New in Books:
The Age of Movies: Selected Writings of Pauline Kael

If the average person who cares about such things were asked to choose a greatest American film critic, but for some outliers stumping for Andrew Sarris, Roger Ebert, or (if particularly nettlesome) James Agee, they would generally go with Pauline Kael. She wielded criticism like a weapon and praise like a benediction. She flouted the received wisdoms of the day and demanded that while the great arthouse auteurs receive their due, so too should those skilled practitioners of the lower orders of cinema. Kael won the National Book Award and inspired a mini-legion of fellow movie-crazed critics who came of age during the great flowering of that American art form and tried to keep its flames burning, even when the culture as a whole moved on to other loves…
The Age of Movies is on sale in finer (and not-so-fine) bookstores everywhere. You can read my full review at The Millions.

New in Theaters:
Being Elmo

Constance Marks’s documentary about Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind the high-giggling and hug-happy little red monster who sits at the nexus of a public-television marketing dynamo, could easily be accused of being little more than a feature-length advertisement for said creature. It doesn’t have any interest in posing the hard or even borderline difficult questions of its subject or digging into some of the complexities behind his puppet’s appeal, and is so enraptured by Clash that there are numerous times when it seems he (a director and producer himself) is more the director than Marks. This doesn’t make Being Elmo a bad film, just a mediocre one that could have tried for something more…
Being Elmo is playing in theaters now. You can read my full review at filmcritic.com.

New in Theaters:
Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone

It’s nice of course for a pioneering band like Fishbone to have the likes of Gwen Stefani (No Doubt), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction), ?uestlove (The Roots), Vernon Reid (Living Colour), and Ice-T (Ice-T) singing their praises in this bittersweet documentary. One person after another comes forward to testify to how the band’s dynamic mixture of ska-funk and punk, and blazingly intense live shows inspired them all and convinced them that this was destined to be one of the great bands of our time. The problem is that the breakthrough never happened. As pleasant as the encomiums are, they don’t pay the rent. This leads singer and lead visionary Angelo Moore — reduced to living with his mother — to muse on the irony of “living a lifestyle of famous but not rich”…
Everyday Sunshine is playing now in limited release. You can read my full review at filmcritic.com.

New in Books:
Zone One

If nothing else, Colson Whitehead’s new novel – a zombie fiction that manages to be both unabashedly immersed in the genre while still tenaciously clinging (for better and for worse) to his usual traits and interests – understands and appreciates the fast-then-slow creep of the zombie menace which threatens the tattered shreds of society. Though imbued with the jarring frights that bring the undead lunging out at its characters from unseen corners, Zone One digs deeply into the horrors of the slow-motion nightmare, where collapse starts to seem not just a possibility but a certainty…

Zone One will be on sale next week. You can read my full review at PopMatters.

New in Theaters:
Bombay Beach

It’s a hardscrabble collection of wastrels, strivers and desert rats who make their home in Bombay Beach, a scraggly community on California’s Salton Sea, that massive inland lake once pushed as a recreational paradise. What Alma Har’el’s camera captures is a ghostly afterimage left behind once Bombay Beach’s initial promise as a resort town faded (glimpses of which are seen in half-comic, half-tragic old booster footage); it’s like the dark, David Lynch side of the desert iconoclasts from Nick Brandestini’s Darwin

Bombay Beach is playing now in limited release; check it out. You can read the full review at Film Journal International.

New in Books:
Reamde

Nobody ever accused Neal Stephenson of not going far enough. But with his new novel, the hyper-knowledgeable and impeccably entertaining author might well be thought of as coasting. Of course, in his case, coasting means knocking out a thousand-plus-page hyperbolic steam engine of a globetrotting thriller with apparently as much ease as Stephen King might have penning a novella before breakfast…

Reamde is available in bookstores now. You can read my full review at PopMatters.

New in Theaters:
Hell and Back Again

As long as there has been war there have been warriors, and as long as there have been warriors there has been the question of how they stop being warriors once the war (at least for them) is over? As Danfung Dennis’s grievously evocative documentary shows, warriors don’t stop fighting once they leave the field of battle. All too often, their new enemy is themselves…

Hell and Back Again is now playing in limited release. You can read my full review at filmcritic.com.