Archive for June, 2012

Your Sister’s Sister

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Today in highly recommended: the new film from Lynn Shelton, director of Hump Day.

It’s a spare, smart, hilarious character study of three people, all of whom are immensely likeable by the end (but not necessarily the beginning, or middle) of the movie. And it’s so emotionally satisfying! That’s the best thing about it—that everything that happens is exactly what would have happened, given the people and the events, and that we get to be there for it. And not just there, but really there, incrementally there, for the micro-moments of feeling and insight.

That’s rare, peeps. We don’t see a lot of that at the movies.

Tell-a-Manatee

Monday, June 18th, 2012

I was just applying for a copywriting gig, and I had to answer this question:

If you had an opportunity to create/start whatever you wanted and were given 1 million dollars and six months, what would this thing be, and how would you go about making it happen?

Okay, if I had a million dollars, obviously I would buy 1/2 of a modernist house, give more money to NPR, and pay restaurants to cook me dinner every night. But because this potential employer wants to see a creative idea that sort of benefits humanity but also sounds like a campaign I might generate for a client (because that’s the business we’re in, people), I had to come up with something else. Here’s what I wrote:

TELL-A-MANATEE

I would trick out a bus with happy, feel-good (but modern and sophisticated) decor and tour it around the country, parking it in cities and towns and offering free 15-minute listening sessions to anyone and everyone. The bus would be staffed with people who had been trained in compassionate listening, and they’d all be dressed as manatees—big, blorpy, calm animals who just listen. Upon entering the bus, the customer/user would be greeted by one of the manatees, who would lead them to a private room. There, they’d be given 15 minutes to say whatever they needed to say. At the end, there would be a hug option. I’d also develop a bunch of social media apps where people all over the world could Tell-a-Manatee via website, text, iPhone, whatever — potentially resulting in a book of things people wanted to tell manatees. We’d make a music video of manatees singing about how much they want to hear everybody’s story and develop a plush manatee doll for people to hug. Probably by then I’d be out of time and/or money.

Think I’ll get the job?

Moonrise Kingdom

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

Alas, a disappointment.

I love Wes Anderson and am grateful for whatever he does. But once in a while—and it’s the case with Moonrise Kingdom as it was in Life Aquatic—he seems to lose track of emotional impact, favoring instead such deadpan irony that nothing really registers. What we get is a beautiful array of quirk, a perfectly assembled (and entirely delightful) oddball dollhouse of detail—but no import. Just, none.

Moonrise Kingdom is gorgeous in all the ways Anderson knows how to be gorgeous: the exquisitely chosen prop, the fantastical assemblage of sets. You can feel his delight in dreaming up whimsically home-grown (yet brilliant) stage scenery for a church production of the Noah’s Ark story, just as you could 14 years ago, in Max’s hilariously professional-quality productions in Rushmore. But without a grip on our feelings, the film feels a bit like visiting a fashion shoot: glamorous but empty.

For me, Darjeeling Limited is still the winner of Anderson’s films, with its slow and stunning build to depth. Funny and quirky, and not without its totemic props—dude loves his luggage—but all to a point. It’s probably time to watch that one again.

Freedom/Imagine

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

I know I’m always writing about Jonathan Franzen, and I know I’ve already clocked in with a report on Freedom, but, well, so. I have to say things.

I reread Freedom. It’s still there, people. The words are still there, in the same order, in the same sentences, for 600 pretty consistently mind-blowing pages. How does he make those sentences—those beautiful, glorious, iron-rich sentences, page after page after page? There are killers everywhere, slayers of penetrating genius tossed off in the middle of a paragraph, where most writers bury their duds. THERE IS NO FILLER IN THIS NOVEL. IT MAKES ME ACTUALLY KIND OF INSANE.

In other news, I read Imagine, the new Jonah Lehrer book that you’ve been hearing about pretty much non-stop if you’re a consumer of the liberal elitist media, as naturally I am. And here are my questions:

Would there be a Jonah Lehrer without a Malcolm Gladwell? I guess people were translating capital-S Science for the commoner long before Gladwell, but Lehrer’s writing feels very Gladwellian to me, not least because there’s a leeetle edge of smugness that creeps its way in.

And why are writers in this vein (at least, Gladwell and Lehrer and seemingly a few others) so unequivocally pro-business? Sure, business is interesting and important and vital to the economy (and I owe my livelihood to it, so no knocks there, believe me). But there’s a lot of very unsavory shit going down in the world of commerce these days, and isn’t this type of writer supposed to be questioning that?

Case in point: Lehrer goes on and on about innovation and how to create the conditions that inspire it without ever mentioning that some innovations are Very Bad for Humanity. I’m not trying to ruin your day when I mention that, given current levels of consumption, humanity is on a course of self-destruction. But the innovations Lehrer focuses on are almost uniquely material products (including the Swiffer! a prime example of the disposable culture that’s killing our planet!) and pretty much never solutions for dealing with the scary mess we’re in.

So . . . innovation in the service of what, Mr. Lehrer? is my question.

That said, there’s a lot to like in the book. Gobble gobble.