In Comics

In its basic conception, the Swamp Thing is a not unfamiliar variant on that old comic and fantasy staple: the misunderstood monster. Frequently the monster in question is a gentle giant, saving the little boy who believed in him but was about to get run over by a speeding car, just before the monster itself is gunned down by a paranoid detachment of National Guardsmen. Although the Swamp Thing does indeed get pursued by squads of soldiers, weapons bristling and teeth clenched against the dark unknown, and has been known to save the innocent from time to time, nobody would ever really refer to him as a gentle giant—particularly after Alan Moore got done with him…

Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book One is available in finer comic book stores everywhere. You can read the full review at PopMatters.

In Theaters

You think you’ve seen this movie. Irascible old codger (white, of course), who doesn’t need or care about any other human being on the planet, gets his ice-cold heart thawed by a fireball of empathy (maybe a child, or a colorful minority) who comes bounding into his life. There are indeed elements of that movie floating to the surface from time to time in Ramin Bahrani’s Goodbye Solo, but fortunately they tend to get slapped to the side by the vision (yes, we can call it that) of a filmmaker with better things on his mind…

Goodbye Solo opens today, and if things go right it could end up one of the most fondly-remembered American films of the year. Read the full review at filmcritic.com.

In Theaters

It says something about a film when the greatest character in it is not human or animal, but in fact a farm. True to its title, Czech writer-director Bohdan Sláma’s The Country Teacher is, indeed, about a teacher in the country. But although there is ripe material here for some moving drama, the only element that truly comes to life is the farm where much of the film’s action takes place, with its heaping mounds of hay, gorgeously sprawling acres of fields, lake and forest, and dilapidated main building that looks as though it could easily give room to a family of 15. Somewhere within the beautiful confines of this farm, and its evocatively rendered rural community, Sláma locates the necessary elements for a story, but never ties them together in any appreciable manner…

The Country Teacher opens this week in limited release. You can read the full review at Film Journal International.

In Theaters

A polarizing family secrets drama whose moment of revelation is continually diverted in favor of enticing new fragments of the truth, Must Read After My Death is a documentary that does its best to get at the truth, no matter how frustratingly far away that truth insists on receding. Watching it is like receiving a spooky postcard from the shiny-on-the-outside postwar American suburbs, whose text reveals the fever-pitch dreams, disappointment, and madness roiling underneath….

Must Read After My Death is still playing in limited release, or can also be viewed online for a mere $2.99 at the website here. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com.

In Books

Those who read Thomas Rick’s lacerating 2006 take on the first phase of the Iraq War debacle, Fiasco (given what he uncovered, the title was shockingly not hyperbole), might be surprised by his thought-provoking follow-up and what it reveals about the war’s second act. The weighted phrase that seemed to choke the nation’s news outlets a couple years back, “the surge,” takes on an entirely new meaning once you have taken in Rick’s dramatic, Bob Woodward-esque, behind-the-scenes narrative of how it was actually thought up and then implemented on the ground. The story of how that all came about is, like just about everything else associated with the Iraq War and the Bush White House, a bloody comedy of errors and incompetence. But what makes the tale of this phase of the war different is the fact that, despite all the odds, the long-shot gamble taken by a desperate president who’d gotten in over his head by relying on the wrong people to fight his half-thought-out crusade, may have actually worked

Thomas Ricks’ The Gamble is in stores now and well worth your time, one of the first important books of the year. You can read the full review at PopMatters.

In Theaters

It doesn’t take much to make the life of a spy look great. The travel, expense account, sense of danger, all that role-playing — it’s catnip for most people, whose greatest investment in daily skullduggery tends to be making their boss believe they’re actually working. In Duplicity, however, writer/director Tony Gilroy ups the ante by reveling in all of the above while throwing in a keen sense of fun and maybe even a dash of honest-to-god romance. It’s a dashing and bright entertainment that aims to please without scraping the floor for your approval. In other words, about as different a world from Gilroy’s Michael Clayton as could be imagined…

Duplicity opens wide today. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com.

In Theaters

A mob film that’s as far from the genre’s standard operating procedure as could be imagined, Gomorrah paints a bleak and impressionistic picture of a society not just riddled with gangsters, but crippled by them. Not only are the gangsters shown here resolutely unglamorous, they’re disloyal, cowardly, and frequently downright stupid; if there were any cops around in this world, these guys wouldn’t last a day. But the Neapolitan towns the film sets itself in seem hardly the kind of place capable of mustering a vigorous law enforcement response to the random brutality and open-air drug markets. Instead, the society appears little more than a host body for the Camorra (the particularly thuggish Neapolitan version of the Mafia), existing only to provide more euros for the weekly take and bodies for the slaughter…

Gomorrah has been playing in limited release for a few weeks in larger cities, should hopefully be expanding throughout the country over the spring. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com.