1971July 2, 2016.  I was nicely surprised recently when I signed onto Netflix to discover that Netflix is now streaming a documentary called “1971.” I first saw “1971” at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2014, and have been trying to find it ever since.

1971” is a fascinating pre-cursor to the times in which we live. The US government spying on its citizens? Today, in the age of hi-tech leaks involving Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Wikileaks, not to mention Edward Snowden, this question sounds like a story out of current headlines. However, as my late father would have said, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Read the rest of this entry

“Blood Simple” (1984) at Film Forum

Frances McDormand in "Blood Simple," at Film Forum, July 1 - 14.

Frances McDormand in “Blood Simple,” at Film Forum, July 1 – 14.

June 27, 2016.  From July 1 – 14 Film Forum will present a 4K restoration of the Coen Brothers’ tremendous 1984 debut film, “Blood Simple.” (“4K” is a high definition video format that is the current standard for film restoration. Simply put, it’s a really great copy of the movie, just as good, if not better, than when the film was released on actual film).

Often, when I attend Coen Brothers’ movies (brother Joel directs, brother Ethan produces, both write the screenplays), I feel as if there is a joke that everyone in the audience is in on…except for me. Fellow audience members seem to laugh at things which I just don’t get, or, if I do get them, I don’t find them to be funny. Maybe I’m just not “hip” enough (or maybe my fellow audience members are just acting “hip” since they are at a Coen Brothers’ movie and feel the need to act like a “hip, indy” type of audience). That having been said, maybe there is hope for me after all, because I really like “Blood Simple.” In fact, I will go so far as to say that “Blood Simple” is the Coen Brothers’ best film (“Big Lebowski” fans may start sending me their “hate” emails now). Read the rest of this entry

My Interview with Documentary Filmmaker Penny Lane

Photo credit: Albert Sanchez.

Photo credit: Albert Sanchez. Courtesy of Cartuna.

June 20, 2016.  Documentary filmmaker Penny Lane’s new film “NUTS!” will have its U.S. Theatrical Premiere at Film Forum starting on Wednesday, June 22. J.R. Brinkley, the subject of “NUTS!” was a Kansas doctor who came to fame, in the 1920s and 1930s, for his claim that he had cured impotence by surgically implanting goat testicles into impotent men. Brinkley also became a media figure through newspapers and as well as the new medium of radio.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Lane about “NUTS!” Our conversation mainly concerned the nature of “truth” (both in the life of her subject, J.R. Brinkley, as well as in her documentary) and the role of media in interpreting that which we see as fact. Read the rest of this entry


John Brinkley has an idea… Animation Still. Artist: Drew Chris

John Brinkley has an idea… Animation Still. Artist: Drew Christie. Courtesy of Cartuna.

June 19, 2016. A wealthy man with no political experience running for office? A charlatan who defrauds his clients? A stolen election? No, this is not a story about current events, or even recent history. It is the story of J.R. Brinkley, who came to prominence in the America of the 1920s and 1930s, as told by documentary filmmaker Penny Lane (“Our Nixon” 2013), in her new film, “NUTS!”

“NUTS!” is a funny, dramatic, engaging, intelligent and “off the wall” film which takes the documentary form in new and interesting directions. For me, as a college sociology teacher of mass media and popular culture, I found “NUTS!” to be a fascinating tale of a media personality. Read the rest of this entry

“Almost Sunrise” at Human Rights Watch Film Festival

almost sunrise

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The Witness

June 1, 2016.  More than 50 years ago, the murder of Kew Gardens resident Kitty Genovese captured the public’s imagination. The murder became a strong symbol of urban apathy when it was reported that 38 neighbors witnessed (either by seeing or hearing) the attack and murder, from their apartments, and did nothing. The media, led by no less an authority than “The New York Times,” reported that no one called the police or came to Kitty’s aid. In fact, I first learned about the murder of Kitty Genovese via a 1975 made for television movie provocatively entitled “Death Scream,” featuring a “who’s who” of popular 1970s actors.

When Kitty Genovese was murdered, late at night, on a Queens street, on March 13, 1964, I was about a month shy of my second birthday. Obviously I was not old enough for the event to have had a personal impact on me. Over the years though, I, like most, came to know the name Kitty Genovese and what it symbolized. Now, having seen “The Witness,” I realize that I have had only a very surface awareness of the incident.Unknown-5 Read the rest of this entry

Money Monster


May 24, 2016.  The new movie “Money Monster” looks like a cross between the movies “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975) and “Network” (1976), but minus the wit, suspense and satire that the latter and former, both directed by Sidney Lumet, had. Plus, “Money Monster” is as predictable as all “get out,” with plenty of “Oh, come on!” moments. I wont even mention how much better the performances were in the older films.

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Unlocking the Cage


May 24, 2016.  As a professor of sociology, I was intrigued by the new documentary “Unlocking the Cage.” The film, by famed husband and wife documentary filmmaking team DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus (“The War Room,” among many others), is a compelling and fascinating portrait of animal rights lawyer Steven Wise who advocates for the freedom of cognitively advanced animals, in the case of this film, chimpanzees.

In my sociology classes, we talk about the term “cultural relativism,” which means looking at a culture from its own point of view. The opposite of “cultural relativism” is “ethnocentrism,” which means using one’s own culture as a yard stick against which to measure other cultures. “Ethnocentrism,” on the positive side, can re-affirm a culture’s values, but, on the negative side, it can lead to prejudice and discrimination. Of course, whenever I am discussing these, and other sociological terms, with my students, I have always assumed that we are talking about human cultures. “Unlocking the Cage” has given me a whole new perspective. As Wise points out, “Are you human? You have rights. If you’re not a human, you don’t, and we’re saying that’s wrong.” “They are autonomous creatures. They should be able to live autonomous lives.” This is “cultural relativism” on a whole new level.

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Tribeca 2016 – “Taxi Driver”40th Anniversary Screening

April 21, 20016.  On April 21, the Tribeca Film Festival presented a once in a lifetime event – a 40th anniversary screening of Martin Scorsese’s 1976 movie “Taxi Driver.” The screening was followed by a panel discussion featuring an incredible line up of “Taxi Driver” alumni, which included Scorsese, screenwriter Paul Schrader, actors Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Jody Foster, Cybill Shepherd and producer Michael Phillips. The event took place at the Beacon Theatre and was moderated by writer and performer Kent Jones.

De Niro introduced the screening by claiming that every day for the past 40 years someone has come up to him and said, “You talkin’ to me?” – arguably the most famous line from “Taxi Driver,” spoken by De Niro, as Travis Bickle, the film’s main character. De Niro’s anecdote got a huge laugh from the sold out audience. De Niro then invited the audience to “get it all out.” Then, in unison, we all repeated the iconic line, along with De Niro.


Seth Shire outside of the Beacon Theatre prior to the “Taxi Driver” 40th Anniversary Screening.  (Photo by Luce Mercado)

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Tribeca Film Festival 2016

As is my habit, for the Tribeca Film Festival 2016, with little exception, I eschewed the glitz, glamour and celebrities of the festival because, for me, the festival is all about the films, documentaries in particular. At film festivals the documentaries are always the best parts, in my opinion, while fiction films can be “hit” or “miss.”

Starring Austin Pendleton

“Starring Austin Pendleton” is a well paced, infectious and informative 19-minute-long documentary, about character actor, writer, teacher and director Austin Pendleton. The title is a bit of a misnomer, or perhaps an inside joke, as one of the film’s points is that Pendleton has had a career consisting of supporting roles in the 100 plus movies in which he was cast…that is, until now, as the title suggests!

austin pendleton

Austin Pendleton, the subject of the short documentary “Starring Austin Pendleton.”

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