September 18, 2007
Director David Cronenberg

Director David Cronenberg reopened an argument among critics and fans about violence in film when his latest, Eastern Promises, took the top prize at the Toronto Film Festival over the weekend. Eastern Promises, about Russian mobsters in London, has plenty of Cronenberg’s trademark shootouts and rub-outs, which some in the Toronto crowd said made it feel real. Others said it was distracting, unnecessary, and crass.

One thing that makes the violence in Eastern Promises distasteful is that it does nothing to move the story along, said Anthony Lane in NewYorker.com. “Violence is to threat, in his movies, as punch line is to joke: a source of glee to his fans, although every year I find it less amusing.” In Eastern Promises, it doesn’t “drive home the malice” of its characters, but instead shifts attention away from where it should be—on exploring “the spiritual sump where these characters live.” You leave the theater “feeling spooked and sullied, as if waking from a noisome dream.”

The problem with Eastern Promises is it’s not violent enough, said James Berardinelli in ReelViews.net. “Sadly,” there are “only two sequences likely to remind the viewer that he or she is watching a Cronenberg movie.” And other than those scenes, “the movie is lifeless” and ends on a note that makes it “feel unfinished.”

Cronenberg handles blood and guts with incredible finesse, said Dana Stevens in Slate.com. Eastern Promises is an “elegant treatise on the metaphysics of violence.” His character’s bodies suffer horrible damage, but “there’s a sense of respect for the body itself.” The violence is “ineluctable, brutal, and repellent, but it matters.” Even when his message isn’t entirely clear, “you leave his movies feeling unsettled in the best sense.” The Week Staff

3:28 p.m. ET

Buying chips from a vending machine is so 2017. In 2018, buying a car with the push of a button is where it's at.

Alibaba, a massive online retailer often referred to as the "Amazon of China," unveiled a video concept of its "Auto Vending Machine" on Wednesday. It's an attempt to simplify car buying, letting users browse, test drive and buy a car in a matter of minutes.

Oh, and it's also shaped like a cat.

The car-buying process starts with Alibaba's Taobao app. When customers spot a car they like on the street, they scan it on the app, customize the vehicle's color, and pick it up at their nearest vending machine for a test drive, per TechCrunch. After test driving for three days, shoppers can either buy the car or test something else.

This video breaks down the process:

Alibaba will open its first two test-drive centers in China next month, and aims to install more across the country in 2018. Who knows what wallet-altering decisions you’ll be able to make on a whim next? Kathryn Krawczyk

2:50 p.m. ET

A group of 3,000 golden retrievers from across the U.S. are taking "good dog" to a whole new level. Their checkups could help scientists beat canine cancer.

These golden retrievers are enrolled in the Morris Animal Foundation's Golden Retriever Lifetime study, the U.S.'s largest veterinary study ever. It researches what increases the risk of dogs developing cancer and other health problems, and ultimately aims to help dogs live longer, healthier lives.

More than half of golden retrievers end up with cancer, the foundation reports, so that's why they're the specified subjects in this study.

These good dogs need a little human help to make a difference, though. Dog owners keep track of what their pups eat, when they sleep, if they spend time on a lawn with pesticides, and more. They also have to take their dogs for annual checkups, collecting and shipping off hair and body fluid specimen to be studied.

No big health discoveries have come out of the study since it started in 2012, The Washington Post notes. But the research has uncovered that about a quarter of the retrievers frequently eat grass, 39 percent swim weekly — and 100 percent of them are adorable. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:16 p.m. ET
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) may not be long for Washington. HuffPost and Politico both reported that many Capitol Hill insiders believe Ryan intends to retire at the end of his term, ideally after he passes some of his personal legislative priorities — like, say, a tax overhaul bill and entitlement reform.

While Ryan told Politico's Jake Sherman on Thursday that he doesn't have any plans to leave Congress, he did admit that "passage of tax reform would be a high note" to leave on. Meanwhile, HuffPost reported that the House's conservative wing is worried that Ryan would make compromises with congressional Democrats that they would find intolerable in order to secure his legislative "white whale."

Additionally, conservative members of the House have already considered filing a motion to vacate the speakership, Politico reports, which could happen "as soon as next month." Should that fate befall Ryan, it would be similar to the plight of his predecessor, former Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), who retired from Congress rather than have his speakership usurped in a coup d'etat by conservative members of the House.

Ryan has long claimed that the speakership was "not a job I ever wanted in the first place." Still, not everyone is happy about rumors of Ryan putting down his gavel. Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) told Politico: "I just think that any talk of him leaving, I hope that's not true. It would be a major setback for our cause."

Read the full stories at Politico and HuffPost. Kelly O'Meara Morales

1:45 p.m. ET

American fighter jets on Thursday intercepted Russian planes in disputed Syrian airspace, MSNBC reported, the latest escalation of tensions between American and Russian forces in the region. MSNBC's Hans Nichols reported that the U.S. planes fired warning flares at two Russian fighter jets as they approached airspace the U.S Air Force claims to control.

American and Russian warplanes have had several tense encounters in Syria this year. Nichols speculated that this latest action shows that the U.S. "is no longer willing to abide" the Russian incursions into its claimed airspace, which have been "testing American resolve." Russian officials claim they are simply trying to launch airstrikes on the Islamic State.

While Nichols claims the incident occurred Thursday, Fox News reported the encounter happened Wednesday. Additionally, the details of Nichols' report are very similar to an incident reported by RT on Dec. 9 in which Russian officials claimed that the U.S. intercepted and shot warning flares at Russian fighter jets who were trying to bomb an ISIS base.

In June, Russia warned the U.S. that it would treat American aircraft as "targets" after American jets shot down a Syrian warplane. Last week, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial withdrawal of Russian troops in Syria, but the U.S. — which has about 2,000 troops of its own in the country — has remained skeptical that the Russian troop withdrawal will be significant. Kelly O'Meara Morales

11:00 a.m. ET
Facebook/Congressman Blake Farenthold

Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold (Texas) will retire in 2019 at the end of his congressional term, local ABC affiliate Newscenter 25 reported Thursday. NBC News confirmed the report, citing two unnamed GOP officials familiar with Farenthold's thinking.

Farenthold has recently come under fire for using vulgar insults to address staffers with whom he was angry, and a New York Times investigation depicted the lawmaker's office as a "hostile work environment, rife with sexual innuendo." Farenthold's improper conduct was first revealed by Politico's report earlier this month that Farenthold had used $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Farenthold has denied the allegations. He had initially planned to run for re-election next year, but instead will reportedly retire in January 2019, when his current term ends. Kimberly Alters

10:45 a.m. ET
Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images

President Trump is so consistently irritated by Russia talk that officials avoid discussing the country during the president's daily intelligence briefings, The Washington Post reported Thursday — despite the fact that all U.S. intelligence agencies agree that the Kremlin launched a concerted disruption operation during the 2016 election.

"If you talk about Russia, meddling, interference — that takes the [briefing] off the rails," a former intelligence official told the Post. In the event that officials do have to deliver Trump potentially upsetting information about Russia, they carefully structure their briefings in order to "soften the impact" of the information, the Post reported.

The issue, the Post explained, is that Trump feels that he cannot accept that Russia meddled in the 2016 election without invalidating his electoral victory:

Holding impromptu interventions in Trump's 26th-floor corner office at Trump Tower, advisers [...] sought to convince Trump that he could affirm the validity of the intelligence without diminishing his electoral win, according to three officials involved in the sessions. More important, they said that doing so was the only way to put the matter behind him politically and free him to pursue his goal of closer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

[...] But as aides persisted, Trump became agitated. He railed that the intelligence couldn't be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message, and charisma. [The Washington Post]

Trump's reluctance to hear damning information about Russia has forced officials to get creative when they try to make him take a stand against Putin. In one case, the Post reports, officials tried to convince Trump not to return Russian compounds seized by former President Barack Obama by presenting the issue through the familiar lens of real estate and briefly getting him to consider selling the properties for profit.

Read more about Trump's Russia reticence at The Washington Post. Kelly O'Meara Morales

10:03 a.m. ET

Chandler Self was mere yards from the Dallas Marathon finish line when disaster struck. The 32-year-old doctor had been leading the pack for the final 8 miles of the 26.2-mile race when her legs started to buckle from exhaustion. Luckily, Ariana Luterman, a 17-year-old high school athlete who was anchoring her team's relay, was there to lend a hand. Luterman helped Self to her feet several times and gently pushed the winner across the finish line: a display of sportsmanship that has since gone viral. "The only thing I could think of to do was to pick her up," Luterman told DallasNews.com, "so I picked her up." Christina Colizza

See More Speed Reads