Monday, June 9, 2014

In Praise of Charm

There’s a scene in Chef where the titular chef, played by Jon Favreau, sits by his food truck with his sous chef and his son on a soft summer night. Favreau puffs contentently on a cigar. The characters talk about food, about their half-formed plans for the next few days of business. They tip back bottles of beer. The scene ambles on for a minute or two, then ends on a tiny, laid-back joke. Then it’s over.
We’re well into summer now, so we’ve been battered for about two months by blockbusters. So far, I’ve seen a sports stadium levitated and a flying aircraft carrier crash into the Potomac. I haven’t seen Tom Cruise fight off an army of aliens, but I’ll probably see it before I watch a team of intergalactic misfits save the universe.
I find more and more, I use the word charming to describe certain movies I love. I love blockbusters, but I never call them charming.
Part of what I’m talking about is the charisma and ease of the cast. There’s a scene in Chef  where Favreau shares a joint with his restaurant’s hostess, played, coincidentally, by Scarlett Johannson. The scene doesn’t have the wittiest dialogue or deepest insights, but the Favreau and Johannson give the characters’ relationship a lived-in quality that breathes warmth into the scene.
Even better is a scene from Enough Said, a smart, subtle romantic comedy with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini. They go on a date to a restaurant. Their conversation is sometimes halting. You can tell the characters are genuinely thinking before they speak. But there’s a sly rapport there. If I were to transcribe the conversation here it wouldn’t seem funny, but the actors give it rhythm. You feel as if you’re watching them discover each other. 
When a movie’s charming, it means the filmmakers aren’t afraid to let you hang out with the characters for a little while. They allow you to peek into their world in smaller, quieter moments — BSing next to a food truck like in Chef, sitting in the back yard discussing the relative attractiveness of feet in Enough Said.
Like I said earlier: I love blockbusters. Some of them are even charming — the original Iron Man, for example, where most of the memorable moments came from Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow’s machine-pistol banter. But too often those movies are like harried tour guides rushing you from one flashy exhibit to another. 
The filmmakers who make them should try something different. They should be confident enough not to awe, but to charm. 

Your "Democracy" in Action


Sunday, June 8, 2014

More on Bowe Bergdahl

In the last week or so, we've seen a former Vice-Presidential runner-up  pour venom on Bowe Bergdahl. We've seen politicians and major political candidates retract support for him. We've seen a co-host of a major-network television show casually compare Bowe Bergdahl's father, Robert, to terrorists. We've seen another co-host of a major-network television show sharply criticize Robert Bergdahl's parenting.

In light of this, I'm less than astonished that Robert Bergdahl has reportedly received multiple death threats.

Charles Pierce doesn't address Bergdahl but is excellent addressing the mechanism by which radical language electrifies people who were probably already on the edge.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

On Bowe Bergdahl

1) An organized smear campaign against a recently freed United States soldier before he's even had the opportunity to step on U.S. soil or reunite with his parents is ugly and cowardly. The fact that a former candidate for Vice-President is participating in this morbid exercise makes it even worse.

2) Regarding Palin's criticism: It's interesting how, to her, 'free speech' — that is, freedom from being criticized — applies to a duck-call millionaire who made controversial comments in the pages of a widely read magazine, but not to a United States solider who made controversial comments in a private e-mail.

3) This should go without saying, but charges of desertion against Sgt. Bergdahl have not been proven, and it's wildly irresponsible to speculate on those charges.

4) It seems rather obvious that all this criticism of Bergdahl is being done for one reason, and one reason only: to diminish a potential accomplishment by President Obama.

5) Well, maybe two reasons.