My name is Jonah Bromwich and I live in New York City and write about music, books, movies, random pop culture, and sometimes, the world. I started this blog about a week before I graduated college in 2011. As of now it's for any thoughts that I feel are worthy of blogdom. I will try not to write about things I know nothing about.
Movie: Thor: The Dark World, Directed by Alan Taylor
Much like its predecessor, the newest Thor movie succeeds by achieving an impressive balance in tone—something that you’d think would be hard to pull off in a movie that mostly follows the actions of immortals fighting over the fate of the universe. That the movie—apart from its chaotic, enjoyable third act—is set almost wholly in realms other than the Earth would seem to heighten the degree of difficulty. But Alan Taylor, who has a long history of directing HBO shows (including Bored to Death, RIP) has clearly studied Kenneth Branaugh’s work in the 2011 film carefully. Though his Thor: The Dark World includes slightly fewer jokes, it’s still really fun, with a zippy plot and great performances from Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston and without the relentless seriousness that the actions of Gods might occasion for a less savvy director.
A hugely generic plot and generic villain threaten the universe. A bad guy who is ridiculous looking has a ridiculous-looking weapon that can destroy everything by, apparently, turning it black. Don’t worry about it. The reason to show up for this movie is to watch Thor use his brain more than he did in the first movie and The Avengers combined, and to watch Hiddleston pull faces for the camera and tear his hair out. As an added bonus, the movie’s third act is genuinely exciting, thanks to a plot device which has our heroes and villains dipping in and out of various realms (Asgard, Mitgard, that place where the ice giants are from) making it hinge less on whether the universe gets destroyed and more on whether anyone can stay in one world long enough to accomplish anything at all. Some small minuses in the form of Kat Dennings and a greatly reduced Stellan Skarsgaard, whose pants are inexplicably absent for a good portion of his screen time but overall a solid, worthwhile addition to one of Marvel’s better solo franchises.
Notes: In the language of Dark elf, “Josh,” means “No.”
You can’t see this guy when he’s grinding
Action Bronson is part of a group of very good rappers who hover on the edge of caricature. Danny Brown, Gunplay, and Bronsolino are all talented enough to carry entire tapes without resorting to the cartoon versions of their rap personas, but each will occasionally slip into that lazy territory, relying on a predetermined formula which flatters an outsize persona rather than doing the work of writing something new.
This kind of fallback on a pre-made blueprint was the problem with Bronson’s Rare Chandeliers, a perfectly acceptable follow-up to his breakthrough Blue Chips but a record that relied more on cramming as many ridiculous statements into a single song than it did on solid verses. His new effort, Saaab Stories, (which sounds as if it may have been either written or recorded before Chandeliers) finds a middle ground, with some of the best street-centric rap that Bronson has put out yet, and one excellent song that continues to provide evidence of the depths that Bronson revealed on Blue Chips.
Songs like “No Time,” “Strictly 4 My Jeeps,” and, to a lesser extent “Triple Backflips,” have that concrete New York City sound; they’re chantworthy anthems on which Bronson often still sounds aspirational. Consider the first couple bars of “Triple Backflip:” “Peel the top off the can of Pellegrino, lost my money at the tables but I got it back at cee-lo, I’m trying to have the bank account with all the zeros, rollin’ Camaros, Jose Canseco was my hero.” These are lyrics that posit Bronson as a striver, which plays well when he begins his now-typical outsize boasting later in the song. There’s nothing wrong with some absurd brag-rap, but it’s always good to have balance, and on Saaab, Bronson has brought that back, with the eye for detail and the rapid-fire subject switching that keeps his verses interesting.
His poise complements the beat of a song like “No Time,” on which the bass and horns are perfectly calibrated towards summer. Here again we’ve got Bronson hilarious, —higher than a Shaq knee, swerving side to side like Mutumbo finger” – but also serious, griping about truancy, how no one will hold him down if he happens to go to jail.
The depressive streak that a statement like that hints at is what made Blue Chips so compelling. Bronson’s work post-Blue Chips had me doubting whether the glimpse of a truly talented artist we got on the songs “Thug Love Story 2012,” “Hookers at the Point” and “9-24-11” were just me latching onto something that wasn’t there. But “Alligator” finds Bronson indulging his dark side in a third verse that makes it clear that, however absurd the red-bearded hulk acts, he’s got more to get off his chest than a storm of old wrestling/baseball comparisons.
“Alligator” jumps off with Bronson sounding laid-back, imagining the acquisition of exotic animals and dismissing anyone who doesn’t have money to their name. But spaghetti-western piping soon transitions into minor-key guitar noodling and the mood turns dark. It’s here where you’ll find Bronson at his best, not because he’s taking on more serious subject matter (and it doesn’t get much more serious than a verse which includes the lyric “annual abortion time”) but because it’s songs like these where he can focus on one character for an extended period of time. With his powers of description concentrated on one character, here, a former whore with cancer, he’s unable to tell a story like few other rappers active today. It would be foolhardy to think of the title Saaab Stories as anything other than a half-clever throwaway pun. But whether it’s unwitting or not, Bronson is at his best when he’s telling vignettes like these, a third aspirational, a third fantastical, and a third deadly real.
“All of this is fine. It’s good to talk about what music means and represents, and how we ought to digest and respond as a society. But there’s one inescapable issue with the entirety of our discourse. Simply put, if you were to listen to Shaking the Habitual without paying attention to any of the conversation around it, I seriously doubt you would spend any time thinking about male privilege. There is nothing politically self-evident about the music. It’s a record that sounds like it’s about vampires, hell, mysticism, isolation, anxiety, brutality, and being very cold.”—Luke Winkie
I’ve had a couple of friends visit New York in the past couple of months, which has given me a great excuse to go to some of my favorite museums and look at art. Plenty of the paintings at, say, the Met, are self-evidently beautiful, or disturbing or otherwise viscerally compelling. But other paintings and (for me) all of the sculptures are borderline incomprehensible without the help of two things: the work’s title and, if the curators of certain exhibits have been gracious enough, a little placard which explains the context of the work, (which frequently comes from the ideas that the artists themselves expressed.) There is little doubt in my mind that, in this case, context makes otherwise compelling works of art appealing to a great many more people than those works would have been otherwise. And in many cases (the one that comes to mind most readily is the recent Fluxus exhibit at MOMA) art that would have otherwise had little to no effect on me can actually become more thought-provoking and memorable than art that was more visually compelling.
That’s the only issue that I take with Luke Winkie’s piece in the Village Voice, the salient part of which is excerpted above. He agrees that the Knife album is worthwhile, but then dismisses the lens which the Knife have provided critics to help view their album. It’s somewhat cynical to dismiss the artist’s interviews as a pure PR campaign, which suggests a manipulative and possibly mendacious intent on the part of Karin and Olof Dreijer. And I would argue that context, especially context which encouraged the exploration of new ideas, is nearly always a good thing.
You don’t ignore a manifesto. But you also don’t just accept it wholeheartedly. Winkie is annoyed by two aspects of the universal praise that are different than complaining about context: convenience and groupthink. I think he’s absolutely right to criticize the way that critics pounce on intellectual bait in order to have a sturdier frame on which to hang their aesthetic opinions. When an artist presents the world with a syllabus, it requires the critical establishment, not just to take the artist’s word for it, but to grapple further with not just the work at hand, but also with the influences cited. There’s an extent to which that doesn’t happen in publications that put a lot of stock in speed and thought leadership. If there’s a problem with the adulation the Knife are receiving, I think it has very little to do with the context that the band originally provided, and much more with the lack of additional context which critics writing about the album have yet to provide.
I understand I have the authority…
Invested in you?
Of an institution, and of a space, right. And that’s a big deal. And there’s no doubt that a million people or a thousand people in America would love to have that freedom to write in The New Yorker. But I do firmly believe that the authority of any piece is a rhetorical authority and it’s made each time you write a piece, and that’s what makes reviewing quite interesting: that you’re trying to win a legal argument; you have quotes and a case to make. And you’re trying to do a very peculiar thing which is you’re trying to convince a reader who hasn’t read the book and who may never read the book that it is or isn’t worth reading. That always seems a little perilous to me: at any moment it seems to me likely that you’re not quite winning your case; that you haven’t quite convinced enough with your marshalled evidence or with the force of your arguments. In that sense I don’t think you can rest on authoritative laurels. So on the one level I understand that thing about authority but on the other I think it’s just a nice freedom of reviewing that it’s made anew each time.
James Wood on Critical Authority, more here: http://jonniemcaloon.com/2013/04/03/the-good-truant-my-interview-with-james-wood/
What does it mean to you now? Why is crime an important subject in American fiction?
We’re a nation of immigrant rabble. A great rebellion attended the founding of this republic. We’ve been getting into trouble for two-hundred-and-thirty-odd years. It’s the perfect place to set crime stories, and the themes of the genre—race, systemic corruption, sexual obsession—run rife here. In a well-done crime book you can explore these matters at great depth, say a great deal about the society, and titillate the shit out of the reader.