Screening Room: ‘Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead’

'National Lampoon': Funny people (Magnolia)
‘Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon’: Funny people (Magnolia)

Natlamp73Remember magazines? National Lampoon was one of the best. Beyond serving as something of a thinking man’s Mad, it also fostered that upswell of talent coming out of the Chicago comedy improv scene in the 1970s and midwifed them to stardom at Saturday Night Live. Sure, that ultimately led to Coneheads the movie, but we can probably lay that more at Lorne Michaels’ feet.

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon is playing now in limited release; my review is at PopMatters:

People who only know National Lampoon as that odd possessive sitting atop posters for Animal House andVacation might be surprised by some details provided by Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon. They might not have realized the depth of talent the comedy magazine cultivated. Or they might be surprised learn this monthly publication had a circulation of one million. Or that Chevy Chase was once considered a comedy genius…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Sleeping with Other People’

Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis try to resist each other's charms in 'Sleeping with Other People' (IFC Films)
Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis try to resist each other’s charms in ‘Sleeping with Other People’ (IFC Films)

Although Trainwreck garnered all the headlines for this year’s explicit woman-oriented edgy romantic comedy, Leslye Headland’s Sleeping with Other People fulfills a lot of the promise that that Amy Schumer/Judd Apatow collaboration couldn’t quite deliver on.

Sleeping with Other People is playing now. My review is at PopMatters:

A deconstructive sweet-and-sourball of a romantic comedy, Sleeping With Other People seems made for the therapeutically inclined. To that end, it doesn’t quite deliver the story we might expect from its initial meet-cute. Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis) do make their way to a big dance number and some climactic soul-baring, but Leslye Headland’s movie doesn’t balance out emotional payoffs for everybody. Both partners learn lessons, but neither quite gets what they want…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Sicario’

'Nothing will make sense to your American ears'; Benicio Del Toro in 'Sicario' (Lionsgate)
‘Nothing will make sense to your American ears’; Benicio Del Toro in ‘Sicario’ (Lionsgate)

In Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, an FBI agent played by Emily Blunt is roped into a murky mission targeting a Mexican drug cartel that’s been piling up bodies on the American side of the border. Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin play two of her suspiciously close-mouthed and rule-bending handlers.

Sicario-posterSicario is already playing in limited release and expands wider around the country this week. My review is at Short Ends & Leader:

Sicario is a hard-nosed procedural for the post-post 9/11 era. Relevance to the modern era of imploding certainties is etched in every scene. Lines are blurred as spies, soldiers, federal agents, and cops are thrown into hybridized hunter outfits and sent after their targets in a landscape where morality comes in shades of grey and convenience. The film flashes on a collapsing social order, mutilated naked bodies swing underneath overpasses in Ciudad Juarez and hints of the same to come on the American side…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Working in Cafes

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When the writing den or (for those lucky ones) the separate writing office don’t offer much hope and the walls start closing in, there is always the cafe. The clink and clatter of dishware, the hiss of the espresso maker, the low burble of conversation; for certain kinds of writers this outside interference focuses the imagination more than it distracts.

Per Benjamin Wurgaft in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Hemingway once reported that in cafés he “was like a charging rhino when he wrote,” noticing nothing but his target. Whether or not this is true, it suggests a familiar kind of authorial self fashioning. For a kid with literary aspirations, to write in cafés is such a cliché that it needs no explanation…

Like anything Hemingway says on writing, this is both utterly true and sheer nonsense. Wurgaft is correct that writing in cafes is a cliche, but for many of us it’s a necessary one. Sometimes just feeling like a writer helps you to become one. And nothing feels more like being a writer than hunching one’s shoulders over a cheap drugstore notebook and knocking out the lines while a coffee of thin brown water (like the Tom Waits line, “the coffee just wasn’t strong enough to defend itself”) goes cold by your elbow…

Weekend Reading: September 25, 2015

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Screening Room: ‘The Keeping Room’

'The Keeping Room' (Drafthouse Films)
General Sherman is coming, with fire and musket: ‘The Keeping Room’ (Drafthouse Films)

In the neo-feminist Western The Keeping Room, three women must defend themselves against marauding soldiers at the end of the Civil War.

The Keeping Room is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

Somewhere in the American South in the last year of the Civil War, a black woman, presumably a slave, hauling wood down an empty country road meets a fierce-looking dog. When it begins to growl and bark, she barks right back. Then she notices the carriage stopped in the middle of the road. A half-dressed woman runs from the carriage, only to be shot in the back by the Union soldier in the carriage who appears to have just raped her. Then the first woman is herself shot in the head by another soldier who appears behind her. It’s a vicious and primal scene, a warning for what awaits the trio of women who are next in the soldiers’ path…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: David Foster Wallace Predicted Netflix

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Plenty of us have fallen down the new TV-binge rabbit hole more than once in the past few years. It’s a nice change of pace every now and again, instead of patiently waiting for the next installment just plowing through 5, 6, or 10 episodes on a weekend.  Adult life? Eh, it’ll still be there on Monday.

What goes by the wayside in the meantime, though? James Pearson’s essay on coming back to America and the media deluge that awaits him provides some answer:

When I left Uganda this winter I had finally broken the 300-page barrier in David Foster Wallace’s gargantuan novel, Infinite Jest. I’ve started it three or four times in the past and aborted each time for attentional reasons. But 300 pages felt like enough momentum, finally, to finish. Then I hit my first American airport, with its 4G and free wi-fi. All at once, my gadgets came alive: pinging and alerting and vibrating excitedly. And even better, all seven seasons of The West Wing had providentially appeared on Netflix Instant. I’ve only finished 100 more pages in the two months since…

It’s an addictive kind of media parasite that promises to keep sucking up more and more and more of our time.

Infinite_jest_coverIn an ironic twist, Wallace himself (who wrote on seductive comforts of mediocre shows) predicted the future of perfectly addictive entertainment in Infinite Jest, in which he imagined a movie so astoundingly awesome that everybody who started watching it would keep watching it … until they died.

Per Pearson:

In 2009, according to the media research company eMarketer, the average U.S. adult consumed about 10 hours and 32 minutes of media per day. (That’s including multitasking, so if you spend an hour browsing on your iPad while watching TV, that counts as two hours.) By 2012 that total was up over an hour to 11:39 per day. That’s almost eight hours more per week, per person. Now multiply that by America…

The question is what is being supplanted by all this media space? We probably already know and the answer isn’t a comforting one.