He just needs to be cast as something other than a sniveling kid
When Aaron Gell, a reporter for Details magazine, asked Shia LaBeouf, the star of three Transformers movies,
whether the actor had hooked up with former co-star Megan Fox, LaBeouf answered yes. When Gell asked about Fox's current husband, the young actor replied:
don't know, man. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know ... " --
repeating the phrase exactly 12 times with various intonations, as if
trying to get it just right. Finally, he says, "It was what it was."
most readers, this passage might have sounded like another swell of idiosyncrasy from LaBeouf, an international celebrity sadly becoming known more for his impolitic disrespect
for directors and actors than his performances. But maybe this wasn't another burst of
rudeness. Maybe it was ... acting!
called the Meisner technique. Developed by American theater teacher
Sanford Meisner, the method requires actors to repeat phrases to each
other, over and over and over, to find honesty and impulse in
the words. It might go something like this:
"I love you."
"No, you don't."
"I LOVE YOU!"
"No! You don't."
"I love you."
"No. You don't."
get the gist. The point is to force actors to stop acting with
preordained readings and instead to react based on the partner's
tone. Repeating a phrase "exactly 12 time with various intonations, as
if to get it just right" is exactly what Meisner repetition is all
about. Except Shia LeBeouf isn't practicing with another actor in this interview. He's
practicing with himself.
was never the world's biggest Even Stevens fan. I watched that show
maybe once every two weeks when I was younger. The simple reason was
that the show was only OK. The deeper reason was that it made me feel
college, the only thing I wanted to be was an actor. Watching Even
Stevens inspired in me the kind of feeling that teenage gymnasts must
feel when they watch the Olympics women's team, or ambitious brainiacs
might feel when they watch a 13-year old win Jeopardy Teen Tournament or
the spelling bee. It's a certain nausea, a kind of stomach sickness with a
hint with exhilaration, that somebody out there is much, much better
than you at the thing you love most. I loved acting. I thought I was
good at acting. But it was obvious to me that Shia LaBeouf, the star of Even
Stevens, was terrifically, and devastatingly, better.
say this now that Shia LaBeouf has made the dubious leap from
precocious TV child star to blockbuster bad boy is to invite a
fair amount of blowback. You'll ask, Didn't you see the monstrosity
that was Transformers 2, the less monstrous but still monstrous Transformers 3, the unforgivable disaster Wall
Street 2, or Indiana Jones and the Alien Skull Thing? I saw them all. I hated most of them. Shia LaBeouf is still an extremely talented actor.
difficult to explain exactly what makes an actor good, especially when
his most famous role is an annoying kid running away from machine-cum-Mack-Trucks
from outer space. But I'll try. Bad actors often fidget, and good actors are often still and focused, but LaBeouf is focused about being fidgety. His acting has frenetic precision,
something he shares with Robert Downey Jr.He moves his whole body,
smartly accentuating small details that look seamless in the course of a
scene, but most actors would never think to include. His voice, low and
sharp, is permanently tuned to barely concealed sarcasm, which makes
his line readings sound knowing, if occasionally
grating over time.
is a video of Shia LaBeouf that stitches together the infinity times he
has said "no, no, no" in a movie. This is supposed to serve as mockery. Instead, it demonstrates LaBeouf's ability the wring disbelief, agitation, angst, fear, desperation, and exhilaration from a single word. YouTube user skywalkerpotter21 might be laughing. But Meisner would be proud.
A friend suggested that the video reveals LaBeouf's dependence on stuttering as a means of creating realistic dialogue. I
agree, but that's a good thing. Real people don't talk in complete
sentences. They mutter, start a sentence, stop, pick up a thought
mid-word. LaBeouf gets this intuitively. Since Even Stevens, he's been
conspicuously slicing up dialogue like a Benihana chef until the
sentences fall out in pieces. If you don't agree that this is not
annoying, I'd at least ask you to agree that this is, in fact,
how most people talk.
Too often, however, LaBeouf's distinctive, chop-suey dialogue wrestles attention from the scene. He has mastered the art of talking, but not the art of having a conversation. He's like a devoted student of Meisner technique who learned to play the repetition game by practicing with himself.
But that's not his biggest problem.
acting had a universal constitution, a strong contender for Article One might be:
Draw strong contrasts.* Think about the most famous performances in
recent memory and how they smartly play against, and supplement, the
actor's natural instincts rather than ingratiate them. Russell Crowe, a
barrel-breasted warrior, plays a soft-spoken and reluctant fighter in Gladiator. Denzel Washington, a good-guy and thinking man's hero, plays a crooked cop in Training Day. Forest Whitaker, with his sad
wilting eyes, plays a monstrous dictator in The Last King of
Scotland. Sean Penn bulked up physically to accentuate his breaking
down emotionally in Mystic River; and then cannily used his macho
instincts to give power to an effeminate turn in Milk.
The problem with Shia LaBeouf is that he's an ostensibly smug, precocious kid consistently cast as a smug, precocious kid. There's no contrast to draw. It's like buying a
black canvas and painting it black. Black-on-black is obviously working
out for studios, since LaBeouf is reportedly the best
"bang-for-the-buck" actor in Hollywood. But it's a disaster for the
Feeling trapped by his success, LaBeouf is reportedly
turning down promising features because he wants to parlay his talents
into indie movies. I wish him the best of luck. That kid from Even
Stevens is still one of the best actors of his generation, whose
preternatural glibness obscures a profound preternatural talent.
Shia LaBeouf has one thing going for him, it's that he's very good at
talking. It's time for somebody to give him something worth saying.
________ *Acting thrives in complications, both broadly in characters and
acutely in moments. Here's a classic example. Self-pity is dull. But Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, swollen for the
role like a Giants linebacker, whimpering "I coulda' been a contender"
from the backseat of a car, is interesting precisely because, from the looks of him, he's a contender with
nothing to be ashamed of.
On both sides of the Atlantic—in the United Kingdom and the United States—political parties are realigning and voters’ allegiances are shifting.
When United Kingdom voters last week narrowly approved a referendum to leave the European Union, they underscored again how an era of unrelenting economic and demographic change is shifting the axis of politics across much of the industrialized world from class to culture.
Contrary to much initial speculation, the victory for the U.K. leave campaign didn’t point toward victory in the U.S. presidential election for Donald Trump, who is voicing very similar arguments against globalization and immigration; The British results, in fact, underscored the obstacles facing his agenda of defensive nationalism in the vastly more diverse U.S. electorate.
But the Brexit referendum did crystallize deepening cultural fault lines in U.K. politics that are also likely to shape the contest between Trump and Hillary Clinton. In that way, the results prefigure both a continuing long-term realignment in the electoral base of each American party—and a possible near-term reshuffle of the tipping-point states in presidential politics.
How much do you really need to say to put a sentence together?
Just as fish presumably don’t know they’re wet, many English speakers don’t know that the way their language works is just one of endless ways it could have come out. It’s easy to think that what one’s native language puts words to, and how, reflects the fundamentals of reality.
But languages are strikingly different in the level of detail they require a speaker to provide in order to put a sentence together. In English, for example, here’s a simple sentence that comes to my mind for rather specific reasons related to having small children: “The father said ‘Come here!’” This statement specifies that there is a father, that he conducted the action of speaking in the past, and that he indicated the child should approach him at the location “here.” What else would a language need to do?
They say religious discrimination against Christians is as big a problem as discrimination against other groups.
Many, many Christians believe they are subject to religious discrimination in the United States. A new report from the Public Religion Research Institute and Brookings offers evidence: Almost half of Americans say discrimination against Christians is as big of a problem as discrimination against other groups, including blacks and minorities. Three-quarters of Republicans and Trump supporters said this, and so did nearly eight out of 10 white evangelical Protestants. Of the latter group, six in 10 believe that although America once was a Christian nation, it is no longer—a huge jump from 2012.
Polling data can be split up in a million different ways. It’s possible to sort by ethnicity, age, political party, and more. The benefit of sorting by religion, though, is that it highlights people’s beliefs: the way their ideological and spiritual convictions shape their self-understanding. This survey suggests that race is not enough to explain the sense of loss some white Americans seem to feel about their country, although it’s part of the story; the same is true of age, education level, and political affiliation. People’s beliefs seem to have a distinctive bearing on how they view changes in American culture, politics, and law—and whether they feel threatened. No group is more likely to express this fear than conservative Christians.
It happened gradually—and until the U.S. figures out how to treat the problem, it will only get worse.
It’s 2020, four years from now. The campaign is under way to succeed the president, who is retiring after a single wretched term. Voters are angrier than ever—at politicians, at compromisers, at the establishment. Congress and the White House seem incapable of working together on anything, even when their interests align. With lawmaking at a standstill, the president’s use of executive orders and regulatory discretion has reached a level that Congress views as dictatorial—not that Congress can do anything about it, except file lawsuits that the divided Supreme Court, its three vacancies unfilled, has been unable to resolve.
On Capitol Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan resigned after proving unable to pass a budget, or much else. The House burned through two more speakers and one “acting” speaker, a job invented following four speakerless months. The Senate, meanwhile, is tied in knots by wannabe presidents and aspiring talk-show hosts, who use the chamber as a social-media platform to build their brands by obstructing—well, everything. The Defense Department is among hundreds of agencies that have not been reauthorized, the government has shut down three times, and, yes, it finally happened: The United States briefly defaulted on the national debt, precipitating a market collapse and an economic downturn. No one wanted that outcome, but no one was able to prevent it.
In an era fixated with science, technology, and data, the humanities are in decline. They’re more vital than ever.
Earlier this month, the Washington Post journalist Jeff Guo wrote a detailed account of how he’d managed to maximize the efficiency of his cultural consumption. “I have a habit that horrifies most people,” he wrote. “I watch television and films in fast forward … the time savings are enormous. Four episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fit into an hour. An entire season of Game of Thrones goes down on the bus ride from D.C. to New York.”
Guo’s method, which he admits has ruined his ability to watch TV and movies in real time, encapsulates how technology has allowed many people to accelerate the pace of their daily routines. But is faster always better when it comes to art? In a conversation at the Aspen Ideas Festival, co-sponsored by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard University, and the cultural critic Leon Wieseltier agreed that true study and appreciation of the humanities is rooted in slowness—in the kind of deliberate education that can be accrued over a lifetime. While this can seem almost antithetical at times to the pace of modern life, and as subjects like art, philosophy, and literature face steep declines in enrollment at academic institutions in the U.S., both argued that studying the humanities is vital for the ways in which it teaches us how to be human.
American-Indian cooking has all the makings of a culinary trend, but it’s been limited by many diners’ unfamiliarity with its dishes and its loaded history.
DENVER—In 2010, the restaurateur Matt Chandra told The Atlantic that the Native American restaurant he and business partner Ben Jacobs had just opened would have 13 locations “in the near future.” But six years later, just one other outpost of their fast-casual restaurant, Tocabe, is up and running.
In the last decade, at least a handful of articles predicted that Native American food would soon see wider reach and recognition. “From the acclaimed Kai restaurant in Phoenix to Fernando and Marlene Divina's James Beard Award-winning cookbook, Foods of the Americas, to the White Earth Land Recovery Project, which sells traditional foods like wild rice and hominy, this long-overlooked cuisine is slowly gaining traction in the broader culinary landscape,” wrote Katie Robbins in her Atlantic piece. “[T]he indigenous food movement is rapidly gaining momentum in the restaurant world,” proclaimed Mic in the fall of 2014. This optimism sounds reasonable enough: The shift in the restaurant world toward more locally sourced ingredients and foraging dovetails nicely with the hallmarks of Native cuisine, which is often focused on using local crops or herds. Yet while there are a few Native American restaurants in the U.S. (there’s no exact count), the predicted rise hasn’t really happened, at least not to the point where most Americans are familiar with Native American foods or restaurants.
As it’s moved beyond the George R.R. Martin novels, the series has evolved both for better and for worse.
Well, that was more like it. Sunday night’s Game of Thrones finale, “The Winds of Winter,” was the best episode of the season—the best, perhaps, in a few seasons. It was packed full of major developments—bye, bye, Baelor; hello, Dany’s fleet—but still found the time for some quieter moments, such as Tyrion’s touching acceptance of the role of Hand of the Queen. I was out of town last week and thus unable to take my usual seat at our Game of Thrones roundtable. But I did have some closing thoughts about what the episode—and season six in general—told us about how the show has evolved.
Last season, viewers got a limited taste—principally in the storylines in the North—of how the show would be different once showrunners Benioff and Weiss ran out of material from George R.R. Martin’s novels and had to set out on their own. But it was this season in which that exception truly became the norm. Though Martin long ago supplied Benioff and Weiss with a general narrative blueprint of the major arcs of the story, they can no longer rely on the books scene by scene. Game of Thrones is truly their show now. And thanks to changes in pacing, character development, and plot streamlining, it’s also a markedly different show from the one we watched in seasons one through four—for the worse and, to some degree, for the better.
University leaders and observers discuss the intersection of student protests, free speech and academic freedom.
In a Thursday debate titled “Academic Freedom, Safe Spaces, Dissent, and Dignity,” faculty or administrators from Yale, Wesleyan, Mizzou, and the University of Chicago discussed last semester’s student protests and their intersection with free speech. They shared the stage at the Aspen Ideas Festival, co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, with Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League; Kirsten Powers, author of The Silencing: How the Left Is Killing Free Speech; and Greg Lukianoff, who leads the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
My colleague Jeffrey Goldberg was the moderator.
The most interesting exchange involved Stephen Carter, a law professor at Yale, and Michael S. Roth, the president of Wesleyan University.
The Model S’s Autopilot isn’t technically a driverless feature, but the federal investigation into why a driver using it was killed will still influence the future of driverless vehicles.
Federal officials are investigating a crash that killed the driver of a Model S, a Tesla vehicle with a partially autonomous driving system, in a move that has major implications for the future of driverless vehicles.
“This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated …” Tesla wrote in a statement on Thursday. “It is important to emphasize that the NHTSA action is simply a preliminary evaluation to determine whether the system worked according to expectations.”
The investigation may be standard procedure, but it’s also certain to influence the ongoing conversation about the safety of self-driving vehicles.
The Model S isn’t technically a driverless car, but Tesla has been a vocal player in the race to bring truly driverless cars to market. The company’s Autopilot feature is an assistive technology, meaning that drivers are instructed to keep their hands on the wheel while using it—even though it is sophisticated enough to complete tasks like merging onto the highway. It wasn’t clear from Tesla’s statement how engaged the driver was at the time of the crash.