Reader’s Corner: ’10 Things I Learned About Literature from Monty Python’

My article ‘Proust, Hardy, and Spam: 10 Things I Learned About Literature from Monty Python’—including many handy and time-wasting YouTube links and a plethora of literary goodies—was just published at The Barnes & Noble Review:

As many gawky teens discovered in their misspent youths, there was comedy and then there was Monty Python. Exploding penguins, a crime-fighting bishop, and Karl Marx struggling to answer questions about soccer on a TV quiz show; it was all surreal grist for their mill. Fully embodying the high culture/low humor synthesis that produced the better countercultural artifacts of the 1970s, their TV series, films, concerts, and books embedded arch literary references inside a dense framework of Dada performance art-pieces, cultural satire, and broadly silly skits in a classically comedic idiom…

And don’t forget Monty Python FAQ, in finer bookstores now.

TV Room: Jason Bateman’s new Missouri Noir ‘Ozark’

In the new Netflix family crime series Ozark, Jason Bateman plays a Chicago financial adviser forced to uproot his family’s entire life in order to save their lives.

Ozark premieres on July 21. My review is at The Playlist:

There are a few things guaranteed to strike terror into the heart of your average Chicagoan. High on that list would be having your family threatened with a cruel and slow death by a drug cartel, as happens to Jason Bateman in the first episode of his new Netflix culture-clash crime series “Ozark.” Nearly as frightening, and definitely more relatable, is the solution that Bateman’s character improvises to save his family: pack up and move to the Lake of the Ozarks in southern Missouri. Set against relocating to the shores of the artificial lake resort region that one character tartly terms “Redneck Riviera,” there would probably be at least a few Chicagoans who would look at the cartel gunmen and decide, nah, let’s play the odds…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Edit Like Hemingway

Everybody knows you’re supposed to kill your darilings. But sometimes that’s easier said than done.

It’s summer. Shortcuts are nice. So, next time you’re having a hard time hacking your way out of the verbal underbrush, maybe just use the Hemingway Editor.

You never know. It might get rid of everything you like, and turn your beloved short story into a forlorn piece of faux-Papa prose.

Or, it could show you that less can be more and you didn’t need all that guff to begin with.

Either way, it’s free. What do you have to lose?

Weekend Reading: July 7, 2017

Screening Room: ‘City of Ghosts’

The latest documentary from the director of Cartel Land, City of Ghosts is opening this week in limited release and expanding wider later. Expect a push for the Oscars later in the year for this incredible story.

My review is at Film Journal International:

The heroes of this riveting account are the brave men—they have woman in their number, but none are onscreen for their safety—of the group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS). These are mostly middle-class guys, including a math teacher and a film buff, who started documenting what was happening to “our forgotten Syrian city on the Euphrates that has become a city of ghosts…

Here is the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Big Sick’

For The Big Sick, comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon turned the story of their on-off romance and the intensive-care crisis that brought them back together, into probably the best romantic comedy of the summer.

The Big Sick is playing now in limited release and expanding soon around the country. My review is at PopMatters:

At the story’s beginning, Kumail is a typical sort for a Judd Apatow-produced romantic comedy. A standup comic who spends most of his time in career anxiety with his comic buddies, Kumail is hoping for the big break and making ends meet as an Uber driver. This is all highly upsetting to his parents. For them, as one of Kumail’s better gags in the movie goes, the hierarchy of employment for a good Pakistani son runs in descending order: doctor, engineer, lawyer, “hundreds of jobs, ISIS”, and then comedian…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘A Ghost Story’

In A Ghost Story, Casey Affleck plays a ghost who haunts the house he once shared with his beloved, Rooney Mara.

It opens this weekend in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

A good rule of cinematic thumb is that when a ghost movie isn’t trying to scare you: Watch out. Hijinks or romance are sure to follow, and not with good results. It’s also generally best to avoid movies whose specters are visible, since what one can’t see is almost always more terrifying than what you can see; invisibility just leaves open too many possibilities. Somehow, David Lowery has aggressively flouted these rules in A Ghost Story—by first not caring a whit whether you are scared and then giving his ghosts highly unusual corporeal form—and come out the other side with a truly spectacular movie…

Here’s the trailer: