“McMillions” and McMemories

McDonald's pins!

Just a few of the souvenirs we still have from our years with the Golden Arches. All of these are from Anne’s old pin collection.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: our family doesn’t subscribe to HBO, but from time to time our cable provider will offer free preview weekends that let us watch all we can within 72 hours that are meant to entice us to add it to our already overstuffed lineup. Instead we save up our HBO watch-lists, pace back and forth waiting for those rare weekends, then see how much we can speed through whenever we’re granted the opportunity. It’s a bit like composing lunches entirely from free samples handed out at the grocery, but in the proper frame of mind, satisfaction can be found in limited quantities.

At least, all that had been our usual approach. Among the more recent developments in the interim normal is both Hulu and our cable provider are now offering access to the HBO libraries for a nonspecific “limited time”, presumably with an end date their corporate overlords can shift back and forth as the winds change. Until then, we plan to see what we can work in while we’re busy catching up on other watch-list materials.

Naturally for us, priority #1 was a recent show that brought back memories of our old jobs.

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Video Scorecard #21: Oscar-Hopeful Mini-Documentaries 2020

Skateboard in a Warzone!

Now I kinda want skateboarding lessons too.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: the recurring feature that’s more like a newsletter in which I’ve jotted down capsule-sized notes about Stuff I Recently Watched at home. Picking up where the preceding installment left off, in which we covered this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Documentary Feature but took an intermission before proceeding with these, the currently accessible Best Documentary Short Film nominees:

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MCC Home Video Scorecard #20: Oscar-Hopeful Documentaries 2020

Honeyland!

In a fairer world the stars of Honeyland would be dividing up this year’s Oscars like this, not honeycombs.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: the recurring feature that’s more like a newsletter in which I’ve jotted down capsule-sized notes about Stuff I Recently Watched at home. In this batch: the past month’s worth of comfy-chair viewing as prep for next Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony. Every year I chase down all the Best Picture nominees whether I want to see them or not, and nearly always catch them all before the big day. (Sole exception in the past twenty years: when Ray was nominated, it was 100% rented out for weeks from every Blockbuster near our old apartment. Yes, it’s been a while.) But in recent times, I’ve also been exploring the fun to be had in chasing down other Oscar nominees for extra credit.

For the second year in a row I decided to see how many nominees I could watch from the Best Documentary Feature and Best Documentary Short Film categories, either free via legal means or via my existing streaming-service subscriptions. Last year I managed to catch nine of the ten nominees on time. The standoffish exception, National Geographic’s vertiginous climb-along Free Solo, aired the following Sunday night once they’d secured their statuette. This year I’ve managed to see eight available out of ten. Of the two holdouts, MTV has their very first nominee St. Louis Superman on lockdown for the time being, with some alleged special presentation in the works TBD; the other, The Cave, is another National Geographic entrant obligated to follow their stingy playbook.

My sincerest gratitude goes out to the rights-holders of the other eight, who actually want their works seen in this critical moment when people are most curious about them. First up are the four viewable nominees for Best Documentary Feature:

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MCC Home Video Scorecard #16: Saluting the Oscar-Adjacent

Sorry to Bother You!

Sales and talking on phones? This job would crush me.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: the recurring feature that’s more like a newsletter in which I’ve jotted down capsule-sized notes about Stuff I Recently Watched at home. I could string together several entries out of the backlog I built up through 2018, but for now let’s settle for tackling a few recent catches from the past six weeks, when the Academy Awards were fresh in mind, whether relevant or tangential:

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MCC Home Video Scorecard #15: Oscar Quest 2019 Extra Credit

First Reformed.

Ethan Hawke isn’t a big fan of superhero films, but he’s perfectly okay with bold costumes.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: the recurring feature that’s more like a newsletter in which I’ve jotted down capsule-sized notes about Stuff I Recently Watched at home. In this batch as well as the previous one: the past few months’ worth of comfy-chair viewing as prep for this Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, except this year I went overboard and decided to see how many the nominees I could catch from other categories, either free via legal means or via existing streaming-service subscriptions. As it turns out, quite a few, mostly documentaries but that’s not a bad thing.

But first, an Original Screenplay nominee I’d been curious to see for a while:

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Yes, There’s a Scene During the “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” End Credits

Mr Rogers!

Our lovely spokesmodel Anne introducing today’s feature presentation.

Among the many deficiencies in my childhood, I regret Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was not required viewing in our house. In the days before VCRs, DVR, and the Internet, our family’s TV schedule was strictly divided between myself, my mom, and my grandma. I was allowed to pick stations each weekday morning before 9 a.m., after school, and on Saturday mornings. Sadly, the kindly Fred Rogers had the misfortune of airing opposite Grandma’s soap operas and/or game shows. By the time I discovered him while channel-flipping, I was somewhere in my preteen phase — too old to respond to his low-key gentility, not quite old enough to watch him ironically, and nowhere near the kind of adult who could appreciate what he did or how he connected to millions of other, better-off kids.

My wife Anne, on the other hand, used to watch him all the time. As a youngling she watched him, Sesame Street, and other PBS all-stars all the time. He spoke directly to kids, the Viewers at Home. He wasn’t there to bedazzle them with whimsy or lull them with escapist conflicts or sell them toys. He taught, he explained, he knew, he felt, he sympathized, he loved. For some kids he seemed like the only adult who every really got them, who even tried to get them. He fell just short of absolute godhood, but to many, calling him “father figure” doesn’t begin to describe his impact on their lives.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, then, is a rare instance of Anne taking me with her to the movies for once.

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Former Kickstarter Junkie VIII: The Final Reward

Fight for Space!

Me explaining to people why crowdfunding is no longer my thing.

Hi, My name is Randy. It’s been five years and two months since the last time I pledged money to a Kickstarter campaign. This week I achieved closure on that chapter in my hobbyist life at last.

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MCC Home Video Scorecard #13: Our Oscar Quest 2018 Finale

Get Out!

In some crowds, you got to always keep one eye open.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: the recurring feature that’s more like a newsletter in which I’ve jotted down capsule-sized notes about Stuff I Recently Watched at home. In this batch: we prepare for Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony starring ABC’s Best Pal Jimmy Kimmel, the perfect representative for the Year of #MeToo on Bizarro World, with brief notes on our final Best Picture nominee (and one of the best), along with all the nominees I could catch in other categories before I ran out of time.

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Former Kickstarter Junkie IV: Here, YOU Save Spaceflight

Fight for Space!

Moviemaking is like spaceflight. Dream big. Aim high. Don’t look down. Curse the budget issues.

Paul Hildebrandt needs your help. For over two years the director and his crew have been conducting dozens of interviews, sifting through countless hours of archival footage, knocking at closed D.C. backrooms, stumping for truth, analyzing the facts, looking for root causes, and working hard to bring you Fight for Space, an ambitious documentary about the sorry state of America’s position in the international space race, where things went wrong, why they’re still off track today, and what barriers still stand between humanity and our return to the stars.

I previously wrote about Hildebrandt’s project in July 2012 when I signed on as a backer to his official Kickstarter campaign. His quest succeeded and exceeded his formidable funding goal of $65,000.00, with pledges totaling over $105,000.00. For the next year-plus, Hildebrandt pursued more interviews, hit roadblocks in several areas (including any and all inquiries into Elon Musk’s SpaceX program, which availed him naught), wrapped filming, began post-production, and updated us once every few months when properly badgered.

Then the money ran out. Hildebrandt was taken aback and humbled by the process, but he means to finish what he started. To that end, he’s just launched a second Kickstarter campaign to raise more funds so he can afford to complete his work as he envisions it.

Hildebrandt needs your help, and so do I. You can make a difference and help this important project finish happening, in hopes that it could shed new light on a touchy subject and change minds nationwide. Also, if there aren’t enough backers in this second round of donations, I’m guessing the whole thing collapses and I’ll never see the rewards I’m still owed from his first Kickstarter campaign. I was kind of hoping to have those in hand before I die.

Hi. My name is Randy. It’s been 25 months since I last gave a single dime to a Kickstarter project…

My 2014 at the Movies, Part 2 of 2: the Year’s Least Worst

Interstellar!

“…so then I said to the bull, ‘Take the long way, huh? Thank you, Cyrus.’ So I turned my Mercury around and just kept going and going and…next thing you know, here I am.”

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Once again January is National List Month, that left-brained time of year when everyone’s last twelve months of existence must be removed from their mental filing cabinets, reexamined, and refiled in specific pecking order from Greatest to Most Grating. The final tabulations reveal I saw 19 films in theaters in 2014 and four via On Demand while they were still in limited release…

And now, on with the countdown:

Right this way for the Year’s Best Films according to some guy!

“Life Itself”: Ebert & Friends & Family & the Movies

Ebert!

A recently unveiled statue of Roger Ebert, seated outside the Virginia Theatre in his hometown of Champaign, IL. Photo by Anne Golden, from our 2014 road trip.

When film critic Roger Ebert passed away in April 2013, I wrote at length about the influence that he and his longtime TV debate partner Gene Siskel had upon my life. That entry is intro enough to explain why, when I heard there was a new documentary about Ebert, it was an obvious pick for my summer must-see list.

One contemporary peer labels Ebert “the definitive mainstream film critic”. Another, less charitable fellow in his field dismisses Ebert’s longtime TV career as doing their practice an injustice. (“Consumer advice is not the same as criticism.”) Several came together for the special occasion of Life Itself.

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“The Internet’s Own Boy”: For Want of Information, a Light Was Lost

Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz, 1986-2013. (Photo credit: quinnums via photopin cc)

If RSS feeds, Creative Commons, Reddit, Tor, or Wikipedia are part of your everyday internet life, or if you cheered when SOPA was put to sleep, you can thank Aaron Swartz for helping make those possible. The deeply affecting new documentary The Internet’s Own Boy: the Story of Aaron Swartz retraces the path of one young man whose lifelong passion for freedom of Information — not pirating HBO shows or sharing porn, but for useful, scholarly, scientific, potentially world-changing, capital-I Information — took him through countless revolutionary contributions, creations, and crusades until his sudden, unforeseen, tragic end.

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“American Blogger” Trailer Spells Doom for Future Tomatometer Rating

"American Blogger" PosterTwo weekends ago saw the low-key, zero-promotion release of a professionally polished trailer for a new documentary called American Blogger, in which a young filmmaker chronicles his forty-state road trip to visit forty of his blogger wife’s blogger associates. After receiving single-digit daily traffic in its first week of release, last weekend it soared to the kind of near-viral status that every blogger dreams of attaining. I wish I could say this sudden fame was due to the trailer’s proud, heart-swelling representation of an entire internet culture. Unfortunately, it was the other kind of fame.

In a world where millions vie for the attention of billions and the most innocent art projects can veer radically out of control when we least expect it, one young filmmaker would experience an apocalyptic shift that would thrust him into the burning limelight, shatter his innocent perceptions, pulverize his foundations, and transform his life retroactively from birth onward for all eternity. Along the way he would solidify old friendships, make new enemies, suffer hard choices at one crossroad after another, hold his ground against the forces of evil, stand on the bleeding edge between order and chaos, find himself the last repository of hope in a world gone mad, and scream “Vendetta!” at the infinite blood-streaked skies as the rage of a million exploding suns threatened to consume him from within.

Or something like that, the way his trailer narrator tells it.

This way for an entry that will change the way you see an entire industry!

Siskel & Ricky Jay and Movie Magic

Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, Illinois

The Siskel Film Center: sincere, comfy, willing to showcase material beyond the major studios’ low-budget farm teams. Two thumbs up.

Indianapolis has exactly (1) one art-film theater, which leavens its offerings with a mixture of big studio fare presumably for the sake of ticket sales, thus minimizing the number of small films they can truly show during any given week. It doesn’t help that this theater and our house are on opposite ends of town. It’s my understanding other, larger cities have more options for moviegoers who yearn for something besides sequels, explosions, and big budgets. The advent of Video on Demand has charitably broadened our access to new limited-release fare, but there’s something I like about seeing films in their natural habitat.

This weekend my wife and I journeyed once again to Chicago via reasonably priced group tour. While our fellow passengers availed themselves of the Magnificent Mile’s upscale merchandise or gallivanted around Lake Michigan on water taxis, she and I paid our first visit to the Gene Siskel Film Center to view the kind of real, live documentary that rarely plays within fifty miles of our house.

Click here for more about the theater and the documentary “Deceptive Practice”…

“Fight for Space” Documentary to Ask: Whatever Happened to the Final Frontier?

At the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, KS, this sign looms over you as you descend the steps into the main exhibit hall in their basement, where rests a comprehensive collection of rockets, spaceships, and aeronautical paraphernalia from various countries that share an active or tangential history with space travel. Man’s quest for space has been fraught with skepticism, debate, setbacks, and major disasters. “Difficulties” is an understatement.

That basement location is an apt metaphor for the state of American spaceflight today, compared to other agendas and priorities that garner larger headlines and weigh on us more heavily in the moment. What once seemed like a top-shelf objective for purposes of scientific research and frontier exploration is now a set of mostly forgotten toys boxed up and forgotten in some dark corner. A few weird kids still cherish them and try to make the most of them, but no one else is interested in watching them play or buying them better toys.

The Cosmosphere has one small section dedicated to the current state of space travel aspiration, including photos of several independent companies and programs (not just American) dedicated to continuing the work that NASA started but now seems too crippled to pursue alone. I had passing familiarity with Virgin Galactic and SpaceX before we visited the Cosmosphere on this year’s road trip, but I was surprised to see that several other would-be pioneers have tossed their hat into the ring to see what they can make happen.

I’m not surprised at my relative lack of awareness. I first learned about the 2010 mothballing of the Space Shuttle program from a 2009 exhibit at Chicago’s Field Museum. I couldn’t believe that such a declaration of retreat hadn’t somehow caught my attention before. A tiny shuttle diorama had to break the news to me. When events and successes occur in or about space, they tend to be reported in the back section of your few remaining local newspapers (the same section containing “news” such as “College Study Shows Eating Causes Fat”), or in an easily overlooked article link buried among two dozen other such links in the “Stories with Ten Hits or Less” section of your favorite news site. If we’re not actively hunting for space news, our odds of keeping tabs on it by casual happenstance are nil.

Filmmaker Paul Hildebrandt is working on a new feature-length documentary called Fight for Space that aims to update us all on just what happened to the space race, where it is now, who does or doesn’t care, and why America’s support for it has all but withered away. Hildebrandt and his crew have already conducted numerous interviews with scientists and non-scientists alike, with plans and hopes to keep adding more diverse viewpoints to the mix that would push the movie even closer to fairness and balance.

To that end, Hildebrandt launched his Fight for Space Kickstarter campaign last week to fund his efforts beyond the initial investments. At their current rate of acceleration the project should be fully funded by Monday, so a desperate call to arms and wheedling for more money is hardly necessary. Regardless, pledges are still accepted, the reward packages are generous, and I’m curious to see if extra support would make the movie even snazzier.

The Kickstarter page has a short video with excerpts from some of the interviewees already in the can — the likes of Neil Degrasse Tyson, the inimitable Bill Nye the Science Guy, Star Trek: Voyager‘s Robert Picardo, and several studious-looking science guys that some of you probably know and love. (I wasn’t kidding about my ignorance.) The same page also informs us of PBS’ officially piqued interest; shows us a 2013 US government budget projection that would provide NASA with just enough lunch money for half its staff; and links to an hour-long speech from Tyson, who I’m told may be the coolest astrophysicist of all time.

I’m not sure I foresee the Fight for Space campaign becoming another Order of the Stick, but I look forward to seeing this movie, and I wouldn’t mind if they had the chance and the resources to make it even bigger and better. At the very least, maybe they can use the extra petty cash to buy NASA the largest Christmas turkey in the shopkeeper’s window.

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