Reader’s Corner: Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered

Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, hosts of the true-crime podcast My Favorite Murder, are currently bringing their show to thousands of “Murderino” fans around the country. They also have a book publishing at the end of May.

My review of Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered was published in City Pages:

Stay Sexy is a two-handed memoir, with Kilgariff and Hardstark trading off anecdotes and threading them through a survivor’s approach to therapy and how to get by in a world seemingly designed to take advantage of women…

Reader’s Corner: ‘Russian Roulette’

Michael Isikoff and David Corn’s new book Russian Roulette is, well, timely. My review is at PopMatters:

The intent here was not to write an all-inclusive study of the history of the Washington-Moscow power dynamic, the full legacy of Trump’s law-skirting business dealings, or the noxious way those two elements have meshed together. Something like that wouldn’t be a book. That would require a multi-volume Robert Caro-type of effort which some future generation—assuming deep-dive narrative nonfiction survives Peak TV and Instagram—can take up to figure out what the hell happened. In the meantime, we’ll resort to Russian Roulette

Screening Room: ‘Mudbound’

The historical melodrama Mudbound has been making the festival rounds, from Sundance to the New York Film Festival. It’s due on Netflix and in select theaters on November 17.

My review is at PopMatters:

A surprisingly assured big-canvas effort from director Dee Rees (PariahBessie), Mudbound is adapted from Hillary Jordan’s 2008 novel about two families, one white and one black, who find themselves unwillingly bound by land, happenstance, poverty, and the persistence of persecution in the Jim Crow South. The Jacksons are a family of black sharecroppers who have to adjust to their new white landowners, an unsure bunch known as the McAllans whose various missteps (intentional and accidental) lead to bloody tragedy…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Be Tenacious

When Tim O’Brien, one of the great living American novelists, was asked for some writing advice, here’s what he told NPR:

I try to preach to students tenacity and stubbornness—to be a kind of mule walking up the mountain, to keep plodding. Inspiration is important, but you’re not going to get it on a bowling alley or on a golf course or all the other things you could be doing. If you’re not sitting there inspiration is simply going to pass…

Sticking with it can be misery. You sit and stare and fiddle and fidget and Nothing. Comes. But, eventually, every dam breaks. Just make sure you’re there to ride the wave when it does.

Screening Room: ‘The Dark Tower’

A mash-up of elements from the novels in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower fantasy series, the movie of the same name is hitting screens tomorrow after a long and convoluted production history. Theoretically, it’s the kickoff for a TV series to follow next year.

My review is at Film Journal International:

According to what little mythology the script provides, the title’s looming structure isn’t just a tower, it’s a linchpin holding the entire fabric of reality together. If anything happens to the Tower, then the hosts of ravening Lovecraftian beasties lurking beyond the Tower-guarded boundaries of the universe will destroy everything. At least, that’s how Roland the Gunslinger (Idris Elba), a stoic warrior tasked with protecting the Tower, explains it to Jake (Tom Taylor), a New York kid whose parents thought he was insane because of all his visions he was having of Roland, the Tower and a frightening Man in Black…

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: ‘War Machine’

One of the biggest feature film plays yet attempted by Netflix, War Machine is an Afghanistan War satire based in part on Michael Hastings’ nonfiction book The Operators. Brad Pitt (who also produced) plays a hard-charging general loosely based on Gen. Stanley McChrystal, though reportedly his character was eventually fictionalized to avoid legal hassles.

War Machine debuts this week on Netflix and in select theaters. My review is at PopMatters:

Things kick off in 2009, when McMahon, aka “The Glenimal”, charges into Kabul like George S. Patton’s less patient twin. Surrounded by a platoon of intensely loyal hangers-on, McMahon is looking to repeat the success he had decimating insurgent networks in Iraq. A cannier movie would have stood back a bit and allowed the audience to get sucked in by the presence of McMahon’s West Point, Ranger school, Yale graduate, warrior with a degree, armored carapace of confidence before making apparent his pride-blinded cluelessness…

Here’s the trailer:

Shameless Self-Promotion: ‘The Handy New York City Answer Book’ is On Sale Now

When you think of cities, there is no other place on Earth that better exemplifies what that word means than New York City. Incubator of pretty much every important cultural genre or trend, nerve center of world capitalism, melting pot of ethnicities and religions, New York City, as they say, has it all.

In my newest book, The Handy New York City Answer Book, on sale now from Visible Ink Press, you’ll get an all-in-one reference that covers everything from the city’s complicated and dramatic history to its geography, sports teams, many peculiarities and personalities, and just about all the trivia that could be packed into 464 pages.

Here’s a few of the things you’ll discover:

  • How did New York invent Christmas?
  • Where was baseball first played?
  • How come police officers tried to scare tourists away from the city in 1975?
  • Did punk begin in New York or London?
  • How did the 1863 Draft Riots start?
  • Did Rudy Giuliani actually save the city?

Reader’s Corner: ‘Dark Money’

darkmoney1Last year, the New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer published Dark Money, a detailed expose of the massive, decades-long program run by billionaire conservatives like the Koch brothers to re-engineer American politics in a more libertarian, low-tax, and small government direction.

The paperback edition was just released, with a new preface that highlights how the agenda of the Kochs, who theoretically didn’t support Donald Trump, will nevertheless likely be supercharged under the new administration. My review is at PopMatters:

Written with the sharp but cool incisiveness that typifies her long form work for the New Yorker, Jane Mayer’s exposé is the type of book one reads first heatedly, then with a kind of sickened resignation. Her first book since 2008’s The Dark Side, a similarly disquieting investigation into the Bush administration’s legacy of post-9/11 abuses, Dark Money goes looking under a lot more rocks. Again, Mayer finds a cabal of authoritarian-minded Republicans looking to fundamentally alter the American landscape…

Reader’s Corner: ‘Strangers in Their Own Land’ – Fury and Crisis in Trump’s America

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(photo: Gage Skidmore)

It’s hard to look at today’s chaotic political and cultural landscape and not wonder—among many, many other things—in deference to Joan Walsh’s book from a couple years back: “What’s the matter with white people“?

strangers_in_their_own_land_finalA part of the answer can be found in Arlie Russell Hochschild’s fantastic new book Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. It came out last month and is necessary reading to understand what is and has been going on in America for the past couple decades.

My review is at PopMatters:

When Arlie Russell Hochschild set out in 2011 to research her perceptive ethnography of the frustrated white American conservative, Strangers in Their Own Land, she didn’t realize how many of her subjects would later be driving off a cliff in a fume- and insult-spewing conveyance with “Trump 2016” stenciled on the side. How could she? Few of us knew it would come to this…

Here’s an interview with Hochschild from Vox. where she talks about spending five years among the people who would form the base of Donald Trump’s nationalistic insurgency.

Screening Room: ‘Command and Control’

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Getting a brief theatrical run before its PBS debut, one assumes to qualify for the Oscars, Robert Kenner’s adaptation of Eric Schlosser’s book Command and Control is a bracing documentary about a nearly forgotten threat: America’s sprawling nuclear arsenal.

Command and Control is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

The post-9/11 adage about how security services have to be right all the time while terrorists only have to be right once could easily be adapted to Robert Kenner’s vivid new documentary: People who work with nuclear weapons only have to make one mistake for everything to go to hell…

Here’s the trailer:

Oscar Guide: ‘Eyes Wide Open: 2015’

Questions:

  • So which film is going to sweep the Oscars on Sunday?
  • Will Chris Rock remind us of why he used to be America’s greatest and most biting comedian?
  • Is everyone watching going to wish that they served booze in the theater so that by the end of the evening, all those getting awards can be nice and sloshed?
  • Is there any reason to think any of it will matter?
  • Is there a book in which I can read about (nearly) all of the films nominated?

Right now, there is only a definite answer to the last question, and that of course is yes.

Eyes Wide Open 2015:

The Best (and Worst) Movies of the Year

Available now in paperback and ebook

Eyes Wide Open 2015-cover 1st

 

Shameless Self-Promotion: ‘Eyes Wide Open: 2015’

Since there just isn’t enough opinionating about film out there, yours truly reviews them on occasion for the odd website and magazine. Come each January for the past several years, with awards buzz percolating and everybody catching up on seeing the films they missed last fall, I have been publishing the Eyes Wide Open guide.

 

It’s most one of those thumbs-up (the 25 best) and thumbs-down (the 5 most mediocre) collections, with the odd DVD review and other miscellany tossed in for good measure, as well a look at why every other film out there seems to be a sequel.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the book is a handy thing to keep around when you’re looking at what’s playing in the local theater or browsing the new selections on Netflix, iTunes, or VOD.

Eyes Wide Open 2015-cover 1st

What made the cut? Films you’ve all heard of, like The RevenantSpotlight, and The Big Short, plus a few not everyone has, like Experimenter and Mustang.

What didn’t make the cut? Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Bridge of Spies, to name a couple.

You can get Eyes Wide Open in ebook (Kindle, Nook, or other) or paperback.

Also, if you’re feeling Powerball lucky, you can enter here for the chance to win a free copy of the book.

Screening Room: ‘In the Heart of the Sea’

One big whale: 'In the Heart of the Sea' (Warner Bros.)
One big whale: ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ (Warner Bros.)

In 1820, the Nantucket whaling ship Essex met a disastrous fate in the Pacific; only a few men survived. Later, the story that the ship had run afoul of a massive whale became the kernel of Moby-Dick and was more recently dissected in Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea.

In_the_Heart_of_the_Sea_--_book_coverRon Howard’s 3D adaptation of Philbrick’s book is opening this week, and hoping very much for some Oscar attention. My review is at Film Journal International:

…It starts in 1850 with a spry young Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) trying to claw a story out of Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), a drunk old salt who has refused for 30 years to talk about his connection with the Essex whaling-boat disaster. Melville’s money and Nickerson’s exasperated wife finally crack open that whiskey-sodden shell. But only after Nickerson fixes Melville with a probing look. “Have you read Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mr. Melville?” He asks. “Great writer”…

The trailer is here:

Screening Room: ‘Carol’

Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett exchange Christmas cheer in 'Carol' (Weinstein)
Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett exchange Christmas cheer in ‘Carol’ (Weinstein)

priceofsalt1In 1952, Patricia Highsmith — riding high after the success of Strangers on a Train but before she started her Ripley series — published her semi-autobiographical novel about a love affair between two women, The Price of Salt, under a pseudonym. It went on to sell over a million copies.

Now, Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven) has adapted it for the big screen as a lush period romance, with Rooney Mara as the inexperienced shopgirl and Cate Blanchett as the older married woman who falls for her.

Carol is playing now in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

Todd Haynes’ Carol offers two views of the holiday season. In 1952’s New York City, we first see family gatherings, snowy sidewalks, and shopping trips. Just below that surface, two women engage in illicit romance, at every turn reminded of everything they are not allowed to have. Their world doesn’t allow for same-sex attraction, much less the idea that two women could share a life together. As everyone else around them is making merry, their secret turns sharp enough to cut glass…

Here’s the trailer: