his skills, especially as a cross-examiner, soon earned him a more élite class of alleged miscreant.
.. His clients have included Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund; Plaxico Burress, the New York Giant; Dinesh D’Souza, the right-wing political scold; and (briefly) Michael Jackson. The latest beneficiary of his advocacy was Martin Shkreli, otherwise known as, Brafman told me, “the most hated man in the world.”
.. “I’ve had cases about murder and dismemberment, and jurors could say they could be fair. I never saw hostility like this to a defendant.”
.. Like the best trial lawyers, Brafman is a storyteller, who tries to turn his cases into narratives that jurors will read his way.
.. “The narrative has to fit, has to be consistent with the truth, so that the jury knows you’re not making up stuff,” Brafman said.
.. So I sort of promised myself I will never try this kind of case in the summer again. But I’ve got no problem for the rest of the year. What else am I going to do?”
James Comey is about to be ubiquitous. His book will be published next week, and parts may leak this week. Starting Sunday, he will begin an epic publicity tour, including interviews with Stephen Colbert, David Remnick, Rachel Maddow, Mike Allen, George Stephanopoulos and “The View.”
.. Yet anybody who’s read Greek tragedy knows that strengths can turn into weaknesses when a person becomes too confident in those strengths. And that’s the key to understanding the very complex story of James Comey... Long before he was a household name, Comey was a revered figure within legal circles... But he was more charismatic than most bureaucrats — six feet eight inches tall, with an easy wit and refreshing informality. People loved working for him... If you read his 2005 goodbye speech to the Justice Department, when he was stepping down as George W. Bush’s deputy attorney general, you can understand why. It’s funny, displaying the gifts of a storyteller. It includes an extended tribute to the department’s rank and file, like “secretaries, document clerks, custodians and support people who never get thanked enough.” He insists on “the exact same amount of human dignity and respect” for “every human being in this organization,”.. Above all, though, the speech is a celebration of the department’s mission... Many Justice Department officials, from both parties, have long believed that they should be more independent and less political than other cabinet departments. Comey was known as an evangelist of this view... Comey sometimes chided young prosecutors who had never lost a case, accusing them of caring more about their win-loss record than justice. He told them they were members of the Chicken Excrement Club.. Most famously, in 2004, he stood up to Bush and Dick Cheney over a dubious surveillance program.
But as real as Comey’s independence and integrity were, they also became part of a persona that he cultivated and relished... Comey has greater strengths than most people. But for all of us, there is a fine line between strength and hubris.
With projects ranging from her HBO series ‘Big Little Lies’ to her production franchise to her growing lifestyle brand, Witherspoon has become a force in female storytelling
“Of all the nasty words I’ve heard that are used to describe women, the one that has the ugliest connotations is ambition,”
.. “I don’t know why that’s declared conniving for women, because I’m constantly inspired by Reese’s ambition. You have a dream? She makes it happen.”
.. The Oscar-nominated movies Wild and Gone Girl , as well as Big Little Lies, which won eight Emmy Awards (including one for outstanding limited series), were all projects produced by Witherspoon from books she discovered and optioned.
.. On-screen, Witherspoon is best known for playing women who get things done, from Tracy Flick in Election to June Carter Cash in Walk the Line to Madeline Martha Mackenzie in Big Little Lies. Her most iconic role is Elle Woods, a pink-loving, Chihuahua-toting sorority girl whose ditziness belies her intelligence and who trades California frat parties for Harvard Law School in 2001’s Legally Blonde and its 2003 sequel
.. Witherspoon joined a small club of actresses who commandeered multimillion-dollar paychecks per project, including Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz and Sandra Bullock. But, according to Witherspoon, that Hollywood game changed in 2008: “As our friends in the music business understand, everything went digital.”
.. She cites the loss of DVD sales in particular. “We lost about a third of our revenue, and studios had to recalibrate their development. The first thing to go was the $30 to $40 million [budget] movie,” she says. “Those are the movies women star in. Women like me coming up through the business didn’t star in $100 million movies.”
.. her husband, Jim Toth, an agent at Creative Artists Agency who represents 15 of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars, including Matthew McConaughey, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr. (With Toth, whom she married in 2011, Witherspoon has a son, Tennessee, 5. With her first husband, actor Ryan Phillippe, whom she was married to from 1999 to 2007, she has Ava and a son, Deacon, 14.)
.. Unbeknownst to Witherspoon, Strayed kept notes during their calls and still has the notebooks. “I can look at them and say she made a lot of promises on those phone calls—and she honored all of them,” Strayed says.
.. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, a thriller about a jaded wife who fakes her own murder to incriminate her cheating husband. Flynn had doubts about the book’s Hollywood potential. “I got a lot of feedback that it was complicated and hard to unravel, which I think was code for, ‘Oh, it stars a woman? Pass!’ ” she says, adding she couldn’t understand why a morally complex female was such a foreign concept. “Don Draper. Tony Soprano. Walter White. We have all these male antiheroes that do despicable things, and we’re fascinated by them. Women are human beings too: They do good stuff and they do bad stuff.
.. “A good pitch is when you can see that someone is breathing what they are presenting, as opposed to saying it,”
.. Though Witherspoon realized in her 30s that acting wasn’t her only skill, she still treats all meetings—whether about financing or pitching a TV show—like an audition. “I know I’m good at things,” she says. “And I’m over being bashful about it. Do basketball players have to sit there and act coy? Tell me something: Does LeBron James twiddle his thumbs and say, ‘Jeez, I’m kind of great at shooting, and I guess I’m OK at dribbling and passing’? No, he’s like, ‘I’m amazing! I rock!’ I wish more actresses had that kind of bravado.”
The eerily contemporary morality of HBO’s Game of Thrones
it went anti-Tolkien. Indeed, if you dared to call their creation “Tolkienesque,” the esteemed deceased English author might well rise from the grave in protest.
.. In Tolkien’s tales, magic is of paramount importance, the good is very, very good, and the evil is obvious and horrifying. Tolkien was a veteran of World War I, and he’d seen his own Mordor. The descriptions of the Black Land have eerie echoes in the blasted earth and industrial destruction in the trenches of the Western Front. In Tolkien’s time, great good faced great evil (often against seemingly overwhelming odds), and great good triumphed.
.. His work instead calls back to an earlier time, to the struggles for dynastic succession in old England. Loosely based — very loosely — on the Wars of the Roses, his books pit warring families against each other
.. This game has but one rule, “You win or you die.” The politics are gritty, good men are hard to find, and honor and virtue are often rewarded with swift death.
.. Perhaps fearing that the show would flop without a little extra help, HBO used its full premium-cable powers to lard it up with graphic sex and violence.
.. Martin’s books aren’t for the squeamish, but HBO took the lewd elements to the next level. Comedians and critics even coined a term, “sexposition,” to describe the show’s habit of using extended sex scenes as a mechanism for explaining plot points and developing characters. In family-friendly social-conservative circles, the word went out: HBO once again was using sex to sell, and Christians especially shouldn’t be buying.
.. But by the end of season six, the show was an unstoppable ratings juggernaut, watched by upwards of 25 million Americans each week. It’s arguably the most watched show on television today.
.. Season seven (out of eight) starts on July 16, and its ratings will likely surpass everything but the NFL playoffs. A true cultural moment is at hand.
.. the show’s creators have accomplished what few television or film producers have ever achieved — they have improved upon classic books and have, quite simply, mastered the art of storytelling.
.. they cast the multiple important roles perfectly, and they have shown a knack for delivering during the big moments. The plot twists, betrayals, and epic battles aren’t just watchable, they’re rewatchable. In fact, classic clips garner millions of views on YouTube as fans go relive the highlights in much the same way that Patriots fans no doubt relive the last five minutes of Tom Brady’s epic comeback in Super Bowl LI.
.. The story itself matters too, and in many ways it is the right story at the right time, holding up a mirror to modern American sensibilities and showing the consequences of modern American morality.
.. In Tolkien’s world the stakes are immense, the moral battle lines are clear, and victory actually means victory, the end of a distinct evil force. In this respect, as noted above, Tolkien was a man of his age.
.. Martin’s can feel like a treadmill of conflict where squabbling lords and ladies ignore looming threats and greater dangers for the sake of momentary advantage in a seemingly never-ending battle for control. The stakes can seem small — what’s the real difference for humanity between Lannister or Targaryen rule? — but the conflicts are still intense.
.. Whereas the typical high-fantasy novel might end after a hero defeats her enemies and frees entire cities’ worth of slaves, in Game of Thrones, Martin (and the show’s creators) ask, “What comes next?” And the answer, instead of a glorious celebration of freedom and liberty, is a period of chaos and vengeance.
.. Whereas the typical high-fantasy novel centers on the most honorable of heroes and writes him to victory against insurmountable odds, in Game of Thrones, the honorable hero loses his head unless he’s honorable and shrewd or honorable and violent.
.. Think of it as Calvinism without Christ — natural human depravity unleashed. The realities of human nature mean that evil is very, very evil, and good is also touched with the weight of sin.
.. Certain timely themes emerge, perhaps most salient among them the constant, vivid reminders that the ends do not justify the means.
.. Indeed, Martin has revealed a key truth — that pursuing virtuous ends by vicious means can so transform a person that the ends themselves change. Virtue is redefined, and ultimately virtue is lost.
.. The characters are obsessed with settling scores and vindicating their honor.
.. In fact, even the evilest of characters have their own tales of woe. They can always find a murder or a conflict or an act of defiance that justifies the next vengeful act. Just as in real life, evil has a reason for its rage.
.. While watching, one can’t help but be reminded of Christ’s admonition that even his followers should be “wise as serpents.”
.. A conservative can’t watch the show without understanding that it is, at times, almost shamelessly Burkean: Disrupt the established order at your peril.
.. several of the great houses launched a rebellion (“Robert’s Rebellion”) to depose a mad king. By any measure, it was a just war against a homicidal maniac
.. I suspect we won’t see anything like the collapse of Mount Doom in Return of the King. Maybe we’ll get justice, but it will likely be angry justice, and when the series ends, the last person on the Iron Throne will wear the crown uneasily, knowing that she (or he) left a trail of bodies on the path to power and that those souls not only cry out for vengeance but have living descendants who hear their call.
.. At issue was the question of political tactics. Did the “high road” work anymore? Don’t the nice guys always lose, and when they lose don’t the virtues they believe in ultimately lose as well?
.. an increasingly amoral society, unmoored from its traditions and full of entitled and ambitious men and women who compete for power with unrestrained viciousness. Does that sound at least vaguely familiar? Is it any wonder that Game of Thrones resonates in the modern American heart?
.. It will still have too much sex (though HBO has limited the lewdness as the series has grown more popular)
.. it will give us something else as well — a lesson that entitlement and rage have a price, and that justice gets lost when victory is the only goal. Perhaps the true rule of the game of thrones isn’t “Win or die” but rather “Win and die.” The quest for power, unmoored from virtue, is the doom of us all.