The editors' blog

  • J.C. CHANDOR'S SURGICAL PRECISION

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, January 24th 2015

    As Abel Morales, the oil distributor struggling to keep his business afloat in "A Most Violent Year", Oscar Isaac (above) wears a big camel-hair coat, looks people dead in the eye and speaks in the crisp, precise diction of a man who has learned that power comes with not raising your voice. “You must take the path that is most right,” he says—a lesson close to the heart of this sombre, slightly dry, urgent film about one man’s attempts not to become a gangster in the New York of 1981. Its director, J.C. Chandor, has chosen his location and period with great care. The drama stems from the fact that in the New York of 1981—a city that boasted more than 1,800 murders—there were probably more reasons for a struggling oil distributor to become a gangster than there were reasons not to. It’s a film about criminality’s slow, gravitational suck—the steady drip, drip, drip of difficulties that one day makes brushing past the law seem easier than waiting in line.   

    read more » cinemacultureFilmTom Shone
  • THE ATOMIC BOMB ON STAGE

    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, January 23rd 2015

    When the atom bomb eventually goes off in Tom Morton-Smith's new play, "Oppenheimer"—which opened at Stratford's Swan Theatre last night—it's followed by drunken celebrations. We're in the desert in New Mexico, where a bunch of physicists are lying in the sand wearing army uniforms and black goggles (above). The explosion itself is a blackout and a slow deep rumble, but the lights swiftly come up on frenetic dancing at a party. Soon after, we hear an appalling description of what happens when the detonation is repeated over the city of Hiroshima. If the play veers unpredictably in tone in the summer of 1945, losing its earlier assurance, that is no surprise: there can be few bigger challenges, in terms of dramaturgy, than introducing a weapon that kills over 100,000 people.

    read more » cultureRobert ButlerTheatre
  • EX MACHINA FAILS ITS OWN TEST

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, January 23rd 2015

    Films about artificial intelligence, from “Blade Runner” to “Her”, tend to pose two key questions: first, how can we prove that a machine has consciousness? And second, would a conscious machine have human rights? But once such films have posed those key questions, they usually move on to the issues they’re really interested in. First, will these machines decide to murder us all and take over the world? And second, will any of them look and sound like beautiful women? What’s disappointing about Alex Garland’s shiny new science-fiction mystery, “Ex Machina”, is that it seems genuinely fascinated by the first two questions, only to discard them in favour of the last two.

    read more » cinemacultureFilmNicholas Barber
  • A MEMORY OF JOHN BAYLEY

    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, January 23rd 2015

    In 2008, Julie Kavanagh wrote a piece for Intelligent Life about the photographer Richard Avedon. She had watched him at work on photo shoots for the New Yorker in the mid-1990s, for which his subjects included Helen Mirren, Judi Dench and Alan Bennett. One of the most moving moments in Kavanagh's piece, though, comes from a shoot with the novelist Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley, who has died at the age of 89:

    read more » BooksMemoirPhotographySimon Willis
  • WOLF HALL'S GRAND MASTER

    ~ Posted by Isabel Lloyd, January 22nd 2015

    Mark Rylance has a lot to carry. There’s a weight of history on his shoulders, and also one of expectation: as Thomas Cromwell in the BBC’s six-part adaptation of “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies”, which began last night, every Hilary Mantel fan in the land will have been watching his performance with rabid attention.

    read more » BookscultureIsabel LloydTELEVISION
  • A DISAPPOINTING DATE WITH RUBENS

    ~ Posted by Rebecca Willis, January 21st 2015

    To manage the expectations of exhibition-goers, I suggest that the Royal Academy changes the name of its latest show from "Rubens and his Legacy" to "Rubens' Legacy". That way people will not be surprised when the first painting they see is by John Constable, or that only three of the eight pictures in this initial room, entitled "Poetry", are by Rubens himself. Similarly, when they get to the room called "Elegance", which looks at portraiture, they won't feel so cheated when they discover that the ratio of Rubens to other artists is just 2:11. The emphasis here is definitely on the word "legacy".

    read more » ArtcultureExhibitionsRebecca Willis
  • WERNER HERZOG: TARZAN AND MADMAN

    ~ Posted by Charlie McCann, January 21st 2015

    Werner Herzog would make a bad psychoanalyst. For one thing, he hates psychobabble, and has said many times that the damage it has wrought is on a par with the Spanish Inquisition. For another, he is a madman. Herzog is, after all, the man who dragged a steamship up a mountain in the Amazon, and the man who stewed and ate his own shoe, all in the name of cinema. He’s also the man who was shot and wounded during an interview, but carried on, saying the bullet was “not significant”. Herzog is wild, untamed, a “metaphysical Tarzan”, as the critic Pauline Kael once called him. But people don’t seem to mind. More and more have been turning to the 72-year-old Herzog for advice; in a recent interview with the Telegraph, he described it as “a huge avalanche of young people in particular, who actually want guidance”—not just about film-making, but about life’s grand themes: individuality, self-expression…chicken hypnosis.

    Last Friday, a small avalanche of people—some 2,000—turned up at Central Hall, a marble behemoth of a church in London, for an event called “Guidance for the Perplexed”. Billed as a conversation between Herzog and Paul Holdengräber, the director of the LIVE series at the New York Public Library, it was the oral counterpart to “A Guide for the Perplexed”, a book of interviews with Herzog by the British writer Paul Cronin. (A revised and expanded version of Cronin’s “Herzog on Herzog”, published in 2002.)

    read more » Charlie McCanncinemaFilmLondontalks
  • THE AMERICAN GOTHIC OF GORDON PARKS

    ~ Posted by George Pendle, January 20th 2015

    In 1950, the Life magazine photographer Gordon Parks returned to his hometown of Fort Scott, Kansas, to create a photo essay on segregation in American schools. Parks was the only African-American photographer on the staff at Life and he was no stranger to the subject. The youngest of 15 children born to a tenant farmer and a maid, he had attended the segregated Plaza School, where an all-black student body had been taught by an all-black faculty. For the young Parks this had seemed quite normal, as had the black Main Street that existed on one side of the railroad tracks and the white Main Street that existed on the other. But by 1950 this forced separation was starting to splinter and Kansas was at the centre of a growing national debate over segregation: in 1954 the Supreme Court decision, Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, would order schools to desegregate, kick-starting the civil-rights revolution.

    read more » ArtcultureExhibitionsgeorge pendlePhotography
  • MIKE BARTLETT'S KILLER INSTINCT

    ~ Posted by Isabel Lloyd, January 19th 2015

    Sometimes it’s easier to admire a play than to like it. That was the case with “Bull”, a one-act four-hander by Mike Bartlett (“Cock”, “King Charles III”) that premiered at the Sheffield Crucible Studio in 2013 and opened, with the same excellent cast, at the Young Vic in London last Thursday. The premise is simple—a team of three “Apprentice”-style office workers, head to toe in grim grey businesswear, wait to meet their boss, who is due to “downsize” one of them. None know who it will be, but two of them have a pretty good idea, and will play any sort of destructive psychological game to make sure things go their way. On Soutra Gilmour’s spare, pull-no-punches set, the metaphor is made clear: the three will do verbal battle in a wrestling ring, floored with office carpeting, lit by a harsh square of fluorescent lighting, with a recalcitrant watercooler in one corner. Half the audience stands around the ring; the other half sits in raked seats above, peering claustrophobically down on the three combatants. The game is on: a 55-minute nightmare.

    read more » Isabel LloydTheatre
  • BOYHOOD: SMALL FILM, BIG CHANCE

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, January 15th 2015

    One hesitates to use the word “egoless” with regard to Hollywood but one of the pleasures turned up by this year’s awards season has been watching the director Richard Linklater’s Capraesque path to and from the winner’s podium. His film "Boyhood", shot over a 12-year period in the life of its teenage hero, played by the newcomer Ellar Coltrane (above), has been the unlikely frontrunner to win the Best Picture Oscar since October. Unlikely because nothing about Linklater’s gently indolent films—from his debut, "Slacker", to "Dazed and Confused" to the "Before Sunrise" trilogy—exactly shouted “Oscar”. They don’t shout much of anything at all, offering up small-scale epiphanies and stoner pensées in a spirit of patient pointillism not a million miles away from the films of Eric Rohmer.

    read more » awardscinemacultureFilmOscarsTom Shone

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