How to Come of Age Onscreen? Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet Know

“Want to know what I call him?” Saoirse Ronan asked, pointing at Timothée Chalamet, who had just joined us at the table and was shrugging off his coat. “Pony,” the actress said, “Because he’ll come up to Greta and me and nuzzle us.”

“Greta” is the screenwriter and director Greta Gerwig, making it a high-class stable: All three are nominated for an Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards. And as if on cue, Mr. Chalamet lowered his head like a baby foal and nestled it gently beneath Ms. Ronan’s jaw. “It’s quite disarming,” she said with a laugh. “My Pretty Pony!”

Born to Irish parents in the Bronx but raised in Ireland, Ms. Ronan, 23, began acting professionally at 7. Her breakthrough came in the film adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel “Atonement” when she was 13. Critics were awed by her performance, and she was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress, making her one of the youngest nominees in history. In 2015, her portrayal of a homesick Irish girl in the period drama “Brooklyn” won her a second nomination, this time in the best actress category. She made her Broadway debut the following year in Ivo van Hove’s production of “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller.

This month, Ms. Ronan won a Golden Globe and was nominated for her third Academy Award, for best actress, in “Lady Bird,” Ms. Gerwig’s bittersweet coming-of-age film, in which Ms. Ronan plays a compellingly eccentric senior at a Catholic girls’ school. The film received five Oscar nominations, including best picture and best director for Ms. Gerwig.

Denis Johnson’s Death-Infused Last Stories

By Denis Johnson
207 pp. Random House. $27.

Let us review what is so good about Denis Johnson. I have often performed this exercise, with a modicum of writerly envy, over the decades of reading his work: What exactly is the alchemical magic in these pages? Everyone who started writing seriously in the 1980s or 1990s can tell you where he or she first consumed the morsels that eventually made up “Jesus’ Son,” Johnson’s breakthrough 1992 story collection. To behold those lines for the first time was to see language unaccountably capturing emotions in a way unfamiliar in recent American prose. Johnson once noted that he was working under the star of Isaac Babel while writing “Jesus’ Son,” and it showed; just as Babel saw (for example) the Russian sunset as others had not previously, Johnson transformed his misfits and heroin addicts until they became like protagonists from the time of epics.

“Angels,” Johnson’s 1983 debut novel, was similarly revelatory — making the homely backdrop of a Greyhound bus journey suddenly appropriate to the highest American literature. If Johnson sometimes stumbled in later books (he was prolific), they were exceptions in a long, restless and varied career that included not only fiction but plays, nonfiction and some impressive poetry collections. (I recommend “The Incognito Lounge.”)

What made the effective books so effective? In part, it is the consciousness of mortality found everywhere in his best work. This is the guy, after all, who wrote “Resuscitation of a Hanged Man” and “Already Dead.” It is the rare Denis Johnson work that doesn’t explicitly take up end-of-life questions. From the death-row sequences of “Angels” to the murder and car crashes and heroin addiction of “Jesus’ Son” to the Vietnam War setting of “Tree of Smoke,” his 2007 National Book Award-winning novel, there is ever a wafting of mortal fumes across Johnson’s paragraphs.

“The Largesse of the Sea Maiden,” Johnson’s new and presumably final collection — he died from liver cancer in May — is no outlier. Without exception the five stories that make up this volume, averaging about 40 pages each, feature intimations of mortality. There’s the former wife of the adman narrator, in the title story, who telephones to tell our man she’s dying, but without specifying which former wife she is. (“In the middle of this,” he notes, “I began wondering, most uncomfortably, in fact with a dizzy, sweating anxiety, if I’d made a mistake.”) There are the murderous, delusional inmates of a county lockup in “Strangler Bob,” and the fanciful and grim formulations about Elvis and his lost twin that haunt “Doppelgänger, Poltergeist,” the last story in the volume.

Credit…Alessandra Montalto/The New York Times

The movement across the whole of the collection echoes Dante: down, concentrically, into the revelations of illness and death, to “the phase in which these visits to emergency rooms and clinics increased in frequency and by now have become commonplace.”

Before it gets there, though, it sets the mood, beginning with the title story and its apparently unrelated fragments — some of them about advertising and some featuring blunt episodes of sex and death like something out of a late 1960s Jerzy Kosinski novel. This is followed by a weaker set piece about rehab, “The Starlight on Idaho”; reading it, I worried that the presumably ill and suffering author was too consumed with his difficulties to reach his most fertile core. But then comes “Strangler Bob,” in which Dink, the narrator (all of the stories are in the first person), tries to reckon not only with his reduced circumstances but with a prophecy, courtesy of his cellmate in county lockup, that he and two felonious acquaintances will one day commit a murder. It’s all very fun and strange, with glimmers of the old Johnson at work.

And then that Johnson breaks through in a big way, in a story boldly and maybe hopefully titled “Triumph Over the Grave,” and suddenly every mild reservation you might have had is forgotten. Suddenly, with exceptional luminosity, there is an unveiling.

25 Years After a Breakthrough at Sundance, Trying to Break Through Again

PARK CITY, Utah — In 1993, the writer-director Leslie Harris brought her first film, “Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.,” to Sundance. Focusing on Chantel (Ariyan Johnson), a headstrong, smart Brooklyn teenager, it won a special jury prize and landed a distribution deal. “Just Another Girl” was a rare thing then: a film written, directed and co-produced by a black woman, with a young black woman at the center of its story. Turns out it’s still a rare thing now.

This year at the festival, which runs through Jan. 28, the program Women at Sundance is acknowledging Ms. Harris on the 25th anniversary of the movie. Ms. Harris has yet to make another feature, though not for lack of trying. In an interview mid-festival, the filmmaker (whose husband is a photographer for The New York Times) discussed how she got her small movie made, the current climate of independent filmmaking and why it has been so difficult to make a follow-up. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

In the end credits of “Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.,” you dubbed it “A Film Hollywood Dared Not Do.” Could you talk about what the filmmaking climate was like when you decided to make this?

At the time, it was all about “Boyz N the Hood,” “Juice,” “Hangin’ With the Homeboys.” It was all male-centric. Those movies gave me the impetus to write a contemporary film from a black woman’s point of view. But it’s interesting because even now I have a fan base. Young people love the movie and I get tweets about it. They’ve seen it on Amazon or Netflix.

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Opinion | Don’t Boycott Bermuda

To the Editor:

Re “Bermuda Revokes Same-Sex Marriage” (news article, Feb. 9):

Following the repeal of marriage equality in Bermuda, where same-sex couples are now limited to domestic partnership, many in the United States and Western Europe are calling for a boycott (#BoycottBermuda). The demand for this boycott is not coming from grass-roots organizations in Bermuda, and in fact such a boycott stands to harm and not help L.G.B.T.Q. Bermudians.

It paves the way for L.G.B.T.Q. Bermudians to become society’s scapegoat, to be blamed for any slide in foreign tourism and negative impact on the country’s economy. It risks increasing discrimination against a minority group whose rights have already been breached by the revocation of marriage equality.

Instead, the media and the international community should listen to L.G.B.T.Q. Bermudians and elevate their priorities, not set their own misguided agendas.


The writer is executive director of OutRight Action International.

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Tiffany Haddish on Nasty Men, Her ‘S.N.L.’ Feat and ‘Girls Trip’

Last year was a huge one for the actress, comedian and writer Tiffany Haddish, who starred in the hit “Girls Trip” with big-name actresses Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Regina Hall, and stole every scene. Her performance earned her the best supporting actress award from the New York Film Critics Circle, which is handing out the prizes on Wednesday. (She was snubbed by the Golden Globes, to much surprise). She also became the first black female comic to host “Saturday Night Live,” bringing down the house with her infectious energy and sly advice for men accused of sexual misconduct. (“Listen fellas. Listen, O.K.? If you’ve got your thang-thang out, and she got all her clothes on, you’re wrong! You’re in the wrong!”) In December, she spoke with me by phone, while dashing between media appearances in New York.

TIFFANY HADDISH How are you doing, girl?

I’m great. Thanks for chatting. This has been such a breakthrough year for you. It must feel dizzying.

I wouldn’t say it like that. It’s more like [breaking into song] finally it is happening to me, right in front of my face and I know I’m excited. Finally it’s happening to me, after all the hard work and now it’s paying off. I just made that up.

Where are you now?

I’m in a car heading back to my hotel in New York. I’m doing press for my book “The Last Black Unicorn.” I did “The View.” It’s so cool I got to be on with Whoopi. I got to meet Trevor Noah last night, then “Good Morning America.” I got to dance with George [Stephanopoulos]. I‘m going to “Sesame Street” today. It’s a dream come true. I always wanted to meet the puppets.

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Opinion | How Memphis Gave Up on Dr. King’s Dream

MEMPHIS — The 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4 should have been an opportunity for the nation — and especially those who live in the city where he was killed — to reckon with the issue that he died fighting for: the right of workers to earn a living wage.

But for that reckoning to happen, we must acknowledge that the economic system and political structures that perpetuated poverty then are still in force now. And that the people who keep workers poor still too often get a pass.

In the last years of his life, with Jim Crow in retreat, Dr. King turned to what he labeled the three evils — poverty, militarism and racism — that kept black people in bondage. In 1968, he was planning the Poor People’s Campaign when black ministers invited him to Memphis to show support for about 1,300 black sanitation workers who had gone on strike after years of low wages and poor working conditions.

Henry Loeb III, anti-union and pro-segregation, was the city’s mayor. Born in 1920 in Memphis, he graduated from Phillips Academy and Brown, then served in the military during World War II before returning to Memphis to join his family’s laundry business, which was founded in 1887.

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Review: In ‘Den of Thieves,’ Gerard Butler Trails a Former Marine

“Den of Thieves” opens with unfootnoted statistics about Los Angeles, “the bank robbery capital of the world,” where such heists apparently occur every 48 minutes. That’s about the rate at which this surprisingly long, wildly ambitious, thoroughly ludicrous crime thriller delivers its own big scores.

Itself a plundering of “The Driver,” the original “Point Break” and “Heat,” the movie is less concerned with the mechanics of police work than with the mind meld that forms between an obsessed cop, Big Nick (Gerard Butler), and his target, Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), who leads a group of Marines turned bank robbers planning to crack a branch of the Federal Reserve.

To catch them, Nick recruits a mole, Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) — a bartender who moonlights as a getaway driver — then inexplicably blows his own cover. Is there a reason, other than the writer and director Christian Gudegast’s desire for a stylish confrontation, for Nick to turn up when Merrimen is at the shooting range? In the funniest, most gratuitous tangent, a member of Merrimen’s crew played by Curtis Jackson, a.k.a. 50 Cent, has the others intimidate his daughter’s prom date.

With almost compulsive detail, “Den of Thieves” rattles off title cards identifying places and major characters, some of whose names sound like Los Angeles suburbs. The would-be regional authenticity is marred by obviously off-location work. It’s no surprise when the ubiquitous Georgia peach logo surfaces in the credits.

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China’s Economic Growth Looks Strong. Maybe Too Strong.

HONG KONG — The pace of growth in China’s economy accelerated last year for the first time in seven years as exports, construction and consumer spending all climbed strongly.

At least, that’s what the government says.

In reality, the pace of growth in China’s economy is anybody’s guess. Various signals suggest China’s growth did speed up last year, which could give the government the room it needs to tackle an accumulation of serious financial, environmental and social problems this year.

But measuring the size and health of the world’s second-largest economy can be difficult at best. Its official figures have become implausibly smooth and steady, even as other countries post results with plenty of peaks and valleys. Officials in far-flung regions are admitting their numbers are wrong. And outside experts crunching the data have come up with different — and usually weaker — results.

Tillerson’s Ouster Has Allies Hoping for Coherence, but Fearing the Worst

BRUSSELS — The operatic ouster of Rex Tillerson leaves a State Department angry and adrift, and a world even more confused about the management and direction of American foreign policy, hoping but not expecting that the change leads to greater coherence in Washington.

The angst is being felt especially acutely among European leaders. With the back-to-back resignation of Gary Cohn, Mr. Trump’s top economic adviser, and the firing of Mr. Tillerson they fear the period of “benign neglect” they have experienced so far from Mr. Trump is over.

Mr. Tillerson was roundly criticized by a much-demoralized diplomatic corps, accused of gutting budgets and staffing levels in a reflection of what many see as a long, downward trajectory of the State Department’s influence.

But for allies, in particular, he was also seen as “one of the grown-ups” and a relative voice of reason, even comfort, in comparison with his boss’s brash impulsiveness.

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