Sculpting a romantic lead for “The Shape of Water”

(K. Brent Tomer),

GUILLERMO DEL TORO (the director of “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Pacific Rim”) was six years old when he watched the American horror classic “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954). It made a deep impression, but perhaps not the one you might expect. What struck Mr del Toro was not the fearsomeness of the creature’s mien but the injustice of his unrequited love for the leading lady, played by Julie Adams, and his tragic demise. “The Shape of Water”, nominated for 13 Academy Awards, is the director’s paean to the silver-screen, inter-species love affair that never was.

A challenge intrinsic to this aim was creating an erotic and desirable leading fish-man (Doug Jones). Few would remember the creature from the original film as a sex symbol but in this film, Elisa’s (Sally Hawkins) growing attraction to the creature had to be believable. It was also crucial to Mr del Toro that the audience fall a little in love with him too. Mike Hill, a British-born artist and special-effects expert with a love of classic movie monsters as…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Sculpting a romantic lead for “The Shape of Water”

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Why football’s goalkeepers are cheap and unheralded

(K. Brent Tomer),

FOOTBALL fans have become used to seeing transfer records broken, as Europe’s top clubs have enjoyed a decade of rapid growth in revenues. The latest transfer window, a month-long mid-season affair which closed on February 3rd, offered further proof of a bull market. The teams in Europe’s “big five” leagues, in England, Spain, Germany, France and Italy, spent an unprecedented £815m ($1.15bn) on acquiring new players. The three most expensive transfers ever have all been completed in the last six months. Yet despite this prolonged spree, one long-standing milestone has yet to be passed. The record for the most expensive goalkeeper is still unmoved after 16 years.

That player, Gianluigi Buffon, is now 40 years old. His €53m ($66m) move to Juventus in 2001 is one of only three goalkeeper purchases among the 200 priciest sales of all time, according to Transfermarkt, a football statistics website. Widely regarded as the greatest goalie of his era, he is one of just five to have a top-three finish in voting for the Ballon d’Or, an…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Why football’s goalkeepers are cheap and unheralded

Bringing back the strange sound of the Sami

(K. Brent Tomer),

THE Arctic Philharmonic, a Norwegian professional symphony orchestra, is known for playing pretty standard orchestral fare (upcoming performances include works by Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn). Last month it tried something new. The Orchestral Joik Project, performed in the northern city of Tromsø, featured tonalities that sounded vaguely Middle Eastern, yet the music was completely Scandinavian. In recent years joik, traditional Sami music, has made a remarkable journey from near-oblivion to mainstream repertoire.

The Sami—an indigenous people not related to the Scandinavian tribes that later settled in the northernmost parts of what is now Sweden, Norway and Finland—date back to prehistoric times. They speak a language completely different to other Scandinavian languages. Their music, too, has a decidedly enigmatic reputation. It is completely vocal. It doesn’t use instruments other than drums; its scales differ from the scales used in Western music. To non-Sami, joik sounded…Continue reading

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Decrypting the Cambridge Five

(K. Brent Tomer),

Enemies Within: Communists, the Cambridge Spies and the Making of Modern Britain. By Richard Davenport-Hines. William Collins; 642 pages; £25. To be published in America in October; $26.99

COMMUNIST toffs spying for Stalin epitomise the decadence of the old British establishment. That is the gist of many of the umpteen books and articles written about Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross, the so-called Cambridge spies. Repelled by Britain’s passivity in the face of fascism, disgusted by the suffering of the depression years, these gilded, idealistic youths turned to Communism as undergraduates at Britain’s most brilliant university. They got away with their treachery because Soviet spycraft was superb, whereas Britain’s spycatchers were riddled with snobbery and incompetence.

Richard Davenport-Hines dissects and destroys that conventional wisdom in his masterly retelling of Britain’s most notorious intelligence disaster. The received version of events is a…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Decrypting the Cambridge Five

Emmanuel Macron wants to redefine French culture

(K. Brent Tomer),

A PHILOSOPHY graduate and unpublished novelist, Emmanuel Macron treats French culture like a national treasure, and the French language as a jewel. “French is the language of reason, it’s the language of light,” the president declared when inaugurating the Louvre in Abu Dhabi, a silver-domed gallery on a sandy shore that he called a museum “of the desert and light”. Mr Macron has vowed to make French the first language in Africa, and “perhaps” the world; he named a young bestselling Franco-Moroccan novelist, Leïla Slimani, to lead this mission. Yet his campaign to rejuvenate French, and to open the country up to writers who share the language around the world, has inadvertently revived a French culture war.

Today more people speak French in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, than in Paris. By 2050, thanks to population growth in Africa, some 85% of the world’s French-speakers will live on the continent. Mr Macron has been promoting French on his recent travels to…Continue reading

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A gripping account of America’s longest war

(K. Brent Tomer),

The hunt for hearts and minds

Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2016. By Steve Coll. Penguin Press; 748 pages; $35. Allen Lane; £25.

HOW to account for America’s failure in its longest war? For Steve Coll, the conflict in Afghanistan has proved to be a “humbling case study in the limits of American power”. Sixteen years after the invasion, and despite military or aid efforts from 59 countries, Afghanistan is unstable, violent and poor. Afghans remain vulnerable to a resurgent Taliban army.

Few writers are better placed than Mr Coll, a journalist and former head of the New America Foundation, a think-tank, to explain why. In “Ghost Wars”, published in 2004, he assessed the years before the attacks of September 11th 2001; it won a Pulitzer prize and is required reading on the region, especially on the foibles of America’s spies. “Directorate S” is the sequel. In it Mr…Continue reading

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A celebrated Russian director widens his lens

(K. Brent Tomer),

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IN THE opening frames of “Loveless”, Andrei Zvyagintsev’s new film, the camera looks up at a denuded tree against a wintry sky. After this barren view come shots of a lifeless, snow-bound park. Yet when the action begins it is autumn, not winter; not on the outside, at least.

The freeze seems symbolic. In fact, says Mr Zvyagintsev, it was an accident. “Winter played a tragic role in our film,” he says impishly—because the snow fell earlier than expected, disrupting the production schedule. As for the chilling opening shots, he took them on a whim, without knowing what to do with them. Still, he acknowledges, offering up interpretations even as he disavows them, others might infer that “political winter has dawned” or that the snows “cover over the traces” of wrongdoing. “We don’t just watch the films,” he says; “the films watch us.”

“Loveless” has been nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign-language…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A celebrated Russian director widens his lens

A border patrolman’s harrowing memoir

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Line Becomes a River. By Francisco Cantú. Riverhead Books; 256 pages; $26. Bodley Head; £14.99.

FRANCISCO CANTÚ signed up for the United States Border Patrol hoping that his experiences would “unlock” the puzzle of the border. But policing the 2,000-mile Mexican frontier, scanning mountain trails for footprints and sniffing the air for rotten corpses, left him only with more questions. “I don’t know how to put it into context, I don’t know where I fit in it all,” he confides one day to a fellow agent. “Damn,” says the other patrolman. “That shit is deep.”

Mr Cantú’s four years on the border provide stories from this no-man’s-land that mix compassion with quiet anger at the cruelty of man and nature. It is wild, untamed country where by night agents douse cacti in hand sanitiser and set them alight for the hell of it. But there is beauty in the desolation. Satellites drift across the clear, starry sky. Mr Cantú has an eye for the…Continue reading

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The lives and loves of New York divas

(K. Brent Tomer),

The House of Impossible Beauties: A Novel. By Joseph Cassara. Ecco; 416 pages; $26.99. Oneworld Publications; £14.99.

BEFORE the High Line and the new Whitney, the astronomical rents and gastropubs, Chelsea was a playground for queer misfits. The Christopher Street Pier was where they gathered, sauntered and made a quick buck. Diva elders taught fresh-faced runaways the art of turning a trick: how to spot the white men cruising for a taste; how to kneel on cement without cutting their knees; and, most important, how, in extremis, to “just bite it”—after getting the money up front.

This is the New York of Joseph Cassara’s vivid and engaging debut novel, “The House of Impossible Beauties”. It is a city of hustlers and mad men, strip clubs and graffiti, big rats and bigger dreams. Gritty yet glamorous, Manhattan from the late 1970s to the early 1990s was a rare place where “even the most outrageous people could have a home.”

That is what draws in Mr Cassara’s…Continue reading

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Prescriptions for fighting epidemics

(K. Brent Tomer),

The End of Epidemics. By Jonathan Quick. St Martin’s Press; 304 pages; $26.99

EPIDEMICS have plagued humanity since the dawn of settled life. Yet success in conquering them remains patchy. That is because the standard response, in the words of the World Bank’s president Jim Yong Kim, is a cycle of “panic, neglect, panic, neglect”.

It need not be that way, argues Jonathan Quick in “The End of Epidemics”. A doctor and a public-health veteran who has worked in more than 70 countries and at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Mr Quick rounds up examples of failures and triumphs to show what stops epidemics from flaring up.

Experts predict that a global one that could kill more than 300m would come round in the next 20 to 40 years. What pathogen would cause it is anybody’s guess. Chances are that it will be a virus that lurks in birds or mammals, or one that that has not yet hatched. The scariest are both highly lethal and spread easily between humans. Thankfully, bugs that excel at one…Continue reading

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