Screening Room: ‘This is Congo’

One of the year’s most gorgeous, emotional, and harrowing movies, This is Congo, is opening this week in limited release. Make sure to find it.

My review is at Film Journal International:

“To grow up in Congo,” says a man at the start of Daniel McCabe’s lacerating new documentary, “is to grow up in paradise.” This comes as McCabe’s camera swoops over lush green hills and deep forests that do indeed seem paradisaical. But the turn comes soon, as we see rough roads jammed with refugees, children cowering at the unearthly roar of rocket launchers and artillery. Being raised in this place, the voice points out, is also “to grow up in misery.” Why the life of the average Congolese is that of misery and not joy is the question that this inquisitive movie asks…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: Black Lit on ‘Luke Cage’

Those who track the ever-evolving ecosystem of Marvel series on Netflix have been generally pleased with the current season of Luke Cage, following the further exploits of the superhuman-strong fugitive just trying to build a quiet life in Harlem.

At least one watcher has noted the prevalence of call-outs to works of black literature. Some of the books noticed on screen by BlackNerdProblems:

  • Charcoal Joe – Walter Mosley
  • Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
  • The Souls of Black Folk – W.E.B. Du Bois

Screening Room: ‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’

Isabela Moner and Benicio Del Toro (Columbia Pictures)

Sicario: Day of the Soldado opens this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

The portentously named follow-up to Denis Villeneuve’s moody and murky 2015 cartel thriller starts with a pair of bombings and a declaration of war. A Muslim man blows himself up in Texas after being caught by the Border Patrol while stealing into the country. Then several other men walk into a supermarket in Kansas City and detonate more suicide bombs … In the news business, they would call this confluence of scarifying and adrenaline-charging events Fox News Bingo. In the movie business, it’s just Sequel Maintenance…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The King’

The new documentary from Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight) tries to figure out the legacy of Elvis and turns into a big, messy and overheated but fascinating metaphor for America.

The King is playing now. My review is at The Playlist:

Jarecki isn’t the first artist to turn a pop culture icon into a metaphor for America — there are whole phalanxes of culture critics who make a living doing just that. But usually, those metaphors, while complicated, are ultimately positive. By the time Jarecki is done with Elvis, the lanky, and projects-raised, rockabilly kid just one generation removed from sharecroppers has been cast as everything from an opportunist and grasping capitalist to addled addict to just plain sucker. If he ever was the King, the movie suggests, it’s long past time to retire the crown…

Writer’s Desk: Listen to Obama’s Guy

Jon Favreau—the other one, not the actor/director/occasional Tony Stark wingman—spent years as President Obama’s director of speechwriting. He distilled much of what he learned in that highly precise and pressurized job into “Five Rules of Storytelling.” They are:

  1. The story is more important than the words
  2. Keep it simple
  3. Always address the arguments against your position during your presentation, not after
  4. Empathy is key
  5. There is no persuasion without inspiration

Not all of these may be applicable to those of us not writing for the world stage, but Favreau’s rules are solid reminders to keep thinking about what you’re writing, how you’re going to get to your point, and what is the best way there. That applies whether you’re writing a murder mystery or white paper on fiscal policy.

Remember your reader, always.

Writer’s Desk: Anthony Bourdain Said Stop Complaining

In honor of the (sadly) late great Anthony Bourdain, here’s a little reminder from him about just how great it is to be a writer:

Cooking professionally is hard work. Writing is a privilege and a luxury. Anybody who whines about writers block should be forced to clean squid all day.

As some of us can also testify, writing beats the hell out of washing dishes, too.

Reader’s Corner: Beckett and Terror

With his bleak sketch fictions and disembodied existential plays, Samuel Beckett feels about as removed from the muck and mire of daily human life as you could get. That’s why it’s fascinating to read this opening to Fintan O’Toole’s piece in the New York Review of Books about Beckett’s political conscience:

In April 1962, Samuel Beckett sent a clipping from the French press to his lover Barbara Bray: a report of the arrest in Paris of a member of the Organisation armée secrète. The OAS was a far-right terror gang whose members were drawn largely from within the French military. It had carried out bombings, assassinations, and bank robberies with the aim of overthrowing the government of Charles de Gaulle and stopping the concession of independence to Algeria. Among its targets had been Beckett’s publisher and friend Jérôme Lindon, whose apartment and office were both bombed by the OAS.

Then there’s the punch line:

The press clipping detailed the capture of an army lieutenant who would be charged with leading an OAS attack on an arms depot outside Paris and a raid on a bank in the city. His name was Lieutenant Daniel Godot.

Always good for a laugh, that Beckett.