Category Archives: Films

What I Learned from Mrs. Goldberg


A few nights ago, I was looking for a break from the tedium of grading freshman compositions, and, in the course of doing the 21st-century equivalent of flipping channels (paging through Netflix on my smart DVD/TV set-up), I discovered something I had never known before: The Goldbergs.

Apparently, in the 1950s, before there was Archie Bunker or The Jeffersons, before Will and Grace and The George Lopez Show, there was a situation comedy about–get this–a Jewish family from the Bronx that moved to Haverford, Connecticut. I was floored, absolutely gob-smacked to discover this, because I thought (silly of me, I know) that diversity was a modern invention. And by modern, I mean a within-my-lifetime kind of thing. But apparently it’s not. After the shock of that discovery wore off, I had another shock to deal with: I, the person who has watched way too many episodes of Gilligan’s Island , who has a fondness for Mrs. Trumble in I Love Lucy, who knew the members of the Little Rascals at least as well as my own cousins, I had never been aware of this show. How could that happen?

If you’ve never watched the show, you might want to take a look at this teaser. Apparently someone else is aware of The Goldbergs; Aviva Kempner has created a documentary about the show (which has nothing to do with the brand-new ABC show of the same name). Here’s a link to the trailer:

I don’t pretend to be a more authoritative voice about Mrs. Goldberg and Gertrude Berg’s effect on the early days of television and radio in the United States than Ruth Bader Ginsberg or Susan Stamberg, but I do have a little something to say about Molly Goldberg and what she’s taught me after having watched a handful of episodes.

Molly is a woman of say, fifty to sixty years of age. She doesn’t try to be younger or more attractive. And it is clear in every moment of the show that she doesn’t need to. No one expects her to apologize for or cover up her age ; she is respected for being a smart, caring, and active woman. This is what Molly teaches us: it’s okay to be over fifty. Many older women today are trying to negotiate that tricky passage between the days of youth and attractiveness and the days of maturity. Unfortunately, we have few role models to help us navigate. Molly is a good role model. From her, I have learned that being thin, or wrinkle-free, or fashionably dressed isn’t as important as it seems to be.

Secondly, Molly cares about the people she lives with. She tries hard, even when she’s rebuffed. I think this is an important lesson for us today, and I wonder when our television shows stopped teaching it. When did laughing about people’s stupidity or meanness become more appealing to viewers than watching how characters negotiate the common difficulties of living together? These difficulties can be funny, too, but they are not dehumanizing. Molly teaches us what it means to be human and live in a social environment that may be less inclusive than we’d like it to be.

Most of all, Molly Goldberg is just a nice, lively character. I’d like to say that she’s larger than life, but the truth is she’s not, and I think that’s why I like her. She’s one of us–when we’re at our best. I say we could all do with a little bit more of Mrs. Goldberg in our lives.


Filed under Films, Television, the Goldbergs

On Films I Could Not Finish

I love films–not as much as I love books, certainly–but I spend a good deal of time watching movies. As with my taste in books, however, I especially like films that reached the zenith of their popularity decades ago. Ask me who won the Academy Award for Best Picture last year (2012), and I’ll have to guess at it; ask about the Oscar winner of 70 years ago, and I’ll have something to say about Mrs. Miniver. So this post is going to be idiosyncratic and esoteric, and I might as well confess it from the get-go. Here are a few movies that I was not able to watch through to the end. I’ll give a brief description of the film, explain why I couldn’t watch it, and leave it up to my readers to point out why I should in fact give said film a second chance.
That being said, here are five films I could not watch through to the end:

1. Most recently, Snakes on a Plane.

If you ignore the completely lame plot and the implausibility of thousands of snakes making it into the cargo department of an airliner, you’ll still end up with a movie that stretches the bounds of belief to the point of breaking, and all that within the first 15 minutes of the film. The movie seems like something that a couple of adolescent boys would come up with if given a budget they didn’t deserve. The sexual and bathroom humor (in a rare stroke of efficiency, these two types of humor were often combined into one sorry attempt at being funny) failed time and time again. In fact, I sat down to watch it with an adolescent boy who pulled the plug on the film after 23 minutes. This film is truly awful, and the only intriguing thing about it is why Samuel L. Jackson consented to appear in such a dog at all. images

2. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

I distinctly remember this film when it came out. At that time, my interest in the legend hadn’t been obliterated by too many film and television adaptations, and I looked forward to watching the film on a VHS tape, rented from Blockbuster for the evening. Kevin Costner was easy on the eyes, after all, and what could be better than a retelling of the old, familiar story? images-1 Boy, was I wrong. I couldn’t make it through the first 30 minutes. Costner was woefully miscast; his Robin Hood was so forced it was painful to watch. Unfortunately for me, those brief 30 minutes ruined my ability to watch Robin Hood films in any form, no matter how good the actors–with the exception of Robin Hood: Men in Tights, which I consider a comic tour de force.

3. Topaz
Now, don’t get me wrong: I love Alfred Hitchcock films. I even liked the biopic that came out last year starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren. Sure, I’ll admit that I must be the only Hitchcock fan who doesn’t love Psycho; I don’t count it among Hitch’s best pictures, certainly not in the same category as Strangers on a Train, Shadow of a Doubt, or Rope. But I simply could not get through Topaz, and I have tried at least three separate times.
41J5052T1VL Something about this film (espionage and action, starring European, not American, actors) put me right to sleep each time. I couldn’t even make it to Hitch’s cameo appearance 30 minutes into the film. As far as I’m concerned, three strikes is plenty; I’ve taken the film off of my list of must-see-to-be-an-educated-film-watcher films.

4. The Avengers
I’m fully aware that this might evoke angry cries from superhero fans, but I just don’t get into superheroes. I find them distant and hard to relate to; my experience on this planet is clearly nothing like that of a superhero, and it’s just too much work for me to try to identify with them. In addition, action movies tend to bore me; either I’m checking my watch to see how long the shoot-em-up scene is lasting, or I actually nod off, unimpressed by the immense explosion and subsequent annihilation of Manhattan Island and all of its inhabitants. Perhaps I am not able to fully suspend my disbelief. That being said, I’m sure that as far as action films go, The Avengers is a fine film. But I was primed to dislike it, because its very name tricked me into thinking it was a remake of the old British spy series. avengers_mr-steed-emma-peelNowhere did I find Mrs. Peel and Steed sneaking about and articulating clever repartees, however, and their absence may have led to my immediate disenchantment with the film, which I stopped watching at about the one-hour mark.(You will notice that my media shot is of the television series, not the film–a clear example of my wayward authorial stubbornness.)

5. Ponyo
Here’s another example like Topaz. I adore Hiyao Miyazaki films. Spirited Away is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I’m pretty crazy about Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro. One of my sons actually wore out a DVD of Castle in the Sky by watching it too much. In fact, most members of my family love this guy’s work.images-2 But we could not get through the first five minutes of Ponyo, and I can’t say why, except that it was so strange that we simply couldn’t relate to it. I’ve seen strange animated films before and made the leap into their world, although sometimes it does take work. The Triplets of Belleville, for example, was odd and off-putting in the opening scenes, but I was able to stick with it and come to appreciate it. Ponyo, however, just couldn’t keep me watching after five minutes. Maybe I need some encouragement from some well-meaning readers.

That makes a good list of five. I’ve left off many films here, but this is a start. And, should you think that I am presenting an immutable judgment on these films, please remember that I have only discussed them in an attempt to open up conversation and debate. Perhaps one reason I’ve taken up this topic is because I want to be convinced that these films really are worth watching. On the other hand, maybe they really are dogs and should be left sleeping. I certainly look forward to seeing how other film-goers feel.


Filed under Criticism, Films