Screening Room: ‘The Wait’


In L’Atessa (The Wait), a grieving mother played by Juliette Binoche meets her son’s girlfriend for the first time after a funeral that’s left her emotionally devastated. Emotional gamesmanship ensues.

The Wait is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

Holding the center of Piero Messina’s dark oil painting of a story is Juliette Binoche, deftly submarined as Anna, the mother in mourning, with a grief-etched countenance as striking as worn granite. Unable to come to grips with her loss, she waits in a grand, remote Sicilian estate where the mirrors are covered in black shrouds and appears uninhabited even by the people who live there. Anna’s dark watch is interrupted by the arrival of Jeanne (Lou de Laâge), the pert French girlfriend of her son Giuseppe, whom she has never met. Invited by Giuseppe to spend the days before Easter at his house, Jeanne shows up in the funeral’s aftermath to find that he’s not there to greet her. Anna is welcoming but formal, distant and evasive…

Here’s the trailer:

Weekend Reading: April 29, 2016


Screening Room: ‘How to Let Go of the World…’


The new environmental documentary from Josh Fox (Gasland) starts off as a terrifying plunge into what climate change will be doing to the Earth, and the human race, over the next few decades. But then Fox does something unusual: He tries to find what there is to be happy about in all this terrifying prognostication.

How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

Josh Fox’s first two films—Gasland and Gasland Part II—were micro-targeted issue documentaries about the environmental dangers of fracking for natural gas, particularly near his home in upstate New York. So it makes sense that his newest film, How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, would start off in the same vein. He opens on a shot of him dancing with a charming lack of rhythm to the Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” It’s a way of celebrating the rare victory: After years of activism, fracking was outlawed in the Delaware River watershed…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Pay Attention, Damnit


According to possibly (but let’s hope not) apocryphal story, the great Vladimir Nabokov—born this week in 1899—once gave the following advice to a writing student:

Nabokov looks up from his reading he points to a tree outside his office window. ‘What kind of tree is that?’ he asks the student. ‘What?’ ‘What is the name of that tree?’ asks Nabokov. ‘The one outside my window.’ ‘I don’t know,’says the student. ‘You’ll never be a writer.’ says Nabokov.

Is that rule absolutely true? Of course not. The average writer has their head in the clouds most days; and Nabokov, let’s not forget, was preternaturally attuned to detail in ways that most of us would find painful.

But maybe writing should be treated with this level of attention. Every building you pass in a day, every flip of a passer-by’s hair, every faraway sound, should be jotted down in your mental notebook, to be called upon whenever needed. It’s like being a spy, just less dangerous. Usually.

Weekend Reading: April 22, 2016


Screening Room: ‘Sing Street’

Sing+Street poster

The newest musical from John Carney (Once) is an ’80s-set romance set in (of course) Dublin. Sing Street is playing now. My review is at PopMatters:

When first glimpsed in John Carney’s newest musical confection, ruddy-cheeked teenager Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) looks like the kind of kid who’s set to be chewed up and spit out by the music industry, not to mention life itself. The setting for Sing Street is Dublin, circa 1985, where the black-robed authority of the Church still rules all and the ferry to England carries more dreamers and strivers to London each day.

As the meager middle class trappings of Conor’s life are stripped away, he’s left facing a future without much in the way of armor, or security. It’s the kind of situation that pop songs were made to cure…

Here’s the trailer:


Quote of the Day: When Questlove Roller-Skated with Prince


From Questlove’s 2013 memoir, Mo’ Beta Blues, a story of that time Prince wanted to know if he wanted to go to a roller-skating party on Valentine’s Day.

Questlove, of course, said yes. He brought Eddie Murphy along. Then, after Prince asked Questlove to put his phone in coat check, he brought out his skates. And not just any skates:

Prince had the briefcase out on the floor. He clicked the lock and opened it, and took out the strangest, most singular pair of roller skates I had ever seen. They were clear skates that lit up, and the wheels sent a multicolored spark trail into your path.

He took them out and did a big lap around the rink. Man. He could skate like he could sing. I watched him go, so transfixed that I didn’t even notice Eddie Murphy appearing at my arm. “I’m going to go get your phone for you,” he said.

Writer’s Desk: Clancy’s Rules


The late and arguably great Tom Clancy—born this past week in 1947—was never going to be remembered as a stylist. The characters in his techno-thrillers like The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games generally talked alike (unless they were villains) and he was never good at setting a scene.

However, before bestseller bloat started turning his ever-denser plots into 1,000-page bores, he could crank out a perfectly good wargame scenario for the kind of readers who liked theorizing over who would win in a firefight: Delta Force or Spetsnaz?

Here are some of Clancy’s rules for writing and life. Take them as you will:

  • Tell the story
  • Writing is like golf
  • Make pretend more real than real
  • Writer’s block is unacceptable
  • No one can take your dream away

Perhaps not to everyone’s liking. But, then, not everyone has written the (still very readable) Red Storm Rising, which was seen as so plausible a World War III scenario at the time that Reagan read it to prep for his Iceland summit with Gorbachev.

Rewind: The Real Anita Hill Story

anita-poster1Tonight, HBO is premiering Confirmation, their fictional take on the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991. It was the first of the decades televised scandal melodramas, not least for the spectacle of the Senate’s hostile grilling of Anita Hill about her accusations of sexual harassment by Thomas.

Freida Lee Mock’s documentary Anita (2014) is an instructive take on Hill’s experience under the spotlight and how the resulting controversy changed the country.

My review is at Film Racket.

Here’s the trailer:

Rewind: ‘In Bruges’


With Martin McDonagh’s killer new play Hangmen having sold out on the West End—and now available in some theaters via National Theatre Live digital broadcast—it seems a good time to look back at his debut film, 2008’s hitman comedy In Bruges.

Assassins on Vacation” is at Eyes Wide Open:

The Bruges Chamber of Commerce was probably delighted with at least part of Martin McDonagh’s 2008 debut film In Bruges, as it delivers a ravishing viewpoint on this gorgeous Belgian town that appears to have been dropped into the 21st century from a fairy-tale version of the Middle Ages … Local boosters were certainly less taken, though, with most of what happens in this dark-as-night comedy, in which a pair of hitmen hiding out in the town spend their time arguing over whether or not the town is, in fact, “a shithole.” Later on, the guns come out, large quantities of blood are spilled, and a story that had been weaving a fairy-tale ambiance turns into a wholly different kind of fairy tale — one that doesn’t cater to tourists…

Here’s the trailer:

Weekend Reading: April 15, 2016


Writer’s Desk: A Room of One’s Own


Maya Angelou receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Distractions can be killers. There are writers who churn out quality material in the middle of a newsroom’s bedlam. Others need to shut themselves off from the world completely.

Here’s what Maya Angelou (who was born this week in 1928 in St. Louis, and passed away in 2014) had to say about her process:

I do still keep a hotel room in my hometown, and pay for it by the month. I go around 6:30 in the morning. I have a bedroom, with a bed, a table, and a bath. I have Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary, and the Bible.

She kept a deck of cards and some crosswords on hand, and had the hotel remove any kind of decoration (paintings and such) from the room. No distractions. Well, except those crosswords and that deck of cards she kept around. One has to have something to do when blocked.

Weekend Reading: April 8, 2016


Screening Room: ‘Louder than Bombs’

Isabelle Huppert and Gabriel Byrne in 'Louder than Bombs'
Isabelle Huppert and Gabriel Byrne in ‘Louder than Bombs’

No, sadly, Louder than Bombs isn’t a concert film or documentary about The Smiths—speaking of which, why hasn’t that happened yet? It’s a quiet but bracing character study from the underseen (so far, at least) director Joachim Trier, working with his biggest cast yet.

Louder than Bombs is opening this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

There’s probably no better sign of the West’s solipsism than the fact that after years of roiling strife in the Middle East and elsewhere, our artists and audiences seem at the moment less interested in stories about those catastrophic conflicts than stories about how they impact the Westerners who report on them. Memoirs, plays and films, from Body of an American to Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, have reinvigorated the sub-genre of stories about Westerners finding meaning in exotic, faraway lands. Only now, the main character is less likely to be a do-gooder with a sense of mission than a war journalist with a long, dark streak of romantic self-destruction who is not so much reawakened by their experiences as they are traumatized and broken…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Purge: Election Year’


By the time the July 4th weekend comes along, the primary season will be over and the media electoral circus will be gearing up for the conventions. In other words, it’ll be the perfect time for The Purge: Election Night.

My article on the Purge films and the current election cycle ran at Little White Lies:

What we’ve seen over the past year on the scorched-earth plains of American electioneering resembles less a return to the grand old days of two-fisted retail politics than another entry in the subversively political Purge series, set in a near-future America where every year all laws are suspended for a 12-hour-long spree of supposedly cathartic violence called “The Purge”…

Here’s the trailer: