Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Author Interview: Kurt Loder on 'The Good, the Bad and the Godawful: 21st Century Movie Reviews'

Kurt Loder
Just over two years ago, longtime MTV news anchor Kurt Loder published a book-length collection of film criticism entitled The Good, the Bad and the Godawful: 21st-Century Movie Reviews (St. Martin's Griffin, 2011).

Shortly after it was released, I interviewed Loder at a book party hosted by Reason magazine in Washington. We only had a short time available for our conversation, so I challenged the author to describe his book in 30 seconds or less -- basically, give the elevator pitch.

In reply, Loder said the book is "a collection of more than 200 movie reviews that I’ve done for MTV.com and Reason.com (my current employer) over the last seven years."

There are, he said, "a lot of the usual blockbusters and stuff but there are a lot of movies that people may have missed, like Exit Through the Gift Shop and The Fall."

While there are "so many good movies that come out," he said, "if [audiences] don’t make it the first week, they disappear. So there are a lot of them in there, [but] there are a lot of movies that are really dreadful,” as well.

The book, he added, “covers a lot of movies that you may have forgotten or never seen.”

His hope is that the reader might find “a lot of movies in there that [he] might be inspired to go see.”

Loder said that he has “always loved movies” and that one of the earliest motion pictures he remembers seeing was The Thing, when he was six years old, in 1951. His love of the movies is what motivates him to write about them.

He writes his reviews, he explained, from the perspective of a fan.

“I’m not a film critic,” he pointed out.

“I think 'film critics' are like Pauline Kael and David Thomson and people like that who spent their entire lives in dark rooms. I haven’t done that.”

Still, he said, “I try to keep up. I see a lot of movies but I have a disorganized knowledge.”

When writing about movies, Loder explained, he decides whether he likes a film or not and then he tries to be entertaining in his review.

Asked if popular culture has a significant impact on politics or vice versa, Loder paused before answering.

“Politics has an impact on all of us -- a malign one, quite often.”

While he found the question interesting, he said, he did not know how popular culture had an impact on politics.

Loder then suggested that, “when you see people in Congress playing games on their laptops" while they are in session, then "that’s sort of an impact.”

Although – or perhaps because – he “loves movies,” Loder demurred when asked to name his favorite film.

“Ah, there’s no such thing!” he exclaimed.

He did, however, name the “best movie” he saw in 2011, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which stars Brad Pitt.

“It’s a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant movie. It’s really, really good. Everybody should go see it.”

Loder mentioned two other recent films before the interview came to a close: Jason Reitman’s Young Adult, featuring Charlize Theron, “which was really good,” and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, starring Gary Oldman, which he “didn’t like very much.”

However, he said, “there have actually been a lot of good movies at the end of the year, as there always are.”

Adapted from an earlier article on Examiner.com.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Virginia Festival of the Book 2014 - First Amendment & Free Speech

At the 2014 Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, there was a panel discussion about freedom of speech sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and moderated by the center's director, Josh Wheeler. The panelists were authors Floyd Abrams and Ronald K.L. Collins, who talked about free speech and the First Amendment, and how protecting freedom of speech sometimes comes in conflict with other values of a liberal society.

Attorney Floyd Abrams is a partner with the law firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP and the author of a recent book, Friend of the Court: On the Front Lines with the First Amendment.

Ron Collins teaches law at the University of Washington and is the author of a book about Abrams, Nuanced Absolutism: Floyd Abrams & the First Amendment.

Here is video of the full discussion, recorded in the Charlottesville City Council Chambers on March 22, 2014:
To read my interview with Abrams conducted immediately after the panel discussion, visit Examiner.com. To hear the full audio interview with Abrams and another interview with Josh Wheeler about the Virginia Festival of the Book event as well as the annual Muzzle Awards, visit Bearing Drift's March 29 podcast on "The Score."

For more posts about the Virginia Festival of the Book, look here.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Virginia Festival of the Book 2014 - Stephen Jimenez

During a Virginia Festival of the Book panel on March 20 called "Shifting Identities" at the Jefferson Madison Regional Library in Charlottesville, investigative journalist Stephen Jimenez discussed his 2013 book, The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard.

In the book, Jimenez explores alternative explanations for the 1998 beating and murder of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, which at the time was thought to be an unprovoked gay bashing and hate crime.

Shepard's murderers were convicted of second degree murder but not a hate crime. Jimenez looks into a seedy underworld connection between Shepard and one of his killers, Aaron McKinney. According to Jimenez, both Shepard and McKinney were involved in the crystal meth trade in Colorado and Wyoming.

Here is video of Jimenez's presentation and his answers to questions posed by audience members:

My post-panel interview with Jimenez can be read on Examiner.com.

The other participants in the "Shifting Identities" panel at the Central JMRL were Laura Krughoff, who read from her 2013 novel, My Brother's Name, and Ariel Gore, who discussed her memoir, The End of Eve, which was published just days earlier in March 2014.

To see previous posts about the Virginia Festival of the Book, look here.

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Virginia Festival of the Book 2014 - World War II

One of the panels at the 2014 Virginia Festival of the Book was called "World War II: Little Known Stories." It took place on March 20 in the Charlottesville City Council Chambers.

Moderated by Art Beltrone, author of Vietnam Graffiti, the panel featured two authors -- Cheryl Jorgensen-Earp, who wrote Discourse and Defiance under Nazi Occupation, which is about the German occupation of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands; and Craig Shirley, who wrote December 1941: 31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World.

Largely for reasons of time, this video focuses on Craig Shirley's presentation and his responses to questions from the audience.

For a quirky take on Shirley's book, December 1941, check out this post from 2011.

Previous posts about the Virginia Festival of the Book in earlier years can be seen here.

UPDATE:  C-SPAN2 recorded the entire panel discussion and will air the video on BookTV on Saturday, May 3, at 2:35 p.m. (ET) and Sunday, May 4, at 1:05 a.m.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Virginia Festival of the Book 2014 - World Politics

Last month in Charlottesville, the Virginia Festival of the Book hosted more than 200 programs on a wide range of topics, including authors of fiction and non-fiction, literary agents, and children's book authors.

I attended with video camera in hand to record some of the proceedings -- it's impossible to attend more than a handful of events during the five-day festival -- and belatedly post them here.

The first program I attended was on Wednesday, March 18, on the topic "The United States in the World."

The panel discussion was sponsored by the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia and moderated by Sorensen's executive director, Bob Gibson, a former political reporter for The Daily Progress.

The panelists were UVA political scientist James Ceaser, talking about his book, After Hope and Change: the 2012 Elections and American Politics; University of Mary Washington Professor Stephen Farnsworth on The Global Presidency: International News and the U.S.Government; Stanford historian Robert Rakove discussing Kennedy, Johnson and the Nonaligned World; and former Ambassador Francis Rooney, who presented The Global Vatican: An Inside Look at the Catholic Church, World Politics, and the Extraordinary Relationship Between the United States and the Holy See.

James Ceaser spoke first:

(For my post-panel interview with Ceaser, visit Examiner.com.)

Stephen Farnsworth spoke next
, about how foreign news media organizations view the American president and U.S. foreign policy:
Previous posts about the Virginia Festival of the Book in earlier years can be seen here.

Robert Rakove then discussed his new book about U.S. policy toward the non-aligned world in the 1960s, focusing on the Kennedy and Johnson administrations:

The fourth speaker was Francis Rooney, who served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See during the administration of George W. Bush:

(My post-panel interview with Ambassador Rooney is also available to read on Examiner.com.)

Finally, the four panelists fielded questions from the audience on the mezzanine of the University of Virginia book store:

Previous posts about the Virginia Festival of the Book in earlier years can be seen here.

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