TV Room: ‘Wormwood’

Launching Friday on Netflix is Errol Morris’s immersive new six-part series Wormwood, which mixes hardboiled investigative documentary filmmaking with David Lynchian recreations. A four-hour theatrical edit is also playing in limited release.

My review is at Film Journal International:

When Eric Olson was still just a child in 1953, his father Frank died while away on business. The official explanation was that Frank fell or possibly jumped out of a hotel room. “At that moment,” Eric says in Errol Morris’ epic new investigation of the mysteries surrounding Frank’s death, “the world stopped making sense entirely.” That burning ember of uncertainty stayed with Eric the rest of his life…

Writer’s Desk: Work in Groups

The writer’s life is a solitary one. That’s true, until it’s not.

Take the example of Aleksandar Hemon. The Bosnian writer had always followed the expected path:

[My writing] had taken place in the self-imposed isolation of my head. I don’t take part in workshops or writing groups; I don’t share ideas or drafts with my fellow-writers for feedback; I make all the decisions and am responsible for every word in the book that I am writing, acknowledgments included.

But then, like many writers out there in a world of hundreds of television shows needing scripts, he joined the collaborative workforce of televisual scriveners. Working out scripts for the sci-fi series Sense8, he discovered a new process:

… my role was to make proposals that would be taken up by the other people in the room and spun around a few times. The version of the proposal that emerged would have little to do with the original, yet belonged to me as much as to everyone else … I’d never experienced the pleasure of temporarily losing my intellectual sovereignty—of watching my bright idea be destroyed, only to be transformed into something entirely different.

Sometimes a writer has to hew closely to their original vision, come hell or high water, for it to be worth a damn in the end. More frequently, another pair of eyes, or five or ten, can make all the difference in the world.

Notes: Not All Alternate Histories are Equal

Ta-Nehisi Coates explains why, in quite simple terms, any comparisons between The Man in the High Castle and the upcoming HBO series Confederate don’t hold water:

It is illegal to fly the Nazi flag in Germany. The Confederate flag is enmeshed in the state flag of Mississippi.

In one conflict, the defeated acknowledged their loss and paid a price. In the other, the defeated quickly got back to their old tricks. 

In other words, imagining a world where the white Southern racist establishment won may not be far different enough from reality to warrant the term “alternate history.” 

TV Room: Jason Bateman’s new Missouri Noir ‘Ozark’

In the new Netflix family crime series Ozark, Jason Bateman plays a Chicago financial adviser forced to uproot his family’s entire life in order to save their lives.

Ozark premieres on July 21. My review is at The Playlist:

There are a few things guaranteed to strike terror into the heart of your average Chicagoan. High on that list would be having your family threatened with a cruel and slow death by a drug cartel, as happens to Jason Bateman in the first episode of his new Netflix culture-clash crime series “Ozark.” Nearly as frightening, and definitely more relatable, is the solution that Bateman’s character improvises to save his family: pack up and move to the Lake of the Ozarks in southern Missouri. Set against relocating to the shores of the artificial lake resort region that one character tartly terms “Redneck Riviera,” there would probably be at least a few Chicagoans who would look at the cartel gunmen and decide, nah, let’s play the odds…

Here’s the trailer:

Shameless Self-Promotion: ‘Monty Python FAQ’

Have you any inkling what this T-shirt refers to?

Did you ever hop around on one foot while shouting, “’tis but a flesh wound!”?

Can you sing “The Philosopher’s Song” without referring to notes?

Was there a point during the United Kingdom’s recent snap election where you wondered whether there should have been a candidate from the Very Silly Party?

If you answered “yes” or asked “what’s all this, then?!” then it’s about 583% likely that Monty Python FAQ is the book for you!

Scribbled down in crayon by yours truly and his boon companions Brian Cogan and Jeff Massey, and then lovingly transcribed into proper book form by the dedicated editors at Applause Books, Monty Python FAQ is just about everything you ever wanted to know about the Python boys. That includes:

  • Words! Pictures! Lots of ’em.
  • An exegesis of every single Monty Python’s Flying Circus episode.
  • More than one could ever want or need to know about fish-slapping.
  • The deep, dark secret behind the one American Python, who hailed from the mystical, faraway land of … Minnesota.
  • Exploding penguins, dead budgies, Grannies from Hell … you get the picture.

It’s on sale now. Here. And hereAnd here. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

And now … this:

Screening Room: ‘David Brent: Life on the Road’

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The great thing about BBC shows is that they now when to stop: six or eight episodes and then they’re out. Maybe a season two. That’s how the British original of The Office was. But then there was the Christmas special. And now Ricky Gervais returns us to the further adventures of his signature character, who’s now decided that he’s going to be a rock and roll star.

David Brent: Life on the Road is opening in limited release tomorrow and will also be available on Netflix. My review is at Film Journal International:

Gervais, who wrote and directed the film without the assistance of his “The Office”co-writer Stephen Merchant, is building off his 2013 web series “Learn Guitar with David Brent,” in which the salesman indulges his love of performing and pontificating. Of course, just as nobody who worked for Brent back when he was an office manager actually wanted to work for him, now that he’s an erstwhile pop star, nobody is in the least interested in hearing him perform…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Oklahoma City’

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In 1995, the biggest domestic terrorist attack in American history to that point took place in Oklahoma City. It wasn’t an isolated incident. Barak Goodman’s documentary shows what lead up to the bombing and along the way provides a thumbnail history of the American white supremacist underground.

Oklahoma City is opening this week in limited release and will be broadcast as part of PBS’s American Experience series on February 7. My review is at Film Journal International:

For all the news ink and televisual garble that was expended on the roiling subculture of American right-wing extremists during the 1980s and ’90s, surprisingly little of that time was spent on their roots in blatantly racist white supremacy. Because the militias’ anti-government and pro-gun rhetoric was louder than its white-separatist ideology, that was the half-story which much of the media led with once the militias’ fantasies of all-out conflict began to spark actual bloodshed. Barak Goodman’s thorough, dramatic documentary about the 1995 Oklahoma City terrorist attack doesn’t make that same mistake…

Here’s the trailer.