Screening Room: ‘The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part’

For anybody who is keeping track, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part opens wide next week.

My review is at Slant:

Instead of the inside-out lampooning of the type of monomaniacal industrialized chirpiness epitomized by the first film’s earwig theme song “Everything Is Awesome,” the mood is now mock-dystopian, with Bricksburg now known as Apocalypseburg. There’s good fun to be had at the expense of Mad Max: Fury Road and its grim-faced ilk. Similarly, the series continues to poke fun at adolescent “dark” genre material with its deep seam of Batman gags. But, unfortunately, there’s also a plot and that’s where The Lego Movie 2 goes wrong …

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: It Beats Working

We lost the great Russell Baker this week.

An easygoing witticism factory who mined a seam of everyday observational humor without playing to the lowest common denominator, Baker once provided what might be the greatest reason of all to become a writer.
At this time I had decided the only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn’t require any…
Yes, it takes work to win a couple Pulitzers like Baker did. But not work.

Screening Room: ‘Monsters’

My essay “Monsters Built the Mexico Wall Trump Never Will” was published at Eyes Wide Open:

What kind of movie will best describe the Trump presidency for future generations? Will it be high-minded drama replete with sarcastic asides, soaring speeches, and a grand view of the arc of history ala Aaron Sorkin? Maybe trashy overkill gutter-punk in the vein of John Waters or Bobcat Goldthwait would be more appropriate. How about a monster movie? Better yet, one with an extremely obvious yet potent visual metaphor that predated the current catastrophe? If the latter, then 2010’s Monsters might be a good place to start…

Writer’s Desk: Drinking vs. Yoga

Dorothy Parker didn’t do yoga.

As a general rule, writers enjoy drinking. According to Katie Herzog in The Stranger, besides the role models of Dorothy Parker, et al, there’s one very good reason for this:

…writing is easy. Have you ever tried mining coal with a hangover? Or changing a bedpan? How about convincing 30 kindergarteners that it’s time to take a nap? Writing is one of the only professions in which it’s possible to do work when your stomach is a mess and your head is an anvil. It might not feel good, but with enough Advil, you can probably type through it.

Something to consider? Maybe yoga:

Sure, it might be hard to imagine F. Scott Fitzgerald in child’s pose, but he also died before he was 50.

 

Screening Room: ‘Fyre’

Fyre was supposed to be the great music festival of 2017. Instead it turned into a social media schadenfreude disaster. Now Chris Smith (of American Movie fame) made a documentary out of it. Sometimes we get lucky that way.

Fyre opens in limited release and will be available on Netflix this Friday.

My review is at Slant:

The video ads for the Fyre Festival looked amazing when they first rippled through the Instagram feeds of influencer models like Bela Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski in late 2016. For a certain kind of status-seeker, marooned somewhere cold and just waiting for the next warm-climate EDM gathering, the marketing for the music festival promised a bro heaven populated only by models…

Here is the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Whatever Works


Successful writers have their preferred tools. A kind of pencil. Style of desk. The best music to run in the background.

Some writers looking for ways to get ahead in the game often go looking for answers in those habits. They will be frustrated, because whatever works for one writer likely will be dead on delivery for another. Take word processing.

According to the New Republic‘s Joseph Livingstone, word processing was a nascent technology through the 1970s into the early 1980s. By 1984, many writers (Anne Rice, Michael Chabon) had switched to using the new program WordStar. A pre-DOS application, its basic text look appears downright Paleolithic today.

Nevertheless, a number of authors in the genre field continue to use WordStar today. Why? Because they like writing on it. Consider George R. R. Martin. He uses the no-frills WordStar to write all his fantasy doorstoppers.

If something helps you write, stick with it. Even if that means giving up on spellcheck.

Screening Room: ‘Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin’

My review of the new documentary Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin was published at PopMatters:

Hard times are coming,” author Ursula K. Le Guin said in her fiery 2014 speech accepting the National Book Foundation award. Her tone was somehow somber, yet also chipper, as though she had already acknowledged the worst and now was girding for battle. She was fixing her bayonet in bright spirits and about to go over the top…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Be Nice to Your Editor

Your editor’s desk may look like this. Be nice to him.

Matt Zoller Seitz is one of our greatest critics. That means he doesn’t just have a vivid viewpoint on movies but that he’s first and foremost a lucid, enjoyable, and thoughtful writer.

In a piece he published on RogerEbert.com a few years back that listed some great advice for young critics just starting out—including “Just write, damn it”—this point stood out:

Always make your editor’s life easier, not harder. This is a job, not just a pursuit. Your bosses do not exist to make you feel good about yourself. They have to crank shit out, and a lot of them don’t care how brilliant it is if it comes in late or has accuracy or structural problems that they have to solve. Journalism isn’t filled with just-OK writers because that’s what editors want. It’s filled with just-OK writers because editors don’t want to have to put out fires after regular office hours unless there’s a damned good reason. So hit your deadlines. Turn in copy that’s as smart and clean and exciting as can be under the circumstances. Take responsibility for your words…

It’s almost impossible to say how important this is. Unless you’re out there blogging or self-publishing on your own with nobody looking over your shoulder, we all have editors. And we should. They’re the helpful folks who keep us writers from making fools out of ourselves with sloppy spelling, errors of speed (“its” when you mean “it’s”), and so on.

Be nice to your editors so that they can focus on making your writing better, not just cleaning up mistakes. Writing is a solitary activity that must turn into a team sport if you’re going to go anywhere with it.

Hit those deadlines. Be responsible.