Screening Room: ‘Command and Control’


Getting a brief theatrical run before its PBS debut, one assumes to qualify for the Oscars, Robert Kenner’s adaptation of Eric Schlosser’s book Command and Control is a bracing documentary about a nearly forgotten threat: America’s sprawling nuclear arsenal.

Command and Control is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

The post-9/11 adage about how security services have to be right all the time while terrorists only have to be right once could easily be adapted to Robert Kenner’s vivid new documentary: People who work with nuclear weapons only have to make one mistake for everything to go to hell…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Get Started

dontthinktwiceWhile touring the country promoting his film Don’t Think Twice, comic Mike Birbiglia was asked variations on the same question at pretty much every stop:  “If I want to be a comedian [or actor or writer or improviser or film director], how do I get started?”

Birbiglia boiled his advice down to “6 Tips for Making It Small in Hollywood. Or Anywhere.” The first tip, though, is the most helpful for people who ask that question:

1. Don’t Wait — Write. Make a short film. Go to an open mike. Take an improv class. There’s no substitute for actually doing something. Don’t talk about it anymore. Maybe don’t even finish reading this essay.

The sooner you get started, the sooner you can start failing all the dozens or thousands of times you will need to fail in order to get somewhere, creatively.

Weekend Reading: September 9, 2016


Screening Room: ‘Defying the Nazis’


On the brink of World War II, a Unitarian minister and his wife were ordered by their community to travel from Massachusetts to Europe with a crucial mission: Help as many refugees escape as you can.

Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War, which was co-directed by Ken Burns, is opening this week in limited release. It will be broadcast on PBS September 20. My review is at Film Journal International:

Ringing with a vivid moral clarity, Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War is a tightly focused documentary that raises an unusually sprawling number of challenging questions for its audience. Unlike many stories of this kind, the film doesn’t pretend that the choices made by its undeniably brave subjects were easy ones or that a cost wasn’t required for their decision to go willingly into the horrors of Nazi-occupied Europe to save whoever they could…

Here is the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘London Road’


The adventurous musical London Road was a smash hit in its brief run at the National Theatre. Now it’s a film, and for just a couple minutes, one can hear Tom Hardy do his level best at singing.

London Road is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International.

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Make Writing Your Life

EPL10thAnniversary_CoverWhen giving advice on writing, Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, LoveBig Magic) takes the approach that this vocation is a calling, not just a job:

…if you are serious about a life of writing, or indeed about any creative form of expression – that you should take on this work like a holy calling. I became a writer the way other people become monks or nuns. I made a vow to writing, very young. I became Bride-of-Writing. I was writing’s most devotional handmaiden. I built my entire life around writing. I didn’t know how else to do this. I didn’t know anyone who had ever become a writer. I had no, as they say, connections. I had no clues. I just began…

Some writers may not need that level of devotion. Some.

But it’s fair to assume that you won’t have a shot of becoming a great writer without devoting your entire life to the craft.

Reader’s Corner: The State of American Reading

The latest Pew Research Center poll on the state of American reading is out, and there are few surprises: Print is holding up strong against ebooks, and slightly fewer people are reading overall (yet again).

Some key findings:

  • The percentage of Americans who read any book in the past twelve months (73%) is down from 2011 (79%)
  • Women read more than men overall and were more likely to read for pleasure
  • City-dwellers read more than people in rural communities
  • Youngsters (aged 18–29) read more than oldsters (65+)
  • The median American reads 4 books a year