Department of Weekend Reading: August 15, 2014

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Now Playing: ‘The Trip to Italy’ is Highly Unnecessary Comedy, But Not in a Bad Way

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in 'The Trip to Italy' (IFC Films)

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan in ‘The Trip to Italy’ (IFC Films)

Two comics playing slightly tweaked versions of themselves, ravishing Italian scenery, phenomenal food, recitations of Shelley’s poetry, Tom Hardy impressions. That’s about all one needs to know about Michael Winterbottom’s nervy, gadabout sequel to the 2010 road comedy The Trip.

The Trip to Italy is playing now in highly limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

The Trip to Italy’s total lack of necessity has little bearing on its enjoyability. There’s nothing wrong with watching a pair of lyrical, spry, and acid-tongued comics lashing each other with barbed commentary while enjoying the operatic grandeur of a foodie junket through Italy’s more salubrious and sun-splashed districts. Does it matter that they’re not bringing much new to the party?…

You can see the trailer here:

Also, here you can check out one of the better clips: Coogan and Brydon on The Dark Knight Rises:

Now Playing: A Johnny Cash of the Soul in ‘Calvary’

Kelly Reilly and Brendan Gleeson in 'Calvary' (Fox Searchlight)

Kelly Reilly and Brendan Gleeson in ‘Calvary’ (Fox Searchlight)

Back in 2011, Brendan Gleeson played a cynical, caustic cop on the remote western coast of Ireland for John Michael McDonagh’s crackling black comedy The Guard. In Calvary, the two reteam for another dark-hued story about violence, morality, and modern depravity. There’s gags aplenty, but this is no comedy.

Calvary is playing now in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

In Calvary, Father James (Brendan Gleeson) begins the worst and possibly last week of his life when he’s threatened in the confessional. An anonymous penitent tells James that he was repeatedly raped by a priest starting at the age of seven. That priest is now dead, but the man wants to a kill a priest anyway. He prefers his victim be a good and innocent priest, like Father James, because that would make people pay attention. James has a week to live. “Killing a priest on a Sunday,” the voice muses with the jangled amusement of the insane. “Now that’d be something.”…

You can see the trailer here:

New Books: In ‘California’ the World Has Gone to Hell for No Good Reason

Earlier this summer, first-time novelist Edan Lepucki caught a lucky break. Just as her debut book California was due to come out, her publisher and Amazon got into a pricing dispute that caught the eye of Stephen Colbert. In an attempt to help out authors caught in the crossfire, Colbert chose Lepucki’s book as a title to champion. In his show’s appeal, he asked viewers to buy the book in droves—from anywhere but Amazon.

Now we can appreciate the novel itself, and not the furor around it.

California-cover1My review of the post-apocalyptic California is at PopMatters:

The setting is almost a generation after a slow-motion apocalypse has ground the modern age into dust. Lepucki’s two narrators, a young couple who unhurriedly trade off chapters, remember some of the earlier age’s technological glories. They’re of the last generation that experienced things like broadband and daily showers and refrigeration. By their childhoods, the world was already collapsing. They just managed to be there for civilization’s dying embers.

A more naïve writer might have made us think that they were unlucky to have these memories, that the ones who follow them would be happier without that knowledge. But that’s not the way Lepucki plays it: There is a Dark Age on the wing, and it will be savage and bleak, not a return to some pre-modern Edenic state…

You can read an excerpt here.

Writer’s Corner: Publish Your Poetry

Walt Whitman (Library of Congress)

Walt Whitman (Library of Congress)

If you’re a poet, you’ve already most likely resigned yourself to a career filled with penury and frustration. Fortunately, every now and again, there comes a rare chance to make some money as a poet and (quelle surprise) actually get published in a format that ensures people who aren’t family and friends will read you.

According to Poets & Writers, The Academy of American Poets is making a couple changes to their Walt Whitman Award, which “is given to an emerging poet who has not yet published a book.” It’s now “the most valuable first-book award for poetry in the United States.”

Check it out:

In addition to a $5,000 cash prize, the winner of the 2015 award will receive publication of his or her manuscript by Graywolf Press, and a six-week all-expenses-paid residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Umbria, Italy.

So get your pencils and poetic sensibilities sharpened. Submission guidelines are here.

By the way, this is what the Civitella Ranieri looks like. Good luck.

Department of Weekend Reading: August 8, 2014

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Now Playing: ‘Into the Storm’ Destroys Many Buildings

Look out! (Warner Bros.)

Into the Storm: Perhaps running away from the tornado would be wise. (Warner Bros.)

So there’s a big tornado coming. No, make that a lot of tornadoes. What to do? Well, maybe just run right into it with your cameras rolling. That’s the basic premise for Into the Storm, a rather disastrous disaster flick that tries to update Twister for the social media age.

My review of Into the Storm, which blows into theaters for a likely very brief stint starting tomorrow, is at Film Journal International:

Sometimes there’s nothing else to do but shout “Oh my God!” and breathlessly inquire “Is everybody okay?” That is just about the extent of memorable dialogue from Into the Storm, in which a desperate team of storm-chasers, some school kids, and a supersized tornado converge on a small rural burg whose McMansions and car dealerships are just kindling for the conflagration that everybody paid to see…

You can see the trailer here: