May 282016
 

Selfless
Ryan Reynolds is like a Cinnabon. Both look good, and on a crazy day when you’re feeling “what the hell,” you might decide to treat yourself. The problem is that once the morsel is in hand, you realize that it’s both too much and kinda empty. If you’re the honest sort, you’ll probably even admit it stinks (in one case literally).

All of which is too bad really because Reynolds seems (as much as you can tell from afar) like a nice and geeky guy. And he does look good.

So I am happy to discover that Self/Less, unlike a Cinnabon, doesn’t stink and isn’t terrible. It’s just ordinary and dialed in in a way that reminds me of a well done made-for-TV movie. But that’s fine because what the hell? and sometimes it’s okay to treat yourself.

 May 28, 2016  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,
May 152016
 

Daredevil season 2 posterThe second season of Daredevil is chatty enough that by episode three, I was making mental comparisons to Interview with a Vampire. (“Oh Louis, Louis. Still whining, Louis.”)

And this chatter just never stops. Over and over, characters spend whole episodes tied down in small rooms or living previous events through a flashback, and they spend that time talking peudo-philosophical claptrap to each other as if it meant something. Technically, it’s the noire-crime-vigilante equivalent of Geordi and Data explaining that maybe they could recalibrate the positronic emitter: it’s incidental genre-flavored business that moves you to the next plot point. Only here it is treated as the thing itself and goes on forever.

Worse most of these interminable monologues are delivered by either Charlie Cox, who I find near unwatchably dull, or by Jon Bernthal, who played my least favorite character on Walking Dead (a show in which I disliked everyone, so there was serious competition for the spot of “least favorite”).

Daredevil only ever lurches forward at moments when people are untied, let out of their rooms and things actually happen. In the final episodes, when the story has to be wrapped up in a rush, events pick up speed and life begins to gleam through the gloomy cracks. It’s even exciting. I just wish that it didn’t all feel like a quick push to get to the long list of “unresolved and soon to be revisited issues” of the final episode.

This show is trying something new and is figuring things out as it goes along. I also really like Jessica Karen (a fave from True Blood). So I am willing to cut some slack. But I hope that it will get over this hump so that I won’t have to.

 May 15, 2016  TV Logs Tagged with: , ,
May 142016
 

Mala NocheWhen I was in film school (studies not production!), I was curious about “the festival film,” which to me manifested as a particular style of image and story. In classes, we discussed the festival circuit as an alternative, international distribution venue for non-commercial or international film and were very excited by all the resistant political implications we spun out of this possibility.  These festivals were where artists working outside the system showed films that mattered and that made a difference. Even if I didn’t very much enjoy attending festival screenings, the queer cinema that I was drawn to often bore the festival style and moved through this circuit.

Watching Mala Noche and Seashore recently, I had a very different thought. These are new filmmakers’ films, young filmmakers’ films, and their mannered style and small, familiar plots suggest a young artist’s reach toward technical fluency and reflect the limited means available to the unproven in an expensive medium. They are, in other words, late-stage apprentice work. This description won’t apply universally, but it captures something true about a subset that I’m drawn to.

Thinking in this way, I see better how Van Sant’s Mala Noche stands out from the crowd: it operates within the same technical and financial constraints but offers up an extensive and varied physical world where a story plays out that is neither familiar nor easy and which does not recount an individual’s coming of age or coming out. The result is a film that is pro- and e- vocative.

Set beside Van Sant’s film, a movie like Seashore, which is a rather straightforward coming out story focused on two very young men, feels quite literally like a ritual, with all the aesthetic and emotional implications that might conjure.

 May 14, 2016  Movie Logs Tagged with: , ,
May 092016
 

Phoenix CoverIt was a dreary day and the seriousness of life was getting to me and I just wanted to get away. Phoenix was on my shelf. I grabbed it, settled in and tagged along as Vlad had adventures.

I have history with Vlad. I’ve known him since university. He can be difficult and has rough edges, even some anger issues, but his heart’s in the right place and he takes care of his friends. He also keeps a sense of humor even when things get rough. I like him.

I also like Steven Brust, or at least, the man I imagine him to be. A talented writer with a light touch and the power to be funny and enchanting, and also, on this particular night when things were getting me down, a steady voice telling me a story, pulling me out of my bubble and making things better.

I don’t think I can have enough books like these on my shelves.

 May 9, 2016  Book Logs Tagged with: ,
May 082016
 

Hero of Ages coverMonths after finishing The Hero of Ages, I still catch myself lost in thought, imagining its characters and scenes or picking my way through aspects of its plot. It is the last volume of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series (I’ve written briefly about the first and second), and I think it’s near perfectly done. Rather than going on about everything I like though, I’ll just point out three things that seem especially noteworthy.

First, I loved that each book is complete in itself. In each one, a group of characters has a specific goal that will “solve all the problems of the world” [spoken with portentous voice and reverb] and in each book the characters overcome great difficulty to achieve their goal. Yet in the first pages of both the second and third book it becomes clear that they seriously misunderstood the situation, that their solution wasn’t in fact one, and that it may have even made things worse. This is not however a case of a successful book spawning sequels that undo the work of the earlier resolution of the plot with a twist in order to create more business. Instead, by the end of the last volume, it becomes clear that the characters are learning more about their situation and that incidental chains of events running through the early books are actually essential plot points in the later ones. In a sense, the characters think are in an epic fantasy—“grow up and become the hero who destroys the material embodiment of evil before the forces of good fall”—but by book three it’s clear that they have also (an perhaps more importantly) been participating unwittingly in a mystery novel and a political thriller from the very beginning.

Second, these books are not fantasies of individual victory. Individuals succeed throughout and these small victories are meaningful and exciting. But the story also confronts the reality of their failure, loneliness and death. Characters build relationships with each other only to be separated and forced to operate independently. Alone they make decisions in with little information, hoping that their relationships are trustworthy but without having any reliable ways of discovering if what they are doing helps or even matters. It seems to me that this aspect of the books echoes (but only echoes) the notion of glory in ancient Greek epic. (And in this regard, its seems worth noting that every heroic figure in this book ultimately dies valiantly in battle.)

Finally, this series, although heavily and carefully plotted, does not trod along telling what happens. Instead, it traces its plot, indicating it rather than detailing it. All of the pieces are there. The causal links are clear. The separate lines of action intertwine. (And by the last book, major events are happening in many different locations, each separated from the other and developing independently.) But the full implications of the plot’s complications and complexity are left implicit. Enough information is given to figure out all of the connections and nothing is hidden, but they are not stated directly. As a result, the story leaves room to imagine and explore what happened after you’re done moving through the first telling.

These books have helped me remember what great fantasy novels can be like and I can’t recommend them enough.

 May 8, 2016  Book Logs Tagged with: , ,