Archive for April, 2010

After Bigotgate and ahead of the third debate amongst the candidates of the three main parties in the UK general election, Andrew Sullivan has picked the  perfect clip from The Thick of It, a British comedy about politics:

“It features a hapless minister – in this clip getting screwed royally by a reporter – and his political handler (a kind of scatological cross between a truly foul mouthed Karl Rove and a Jack Russell terrier). The series is one of the funniest I’ve ever seen about politics in its modern formation.”

I would add this clip from my favourite political comedy, Yes Prime Minister, in which the fictional prime minister prepares for his first television broadcast:

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I have been meaning to write about the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull (a word I never thought I would write) for a while but my day job got in the way. The Boston Globe has a great set of photos from Iceland (they should have done a slideshow but the images are still damn impressive).

The disruption highlighted how we take flying for granted and unknowingly depend on airplanes  for our everyday lives to function : there were stories in the British press that supermarkets would run out of fresh fruit and vegetables because they could not get deliveries from overseas. It is hard to believe that the Wright Brothers only completed the first controlled, powered flight in December 1903 and that the first commercial jet service only started in 1952.

Although it is too late for my brother, who was forced to cancel his holiday, planes have thankfully started flying in Europe again.

While they were still grounded, philosopher Alain de Botton wrote a lovely piece imagining a world without planes:

“In a future world without aeroplanes, children would gather at the feet of old men, and hear extraordinary tales of a mythic time when vast and complicated machines the size of several houses used to take to the skies and fly high over the Himalayas and the Tasman Sea.”

This may not be very far-fetched as Reihan Salam explains that dozens of major airlines are likely go bankrupt over the next decade so we have just experienced the world to come .

Salam points to a book by Christopher Steiner, $20 Per Gallon, which imagines how the world will change if oil prices continually rise. Starting at $4 a gallon, each chapter of the book describes what could happen as oil price rises by $2. Chapter $8 is called The Sky Will Empty as the airline industry is destroyed :

“Steiner paints a vivid picture: Cross-country fares quintupling in price, mid-sized cities losing most or all of their flights as subsidies dry up and the remaining airlines consolidate their operations. We’ll always have Skype and as-yet-unimagined communications technologies to stay in touch over long distances. And who knows, perhaps these technologies will be good enough to maintain the intimate connections that cheap air-travel has made possible. I certainly wouldn’t bet on it.’

Neither would I.

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My usual strategy with romantic comedies is to avoid anything with Jennifer Aniston/Gerard Butler /Kate Hudson. So I had high hopes for Date Night as Tina Fey and Steve Carell are fantastic on television.

The premise of having two comic geniuses joking about the pitfalls of  modern family life seemed a good one and I was hoping that the outcome would be as charming and original as  The-40-Year-Old-Virgin.

On television Carell and Fey make you laugh at the absurdities in everyday situations but Date Night lumbers them them a ludicrous and unrealistic plot involving being chased by cops gone bad/blackmailing a district attorney/getting mixed up with mob  and every other cliche you can imagine.

And speaking of chases – why make the the two of them spend half the film in a car chase ? Any two cookie-cutter Hollywood actors could have been in these scenes without wasting the talents of Fey and Carell and making me waste money on a cinema ticket. If you are tempted to walk out, as I was, you may want to hang in there as the funniest parts are the out-takes over end credits.

All I want is a romantic comedy that makes me laugh without insulting my intelligence.  Hollywood used to be able to do it  in the 30s and 40s as evidenced by Bringing up Baby and His Girl Friday and there have been modern day successes such as the fantastic When Harry Met Sally (note: neither Billy Crystal or Meg Ryan had to do any action sequences).

So come on Hollywood – I have money that I want to spend on films that are about adults and  not teenagers, are not based on comic books and don’t need lots of special effects. Old-fashioned 2-D and a decent script and characters will suffice. An example of what I want, this scene from When Harry Met Sally when he explains why men and women can never just be friends :

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Spring is my favourite season in New York as we see the back of the freezing snows of winter but have yet to reach the humidity of the summer.

I love the blossom in the Central Park :

but also new greenery amongst the city’s glass and steel skyscrapers :

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I am well known for not liking to venture off Manhattan but as the weather has been so nice I took a beautiful two and a half hour train journey along the Hudson River to go to a town called Troy in upstate New York. The reason for my visit – to see Dancing on the Ceiling : Art & Zero Gravity – an exhibit where artists explore weightlessness.

My favourite piece was a pair of videos by William Forsythe,  Antipodes I/II, where his movements seem to defy gravity. I knew nothing about Forsythe before watching the exhibit but felt he must have some dance training and subsequently found out that this piece was shown at Sadler’s Wells in London last year.

An added bonus was that the venue, the Curtis R Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC), was as visually stunning as the art:

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“Henry Cartier-Bresson’s images, many plucked from the everyday whirl of his beloved Paris, had the power and poetry of Zen and particle physics–smashing the atom of the present, bottling its spark, and generating flashes of life and light.”

David Friend, Vanity Fair’s editor of creative development

New York’s  Museum of Modern Art first planned a “posthumous” exhibition of photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson 60 years ago when they thought he had died in World War II.

However he survived until 2004 and thanks to  a very good friend, I was lucky enough to attend a preview of MOMA’s new Cartier-Bresson exhibition:  The Modern Century. The title is appropriate as not only did Cartier-Bresson survive but he went on to define modern photography though capturing the decisive moments from ordinary life and his photo-journalism.
I had no idea he had spent so much time in Asia and particularly enjoyed the stunning pictures of India and Indonesia. Although he was in India in the 1940s, the images seem to be from a far-gone age and I wish he was around now to give us his unique insight into how the country is adapting to the 21st century.
Cartier-Bresson said:
“It is through living that we discover ourselves, at the same time as we discover the world around us.”
His photos of the world around us truly help us discover ourselves.

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The New York Review of Books has a piece on A Shadow Falls, the beautiful new collection from Nick Brandt, who has photographed wild animals in East Africa, without a telephoto lens, for the past decade.

Brandt says:

“My images are unashamedly idyllic and romantic, a kind of enchanted Africa. They’re my elegy to a world that is steadily, tragically vanishing.”

His pictures are truly enchanted.

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