Culture

Boob Tube

With ‘The Cosmopolitans,’ Whit Stillman Has Evolved

By 9.11.14

Whit Stillman’s reputations rests upon a small body of work. After The Last Days of Disco (1998), he seemed, for a time, to be done. Twelve years later when he released Damsels in Distress, his fourth film, its reception was somewhat mixed; Damsels in Distress was cute and candy-colored, not much like the more muted and sophisticated Last Days of Disco. The dialogue, however, was still pure Stillman: neurotic WASPs worrying over the same customs and declining social mores, striking poses they don’t quite have the weight to hold onto. It wasn’t an altogether successful update, though it’s hard not to love a light-hearted romantic comedy that is constantly cracking jokes about suicide—or perhaps that’s just me.

Serve and Volley

Federer Improves—And the Yanks Are Knocked Out Cold

By 9.2.14

You can say that the first week of a major in tennis represents the triumph of hope over percentage: the world is wide open, anything is possible, the bold will be rewarded.

You can then add the sobering reflection that the second week, in the thick of which we find ourselves at the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadows, Queens, represents the triumph of percentage over hope: the world has doors that slam on you when you thought they were unhinged.

Maybe you were unhinged, intoxicated with your own dreams.

Eminentoes

Bradley Manning Is Not a Victim of Cruel and Unusual Punishment

By 8.14.14

Is Bradley Manning suffering from vaginal dryness? Is his hair thinning out? Are his breasts getting smaller while his tummy swells like a gourd? How regular are his periods? What about his personality: is he behaving shrewishly toward his jailers at Fort Leavenworth, haranguing them about the toilet seat? The world wants to know. Or at least I do.

Flick Story

Watch ‘The Giver’ to Remind Yourself Why We’re Fighting

By 8.13.14

What do progressives want? If you want to know, to really see, then pack up the wife and kids and head to your local movie theater on August 15.

Based on the Lois Lowry novel, a new movie called The Giver is going to change the way people think about the nanny state. The movie is not some sort of right-wing propaganda film. In fact, it has such Hollywood heft as Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, Katie Holmes, Brenton Thwaites, and — a casting decision that will please my 15 year daughter Lucy — Taylor Swift. The novel’s author is, in fact, an Obama supporter.

So why do I say all conservatives should see it? Because it shows us what’s at stake.

The movie includes a totalitarian government like we’ve seen in The Hunger Games and Divergent, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these themes keep popping up under and administration that regularly erodes our liberties and targets its perceived enemies.

‘The Giver’ Movie: Translating Big Ideas From a Little Book

By on 8.8.14 | 3:35PM

Filmmakers adapting Lois Lowry’s The Giver to the silver screen — fitting to the monochromatic utopia she created — have a tall order. I attended a prescreening of the Weinstein and Walden Media film on Wednesday (signing in the process an embargo not to review the movie until next week), but I can probably say that the adaptation remains true to the themes highlighted in the well-loved novel.

The story’s protagonist, Jonas, is the new “Receiver of Memories,” a historian a la George Santayana in a history-less society. He who must dispense wisdom for the present based on memories of the past must grapple with the guilt of moral knowledge as a member of an amoral society. 

Special Report

From Boob Jokes to Ukraine: A Talk With Robert Evans of Cracked.Com

By 7.31.14

Gallows humor is one of the most traditional and least savory elements of esprit de corps. For cops, doctors, soldiers, social workers—anybody whose job site is the miserable human heart—gallows humor puts the “against the world” into us-against-the-world. In a Venn diagram of “jokes cops post in online forums” and “civil rights violations,” a lot of material would fall in the overlap area. Emergency-room abbreviations like CTD (Circling the Drain) or FDGB (Fall Down Go Boom) cauterize the emotions, triaging competence at the expense of empathy. When gallows humor enters journalism it’s often dehumanizing without the excuse of necessity: I’ll always love the tabloid style, but one day I realized that HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR describes the death of some mother’s child. 

In this hard-bitten landscape, the journalistic experiment in empathy Cracked.com has embarked on is an outlier. Cracked, which started out as MAD Magazine’s kid brother, now looks more like a punk version of the Washington Post.

Kids These Days

Back Off, Tiger Moms: The Kids Are Alright

By 7.24.14

The news has been filled with their stories—children just seven or nine or eleven years old, on their own, faced with the impossible, braving death under a hot sun, with nothing but their wits to tell them when to roll down the window.

You thought I was talking about the child migrants? No, I’m referring to our own chubby doltlings, who apparently aren’t up to playing in the park by themselves or even capable of sitting quietly in a car without spontaneously expiring, much less handle a 1,400-mile journey from Guatemala unaccompanied.

The Movies You Watch Aren’t Gay Enough, Say Activists

By on 7.23.14 | 4:37PM

Gay and transgender characters don't feature often enough in major Hollywood films, according to a bizarre claim from the activist organization GLAAD. I say that the claim is bizarre because their gripe is that "only" 17 out of 102 big studio films from 2013 featured gay characters. GLAAD regularly bean counts the number of homosexuals in film in their Studio Responsibility Index. "Only" seems a bit of an odd choice of words, though, when 3.8% of Americans identify as LGBT. If anything, gays are disproportionately represented in movies. This should hardly be surprising, given the distinctly liberal complexion of the entertainment industry.

Culture Vultures

Why Does Anyone Care About Vampires?

By 7.23.14

Are vampires scary? Though by all rights they should be, they’ve never really frightened me. Or even been that compelling, really: I read Dracula once and stopped there.

Pop culture, on the other hand, loves vampires. But most of its vampires aren’t frightening either. From The Vampire Chronicles to Buffy to True Blood to Twilight, vampires can be seductive or they can be ridiculous, but they don’t seem to provoke fear in the audience or even seem to be designed to. (Articles I’ve never seen: “Scary moments from last night’s True Blood.This sort of article, on the other hand….) Indeed, the vampire who kicked off this whole trend back in 1819 was modeled on Lord Byron; a striking figure, to be sure, but not really a frightening one.

Flick Story

Talking Too Much: Scott Derrickson’s ‘Deliver Us From Evil’

By 7.22.14

In The Brothers Karamazov, after the atheist Ivan has talked for two full chapters—“Rebellion,” the greatest statement of the problem of evil, and “The Grand Inquisitor”—he gives his Christian brother Alyosha a chance to respond. Here we’ve heard the prosecution speak. What’s the case for God?

And Alyosha leans over and kisses him.

Scott Derrickson’s new, sincere horror film Deliver Us From Evil should have listened to how much the wordless Alyosha was saying. Human arguments can only be as big as the arguers. So much of God is left over: outside, eldritch, Other. 

Horror should be the genre which best captures this inexpressibility of God, the wrongness of Him compared to the tidy, familiar, practical mental apparatus by which we make sense of the world. The Exorcist is admirably incomplete: tragic, broken, ferocious in the face of evil but submissive in the face of suffering. It convinces by never trying to convince.

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