Saturday, May 2, 2015
Friday, May 1, 2015
For a few years, I flogged the proposal to various publishers but many were worried that there were too many people from different backgrounds (i.e. Margaret Atwood sitting alongside Oliver Stone) which made it look as if they hadn't bothered to read the outline. Another publisher curiously chose to reject it because, to them, it appeared to be simply a book about me promoting my interviews (as if I was attempting to be a low-rent Larry King) rather than seeing it as a commentary on the decade through the eyes of the participants. All told, the book soon faded away and I turned to other projects. When uncovering the original proposal and sample interviews a number of years ago, however, I felt that maybe some of them could find a new life on Critics at Large.
|Tom Fulton, the host of On the Arts at CJRT-FM.|
Thursday, April 30, 2015
|Philip Seymour Hoffman in A Most Wanted Man.|
It’s in the nature of movie awards to underscore the work that’s already receiving a glut of (often unmerited) attention and neglect the worthier achievements that slipped by unnoticed. And these days, when there’s so little difference between the movies that get nominated for Academy Awards and the ones that are recognized by critics’ groups, there are fewer chances than ever to bring fine neglected work into the limelight. Since more than any other element in movies, it’s the acting that excites me – and since no movie year, however dim in other respects, is without its long list of impressive performances – the sidelining of deserving actors during awards season always puts me in a funk. Of course, some of the actors who win praise deserve it, like the Oscar-nominated actors from The Imitation Game, Wild, Boyhood and The Theory of Everything. The ones showcased below deserve it too, however, and weren’t so lucky. Since I reviewed some of the performances I liked best on Critics at Large in the course of the year, I won’t recycle my impressions of Al Pacino in The Humbling, Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner, Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis in Get On Up, Keira Knightley in Begin Again, Jessica Lange in In Secret, Mia Wasichowska in Tracks, Agata Kulesza in Ida, Kenneth Branagh in his own film, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Annette Bening in The Face of Love, and the three stars of The Last of Robin Hood (Kevin Kline, Susan Sarandon and Dakota Fanning).
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Between the Covers: Joakim Zander’s The Swimmer, Nele Neuhaus’s The Ice Queen and Laura Lippman’s Hush Hush
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
|Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina.|
So-called “cerebral sci-fi” films are often like superhero origin stories, in that they can succumb to the third-act pitfall of not knowing what to do after their big revelations have landed. The burgeoning superhero finally dons a cape, the intelligent machine finally achieves self-awareness, and everything goes to shit. It’s a disappointing trend that debut director Alex Garland nimbly dodges by marrying the plot for his film, Ex Machina, with its underlying thematic structure – consciousness, manipulation, deceit, purpose, self-interest – in a way that feels both wholly natural and refreshingly unique. As an established screenwriter and novelist (Garland cut his teeth as a Danny Boyle mainstay, penning 28 Days Later and its sequel, as well as 2012’s undervalued Dredd), he’s well-equipped to do it. Strange, though, that one of the genre’s premiere examples of this narrative stumbling block was his own script for Boyle’s Sunshine (2007). Many critics are lambasting Ex Machina for its similarities to that promising-yet-disappointing interstellar excursion, but I don’t think they’re looking closely enough at what it does differently – and what it does better.
Monday, April 27, 2015
|Daniel Handler's novel We Are Pirates was published in February. (Photo by Christopher Seufert)|
We have left the land and have gone aboard ship! We have broken down the bridge behind us, nay, more, the land behind us! Well, little ship! look out! Beside thee is the ocean; it is true it does not always roar, and sometimes it spreads out like silk and gold and a gentle reverie. But times will come when you wilt feel that it is infinite, and that there is nothing more frightful than infinity. Oh, the poor bird that felt itself free, and now strikes against the walls of this cage! Alas, if home sickness for the land should attack thee, as if there had been more freedom there, and there is no "land" any longer!
– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (Aphorism 124)
There is little I look forward to more than a new book by Daniel Handler. Handler remains most famous, and rightly so, for his Lemony Snicket books (the gothic-themed 13-volume A Series of Unfortunate Events, and most recently his noirish, not yet completed, 4-volume prequel series All the Wrong Questions). The highest compliment I believe can be paid to a contemporary children's book is that deep and warm-hearted regret that you are too old to have read it as a child – and the Snicket books generate that for me with every page. Handler's voice as Snicket is uniquely clever, passionate, and intimate. As explosively unique as Unfortunate Events were, the new series – told from the point-of-view of a 13-year-old Lemony Snicket – are perhaps even stronger: as morally complex, starker in their themes, and even more often laugh-out-loud funnier. When the final volume of ATWQ is published by Little, Brown and Company this fall, I will return here and say more. But for now, let me say this: Handler knows how to tell a story, and his books – perhaps like the best of literature, children's and otherwise – are lessons on how to hear one.
In February, Bloomsbury Press published We Are Pirates, Daniel Handler's first straight up "adult" book since 2006's Adverbs. Adverbs is a difficult book to describe but an easy book to love. It was hands down my favourite book of that year, and rather than try to explain why, it was much simpler just to tell my friends to read it themselves. (I gifted more than a half-dozen copies of Adverbs over the next two years.) We Are Pirates shares a lot with his earlier book, and though it isn't likely to displace Adverbs either in my heart or my bookshelf, I nonetheless relished every page.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
|Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant is his first new novel since 2005. (Photo by Francesco Guidicini)|
Even so, sir, isn’t it a strange then when a man calls another brother who only yesterday slaughtered his children?– Master Wistan, in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant
There was a time when I used to dream about becoming a professional book reviewer – I like to think I had no illusions that it would be easy, but to make a career of reading books and helping other people decide what to read seemed very attractive. But the more that I have come to write about fiction, the more I have come to appreciate the fact that I am not a book reviewer by profession along the real privileges that come with my amateur status. I was recently made aware of those privileges when I encountered Kazuo Ishiguro’s recently published novel, The Buried Giant (Knopf, 2015).