Stories by Devin Gordon

  • A Response to Andrew Sullivan's Question About NEWSWEEK's 'Terrorist' Taxonomy Debate

    Our e-mail conversation on why the media have been reluctant to label Joseph Stack a terrorist has generated a lot of critical discussion among prominent political bloggers. Apparently, some of the criticism stems from a misunderstanding of the fact that we were discussing the media's aversion, not our own, to labeling Stack a terrorist, and that when we laid out the logic of the media we were ironically mocking it, not endorsing it. ...
  • Enough Already: Government Czars

    IF AMERICAN HISTORY is any guide, the movement to create yet another federal-level "czar"—this time for the auto industry—should send a clear signal to U.S. consumers: buy Japanese. Forget for a moment that it's perverse the way we fall in love with iron fists, at least linguistically, whenever a problem becomes too big to be solved through democracy. (And come on, the only reason we keep creating czars, rather than, say, sultans, is because words with the letter Z sound badass.) No, the real problem with our czar fetish is how ironically weak the gigs are.Consider: in 2004, The Washington Times ran the accidentally hilarious headline INTELLIGENCE 'CZAR' NOT NEEDED, SAYS CIA CHIEF—perhaps because the head of the Central Intelligence Agency thought intel czar was his job. (Similarly, the drug czar and the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration? Different guys.) In 2005, Congress created a WMD czar, presumably to save us from nuclear obliteration—a problem so pressing that the...
  • Great Tennis Became Great Art

    When sports junkies describe the games we love as art, the Rafael Nadal–Roger Federer final at last year's Wimbledon is what we mean. It stretched across an entire Sunday, including five hours of much-needed, nerve-settling rain delays—one stupefying rally after another. I don't think I've ever said "Oh, my God" so many times in a single day. The match began at about 9 a.m. here in New York, and I woke up to Nadal steamrolling the champ in the first two sets. Tennis's long-awaited changing of the guard was unfolding with little drama. Then the rains came. Time for brunch. I watched on a restaurant TV as the match turned on a dime. Federer lives! A roaring comeback! More rain. Brunch turned into afternoon beers. An exhilarating fifth set. The dawning, goose-fleshy awareness that we were—clichés groan to life—watching history. As dusk crept over England, it seemed as if the match would have to be suspended for darkness. A cruel, truncated joke of a Monday after this towering Sunday....
  • Enough Already: Stop With the Czars

    If history is a guide, the movement to create yet another federal-level "czar"—this time for the auto industry—should send a clear signal to U.S. consumers: buy Japanese. Forget for a moment that it's perverse the way we fall in love with iron fists, at least linguistically, whenever a problem becomes too big to be solved through democracy. (And come on, the only reason we keep creating czars, rather than, say, sultans, is because words with the letter Z sound badass.) No, the real problem with our czar fetish is how ironically weak the gigs are.Consider: in 2004, the Washington Times ran the accidentally hilarious headline INTELLIGENCE 'CZAR' NOT NEEDED, SAYS CIA CHIEF—perhaps because the head of the Central Intelligence Agency thought intel czar was his job. (Similarly, the drug czar and the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration? Different guys.) In 2005, Congress created a WMD czar, presumably to save us from nuclear obliteration— a problem so pressing that the job was...
  • Fast Chat: Darren Aronofsky on "The Wrestler"

    There are two comeback stories in director Darren Aronofsky's new film, "The Wrestler." The first stars Randy (the Ram) Robinson, a washed-up pro—when the tights come off, the hearing aid goes on—who won't quit the only job he knows how to do. The second stars Mickey Rourke, who plays the Ram and gives a raw, career-resurrecting performance. Aronofsky spoke with NEWSWEEK's Devin Gordon about both. ...
  • Enough Already: Main Street versus Wall Street

    In politics, every crisis gets its own cliché, and the near collapse of the U.S. financial system has already spawned a groaner: the false dichotomy pitting "Wall Street" versus "Main Street." Whenever Barack Obama and John McCain babble about our dueling American boulevards—and they both do it, a lot—you can practically hear the implied sound effects. Wall Street: hiss! Main Street: yay! In this climate, boosting soda fountains and sliming investment bankers carries about as much political risk as declaring that America is awesome.Never mind that the majority of us don't live on either street, or that, if pressed to admit it, we envy the perks of both—the warm simplicity of Main Street and the lucrative grandeur of Wall Street. The problem lies in suggesting an antagonistic relationship where a symbiotic one exists. Economic health depends on the recovery of both places, not one or the other. And like all political shorthand, the more frequently it's used, the less sincere it...
  • Rock on Barack: The Comic's New HBO Special

    Chris Rock stalked onto the stage at Harlem's Apollo Theater late on a Friday night earlier this month and opened his fifth HBO comedy special by explaining why it had been so long since the fourth. He wanted to wait, he told the audience, until the moment was just right. Rock has become the country's smartest, most essential comic by salting his punch lines with blunt social evangelism. And in a prior special, 1999's "Bigger and Blacker," he went on a riff about how the black community desperately needed a new generation of leaders, like Dr. Martin Luther King in his day—a not-uncontroversial stance, given that many of the old leaders were still very much alive. Now here was Rock, less than two months from a historic election, in the cathedral of African-American culture, arriving like a prophet to testify about Barack Obama. Everyone leaned forward: this is what we came for. To laugh, sure, but mostly to hear Rock on Barack. (HBO will air the special, "Kill the Messenger," on Sept...
  • Worth Your Time: De Niro and Pacino in 'Heat'

    Ten years ago, the prospect of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino on screen together would've provoked a very different reaction than the one I have when I see posters for their new cop flick, "Righteous Kill." Then, I'd have raced you to the theater. But now? All I see is two men stooping to self-parody in paycheck roles. My advice: skip "Righteous Kill" and catch Bobby and Al at a moment when the pairing actually meant something. It happened only once, in the 1995 crime epic "Heat," and—aside from the final shoot-out—only for a single scene: at a roadside diner, the two sit down for the most thrilling cup of coffee in cinema history. (Both actors were in "The Godfather: Part II" but never shared the screen.) Once De Niro and Pacino are mano a mano, the movie drops away as the characters discuss who they are and why they do the things they do, like rival samurai trading philosophies during a combat break. De Niro's bank robber is wary but guileless; Pacino's cocksure cop savors the...
  • Enough Already: "Red Meat"

    In the Russell Crowe movie "Gladiator," there's a scene in which Maximus gets tossed onto the floor of the Colosseum into a swarm of hulking warriors and roaring tigers, and the crowd, smelling blood, leans forward in anticipation. Maximus, though, ends up carving everyone else to pieces. The crowd falls silent. "Are you not entertained?" he shouts.Maybe I spent too much time watching conventions over the past two weeks, but I thought of that scene every time I heard a TV talking head toss out the fortnight's most unappetizing phrase: "red meat." As in, "Boy, Obama/Palin sure threw those folks some red meat." The term is yet another effort to turn nebbishy politics into primal bloodsport, and the implication is that we're all a bunch of mouth-breathers who think issues are for sissies—that insulting our opponent is part of the American fabric.The result? Too many speeches with too much red meat, not enough meat and potatoes. Between now and Nov. 4, let's not talk about "red meat"...
  • Worth Your Time: De Niro and Pacino In "Heat"

    Once upon a time, the prospect of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino on screen together, mano a mano, would've provoked a wildly different reaction than the one I have whenever I see posters for their new cop flick, "Righteous Kill." Twenty years ago I'd have raced you to the theater. Now? All I see is two bored, scowling men paired up for a movie that sounds as though it's about a surfing competition ("Dude, that was a righteous kill!"), and all I think is, "Oh, no." This isn't the first time De Niro and Pacino have stooped to self-parody in paycheck roles. It's just the first time they've done it as a team. Too harsh? The director is Jon Avnet, the man behind "Fried Green Tomatoes," as well as Pacino's latest, "88 Minutes," which was notable only for being 17 awful minutes longer than the title promised.My advice: skip "Righteous Kill" and catch De Niro and Pacino together at a moment when "De Niro and Pacino together" actually meant something. It happened only once, in Michael Mann's...
  • Worth Your Time: 'The Foot Fist Way'

    "The Foot Fist Way," a new comedy made for pennies by a bunch of pals from the North Carolina School of the Arts, is not a particularly good movie. Many of the actors can't act. Whole scenes fall flat. And you'll find more sophisticated camerawork on YouTube. But you should see the movie anyway, because what it does have is Danny McBride, the most hilarious man you've never heard of, heir to Will Ferrell's throne as king of the idiots. Last year McBride was the funniest thing in two deeply unfunny star vehicles for Andy Samberg ("Hot Rod") and Ben Stiller ("The Heartbreak Kid"). "The Foot Fist Way" is something of a first: a star vehicle for a guy who's not even close to a star.McBride plays Fred Simmons, a strip-mall tae kwon do instructor who bullies his 6-year-old students ("Your weakness disgusts me") out of the delusion that he's preparing them for a world in which a man is defined by how many planks of wood he can break with his palm. To Simmons, life is just one long version...
  • No More Apologies

    Everything wears out its welcome eventually. In this periodic feature, we say when.
  • Why Everybody Hates Duke

    Because we win. We're arrogant. We're on TV. And did I mention that we win?
  • Film: A Ticket Out of Hell

    "See this right here?" says the young black man, dribbling a basketball in New York's rugged Coney Island. "This here can get you a long way." Some people are unsettled by the idea that a game can be such a potent symbol of escape for so many inner-city teens, but it's an ivory-tower argument at odds with street-level reality. Two new documentaries, one a conventional history lesson, the other a triumph of new-media storytelling, examine the past and present of hoop dreams as a ticket out of hell.On March 16 and 17, ESPN will air director Dan Klores's four-hour "Black Magic," which examines the rise of basketball at black colleges during the civil-rights era, a time when hardwood floors were the only level playing field around. Klores's film has great stories to tell, such as the secret 1944 scrimmage between white Duke University students and a team from the North Carolina College for Negroes, a game that could've been deadly if word got out. (NCCN won, 88-44.) "Born Ready,"...
  • Analogy Check

    This Stage Isn't Big Enough for Two Seabiscuits History repeats itself, but not without a few wrinkles. We make the comparisons—and then we pick them apart. The Comparison Bathed in Iowa's afterglow, Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrat John Edwards both seized on the same hackneyed metaphor for their candidacy: each man says he's Seabiscuit, the underdog racehorse that up set Triple Crown winner War Admiral in 1938. Why It Works It better suits Huckabee, who came from nowhere to win, while Edwards is still stuck in the "behind" portion of his "come-from- behind" story. But like Seabiscuit, both men are populist competitors. Also, the 1938 horse race occurred in ... November. Hmm. Why It Doesn't Seabiscuit was on the track with only one other Thoroughbred; both Huckabee and Ed wards are in crowded fields, with no incum bent—no War Admiral. But where it really breaks down is on the simplest level: Seabiscuit was a horse.
  • TV: 'The Wire's Last Season

    For five seasons, critics have worshiped 'The Wire'—and lamented that more people don't. Now's your last chance to catch what may be TV's best drama ever.
  • This Doesn't Ad Up

    As a football fan, I'm tired of hearing about how the commercials are the main event on Super Bowl Sunday. Maybe that was true seven or eight years ago, when hyperclever, ultrapricey advertisements were still a novelty and Super Bowl contests were annual blowouts. But in the current era of NFL parity—thanks, salary cap!—the games have been uniformly competitive, if not always white-knuckle thrillers. The ads, meanwhile, have quickly become the most overrated part of the night. Once the game begins, we still itch for that first commercial break for our long-awaited dose of hyperclever ads, hoping for a good belly laugh, something that will go straight into the pantheon alongside Budweiser's croaking frogs. But it's time to admit that the golden age of Super Bowl ads is over. Nowadays, we're lucky if we get a halfway decent fart joke.And so it was this year. The victor in the annual contest between Super Bowl and Super Bowl ads wasn’t even close: the game won by a mile. Truthfully, it...
  • The Emmy Entourage

    Maybe this is silly, but we've always found it charming when famous people get nervous around other famous people. When two-time Oscar winner Sally Field arrived for our first-ever Emmy Roundtable, America Ferrera, the radiant young star of ABC's freshman hit series "Ugly Betty," stayed bolted to the floor. "I'd go up to her, but I'd just say something dumb," Ferrera said. "All I could say is 'Hi.' I mean, what do you say to Sally Field?" Fortunately, "Entourage" nominee Jeremy Piven broke the ice during the photo shoot. "Is it awkward if I do this topless?" he asked. Then our five guests sat down, fully clothed, with NEWSWEEK's Devin Gordon and Marc Peyser for a two-hour conversation about success, auditions,speeches and why Masi Oka's mom won't be her son's date when the awards are handed out on Sunday night. ...
  • American Actress Jodie Foster Talks About Playing a Vigilante

    Over the course of her new film, "The Brave One," Jodie Foster kills eight people. The two-time Oscar winner plays a public-radio host named Erica Bain who survives a brutal attack in New York's Central Park during which her fiancé is killed. After she heals, she slowly transforms into a vigilante and puts herself on a collision course with the thugs who attacked her. Foster says the film, directed by Neil Jordan ("The Crying Game"), appealed to her not only for its resonance with "Taxi Driver," the nightmarish 1976 film that made the teen actress a star, but also for its exploration of living with fear in post-9/11 New York. She spoke with NEWSWEEK's Devin Gordon on the set last summer. Excerpts: ...
  • Andy Samberg's Rocky Film Start

    According to "Saturday Night Live" wunderkind and comedy cinephile Andy Samberg, the ideal length for a funny movie is approximately 90 minutes. Samberg knows this because he's done the research. When he and his partners in comedy, boyhood pals Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, found out that Paramount Pictures was going to give them millions of dollars to make their first feature film, they immediately went online to look up the running times of all the comedies they worshiped. "No stone unturned," Samberg says. "You only get one first shot, ya know?" Up to that point, he and his pals hadn't made anything over five minutes and they knew that "Hot Rod," the story of an aspiring stuntman who's not very good at stunts, would probably have to be longer than that. So they looked up "Billy Madison" and "The Jerk" and "Tommy Boy," among others, and they noticed a pattern. "I'd say about 80 to 90 percent of them were in that 90-minute range," Samberg says. "That's the sweet spot." But they...
  • David Duchovny Finally Finds His Role

    If you weren't a fan of "The X-Files," you probably don't know how funny it could often be. Sure it was creepy, and weird, and confusing. But every so often, the writers would throw in an oddball episode with a dry sense of humor—and David Duchovny, as the tireless, laconic Agent Fox Mulder, would hit it out of the park. Comedy has always been an underrated skill for Duchovny, now 47, but Hollywood has done him no favors in getting the word out. You might've missed the glimmers of his talents in movie duds like "Evolution" and "Connie & Carla." He's long seemed like a capable actor and a highly intelligent guy—he has a graduate degree in literature from Yale—who never quite landed in the right role. But finally, the perfect gig has come along: in Showtime's new comedy "Californication," which debuts Aug. 13, he plays an unhinged novelist named Hank Moody who's got a bad case of writer's block, an even worse habit of saying whatever pops into his mind, no matter how rotten—and an...

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