Nelson Mandela, who led the struggle against South Africa's apartheid system and eventually became the country's first black president, has died at age 95 after a prolonged lung-infection.
"He is now resting. He is now at peace," South African President Jacob Zuma in an said in an address to the nation.
"Our people have lost a father," he said.
"His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect for the world," Zuma said. "His humility, compassion and humanity earned him their love."
Soon after the announcement, reaction to Mandela's death, began streaming in.
Former President George H.W. Bush said that he and former First Lady Barbara Bush "join the people of South Africa and the world in celebrating the life of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela."
"President Mandela was one of the great forces for freedom and equality of our time. He bore his burdens with dignity and grace, and our world is better off because of his example," the former president said in a statement.
Earlier on Thursday, Mandela's family told SABC television that the ailing former president was putting up a courageous fight from his "deathbed."
After being admitted to a Pretoria hospital in June, Mandela spent almost three months there before being discharged in September. Since then, he'd been receiving in-home care. Throughout, his condition has been described as "critical but stable."
We'll update this post as reaction to Mandela's death comes in from around the world.
The title character of Inside Llewyn Davis starts and ends the film in a little Greenwich Village folk club in 1961, singing the gloomy traditional tune "Hang Me, Oh Hang Me." The song's world-weary protagonist resigns himself to his impending death, really bothered only by the eternity he'll spend trapped underground in the grave.
But then resignation is pretty much the default mode for Llewyn (Oscar Isaac), a former merchant marine and semi-obscure folk musician. Homeless, crashing on couches with any friend or acquaintance who'll take him, he's scraping by on the occasional gig. His lingering air of self-defeat dooms his meager, sporadic attempts at personal advancement to be met with disinterest by a universe that's indifferent at best, coldly cruel at worst.
The song that opens the film was popularized by Dave Van Ronk, a musician of the same era who serves as a loose inspiration for writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen. Many of the basic facts of Lewyn Davis's biography match those of Van Ronk, but apart from those borrowings and a few anecdotes, the character himself is a distinctly, recognizably Coen creation. He'll weather a barrage of tribulations not unlike those that have greeted the Coen brothers' other rumpled heroes — think Barton Fink, Jeff Lebowski, Larry Gopnik.
As in those characters' stories, there's comedy here, but it's tempered by a grim mood. Matched by the gorgeous muted blues and grays that mark cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel's vision of a hard New York winter, it's as bleak as anything encountered in the Coens' masterful 2007 Cormac McCarthy adaptation, No Country for Old Men. The brothers challenge their audience to find the vanishingly fine line between nervous laughter at Llewyn's relatable human foibles and schadenfreude over the notion that his defeats represent a morally just comeuppance; the often unlikable Llewyn brings most of his woes on himself, after all, usually by failing to think through the consequences of his impulses.
And yet shreds of sympathy for Llewyn survive among most everyone he wrongs, whether it's the kindly Upper East Side intellectuals he rages at when not enjoying their patronage, or Jim (Justin Timberlake), a more successful musician he casually insults during a recording session, or Jean (Carey Mulligan), Jim's girlfriend, whom Llewyn has gotten pregnant. They never quite write off Llewyn completely, even if he does himself. And there's a vulnerability and hopefulness that comes through in his musical performances that manages to keep us on his side, too.
In a movie set up to trap us within Llewyn's repetitive loop of failure, baiting us with hope before quashing it with quiet desperation again and again, something more than comic relief is needed to soften the blow a little, and the film's musical interludes are that pillow. A mix of old folk tunes with a few new compositions in the same style — supervised by frequent Coen musical collaborator T-Bone Burnett along with Mumford & Sons' Marcus Mumford — music is as vital to Inside Llewyn Davis as it was to O Brother, Where Art Thou. The actors perform their own songs, and Isaac is especially impressive, not just for the disarming beauty of his voice but also for his ability to show us a sweet and soulful side of Llewyn that supplants his usual bitterness when he has a guitar in his hands.
That's as far as the Coens are really willing to go as far as crowd-pleasing, though. Much of their impressive output since the brief hiatus after the failure of their 2004 remake of The Ladykillers has been typified by abrupt, indefinite endings and thoughtful moral explorations of the balance between order and chaos. Inside Llewyn Davis is no different in that regard, and it represents not just another in a streak of brilliant films, but the finest blend yet of the duo's sharp, laugh-out-loud wit and sobering insight into the loneliness and absurdity of existence.
In film after moving film, that blend has allowed the Coen brothers to achieve an emotional and intellectual complexity that never overwhelms their knack for being purely entertaining. The laughs are always there, but each one comes at a cost. This time around, it's poor Llewyn Davis's turn to pick up the check. (Recommended)
It's hard to think of a social issue more certain to drive people into blinkered encampment than the question of sexual consent. There are times when "no means no" seems like an incomplete response to an enormously touchy problem — especially as it affects teenagers, a demographic not known for prudent lust management.
Yet the title alone of S#x Acts, a new Israeli drama about the ambiguity of sexual consent, tosses off multiple meanings for audiences to chew on. Only minutes into this smart, nervy movie, that title may strike you as a slightly coy gambit for a film whose explicit carnality borders — if defensibly — on the pornographic. That hashtag gestures at the ways in which teen sex slips casually into a smartphone-powered public domain. And the movie unfolds in six acts, each one advancing the progressive degradation of a vulnerable girl seeking acceptance.
Sixteen-year-old Gili Shulman (an astoundingly good Sivan Levy) has switched to a high school in a pricey Israeli suburb. Less affluent than her classmates and hungry for peer approval, Gili dispenses sexual favors pretty much on demand, especially when those demands come from handsome, cocky Omri (Eviatar Mor), a rich party animal with a voyeur's kinky appetites and a pimp's managerial flair.
Omri, a master manipulator, knows how to bully and flatter Gili into a state of permanent uncertainty about where she stands in his affections. Soon she finds herself at the mercy of several other horny boys, each of whom exploits her in his own way.
But here's the knotty part: Not one of those boys is a monster, and Gili could legitimately appear, especially to another teenager, to be an accomplice in her own debasement. When she says no, it's in a devastating whisper that has nothing to do with "asking for it." She's confused, doesn't understand the difference between need and love; she brags of her exploits to the perfectly groomed girls whose friendship she craves, and hides her longing for Omri's attention behind halting boasts that what they have is only sex for kicks.
A thousand TV movies have asked what counts as rape, and who's to blame; to the degree that S#x Acts asks at all, the query is intentionally oblique. Parents are sketched in just enough to show that they're off in the clouds of moneymaking. Class and ethnic disparities may play a role, or not.
Tautly written by Rona Segal and expertly observed by Jonathan Gurfinkel, a documentarian and TV producer who worked on the hilarious Israeli satire Eretz Nehederet, S#x Acts operates almost exclusively at the behavioral level. Suspended between titillation and despair, the movie firmly implicates us in its voyeurism. Does Gurfinkel enjoy the degradation a little too much? Do we? Certainly it's hard to leave the theater without feeling soiled on Gili's behalf — and in a way, on her tormentors' as well.
Far from being cynical, S#x Acts raises an alarm while demonizing no one. Manipulative Omri is pretty hard to like, but it's not hard to understand the pull he exerts on Gili. Each of the other boys has his own appeal, plus his own insecurities and doubts about what he's doing. A chubby boy takes his turn with Gili, then shows her kindness, which she rewards with the same cavalier rejection she's suffered at the hands of his friends.
This emotional mess is further complicated at the end, when an adult offers Gili a ride home from a pool party where she's endured yet another humiliation. By then our hearts have gone out to Gili — and to the boys who will forever have to reckon with what they've done to her. (Recommended)
Both literally and thematically dark, Out of the Furnace simmers with manliness like a slow-cooking pot of venison chili. This is the sort of movie where character is revealed by what the protagonist decides to hunt and possibly kill.
A noble buck in the Pennsylvania woods? Maybe not. A murderous, meth-dealing bare-knuckle-boxing promoter? Bang!
Our hero is Russell (Christian Bale), a small-town dark knight. He works near the belching furnace of a steel mill in Braddock, one of those rust-belt decrepitudes that draw photographers and filmmakers keen to eulogize American industry.
Perhaps because he wants to minimize dialogue, director and co-writer Scott Cooper starts the tale several years before most storytellers would. It's 2008, as Cooper indicates with a clip of Teddy Kennedy endorsing Barack Obama. Russell's father is dying, and his hotheaded younger brother, Rodney (Casey Affleck), is headed to a fourth tour in Iraq. At least Russell has a job and a girlfriend (Zoe Saldana).
Then a nasty car crash sends Russell to prison. (It wasn't really his fault, but he had been drinking.) When he gets out, Dad's dead and girlfriend Lena has moved on to a passionless but safe relationship with a local cop (Forest Whitaker). Rodney, for his part, is boxing for an amiable local bookie and loan shark (Willem Dafoe), though he's soon to meet a much more dangerous example of that breed, Harlan (Woody Harrelson).
After angering the easily maddened Harlan, Rodney disappears. Russell and his uncle (Sam Shepard) go looking for him on Harlan's home turf, a backwoods section of New Jersey that seems more like West Virginia. There are several wrong turns and dead ends before the final showdown, which is more sorrowful than exhilarating.
Cooper's previous movie, the overrated Crazy Heart, indulged a different sort of macho. Its tale of an alcoholic country singer on the road and in decline seems positively jaunty next to Out of the Furnace, whose musical signature is Pearl Jam's plaintive "Release." (The song plays at both the movie's beginning and end.)
The film, like the recent Mother of George, is distractingly dim. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi illuminates many scenes with light from behind or outside, keeping the cast's haggard faces in shadow. The effect is a little artier than befits this unusually deliberate but otherwise predictable drama.
The movie boasts two kinds of showcases. The first are elaborately crosscut sequences in which good men and bad men act all too simultaneously. These turn on violence, which apparently is the currency of male existence, or at least working-class rust-belt male existence.
Better are the simple, heartfelt scenes in which Russell and Lena fight their feelings for each other in the hope that Lena can have the stable, nurturing life she wants. Such moments are far more interesting than Harrelson's showy turn as a lollipop-sucking psychopath.
That love is preferable to death is a subversive idea for a movie full of tough guys who can't walk away from mayhem, whether because of family, duty, PTSD or just for the heck of it. But there are merely glimmers of that moral in this grim ode to vengeance.
Cooper does slow the action and set it in the least glamorous of circumstances, which drains the pleasure from the thriller conventions. But just because Out of the Furnace isn't much fun doesn't make it profound.
Taylor Muse is the 31-year-old bandleader and songwriter of Quiet Company, an indie-rock band from Austin. A native of East Texas raised in a Southern Baptist church, he now reluctantly carries the banner of "that atheist rocker from Austin."
"Every band that I was in up until college was a Christian band," Muse says. "It was part of our identity as people, our identity as a community. It was everything."
Muse's life in his hometown of Longview revolved around the church youth group, the praise team, choir rehearsal, mission trips and Bible study classes. Then came moving away from home, going off to college, discovering the writings of avowed atheist Kurt Vonnegut, and getting married.
"Eventually, I came home from work one day and just told my wife, 'I think I'm having a little bit of a crisis of faith. I just realized today that I can't make a case for Christianity that would convince myself,'" he says.
That realization led to the release of the 2011 album We Are All Where We Belong, a startlingly frank exposition of a young man's loss of faith. The record made a big splash in Austin; last year, Quiet Company took home 10 honors at the Austin Music Awards, including Best Band and Album of the Year.
The refrain from the album title — "where we belong" — is at the heart of Muse's problem with Christian theology. He says he was taught from the Bible that good Christians don't store up treasures on earth: They're supposed to store up treasures in Heaven.
"They're always making the statement, 'This is not your home, this is not where you belong,'" Muse says. "I wanted to make a record that said, 'No, actually, this is where you belong. This is your one chance to make your life into what you want it to be. This is your one chance to make the world what you think it can be.'"
The humanist community — a term used interchangeably with atheism — was slow to take notice of the album. Greg Epstein, the prominent humanist chaplain at Harvard University and author of the book Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe, recalls being skeptical.
"I get sent so many weird things from around the United States," Epstein says, "so I kind of assumed it would be crap. And then I listened to it, and it was brilliant."
Epstein says what Quiet Company did is emblematic of the modern humanist movement, which is not about railing against organized religion, but about being good people and affirming life.
"It's not an album decrying God," Epstein says. "It's an album about what it means to live life that happens to be from the perspective of somebody who knows who he is and happens to be a humanist and an atheist."
This may be blasphemy back in East Texas, but the band has found a loyal audience in Austin. Before an evening concert, fans have already begun to bunch up in front of the stage next to giant arena speakers on the Congress Avenue Bridge.
"I find it very reassuring," says a 25-year-old bookstore stocker who gives his name as Tux. "When they released the album, I was going through a little bit of a faith crisis myself. And that was my soundtrack during that period."
Quiet Company's appeal extends beyond those struggling with their own faith. Greg Wnek, a devout Catholic who says he likes the humanist band, chatted amiably with Muse after the show.
"I appreciate that he's comfortable enough to sing about that, but still shake my hand, even though I have three crosses and even though I'm completely Christian and I have not lost my faith and I'm heavily rooted in it," Wnek says.
While songs about non-faith built Quiet Company's fan base — last year, they were asked to entertain the American Atheists Convention — the musicians are uncomfortable being the rock 'n' roll standard bearers for atheism. Muse says they're ready to move on.
"At the end of the day, what we're setting out to be is everyone's new favorite rock band," he says. "We're not trying to be 'the atheist band.' We're not trying to be the band that hates Christianity. I wrote 15 songs about atheism. And I said everything I wanted to say."