Screening Room: ‘Battles of the Sexes’

Battles of the Sexes, the serio-comic new movie about that time Billie Jean King played a washed-up ex-tennis champion for $100,000 and the chance to show up the male gender, is playing in limited release.

My review is at PopMatters:

When Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) is at the salon and finds herself falling deep into the eyes of her hairdresser, Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), it’s not as though the married tennis star is free to fling open the closet door. Billie might not be able to shake the electric sensation of that meeting, but there’s a tour to go on, not to mention sponsors and a public who wouldn’t approve…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: ’10 Things I Learned About Literature from Monty Python’

My article ‘Proust, Hardy, and Spam: 10 Things I Learned About Literature from Monty Python’—including many handy and time-wasting YouTube links and a plethora of literary goodies—was just published at The Barnes & Noble Review:

As many gawky teens discovered in their misspent youths, there was comedy and then there was Monty Python. Exploding penguins, a crime-fighting bishop, and Karl Marx struggling to answer questions about soccer on a TV quiz show; it was all surreal grist for their mill. Fully embodying the high culture/low humor synthesis that produced the better countercultural artifacts of the 1970s, their TV series, films, concerts, and books embedded arch literary references inside a dense framework of Dada performance art-pieces, cultural satire, and broadly silly skits in a classically comedic idiom…

And don’t forget Monty Python FAQ, in finer bookstores now.

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’

david-brent1

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: ‘Keeping Up With the Joneses’

Wonder Woman and Don Draper aren't sure why they're here, either.
Wonder Woman and Don Draper aren’t sure why they’re here, either.

Don’t you hate it when your humdrum suburban life is upended when a couple fabulously exotic super-spies move in next door? That’s the problem faced by Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher when confronted by their new neighbors Gal Gadot and Jon Hamm.

Keeping Up With the Joneses opens this week, for better or (much, much) worse. My review is at Film Journal International:

A subpar knockoff of the kind of tired action-comedy hybrid that Paul Feig’s suddenly made a career out of, Keeping Up with the Joneses is no Spy. It’s not even Spies Like Us. Like just about every other comedic spy film out there, its plot is just another one of those getting-out-of-your-comfort-zone devices. You know the drill, familiar in everything from True Lies to Date Night: ordinary person or couple gets accidentally mixed up in espionage shenanigans and along the way discovers reservoirs of strength, ingenuity and courage they didn’t realize were there…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Get Started

dontthinktwiceWhile touring the country promoting his film Don’t Think Twice, comic Mike Birbiglia was asked variations on the same question at pretty much every stop:  “If I want to be a comedian [or actor or writer or improviser or film director], how do I get started?”

Birbiglia boiled his advice down to “6 Tips for Making It Small in Hollywood. Or Anywhere.” The first tip, though, is the most helpful for people who ask that question:

1. Don’t Wait — Write. Make a short film. Go to an open mike. Take an improv class. There’s no substitute for actually doing something. Don’t talk about it anymore. Maybe don’t even finish reading this essay.

The sooner you get started, the sooner you can start failing all the dozens or thousands of times you will need to fail in order to get somewhere, creatively.