President Barack Obama and author Marilynne Robinson continue their substantial conversation about literature, democracy, and hope in The New York Review of Books. Part One, if you missed it, is here. You can download the audio of both parts on iTunes.

One of film criticism’s giants — Philip French — has passed away. Variety‘s Guy Lodge looks back at his remarkable career.

He was to Britain as trusted and treasured a film guide and educator as Roger Ebert was to America…. It’s the kind of sustained, storied career that hardly seems imaginable in the current climate of film criticism, continuing even after his official retirement…. His very last published words, posted on Sunday, were in celebration of the delicious 1955 Ealing comedy The Ladykillers — as fittingly bright and British a note as French could have hoped to go out on.

When French stepped down from his job at the Observer after 50 years of writing, The Guardian‘s appreciation of his work included some striking quotations: “No critic should ever say they are bored,” he said. “It is not enough just to understand a film; you must try to say something of interest or value.” Later, they note his belief that critics should not talk down to readers. “You should assume your reader is intelligent, but not necessarily as well-informed, since they spend their days doing something else for a living.” I smiled and nodded at the last words of this paragraph:

French’s status as a repository of film knowledge means he has been asked to draw up many top 10 lists, from the best dogs on film … to the best leading actors. In the latter he would place Michael Redgrave – star of an all-time favourite, Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes – Spencer Tracy, especially for Bad Day at Black Rock, Gary Cooper for High Noon and Henry Fonda for Twelve Angry Men. He also admires Lee Marvin, Al Pacino and Warren Oates. More recently, he salutes the talents of Ryan Gosling and of Leonardo DiCaprio, who, he says “has suddenly started to do it”.

The Welcome Wagon have a gift for listeners.
The Welcome Wagon have a gift for listeners.

As they develop their next full-length album, The Welcome Wagon — whose last record I really loved — are giving away some of their new songs at NoiseTrade.

two days one nightA.G. Harmon, at Good Letters, writes about the latest movie from my favorite living filmmakers: Two Days, One Night by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne:

What is best about the film is the portrayal of the herculean toil that goes into the living of everyday people. These are lower-middle-class workers, and yet their story is as deep as any Greek tragedy, and their triumphs as large as any Greek epic’s. Sandra rivals any heroine of antiquity, and she does so in the working environs of suburbia, among the graceless and pedestrian and commonplace.

At Crux, Steven Greydanus looks back at the whole Back to the Future trilogy:

The point, of course, is that the more things change, the more they stay the same; that parents and children are not so different as the latter might think and even as the former might pretend.

Moreover, the 1950s weren’t as different from the 1980s as it might seem. The sexual revolution of the 1960s changed many things, but it was a change in attitudes, not human nature.

Chuck Bowen at Slant offers detailed impressions of, and reflections on, Criterion’s long-awaited release of David Lynch’s disturbing, confounding, and extraordinary Mulholland Drive.

Mulholland Drive has been read as a deconstruction of the way that Hollywood eats women alive, turning them on each other and themselves, favoring the men pulling the levers behind the scenes, and it certainly is that, to the point that you wonder if Lynch’s offering a free-associative mea culpa for the lurid, hard-edged sexuality of some of his other films. In the greatest scene of his career, Lynch stages an acute examination of sex as a woman’s enforced social defense, a simultaneous instrument of marginalization and empowerment.

Like Betty, Lynch’s in love with his fantasies, but he recognizes many of them, particularly as shaped by corporate Hollywood, to be built on nightmares, complicating the pleasure they bring. With this epic tapestry, one of the richest, finest, and most bottomless of all films, Lynch channeled the elusive and contradictory textures of desire, moving beyond either/or dichotomies of good and evil or black and white. Or brunette and blonde.

fortunately the milkVia David Hudson‘s Keyframe Daily at Fandor, here are three news bits that made me sit up straight:

Johnny Depp may star in an Edgar Wright-directed adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, the Milk. That’s from Dave McNary at Variety.

I’ll be in line for anything that Edgar Wright directs. And Neil Gaiman sweetens the deal. But it’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie in which Johnny Depp was a strength instead of a weakness.

George Clooney might direct Suburbicona 1950s noir written by the Coen brothers. That’s from Mike Fleming Jr. at Deadline.

I like every single detail of that news.

And then there’s this at ScreenDaily: An update on an upcoming English-language sci-fi film from Claire Denis!