Greta Gerwig’s charming solo directorial debut

(K. Brent Tomer),

“ANYBODY who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” The quote from Joan Didion (a writer who, like Greta Gerwig, was born in California’s capital) rather sets the tone of “Lady Bird”. It is a coming-of-age story, following Christine (Saoirse Ronan), a teenager longing to get away from Sacramento, which she calls the “Midwest of California”. She dreams instead of college on the east coast, to have a name different from the one her parents picked for her and to live in a big blue house with white shutters on the “right” side of the train tracks—rather than the modest dwellings her hard-up parents are able to afford.

The semi-autobiographical “Lady Bird” is Ms Gerwig’s debut as writer and solo director, but she shows the wisdom and empathy of an experienced film-maker. Each character is flawed and likable, particularly Lady Bird (Ms Ronan)—a moody, pimply teenager, who is quick-witted, mercurial and observant. Marion, her crushingly forthright mother, never shies away from…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Greta Gerwig’s charming solo directorial debut


A surreal take on the war in Syria

(K. Brent Tomer),

LIWA YAZJI, the writer of a new play at the Royal Court, must have known she was inviting accusations of gimmickry when she included a real flock of live goats in her script. Critics would surely complain that the caprine members of the cast of “Goats” were a mere contrivance, distracting from events and robbing a tragic drama of its gravitas. At any rate, that’s how the Syrian villagers in Ms Yazji’s play feel about the animals, after being ceremonially presented with them by the government as a publicity-stunt sop, compensating for the loss of their sons as “martyrs” to the civil war. As the flow of coffins into their village quickens and the supposedly heroic nature of the deaths becomes increasingly doubtful, the goats become (deceptively adorable) weapons in a propaganda war, part of a campaign of lurid distraction from daily atrocity. 

Hamish Pirie’s production does well to capture the hysterical mood of Syria under Bashar al-Assad’s regime, a once-functioning society shrieking towards chaos. Shrill,…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A surreal take on the war in Syria

Sexual politics on stage

(K. Brent Tomer),

AFTER a night of drunken flirting, Amber and Tom, two college freshmen at Princeton, end up in bed together. Sex was something they both seemed to want. When Tom had resisted playing a game at a keg party earlier in the evening, Amber suggested he should relent “if you wanna sleep with me tonight”. When the two start dancing, Amber playfully takes off her shirt. But what happens later that night, in the twin bed of Tom’s dorm room, is less clear. Tom seems to think he was following the relevant cues, but Amber sees things differently. “Thomas Anthony practically raped me,” she tells her friend in the hungover haze of the next morning. They will ultimately present their conflicting versions of events before a campus tribunal.

“Actually”, a timely new two-person play from Anna Ziegler, dramatises a he-said, she-said scenario on a college campus. Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, the play effectively illustrates just how complicated these cases can be, clouded as they are by alcohol, inexperience, mixed messages and the…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Sexual politics on stage

OMG, the internet is ruining language, amirite? Wrong

(K. Brent Tomer),

OMG, the kids and the internet are ruining the English language, amirite? The sentiment is so common that it hardly bears a reply, except maybe “meh”. There is certainly plenty of terrible writing on the internet, plagued by indifferent spelling, punctuation and grammar and a lack of any attention to clarity. There is also lot of brilliant writing online. It is difficult to prove that digital technologies are actually making people into worse writers. It is likely that the world is just seeing more unfiltered thoughts written down than at any other time in history. People are not writing worse so much as writing and publishing far more.

But the internet is changing language. Words, phrases and new ways of playing with grammar are coming and going faster than ever before. Older generations have been complaining about the state of young people’s writing since a teacher of Sumerian complained about his charges 4,000 years ago. (“A junior scribe…does not pay attention to the scribal…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC OMG, the internet is ruining language, amirite? Wrong

A songwriter’s new perspective after 8,980 miles on the train

(K. Brent Tomer),

He’s come to look for America

PLANES are practical, buses are cheap and cars grant freedom. But trains are for romance. A century after America’s railway heyday, the country’s ageing trains still enjoy an anachronistic glamour. Few people are immune to the charms of a sluggish, traffic-free chug across states, with the countryside unfurling panoramically. At a dark or uncertain time for the country, a long rail journey from one coast to the other may even inspire some patriotism.

Such thoughts helped spur Gabriel Kahane, a 36-year-old singer-songwriter, to take to the rails the morning after the presidential election last November. Feeling “increasingly imprisoned by my own digitally curated liberal silo”, he was eager to leave behind his mobile phone and spend time with the kinds of Americans he never meets while shopping for quinoa in his Brooklyn enclave. Mr Kahane ultimately spoke with between 80 and 90 people over the course of his two-week,…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A songwriter’s new perspective after 8,980 miles on the train

Women and Boko Haram

(K. Brent Tomer),

Some of the luckier ones got away

Women and the War on Boko Haram: Wives, Weapons, Witnesses. By Hilary Matfess. Zed Books; 288 pages; $24.95 and £14.99.

ON APRIL 14th 2014, militants from Boko Haram, a group of Islamic extremists, snatched 276 schoolgirls from their dormitories in north-east Nigeria. The taking of the “Chibok Girls”, as they became known, was unplanned (the insurgents had reportedly meant to grab food and a brickmaking machine). But the heist catapulted a little-known conflict to international attention. The #BringBackOurGirls campaign led by the girls’ parents and activists had the resonance needed to go viral: young, innocent and mostly Christian girls forced to convert to Islam by violent jihadists. Boko Haram knew the girls’ propaganda power too. A video it released in 2014 showed more than 100 swathed in gloomy hijabs, chanting prayers.

The Chibok Girls became symbols in other ways. Some…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Women and Boko Haram

Nadia Murad’s tale of captivity with Islamic State

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight against the Islamic State. By Nadia Murad and Jenna Krajeski. Tim Duggan Books; 306 pages; $27. Virago; £18.99.

THIS is a disturbing book. Many readers will find parts of it hard to stomach. But anyone who wants to understand the so-called Islamic State (IS) should read it. The jihadists who until recently controlled much of Iraq and Syria hit on a recruiting technique that was as crude as it was ingenious. They urged their fighters to capture and keep sex slaves—and convinced them to feel virtuous about it.

Nadia Murad was one of those slaves. Jihadists came to her village in Iraq and slaughtered all the adult men and the women they deemed too old to rape. The victims included Ms Murad’s brothers and probably her mother—she is still not sure. Ms Murad, then 21 years old, was taken to a slave market in Mosul. (“When the first man entered the room, all the girls started…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Nadia Murad’s tale of captivity with Islamic State

How America’s economy is rigged by special interests

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Captured Economy: How the Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality. By Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles. Oxford University Press; 232 pages; $24.95. To be published in Britain in December; £16.99.

PITY the Washington wonk at this moment. America’s political dysfunction looks forbiddingly irreparable, its government implacably hostile to expertise. Amid the gloom, some scholars still look to chart a course towards a healthier politics. “The Captured Economy”, by Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles, sketches a plausible route out of the wilderness, albeit one that may struggle to find an audience in the corridors of power.

Their book is in part a blueprint for political realignment. For roughly a decade now Mr Lindsey, who is vice-president of the Niskanen Centre, a think-tank, and Mr Teles, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, have sought to nurture understanding between conservatives of a…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC How America’s economy is rigged by special interests

A German novel of insanity as seen from the inside

(K. Brent Tomer),

Insane. By Rainald Goetz. Translated by Adrian Nathan West. Fitzcarraldo Editions; 352 pages; £12.99. To be published in America in May 2018; $20.

BEFORE Rainald Goetz became a writer, he trained as a doctor and worked in a mental hospital. His first novel, “Insane”, published in Germany in 1983 but only now translated into English, draws on this experience. Raspe, the novel’s hero, is Mr Goetz’s alter ego—an idealistic, ambitious young doctor starting his career on a psychiatric ward in Munich. Soon disgusted by his failure to help his patients and by his inability, in his hunger for success, to withstand the dehumanising logic of the place, Raspe himself descends into madness. He escapes, idealism shattered, by taking an unspecified job in “culture” and throwing himself into Munich’s punk-era nightlife.

The novel is split into three parts: a collage of the rambling voices of the book’s characters; an account of Raspe’s year in the “madhouse”; and a…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A German novel of insanity as seen from the inside

Michael Haneke assesses his oeuvre

(K. Brent Tomer),

“HAPPY END”, Michael Haneke’s new film, features murder, suicidal depression and myriad forms of torture—none of which will surprise anyone who has seen the Austrian writer-director’s previous work. Mr Haneke may be acclaimed as one of European cinema’s most intelligent and formally inventive auteurs: his previous two films, “Amour” and “The White Ribbon”, both won the Palme d’Or, the top prize at the Cannes Festival. But no one would accuse him of making feel-good entertainment. For the past three decades, the 75-year-old’s provocative dramas have been unsparing in their depiction of bloody violence, and unwavering in their focus on man’s inhumanity to man, especially within supposedly respectable bourgeois circles. From the self-mutilating heroine in “The Piano Teacher” to the home-owners who open their door to two sadistic strangers in “Funny Games”, his characters’ lives rarely have anything like a happy end.

In person, however, Mr Haneke is a relaxed and good-humoured interviewee who is…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Michael Haneke assesses his oeuvre