New in Books: ‘Pity the Billionaire’

In his newest book, Thomas Frank (What’s the Matter with Kansas?) continues his project of analyzing the demolition-derby tactics of the modern right, only this time his bafflement has a related focus. Pity the Billionaire studies one of the great curiosities of our time. In this instance, it’s the headache-inducing sight of many citizens of a country still reeling from a recession, primarily brought on by a wildly unregulated financial industry, apoplectic with rage not at those who brought the calamity about, but those who were trying, albeit meekly, to keep it from happening again. As Frank writes, the conservative insurgency of the last few years “has capitalized on the nation’s anguish to create a protest movement that virtually promises to make the anguish worse”…

Pity the Billionaire is available all over the place now, seek it out. You can read my full review at PopMatters.

New in Theaters: ‘The Five-Year Engagement’

A few years from now, The Five-Year Engagement might be remembered—or better, forgotten—as a blip on the radar screens of cowriter and star Jason Segal and producer Judd Apatow’s careers. By then, they may have both gone on to greater comic achievements. That’s the best case. In the worst case, if, for instance, they go on to make more movies like this one, together or apart, then The Five-Year Engagement might look like the beginning of the end…

The Five-Year Engagement is playing pretty much everywhere, whether you like it or not. My full review is at PopMatters.

New in Theaters: ‘Goodbye, First Love’

There are few filmmakers working today with the ability to both drill deep into primal emotions and maintain an artful perspective on their wracking turmoil; France’s Mia Hansen-Løve is one of them. In Goodbye, First Love, her ode to the foolish obstinacy of young love, writer/director Hansen-Løve shows — in bright colors and dark, gusting squalls — what it is like to be swept away by overwhelming, and often unrealistic, feelings. Certainly, her teenagers and young adults here flirt not just with each other but with extreme ridiculousness. But it’s a ridiculousness that’s universally understood…

Goodbye, First Love is playing now in limited release. You can read my full review at

New in Theaters: ‘Damsels in Distress’

It’s been a long time since the toga-wrapped revolution of Animal House and the whole National Lampoon “slobs vs. snobs” gauntlet toss. Long enough that in Whit Stillman’s long-awaited collegiate farce Damsels in Distress, his lead damsel can intone darkly about how at elite Seven Oaks college, “an atmosphere of male barbarism predominates,” and we are meant to think the better of her for saying it. It’s not that Stillman is trying to get away with some dire, Tom Wolfe-ian jeremiad about declining standards. Instead, he seems to want to upend the school-set comedy with his own brand of highly literate, quasi-conservative thoughtfulness (characters intoning about how much more interesting homosexuality used to be before wider societal acceptance, and so on) and splice it with a crisp and pastel-hued surrealism. It’s Dadaism for the preppie set…

Damsels in Distress is playing now. You can read my full review at

New in Books: ‘Drift’

The first book by Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s nightly messenger of leftist bafflement, takes on the subject of how the American military was allowed to become its own raison d’etre. It’s an honorable effort from somebody who seems to know the subject well. Maddow has always attracted positive attention, and correctly so, for being more wonkish than her commentariat cohorts. One generally knows where Maddow’s going to come out on a subject before she launches into it, but she at least comes armed with a bristling array of stats more reliable than the blog-sourced rantings that litter Glenn Beck’s feverish whiteboards…

Drift is topping the New York Times bestseller list for hardcover nonfiction this week. You can read my full review at PopMatters.

New in Theaters: ‘Turn Me On, Dammit!’

One of the better films at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival was this smart, tart film from Norway, which rightfully took home the Best Screenplay – Narrative Award. The comedy of adolescent embarrassment is nicely played off a frank depiction of a teenage girl’s coming of age.

Turn Me On, Dammit! is playing now in limited release and definitely the sort of thing to be sought out. You can read my festival review at PopMatters.

New on DVD:
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

A quiet paen to personal discovery that masquerades as a quixotic journey into the wasteland of grief, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close makes a valiant attempt to understand catastrophe and loss but never manages to truly come to grips with it. This is a film in which the shadow of 9/11 is supposed to always be there, even though the smoking towers are only glimpsed a few times, once from a great distance and otherwise through televised news segments. But the horror of that day is sieved through too many filters and ends up as almost an abstraction…

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is available now on DVD. You can read my full review at PopMatters.

New in Theaters:
The Island President

What just might be the scariest movie of the year doesn’t feature skyscraper-crushing robots or species-annihilating bacteria. The setting of Jon Shenk’s documentary The Island President is the tranquil and paradise-like island nation of the Maldives. The star, Mohamed Nasheed, is a perky rights activist-turned crusading environmental politician. The villains are China, India, the United States; indeed, most of the nations of the world. The threat is rising sea levels that are already grinding away at the Maldives’ coastlines and will, within a matter of decades, drown the nation entirely. As Nasheed points out during a press interview in New York, his nation is just the canary in the coal mine: “Manhattan is as low as the Maldives”… 

The Island President is playing now in limited release. You can read my full review at

New in Theaters:
The Hunter

Willem Dafoe has played many roles in his career, ranging from T. S. Eliot and Max Schreck to a vampire hunter and sundry psychopaths, cops, and Green Goblins. Rarely is found in that resume, however, a recognizably everyday human being. There’s something in that vulpine face and sandpaper voice which translates poorly to the workaday. Even when playing a secondary character in a straight-laced drama like The English Patient, he comes burdened with a name like David Caravaggio and missing his thumbs. Given this background when considering The Hunter, one would think that a role like that of Martin, the hired gun who is sent into the wilds of Tasmania to kill the last of a long-thought-extinct species, would be a natural fit for Dafoe’s otherworldliness. In this unfocused and highly antidramatic film, though, Dafoe is measured for a role that requires him to be empathic and exceedingly normal; it doesn’t fit…

The Hunter is playing now in limited release. You can read my full review at