Books and Arts

Redemption Film
April 26, 2005

Maybe--hopefully--it was just a one-time concession, an effort to get the Chinese censors off his back once and for all. Regular readers may recall my review last year of Hero, the gorgeous, innovative martial-arts epic by Zhang Yimou that concluded with an appalling paean to authoritarianism in general and the "one China" policy of Tibetan and Taiwanese subjugation in particular. Zhang's followup effort, thankfully, is less morally fraught.

On Beauty
April 24, 2005

It was a glorious spring day so my husband and I took the subway up to 104th Street to visit one of our favorite places in the city--the formal gardens in Central Park. They are not nearly so expansive or well known as the Brooklyn Botanic Garden or those in the Bronx, but they are particularly lovely, tucked away in that part of the park that is so far north that even many of the most ardent park lovers are unaware of their existence.

Hotel Reservations
April 11, 2005

About midway through Hotel Rwanda there's a powerful, if somewhat heavy-handed, scene in which a good-hearted U.N. colonel (Nick Nolte) makes clear to hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) why the West won't intervene to stop the ongoing Rwandan genocide. "We think you're dirt, Paul," he explains sadly. "You're black. You're not even a nigger. You're an African." One assumes that no one from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was ever quite so blunt with Hotel Rwanda director/producer/cowriter Terry George.

Two Suburbs
April 11, 2005

The two leading actors in The Upside of Anger are so good that their performances, even more than the story they are in, keep us interested. Kevin Costner, who has played baseball stars, here is an ex-baseball star. His character, Denny Davies, has some resemblance to Jack Nicholson's ex-astronaut in Terms of Endearment: a man who peaked early in fame and income. Denny is now exploiting his past as a radio personality. Drinking fairly steadily with booze as both anesthetic and fuel, pleasant and tolerant, he is faced with the problem of living out the rest of his life.

April 11, 2005

Dirty SnowBy Georges Simenon Translated by Marc Romano and Louise Varse (New York Review Books, 257 pp., $14) Three Bedrooms in Manhattan By Georges Simenon Translated by Marc Romano and Lawrence G. Blochman (New York Review Books, 158 pp., $12.95) Monsieur Monde Vanishes By Georges Simenon Translated by Jean Stewart (New York Review Books, 174 pp., $12.95)   Georges Simenon famously claimed to have slept with ten thousand women during the course of his lifetime. Or perhaps it was twenty thousand—the figure varies.

Utopian Designs
April 11, 2005

The decorative arts have always been art history's attractive orphans. While many people have a great affection for certain textiles or ceramics, the scholarly world embraces such objects only fitfully, as if they were really somebody else's responsibility. And much of the attention that is given to the decorative arts—in the shelter magazines, in the auction catalogues, and in specialized studies of rococo hardware or medieval ceramic tiles—has an edge about it, a feverishness that can suggest overcompensation and even overkill.

From “Works of Mercy”
April 11, 2005

I am a man now, too, not unlike my father who ran about town recklessly unfolding before people then came home to us who waited for him. He came home to us, that throttling man: the one who bounced with me in the ocean then kissed the salt wet in my hair, who held our mother down in anger or in love above her all-the-while drifting call John, John, who slung a stag's carcass across his shoulders and strode out of a forest into a clearing where light shone intermittently. This is what men do. They touch and spread desire.

On the Shamelessness of Our Public Sphere
April 11, 2005

Even though the Terri Schiavo controversy has all but vanished from the news these days, the family's graphic amateur videos of Schiavo's body lying helpless in her hospice bed and broadcast all over the country still occasionally come back to me, especially the frozen image of Schiavo's mother supporting her once-lovely daughter's head with its now vacant eyes, slack, slightly opened mouth, and neck scarred from what appeared to be a tracheotomy incision.

And Yet So Far Away
March 29, 2005

"Flawlessly lucid"; "viciously insightful"; "quietly devastating"; "emotionally honest and psychologically dense"; "dares speak the truth about modern adult relationships." Those are a few of the phrases that were used to describe the movie Closer when it arrived in theaters late last year. Oddly, as best as I can tell, the following terms were absent from discussion of the film: "ridiculous"; "unmoored from reality"; "emotionally preposterous"; "unintentionally hilarious."Closer, released on video today, is not a bad movie--or rather it is not merely bad.

On Not Knowing Where We Are in History
March 28, 2005

Ever since the staggering pictures of naked Iraqi men being brutalized by young men and women in American uniform at Abu Ghraib first surfaced last April, only to be followed by the stunning news of torture and murder of prisoners not only in Iraqi detention camps but also in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, and now, most recently, the astonishing reports of American operatives abducting suspected foreign terrorists and sending them to our "allies" in Syria and Egypt to torture them on our behalf--with its corny, yet horrifying Orwellian name, "extraordinary rendition"--I repeatedly find myself str