Now Playing: ‘The Lunchbox’

Irrfan Khan in 'The Lunchbox'
Irrfan Khan in ‘The Lunchbox’

In The Lunchbox, a sad-eyed office worker nearing retirement in Mumbai gets his regular lunch delivery, only to discover that it’s meant for a married man. But the food is delicious, so he keeps the mistake going and takes up exchanging letters with the cook, a lonely housewife trying to get her husband to notice her.

The Lunchbox is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

The sweet and savory epistolary romance The Lunchbox spins a variation on the adage about getting to a man’s heart through his stomach. In this case, the man in question’s heart is certainly touched, but the food he’s illicitly feasting on serves as a wakeup for something else: his soul. It’s more than the woman cooking the food intended. But then, spells have a way of getting away from the caster…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: Bookpub

 

This idea seems like it was a longtime coming. Take the micro- (or nano-) brewery concept that’s been gathering speed across the country, particularly throughout the Midwest, and combine it with reading. Books and beer.

Per the Indianapolis Star, University of Michigan English major Jason Wuerfel is starting up a certain kind of awesome with his new “Books & Brews” storefront:

A personal touch isn’t the only thing setting Books & Brews a part from the competition. All of the beer served in the bar section of the store is brewed on site by Wuerfel. The bookpub owner (yes, I just coined the term bookpub) also is channeling Willy Wonka by allowing folks who pledged $500 or more to the project’s Kickstarter fund to help design a brew, name it, make it, and put it on tap…

Yes, he made all the furniture himself.

(h/t: The Roundup)

Department of Weekend Reading: March 28, 2014

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New in Theaters: ‘Noah’

Every so often it seems that Hollywood gives the Bible epic another go. But there’s something about the genre that could well be so mired in the past that it refuses to be updated; Gibson and Scorsese couldn’t help but fundamentally remake it. Now comes Darren Aronofsky, last seen giving ballerinas nightmares in Black Swan, with his own unique take on the Bible story.

Noah is playing now everywhere. My review is at PopMatters:

In order to tell the story of Noah and the flood for over two hours, the movie erects considerable dramatic and political scaffolding, and in so doing, becomes a Biblical epic truly like no other. With its visionary asides and warnings of environmental apocalypse, it’s too idiosyncratic to make sense as mainstream seat-filler. But Noah is also a tamed thing, curiously lacking in daring for a director usually so eager to pluck an audience’s nerves like a violinist…

You can see the trailer here:

Now Playing: ‘Enemy’

enemy-poster1Last year in Prisoners, director Denis Villeneueve pulled a performance out of the normally downbeat Jake Gyllenhaal whose vibrant intensity stunned even in a film filled with it. With Villeneueve’s followup, a thinly creepy take on a Jose Saramago novel, Gyllenhaal somehow delivers less in a story that asks him to play two visually identical but spiritually opposite roles.

Enemy is playing now in limited release; my review is at Film Racket:

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a somnolent professor at some Toronto university  … He’s a phantom in his own life, not even sure whether those inexplicable moments featuring spiders and dark chambers filled with mysterious people are memories or dreams. With long, anxious shots and very occasional jittery interactions with the people who flit across Adam’s anxious path, Villeneueve tracks him like somebody who is about to implode, if only he existed. Even his mother (Isabella Rossellini) doesn’t seem entirely sure that he does…

Here’s the trailer; great soundtrack at least:

Now Playing: ‘Bad Words’

Jason Bateman has been crafting comedy genius for so long in front of the camera that it’s perhaps inevitable he would eventually move behind it as well. Bad Words is his directorial debut, a promising and blessedly short if wildly uneven hour-and-a-half of rude comedy about a misanthropic adult who crashes a kids’ spelling bee.

Bad Words is still playing just about everywhere. My review is at PopMatters:

Guy Trilby is custom-made for Bateman’s perfected admixture of laconic sharpness. Instead of the more explosive brand of destabilizers favored by US comedy, your John Belushis and Will Ferrells, Bateman upends the norms of this closed micro-society of over-schooled spelling quants by having Trilby simply plant himself there and refusing to move or explain his motivations. Occasionally he’ll try to get a leg up in competition by upsetting his preteen opponents with some verbal guerrilla warfare. But in the main, Trilby is a stoic pillar of nasty. (Having played the put-upon and exasperated nice guy in everything from Arrested Development to Identity Thief, Bateman gets some mileage here out of going so far to the dark side.) He’s Bartleby, and will not be moved…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: The Monastery Library in Admont

The Admont Benedictine Monastery was established in Austria in the year 1074 and is still a going concern. Impressive enough. But add on to that the existence of its stunning Baroque library, finished in 1776. Inside its glorious assemblage of bright walls and frescoed ceilings, the library contains tens of thousands of volumes, including 530 incunabula (books printed before 1500).

The Admont’s builder, Joseph Hueber, was a man of the Enlightenment, who believed in beauty of all kinds:

As with the mind, light should also fill the room.

(h/t: Fodor’s)

New in Books: ‘The Sixth Extinction’

Men standing with bones of a mastodon, which were likely hunted to extinction by humans in North America over 10,000 years ago (Library of Congress)
Men standing with bones of a mastodon, which were likely hunted to extinction by humans in North America over 10,000 years ago (Library of Congress)

book-sixthextinction-kolbert-cvr-200According to scientific writer Elizabeth Kolbert (Field Notes from a Catastrophoe), there have been five waves of mass extinctions in Earth’s history. They all had natural causes. In the current epoch — called by some researchers the Anthropocene in recognition of humanity’s transformative effect on the planet’s ecosystems — there is another wave of species disappearing, and it’s because of us.

The Sixth Extinction is on sale now. My review is at PopMatters:

In Kolbert’s account, the Anthropocene is marked by accelerated change and disruptions recalling the natural calamities of the past. In other words, humankind is the new asteroid. There’s the ocean acidification and increased carbon dioxide concentrations destroying everything from frogs to coral reefs (increased “biotic attrition” in one of the book’s more memorably clinical terms) … Interlocking webs of travel networks make continental boundaries meaningless, mixing flora and fauna together at higher rates of speed, dooming even more. The result, Kolbert writes, is much the same as the pulses of “megafauna” extinctions that started occurring some 40,000 years ago when humans began sweeping across the Earth and wiping out megaherbivores like Cuvier’s North American mammoths. “It might be nice to imagine there once was a time when men lived in harmony with nature,” Kolbert notes dispassionately. But “it’s not clear that he ever really did”…

You can read an excerpt of The Sixth Extinction in Audubon magazine.

Another victim of the Anthropocene: the passenger pigeon (Louis Agassiz Fuertes, c.1910-1914)
Another victim of the Anthropocene: the passenger pigeon (Louis Agassiz Fuertes, c.1910-1914)

Department of Weekend Reading: March 21, 2014

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New in Theaters: ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’

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Back in the 1970s, when midnight movies were still a potent cultural phenomenon, Alejandro Jodorowsky was the king of them. In 1974, after blowing the minds of cult cinephiles with El Topo and The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky took on another project: adapting Frank Herbert’s Dune. Eventually he gave up.

The documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune is opening in limited release tomorrow. My review is at Film Journal International:

As Jodorowsky—84 and still impeccably spry, with the follow-me eyes of either a prophet or very happy madman—tells it from his sun-filled Parisian apartment, he immediately put together his team of creative “warriors.” The visual unit reads like a dream team of 1970s science-fiction visionaries: French comic-book wizard Moebius (Heavy Metal), writer Dan O’Bannon (Dark Star), dark-sex-gothic fantasist H.R. Giger, and spaceship-specializing pulp-novel cover artist Chris Foss. He also claims to have roped in Pink Floyd for the soundtrack and a cast that would have included Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, and his fellow trickster surrealist Salvador Dali …Their director was convinced that this wasn’t going to be just another sci-fi epic; it was going to change the course of human history itself…

The trailer is here, dig it:

Now Playing: ‘Le Week-End’

Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan do Paris in 'Le Week-End'
Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan do Paris in ‘Le Week-End’

le-week-end-poster03In the surprisingly spry comedy Le Week-End, Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan head to Paris for a romantic anniversary weekend to kickstart their chaotic, verging-on-retirement lives. Things don’t go as planned.

Le Week-End is playing now in a few theaters and should expand more over the next several weeks. My review is at Film Racket:

Like many movies about couples who treat their relationship as a sparring ring, Roger Michell’s Le Week-End dares you to choose sides. Do you plunk down your support for the affable but retiring bookish bloke Nick (Jim Broadbent)? Or do you take the side of the skittery and cat-like Meg (Lindsay Duncan). He pokes at her, she lashes at him. They swoon together in a church, shushed by worshippers not wanting to see that kind of adolescent heat, and battle it out in the street. Sensibilities get lacerated and bank accounts demolished. It makes for an agitated film, one much starker and less forgiving than the cheery trailer promises, but with a few notable fillips of romanticism flashing through…

You can see the trailer here:

 

As a bonus, here’s the otherworldly cool dance scene from Godard’s 1964 film Band of Outsiders, which features prominently in Le Week-End:

Quote of the Day: St. Patrick’s Edition

Belfast, where learning the Irish language was a sign of solidarity with the anti-British cause.
Belfast, where learning the Irish language was a sign of solidarity with the anti-British cause.

For tomorrow’s celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, a note on the Irish, language, and stubbornness:

If you want to make any sort of Irishman do something, the surest way is to tell him it is forbidden; and if the learning of the Irish language is a bad thing (I’m not sure that it is…) … forbidden it under pressure will stimulate it to such an extent that the very dogs in Belfast … will bark in Irish.

—Lord Charlemont, cabinet minister in Northern Ireland, 1933

Department of Weekend Reading: March 14, 2014

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The Beat Report: New Kerouac Novella

hauntedlife1Not long after Jack Kerouac and his friends were wrapped up in the David Kammerer murder, he started work on a World War II novel called The Haunted Life. He only made it a little ways into the story (which was to have been a multi-volume work) before losing it, supposedly in a cab. The pages were rediscovered a few years back and have just been published; here’s a few lines:

“You’’ve been reading John Dewey.”

Dick moved off down the hall: “It’s fact. What the hell good is life if you don’t live it to the bone? Jack London was a great liver, Halliburton, even Herodotus . . . there was a man! To hell with college! Did I ever advise you to go to college?”

Peter grinned.

“No,” said Dick. “you let circumstances drag you along. Be like Hamlet . . . baffle circumstances.”

It’s hard to imagine Kerouac writing a war story, and what has survived looks more conventional and clunky than his later speedy improvisations — somewhat like how Williams S. Burroughs moved from the Hemingway-like prose of Junky to the surrealisms of Nova Mob.

There’s an excerpt here.

In Books: ‘The Trip to Echo Springs: On Writers and Drinking’

book-triptoechospring-olivialaing-cvr-200Late last year, the British writer Olivia Laing published The Trip to Echo Springs: On Writers and Drinking. It’s a rambling and discursive but smart portrait of a half-dozen writers and their struggles with the devil’s brew (Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever, Raymond Carver, F. Scott Fitzgerald). Laing takes her title from a line in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and indulges in more than a few Williams-ian flights of writerly fancy along the way. Given her twinned love of these writers’ work and her impatience with the romanticism of the drunk author, it’s well earned.

My essay on the book and the author-alcohol phenomenon, “The Drowning Pool,” is at PopMatters:

More than anything else, this is a book of pain and beauty, the former constant and the latter fleeting. It’s awash in water and the attendant metaphors, from the lapping waters of Carver’s rough-and-tumble Pacific Northwest towns to the rivers of glorious and damning booze all of her subjects sluiced down their throats. Laing stabs at and occasionally hits the subject that lies behind it all: Why write and read, after all? Reading the passages left behind in a notebook that lies by Carver’s modest grave, she is awed and lets the reader be awed by “All these anonymous suffering strangers… putting their faith in stories, in the capacity of literature to somehow salve a sense of soreness, to make one feel less flinchingly alone”…

You can read an excerpt from The Trip to Echo Springs here.