to the book, you will never have to worry about being spoiled unless you aren’t caught up with the most recent episodes aired on AMC.

Continue reading


herSet in the near future, Her is one of those lovely movies whose premise can be summed up in a short sentence (“Man falls in love with operating system”) and yet remain compelling throughout the entire run time.

The man in question is Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a writer at a place called (and if you are wondering if it might be thematically significant that Theo is employed as a writer, communicating for other people and not himself, you would be correct). Technology has evolved just the right amount- the devices that people use in Her are not exactly the same as what we use today, but they make sense to anyone who has a smartphone or a bluetooth headset. You pop the little earbud into your ear and it syncs with your phone (which typically seem to be little booklet-style devices with cameras on at least two sides), and the voice of the operating system allows you to navigate whatever you might be navigating (news, email, presumably Future Twitter, etc). Then the next-gen OS comes out (OS 1,  a nice touch of nomenclature that sounds entirely in line with modern technology naming schemes), which offers genuine Artificial Intelligence. Theo buys and installs OS1 and Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) is born– if that’s what you want to call it.

Continue reading

TV Premieres for January 2014: Part 1

The new year brings the series premieres of a couple of new shows and the return of many other shows, especially those that air on cable networks. In order to avoid spoilers, the discussion of the returning shows is intentionally vague. This list is a selection of premieres that air on or before January 12. I’ll be back with the rest of the month in another post. Get ready to stay inside, stay warm, and watch some TV of varying quality.

Continue reading

Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis follows, unsurprisingly, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) through a week of his life as a struggling folk singer in 1961 New York City.

Llewyn has no apparent permanent address and lives an entirely transitory existence, playing folk music when he can get someone to pay him for it and sleeping on couches from Greenwich Village to the Upper West Side. He’s also an asshole, and he knows it. The moral of the movie (or one of many morals you could take) is that sometimes you try and succeed and sometimes you try and fail; sometimes when you try and fail it’s someone else’s fault, or no one’s fault at all, and sometimes when you fail it’s your fault from start to finish. Many of Llewyn’s problems fall into the last of those categories.

Continue reading