Jul 29, 2009
Jul 28, 2009
"Michael was a deliberate maker of music—he didn’t throw off dozens of records the way Prince and R. Kelly do. He made meticulous choices. You can see it in his dancing, as it evolves. For the video for Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough they used a green screen, and the background is these weird cubes. It’s startling how little money went into it—it’s a terrible video—but Michael is dancing really loosely, and you can see the beginning of his moves. By the time he gets to Thriller, they are codified, almost computerized. He was a perfecter, a practicing fiend. He thought, 'I am going to take off my hat in the most elegant way.' And he did, every time." — Sasha Frere Jones on his forthcoming book about Michael Jackson for Ecco.
Jul 27, 2009
Jul 26, 2009
“We talked for a couple of hours, and I finally realized that he had the requisite insecurities and whatnot” — director Max Mayer on why he eventually cast Hugh Dancy as a man with Asperger's syndrome, New York Times
Because that's what Asperger's Syndrome really boils down to, isn't it? Insecurities and whatnot.The article also contains the strangest sentence I have come across in the NYT this year.
His delicate features and Byronic curls might scream “romantic comedy” and make him seem like a natural heir to older heartthrobs like Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. But Mr. Dancy’s brain yearns for more.
Traditionally, it is the heart that yearns. Or if you wish to remain physiologically neutral, Dancy himself: "He yearns for more." But his brain? One guesses that the writer wishes to make a point about romantic comedies being dumb, and roles involving Asperger's more cerebral, if only — presumably — because it is a mental condition. I'm not convinced of the logic here. The best acting comes from many places, but the brain is the least of them. A case could even be made for the opposite: that comedy requires faster synases than a role playing someone mental ill, because it requires you interact more carefully with your fellow actors. Someone with Asperger's is by necessity acting alone. That's why actors like it so much. It has nothing to do with "brains." It's about getting to be the only person in the room. But they'd never be able to write that: "but his ego yearns for more."
"Avatar tells the story of a planet named Pandora, a breathtaking place inhabited by a peaceful, beautiful tribe called the Na’vi—sinewy, blue skinned, tiny-waisted humanoid creatures with tails and pointy ears—whose existence is being threatened by the evil humans and their military. To save the Na’vis, scientist Sigourney Weaver sends forth to Pandora “Avatars”—laboratory-created human versions of Na’vis—to earn their trust and protect them with their human know-how."— Vanity FairI'm sorry but there's something I'm just not getting. This is the story of how one group of humans battles another group of humans, by pretending to be the aliens the first group of humans are threatening? It sounds a little complicated. It sounds awfully like the Matrix: our heroes have pretend fights in virtual reality, while sitting safely in a lab somewhere. Where's the suspense in that? And who cares whether the place is "breathtaking" or not? I'm suspicious.
Jul 25, 2009
Jul 24, 2009
I have long wondered this myself. I'm not exactly sure when it was that mainstream entertainment started to hanker for some of the grit of indieland, but Alan Ball has a lot to answer for. His movie American Beauty served up blackest misanthropy with the parsley of bright, knowing performances, which invited us, as an audience, to feel superior to the poor characters on the screen, leading their muffled lives of stifling bourgois convention. Which is where it gets tricky. You can pull off superiority to stifling bourgois convention in a novel, because you read a novel on your own. It can even work at the theatre, where a certain class of person is attracted that keeps the common rank and file at bay. But it works less well in a cinema, if only because you are are not the only one there: you are surrounded by people, all laughing in tandem, at the herd mentality of stifling bourgois convention. Which rather takes the sting out of it. Misanthropy can only really be practised alone. Joining a club won't do it.
Ball recalled that while the movie was in production, one Dreamworks executive asked him, "Could you just make it a little more fucked up,' which is not a note that you get in Hollywood very often. And I thought, 'wow' and that gave me free range to go a little deeper, go a little darker, go a little more complicated."
Maybe that was not a note Ball heard in Hollywood very often in 1999, but now you hear it all the time. Call it the mainstreaming of morbidity — a kind of spray-on gothicism designed to impart deepness, darkness, complication. A brief surf of the net gives me an artwork praised as “a dark and disturbing masterpiece”, a novel for its “raw, uncompromising, gritty” style, a TV show billed as “wrenching, raw”, a rock album that is sold on the back of “dark, disturbing, angry lyrics”, a comedian lauded for his “raw, edgy” stand-up, even a fashion photographer for his “raw and edgy locations”. And while I'm used to hearing indie cinema touted as "dark, disturbing, unsettling”, I'm less used to hearing that said of summer blockbusters — kid's movies, comic strips. The new Batman movie is the “darkest yet ... tormented by demons both physical and psychological”, while the latest Harry Potter is “the darkest and most unsettling installment." Whatever happened to popular entertainment being, you know, fun?
Jul 23, 2009
A US military spokesman has condemned the release of a video of a captured American soldier, 23-year-old Private Bowe Bergdahl of Ketchum, Idaho, which called for the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. Colonel Greg Julian said "the public humiliation of prisoners is against international law", and stressed that the US mission in the country was to "support the Afghan government and improve security". — BBC newsInternational law is so important in these cases. One would hate to see him waterboarded. Or hung from the ceiling. Or buried in a coffin with insects. Or repeatedly rammed into a wall. Or imprisoned without the ability to challenge his detention. Or found guilty without a trial. That would not be right.
“When access is easy, we tend to favor the short, the sweet, and the bitty. When access is difficult, we tend to look for large-scale productions, extravaganzas, and masterpieces,” writes Cowen. “The current trend—as it has been running for decades—is that a lot of our culture is coming in shorter and smaller bits.” Think 30-second YouTube clips instead of a full movie, iTunes singles instead of complete albums, two paragraph blog posts instead of an entire essay. And now the 140-character limit on Twitter instead of a blog-style free-form text box.
Jul 22, 2009
“An intricate and paradoxical tale about innocence and experience, and the dangers and rewards of being truthful, to thine own self and otherwise” — Keith Miller, reviewing In The Rooms for the Times Literary Supplement
"Readable, amusing... well-written" — The Daily Mail
Jul 21, 2009
500 Days of Summer. Time-hopping sometimes arbitrary. But loved the idea. Loved the Hall & Oates song. Suspicion Zooey Deschanel would have been a little crueller in real life. Always loved her singing voice. Foxy.
The Hurt Locker. Unbearable suspense. Best film about Iraq. (Not saying much.) Love all bomb defusal movies. But this one best. Guy deserves an Oscar. Never seen him before. Reminded me of Steve McQueen. Unlike most movie tough guys, he's nuts. Suspicion more tough guys are nuts than movies normally let on. Got lost in Whole Foods afterwards. Wandering. Numb.
Bruno. Laughed like a drain for five minutes. Then felt my soul being slowly sucked out of me. Scenes shorter than Borat. People's hackles raised faster. Prefer the promotional stunts. Interview on Australian "Rove", for instance. Vatever.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
— Gravy, by Raymond Carver, from my piece about sober novelists for Intelligent Life.
Jul 20, 2009
As my old editor Andrew Neil argues in this week's Daily Beast:
The NHS is regularly dismissed by U.S. critics of American reform as "socialized medicine." This is strange to trans-Atlantic ears. Most Brits don't think there's anything "socialist" about the NHS—it enjoys all-party support, including all right-of-center parties. The British Conservatives, who gave the world privatization under Margaret Thatcher, are totally committed to a national health service, tax-funded and free at the point of use (and Mrs. T never challenged these principles either). The parties disagree about how to run it—the Conservatives and the Blairites want less central control, more patient choice, less bureaucratic distribution of resources—but all are agreed on the basic principle behind it.
And that's not just true of Britain. The fact is that all mainstream right-of-center parties across continental Europe regard some kind of national health service covering everybody and largely free at the point of use as not particularly "socialist." There is broad consensus on the left, right and center about this. Most people don't think of it as socialized medicine—just a key feature of a modern, rich, civilized society. When you try to explain this to those opposing a health-care overhaul in America, either they don't believe you or think you're making it up. It is striking just how far apart America's Republicans (and anti-reform Blue Dog Democrats) are from what should be their natural European allies, like the British Conservatives, the French Gaullists, and the German Christian Democrats on this issue.
The fact is health care on both sides of the Atlantic is rationed: in Britain, it is rationed by queue (though with the billions of pounds thrown at the NHS in recent years the queues are diminishing) and in America by price (no health insurance, no right to health care). Americans might like to ponder that it is better to be in a queue for health care that not qualify for any at all—which is the plight of those 47 million Americans who have no health insurance.
Jul 19, 2009
Jul 18, 2009
Jul 13, 2009
"soap-operaish predictability... tawdry prose.... not only is [Shone's] novel patronising, it is emotionally redundant, inaccurate and, worst of all, unamusing".
Jul 12, 2009
"It was a bold enough experiment, you have to admit, lasting the best part of a century, in which any suffering artist worth his salt was systematically deranging his senses before noon, getting into the kind of bar fights that make a man feel truly alive, before shrugging off his mastodon hangover the next morning to pound away at his typewriter..."
Jul 10, 2009
Jul 5, 2009
My interview with Said Sayrafiezadeh about his strange Iranian-Jewish-communist childhood here.
Jul 2, 2009
I've only been back in London a few days but my overriding observation is how widespread — how humungously ubiquitous, how overpoweringly omnipresent, how gobsmackingly knock-my-socks-off pervasive — the use of hyperbole has become. Everyone on the TV is caught up in a competition to out-do one another with superlatives. Is the Michael Jackson story big? Its ginormous. How ginormous? Its massively, unbeliveably globe spanningly massive etc etc. The same goes for the Odeon cinema chain's boast of being "fanatical about film." I'd always assumed that went without saying: the enthusiasm of a cinema chain for the medium of film. But no. Everything goes to eleven now. I'm guessing it has to do with a forcible expulsion of the English reputation for understatement but its coming across as if someone at the BBC has sent around a memo instructing all presenters to give it a little more oomph, a bit more welly. There's something a little over-compensatory about it, to this Brit's ears, but then maybe I've been away too long.