Well, this looks even more rancid than I expected:
Ladies! Always with the demands for homeownership! And wanting to punch their husbands in the face! Hatin’ on other ladies! And hipster dads! Using their babies for accessories, laughing about their incompetence, and complaining about their women! And of course, we couldn’t possibly have a gay couple in a movie that’s about the creation of modern families and parenting.
This is particularly embarrassing in the wake of Up All Night, which moved past its irritating-hipster-parenting stage fairly quickly, and has become a gratifyingly tender and perceptive look at what it means for a man to give up a career that he’s wonderful at to redefine himself as a stay-at-home parent. Sometimes it’s OK not to distance yourself from everything with a heavy layer of irony and artifice.
Last night, HBO aired the pilot for Luck, its new horse racing and casino show from David Milch, ahead of the show’s actual run in January. There’s no question that the pilot immediately establishes Luck as a serious contender for the most gorgeous show on television, and I’m really glad to see someone else step up to Breaking Bad and do all sorts of gorgeous, vertiginous things with color and light. And it’s nice to know that Carrie and Saul from Homeland have a little competition in the category of best mentor-mentee relationship on television, that competition being Sad Nick Nolte and a potentially champion horse. Saul got a decent, if misguided, soliloquy last night, but nothing quite as juicy as: “You don’t know how special you are, do you? How you can run. Who your daddy was. How they killed him.”
This being a David Milch show, though, after my marination in Deadwood, I’m curious to see what he’ll do in another framework where women generally are marginal but individual women have the capability to be tremendously powerful. After all, it’s not just that the Old Man notices the potential in a horse, it’s that he sees the potential in Lizzy, a female jockey (played by Chantal Sutherland, a jockey in real life), remarking, “I guess I still know a peach when I see one,” as he checks his stopwatch. “Who’s gonna ride it?” one character asks Joey, the stuttery agent who caught the miracle horse’s workout. “Some exercise girl or something,” Joey replies. The ability to see human as well as horseflesh matters. And it’s women who treat horses when they’re healthy, as well as easing them on when, as happens in a final, climatic race in the pilot, they snap a leg.
There’s going to be a lot of wrangling about the economy in Luck: the pilot already has references to payday loans and the dismal state of the city’s tax base. I imagine we’ll rise far above individual horses, individual owners, and individual races. But I hope the beating, high-strung heart of Luck remains its horses and the people who own them, ride them, and care for them. There’s a nice bit when Gus (Dennis Farina), who has bought a horse as a front for Chester (Dustin Hoffman) who is recently out of jail and preoccupying himself with larger concerns, anxiously feeds that horse a carrot for the first time. There’s a jittery delight in the proximity to the velvet of those noses, to the muscle force behind the enamel that chews up those carrots. You could do worse on a metaphor for the power, randomness and seductive appeal of capitalism.
As someone who likes politically engaged art, I very much wanted to like Amy Waldman’s The Submission, a novel about the jury for a memorial to the victims of the September 11 attacks who find themselves embroiled in controversy after choosing a design that turns out to have been submitted by a Muslim architect. There’s no question that Waldman manages to make a debate over the fate of public art and public spaces gripping — I read the novel in one sitting. But the characters frequently read less as actual people and more as vehicles for a carefully selected range of perspectives. And while I appreciate Waldman’s respect for and engagement with immigrants, there’s a self-castigating streak in the novel, a suggestion that Americans by birth make less good use of their freedoms than Americans by choice.
Waldman’s characters have strong streaks of unlikability, and a tendency to marinate in indecision. Claire Burwell, a wealthy 9/11 widow whose husband used his ancestral wealth to support good liberal causes and to act as an art patron, supports the garden designed by a secular Muslim architect, Mohammad Khan, until a vicious gossip columnist poisons her mind against him. She then makes common cause with Muslim activists who have gotten everything they want out of the memorial controversy and sense the point of diminishing returns approaching to kill the design, turning liberal alliances to illiberal and un-aesthetic ends. She’s contrasted with Sean Gallagher a handyman who has defined his life since the attacks by becoming a full-time mourner for his firefighter brother, who he was estranged from when his brother died in the September 11 attacks. It’s a stance that could be entirely repulsive — and Sean certainly doesn’t help, pulling a Muslim woman’s headscarf and inspiring a wave of similar attacks, crashing with a Pamela Geller-like anti-Muslim opportunist in what may be the novel’s deftest satire. Waldman treats that incoherent attempt to build a life out of tragedy with an effective amount of respect. But ultimately, he too, sputters out into incoherence, and Waldman lets his storyline trail off.
Mohammad Khan, the architect who designed the memorial in the first place, acts as a kind of inverse to Claire and Sean. He’s simultaneously resistant to any call to explain himself or his design, and frustrated that he’s not understood, even though he doesn’t entirely understand himself. Waldman’s fair about the expectations that are placed and projected on to him — when Laila, a lovely Muslim attorney Mo starts dating during the uproar tells him that he doesn’t seem like he’s stumbled into this, despite his protestations, she does him a disservice by not believing him. Paul Rubin, the extremely wealthy former hedge-funder (we know he left his firm because of the rise of new financial instruments, but it’s not clear if we’re supposed to admire him for it) who is chairing the memorial commission is similarly invested in the idea that the marketplace of ideas is a meritocracy, a conviction he uses to avoid taking a stand. Rubin cares so much for approval, whether he’s trying to broker a solution to the unbrokerable problem of the memorial or giving money to the gay rights organization that his son runs without actually trying to understand or get comfortable with the issues he’s backing financially, that he ends up standing for absolutely nothing. Read more
This post contains spoilers through the Season 2 finale of Boardwalk Empire.
I have mixed feelings about Jimmy Darmody’s death on Boardwalk Empire last night. To a certain extent it feels inevitable, a form of Suicide By Nucky after the traumas of Angela’s death and his murder of the Commodore that he can commit after destroying the Commodore’s will and ensuring his son’s financial future. Certainly, Jimmy’s inability to live up to either of his fathers has weighed on him heavily this season. And in this giant cast, there’s something efficient about taking out a whole web of connections and subplots in a single, emotionally resonant blow. But to a certain extent, this also feels like a way of using Jimmy to wrap up Richard’s storyline, the former telling the latter, “Time to come home, Richard…promise me you’re gonna try,” before Jimmy tells Nucky “I died in a trench years back. I thought you knew that.” And it also forecloses a promising storyline, the personalization of the rise of heroin through Jimmy’s potential addiction, and bringing us back down to conversations between Arnold Rothstein and his henchmen about color and supply.
I do appreciate seeing the darkness and the light in Nucky, though, brought out in a way that nothing else could by the need for the love of a good woman and the betrayal of a son. His acid reconciliation with Eli was a reminder of why he can keep his murderous brother alive: he is insecure and manipulatable. “Shakespeare. Julius Caesar,” Nucky tries to explain after Eli doesn’t understand his “Et tu?” “There’s a character named Eli?” Eli misunderstands him and arrives at an unknowing understanding. He doesn’t even really rate as a character. He’s muscle, temporarily risen above his station where he committed transgressions that seem to have returned him securely to it. And while Nucky’s merely annoyed by Eli’s lack of understanding, he’s wounded and raging by Jimmy’s failure to do the same. After Jimmy lectures Nucky on the cost of killing, Nucky declares, teeth gritted, that “You never knew me, James, and you never did. I am not seeking forgiveness.” What defines him is his ability to handle a range of problems and emotions at once, to kill his adoptive son and to celebrate a potential windfall over champagne. Read more
Such is my investment in Game of Thrones that this trailer, which gives us brief looks at the characters looking…basically like themselves without much context, can still get me pretty excited:
[SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE NOVELS TO FOLLOW]
I think the biggest question for me will be how the second season of the show handles the themes of governance that are so important to A Clash of Kings. Other than Jon Snow’s attempts to reform the Wall, the struggle between Joffrey and Cersei on one side and Tyrion on the other over how to run King’s Landing — and by extension, the realm — is one of the few experiments in and debates over governing philosophies we ever see in action. Cersei’s devoted all of her efforts to bolstering the hard power of King’s Landing, recruiting new men into the City Watch, spending coin on wildfire, displaying heads on walls, and paying for it all with a tax that’s throttled already constricted trade. Tyrion comes in and shifts the balance, opening up trade, making a deal with the city’s armorers that both bolsters their trade and lets him prepare to wage unconventional warfare, and takes the heads off the walls in an effort to make the regime less savage. He institutes actual diplomatic relations with Dorne, which you think someone else might have considered at some point earlier, given their utterly badass reputation.
He’s not perfect, of course. The riot that sweeps the city is an augury that neither Tyrion or Cersei read fully (much to the latter’s dismay later) — it always surprises me that Cersei and her advisers are caught off-guard by an upswing in religious fervor during times of insecurity. The fact that even the Lannister who loves learning, who actually has the intellectual curiosity to want to see the end of the world, can’t accept what Ser Allister Thorne is telling him about the White Walkers on the border suggests something powerful about the limitations of our collective ability to grapple with the monstrous and unthinkable. And Tyrion is too personal when it comes to reforming the Small Council, failing to appreciate Maester Pycelle’s abilities and connections (and given the scene the show gave us of his secret vigor, I wonder if he might not resist Tyrion more strongly than in the novels).
All in all, it’s a parable for the dangers of allowing your governance to become personal. Tyrion is doomed to failure when his rule becomes as much about discipling Joffrey and proving his father wrong about his abilities. Both are futile tasks. Joffrey’s already a hopeless sadist with an elevated sense of his own wisdom by the time Tyrion gets anywhere close to him. Tywin ultimately turns out to be flexible, but not in ways that lend him strength or reason. King’s Landing might have turned out to be genuinely salvageable, the unbreakable link in a chain of Lannister defenses. But disciplining these three generations of Lannisters or restoring them to decency isn’t a project worth Tyrion’s considerable talents.
When Eddie Murphy followed Brett Ratner in withdrawing from the Oscars, it was an open and interesting question as to where his career would go next. Would he find another prestige project in time for audiences to remember that he’s got actual chops (however much I liked Tower Heist, it’s been five years since his last truly elevating project, Dreamgirls)? Or would he drown his sorrows in fat suits and voice work? Fortunately, it looks like the former: Spike Lee’s going to direct Murphy in a Marion Barry biopic for HBO.
I’m excited for this, and not only because I live in Washington, D.C. or because (full disclosure) my coworker Harry Jaffe, who wrote a fantastic book about D.C. and Barry called Dream City, is going to be consulting on the project. I’m not a Barry fan: it’s hard to be if you’re a fan of clean and effective government, equal marriage rights, or paying your taxes. But he stands as a refutation to the idea that technocratic good government ideals will win everyone over, that voters will pick their representatives based on resumes and campaign platforms rather than on neighborhood, religious, or racial or ethnic affiliations. Barry’s continued role in the public life of the District of Columbia is inexplicable to a lot of folks, and therein lies his importance as a goad to the sense that the way folks in one quadrant of Washington see the world — or just the District — is shared by everyone around them. That’s not a particularly comfortable conversation. And Barry may not be the best of all possible representatives to communicate it. But the question is less why people keep electing Barry, and more why other alternatives don’t seem compelling or trustworthy to his constituents. And there’s no question that he’s a messy, small American icon, and deserves a movie that communicates his significance in a tough, clear-eyed way.
As you may have heard, home improvement giant Lowe’s pulled their advertising from TLC’s All-American Muslim. That in and of itself might not be a massive sin — companies have a right to spend their advertising dollars where they like, or order for a few episodes and don’t re-up. But Lowe’s, at every step of the way, has managed to give the impression that they’re rather aggressively folding to virulent Islamophobes.
First, there was the fact that the news of the ad pull appeared to break when an email from Lowe’s — explaining that “There are certain programs that do not meet Lowe’s advertising guidelines, including the show you brought to our attention” — appeared on the website of the Florida Family Association, an organization that appears to spend more of its time organizing boycotts of shows like Degrassi for “[promoting] the transgender lifestyle,” than advocating for family-friendly policies. I contacted Jaclyn Pardini, one of Lowe’s spokeswomen, for more information about the decision, and got, in exchange, what appeared to be Lowe’s standard policy statement at the beginning of the weekend:
We did not pull our advertisements based solely on the complaints or emails of any one particular group. In an effort to be objective, and on a case-by-case basis, we will pull our advertising on shows if we learn there are issues raised from a broad spectrum of customers and viewers who represent multiple perspectives, which Lowe’s understands was the case in this situation with this particular show. We understand the program raised concerns, complaints, or issues from multiple sides of the viewer spectrum, which we found after doing research of news articles and blogs covering the show. We based our decision to pull the advertising on this research and after hearing the concerns we received through emails, calls, through social media and in news reports.
I asked Ms. Pardini twice to clarify what the concerns from “multiple sides” of the viewer spectrum were, given that the most prominent voices calling for the boycott of All-American Muslim appear to be prominent Islamophobes. She did not respond to my requests for an explanation, I suspect because there isn’t one. In the mean time, when Nathan Cerruti thanked the company for dropping the ads on Twitter by linking to a post about the ad pull from Bare Naked Islam, which bears the cheery tagline “It isn’t Islamophobia when they really ARE trying to kill you,” Lowe’s responded by thanking him for his business, while saying nothing about his views. Things like this do not exactly give the impression that, as Lowe’s insisted in a Facebook post later, “We have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, across our workforce and our customers, and we’re proud of that longstanding commitment.”
This post contains spoilers through the Dec. 11 episode of Homeland.
Before anything else, I just want to pause in the delight of Claire Danes’ acting in this episode. She’s been more subtle, of course, much more tender, more sexy, tougher, more intelligent. But this was a textbook case for why we love actors who aren’t afraid to leave their vanity behind. I really appreciate the coherence of Carrie’s insanity, when it’s full-blown. There’s the troikas of descriptors, the question “Green is important. Green is necessary…Is green so hard? Is green elusive? I mean, my kingdom for a fucking green pen,” to the infinitely patient nurse in the hospital; the explanation to Saul that “Abu Nazir has methods, and patterns, and priorities…He goes big, he explodes, he maims on mass;” the promise that “Maggie will come. Maggie’s reliable. You can count on Maggie every time;” the musing “What makes them? Is it a whisper? A crash? A deep internal pain?”
And there’s the unreliability of her insights. “I wrote a 45-page manifesto declaring I’d reinvented music,” Carrie explains to Saul. “The professor I handed to escorted me to student health. I wasn’t in his class. You didn’t do anything, Saul. I just came this way.” But she hasn’t lost all trust in herself, and that’s what makes her compelling to us, and what communicates how terrifying her illness is. She keeps working because she senses that there’s something real. And when Saul affirms that she’s correct about the timeline and the gap in Abu Nazir’s life, he’s not just validating her work product but the idea that there’s something that makes sense in her brain, that she has not taken all leave of reason. When she runs out in traffic, seeing a miracle in a community garden and telling us, “Somewhere, down there, there’s a sliver of green. This is how everything works. You wait down there, you lay low, and then you come to life,” she’s right, too. The miracle and the tragedy of Carrie’s brain is its hyperspeed, its ability to beat Saul to conclusions and inability to understand that other people will need more time than she will to work through her insights and moral leaps and judge her as an alien from outer space, a criminal. Read more