1. ”The Big Chill: These Are Your Parents.” Lena Dunham on the Lawrence Kasdan film.
“You will grow up with certain friends who have been chosen for you purely because your parents don’t mind sitting in lawn chairs next to their parents, can find something to talk about. Sometimes your mother will even see the other mothers socially, put on a bunch of gold rings and spray perfume in her henna-red hair and head out the door to meet them at ten past seven for a glass of wine. But you will know the difference between those friends and these old friends, these primal friends, these friends as entrenched as bone. You will know the difference even though you can’t articulate it. You will just know that when they get together, whenever that is, the cadence of their speech changes, their laughs go up a register, they throw their heads back and shake their hair and that laughter comes unbidden, and at surprising times, and about things you don’t think are funny. The laughter is catching, and soon the guys are laughing too, outside by the grill, ignoring their kids and letting the laughter move them. Their eyes soften and their foreheads smooth. They look like old photos.”
2. “In Praise of Vintage.” Will McKinley on 10 classic TV shows an where to watch them.
“I was reminded of this conversation when I read critic Neil Genzlinger’s take down of ’Retro TV’ in yesterday’s New York Times, an article crafted with such a broad brush I don’t even know where to begin rebutting it. Apparently, Mr. Genzlinger was channel surfing on Saturday afternoon and was dismayed to find a bunch of ’old stuff’ clogging his cable on channels with funny names like Inspire, Aspire, and Up! Uplifting Entertainment. (And don’t even get him started on new-fangled Internet streaming of old-fangled TV! Because, how crazy is that?) He then took pen to paper to slice up some sacred cows. ’Sluggish pacing, wooden acting, wince-inducing jokes and obvious plot twists abound,’ he opined, metaphorically shaking a remote-clutching fist. ’Too much of this will turn your brain to mush as surely as too much of today’s reality TV will.’ And then he added a zinger of particular interest to me (and many people I know): ’(I)f you’re watching this fare all day, every day, you need help,’ he wrote. For the record, this past weekend I watched The Odd Couple, Get Smart, Lost in Space, The Honeymooners, and a Blu-ray of Betty Boop cartoons. It’s a wonder I can even write this, what with the tightness of my straight jacket.”
3. ”The Expendables 3 Torrent and the Techno-Utopian Delusion.” Sam Adams responds to a nutty piece by the The Verge’s David Pierce wherein he justifies downloading the movie because he’ll shell out $13 to see it again in the theater.
“In Pierce’s rationale—or, more to the point, rationalization—downloading the movie in advance is like peeking at a band’s setlist before the concert. The analogy that doesn’t hold up for as long as it takes to read that sentence, but it ties into a larger narrative in which The Expendables 3 isn’t a movie but a show, ’a band of legends getting back together for one more night to show that they’ve still got it.’ ’It’s not something you’d want to watch on a 13.3-inch MacBook Air or even a 47-inch TV,’ he goes on. ’You go see it live.’ (Never mind that Pierce did watch it on a laptop—twice.) The Expendables 3, you see, ’is meant not to be watched but to be experienced. As art becomes commoditized experience becomes the only thing worth paying for, and there’s evidence everywhere that we’ll pay for it when it’s worth it. We don’t want to pay for access, but we’ll gladly pay for experience.’ Of course, commodities are things you pay for. What Pierce really means by ’commoditized’ is ’devalued,’ and what he means by that is that since The Expendables 3 isn’t worth anything in the first place, there’s nothing wrong with taking a copy for yourself.”
4. “John Oliver’s #Longrants.” Three months in, Last Week Tonight is the perfect news show for now.
“The long rants, many of which have gone viral, are master classes in how to make downer subjects encased in received wisdom lively, funny, and entertaining without obscuring their essential seriousness. The segments are long, but they swiftly move from bullet point to bullet point, often wringing humor out of Oliver’s own outrage rather than the subject itself. (Oliver’s outrage, however, is of the flabbergasted with good-humored kind, not the jaded, cynical, bitter outrage of, say, Dennis Miller, a previous HBO ranter.) In the 17-minute segment on prison Oliver addressed, among other topics, America’s huge incarceration rates, the racism of drug laws, the glut of prison rape jokes in pop culture, the privatization of prison services, the appalling food in prison, the appalling health services in prison, and the lack of knowledge and concern about prisoners in the politicians who oversee them. He wrapped it up by singing an original song with the Muppets from Sesame Street: ’It’s a fact that needs to be spoken/ America’s prison systems are broken.’”
5. “Radicals: The Counterrevolutionary Killing of Obi Wan and E.T.” For The Destroyer, a great piece by Steven Boone on faith and his moment with “childish things.”
“From the success of Jaws and Star Wars, movie executives concluded that young audiences wanted their screen entertainment, to borrow Lucas’s standard direction to his actors, ’faster and more intense.’ Right on, but the means with which to boost speed and intensity were widely, grossly misapplied. One couldn’t simply shorten the duration of shots or the interval between spectacular set pieces to get there. Jaws and Star Wars moved like express trains because they were hitched to character, recognizing that narrative efficiency should never come at the expense of emotional and sensory investment—’the life of the object in the frame’. Assigning various directors competent at project management to oversee a laundry list of plastic elements associated with the Spielberg-Lucas success—explosions, chases, effects, gore—the major studios gave us decades of strenuous yet lifeless ’entertainment.’ It takes real artistry and film sense to pull off a genre blockbuster that people will cherish rather than just reflexively attend.”
Video of the Day: The music video for Bill Callahan’s “Javelin Unlanding”:
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