Screening Room: ‘Trainwreck’

Amy Schumer and Bill Hader in 'Trainwreck' (Universal).
Amy Schumer and Bill Hader in ‘Trainwreck’ (Universal).

After midwifing Lena Dunham’s Girls onto HBO, Judd Apatow is directing the off-key work of another comic of the moment. In Trainwreck, Amy Schumer plays basically the girl of her standup: a self-obsessed disaster. But will she find true love?

Trainwreck opens wide tomorrow. My review is at PopMatters:

… the film focuses on Amy (played by Schumer), another variation on the stock character from her TV show. Narcissistic and cutting, she’s racked up several lifetimes’ worth of one-night stands, terrified of commitment, and inclined to over-share. While the character tends toward dirty humor, she’s not so much intentionally shocking, a la Sarah Silverman, but rather, so self-involved that she’s unconcerned with how anyone else might take her revelations, as when she compares sleeping with her pseudo-boyfriend Steven (John Cena) to “having sex with an ice sculpture”…

Writer’s Desk: Writing in Plain Sight

Most writers prefer practicing their craft alone. There are the occasional ones who can get good word count on the bus or in cafes. But in the main, it’s the sort of thing best done in solitary, by guttering candlelight if you can manage the stagecraft.

DangerousVisions1Then there’s Harlan Ellison. Over the years he’s written everything from gangland fiction to dystopian comedy to TV and film criticism. And he’s done it not just from the comfort of his study, but sometimes in plain sight of the public.

From time to time, Ellison accepts the challenge to write, as a sort of literary improv, a story or a number of stories, in the window of a bookstore. Usually it’s for charity or just to help promote the store.

From a 1981 TV interview with Ellison:

I do it because I think particularly in this country people are so distanced from literature, the way it’s taught in schools, that they think that people who write are magicians on a mountaintop somewhere. And I think that’s one of the reasons why there’s so much illiteracy in this country. So by doing it in public, I show people it’s a job of work like being a plumber or and electrician…

The best part about this quote is that when Ellison compares being a writer to a plumber or electrician, he means it as a good thing.

(h/t Mental Floss)

Weekend Reading: July 10, 2015

British Museum Reading Room (Diliff)
British Museum Reading Room (Diliff)

TV Room: ‘House of Cards: Season 3’

“That damned, smiling villain…” Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in ‘House of Cards’ (Netflix)
The third season of House of Cards is out now on DVD for those of you out there not streaming. My review is at PopMatters:

When last we left Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) in the frenetic second season of House of Cards, he had bested all challenges and ensconced himself in the Oval Office. It was a thunderclap of a climax, his school ring rapping on the desk like a gunshot, the echo calling to mind the long line of rivals he had run over on the way there like human speedbumps. You almost expected the story to end there. But as every striver for the throne from Macbeth back to the Roman emperors discovered, staying in power is as much or more of a struggle than getting there in the first place…

Here’s a trailer, to catch you up:

Writers’ Desk: Future Library

Trees into books ... eventually.
Trees into books … eventually.

Because there is apparently no end to the inventive riches of Scandinavian literary culture, we now have the Future Library Project.

They are planting a forest of 1,000 pine trees in Norway north of Oslo that will be harvested a century in the future and used to print an anthology of writing. In the manner of a literary time capsule, the pieces for the anthology are being written now at the rate of one per year and held in secret until publication in 2114.

Margaret Atwood, who knows a few things about future writing, is the first contributor, with a piece about which only the title is known: Scribbler Moon. According to Atwood:

There’s something magical about it … It’s like Sleeping Beauty. The texts are going to slumber for 100 years and then they’ll wake up, come to life again. It’s a fairytale length of time. She slept for 100 years.

Fellow quasi-futurist David Mitchell (Cloud AtlasBone Clocks) is next up.

It’s a fascinating thing to contemplate, writing something that won’t be read until well after one is dead. The advantage? No worries about reviews. The downside? No adulation.

Still, it’s worth thinking about the next time you sit down to your next writing assignment. Pick up a book from the 1910s and see how much the language and underlying societal assumptions have changed since then. Then, taking that into consideration, start writing with an eye for timelessness. Who knows? Somebody may pick it up in 2114, on a screen or yellowed paper, and you want to make sure that they will know what you are talking about.

Screening Room: ‘Magic Mike XXL’

No need for shirts in 'Magic Mike XXL'  (Warner Bros.)
No need for shirts in ‘Magic Mike XXL’ (Warner Bros.)

For Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh took an effortlessly charming Channing Tatum, an impeccably entertaining Matthew McConaughey, threw them together with some classic rock hits, male stripper dance moves, and a backdrop of economic insecurity, and made it into one of the most unlikely successes of 2012. Now there’s a sequel, and quite incredibly it beats out the original in every way.

Magic Mike XXL is playing pretty much everywhere now. My review is at PopMatters:

It’s no criticism to say that Magic Mike XXL doesn’t have a lot at stake. Following Magic Mike‘s model, it’s got a low budget and simple concept, and will likely clean up on its July 4 opening weekend. But this just-tongue-in-cheek-enough sequel, unlike the frantic and insecure Jurassic World, carries a devil-may-care casual confidence that wins you over precisely because it’s not trying to go bigger and bolder. Instead, it brings the further adventures of a merry band of male entertainers who love what they do, know they can’t keep doing it forever, and want to go out on a high note…

Here’s the trailer:

Weekend Reading: Independence Day Edition

July4