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.
When President Obama left, I stayed on at the National Security Council in order to serve my country. I lasted eight days.
In 2011, I was hired, straight out of college, to work at the White House and eventually the National Security Council. My job there was to promote and protect the best of what my country stands for. I am a hijab-wearing Muslim woman––I was the only hijabi in the West Wing––and the Obama administration always made me feel welcome and included.
Like most of my fellow American Muslims, I spent much of 2016 watching with consternation as Donald Trump vilified our community. Despite this––or because of it––I thought I should try to stay on the NSC staff during the Trump Administration, in order to give the new president and his aides a more nuanced view of Islam, and of America's Muslim citizens.
Moonlight won Best Picture, but only after La La Land was mistakenly announced as the winner.
A largely predictable Oscars ceremony ended in the most stunning way possible, as Moonlight was named Best Picture—but only after the producers of La La Land took the stage, gave their speeches, and then were interrupted with the news that the wrong envelope had been opened. The final moments of the 89th Academy Awards are likely to be pulled apart and obsessed over for generations; it was the epitome of live television, the kind of epic screw-up that dreams are made of. Perhaps it was fitting for such a surprising win: For most of the night, La La Land’s victory seemed obvious as it collected six trophies, including Best Director.
But it was Moonlight that won the final trophy of the evening, snagging three Oscars in all (including Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali and Best Adapted Screenplay). Its victory represents a hugely unexpected triumph for the writer/director Barry Jenkins, and the indie studio A24. That a film about a young gay African-American boy growing up in Miami, made for $1.5 million by a filmmaker with only one minor feature to his name, could break through over a throwback showbiz musical that has grossed $140 million and counting at the box office was unanticipated, to say the least.
Two of the world’s three richest people extol the virtue, and relevance, of optimism in the age of Trump—and predict a comeback for fact-based discourse.
Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, and Warren Buffett, the third richest, are—not entirely coincidentally—two of the most unremittingly optimistic men on the planet. So when I met the two of them in New York recently to talk about the state of humankind, and about the future of American democracy, I had a clear understanding of my mission, which was to pressure-test their sanguinity at every turn.
I tried, and failed, though not completely. Both men appear to doubt some of President Trump’s innovations in rhetoric and policy. Both men have warm feelings about immigrants, and also about facts, and so are predisposed to react skeptically to recent developments in the capital. When I asked whether they believed America needed to be made great again, Buffett nearly jumped out of his chair: “We are great! We are great!” And when I asked about the Trump Administration’s problematic relationship with empiricism, Gates said, “I predict a comeback for the truth.” He went on to say, “To the degree that certain solutions are created not based on facts, I believe these won’t be as successful as those that are based on facts. Democracy is a self-correcting thing.”
Long after research contradicts common medical practices, patients continue to demand them and physicians continue to deliver. The result is an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatments.
First, listen to the story with the happy ending: At 61, the executive was in excellent health. His blood pressure was a bit high, but everything else looked good, and he exercised regularly. Then he had a scare. He went for a brisk post-lunch walk on a cool winter day, and his chest began to hurt. Back inside his office, he sat down, and the pain disappeared as quickly as it had come.
That night, he thought more about it: middle-aged man, high blood pressure, stressful job, chest discomfort. The next day, he went to a local emergency department. Doctors determined that the man had not suffered a heart attack and that the electrical activity of his heart was completely normal. All signs suggested that the executive had stable angina—chest pain that occurs when the heart muscle is getting less blood-borne oxygen than it needs, often because an artery is partially blocked.
Students can learn the basics with a set of knitting needles.
The Finns are pretty bemused by Americans’ preoccupation with whether to put iPads in every classroom. If a tablet would enhance learning, great. If it wouldn’t, skip it. Move on. The whole thing is a little tilting-at-windmills, anyway.
That was the gist of the conversation one recent morning at the Finnish Embassy in Washington, D.C., where diplomats and experts gathered to celebrate the country’s education accomplishments as Finland turns 100. And Americans could stand to take notes. (Yes, from Finland—again.)
Coding and programming are now part of the curriculum in the Scandinavian country, and they’re subjects kids tackle from a young age. But unlike in some parts of the United States where learning to code is an isolated skill, Finnish children are taught to think of coding and programming more as tools to be explored and utilized across multiple subjects.
Since the middle of last year, a group of Filipino reporters, photographers, and cameramen have been at the frontline of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. They are a different type of war correspondent, and the drug war, a different type of war.
The correspondents work what they call the “night shift,” the unholy hours between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., when the dead bodies are found. They wait at Manila’s main police station and rush from there to the site of the most recent kill. They keep count of the corpses, talk to witnesses and families, interview the police, attend wakes and funerals. A lot of what the world learned about the carnage, especially in the early months, is due largely to the night shift reporters.
“No… it’s a magic potty,” my daughter used to lament, age 3 or so, before refusing to use a public restroom stall with an automatic-flush toilet. As a small person, she was accustomed to the infrared sensor detecting erratic motion at the top of her head and violently flushing beneath her. Better, in her mind, just to delay relief than to subject herself to the magic potty’s dark dealings.
It’s hardly just a problem for small people. What adult hasn’t suffered the pneumatic public toilet’s whirlwind underneath them? Or again when attempting to exit the stall? So many ordinary objects and experiences have become technologized—made dependent on computers, sensors, and other apparatuses meant to improve them—that they have also ceased to work in their usual manner. It’s common to think of such defects as matters of bad design. That’s true, in part. But technology is also more precarious than it once was. Unstable, and unpredictable. At least from the perspective of human users. From the vantage point of technology, if it can be said to have a vantage point, it's evolving separately from human use.
The preconditions are present in the U.S. today. Here’s the playbook Donald Trump could use to set the country down a path toward illiberalism.
It’s 2021, and President Donald Trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term. The 45th president has visibly aged over the past four years. He rests heavily on his daughter Ivanka’s arm during his infrequent public appearances.
Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.
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Priming kids to expect rewards for good behavior can harm their social skills in the long term.
After working with thousands of families over my years as a family psychologist, I’ve found that one of the most common predicaments parents face is how to get kids to do what they’re asked. And one of the most common questions parents ask is about tools they can use to help them achieve this goal.
One such tool is the sticker chart, a type of behavior-modification system in which children receive stickers in exchange for desired behaviors like brushing their teeth, cleaning their room, or doing their homework. Kids can later “spend” their accrued stickers on prizes, outings, and treats.
Though data on how widely sticker charts are used (and when and why they became so popular) is difficult to find, anecdotal evidence suggests that these charts have become fairly commonplace in American parenting. Google searches for “sticker chart,” “chore chart,” and “reward chart” collectively return more than 1 million results. Amazon has more than 1,300 combined product results for the same searches. Reddit, too, is teeming with forums for parents asking each other about the merits of the charts and discussing specific strategies.
You can tell a lot about a person from how they react to something.
That’s why Facebook’s various “Like” buttons are so powerful. Clicking a reaction icon isn’t just a way to register an emotional response, it’s also a way for Facebook to refine its sense of who you are. So when you “Love” a photo of a friend’s baby, and click “Angry” on an article about the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl, you’re training Facebook to see you a certain way: You are a person who seems to love babies and hate Tom Brady.
The more you click, the more sophisticated Facebook’s idea of who you are becomes. (Remember: Although the reaction choices seem limited now—Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, or Angry—up until around this time last year, there was only a “Like” button.)