Screening Room: ‘The Handmaiden’


This Halloween, skip Madea and check out The Handmaiden. It’s playing now in limited release and is just about the best chance out there for a good time at the theater: chills, shocks, romance, secret perversions, period outfits, it’s got it all.

My review is at PopMatters:

Nothing is as it seems in The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi). Park Chan-wook’s victorious return to the Korean filmmaking scene after his American debut, 2013’s Stoker, is rife with pungent physicality and nearly overwhelmingly aesthetic surfaces. We saw Park pay that same level of attention to each detail in Stoker, all those burning glances and insect closeups laid over a stifling plot. This time, he has a story that more than justifies his flagrantly overripe style…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Start Your Novel Now

November is only a couple days away. And you know what that means: time for National Novel Writing Month!

Pretry simple: 50,000 words in 30 days. Easier said than done, of course, but therein lies the challenge. 

So get started! That sci-fi romance series or timely political satire you’ve been pondering won’t write itself…

Reader’s Corner: What the President Read

the_power_broker_book_coverRecently, Barry told Wired about the books that have shaped him over the years. They broke down his syllabus in typical efficient-nerd fashion, by how long it would take to read. Predicting one could get through Robert Moses’s 1,300-odd page The Power Broker in 19 hours seems dubious unless you’re a speedreader.

Still, this list is nonetheless a fascinatingly mixed one, jumping from fiction (a surprising Steinbeck selection) to urban studies (Caro, the book that explains New York City) and environmentalism (Kolbert’s terrifying study of climate change and mankind-caused extinctions):

  • The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln
  • Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954–63, Taylor Branch
  • The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, Robert Caro
  • The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
  • Andy Grove, The Life and Times of an American, Richard S. Tedlow
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kaheman
  • The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert
  • In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, Katherine Boo

Weekend Reading: October 28, 2016


Screening Room: ‘Inferno’

Felicity Jones;Tom Hanks

Well, another year, and another Dan Brown thriller comes to the screen. That would be Tom Hanks on the left as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, and Felicity Jones on the right as his latest brunette sidekick. This time out, Langdon’s hot on the trail of a genocidal madman who loves Dante and wants to destroy humanity. To Florence!

Inferno opens wide this weekend. My review is at Film Journal International:

“It’s good to have you back, Professor,” says Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) to Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) as they dash toward another stage in the latest Ron Howard-directed Dan Brown symbological scavenger hunt. She’s right. Hanks may not be exactly “America’s dad,” as he spoofed in a recent “Saturday Night Live” skit (“How ya doin’, champ?”), but there remains a reason that he’s one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. As Langdon, the Harvard symbologist (still not a real job) who gets sucked into world-changing conspiracies with the regularity of “Murder, She Wrote”’s Jessica Fletcher, he’s usually the smartest guy in the room but only broadcasts it when there’s a need for some expository lecturing…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Shakespeare Wrote on Deadline, Too


For his essay on the somewhat nonsensical tendency for modern authors to keep reinterpreting the plays of Shakespeare, Adam Gopnik pointed out this about the Bard:

Shakespeare grabbed his stories more or less at random from Holinshed’s history of Britain and Plutarch and old collections of Italian ribald tales. As the “ordinary poet” of a working company of players, he sought plots under deadline pressure rather than after some long, deliberate meditation on how to turn fiction into drama. “What have you got for us this month, Will?” the players asked him, and, thinking quickly, he’d say, “I thought I’d do something with the weird Italian story I mentioned, the one with the Jew and the contest.” “Italy again? All right. End of the month then?” These were not the slow-cooked stories and intricately intertextual fables of the modern art novel.

In other words, we would all do well to remember that even Shakespeare had to write on deadline, for money, and while keeping an eye toward putting asses in seats. He was a great writer, one of our greatest, but a working writer, too.

Weekend Reading: October 21, 2016