“Don’t Look Up”

A close friend asked my opinion on Netflix’s newest BIG budget film with an all-star cast.

Before watching “Don’t Look Up” I heard some of the buzz including the fact that half of people loved it and half hated it.

I’m firmly in the first camp, in fact, it’s easily among my favorite films of the year, if not the very best. At first, as I sat on my indoor bike as the credits rolled, I couldn’t imagine what the negative nellies were thinking, then it dawned on me. The film is a brilliant, hilarious satire of popular culture, but especially of our political landscape’s right wing. For the Pro-Trump, anti-vax, “Make America Great Again” viewers it had to have hit WAY too close to home. As is written in the Torah, “We see things not as they are, but as we are.”

At almost two and half hours, one reviewer who liked it said it was too long. He’s wrong, there are no lulls, it’s non-stop searing social commentary from the drop.

It’s also scary as hell. Not because of the asteroid heading towards earth, but because it feels like a highly credible glimpse into our near-term future as a deeply divided nation. The filmmakers predict our future is one where exorbitantly wealthy and deeply flawed individuals have a disproportionate effect on public life; politicians and scientists are powerless in light of those individuals; and things go from bad to worse with regards to social and traditional media.

Is it too late to emigrate to Canada? Is the border between our countries a sufficient defense against the downward spiral depicted in “Don’t Look Up”?

Some on Twitter would take exception to me labeling it a satire. They’re arguing it’s a science fiction film since Leonardo DiCaprio is married to an “age-appropriate” woman.

Must maintain a sense of humor.

What I’m Watching

Not counting the just completed Open Championship and the Tour de France, overlapping highlights of the sporting calendar that seriously taxed my DVR and remote control skills.

I’m deep into Shtisel on Netflix. I may as well be living in Jerusalem. The three season series was a huge hit among American Jews, but this gentile digs it too.

Tonight I watched Season 1, Episode 11 which is my favorite so far. The series beautifully depicts the costs and benefits of strict religious community. And also, the costs and benefits of extremely close families.

The slower pacing, the incredible background music, the covert sexuality all make for an incredibly unique and rewarding experience.

Unless you’re hopelessly modern, book your flight for Jerusalem soon, you won’t be disappointed.

News Alert: Grand Designs Is On Netflix

Four plus years ago I made my case for this British series about couples determined to build their own homes in What I’ve Learned From Grand Designs.

Now Natalie Rinn of The New York Times has three reasons she loves Grand Designs. Welcome to the party.

When I recommended it, it was probably hard to find, not any more though thanks to Netflix.

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Netflix’s The Crown Is A Marvel

Monarchies are whacked; and yet, I find The Crown, the story of Britain’s monarchy, imminently enjoyable. I start each episode; I’m currently through Season 3, episode 7; wondering if it’s the one where the quality will start ebbing ever so slightly. Although a dip seems inevitable, each successive one leaves me more and more wowed. I don’t even think of fast forwarding through any parts of it.

When it comes to viewing pleasure, I did not see many movies in 2019 that rival any random episode of The Crown. And interestingly, it’s an anomaly for the “Golden Age” of television in which the most popular content is dark and edgy*. In contrast, The Crown is the Tim Duncan or Big Fundamental of contemporary television.

The Crown soars because of its writing, it’s cinematography, its music, and its casting. Especially its casting. In particular, Olivia Coleman as the middle aged Queen Elizabeth and Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip are phenomenal.

Only three episodes in the queue. I plan to stretch them out as much as possible to shorten the wait for season four a wee bit.

*rest assured, the Netflix series on the Trump monarchy will be decidedly more dark and edgy

Netflix’s “Unbelievable”

Rumors of Netflix’s possible demise are premature. This eight episode mini-series about a serial rapist is truly outstanding. I wasn’t sure I was up for it and almost bailed after the very dark first thirty minutes, but indoor cycling season has started, and I’m glad I stuck with it.

Merritt Weaver and Toni Collette are a dynamic duo. Weaver’s steely minded, workaholic detective is especially impressive.

More important than any particular person’s contribution is the powerful illustration of how victims of sexual abuse can easily be traumatized a second time by uncaring, calloused, hyper-skeptical police.

The miniseries excels at what I try to get my first year writers to do, tell a subtle, nuanced, and complex story particularly in how it portrays men. Given the topic, it would’ve been easy to paint the majority of men in the story with a broad, decidedly negative brush.

But to their credit, the writers resisted that impulse. Instead, the rapist’s evil is detailed in the larger context of several caring and likable men including the female detectives’ male partners, along with good guy FBI agents, police, an intern, and others.

Also, the pacing is perfect and the whole tragic story, which sadly is based on a true story, seems imminently believable. Almost like you’re watching a documentary.

Unbelievable is more proof that this is the Golden Age of television. Tonight, the eighth and final episode. Hoping against hope for some semblance of justice for the victims.

Train For Thanksgiving

Thanks Karin Tamerius of Smart Politics for this five-step method on how to have difficult conversations.* One question though, why with our ever deepening commitment to gender equity, is it ALWAYS a crazed uncle? There has to be at least one crazy aunt out there somewhere doesn’t there?

*happy to report that I aced it, but don’t trust my results, given my relative calm when taking the hypothetical, self-paced test

Postscript: Thanksgiving Netflix scorecard. House of Cards Season Six, “terrible” doesn’t do it justice. Shoulda killed the show with FU. Narcos Mexico Season One, excellent, as long as you can stomach guys whacking one another at point blank. Schitt’s Creek Season Four. Alison Byrnes says it’s the best season yet. She’s wrong (again), but it’s still a lot of fun. I’ve never heard the Good Wife laugh so consistently at any series ever. Especially at Moira.

Maybe You’re Like a Friend of Mine

Intelligent. Curious. A bit perplexed by young people’s identity politics and social activism.

I did my best to explain young people’s politics and activism to him based upon my relationship with my subset of university students who tilt decidedly left.

My primer was kindergarten. The graduate seminar is taught by Hannah Gadsby on Netflix. Her story is titled “Nanette”. Watch it if you’re the least bit curious or perplexed.*

For afterwards, here’s an interview with Gadsby. And here’s a “cheater’s guide to Hannah Gadsby and ‘Nanette'”.

From the guide:

“If you’re looking for a few giggles after a long day in the office, ‘Nanette’ is not for you. As you can probably guess by now, most of the show is not funny at all. It is disturbing, it is furious, it is sensitive and it is incredibly smart.”

Exactly right.

*turn on subtitles to avoid missing any of the quick, quiet, subtle Australian English phrases

The Sorry State of Social Studies Education

These are tough times for myself and other past and present social studies educators.

Exhibit A. Kathryn Schulz’s cogent explanation of everything that’s wrong with Netflix’s 10 hour long documentary “Making A Murderer”. Thanks Alison for the link, you saved me 9 hours and 20 minutes. Not quite sure how to spend those savings, maybe an extra hour of sleep for nine straight nights!

Excerpt 1, “. . . we still have not thought seriously about what it means when a private investigative project—bound by no rules of procedure, answerable to nothing but ratings, shaped only by the ethics and aptitude of its makers—comes to serve as our court of last resort.”

Excerpt 2, “. . . the documentary consistently leads its viewers to the conclusion that Avery was framed by the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department, and it contains striking elisions that bolster that theory. The filmmakers minimize or leave out many aspects of Avery’s less than savory past, including multiple alleged incidents of physical and sexual violence. They also omit important evidence against him, including the fact that Brendan Dassey confessed to helping Avery move Halbach’s S.U.V. into his junk yard, where Avery lifted the hood and removed the battery cable. Investigators subsequently found DNA from Avery’s perspiration on the hood latch—evidence that would be nearly impossible to plant.

Perhaps because they are dodging inconvenient facts, Ricciardi and Demos are never able to present a coherent account of Halbach’s death, let alone multiple competing ones. Although “Making a Murderer” is structured chronologically, it fails to provide a clear time line of events, and it never answers such basic questions as when, where, and how Halbach died. Potentially critical issues are raised and summarily dropped; we hear about suspicious calls to and messages on Halbach’s cell phone, but these are never explored or even raised again. In the end, despite ten hours of running time, the story at the heart of “Making a Murderer” remains a muddle. Granted, real life is often a muddle, too, especially where crime is involved—but good reporters delineate the facts rather than contribute to the confusion.

Despite all this, “Making a Murderer” has left many viewers entirely convinced that Avery was framed. After the documentary aired, everyone from high-school students to celebrities jumped on the “Free Avery and Dassey” bandwagon.

Excerpt 3, “As of January 12th, more than four hundred thousand people had signed a petition to President Obama demanding that “Steven Avery should be exonerated at once by pardon.” That outrage could scarcely have been more misdirected. For one thing, it was addressed to the wrong person: Avery was convicted of state crimes, not federal ones, and the President does not have the power to pardon him. For another, it was the wrong demand. “Making a Murderer” may have presented a compelling case that Avery (and, more convincingly, Dassey) deserved a new trial, but it did not get anywhere close to establishing that either one should be exonerated.”

Exhibit B. The Republican frontrunner (tRf) repeatedly says we don’t win anymore and he promises to make America great again. His strategy of playing on people’s zenophobia, fears, and ethnocentrism is working. Most disheartening, few ask how a simplistic, single-minded focus on the U.S., will end up benefiting the U.S. in the medium and long-term. Similarly, few ask why international competition holds more promise than international cooperation.

Because his name wasn’t in the headline, tRf probably skipped this news story from last week titled “Slow Growth Clouds Progress on Global Poverty.”

“Unprecedented global economic growth over the past quarter century has lifted an estimated 1.25 billion people out of poverty, in one of the greatest recent achievements in human history.

. . . . In 1990, 37% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, which the World Bank defines as living on less than $1.90 a day. Today, the bank estimates that 9.6% of the world is in this destitute state—agricultural workers and others who live in rural mud huts with no electricity or running water, work others’ land, and spend nearly all of their resources on food, often going hungry.”

We don’t win anymore only if “we” is defined in the most narrow of ways. Social studies education has failed when so many are so taken with someone who thinks so narrowly. If we had done a better job as social studies educators everyone reading about the stupifying progress on global poverty would immediately realize the positive ripple effects including slower population growth, reduced regional and international violence, increased security, military savings, and increased global trade.

Instead nationalism and demagoguery are winning the day. Given that, the profession and I get a big fat “F”.

What I’m Reading and Watching

Some readers are enjoying a previous recommendation, The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking. I recently read this which I recommend and now I’m reading this, also excellent. Contemporary Christians are more interested in [fill in the blank] than they are the Early Christian Movement. Christian clergy contribute to the church’s ahistorical orientation by choosing not to talk about exactly what Erhman’s exploring and explaining. His writing is clear, challenging, and provocative, and I recommend the book to anyone interested in the historical Jesus.

I just finished season two of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. This male reviewer watched it differently than me. I often think sociologically, but this guy, who seems to think of it as a Frontline documentary, runs absolute circles around me. His thesis? Males are portrayed irresponsibly. I’ve never thought that while watching OitNB. All I thought was, “Man, this show is well written and acted.” I agree with this female reviewer, season two was even better than season one. So good it was hard not to binge watch. Only eleven more months until season three.

But Mother Dear, the content is definitely R-17, so no watching for you.

The historical Jesus and Orange is the New Black. Not sure what that pairing says about me. If you figure it out, let me know. I’ll be down at the lake.

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