Screening Room: ‘Bobby Sands: 66 Days’


Bobby Sands: 66 Days is a sharp new documentary about the IRA hero’s world-gripping 1981 hunger strike and how it encapsulated the feverish passions of the Protestant-Catholic “Troubles.”

It’s playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

Northern Ireland was still convulsing after years of strife. As Byrne’s dense weave of televisual archive footage shows, the form of battle ranged from peaceful marches to assassinations and running street skirmishes pitting gangs of rock- and Molotov cocktail-armed Catholic youth against British soldiers and a primarily Protestant police force. But for a few details, the footage of a city in free-fall could have been shot anywhere from Berlin circa 1945 to Aleppo today: children playing in burnt-out cars and rubble-strewn fields, the few standing walls covered in political graffiti…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Things to Come’


Isabelle Huppert plays a philosophy teacher whose life gets thrown for a loop in Mia Hansen-Love’s brilliant new drama.

Things to Come is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

After taking a detour into the vagabond world of dance-music DJs with the disappointingly blah Eden, Mia Hansen-Løve returns fantastically to form with Things to Come. It’s the kind of urbane, Éric Rohmer-inflected drama that the still-young writer-director has been turning out for a few years now and hopefully will continue to make for decades to come. There are any number of filmmakers who can make stories about Parisians with matters of the world and the heart weighing them down. But few approach them with the kind of questing emotional honesty that Hansen-Løve specializes in…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Keeping the Demons at Bay


Shirley Jackson considered herself an odd person. This hardly makes her unique among writers. But see what she had to say about its relationship to her writing:

The very nicest thing about being a writer is that you can afford to indulge yourself endlessly with oddness, and nobody can really do anything about it, as long as you keep writing and kind of using it up, as it were. I am, this morning, endeavoring to persuade you to join me in my deluded world; it is a happy, irrational, rich world, full of fairies and ghosts and free electricity and dragons, and a world beyond all others fun to walk around in. All you have to do—and watch this carefully, please—is keep writing. As long as you write it away regularly, nothing can really hurt you…

Weekend Reading: November 25, 2016


Screening Room: ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’


A young boy with one eye and a magical way with his guitar. A monkey sage with a wicked sneer. A giant beetle samurai. Moon gods and legend and beautiful vistas. You can find all that and more in the magical Kubo and the Two Strings, one of the year’s great films, available this week on DVD.

My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

Coming of age stories are a dime a dozen in the animated movie business. Or at least, they used to be. In 2016, it’s all about animals. From Finding Dory to The Secret Life of Pets, The Angry Birds Movie, Storks, Zootopia and the forthcoming Sing, anthropomorphized animals riddled with highly adult worries and neuroses (particularly about their jobs; a lot of these critters work) rule the screen. Travis Knight’s mythological quest, the stop-motion animation Kubo and the Two Strings, though, ignores this trend entirely and blazes its own fabulist trail…

Reader’s Corner: Michael Chabon’s ‘Moonglow’

moonglowMy review of Michael Chabon’s latest novel, Moonglow, which is hitting stores tomorrow, is at PopMatters:

Chabon starts Moonglow in a great, glowing gush of reminiscence and incident. The narrator character that he has created for himself adheres to the broad outlines of his biography, though one who keeps himself surprisingly small in the background; no Philip Roth-ian excavations of the self to be found here. Instead, Chabon places himself at the bedside of his grandfather who is near death in the late-‘80s. This is just after The Mysteries of Pittsburgh has come out, and Chabon is there to hear the tales of his grandfather’s life. They come pouring out in a rush, “Dilaudid was bringing its soft hammer to bear on his habit of silence”…

Screening Room: ‘Manchester by the Sea’


For his followup to the brilliant, if barely released Margaret, Kenneth Lonergan delivers a fistful of melancholic comedy in the surprising, deftly written Manchester by the Sea, which stars Casey Affleck as a man coming apart under the weight of multiple tragedies.

Manchester by the Sea is playing now. You probably will not see a better written or acted film this year. My review is at PopMatters:

“It’s not a good disease.” Diagnosed with cancer at the start of Manchester by the Sea, Joe Chandler (Kyle Chandler) asks his doctor if there are any good diseases. “Poison ivy,” she replies, with the barest hint of a grin. At that, Joe’s wife Elise (Gretchen Mol), furious that they’re joking at a time like this, storms out of the hospital room. Elise might be best advised not to watch Manchester by the Sea, a nearly perfect example of how to weave humor throughout tragedy…

Here is the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Never Too Late

grass-sheri-tepperThe incredibly prolific, frequently short-listed, and well-loved science-fiction author Sheri S. Tepper (Grass) passed away on October 22 at the age of 87. Tepper had a full non-writing life which included being executive director of Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood in Colorado, yet still managed to publish dozens of novels late in life.

John Scalzi noted that Tepper came to writing late in life:

Aside from her considerable talents as an author, Tepper stands as a reminder that it’s never too late to write. Tepper didn’t publish her first novel until 1983, when she was in her 54th year of life; she wrote something like 40 total, the most recent published in 2014. It’s never too late to write; it’s never too late to write a classic novel; it’s never too late to be a great writer, whether or not the genre has entirely caught up with you yet.

So remember that if you ever start thinking it’s too late to begin writing. As long as your fingers can find the pen or keyboard, or your voice can make it to the dictation program, it ain’t over.

(h/t: Shelf Awareness)

Weekend Reading: November 18, 2016


Screening Room: ‘Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened’


In 1981, Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince were the kings of Broadway. After a decade of shows from Company to Sweeney Todd that reinvented the American musical form, they were embarking on another venture: Merrily We Roll Along. Things didn’t go as planned.

Directed by Lonny Price, one of the original cast members, Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened is the up-close account of one of Broadway’s most infamous flops. It’s opening this week in limited release and will probably show up on PBS soon. My review from the New York Film Festival is at PopMatters:

At first, Price makes Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened something of a personal essay, describing with enthusiastic panache his obsessive love of the form in general and these practitioners in specific. Then he broadens the circle, marrying rehearsal footage of other cast members like Tonya Pinkins and Jason Alexander (eight years before he won a Tony and nine before appearing in Seinfeld) with new interviews. One actor remembers, “You felt like you were witnessing history.” That about sums up the type of enthusiasm that Price delivers here…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘All Governments Lie’

Yallgovernmentslie1ou would imagine from the title of the new documentary All Governments Lie, that it’s an investigation of, well, government corruption. But that’s only a sideline in this barn-burner about corporate media’s apparent inability to hold those lying politicians to account.

All Governments Lie is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

If you take everything in Fred Peabody’s screed All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone at face value, then you might as well cancel your New York Times subscription. Don’t read the Washington Post either. PBS’ “Frontline” and CBS’ “60 Minutes”? Garbage, the lot of them! That’s the takeaway from this narrowcast documentary, which takes a valid critique of the deadening effect corporate-government synergy can have on mainstream media’s ability to truly afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted and undercuts it with poor logic and simplistic argument…

Writer’s Desk: This, Too, Shall Pass

chandler1Raymond Chandler was not the happiest soul; something that you can tell all too well from his sardonic and deeply cynical novels.

He also was ever the outsider, too literary for the world of pulp crime, and too pulpy for the literary world (at least back then). So he lashed out at the “literary life” and what “repels” him about it:

…all this desperate building of castles on cobwebs, the long-drawn acrimonious struggle to make something important which we all know will be gone forever in a few years.

He was bitter, to be sure, but also right. Something to keep in mind for those few of us who make it to a place where such worries are even a concern.

Screening Room: ’13th’ and Trump



Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th lays out in stark terms the history of black oppression in America after emancipation, from Klan terrorism to the modern carceral state. It also places this history in very current terms, tying the reactionary racism of Donald Trump’s movement to the segregationist battle against the civil rights movement.

13th is playing in some theaters and is also available on Netflix. My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

Slavery was outlawed by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Even though America spent its early centuries underpinning its economy with slavery in the South (captive labor) and the North (trading in both those slaves and the goods they produced), after the nations bloodiest conflict, it finally listened to Lincolns better angels and made forced labor a thing of the past. That remains true except, as Ava Duvernay’s spring-coiled and crucial documentary 13th makes painfully clear, for one exception…

Here’s the trailer:

Weekend Reading: November 11, 2016



Quote of the Day: Looking Forward

And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.

That was Hillary Rodham Clinton, winner of the popular vote to become the 45th President of the United States of America.