New in Books: ‘The Way of the Knife’

Predator drone operators at Balad Air Force Base in Iraq, 2007
Predator drone operators at Balad Air Force Base in Iraq, 2007

Suddenly, about midway through the twelfth year of the post-9/11 conflicts, America decided to have a conversation about drones and the forever war. Books and op-eds were written, opinions voiced. Then all that was forgotten.

book-wayofknife-mazzetti-cvr-200In April, though, Pulitzer Prize-winner Mark Mazzetti delivered The Way of the Knife, a precise little guidebook to all the secretive ways that America has been waging war without borders or oversight just about anywhere in the world we darn well please.

My full review is at PopMatters; here’s part:

When people of the future look back on America’s first wars of the 21st century, they will study the flash-bang invasions and slow-death occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq in the decade-and-a-half following 9/11. Lessons to be learned are many and complex, though occasionally quite simple. Don’t invade countries without an exit strategy, for example. Avoid using vengeful locals or untrained and unsupervised National Guardsmen to run prisons; that would be another. Train at least a few guys to speak something besides English—preferably the langue of the country they’re occupying.

It’s less clear what lessons will be gleaned from America’s third undeclared and so-far nameless war; since we’re still right in the middle of it…

You can buy The Way of the Knife anywhere. Here’s an excerpt.

New in Theaters: ‘Byzantium’

Saorise Ronan deals with bloody eternity in 'Byzantium'
Saorise Ronan deals with bloody eternity in ‘Byzantium’

BYZANTIUM-PosterIt’s been a while since Neil Jordan tried his hand at the vampire game. With his newest, Byzantium, he is working on a smaller and more intimate scale than in Interview with the Vampire (Saorise Ronan and Gemma Arterton inside of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise). It’s gloomy and capital “R” Romantic; Keats, not Meyer), which could explain the limited distribution.

Byzantium opened in limited release Friday. My full review is at Film Racket; here’s part:

Just when werewolf armies, zombie hordes, and Stephenie Meyer’s affectless prose seemed to have done in the poor old vampire film, along comes this gloomy, glossy little oddity about the deathless from Neil Jordan. Like in his elegant take on Interview with the Vampire, Jordan’s vampires are a study in dichotomy; either happy to bury themselves in the bloody necessities of their survival or morally indecisive. In the meantime, they have eternity to deal with, and not a whole lot of money or options for living it…

You can watch the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘How to Make Money Selling Drugs’


A few times every year, journalists, artists, and filmmakers try to make the case to end America’s war on drugs. Expensive, ineffectual, corrupting … the list of reasons is legion. Yet nothing ever quite seems to change.

The latest salvo in this effort in Matthew Clarke’s compelling if overly jokey documentary, How to Make Money Selling Drugs, which is playing now in limited release after a number of successful festival screenings. Filled with interviews with dealers themselves (from “Freeway” Rick Ross to 50 Cent), as well as DEA agents, narcotics officers, and the random user (Eminem) and commentator (The Wire‘s David Simon), it’s got something for just about everyone.

My full review is at Film Journal International; here’s part of it:

… Cooke means the title to be taken quite seriously…sort of. Setting itself up as a kind of instructional video for would-be drug dealers, the film is structured as a step-by-step “training guide” to making it to the top of a viciously competitive but highly lucrative (albeit illegal) industry. Cooke advances his film level by level through the various layers of criminal enterprise (“Level One: Getting Started” to the top level: Cartels), examining all the operational hazards and institutional hypocrisies encountered along the way…

You can watch the trailer here:

On Writing: Scare Yourself

When zombies attack.
When zombies attack.

Hard as it might be for viewers of the new World War Z to believe, the book that it was based on was neither meant to be tongue-in-cheek or horror. Its author, Max Brooks (the very lucky son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft), intended for the book to examine some extremely real concerns about pandemics and modern society, just as its predecessor The Zombie Survival Guide was inspired by the world’s long inattention to the AIDS plague.

worldwarz-bookcoverIn this profile for the New York Times magazine, Brooks lays out a few things that he believes differentiates himself from your run of the mill zombie writer. For one, his zombies are slow (not like in the very loosely adapted Brad Pitt film): “Brooks is an ardent believer in slow zombies. He doesn’t even want to try to comprehend how we’d deal with fast ones.” Also, he’s just normally a very scared person:

What he can’t understand is the horror fans.

“I’m not a horror fan,” he said. “I’m an anti-horror fan. I think horror fans feel deep down in the pit of their souls, they feel safe, and therefore bored. And therefore they want to be scared. I already have a baseline level of just anxiety about the world I live in,” he continued, metaphorically pushing the horror genre away from him on the table. “I don’t need to go seeking it out.”

No, his books aren’t horror, and he’s relieved that his books aren’t in the horror section. But he’s miffed that they’re in the humor section. “I would have put it in self-help. Or how-to.” He shakes his head. “I can’t think of anything less funny than dying in a zombie attack.”

The lesson here for aspiring writers of horror, zombie or otherwise, could be this: Try to terrify yourself first with what already scares you about everyday life. Don’t go looking for something absurd and unbelievable. Then worry about scaring your audience.

Trailer Park: ‘Salinger’

SALINGER_FINALThe theories that have swirled around the reclusive J.D. Salinger over the decades since his disappearance are many and mostly ridiculous (a personal favorite being that he actually still walks among us … writing as Thomas Pynchon). It’s what happens when you write a defining novel like The Catcher in the Rye and then just drop off the face of the earth.

It will be interesting to see what Shane Salerno’s award-potential documentary Salinger is going to be able to come up with when it opens this fall. What pops up in the trailer looks to be a mix of biography, adulation from various literary types and actors, and wildly imaginative speculation—the most enticing of which being: Is there a new book in the offing?

You can check out the trailer here: