5.4.2008 New York Times Digest

1. “Before Hours in the City That Always Sleeps In”

“This whole city-that-never-sleeps thing — on target when you’re looking for a place to dance at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday, eat at 4 a.m. on a Wednesday or do yoga at 5 a.m. on a Thursday — can get a little dicey come 6 or 7 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.”

2. “Soccer Star’s Misadventure Leaves His Fans Smirking”

“For those fans, the essence of the so-called beautiful game is deeply masculine, and its big-name players are expected to be exemplars of heterosexuality.”

3. “At College, a High Standard on Divorce”

“College officials say, and students seem to agree, that it is appropriate to require members of their voluntary religious community to adhere to Christian standards of behavior. The controversy here is over what to do when the messiness of life gets in the way.”

4. “Dressed for a Meeting, Ready for Mayhem”

“From streets to stairwells, garbage bins to muddy riverbanks, the tradition of the dapper detective runs through years of law enforcement, surviving the rough-and-tumble of gritty streets and a trend in recent years toward dress-down Fridays and casual attire.

“Never mind that it can seem incongruous to wear business attire to make arrests, scrutinize the blood and debris of a murder scene, and confront killers and thieves.”

5. “New Album, New Fears, Same Old Attitude”

“I’m kind of like W .E. B. Du Bois/Meets Heavy D & the Boyz.”

6. “Here Comes Everyboy, Again”

“The male rejection of adulthood is now the dominant attitude in Hollywood comedy, even (or perhaps especially) in movies whose sexual frankness makes them officially unsuitable for children. Occasionally you will see a functioning if beleaguered dad, usually a widower, like Steve Carell’s character in Dan in Real Life. And sometimes, as in Little Miss Sunshine, a coeducational, multigenerational ensemble will carry the therapeutic and satirical burdens of the genre.

“But far more often the center of attention will be a guy, his buddies and his toys. He will, most of the time, be nudged toward responsibility, forgiven for his quirks and nurtured in his needs and neuroses by a woman who represents an ideal amalgam of supermodel and mom.

“It would be hypocritical of me to dismiss the appeal of this fantasy and silly to deny that a lot of these movies manage to be both very funny and disarmingly insightful about the male psyche. But I suspect I’m not alone in growing weary of the relentless contemplation of that psyche in its infantile state, and of the endless celebration of arrested development as a social entitlement.”

7. “Is There a Real Woman in This Multiplex?”

“Last year only 3 of the 20 highest-grossing releases in America were female-driven, and involve a princess (Enchanted) or pregnancy (Knocked Up and Juno). Actresses had starring roles in about a quarter of the next 80 highest-grossing titles, mostly in dopey romantic comedies and dopier thrillers. A number of these were among the worst-reviewed movies of the year, including Premonition (Sandra Bullock) and The Reaping (Hilary Swank), the last of which was released by — ta-da! — Warner Brothers. The days of Million Dollar Baby, for which Ms. Swank won an Oscar, and Speed, which rocketed Ms. Bullock to stardom in the summer of 1994, feel long gone.”

8. “Back to the City, for More Than Just Sex”

“One aspect of the women’s depiction that remains fixed is the sense that they have emerged from nowhere, with no lives to speak of before they were old enough for snakeskin and small dresses with tinier straps. Of all the fantastical elements contained in the series — the recherché clothing, the ample inventory of good-looking men — none seemed more mythic than the idea that Carrie and her friends existed apart from any notions of genealogy. In its refusal to incorporate parents, ‘Sex and the City’ always seemed to resemble most closely the classics of children’s literature.

“While the film revolves around Carrie and Big’s wedding, Mr. King was insistent that no mother or father of the bride be shown. ‘My idea always was that these women were purely creations of New York,’ he said. ‘The prototype of the series is that these are four grown-ups who make a family of one another.’”

9. “Indiana Jones and the Savior of a Lost Art”

“The tone and style of the films derive from the movie serials of the 1930s and ’40s, which Mr. Spielberg, growing up in the ’50s, used to see on Saturday mornings at a revival theater in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“‘They made a great impression on me, both because of how exciting they were and because of how cheesy they were,’ he said. ‘I’d kind of be involved in the stories and be ridiculing them at the same time. One week they’d give us a cliffhanger with the good guy going off the cliff, the car crashing on the rocks below and blowing up, and then the next week he’s fine. They forgot to show us the cut of the guy jumping out of the car? That we weren’t going to do in the Indiana Jones series.’

“In fact, Mr. Spielberg said, he tries to cut as little as possible in these movies’ action sequences, because ‘every time the camera changes dynamic angles, you feel there’s something wrong, that there’s some cheating going on.’ So his goal is ‘to do the shots the way Chaplin or Keaton would, everything happening before the eyes of the audience, without a cut.’

“Warming to the subject, he went on: ‘The idea is, there’s no illusion; what you see is what you get. My movies have never been frenetically cut, the way a lot of action is done today. That’s not a put-down; some of that quick cutting, like in The Bourne Ultimatum, is fantastic, just takes my breath away. But to get the comedy I want in the Indy films, you have to be old-fashioned. I’ve studied a lot of the old movies that made me laugh, and you’ve got to stage things in full shots and let the audience be the editor. It’s like every shot is a circus act.’”

10. “Friends May Be the Best Guide Through the Noise”

“The proliferating number of blogs, user-generated content services and online news sources has created a dense information jungle that no human could machete his or her way through in a lifetime, let alone in an afternoon of surreptitious procrastination at work.”

11. “Not on Our Blog You Won’t”

“The Jezebel blog was founded last spring by Gawker Media as a smart, feisty antidote to traditional women’s magazines (or ‘glossy insecurity factories,’ as Jezebel describes them). It quickly developed a loyal following and has seen an influx of new visitors, after being name-checked on the official blog for ‘Gossip Girl,’ the prime-time soap opera.”

12. “His Father’s Siren, Still Singing”

“Shortly afterward, Nabokov’s editor at McGraw-Hill revealed that the author was about to do the actual writing, in pencil on 3-by-5-inch index cards (Nabokov never worked with a typewriter).”

13. “A Fiery Theology Under Fire”

“Black liberation theology was, in a sense, a brilliant flanking maneuver. For a black audience, its theology spoke to the centrality of the slave and segregation experience, arguing that God had a special place in his heart for the black oppressed. These theologians held that liberation should come on earth rather than in the hereafter, and demanded that black pastors speak as prophetic militants, critiquing the nation’s white-run social structures.”

14. “An Animated Life”

Procrastination technique: I heard David Sedaris say he couldn’t write in the afternoons because he would spend hours looking in the mirror trying to find where his hair parts. Me? I troll iTunes. That’s a time sink.”

15. “Hoop Data Dreams”

“Basketball, meanwhile, might seem too hectic and woolly for such rigorous dissection. It is far more collaborative than baseball and happens much faster, with players shifting from offense one moment to defense the next. (Hockey and football present their own challenges.) A lot of things happen on a basketball court — picks, passes, defensive shifts — that aren’t routinely quantified. This is not to suggest that basketball teams don’t think statistically. But only recently have a few teams begun to hire a new breed of stathead to scrutinize every conceivable variable.”

16. “This Joke’s for You”

“It’s interesting to consider the Brawndo project as metasubversion, making it possible to express knowing amusement at the absurdity of American commerce by buying something. But maybe the message is simply that cautionary tales about dumbed-down culture are a futile endeavor: show us an argument that we will buy anything, no matter how idiotic, and we say, ‘Awesome — how much for that?’”

17. “Blame the Messager”

“If you want a decent R.S.V.P., you may have to resort to the tactic of a British friend of White’s: ‘Print engraved invitations, on the thickest stock,’ she suggested, her voice dropping to an awe-struck whisper. ‘The regrets were handwritten.’”

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