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The seven rages of David Mamet: genius or symbol of toxic masculinity?

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With his weaponised dialogue and hypnotic macho characters, no writer has so relentlessly confronted the explosive issues of our times. But theatre and Hollywood are changing. As he hits 70, we ask: is David Mamet losing his magic?

David Mamet arrives at his 70th birthday this week, and there couldnt be a better moment for his classic Glengarry Glen Ross to be storming Londons West End once again: that gripping spectacle of desperate middle-aged men competing to sell real estate in a recession or get fired. They are twitching rats in a laboratory of capitalism, terrified of failure and terrified of death.

For me, the authors birthday milestone is a time to ponder something else: a quintessentially Mamet moment in the 1991 movie Homicide, which he wrote and directed. Two cops Bobby Gold, played by Joe Mantegna, and his partner Tim Sullivan, played by William H Macy are working on a case with unexpected personal implications for Bobby. He appears, in the eyes of his aghast partner, to be suffering some kind of breakdown. Tim fiercely lectures him on the need to stay tough: Its like the old whore says, Once you start coming with the customers, its time to quit.

There is no sign of Mamet showing this kind of empathy with his own customers, and no sign of him quitting. Those customers were treated to an unforgiving display of control freakery recently when he banned all post-performance Q&As, on pain of a $25,000 fine. Mamet was perhaps irritated by a concession to audience debate that encourages disruptive campus-style challenges as if in the academic classroom, that arena for painful ideological confrontation he explosively depicted in his 1992 play Oleanna, about teacher-pupil harassment. Mamet took out a cease-and-desist action against a Milwaukee theatre company who wanted to change the female character to male, in order to make it about same-sex harassment.

Coffee
Coffee is for closers Stanley Townsend and Christian Slater in the current production of Glengarry Glen Ross. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

Yet Mamet reaches his 70s with his face on Rushmore pretty well complete. He is an American icon who has been influenced by Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter and Philip Roth and who in turn has influenced Aaron Sorkin and James Gray. He has compellingly tackled masculinity, sexuality, capitalism and Judaism. His movies are serious, but he can take on pop forms like thrillers, capers and neo-noir dramas, while films such as House of Games and The Spanish Prisoner are wonderful trompe loeuils, essays in illusion.

His non-fiction writing is also terrifically witty, readable and smart and he is a master of the Hollywood insider genre. Above all, there is his legendary dialogue terse, fierce, telegrammatic, often imitated and spoofed, celebrated as a unique prose poetry of disquiet and confrontation. It is a fugue of verbal violence. His characters riffs smack into each other like sumo wrestlers bellies. His 2001 movie Heist has one of the great noir lines of all time. Danny DeVitos villain lies dying after an almighty shootout and sneeringly asks Gene Hackman: Dont you want to hear my last words? Hackman replies coolly: I just did and finishes him off with a final shot.

Yet Mamet does not have an endless golden touch, perhaps inevitably for someone so magnificently productive. He has had some recent Broadway flops: China Doll (2015), starring Al Pacino, received tepid reviews, The Anarchist (2012), about a Weather Underground-type protest veteran, and the political comedy November (2008) did not run long.

Lia
Radioactively brilliant a 2004 Royal Court production of Oleanna, with Lia Williams and David Suchet. Photograph: Alastair Muir

Furthermore, his 2011 book The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture dismayed his fans by trumpeting a personal shift to the right, with climate-change scepticism and attacks on feminism, progressives and liberal academia. Christopher Hitchens called it an extraordinarily irritating book, written by one of those people who smugly believe that, having lost their faith, they must ipso facto have found their reason.

It is, however, possible to be sceptical about this shift. Mamets tough-guy aesthetic has always looked conservative and provocations like Oleanna and Race (in which a top defence lawyers female African-American junior appears to leak information to the prosecutor in a racially charged rape case) were male-centred. His aggressive tendencies became weaponised in the war-on-terror era with his frankly absurd movies such as 2004s Spartan, in which Val Kilmers special forces hombre interrogates a suspect in a back alley by threatening to cut out an eye, and Redbelt (2008), about Mamets infatuation with martial arts.

Viewed unsympathetically, even the famed Mamet dialogue is just a Tourette syndrome chorus of macho self-pity, and the Hollywood-themed works are very much of the Weinstein age, which takes a drolly forgiving view of Hollywood honchos seducing younger women, who are often shown as knowing and complicit.

David
The playwright and film-maker in 1977. Photograph: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

Glengarry Glen Ross will perhaps go down as his single greatest work: a compelling display of male paranoia and male competition, although Blake, the guy from head office who appears briefly in act one to tell everyone that under-performers will be canned, is a character invented specifically for the film version, not the play. He is famously portrayed by a shark-like Alec Baldwin. Coffee is for closers, he snarls at over-the-hill salesman Jack Lemmon, who had presumed to pour himself a cup while Blake was speaking. Then he announces the bonuses: First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado, second prize is a set of steak knives and the third prize is youre fired.

There is a lot of vintage Mamet dialogue, when the subject of burgling the office for privileged information is furtively discussed among the sweaty, hapless losers. But it wasnt until I watched the film again that I realised that there is a further dimension to Mamet dialogue: absurdism and black comedy. Perhaps Mamet has been influenced, not by Pinter but Abbott and Costello and their famous Whos on first? routine. Yet always there is desperation the need to grab the brass ring.

Theres something similar in his play American Buffalo: the junk-shop owner needs to get hold of a buffalo nickel, which could be hugely valuable, the kind of a once-in-a-lifetime shot at riches. With it, his entire life in the crummy shop might have meant something but if it slips through his fingers, his life could look terrifyingly meaningless.

For the almost existential maleness of Mamet, you couldnt have a better example than his 1974 play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, whose showstopping and atypically grabby title did much to get him noticed. It is about sex, intimacy, communication and miscommunication; a rackety, juicy comedy that audiences still love. Danny and Bernie are buddies who confide in each other, and their relationship is in some way closer than Dannys with his girlfriend, Deborah. Separate scenes show Deborah listening to her own best friend Joan confide her exasperation with hopeless males. Eventually Danny and Deborah break up; the male-male bond appears to survive where the romantic partnership doesnt.

Joe
Quintessential Mamet Joe Mantegna and William H Macy in the 1991 film Homicide. Photograph: Pressman/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock

This play, with its language and worldview, is the polar opposite of a writer like Nora Ephron and her much more female-centric When Harry Met Sally, which it might appear to resemble superficially. Sexual Perversity has been adapted twice for cinema, both times with the title About Last Night, and both films look as if they have been forced uncomfortably into the Ephron-romcom-date-movie worldview. Mamet is more male, more cynical.

As for Hollywood, no student of Mamet should neglect the importance of his longtime producer and collaborator Art Linson, who wrote a hilarious memoir of the producing life entitled What Just Happened? with an uproarious account of trying to get Mamets utterly forgotten 90s thriller The Edge, starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, off the ground. Linson is a very funny writer and almost a Mamet character himself. Just as desperate real estate guys sell property to the public, so desperate Hollywood producers sell hot properties to studio heads and these movies putative status as artworks mean the producers invest so much of themselves in them, as well as their male professional self-esteem.

It is often about reclaiming or refusing reality, a land-grab of the mind. Wag the Dog was Mamets adaptation of Larry Beinharts novel about a movie producer and political spin doctor creating a bogus war in Albania to distract the public from a political scandal. State and Main is about an independent film crew that turns up to shoot in a remote Massachusetts town only to find that it is wholly wrong for the story. And the crews troubles include an ageing leading man with a taste for younger women a part of the comedy that looks exposed in todays Hollywood.

From
Once-in-a-lifetime shot at riches from left, John Goodman, Tom Sturridge and Damian Lewis in a 2015 production of American Buffalo. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

But these movies are not as highly charged and intensely felt as his play Speed-the-Plow, which, crucially, has a much more corporate, workplace-oriented setting. A Hollywood producer seduces a younger woman in the office (someone over whom he has power) at least partly as a result of a crude bet with another guy. But this woman turns out to be more Machiavellian and less of a victim than anyone thought.

Again, its the kind of satire that, at this moment, feels dangerously obtuse and dated. But it still has a good insight into the aggressive, scared mentality of the producer who fears that he will never again get another movie into cinemas. Movies are, after all, unlike real estate in that they are pure luxury items: you dont need a film, but you have to be persuaded that you need it by people who have already frantically persuaded themselves. In 2008, it was notably revived at Londons Old Vic with Kevin Spacey.

But perhaps the most tactless, painful and radioactively brilliant work is Oleanna a play and then a film from the Clinton 90s that can still trigger furious responses: it shows a college professor accused of sexual harassment and sexual abuse who is basically innocent. Ultimately, both man and woman are in the grip of something in the air, some tragic force of violence and despair that overwhelms everything and everyone, an imperative that drives them to open warfare.

Mamets new play The Penitent, about a psychiatrist who is attacked for appearing to side against an LGBT patient, is an obvious cousin to Oleanna. Im surprised Mamet hasnt weighed in to the trans debate, with a professor or teacher or some other flawed careworn male authority figure being fired or disgraced for appearing to victimise a trans person by failing to use gender-neutral pronouns. Perhaps, once his 70th birthday celebrations are out of the way, he will start something on this theme and prove that no one can match him for detonating an almighty rage.

  • Glengarry Glen Ross is at the Playhouse, London, until 3 February. Box office: 0844-871 7627.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/nov/29/the-seven-rages-of-david-mamet-genius-or-symbol-of-toxic-masculinity

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‘Fortnite’ composer Pinar Toprak will score ‘Captain Marvel’

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Image: Brian To/FilmMagic

“Turkish-American composer Pinar Toprak has been hired to compose the score for Captain Marvel, which will premiere in March of next year.

Even if you’re not a film score buff, there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with Toprak’s work. In addition to writing additional music for Justice League in 2017, she is responsible for some of the incredibly catchy music from Fortnite. Yes, the stuff that is stuck in your head all the time…….”

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‘Incredibles 2’ breaks box office records with a whopping $180 million

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“For every unmitigated disaster like Solo, there are multiple other box office hits for Disney. Incredibles 2 is the latest.

The 14-years-later sequel is on a pace to finish off its opening weekend with a $180 million box office haul in the United States. That’s the highest opening to date for any animated release, and for any PG-rated release as well. It’s also the eighth-largest domestic opening weekend ever, overall.

Incredibles 2 soars past another Pixar sequel, Finding Dory, the previous top animated opener. The Finding Nemo sequel launched in 2016 on the same June weekend as Incredibles 2, but it only (only!) managed to pull in $135.1 million in its first three days.

The new $180 million bar will be a tough one for future competitors to beat, though even that record is bound to eventually fall. Inflation and rising ticket prices all but ensure it.

Disney currently has three recent releases in the weekend box office top 10. Solo: A Star Wars Story comes in at #4 on this weekend’s chart, with an estimated $9.1 million. That brings its domestic total up to $192.8 million.

Solo will probably cross $200 million domestic in the next week or two, but it’s currently the lowest-earning live action Star Wars movie to date. There’s even some question at this point as to whether or not it will manage to beat The Empire Strikes Back. Not accounting for inflation, that second-ever Star Wars movie ended its box office run in 1980 with $209.4 million.

Disney’s lowest entrant on this weekend’s box office top 10 is Avengers: Infinity War, at #8. The April 2018 release is still kicking in its eight week after hitting theaters. It picked up an estimated $5.3 million this weekend…..”

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/06/17/incredibles-2-opening-weekend-box-office-records/

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Apple and Oprah sign a multi-year partnership on original content

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Apple announced today a multi-year content partnership with Oprah Winfrey to produce programs for the tech company’s upcoming video-streaming service. Apple didn’t provide any specific details as to what sort of projects Winfrey would be involved in, but there will be more than one it seems.

Apple shared the news of its deal with Winfrey in a brief statement on its website, which read:

Apple today announced a unique, multi-year content partnership with Oprah Winfrey, the esteemed producer, actress, talk show host, philanthropist and CEO of OWN.

Together, Winfrey and Apple will create original programs that embrace her incomparable ability to connect with audiences around the world.

Winfrey’s projects will be released as part of a lineup of original content from Apple.

The deal is a significant high-profile win for Apple, which has been busy filing out its lineup with an array of talent in recent months.

The streaming service also will include a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Storiesa Reese Witherspoon- and Jennifer Aniston-starring series set in the world of morning TVan adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books, a thriller starring Octavia Spencer, a Kristen Wiig-led comedy, a Kevin Durant-inspired scripted basketball show, a series from “La La Land’s” director and several other shows.

Winfrey, however, is not just another showrunner or producer. She’s a media giant who has worked across film, network and cable TV, print and more as an actress, talk show host, creator and producer.

She’s also a notable philanthropist, having contributed more than $100 million to provide education to academically gifted girls from disadvantaged backgrounds, and is continually discussed as a potential presidential candidate, though she said that’s not for her.

On television, Winfrey’s Harpo Productions developed daytime TV shows like “Dr. Phil,” “The Dr. Oz Show” and “Rachael Ray.” Harpo Films produced several Academy Award-winning movies, including “Selma,” which featured Winfrey in a starring role. She’s also acted in a variety of productions over the years, like “The Color Purple,” which scored her an Oscar nom, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time.”

Winfrey also founded the cable network OWN in 2011 in partnership with Discovery Communications, and has exec produced series including “Queen Sugar,” “Oprah’s Master Class” and the Emmy-winning “Super Soul Sunday.”

The latter has a connection with Apple as it debuted as a podcast called “Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations” and became a No. 1 program on Apple Podcasts.

Winfrey recently extended her contract with OWN through 2025, so it’s unclear how much time she’ll devote specifically toward her Apple projects.

Apple also didn’t say if Winfrey will star or guest in any of the programs themselves, but that’s always an option on the table with a deal like this. CNN, however, is reporting that Winfrey “is expected to have an on-screen role as a host and interviewer.”

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/06/15/apple-and-oprah-sign-a-multi-year-partnership-on-original-content/

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