Mar 182018

This history of the Antebellum period is complex and breathtaking. The country changed so much in these years that Polk’s administration feels like a different world than Buchanan’s. There are lots of ways to track that change. One of the best I’ve read is actually a novel: James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird.

This history couldn’t be more different from that book. Whereas the novel watched the world from ground level and from a marginal space imaged within central events of the period, this history leaps into the political center without shying away from the details of committee conferences, vote counts, and the back-and-forth of parliamentary procedures. This is a story of power struggles played out in halls of government and across the western territories. Yet, the whole is handled with such a sure hand that the details enliven rather than obscure the developing events.

This book fits nicely across the joint connecting What Hath God Wrought? and Battle Cry of Freedom. Perhaps more unsettling is the way it seems to offer insight into the resentments and risks the States are muddling through today.

 March 18, 2018  Book Logs Tagged with: ,
Mar 132018

I read this book in a rush, caught up in the world and the characters. This is great fantasy writing.

I also really like that nothing here is a revamping of Germanic or Nordic mythology and that this isn’t a world of wise, white men helping young white men discover themselves and save the world. That’s a shift from the norm and it feels right.

Narratively, this book takes all kinds of risks with point-of-view and plotting. Yet somehow, by the end it pulls everything together. It’s a feat of strength and makes the book extremely satisfying.

 March 13, 2018  Book Logs Tagged with: , ,
Mar 132018

A reboot of The Matrix with Freedom standing in for The Real World and Keanu Reeves played by an autistic.

Less cheeky: part of what is compelling about Henry James’s novels is the pleasure of reading third person narration that is close enough to a character’s experience of their selves as to be near synonymous with it and yet that is also calmly, devastatingly clear-seeing to an extent that exceeds what we imagine to be possible for most people. That I thought this thought watching Elliot interact with the people in his life tells you which gear the first two episodes of the show shifted my mind into.

I’m excited for the rest of the season.

 March 13, 2018  TV Logs Tagged with: , ,
Mar 092018

I don’t really love this film. I maybe don’t even really like it. Mostly I just don’t care.

The problem is that here the Marvel behemoth feels like it’s busily dragging a few of its many feet forward as it lurches toward the Infinity Wars extravaganza where it plans to (and wants us to know it will) emit a thunderous bellow. And I find that exhausting. As I’ve said before, this massive studio-as-story-world is fascinating from a film history perspective and I’m curious about the technical aspects of project development and coordination, but the films themselves often feel like a burden, something to keep tabs on lest you miss a set-up or fail to grasp a winking reference to what’s come before, but mostly they come across as just fastidious and stale.

Without being anti-genre, anti-superhero, anti-sci-fi or -fantasy, I’m tired of them and wish they’d stop tying up talent that I’d rather see doing other work.

(Or maybe this is a better way of thinking about it: in this film, we watch Thor’s iconic hammer be destroyed, watch Odin die and Thor become King of Asgard in his place (after killing Death herself), watch the complete destruction of Asgard and the migration of its survivor’s to Earth. We also bask in the happy-making fanboy scenes of Thor and Hulk engaged in a battle royale and of Jeff Goldblum in high form. And yet, all of this—every last bit of it—is really just set-up for the only 30 seconds of the film that matter: the post-credit encounter with the purple guy’s space ship as it heads to Earth. When your entire film experience is demoted to a footnote by an ad in the final moments of the film, you’ve wasted your time watching.)

 March 9, 2018  Movie Logs Tagged with: , ,
Feb 242018

I stumbled across the name of this book and its author in the opening anecdote of a magazine article a couple months ago. I’d never heard of either, but the odd context of the reference made me curious. So I stopped by Indigo the next time I was downtown and, after some confusion over which name was used to file the book—Cixin or Liu—found a copy.

The book was wildly disorienting because I know nothing about Chinese history that can’t be captured in the broadest of strokes. The footnotes saved me in this regard. By the same token, character interactions are clearly stylized here but they are done in a manner different from what I’m used to. The differences weren’t enormous and I adapted, but they were enough initially to make it quite hard to peg characters down. I don’t know enough to say what precisely these differences amount to. I am conscious of difference, but is it a product of a) my cultural distance, b) an unexpected generic variation, c) a purposeful narrative choice, d) the translation, or e) some combination of these? I don’t know.

What I do know is that the book is tightly constructed. Without generating much tension or suspense and without giving the impression of holding back secrets, the plot slowly, methodically unfolds piece-by-piece until in the end everything is backwards and inside out compared to what it was on page one, and this despite the fact that in fundamental ways, nothing has changed except the state of my understanding. I’ve learned what happened before page one—like in a mystery—and that knowledge makes all the difference. It’s an impressive feat of storytelling.

 February 24, 2018  Book Logs Tagged with: ,
Jan 012018

It’s been a long time since I’ve watched something that left me as excited about art and cinema, storytelling and life as I Love Dick.

My highlights?

In the third episode, “Scenes from a Marriage,” the two unfettered performances: the first, part of a gallery workshop, the second, an adoration.

Episode four, “The Conceptual F**K”: a woman lays down nude to burn in the sun. This is art, it is broadcast, it trends. Then it goes analogue and is challenged, redescribed, dismantled. A shirt it turns out unmakes a man.

The fifth episode, “A Short History of Weird Girls,” is a startling, discreet gem of pop experimental cinema.

The final moments of the last episode are an apotheosis, both for the series and for the protagonists.

Later, after I’d taken the time to read a bit of the popular press around the show’s release, I wondered if people had missed its depth. Calling it “comedy” seemed wrong to me, but that’s what everyone did. Soon enough I realized that I was the one who was wrong. Dick is full of fools and laughter, and I eventually remembered that laughter—raucous, vulgar, norm-destroying laughter—was characteristic of Bakhtin’s appropriative, novelistic genres.

So a thought: if movies are short stories (or maybe comics), then maybe streamed episodic narratives are novels, empowered with all the freedom and breadth and consuming variety the analogy implies.

I’m working in broad strokes, loud colors, but this is what Dick taught me.

Oct 262017

I more or less randomly watched this movie on Netflix and was happy to discover that it was shot in Montreal and is full of beautiful images of the skyline and the mountain.

The film isn’t great—only a few minutes after watching it, the story is fading, and I don’t remember much from the performances—but scene after scene took place in recognizable places around town and it was great fun to location-spot: the Olympic stadium, the Lachine canal, Old Montreal, Parc Lafontaine and others were on display.

Seeing the city on screen, I suddenly realized how much of its beauty I’ve come to take for granted.

 October 26, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: , ,
Sep 232017

Tickets in hand and too excited to account for my excitement.

Pina Bausch’s “Cafe Muller” and “Rites of Spring”. Ottawa. ETA: 6 days.

An introduction:

An excerpt:

 September 23, 2017  Theatre Logs Tagged with:
Aug 062017

This show has an extraordinarily ugly vision of the world. Cruelty is everywhere and everywhere it bleeds into a sadism enabled and sustained by the production aesthetic. Noble ideals like honour and justice predominate in the dialogue and motivate character action, but in this world they serve rather than counter the cruelty. Despite the noble talk, there is no real notion of “the good” that is not childish or foolish, and so becoming adult means becoming cruel and hard.

It took me awhile to catch on to all of this which made watching the show incredibly painful. I kept being disappointed by characters who I thought were better than they were or caught off guard by violence that unsettled me. Eventually, I reached the point where, I watched for plot rather than people: a gigantic machine is in motion and I want to see how it rumbles along and how it finishes.

In terms of characters, I’m attached to only three.

Tyrion: he has money and a powerful family but he wants the pleasure of love and happiness. Best of all, he doesn’t live as if his world was a zero-sum. He wishes these pleasures for others, offers them when he can, and, in doing so, is the only character who is freely, personally good. That he and Varis—a character I could have added to this list but haven’t because he’s minor—have joined forces makes perfect sense. Given the ironic-mythic mode of the narrative, I continue to hope this fool will end up being king, although I doubt it will happen and just hope he survives to the end.

Arya: she has the misfortune of being a child and a woman in a world that tortures both. Her response is to live in a dream. That dream is a nightmare but it is a nightmare in which having nothing and being no one grants power. Because this story is a fantasy, Arya’s dream is real, and in an admittedly bloodthirsty way, I’m rooting for her.

Cersei: she’s a villain. She destroys too many lives, accepts to easily radically violent means to achieve her goals to be anything else. But with Robert, with Ned, later with her father, she speaks tragically of her situation: she, like Arya, has been born a woman and so has been hobbled from birth despite her obvious and extraordinary talents. Unlike Arya, she has not retreated to a dream. She has chosen the world she was given, set her sights on specific goals (that if she were a man would be admired), and within the possibilities available to her, has set to work making a place for herself and her children. I dislike so much of this world that watching her turn its own cruelty and deceit against its institutions and leaders, watching her beat them at their own game is deeply satisfying (and often funny). Foolish as it sounds, I also yearn for her to redeem herself and to use her talents for good.

Saying all of this, it must sound like I hate the show, but having finally read the first book, I feel confident saying that the show and it’s source are together a major work worth consideration. I dislike this world and its perspective on life. Yet, it’s compelling, powerful and, ultimately, I’m not able to dismiss it as an obviously false vision. Which means that despite everything (and as I said in a previous post), I am all in.

 August 6, 2017  TV Logs Tagged with:
Aug 052017

This film was surprisingly boring. The problem? Almost every major plot point turns around arbitrary events that have no basis in what came before or will occur after.

For example, the alien’s caught outside and they’re going to keep it from getting back in by burning the engines. What? No fuel? Oh no!

Or they’re creating a trap and the doctor, for some unknown reason, sees the alien nearby but doesn’t say anything. He just pretends everything’s fine. Oops! Now it’s eating his leg.

Or the tech guy decides to open an airlock. Or there’s high-speed debris. Or there’s a malfunction in the __________. And don’t get me started about the tracker that works for precisely one scene.

In short, the story is confused about what its problem is: a dangerous monster loose on a ship or a fragile and failing shelter adrift in a deadly environment? The film thinks it’s about the first, but it’s organized around the second. That mash-up could work but doesn’t here.

And so by the end rather than being horrified (or even interested), I felt certain that these people were inept enough and their equipment shoddy enough that even if it were just the rat they kept in the lab that got out of its cage (not the alien), they would’ve still wrecked the station trying to catch it.

 August 5, 2017  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,