“Besson clearly has had these themes rattling around in his head for a while and wanted to spill them all into a movie somehow. So here’s Lucy, a brief, furious burst of ideas and action and style that doesn’t quite congeal into a thoroughly realized, or even all that comprehensible, movie, but that earns our admiration, or mine anyway, for at least trying to do something with the well-worn superhero genre.”

Los Angeles

I like that in Los Angeles the phrase “magic hour” is a commonly used expression of time. Not just by people in showbiz. It’s just a generally expressed idea, about when the sun is setting, and the sky, light bouncing off the Pacific, is a starchy pink and a lonely ochre, a sad, searching orange, like the sky itself is wistful about the end of the day. It really is magic! I heard this phrase a few times in the past week, and it gave the city a specialness, as if some knowing, unseen cameras were pointed at us the whole time — this, in the land of movies, another movie. 

I know a lot of people who have moved to L.A., and people who have always lived there, whom I found through various strands of the Internet. And every time I visit, the question pops up, “When are you going to move out here?” In the past, I’ve always responded with a chuckle and a false “I wish!” Because so much of that city, spread out thin and brown and dismal as a dry floodplain, is so unappealing to me. And because the driving scared me, all that it implied about big distances and fast car rides. 

But I did some driving, enough driving, this time out, and saw friends with whom I’m closer now, and miss more because of it, and the fuzzy picture of an imagined me living in Los Angeles, started to look, well, a little less fuzzy. Maybe this could work! Maybe the driving—I even took the freeway!—isn’t quite as frightening as I’d imagined. Maybe the sleepier corners of a city that is troublingly unconcerned with limits can still be cozy and comforting, and even, somehow, exciting. 

I think the big realization of the past week, though, was how tiring and silly the binary thinking is. That it’s either New York or L.A., that you are one person or the other. I’d like to imagine that I’m a more nuanced thinker than that, but I easily, in my first years in New York, fell prey to the thinking that liking one city over the other—in defiance of the other, really—said something defining about who I am. Of course that’s dumb, and cliched. Places are just places. We can never leave our apartment wherever that apartment is. We can drink and smoke and eat wherever, provided we have the money. Hell, we can be found dead and still in a Ukrainian field, having had no more daring an idea than going on vacation. 

So I’m back in New York, and happy to be here. Because it’s where my stuff is, and where my bed is, and where I don’t feel that dull and uneasy discomfort of being someone’s houseguest. (That most homesick-inducing of feelings, the stress of a bed you have to be polite about sleeping in.) But I also felt, walking around Manhattan today, like maybe a little bit of me is reaching the end of the big New York chapter. I’m not going to Los Angeles. I certainly have no practical reason to go there right now. But it is nice, at least, to feel myself wriggling out of New York’s indifferent but insistent grasp. I can leave you, city. I have at least one idea where else I could go. And that feels quietly thrilling.

But then, of course, there is the simple reality of living. Standing in the Trader Joe’s line tonight, trying to look placid and sober after four beers in the sun, I had the sudden, watery feeling that I’d probably be much the same anywhere. The details would change, there would be gas and parking, or Euros and visas, and yet, always Sunday nights. All lonely and sorrowful, the sun setting no matter what. The cashiers at whatever store, wherever it is, waving me toward them with the same bored hands, me blinking at them slowly and saying, “I can just put that in my bag. I’m not going far.” 

Just a few days ago I was staring out the window of an airplane and marveling at the view. It had been a long time since I’d had a window seat, so until it got dark I ignored my book and watched as Chicagoland grew smaller and smaller, all its roads and cars and housing developments snaking around like Nazca Lines. I’m pretty scared of flying — usually saying prayers to myself as we take off, gripping the armrest tighter with each jolt of turbulence — so this was an unexpectedly pleasant, pensive portion of the flight. How amazing it is to be on an airplane! How wonderfully possible it makes the whole world seem.  I’m fascinated enough by air disasters, grand and terrifying as they are, that I often forget, during all my Wikipedia-ing of various doomed flights, how miraculous flying can be. 

But now, of course, that little memory, that sudden fondness for flight, seems silly, even cruel. I read that brutal thing in the Times describing the scene on the ground, about bodies and books and T-shirts and shoes, and a wave of sickness came over me, a reaction I’m not used to having to even the most gruesome things I read about on the Internet. But something about this particular horror — the awful arbitrariness of it; the bitter fact that they were quite literally just passing through; that it was both an accident and deliberate, a clumsy murder meant for someone else — has really grabbed me in some dark way. I can’t stop reading about it, or looking up passengers on Facebook (a particularly ghoulish habit of mine, and maybe yours), or searching for photos of wreckage and rubble. (And, yes, feeling a curdling guilt over a few months’ worth of missing plane jokes.) It’s all so horrifically scary.

And, of course, horribly sad. To think of someone up there, maybe the handsome young AIDS advocate who posted an update about his trip on Facebook less than a day ago, staring dreamily out the window and thinking the same things I did on Sunday. All of them up there, looking forward to a trip, or glad to be coming home, or just excited to be in that moment, racing through the air. Maybe some of them even forgetting, if only for just a second, all the troubled land that lay below. 

“Not much happens in Boyhood but there is, I think, a lot being said. About divorce, about childhood in America, about adolescence, about the beginnings of a creative life, about family. Mason’s childhood may not look like yours, or that of anyone you know. But there is something universal about Boyhood nonetheless. We all passed through time along with the actors in this film. We spun on the same planet, slept and dreamed and wished and breathed. Boyhood reminds us of that, our common humanity. It’s an act of communion, lovely and enriching and ultimately sublime.”
“There is an air of fantasy to the film—in its glittering idealization of a Manhattan full of magic, in showing a career spring into being with accidental ease—but there’s far less cheap sentimentality than one might expect. The film’s original title was Can a Song Save Your Life, and while I don’t think the film really answers that question, or even attempts to, it certainly says something about a song doing the soul some good during difficult days. And about music’s unique ability to imbue an otherwise mundane moment with a certain specialness and meaning. And I think that’s probably plenty good enough.”

I love the last two lines of this comment on my Transformers review

“Its metaphors and allegories may not be subtle—the whole of human society, the strata of haves and have-nots, shown as compartments on a train car—and it may be hard to watch at times, with all its crunching, spurting violence. But the new sci-fi action drama Snowpiercer is nonetheless the most original and oddly stirring movie so far released this year. A stark and grimy look at a terrible future, Bong Joon-ho’s film (his first in English), is unrelentingly bleak until, well, it relents. When it does, and it’s really only for a brief moment, the film achieves a kind of grace, a transcendence of all the dark obliteration preceding it, in a way we haven’t seen since Children of Men, Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 masterpiece about another dystopia.”
“Tessa, played by Nicola Peltz, is costumed in the style of many a Bay girl before her, with very short jean shorts and very tight tank tops and silly high-heeled boots and pouty pink lip gloss, all fashioning her as the innocently teasing sexpot next door. I don’t know if Michael Bay had a babysitter as a kid whom he’s still lusting after or what, but his obsession with this particular type, these Daisy Duke’d madonna-whore hybrids, is increasingly gross and unsettling. The fetishistic costuming and leering camera work would be one thing if any of these characters had any sort of agency, but they never do. Here Tessa is simply fought over by the two men in her life, overprotective daddy and hot stud racer boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor). Oh, I guess she gets scared sometimes, too. And has to be rescued. Those are the other two things she does.”
“The Leftovers is not about a post-apocalypse; the world is functioning, for the most part. But there is nonetheless a mounting dread and unease, as if along with this small but not insignificant fraction of humanity, a crucial sense of order and balance is gone too. Maybe it’s a loss of faith’s organizational influence—if those 140,000,000 were Raptured and now Heaven’s doors are closed for good, then what does anything down here even mean?”

The summer place

My parents came to visit a week ago, and I wanted to write something about that. Because it’s always strange, increasingly strange, to have my parents here. To linger for a bit in the distance between us, to see my parents out of context, standing uncomfortably on Bedford Avenue, to feel like I know a place so well that they don’t know at all. Suddenly, and gradually, you know things your parents don’t, have a vocabulary that is not exactly beyond them, but certainly outside of them. I like showing my parents around New York, but it also makes me feel more than a little desperate about time passing.

We were walking to McCarren Park, because it’s near my sister’s new apartment, and I was going to tell them about what a destination spot the park was for all the cool kids, about their intense kickball leagues and the scary encroachment of condos and about how this place was the center of the universe for everything that people thought of when they thought about Brooklyn. But then I realized, with no small amount of despair and dread, that that’s an old reference. That’s an eight-year-old story, from when I first moved here, when McCarren Park was a wry joke on Gawker. I got a flash in my head of ghosts playing kickball, or old people, like in A League of Their Own. They’re all gone now, was what whispered its way through my head just then. Of course they’re not all gone, they just got older, like I did.

I also wanted to write something about this past weekend, when I went to Woodstock for a friend’s birthday, where food was cooked and distressingly artisanal cocktails were drunk (I say distressingly because when the hosts were not available to make one for me, I was forced to do the mix myself, and I did it completely wrong) and a lot of anthropological wondering happened. The party was a bunch of writers, mostly poets, and I found myself thinking that maybe this is where they all went when they left McCarren Park however many years ago. All the people that evaporated from 2006, materialized here. Or somewhere else! The finance types I met one dumb night in Midtown eight years ago are now fattening up the Hamptons. The scary musical theater queens from 2007, straight out of Michigan, are prowling the Pines like they own the place. 

There’s such a thing as knowing too much about a place while also knowing nothing about it. Because, I guess, that’s just sort of how time works. I don’t know anyone playing kickball in McCarren Park anymore. But I also stood dumbstruck last week, feeling brand new, at the Kara Walker sugar sphinx only a few blocks away. And in Woodstock, where all those writers went, I didn’t know anyone. So I spent the night introducing myself, talking about the city like it was an old friend we all knew, none of us shocked that it had never introduced us before, but glad to at least share some words in a common tongue. I also met a girl who went to my high school. And we talked about old teachers and I thought of my parents, back in Boston, exactly where they wanted to be, not thinking much of that park they walked through with their anxious kids a week ago. Maybe they will only remember it as the park near my sister’s apartment, where my dad felt tired and we huffed in the heat and wondered what to do with the rest of the afternoon. And in another eight years, that too will just be something some other people did once, before they left and found somewhere else to call home.