Mini-review: Between the Lines

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Between the Lines (1977) ★★★1/2
Director: Joan Micklin Silver

I came across this movie on the Criterion Channel and was drawn in by the ensemble cast, which includes a very young Jeff Goldblum, John Heard, and Bruno Kirby. I also had fond memories of Joan Micklin Silver’s Chilly of Scenes of Winter, which I saw a couple of years ago at BAM. So, I decided to give it a try and I’m so glad I did — it was like a time capsule of the mid 1970s and also of a certain period in journalism, when small alternative weekly newspapers were still a training ground for ambitious young reporters and writers.

Between the Lines follows the scrappy staff of a Boston alternative weekly as they chase assignments, jump in and out of each other’s beds, and adjust to a new management structure after their newspaper is bought out by a corporation. Everyone is young, with their lives still in flux. It’s a movie about transition: career transition, relationship transition, and ultimately the transition that the culture is undergoing…you can feel the 1980s on the horizon, and you just know some of these characters are going to be yuppies in no time. I was especially amused to see Bruno Kirby as a cub reporter, because I know him best from When Harry Met Sally, where he plays an established journalist who writes for New York Magazine. It’s almost as if he’s the same character, and we’re seeing him at the beginning of his career. Now that I think about it, this would be a great double feature with When Harry Met Sally, because they are both so much about negotiating ambition and romance.

When Will You Go Back to the Movies?

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I miss going to the movies.  But I didn’t think seriously about returning to theaters until last week when I watched Da 5 Bloods at home. It was the first movie I’ve seen since quarantine started that seemed to be crying out for the big screen.

It was also a movie that I watched over the course of two evenings because I got tired halfway through. I wish that hadn’t been option and I would have been forced to sit through the whole thing, despite my sleepiness. More than that, I wish I’d had to leave the house and to view it at a particular time, rather than firing up Netflix after the kids were in bed and the kitchen was cleaned up and the toys were picked up off of the living room carpet.

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R.I.P. Lynn Shelton

SAGIndie Brunch At Cafe Terigo - Park City 2013

Director Lynn Shelton died on Saturday and it hit home for me, for a lot of reasons. First: I really liked her movies, and reviewed two of them on this blog: Sword of Trust and Outside In. They were mellow, lived-in, gentle, kind, and deeply humane. Her characters felt real and her stories always had an interesting shape. She also directed a lot of TV shows I watched, including GLOW, Love, The Good Place, The Mindy Project, New Girl — to name just a few. She came to directing late in life, at age 39, but then she was prolific, directing eight feature films and numerous television shows. She was one of those directors I watched out for; I felt like her best work was ahead of her. I can’t believe she’s dead. She was only 54.

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R.I.P. Irrfan Khan

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I was just finishing up a different post when I saw the news that Irrfan Khan had passed away. So, so sad. Today is for Irrfan Khan, an extraordinary actor. When I was looking at his IMDB profile, I realized I’ve only seen a handful of his performances, but he brings so much to every role that I feel I know him well.

I first noticed him in The Namesake, Mira Nair’s wonderful adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s 2003 novel by the same name. I loved the novel and worried that the movie would oversimplify it, but the moment Irrfan Khan came on screen, he not only lived up to the character in the book, he made it deeper. He was an actor who expressed himself in the way he moved and breathed, the dialogue was just icing on the cake. Every ounce of him was revealing of character and story. I am so sad that he has left this world. He was only 53. I wanted to see him in more roles as he got older. He was one of those actors who shows you how to live.

The New Reality of Movie(not)going

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I’m having a lot of trouble adjusting to this new reality of Coronavirus. It feels both like I just had my first baby and also, like I’m a teenager, stuck in the house and beholden to my parents. Except I have none of the transformative and energy-giving hormones of new motherhood or the teen years. So I’m just like WHAT IS HAPPENING over and over again. My son’s school and extra-curricular clubs keep sending links to “learning platforms,” and every wellness service I have ever subscribed to, whether it’s the Y (which is now closed) or the mushroom coffee I occasionally splurge on, is inviting me to view videos or join informational zoom hang-outs and I’m like, is this for you, or is it for me? Be honest!

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Coronavirus Cancellations

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A couple of weeks ago, when I updated my 2020 movie list, I included selections from the SXSW Film Festival, but now the festival has been cancelled to help stop the spread of Coronavirus. My husband thinks the Tribeca Film Festival, which is about a month from now, will also be cancelled, but I’m not sure — although maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part, because I was hoping to attend a few screenings.

I feel bad for the independent filmmakers who were going to showcase their work at the SXSW. It must be so disappointing to lose that potential career boost. I’m going to continue to track these films and also, the films slated for Tribeca, in case they show up somewhere else.

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Your Perfect Valentine’s Day Movie

hemadramamaisexterieure4612433621Are you looking for a stunning love story to watch tonight? This is it. I reviewed it for The Common last year when it was in limited release. It goes into wide release this weekend. See it on the big screen with surround sound! You need to hear the waves crashing, the fires crackling, and the music in the final scene.

New Year’s Resolutions

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Happy New Year! I’m feeling a lot of New Year’s Resolutions energy this year. Maybe there’s some astrological reason for this, or maybe I’m just getting slightly more sleep because my daughter has finally stopped waking up at 5:45? I don’t know, but I’m going with it. This morning, I got out of bed and SPRINTED around the park near my house. It was the equivalent of a cold water plunge in terms of getting my heart rate going. My goal is to do it every day for a few months to see if it helps get my mornings going a little more quickly.

I have a bunch of other NYE resolutions related to my kids and my schedule, but I won’t bore you with those. Instead, I will bore you with my blogging goals. I wasn’t sure if I would keep this site up but after almost two years of focusing my viewing habits on female directors and screenwriters, I feel like I have more to say. I’d like to reach a wider audience with this blog and to write more ambitious, wider-ranging essays about movies and popular culture.

With that in mind, here are my 2020 goals for Thelma & Alice: Continue reading “New Year’s Resolutions”

Criticism vs. Activism

Recently I’ve been wondering if I’m a critic or an activist, and where is the line, and is it possible to be both, or does activism undermine criticism? This blog obviously has an activist bent: I want people to make an effort to see more movies by women, in order to support women’s artistic careers. My criticism is colored by this desire, although I hope that bias is limited to my choice of review subjects. I’m not grading women on a curve. (Although I do grade a debut on a curve, male or female.) If it’s not obvious, I do continue to see movies by male directors, I just don’t review them on this site.

The truth is, I don’t see myself as either an activist or a critic. Of the two labels, I’m much closer to critic, but as a writer, I’m most comfortable writing fiction. As a movie critic, I tend to analyze film from a literary point of view, because I feel I have a good understanding of how a story is put together. I also enjoy writing about acting and costume design, because these are subjects I’ve paid attention to since I was a little kid. But it has taken me a long time to analyze the more technical aspects of filmmaking, things like camera angles and sound design. I’ve also never studied film formally. So, I often feel like an amateur when I write about it. Does every critic feel this way, or is this just an example of imposter syndrome–a species of self-doubt tends to afflict women more than men?

It’s hard for me to separate my criticism from an activist impulse because I doubt I would have taken the leap to writing about film if not for the Harvey Weinstein scandal. I knew the industry was hard on women, and I knew that most film critics were men, but I didn’t realize the extent of the damage to women’s careers and artistry. And, as cheesy as it sounds, another big inspiration was seeing Rey in the Star Wars films. I’ve told this story before, but I was seated next to a little girl at the screening of The Force Awakens and she was so shocked and delighted to see a girl as the lead that I felt kind of sad. She wasn’t that old–maybe 5?–and already she was conditioned to expect a boy at the center of a movie.

A lot of these thoughts were stirred up by This Changes Everything, the documentary that I reviewed yesterday. It’s taken me a while to gain confidence as a movie critic, and I often doubt myself, but I have to remind myself that I’m here because not enough women are writing about movies. And I’m staying here, because after a two-year media diet, in which I made sure that the majority of what I watched was written or directed by a woman, I have a lot more to say. When you bring the female gaze into your life, it changes you. I feel I can see more clearly the biases in the film criticism, and in the industry in general. I’ll be writing more about that in the coming months, and hopefully publishing my work in some larger venues. But this blog will remain my home base, my sketchbook, my first draft.

Lots of Female Directors at TIFF

AntigoneDirector Sophie Deraspe adapts Antigone 

I was reading a bummer of an article in Hollywood Reporter about there are only two female directors showing films at the Venice Film Festival, when I remembered that I had meant to check the Toronto Film Festival listings, which, happily, are a completely different story. There are many, many films directed by women and what is especially delightful is the way the website includes “female directors” as a genre, so that you can see a complete listing of female-directed films. This made it especially easy to update my 2019 Female Directed/Written films list.

One of these days I’m going to get to the Toronto Film Festival. It’s been on my bucket list for a long time, because it always seems to have the movies I’m most excited about, and this year is no exception: They are showing Julie Delpy’s My Zoe, Kasi Lemmon’s Harriet, and Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.