1. “King Abdullah, a Shrewd Force Who Reshaped Saudi Arabia, Dies at 90.” Throngs of mourners gathered in Mecca early Friday just hours after Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud died. He was 90.
“King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who came to the throne in old age and earned a reputation as a cautious reformer even as the Arab Spring revolts toppled heads of state and Islamic State militants threatened the Muslim establishment that he represented, died on Friday, according to a statement on state television. He was 90. The Royal Court said in a statement broadcast across the kingdom that the king had died early Friday. The royal court did not disclose the exact cause of death. An announcement quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency said the king had a lung infection when he was admitted on Dec. 31 to a Riyadh hospital. The king’s death adds yet another element of uncertainty in a region already overwhelmed by crises and as Saudi Arabia is itself in a struggle with Iran for regional dominance. The royal family moved quickly to assure a smooth transition of power in a nation that is a close ally of the United States, the world’s largest exporter of oil and the religious center of the Islamic faith. In a televised statement, Abdullah’s brother, Crown Prince Salman, announced that the king had died and that he had assumed the throne.”
2. “I Served in Iraq, and American Sniper Gets It Right.” But, says Brian Turner, it’s still not the war film we need.
“This isn’t the defining film of the Iraq War. After nearly a quarter century of war and occupation in Iraq, we still haven’t seen that film. I’m beginning to think we’re incapable as a nation of producing a film of that magnitude, one that would explore the civilian experience of war, one that might begin to approach so vast and profound a repository of knowledge. I’m more and more certain that, if such a film film ever arrives, it’ll be made by Iraqi filmmakers a decade or more from now, and it’ll be little known or viewed, if at all, on our shores. The children of Iraq have far more to teach me about the war I fought in than any film I’ve yet seen—and I hope some of those children have the courage and opportunity to share their lessons onscreen. If this film I can only vaguely imagine is ever made, it certainly won’t gross $100 million on its opening weekend.”
3. “The Things We Do for Love.” Reverse Shot’s Michael Koresky on The Duke of Burgundy.
“There’s a lot of insight in how Strickland portrays this relationship—so much so that it’s unfortunate that his overly ornate, brocaded cinematic style threatens to obscure the women in the frame, as though an intricate yet overly tangled scrim of cobwebs were constantly blocking our vision. In form and shape the film functions as homage to a rarefied type of European seventies schlock; Strickland has professed his admiration for the sexploitation films of Spanish director Jess Franco. The film’s nominal connection to such titles as Vampyros Lesbos, Daughter of Dracula, and She Killed in Ecstasy notwithstanding, such cinephilic reference points may threaten to wrest conversation around the film away from its ideas on sex, love, and fidelity and into a more airlessly cinephilic realm. Similarly, its insistently eccentric aesthetic approach to the material (montages, dreams within dreams, one major avant-garde digression in seeming tribute to Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight) sometimes hobbles rather than elucidates its sophisticated screenplay. Kinky but never salacious, The Duke of Burgundy is a penetrating dissection of an imbalanced relationship before it shifts into being a surreal, teasingly nightmarish evocation of that imbalance, and it’s more fascinating as the former than the latter.”
4. ”American Sniper and the culture wars: Why the movie’s not what you think it is.” Clint Eastwood’s huge heartland hit is flawed, contradictory and America-centric—but it’s not war propaganda.
“It’s true that Eastwood and [Jason] Hall—and especially [Bradley] Cooper, an actor who can display visible internal torment without apparently doing anything—have made the movie’s Kyle more sympathetic, more complicated and less of a raging dumbass. I’m aware of the disputes between people who attack Selma for its lack of historical veracity and those who are exercised about the depiction of Chris Kyle straying from documented facts. It’s a deeply uninteresting game of gotcha, in my judgment—both movies offer an interpretation of real events for specific narrative purposes, and I think both choices are generally defensible. Go ahead and attack Eastwood for making a movie that’s totally uninterested in the underlying politics of the Iraq conflict, and that depicts its Arab characters in cursory and stereotypical terms. That’s entirely legitimate, and indeed I think those America-centric aspects partly undermine the film’s aims. But to assign Eastwood some Bush-Cheney war-booster agenda because he supported Mitt Romney in 2012, or even because some unknown proportion of moviegoers have seized on it that way, simply isn’t fair.”
5. “Blondie’s Chris Stein: How I Capture ’Rapture.’” The guitarist/songwriter shares his iconic photographs of Debbie Harry and the 70s and 80s New York rock scene.
“The underground audience first became aware of Chris Stein the photographer through his contributions to Punk magazine’s classic fumetti (a kind of graphic novel told in photos) ’The Legend of Nick Detroit’ and ’Mutant Monster Beach Party.’ Gradually it became clear Stein was very serious about these snapshots—a determined professional making a visual record of his band, their friends and the culture around them. Now the art-book masters Rizzoli have published a professional quality collection of Stein’s pictures as well as his comments and reflections on the people and places in them. There are three Blondie books rich with photographs. The first two suggest competitive siblings with a bit of a scrappy mien, almost the same age. The third, though much younger, is wise and regal, a sage ready to make definitive statements.”
Video of the Day: Season three of Hannibal gets a trailer:
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