Screening Room: ‘Eighth Grade’

Elsie Fisher in ‘Eighth Grade’ (A24)

My review of Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is at PopMatters:

Unlike most movies about school-age outsiders, Eighth Grade doesn’t rely on the traditional dramatic tropes of embarrassment and rebellion. Kayla wants desperately to have friends. Like most shy kids, she’s paralyzed in social settings. But unlike most shy kids, she pushes herself past that cocoon of diffident silence. First are her videos, which, you get the impression, are as much for herself as for anybody who might be come across her YouTube channel. This is a girl whose bedroom mirror is ringed with motivational quotes scribbled onto Post-It notes. (“Learn a joke every day!”) But also, instead of always hanging back on the periphery, occasionally she jumps…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: Summer Movie Sequels

My essay on the ever-more sprawling world of movie franchises, “Sequel Summer: Deadpool Fights Thanos in Jurassic World,” is at Eyes Wide Open:

After banking a billion-plus revenue from Black Panther, Disney kept the Marvel machine humming with the late April release of Avengers: Infinity War. The first half of an apocalypse two-parter, this was less a standalone movie than a short-attention-span episode of a long-running series that was running out of ways to keep engineering conflict. Infinity War: Part One didn’t even bother establishing itself as a standalone movie like Black Panther did. It just dumped every available Marvel hero into a Battle Royale against Thanos, a big dull dud of a genocidal villain, and made sure to string it out to next summer’s sequel. Spider-man, Doctor Strange, the Hulk, Thor, and Nick Fury? Sure! How about Guardians of the Galaxy, too? Why not?…

Screening Room: ‘Equalizer 2’

Denzel, paying the bills (Sony)

The sequel to Denzel Washington’s surprise hit The Equalizer is hitting theaters this week.

My review is at Film Journal International:

When Antoine Fuqua’s sequel begins, Robert McCall (Washington) is far from his blue-collar Boston life. We find him in a Muslim cap and beard on a train through Turkey, reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and keeping a watchful eye on a man traveling with a young girl. A few clipped lines of dialogue (“American?” McCall is asked; “Guilty,” he responds) and some swiftly crippled henchmen later, the girl is safely back on American soil and McCall is back to his day job…

Writer’s Desk: Immerse Yourself

Michael Ondaatje doesn’t work fast. He spent six years on his seminal novel The English Patientwhich actually just won the Golden Man Booker Award (meaning it was the Booker Award-winner of the past 50 years). That is in part because he likes to drown himself in the material.

Per this interview from BookPage, Ondaatje prefers to get outside of himself and what he knows:

That’s how you learn. You don’t want to write your own opinion, you don’t want to just represent yourself, but represent yourself through someone else. It doubles your perception, to write from the point of view of someone you’re not. To write about someone like myself would be very limiting…

He was talking about his novel Anil’s Ghost. That one took seven years. Escaping into a new character and a new world takes time. But the immersion is worth it if you want to write something great.

Screening Room: ‘Dark Money’

(PBS Distribution)

The newest movie from Kimberly Reed is a scorcher of a documentary about the corrosive effects of big outside money on elections in underpopulated states.

Dark Money is opening in limited release this week and should appear soon on a PBS affiliate near you. My review is at Film Journal International:

The Montana that Reed (Prodigal Sons) shows is one of nearly unnatural beauty. Angular cliffs carpeted with bright green pine trees and great sweeping plains unfurl under her frequently airborne camera as though for some pristinely photographed travel documentary. But there’s wrack and ruin amidst the glorious nature. Abandoned mine shafts, rusting derricks, and the oil-slicked expanse of a Superfund lake so poisonous that geese who accidently landed in it died by the hundreds all speak to the legacy of a state with a long history of corruption and resource exploitation…

Writer’s Desk: Get Raw

In her astounding 2015 novel, Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh conjured up a grubby, bleak, funny neo-noir whose female narrator didn’t mind in the least just how unpleasant she came off. That’s not a surprise, given how much Moshfegh takes after Bukowski. But even in today’s supposedly more open-minded publishing landscape, the presence of an unlikable protagonist (particularly if a woman) is stll enough to scare off publishers. Fortunately, Eileen found an audience.

It wasn’t an easy journey. According to a recent New Yorker profile, she worked hard in the city’s publishing circles (Overlook Press, The Paris Review) but eventually decided that college would help her along the path:

Hoping to escape the city, Moshfegh applied to the M.F.A. program at Brown, and was accepted. Her time there was productive, she said, but mostly because her scholarship allowed her to write without the distraction of a job. “You have a lot of people who aren’t good at writing yet telling you what to change about the way that you’re writing,” she said. “It’s a lot of mediocrity feeding on itself. So you better be radical, and you better hate everyone. Not that I did personally, but that I had to if I was going to protect the thing in me that I knew I wanted to grow.”

Be radical.