Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

In theaters.

We all have our weaknesses. I, for example, am fond of storylines that don’t follow formulae and am a complete sucker for actors who seem to be having fun on screen. If you give you me that, I’ll forgive all manner of sins like, oh, a completely nonsensical plot, wildly uneven tone, and slack, overlong pacing.

Take the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie. I’d be the first to admit that it’s not good—what with that completely nonsensical plot, wildly uneven tone, and slack, overlong pacing—but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to having enjoyed it anyway.


The American Ballet Theatre at Lincoln Center on Tuesday, May 22.

Watching Lar Lubovitch’s adaptation of the story of Othello, you can tell that he has choreographed for ice skaters as well as dancers. On several occasions, a male dancer spins in place, the centripetal force of his motion levitating the body of his partner. (Is that centripetal force? I never took physics in high school, and I just wasted several minutes trying in vain to decipher the explanations on the internet. I feel quite ignorant.) You see that effect all the time on a skating rink, but on stage, without the momentum of cutting across the ice, it looks oddly out of place.

More effective, in my eyes, are Lubovitch’s intricate lifts. I love the graceful, seamless way they blend into the pair’s steps, but here, they also amplified the emotions of the story. At the ballet’s outset, Othello and Desdemona moved together as a loving unit, Othello guiding gently and Desdemona arcing her body in innocent bliss. In their final dance, by contrast, those lifts that once looked gentle became domineering, with Desdemona at the mercy of her angry husband.

La Bayadère

The American Ballet Theatre at Lincoln Center on Tuesday, May 15.

La Bayadère is as evocative of India as Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado is of Japan, which is to say: hardly at all. The Mikado is a thoroughly British operetta, and La Bayadère is a thoroughly Russian ballet—complete with a chorus of ballerinas in white tutus—but in both cases, the occasional goofy exotic flourishes are kind of endearing, even if they are anachronistic.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Mondays through Thursdays at 11 p.m. on Comedy Central.

Were it not for Jon Stewart, I think I might simply have disengaged from the news years ago. The Daily Show is hardly my only news source, but it is my only news source that also keeps my spirits up. Even when reports are dismal, when tragedy strikes, when politicians prove once again that I’m not yet cynical enough to anticipate all the outrages they’ve committed, The Daily Show makes me laugh. It might be just a bitter chuckle, but it’s enough to keep me from permanently withdrawing from the public square into the corners of my private life.

Spider-Man 3

In theaters.

No one should ever cast Tobey Maguire in a supposedly sympathetic role that tilts toward whiny. He can’t pull it off. His doughy face oozes petulance, and his protestations sound like the mewlings of a four-year-old deprived dessert. Spider-Man 3 has lots of problems—a slack, rambling plot; an overabundance of villains; special effects that (with one major exception) aren’t that special—but the worst is that Maguire’s Peter Parker is a pathetic figure—pompous, self-absorbed, and extremely whiny—and that Spider-Man 3 matches him all too well.

Orfeo ed Euridice

The Metropolitan Opera on Wednesday, May 9.

Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice is an odd little opera. For one thing, Euridice ends up alive, even after Orfeo disobeys the gods and turns to look at her as he leads her out of the underworld. As one reared on Greek myths, I find that happy ending kind of appalling, but according to the Met’s program notes, Gluck did, too (“I was forced to alter the climax,” he lamented), so I feel a bit more forgiving on that score—especially considering how gorgeous the music is.

And damn, is it ever gorgeous. Gluck avoids vocal pyrotechnics in favor of a refreshingly unshowy aesthetic: simple and poignant. Even the narrative structure is pared down. With only three solo parts (Orfeo, Euridice, and Amor), the opera’s straightforward, subplot-free storytelling makes the already archetypal tale feel positively elemental. Nothing distracts from the beauty of the music.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

By Michael Chabon. Published in 2007.

The noirish style has an unfortunate reputation for being stylish yet shallow, just a lot of easily parodied purple prose and bleak underworld melodrama. But at its best, noir has a genuinely tortured soul that elevates it above those trappings. The genre came to prominence during the grim 1930s and experienced a film revival during the tumultuous 1970s because, at heart, it’s not so much about the gumshoe and the femme fatale as it is about disillusionment in the face of a world that seems all but irredeemable. Noir is about legitimate paranoia and the rot of corruption and brittle cynicism masking the last shreds of idealism. It’s about flawed people feebly trying to do something good under impossible circumstances. Noir is a genre that speaks to troubled times.

So given the many troubles and traumas of today’s world, it makes sense that writer Michael Chabon decided to play with noir in his latest novel. He is, of course, famously interested in muddying the boundary between so-called “literary” novels and genre fiction, but The Yiddish Policemen’s Union isn’t just an exercise, and though it dances lightly, even teasingly, around many hard-boiled detective tropes, it’s not a parody. Set in a fully realized counterhistorical world with dark parallels to our own, Chabon’s noir fantasia demonstrates just how resonant the genre can be.