- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2010

Reputation grows

“In the 1964 preface to the second edition of ‘E.M. Forster,’ Lionel Trilling remarks how greatly E.M. Forster’s reputation had grown from the time of his book’s first edition in 1943. When Trilling initially published his book, Forster was a small-public writer, known chiefly to the cognescenti and certainly not to Uncle Willie, to use a figure Forster himself used to refer to the broader middlebrow audience that was not then, and seemed unlikely ever, to be his.

” ‘Forster’s work has become ever more widely known’, Trilling wrote, ‘and, we may say, known in a new, a more public, way where once it had been admired by many who found pleasure in thinking that was known to them alone, a private experience to be kindly but cautiously shared with a few others of like mind, it has now become a general possession, securely established in the literary tradition of our time, and something like required reading for educated people.’

“Since Trilling wrote that, of course, Forster’s novels have been Masterpiece Theatred, Merchantised and Ivoried, also David Leaned (Lean’s otherwise excellent movie version of ‘A Passage to India’ is spoiled by an optimistic ending that is quite the reverse of the novel’s actual ending) greatly widening their audience still further.”

- Joseph Epstein, writing on “A Passage to Forster” on Feb. 22 at the Weekly Standard

Dislikability

“Like ‘Kicking and Screaming,’ ‘Greenberg’ is a quote machine. When asked how he’s doing, Roger quips, ‘Leonard Maltin would give me two and a half stars’ - just as ‘Kicking and Screaming’s Grover (Josh Hamilton) replied, ‘It’s OK, it’s a C-plus,’ when asked about his love life.

“The difference is that Roger takes no joy from his clever remarks. He can only talk in witticisms; he cannot communicate ‘normally’ with other people. Everything he says has to be unusual and smart and funny, even if no one’s laughing. (‘I’m weirdly on tonight,’ he remarks after a string of sharp but miserable observations.) [Ben] Stiller - visibly relishing not playing opposite a miniature Owen Wilson or a past-prime Robert De Niro - delivers his lines not in the amusing drawl of ‘Kicking and Screaming’s Chris Eigeman but with a sour, joyless dirge. …

“[Director Noah] Baumbach … specializes in unlikeable characters, and you can chart an evolution from Jeff Daniels’ hilariously monstrous dad in ‘The Squid and the Whale’ through Nicole Kidman’s kind of hilariously monstrous mom in ‘Margot at the Wedding’ to Stiller’s all-out monstrous single fortysomething in ‘Greenberg.’ Baumbach can’t even dedicate the entire film to [Roger], instead spending the first 15 minutes - plus a much-needed respite here and there - with Florence. And even she can only stand being his doormat for so long. After withstanding so many insults and weird sex, she decamps, possibly for good, and it seems Greenberg will end, like ‘Squid’ and ‘Margot,’ with its protagonist running from his problems.”

- Matt Prigge, writing on “Greenberg: Roger Greenberg is one of the most unlikeable characters to ever grace the big screen,” on March 25 at Philadelphia Weekly

Made-up language

“Twenty-four hours after Avatar appeared in theaters, the Web site Language Log was teeming with comments about Na’vi, the alien tongue spoken in the film. The site is always lively, but it was especially so that day because Paul Frommer - who created the language - had shown up to discuss Na’vi syntax and phonetics. His fans were asking questions. How to say ‘I don’t speak Na’vi’ or ‘I love you,’ for example. …

“On the publicity circuit, James Cameron frequently made proud mention of the fact that he hired a linguist to create a realistic language. (He said he wanted to ‘out-Klingon Klingon.’) His move paid off in that people who notice these things like the result. They’ve embraced it with gusto, and now they want the rest of it. The most likely explanation for the delay in working out how to release the Na’vi language to the world is not that the Hollywood bosses don’t want Frommer to do it but just that they haven’t gotten around to thinking about it. But Hal’liwutta tsayeyktanru be warned: The natives are getting restless.”

- Arika Okrent, writing on “The New Klingon” on March 24 at Slate

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