“Snowden” fails to give movie-goers the whole truth

(K. Brent Tomer),

IT IS easy to forget, watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “Snowden”, that it is the slight actor from “Third Rock from the Sun” and “Inception” on screen and not the former NSA contractor himself. So spookily does Mr Gordon-Levitt inhabit Edward Snowden’s v-neck t-shirts, imitate his voice, infiltrate his mannerisms, that he crosses the line from acting to impersonation. In any other film it might have been overkill. But in Oliver Stone’s story of the man behind the biggest leaks in recent history, it is only apt: “Snowden” is a film that may as well have been starred in and written and directed by Mr Snowden himself.  

This should come as no huge surprise. Mr Stone has made a career of goading America. The government lies, it subverts, it kills; see “Nixon”, “W.”, “JFK”. The state is decayed and morally bankrupt: “Natural Born Killers”; “Wall Street”. No one was expecting a film painting Mr Snowden as a traitor.

Yet even allowing for dramatic license, “Snowden” is hagiography, devoid of nuance, unleavened by criticism, missing even a believable character arc. The best that Mr Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald, his…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC “Snowden” fails to give movie-goers the whole truth

Visit Osaka, and turn into a fish, in VR

(K. Brent Tomer),

EARLIER this year The Economist launched its first virtual-reality experience, “RecoVR Mosul: A collective reconstruction”. It is a digital recreation of the Mosul Museum, and some of the artefacts inside it, which were destroyed by Islamic State militants in 2015. “RecoVR Mosul” went on to win the jury prize for innovation at the 2016 British Interactive Media Awards and won a silver medal in the VR category of the 2016 Lovie Awards. Now we are updating our VR app with the addition of two more virtual-reality pieces: an offbeat tour of the Japanese city of Osaka, and an animated explainer that examines the problem of overfishing on the high seas. 

“Passport: Osaka” is a 360-degree documentary that acts as a companion piece to the Osaka episode of “Passport”, our series of travel films highlighting hidden gems in city destinations around the world. Previous episodes of the film series have visited…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Visit Osaka, and turn into a fish, in VR

Horrible history

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Poisoned Well: Empire and its Legacy in the Middle East. By Roger Hardy. Oxford University Press; 272 pages; $27.95. Hurst; 243 pages; £20

THIS engaging book had its genesis in a ten-part radio series created by the author for the BBC World Service at the start of the 1990s. It is fair to say that the intervening years have been tumultuous even by the standards of the Middle East. They have seen Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and America’s invasion of Iraq; the false dawn of the Israeli-Palestinian “Oslo” peace process and the growing influence of non-state actors from al-Qaeda to Hezbollah and ISIS to the Muslim Brotherhood. They have also witnessed the prospect of a nuclear Iran; the uprisings of the Arab Spring and a bloody and unending civil war in Syria. All in some way or another feed into, or are made worse by, the overarching and multi-faceted sectarian clash between Sunni and Shia that is being played out across the region.

Roger Hardy, a veteran journalist who has long reviewed books about the Middle East for The Economist, does not deal with any of this—not directly at least. His focus in “The Poisoned…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Horrible history

Tim Burton’s Home for Familiar Ideas

(K. Brent Tomer),

ONE of the characters in Tim Burton’s fantasy-adventure hodge-podge, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”, has the power to build grotesque puppets out of crabs, cutlery and Victorian dolls, and then bring them, briefly, to life. The film as a whole is a bit like his Frankenstein’s monster-ish creations, in that it is cobbled together from parts of other books and films, but never quite becomes a living, breathing entity in its own right. What do you get when you cross all of Mr Burton’s previous work with “X-Men”, “Harry Potter”, “Peter Pan”, “Groundhog Day” and Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion skeletons from “Jason and the Argonauts”? The answer, unfortunately, is nothing in particular.

Based on a best-selling “young adult” novel, the film has a typically wet “YA” protagonist: a Florida teenager, Jake (Asa Butterfield), who stacks supermarket shelves while the cool kids ignore him. His one pleasure in life is listening to his grandfather, Abe (Terence Stamp), spinning yarns about his time in an orphanage in the 1940s. Abe fled from Poland, we hear, to a house on a tiny Welsh island where all the children were outcasts…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Tim Burton’s Home for Familiar Ideas

Civilised and civilising

(K. Brent Tomer),

Kenneth Clark: Life, Art and “Civilisation”. By James Stourton. William Collins; 478 pages; £30. To be published in America by Knopf in November.

LORD CLARK OF SALTWOOD, who was ennobled by Harold Wilson in 1969 after the triumph of his epic television series “Civilisation”, became known more familiarly as Lord Clark of Civilisation. To one unsympathetic academic critic in the art world, he was Lord Clark of Trivialisation. Friends and colleagues called him simply “K”.

Neil MacGregor, formerly director of the National Gallery and the British Museum, argues that K “was the most brilliant cultural populist of the 20th century”. “Nobody can talk about pictures on the radio or on the television without knowing that Clark did it first and Clark did it better.” Clark’s hero was John Ruskin, who believed that beauty was everyone’s birthright; and his achievement was to make this sound like common sense. But his reputation was not sustained. After his death, he was probably better known as the father of Alan Clark, a flamboyant politician, seducer and diarist.

In his working life, K had more pies than…Continue reading

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Killing fields

(K. Brent Tomer),

A Fiery & Furious People: A History of Violence in England. By James Sharpe. Random House; 751 pages; £30.

IF ONE wants proof that the past is, indeed, a different country, it is instructive to look at the rate of baby-killing. In late-Victorian England, a fifth of all known murder victims were under a year old. Infanticide had been a common method to part with an unwanted child for centuries before abortion. Neglect was prevalent and in the most heinous cases, money provided the motive.

Some parents insured the lives of their children in order to cash in on their deaths. Some Victorians were paid to adopt illegitimate children, but soon sold them on as cheap labour; many of those children died from neglect. Not all people regarded the lives of newborn babes as sacrosanct. One commentator declared he had no such “superstitious reverence”.

Infanticide is the subject of one grim chapter of James Sharpe’s new book, “A Fiery & Furious People”, which examines a history of English violence from riots to highwaymen, and from executioners to serial killers. Mr Sharpe is a crime historian of many years…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Killing fields

A display of digging

(K. Brent Tomer),

Hats off to Heaney

SEAMUS HEANEY moved seamlessly through time, space and cultural worlds, or at least he made it appear that way. When, in 2013, the Irish poet was buried near his childhood home in the mid-Ulster village of Bellaghy, mourners ranged from senior Irish Republicans to British grandees, from rock stars and world-famous academics to local folk who were part of or knew his farming family. His poetry, too, was at once recondite and scholarly and deeply embedded in his home soil. Although he made bold new readings of Greek and Anglo-Saxon classics, his best-loved works speak of more immediate, tangible things like flax rotting in a dam or his father’s spade slicing the Derry mud.

Visitors will gain new insights into the poet’s personal and family roots with the opening on September 30th of the Seamus Heaney HomePlace, a spanking new arts and literary centre in still-sleepy Bellaghy. Mementoes of his early life will form an interactive display along with reminiscences from local friends, and film of the writer in local settings. Over the next year it will host cultural performances with the ambitious goal of fusing…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A display of digging

Man in the dock

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan. By Sebastian Mallaby. Penguin Press; 781 pages; $40. Bloomsbury; £25.

THE former chairman of the Federal Reserve was once a hero. Now he is being called a villain. Yet it is too soon to be sure what history will say about him. In a superb new book, the product of more than five years’ research, Sebastian Mallaby helps history make up its mind about Alan Greenspan, the man hailed in 2000 by Phil Gramm, a former senator, as “the best central banker we have ever had”, but now blamed for the financial crisis of 2007-08. Even today, Mr Greenspan, who famously once told Congress that “If I seem unduly clear to you, you must have misunderstood what I said”, remains a paradoxical figure.

Mr Greenspan was a partisan Republican, who worked more closely with the Democrats under Bill Clinton than with either of the Bush administrations. He was a disciple of Ayn Rand’s libertarian ideology, but his forte was the mastering of data. He was a believer in the gold standard, but became the foremost exponent of discretionary monetary policy.

The former central…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Man in the dock

A whole damn city crying

(K. Brent Tomer),

Born to Run. By Bruce Springsteen. Simon & Schuster; 528 pages; $32.50 and £20.

LIKE much great art, Bruce Springsteen’s finest songs transmute the particular into the eternal. The more tightly local their focus—those boys from the casino dancing with their shirts open in “Sandy”, that Tilt-a-Whirl down on the south beach drag—the more universal they magically become. As he puts it in “Born to Run”, his new autobiography, he sings about “the joy and heartbreak of everyday life”, of humdrum defeat and defiance, the pull of home and the road’s allure, familiar dichotomies somehow elevated, in his ballads, into a new American mythology.

As “Born to Run” recounts, those songs feel authentic because they are. At the heart of his oeuvre, and of his book, is his painful relationship with his father, a sometime pool shark whom, as a child, Mr Springsteen fetched from bars in Freehold, New Jersey, for his long-suffering mother. He records their wars over his lengthening hair, which culminate in Springsteen senior calling in a barber when his son is incapacitated by a motorbike accident; the simmering silences and…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A whole damn city crying

On “Blue Poles”, the most controversial painting in Australian history

(K. Brent Tomer),

“MAGNIFICENT”; “stunning”; “his single greatest painting”. Such are the superlatives that greeted “Blue Poles” by Jackson Pollock, one of America’s finest post-war artists, upon its arrival at London’s Royal Academy this month. The painting, on loan from the National Gallery of Australia, is on display for “Abstract Expressionism”, the most authoritative collection of the movement’s works that Britain has seen in half a century. Viewed alongside works from other towering figures of 1950s New York, including Willem De Kooning and Clyfford Still, “Blue Poles” evokes a past era when America was brimming with new-found creative confidence and possessed the will to defy past conventions. 

Pollock’s masterpiece inspires similar nostalgia and awe in Canberra, where it has hung for the past 43 years. The National Gallery of Australia almost never parts with the jewel in the crown of its collection: this is just the second time “Blue Poles” has gone abroad since 1973. There are reports that Australians visiting their capital to see the painting have fumed at its absence. Yet the deference that Australians have for this artwork does…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC On “Blue Poles”, the most controversial painting in Australian history