The Graphic Report: Zombie Pixies and Frank Black’s New Graphic Novel

Thegoodinn-coverIn a development that would seem highly overdue, the Pixies’ frontman Frank Black wrote (or co-wrote at least) a graphic novel. Called The Good Inn, it’s something of a laundry list of his likes, particularly Surrealism and early French cinema.

My essay on The Good Inn and the Pixies is at Avidly:

Why did Black Francis take this long to write a graphic novel? Sure, he’s been busy of late with reunion tours of both the actual Pixies and their more recent and inexcusably Kim Deal-less zombie incarnation (in that one, audiences must suffer not just listless performances but the travesty of hearing somebody not Kim sing “Gigantic”)…

There’s an excerpt of it over at the A.V. Club.

Writer’s Corner: Instruct or Amuse

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Henry James, c.1882 (Library of Congress)

You could do much worse than get writing advice from the late and very great Henry James. Sure, you wouldn’t listen to what the old man had to say (nothing, most likely, on structuring a chase scene). But in almost any other instance, the man who could write both a masterful drawing-room melodrama like The Portrait of a Lady and a cracking good ghost story like The Turn of the Screw deserves to be heeded.

To that end, consider this imprecation from his 1884 essay calling for realism above all in literature, “The Art of Fiction“:

Literature should be either instructive or amusing…

Well put, and curiously succinct for James (well, he does go on).

Also interesting from the same essay is James’ take on “good” literature versus “bad” and how the former will inevitably triumph:

It must be admitted that good novels are somewhat compromised by bad ones, and that the field at large suffers discredit from overcrowding … [The novel] has been vulgarized, like all other kinds of literature, like everything else to-day, and it has proved more than some kinds accessible to vulgarization. But there is as much difference as there ever was between a good novel and a bad one … the good subsists and emits its light and stimulates our desire for perfection.

Now Playing: ‘The Drop’

Tom Hardy, faithful dog, and Noomi Rapace in 'The Drop' (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Tom Hardy, faithful dog, and Noomi Rapace in ‘The Drop’ (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

With a screenplay by Dennis Lehane (Mystic RiverShutter Island), an Oscar-nominated director (Michaël R. Roskam, for Bullhead), and an Oscar-worthy turn by Tom Hardy, The Drop would seem to have plenty of ability to overcome its status as a run-of-the-mill crime drama about a mob-linked bar in Brooklyn. Whether it does or doesn’t is up for debate; the genius of Hardy’s performance shouldn’t be.

The Drop is playing in most markets around the country now. My review is at PopMatters:

The response of your average cineaste, upon hearing the words “In Brooklyn…” in a film’s opening narration, is to look for the nearest exit. What follows is too frequently more mythologizing than storytelling. The borough is transformed from specific place to psychic landscape, full of tribal loyalties and tight bonds, where the begrimed and as-yet ungentrified street scene indicates bootstrapping and self-policing pride. Cops not needed here.

However, if you follow your instincts and bolt at the start of Michael R. Roskam’s sturdy and bleak noir The Drop, you miss Tom Hardy creating a thing of beauty yet again…

You can see the trailer here:

Department of Weekend Reading: September 26, 2014

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New in Theaters: ‘Jimi All Is By My Side’

Andre Benjamin in 'Jimi All Is By My Side' (Darko Entertainment)
Andre Benjamin in ‘Jimi All Is By My Side’ (Darko Entertainment)

Outkast’s Andre Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix in a film written and directed by John Ridley (Twelve Years a Slave)? Yes, please. No rights to any original Hendrix songs? Hmmm…

Jimi All Is By My Side is opening Friday in limited release and probably won’t hang around too long. My review is at Film Journal International:

Eventually somebody will make a sprawling, all-inclusive Jimi Hendrix movie with the estate’s full cooperation. The cinematography will be lush, the highs glorious and the lows despairing, past and present will bleed together, and the artist will emerge as a troubled but epochal figure who blazed brightly before burning out. Stars will litter the screen and the Dolby-assisted tidal wave of tunes will bring tears to every baby boomer in the house. That movie will almost definitely be better than the scattered and unsatisfying Jimi: All Is by My Side. But it won’t be as honest an attempt to get at the mystery of the man…

You can see the trailer here:

Reader’s Corner: Run this Bookstore

Wigtown (Shaun Bythell)
Wigtown, book town (Shaun Bythell)

Hey, wanna run a bookstore? If you can get yourself over to Wigtown in beautiful, not-independent Scotland, they’re giving away the chance to learn all the ins and outs of the trade. According to The Bookseller:

The Open Book project will invite interested parties to apply to live in and run a local bookshop, renamed The Open Book, for a period of up to six weeks. Anyone is invited to apply, with preference given to artists, writers, thinkers, and “bibliophiles”. Participants will be given a crash course in bookselling and will be asked to contribute to a blog outlining their experiences, as well as keeping the shop open for a set number of hours a week.

Check it out. Wigtown (it’s Scotland’s National Book Town, don’t you know) is on the western shore, looks remote and positively gorgeous. You’ll get a lot of reading done and perhaps learn why booksellers are both frequently grumpy and at the same time highly content with their lives.

Department of Weekend Reading: September 19, 2014

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New on DVD: ‘The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden’

Dore Strauch and Friedrich Ritter in their Galapagos garden, c. 1932 (Zeitgeist Films)
Dore Strauch and Friedrich Ritter in their Galapagos garden, c. 1932 (Zeitgeist Films)

galapagos affair-dvd coverA Nietszche-loving disgruntled German doctor and his worshipful, sickly wife; a “Baroness” who believes no man can resist her; an isolated island; weaponry and jealousy. How could anything go wrong? The story of how it really, really did is the subject of The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden, one of the year’s curiouser documentaries.

The Galapagos Affair is on DVD and Blu-ray now. My review is at PopMatters:

In 1929, a certain kind of European man apparently thought nothing of packing up and moving himself and his family to a remote cluster of islands far off the coast of Ecuador … The first couple to arrive on the tiny and uninhabited island of Floreana was Friedrich Ritter and Dore Strauch. From his and Dore’s writings, it’s clear that Friedrich was a walking stereotype of the clueless Germanic intellectual, so slavishly devoted to his beloved Nietzsche that reality didn’t stand a chance. A successful doctor who believed society to be “a huge impersonal monster,” Friedrich moved them to Floreana in order to “make an Eden.” That they were both married at the time to other people and didn’t know much of anything about surviving in the wild wasn’t deemed an obstacle…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: Nick Cave is Still Alive in ‘20,000 Days on Earth’

Nick Cave drives to parts unknown with Kylie Minogue in '20,000 Days on Earth' (Drafthouse Films)
Nick Cave drives to parts unknown with Kylie Minogue in ‘20,000 Days on Earth’ (Drafthouse Films)

20,000 Days on Earth is a meta-fictional documentary about Nick Cave, art, life, death, and above all writing. It’s beautiful and transfixing and is opening in limited release this Wednesday.

My review is at Film Journal International:

The last thing that audiences need is another documentary about the greatness of another band or artist of the past. It’s all too easy once artists have their glory days behind them to lock all that rough chaos up into a neatly packaged movie, maybe a box set filled with B-sides and rarities. That doesn’t mean that the likes of Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, Finding Fela and A Band Called Death aren’t worthy films. But today’s documentary audiences could be forgiven for thinking that to be a music fan today is akin to being an archivist. Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s new documentary about Australian Goth-poet Nick Cave is a long overdue reversal of that nostalgic trend…

You can see the trailer here:

Writer’s Corner: Getting Prompted

UnderwoodKeyboard

Having a hard time getting started on that blank page? Every writer has their tried-and-true cures for the block—taking a walk, playing with the cat, etc. But even those will eventually run up against the dread lack of inspiration.

In those scenarios, prompts are the kind of thing that never hurt. Writer’s Digest has a handy repository of them here, ranging from things like mysterious monsters on a ship to zombie-killing and a pun competition.

Anything to get the juices flowing.

Reader’s Corner: The Books Facebook Users Love

hitchhikers1Does this list say something about who’s using Facebook? In yet another of the listicles that they’re famous for, BuzzFeed shows the Top 20 books most beloved by Facebook users. With the exception of the number one pick (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone?), it’s pretty much what you would expect:

  • Great Modern Novels I Had To Read In School But Actually Liked (1984, The Great Gatsby)
  • Books That I Read 50 Million Times As A Child And Whisked Me Away Somewhere Magical Each Time (The Lion, the Witch, and the WardrobeAnne of Green GablesA Wrinkle in TimeThe Lord of the Rings)
  • Actual Classics That Tend Not To Be Assigned In School Anymore (Jane EyrePride and Prejudice)
  • Self-Help Creed Masked As Literature (The Alchemist)
  • The Only Book I Read In The Past Few Years (The Hunger Games)
  • Outlier (The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Bible)

watchmen1When you dig into the full dataset that Facebook made available, particularly the full Top 100 list, a few more surprises pop up. There’s a heavier sprinkling of modern YA, plus the occasional religious text (The Book of Mormon). But what’s fascinating is just how overwhelmingly genre the list is, compared to what it might have been a few years ago. Even though many mainstream readers barely know who they are, Terry Pratchett, Orson Scott Card, Alan Moore, Robert Heinlein, and Robert Jordan all make appearances here.

This begs the question: Are Facebook users geekier than the population at large, or as the percentage of adults who actually read books falls every year, are genre fans just the ones more likely to keep reading books as opposed to tweets?

Also: is it a problem that the number-one book is Harry Potter? After all, according to Scientific American, children who were read to from those books acted more compassionately afterwards.

Department of Weekend Reading: September 12, 2014

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New in Theaters: ‘The Green Prince’

The art of espionage in 'The Green Prince' (Music Box Films)
The art of espionage in ‘The Green Prince’ (Music Box Films)

Wars aren’t fought just by armies and weapons. They also need intelligence, which requires spies, who often need to betray everyone around them. It’s a tricky business.

The Green Prince, about a Palestinian who risked his life to spy for Israel, opens tomorrow in limited release.

My review is at Film Racket:

Restrained, clinical, and yet full-hearted, The Green Prince is one of the year’s, and maybe ultimately the decade’s, great spy stories. A two-hander about betrayal, shame, honor, and murky motivations, it includes nothing more than two men — one an Israeli intelligence operative and the other his Palestinian source — telling their part of a sprawling and many years’ long operation to undermine Hamas. Director Nadav Schirman stitches together their crisp, well-honed interview segments with a textured mosaic of surveillance footage and the fortunately occasional live-action reenactment into a nearly seamless whole. The result both outdoes the invented drama of many a spy thriller and raises more ethical quandaries than can be easily dispensed with…

You can see the trailer here:

Screening Room: The Top 5 Sci-Fi Movies That Never Were

Production art from Alejandro Jodorowsky's never-produced 'Dune' (Sony Pictures Classics)
Production art from Alejandro Jodorowsky’s never-produced ‘Dune’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

Sometimes it can be better to think about the possibilities of those great unrealized what-if film projects of legend than to actually see them made. Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon, Ridley Scott’s I Am Legend, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs spinoff; there’s a lot of possibilities there for genius, but also insane overreach.

In the interest of indulging the what if side of things, I posted a highly subjective list at Short Ends & Leader of the “Top 5 Sci-Fi Movies That Never Were“:

Even were it not for the mental anguish brought about by the revival of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it would be obvious we live in strange times, cinematically speaking. To wit: Every other movie playing in theaters features alien invasions, bionic bodysuit weaponry, time travel, or a half-dozen other elements that make a geeky kid’s heart beat just that much faster. You would think, then, that studios would be dusting off every science-fiction script their D-girls passed on over the past couple decades and working out how to put Matthew McConaughey in it…

 

New in Theaters: ‘Take Me to the River’

Even Snoop Dog is in 'Take Me to the River' (Social Capital Films, LLC)
Even Snoop Dog is in ‘Take Me to the River’ (Social Capital Films, LLC)

Memphis’s deeply knotted influence on American music gets a timely celebration in the new documentary Take Me to the River, opening this Friday in limited release and then later around the country.

My review is at Film Journal International:

There’s no end of love flowing off the screen in Martin Shore’s thrilled-to-be-here celebration of the Memphis Sound. That should be no surprise, given the legends that longtime producer and (clearly) first-time director Shore assembled for a promising marriage of old and new schools of music. The list of onscreen talent is deep, from Mavis Staples and Charlie Musselwhite to rapper Al Kapone and a bench of murderously talented session men. The organizing principle is that by joining different traditions and generations in the recording studio, the film can divine the source of that alchemical magic Memphis music has produced over the years. It also wants to serve as a monument to these heroes, a few of whom passed away before the film was finished…

You can see the trailer here: