Screening Room: ‘Anomalisa’

Anomalisa_posterA bleak, Up in the Air-like story about a depressed businessman’s wanderings through an anonymous American heartland, the stop-motion animated film Anomalisa is the newest boundary-blurrer from Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). It’ll be the one that anti-Pixar Grinches in the Academy will be voting for in the animation category against the Inside Out majority.

Anomalisa opens in limited release this week and wider in January. My review is at PopMatters:

In today’s America, you must have money for your disaffection to be interesting. At least this is the case in Charlie Kaufman’s downbeat stop-motion animation film, Anomalisa. Like some slim and semi-acclaimed allegorical novel recently translated into English, it’s a story about a man alone in a strange city having dreamlike encounters while wrestling with his inner demons. Along the way, he meets a variety of people lower down the socioeconomic ladder than him, and treats them terribly…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Working in Bookstores

books-theidealgiftIt’s not a prerequisite for writers to have worked in a bookstore. But just as a director needs to occasionally watch their movie with an actual audience instead of by themselves, it’s handy for writers to have spent some time out there in the literary trenches with the folks who buy and sell these things.

Even George Orwell spent some time flogging the printed word. He wrote a decent essay on the experience, so there’s another reason to do it: Research. A few observations of note:

In a town like London there are always plenty of not quite certifiable lunatics walking the streets, and they tend to gravitate towards bookshops, because a bookshop is one of the few places where you can hang about for a long time without spending any money.

Modern books for children are rather horrible things, especially when you see them in the mass.

…it is always fairly easy to sell Dickens, just as it is always easy to sell Shakespeare. Dickens is one of those authors whom people are ‘always meaning to’ read.

…[the dear old lady] who read such a nice book in 1897 and wonders whether you can find her a copy. Unfortunately she doesn’t remember the title or the author’s name or what the book was about, but she does remember that it had a red cover.

Just overlook the racial terminology (“oriental students haggling over cheap textbooks” George?) and much of this would apply just as well today.

Holiday Reading: December 25, 2015

christmas-world peace

Quote of the Day: Hitch’s Humbug

christmasshoppingEvery holiday season, words reliably flow from columnists’ keyboards about good will toward men, “this holiday season…,” and whatnot. We are also treated to an ever-increasing barrage of manufactured outrage over the supposed “War on Christmas.”

It’s the time of year for American Christians, already swaddled by a culture and government that cheerfully stomps all over the Establishment Clause, to kvetch about how their holiday has supposedly been stripped of its religious intent and symbolism.

Back in 2005, before this annual flurry of fury had even reached the apotheosis of silliness—Starbucks Christmas cups, and so on—the late, great Christopher Hitchens penned one of his many columns about the tawdry consumerist spectacle and oppressive state-religion aspect of Christmas: “…it was exactly this paganism and corruption that led Oliver Cromwell—my own favorite Protestant fundamentalist—to ban the celebration of Christmas altogether.”

Hitch delivers a further response to the outrage that erupts whenever some municipality decides that they should actually respect the Constitution—not to mention all of their non-Christian constituents—by not erecting Christian displays on public land with public money:

… there are millions of well-appointed buildings all across the United States, most of them tax-exempt and some of them receiving state subventions, where anyone can go at any time and celebrate miraculous births and pregnant virgins all day and all night if they so desire. These places are known as “churches,” and they can also force passersby to look at the displays and billboards they erect and to give ear to the bells that they ring. In addition, they can count on numberless radio and TV stations to beam their stuff all through the ether.

It’s not precisely an argument for banning Christmas ala Cromwell. But it is a healthy reminder that freedom of religion in today’s America doesn’t always include freedom from religion.

Screening Room: ‘The Hateful Eight’

hateful8posterIt’s the holiday season, which must mean one thing: Time for another Quentin Tarantino throwback genre bloodbath. This year, it’s a snowy Western—one that Tarantino almost decided not to make after the script got leaked.

The Hateful Eight opens on Christmas Day. Some theaters are showing it in glorious 70mm UltraPanavision. My review is at PopMatters:

A locked-room mystery masquerading as a Western, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight at first looks a lot like his precious Christmas release, 2012’s Django Unchained. Fans of that exploitation abattoir might be forgiven for wondering, as they hit the intermission in the close to three-hour new movie, just when the fireworks are going to start…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Where to Invade Next’


For his newest film, agitprop documentarian Michael Moore uses the anthology approach instead of going after one problem. This time out, he’s pretending to be on a mission from Pentagon to go “conquer” various other Western nations, steal all their best ideas on topics America is having trouble with (education, health policy, law and order), and bring them home for us to profit from. This would never happen, of course, because this is America and if the idea didn’t originate here then, well, it clearly couldn’t be any good. Moore knows that, thusly the quixotic nature of this serio-comic broadside.

Where to Invade Next is opening later this week. My review is at PopMatters:

Moore starts in Italy. There, hanging out with a pair of serious vacationers, he does a good job of making just about every employed American in the audience sick with envy by pointing out the weeks and weeks of paid leave the average Italian gets just by dint of being Italian. The look of disbelief on the Italian man’s face when Moore tells him how many weeks of legally paid vacation Americans are entitled to (“None”) is so profound it is as though he has been told Americans still believe that the world is flat…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Stop Waiting


We have all books we love that could have been just a little bit better. Plenty of time and energy has been wasted on arguing over how to improve an existing work of art. Marlon James, the Macalester College professor and Man Booker-winning author of A History of Seven Killings, has been there. He told a magazine that:

I realized how sick and tired I was of arguing about whether there should be a black hobbit in Lord of the Rings.

historyofsevenkillings1So what is James going to do about it? He’s writing his own multi-part fantasy series set in Africa. He calls it “an African Game of Thrones“:

African folklore is just as rich, and just as perverse as that shit. We have witches, we have demons, we have goblins, and mad kings. We have stories of royal succession that would put Wolf Hall to shame. We beat the Tudors two times over…

The first book will be called Black Leopard, Red Wolf. Watch for it.

And in the meantime, take James’s advice: If you see something that needs to be written, why not write it?