Terry Pratchett Walks with Death

Fans of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels were by definition fans of one of his greatest characters: Death. A calm, steady, and fairly graceful presence, Death could be counted on for some wry observations, delivered in ALL CAPS. 

So it was appropriate that when Pratchett died yesterday of dementia at the age of 66, it was announced on his Twitter account in the voice of Death himself:

AT LAST SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.

New in Theaters: ‘Merchants of Doubt’

This is what lies look like: 'Merchants of Doubt' (Sony Pictures Classics)

This is what lies look like: ‘Merchants of Doubt’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

How do you get people to believe in a lie. Well, when it’s something like climate change, it helps to have a well-paid mini-industry of fakers and dissemblers to help spread the mistruths. Whatever the subject, there’s plenty of so-called “experts” who will tell people what they want to hear.

That’s the subject of Robert Kenner’s new documentary Merchants of Doubt, which opens tomorrow in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

This is an ugly film, though it has an upbeat spirit. Director Robert Kenner starts off with magician Jamy Ian Swiss giving a deft performance in close-up magic. “My expertise is in deception,” Swiss says with no small amount of pride. Kenner features Swiss so prominently, and laces the film with visual nods to card tricks, because as Swiss states about magicians, “We are honest liars.” The professional charlatans Kenner profiles later would be hard put to make such a claim. The tragedy of the film is that depressingly few people get the difference…

Here’s the trailer:

In Books: ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ 75th Anniversary

Dust Bowl farm, June 1938, by Dorothea Lange (Library of Congress)

Dust Bowl farm, June 1938, by Dorothea Lange (Library of Congress)

Seventy-five years ago this month, John Steinbeck published The Grapes of Wrath. The anniversary is as good an excuse as any to go back and crack open this gorgeous, painful, Biblical epic.

grapesofwrath-cover1I wrote about The Grapes of Wrath and its continuing power and relevance for the The Barnes & Noble Review:

Freedom in America has always been entwined with freedom of movement. The freedom to immigrate, the freedom to relocate from one state to the next, the freedom to wander without being hassled. That’s one of the reasons John Steinbeck’s coruscating epic of exodus, The Grapes of Wrath, hit bestseller lists like a bomb when it was published in 1939. It wasn’t a novel about people taking wing and transforming themselves in new settings. Steinbeck showed Americans heading west to better themselves like waves of people before them, only to be blocked, harried, fenced in, run off, denied. 

Seventy-five years later, the novel still speaks to us for this same reason…

Writer’s Corner: Poetry vs. Congress

Pundits who want examples of how America’s school system is failing can easily point to any number of metrics: How the kids are faring in math versus Singapore, or how few of them can locate their own country on a map. One other way might just be to listen to our politicians.

The right honorable Representative Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina) went on the teevee over the weekend to talk politics. According to the Dumbest Man on the Internet (Missouri’s own!), Gowdy “hit it out of the park.” Judge for yourself:

Well, how would you like to run for reelection if you were in the House and the Senate based on Obamacare with its rising premiums, worse coverage and now we’re trying to convince you that you’re better off writing poetry than you working and getting money?

For those in need of translation from this garbled blather from an elected official, Gowdy thinks that Democrats are telling Americans that it’s better to go write poetry than look for a job. His mangling of the language is bad enough, but his gratuitous slandering of poets is just plain wrong.

As the great Charles Pierce (who memorably identified Gowdy as “a congresscritter from down in the home office of American sedition”) points out, the House of Representatives isn’t precisely known for working these days, unlike poets:

Trey Gowdy, who gets a base salary of $174,000, will work a total of 113 days in formal session this year, in which he will do very little. I happen to know several poets, and I can say with authority that every one of them works harder than does Trey Gowdy, that Philistine meathead, largely because most of them are working two or more jobs, none of which provide benefits.

Quote of the Day: Feeding the Poor

From James Carroll’s thoughtful profile of Pope Francis in the end-of-year New Yorker, discussing his coming of age politically in Argentina during the “Dirty War” of the 1970s and ’80s:

The anti-Soviet paranoia of the era made it easy to see [liberation theology] as influenced more by Karl Marx than by Jesus Christ. Archbishop Hélder Câmara, of Brazil, famously captured the tension, saying, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.”

Department of Post-Holiday Reading: December 27, 2013

johnwaters-christmas1

‘If you really hate music, you’ll love the show.’

DVD Tuesday: ‘Ginger & Rosa’

Alice Englert and Elle Fanning in 'Ginger & Rosa'

Alice Englert and Elle Fanning in ‘Ginger & Rosa’

The newest film from Sally Potter (Orlando) is something of a departure for her. Straightforward stylistically, it’s a beautifully-shot story about two girls growing up in fractured families and learning how to navigate the stresses that the outside world and inexplicable, irresponsible adults put on their friendship.

gingerandrosa-dvdMy review ran at PopMatters:

In Sally Potter’s Ginger & Rosa, two girls are linked by disaster at birth and have a hard time dodging it during their lives. As the film begins, the 17-year-olds are wrapped around each other like young kittens looking for a warm place to sleep. But soon enough, even joyful experiences (political activism, young love) lead to frustration and rage.

The setting is 1962, London. It’s a grey place, barely rebuilt after the Second World War: people keep their coats on indoors because the heating is no good. Here Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) find solace in one another and in jazz records. These bohemians have been best friends since childhood. Their mothers gave birth in adjoining hospital beds just as an atomic bomb was blasting Hiroshima off the planet’s surface. As the film juxtaposes the mushroom cloud and its aftermath with the mothers screaming in childbirth, we get the idea that the girls are born into a world of destruction…

It’s available today on DVD and Blu-ray.

Here’s the trailer: