The French Dispatch

It began as a holiday. Arthur Howitzer Jr., a college freshman, eager to escape a bright future on the Great Plains, convinced his father, proprietor of the Liberty Kansas Evening Sun, to fund his transatlantic passage as an educational opportunity to learn the family business through the production of a series of travelogue columns to be published for local readers in the Sunday Picnic magazine … Over the next ten years, he assembled a team of the best expatriate journalists of his time and transformed Picnic into The French Dispatch, a factual weekly report on … world politics, the arts – high and low – fashion, fancy cuisine, fine drink … He brought the world to Kansas.

—- Narrator, The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch

I had an hour or two free and decided to watch a streaming movie. I have always enjoyed Wes Anderson’s work so I called up The French Dispatch (recently added to HBO max). And it was an enjoyable film.

I didn’t like it as much as Moonrise Kingdom – which I saw in the theaters, but it’s on a par with some of his other more recent work. For me, the judgement of a film like this – one that is obviously very stylized and springs from the unique mind of the director – is if I gave a shit about the characters. I really cared about the folks, especially the young couple, in Moonrise Kingdom. In The French Dispatch… not so much.

Of course, any film I see right now will suffer in comparison to Everything, Everywhere, all at Once – which is still rattling around in my noggin – and I really, really cared about all the characters in that masterpiece.

The movie is a love letter to the New Yorker. A deserving subject, to be sure, but one that is more than a little dry, twee, and removed from the hell of our present lives.

That said, the stories were intriguing, original, surprising, and a lot of fun. It was a fine way to pass the time, but I won’t remember it a year from now. Probably the most enjoyable part is playing “spot the famous actor.” Everybody is in this thing….


What I learned this week, January 18, 2013

Earlier this year, I saw the new Wes Anderson film Moonrise Kingdom and really liked it.


Now that it has received a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, Focus Pictures has made the entire script available on their website. Check it out – it’s illustrated and colorful and a lot of fun.

It’s also available in PDF here.



30 Essential Texas Restaurants to Visit Before You Die

I’ve eaten at over half of these (including Babes Chicken Dinner House). I was not overly impressed by the list. Most of these restaurants are not very good – they are touristy and over-hyped. They probably were excellent at one time but have jumped the shark and now exist as a caricature of themselves. Some may be excellent, such as, say, The Mansion on Turtle Creek, or Fearing’s  but these are so famous you don’t really need an article to tell you that.

Give me an interesting new place over these hoary old chestnuts anyday.

Life After Blue

At the heart of the enduring liberal ideal is a truth that is often forgotten in today’s political debates: the relationship between order and liberty does not have to be zero sum. More government can mean less freedom, and more freedom can mean less government—but things don’t always work out that way.

At one level this is obvious; people don’t so much surrender their liberty by forming a government and agreeing to live in an ordered society as they defend it. Life in an anarchy governed only by the law of the jungle is less free than life as a member of a democratic commonwealth. But this non-zero sum relationship holds in other ways. To have the freedom to drive at 65 miles per hour on an interstate highway, I must accept a lot of rules and restrictions. But the end result of all the requirements about driver’s licenses, insurance, registration and traffic laws is that I can go much faster and farther than I could in a state of nature. There is more order and more liberty in a modern industrial democracy than there is in the forest where our ancestors lived.

The secret of Anglo-American civilization has been its ability to combine the two elements of order and liberty at successively higher levels of both. To think constructively about our future we shouldn’t be thinking about a zero sum tradeoff between order and freedom; we should be thinking about how to build the kind of order that extends our liberty in new and important ways.

bike love: feels like flying

Moonrise Kingdom

Suzy, dressed as a raven, in Moonrise Kingdom.

I very rarely get out to see an actual movie at an actual theatre any more. The biggest reason is that I hate going out to the suburban googleplex with everybody else and paying all that cash for an experience much worse than I can get at home on the HDTV.

One exception, though. Back in the day, back when I still had a life, I used to really enjoy going down to the Angelika on Mockingbird Lane. I would take the DART train down there on the weekend – sometimes not even knowing what I was going to see – and pick one of the offerings from the selection of art-house films. There is a little restaurant attached and sometimes I’d get pot stickers or something else simple to eat – make a leisurely afternoon of it.

There was none of the cattle-car feeling of the googleplex – none of the packs of loud, tittering teenagers, blaring lights and sounds of video games or awful garish food displays… I like the architecture of the Angelika – the open areas with little tables and chairs, the little stands with postcards and literature about the upcoming features – the classic old movie posters. It is a place designed to show a film, not corral huge herds of the faceless public into chutes and strip them of their cash.

There are now a whole set of theaters dedicated to art-house quality cinema in the Metroplex – the two Angelikas, The Magnolia, and the Inwood – to name a few. I love the Inwood especially, but it is a long difficult drive from where I live.

Often, when I look at the list of first run films at the googleplex I can’t find a single one I’m really interested in seeing. Today, when I thought of going down to the Angelika, it was tough to decide which one to see – there was Killer Joe – which looks good, but I wasn’t in the mood for NC-17 today… then there was Beasts of the Southern Wild, set in South Louisiana, but again, maybe too intense for a lazy early Sunday. They are showing a classic, The Graduate, and that would be good… but I’ve seen that film, maybe ten times already.

So I decided on the low-intensity alternative, Wes Anderson’s newest, Moonrise Kingdom. I have enjoyed almost all of his work (not a big fan of the animated film, that Mr. Fox thing) – though his highly mannered style can be a bit shrill at times.

I loved Moonrise Kingdom, by the way. The test for a work with a unique and personal style like Anderson’s is a simple one for me – do I care about his characters? Some of his work is so precious and so complex that the people at the center of the story are lost – and at the end you are left with an empty feeling. A lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Moonrise Kingdom is a simply story, however (which I will not discuss – no spoilers here) and the two main characters are sympathetic and easy to relate to. All the messy complexities of a Wes Anderson film are present, but these are played out by the large and familiar supporting cast, and don’t take away from the main conflict at the center.

Strip away all the Wes Anderson shiny trappings and odd eccentricities and it is simply a strange little love story.

When the film ended I thought, “Hey, that was better than I expected,” which is high praise, indeed.

Now I want to go back and see some of those others.