Screening Room: ‘Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes’

Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes

The scarifying new documentary Divide and Conquer tells the ugly and all-too-true story of the rapacious and predatory instinct that drove Roger Ailes from small-time TV producer to history-changing right-wing propagandist and serial predator.

My review is at Slant Magazine:

By the time Alexis Bloom’s Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes opens at the end of 2018, its subject will have been dead for over a year and a half. But the media colossus he willed into existence out of spite and rage continues to beam his message across the nation with as much dark vigor as ever. As such, Bloom’s keenly insightful and deeply depressing documentary about the mastermind behind the Fox News Channel and much of what passes for modern conservative discourse is probably best viewed not as a record of the past but a document of what’s to come…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Stuff Your Ears with Money

In 1965, Saul Bellow was rich. After the publication of his novel Herzog the previous year, the ornery and erudite Chicago-born writer was lavished with attention, praise, and (strangely, for a writer, even during those more literate times) money.

According to Zachary Leader, Bellow wasn’t crazy about all the hurly-burly that his suddenly discovered was raising around him.

In my simplicity I thought the noise of Herzog would presently die down, but it seems only to get louder. I can’t pretend it’s entirely unpleasant. After all, I wanted something to happen, and if I find now that I can’t control the volume I can always stuff my ears with money.

Success isn’t likely going to come your way. You chose to be a writer, after all, not a developer of addictive and utterly unnecessary aps. But should you be so lucky as to trip over attention and wealth after hacking out a book or three, enjoy the success.
And if not, stuff your ears with money.

Screening Room: ‘The Front Runner’

In Jason Reitman’s new political satire, Hugh Jackman plays Gary Hart on the verge of destroying his meteoric political ascent.

My review is at PopMatters:

Based on Matt Bai’s 2014 book All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went TabloidThe Front Runner starts off as a zippy election comedy about the undoing of Senator Gary Hart’s presidential ambitions, but collapses under the weight of its serious intent. When we first see Hart (Hugh Jackman), he’s lost the bid for the 1984 Democratic nomination. Director Jason Reitman shoots that opening scene and many others as if he’s been watching a lot of Nashville, tracking the casual chatters between reporters and campaign staffers as they wend through a crush of news vans and onlookers trying to get a glimpse of history…

Writer’s Desk: Something Every Day

The poet William Stafford (1914–1993) had a fairly disciplined four-part approach to his daily writing task.
But the key element to his process is the last, where he advises this:
For this day, again, you give yourself a chance to discover worthy things. Nothing stupendous may occur… but if you do not bring yourself to this point, nothing stupendous will happen for sure… and you will spend the balance of your day in blind reaction to the imperatives of the outer world — worn down, buffeted, diminished, martyred.
Get something down on paper each and every day. Leave yourself open to something wonderful. Or terrible.
You can edit later.

Screening Room: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’

Eddie Redmayne in ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ (Warner Bros.)

The second entry in J.K. Rowling’s post-Harry Potter Wizarding World movies, the Newt Scamander series, is opening everywhere tomorrow.

My review is at Slant Magazine:

The fun but more predictable Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald moves the new series forward, but only incrementally—all the better to maximize the potential for six or seven more sequels to be strung out for Thanksgivings to come…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Widows’

Viola Davis in ‘Widows’ (20th Century Fox)

In Widows, the new Chicago-set thriller from Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) adapted from the series by British crime novelist Lynda La Plante, Viola Davis has to pay $2 million back to some gangsters her husband ripped off before being inconveniently shot dead.

Widows already toured the festival circuit and now opens wide this Friday. My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

[Widows] is technically a crime story. But it’s also a smart character study of women thrown to the wolves by their criminal men. Behind all that, it’s the story of a great city being stripped down and sold for parts. This might be the greatest movie about an American city since John Sayles’ City of Hope and the best American heist flick since Spike Lee’s Inside Man. But those differing attentions sometimes work at cross purposes…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Ask the Questions

Unless you’re Karl Ove Knausgard, writing entails getting in touch with life outside of yourself. That can present problems in fiction. Why? Most writers’ lives just are not that exciting.
Lynda La Plante, the crime novelist responsible for the series Widows and Prime Suspect, has a simple solution for finding out what you need to know:
If you want to find out something you go to source. If you want to know what a man serving life for murder is like, call your nearest prison and register as a visitor … That’s what’s so exciting as a writer, if you put yourself out there, you come home with the goodies
So if you want to truly engage with your invented characters, go find their closest real-life corollaries and talk to them. That’s how you get the goodies.

Screening Room: ‘Boy Erased’

Theodore Pellerin and Lucas Hedges in ‘Boy Erased’ (Focus Features)

Joel Edgerton’s adaptation of Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir Boy Erased is likely going to bring the tragedy of Christian forced-conversion “therapy” of young gay women and men into the mainstream.

My review is at PopMatters:

It wouldn’t be fair to call Boy Erased an Afterschool Special. There’s a lot in here that ABC wouldn’t have touched in its run from 1972 to 1997. The true story of a young man sent by his religious parents to a conversion-therapy center that they hope will “cure” him of his homosexuality is presented in a forthright manner. There’s ugliness here that the mostly happy ending cannot wash away, and doesn’t try to…

Here’s the trailer:

Friday Music Break: Tom Waits and the Resistance

For his latest album, Songs of Resistance 1948-2018, guitarist Marc Ribot collaborated with other musicians on a numerous of old and new protest songs.

He enlisted Tom Waits to sing the old anti-fascist Italian folk ballad “Bella Ciao” (“Goodbye Beautiful”). You can hear it here, via the video directed by Jem Cohen (who also shot the classic Fugazi documentary Instrument) which collages footage from recent demonstrations in Washington, D.C. behind Waits’ growling protest lyrics.

Writer’s Desk: Don’t Be Literary

Georges Simenon , 1965 (Dutch National Archives)

When Georges Simenon was starting out as a newspaper writer and later a factory for churning out pulp fiction in Paris in the 1920s, he had higher ambitions. So he went to ask for advice from Colette, one of the reigning doyennes of French (and world) literature.

Colette, whose early writings had been produced under her husband’s name and had to fight for every scrap of financial and critical success she ultimately won, had some tart words for the young pulpist:

She told him to stop trying to be literary, and Mr. Simenon would later say it was the best piece of writing advice he ever got.

By the time Simenon passed away in 1989, he had produced 220 novels under his own name, plus another couple hundred under pseudonyms, and over a thousand short stories.

His method was monastic when required:

When he worked he hung a “Do Not Disturb” sign on his door and often wrote round-the-clock. Once finished, Mr. Simenon put his manuscript away for a few days, then took it out, revised it briefly and sent it to his editor. He never read any of his books once they had been published.

Also, Simenon wasn’t just prolific, he was wildly successful, selling something like half a billion copies worldwide.

Sometimes refusing to worry about how your work is perceived is the best thing you can do.

Reader’s Corner: LeVar Burton Has No Time for Trump, Kanye

LeVar Burton has a podcast, too

LeVar Burton, who taught–and continues to teach–generations of kids and adults about the importance of literacy through Reading Rainbow and now LeVar Burton Reads, had something to tell Vice about certain celebrities who proudly proclaim their ignorance of books:

I got something to say about those people like Donald Trump and Kanye West who self profess themselves as non-readers … I ain’t got time for anyone like that anymore. I ain’t got time for the Kaynes or the Trumps who don’t read … Go somewhere else with that nonsense and take that bullshit someplace else. For as long as people like that will continue to publicly profess this idea to a generation of people, I’ll be standing here for literature until my very last breath. I repeat, until my last very dying breath. I’ll stand for it always in the living world. That’s where I’m at right now as far as those two and anyone like them.

Screening Room: ‘Suspiria’

Tilda Swinton in ‘Suspiria’ (Amazon Studios)

The remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria by Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name)hits theaters this weekend.

My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

Being a late-1970s grindhouse semi-classic from a director whose misses far outnumbered his hits, Suspiria was a far from perfect movie. That doesn’t, however, explain why it needed a second version. Still, interest was piqued — how could it not be, given nearly all-female cast and coming in a time when queasy horror motifs seem to be creeping into mainstream entertainment from all sides. (What is House of Cards but horror by way of Richard III?)…

Screening Room: ‘Monrovia, Indiana’

‘Monrovia, Indiana’ (Zipporah Films)

The newest documentary from Frederick Wiseman, Monrovia, Indiana, is opening this weekend around the country.

My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

There is nothing like a Frederick Wiseman movie. With an allergic resistance to the messaging and urgency prevalent in today’s nonfiction filmmakers, he has amassed a singular body of work that has done more to illuminate the human condition than any other single American filmmaker. He could be our greatest living documentarian…

Here is the trailer: