Screening Room: ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’

That’s Leonard DiCaprio playing a has-been 1950s Western actor in Quentin Tarantino’s latest, broadest, and potentially strangest genre mash-up.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is playing pretty much everywhere now. My review is at PopMatters:

You might have thought Quentin Tarantino would be the last filmmaker to indulge in the lamentable trend of digitally inserting actors into scenes they were not there for…. Nevertheless, here Tarantino is in his ninth movie, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, slipping Leonardo DiCaprio into a scene from John Sturges’s 1963 film, The Great Escape. Once that line has been crossed for Tarantino, who had previously restricted himself to homage, what’s next? Uma Thurman slotted into Enter the Dragon? Maybe Bradley Cooper into Where Eagles Dare?…

Here’s the trailer (sure you’ve already seen it 10 times, check it out again, that Mamas and the Papas song is fantastic):

Writer’s Desk: Get It Down

File:Rod Serling photo portrait 1959.JPG

A veteran of some pretty horrendous fighting in the Pacific Theater during World War II, Rod Serling suffered from nightmares much of the rest of his life. He also had a deeply-ingrained sense of justice.

Both came together in the somewhat maniacal writing schedule he maintained as one of early television’s most acclaimed live teleplay authors and then the showrunner and primary writer for The Twilight Zone.

The only way he could keep the pace going? According to Nicholas Parisi’s biography, he told a writing class at Ithaca College this:

The instinct of creativity must be followed by the act—the physical act of putting it down for a sense of permanence. Once you have that prod, that emotional jar that “I witnessed something” or “I felt something” … Write it down…. Don’t let it die aborning in your head.

Never wait. Keep a notebook around. Type it into your phone if you have to. But once you have that idea or that worthy experience, do not assume you will remember it a day or an hour hence.

Write it down.

Reader’s Corner: Indies Support Authors

  The Nickel Boys

Colson Whitehead is touring around now to read from his latest novel, The Nickel Boys. While he’ll be going to some chains, he’s a big supporter of indie bookstores. Why? He told Shelf Awareness:

My first book was about elevator inspectors, and who is going to support a debut novel by some weird black guy about elevator inspectors? And the answer is independent bookstores. They’ve always been supportive of my books no matter how oddball they sounded…

Screening Room: ‘The Great Hack’

The Great Hack is a new documentary about how Cambridge Analytica worked with private user data happily served up by Facebook in order to minutely target propaganda that helped win the 2016 election for Donald Trump.

Not available on Netflix until this Wednesday, it is already stirring up legal issues in the UK.

My review is at The Playlist:

It’s a sign of how quickly it feels like the world is being torn apart around us that even a ripped-from-the-headlines documentary, such as Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim’s “The Great Hack,” can feel almost dated…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Be Prepared

nickcave
Nick Cave in ‘20,000 Days on Earth’ (Drafthouse Films)

Nick Cave, onetime prince of the gothic rock dark arts via his time with the Birthday Party and that killer Wings of Desire cameo, might still be releasing albums and touring with his band but he now fashions himself more writer than rock star.

His process seems positively disciplined these days. As he says in the beautiful documentary 20,000 Days on Earth, “I wake, I write, I eat, I write, I watch TV.” And when he writes, he doesn’t just sit down and wait for inspiration. He gets ready:

Well, as anyone who actually writes knows, if you sit down and are prepared, then the ideas come. There’s a lot of different ways people explain that, but, you know, I find that if I sit down and I prepare myself, generally things get done…

And if nothing comes, then have a sandwich. Watch a little TV. But get back to work.

Reader’s Corner: Living in the Worst Place in America

ifyoulivedhere-bookcover

One of the year’s more interesting books is Christopher Ingraham’s If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home By Now. A data reporter for the Washington Post, Ingraham became the  focus of some viral blowback after publishing a story in 2015 about how federal government-compiled data showed that Red Lake County in Minnesota was supposedly the worst place in America to live.

The residents were not happy. He went to visit, ended up moving his family there, and wrote a book about the experience.

My interview with Ingraham ran in Publishers Weekly.

Writer’s Desk: Be Humble, Yet Great

Back in 2010, Wild author and backpacker extraordinaire Cheryl Strayed was still writing the “Dear Sugar” advice column for The Rumpus. She received a lengthy and pained missive from a self-described “high-functioning headcase” who was depressed over not being able to write a book.

Strayed’s response is beautiful, funny, dirty, dead-solid-right-on, and worth reading in its entirety. But here’s the gist of her explanation about how she finally got over her issues and wrote her first book, what my journalism-school profs would call the “nut graf”:

I’d finally been able to give it because I’d let go of all the grandiose ideas I’d once had about myself and my writing—so talented! so young! I’d stopped being grandiose. I’d lowered myself to the notion that the absolute only thing that mattered was getting that extra beating heart out of my chest. Which meant I had to write my book. My very possibly mediocre book. My very possibly never-going-to-be-published book. My absolutely no-where-in-league-with-the-writers-I’d-admired-so-much-that-I-practically-memorized-their-sentences book. It was only then, when I humbly surrendered, that I was able to do the work I needed to do…

It’s great advice. Know you’re awesome. But remember that you’re never going to be the most awesome. Be okay with failing, sharpen your pencil, and march into that arena.