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.