The show imagines what it would be like if the axis nations had won Planet War II, and America was divided amongst Germany and Japan. The show’s heroes struggle against totalitarianism.
Dava Sobel is as adept at spotting promising subject matter as the extraordinary women astronomers she writes about in The Glass Universe have been at spotting variable stars. By translating complicated data into manageable bites sweetened with human interest stories, Sobel tends to make hard science palatable for the basic audience. Even more than her 1999 book Galileo’s Daughter, this new perform highlights women’s typically below-appreciated role in the history of science.
The ladies who worked at the Harvard College Observatory in the late 19th and early 20th centuries have been not initially named astronomers it took decades for their “critical leaps in celestial understanding” to earn them that designation. They had been assistants, or human “computers” — math whizzes, devoted stargazers, and later physics and astronomy majors (and PhD’s) who studied, compared, classified and catalogued data about stars that had been photographed by guys on thousands of glass plates. “The work,” Sobel writes in her eye-opening chronicle, “demanded each scrupulous attention to detail and a big capacity for tedium.”
But, as Sobel points out, these “prepared slaves to routine” had been fortunate to have the work when possibilities in science have been uncommon for females. They had been also fortunate to toil below the aegis of two forward-pondering men, Edward Pickering and Harlow Shapley, whose successive directorships of the Observatory spanned the years from 1877 to 1952. Their pioneering efforts in astronomy integrated the creation of analysis grants and academic fellowships especially for women — which, along with the Observatory’s groundbreaking function in photographing and studying stellar spectra, benefited from the patronage of two widowed heiresses, Anna Palmer Draper and Catherine Wolfe Bruce.
Sobel lucidly captures the intricate, interdependent constellation of folks it took to unlock mysteries of the stars.
Sobel lucidly captures the intricate, interdependent constellation of people it took to unlock mysteries of the stars, such as their chemical composition and their distances across space. Pickering and Shapley come across as smart, diligent, and decent — two scientists with a firm commitment to collaborative research, documentation over theorizing, the free sharing of details, and an insistence on crediting the tough-operating girls who made so several discoveries that paved the way for contemporary astrophysics.
As for the ladies — some of whose names are nevertheless respected in the field — their fortitude and devotion are practically nothing brief of amazing. In the early years, they were married to their perform, but after the Depression, a lot of balanced marriage and children with six-day weeks at the Observatory.
Williamina Fleming, a teacher in her native Scotland, was initial hired as a maid to the Pickerings right after her husband disappeared, leaving her in a “delicate situation.” Luckily, they recognized her skills. Over decades, she classified a lot more than ten,000 stars using a scheme she devised, discovered ten novae (new stars) and far more than 300 variable stars. In 1899, at age 42, at Pickering’s urging, she became the very first woman to hold an official title at Harvard University when she was named Curator of Astronomical Photographs. However in her journal, she noted that her annual salary of $ 1500 fell far brief of men’s $ 2500. “And this is deemed an enlightened age!” Fleming wrote.
Sobel doesn’t make a point of it, but Harvard University’s track record concerning women in science was not stellar even just before 2005, when then-President Lawrence Summers controversially attributed the under-representation of female scientists at elite universities to innate differences amongst the sexes. Despite Shapley’s repeated petitions, Annie Jump Cannon, a Wellesley graduate who won worldwide acclaim for her revised classification scheme (which is nevertheless in use nowadays) wasn’t granted an official title at Harvard until 1938, just three years before her death.
Similarly, Harvard president Abbot Lawrence Lowell repeatedly declined to name Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin to the faculty, regardless of her groundbreaking 1925 dissertation, which earned her the 1st PhD. in astronomy Harvard awarded to a woman. (It posited the similarities of stars’ chemical composition — largely hydrogen — regardless of varied temperatures.) She lastly became the first female complete professor at Harvard in 1956, and in 1958, was named the Phillips Professor of Astronomy. But, Sobel writes, “Even then her salary of $ 14,000 a year, even though larger than her husband’s, remained far beneath that of her male peers.”
Of necessity, Sobel strives to convey the nature of the astronomers’ discoveries and achievements. And by and massive she does, with admirable clarity. The truth that I located my eyes glazing more than anytime she gets into the nitty-gritty of the women’s classification systems heightened my respect for their ability to focus painstakingly on such details for decades on finish. When it comes to these ladies — their pluck, persistence, insights and eventual recognition — The Glass Universe positively glows.
We live in an fascinating era exactly where the genre of fantasy is getting restlessly reinvented by a fresh wave of revolutionary, trailblazing authors. But an individual neglect to tell Rachel Neumeier that. Her most current standalone novel, The Mountain of Kept Memory, chugs along with blissful conventionality, as if the last couple decades of evolution in fantasy by no means happened. The essential word here, though, is blissful.
Oressa and her older brother Gulien are the princess and prince of Carastind, a kingdom in the midst of turmoil. A rival realm, Tamarist, is exerting its influence over their homeland in a way that borders on outright invasion. The siblings — she’s clever and headstrong he’s thoughtful and protective — fret more than the possibility of forced marriages for the sake of peace-keeping expedience. When the political circumstance starts to boil over, Gulien undertakes a quest to speak to the Kieba, a cryptic, godlike figure who lives in the heart of the only mountain in the otherwise flat land of Carastind. Meanwhile Oressa requires a path that leads to the gathering storm of a military campaign, exactly where she realizes she’s far more than just a cloistered princess.
At very first, it is tough not to view Carastind’s geography as an unintentional symbol for the book itself. It gets off to a quite featureless start. Mountain does not overhaul, deconstruct, or even noticeably shake up the well-worn tropes of high fantasy — not counting a thread of science fiction that Neumeier beautifully, subtly weaves into her swords-and-magic milieu.
‘The Mountain of Kept Memory’ chugs along with blissful conventionality, as if the final couple decades of evolution in fantasy in no way occurred. The key word here, even though, is blissful.
But as Oressa and Gulien, estranged from their father and drawn deeper into the secrets of the Kieba, struggle to save their kingdom, the book requires off. The slow pace and all-as well familiar terrain gives way to a richly built world. Neumeier packs her setting with luscious detail, from the dye market that feeds the economy all the way up to the dead gods whose vestigial power nevertheless holds sway. Carastind has been beset for centuries by a host of supernatural plagues, and that tragic backdrop lends the story a poignant gravity — and it ties into the enigma of a trauma-stricken world that is forgotten considerably of its past.
The connection amongst Oressa and Gulien is even far more compelling. It’s a familiar formula, but for a reason — it operates. There is a lot of emotional depth as effectively as lighthearted repartee between them, and it is underpinned by a broader, if equally familiar theme: The power of the gods can be a double-edged blade. Neumeier knows how to spin myths and archetypes, and Mountain oozes them. Aristocracies vie for influence. Artifacts are keys to hidden energy. Magic is a true but mysterious force. It really is nothing that veteran fantasy authors like Guy Gavriel Kay, Raymond Feist, and Patricia McKillip haven’t completed a million occasions just before. Then once again, that’s sturdy company to be in.
To be fair, Neimeier is far from the only author nowadays writing resolutely conventional fantasy. And there’s practically nothing inherently wrong with doing so, specifically when it is done with as a lot consideration and enjoy for the genre as she clearly has — and when the current, significant climate of fantasy calls for some relative lightness here and there. Her world is intricate and immersive, and her characters really feel like home. It’s okay that the pace isn’t precisely pulse-pounding, although Mountain does have its gripping moments of action, suspense, and shattering revelation. This isn’t the type of story to race by means of. It’s 1 to linger more than, and a planet to get lost in.
Ernest Hemingway, like all writers, signifies distinct issues to different men and women. To some, he represents a hunting, drinking, smoking, womanizing machismo that is offputting — to say the least. To my high-college thoughts, he was just some old white guy going on about a crusty fisherman desperate to snag a marlin — even though Ms. Fredericks, my English teacher, had forced us to read The Old Man and the Sea, I didn’t come to appreciate it, nor any of Hemingway’s books, till considerably later.
But in my early 20s, an individual mailed me a dusty copy of Hemingway’s very first novel, The Sun Also Rises. I’d by no means read anything very like it — and haven’t since.
Nowadays marks the 90th anniversary of the publication of that book. A masterpiece of the type, The Sun Also Rises is a uncommon feat in its energy and restraint, its terse but evocative sentences making a powerful impression as I was starting to hone in on my personal adore of words: “Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you’re not taking benefit of it?” a single character asks narrator Jake, an American newspaper reporter. “Do you comprehend you’ve lived nearly half the time you have to live already?”
None of Hemingway’s other works, although some were excellent and even fantastic, quite captured the concept of desire and longing that his debut does. But there’s also a blatant sadness that permeates the entire novel, which, in truth, is what attracted me a lot more than anything. How could these depressed and oftentimes insufferable socialites be drawn so beautifully? And how on earth could such easy, stripped down prose carry this kind of emotional weight? Nathaniel Hawthorne says it best: “Easy reading is damn challenging writing.”
But for me, it really is a lot far more than that. When I read The Sun Also Rises – and I go back to it every single couple of years — I’m quickly transported to Pamplona, exactly where Hemingway’s characters go to watch the bullfights. I visited Pamplona as a kid with my loved ones, and I also watched the bullfights, with my father — who in all honesty does not deserve any more mention than that.
Except for the truth that he was the one particular who randomly sent me this wonderful book, much more than a decade soon after we’d lost touch.
The Sun Also Rises, a title taken from Ecclesiastes, is like its author in that it signifies various issues to distinct folks. Positive, some may well say that A Farewell to Arms is a much better book, or that For Whom the Bell Tolls is a more sophisticated piece of literature, but they are wrong. And that is in element simply because they did not visit Pamplona at a particular age, nor receive a random gift when they were young and impressionable, or they simply weren’t open adequate to be floored by what Hemingway was carrying out with language and, dear God, dialogue.
The Sun Also Rises centers on the inner lives of that now-infamous group Gertrude Stein known as the “Lost Generation,” but like all books it also holds private which means for every single reader. Its pages make me recall the noise of a crowd cheering on a brave matador, the expectation I felt as a boy, even the dizzying smell of blood in the air. They remind me of my father, who by no means gave me much much more than this perfect novel, which you might say is a hell of a lot.
Following ten pages of Nathan Hill’s debut novel, The Nix, I flipped to the dust jacket. I wanted to see what the author looked like since I was pondering to myself, Jesus, this guy is gonna be famous. I wanna see what he looks like.
At 50 pages in I smiled when my train was delayed — a few further minutes to read about Samuel Andresen-Anderson, the assistant English professor and gone-nowhere writer who’d failed to live up to a tiny bit of early promise. At about one hundred pages, Samuel is in 6th grade — lonely, panicky, a crier at the least little point — and I know I am going to miss something like a affordable bedtime. At 200, it is stories of Samuel’s mother that keeps me turning pages: A teenager in 1968, driven, tightly wound. It is the sketched background of the lady who will abandon Samuel at 11 years old and wreck him in all the million methods that such a issue will wreck a delicate boy the lady who will float back into his life years later on cable television — briefly notorious for throwing a handful of rocks at a conservative republican presidential candidate in a Chicago park.
I fall in adore as well swiftly and too effortlessly. Especially with books. I am a sucker for anybody with a typewriter and a hot hand with the language. Inform me a story and I am your ideal pal, your best ear, for as extended as you can sustain it. The issue? So handful of can truly sustain it. My sluttish history with books is littered with these that I loved and then abandoned when the going got rough — novels dog-eared and loose in the bindings up to web page 150 or so, then dropped the minute the passion cooled.
The Nix is 620 pages extended. My final dog-ear is on page 613. It is nothing crucial. Just a funny story told by one particular character to another about the Northern Lights and the burden of expectation. It is beautiful in precisely the exact same way that a thousand of Hill’s other paragraphs are lovely — these looping, run-on, wildly digressive pages which, somehow, in their absolute refusal to cling collectively and act like a book, make the best book for our distracted age.
Hill’s novel is the story of Samuel. Of the boy who became him and the man that he is in 2011, in an Occupy Wall Street America, exactly where he is obsessed with an on the internet videogame known as World Of Elfscape and failing at fairly much everything else. But when his vanished mother all of a sudden reappears on every single Tv screen in America — this forgotten ’60s hippie radical now emerging as a viral sensation with a handful of gravel and no good explanation — he is offered a likelihood to write a book about her. A hatchet-job in which he, the abandoned son, is contractually obligated to savage his own mother in lurid, inform-all fashion.
It’s a job he requires, of course. Simply because he’s furious. And desperate. And haunted by this lady who left him and his father one day and never ever came back. He desires answers. This book, he thinks, may possibly be a way to get them.
But haunted is the operative word here. Simply because The Nix is about a lot of factors — about politics and on the web gaming, about the tenuous friendships of adult men and the 1968 Democratic National Convention. It is a vicious, black-hearted and beautiful satire of youth and middle-age, feminine hygiene products, frozen foods and social media. But a lot more than anything, it is a treatise on the methods that the previous molds us and breaks us and never ever lets us go. How it haunts us all.
The book’s namesake, the Nix itself — in Hill’s telling of it — is a Norwegian residence spirit. A ghost that finds a individual, comes to them in a moment and follows them for life. It is representative of that one instant when life slips sideways and by no means recovers. A numerous-faced ghost, equally comfortable being the broken friend that young Samuel couldn’t save, the girl he loved beyond all explanation, the mother who left him, the profession that escaped him. It is a best organizing motif for a book about the tiny blunders that become a life’s great tragedies, and secrets held as well close and for as well lengthy.
It broke my heart, this book. Time after time. It made me laugh just as typically. I loved it on the first web page as powerfully as I did on the last, and I believe I was right, appropriate from the begin. Because Nathan Hill?
He’s gonna be well-known. This is just the begin.
Jason Sheehan is an ex-chef, a former restaurant critic and the present meals editor of Philadelphia magazine. But when no one is hunting, he spends his time writing books about spaceships, aliens, giant robots and ray guns. Tales From the Radiation Age is his newest book.
Author Lawrence Wright was a conscientious objector in the course of the Vietnam War, which meant he was needed to do two years of what was called “option service.” He ended up in Egypt, teaching at the American University in Cairo. And it was there that the man from Texas started his obsession with the Middle East.
Given that then, Wright has written a lot about the area and about terrorism as a staff writer for The New Yorker. Now, he has compiled his a lot of New Yorker essays into a new book referred to as The Terror Years: From al-Qaeda to the Islamic State.
But his interest in terrorism stretches back to properly ahead of his New Yorker job … back to a screenwriting gig in the 1990s. He tells NPR’s Kelly McEvers that the 1998 film The Siege asked “what would happen if terrorism came here? As it already had in, say, London and Paris, you know, how would we react if it occurred in New York?”
On people’s reactions to The Siege right after the Sept. 11 attacks
It was the most rented movie in America soon after 9/11 … I consider there were two issues — one particular was, it explained and looked at the dilemma of terrorism. But the other thing is, the film has a satisfied ending, and right after 9/11, men and women weren’t positive how this movie was going to finish.
On his piece about John O’Neill, “The Counter-Terrorist”
If you recall, the planes had been all grounded [right after the attacks], and I lived in Austin, so I was unable to get to New York for a number of days, and I was desperate to get involved in this. I didn’t know how to decrease this vast tragedy to a human scale. So I was combing via obituaries streaming online, and on this Washington Post internet site, I identified O’Neill’s obituary. And it created him out to be something of a disgrace. He had been the head of counterterrorism in New York, and he’d been washed out of the [FBI] since he’d taken classified data out of the workplace. And then he wound up receiving a job as head of security at the Planet Trade Center.
You know, his job was to get Osama bin Laden, and as an alternative bin Laden got him. And I thought at the time it was ironic. But I don’t see it that way anymore. He took that job because he knew that al-Qaida would come and attempt to finish the job on the Planet Trade Center — they had bombed it after just before in 1993 — so he instinctively place himself at ground zero … it was O’Neill and a handful of people that truly realized the peril that America was in.
On the Americans held captive and killed by the Islamic State, and what may well have been accomplished differently
I’m not saying that they may possibly have been able to survive. Unless the American government had taken the exact same policy as the Europeans, which was merely to pay off the kidnappers. But the American government opposes that, and also at the time opposed any Americans, even the parents of these individuals, paying to ransom their youngster. So primarily, the parents were left by themselves. They had no thought how to deal with ISIS, and they got quite little aid from the State Department or the FBI … there was hardly ever any moment when the FBI or the State Division shared data or presented to support in any meaningful way.
On the relevance of al-Qaida in the age of ISIS
Effectively, al-Qaida is the parent, with all the progeny that has multiplied all more than the world. If you call it al-Qaida or bin Ladenism or jihadism, whatever you get in touch with it, it really is proliferated. So yes, the mother organization has been lowered — it really is not extinct, but it has undoubtedly been confined. But the idea that they have put forward is alive in the globe and spreading swiftly, sadly.
On how we’ve changed in America
Effectively, I was reflecting about how, when I was in high college, I took a date to Really like Field in Dallas. That was in fact the name of the airport, but it was exactly where a lot of dates went when you didn’t have any income. And I bear in mind that we climbed into this airliner that had just come from some European location — we decided it need to have been Paris — and we sat in the initial class compartment, and the stewardesses, as you called them then, brought us a snack, and we pretended we were actually cosmopolitan. And then we went up in the FAA tower, “Come on in, little ones!” So we sat down and watched these airplanes land. And that was America.
And I’m so struck, just going into an office building where you have to be photographed. In Philadelphia, you go check out the Liberty Bell and you have to take off your shoes and your belt. These impingements on ordinary liberty — the kinds of factors we took completely for granted, those are gone. But if they’re forgotten they’ll be permanently gone. And I believe that it’s essential that we keep in our minds the notion of that sort of freedom, and if we drop that, then I feel terrorism genuinely will have won.
The most telling aspect of The Conjuring two, the gonzo sequel to the 2013 horror smash, is that it really is 133 minutes lengthy. A operating time like that is a rarity—The Exorcist, at 132 minutes, may be the strongest analogue—because the genre draws intensity from concision, and its dread-soaked mysteries are not so very easily sustained over time. But director James Wan, who produced the seventh The Rapidly and the Furious entry in between the two Conjuring films, has figured out how to adapt the genre to the blockbuster age, when studios are batting for a residence run each time they step to the plate. This is no mere haunted property film. This is a tour through a giant, spring-loaded funhouse.
For evidence of Wan’s horror maximalism, appear no further than the opening sequence, which finds real-life ghostbusters Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren holding a seance at the famed Dutch Colonial in Amityville just before moving onto anything larger. Consider that for a moment: Scary happenings at the Amityville house—second only in horror iconography to the Bates home in Psycho, the subject of 14 films (and counting) and several performs of fiction, nonfiction, and semi-fiction—are a mere throat-clearing for The Conjuring 2. Wan’s last function had automobiles parachuting from a plane onto a mountain pass. This one particular has a space full of crosses that get twisted upside-down like a doorknob to the gates of hell. Like any director of a blockbuster sequel, he requires the mandate to top himself seriously.
The Conjuring 2 mainly justifies the bloat, simply because Wan’s style is wonderfully energized and nimble, with a camera that roves rapidly, often madly, toward danger and a restless escalation of stakes. He also has legitimately compelling lead characters in Ed and Lorraine, whose profession and marriage the motion pictures take seriously, even if the true world received them more skeptically. Following a vision at Amityville prophecies her husband’s death and brings a frightening new demon into her conscience, Lorraine insists they take a step back from active casework and act strictly as consultants rather. It does not come about, of course, but the depth of feeling in between them offers the supernatural threat more weight.
Seven years soon after Amityville, Ed and Lorraine are summoned to a modest old home in the London borough of Enfield, where single mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Conner) and her four kids are besieged by a poltergeist. Peggy’s youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) has been haunted and sometimes possessed by an exceedingly cranky old spirit who wants the Hodgsons out of his residence. The Warrens are called in by the Church in an unofficial capacity, but as their skepticism falls away, their mission to assist the spiritually afflicted draws them into the fight.
As with The Conjuring and his two Insidious movies, Wan lifts from a generous smorgasbord of influences, combining the urban possession of The Exorcist and the multi-dimensional youngster abduction of Poltergeist with Spielbergian moments of humor and wonder. Never much for gore—even Saw, his intense-horror breakthrough, is much more about discomfort than plasma—Wan instead amplifies the scares with old-fashioned effects and a hyper-aggressive soundtrack. There are at least 5 or six full-physique shivers in The Conjuring two, and most of them come by means of jump-scares completed proper, with every single ghoulish surprise punctuated by blasts of unholy guttural noise.
There is nothing at all specifically distinctive about The Conjuring 2, which is more about repurposing old effects than adding new ones. (Its generic qualities extend to the music cues. When the action shifts to London, Wan cuts a montage to The Clash’s “London Calling,” which was recorded two years after the film takes location.) What it lacks in originality, however, it tends to make up in moxie. Wan turns the Hodgson residence into whirring gizmo of demonic effects—a self-propelled fire truck, a zoetrope come to life, a leather recliner of the damned—that never ever stops moving. It’s like the Hodgsons have taken up residence inside a shark’s mouth and the beast is relentlessly chewing. Wan brings the monster vividly to life, and in its scaled-up hokum, The Conjuring 2 charts a future for studio horror.
Dating is lots difficult as factors stand. But suppose romance came with deadlines, and a penalty for not meeting them. That’s the dilemma Colin Farrell faces in filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’ most recent weirdness. The maker of Dogtooth, which takes property schooling to comically absurd extremes, and Alps, which does considerably the same for the process of grieving, is tackling notions of romance in The Lobster, and let’s just say that rom-coms do not come much stranger.
Farrell plays David, a doughy (the actor gained 40 pounds for the function), nebbishy guy whose wife has just left him as the film begins. He lives in a slightly futuristic society that so values coupledom that living a solitary existence is simply outlawed. So as soon as it becomes identified that he’s single, the authorities pack him off to a grand rural hotel exactly where the manager (a deliciously matter-of-fact Olivia Colman) explains the ground rules: Guests have 45 days to couple-up, and if they fail to do so, they will be turned into an animal of their choice. David has brought his dog (formerly his brother, who didn’t make it) so he knows the ropes.
What animal, wonders the manager, has David chosen to become in the event that he cannot find a compatible mate? “A lobster,” he replies, noting that lobsters stay fertile for life, have blue blood like aristocrats, and that anyway, he really likes the sea.
“Excellent selection,” he’s told, and the clock starts ticking.
Absolutely everyone in this society assumes that compatibility implies “like with like,” so a guy (Ben Whishaw) who desires to attract a girl who gets nosebleeds bangs his head against walls to make his own nose bleed. A guy (John C. Reilly) with a lisp looks for a gal with a speech impediment. David briefly tries to ingratiate himself with a heartless lady by faking indifference to her. Always, even though, there is the expertise that items may possibly not perform out.
David discovers there is an alternative of sorts. In the woods surrounding the hotel are fairly a lot of uncommon animals — camels, Shetland ponies, flamingos — but also a revolutionary bunch of loner escapees. For recreation, the hotel guests hunt them with tranquilizer darts, with each bagged loner getting the hunter an extra day of beasthood-avoidance. The loners, who prize lonerness as strongly as the rest of society prizes coupledom, have their personal set of guidelines, which turn out to be just as peculiar — and simultaneously funny and cruel — as these of the society they are rebelling against.
Greek filmmaker Lanthimos is fond of hermetically sealed satires like this, exactly where the logic is rigidly internal and the outcomes of following that logic determinedly strange. The Lobster is his very first film in English, and it plays cleverly with the compatibility assumptions behind, say, singles groups and online dating web sites.
Challenging to tell how he feels about the concept that opposites attract. But possibly it really is reflected in the opposite 1st and second halves he has offered the movie. The early going is comic and light. Then, when David escapes into the woods and encounters soulmate Rachel Weisz, there is a tonal shift to darkness, coupled with violence.
Arguably, that is much less rewarding. Nevertheless, if weird is what you happen to be hunting for, The Lobster is, claws down, the rom-com of the year (though possibly not 1 you’d want to choose for a very first date).
The premise and poster of The Family Fang promise a dynasty of twee eccentrics with maladjusted children, like the Tenenbaums, or the Bluths of Arrested Development. But though the Fangs share the latter’s Jason Bateman, here directing as well as once more playing the put-upon son, this is a different failed family, and they strike a different tone onscreen: one more principled and intimate than mannered or mocking. They’re a clan of performance artists whose public spectacles puncture the very idea of how families are supposed to behave, now reckoning with the long-term consequences of such a life-consuming craft.
In the 1970s, the parents, Caleb and Camille, made their two children often-unwitting players in their prankish pieces: instructing their son to fake a bank robbery, manipulating a school production of Romeo and Juliet so the siblings would be forced to kiss onstage. Critics are divided on the artistic merits of such stunts, but everyone seems to agree that Caleb and Camille’s work lost its pizzazz once “Child A” and “Child B” grew up and flew the coop.
Christopher Walken makes a brilliantly nasty patriarch, a bully who mocks and degrades all other forms of art as fake — including the acting and writing his grown-up children have done. He spouts Caleb Fang’s ideas with such conviction, such pomposity, that it’s easy to picture this man drum-majoring his family all these years, and also easy to picture them desperate to drift away from him.
This is what Annie (Nicole Kidman) and Baxter (Bateman) have done, the former becoming an alcoholic Hollywood star, the latter a struggling novelist and magazine writer who winds up back home after an on-assignment injury. But Fang mother Camille (played by Maryann Plunkett with more of a sly folk-artist’s charm) has remained loyal, even though she secretly paints little country scenes on the side, stashing them away lest Caleb catch her aesthetic betrayal to his cause.
A Fang reunion in their sprawling upstate New York home is quickly followed by the sudden disappearance of the parents, and the discovery of evidence pointing to a serial killer’s handiwork. Annie is too smart to fall for that trick, and starts piecing together any shred of evidence that they faked the whole thing. We’re too smart to fall for it too, and yet the mystery of the Fang parents becomes oddly engrossing, or at least more so than the soul-searching it prompts in the children. Kidman’s character succumbs to an implausible belief that she can somehow change her parents’ essential natures until they’re all a normal family, instead of a gallery piece. The mania she attaches to this motivation (complete with bulletin boards tracking the case) is too simple of an approach to the story. But Kidman does sell her chemistry with Bateman, a fraternal spark that comes with a taboo edge thanks to that Romeo and Juliet incident.
This is Bateman’s second directorial feature, after the R-rated spelling-bee comedy Bad Words — a film that seemed to share Papa Fang’s desire for shock and awe. For the first time, he proves himself capable of overseeing authentic human drama, and has moments here of a true filmmaker’s eye, particularly in the flashback sequences depicting the “pieces,” which are shot with lush colors and prompt a great sense of danger and uncertainty. “How far will they go with this?” we wonder, and cringe every time we get our answer. A crackling scene in the present day has the Fang parents trying to rebel against corporate fast food by handing out bogus coupons, only to be foiled by the human error of a stranger’s kindness. This sequence’s perfect escalation is how we learn that underneath all the Fangs’ professed desire to incorporate the public into their art is a deep contempt for that same public: a contempt, even, for life unscripted.
Based on the 2011 novel by Kevin Wilson, The Family Fang sings with great ideas about the ways all families lie to their children, and what it means to live with people you can never take seriously (being constantly addressed with the performative monikers “Child A” and “Child B” has to take its toll eventually). But the film suffers from a similar fate to many movies about artists: in order to make sure the audience gets what these people are about, everyone talks too much about the themes at the heart of their work instead of letting the work speak for itself. The overly chatty script by David Lindsay-Abaire (a Pulitzer Prize winner for his play Rabbit Hole) has difficulty carrying its most promising themes to a satisfying payoff, and a third-act reveal is riddled with plot holes. Carter Burwell’s gripping, ominous score suggests an untapped mystery and darkness to the material.
But though the Fangs themselves may not think much of their audience, their movie is still warmly inviting, because their peculiar frustrations become concrete and universal. That may not be a victory for Caleb’s brand of art, but it is a minor one for filmmaking.