Long run recovery, in one picture #Sunday


One kind of crime story sticks to the crime, sometimes straying into comedy (the Oceans films, for instance) or horror. But another sort fills the slot that larger, cosmic myths used to fill: they seek the origins of good and evil and plumb the shoals of redemption and damnation.

The Drop (along with other stories by Dennis Lehane, like Shutter IslandGone Baby Gone, and Mystic River) is of the second type. People (mostly men) do bad, even reprehensible, definitely irreversible things. And then they suffer the consequences, which are less about punishment than psychological self-torture.

Two such men are at the center of The Drop: Bob (Tom Hardy) and Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini, in his last role). Cousin Marv owns a bar called “Cousin Marv’s Bar” in Brooklyn, or at least he did until a few years ago, when the mob came knocking and he caved. Now he just lookslike he owns the bar, though he’s functionally just the manager, and he lives with his sister and watches his life pass by.

Bob tends bar - he is, in fact, Cousin Marv’s actual cousin, though everyone calls him that - and seems to have a pretty quiet life otherwise. He lives in the house he grew up in, both his parents having died. The bar is sometimes the designated “drop bar” for all the under-the-table transactions that go on around the city; he takes care of that when necessary. He gives the old lady at the end of the bar free drinks and takes the ribbings the regulars give him. He (literally) saves a puppy he finds beaten and abandoned in a trash can, cleans its wounds, names it for a saint, and adopts it.

He also goes to 8am mass every day. But he doesn’t take the Eucharist.

New plates. (Wait for it …)


It’s a question that’s been asked since the earliest days of man, one that seems implicit in the stories as far back as Noah’s. It’s asked again with Sodom and Gomorrah, and it crops up over and over. If mankind is wicked, why keep them around?

The line between apocalyptic and dystopian in part is drawn by the answer to that question. Hunger Games is dystopian, and seems to imply, in the end, that it would serve humans right if they got wiped out. A story like The Road (and perhaps against its author’s will) implies that it is the small acts of human kindness that make us worth preserving; the fact that we’re capable of loving and caring for one another means we deserve to go on as a species, even after the social order has been wiped out. Even after the rules and structures that keep the barbarians at the gates from entering have disappeared.

Even after the barbarians that reside in us have taken over.

The season finale of The Leftovers wanders tenuously down this line betwen apocalyptic and dystopian, and never comes to a definite conclusion. 

Read more.


It’s a question that’s been asked since the earliest days of man, one that seems implicit in the stories as far back as Noah’s. It’s asked again with Sodom and Gomorrah, and it crops up over and over. If mankind is wicked, why keep them around?

The line between apocalyptic and dystopian in part is drawn by the answer to that question. Hunger Games is dystopian, and seems to imply, in the end, that it would serve humans right if they got wiped out. A story like The Road (and perhaps against its author’s will) implies that it is the small acts of human kindness that make us worth preserving; the fact that we’re capable of loving and caring for one another means we deserve to go on as a species, even after the social order has been wiped out. Even after the rules and structures that keep the barbarians at the gates from entering have disappeared.

Even after the barbarians that reside in us have taken over.

The season finale of The Leftovers wanders tenuously down this line betwen apocalyptic and dystopian, and never comes to a definite conclusion. 

Read more.


It’s a question that’s been asked since the earliest days of man, one that seems implicit in the stories as far back as Noah’s. It’s asked again with Sodom and Gomorrah, and it crops up over and over. If mankind is wicked, why keep them around?

The line between apocalyptic and dystopian in part is drawn by the answer to that question. Hunger Games is dystopian, and seems to imply, in the end, that it would serve humans right if they got wiped out. A story like The Road (and perhaps against its author’s will) implies that it is the small acts of human kindness that make us worth preserving; the fact that we’re capable of loving and caring for one another means we deserve to go on as a species, even after the social order has been wiped out. Even after the rules and structures that keep the barbarians at the gates from entering have disappeared.

Even after the barbarians that reside in us have taken over.

The season finale of The Leftovers wanders tenuously down this line betwen apocalyptic and dystopian, and never comes to a definite conclusion. 

Read more.


It’s a question that’s been asked since the earliest days of man, one that seems implicit in the stories as far back as Noah’s. It’s asked again with Sodom and Gomorrah, and it crops up over and over. If mankind is wicked, why keep them around?

The line between apocalyptic and dystopian in part is drawn by the answer to that question. Hunger Games is dystopian, and seems to imply, in the end, that it would serve humans right if they got wiped out. A story like The Road (and perhaps against its author’s will) implies that it is the small acts of human kindness that make us worth preserving; the fact that we’re capable of loving and caring for one another means we deserve to go on as a species, even after the social order has been wiped out. Even after the rules and structures that keep the barbarians at the gates from entering have disappeared.

Even after the barbarians that reside in us have taken over.

The season finale of The Leftovers wanders tenuously down this line betwen apocalyptic and dystopian, and never comes to a definite conclusion. 

Read more.


… The hard work of relationships is in growing to accept, first, that you will sometimes be misunderstood, and second, that your interpretations of others’ actions is often a shade off the truth, and sometimes entirely wrong, and sometimes you don’t even remember the actions correctly. It is a sobering thing to accept that your recollection—even if it is accurate—is not sufficient grounds for winning an argument or reasoning toward resolution.

The Him/Her version apparently acknowledges this (something Ken Morefield wrote about when he reported from TIFF), inserting those slightly different versions of shared events into both movies, though it leaves the audience to realize this without the characters discovering it. Ken wrote:

They pointed to emotional truth: we all see the world—including others’ behavior—through the interpretive lens of our own experience. If the film had allowed the characters to realize that for themselves and learn how to deal with that reality instead of being trapped in it, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her easily could have found a way on my end-of-year top ten list.

In the Them version of the film, though, we get a movie which doesn’t trust its viewers to get what’s going on—or, perhaps reasonably, to devote time to watching both. The result is a film that steadfastly presents one version of events: these things happened, that person said those things. It happened this way.

In cinema, we’re conditioned to believe that the camera gives us the unaltered version of the events of the story. Some filmmakers play on this, startling us by showing that the camera has been lying to us, giving us a character’s mind’s-eye rather than actual events—consider, for instance, A Beautiful Mind or Shelter Island.

In Them, then, that one version of events functions as the version of events, uncontradicted by the various viewpoints (and so one character comes out quite a bit worse than the other).

Read more here.


… As I read it, I wondered how people in the world of more conservative cultural criticism (a place I generally find myself) might react. I’ll admit that I am bracing myself for a flood of editorials about how this signals the death of culture. Of course, as Scott points out, there are both good and bad products of this change in popular culture. But generally, when it comes up, conservative critics have devoted themselves to sniffing at the downfall of civilization as evidenced through the increasing juvenilization of culture.

Sometimes there’s something to that. Books written for children, movies made for and about teenagers, don’t always provide the kind of intellectual meat that helps adults grow in their understanding of the world. Add to that the steady stream of mediocre fart-joke machines that seek to imitate the few comedies in the genre that were genuinely funny and explored interesting questions, and it can be tough for a grownup at the movies.

But in the past few years I’ve learned a lot from other conservative critics who start from the foundation that it is our duty, as created beings, to both preserve the best of the old and champion the best of the new, wherever it is coming from. And part of that is conserving the best of childhood, too—which, let’s face it, lies in the past for all of us, just as earlier eras do … 

Read the whole post here.

A swimming hole. #latergram #nofilter #bluehole

Aww, look at this lil guy in the Frio

Lunch at Laity. Yeah.

In meetings all weekend … here, though #laitylodge


So, though it’s hardly a sane and stable way to make a living, one of the nicest things about my strange career path thus far is that I’ve gotten to work alongside and then befriend some of the smartest, most thoughtful and innovative people on the planet, people who are interested in big ideas and actually pursue them in rigorous ways, but also care about what they mean for us normals in our everyday lives. 

With that in mind, then, I’m happy to let you know that I’m in the middle of a big project with my good friend Rob Joustra: a book tentatively titled The Politics of Apocalypse. We’re exploring what all this distinctly new apocalyptic pop culture (and not just the stories about zombies and Cylons, but also stuff like Scandal and Mad Men) says about how we conceive of ourselves in late modernity and, therefore, how we think we ought to conduct life together. 

We’re cramming a ton of ideas into a slim book meant for your average intelligent reader, and Eerdmans is publishing it. 

And if I don’t return your email before the end of 2014, that’s why.


… There’s less practice of Christian religion in The Leftovers than Hand of God (the sole ordained preacher has yet to really quote the Bible in The Leftovers, whereasHand of God has a full-on church service and a Bible study and a lot more), but they are both interested in how the practice of religion (or cults, in the case ofThe Leftovers) can be not just a place for people to meet God and seek salvation, but also a place for people to exercise corrupt power for their own ends. (That’s polar opposite of what we see in a show like Broadchurch, or a movie likeCalvary, in which the ministers actually, well, minister.)

Which is why I do worry a bit about chatter from the Christian community about shows like Hand of God. Here is why: we often talk as if representing religion-as-power-play is meant to be a represent what all religion and religious leaders are like.

I remember that after P.T. Anderson’s There Will Be Blood was released, a number of Christian voices decried it as anti-religious propaganda, because in it a power-hungry preacher preys on the poor. To say such a thing is to completely miss the point of the film, which is that the power-hungry preacher and the power-hungry oilman both came to ghastly ends, broken and alone, because of their hunger for power. (Quite a few of the same people angrily said the power-hungry oilman was meant to criticize capitalism as an institution.)

Friends: that’s just bad watching and sloppy thinking … 

Read the whole post here.