...for the first s'mores in Bangmei.
Roger Ebert, in an otherwise unsurprising essay about the decline in moviegoing, says this:
Netflix alone accounts for 30% of all internet traffic in the evening. That represents millions of moviegoers. They're simply not in a theater. This could be seen as an argument about why newspapers and their readers need movie critics more than ever; the number of choices can be baffling.How about a weekly column, with capsule reviews, on the best movies and television series (Did YOU know that "The Misfits" was available for streaming on Hulu Plus?) premiering on the streams?
This has been the "Breaking Bad" holiday chez Tulkinghorn. Only four seasons too late. (Anna Gunn! From Deadwood to this....) Enjoying it more than Killing II, which feels like homework. I'll try the DVDs. Dropped "Homeland" after four episodes because the same thing kept happening over and over -- a virtue in comedy, not so much in a thriller. As I understand it, though, it actually developed a plot soon after I quit. Another missed boat.
In the meantime, there's the Doctor Who Christmas Special, and a new production of "Great Expectations" with Ray Winstone (!) as Magwich and Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham. (Since there's a G.E. movie coming this year as well -- Dickens bicentennial in 2012 -- we'll get to match Anderson against the rather too eccentric Helena Bonham Carter.)
It's a good life, but real work will return in a week.
Yet the question which needs to be asked is whether his political campaigning made his country, and the world, a better place.
Havel's anti-communist critique contained little if any acknowledgement of the positive achievements of the regimes of eastern Europe in the fields of employment, welfare provision, education and women's rights. Or the fact that communism, for all its faults, was still a system which put the economic needs of the majority first.
Hell... how to be a person. From one of dozens of moving reminisces of Christopher Hitchens, this one by Ian McEwan:
....this was a man in constant pain. Denied drinking or eating, he sucked on tiny ice chips. Where others might have beguiled themselves with thoughts of divine purpose (why me?) and dreams of an afterlife, Christopher had all of literature. Over the three days of my final visit I took a note of his subjects. Not long after he stole my Ackroyd, he was talking to me of a Slovakian novelist; whether Dreiser in his novels about finance was a guide to the current crisis; Chesterton's Catholicism; Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese, which I had brought for him on a previous visit; Mann's The Magic Mountain – he'd reread it for reflections on German imperial ambitions towards Turkey; and because we had started to talk about old times in Manhattan, he wanted to quote and celebrate James Fenton's A German Requiem: "How comforting it is, once or twice a year,/To get together and forget the old times."
The next morning, at Christopher's request, Alexander and I set up a desk for him under a window. We helped him and his pole with its feed-lines across the room, arranged pillows on his chair, adjusted the height of his laptop. Talking and dozing were all very well, but Christopher had only a few days to produce 3,000 words on Ian Ker's biography of Chesterton. Whenever people talk of Christopher's journalism, I will always think of this moment.
Consider the mix. Chronic pain, weak as a kitten, morphine dragging him down, then the tangle of Reformation theology and politics, Chesterton's romantic, imagined England suffused with the kind of Catholicism that mediated his brush with fascism, and his taste for paradox, which Christopher wanted to debunk. At intervals, his head would droop, his eyes close, then with superhuman effort he would drag himself awake to type another line. His long memory served him well, for he didn't have the usual books on hand for this kind of thing. When it's available, read the review.
Since I don't think of myself as sentimental about such things, I surprise myself at how upsetting it is to read the many many remembrances of Christopher Hitchens that appeared this morning after last night's death, from Salman Rushdie's simple tweet "Goodbye, my beloved friend" to a wonderful piece on the New Yorker blog from Christopher Buckley. Those who thought that atheism must have left a gap in his spirit never understood how fiercely he loved the English language (and cigarettes, and drinking, and women, and his friends, and argument, and eating). I loved this note from Buckley:
When we made a date for a meal over the phone, he’d say, “It will be a feast of reason and a flow of soul.” I never doubted that this rococo phraseology was an original coinage, until I chanced on it, one day, in the pages of P. G. Wodehouse, the writer Christopher perhaps esteemed above all others. Wodehouse was the Master. When we met for another lunch, one that lasted only five hours, he was all a-grin with pride as he handed me a newly minted paperback reissue of Wodehouse with “Introduction by Christopher Hitchens.” “Doesn’t get much better than that,” he said, and who could not agree?
The other author that he and I seemed to spend most time discussing was Oscar Wilde. I remember Christopher’s thrill at having adduced a key connection between Wilde and Wodehouse. It struck me as a breakthrough insight; namely, that the first two lines of “The Importance of Being Earnest” contain within them the entire universe of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves.
Algernon plays the piano while his butler arranges flowers. Algy asks, “Did you hear what I was playing, Lane?” Lane replies, “I didn’t think it polite to listen, sir.” And there you have it.
During the last hour I spent with Christopher, in the Critical Care Unit at M. D. Anderson, he struggled to read a thick volume of P. G. Wodehouse letters. He scribbled some notes on a blank page in spidery handwriting. He wrote “Pelham Grenville” and asked me, in a faint, raspy voice, “Name. What was the name?” At first I didn’t quite understand, but then, recalling P.G.’s nickname, suggested “Plum?” Christopher nodded yes, and wrote it down.
Alan Moore, and others, including Pekar's widow Joyce Brabner, have just completed a Kickstarter project for a memorial statue to be placed at a Cleveland Heights public library.
The goal has been met (with almost 800 funders), but the project is still open through the weekend. There are a number of interesting goodies to be had at various levels of involvement. $99 gets you a seat at a video conference with Moore at which 'impertinent questions' may be asked. The statue is described:
A way to celebrate comics as art and literature at a Cleveland Heights public library. A literary landmark, a desk that's always filled with paper and pencils for people to sit and write or draw comics at the same place where Harvey Pekar liked to work.
Mounted on the desk, a sculpted bronze comic book “page.” Stepping out from a panel, Harvey-- using his semi celebrity to focus on the creative possibilities of the art form he opened up to so many people. On the reverse, gridded into bronze ruled "panels," a giant slate storyboard that looks very much the way Harvey always started his own scripts. (He wrote and drew stick figures, just like Paul Giamatti in that movie.) Plenty of chalk and plenty of encouragement from a library that cherishes comics. At different times each year, a librarian can unlock the middle drawer of the desk and pull out copies of books that Harvey read as a kid that inspired him to write, AMERICAN SPLENDOR scripts, memorabilia and anything else that could inspire library patrons to be creative with comics.
I've never (except obliquely) discussed my passion for the early music or authentic instrument/practices movement. Suffice it to say that there are many completely first-rate and compelling performers in the field whose fame is limited by the sometimes cultish/snobbish attitudes of both audiences and performers.
That has not been true of the Catalan violist Jordi Savall, his ensemble Hesperion XXI, and especially his wife Montserrat Figueras, who died last week at the age of 69. The attached half hour clip shows a lot of popular appeal (at least around my house). Figueras sings at about 8:30, but the whole thing is worth a listen. (I'm planning to adopt the percussionist's look someday...)
Maybe because a lot of the performers are young, or because a lot of the music is dance music, or simply because the performers usually seem to be having so much fun, early music has in a lot of ways replaced rock in my affections.
In a review of a book of Don DeLillo short stories, Marin Amis formulates (in self-defense, probably) the 50/50 rule:
When we say that we love a writer’s work, we are always stretching the truth: what we really mean is that we love about half of it. Sometimes rather more than half, sometimes rather less......
Our subject, here, is literary evaluation, so of course everything I say is mere opinion, unverifiable and also unfalsifiable, which makes the ground shakier still. But I stubbornly suspect that only the cultist, or the academic, is capable of swallowing an author whole. Writers are peculiar, readers are particular: it is just the way we are.
From a recent New Yorker:
There’s only one problem with home cinema: it doesn’t exist. The very phrase is an oxymoron. As you pause your film to answer the door or fetch a Coke, the experience ceases to be cinema. Even the act of choosing when to watch means you are no longer at the movies. Choice—preferably an exhaustive menu of it—pretty much defines our status as consumers, and has long been an unquestioned tenet of the capitalist feast, but in fact carte blanche is no way to run a cultural life (or any kind of life, for that matter), and one thing that has nourished the theatrical experience, from the Athens of Aeschylus to the multiplex, is the element of compulsion. Someone else decides when the show will start; we may decide whether to attend, but, once we take our seats, we join the ride and surrender our will. The same goes for the folks around us, whom we do not know, and whom we resemble only in our private desire to know more of what will unfold in public, on the stage or screen. We are strangers in communion, and, once that pact of the intimate and the populous is snapped, the charm is gone. Our revels now are ended.
Richard Rushfield, unknown to me, but apparently an editor at Vanity Fair, the LA Times, and Gawker, makes concrete an often-made observation by cruelly comparing Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Lauren Bacall to their age cohorts in the above photo, which he captions "Gatsby for Kids." It does look like senior prom at Lawrenceville.....
Wake up, pond scum. America is at war against a ruthless enemy.
Maybe, between bouts of self-pity and all the other tasty tidbits of narcissism you’ve been served up in your sheltered, comfy little worlds, you’ve heard terms like al-Qaeda and Islamicism.
And this enemy of mine — not of yours, apparently - must be getting a dark chuckle, if not an outright horselaugh - out of your vain, childish, self-destructive spectacle.
In the name of decency, go home to your parents, you losers. Go back to your mommas’ basements and play with your Lords Of Warcraft.
Or better yet, enlist for the real thing. Maybe our military could whip some of you into shape.
From frequent commenter Christian Lindke, we find an article in Crain's New York Business, from which we learn the following. ("A good thing", mutters David, who hates trade paperbacks...)
Net sales of those artfully designed, easy-to-hold, pleasant-smelling trade paperbacks slid 18%, to $773 million, in the year through August, compared with the year-earlier period, according to the Association of American Publishers.
Meanwhile, sales of e-books, the second-place format, soared 144%, to $649 million.
Just as telling are reports from inside publishing houses, where more and more often, executives are thinking twice about which hardcover books to reprint in a trade paperback edition.
I'm really just a stegosaurus looking for food.... From this morning's WSJ:
Activision said Friday that within the first 24 hours of the new "Call of Duty" game's release, 6.5 million units were sold for $400 million in North America and the U.K.
"We believe the launch of 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3' is the biggest entertainment launch of all time in any medium, and we achieved this record with sales from only two territories," Chief Executive Bobby Kotick said.
Late last month, Electronic Arts said five million units of "Battlefield 3" were sold in the first week the game was available.
...though who'd dare complain?
UPDATE: Todd McCarthy in his "Hollywood Reporter" review: "A handsome, dark-haired hard body who wears an evening dress as easily as she does a hoodie, Carano exudes the sort of self-confidence and physical wherewithall that leaves no doubt she can prevail in any situation."
...and therefore probably easier to dismiss, overstatement being Kael's leading vice as a writer. This is a quote from a quote, just to make sure we know what we're talking about. There's also a memorable "of course" in the final graph.
Are people becoming afraid of American movies? When acquaintances ask me what they should see and I say The Last Waltz or Convoy or Eyes of Laura Mars, I can see the recoil. It’s the same look of distrust I encountered when I suggested Carrie or The Fury or Jaws or Taxi Driver or the two Godfather pictures before that. They immediately start talking about how they “don’t like” violence. But as they talk you can see that it’s more than violence they fear. They indicate that they’ve been assaulted by too many schlocky films—some of them highly touted, like The Missouri Breaks. They’re tired of movies that reduce people to nothingness, they say—movies that are all car crashes and killings and perversity. They don’t see why they should subject themselves to experiences that will tie up their guts or give them nightmares.
These days, the Sunday Times Book Review is the only part of the paper I can stand to read.... These amused me:
Geoff Dyer's essay about the vintage-1970 covers of the Penguin Modern Classics (and why aren't there statues of Geoff Dyer in every town square?):
Since then the happiest moments in 35 years of museum-going have occurred when I’ve seen these Penguin Modern Classic paintings on a gallery wall. Especially since the cover often showed only a detail of the original. Seeing the works themselves revealed exactly what had been lost, though I invariably saw it the other way around, with the painting as an expanded version of the Penguin original.James Wolcott, quoted in a review of his memoirs (which should be required reading for all overweight lovers of transgressive 70s grunge -- Ugly George and Vanessa Del Rio are mentioned -- the only time you'll see them and Pauline Kael in the same paragraph) on first seeing Patti Smith:
“Shortly after entering below the awning of a bar and club with an initialed name, a place I’d never been to on a street that still looked like a Robert Frank photograph of raw, spilling night, I gingerly installed myself for a bar-stool view of the stage, which was stationed left of the aisle and barely large enough for a barbershop quartet. The atmosphere was most unmagical, worthy of a cheap paperback set on skid row. It had a palpable texture, this prosy ambience, a bit of World War I trench-warfare leftover aroma of dung, urine and damp carcass, but it was the ’70s and not a time to be picky. Then I saw this visage, this vision, shark-finning the length of the bar, and I knew this had to be Her.”And finally, a good joke from Andy Borowitz:
If ‘House of Mirth’ is Edith Wharton’s idea of ‘mirth’ let’s be grateful she never wrote ‘House of Bummers.’
Essay "The Art of Literature and Commonsense," in Lectures on Literature
In the fall of 1811, Noah Webster, working steadily through the Cs, defined commonsense as “good sound ordinary sense…free from emotional bias or intellectual subtlety…horse sense.” This is rather a flattering view of the creature, for the biography of commonsense makes nasty reading. Commonsense has trampled down many a gentle genius whose eyes had delighted in a too early moonbeam of some too early truth; commonsense has back-kicked dirt at the loveliest of queer paintings because a blue tree seemed madness to its well-meaning hoof; commonsense has prompted ugly but strong nations to crush their fair but frail neighbors the moment a gap in history offered a chance that it would have been ridiculous not to exploit.
The 1st annual LA EigaFest will take place from Friday November 11th to Sunday November 13th , at the Mann Chinese 6 Theatres at Hollywood and Highland in Los Angeles.
The festival will showcase the latest and greatest in Japanese shorts and feature films, opening with "Milocrorze: A Love Story" (2011) from Director Yoshimasa Ishibashi and ending with "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai 3D" (2011), by the legendary Takashi Miike!
Europhile eurocrime fans rejoice! The second series of The Killing starts on BBC Four on the 19th.
But at a mere 10 hour-long episodes, The Killing II runs at only half the length of the first series. That is largely to do with the story, said Gråbøl. "The plot is much more complex than the first season. The plot is the main focus … but our task for ourselves was how far into [Lund's] own darkness we could get."
The new series sees Lund, her life destroyed after the Nanna Birk Larsen case of Forbrydelsen I, working on an investigation that involves national politics, the military and Islamist terrorism.
Tom McCarthy, slipstream novelist (and author of "Tintin and the Secret of Literature"), really, really, really doesn't like the new movie. The headline calls it 'great art crudely redrawn' and descends from there, more than a bit crazily. This is truly an opinion that I could never have:
In the books, money both stands for genealogical fakeness and is fake itself (a brilliant scene in The Crab with the Golden Claws shows Thompson and Thomson tricked into passing off the very counterfeit coins they've been charged with tracking down: a doubling of illegitimate faces and false "metal"); in the film it literally pours down, in one scene, from the skies, Haddock's reward for being "true to himself". Thus Hollywood's idiotic "message" is forced on an oeuvre that is great precisely because it drives in exactly the opposite direction. It's like making a biopic of Nietzsche that depicts him as a born-again Christian, or of Gandhi as a trigger-happy Rambo blasting his way through the Raj.
Perhaps this movie will be studied, in years to come, as a Žižekian example of a dominant ideology's capacity to recuperate its own negation, or something along those lines. For now, we just have to wonder how Spielberg went so wrong, or if he was in fact involved at all: so badly put together is this film that it's easier, and perhaps more comforting, to imagine a semi-simian marketing committee writing and producing it under the banner of his name. If your children love the Tintin books – or, more to the point, if they have an ounce of intelligence or imagination in their bodies – don't take them to see this truly execrable offering.
.....even outside the season. James Morrison, an occasional commenter here, posted a link to this 'spooky story' roundup over at a blog, unfamiliar to me but pretty well connected, called "The Second Pass".
Lots of good stuff here (including Morrison's own suggestion of a John Wyndham novel -- and not the ones you'd expect), and I especially liked John Crowley's contribution, about "The Sign of Four", which suggests an entirely new way of reading mysteries:
When I first read it (age 10) it was terrifying in the awful sense of paranoid possibility it awoke. I didn’t understand it was a mystery that would be solved; for all I knew it would simply go on generating horrid complications forever, and I didn’t see that the ending resolved anything.
Radio Three's Halloween concert, which you can listen to for a week on line here, supports David's assertion about the limitations of modern musical forms. Or at least some of them... It's called "Disturbia". Pretty spooky, huh? As described:
The BBC Concert Orchestra present a spine-chilling Halloween alternative. Poulenc's La Voix Humaine is a classic psychodrama based on the play of the same name by Jean Cocteau. Soprano Ilona Domnich performs the role of a fragile young woman, thrown into a nightmare as she makes an agonizing last attempt to establish contact with her ex-lover over the telephone.
Penderecki's Polymorphia for 48 string instruments is famed for its use in films 'The Exorcist' and 'The Shining' and evokes nameless terrors. Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood presents a 21st-century spin on the work in the UK premiere of his 48 Responses to Polymorphia.
The edgy world of contemporary electronica comes into focus with Aphex Twin's Nannou, as orchestrated by Patrick Nunn, before the audience faces the extreme emotions of Berio's spine-tingling electro-acoustic fantasy Visage. This iconic recording features the disturbing and erotically charged vocal improvisations of Cathy Berberian and was originally banned from the airwaves in Italy.
Some authors methodically prepare for the novels they write by researching, planning, visiting locations and assembling material. Others, including me, go about it in a less rational way. The first drafts of my novels evolve rather as a plant grows. Like a gardener, I can do a certain amount to facilitate the process -- to extend the analogy I can prepare the soil, water the seedling and pray for the right sort of weather. But, also like a gardener, I have to accept that there are elements I cannot control. (The rearing of children and the writing of novels have much in common.)
--Andrew Taylor, "Writing A Stain on the Silence" (2006)
"What was the date?"
"It's in my memory book. April 14, 1945. Why does it matter?"
"Because you can't explode reality. Life hangs together in one piece. Everything is connected with everything else. The problem is to find the connections."
She said with some irony: "That's your mission in life, isn't it? You're not interested in people, you're only interested in the connection between them. Like a--" she searched for an insulting word-- "a plumber."
-- Ross Macdonald. 1965. The Far Side of the Dollar.
The offspring's sense of adventure pays off in food.
"According to the White House pool report, Obama first helicoptered to a landing zone in Brentwood and the motorcade made an “off-the-record” visit to Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles. The president ordered at the counter for himself (and nearby aides) the No. 9 “Country Boy” – 3 wings with choice of waffle, potato salad or French fries ($8.90). He then started chatting with diners. I say who cares if you like Obama’s politics or not: he’s got good taste when it comes to LA’s favorite eats."
In The Spectator this week, an appreciation of James Sallis (who wrote the book on which "Drive" was based and who has a new novel out) by the wonderful crime writer Andrew Taylor. Makes me wonder if the relative failure of the movie was a case of pearls and swine. I thought this was interesting:
As a young man, he spent a good deal of time in England at the invitation of Michael Moorcock, who asked him to become the fiction editor of the science fiction magazine, New Worlds. During his time there, the magazine became increasingly experimental and literary, before lurching into bankruptcy.
He began writing, too — surreal, intense short stories. He became something of a linguist: he has published translations from French, Russian and Polish poetry. He is himself a poet, as well as an expert on blues and jazz who has written extensively about music.
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
“Perhaps more deeply than any other writer, Kael gave shape to the idea of an ‘age of movies,’” art critic Sanford Schwartz writes in the Library of America collection he edited. “Deeply” is a Kael euphemism; she actively attacked the lofty heights of intellectual pretense. Her style transformed the once staid New Yorker—and culture writing in general.More Kael comments here
Kael significantly diverged from the haughtiness of film critic authorities Graham Greene, James Agee and Robert Warshow—men who all harbored mid-20th-century guilt that there were greater, more intellectual pursuits than movies or movie criticism. Kael, no less professional than they were, brandished guilt-free enthusiasm, not because she was illiterate or a vulgar sensationalist but because she was a literate, sensual aesthete who appreciated those qualities in the most kinetic of art forms.
The headline of one of the best Hollywood gossip stories you're likely to encounter this year reads, "Shia LaBeouf and Michael Bay Got in a Really Big Fight Over Feist." To prepare for an emotional scene in Transformers 3, LaBeouf plugged his iPad into a pair of on-set speakers and was vibing to The Reminder ballad "Brandy Alexander" when Bay abruptly shut the song off. Things got heated, "spit [was] flying," and Bay stormed off set. Whatever this incident tells us about Michael Bay (like maybe he's just really impassioned in his opinion that Let It Die was a better record), it tells us even more about where we're currently at, culturally speaking, with Feist. Even among Hollywood titans, she's divisive. She has probably, over the past couple of years, helped an infinite number of jocks and action stars get in touch with their latent emotions ("It's a little feminine," LaBeouf told the Los Angeles Times of "Brandy Alexander", "but it touches me"). But most importantly, the low croon of her honeyed, creaky-door voice has become pop culture shorthand for "the diametrical opposite of what robots blowing shit up sounds like."
Actor Michael Gambon, known as Professor Dumbledore from “Harry Potter,” tweeted: “Dear BlackBerry, your networks appear to be going down more often than Katie Price at the moment.” Price is a British model known for a leaked sex tape.Good actor all the same.
Human Centipede 2 (I missed the original, but the sequel sounds better..) One of those reviews that David hates because it makes fun of the movie and its director. But still..... The premise reminds me of Don Quixote, that beginning point of all fiction, in that everybody in Human Centipede 2, just like everybody in part 2 of Don Quixote, has seen the original. Daniel Engberg writes engagingly:
Once you've made a feature film about a lunatic who kidnaps innocent people and then sews together their throats and rectums, how do you raise the stakes? I'll say this for Human Centipede 2: Tom Six has done the impossible. He's created a sequel that's several orders of magnitude more vile, more nihilistic, and more repellant than the original. And he didn't even need to change the premise.
The genius of HC2—you heard me, the genius—lies in the way in which it repurposes the original. Once again, we're following the exploits of a lunatic kidnapper with a fetish for artificially induced digestive continuity. This time, it's a simple-minded parking attendant named Martin who's obsessed with Human Centipede in a film-within-a-film kind of way. He watches it on his laptop, again and again, and takes copious notes for a re-enactment.
Two observations about the aesthetics of TV drama, both prompted by the work of an excellent British actor named Iain Glenn.
The two episode storyline on "Strike Back" in which Glenn plays an international arms dealer is a perfect example of the way this psychologically astute series attempts to braid almost non-stop action adventure heroics together with drama -- though the emotionally squeamish would probably call it melodrama.
I first became aware of George Pelecanos, before his first novel was published, as the executive at Circle Films in Washington, DC, who was masterminding the US theatrical distribition of John Woo's "The Killer." He's still on the Asian beat.
Used to be religious bigotry -- and with the anti-Mormon rumblings about Romney, religious bigotry seems to be still in style.
But now it's dislike of the fat. Michael Kinsley, a center-left type, lays it out:
Unfortunately, the symbolism of Christie’s weight problem goes way past the issue of obesity itself. It is just a too- perfect symbol of our country at the moment, with appetites out of control and discipline near zilch. And it’s not just symbolism. We don’t yet know much about Chris Christie. He certainly makes all the right noises about fiscal discipline and seems to have done well so far as governor of New Jersey. Perhaps Christie is the one to help us get our national appetites under control. But it would help if he got his own under control first.Jonathan Chait, political blogger at New York magazine responds reasonably:
But why would it help? Why does his weight matter at all? The only real reasoning I see here is that American elites view obesity with disgust, and they’re repulsed at the notion that a very fat guy could rise to a position of symbolic leadership. It’s not a very attractive sentiment.As for my own opinion, I simply find it another instance of the delight the left finds in abandoning its social principles if justified by political disagreement. (Take a look sometime, if you can stomach it, at the lefty jokes about poor Marcus Bachmann, Michelle Bachmann's effeminate husband.) As often, Megan McArdle at the Atlantic is wisest:
The band (of high and low weight) that your body wants to occupy is no more a sign of virtue than the color of your eyes. Yet people who would be ashamed to argue that Barack Obama should be excluded from the presidency because of the amount of melanin his skin contains, feel no compunction at all in declaring that your genetic predisposition towards adiposity is an intolerable fault.
Who else thinks, much less writes this way? Armond White on "Moneyball" and "50/50."
Like the moment in "Moneyball" where a guy promises, “I’m going to be praying for you and your family,” and Pitt dismisses him, “No problem,” "50/50" normalizes a new kind of feel-good atheism. Adam’s attraction to his therapist (Anna Kendrick) substitutes religion, faith and thoughts on the hereafter with godless cuteness.As a sometime fellow-traveler of Catholicism (a more sensuous form of Christianity than the one AW subscribes to, perhaps) I'd be inclined to argue that cuteness, far from being godless, is one of the more plausible proofs of His existence. Not as key as truth, beauty, justice, and like that, but fairly close to the top of the B list.
This seems definitive...
The Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Strange Stories edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. Three quarters of a million words, 110 short stories and novellas, forward by Michael Moorcock (of course) and afterword by China Mieville (of course). Tediously in tune with my genre interests, I suppose, but I can't help myself. Supposed to be published in a couple of weeks, but the Amazon listing is ambiguous.. A sample of the table of contents. (amused to see "A Town of Cats", which is a story that features in the new Murakami novel.)
Clark Ashton Smith, “Genius Loci,” 1933
Hagiwara Sakutoro, “The Town of Cats,” 1935 (translation, Japan)
Hugh Walpole, “The Tarn,” 1936
Bruno Schulz, “Sanatorium at the Sign of the Hourglass,” 1937 (translation, Poland)
Robert Barbour Johnson, “Far Below,” 1939
Fritz Leiber, “Smoke Ghost,” 1941
Leonora Carrington, “White Rabbits,” 1941
Donald Wollheim, “Mimic,” 1942
Ray Bradbury, “The Crowd,” 1943
William Sansom, “The Long Sheet,” 1944
Jorge Luis Borges, “The Aleph,” 1945 (translation, Argentina)
Olympe Bhely-Quenum, “A Child in the Bush of Ghosts,” 1949 (Benin)
Shirley Jackson, “The Summer People,” 1950
Margaret St. Clair, “The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles,” 1951
Robert Bloch, “The Hungry House,” 1951
Augusto Monterroso, “Mister Taylor,” 1952 (new translation by Larry Nolen, Guatemala)
Amos Tutuola, “The Complete Gentleman,” 1952 (Nigeria)
Jerome Bixby, “It’s a Good Life,” 1953
Julio Cortazar, “Axolotl,” 1956 (new translation by Gio Clairval, Argentina)
From this morning's Wall Street Journal review of "The Outlaw Album", a new collection of short stories by Daniel Woodrell:
Mr. Woodrell encourages readers to discern the blurred outlines of possible motives beneath official facts, and his stories often seem like palimpsests, with the deeds of generations overlapping. The author's gaze is unflinching, whether surveying a trapped farm animal ("the cow screams at me again with those eyes") or a stabbed man's final moments ("the kid's bare feet were slapping the wood floor, slapping down hard like he was clambering to the crest of a hill that wasn't there"). Such stories are not for the squeamish, but in the classical sense they evoke terror and, after a while, pity too.
The Cut (Spero Lucas) (George Pelecanos)
- Highlight on Page 48 | Loc. 691-97 | Added on Friday, September 30, 2011, 07:51 AM
“What are they reading in your class, The Scarlet Letter, somethin like that?”
“We’re finishing up an Elmore Leonard,” said Leo.
“Unknown Man #89.”
The Cut (Spero Lucas) (George Pelecanos)
- Highlight on Page 75 | Loc. 1109-15 | Added on Friday, September 30, 2011, 07:49 AM
Lucas took her into Busboys and Poets, the bookstore and café that was bustling with activity, all sorts of faces and types, the D.C. most folks had wanted for a long time. He bought her a couple of novels: Lean on Pete and The Death of Sweet Mister.
“Is there a reason you picked these out?” said Constance as they stood before the register.
“You mean, am I sending you a message.”
“Yeah, like when a guy makes a mix tape for a girl.”
“Good clean writing, is all. I thought you’d like them.”
UPDATE: "After a brief period of floundering between forms, Pelecanos returns here to the P.I. procedural a stronger, more interesting novelist, not just in terms of his prose and his characters, but in terms of his reach and ambition. Unlike literary authors such as Michael Chabon and Colson Whitehead, who make calculated bombing runs at the fortress of genre from on high, Pelecanos is slowly blasting his way out, not abandoning the kinds of stories and characters that have served him so well, but deepening them, getting inside them in new ways. The result isn’t capital L literature – we’re not talking Tolstoy here – but it makes for a very satisfying read."
Just received the following e-mail from the new gatekeepers to the world of "books":
We're writing about your past Kindle purchase of Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson. The version you received had Missing Content that have been corrected.
An updated version of Reamde: A Novel (ASIN:B004XVN0WW) is now available. It's important to note that when we send you the updated version, you will no longer be able to view any highlights, bookmarks, and notes made in your current version and your furthest reading location will be lost.
If you wish to receive the updated version, please reply to this email with the word "Yes" in the first line of your response. Within 2 hours of receiving the e-mail any device that has the title currently downloaded will be updated automatically if the wireless is on.
An unfavorable review from John Podhoretz in the completely uninfluential cultural pages of The Weekly Standard, which has the following amusing thought:
....there is something unearthly about Los Angeles after the sun sets. Michael Mann has made two “L.A. at night” movies, Heat and Collateral. Robert Altman, a notorious stoner, also made two—one in the 1970s called The Long Goodbye and one in the 1990s called Short Cuts. The last movie made by Hal Ashby, the great 1970s director who apparently was never actually unstoned, was 8 Million Ways to Die—a genuine piece of junk art about an alcoholic detective investigating the murder of a hooker that was released in 1986. Drive consciously evokes it—as it does similar movies released around the same time like Into the Night, To Live and Die in L.A., Against All Odds, Tequila Sunrise, and 52 Pick-Up.
....This may help explain why Drive isn’t making much money. Who wants to see a feature-length and lovingly detailed tribute to a mini-genre—’80s L.A. noir—that flopped with audiences the first time? Well, to tell you the truth, I do. I adored those movies when they came out, because they were propulsive and fun—and I was in my mid-20s, and even when I found a movie indefensible I could still enjoy it. That’s usually not true any longer, and Drive is indefensible, but I could hear my 25-year-old self whispering in my ear, “Don’t be a spoilsport.” So I’m not.
My response to this news is "Tax me more!", even though Amazon is pretty much the only place where I shop -- and books are as important to me as food...
Not that I think that the wasteful and stupid California government needs more money. But the structural unfairness of making the crotchety guy at Book 'Em in South Pasadena collect an extra 10% on each purchase when Amazon wouldn't: unacceptable.
California legislators and Amazon officials agreed to a deal in Sacramento earlier this month over the issue of sales-tax collection from online retailers. The lawmakers said they would delay the enactment of a new law, which would require Internet stores with retail-related offices California to collect sales tax, until September 2012. In exchange, Amazon agreed to stop pursuing a ballot measure to repeal that law and to lobby Congress to pass federal Internet sales-tax legislation.
The California law would go into effect on September 2012 if Congress doesn't enact federal legislation by then. If Congress does pass a law, then the California legislation would go into effect in January 2013.
"In either case, we are going to start collecting," Mr. Bezos said in an interview.
Although I didn't find the startling image below on the Caustic Cover Critic blog, I felt I should tip my hat in that direction, because we're linked to each other, and this is a more significant connection than "Friending," IMHO. A few of Caustic's commenters in 2009 used this photo as a jumping off point for a "writers you'd least like to see naked" thread. (God, where to begin?) So I feel bound to say, and not in the spirit merely of being gallant, that I like this picture quite a bit. That if I'd run into her back in the day (though a 30-year time shift would have been needed to bring us into congruence) I might have been dazzled.
Perhaps some of those who professed dismay at the sight were influenced by their knowledge of how grimly the novelist in question actually aged, as a lifelong chain-smoker with osteoperosis? But why not turn it around? This sense or that of her physical appearance, this way or that, all equally notional, at this point in time. Why not allow your mental image of this brilliant writer to be infused with the knowledge that this is what she looked like when she was 20?
Not surprisingly, the new novel by Neal Stephenson, weighing in at over a thousand pages, is great fun and more narratively blessed than Anathem. Set in the culture of mmorpgs. Assumes that you have deep geek-fu as well as a love of elaborately plotted thrillers. I would love to hear from connoisseurs of mmorpgs whether he gets it right.
Came up recently in the context of AFP, as another noted composer and performer of satirical songs. Contributes an "On my iPod" list to EW.com.
Adrian Duke is in a similar mold to [Jon] Cleary, but he has a looser, friendlier style. "Live in New Orleans" is a blast. His singing is great but completely unintelligible, which is fine with me. It relieves me of the duty to listen to lyrics, which I do only because I know I should. Lyrics are better as musical sounds than bearers of meaning. Meaning is for novelists.
Why are we so fat? The biggest factor in the increase in obesity is the decrease in smoking. Light up! I believe it even if it's not true. It should be true.
Smokers are less likely to be obese. And the declining use of cigarettes across the country -- due to both tightening pocketbooks and new laws (thanks, Mayor Bloomberg) -- accounts for a bigger increase in the obesity rate in the U.S. than any other factor, according to paper authors Charles L. Baum and Shin-Yi Chou, who have both written with some frequency on the economics of obesity.
A program from France Musique for all of us: The Worlds of Pedro Almodovar
Extracts from soundtracks and other related stuff.
There are companion shows if you poke around, including the irresistibly geeky "Blake Edwards and Henry Mancini: An Ideal Couple". (Click "archives") French people might be jerks, but they sure have the right attitude about movies...
Works for me.
A question that's been on many fearful minds since his former employer, "New York Press," went the way of all alternative weeklies has been answered: Bracing movie critic Armond White is now the editor of CityArts, a publication of the Press's parent company, Manhattan Media. He's still doing the Lord's work as a film reviewer, too, and he's in good form.
So many better movies echo throughout the wannabe thriller Drive—including bad movies, like the entire Michael Mann catalog—that the resonance nearly drowns out the film’s brazen imitation of one particularly good movie: Walter Hill’s 1978 The Driver.
That Ryan O’Neal film now becomes a Ryan Gosling vehicle—an immediate decline. Gosling plays a loner stuntman who does underworld transport for Jewish mobsters on Hollywood’s fringe. His jaded view of life is part of his alienated cool, warmed over by a single mother waitress (cry-baby Carey Mulligan) awaiting the arrival of her ex-con Latino boyfriend. Director Nicolas Winding Refn shows no sense of how classes and ethnicities mix in L.A. He prefers evoking the sleek, unreal, existential cool of film noir loners.
But Refn’s cinephilia is specious and imprecise, while Hill’s revisionist modernism uncannily updated the aesthetic and spiritual essence of both American and European noir (Anthony Mann as well as Jean-Pierre Melville) into an original, idiosyncratic vision. Hill’s The Driver wasn’t a thriller it was thrilling, featuring the best on-screen car chases to this day. Refn, infected by Mann, produces fake toughness, fake sentimentality and fake style.
...on pop culture and art and etc, from a noted authority figure.
Expect Tulk to begin song-blogging shortly.
UPDATE: I've now actually listened to a certain amount of the music she's making under her own name. Seemed like it might be a good idea. Responding to it more straightforwardly than expected. Her other and/or earlier work may differ, but the songs on the "Who Killed Amanda Palmer" album, ar least, don't seem to have much to do with Tom Lehrer, that Merritt character, "Kurz Weil" or the Great American Songbook. Communication is quite direct, not especially distanced or self conscious. Echoes of an operatic/declamatory strain of pop music that could be said to include (letting the pedants know I'm speaking loosely) Bowie, Waits, early Springsteen and possibly even Meat Loaf. Meat Loaf! Virtuoso extended metaphors help to grease the skids for surprisingly raw emotional expression. No pinkies raised when you're pounding the keyboard this hard.
This, on the other hand, is fairly amazingly Lehrer-esque.
Not for the faint of heart. France Musique, the public classical music station, recently rebroadcast its "Nuit du Kitsch": a six hour festival of music of dubious taste. You can listen here, just scroll down past the program listings for each part and click where indicated.
Ranges from Mahler to Tchaikovski to James Horner and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer (and of course, Dick van Dyke singing "Step in Time".)
Stylish, and yet full of insider knowledge.....
...unlike some people we could mention.
Grinding on towards its horrific conclusion, my week with the box found several preliminary opportunities to remind me that it is a house of horrors. Or, to be less dismissive: a bad mood is something it does well. Spiral (BBC Four) was back on the air with all the same atrocities that you have already seen once but somehow can’t help watching again. Finally it doesn’t matter much what Laure has to say, even in French. What matters is what she makes her face say while the camera travels.More here.
The same applies to The Killing (also BBC Four), back for a repeated run with the load of anguish it carried on its first run now only increased by a dreadful familiarity. Lund, dare I say it, is not meant to be the dish that Laure is, but somehow we fear for her even more in the dark corridors. In the case of either serial, the way the camera behaves is a crucial study. Shooting and editing add up to a language in itself.
WB’s ‘Great Gatsby’ Adds Indian Icon Amitabh Bachchan.
Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan is making his Hollywood debut in Warner Bros’ new adaptation of The Great Gatsby. He’ll play Meyer Wolfsheim, a Jewish man described as a gambler in F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel. The $126M film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Baz Luhrmann, has begun shooting in Australia. Bachchan, 68, has acted in more than 180 Indian films over a 40-year period. He remains Indian’s most popular actor and recently returned as the celebrity host of the Indian version of Who Wants to Be A Millionaire.
A--m Ro----s outdoes himself in a review of a book called "Rivers of London", which sounds right up one's street ("It’s an expert midrash upon a venerable body of magic-intersects-reality fictions that re-imagine London: Dickens, Carter, Gaiman, Mièville, Harry Potter, Susan Clarke et al.), but that's not the point.
The follwing quote is the point, and I love it... (And I especially love it when I consider that David -- until recently the arch-foe of discursiveness -- is the only person I know (I think) who actually reads Scott for pleasure.)
Rivers of London shares one quality with fantasy that we do not find in noir. I’m going to call this quality amplitude..... The point is not in the content; it is in the tone—the voice of the novel. It is a voice that sets its face against terseness and reticence in favour of a generous discursive expansiveness..... Amplitude is precisely what many readers of Fantasy go to their chosen genre for in the first place.
The trick to understanding the prodigious success of Scott in the 19th-century is the realisation that he was popular not despite being so prosy, but because of it. You don’t read Scott’s prose for its sharpness, for its quotable zingers or apothegmic wisdom. Opening the covers of a Waverley novel and starting to read is, or ought to be, like sinking into a warm bath. It is the very amplitude of Scott’s art that explains its success.
My point, I suppose, is that although Scott himself has fallen from favour, the taste for amplitude in our verbal art hasn’t.
Let England Shake (remember that?) for the win! The Barclaycard Mercury Music Prize, which is a very big deal in the UK.
"Thank you for the recognition of my work!" she says, before mentioning how it's nice to be here in person considering she ended up watching the Pentagon burn from her hotel window last time she won the prize (as discussed previously, she won it on September 11, 2001).
One of the most forbidding of the big books lurking on my shelves -- I know that there will be a time and a place for it, but somehow I end up with Joe Abercrombie instead. I'm afraid that it can't really be as good as its fans say it is.
This might prove just the thing: An eight hour adaptation for Radio 4 starring Kenneth Branagh, David Tennant, and Greta Scacchi, to be available as a podcast, starting on the 18th.
If I can't read it, at least I can listen to it while I go to work.......
The new movie from Madonna: a sympathetic look at the life of the nazi-sympathizing, adulterous, Royal-family-destroying parasite, Wallis Simpson. A rare one-star review in the Guardian. Can I please meet the people who invested in this hopeless project? I want their money...
Whatever the crimes committed by Wallis Simpson – marrying a king, sparking a constitutional crisis, fraternising with Nazis – it's doubtful that she deserves the treatment meted out to her in W.E., Madonna's jaw-dropping take on "the 20th-century's greatest royal love story". The woman is defiled, humiliated, made to look like a joke. The fact that W.E. comes couched in the guise of a fawning, servile snow-job only makes the punishment feel all the more cruel.
Or could it be that Madonna is in deadly earnest here? If so, her film is more risible than we had any right to expect; a primped and simpering folly, the turkey that dreamed it was a peacock.
I got a sunburn sitting out on the third floor dorm balcony in the perfect Lincang weather having a half English half Chinese discussion with Kaede and Wang Yong about slang, Chinese college students vs. American college students, and debating whether the construction men building a path below us were going to be able to finish their cementing before the rain started. It was move in day for the students in the teacher’s college we’d been living in, so we wandered down to the front gates where dozens of vendors had set up stands selling dorm room necessities like comforters and bug nets, along side many Yunnanese street food vendors. I had a Dai minority spicy pancake, a hot dog wrapped in another rice pancake, and a jelly tea drink, which you can choose whether to chew or let slide down your throat. I felt like I was at a Chinese state fair.