Weekend Reading: December 11, 2015

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Reader’s Corner: Best Books of 2013

 

Best-of lists are particularly absurd when it comes to books, with thousands of titles being released in 2013 alone and easily hundreds of them most likely being worth forking over $25 for. But nevertheless it’s helpful to pull notable ones out of the stacks of new releases; otherwise where would you even get started?

To that end, I published a piece over at PopMatters with short writeups on my 15 favorite books of 2013. It’s a good collection with something for everybody, fantasy to military history, graphic novels to current affairs, Thomas Pynchon to Scientology. You can read it here.

New on DVD: ‘The Master’

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themaster1One of the greatest, weirdest films of 2012 was Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. Synopses don’t quite do it justice; just find it and watch it (the DVD and Blu-ray are available as of today).

My full review is at Film Journal International:

The Master makes what should have been long obvious now utterly clear: Paul Thomas Anderson can lay claim to being one of the era’s few American writer/directors afflicted with greatness. It is hard to think of another home-grown filmmaker who so consistently brings such psychologically astute scripting, and ability to coax nakedly revelatory performances from actors—that classically trained eye for widescreen framing—to each film he makes. The Master may not match the level of artistry or thematic intensity seen in There Will Be Blood, but it is Anderson’s most approachable film in years, not to mention his most vividly realized characters to date…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Books: ‘Going Clear’: Lawyers, Guns, Money and Scientology

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L. Ron Hubbard conducting a Dianetics seminar in Los Angeles, 1950.

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Last month, Lawrence Wright published Going Clear, his sprawling history and examination of the Church of Scientology. It’s a massive and thoughtful piece of work that could end up being the go-to work on Scientology for years to come, in the same way that Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven has been for the Mormon religion.

My essay on Wright’s book, “‘Going Clear’: Lawyers, Guns, Money and Scientology,” was published this week at PopMatters. Here’s an excerpt:

[L. Ron] Hubbard gathered followers to his self-improvement cause through the ‘50s and ‘60s, and money poured in. Then came the Sea Organization, or Sea Org. Starting in the late ‘60s, an increasingly disconnected from reality Hubbard became convinced that the British, American, and Soviet governments wanted to harness Scientology’s psychological insights for their own uses. With three ships under the 57-year-old Hubbard’s command, Sea Org cast off in 1967 with “no destination or purpose other than to wander” the high seas, free from government control.

Hubbard roamed the world like some maddened commodore, exciting rumors that he was an operative for the CIA, drinking heavily, fantasizing about taking over Rhodesia, and searching for a lost underwater city that only he knew about. Crewing the ships were a youthful band of believers who had signed contracts pledging themselves to Sea Org “for the next billion years.” (The last is one of many details Wright seeds the book with that beg to be taken as comedy, but ultimately can’t.)…

In addition to the history of Hubbard and the Church’s founding, Wright also digs into its celebrity aspect, particularly via the experience of Paul Haggis, writer/director of everything from Crash to various episodes of The Facts of Life.

You can read an excerpt from Going Clear about Haggis’s experiences here.

New in Theaters: ‘The Master’

The Master makes what should have been long obvious now utterly clear: Paul Thomas Anderson can lay claim to being one of the era’s few American writer/directors afflicted with greatness. It is hard to think of another home-grown filmmaker who so consistently brings such psychologically astute scripting, and ability to coax nakedly revelatory performances from actors—that classically trained eye for widescreen framing—to each film he makes. The Master may not match the level of artistry or thematic intensity seen in There Will Be Blood, but it is Anderson’s most approachable film in years, not to mention his most vividly realized characters to date. There won’t be much else like it on screens this year…

The Master opens Friday in limited release and expands wider over the next few weeks. My full review is at Film Journal International.

The trailer is here:

Trailer Park: ‘The Master’

A lot of the initial buzz that’s going to swirl around Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master will center on whether it’s inspired by Scientology. It’s easy to see why: the 1950s setting, the cultish leader who poses as a hybrid master of all disciplines, the dark threads of systematized paranoia and neurosis. But if the trailer is any indication — lush visuals, Joaquin Phoenix in full Walk the Line meltdown and Philip Seymour Hoffman owning the screen in that sulphuric Talented Mr. Ripley fashion — focusing on that subject alone could sidetrack attention from the potentially genius qualities of what could be the film of the year.

Check it out: