Monthly Archives: June 2011

More than meets the eye

David Edelstein shows us how to write an uproarious review of a terrible summer blockbuster:

The first hour of Dark of the Moon is tighter than Revenge of the Fallen, but it still has that self-parodic vibe. Bay has too much testosterone to shoot a simple dialogue scene, smashing together disparate shots while actors like John Malkovich (as Witwicky’s new boss) pitch themselves into the frame as if it’s a gladiator arena. Malkovich knows that Transformers regular John Turturro will be making an entrance later in the picture and that he has to work fast to give the film’s weirdest performance — and he’s up to it, being, unlike Turturro, untethered by known laws of human psychology or cognition. But even Malkovich is no match for Ken Jeong, representing not just himself but all Asian races for the Who Can Abase Himself/Herself Most for Money in a Michael Bay Movie? As a scientist in over his head with the Autobots’ archenemies, the Decepticons, Jeong throws himself at Shia in a men’s room stall, jabbering wildly and pulling a top-secret memo from between his legs. Korea wins! Freed from Jeong’s overacting, Shia reasserts his male dominance by pawing Rosie in an elevator while “You Light Up My Life” issues from its speakers.

A Malkovich-Turturro duel? Shia TheBeef in a men’s room stall? “You Light Up My Life”? Let me at it.

By the way, I will never watch this because when I watched “Transformers” in grade school Megatron did not look like six dozen pipe cleaners glued together.

Latinates: ugly cravats

Justice Anthony Kennedy offers advice for writing legal prose, but it applies to anyone attempting prose worth a damn:

Interviewer: You have some pet peeves as a writer — among which, you don’t like adverbs, do you?

Kennedy: I do not like adverbs. In part, it’s because it’s a rule that I want to have for myself. They’re a way for you to qualify, and if you don’t use them, it forces you to think through the conclusion of your sentence. And it forces you to confront the significance of your word choice, the importance of your diction. And it seems to me by not using the -l word . . . or, pardon me, the -ly word, you just discipline yourself to choose your words more carefully.


But I have other pet peeves about writing. One is I’m a traditionalist. This is something that I will admit. And I do not like nouns that are turned into verbs: I task you or I was tasked with this assignment or I was tasked with this opinion. A “task” is a noun; it’s not a verb. Impact. This impacts our decision; impact is a noun, and it seems to me trendy. I don’t like trendy words. Now, the language obviously grows; it can’t be static. The beauty of the language is its dynamism and its growth, so I accept that. I don’t like the word “grow:” We’re going to grow the economy. It seems to me that you grow a carrot; you don’t grow the economy. But after a while I have to succumb to some of these things [laughing].

Interviewer: What do you think about incentivize?

Kennedy: I think incentivize is highly objectionable for two reasons: Number one, it uses -ize. I do not like -ize words, which are also made-up words. And that’s also…it’s a word that reminds me of someone wearing a very ugly cravat.

The King’s Speech

Martin Amis’ introduction to the late Kingsley’s The King’s English, in which its author reminds us of the true definition of  “infamous” and the imprecision and sheer ugliness of words and phrases like eke out, brutalise, and decimate. Amis forgot other noun-cum-verbs like victimize and impact. I quiver with joy at the thought of what short work he’d have made of “hate on,” as in, “Why do you hate on Rihanna?”

Coincidentally, my students will discuss “Politics and the English Language” and an example of a magazine or newspaper article replete with semantic and linguistic barbarisms of the kind that Orwell described.

Usage is irreversible. Once the integrity of a word is lost, no amount of grumbling and harrumphing can possibly restore it. The battle against illiteracies and barbarisms, and pedantries and genteelisms, is not a public battle. It takes place within the soul of every individual who minds about words.

The most useful rule (and Martin applauds Kingsley’s pragmatism): “The aim of language is to ensure that the speaker [or the writer] is understood, and all ideas of correctness or authenticity must be subordinate to it.”

Sadness without cause: Bon Iver

It had to happen: Toto, Sade, and the Blow Monkeys have gotten their due. Thanks to Ariel Pink’s Before Today, Destroyer’s Kaputt and Bon Iver’s new eponymous album, the most fervently untrodden musical paths of the eighties now boast fresh footprints. Keening vocals struggling to articulate romantic and/or existential vagaries dominate these albums; their musical correlative relies on rippling, “tasteful,” guitar and keyboard chords, the occasional sax solo, and stately rhythms that flirt with indolence (I wrote an article about sophisti-pop a few years ago). Although Destroyer and Bon Iver in particular want sounds and instruments on their records that we haven’t heard since “Digging Your Scene” and “Valerie” hit the top fifteen, there is an important (de)evolutionary difference: because these acts maintain a tentative, almost nervous attachment to their lo-fi origins, their albums project sophistication instead of embracing it. Mimicry or mere replication they don’t want, and as a result a gulf between ambition and results opens as cavernously as the sound of a gated drum through car speakers.

Bon Iver’s approach is the most unusual. Synthesizing the necessarily histrionic qualities of eighties sophisti-pop and the inwardness of post-Elliot Smith acoustic folk produces songs that don’t know whether to float or settle. Patterns emerge, cohere, disperse. Frontman Justin Vernon picks out chords or sings phrases in a falsetto, sometimes disrupting the attempts at prettiness with a couple bars of distortion. The approach works best on “Calgary,” which begins with a sustained synth line that I swear come out of the Pet Shop Boys’ “Being Boring.” The clanging electric piano and suspended notes on “Beth/Rest” could have played over the closing credits of the Rob Lowe-Demi Moore farrago …About Last Night. All that’s missing is, of course, a sax (skip backwards to “Minnesota, WI”). Where Destroyer’s Dan Bejar mumbles through an admixture of slogans, lines that sound like quotes from articles you think you’ve read, and uncooked aphorisms, Vernon hasn’t thought through his angst enough to impose order on what is ultimately, to quote Wallace Stevens, sadness without cause.

Same sex marriage: how it happened

After last night’s extraordinary legislative session in Albany, the reckoning. How did it happen? An alliance between Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Catholic, and Wall Street fat cats who, according to Michael Barbaro, saw more clearly than their Republican puppets on the Christian right that supporting same-sex marriage was the most conservative act they could conceive:

But, behind the scenes, it was really about a Republican Party reckoning with a profoundly changing power dynamic, where Wall Street donors and gay-rights advocates demonstrated more might and muscle than a Roman Catholic hierarchy and an ineffective opposition.

Singles Jukebox 6/24

In the busiest reviewing week of the year, three country singles were the best of a batch that included two “efforts” by Lil Wayne to continue sullying his legacy – and Aldean currently sits in the pop top ten. Imagine: a world in which Michael Bolton outranks Lil Wayne.

All scores based on a one to ten scale. Clink on links for full reviews.

Trace Adkins – Just Fishin’ (7)
Little Big Town – The Reason Why (6)
Jason Aldean – Dirt Road Anthem (6)
Adele – Set Fire to the Rain (6)
The-Dream – Fuck My Brains Out (6)
Paramore – Monster (5)
Yasmin – Finish Line (6)
Diddy-Dirty-Money ft. Trey Songz – Your Love (4)
Jason Derülo – Don’t Wanna Go Home (4)
The Unthanks – Queen of Hearts (4)
Calvin Harris ft. Kelis – Bounce (3)
Pitfull ft. Ne-Yo, Afrojack, and Nayer – Give Me Everything (3)
The Lonely Island ft. Michael Bolton – Jack Sparrow (2)
Big Sean ft. Chris Brown – My Last (2)
Lil Wayne – How To Love (2)
Jennifer Lopez ft. Lil Wayne – I’m Into You (2)