Sunday, December 11, 2005

brokeback mountain

Ang Lee's "gay cowboy movie" is too quiet and intimate to shoulder the expectations gay-rights advocates want to thrust upon it But that shouldn't keep you from seeing it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Bono's recent interview with Ed Bradley on 60 Minutes stirred up all my mixed emotions about U2's "resurgence" in the 21st century as a watered-down, honorably tame version of their former "classic" selves. Bono is nothing if not sincere about his activism, but the music leaves me ... not cold ... more like vaguely uninterested, with a nagging sense that I should be more impressed than I am.

Staci Schwartz discusses these similar feelings in a recent concert piece in The Village Voice. She's more a devotee than I am at this point, but she nicely captures what it feels like to still love the band -- and she does give the proper perspective on Bono's rare ability to actually get fans to care about the same issues he cares about.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

2005: the year people stopped caring about movies

Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times distills Hollywood's paranoia about "The Slump" -- the year-long box-office slide that inspired columnists to bend over backwards with new explanations about what it all meant. Were the movies worse than ever? Had DVD killed off the theatrical experience? This piece isn't necessarily persuasive journalism, but it eloquently sums up every "sky is falling" theory out there.

Hopefully in a few years, we'll be able to look back and laugh.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

john simon

Richard Schickel has a great piece on critic John Simon's new books on film, theater, and music. He and Simon both have valuable things to say about the dangers and necessity of art criticism.

Here's Schickel on the crucial difference between an essay and a review ...

[R]eviews are not essays, those lengthy and leisurely reflections on careers or themes aimed at an audience that has some knowledge of the subject at hand. Reviews, however gracefully written, whatever grander fantasies their authors may entertain, are a form of consumer guidance, written in haste, against deadlines and to space. Worse, the reviewer is always the prisoner of what's on offer at the moment in his field. I would say, based on bitter experience, that well over half the time, he's obliged to conjure up an opinion about stuff on which he would not normally care to spare an idle thought, let alone a thousand or more words.

And here is Simon on why good entertainment matters -- and why it matters that critics cover it ...

Our great problem is that we do not sufficiently understand and appreciate the shortness of our time, that we do not (and apparently will not) comprehend how much great art of all kinds there is in the world in which our time is so short that we can explore only a fraction of its wonders. Hence it is stupid and vicious to entice people into wasting hours of their brief span on … drivel.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

hating 50 cent

A movie as execrable as Get Rich or Die Tryin' is probably best handled by utterly ignoring it. But I couldn't help myself.

Friday, November 11, 2005

harry potter and the goblet of fire

My review of the new Harry Potter film is up on Screen International.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

what's worse: the dodgers or the sports coverage of them?

Great piece in the Los Angeles Times' opinion section (now called Current) about the piling-on mentality of the Times' sports writers, specifically Bill Plaschke and T.J. Simers, when dealing with the problems the beleaguered Dodgers have faced this season.

The commentary, written by Matt Welch under Current's Outside the Tent heading, which is an occasional column that allows outside voices to criticize the paper and its reporting, argues that recently fired general manager Paul DePodesta deserved to be let go but also deserved brighter minds to explain precisely how he was screwing up ...

The worst part isn't that the columnists' complaints about DePodesta are wrong, it's that they're often right. (Or at least, that I agree with them.) The young GM was painfully lacking in people-management skills and made a bunch of questionable moves. But if Southern Californians want an intelligent discussion of these issues, one where the truth matters more than either clumsy insults about "spreadsheets" or smooching Tommy Lasorda's behind, they know where to go: the Web. Maybe that's why Plaschke hates the Internet so much: People there are doing his job, only better.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

barry lyndon

Of Stanley Kubrick's studio films, Barry Lyndon is the least celebrated. After seeing a terrific print at the Aero in Santa Monica, I can't understand why -- it's a masterpiece. Searching the Web for the best explanation of why the film works so well, I came upon J. Hoberman's piece. I think he doesn't give Ryan O'Neal enough credit, but otherwise it's spot-on.

jarhead: better than you've heard

When I saw Jarhead before its release, already the disappointed buzz was building. I think it has its flaws, but it's a much smarter and more insidious film than people have realized.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

being fair to bush

It's easy to made snide comments about the Bush administration, but in the spirit of fairness, we should also take into consideration this president's successes. This piece is as eloquent about Bush's political victories as any I've seen.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

the lost doonesbury strips on harriet miers

It could be my political slant, of course, but Garry Trudeau has done terrific work in the last couple years, methodically shellacking the Bush Administration's litany of failure and arrogance. The Harriet Miers nomination provided more fodder, but by the time Trudeau had gotten around to attacking her, Bush had already yanked her from consideration.

Even though these aborted strips about her nomination will never appear in your local paper, they have been collected here, and they're very much in keeping with Trudeau's calm-yet-angry style of satire. Seriously, future generations will look back at our current president and wonder what the hell we were thinking. To which we will respond, "Hey, I never voted for him."

Thursday, October 27, 2005


The hottest MC and the hippest DJ came together for a little irreverent fun, and the results are the very stellar The Mouse and the Mask.

Monday, October 24, 2005


In bite-sized form, here are my reviews of Shopgirl, Capote, Good Night, and Good Luck and many other wonderful pop-culture items. I call it Consumables.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

calvin and hobbes

A genuinely funny comic strip stands above the medium's mediocrity so easily that there's a tendency to overrate any brief flicker of talent. But for a few years there, Calvin and Hobbes was really something.

Bill Watterson's adventurous boy and pet tiger are back, sorta. The Complete Calvin and Hobbes is an exhaustive collection of every panel that ever appeared during the strip's 10-year run. Charles Solomon's loving appreciation encapsulates what made it all so special, concluding with these great closing lines ...

In the final Sunday strip, Calvin looks at the newly fallen snow and declares, "It's a magical world, Hobbes, ol' buddy...." But since Calvin and Hobbes left the comics page, readers have had to find that magic somewhere else.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

paul zimmerman: football for non-dummies

Dr. Z, longtime NFL writer for Sports Illustrated, is a hero of mine for his ability to blend the personal anecdote with the objective analysis. Here's what I wrote about him in Knot a few years ago ...

What Zimmerman brings to football is what the great art critics bring to their respective mediums. He captures his particular milieu perfectly. He creates language and point of view where other people gloss over and take for granted. His interest sparks your own interest, reinvigorates your enthusiasm. He leaves no doubt that he knows exactly what he's talking about.

And he does it with very little flash. Like Peter Gammons for baseball, Zimmerman has managed to maintain his dignity and brains in a sports world where the broadcasters and journalists are as self-promoting as the jocks they cover. What has sustained Z's survival in these treacherous waters is his self-possessed cool, which made him acceptable to the SportsCenter adrenaline junkies. He's that rare old dude the kids respect.

Obviously, being a fan of the sport makes a huge difference, but anyone with a taste for lively writing can appreciate Zimmerman's talent for intelligent observations and his disinterest in acting superior to the guys who just love the hard hits and endzone dances.

Every week during the season, Dr. Z does his Power Rankings of the 32 teams in the league. These are tiny little delights, a mixture of humor and insight and personal asides. Beyond the simple enjoyment of his analysis, each column provides a small, casual glimpse of the man's private life and inner workings.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

animal collective

My review of Animal Collective's new album Feels appears in the Phoenix New Times.

Friday, October 14, 2005

who is rodrigo garcia?

A very nice, very funny, very smart man with a great new movie called Nine Lives. I talked to him about it for the LA Weekly.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

life lessons from robert christgau, part one

Robert Christgau has been writing about music at the Village Voice for over 30 years now. His body of criticism is an inspiration to anyone who's serious about discussing popular art in a serious, grand way. As an added bonus, he's hysterical.

You can start anywhere on his exhaustive website to get fresh insights into artists he loves (Randy Newman, Steely Dan) and even the ones he hates (Radiohead). Here's a piece I've been enjoying lately, a glowing appreciation of Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life. Written in 1976, but it feels like it was published yesterday.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

how to write an appreciation; or, remembering august wilson

When someone well-regarded in the arts dies, he or she usually receives both an obituary and an "appreciation" from most publications. The obituary states the biographical facts; the appreciation is a reverent (some might say fawning) celebration of the artist by a critic in his or her field. Rarely does an appreciation attempt any sort of clear-eyed analysis of the deceased's work; because we so fear speaking ill of the dead, we idealize the person, robbing the individual of complexity.

Charles McNulty, who will soon be the theater critic for the Los Angeles Times, manages to go against the grain in his appreciation of playwright August Wilson, who died October 2. By offering a balanced perspective on Wilson's work, McNulty proves that praise is more meaningful when it's set against honest critical perspective. It's an impressive feat; hopefully Wilson would approve.

UPDATE (Sept. 1, 2008): For whatever reason, this post continues to attract a lot of attention to my blog. Sadly, the original piece about August Wilson has been removed from the Los Angeles Times site. Also sadly, since I first published this post I've had firsthand experience in writing appreciations, one for Edward Yang, another for Ed Guthman.

a history of violence

David Cronenberg's A History of Violence has been praised as a searing indictment of America and its gun-crazy culture. I disagree.

Friday, September 23, 2005

starbucks, now 35 percent less evil

It's easy to lump Starbucks into the same category as Wal-Mart or McDonald's -- evil corporations out to destroy the planet while fattening their wallet.

However, Jesse Kornbluth begs to differ with that assessment. Unlike those other bulky brands, Kornbluth says in Mediabistro, Starbucks is actually rather progressive, both in its handling of employees and its overall agenda. In the process, they have become that rare thing: "a company with soul."

Monday, September 19, 2005

believe the hype

"Believe the Hype" is my biweekly column for the Black Table that takes a closer look at a movie, album, book, or television show that's been getting a lot of buzz recently. I try to determine if it's actually worth its hype.

Today's piece is about House. The diagnosis isn't pretty.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

a true muslim woman, yes or no?

Muslim women living in America have an unenviable choice -- dress and act like any other Western female (and lose your cultural identity) or don a burka (and be stereotyped as an oppressed wallflower) ...

To most Westerners, "an authentic Muslim woman is always wearing a hijab," said Asma Barlas, a Koran scholar at Ithaca College whose female-centric
interpretations of Islam's holy book have sparked controversy in the Muslim world.

In reality, most Muslim women in the United States and in Europe don't wear the hijab, except for worship, because they are members of a secular majority or see themselves as cultural Muslims, identifying more with rai music or rumi poetry than with salah, or Scripture. Still others are devoted Muslims but don't view the hijab as a prerequisite of spirituality.

To these Muslim women, the hijab is more than an annoying media stereotype. It obscures their independence, outspokenness and career-mindedness.

Omar Sacirbey dissects this struggle for identity.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

lord of war

My piece on Lord of War.

constant gardener

No, you're not wrong for thinking that The Constant Gardener is a tad overrated.

And Anthony Lane will explain why.

we'll know where when we get there

This is an experiment into seeking out the best writing on the arts, culture, what have you.

Often, I'll agree with the point of view, but not always. Mostly, I just want a place to collect insightful, engaging commentary that actually stimulates the mind.

We'll see how it goes.