New in Theaters: ‘Our Nixon’

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Ournixon-posterEvery now and again, you’ll hear something about how a certain politician couldn’t make it if they ran today. Venal, conspiratorial, and far too fond of late-night drunk dials, Richard Nixon was one of those never-again guys.

The fascinating new documentary Our Nixon, constructed out of hundreds of hours of home movies shot by Nixon staffers, aired earlier this month on CNN and opens Friday in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

For those raised on The West Wing and stories about the Cuban Missile Crisis, the most surprising thing about President-focused documentary footage is always how good-natured everybody seems to be. That’s because, while the White House might be the most singularly powerful political office in the world, it’s still an office like any other. You can’t deal with issues of detente and Congressional brinkmanship 24 hours a day; occasionally even the most dedicated wonks need to gossip, play pranks, and complain about coworkers. This workaday domesticity is one of the reasons Penny Lane’s absorbing home-movie documentary Our Nixon so inexplicably fascinating…

You can watch the trailer here:

DVD Tuesday: ‘The Great Gatsby’

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Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, hidden somewhere in the set decoration like the rest of the cast.

greatgatsby-dvdThe first and biggest movie spectacle of the 2013 summer movie season had nothing to do with IMAX superheroes, but a genre-blending half-musical Baz Luhrmann adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Sound like a refreshing change of pace? It should have been. Unfortunately the result was more like a feature-length trailer for a movie that never quite arrived.

The Great Gatsby hits DVD and Blu-ray. My review is at Short Ends & Leader:

Luhrmann’s take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age fable is all about trying to make it seem as “modern” as possible; a story gambit that makes sense, given the current economic climate. Of course, the one percent’s current Gilded Age just kept on trucking after the Great Recession, unlike the excesses of the 1920s fantasized about so lovingly in Gatsby, which were put on ice by the Great Depression. To that end, Luhrmann comes to the story armed not with a respectable screenplay, great location scouts, and the best actors he could find but a war chest of whizbang computer graphics, some pretty faces, and executive music producer Jay-Z. It’s gonna be a show, kids!…

Here’s the trailer:

Readers’ Corner: ‘This Town’ and the Gilded Trough

this town-coverAlmost the best thing about Mark Leibovich’s new Washington, DC tell-all This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral—Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!—in America’s Gilded Capital is what’s not in it. He didn’t include an index, thusly avoiding the tendency of Beltway types to cruise into bookstores and flip instantly to the index for any reference to themselves. Given the high-pitched response to his book from the corridors of power, a surprising number of those people have actually been reading the thing. It’s worth it.

My review is at PopMatters:

Mark Leibovich’s This Town is angry but funny, hitting big targets with ease while somehow avoiding the shrill tone of the screed. As the New York Times’ chief national correspondent, he has spent more time covering politics in the American capital than any human being should have to, unless serving time for a horrific crime. After 16 years covering the circular grip n’ grin of Washington politics, Leibovich has served up a heaping platter of disgust, but he’s done it with a smiley-face emoticon. After all, he’s still got to work in the place he calls “a city of beautifully busy people constantly writing the story of their own lives”…

You can watch Leibovich on The Daily Show here.

Writers’ Room: Elmore Leonard on Writing Well

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Elmore Leonard died last week at the age of 87. He wrote dozens of books and innumerable short stories in a variety of genres, but was best remembered for his best-selling crime novels. He was a master of clean prose and a mechanic of plot; so much so that his justly famous “10 Rules of Writing Well” should be checked out by any writer, crime or not.

Here you go:

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than ”said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ”said” . . .
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
  6. Never use the words ”suddenly” or ”all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Always, always follow the last one. Read the original piece here for his explanations of the various rules. (“You are allowed no more than two or three [exclamation marks] per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.”)

Now Playing: ‘Drinking Buddies’

Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson get all twisted up in 'Drinking Buddies'.
Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson get all twisted up in ‘Drinking Buddies’.

drinkingbuddies-posterThere’s not much to say about the Chicago microbrewery-set romantic comedy Drinking Buddies, which opened in limited release yesterday, other than you should probably go see it. Four great actors playing inside a comic quadrangle of lies, booze, and lust twisted all up with friendship. It’s achingly beautiful in that elegant French manner while remaining bruisingly down-to-earth.

My review is at Film Racket:

As the sole woman working at a Chicago brewery with a tribe of bearded, vaguely hipster guys in Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies, Olivia Wilde’s Kate seems to be that unicorn creature that every won’t-grow-up dude can’t believe exists outside the pages of Maxim. Resolutely non-girly in dress and attitude, she slams down beers with the guys and chows french fries at lunch. Come night-time, all she wants to do is play pool, joke around, and do yet more drinking. At no point does she look happier than when holding a full pint of beer and a mammoth tub of pretzels; this being a movie, she still looks phenomenal in a bikini…

Here’s the trailer:

Now Playing: ‘The World’s End’

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the-worlds-end-posterHaving gone after the zombie movie and the cop action flick previously, the writing/acting duo of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg (the new Star Trek‘s Scottie, for those of you who don’t get out as much) has now made a movie in which the pair go on an epic bender and end up facing down the apocalypse. The inspiration lies in a particular brand of postwar British sci-fi (think Village of the Damned and Dr. Who) which will be less obvious to American audiences than their earlier works like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Still, good inebriated fun.

My review is at Film Racket:

For all Simon Pegg’s happy chaotic lunacy as Gary, The World’s End doesn’t seem promising at first. There are scads of fine performers on hand, and a good jolt of energy, but the latter comes almost entirely from Pegg’s overanxious mugging. Without much preamble, Gary (first seen delightedly recounting that night of epic drunkenness in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting) explodes back into his friends’ comfortable yuppie lives and convinces each of them to follow him back to their small home town and start that pub crawl over again as an epic tribute to old times…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: Gore Vidal to African Death Metal

'Hank and Asha'
‘Hank and Asha’

Gore-Vidal_posterThe 2013 Rhode Island International Film Festival ran from August 6–13, with films playing mostly in Providence. It was a somewhat sparsely attended but extraordinarily well-curated event; nothing that a little more publicity couldn’t help.

My overview of some of the films that played ran in PopMatters, here’s some highlights:

Keep your eyes peeled for them to come to a fest or high-number cable channel near you soon.