Exploring the history and development of everything from television and popular music to literature and the plastic arts.
Looper is only the latest in a string of movies that bend time to pit two versions of a character against each other, and with potentially lethal results.
Five archetypes of criticism — the Judge, the Theorist, the Exegete, the Explorer and the Alchemist — can help us better understand how criticism contributes to culture, and why disputes sometimes arise over its value.
There is ample reason to suppose that the rituals enacted by the trial of Pussy Riot extend beyond the courtroom. From the band’s own protests to the media’s coverage of their guilty verdict, the more one looks at the case, the more ritual appears at every turn. Those rituals have done their part, but now it’s time to break free.
The Cult of Civic Spirit
Under the influence of narrative innovators like Poe, Hoffman and Conan Doyle, mystery has lost many of its overtly religious trappings. Yet, the loss has not been total. The biggest twist in modern mystery may be that the religious nature of the mystery has, itself, been occulted.
The Wonder Years
Because the superhero movie has been taken up by directors with a slick aesthetic, it is easy to make the mistake of supposing that this is its final form. But in its own messy way, the genre is still growing. Those growing pains are a great part of the appeal.
It’s a long-accepted principle of internet etiquette that major plot points should never be revealed in mixed company unless preceded by a spoiler warning. Now recent research from psychologists at UCSD suggests that spoilers may actually increase a reader’s enjoyment of a story. Who’s misleading whom?
The Allegory of the Batcave
The premise that Nolan’s Batman trilogy is conflicted over Batman’s role in all this violence can be accepted at face value. But suggesting that our acceptance of Batman as the protagonist makes us complicit in the violence inherent in the system is perhaps taking things a bit too seriously.
The Literature of Obsession
Novels can be demanding for a number of reasons, but Infinite Jest and Finnegan’s Wake belong to a special breed of books that demand obsessiveness on the part of their readers. Most English readers observe the facile distinction between leisure reading and serious literature, but this is yet a third category, barred to all but the most committed of readers.
Nausicaä in the New World
Nausicaä first showed in the U.S. as the edited and adulterated Warriors of the Wind. We’ve since come to love Miyazaki for Miyazaki.
Nora Ephron and the Pull of Genre
Nora Ephron’s death last week was followed by a veritable deluge of tributes and memorial pieces both affecting and a bit bewildering. That’s not to gainsay Ephron’s achievements, but the public reactions to celebrity deaths follows an unpredictable path, and must ultimately be driven by pressures that have so far eluded all scientific attempts to [...]
The Poetics of Personality
Maybe you’ve noticed how literal movie and television titles have become in recent years: Cowboys and Aliens, Snakes On A Plane, Modern Family and so on. Not all are so literal, of course. We have plenty of clever and evocative titles, like Breaking Bad or Melancholia, but there are also enough blandly descriptive titles to [...]
Paul Terry’s Argument for Cartoon Violence
Prestige is often needed to combat controversy, which is how the significance of a motion picture like Snow White exceeds its artistic merit and becomes a touchstone for public opinion. In the U.S., at least, the special Academy Award presented to Disney for Snow White served as the definitive answer to the question of whether [...]
Not Wrong, Maybe, But Not Necessarily Right
The problem with declaring one story better than another is that false comparisons are frustratingly easy to make. With apples and oranges, things are significantly more clear-cut. Once you’ve got the knack of identifying apples, it’s difficult to mistake one for an orange. Take, for example, Chuck Klosterman’s latest piece of criticism over at Grantland, [...]
The Voice of the Author Attends Every Reading
It’s commonplace to contrast literature to the performing arts, but that dichotomy may be less firm than is generally supposed. Over at The Millions, Alizah Salario speculates that the new trend in bookstores charging for author appearances might kill literary readings altogether. “The underlying reason,” she argues, isn’t the cost (though even a few bucks [...]
Explaining the Joke, Forgetting the Punchline
Since my last post, wherein I took on Adam Sternbergh’s suggestion that we’re now living in the age of the “jokeless comedy,” Sternbergh has issued two supplementary pieces via The New York Times Magazine‘s blog, The 6th Floor. The first of the two concerns the Ben Stiller movie Zoolander, which is, as Sternbergh would have [...]
If you follow the logic in Adam Sternbergh’s latest “riff” over at The New York Times Magazine, we are currently living in “the Age of Jokeless Comedy.” By that, he means that movies have by and large lost the traditional joke structure. In their place we have, primarily, Bromance. Not a real word, you say? [...]
The Utopia of Fake Reality Television
The New Yorker has a new Kelefa Sanneh-penned retrospective about the rise of reality television, starting with the genre’s inauspicious first salvo, An American Family. It’s rare to find a mention of that show that doesn’t dwell on the meltdown that its subject, the ironically-named Loud family, underwent with the cameras rolling. That meltdown has [...]
Shifting Into Clarity
There’s no date on the page, and a quick scan of the page source turns up nothing, so I have no way of knowing how timely this is as a response, but Michael Chabon’s “Sailing by Ear” makes for a particularly elegant expression of the personal forces that may drive us to eschew more recent [...]
George Romero’s Dominion of the Dead
Lately I’ve been working my way through Robert Pogue Harrison’s book, The Dominions of the Dead, which got me to thinking again about the kind of Dead that walks. That connection, I must admit, is a product of my own fascination with the cultural resonance of re-animated corpses. The half of Dominions that I’ve read [...]
… And In the Darkness Bind Them
I have what you might call a love-hate relationship with fantasy fiction. I love the handful of titles that have managed to stand out, and hate the bland ocean of uninspired titles that seem to characterize the genre as a whole. That’s true of my general attitude toward most genres of so-called pulp; nor do [...]
How the Decade Changed Three Kings
As you no doubt know, driven in large part by the daring of companies like Miramax, the American independent film scene went big time in the early half of the 1990s. In the latter half of the decade, those successes paved the way for a rising tide of young, confident writer/directors channeling the high, serious [...]
On the “Evolved Aesthetic” of Zack Snyder
This week’s edition of the New York Times Magazine features a profile on director Zack Snyder, who, as the profile’s author, Alex Pappademas, would have it, “may be the purest geek-auteur of the geek-film era.” I’m actually not terribly impressed by Pappademas’ chronology of the “geek film” per se. As he puts it, What actually, [...]
A Line in the Sand
When I first really caught wind of the Coen Brothers, that now venerable institution of modern cinema, the easy dividing line was Raising Arizona. This was circa 1996, in the lead-up to Fargo — what you might consider the film that established their critical legacy, and something of a pinnacle for the indie renaissance of [...]
Choose Your Zombie
Chuck Klosterman’s recent piece over at the New York Times isn’t really talking about zombies. Klosterman probably realizes as much. He’s an erudite kind of guy, and is, if anything, better qualified than I am to point out the differences between Jessica Holland, the tranced-out title character of Jacques Tourneur’s classic I Walked with a [...]
L’opposé du Noir
As of this weekend, I am exactly three episodes into season one of AMC’s Mad Men. As a latecomer to the show (it’s already four season old) it’s possible that I’ll have little to add to what’s already been written about it; as a newcomer there’s not yet much that I can say, anyway. All [...]