New in Theaters: ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’

Carey Mulligan and dog in 'Far from the Madding Crowd' (Fox Searchlight)
Carey Mulligan and dog in ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ (Fox Searchlight)

postimageimage-ffmc-ffmc_blogIn Thomas Vinterberg’s take on Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, the beautiful outfits and gorgeous Dorset vistas don’t detract a bit from a story about a strong-willed woman willing to rebuff all suitors, no matter how well-suited they might seem.

My review is at PopMatters:

Some people have all the luck. Take Bathsheba Everdere (Carey Mulligan), the willful heroine in Thomas Vintenberg’s gleamingly romantic adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. Mulligan’s perceptive performance gives some hint of Bathsheba’s internal anxieties, but in the main, she is blessed and seems to know it. In 1870 Dorset, at a time in Europe when it was by no means uncommon to fall sick and die or starve to death simply for lack of funds, she is beautiful and unattached, a young woman free to find her way in the world. This comes before her surprise inheritance…

Here’s the trailer, feast your eyes:

Writer’s Desk: Being Careful

Nobody, particularly writers and artists, want to be told to go slowly when pursuing their dreams. Reach for the stars and damn the consequences! That seems more in line with what a lot of us want to hear.

renataadler1That’s why it’s helpful to hear somebody like Renata Adler, one of the great magazine writers of our time, sound a note of caution in this interview from The Guardian:

Her advice to writers is: cling to your day job – wherever it happens to be – for as long as you possibly can. “I’ve said it all along, in my even way: if you’re at Condé Nast, and they’re cutting your pieces to shreds, just hang on. Do your art in your own time, but don’t quit because then you’ll be out there, vulnerable.”

A day job can make things difficult for some writers; they need the time to concentrate on their work. But economic insecurity will ruin your concentration every time. As Adler says, “One needs an apartment and a job.”

Weekend Reading: April 24, 2015

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Now Playing: Ryan Gosling’s ‘Lost River’

Iain De Caestecker tries to leave 'Lost River'
Iain De Caestecker tries to leave ‘Lost River’

Lost_River_posterA fantastical baroque about a mother and son fighting for survival in a slowly dying rust-belt town, Lost River is playing now in a few places.

My review is at Film Racket:

The best way to approach Ryan Gosling’s debut as a writer/director is to imagine what might happen if David Lynch were ever to shoot a nature documentary. Or if a consortium of mumblecore filmmakers dropped acid and decided to make a horror film. Something that Terence Malick might have tossed together after bumming around Detroit for a few weeks. The worst way would be to watch the film and try and determine afterwards what that was all about…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Finding a Nook

Brooklyn's Central Library - a sweet place to write (Library of Congress).
Brooklyn’s Central Library – a sweet place to write (Library of Congress).

Finding the right space to write in is always a challenge. Some people could write in a highway median; others need dead silence. Most of us are somewhere in that Goldilocks in-between.

For all those New York-based writers (or just those coming through), here’s some ideas for great writing spaces that the Times culled from some local playwrights:

Dan Lauria (Dinner with the Boys) — “All the rewrites on my play were done sitting at the Westway Diner in a booth late at night. It’s 24 hours. I get all the coffee I want.”

Michael Weller (Doctor Zhivago) — “I tend to write on subways.”

Laura Eason (The Undeniable Sound of Right Now) — “… the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza. The third floor has a music and art room where there are these great tables … You’re surrounded by humanity that I find inspirational and beautiful and sad and complicated.”

Reader’s Corner: Great Library Reading Rooms

The library at Paris's La Sorbonne (Zantastik).
The library at Paris’s La Sorbonne (Zantastik).

Even in our brave new online world, libraries are still one of the best repositories for research and reading. Yes, most things can be gotten online, but there are times when the physical proximity of materials provides new insights that strictly electronic pursuits do not.

They are also simply great places to read. The good folks at Read It Forward have presented here nine of the greatest and grandest library reading rooms from around the world. Some are beautiful enough that it’s hard to imagine not being too distracted to even turn the page.

Weekend Reading: April 17, 2015

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New in Theaters: Franco Behind Bars in ‘True Story’

Jonah Hill and James Franco get at the ‘True Story’ (Fox Searchlight)

 

True_Story_posterIt isn’t every day that you see Jonah Hill and James Franco in a film and neither one of them is mugging up a storm. True Story is a long-gestating true-crime piece opening this week in which Hill plays a reporter and Franco a (maybe) murderer.

My review is at Film Racket:

Between the cold-case podcast Serial and Robert Durst’s wink-wink tease on The Jinx, true crime stories in the did-he-or-didn’t-he vein are having what they call a cultural moment. So it would seem time to tell the real story of journalist Michael Finkel’s borderline disturbing relationship with accused family murderer Christian Longo. If you can do it with movie stars, all the better. But the tentative and moody True Story doesn’t have the synapse-sparking fizz that marks the best true crime stories. It squanders more of the opportunities packed into this tale of worlds colliding than it takes advantage of…

Here is the trailer:

Now Playing: D.C. Punk in ‘Salad Days’

Punker than you: 'Salad Days'
Punker than you: ‘Salad Days’

If you want to get a good short snapshot of the wicked alchemy that produced the Washington, D.C. punk and hardcore scene, or just like music, or stories about scrappy kids who don’t wait for the adults to tell them what to do, then Salad Days is the movie for you.

saladdays-posterIt’s playing now in limited release, and should be on DVD soon so you can rewatch all the Minor Threat and Bad Brains footage to your heart’s content. My review from last year’s DOC NYC festival, is at PopMatters:

DC punk was never an international scene like New York, London or even Los Angeles. The bands fostered in the cracks of the capital’s inhuman government institutions and post-riot urban blight didn’t aspire to get out there and make it big, even punk-rock big. They wanted to play their own style of blitzkrieg hardcore for the diehard packs of mostly white middle- and upper-class teens who didn’t much like late ‘70s arena rock or disco…

Here is the trailer (that’s Fugazi’s “Bad Mouth” playing at the start):

New in Theaters: ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart in 'Clouds of Sils Maria' (Sundance Selects)
Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart in ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ (Sundance Selects)

In Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria, a venerable actress with a prickly assistant agrees to play the older character in a play that made her famous when she was in the younger role, now cast with a Lindsay Lohan-esque up-and-comer. It’s a rich dramatic environment, suggesting a marriage of Persona and All About Eve.

Clouds of Sils Maria opens this week; my review is at Film Racket:

In this richly satisfying film about age and art, a battle of wills over a new production of a classic play becomes a Rorschach test for two women’s friendship. It’s another subtext-laden drama from Olivier Assayas, whose best work has dug into the simmering tensions of long-term relationships and come up with melodramatic gold. Clouds of Sils Maria won’t be counted among his greater achievements like Summer Hours. But it’s a return to form for a director whose more recent films (Carlos, Something in the Air) have been packed with energy but lacking heft…

Here’s the (somewhat misleading) trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Getting Paid

There are many satisfactions in the writing life; though they all come with caveats. Setting your own hours—unless you’re on deadline. Being your own boss—unless you have to work closely with a narrow-minded editor. And so on.

hereisnewyork1But one of the truest joys that comes with being a writer is when you start to think that you can actually make a living at putting words onto paper.

Longtime New Yorker scribe E.B. White recalled that moment of realization for The Paris Review:

I was twenty-seven or twenty-eight before anything happened that gave me any assurance that I could make a go of writing. I had done a great deal of writing, but I lacked confidence in my ability to put it to good use. I went abroad one summer and on my return to New York found an accumulation of mail at my apartment. I took the letters, unopened, and went to a Childs restaurant on Fourteenth Street, where I ordered dinner and began opening my mail. From one envelope, two or three checks dropped out, from The New Yorker. I suppose they totaled a little under a hundred dollars, but it looked like a fortune to me. I can still remember the feeling that “this was it”—I was a pro at last. It was a good feeling and I enjoyed the meal…

Writing itself is of course a good feeling. Being paid to do so is an acknowledgement from the outside world that you’re not wasting your time doing so.

New in Theaters: ‘About Elly’

Golshifteh Farahani in the mystery 'About Elly' (Cinema Guild)
Golshifteh Farahani in ‘About Elly’ (Cinema Guild)

Although Asghar Farhadi finished his multilayered mystery About Elly a couple years before his masterful A Separation, it’s only getting a proper American release now. It’s about time.

My review for About Elly is at Film Journal International:

Like bloodhounds that can’t ignore a scent once they have been put on it, the films of Asghar Farhadi keep circling back to one redolent and persistent problem: the demeaning, low status of women in Iranian society. They are not message films, announcing their lecturing intent by yoking their narratives to the most politically advantageous plot points. Instead, they tell stories that would carry dramatic weight regardless of their setting, and show how the circumscribed lives of Iranian women exacerbate already lamentable situations…

Here’s the trailer:

Weekend Reading: April 10, 2015

Writer’s Desk: Turning Words to Sparks

Even when a piece of writing isn’t about writing it can inspire. Take, for example, Marge Piercy’s poem “The birthday of the world.” It’s a big, declamatory piece all about calling oneself to task for what’s been done and not done for the world and others. 

Here’s how she ends it:

Give me weapons 
of minute destruction. Let
my words turn into sparks.

Smashingly good stuff.