Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Long Day Closes

Lots of good tennis links around during the U.S. Open. Here's a window into last year's record-setting Wimbledon match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. Isner just won his first round U.S. Open match in 4 sets against Marcos Baghdatis. (Ed Caesar/Kottke)

Certainly, in the immediate aftermath of the game, he suffered what amounted to a breakdown. With the adrenaline pouring out of his body, and lactic acid flooding his muscles, he was forced to endure a special ceremony on court, in which the two players were awarded champagne flutes in honour of their record-breaking match, and pose in front of the scoreboard. He returned to the locker room at the earliest opportunity. His coach had to carry him the last few yards. Once inside, Mahut not only wept inconsolably, but found it hard to stand or breathe. The doctor was called. Meanwhile, Mahut was unable to remember anything about the final game or its aftermath. He kept asking the same question: “did I lose the match, or did he win it?” Vallejo eventually had to carry Mahut into the shower, in his clothes.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

Rebecca Miller's 2009 film The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is based on the director's own novel but in its chronological sweep and emotional specificity it feels like something Ann Beattie or Alice Hoffman might have written. Pippa (played as an adult by Robin Wright) has recently moved to a retirement community with her older husband Herb (Alan Arkin), a successful book editor. An opening dinner table scene sets up the marital dynamic: Herb is a good man but selfish, used to being the center of attention and being doted on by friends like Sandra Dulles (a funny Winona Ryder). Pippa plays the role of the dutiful wife and hostess, but as she says in a voice-over, "I want to be known." From that point the film folds in on itself, flashing back to the relationship of young Pippa (Blake Lively in a performance that should quiet some haters) with her mother (Maria Bello) and Pippa's subsequent leaving home. In the present, Pippa deals with Herb's growing dissatisfaction with his retirement and strikes up a friendship with the eccentric son (Keanu Reeves, unusually loose and engaged) of a neighbor. Blake Lively makes Pippa's need for attention and experience the spine of the movie, especially in a surprising scene where Pippa becomes part of the artistic work of the girlfriend (Julianne Moore) of her lesbian aunt (Robin Weigert). It's easy to see how the character Lively plays turns in to Robin Wright, whose growing turmoil is skillfully underplayed. The ending isn't a surprise but is well brought off, including a reconciliation scene between Pippa and her photojournalist daughter (Zoe Kazan). Though The Private Lives of Pippa Lee will rankle some with its focus on the unhappy privileged the film is open-hearted enough to make Pippa's departure down an open road feel like a beginning and not an tidy last shot.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday Music: Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Tell Me Baby"

New album out this week; I've never followed this band that closely, but I genuinely love the egalitarian spirit of this video directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine). I couldn't find an embeddable version of the full clip, in which an opening minute or so of talking heads sets up the premise. See it here.

Crazy, Stupid, Love

Crazy, Stupid, Love is overcrowded and probably not as serious as it thinks it is; there's a lot of time and maneuvering spent getting back to somewhere near where it began. The movie, directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, feels like it could go anywhere for most of its running time. There's the long-married couple Cal and Emily (Steve Carell and Julianne Moore) who begin to rediscover each other only when it seems their marriage might be over. A player (Ryan Gosling) thinks he might want something deeper with the one woman (Emma Stone) who pursues him, while Cal and Emily's 13-year old son (Jonah Bobo) nurtures a crush on his teenage babysitter (Analeigh Tipton, whose character fancies Cal). The freshest relationship in the film belongs to Gosling and Stone's Jacob and Hannah. The two share a long scene of honest talk and laughter that's all the sexier for what doesn't happen, and I could have used more of Jacob being surprised by the depth of his feelings. The Cal and Emily storyline is much dryer, despite the appeal of the two actors. Jacob teaches Cal to be a pickup artist, and among Cal's successes is a Marisa Tomei in a fun turn as a teacher who Cal winds up wishing he had called again. The dissatisfaction of Emily is never fully spelled out, leaving Moore to do little except look unhappy and suffer through a wan romance with a coworker (Kevin Bacon). The ending involves some plot mechanics and a worldview spelled out by Jonah Bobo's Robbie, who believes in soul mates and that there's one ideal person for everyone. Crazy, Stupid, Love is more than entertaining enough thanks to its cast, but I wish it had been less afraid to embrace the chance and wildness of love.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Dept. of Hyphenates

I caught the tail end of an interview with Vera Farmiga on NPR today and hadn't really realized she just made her directorial debut with a film called Higher Ground. Farmiga has no regrets about taking on the challenge of making a non-preachy religious film. (Village Voice)

Me: I see you haven't thought this through at all. [Laughs.] Are there other faith films that you have faith in?

Farmiga: The Apostle is one of my top-five films. I love fully dimensionalized portraits of spirituality, whether it's Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, or sweat lodges. The way that we all yearn to understand ourselves through our concept of God—that yearning is holiness to me. Especially in this weird time of holy wars, we have to understand each other's concepts of God and respect them.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dept. of Right The First Time

Frank Bruni, writing about Anthony Bourdain's remarks on Paula Deen, nails it.

To give him his due: we are too fat and must address that. But getting Deen to unplug the waffle iron doesn’t strike to the core of the problem any more than posting fast-food calorie counts or taxing soft drinks do. A great deal of American obesity is attributable to the dearth of healthy food that’s affordable and convenient in low- and even middle-income neighborhoods, and changing that requires a magnitude of public intervention and private munificence that are unlikely in such pinched times.

On some level, Bourdain gets this, or used to. When he denigrated Waters, he did so — rightly — because of what he deemed her fantasy that recession-era Americans would “start buying expensive organic food and running to the green market.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

We'll Fix It In Post

What exactly is Sean Penn's issue with The Tree of Life? I'd be more sympathetic if Penn hadn't already done The Thin Red Line with Malick; that film evolved so famously during its making (changing focus from one lead actor to another) that Penn couldn't have imagined that the script he read would be a shot-for-shot description of what wound up on screen. I hope Penn's Oscar for Milk and his political activities haven't gone to his head. Must all his roles have capital-M Meaning? Malick is already making plans for his next film and so far there's no word of Penn's involvement. The two may have made their last movie together if Penn has lost the ability to turn up and be an actor. (Guardian)

Speaking to Le Figaro, Penn, himself an award-winning director, criticised the film's offbeat structure and admitted that he was unsure why he had been asked to join the cast.

"The screenplay is the most magnificent one that I've ever read but I couldn't find that same emotion on screen," he said. "A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context! What's more, Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly."

The Authority

Roots drummer Questlove provides some welcome perspective and context on A Tribe Called Quest in Beats, Rhymes, and Life. I wonder if we'd expect anything else from our most beloved late-night talk show musician? In trying to think of someone in another art from to compare Questlove to I could only come up with one of those writers whose work as an editor has as big or bigger a reach as their own work. William Maxwell, maybe? This interview is a micro-history of the Roots' last 15 years as well as that of the industry in general and I'm not sure I'd pick another tour guide. (Pitchfork)

Pitchfork: You recently wrote about how listening to Watch the Throne for the first time really stopped you in your tracks. Do you remember the first hip-hop album that made you feel that way?

?: Definitely [Public Enemy's] It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. I quit my job the day that that came out. I was cutting onions and potatoes as a short-order cook for this 50s-style restaurant chain. I would walk 12 blocks to work everyday, from West Philadelphia to the University of Pennsylvania, where the restaurant was. Before Nation of Millions, I would usually show up five minutes late. I didn't care, I just had the job to earn extra money so I could buy records.

But when I bought that album, my entire walk changed. I wound up getting to work 20 minutes early, simply because you almost had to walk to the bpms of what you were listening to. And by the time that I got there, I just made it to "Show 'Em Whatcha Got" and, at work, I couldn't stop singing that sampled horn line from the Lafayette Afro Rock Band. I went on my lunch break and was just like, "Fuck it, I'm not going back to work." So I went to 7-Eleven, purchased about four Duracell batteries, and sat in a park from about 1 p.m. until about 6 p.m., just listening to that record.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Music: Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - "No One Is (As I Are Be)"

Continuing on a 1990's theme, it's good to see Stephen Malkmus and Beck working together on a new Malkmus & The Jicks album. Both men seem at peace with their associations with one particular decade even if they're not anxious to repeat them.

Mr. Hansen and Mr. Malkmus were not averse to a little 1990s nostalgia of their own, and said the lingering good feelings for the decade were understandable.

While the 1960s and ’70s were defined by cultural and political upheaval, Mr. Malkmus said: “The ’90s had the Internet, great. I don’t know what really traumatic thing happened in the ’90s. It’s probably going to seem like this ideal time to a lot of people, eventually.”

Mr. Hansen recalled that decade as a “weird dead zone” — he meant this affectionately — in which “we weren’t competing with a bunch of Britney Spears and superstar-type people. You could do some other things.”

Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

Where did hip-hop go? That's the implicit question that goes unvoiced in Michael Rapaport's Beats, Rhymes, & Life, the story of the New York rappers A Tribe Called Quest and the brief flowering of the positive and socially aware "Native Tongues" movement. After chronicling the Tribe's history and rise to stardom Rapaport turns to the crux of the film, which is the testy relationship between MCs Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. (Third member Ali Shaheed Muhammad comes off as a voice of reason.) The group fell apart in 1998, Rapaport suggests, because of Phife's jealousy over Q-Tip's higher profile. The two men have been friends since childhood and couldn't be more outwardly different; Q-Tip is urbane and cerebral (in one memorable scene he locates the drums used on the band's "Can I Kick It?" on an old jazz LP) while Phife may not fully grasp his own talent. A 2008 reunion motivated by the diabetic Phife's medical bills brings old tensions to the surface again, but as Rapaport follows Phife through a successful kidney transplant (He receives the donation from his wife.) and the Tribe to a successful Japanese tour there's a hint of a new beginning. Q-Tip's cool personality seems far removed from the fiery performer we see; it's Phife Dawg and his friend Jairobi White (a founding group member who still performs with the Tribe at times) who in their interviews still seem in touch with the restless energy that emerged from hearing firsthand the primordial hip-hop of the early 1980's.

Michael Rapaport includes testimonials from Roots drummer Questlove, the Beastie Boys, and early New York rappers as well as Tribe contemporaries De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers, who testify to the Native Tongue movement's assertion of identity, self-esteem, and unity. I would have loved to hear any of the musicians involved respond to the question of whether they hear themselves in any of today's hip-hop, from the sexual bluntness of Ludacris to the unrepentant egomania of Jay-Z and Kanye West. But that's a subject for a bigger film. The band members' much-reported discomfort with the film seems to have died down and so we're left with Beats, Rhymes, & Life and the music itself.  Michael Rapaport seems more interested in personalities than an exploration of the Tribe's creative choices, but despite the band members' misgivings his film is a celebration of their still-relevant career and a wish for their future.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Work by Friends: Chris White's Taken In

(Full disclosure: I first met Chris White almost 20 years ago in the spring of my freshman year of college. He was an actor, director, and improv comedian and one day took me to look for props for a show. We drove around listening to Poi Dog Pondering (their last major-label album), and to someone who didn't really understand what being an artist meant at the time it all seemed wonderful. Last year Chris got me involved in one of his own short films as well as a theater project that turned out to be a major opportunity. I look forward to following (and being tangentially involved in) his filmmaking career.)

If I didn't know the director of Taken In I might think that Chris White was much older. His new film begins with a long and almost wordless section after the arrival of Simon (Tim Brosnan) and his daughter Brooklyn (the arresting Madelaine Hoptry) at what appears to be a garish, Mexican-themed hotel and theme park. (Taken In was shot here.) White and cinematographer Daniel McCord don't let the location become a distraction though; nor is Taken In a self-consciously eccentric work. McCord's black and white photography gives the start of Simon and Brooklyn's highway interlude the quality of a dream; There's an awkward dinner interrupted only by a waitress named Dawn (Traysie Amick), a trip to a gift shop (Brooklyn buys, Simon pays) and an nighttime elevator ride to an observation point where the silence between these two really sets in. Where have these two been, and where are they going? It would be easy (though more expensive) to cue our feelings with a song or some expository dialogue here, but White has the maturity to let the mood slowly roll out in a way that feels natural and also non-American. Have you ever watched a quiet foreign film after a run of loud American action movies? The beginning of Taken In has a likewise jarring effect. Brosnan and Hoptry nail these moments of unspoken tension; we want to know what's going on but White tells us through observed behavior as opposed to prodding us with music and directorial tricks.

The rest of Taken In unfolds over the weekend that Simon and Brooklyn spend at the hotel. Brooklyn, it develops, is being taken by her father back to a school chosen especially to meet her unarticulated needs. Dawn the waitress returns, and an earnest young man named Dillon (Ronnie Gunter) shows up who's prepared to give Brooklyn a way out of her troubles. The heart of the film finally arrives in a long, raw argument between Brooklyn and Simon in their hotel room. White and Hoptry have pulled off something tricky and admirable with the character of Brooklyn. Hoptry's Brooklyn is once seen sitting by a pool, but she's shy and tentative with Dillon and Taken In isn't a story of emerging womanhood or outrageous teenage behavior. Brooklyn is balanced exactly (and I mean exactly at the moment the film is occurring) on the edge of needing her father more than ever and not wanting him around and Madelaine Hoptry plays that perfectly in Brooklyn's speech to her father. It's a moment in a person's life that's too often treated with silliness in the movies, but by making the choice to be quiet White and Hoptry have given it great dignity. Tim Brosnan plays Simon, a corporate fixer too absent from his daughter's life, with a huffy remove that covers up great insecurity. A choice to "walk away from the table" is an easy choice for Simon, but life rarely lets us do that where our families are concerned and Taken In end with a genuine moment of grace between parent and child.

I've outlined my biases in favor of Taken In above, but my level of admiration for its confidence, tone, and for the creative choices made is genuine. I'm proud of my friends Chris, Madelaine, and Traysie, and excited to follow the future of a talented director whose voice could take him anywhere.

(photo by Chris White)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Death In Venice tattooed on my body

Sorry about light posting. I am reading Michael Cunningham's By Nightfall, and while I'm speeding through it I'm also not entirely convinced of the reality of the central situation. (Straight Manhattan art dealer becomes "fixated" on impossibly beautiful younger brother-in-law) I'll write a full review later, but hearing Cunningham talk about his intentions, how he differs from his main character, and the joy of trying something new is a kick. I'd love to go back and pick up Cunningham's Specimen Days, and would be happy to hear from anyone who has read it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Music: Tanya Donelly - "Slow Dog"

I don't know why music from my high school and college years has had my attention recently, but here's Tanya Donelly doing a Belly classic. Maybe my desire to hear songs by Donelly, Buffalo Tom, Depeche Mode and more has something to do with the idea that those years were a time when it seemed like the music culture was tilting our way and that there was an audience for music made by scruffy college guys and "alternative" women you'd like to have a beer with. A long way from 2011, when all the attention seems to go to egomaniacs or miniaturists. But I don't want to rant; this stuff was good, too.

A Good Year

It's all about the preparation for the busy Jessica Chastain. (Huffington Post)

That trip, it turned out, would only lead to another opportunity to jump down the character rabbit hole, as she met with "Shakespeare In Love" director John Madden on a stop in London to discuss a role in what would become the Holocaust vengeance dramatic thriller, "The Debt."

Once she convinced him that she was right for the part of a young Mossad agent sent on a team to East Berlin to take out a former madman Nazi doctor, it was time again to immerse herself in a story. Unlike "Tree of Life," in which she played the matriarch of a family that was the focus of existential pondering, Chastian's new role foisted upon her more hardened reality, inspiring her to learn more about the unspeakable human suffering that her Rachel character had witnessed, and was trying to avenge.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Help

I was fully prepared not to like The Help after reading so-so reviews and hearing a raft of complaints on Twitter. Movies that sentimentalize the South and put white people at the center of African-American history are easy to make and hard to watch for thoughtful audiences. I enjoyed the novel by Kathryn Stockett from which The Help is adapted, but the book isn't without its problems. Split between three narrators, the novel eventually gives over to the efforts of budding journalist Skeeter (Emma Stone) to get her book published and launch a career at the expense of the voices of maids Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer). Writer/director Tate Taylor allows a few clunky lines to slip out as characters mull their love of fried chicken but he also wisely know that Skeeter is an plot accessory. The criticism that the movie ignores history isn't wrong but may be misplaced; the patch of ground that Taylor and Stockett choose to stand on (the world of bridge clubs and charity benefits in 1960's Jackson, Mississippi) is small but big enough to explore the roiling emotions and unspoken ironies of the era. Viola Davis is a wonder as Aibileen, inhabiting the weariness of a woman who has given her life to raising other people's children in a gorgeous and lived-in performance. There's a very specific kind of emotion coming from Davis and Spencer's Minny that diffuses most of the movie's weaker moments. The accretion of daily insults at the hands of Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) and her Junior League allies feels real, and so does the way the maids do what they can for the children of their employers and in Minny's case for the white-trash head case (Jessica Chastain, far removed from The Tree of Life) who's her only chance at employment.

The spine of The Help is Skeeter's effort to write an anonymous oral history of the lives of Jackson's maids. It's here that things feel the most slippery and that those who decry the movie as ahistorical empty calories have a point. It simply wouldn't have been safe for Aibileen, Minnie, or the other maids Skeeter interviews in a rushed scene to risk having their voices out there even under the cover of anonymity. Neither Stockett nor Taylor is at all interested in the husbands and fathers of the world they've created, some of whom would have been members of groups ready to deliver violent reprisals if the identities of the maids interviewed were known. Would the town's bookstore have really stacked copies of Skeeter's book in the window? It feels more like something one would have driven to New Orleans to buy. Taylor is also very big on moments where characters get told that they're good or bad, and so we're treated to scenes of Hilly being told off by both her own mother (Sissy Spacek) and by Skeeter's (Allison Janney) while Aibileen and Skeeter are affirmed. The Help derives its power from an attention to detail. It's fair to call out its disinterest in putting itself in a historical context, but the film feels specific, true and personal and finally that impression wins out. The Help forgoes the battles fought in Mississippi courthouses, churches, and voting booths in favor of a narrower focus on the quiet violence of living rooms and kitchens.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Party in the U.S.A.

This has been up for awhile, but  I like this description of an MLS soccer game between Portland and Seattle. This is what American soccer should be. (Grantland)

I was on my way to the game, standing on line in a convenience store, waiting to be rung up. The man on line in front of me was delivering a monologue, somewhat directed at the cashier but really to anyone within earshot, about reproductive rights and health education in various Third World countries. In New York, this guy would have been told to go reproduce with himself and get out of line. What happened here? As the man finished his speech the cashier nodded thoughtfully and said, "Man, I've got a documentary you have got to see."

Yeah, I was in Portland.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II

So here we are. The final Harry Potter film takes up our heroes' quest for the remaining Horcruxes that hold the key to Voldemort's demise, and it's to the credit of director David Yates that the pace picks up from Deathly Hallows I. There's no dancing to Nick Cave songs here; Horcruxes are discovered and destroyed before anyone not familiar with the series can figure out what's going on. The high point of Deathly Hallows II is Voldemort's siege on Hogwarts, and who better than Maggie Smith to fend off the Dark Lord's assault? The images of a bombed-out Hogwarts will remind anyone with a long memory of shots of London during the Blitz. There's an early scene in Deathly Hallows I (the closest thing Ralph Fiennes ever gets to an objective) in which Voldemort's anti-Muggle racism is spelled out, and the imagery of Deathly Hallows II is evocative of the war for pluralism and openness that Britain fought in the 1940's. I'm struck again by how uninteresting Voldemort is as a character. Ralph Fiennes is excellent, every line drips with malice, but Voldemort doesn't really need or want anything and seems beamed in from another universe. It's inexplicable how the Tom Riddle we hear described earlier in the series evolved into the peacock that Fiennes created.

Why does the last movie in a series need so much exposition? The power of the character's wands becomes a matter of great import late in the series, and John Hurt has a few sharp words on that subject. Whether or not Voldemort's wand will respond to him is a major plot point, but it feels like J.K. Rowling adding rules late in the game. After a flashback that reveals the true motivation of Snape (Alan Rickman), we have to hear the same point made again to Harry by Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) in a dream sequence. Yates also takes care to get in as many glimpses of character from earlier films as he can; say hello to Emma Thompson, Gary Oldman and David Thewlis. At the same time some useful information is left out. Did we know Mrs. Weasley (Julie Walters) was such a good wizard? Finally the whole thing rests on Harry, Hermione and Ron, and it's moving to see these three actors acknowledge what they've been through and what these characters (and these people) mean to each other. I could have done without the epilogue, but Deathly Hallows II is ultimately an above-average example of giving the people what they want. As the series rumbles to a conclusion I don't find myself wishing I'd spent more time reading the books, but I will miss a world where the real magic is a master class of British actors.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

65 minutes of your life

Aubrey Plaza's appearance on the WTF podcast can be heard here. Plaza discusses her unique entry into standup, life on the set of Parks and Recreation, and a harrowing personal health scare.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

How a bookstore dies

The end of Borders, from the inside. (Stranger/HTV)

In 2001, Borders would go on to partner with, allowing the online book retailer to handle their internet sales for them, if you can believe it. There's a photo of Jeff Bezos and then-Borders president and CEO Greg Josefowicz shaking hands to celebrate the partnership. Josefowicz has weatherman hair and a broad smile, and he's beaming past the camera with the cocksure giddiness of a guy who thinks he just got rid of all his problems because he sold his dumb old cow for a handful of really cool magic beans. But when you pull your eyes away from Josefowicz's superheroic chin, you notice that Jeff Bezos is smiling directly into the camera with keen shark eyes. His smile is more relaxed, a little more candid than Josefowicz's photo-op-ready grin. It's the face of someone who's thinking, I finally got you, you son of a bitch.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sunday Music: Old 97's - "Oppenheimer"

From earlier this year. I can't believe I've never blogged one of my favorite songs by this band, and their last two albums haven't gotten enough of my attention.

Find Myself A City

The Pulitzer-Prize winning play Clybourne Park wants to make you think about cities and how we live in them. I was unaware of the connections to A Raisin in the Sun. (NYT/Photo by Tristram Kenton from a British production; that's Martin Freeman in the middle.)

Part of the power of “Clybourne Park” derives from how the events in Mr. Norris’s play intersect with those in “A Raisin in the Sun,” Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking 1959 drama about a black family on the South Side of Chicago. In “A Raisin in the Sun” the black Youngers plan to move into a white neighborhood when a character named Karl Lindner, a representative of the community association, offers to buy them out. In the first act of Mr. Norris’s play, the same Karl Lindner tries to persuade the house’s white owners not to sell to a black family — the Youngers, it is assumed — out of fear of what that would do to the property values and the culture of the neighborhood.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Greatest

Was Robert Ryan the greatest actor in the history of movies? (L Magazine)

Ryan was always either pursuer or pursued, or maybe both, but he brought nearly infinite nuance and variety to his boogeymen. In Fritz Lang's Clash By Night (1952), as the small-town projectionist who hounds Barbara Stanwyck, he's full of loathing borne of self-knowledge and given flight by Clifford Odets's baroque, steel-edged dialogue; he's more raw as the racist bankrobber in Robert Wise's Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), with its great wintry uptown and upstate locations. Blacklisted screenwriter Abe Polonsky makes the film's heist into a racial allegory, plagued by tensions between Ryan and angry Harry Belafonte: most Ryan performances are psychoanalytic inquiries into the social ills of postwar America, revealed as hateful or frightened or drunk, but Polonsky makes it explicit, and the liberal Ryan, despite his conscientious disapproval of his character (which he discussed with the activist press), grants himself access to stores of blind, omnidirectional hatred in a relentlessly self-flagellating performance (check that bitter smile as he delivers his first line of dialogue, addressing a small African-American girl in mock dialect).

The Book I Read: Whip Smart by Melissa Febos

A few years ago I might never have picked up Whip Smart, cowed by it's frank sexuality and firm in my belief that we'd all be better off without most of the memoirs being written. The selling point of the book is of course Melissa Febos' (aka "Justine") description of four years spent working as a dominatrix in a Manhattan dungeon. The practices and fetishes that Febos describes responding to in her clients ("slaves") may thrill or disturb you (this is not a book for those put off by frank sexuality) but the bdsm life is only part of the story. Febos is a therapist's child and her description of her state of mind during her sessions may border on the indulgent, but she doesn't paper over or rationalize the drug addiction she kicks during her time in the dungeon. Like many of her young colleagues, Febos eventually drifts away from her work and we find her settled in a happy and "vanilla" lifestyle. Yet the lack of regrets and judgments is perhaps what's most affecting about Whip Smart, and at heart the book is not a story of overcoming but of a chapter that lasted exactly as long as it needed to.