A must for movie lovers and more proof that Denby’s gifts are better displayed in a full-length text than in a short review.

DO THE MOVIES HAVE A FUTURE?

From the New Yorker film critic, a collection of critical essays that’s more than a miscellaneous roundup.

Denby (Snark, 2009, etc.) has selected only pieces from the magazine that flesh out his premise that mainstream American films today consist for the most part of obscenely expensive franchises, usually centered on comic-book figures, that have abandoned any attempt to interest adults with the visual grammar with which movies have told stories and developed characters for more than a century. “Conglomerate Aesthetics,” a 2001 essay published for the first time here, dissects the results: movies in which “content becomes incidental, even disposable,” that have more in common with TV commercials and music videos than the classic Hollywood cinema Denby lovingly (but not blindly) celebrates in comparison. He’s not incapable of enjoying contemporary films, however. “Romantic Comedy Gets Knocked Up” is a smart and generally positive appraisal of the Judd Apatow school of moviemaking, and the previously unpublished “Chick Flicks” gives a critically dissed genre its due (in both cases, with some feminist caveats). In this context, the individual reviews, ranging from Avatar to Winter’s Bone, and think pieces such as “Pirates on the iPod” (a glum look at the diminution of film-watching), have additional bite and significance. Among Denby’s particular strengths are an impressive ability to understand and convey the way directors employ spatial relations to make artistic points and a concern for the moral and social implications of film—the belief that “the nation’s soul was on trial in its movies” that he ascribes to the two predecessors who most influenced him: James Agee and Pauline Kael. Each gets an acute, appreciative assessment; Kael, a mentor who later told Denby “you’re too restless to be a writer,” receives a particularly shrewd and surprisingly balanced profile.

A must for movie lovers and more proof that Denby’s gifts are better displayed in a full-length text than in a short review.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4165-9947-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

Did you like this book?

DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

Did you like this book?

more