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Douthat on Dan Brown


Reading this in the New York Times makes me smile:

Brown's message has been called anti-Catholic, but that's only part of the story. True, his depiction of the Roman Church's past constitutes a greatest hits of anti-Catholicism, with slurs invented by 19th-century Protestants jostling for space alongside libels fabricated by 20th-century Wiccans. (If he targeted Judaism or Islam this way, one suspects that no publisher would touch him.)...

In the Brownian worldview, all religions -- even Roman Catholicism -- have the potential to be wonderful, so long as we can get over the idea that any one of them might be particularly true. It's a message perfectly tailored for 21st-century America, where the most important religious trend is neither swelling unbelief nor rising fundamentalism, but the emergence of a generalized "religiousness" detached from the claims of any specific faith tradition.

The polls that show more Americans abandoning organized religion don't suggest a dramatic uptick in atheism: They reveal the growth of do-it-yourself spirituality, with traditional religion's dogmas and moral requirements shorn away. The same trend is at work within organized faiths as well, where both liberal and conservative believers often encounter a God who's too busy validating their particular version of the American Dream to raise a peep about, say, how much money they're making or how many times they've been married.

These are Dan Brown's kind of readers. Piggybacking on the fascination with lost gospels and alternative Christianities, he serves up a Jesus who's a thoroughly modern sort of messiah -- sexy, worldly, and Goddess-worshiping, with a wife and kids, a house in the Galilean suburbs, and no delusions about his own divinity.

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Ahhh... the good old days.


From David Denby's look back at the work of Victor Fleming, director of, incredibly, both The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind.

In this manner, the three men worked eighteen or twenty hours a day, sustained by Dexedrine, peanuts, and bananas, a combination that Selznick believed would stimulate the creative process. On the fourth day, according to Hecht, a blood vessel burst in Fleming's eye. On the fifth, Selznick, eating a banana, swooned, and had to be revived by a doctor. Many good Hollywood movies have been saved by last-minute revisions, but this ill-fed, hazardous, all-male acting-and-writing marathon must be the strangest of all interventions.

I'm sure many a director wishes they could return to the days where directors could smack around their starlets and humiliate leading men onset for their alcoholism.

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Let's talk about something else

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For all you ladies who grew up watching The Sound of Music and wanting to find your very own Captain Von Trapp, you probably don't want to read this review of Christopher Plummer's memoir. I did learn, however, that his daughter is "Honey-Bunny" from Pulp Fiction and the axe murderer in So I Married and Axe Murderer.

Also, this one's for Brandon: "A 65th Birthday Tribute to Joni Mitchell."

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Whit Stillman


I'd previously stumbled upon and enjoyed this appreciation of American director Whit Stillman from an old issue of The Intercollegiate Review. Little did I know that nearly all of the Spring 2000 issue was devoted to Stillman.

Mama-Lu and I recently rented Barcelona, and it was certainly as good as I can remember it being.

Some quotes, my memory augmented by the IMDB.

  • Fred: But what do you call the message or meaning that's right there on the surface, completely open and obvious? They never talk about that. What do you call what's above the subtext?
    Ted: The text
    Fred: Yeah, but they never talk about that.

  • "I don't think Ted is a fascist of the marrying kind."

  • Ted: I don't think you understand. I was reducing everything to ant scale, the... the U.S. included. An ant White House, an ant CIA, an ant Congress, an ant Pentagon...
    Ramon: Secret ant landing strips, illegally established on foreign soil."

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On that movie


Anthony Lane lets loose on Sex and the City:

What followed was not strictly a movie. It was more like a TV show on steroids. The televised episodes, which ran from 1998 to 2004, lasted for no more than half an hour each. So, spare a thought for the director of the film, Michael Patrick King, who also wrote the screenplay. Faced with the flimsiest of concepts, he had to take it by both ends and pull until he stretched it out to two and a quarter hours. Two and a quarter! When Garbo made "Anna Karenina" in 1935, she got happy, unhappy, loved, left, and under the train in less than a hundred minutes, so how the hell are her successors supposed to fill the time?

To be fair, there are four of them--banded together, like hormonal hobbits, and all obsessed with a ring. As the story begins, two are married already. First, there is Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), who has a job, a child, and not enough sex with her husband, Steve (David Eigenberg), perhaps because he reminds her of Radar, from "M*A*S*H" Then comes Charlotte (Kristin Davis), who is blissfully wedded to--well, what is she wedded to, exactly? He goes by the name of Harry (Evan Handler), but he’s a ringer for Dr. Evil, from the "Austin Powers" franchise, with all the evil sucked away; what remains is fey and shiny-headed, smiling sweetly about something known only to himself. For a movie about the need for real men--lusty, loyal, and loaded--this unusual earthling is truly a most peculiar advertisement for the gender.


At least, you could argue, Miranda has a job, as a lawyer. But the film pays it zero attention, and the other women expect her to drop it and fly to Mexico without demur. (And she does.) Worse still is the sneering cut as the scene shifts from Carrie, carefree and childless in the New York Public Library, to the face of Miranda's young son, smeared with spaghetti sauce. In short, to anyone facing the quandaries of being a working mother, the movie sends a vicious memo: Don't be a mother. And don't work. Is this really where we have ended up--with this superannuated fantasy posing as a slice of modern life? On TV, "Sex and the City" was never as insulting as "Desperate Housewives," which strikes me as catastrophically retrograde, but, almost sixty years after "All About Eve," which also featured four major female roles, there is a deep sadness in the sight of Carrie and friends defining themselves not as Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, and Thelma Ritter did--by their talents, their hats, and the swordplay of their wits--but purely by their ability to snare and keep a man. Believe me, ladies, we're not worth it.

I haven't seen anybody else address the "Mommy Wars" aspect of SATC: why choose between being a working mom or a stay at home mom when you can be a stay at home concubine?

This ought to go without saying, but it's The New Yorker on Sex and the City, so if your sensibilities are delicate, they're likely to be disturbed.

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Tom, Meg and the 90s


Enough serious stuff -- let's get frivolous!

This post is a cross-post from this AskMeFi thread where a user asked:

It seems like at least once a decade, there's a hugely successful movie that taps into the contemporary social zeitgeist that shapes a large part of how people remember an era. Back to the Future in the 80s. Saturday Night Fever in the 70s. Easy Rider in the 60s. Rebel Without a Cause in the 50s.

What film will future generations look at and say "Now that was the 90s"?

Here is my response, lightly edited, mostly for blogginess

I'm going to go counterintuitive here. This movie summed up the 90s in that:

  1. it was not serious. The 90s was perhaps the most unserious decade in American history.
  2. it centered around yuppies. Yuppies may have surfaced in the 80s, but the 90s was their decade
  3. it had an anti-corporate message. The 80s gave us Wall Street ("Greed is Good"); the 90s rebelled -- yuppies embraced the BoBo lifestyle and we saw a slew of movies that had corporations as the enemy or that embraced the notion that capitalism was unfulfilling -- Fight Club, The Insider, City Slickers, The Firm and Philadelphia come to mind.
  4. it's plot revolved around computer technology. The 90s were the dot-com decade.
  5. it was awful. The downside of the dotcom decade -- the Internet was hyped to no end and disappointed many people once they realized its limitations.
  6. it starred Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The actor and actress who are iconic of the 90s.

That last one should have given it away. You've Got Mail captured the 90s better than any other film. It's a bland Hollywood movie about how awful bland corporate-mono-megaculture is. And much like the Internet, the movie was egregiously over-hyped: it was a can't miss -- Tom Hanks! Meg Ryan! Nora Ephron! And if that doesn't convince you, most of the movie takes place either online, in bookstores or in coffee shops, for goodness sake!

Runners up:
Thelma and Louise: feminism, suicide and Brad Pitt.
Jerry McGuire: narcissism, materialism, Tom Cruise, a woman with low self-esteem falling for a jerk

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