The New Yorker: September 23, 2013

25 Sep

OK. This is the big week. The big redesign. I’m going to start with a special redesign review and then do the regular review.

Redesign
I might have missed some things. My opinions might change over time. I reserve the right to change my mind about anything and everything in this section.

Fonts
I didn’t notice any change to the main font, although I didn’t look closely. I’ll reserve judgment, I guess. There is a new secondary font. I don’t think I like it. It’s very appealing within the new design. Bold and clean. I think a lot of that is a factor of novelty. Once that wears off, I think it’ll look out of place and I’ll start wishing for it to disappear.

Columns
There are places with two columns now. And places with four. Some places with one, even. It makes sense sometimes (Tables for Two, Briefly Noted). Otherwise, it seems like change for its own sake and doesn’t have much of point. This is the kind of lazy “how can we make the magazine look different?” idea that should never have gotten past the brainstorming stage.

Table of Contents*
I don’t like that they did away with the department listings. That’s just as helpful in the TOC as it is in the pages of the magazine. It often gives you a better idea of what a piece is about than the title and brief description. Minus.

*TNY was once famous for not having a TOC at all (see also: The Mail). The things that have changed and the things that have stayed the same over time are pretty remarkable. Go to your local library and scan through the bound archives. It’s a good time, I promise.Especially if you have a particular thing to look for.

Contributors
The two columns now cover the whole page instead of using the traditional three-column layout and saving one of them for ads. Plus the new font and the contribution in red instead of the contributor’s name. I suppose the new bold font makes the name stand out enough in black. It looks bold and clean I guess. That’s not really what I’m looking for in TNY though. I like displacing the ads from the page. Neutral.

The Mail
Vastly expanded. I never read letters to the editor. What a waste of time. Minus.

Goings On About Town
This is the most noticeably different section. Mostly for the better. Less cluttered, more features/artwork. Also four columns instead of three. Plus.

Talk of the Town
Comment and The Financial Page have two columns now instead of three. I guess the point is to distinguish and highlight them from the rest of Talk. I think that’s a bad idea. The Financial Page already has the box, and if they want to differentiate Comment, they should just make it a separate section. I’d be in favor of scrapping it altogether myself. Minus.

Fiction
The story title and author are now incorporated into the illustration. This is a great idea. Like a little book cover. Sometimes the illustrations seem arbitrary or a little too on-the-nose. Hopefully this will allow for some more creativity. This is the best change. Plus.

Briefly Noted
Instead of having two standard columns, the blurbs are now a single double-width column, with all four books in line, with thumbnails of their covers. Looks much better this way. Plus.

Regularly Scheduled Programming
This might be brief. I just wrote in excess of 500 whole words about the redesign and I’m getting tired.

Cover
I like it. I’m warming a bit to these multiple-panel treatments. This one is cute and the colors are really used well. The smaller drawings are perfect with no coloration, but the blocks give it some pop from distance.

Front
The MOMA/Magritte review was notable for its mention of Super Magritte, which reimagines his paintings as NES pixel art, and wasn’t quite as cool as I had hoped. Still cool though.

The piece about the 2001 soundtrack was the best kind of blurb. I’m not going to go see the NY Philharmonic play the soundtrack live along with the movie, but reading about it gave me a couple interesting nuggets about the movie and the composers involved. Bravo.

The best Talk piece was about An-My Lê taking photos of Coast Guard recruits. Artists interacting with the military bureaucracy is a funny situation.

Middle
I should mention here that this is the Style Issue, and all of these are vaguely style-related. Not my favorite theme issue.

Janet Malcolm’s profile of Eileen Fisher seemed very Janet Malcolmy to me. The meta ruminating on interviewing profile subjects and such. Although I haven’t read enough of her stuff to say that with any authority. I should read more. She’s a true heavy hitter.* Heavy enough to have her own Slate Completist feature.** And everyone should read The Journalist and the Murderer.

*Perhaps due to her no doubt excellent undergraduate education at the University of Michigan.

**Kind of depressing to read. Alice Gregory’s subhead is “I’m in awe of her.” So, she feels far below Janet Malcolm. Well I feel very far below Alice Gregory. In truth, I’m not even on the spectrum that those two are on. Speaking of spectrums, if Janet Malcolm is full blown autism and Alice Gregory is Asperger’s syndrome, then I’m the most popular kid from your high school.

Lizzie Widdicombe’s brutal takedown of the guy behind Bleacher Report and Bustle was very fun to read. Christ he sounds terrible. A quote: “You remember what you were wearing three days ago? Just so you know, most guys don’t remember what they’re wearing right now.” Just so you know, most guys aren’t douchebag morons like you.

I spent most of my time while reading Calvin Tomkins’s profile of Black Architect David Adjaye thinking about Chelsea Peretti. I hope for your sake that you know why. She is hilarious. Truly one of the greats.

Fiction
This was really good. An engaging setup, some nice little details, then the stakes change out of nowhere. But Tessa Hadley still kept the same tone and feel. Didn’t try to do too much in such a short piece. Liked this one a lot.

Back
Pankaj Mishra’s book review had some good stuff about one of those huge chapters of world history that most Americans know nothing about. Nixon and Kissinger sure were shitty people, huh.

I’m kind of amazed at the vitriol and contempt oozing out of every Salinger review I’ve read. Sounds like I can probably skip it. And hey, since I’m a TNY subscriber, I can go read some of his old stories in the archives instead. Good for me.

Advertising
Two notable style ads in this, the Style Issue. First, Michelle Williams for Louis Vuitton on the inside front cover. Sold. If I’m ever rich and have a girlfriend, I’ll buy her a LV handbag. Does Michelle Williams endorse any other products I can buy? Second is James Franco for Gucci sunglasses on the back cover. I truly do not understand spending hundreds of dollars on sunglasses. There is not an explanation that makes sense to me.

Cartoons
No Edward Steed this week. Boo. The Duchamp thing on page 70 was OK. The caption is really what makes it.

Caption contest entry
“Well, this is certainly a new take on the desert island cartoon.”

Breaking Bad final season thoughts: Episode 7

24 Sep

OK. I’m pretty confident at this point that no one reads these, but I don’t care. Only one episode left, and I’m writing this more to clarify things in my own mind than anything else.

The obvious scenario for some time has been Walt coming back to shoot up Todd et al. with the giant gun, and that seems like the only real indisputable event that’ll take place. The unexpected and great wrench in things was Gretchen and Elliott’s appearance on Charlie Rose. My assumption has been that Walt will find out somehow about Jesse being kidnapped and that would be the trigger for him to return–and Charlie’s comment about blue meth seems to be that. Walt also seemed pretty pissed about the whole tone of the interview. I’ve been shouting from the rooftops that Walt will ricin himself, but now we have a new candidate: Elliott. Was that just a plot device to prompt Walt to go back to Albuquerque? Or will we find out more about Gray Matter Technologies? I don’t think that company has ever really been explained. Maybe Walt’s plan now is to get caught so he has a platform to proclaim his indispensability in whatever it is they do. That would fit nicely with the whole “remember my name” marketing campaign.

From what I can gather, most media people think that Walt will die, or that he should die, or that he deserves to die, or that the finale has to provide some kind of moral justice; to definitively say “Walt is a bad person”. I won’t be surprised if Walt dies, but I think that’s a profound misreading of things. I think that’s a lazy and simplistic view of the world and I think Vince Gilligan is too smart to think that way. “Deserve” is a stupid concept. If Walt dies, I think it’ll come from a place other than “Walt deserves a bad outcome because he is bad”. Or at least I hope so.

Riding across the country in a propane tank would probably be really uncomfortable. And you’d think they’d stop on the way for some DVDs/books/magazines/etc.

I just read Matt Yglesias’s thoughts about this week on Slate. He says something that a lot of people think, that Todd’s uncle and pals are Nazis. That’s what everyone calls them at least. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they hate Jews and black people, but the obvious explanation for the swastika tattoos in that they’re ex-cons who got down with the Aryan Nation in jail. Say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos. Prison gangs don’t have an ethos. This also, of course, explains how they had the connections to carry out the jail hit.

Question: Will Walt take his barrel of money back to New Mexico? He has the box, will he take the time to go back for the barrel or will he just pay cash for a car and split? He knows the feds are coming after the phone call.

So here’s Walt’s plan as I see it: Go back to Albuquerque, get the gun and the ricin, take out Todd and crew, rescue Jesse, kill/not kill Jesse, recover his cash, get the cash to Skyler somehow, make a public appearance explaining his role at Gray Matter and making sure everyone knows how great he thinks he is, ricin self.

Unless Walt’s convinced the family doesn’t want his money. I could see him totally giving up on that part of it. Maybe he’ll give the money to Jesse or light it on fire.

I’m most interested in this new Gray Matter angle. I won’t be mad if the following loose ends aren’t tied up: Todd/Lydia’s business/romantic relationship, Skyler’s legal problems, anything about Marie and Junior, Huell in the hotel room, finding Hank’s body, whether Bogdan resumes control of the car wash, etc.

That was more unfocused than usual. Maybe I’ll edit in more stuff later. I’m very excited for Sunday.

The New Yorker: September 16, 2013

18 Sep

Cover
Not into this one. I assume it’s a commentary on Manhattan real estate and moving to the suburbs and such. Don’t care. That’s a dumb thing to comment about. And if it’s something else and I missed it then whatever. Time to step the cover game up. They’ve been very subpar.

Front
First I want to mention the redesign that’s apparently happening next week. I’m glad someone at TNY has been reading and took my advice. You’re welcome. I’m looking forward to it. Note that I do NOT approve of any change to the font. That’s distressing to read. More next week. Three quintessential Talk pieces this week. A rich Korean guy who is trying to make it as a knuckleballer, shipping pieces of a giant bronze sculpture on flatbeds and installing them in Brooklyn, and an off-Broadway theater making a performance solely out of Eugene O’Neill’s stage directions. Plus a well-explained economics piece by James Surowiecki. And a fairly standard Comment from George Packer. This might be the Platonic ideal of Talk of the Town as it exists in 2013.

Middle
I was excited to see Flannery O’Connor’s name in the Table of Contents this week. TNY always gets first dibs on newly-discovered work from dead famous writers. Not so excited when it came time to read it. It’s a collection of prayers from Ms. O’Connor’s journal as a young writer. I didn’t get anything out of it. Maybe if you’re not familiar with religion in America or how prayer fits into it there could be some interest. It wasn’t that revealing about Ms. O’Connor’s writing or personal life. It mostly served to remind me why I stopped going to church and to reassure me that I made the right decision.

New trend in mental illness: paranoid delusions that you’re the star of a reality show. It’s called the Truman Show delusion. The article does a good job explaining how delusions in schizophrenics are culturally-based and how that does and doesn’t impact the treatment of the disease. Andrew Marantz uses a case study of a guy from Ohio to illustrate how the delusion works. Crazy stuff is always happening in Ohio. I would not want to live there.

Ryan Lizza always brings it. A very lengthy summary of the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline. I try to avoid politics in all facets of my life, but I appreciate the level of detail and information in Mr. Lizza’s reporting. I feel like I have a good understanding of the issue when I’m done reading. That’s surprisingly rare in political reporting.

I like Tad Friend. He’s a good writer, and he always seems to find interesting people and topics to write about. His Bryan Cranston profile was fairly standard for a TNY profile. I enjoyed it. The most interesting thing to me was the abundance of Breaking Bad spoilers it contained. Not just old spoilers, but new, last week’s episode spoilers. With no warnings! I’m not opposed to that, but it totally flies in the face of our new SPOILER ALERT culture. I wonder if there was any editorial discussion about it. I get the feeling that anything about Breaking Bad TNY might publish online would have warnings. I guess the feeling is that anyone reading a Bryan Cranston profile either a) is caught up on the show, b) never plans to watch the show, or c) knows better than to read a lengthy piece about its star. I know I have avoided any and all writing about TV shows I like that I’m behind on.

Fiction
A very engaging story this week from Tahar Ben Jelloun. I know I’ve said I wish there were fewer in-translation selections in the magazine, but this one was good. I’m a little embarrassed to say I didn’t see the ending coming. In retrospect it was pretty obvious. Oh well. I suppose you could say that the ending turns it into a piece of propaganda or politics or something. I’d be interested to hear someone smart talk about that, but I think that subject is a little beyond me.

Back
I like when they put the movie reviews first instead of last. Gives Anthony Lane a little room to spread out. I wish they’d do it more often. Hard to think of two more different movies to review. Wadjda and Riddick. Guess which one I’m interested in?

David Denby back with another non-review movie piece. A review of recent books detailing how Hollywood related to Germany and Hitler in the 30s. One of those short pieces that’s interesting mainly as a microcosm of a larger issue. No one really wants to remember how many powerful people in America felt pretty good about Hitler until 1941.

Talking about Generations and media and how the new Generation is changing everything and they need to be catered to etc. has been a tired media trope for my whole life. It’s a dumb topic and I don’t care about it. That’s my feeling about this new TV network for Millennials and any and all media reactions to it.

Cartoons
Edward Steed on page 77. His drawings are just funny, that’s all there is to it. I can’t even explain why this one is so good. Just the facial expressions and the guy on the left stirring the pot… he’s great.

Caption contest entry
“Larry, quit whining or you’re fired.”

Short Term 12

17 Sep

I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed Short Term 12. I had heard a few good things about it, but I went in with trepidation. A movie about teenagers in an institutional setting has a high probability of feel-good substancelessness. I’m thinking of It’s Kind of a Funny Story from a couple years ago. That one started out with a lot of promise and devolved into trite stupidity. This is a syndrome that afflicts many, maybe even most, indie dramas, regardless of setting, but involving teenagers adds a higher level of risk. Not to say that this movie doesn’t have problems, or even that it escapes the neat ending/every character ends the movie with hope and bright prospects problem, but there were enough things to like that I’m willing to overlook some of the shortcuts and easy answers in the storytelling.

I don’t think I even want to talk more about the plot. Its broad ideas aren’t new or especially interesting. The movie mostly succeeds because of the characters and acting performances. Brie Larson and Kaitlyn Dever were the center of the movie for me. I don’t want to short John Gallagher Jr, but his scenes with Ms. Larson weren’t nearly as compelling as those with Ms. Dever. The two of them recently co-starred in The Spectacular Now, and I think they played friends or classmates maybe? I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize that until I checked imdb after the fact. I didn’t recognize either of them from The Spectacular Now. But they had a kind of easy chemistry that made the two of them together stand out.

Special kudos to the producers for casting Ms. Dever. She’s playing sixteenish, and she looks like she might actually be sixteenish in real life. It’s the kind of role that usually goes to someone in their twenties, which gets more ridiculous every time I go to the theater.

The best performance was definitely Brie Larson as Grace. I thought this was going to be more of an ensemble piece or mostly a romance, but she was the focus, and she was more than able to hold things together. Again, maybe I’m shorting John Gallagher Jr playing her boyfriend, but after several days, it’s her that I remember. Even in the late stages, when the script threatens to go off the rails, she kept things believable. There were a couple of moments where things could have really gone over the top (the confrontation with her boss in particular) and a couple of poor line readings could have made it all seem ridiculous. So, I was impressed with her.

One thing that confused me a little was the specifics of the setting. At the beginning it seems to be a DCFS/foster care kind of situation, but later on it feels like there’s a much heavier psychiatric influence. That was left pretty muddy, and it was kind of distracting.

Another script problem. This character Nate might as well have been named Exposition. I felt sorry for the actor playing him. And again, distracting. It would have been better to open the movie with the staff giving someone a building tour and just explaining everything that way. Get it all out of the way and then let your characters be part of the story.

I don’t know if this was the intent or not, but I felt very nervous about Grace’s baby throughout the whole thing. She schedules an abortion, then after she tells Mason she seems more ambivalent. All the while she’s running around with these wild kids. I thought they were setting it up for her to gradually get excited about the baby and then have a miscarriage. The scene where Grace holds down Jayden’s feet while she’s freaking out? I was positive that was the end of it. A kick, a panicked expression, new direction for the movie. Of course they way it actually did play out was more satisfying and probably a better way to go.

Even though it verged on oversentimentality, I thought the ending was good. The symmetry with the beginning totally worked. That can be gimmicky and it’s something I’d dismiss or make fun of if it didn’t hit the right spots. I don’t have a reason for liking it. It just felt right. A lot of Short Term 12 felt like that.

Breaking Bad final season thoughts: Episode 6

17 Sep

So my predictions and story ideas so far this season have been almost uniformly wrong. I’m OK with that. This week’s episode was pretty spectacular. No more needs to be said about that, everyone else on the internet probably already wrote a breathless and flowery blog post about how good it was. I’m just here to add my scattered thoughts as usual.

A couple things I have gotten right: Junior found out the whole story and Jesse teamed up with Todd. Of course, I did not at all expect Jesse to be kidnapped. My thought has always been that they would just kidnap Walt if that’s what they wanted. Whatever.

Let’s talk some more about Junior. Apparently it’s a big deal whether or not you hate Skyler and why you do or don’t hate her. I don’t pay much attention. I’m too busy hating Junior. He drives me crazy. He’s by far the least complex, least interesting person on the show. He’s whiny and annoying. His parents are shitty in a lot of ways, but they both clearly like and love him. And all Junior wants to do is spend more time with them and be buddies with Walt and get ore worried about cancer than anyone else etc. Why does anyone think that’s at all believable? Junior seems like a well-adjusted kid; we know he has at least one friend in Louis. And yet all we ever see him do is try to spend more time with Mom and Dad. Have the writers never met a teenager? He’s a total failure as a believable fictional character. I can’t believe no one talks about this. It’s the only glaringly bad part of the show.

Now on to my own remaining potentially correct theory. I am more convinced than ever that I’m right. Walt’s going to ricin himself. Let me lay it out. Walt hates the Todd faction for killing Hank. And he wants his money. He’ll also find out about Jesse and he won’t like it. He’ll come back to rescue Jesse and maybe kill him.* He’ll also lay waste to the Todd faction. His phone call to Skyler got her off the hook with the police. He knows Junior hates him. He wants them to go on happily, and he wants to slip them his cash, and he knows they’ll find out if he comes back. He won’t be able to keep it a secret once all of the  meth-related killing reaches the police. Walt also doesn’t want the family to think he killed himself. Be it pride or whatever, he has his reasons. So, in the finale he comes back to Albuquerque and takes care of business. He finds a bar, orders a beer, stirs in the ricin, takes a sip, fade to black.

*Hard to predict how Walt will come to feel about Jesse.

I don’t think I have anything else interesting to say. I don’t even know if what I did say is interesting. I mostly just want to repeat as many times as possible that I think Walt will ricin himself. Christ I hope I’m right. That would be great television.

The New Yorker: September 9, 2013

11 Sep

Cover
Trying to grade the cover every week is getting frustrating. They’re sometimes so great. The should usually be great. But they’re not for some reason. This one’s OK I suppose. It would work better as a cartoon in the magazine. That’s a good indication that maybe it shouldn’t be the cover.

Front
Fall preview in Goings On. I like these, it gives some needed, if artificial, structure to the section. It too frequently feels scattered. Skimming through every week raises another question: why devote two pages every week to movie blurbs that have already been published? Repeating blurbs for several weeks seems like a dumb waste of space.

Umami Burger featured in Tables for Two. That’s one feature I never read, but I read this since Umami Burger is a chain and not a local place. Let me tell you a story about Umami Burger. There’s one in Oakland that opened not too long ago. Their prices are ludicrous, but I was sort of curious, so I thought I’d check it out. I went the week it opened. I walked in alone at maybe 2:30. There were a few people at the bar and a couple people at tables. The restaurant was 15% or so full. The hostess greeted me, handed me a menu, and told me to sit anywhere. I sat at a table by the window. I glanced at the menu and decided what to order. I looked around for a waiter. Didn’t see one. Which surprised me, because there were at least a dozen Umami Burger employees on the premises. More employees than customers, easily. I looked around for a little while and then pulled out an issue of TNY to read. I wasn’t in a hurry. Eventually a waiter walked by me to bring the check to the woman sitting at the next table. The two of them got into an involved conversation about schools or something. The waiter left the table and quickly walked right past me while I tried to make eye contact with him. He disappeared into the back. That was sort of off-putting. But no big deal, like I said I wasn’t in a hurry. I read a little more, looked around a little more, and saw no more sign of that waiter or any other waiter. At this point I had been sitting at the table for at least ten minutes. No one had brought me water or said anything to me or looked at me or acknowledged me in any way. I’ll repeat here that there were more Umami Burger employees in the restaurant than customers. So I got up and walked out. The hostess didn’t notice me leaving; she was busy talking to another Umami Burger employee. FUCK Umami Burger. p.s. A cheeseburger, fries, and Coke there will cost you more than $20.

I enjoyed the Talk piece about the High Bridge. I’d like to read a longer feature about it. It’s a more interesting topic than the other things in the magazine this week.

David Finkel’s piece about PTSD in war veteran’s was fine in the abstract. I don’t get the point. This is a topic that has been covered in great detail in a great many places. This was a short essay that didn’t really add anything to my understanding of the issue. I doubt it added to anyone’s understanding of the issue. I don’t know. It was an interesting portrait of the featured veteran and his wife, but if that was the focus, there needed to be more about them and their relationship. It was torn between that and describing therapeutic interventions for PTSD. It’s not really possible to cover one of those things satisfactorily in five pages, let alone both.

Sharks in New England is an interesting topic. Alec Wilkinson’s piece about them had some good moments. Descriptions of shark fishing, what happens when a shark is caught, etc. Reading it I found myself more interested in the science questions that weren’t really addressed. I guess the point is maybe that those questions don’t have ready answers and that’s why scientists are trying to track the sharks. The ocean ecosystem in the North Atlantic, or in general, is an interesting topic. Especially as it relates to humans. Fishing etc. One of the most memorable passages in Moby-Dick for the modern reader is when Hawthorne earnestly asserts that he doesn’t think that any human intervention could meaningfully impact the enormous right whale population in the North Atlantic. This is a whale that is now essentially extinct in the North Atlantic. And yet the great white shark population there is apparently booming. (As much as an endangered species can boom). Lots of mysteries out there.

Profiling an actor is always risky. It’s hard for them to explain their jobs without sounding pretentious. That said, Claire Danes sounds like the world’s most pretentious person. Wow.

I was very interested in the issues raised by the NYU piece. Those issues are all fundamentally about what the mission of a university should be. My gut feeling is that colleges should be focused on the students on their campuses. There are a lot of universities out there; I don’t see the point of opening satellite campuses in Abu Dhabi. But it’s something worth exploring. It will be interesting to see what college looks like a generation from now. It might look a lot different. In the world of elite private colleges, at least, it’s hard to see how that would be bad.

Fiction
A very short story in translation from Dorthe Nors. I think I whiffed on this one. I wish there were fewer translated stories in the magazine. There have been quite a lot lately and they always seem to be missing a little something.

Back
Malcolm Gladwell shows up doing Malcolm Gladwell things. I agree with most of his points about doping in sports, but his style is getting really tiresome. His purposely misleading arguments, the intellectually dishonest way he sets up comparisons, his oversimplicity. Enough. And he didn’t say anything that I hadn’t seen written by sports bloggers years ago.

Woodrow Wilson is a president that should be more famous. I think in conservative circles he’s famous as the purported originator of everything that’s wrong about America, from women’s suffrage on down. He deserves actual notice and study. Not because he was necessarily great, but because he had an unusual path in politics, had a lot of new ideas, and because of his personal life. His first wife died while he was in office. He remarried and then had a major stroke. He was incapacitated. His second wife essentially did his job from the seclusion of the White House. No one knew about it. Can you imagine Barack Obama having a major stroke, not leaving the White House for several weeks, and not telling anyone what had happened?

Adam Gopnik’s book review about the value of neuroscience was a good illustration of how little we know about how the brain works. It seems almost foolish to take a side in the argument when there’s so little actual certainty about anything. It almost seems antithetical to what being a scientist is about.

Cartoons
Edward Steed on page 79 was the standout. He’s becoming my favorite of the regular cartoonists.

Caption contest entry
“Can you tell me how to get to the library?”

Closed Circuit

10 Sep

Spoilers, etc.

Political thrillers can be tricky. It has to be a little complicated, because you need plot twists and such, but it can’t get too complicated or the audience gets lost. And Closed Circuit didn’t have big action sequences to cover for its errors. Once it got going, I thought we were in for some pretty heavy-duty plot machinations. In the end it was a bit more simple than I expected, but I think that’s OK.

I don’t want to get too deep into the plot, not least because I saw it a couple weeks ago now and I don’t want to make any mistakes. It was well-paced, there were the requisite betrayals and reversals, but none of it was too unexpected or implausible (at least within the world of the movies). Nothing that’s going to make the movie all that memorable, but it was enjoyable.

The setting is London. I don’t know much about London, but I thought they didn’t take advantage as much as they could have. There were a few aerials of The Shard/Gherkin/etc., Eric Bana rowing in the Thames, and a sequence at Wembley. The way those were shot they could have been any river and stadium. A secret meeting during an England match is such a great idea. I was a little let down at the execution.

Thrillers like this live and die by the quality of the small nuanced moments that turn things. One of those in Closed Circuit deserves a mention. The scene when Claudia first goes to visit Emir. Emir knows that the MI5 guy is in the other room watching them on the security camera. So he turns to the camera and says something like he wants the interview to be over. Then between the time when MI5 guy leaves the monitor and enters the room, he grabs Claudia’s tape recorder and whispers something into it in Turkish. That was a really slick touch.

Running time is a tight 96 minutes. I would have liked more. I could have enjoyed another hour. The cast list is impressive. Ciarán Hinds, Jim Broadbent, and Julia Stiles are around, but none of them have anything to do. Mr. Broadbent and Ms. Stiles almost seemed surplus to requirements, as they’d say in London. More of the reporter, more of the Attorney General, more in general please. I wonder how much of that comes down to editing decisions. It’s hard to believe they’d put the reporter character in there and have her in two scenes and then die. I don’t think she advanced the story much. Same with the AG. At least I get what he was doing there. Although it was almost criminal how much better Mr. Broadbent is than that role. I think he might be my favorite actor (non-Michelle Williams category). Check out his imdb page. He’s 64 now. I don’t think most old-ish actors have anywhere near the range of Mr. Broadbent. Musicals, comedy, drama, he does so much more adventurous stuff than most actors. Anyway. Mr. Hinds had the biggest supporting role. I like him. He has such unexpected subtlety for someone so physically imposing. He looks like he should only play gangsters and, like, Russian generals. He does so much without speaking. Again, wish he’d had more here.

Rebecca Hall and Eric Bana were both in top form. I don’t get why Eric Bana isn’t a huge star. He’s handsome and he’s great in movies like this. Isn’t there some way to put him in a big popular movie? If he were twenty years older maybe he would have been playing Jack Ryan etc. The kinds of movies that Harrison Ford made. Those movies don’t really exist anymore. Hard to imagine The Fugitive being a blockbuster in 2013. Recommended recent Eric Bana movie: Hanna.

I was not expecting a performance like this from Rebecca Hall. A big departure from what I’ve seen from her in the past. Or maybe I haven’t been paying close enough attention. She was totally in control whenever she was the focus of a scene and more than held her own with Eric Bana, which is no small task when it comes to being a bad-ass who takes care of business.

Conclusion: I don’t know. This was a fine movie and everything, but there just wasn’t enough there to make it stand out.