Reluctant Habits

NYFF: The Northern Land (2008)

Posted by in Film, New York Film Festival

[This is the tenth part in an open series of reports from the New York Film Festival.] In considering The Northern Land (aka A Corte do Norte), adapted from a Agustina Bessa-Luís novel by director João Botelho and José Álvaro Morais (mysteriously listed in the IMDB as dead, which suggests an intriguing collaboration if you believe in the afterlife), I am compelled to present the following positive facts about Portugal: Portugal has a high Human Development Index and is among the world’s 20 highest countries rated in terms of quality…read more

The Bat Segundo Show: Mike Leigh

Posted by in Bat Segundo, Film, leigh-mike, New York Film Festival

Mike Leigh is the filmmaker behind Naked, Life is Sweet, Vera Drake, and, most recently, Happy-Go-Lucky, which is currently playing the New York Film Festival (among many others) and opens in the United States on October 10. Condition of Mr. Segundo: Too unhappy and too unlucky. Guest: Mike Leigh Subjects Discussed: Vocational symmetries within Leigh’s films, Oscar Wilde, looking at a community, bad teachers, Leigh’s considerable frustrations about Poppy being “too happy,” the difficulties of filming Poppy’s jewelry, audience members misperceiving details, the confusion over Scott being a taxi driver,…read more

Quick Roundup

Posted by in Roundup

I’m about three reports behind on the New York Film Festival. And I’m about to conduct my third Segundo interview in 24 hours. So here’s a quick roundup of links in the meantime. Don DeLillo blogs the White House. Graham Robb investigates some of the reasons why the new Les Miserables translation is 100,000 words longer than the current gold standard. (via Maud) Carolyn Kellogg discovers the sad future of book reviewing. Not only does South Dakota need an apology, but I think Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey owe us…read more


RIP Paul Newman

Posted by in Obits


NYFF: Bullet in the Head (2008)

Posted by in FBI, Film, New York Film Festival

[This is the ninth part in an open series of reports from the New York Film Festival.] Your intrepid reporter has lined up several interviews with filmmakers and has even braved a press conference. (I try to be spontaneous whenever I attend mammoth expositions of this sort, but I wasn’t entirely aware that there was a press conference component to some of the screenings. A good reporter, however, always comes prepared. Just don’t ask what essential items I have in my backpack. I’m sure that my arsenal is somewhat unorthodox….read more

NYFF: Four Nights with Anna (2008)

Posted by in Film, New York Film Festival

[This is the eighth part in an open series of reports from the New York Film Festival.] (Our podcast interview with filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski can be found here.) Much like American filmmaker Terrence Malick, Polish auteur Jerzy Skolimowski spent a large chunk of time out of commission. But he now returns to cinema after a seventeen year absence with Four Nights with Anna (now making the film festival rounds and emerging next week in New York) and America, a film currently in production. That Skolimowski never quite received the laurels…read more

NYFF: Serbis (2008)

Posted by in Film, New York Film Festival

[This is the seventh part in an open series of reports from the New York Film Festival.] I suspect that Brilliante Mendoza’s Serbis will make suckers (although certainly not in the head-bobbing sense we see here) of those looking for an “authentic” depiction of the underworld. Every open-minded “critic” needs a film that suggests a depiction of life that the critic has no experience in, but can vicariously “understand” because he has seen it represented on cinema. Therefore, by way of the “different” perspective, narrative fallacies that wouldn’t be accepted…read more

This Blog Has Been Suspended

Posted by in mccain-john

Ladies and gentlemen, I have decided to suspend this blog. I feel that my services would be more effectively employed in Washington, DC, where my invaluable input on the current economic crisis and various cultural matters will fall on deaf political ears. Yes, nobody asked me to go to Washington. But, dammit, I’m a maverick. Yes, I do realize that I have many more films to screen at the New York Film Festival. Yes, I do realize that there are deadlines. Yes, I do realize that I have interviews to…read more


John McCain Bolts From Debate

Posted by in 2008 Election, mccain-john


NYFF: Shuga (2007)

Posted by in Film, New York Film Festival, tolstoy-leo

[This is the sixth part in an open series of reports from the New York Film Festival.] Film adaptations of the Russian literary greats have, for the most part, been disastrous. One counts Martha Fiennes’s wretched 1999 attempt to transform Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin and King Vidor’s bland 1959 version of Tolstoy’s War and Peace as two primary offenders. (For my money, the campy Dostoevsky transmutation, Crime and Punishment in Suburbia, with its superficial teen angst and a chunky Michael Ironside cast slightly against type was, for all of its considerable…read more

5 Under 35

Posted by in Writing

The National Book Foundation has released its latest 5 Under 35 list and, aside from one regrettable selection made by an overrated, near humorless, and out-of-touch novelist who hasn’t produced any fiction in seven years, it’s a very fine list. And if you’re interested in plunging further, you can listen to Segundo conversations with Fiona Maazel and Nam Le.


Seventeen Years Ago Today

Posted by in Music


Quick Roundup

Posted by in Roundup

There are many films that must be ingested and/or masticated upon today. Coffee is currently brewing, and it is decidedly autumn outside. And here are a few bagatelles to tide you over. The 2008 MacArthur fellows have been announced. On the literary front, there’s Chimamanda Adichie, who you can listen to on The Bat Segundo Show. There’s also Alex Ross, a competent mainstream critic whose inclusion suggests that the MacArthur people are either (a) playing it safe or (b) are having difficulties finding idiosyncratic voices. Well, one must admit that…read more


NYFF: In Girum Imus Nocte Et Consumimur Igni (1978)

Posted by in debord-guy, Film, New York Film Festival, Philosophy

[This is the fifth part in an open series of reports from the New York Film Festival.] Several people who are much smarter than I am have written plenty of words about Guy Debord’s 1978 film, In Girum Imus Nocte Et Consumimur Igni, a title which I must confess is rather difficult for me to type without looking at another browser window (currently open, right next to a minimized Explorer window urging me to search through “My Computer” and presumably my soul) and ensuring that I am not making a…read more

NYFF: Tokyo Sonata (2008)

Posted by in Film, New York Film Festival

[This is the fourth part in an open series of reports from the New York Film Festival. For related material, you can read my interview with screenwriter Max Mannix or listen to a podcast interview with director Kiyoshi Kurosawa.] Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata sees the Japanese horror director shifting gears to a more internal terror: the tendency of passive-aggressive men to prevaricate, pretend, and otherwise put on an act as they lose their jobs, watch their sons shipped off to Iraq, and capitulate to a wretched consumerism that promises to…read more

Broke Trek

Posted by in Film, shatner-william, Star Trek


NYFF: A Christmas Tale (2008)

Posted by in Film, New York Film Festival, Shakespeare

[This is the third part in an open series of reports from the New York Film Festival.] Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale, despite its wintry title, is more A Midsummer Night’s Dream than Shakespeare’s Sicilian family saga, and the propinquitous tipoff here involves the 1935 film adaptation with Olivia de Havilland playing on a television set. However, at one point, a character informs family patriarch and dye manufacturer Abel Vuillard (played by the gravely-voiced Jean-Paul Rossilon) that his cologne makes him smell like Italy. The film is set largely over…read more

Bill O’Reilly Doesn’t Understand the First Amendment

Posted by in First Amendment, Journalism, o'reilly-bill


NYFF: 24 City (2008)

Posted by in China, Economics, Film, New York Film Festival

[This is the second part in an open series of reports from the New York Film Festival.] “Chengdu / Home of the lotus-eating life” — Wan Xia Chengdu, a city in Southwest China with a population of 10 million and a name translating out to “the country of heaven,” was once proud home to an industrial complex called Factory 420, a dry and bureaucratic cognomen that certainly does not translate out to a number lauded by those with certain recreational preferences. The factory employed numerous workers to forge munitions between…read more

Oh God! Oh Man!

Posted by in Film


NYPL: James Wood & Daniel Mendelsohn

Posted by in Literary Criticism, mendelsohn-daniel, wood-james

I observed the following on the subway home on Wednesday night (at approximately 10:30 PM): A burly man reading a science fiction novel (spaceship on cover, title and author occluded) A middle-aged woman studying her Playbill A man in his forties doing the New York Times crossword Two additional people (man and woman) studying Playbills A woman reading US A man, approximately 30, reading a wedding magazine (with his bride-to-be reading over his shoulder) A twentysomething reading Metro An MTA worker reading a John Scalzi mass-market paperback A man, approximately…read more

Quick Roundup

Posted by in Roundup

Some very lengthy cultural reports are coming here soon. But in the meantime… In a move that may infuriate the stodgier reactionaries of our literary community, Ward Sutton has reviewed Indignation in cartoon form. I think this is a good idea. And I think that there are considerably more possibilities that can be employed to shake up coverage. Why not a performance art piece of Joe Queenan writing one of his tedious reviews and punching himself in the face every 150 words (I would pay good money for this), Dale…read more


Walken or Shatner? A Philosophical Inquiry

Posted by in Death, Mathematics, shatner-william, walken-christopher

To Carolyn Kellogg: Given the strange question “Walken or Shatner?” I might likewise find myself opting for the latter, purely out of chronological consideration. I would select Shatner because the man is twelve years older than Walken, and there is greater pressure from the elements. From a pragmatic standpoint, Shatner is likely to expire earlier in time than Walken. But this assumes that these two men will die at more or less the same age in their respective lives. There may indeed be twelve more years to see Walken. Then…read more


Responding to Orwell: September 15

Posted by in Journalism, orwell-george

George: Seventy years from your epoch, the average person getting a gustatory rush from news and information enjoys considerably more than two newspapers. We now have RSS feeds propagating endless items of interest that stop us in our tracks, that we must learn to wrestle with and filter, and that make some of the distinctions between liberal, conservative, and centrist somewhat unnecessary. I say this is all fine, provided one steps away from the computer for long stretches and talks to souls in the waking world. This is not to…read more



Posted by in Roundup

It’s one of those mornings when one mourns the hasty loss of early hours and one wonders why “ing” has not been used as a verb. What would be linguistic possibilities might be if you were to apply the present participle to this hypothetical verb? At any rate… Mark Sarvas is now hosting a series on Saramago’s Blindness. The critic in question is Todd Hasak-Lowy, although given the considerable misery depicted within that novel, I am more intrigued by the “happy place” that Hasak-Lowy describes. Does Mr. Hasak-Lowy truly find…read more


McCain’s Women’s Clinic

Posted by in 2008 Election, mccain-john, Sexism


Boris Kachka’s Original Notes for Article

Posted by in kachka-boris, Publishing Industry

After bribing a number of underpaid assistants with Duane Reade gift certificates (there was a stack here; don’t ask how we acquired it) and attempting to whisper sweet somethings into New York Magazine editorial interns who have been wrongly pegged as know-nothings, Reluctant Habits has obtained the early notes for Boris Kachka’s “Oh noes! The publishing industry is dead!” article. We don’t know what to make of Mr. Kachka referring to himself in the first person in these early notes, assuming the shaky provenance can be believed (and indeed we…read more


Remembering David Foster Wallace

Posted by in Wallace, David Foster

Chris Abani: DFW was a writer’s writer in the best possible sense. His poetic sensibility with language, his keen and astute wit, and his burning sense of the malleability of form was incredible. Words like luminous, original and a deeply personal and unique style have become trite in the literary world, and yet DFW had all of this in abundance. It is not often that one can say of one’s age and career peer — I am in awe of that writer. I can say that. I will always be…read more

David Foster Wallace: A Personal Tribute

Posted by in Wallace, David Foster

In 1997, I was given a book. A big book. A book backloaded with endnotes. It had been given to my sister1, who in turn shuttlecocked2 it over to me. It was intended to be borrowed. But it was never returned and can currently be located in my library. At first, I was a little annoyed with the style, the references to fictive filmographies, and the years named after products because of Subsidized Time.3 I initially labeled the book Infinite Pest, but this appellation proved to be a profound mistake….read more

David Foster Wallace Dead

Posted by in Wallace, David Foster

I’ve received terrible news from an anonymous source. David Foster Wallace, the talented writer of Infinite Jest, is dead of an apparent suicide. I have confirmed with multiple sources that this is indeed the case. The Claremont Police Department informed me that they answered a suicide call at Mr. Wallace’s residential address, in which someone had discovered a deceased individual. The name of the deceased has been withheld. I have also contacted the Los Angeles County Coroner and I received partial confirmation from them too. At the time, I called,…read more