1. “The Playboy Interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates.” Bomani Jones sits down for a chat with the Pulitzer Prize finalist.
“The [James] Baldwin thing, for me, was intentional. I love The Fire Next Time. You’ve got this essay in book form; dude is using journalism, using first person, the history, the literary criticism, all just kind of mashed together. He’s talking about the most essential conflict of his day. Now here we are in this era, and motherfuckers are uploading videos of people getting choked to death, beaten on the street, black president. This seems like the moment for that form. Where’s that book? My editor said to me, ’The road is littered with motherfuckers who tried to do that.’ My agent knew Baldwin. She said, ’You just don’t come across as a Jimmy.’ [laughs] But she said, ’I think you can do it.’ I tried the first time; it did not work. Second time, did not work. Third time—we’ve got something there.”
2. “Ethical Dilemma on Four Wheels.” For self-driving cars to become a reality, they’ll need to decide whether they should kill you or not.
“The easiest question was whether a self-driving car with a single passenger should crash itself into a wall to avoid hitting a group of 10 pedestrians. About three-quarters of respondents agreed that sacrificing one life to save many more was the moral thing to do. After that, things started to get tricky. The fewer pedestrians there were to save, the weaker the consensus that the car should sacrifice its passenger. If crashing into a wall would save just one pedestrian, only 23% of those surveyed thought that’s what the car should do. When the researchers asked people to imagine that they were riding in the car with their child or another relative, their willingness to swerve away from innocent pedestrians faltered. Still, between 54% and 66% of survey takers agreed that the car should do what it must to save as many lives as possible.”
3. “The Sequels of 2016 Aren’t About Storytelling; They’re Just Brand Extensions.” Mark Harris, for Vulture, and today’s brand of sequel.
“Sequels have always been a financially driven proposition, and it’s not a revelation that some of them are churned out like sausage (happy 24th anniversary, Meatballs 4). But for the 15 years or so of the post–Star Wars blockbuster era, the bottom-line pragmatism behind sequels did not erase another priority: narrative. Is there more left to tell? Can audiences be lured back with the promise that a story they thought was complete was merely a first chapter? Sometimes that could take filmmakers quite a while to figure out. Aliens did not appear until seven years after Alien; Terminator 2: Judgment Day arrived seven years after The Terminator. Neither movie was a mere reprise of the original or anything like it, which is one reason why each is now regarded as a genre classic in its own right.”
4. “Now Is the Time to Discover Michael Mann’s Ali” The Village Voice‘s Bilge Ebiri revisits the Muhammad Ali biopic starring Will Smith.
“The contained back-and-forth of these early passages plays itself out on a broader scale throughout the film, as incidents and impressions from Ali’s life collide with and inform one another. Ali tells Malcolm X about the day he learned of Till’s death, and Malcolm speaks of the impotence he felt in the wake of the Birmingham church bombing that killed four little girls. Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, had banned him from speaking out, so Malcolm had to quell his fury: ‘My muscles seized…my leg gave out. All I wanted to do was find something and break it.’ If Malcolm’s body seizes up from his inability to speak out, Ali’s body becomes an expressive instrument. This is part of the aesthetic strategy of the film. Extended passages of melancholy, silence, and subdued anger give rise to bursts of poetry and physicality.”
5. “Film of the Week: Right Now, Wrong Then.” For Film Comment, Jonathan Romney on Hong Sang-soo’s latest.
“There’s a café in Right Now, Wrong Then which could easily be called Novella. This film shows Hong in delicate miniature mode, and while we may think we’ve seen it all before, what’s distinctive is the musical delicacy with which he adjusts small but all-important inflections. The first time we see this story, in the film’s first part, a young woman mixes orangey-pinkish pigment for a painting she’s working on; in the second part, the paint is blue-green. The two halves of the film, you might say, are colored differently.”
Video of the Day: Ewan McGregor’s adaptation of Philip Roth’s masterpiece American Pastoral gets an official trailer:
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