Jun 29, 2013

These violent delights have violent ends

From my piece about Love for The Guardian:—
'Guilt is the only purely useless emotion, I’ve found — not just no use whatsoever, but actually the enemy. Here’s another thing I’ve learned: when you fall in love with someone, MIR scans reveal a firework display in the caudate nucleus, a pair of shrimp-like structures located deep in the reptilian brain. This isn't where everyone thought love lived. For decades everyone thought love was holed up in the limbic system — the place where infants recognize their mothers, and parents protect their families, and individuals feel loyal to their friends. No. It’s deep in the selfish, self-seeking reptile brain, the same bit dealing with reward and achievement, which lights up like a slot-machine when you make money, or win the lottery, or ace the final level of Grand Theft Auto. Some researchers have reclassified it not as an emotion at all, but a drive, like hunger. Romantic love, that is: Romeo-and-Juliet love, crazy-passionate-I-feel-like-I’ve known-you-all-my life love, the kind celebrated in pop songs and movies as the Holy Grail of all human activity — the prize, no less, for being human. On the subject of waking up next to a face you have seen a thousand times and trying to be as nice and kind to its owner as you can — the kind of love, in other words, most of us will actually attempt at some point in our lives — our culture maintains a deathly silence, broken only by the odd bit of Shakespearean verse. 
“So we grew together, 
Like to a double cherry—seeming parted 
But yet an union in partition— 
Two lovely berries molded on one stem.” 
Here are some of the things that didn't happen when I met my wife: it wasn’t love at first sight (we both had moments of ‘meh’). My childhood and her childhood didn’t sing each other’s siren song (she has a great relationship with the men in her family). It wasn't a meeting of minds, or a melding of souls, or a beating of two hearts as one. (If anything I was a little unsettled, as if sensing that the game might be up). We didn't fall in love, we just walked slowly into it, and at around the 9-month mark I woke up one day and thought: I do love her. That was my exact intonation when I told her. “I do love you.” As if it were a piece of news we’d all been waiting on. She is the love of my life, quite literally: the woman I have spent the most of my life loving — the most minutes, the most hours, the most days, the most time. Fromm again: the man who waits for the right person to come along can be “compared to the man who wants to paint but who, instead, of learning the art, claims that he has just to wait for the right object, and that he will paint it beautifully when he finds it.” It’s an inside job. I know for a fact I am not her perfect man. Living with me, she says, is “like living with a teenage girl,” although I don’t play Taylor Swift that loudly. Earlier this year, we had an argument over what to watch on TV. She got back from work early to find me already ensconced on the sofa.  
 “What’s going on?”  
 “What time is it on?”  
 “Ten minutes.”  
 Her eyes narrowed.  
 “Oh honey, I wanted to watched Titanic. You know I did.”  
 “We just saw Titanic!”  
 “That was the 3-D version. It was awful. They looked a million miles away from each other.” 
“Sweetheart. It’s the Superbowl. The Baltimore Ravens. I’ve been waiting all week to see those 49ers get spanked…. Oh don't pull that face.”  
 I got my way in the end. We watched Titanic.'

Jun 27, 2013

Best Pop Songs of 2013 (so far)

1. Black Skinhead — Kanye West
2. I Was A Fool — Tegan & Sara
3. Diane Young – Vampire Weekend
4. Hard to Find — The National
5. Fall Down — Will.i.am and Miley Cyrus
6. Kiss You — One Direction
7. The Way — Ariana Grande
8. Give Life Back to Music — Daft Punk
9. Beautiful — Mariah Carey
10. Let's Go to Sleep — Future Bible Heroes

Best Films of 2013 (so far)

1. Before Midnight B
2. Iron Man 3 B+
World War Z  B
4. Star Trek Into Darkness B
5. Frances Ha B
6. Side Effects B
7. Only God Forgives  B-
8. This is The End B-
9. The Great Gatsby B-
10. The Bling Ring B-

Best Albums of 2013 (so far)

1. Heartthrob — Tegan and Sarah
2. Trouble Will Find Me — The National
3. Impossible Truth — William Tyler
4. American Kid — Patty Griffin
5. The Beast in its Tracks — Josh Ritter
6. Southeastern — Jason Isbell
7. Random Access Memories — Daft Punk
8. Modern Vampires of the City — Vampire Weekend
9. Woman — Rhye
10. Once I Was An Eagle — Laura Marling

Jun 22, 2013


'“Have just been advised Seth only needs 10 mins for grooming,” reads one of the emails that shuttle between his publicists and the Guardian’s photographer, which sounds about right. The roly-poly figure who turns up a few minutes later at the Four Seasons in jeans and t-shirt, sneakers, topped off with jew-fro and froggy grin, seems barely to need ten minutes for anything. “Hey,” he says, “What’s going on?” before settling into a sofa that seems custom-molded to his contours. He talks in sentences that go up, up, up, up, up like a roller-coaster car, his furry eyebrows shooting up for emphasis, before beginning their long descent, down, down, down, down, towards the point, or the punchline, which is invariably marked by a gurgling Mutleyesque laugh of his: “Hurhurhurhurhurhur.”   Spend any amount of time with him and you will hear it a lot. Apatow sometimes teases him, “I don't get why you're funny. Nothing really bad has ever happened to you.” In a business populated by midnight prowlers, mining bottomless pools of pain for their stand-up routines, Rogen stands out for his benign demeanour.  Not that his sense of humour isn’t athletically obscene, but whether riffing about cacking his pants while watching Gladiator, or wondering why   people have deoderants for armpits but not buttcracks, he exudes the gurgling contentment levels of a child, or Buddha. Onscreen, his persona is a matter of zero torque. “He can really go at you hard,” says Apatow, “But underneath it you know he’s a good guy…. I don’t know why I must always look for pain. Even when it is not there.”'  
— from my Gaurdian profile of Seth Rogen

REVIEW: World War Z (dir. Forster)

It's surprising how affecting Brad Pitt is at playing fathers. The ingrate in me wants to credit those tabloid images of him and Angie and the kids finally rubbing off on our collective unconscious, but then there is his performance in Moneyball — my favorite performance of 2011, with a wonderful tired sadness around the edges — and now here he is, tucking up his kids in bed before going off to fight zombies in Marc Forster's World War Z, and communicating as much in a glance as Harrison Ford used to with Anne Archer in Patriot Games. Pitt's matured into quite a screen actor, his mellowness having finally found it's middle-aged groove. Advance word had it that World War Z had eaten it's own brains for breakfast, but not only is it not bad, it's actually quite good, with a couple of genuinely suspenseful sequences involving Pitt and his fellows tip-toing down corridors trying not to wake the zombie hordes from their slumber (they sleep standing up like horses) — shades of The Brood, and The Birds even. And the first twenty minutes are a text-book example of steadily mounting dread, with Foster  goosing the audience's peripheral vision with glimpses — never quite enough — of the advancing zombies. By now you will have heard of the film's major innovation: they move like greased lightning. And a bright idea it was — there's a Boschian glint to the film's imagery of teeming, toppling hordes, and for once the global imagery pays off; whether consciously or not, the film presents us a vision of the third world overwhelming the first, as if all the countries Brad and Angie aim to save had instead risen up and consumed them. It's like a home-movie-turned-horror-film of their latest adoption run. B

Who'd you want to see sucked from a plane?

'Let it not be said that the muscular market-forces of Hollywood Darwinism do not result in a dazzling amount of consumer choice. Each weekend, million of dollars are spent, scripts written and rewritten, assistants fired and expressos downed in order to make sure that the average moviegoer, approaching the multiplex at the weekend, can count him or herself spoilt for choice. This year, for example, the studio have devoted all the ingenuity, creative energies and money at their disposal to answering a single question:  do audiences want to see Robert Doweny Jr. getting sucked from a plane, Will Smith being sucked from a plane, or Brad Pitt being sucked from a plane? 
 It’s the question of the summer. Next week sees the release of the much-anticipated zombie-pocalypse thriller, World War Z, in which Brad Pitt’s flight is rudely interrupted by a) a horde of ravenous zombies and b) a hole in the plane’s fuselage, flushing passengers and their luggage out into icy air.  What terrible luck! And just two weeks after that nice Will Smith was sucked from his son through a hole in the fuselage of his spacecraft in After Earth. And that terrifying sight followed hot on the heels of Iron Man 3, which featured one of Iron Man’s fancier rescues, as he scooped up 13 passengers sucked through a hole in the fuselage of their jet, as it made its way across the Pacific. Hollywood has evidently decided: people are really, really scared of being sucked from a plane. Not since last year’s rash of implosions in The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and 2009’s Star Trek prompted Slate’s Forrest Whickham to conclude that implosions were the new explosions has a special-effects fad ripped through summer’s blockbuster with such unifying gusto. Getting sucked from a plan is this year’s morphing, 2013’s answer to shakicam, or bullet-time, or those hydra-headed, metallic worm-creatures that made such a nuisance of themselves a few summers back.' — from my Guardian column

As tough and romantic as the city he loved

"Would American filmmakers please return to America? We know the tax breaks that come with shooting abroad, the international market is where it’s at in terms of box office, the Europeans have the hottest film festivals, but still: she’s feeling a little ignored, your homeland, as a setting, a symbol, a source of myth. John Ford filmed so many movies in Monument Valley they renamed it John Ford country. Between them, Woody Allen, Scorsese and Spike Lee cut up New York so finely you could organize your dating life around their movies:—

“How about we meet in front of that Cathedral on Mulberry street. You know, the one where Harvey Keitel and Robert Di Niro have their heart to heart in Mean Streets”  
“And De Niro lies down on the gravestone?”  
“You got it.”  
“Okay. Where do you want to eat?” 
 “I don’t know…. maybe that Pizzeria on Bleecker?”  
“The one where Mariel Hemingway told Woody Allen she was leaving to go study in London?”   
“That’s the one.”   
“See you there at 8.”
 What do you kids think we all did before Google? 
— from my review of Blue Jasmine for Departures

Jun 17, 2013

REVIEW: Before Midnight (Linklater)

'For someone who teaches film history, I am regularly afflicted by doubts that such a thing actually exists. For my students, of course, anything that predates Star Wars is “old.”  Go to Hollywood — where no film matters as much as the one coming out this Friday and no film exists that predates last week — and the amnesia only intensifies; you leave struggling to remember your own name, let alone Fellini’s, struck by the possibility that film history is but a collective figment of film buffs’ imagination. The mid-morning haze above LA reveals something about the medium, I think: its forgetfulness, its restlessness, its centrifugal push outward towards action, rather than inward toward recollection. Cinema is a present tense form, even it’s flashbacks swallowing us whole, like worm-holes, the past simply becoming the new present, until interrupted again, as Pulp Fiction showed us.

Then there is a film like Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight, the latest in a series of films that began with 1994’s Before Sunrise, in which an 23-year-old backpacker named Jessie (Ethan Hawke) managed to talk a beautiful French girl named Celine (Julie Delpy) into spending the day with walking around Vienna, talking, flirting, arguing, and falling in love. If asked to provide a list of great American achievements over the last twenty years, I would say “the election of Barack Obama in 2008”, “the iPhone,” and “the speech with which Jessie first talks Celine off the train in Before Sunrise.” It had something to do with time travellers, as I recall — tonally, a small miracle of foxy charm and open-hearted entreaty, whisked along by a Huck Finnish boulevardier spirit. It turned out to be enough to power an entire movie.  
Make that three." 
from my review of Before Midnight for Intelligent Life

Jun 16, 2013

My new Scorsese top ten

The Scorsese book I'm writing is rejigging my top ten a little, with Taxi Driver supreme and boosts for The Color of Money, The King of Comedy + the docs. It now looks like this:—
1. Taxi Driver
2. Goodfellas
3. Mean Streets
4. Raging Bull
5. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
6. Kundun
7. The Color of Money
8. Italianamerican
9. The King of Comedy
10. Living in the Material World