Robert Pattinson has put his teen heartthrob roles behind him

(K. Brent Tomer),

KRISTEN Stewart and Robert Pattinson, the stars of the “Twilight” vampire films, seem to have decided that they have enough money and fame to last a lifetime. Instead of straining to consolidate their positions on the Hollywood A-list, they have both pivoted away from blockbusters and towards the kind of art-house projects which are acclaimed at festivals but don’t necessarily clean up at the box office. Ms Stewart has been lauded for her performances in two French dramas, “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Personal Shopper”, directed by Olivier Assayas, while Mr Pattinson has subjected himself to all sorts of indignities in David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis” and James Gray’s “The Lost City of Z”. But it is his latest low-budget film, a wild and grimy New York crime odyssey called “Good Time”, which confirms how much he has to offer both as a charismatic leading man and as a committed character actor.

Mr Pattinson plays Constantine “Connie” Nikas, a very small-time crook who is devoted to his brother Nick, who…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Robert Pattinson has put his teen heartthrob roles behind him

Hashem El Madani and the private lives of the Lebanese

(K. Brent Tomer),

HIS STUDIO was named after Scheherazade, the heroine of “One Thousand of One Nights” who evaded execution by weaving stories. It became a place as creative and alluring as its namesake: a space where ordinary people could highlight hidden versions of themselves or invent new alter egos. Sitters frequently used props—sometimes even bringing their own—in the name of verisimilitude. Hashem El Madani captured the unusual, often revelatory, results. 

The work of the photographer, who died on August 8th, is fascinating both in terms of its artistry and its historicity. El Madani captured 90% of the inhabitants of Saida, Lebanon, over the course of five decades; his archive of more than 75,000 images provides a unique in-road into Lebanon’s changing social norms, pop culture interests and family dynamics from the 1950s until the end of the civil war in 1990. Sometimes whimsical, sometimes serious, these photographs offer a glimpse of the interests, fears and desires of…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Hashem El Madani and the private lives of the Lebanese

When thoughts often turn to death

(K. Brent Tomer),

Every Third Thought: On Life, Death and the Endgame. By Robert McCrum. Picador; 256 pages; £14.99.

IN 1995, aged only 42, Robert McCrum had a severe stroke—an experience that he memorably chronicled in “My Year Off” with the help of Sarah Lyall, whom he had married just two months before his sudden misfortune. Despite an impressive recovery, Mr McCrum, a British publisher and the former literary editor of the Observer, has lived ever since “in the shadow of death”.

The shadow deepened when, in 2014, after he and Ms Lyall separated, a fall in a London street brought a psychological shift: a sense of having entered life’s endgame. His new book—which takes its title from Prospero’s words in “The Tempest”, “Every third thought shall be my grave”—is an unflinching exploration of his own mortality and that of other people. It draws on personal experience, the testimony of…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC When thoughts often turn to death

A remarkable account of the 2011 tsunami in Japan

(K. Brent Tomer),

Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone. By Richard Lloyd Parry. Jonathan Cape, 276 pages, £16.99. To be published in America by Farrah, Straus and Giroux in October; $27.

AT 2.46pm on March 11th 2011, an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 was recorded approximately 30km (18 miles) below the floor of the Pacific Ocean off Sendai, about 300km north-east of Tokyo. It was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded to have hit Japan, and scientists later determined that movement in the same subduction zone caused the “Jogan quake” of 869, as well as related activity in 1896 and 1933. Like the recent “Great East Japan Earthquake”, as it has become known, that ancient earthquake more than a millennium ago generated a monster tsunami in its wake. Not having the precise instruments that recorded 40-metre-high waves in 2011, villagers in centuries past have placed stone markers along the hillsides roundabout to show how far the wall of water…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A remarkable account of the 2011 tsunami in Japan

Peter Stamm, looking just beneath the surface

(K. Brent Tomer),

ONE warm day in July, Peter Stamm was hiking with your correspondent high in the Swiss Alps. Just below a peak called the Silberen, he came to a stretch of dirty snow clinging to the mountain despite the summer heat. Mr Stamm went first, stepping gingerly. Halfway across his left foot began to sink, then his right. Suddenly his whole body plunged through the surface until just his head and shoulders were visible. It was only when he had clambered out that he realised how lucky he had been: his feet had caught on the rocky shaft of a deep sinkhole hidden beneath. “That was so stupid,” he said, shaking the snow from his trousers.

He should have known better. This 2,300-metre mountain is the high point of his new novel, “To the Back of Beyond” (published by Granta in Britain in August, and by Other Press in America in October). It is here that his protagonist, Thomas, ends up one afternoon as bad weather blows in, navigating the bare limestone karst which is cracked all over with deep crevasses, grikes and runnels—a “labyrinth of rock”, Mr Stamm writes, where “even if he should find a path, he would still be lost.”

“To the Back of Beyond” is the Swiss novelist’s sixth and strangest novel. Mr Stamm,…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Peter Stamm, looking just beneath the surface

Humankind’s odd need to catch sharks

(K. Brent Tomer),

Really quite vulnerable

Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean. By Morten Stroksnes. Translated by Tiina Nunnally. Knopf; 320 pages; $26.95. Jonathan Cape; £12.99.

GREENLAND sharks cannot help but capture the imagination. These primeval inhabitants of the deep, icy waters of the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans can live to 400, possibly even 500 years old, are cigar shaped, and often have worm-like parasites on their luminous eyes that are said to hypnotise their prey. Their bodies are covered with razor-like “skin teeth” and their meat contains a toxin; people who eat it start to hallucinate, become incoherent and stagger around, becoming “shark drunk”.

In his book of the same name Morten Stroksnes, a Norwegian writer, recalls how he and his friend Hugo Aasjord attempted to catch one of these, the largest species of flesh-eating shark, from a small rubber dinghy in…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Humankind’s odd need to catch sharks

English folk song, a great tradition

(K. Brent Tomer),

Folk Song in England. By Steve Roud. Faber & Faber; 764 pages; £25. To be published in America in September; $29.95.

ENGLAND, the Germans used to jeer, was “the land without music”. They were wrong, as Steve Roud robustly demonstrates in “Folk Song in England”. Surveying English musical life from the time of Henry VIII—a keen musician and composer—to the mid-20th century, when folk song lost its roots, he shows what an intensely musical land England has been.

Mr Roud makes no inflated claims for folk song. It is not “better” than classical music because it is “of the people”, he argues, nor is it an antidote for modern ills caused by urbanisation and commercialisation. Nor did it emerge pure and undefiled. Most songs were written not by ploughboys or milkmaids but by professionals, and many were first heard from the stage, or in the pub or music-hall. But from there they made their way to the ploughboys and milkmaids, and…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC English folk song, a great tradition

Juha, the Middle East’s heroic everyman

(K. Brent Tomer),

WESTERN audiences have grown used to the marauding heroes of Arabic folklore. Characters like Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba instantly conjure images of hidden treasure and desperate sword fights. But in the Middle East itself, many people prefer a more down-to-earth figure: Juha, a wise old fool, and his long-suffering donkey. He may not carry a scimitar, but Juha has been a part of local culture for centuries—and has proved useful to Arab jokers and satirists right up until the modern day.

Juha first appeared in an Arabic book of the ninth century, though this was likely adapted from an older oral tradition. From there, Juha quickly splintered to the far ends of the Mediterranean world. He followed the Arabs to Sicily, where he became known as Giufà. In Turkey, his legend merged with a Sufi mystic called Nasruddin, while the Ottomans exported him to the Balkans. Some even claim that Juha inspired Cervantes’s “Don Quixote”.  

Even as Juha adapted to different cultures, Arabs never abandoned him. It is…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Juha, the Middle East’s heroic everyman

Locarno festival shows off the film industry’s creativity

(K. Brent Tomer),

IT IS a hub for films that wear the phrase “art-house” on their sleeve; its entries always test audiences with new forms or new ideas about cinema. Italian films such as Roberto Rossellini’s “Rome, Open City” (1945) have dominated Locarno festival from the start, but German cinema had a major breakthrough in 2006 with public acclaim for “The Lives of Others”. In 2009, Xiaolu Guo, a British-Chinese novelist and film-maker, won that year’s top prize for “She, A Chinese”. Film-makers with a real edge to their work know that Locarno receives them better than almost any other major festival.

This year, Locarno’s 70th edition, was no exception. It was opened by “Lola Pater”, written and directed by Nadir Moknèche, which probes a young man’s relationship with his father Farid, now a transgender woman. Samuel Benchetrit’s “Chien” (“Dog”) follows a man struggling with depression who strives to become a dog (scenes of cruelty both to canines and humans provoked audience walkouts). In “What Happened to…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Locarno festival shows off the film industry’s creativity