Monday, January 30, 2012

Spielberg under the knife

A tweet from Mark Horowitz alerted me to this dissection of Steven Spielberg in Slate from a once and future admirer, named Bill Wyman (not THAT Bill Wyman, he must be tired of saying). For shorter discussion purposes, this list ranks all his movies from "The Sublime" down to "We're going to need a bigger boat. " (In the latter: "the Terminal" and "Always", which he likes less than the last Indiana Jones movie....). I liked this about Spielberg's effect on other, younger, directors:

In the last year, both Jon Favreau (Cowboys & Aliens) and J.J. Abrams (Super 8) have offered us Spielberg homages (in both cases, oddly enough, under the protective producership of Spielberg himself). Is it a coincidence that, in both cases, the directors delivered work far beneath what they are capable of? In Cowboys & Aliens, which could have taken Indiana Jones into a new world of genre mashups, a delicious premise starts out amiably enough, introducing a spectrum of characters one by one. But then the demands of showcasing the technology overwhelms the story. The characters become inconsistent and the plot becomes increasingly risible. (Wait—the aliens sent Daniel Craig back to earth with a secret weapon on his wrist that could blow up their spaceship?!)

Super 8 is even weirder; it’s a deliberate homage to the Great Master’s work, right down to the camera flares that salute E.T. It starts with group of kids making movies, just like Spielberg himself did. Abrams elicits their charms and emotions effortlessly. But the movie’s second half is a drag; forced, arbitrary, noisy, and senseless, just like much of the later work of Spielberg himself. Abrams let his sensibilities be overwhelmed, just as Spielberg did—by the stiltedness of The Color Purple, the heavy-handed sentimental manipulations of Hook, the schlockiness of War Horse, or just the sheer noisome randomness of Minority Report or War of the Worlds. It’s almost as if Abrams’s unconsciously encoded into the film the arc of Spielberg’s career. It’s the story of a filmmaker whose talent for great pop art was too thin a foundation on which to build bigger things—and it’s ultimately an arc of failed promise.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

I guess it's official, now

One hugely irritating thing I do is to file away David's advice and opinions (instead of acting on them) until they bubble up into the broader culture only then, it seems, noticing them. And what's worse is the pleasure I find in the process..... I've long since given up trying to explain that's it's all not true.

Anyway, I can't resist passing on this major piece from this weekend's Guardian by Philip Hensher on, of all things, Elmore Leonard. Like David, Hensher worships Leonard, has read and absorbed the lessons of Leonard, gets him, and writes beautifully about him. I love that....

His ultimate take is that Leonard is the great American humorist (and that even his vaunted "Rules" are "semi-jocular" and basically ignored by their creator), which as David points out, is what is really going on in that Raylan scene quoted below.

Too many cool quotes -- his explanation of why the first lines of the 'great' Tishomingo Blues are unfilmable, for example, or the paragraph that discusses that book, Out of Sight, Rum Punch, and Get Shorty without the obligatory mentions of the movies based on them, or his astonishing comparison of Leonard to Gladys Mitchell -- but I laughed out loud at this description of a scene from Rum Punch:

The comedy of the hopeless and of the inert reaches a sort of climax in the scene in Rum Punch when the three savage "jackboys", Zulu, Snow and Sweatman, find a rocket launcher in the back of their van to fire at the police trying to arrest them. Their superiority in firepower seems assured, but "'How to fire the motherfucker,' Zulu said." Here's the problem: none of them went to school much, and they are thrown back on their limited literacy, trying to read the instructions:

Zulu said "'Re-…' The fuck is that word there?" Snow said "'Re-…lease.' Yeah, it say to release the … something. 'Release the safe…ty.'"

It's going to end badly, as the police gather round the van.

This comparison of Leonard to Italo Calvino cracked me up, too:

Most powerful is Get Shorty, accurately described by Martin Amis as "a masterpiece" and surely one of the greatest novels of the century, the American If on a Winter's Night a Traveller.

Anyway, it's a great piece. Sorry.


Monday, January 23, 2012


Raylan: A Novel (Elmore Leonard)
- Highlight Loc. 1360-80  | Added on Saturday, January 21, 2012, 04:03 PM

“You ever look for the Nazi lovers beat you up?”

“Two of ’em are gone, overdosed. The third guy,” (US Marshal) Nichols said, “by the time I found him was a crackhead, his tats hard to read. I stood him against a brick wall, put on leather gloves while I’m lookin him in the eye. I hit him one-two, both sides of his jaw. He went down and I stood lookin at him.”

Raylan said, “He remember you?”

“I doubt it.”

“Something you had to do before you got too old,” Raylan said. “It’s a shame he wasn’t a wanted felon.”

“So I could shoot him he resisted.”

“I meant you’d have a reason to hunt him down.”

Nichols said, “You’ve shot and killed a man?”

“Yes, I have,” Raylan said.

“An armed fugitive?”

“More than one,” Raylan said.

“It doesn’t matter how many, does it?”

“Not a bit,” Raylan said. “Once or twice I might’ve been lucky.”

“You get to where you have to pull—”

“Knowing you better shoot to kill,” Raylan said.

Nichols gave Raylan a nod.

They knew each other.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Team Nora

The offspring's gregarious nature serves her well.

Click to enlarge.


Monday, January 16, 2012

The Real Thing? Pretty close...

Last week, reading Jeff VanderMeer's Philip K. Dick shortlist rundown -- the PKD awards the best paperback original SF of the year -- I was led to a review from the Journal from last May:

Robert Jackson Bennett's slower, more thoughtful "The Company Man"made me realize how far sci-fi has come in my lifetime. In a way, this is a crime-noir novel, with detectives investigating strange murders in the city of Evesden on the West Coast. It's 1919, but an "alternate" 1919, in which World War I did not take place, thanks to the dominance of new American technology controlled by the McNaughton Co.

Bits of "The Company Man" read like sections of "Das Kapital," with its images of abandoned children in filthy tenements, men worked till they're worn out and then discarded, and Company goons searching out union ringleaders. One of our goons, though, can read minds—or, rather, he can empathize. Half an hour with him and he's your best friend, whoever you are: a useful quality for an interrogator. Trouble is, he's picking up messages from something that isn't human, and that explains the strange hermit's technology breakthroughs as well.
I've been reading The Company Man over the holiday weekend and what's amazing is the detail and realism of its completely manufactured setting -- Zola meets Hammett meets Mieville . (Bennett himself insists on the influence of Le Carre, as well) There are the usual tyro structural flaws and narrative awkwardnesses, since this is a second novel (and from his picture he looks to be about 15) . But, boy am I looking forward to his next novel, which is set in the world of vaudeville.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Reading the Friday reviews....

Contraband: The new Mark Wahlberg vehicle gets high praise from Joe Morgenstern in the Journal this morning ("uncommonly well-crafted", 'thoroughly entertaining", etc.). More interesting perhaps is the pedigree:

"Contraband" was written by Aaron Guzikowski, Arnaldur Indridason and Óskar Jónasson. It's an English-language remake of "Reykjavik-Rotterdam," an Icelandic thriller in which the director—who was born in Iceland—played Mr. Wahlberg's role. Of the Icelandic films that Mr. Kormákur has directed, I've seen only the creepily intense and extremely accomplished "Jar City"....
Alcatraz: Here's hoping this school-of-Lost series is good enough to get really elaborate and confusing. Sez the Journal's TV critic Nancy Smith:
When the notorious federal prison in San Francisco Bay officially closed in March of 1963, its 265 prisoners and 46 guards were not, as the historical record says, transferred to mainland facilities. Actually, they disappeared without a trace and authorities still keep that a secret. Yet now some of America's most dangerous criminals—looking unchanged and unaged—are returning and committing new crimes.
Cool. Also it has fan favorite Jorge Garcia.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Teacher Nora: Stage Struck

More Here


Yeah, I see your point...

C.I.: Teacher Nora


Not cute, not a girl, and really really old

Leonard Cohen has a new record coming out.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Kindle Killer


Monday, January 9, 2012



Sunday, January 8, 2012

Oh, please

Clive nods, yawns, dozes off:

Benedict Cumberbatch is now back on screen as Sherlock (BBC One, Sunday). Due to the overload of techno talk, I found the first episode of the new season almost incomprehensible...


Tulkinghorn's Revenge

In a pretentious mood this morning after a delightful birthday lunch with frequent contributor Christian Lindke and his friends, knowledgeable in cultures I've barely heard of, I'm drooling over this list from lit-blog "The Millions" of the most 'anticipated' books of the upcoming year. Call it revenge for exposing the limits of my sophistication....

Someday I'll act the cleric in your RPG and beat you guys like a drum.... In the meantime I'll curl up with William Gaddis. Cool notes:

More recently, English-language monoglots have been discovering the work of László Krasznahorkai. Susan Sontag called The Melancholy of Resistance, “inexorable, visionary”…(of course, Susan Sontag once called a Salade Nicoise “the greatest light lunch of the postwar period.”) More recently, James Wood hailed War and War and Animalinside as “extraordinary.” Satantango, Krasznahorkai’s first novel, from 1985, now reaches these shores, courtesy of the great translator George Szirtes. Concerning the dissolution of a collective farm, it was the basis for Bela Tarr’s 7-hour movie of the same name.

Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room by Geoff Dyer: Geoff Dyer shows no signs of slowing down after seeing two stunning books of essays published in the U.S. in 2011, Otherwise Known As the Human Condition and The Missing of the Somme. This English writer, blessed with limitless range and a ravishing ability to bend and blend genres, is coming out with a peculiar little book about a 30-year obsession. It’s a close analysis of the Russian director Andre Tarkovsky’s 1979 movie Stalker, and Dyer calls it “an account of watchings, rememberings, misrememberings and forgettings; it is not the record of a dissection.” Even so, Dyer brings some sharp instruments to the job, and the result is an entertaining and enlightening joy.

When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson: The exalted author of Gilead and Home claims that the hardest work of her life has been convincing New Englanders that growing up in Idaho was not “intellectually crippling.” There, during her childhood, she read about Cromwell, Constantinople, and Carthage, and her new collection of essays celebrates the enduring value of reading, as well as the role of faith in modern life, the problem with pragmatism, and her confident, now familiar, view of human nature.

The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa: This historical novel by the Nobel Laureate “sits in the tradition of Vargas Llosa’s major novels […] in its preoccupation with political issues and its international scope,” according to Faber, who released it in Spanish this past fall. The Dream of the Celt explores the life of Irish revolutionary Sir Roger Casement, who was knighted by the British Crown in 1911, hanged five years later for treason, and disgraced as a sexual deviant during his trial. His crime: mobilizing public opinion against colonialism by exposing slavery and abuses in the Congo and Peru to the world. At a lecture, Vargas Llosa said that Casement made for a “fantastic character for a novel” — if for no other reason than the influence he had on the eponymous dark view that filled his friend Joseph Conrad’s own best-known novel.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon: East Bay resident Michael Chabon has spent the past several years working on his novel of Berkeley and Oakland, titled Telegraph Avenue for the street that runs between the two communities. Chabon titillated readers with an essay on his adopted hometown for the Ta-Nehisi Coates blog at The Atlantic, which reveals nothing about the plotline but assures us that the new work will be, if nothing else, a carefully conceived novel of place. Chabon had previously been at work on an abortive miniseries of the same name, which was said to detail the lives of families of different races living in Oakland and Berkeley.

Ancient Light by John Banville: Having published a string of popular crime novels under the pseudonym Benjamin Black over the last five years, John Banville returns again to serious literary fiction with Ancient Light. In the novel, the aging actor Alexander Cleave remembers his first sexual experiences as a teenager in a small Irish town in the 1950s, and tries to come to terms with the suicide of his daughter Cass ten years previously. With 2000’s Eclipse and 2002’s Shroud, Ancient Light will form the third volume in a loose trilogy featuring Alexander and Cass.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Why life among the chattering classes is so irritating

The Wall Street Journal posts this quote from a New Criterion article by Charles Murray:

The members of America's new upper class tend not to watch the same movies and television shows that the rest of America watches, don't go to kinds of restaurants the rest of America frequents, tend to buy different kinds of automobiles, and have passions for being green, maintaining the proper degree of body fat, and supporting gay marriage that most Americans don't share. Their child-raising practices are distinctive, and they typically take care to enroll their children in schools dominated by the offspring of the upper middle class—or, better yet, of the new upper class. They take their vacations in different kinds of places than other Americans go and are often indifferent to the professional sports that are so popular among other Americans. Few have served in the military, and few of their children either.

Worst of all, a growing proportion of the people who run the institutions of our country have never known any other culture. They are the children of upper-middle-class parents, have always lived in upper-middle-class neighborhoods and gone to upper-middle-class schools. Many have never worked at a job that caused a body part to hurt at the end of the day, never had a conversation with an evangelical Christian, never seen a factory floor, never had a friend who didn't have a college degree, never hunted or fished. They are likely to know that Garrison Keillor's monologue on Prairie Home Companion is the source of the phrase "all of the children are above average," but they have never walked on a prairie and never known someone well whose IQ actually was below average.


Haywire Trailer

Right-wing pundit, neo-con royalty, and occasional film critic John Podhoretz just tweeted his opinion that this may be the best movie trailer ever. (Linked instead of embedded for quality reasons...)

Many here will share his enthusiasm.


Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year

“Just do what I do: Hold on tight and pretend it's a plan.”

-- The Doctor (Matt Smith) in Doctor Who: “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe,” written by Stephen Moffat. BBC One, December 25, 2011.