New in Theaters: ‘Citizen Koch’

Madison, Wisconsin, ground zero for the Koch brothers' political campaigns. (Variance Films)
Madison, Wisconsin, ground zero for the Koch brothers’ political campaigns. (Variance Films)

citizenkoch-posterYou would think that a hit-job documentary about the Koch brothers—billionaire conservative villains par excellence—would have been something of a slam-dunk. But Citizen Koch, for all the surrounding it for having been supposedly yanked from PBS (which receives a lot of money from David Koch), is a disappointingly toothless thing.

Citizen Koch is playing now in limited release; not on PBS. My review is at Film Journal International:

Citizen Koch has passion aplenty, but it begins as a well-starched and solidly structured argument about the dismantling of campaign-finance reform. It’s smartly and entertainingly told in the by-now standard format of attack documentaries: stringing together television news footage for a pulse-pounding narrative and cutting away to talking-head interviews for context. Instead of jumping all over the Kochs from the start, the filmmakers lay out out how the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision opened the floodgates for increased corporate donations to political advocacy groups. Former Wisconsin senator and campaign finance reformer Russ Feingold calls the decision a “huge power grab” by corporations, who were now freer to support or attack politicians of their choosing…

You can check out the trailer here:

Soundbooth: Joe Strummer, Chameleon

Joe Strummer, playing with the Pogues (photo by Masao Nakagami)
Joe Strummer, playing with the Pogues (photo by Masao Nakagami)

There’s a great new collection of essays about the inestimable Joe Strummer (1952–2002) that came out last month from Ashgate Publishing called Punk Rock Warlord: The Life and Work of Joe Strummer. I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute a chapter.

punk-rock-warlord1A much shortened, adapted version of that essay ran at PopMatters under the title “Joe Strummer: Punk-Rock Shapeshifter“:

Strummer wanted to be a lot of things: writer, artist, revolutionary, world-champion cigarette smoker. But what was probably most important to him was communication, whether about racial equality, how consumerism was crap, or just whatever was running through his roiling mind that week. He wanted to use his songs to get the word out. Rock stars can get the word out; they have a megaphone louder than that of the street-corner busker or pub-rocker that Joe started out as. If he was going to be a rock star, he needed a proper stage name…

Just for kicks, here’s a New York local news report from when Joe and the Clash barnstormed through the city in 1981:

Department of Weekend Reading: June 6, 2014

reading1

New in Theaters: ‘Obvious Child’

Jake Lacy, Jenny Slate, Gaby Hoffman in 'Obvious Child' (A24)
Jake Lacy, Jenny Slate, and Gaby Hoffman in ‘Obvious Child’ (A24)

obviouschild-posterIn yet another attempt to subvert the romantic comedy—a genre that remains essentially dead despite all Cameron Diaz’s efforts—Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child throws a lot into the mix: pregnancy, awkward relationships, and millennial insecurity.

Obvious Child opens in limited release tomorrow. My review is at Film Racket:

A fresh-faced, faux-messy romantic comedy with a refreshingly economic take on the usual meet-cute / separation crisis / resolution arc, Obvious Child is like many tales birthed in purportedly edgy Brooklyn. Yes, it spends its time mostly in Williamsburg’s creative demimonde and the operative comedic style is layered in irony like so many smothering quilts. But the story itself, once you get past the frank talk about abortion and bodily functions, is just as much love at first sight as a pastel-colored confection starring Katherine Heigl and set across the river in a midtown fashion magazine. Only the soundtrack is better, there’s three times as many solid laughs, and it’s about 20 blessed minutes shorter….

You can see the trailer here:

Now Playing: ‘Chef’

Jon Favreau and John Leguizamo in 'Chef' (Open Road Media)
Jon Favreau and John Leguizamo in ‘Chef’ (Open Road Media)

Chef-posterAfter making a mint with the first two Iron Man movies, Jon Favreau went smaller. In Chef, he plays a chef who loses his job and redeems himself by driving around with his son and best buddy serving up cubanos and beignets. Not a bad life.

Chef is playing around the country now and should be hanging around for a few more weeks before the summer season really gets started. My review is at Film Racket:

Chef is one of those jobs that many people dream of but not that many would actually want to do. A few hours on the prep line in August would burn away most foodie fantasies quite nicely. Carl Casper, the chef played by Jon Favreau in his post-Iron Man palate cleanser, however, doesn’t have many of those grotty concerns mucking up his pretty perfect life. Surrounded by gorgeous women, delectable food, rowdy friends, and a keen-eyed little moppet of a son just dying for his attention, his only real problems are those notes of discontent twanging in his head….

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Edge of Tomorrow’

Emily Blunt, Tom Cruise in 'Edge of Tomorrow' (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Emily Blunt, Tom Cruise in ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (Warner Bros. Pictures)

In Tom Cruise’s latest man-vs-world thriller, he plays a futuristic soldier who dies and dies again in the line of service. Emily Blunt is there to … well, it gets confusing.

Edge of Tomorrow opens wide on Friday. My review is at Film Journal International:

The spirits of World War II thrum mightily through Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow, visually in everything from the sight of aerial troopships soaring over the Dover cliffs to the rakish tilt of Tom Cruise’s officer’s cap. It self-consciously evokes the grand, terrifying spectacle and unifying purpose of the Normandy invasion. This even though the enemy forces occupying most of Europe are not Nazis but multi-tentacled, wolverine-nasty aliens called Mimics who are about this close to cleaning humanity’s clock. It’s up to an initially cowardly Cruise and a fearsomely muscled Emily Blunt to take them out, which they can accomplish by Cruise reliving the same gruesome day of battle until he figures out how to achieve victory…

You can see the trailer here:

Writer’s Corner: Dublin Writers Festival, From Festivals to The Troubles

K7524 - DWF_Generic Web Banner_v1

yearoffestivals1In the last bit of coverage from the Dublin Writers Festival, we have a story from Ireland’s fraught past and cautiously optimistic future.

First there was a marvelous spoken-word show from Mark Graham, who had decided not long before to buy a used camper and go attend three festivals a week around Ireland for an entire year. Apparently every town of more than two houses has a festival, so it worked.

Next up was “Where They Lie,” an investigation into the search for justice on the part of those who were “disappeared” by the IRA during The Troubles (that horrid euphemism) in the north for supposedly collaborating with the British or Unionists. It was a tough evening, with no easy answers for those in attendance.

“Where the Disappeared Lie” is here at PopMatters.