John Leonard on Books We Love

Posted on November 7, 2008 at 7:46 am

A beautiful tribute to book, television, and movie critic John Leonard in Salon has this lovely quote from him about the books he loved:
My whole life I have been waving the names of writers. From these writers, for almost 50 years, I have received narrative, witness, companionship, sanctuary, shock, and steely strangeness; good advice, bad news, deep chords, hurtful discrepancy, and amazing grace…The books we love, love us back. In gratitude, we should promise not to cheat on them — not to pretend we’re better than they are; not to use them as target practice, agitprop, trampolines, photo ops or stalking horses; not to sell out scruple to that scratch-and-sniff infotainment racket in which we posture in front of experience instead of engaging it, and fidget in our cynical opportunism for an angle, a spin, or a take, instead of consulting compass points of principle, and strike attitudes like matches, to admire our wiseguy profiles in the mirrors of the slicks. We are reading for our lives, not performing like seals for some fresh fish.

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Terrence Howard on Acting

Posted on October 28, 2008 at 10:00 pm

“When I first started acting, I thought it was about the best liar. I thought the best liar was the best actor. But it’s the best truth-teller. To find the truth on those pages of black and white and to believe in it so much. It has to be honest; it has to be truthful.”
Terrence Howard on acting, in an interview with NPR’s Scott Simon.
Many thanks to Brandon Fibbs for bringing this interview to my attention.

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Thoughts on ‘W’ as Movie, History, and Politics

Posted on October 18, 2008 at 2:20 pm

Movie review from Dana Stevens of Slate:
Neither satire nor biopic, the film is a kind of secular pageant, enacting with dogged literality the well-known stations of the cross of Bush’s life: the 40th-birthday hangover-turned-religious-conversion! The near-asphyxiation by pretzel! Mission accomplished! “Is our children learning?” The moments scroll up the screen like the song titles on one of those greatest-hits collections advertised on TV. The movie is done in the broad strokes and primary colors that are Stone’s trademark–lest you’ve forgotten JFK, this is not a filmmaker of nuance–but the net effect is both satisfying and strangely cathartic to watch.W-poster-sml.jpg
My enjoyment of this film hovered perilously close to camp at times. Stone’s musical choices lay it on particularly thick: He accompanies a party scene during Bush’s drinking years with the Freddy Fender song “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” and scores the fall of Baghdad to the marchlike rhythm of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” But if Stone’s portrait of George Bush is laid on with a trowel, maybe it’s because God seems to have engineered the real Bush’s life with a similarly crude sense of irony. W. is a case of biographer and subject being perfectly matched: You really don’t want a Bush biopic directed by Jean-Luc Godard (though Robert Altman could have done something interesting with it if he were still around). Like Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin, Stone’s George Bush gets his best lines straight from the source. This movie was scripted by screenwriter Stanley Weiser (Wall Street) but was ghostwritten by history itself.
Slate political columnist Timothy Noah talks about what they left out:
W. is the rare Oliver Stone film that had to tone down the historical record because the truth was too lurid. How the hell do you tell the uncensored story of a guy like George W. Bush? No one would believe it.
Stevens and Noah have a great conversation about the movie on the weekly “spoiler special,” which can be accessed via iTunes.

(more…)

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Quote of the Week: Dana Stevens on ‘Body of Lies’

Posted on October 12, 2008 at 11:00 am

Dana Stevens of Slate gets a little meta on “Body of Lies:”
Certain moments are contractually required to happen in a movie like this: Camels will plod across the horizon as a woman’s voice wails in Arabic on the soundtrack. An expensive-looking aerial shot will soar over CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., as a legend on the screen’s lower left spells out, “Langley, Virginia.” Jeeps will explode in the desert. Leonardo DiCaprio’s forehead will perspire in extreme close-up. I will consult my watch.

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A.O. Scott on “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”

Posted on October 4, 2008 at 12:18 pm

I love New York Times critic A.O. Scott’s review of this movie, my favorite romantic comedy of the year so far by far. Scott beautifully captures the charm of this lovely film.

As thin as an iPod Nano, as full of adolescent self-display as a Facebook page, “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” strives to capture, in meticulous detail, what it’s like to be young right now….Norah’s wary, pouty manner and Nick’s odd mix of timidity and sarcasm are both strategies of self-protection.

I particularly admire this wonderfully evocative description of one of the key elements of the movie, as suggested by the title — the soundtrack, and how it complements and counterpoints the story and themes:

The tunes that play alongside their nocturnal adventure express longing, sadness, anxiety and joy with more intensity than they can muster themselves. Nick, played by the wet-noodle heartthrob Michael Cera (“Juno,” “Superbad”) and Norah (Kat Dennings, who has a hint of Kate Winslet’s soft, smart loveliness in her face) are, like so many kids these days, most comfortable with diffidence, understatement and a deadpan style of address that collapses the distinction between irony and sincerity.

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