Screening Room: ‘The Irishman’

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In Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, Robert De Niro plays Frank Sheeran, a reputed hitman who charts a course through a baroque landscape of postwar American intrigue, crime, and paranoia.

The Irishman is playing in a few theaters now, as well as on Netflix. My article about it is at Eyes Wide Open:

Based on Charles Brandt’s book I Heard You Paint Houses, about the decades Sheeran spent as a Zelig-like mob enforcer and assassin,The Irishman is one of the more curious and hard-to-pigeonhole gangster movies that Scorsese has ever done. Pulling back from the music-strobed buzziness of Goodfellas and Casino, and worlds away from the Nouvelle Vague/Cassavetes jitters of Mean Streets, it’s a cool, elegiac, and somewhat detached epic whose three and a half hours float by with a disconcerting calmness…

 

Reader’s Corner: Stan Lee’s Marvelous Life

My interview with Danny Fingeroth, author of the new biography A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee, was just posted at Publishers Weekly:

What do you think accounts for Lee’s ability to create such an incredibly long-lived roster of characters?

Stan is pretty much the only comic creator who the casual person on the street would know. Because he became the voice and face of not just Marvel Comics but the comics industry, there was a long time when Marvel had no publicity department. Stan was in the office most days, he was available, he always had a quip and a quote. Stan took that on. He realized that this would be his vehicle for extending himself and Marvel beyond the attention of people who read comics. He cultivated it. Why nobody else took that on is hard to say…

Writer’s Desk: Keep at It

Parable of the Sower

Like many writers of science fiction, Octavia Butler spent many long years working at her craft while remaining mostly unknown and with precious little to show for it. She is revered today for her classics like The Parable of the Sower and Kindred but for much of her career she toiled in relative obscurity, as so many female writers of color do.

Point being, she knew something about sticking with it.

Here’s what she told Locus magazine back in 2000:

I’ve talked to high school kids who are thinking about trying to become a writer and asking ‘What should I major in?’, and I tell them, ‘History. Anthropology. Something where you get to know the human species a little better, as opposed to something where you learn to arrange words.’ I don’t know whether that’s good advice or not, but it feels right to me. You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence. It’s just so easy to give up!

Screening Room: ‘The Kingmaker’

The new documentary about Imelda Marcos (who, yes, is still wielding political clout in the Philippines, makes for fascinatingly unsettling drama in unsettling times.

My review of The Kingmaker, which is in limited release now and will be on Showtime at some point, is at The Playlist:

It is possible, after watching Lauren Greenfield’s fascinating, necessary documentary “The Kingmaker” to believe that Imelda Marcos has so little self-awareness she does not have any idea of the extent of her absurdity. In the opening scenes, we see the onetime Evita Peron of the Philippines riding through Manila in a small bus, bouffant hairdo like a helmet. She doles out cash to people on the street with the wan boredom of a queen while reminiscing about how “in my time” the city had no beggars. Given the thickness of her rose-colored glasses, it does not seem necessary for the filmmaker or viewers to fact check that incredible claim…

Writer’s Desk: Shape Matters

A Lesson Before Dying Book Cover - typographic layout with author name and book title with small image of an African American man standing beneath a wooden structure

In 2010, Ernest J. Gaines—the late author of A Lesson Before Dying and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman—talked about how part of his fiction grew out of listening to the stories of the people he grew up around in Jim Crow-era Louisiana.

But, he emphasized, writing is not just about having good material:

Content is probably only 40 percent of it, no more than 50 percent, as far as I’m concerned … If a book doesn’t have form, then damn, it ain’t no novel. We can go down the block right now and find a guy on the next corner who’ll tell the biggest and truest story you can ever hear. Now, putting that story down on paper so that a million people can read and feel and hear it like you on that street corner, that’s going to take form. That’s writing…

Writer’s Desk: Stop Asking Questions

J.M. Anderson

A little while back, screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, many Missions: Impossible) noted that he was getting asked the same question by a lot of aspiring screenwriters. Basically: How do I break into the industry? His response was a long Twitter thread that started with the premise, “You’re asking the wrong questions” and went from there.

It’s well worth reading in full, even if you’re a writer with no interest in working in the movies. At one point, he reminds aspiring writers that it’s never easy, even for those with a name and an award like him:

I spent seven years – AFTER winning an academy award – asking the same questions. My career stalled (and I still have scripts that no one will make despite subsequent commercial successes).

Much of what McQuarrie says can be boiled down to this: Stop asking permission, stop waiting for somebody to hand you the key, do the best work you can, and never stop looking for a different way in.