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.
Black poverty is fundamentally distinct from white poverty—and so cannot be addressed without grappling with racism.
There have been a number of useful entries in the weeks since Senator Bernie Sanders declared himself against reparations. Perhaps the most clarifying comes from Cedric Johnson in a piece entitled, “An Open Letter To Ta-Nehisi Coates And The Liberals Who Love Him.” Johnson’s essay offers those of us interested in the problem of white supremacy and the question of economic class the chance to tease out how, and where, these two problems intersect. In Johnson’s rendition, racism, in and of itself, holds limited explanatory power when looking at the socio-economic problems which beset African Americans. “We continue to reach for old modes of analysis in the face of a changed world,” writes Johnson. “One where blackness is still derogated but anti-black racism is not the principal determinant of material conditions and economic mobility for many African Americans.”
Most people in the U.S. believe their country is going to hell. But they’re wrong. What a three-year journey by single-engine plane reveals about reinvention and renewal.
When news broke late last year of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, most people in the rest of the country, and even the state, probably had to search a map to figure out where the city was. I knew exactly, having grown up in the next-door town of Redlands (where the two killers lived) and having, by chance, spent a long period earlier in the year meeting and interviewing people in the unglamorous “Inland Empire” of Southern California as part of an ongoing project of reporting across America.
Some of what my wife, Deb, and I heard in San Bernardino before the shootings closely matched the picture that the nonstop news coverage presented afterward: San Bernardino as a poor, troubled town that sadly managed to combine nearly every destructive economic, political, and social trend of the country as a whole. San Bernardino went into bankruptcy in 2012 and was only beginning to emerge at the time of the shootings. Crime is high, household income is low, the downtown is nearly abandoned in the daytime and dangerous at night, and unemployment and welfare rates are persistently the worst in the state.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
As Coldplay blandly strained for the universal, she and Bruno Mars pulled off something more specific and more daring.
What a perfect Beyoncésong name: “Formation.” All great pop involves people acting in formation. So does all great change. And while fans scream that Beyoncé’s a “queen” and “goddess,” her core appeal really is as a drill sergeant. With Beyoncé in command, greatness is scalable, achievable, for the collective. Everyone waves their hands to the same beat. Everyone walks around like they have hot sauce in their bag.
But in pop and in politics, “everyone” is a loaded term. Stars as ubiquitous as Beyoncé have haters, the “albino alligators” who “Formation” informs us she twirls upon. And in a more general historical sense, “everyone” can be a dangerous illusion that elevates one point of view as universal while minimizing others. Beyoncé gets all of this, it seems. As a pop star, she surely wants to have as broad a reach as possible. But as an artist, she has a specific message, born of a specific experience, meaningful to specific people. Rather than pretend otherwise, she’s going to make art about the tension implied by this dynamic. She’s going to show up to Super Bowl with a phalanx of women dressed as Black Panthers.
Many are familiar with the challenges faced by working moms, but the troubles of women with aging parents are unseen and widely ignored.
For America’s working moms, there is pretty much an endless stream of resources to guide and comfort them on how to tell the boss they’re pregnant, how to find a private place to pump at work, how to negotiate flex time, how to split the chores at home, and whether or not to display pictures of their kids at the office. They can read all day and all night about the many stresses of working motherhood including pregnancy discrimination, the wage gap, the mommy wars, leaning in, and opting out. But for America’s working daughters, there is little to help them navigate between their careers and the needs of their aging parents.
There are currently 44 million unpaid eldercare providers in the United States according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the majority are women. And yet there are very few support programs, formal or informal, in place to support these family caregivers, many of whom are struggling at work and at home. Working daughters often find they need to switch to a less demanding job, take time off, or quit work altogether in order to make time for their caregiving duties. As a result, they suffer loss of wages and risk losing job-related benefits such as health insurance, retirement savings, and Social Security benefits. In fact, a study from MetLife and the National Alliance for Caregiving calculated women lose an average $324,044 in compensation due to caregiving.
After getting shut down late last year, a website that allows free access to paywalled academic papers has sprung back up in a shadowy corner of the Internet.
There’s a battle raging over whether academic research should be free, and it’s overflowing into the dark web.
Most modern scholarly work remains locked behind paywalls, and unless your computer is on the network of a university with an expensive subscription, you have to pay a fee, often around 30 dollars, to access each paper.
Many scholars say this system makes publishers rich—Elsevier, a company that controls access to more than 2,000 journals, has a market capitalization about equal to that of Delta Airlines—but does not benefit the academics that conducted the research, or the public at large. Others worry that free academic journals would have a hard time upholding the rigorous standards and peer reviews that the most prestigious paid journals are famous for.
One professor is borrowing a method from Harvard Business School to engage students and inspire better decision-making skills.
In a spacious classroom in Aldrich Hall on the Harvard Business School campus, 100 students are passionately discussing a case called “Battle Over a Bank.” But these aren’t MBA students deliberating over how much the government should regulate the financial sector. This group of mostly undergraduates, guided by the award-winning Harvard Business School professor David Moss, is diving into the fierce 1791 debate over whether the Constitution could be interpreted to allow the fledgling U.S. government the power to form a bank at all.
This class, “History of American Democracy,” is no pedestrian historical survey course. It uses the case method—the business school’s signature teaching technique—to immerse undergraduates (as well as a limited number of HBS students) in critical episodes in the development of American democracy.
For decades the Man of Steel has failed to find his groove, thanks to a continual misunderstanding of his strengths.
Superman should be invincible. Since his car-smashing debut in 1938, he’s starred in at least one regular monthly comic, three blockbuster films, and four television shows. His crest is recognized across the globe, his supporting cast is legendary, and anybody even vaguely familiar with comics can recount the broad strokes of his origin. (The writer Grant Morrison accomplished it in eight words: “Doomed Planet. Desperate Scientists. Last Hope. Kindly Couple.”) He’s the first of the superheroes, a genre that’s grown into a modern mass-media juggernaut.
And yet, for a character who gains his power from the light of the sun, Superman is curiously eclipsed by other heroes. According to numbers provided by Diamond Distributors, the long-running Superman comic sold only 55,000 copies a month in 2015, down from around 70,000 in 2010—a mediocre showing even for the famously anemic comic-book market. That’s significantly less than his colleague Batman, who last year moved issues at a comparatively brisk 150,000 a month. Mass media hasn’t been much kinder: The longest-running Superman television show, 2001’s Smallville, kept him out of his iconic suit for a decade. Superman Returns recouped its budget at the box office, but proved mostly forgettable.2013’s Man of Steel drew sharp criticism from critics and audiences alike for its bleak tone and rampaging finale. Trailers for the sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, have shifted the focus (and top billing) to the Dark Knight. Worst of all, conventional wisdom puts the blame on Superman himself. He’s boring, people say; he’s unrelatable, nothing like the Marvel characters dominating the sales charts and the box office. More than anything, he seems embarrassing. Look at him. Truth? Justice? He wears his underwear on the outside.
Tracking them down is a globe-trotting adventure that rivals any jungle expedition.
In the darkness of the Akeley Hall of Mammals, swarms of kids gawk at beautifully staged dioramas of Africa’s wildlife. The stuffed safari, nestled in the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York, includes taxidermied leopards stalking a bush pig, preserved ostriches strutting in front of warthogs, and long-dead baboons cautiously considering a viper. In one corner, in a display marked “Upper Nile Region,” a lone hippo grazes next to a herd of lechwe, roan antelope, and a comically stern shoebill stork.
“This is my favorite one,” says Evon Hekkala, pointing to the display. “There’s a taxidermied crocodile tucked away down there.”
It takes a while to spot it and I have to crane my head to do so, but yes, there it is—a large crocodile, in the back, mouth agape, next to the hippo. It’s mostly hidden from view, and until recently, it was hidden from science, too.