I dread trips to the video store. When one child is 13 and the other 11 — and both are daughters — the critical gulf between entertainment values is nearly unbridgeable. So far as the girls are concerned, my choices are knee-jerk, spectacular failures. A recent happy exception, however, has been season one of Star Wars: The Clone Wars (A).
Of course, it's not like the Lucasfilm drones have reinvented the wheel. During the first episode my wife and I exchanged a glance that read, “How many before we get to call it quits?” Each episode averages 25 minutes, so we committed ourselves to three.
Quelle surprise: we got hooked! The writers and directors have cooked up some punchy confections for such a seemingly modest platform. There are tropes aplenty, but any student of commedia dell'arte will tell you tropes are the distractions entertainers wield in order to pull off the necessary surprises. In this regard, and in the visuals (especially impressive on these newfangled flatscreen televisions), season one of The Clone Wars delivers with panache. If you enjoyed any of the films (and I only enjoyed the first two) you will almost certainly find something to enjoy in this series.
President Bush The First famously groused that he wished there were more families like the Waltons and fewer like the Simpsons. I hate to admit it, but as entertained as I've been by Matt Groening's kinetically dysfunctional cartoon family, I actually find myself agreeing with the former President's sentiment.
It was not always thus. In my memory, The Waltons resided as a hokey bastion of conservative (read: “insular”) family values. Imagine my surprise, then, when I unpacked season one (A) and discovered a very conscious and deliberate exploration of liberal values. Pa Walton is an Emersonian mystic, Ma a devout Baptist; the rest of the family runs the gamut. Each is acutely aware of their individual biases and takes pains to put these aside and give due consideration to points of view they might originally find disagreeable, and doing what they can to cultivate common ground with difficult people. The resulting stories are often quite affecting.
This is only the first season, mind you. Given how long the show ran, I'm guessing the knife-edge of acuity eventually dulled into a blunt hammer (“Hamner”?) of sentimentality. But at this point even my 13-year-old is engaged by the thought-provocations of season one. See you tomorrow night, John Boy.
Last but not least, as with directors, there are rock singers I would love to love, but don't. Since Tom Petty has already been raised tangentially, I might as well come out and admit I've generally been cool toward his work. Hard to say why, really. He's aggressive, a trait I very much like in my rock 'n' roll; he's also self-pitying, which can appeal on occasion. Clearly he got the mix right for a great many fans — just not for me.
Enter Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down A Dream — a four-hour(!) documentary directed by Peter Bogdanovich, another talent I'd love to love. Given this less-than-promising set of circumstances, it's a wonder I bothered with it at all. But my curiosity got the better of me when I noticed that Q Radio host Jian Ghomeshi asks every single one of his musical guests if they've seen this movie. Obviously Petty and Bogdanovich left quite a thumb-print on Ghomeshi's consciousness. Ghomeshi is a sharp guy with no small insight of his own; I had to wonder what, exactly, was the deal with this doc?
Only when I watched the movie did it finally register with me just who Petty has influenced/worked with/been influenced by — namely, everybody who was anybody in the last 40 years of rock 'n' roll. Even if you're not a fan of Petty's music, the man and his entourage have amassed an enormous quiver full of very entertaining stories, many of which have amusing video footage to match. I've watched this doc twice, and while I could have done without the footage of his current show (a typical late-in-life “extravaganza” where the jumbotron does all the heavy lifting) it remains an engrossing and revealing film about a scene that used to be The Only Show On Earth. Highly recommended, with one small word of advice: break it up into 40 minute installments (A).