1. “In Conversation: Chris Rock.” Frank Rich speaks with the actor-comedian about what’s killing comedy and what’s saving America.
“I’m trying to figure out the right analogy. Everybody wanted Michael Jordan, right? We got Shaq. That’s not a disappointment. You know what I mean? We got Charles Barkley. It’s still a Hall of Fame career. The president should be graded on jobs and peace, and the other stuff is debatable. Do more people have jobs, and is there more peace? I guess there’s a little more peace. Not as much peace as we’d like, but I mean, that’s kind of the gig. I don’t recall anybody leaving on an up. It’s just that kind of job. I mean, the liberals that are against him feel let down because he’s not Bush. And the thing about George Bush is that the kid revolutionized the presidency. How? He was the first president who only served the people who voted for him. He literally operated like a cable network. You know what I mean?”
2. “Mark Strand, Pulitzer-winning US poet, dies at 80.” Mark Strand, a former US poet laureate who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1999, has died in New York aged 80.
“Strand, whose works were translated into more than 30 languages, died at his daughter’s home on Saturday from liposarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Absence and loss were recurring themes for the writer, who was known for his precise language and surreal imagery. One of his poems, Keeping Things Whole, begins with the stanza: ’In a field. I am the absence of field.’ ’This is always the case,’ the poem continues. ’Wherever I am I am what is missing.’ Born on Prince Edward Island in Canada, Strand grew up in various cities across the US and South America.”
3. “Race, Class and Creative Spark.” David Simon, J. Cole, Patricia Lockwood and others on social issues as manifested in art.
“It’s hard to fight for other people when you’re trying to fight to survive yourself. Being a black male in America, you become numb. There’s so much news about police violence and black-on-black crime and racial profiling, nothing can really surprise you anymore. But [after the deaths of several black men at the hands of police around the country, including the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.], I forced myself to face it. I was breaking down crying, fed up: Is there anyone doing anything about this? I wanted to do something but I didn’t have any intentions to write [’Be Free,’ a tribute to Michael Brown]. One night, I was working on a totally different song, and those words just came out. It’s always been in me, but life brings you down and makes you think things that aren’t normal are normal.”
4. “The Best First Features of 2014.” Kevin B. Lee, for Fandor, on his remarkable year for breakout filmmakers.
“[Gillian] Robespierre’s breakthrough hit garnered praise for both its open account of a woman’s right to choose and its unapologetically comic handling of such sensitive material. But I find its most laudable breakthrough in the full-bodied presentation of a female lead who’s allowed to be a shambling wreck, countering in a mainstream culture where shlubbiness has long been claimed exclusively by the Apatow-Rogen man-child template, with women serving as their idealized, nurturing enablers. Obvious Child boldly flips the script, at times confronting the audience with the extent of its lead’s insecurities and self-sabotaging tendencies. While lesser actors would be lost in a sea of quirks, Jenny Slate consistently integrating her character’s idiosyncrasies into a complex portrait of twentysomething maturation.”
5. “Present and Accounted For.” Max Nelson on James Harvey’s Watching Them Be: Star Presence on the Screen from Garbo to Balthazar.
“What ties Harvey’s essays together is, more than anything else, their distinctive and unusual critical method. Some of the most commanding film writers of the past half-century, from Manny Farber to Geoffrey O’Brien and Kent Jones, work from the bottom up, accumulating observations about a movie’s texture, rhythm, tempo, mood, atmosphere, and tone until a picture of its patterns of meaning starts to emerge from the sum of the details. Harvey’s essays take this approach to a dense, immodest, and often thrilling extreme. His descriptions of individual scenes read like direct feeds from the consciousness of a viewer glutted on visual and auditory information, capable of absorbing seemingly every movement of the camera, every line of dialogue, and each actor’s every shift of weight.”
Video of the Day: AMC offers a sneak peek of Better Call Saul:
Links for the Day: A collection of links to items that we hope will spark discussion. We encourage our readers to submit candidates for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org and to converse in the comments section.