Apr 30, 2010

Can everyone stop finding things 'pitch-perfect''?"

'Writer/director Nicole Holofcener (Lovely & Amazing) is adept at fashioning credible characters, particularly female. Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) is a mammography technician who is devoted to her crotchety grandmother (Ann Guilbert). Guilbert (who was Millie on The Dick Van Dyke Show) plays 91-year-old Grandma Andra with pitch-perfect comic timing.' — USA Today

I think I've had enough of "pitch perfect." Can everyone stop using it now? Maybe they could junk it the same time they junk "limn." Just typing that word gives me the shivers. Anyone who uses it is a complete scoundrel. It sounds harsh, I know, but in a world otherwise devoid of absolutes, you can rest assured that anyone using the word "limn" is likely to start pouring world-class horse manure into your lap at some point in the not-too-distant future. Just the hard-won wisdom of my tender years. Do with it what you will.

Quote of the day: George Clooney

"This is not the first bomb I've experienced." — upon the finding of a World War II bomb near his property in Lake Como

Fifteen when he was captured

'As detailed in a motion filed by the defense in 2008, Khadr claims in his affidavit that his interrogators threatened him with rape, denied him medical treatment for gunshot and shrapnel wounds he suffered in his July 2002 capture in Afghanistan, and used him as a “human mop” to clean up his own excrement. The interrogator, referred to in the hearing only as “Interrogator #1,” will testify on behalf of the defense that he personally threatened Khadr “with rape” by threatening to render Khadr to an undisclosed Arab country where he would face the abuse' — Washington Independent

If Bill Murray takes you to dinner...

One of my favorite accounts of an encounter with Bill Murray was published in New York magazine yesterday. It's an unmitigated joy — here's the whole thing.

• Murray, who is unfailingly polite, will remember that he has met you and where it happened. You will spend the dinner wondering if he also remembers that he seemed to not like you.

• If you are a lady, he will stand up when you take your seat and remain standing until you pull your chair in. He will do this for every female at his table. You soon will start making an effort to sit down and stand up faster.

• He will commit to memory the name of everyone at the table, making introductions each time a new person sits down.

• He will make friends with the waiters and give them nicknames. “Handsome” will now be your server.

• He will intentionally mishear offhand comments you make about the food and repeat them endlessly. You say, “seafood,” he hears “zebra.” You call the roasted carrots “exciting”; he hears “Poseidon.” As in, “Zebra! I never get to eat zebra! Want some zebra?” or “Have some Poseidon. Some Poseidon. Some Poseidon.”

• He will compliment the chefs by smacking his lips and crying out in mock ecstasy. If roasted duck is involved, he will beat his chest.

• He will take charge of the ordering and the serving of family-style dishes. If you are at Wall & Water, and Handsome brings cranberry chutney instead of the black-currant chutney Murray thinks is just “divine” with pecorino and soppressata, Murray will pull Handsome over, hold the chutneys side by side, and say: “Take a look, Handsome, what’s wrong with this?” If Handsome places the new supply of meats and cheeses with the cheese facing Murray, he will kindly ask Handsome to turn the plate around. “It’s the ladies who really want this cheese, and I just don’t want their nails coming for me when they grab it.”

• He will tell his most animated stories when you have turned away to talk to other people in an effort to make him believe you are not hanging on his every word. You may hear the word “tequila” coming over and over from Murray's direction as he mimes the pouring of a bottle into his mouth, and the tale gets louder and, apparently, more hilarious. When you finally turn back, the story over, and when you ask your laughing dinner companions what you missed, they will say, “Oh, just Bill talking about his early 20s.”

• You may, however, hear some stories about Bill Murray from movie producers also seated at the table. How, for example, he’s superstitious and won’t sign contracts until after a movie is finished, meaning the producers have to secure millions of dollars of financing and insurance on Murray’s word. (Which is apparently unshakable once he’s given it.)

• He might mention the Roebling Tea Room, where his son is a cook, and “they’re very proud of their kale.” He might then discuss how he likes to walk the nearby streets in Williamsburg late at night, and how he shot a movie on the south side when it was just Hasids and hookers, and the Hasids would stand outside late at night telling dirty jokes. (“They weren’t on the street reading the Word, I can tell you that.”)

• If and when the conversation switches to South by Southwest, you may hear the tale of how some random guy joined the Get Low entourage by pretending to be friends with Sissy Spacek’s daughter, Schuyler, and only began to arouse suspicion after several hours of not talking to Schuyler and not knowing anything about Schuyler and insisting on riding in Murray’s car instead of with Schuyler. You may also hear about how Murray engineered an escape plan that involved their entire entourage jumping from the car into rickshaws, and turned around to find the random guy hanging off the back of the rickshaw. And you may hear how the next day, Murray and company faked a letter to Schuyler from said stalker, sticking it under her hotel door and leaving for a day on the town, only to come back and find a worried Spacek and Schuyler consulting with hotel security and/or the cops. You will probably not be surprised to discover that Murray was the member of the group fully committed to continuing the prank for the rest of the festival. If you crack a joke at this point, he will stare at you and say, “Don’t joke; this is serious!”

• And while you are on the subject of South by Southwest, you may mention that you saw this video of Murray tending bar at a random Austin establishment. Murray will at first enjoy talking about this — about how he went to see GZA perform and brought him and RZA to the bar, where the bartenders told Murray they’d make more tips if he helped them serve drinks. He’ll tell you that he forgot that, GZA, as a major stoner, has no tolerance for alcohol, and that the rapper got so wasted after Murray gave him a shot and a half of tequila that GZA didn’t make it to his second performance at midnight. You might become emboldened to ask another direct question, something silly along the lines of, “I heard that you only served tequila, even when people asked for whiskey!” And without answering, Murray will stand up and excuse himself, never to return. The table will grow silent and you will nervously titter to your tablemate (Karen Duffy — Duff from MTV), that you’re worried you just scared Murray off by being too nosy, and she will laugh and say, “Yeah, you probably did.”

Apr 28, 2010

Why prequels leave nothing to chance

Ridley Scott talking to Empire last year:

It's set in 2085, about 30 years before Sigourney [Weaver's character Ellen Ripley]. It's fundamentally about going out to find out 'Who the hell was that Space Jockey?' The guy who was sitting in the chair in the alien vehicle – there was a giant fellow sitting in a seat on what looked to be either a piece of technology or an astronomer's chair. Remember that? And our man [Tom Skerritt as Captain Dallas] climbs up and says "There's been an explosion in his chest from the inside out – what was that?" I'm basically explaining who that Space Jockey – we call him the Space Jockey – I'm explaining who the space jockeys were.

And from the Alien DVD commentary:—
I think the "space jockey" is somehow the pilot and he's part of a military operation – if that's the word you want to apply to his world – and therefore this is probably some kind of carrier, a weapon carrier, a biological or biomechanoid carrier of lethal eggs; inside of which are these small creatures that will actually, fundamentally integrate in a very aggressive way into any society or any place it's dropped.
I always thought the point of the space jockey was that he was a previous carrier/victim of the alien. It was a point about how lethal the alien species were: even other aliens ran scared from them. The eggs in the ship? A trap for the next victim. That's the problem with prequels: they suffer from over determination, and an intolerance for randomness. Tatooine was the point "furthest" point from the centre of the universe, until it turned out to be the radial point around which the whole saga revolved. Hannibal Lecter's mask was strapped onto him by the FBI for transportation to Memphis to see Senator Martin, until it became a favored memento of his sixteen-year-old self. The same with the space jockey. We're either just looking at victim number 237, or we're looking at an important chapter in the evolution of the alien species. It can't be both.

REVIEW: 'Oprah' by Kitty Kelly

"One of the side-effects of sexual abuse can be a notorious boundary-lessness. Their own privacy trespassed against, the victims unwittingly undervalue the privacy of others — almost a job requirement in a chat show host. While Phil Donahue conducted his talk show as if giving a civics class, Oprah elbowed her way into living rooms with a selection of devil-worshippers, transexuals and housewife prostitutes, once asking a porn star “Don’t you get sore?”. Kelly’s attempts to gin up outrage over this feels a little stale; compared to the personalities who were to follow in her wake — the foghorn-lunged Rosie O’ Donnell, the sleek, lethal Tyra Banks — Oprah’s husky warmth feels suspiciously like the real thing. “The therapy I never had,” she said of her show, although just how her guests feel afterwards about confessing their secrets on national television is never known. They are all contractually obliged to keep their silence about the experience — the opposite of therapy, surely." — from my review of Oprah by Kitty Kelly in London's Evening Standard

Apr 27, 2010

The origins of Toothless the dragon

"Panther? House cat? Stealth bomber? Imperial speed bike? Mini? Only one thing is certain: the design of Toothless is the most captivating creature design of the year, managing to combine cuteness and lethal force in one streamlined package that is irrestistable to six-year-olds. Let’s face it: the monsters have been getting a little samey at the movies recently. The screaming red triffid that attacked Jim Kirk in the recent Star Trek would have been scarier still if we hadn’t already met Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors. The insectoid mandibles of the predators in Predator will be less of a shock to anyone who has closely watched the Star Wars movies. And as for the massive lower jaw sported by the Kraken in Clash of the Titans, well it bore a striking resemblance to Godzilla in the 1998 turkey, and both to the gargantuan chin sported by Sky Sport’s Jimmy Hill. You half expected the beast to rise from the ocean depths and start correcting everyone’s sports trivia. Toothless has one more advantage over these caterwauling beasties: apart from the odd purr he is almost entirely silent, thus allowing him to retain his essential dragonishness, and granting him to pass unscathed through some of the script’s purpler passages. Not since Ridley Scott denied his alien eyes, in Alien, has a handicap paid off so handsomely' — from my weekly blog post for the Daily Telegraph

Apr 24, 2010

Late to the party: 2008's 'Bring Me Your Love'

Readers of this blog will know that I am about as far from being an Early Adopter as can be imagined. I come by most of my music through movies, adverts and other people's recommendations and once walked into Tower on Sunset Boulevard, asked what the music playing was, and was pointed to a massive billboard advertising Vanessa Carton's number one hit single 'A Thousand Miles.' So I have no shame in declaring my belated love for City and Colour's 2008 album Bring Me Your Love (here interspersed with tracks from their 2005 album Sometimes). Singer/songwriter Dallas Green is Canadian and has a pure, unusually soulful alto voice with just a touch of Marvin Gaye to it. Singing at the bottom of his register, his voice has the slight wobble of someone trying and failing to get their emotions under control. Only two years late. I'm catching up.

Apr 23, 2010

More falling stars...

"Jim Carrey’s A Christmas Carol and Yes Man were box-office disappointments and indie gay romance I Love You Philip Morris is currently on the shelf, caught in a distribution quagmire. What should the 48-year-old comedian do" — Indiewire
"Movie stars, who not so long ago vied to make $20 million or even $25 million a picture, have seen their upfront salaries shrink in the last several years as DVD sales fell, star-driven vehicles stumbled at the box office and studios grew increasingly tightfisted. Most of the three-dozen or so top-billed actors in the 10 films up for best picture in this Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, including blockbusters like "Up" and "Avatar," appear to have received relatively minuscule upfront payments for their work... Peter Dekom, a film industry lawyer who co-wrote the book "Not on My Watch: Hollywood vs. the Future," pegged the general devaluation of movie stars to a lack of interest among younger viewers. "Stars don’t resonate with the ‘what’s next’ " crowd, theorized Dekom. "They attract an over-30 audience, which is going to the movies less in an impaired economy." — NYT

"Land of the Lost"'s dismal box office helped land star Will Ferrell at the top of our annual list of Hollywood's Most Overpaid Stars... Ferrell's 2008 film "Semi-Pro" earned only $43 million. "Step Brothers" did better with $128 million... For every dollar Ferrell was paid, his films earned an average $3.29. Second-worst? Ewan McGregor. The Scottish actor, best known for his work in films like "Trainspotting" and "Star Wars" (where he played a young Obi-Wan Kenobi), doesn't earn as much as some of the higher-profile actors on our list. But his recent movies have performed poorly, making him a terrible investment for producers. For every dollar McGregor was paid, his films earned an average $3.75.

Besides Will Ferrell, other big names on our list include
Eddie Murphy and Tom Cruise. Murphy (who ranks fourth) has commanded one of the highest quotes in Hollywood for his work in family comedies, thanks to the performance of movies like "The Nutty Professor," which grossed $274 million at the worldwide box office. But lately his return on investment has fallen off a cliff. Last year's "Meet Dave" was a box office disaster, earning only $50 million worldwide. This year's "Imagine That" did even worse, bringing in $18 million. Murphy escaped being named the most overpaid star thanks to 2007's "Norbit," which earned $160 million. For every dollar Murphy was paid, his films earned an average $4.43. Cruise ranks sixth with a return on investment of $7.18. The star has worked out unusual deals on past films where he takes nothing up front in return for a large chunk of first-dollar gross -- that means on stinkers like "Lions For Lambs," Cruise earned even if the studio (in this case, his studio, United Artists) didn't recoup its money. These are just the kinds of deals studios are trying to avoid." — Forbes

Apr 22, 2010

Where are the great British political orators?

"Watching Germany rise from its knees after the war and become a vastly more prosperous nation has not been easy on the febrile British psyche. All nations have a cross to bear, and none more so than Germany with its memories of Nazism. But the British cross is more insidious still. A misplaced sense of superiority, sustained by delusions of grandeur and a tenacious obsession with the last war, is much harder to shake off. We need to be put back in our place."— Nick Clegg
Not much to disagree with there, although The Daily Mail seems to think it's damaging. I'm not so sure, but then what do I know: the whole thing seems positively Blefuscun when compared to the last year's epic. As Andrew Sullivan pointed out, America has drifted so far right in the last decade, and Britain left, that the differences between the parties, from this vantage point, seem negligible; the TV debates play out like a disagreement between different factions of the Democratic party. I'm also struck by their shared failings as speakers. What has happened to political oratory in Britain? I notice it more with Clegg, because he peppers his speech with more Obamaesque invocations of "Hope" and "change" than the other two — eeek — when what he excels at is that warm, earthy beside manner that all politicians since Blair have tried to cultivate. Brown has some stentorian gruffness but is resolutely incapable of lifting his listeners more than five feet off the ground. Cameron sounds the most leaderlike, with touches of that old Tory resolve that Thatcher did so well, but he to tries to soften those old Etonian tones too much: it sounds phoney as hell. They all sound like smart, reasonable men — bank managers doing their utmost to sound cuddly, or veterinary surgeons soft talking their way around an outrageous bill. Where is the steel? The punch and fire? Nobody expect a Churchill, but a Tony Benn would be nice.

Why are all my favorite bands Swedish?

My wife and I disagree over the significance of co-incidences. To her, they are evidence of a larger cosmic pattern in the universe — God's daisy chain or some such. To me they're just random events which happen to link cosmically only from one point of view, i.e. the point of view of the person observing the coincidence. From no other vantage point does it look cosmic. What is an amazing mind-bending coincidence to Fred, is just a boring old fact to Bert. "I can't believe you know so and so!" "Why wouldn't I?" "I don't know, but I guess because I knew both of you but I never put the two of you together..." "Not everything revolves around you." "I know that" "When you leave the room we all carry on talking, you do know that don't you?" "No need to get sarcky..." and so on. However, the number of times I've hooked into a new band, raved about them to all and sundry — Kate normally — and then found out they are Swedish is getting to much to ignore. Its the first question Kate asks me now when I say "have you heard this?" she goes "Are they Swedish/" It happened last night in fact. I got five seconds into playing her Loney, Dear's beautiful track Summertime and she said "are they Swedish?" and I went "Yes, isn't that weird?" I don't know how to explain it. Am reluctant to give into the whole God's-daisy-chain thing and more inclined towards theories involving glacier water and the increased freedom of movement within the EU. Or some such.

More here at one of my favorite music blogs, Swedes Please.

Apr 21, 2010

Reversible opinion number 35: Jeffrey Wells

"When I first read about this on Carrie Rickey's Philadelphia Inquirer blog I was reminded that the Rockman-esque influence is one of the biggest reasons why I despise Spielberg these days -- i.e., because his films have been offering allusion after allusion and tribute after tribute to that sentimental notion of small-town America that Rockwell's paintings are more or less synonymous with. I for one have always found this aspect of Spielberg's films to be treacly and un-genuine"— Jeffrey Wells, Hollywood Elsewhere
'Reversible Opinions' is an occasional series devoted not to untruths so much as exact inversions of truths — statements that, if reversed, would be true. People should be allowed to despise who they want, of course, but if you're going to despise Spielberg it's probably best not to do so for his portrayal of small-town America. I can't actually think of a single film of his set in small-town America. I can think of many that are set in the suburbs of large cities: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which is set in Muncie, Indiana for example, or E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial which is set in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Spielberg is synonymous with romanticising the suburbs, not small towns. Or used to be synonymous, before he started making movies like Saving Private Ryan and Munich. So if by "these days" you mean "thirty years ago" and if by "small towns" you mean "the thing that destroyed small towns," then yes, you have the beginnings of a point. He's very Rockwellian.

Apr 20, 2010

Are you a figment of Leo Di Caprio's imagination?

'Have you ever had a sneaking suspicion that you may be a figment of Leonardo di Caprio’s imagination? Cinemagoers are beginning to wonder. First we had Shutter Island, the events of which may or may not have been taking place inside the actor’s troubled head. Arriving soon in cinemas is Christopher Nolan’s Inception, in which Di Caprio plays a dream thief who plucks secrets from the heads of sleeping tycoons — “an Existential heist movie” according to its maker which plays out in the confines of the human mind. Later this year, Darren Aronofsky will release his latest mind-bender, Black Swan, a psychological thriller in which a ballerina played by Natalie Portman may or may not be imagining the existence of her closest rival. What’s with this sudden burst of solipsism at the movies? Has Descartes Principia philosophiae become the latest bedside reading in Hollywood? Or is it just a case of clever-clog directors retreating into their hi-tech bunkers? The theme has long found favour with the more paranoid, druggier corner of the sci-fi world: Fassbinder’s two-part TV movie, World on Wire (1973) featured a techhead played by Fred Stiller who becomes convinced that the world he inhabits is in fact a computer simulation; Philip K Dick’s Total Recall and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, later Blade Runner, both turned on the notion of implanted memories that are more real than the real thing. Such mazy imaginings have been given a new vigor by the ever-greater encroachments of the internet: with more and more of our daily lives spent with our heads glued to a screen, the possibility that we might permanently disappear into it, like Alice through the looking glass, has come to tantalise us. The Matrix flipped through alternative realitites with the agility of someone taking their new browser for a spin, spearheading a wave of movies in which reality turned out to be if not a complete chimera, then certainly an optional extra— Nolan’s own Memento, Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The internat has premanently altered our sense of cinematic space, punching through the fourth wall into infinite, Escher-like regress, through which the camera is now free to rush, although as the Matrix sequels made clear, too many wormholes in the space-time continuum can turn filmmakers brains to swiss cheese. For every Matrix, there is a Vanilla Sky, or an eXistenZ, films in which an intensely cultivated interest in alternative reality acts as handy cover for a dramatist’s inability to establish any kind of reality in the first place. If it all turns out to be a dream, then who can complain about illogical plots and unbelievable characters? Moreover, if I turn out to have been a figment of Leonardo di Caprio’s imagination all along, have I foregone my right to a refund' — my first post for the Daily Telegraph's film pages

Quote of the day: Oliver Burkman on Nick Clegg

"Obama promised to transcend America's troubled racial past and the culture wars of the 1960s. Clegg promises to make the drivers of night buses let you get off between stops, and to refund VAT to mountain rescue services. (Oh, and cut taxes on low earners, break up the banks, and scrap the Trident replacement.) From Yeovil to Cornwall, from northern Bristol to certain areas of Surrey, there is a frisson, a whisper of possibility: Yes, we can. Well, maybe. And probably not, actually, because of the first-past-the-post voting system. And yet you can feel it in the air: the fierce urgency of Nick; the audacity of Clegg." — Oliver Burkman, The Guardian

Apr 19, 2010

He sounds like Dylan but not like he has a head cold

I've never been able to figure out my lack of chemistry with the ouevre of Bob Dylan. Actually I can tell you exactly why it is — I don't like the sound of his voice — but I find it hard to fathom that that alone is what keeps me from appreciating someone so important. It's like disliking the Beatles because you don't like the number four. How cruel musical taste is: a 20th century icon toppled by so thin a trip-wire. It's quite a drawback, too, not liking Dylan; it not only disbars me from membership of a club that includes a lot of people whose musical taste I admire but denies me acceptance as even the most basic kind of musical connoisseur. In these Catholic times, not liking Dyan is the one thing that's simply not done, the one thing that brings polite society to a silent stand-still. "You don't like the sound of his voice?" I can hear people think when I tell them, as if it represented the ultimate in narrow-minded pedantry. "I've tried," I tell them, feeling miserable and alone as the silence envelops me, "But I just... can't..." and then I dribble to a halt. unable to get out the fact that I think he sounds adenoidal and nasal and just kind of whiny. The shame is too great. The mystery just got deeper, and my pain just that little bit more acute, because I really love the Swedish singer Kristian Mattson, who any fool could tell you sounds just like Bob Dylan, whose lyrics are probably nothing compared to Bob's drowsy-electrifying Keatsian quatrains and who is probably ridiculed in Dylanologist circles for being nothing but a wan copyist. He even has an adenoidal voice of the sort I said I don't like. I can imagine Dylan weeping in frustration (actually I can't imagine that but the I can imagine the imaginary Dylan doll I have in my head weeping tears of frustration): what do I have to do to get your love? Die and come back as one of the three tenors? To me, of course, Mattson sounds only a little bit like Dylan. He's got a higher range for one thing, and holds a tune more lustfully. And that drowsy-electrifying timbre, so much like a head cold in Dylan's case, sounds sharp and penetrating, contrasting beautifully with his guitar to the point where they sound like a duet between two twinned but unlikely instruments — a double bass and flugel horn, say. Which is rubbish of course, since singers sing over guitars all the time; and yet he sings with such urgency, as if hurling his words from a rooftop at low-hanging cloud, that he makes it sound like he's the first person to ever think of it. I'm going to go now, talking of clouds. I can feel the storm of musicological disapproval gathering as I type.

Apr 17, 2010

TOP TEN: comic-strip adaptations

1. Iron Man
2. A Boy Named Charlie Brown
3. Superman
4. Flash Gordon
5. American Splendor
6. Men in Black
7. The Dark Knight
8. Kick Ass
9. Hellboy
10. Spiderman 2
I'm not sure why it is that there are so few good comic book adaptations given the number of them that are made. Maybe the debt summer movie-making owes the comic book is so great as to resist so direct an arrow. The better known comic strips — Superman, Batman — come too freighted with expectations to avoid capsizing as films, while some of the lesser-known comic books can sneak up on the inside and land the required knockout: Men In Black, Iron Man, Hellboy. My own personal preference is for Golden Age boosterism, rather than the darker, grungier reinventions that came later. I've never much liked the graphic novel, I guess because I got my own comic reading out of the way early — age 8-14 — so I have a fairly prelapserian appreciation of the form, associating it with escape, excitement and great jokes, rather than glowering skies, troubled morality and hooded retribution. The Dark Knight, while impressive, took itself too seriously for my tastes. Superman was always my first love, and DC comics rather than Marvel whose characters came too loaded with superpowers and looked too glitzy — like Cadillacs. I'm sure that's my British roots showing through. I always preferred the ones with properly grounded alter egos — Clark Kent. Bruce Wayne — so that the moment of transformation was all the stronger. That was always what it was about for me: the ripped shirt in the telephone box, from wimp to warrior. The X-Men bored me because they were just the x-men, 24 hours a day. No superheroes in combination have ever worked for me. How super can they be if they seek safety in numbers? I loved the first Superman which, for all its faults, spent time getting Clark Kent right. I disliked all of the Tim Burton Batmans: the guy simply has no feel for action and that's about all that can be said. It's like being a director of musicals who is tone deaf. Sam Raimi has comic-books in his veins, but the Spiderman films suffer from truly ghastly effects and art direction — they look like they were all shot in a car salesroom — but Spiderman 2 is the best-looking and has the best villain. I loved the macro-micro inversions of Men In Black — Barry Sonenfeld caught the sensibility and humor of the strip perfectly. It's short, too, at 98 minutes, just as The Dark Knight is an hour too long. I like compactness in my comic book adaptations — speed, wit, agility. My winner may surprise some people, but Jon Favreau's Iron Man is a tightly-plotted origins story with an unfakeable flair for the material. It is smart without being cynical; the flying sequences — blissfully void of soundtrack — are spectacular without being otiose, and Favreau's background in comic improv pulls loose, funny performances from his actors. It's the complete package. That's the trick to winning these things, I've come to realise — not ambition, or size, or length, or breadth or what have you. It's about quietly, patiently making sure you tick every box.

Quote of the day: Nick Davis on Julie Christie

"I tend to find her too diaphanous a performer to really flourish in roles as small as the ones she got in Hamlet or Finding Neverland. She works best through steady accumulation, not quick exposure, particularly since even in her largest roles, she often seems on the verge of drifting away. But watercolors can work powerfully even on small canvases. Christie does a lovely job within the large ensemble of Warren Beatty and Robert Towne's Shampoo of telegraphing a floating melancholy... she also takes some specific hits and lands some good jokes, whether begging for a haircut or betraying a friend or making a cynical but self-preserving choice against any notion of romance." — Nick Davis

Apr 16, 2010

Zip-a-dee-doo-daa, zip-a-dee-day

"And so the movie keeps zip-zipping self-consciously — faster, Hit-Girl, kill, kill! — as the plot somewhat thickens." — Manohla, Blahnik, New York Times
I've read and reread this sentence and I cannot for the life of me work out what it means. "Zip-zipping" I'm taking as an even zippier version of zipping — i.e. moving along speedily — but how does one do that "self-consciously"? I suppose it's possible to move self-consciously, i.e. a little awkwardly, too focussed on oneself to be properly graceful, and yet somehow I don't think this can be what Bolohnik means, otherwise otherwise why the zip-zipping? After much pondering, I think she must mean two entirely separate things. 1) this movie* is fast. 2) this movie is self-conscious. Ideally, one would like a sentence that combines both ideas in sinuous counterpoint. Failing that, you just jam them into the same sentence, hoping. Blahblahnik's writing is like that: a string of little watch-me moments, each one of which makes you pause, sit back, and think to yourself, "well that doesn't work." Zip-zipping self-consciously, indeed.

*The film is Kick-Ass, and it's the most entertaining thing I've seen all year: a much more successful Tarantino ripoff than even Tarantino seems capable of these days — a true sick-puppy classic. I loved the cheap costumes and the on-the-nose superhero names (Kick Ass, Hit Girl: exactly the kind of thing a kid would come up with). The script has a filthy, insolent wit, although I disapprove of the c*** word, on the grounds that it is British idiom, not American. The director, Matthew Vaughn, shoots in toasty saturated colors, and I loved the climactic shoot-out lit only by muzzle-flash. Why has no-one done this before? Delivering another of his terrified-sarcastic uber-nerds, Christopher Mintz-Plasse is seemingly incapable of a bad line reading, and Hit Girl, well... *sigh* What to say? Call me old-fashioned but I could watch Chloe Moretz unzip the jugulars of bad men all day.

Reel in that metaphor!

"Each song on Martin Dosh’s fifth album, Tommy—named for a dead friend—makes its math-jazz drums and instrumental fragments groove together like a coil of freshly exposed but healthy innards." — Scott Gordon, The A V Club
As long as they're healthy.

Apr 14, 2010

Song of the day: Baby by Bobby McFerrin


Those amnesiac pups over at WEEKEND have finally whittled it down to two directors in their best director bracket: Martin Scorsese versus Chris Nolan. You'll have to excuse me while I get up from my desk and walk in concentric circles while fanning my face, snarling zen mantras to myself. Chris Nolan?
With a decade of alternating thought-provoking and action-packed films under his belt, Nolan has quickly ascended from being a merely promising director to a damn near transcendental one... “Memento,” “The Prestige,” and “The Dark Knight” found themselves on a number of Best of Decade lists, and his forthcoming “Inception” is one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year.
Words fail me. First thoughts: films that are yet to be released don't count, or else we are in the twilight zone (hey, I'm backing Matt Damon on the strength of the films I think he has yet to direct). The Dark Knight was good if overrated. Memento was brilliant. That brings Nolan's tally to one and a half decent films. That's not an oeuvre, that's an evening on Netflix. They at least have the good sense to give to Scorsese although with only 55% of the vote, which makes you wonder what they hell they're putting in their coco-pops these days. That should have been a Tyson smash to the mat. Our final bracket here at TBTTM on the other hand, has it down to Spielberg versus Ang Lee. That's right: the maker of Jaws, Close Encounters, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Catch Me If You Can, Minority Report, Empire of the Sun and Munich versus the maker of The Ice Storm, Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Lust Caution, and Sense & Sensibility. It seems pretty open and shut to me but I'm going to mull on it for a bit. Any thoughts?

Apr 13, 2010

This is a clip from Star Wars Uncut, a forthcoming movie assembled entirely from fanboy recreations of Star Wars. It's the edits that make it for me: one cast of nerds, Leia buns and Han Solo sideburns in place, making way for another altogether different set of nerds. Maybe this Leia is a little podgier, or the droids shabbier, but then it's onto the next, and they're made of lego, the next, and the Chewbacca is made out of strips of old carpet. The effect is transcendent, ecstatic. "If there's a bright centre to he universe, you're on the planet that it's furthest from," says Luke in the film. Not anymore.

The Director with the Luminous Nose

When awful darkness and silence reign
Over the great Gromboolian plain,
Through the long, long wintry nights;--
When the angry breakers roar
As they beat on the rocky shore;--
When Storm-clouds brood on the towering heights
Of the Hills of the Chankly Bore:--

Then, through the vast and gloomy dark,
There moves what seems a fiery spark,
A lonely spark with silvery rays
Piercing the coal-black night,--
A Meteor strange and bright:--
Hither and thither the vision strays,
A single lurid light.

Slowly it wanders,--pauses,--creeeps,--
Anon it sparkles,--flashes and leaps;
And ever as onward it gleaming goes
A light on the Bong-tree stems it throws.
And those who watch at that midnight hour
From Hall or Terrace, or lofty Tower,
Cry, as the wild light passes along,--
'The Dong!--the Dong!
'The wandering Dong through the forest goes!
'The Dong! the Dong!
'The Dong with a luminous Nose!'
The Dong With the Luminous Nose by Edward Lear, excerpted on the occasion of James Cameron's trip to save the Brazilian rainforest, photographs of which have transfixed me ever since I saw them in the New York Times

Quote of the day: Ron Paul

"Conservatives spend money on different things. They like embassies, and they like occupation. They like the empire. They like to be in 135 countries and 700 bases.... Don’t you think it’s rather conservative to say, ‘oh it’s good to follow the Constitution, oh, except for war. Let the President go to war anytime they want.' All empires end in financial collapse." — Ron Paul.

Apr 12, 2010

How to Remake Girl with a Dragon Tattoo

"Already adapted into an award-winning Swedish language trilogy, the English-language version is being produced by Scott Rudin at Sony with Steve Zaillian ("Schindler's List," "American Gangster," the original draft of "Moneyball") currently writing the script. Shooting is set to begin in September or October, presumably once Fincher finishes press rounds for "The Social Network." — The Playlist
Some unsollicited advice for Zaillian (spoilers ahead!):—

1) Hurry things up. 2 and a half hours may be fine for Lawrence of Arabia, but for a bondage-and-computer hacking flick, it's an audience loser. I would suggest not taking one hour to get your crime fighters together, as the director of the Swedish version does. Twenty minutes tops.

2) Untangle your plot elements. In an attempt to make everything connect up in the book, the author quite literally linked up all his elements: the investigator of the disappeared girl was also, turns out, babysat by said girl. This is what is called falling in love with your material. Snap out of it.

3) Ease up on the flashbacks. The sins of the fathers, revisited a generation later, may be a nice theme on the page but on the big screen, its a snore — rather like watching characters in one movie decipher the plot of another, altogether more exciting movie that you never get to see. We're watching these characters, in this time frame: keep the present nicely fed with events. Using Google does not constitute an 'event.'

If you're going to have the killer turn out to be someone we met in the first five minutes, try and inject surprise into proceedings by careful arrangement of red herrings. Three identical Nazi brothers are both two Nazi brothers too many and not nearly enough. Suggest a full battalion. And don't take us through a family tree if we never get to meet them because they are dead. Introductions to dead people are a waste of everyone's time unless their hands are going to grab out ankles when we visit their graves.

5) Keep the girl. The best thing in the movie. A lesbian Miss Marple with nose rings, biker gear and a serious chain-smoking habit, the character of Lispeth Salamandar is the only real reason to make this movie. Lose her backstory and make sure you cast her right. Cary Mulligan: bad idea. Kristen Stewart: closer. Better still would be a comeback vehicle for Winona Ryder.

Apr 11, 2010

THE BEST OF: Matt Damon

Intelligent Life asked for a rundown of Matt Damon's career. Here's what I wrote, more or less. I wish I'd made more of the anger you occasionally see break surface — in Ripley, but also Bourne and in some of the interviews he gave around it. He sometimes seems a little too decent for Hollywood, like an intelligent man fulfilling a dumb brief to the best of his ability, when what he's really like to be doing is.... but then that's the mystery about Damon. The thing he'd rather be doing if acting weren't around. Microfinancier? A star of the college lecture circuit? Whatever it was, he would probably be rich and successful and self-mocking and a little guilty, like a Kennedy.

1) Will Hunting: Good Will Hunting (1997) The role of Will Hunting is the kind of thing Marlon Brando used to daydream about: a slob genius, a street intellectual, a prodigy hoodlum from South Boston who works as a janitor at MIT. In Ben Affleck’s and Matt Damon’s favour, they wrote it originally as a thriller — Will is targeted and recruited by the FBI — but were persuaded otherwise. The result was a movie for, about and by those who adore young men. If Damon blinked, the whole enterprise would have faltered, but he holds his nerve, delivering punchy line readings as if pinning his ego to the mat. He would never allowed himself to be so adored, nor his hair so highlighted, again.

2) Private James Francis Ryan: Saving Private Ryan (1998) So Tom Hanks' men stagger up Omaha beach and battles his way through through occupied France, losing Vin Diesel and Giovanni Ribisi along the way. This Ryan better be worth it,” he quips. “He'd better go home and cure some disease or invent a longer-lasting lightbulb or something.” And who do we get in the role? Matt Damon and his amazing kilowatt smile. Spielberg is know for getting first dibs on the hottest young stars; he whizzed Jennifer Garner into Catch Me If You Can before she could draw breath, casting her as a femme fatale of all things. The same here. The casting probably worked for the three week gap between the January release of Good Will Hunting and the Oscar nominations, but Damon gets one good scene with Hanks, telling a bawdy joke about his brother which brings on a gale of laughter then catches in his throat.

3) Tom Ripley: The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) Damon began his career with a rash of eponymity: first Will hunting, then Private Ryan, then Tom Ripley, as if playing a joke on his own surge from anonymity. Some of that odorlessness was to linger: the actor has an abiding interest in nowhere men, doppelgangers, Zelig figures. The role of Tom Ripley was served up with more murderous relish by John Malkovich, but Damon’s damp-palmed wannabe, his smile held in place just a few beats too long, was an appropriately nervy neophyte: this was, after all, an “origins” story. His final murder is the act of a man snuffing out his last chance at happiness. Now the games could begin.

4) Linus Caldwell: Ocean’s 11 (2001) If you had looked at Affleck and Damon in 1998 and tried to predict which one was going to be the big handsome movie star and which one was going to be the self-effacing student of cinema, you would have had them swapped, I think. But it was Affleck who ended up playing bozos in blockbusters, and Damon who proved the more serious-minded of the two — self-effacing, decent, slightly stolid, with acute powers of self-mockery. There was a entirely becoming modesty to his acceptance of the role of Linus Caldwell in the Ocean's films, the pushy pickpocket forever playing second fiddle to George Clooney and Brad Pitt, the film’s main romance, although as the series went on, Soderbergh made more use of him, striking up the comic alliance that would lead to The Informant.

5) Jason Bourne: The Bourne Identity (2002) The first real flex of his leading man muscles. Damon’s German costar in the first Bourne movie, Franka Potente, the star of Run Lola Run, told him that there was no way to run on film and look good. So he practiced Jason Bourne’s running style until he got it right. You could argue that’s all there was to the role — that the role of the amnesiac assassin, Jason Bourne, amounts to no more than an advanced calisthenics class, but Damon has something of Harrison Ford’s instinct for the right measure of athleticism and perplexity. Sometimes, screen acting is measure in inches and seconds: a narrow ledge, a flash of panic, a step to the left, grateful fingertips.

6) Colin Sullivan: The Departed (2006) The Holy Grail of any young actor: a part in a Martin Scorsese picture. Also, the chance to square off against Leonardo Di Caprio. The two actors play inversions of one another — Damon as Jack Nicholson’s mole within the police department, Di Caprio as the police mole in Nicholson’s crew — and yet one of the disappointments of Scorsese’s film was you never got to feel any static, any electricity, between his two leads, as you did in Michael Mann’s Heat, say. The best thing Damon does in the film is seduce psychologist Vera Farmiga by insulting Freud over dessert. Who wouldn’t.

7) Mark Whitacre: The Informant (2009) The Ocean films told us something new: Damon is surprisingly good at playing company men, pencil pushers, nerds. Soderbergh returned to that vein and opened it out into a rich seam for his film about the bipolar corporate whistleblower Mark Whitacre —Erin Brockovich’s “wacky little brother.” Damon rises to the occasion like a puffball; newly doughy, he deploys his bluff good humor to deliver his best performance, a fascinating extension of his earlier interest in ciphers and zelig-men: a portrait of a man utterly lost to himself, smiling and waving as he steps off the edge of the cliff. His Dorian Gray.

8) Francois Pienaar: Invictus (2009) “I play taller on screen,” were the first words of Damon (5’ 10”) to Springboks captain Francois Pienaar (6’ 4”) upon meeting him at his home in South Africa. He bulked up for the role, trained with the team’s rugby coach, and while his accent was not quite as good as Di Caprio's in Blood Diamond, Damon received an Oscar nomination for his pains. The mind-fit with Eastwood was a lot better than that with Scorsese: he's not a Scorsese firecracker, but shares Eastwood’s dislike of swank and show. Their reunion on Hereafter is to be eagerly anticipated.

Running out of movie stars

"One of the running gags at Saturday night’s 24th annual American Cinematheque Ball was how strange it was to be honoring a movie star who hasn’t yet cracked 40. “What can you say about Matt Damon that hasn’t been said about Brendan Fraser?” roasted Jimmy Kimmel. “You’re here tonight because were running out of stars." — Anne Thompson
The Vulture casts an eye over the current slabs of beef jockeying for position once Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, and George Clooney hang up their spurs. I feel like we've found the limits of Tobey Maguire pretty quickly. Jake Gyllenhaal strikes me as efficient, impeturbable and a little unexciting. Ryan Gosling needs to share the joke with the rest of the class. Leonardo di Caprio needs to break up with Martin Scorsese if he is to rediscover any of the freshness he showed as a gangly kid. Most of the candidates The Vulture comes up with — Zac Ephron, Robert Pattinson, Channing Tatum, Taylor Lautner — are just soda pops who will have lost their fizz in a few years. Sam Worthington seems like a premature attempt to replace Russell Crowe. Ryan Reynolds, Gerald Butler and Bradley Cooper all seem to have been drafted in to help out until the real movie stars turn up. The ones that interest me the most are Chris Pine who showed languid charisma as the young Captain Kirk in Star Trek, Jay Baruchel for his nervy pubescent routine, and Shia la Beouf: the way he zeroed in on the girl in Disturbia was almost a special effect in its on right, like that famous reverse-zoom Hitchcock used in Vertigo. Of those the Vulture don't mention, I'd single out Michael Cera and James Franco who is turning into quite the jack-in-the-box.

Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it's getting!

MARK LEVIN: Obama 'Closest Thing to Dictator We've Ever Had'...
PALIN: Obama's 'vast nuclear experience he acquired 'community organizer'...
LIZ CHENEY: Obama Putting America on 'Path to Decline'...
HANNITY: Obama 'Is a Socialist'...
SAVAGE: 'Obama The Destroyer'...
GINGRICH: Obama 'most radical president ever'...
LIMBAUGH: Obama 'inflicting untold damage on this great country'...
The Drudge Report these days reads like a the medical notes of a psych doctor walking around his ward, checking on his most troubled patients. And how is Mr Gingrich this fine morning? Still obsessed that your house is not exactly as your left it. I see. And Mr Limbaugh? Your neighbour is trying to kill you, you say? Oh dear. That is unfortunate. Levin? Still swatting at non existent dragons, I see. Hmm. Miss Palin? No signs of improvement? Oh well. Time is the great healer... What's that? But of course I will attend your tea party. How nice of you to ask... Meanwhile the most moderate, consensus-seeking, constitution-loving, law-abiding, democrat-centrist president sits in the Oval office, as plain as day to anyone who isn't wearing Fox news's patented psychedelic-swirl 3-D paranoic glasses.

Apr 10, 2010

Don't know what a slide rule is for: Rachel Weisz

'It was the mention of sex that caught the waiter’s ear. We were in a café in New York East Village, and Rachel Weisz was telling me about her new film, Agora, in which she plays the 4th century philosopher Hypatia. The film’s director, Alejandro Amenebar, had insisted on complete naturalism from his actors, she told me. “There’s a style of acting that can come with period films where everybody just freezes up. But they were drinking and fucking and doing maths or whatever else they were doing. They were just people.”

At which point, the waiter, stood by the cash register just to our left, froze, like a man hunting deer. You could almost see the cogs whirring: An Academy-Award-winning actress has just said the word “fucking”. Cool.

“I actually told Alejandro they should shoot a scene where she was looking at the stars and masturbating,” Weisz continued. “I suggested a PG version where her hand just went out of frame, and you’re watching her come looking at the stars. He wouldn’t go for it. I begged him. I wanted to know about that stuff. What’s up? What’s her sexuality? Where’s her deviancy?”

There was a pause, then a kerrching of the cash register, and the waiter wandered off, doubtless to pour coffee absent-mindedly into his next customer’s lap, or his own.'

from my interview with Rachel Weisz in The Sunday Times

Why we're better off without film critics

Salon film critic Stephanie Zacharek is the latest to a lose her job. I've been keeping a steady eye on the number of film critic redundancies over the last year, as have A.O. Scott, The Chronicle of Higher Education, David Bordwell, Eric Kohn, Glenn Kenny and Anne Thompson (from whom I got the preceding links). I have the distinction of both being an ex- film critic myself, and one who emigrated to the one country on earth to send us the way of the dodo, I feel about as useful as a left-handed tuba player down a coal mine. But then I was never one who thought that film criticism served any kind of function besides the purest self-expression. Nobody in the history of human contact was ever persuaded that they liked a movie when they in fact didn't, or that they didn't when they in fact did. My own opinion of a film had about as much effect on my readers, I would guess, as a gnat bite on the rump of the leatheriest rhino. Most people can read between the lines, assessing you as coolly as you assess the film. I know I did. I used to happily invert all the opinions I read in Sight & Sound, for example, knowing that I would in most cases end up with something closer to my own tastes. It was enough for a S & S critic to dislike a movie to prick my interest in it, and conversely, their praise often made a film sound dreadful. I still think that film critics are blazingly out of sync with the vast majority of filmgoers — just look at the raise heaped on movies like Duplicity, Up In The Air, A Serious Man and Greenberg, all clever, sometimes witty, thematically rich movies with no discernible pulse. In fact, with 75% of film critics giving Greenberg an enthusiastic thumbs up, it might be argued that it's high time film critics went extinct. One of the most frequent searches that brings people to this blog, I've noticed is, "A Serious Man Worst Movie Ever." I'm extremely proud of that, if only because I feel like I've actually served some kind of positive purpose, reassuring people that no, they're not crazy, that movie really is mocking the notion of a good time as much as they think it is. To be the one offering that healing balm feels ten times more productive than writing a review of the thing. It's one of the things I most like about blogs: the corroborative, morning-after aspect. One regrets the loss of income, naturally, but I would be hard pushed to give any cogent reasons to reverse our obsolescence. I adore reading Anthony Lane, David Edelstein and A O Scott, not because they make my mind up, but because it's always fun to spot fine minds describe their reaction to anything — films, books, washing the car, having sex, breakfast. It's got nothing to do with the movie. I'll read their review on the day, two weeks later, a year after the fact — it makes no difference to me if the writer is good. And if the movie is good — which is to say that it's picked up heat at the festivals or on the blogs — I will deliberately avoid reading any reviews so as not to trample mud into a virgin plot. So there you have it: movie critics don't serve any function and they frequently ruin the thing I most like about movies. They're perilously close to being an active nuisance. Its a wonder people tolerate us for as long as they did.

Quote of the day: Col. Lawrence Wilkerson

“Another part of the political dilemma originated in the Office of Vice President Richard B. Cheney, whose position could be summed up as “the end justifies the means”, and who had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantánamo detainees were innocent, or that there was a lack of any useable evidence for the great majority of them. If hundreds of innocent individuals had to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it.” — Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, quoted in The Times

New poll: The Meaning of Life

"Of the three topics that Immanuel Kant once said were the proper subjects of metaphysics – namely God, freedom and immortality... Free will gets a thumbs-up: only 12% of philosophers think that people’s lives are predestined. But God gets the thumbs-down: nearly three-quarters accept or lean towards atheism... Contrary to a widespread caricature, it emerges that most philosophers do not go around doubting the existence of physical objects (and thus colliding with them). Some 82% of the respondents accept or are inclined towards “non-sceptical realism” about the external world, which means they believe both that physical objects exist independently of the minds that perceive them, and that we can be said to know of their existence. Some 4.8%, though, are inclined to deny that we have certain knowledge of the existence of physical objects, and 4.2% accept or lean towards “idealism”, which is the theory that matter somehow depends on mind. As for the status of so-called “abstract” objects, such as numbers, the most popular view (scoring 39%, narrowly ahead of its closest rival) is “Platonism”, according to which abstract objects have a real existence independently of our minds. By a fairly narrow margin, today’s philosophers believe that judgments of artistic value are not merely matters of individual taste: 41% said aesthetic values are objective, 34% say subjective, and a quarter gave some other answer. They were not asked directly whether moral values are objective, but the responses to related questions suggest that most philosophers believe they are. Some 56% incline towards “moral realism”, which has no precise definition but implies that ethical questions have objectively right (and wrong) answers, and nearly two-thirds endorsed moral “cognitivism”, which suggests that they believe there are moral facts or truths." — Anthony Gottleib Intelligent Life

A summer album

For no other reason but that I'm smitten with my new screen capture software and because my favorite bit of Barry Normans film program was always the credits, where you got to see flashes of films yet to come, here is a selection of stills from summer movies I am looking forward to: Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are Alright (top); Angelina Jolie in Salt; Russell Crowe in Robin Hood; Tilda Swinton in I Am Love; Geena Davis in Accidents Happen; Tommy Lee Jones in The Company Men; and one of the villains in Toy Story 3.

Apr 8, 2010

Model hands misery to model: ANTM cycle 14

It was time for Alasia to make her way to the Judge’s table.

“I actually like this picture of you,” aid Tyra. “There’s a little bit of attitude in it.”

Alasia smiled gratefully.

“For me the picture is dramatic,” said guest judge Andre Talley with his usual Wildean aplomb. “I can see it in a double page spread in a high fashion magazine... Honeychild, for me, you created your own ragtime.”

Alasia’s smile spread from ear to ear. Then it was guest judge Rachel Roy’s turn.

“I can’t see much in your eyes,” she said, peering at Alasia’s picture. “The other thing that worries me is that kind of long drool coming off your chin....”

“Its us that should be drooling not you,” chipped in photographer Nigel Barker.

The drool was actually a droplet of water, sprayed onto Asalia the day before, while she stood on a New York rooftop, in the dead of winter, being hosed down with freezing water while Jay Manuel, the art director, dispensed the world’s least helpful advice since Iago whispered sweet nothings into Othello’s ear. “Don’t look cold,” he said, and “You’re over-thinking it.” It could be argued, of course, that responsibility for that droplet of water lay with him, or with the photographer, or wit the editor who selected the photograph, or with Isaac Newton, whose laws of gravity dictated that the water, once it had gathered on Asalia’s chin, was bound, irrevocably, to fall.

But Asalia, who at 18 is the youngest contestant on the current season of America’s Next Top Model, accepted the criticism without demur. At least she hadn’t been knocked for six during the catwalk show, as one girl was, by one of the giant pendulums swinging across the runway — a haunting evocation of the march of time and pitfalls of model obsolescence worthy of Dali himself. Critics like to point out that the show bears little resemblance to the actual world of modeling, but the show is not about grooming the next supermodel, it is an imaginative recreation of the trials and tribulations, psychic knocks and bruises that its creator, Tyra Banks, felt on her rise to the top.

Her mither made her study the industry — memorisign he names of the photographers, hairdresses,

She may not have had to walk down a runway while pendulums tried to knock her off, or been made up to look like a corpse, or a circus freak, or a vampire, but it must have felt as if she did.

When Tyra famously lost her shit with Tiffany in Season Four — “YOU DON’T KNOW WHERE THE HELL I CAME FROM! YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’VE BEEN THROUGH” — she wasn’t just reprimanding Tiffany for rolling her eyes. She was, in her molten rage, delivering the show’s pitch. It is all about the hell Tyra has been through.

Many TV shows double up as personality cults for their hosts — it’s almost a working definition of what it is to host a TV program — but in Tyra’s case the cult has gone full Waco. Americe’s Next Top Model has come to revolve around her in a way that the other cousins in the franchise do not. Elle McPherson, the host of Britain’s Next Top Model, does not present the competition as an opportunity to “friend” her, with the chosen girls invited to be part of her “fierce” page; Heidi Klum, who presents the German edition, does not decorate the models’ lodgings with vast posters of herself. Tyra presides over her show like a cross between Nefertiti and the T-1000 Terminator in Terminator 2; Judgment Day, whipping the girls into a state of suatained hysteria with “Tyra Mail” and numerous surprise visits in which she plugs in her sympathy chip and dispenses Oprahesque homilies on weight gain, or racism, or whatever topic of the day has caught her fancy. Tyra couldn’t look more bored during these segments (“You met your biological father how?”) and the girl’s couldn’t look more terrified. After reducing them to tears, Tyra will fix them with a serpentine glare and ask, with an imaculate blend of sympathy and menace, “why are you crying?” Be careful how you answer. The bulimia which won you sympathy in one episode is as likely to bring them an accusation of excuse-mongering the next.

“Man hands on misery to man,” wrote Philip Larkin, thinking of his parents, but his mom never made him walk the Parisian catwalks encased in black leather. Try the misery handed on from model to model and I don’t just mean the contestants of America’s Next Top Model, whose behind-the-scenes bitchery feels as lukewarm as the washing-up they invariably argue about. I mean the roiling lava pit that is judge’s table, where Tyra is joined by English photographer Nigel Barker (“noted Fashion photographer Nigel Barker”) whose running battle with his own lechery forms one of the show’s more engaging subplots. There is art director Jay Manuel who under cover of dispensing advice does his utmost to plant IEDs beneath the girl’s self esteem; there is runway coach Jay Alexander, who does the exact opposite; and Vogue’s editor-at-large Andre Talley, a departure from previous guest judges in that he actually knows what he is talking about and whose Vreelandish pronouncements have fast become my favorite thing about the show. “It has a drama to it but it’s a stereotypical drama — it doesn’t have the true magic,” he opines, barely looking the girl in the eye. And: “Sometimes a jutting chin can be a great thing.”

In truth, as with so many reality TV shows, the amount of time it would take a professional booker to decide the competition lies somewhere between three and five seconds. The task of telescoping that snap judgment into 13 one hour episodes places intolerable stress on the vocabulary, expertise and patience of all concerned, although Tyra’s efforts to impart her pearls of wisdom are the most reliably hilarious. “Not like this," she will say, squinting her eyes, jutting her shin, delivering a smoky little moue. “Like this,” she says, gathering herself like Olivier himself to squint her eyes, jut her shin, and deliver a smoky little moue. Meanwhile, the vamping that goes on between her and the judges — the cat-calls and whistles, the hoots of derision and glee, the spontaneous bursts of song and dance — has grown so rowdy as to obliterate the models themselves, who simply stand there, like nervous applicants for a job at the local nuthouse. In truth, they are an irrelevance, and always were. The show was never about them. In Tyra’s head, and on the show in perpetuity, it is and always will be about Tyra’s first night, that first cruel remark or catty back-swipe, now visited upon others — sucking out the poison and spitting it back out. America’s Next Top Model is pathological TV: as utterly compelling as only the wicked can be.