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fun fact: i love books. [five things 6.16.19]

For those merry few who plan to visit RtM as I try to get writing again, I’m going to explain the gist of my thinking moving forward.

Emily suggested I cut this part, and I understand why. Back when I was writing more on this blog, I did way too much apologizing when I wasn’t posting as frequently as I wanted to. I’m going to ignore her advice and include this, because it’s only my friends who read this blog, and I want to share what’s going on in my head. I’ve been hiding an awful lot the last few years, and I’d like to stop doing that.

What I’m trying to do is relearn how to write. So far, in my brief time back at it, it’s been nothing like riding a bike. In large part, I’ve spent a few years creating terrible habits, and I need to slowly make new ones. I want to get these writing muscles strong again, to the point where they actually crave the work instead of resisting it.

So far, once I sit and write a little — the results of which I am admittedly disappointed with — there are stirrings of that feeling I used to have when I was writing all the time. Before long, I’ll be back in the saddle without fear of being bucked off at any minute. Probably. Maybe. We’ll see.

That’s where ‘Five Things’ comes in. As I try to get back into writing on Roused more consistently — albeit infrequently — these posts seem like a good place to start.

Anyway, with the preamble out of the way, let’s talk about books.

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1. Lose Well – Chris Gethard

Related to said preamble above, we have Chris Gethard’s Lose Well. With this book, Gethard has sounded a call to all the weirdos in the world to do what they love, whatever the outcome. It’s definitely for the normals of the world, too, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that the weirdos should take special notice.

This is the magnum opus of challenges to stop making excuses and start making the things you love, knowing in advance you’re definitely going to fail much of the time, and will probably fail altogether in the end.

This isn’t a self help book promising a rosy outlook that we can do whatever you set our minds to. This is a book about leaving behind the fear of failure, and instead learning to embrace that failure as proof we’re trying to do what matters to us. Falling on our face in pursuit of the things we love isn’t shameful, it’s a badge of honor that we actually chased the things care about and put ourselves on the line. Having skin in the game is always something to be proud of.

If we make things people respond to, or start social movements, or make a difference in the world, amazing! And embracing the failure will be a big part of the reason we succeed. Let’s be honest though, it’s very likely that won’t happen. This is the real world, and far more people go undiscovered due to the luck of the draw or lack of talent than become Rowling or Spielberg or Bowie. Them’s the breaks. Gethard reminds us we should make the things we love anyway. We should get our hands dirty and our fingers bloodied in the trenches to keep pursuing what matters. Our lives will be wildly better for it.

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2. King of Scars – Leigh Bardugo

I sat down to start writing about this book, which I really liked. Instead, out poured 350 words about people’s attitudes toward genre in general, and YA fantasy in particular. I had to scrap all of that, because it doesn’t make sense here — but be warned, a post about genre ghettoization is eventually on its way.

For now, let me just make clear that I believe that good stories are good stories, and they are not bound to, nor restricted from, any particular genre or medium.

With that out of the way, you should be reading Leigh Bardugo.

King of Scars is set in the Grishaverse, a fantasy world Bardugo has built and fleshed out to great effect in her first six books: the Shadow and Bone Trilogy (aka The Grisha Trilogy), the Six of Crows Duology, and The Language of Thorns, a book of fairy tales set in the Grishaverse.

[[Side note #1: the Six of Crows books, like Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series, are fantasy heist stories!!]]

Most fantasy — even the sort that isn’t beholden to Tolkien — is rooted in Western European myths and cultures. Instead, Bardugo writes stories rooted in Eastern European history and culture. Although, she does take us to kingdoms based on Scandinavia and the Netherlands, specifically Amsterdam, along the way; Asia makes a solid showing as well.

King of Scars kicks off another duology featuring mostly familiar characters. I enjoyed living in the world she’s created for a few hundred pages as much as ever.

In reality, my recommendation of this book is actually a recommendation for the series in general. That being said, you should absolutely go back to the beginning and read Shadow and Bone.

[[Side note #2: another great example of rooting speculative fiction in cultures from other places in the world is Nnedi Okorafor’s, Who Fears Death, — on its way as an upcoming series on HBO. As with so many things, that’s for another post.]]

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3. Dune – Frank Herbert

If you like books and you haven’t read Dune, you need to. If you don’t like books, why the hell are you still reading this post?

Arguably the most important science fiction novel of all time, Dune is an unparalleled epic that has shaped significant strands of Sci-Fi since its release.

Dune isn’t just a part of the science fiction and American cultural canons, it helped shape each in the 70s as the number of devotees to the cult of Dune grew.

This book is smart, original, and delightfully weird. If it came out today, it would still be unique — quite a feat since it’s informed so much of what has been released since. Quick example: early drafts of Star Wars were largely cribbed from Dune, and even the final version still owes quite a bit to Frank Herbert.

The books holds up well in 2019. The metaphors and cultural touchstones still resonate, they just have different analogues now than they did in the 60s.

If you haven’t read it, you have until November 20, 2020 to take care of business. That’s when Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve (yay!) releases a film adaptation starring Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), Oscar Isaac (The Force Awakens), Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming), Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men, Avengers: Infinity War), Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones, Aquaman), Javier Bardem (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy), Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), Stellan Skarsgård (Good Will Hunting, Avengers), and Charlotte Rampling (Never Let Me Go). Look at that cast! (Sploosh.)

Also, if you haven’t yet, you should totally watch this documentary about an amazing adaptation of Dune that never actually happed. In spite of never getting made, it still went on to shape Hollywood science fiction films for the better part of two decades. Obviously it will make more sense if you read the book before watching the documentary.

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4. The Hating Game – Sally Thorne

The rom-com is another genre that could fit into a discussion about genre ghettoization. On the one side, so many people dismiss the genre out of hand as if nothing good could ever come from funny romances. On the other side, you have people who indiscriminately swallow whatever garbage comes along, so long as it has the rom-com trappings. I think both are gross.

Again, further discussion is for another post. For now:

I read The Hating Game because Emily fell in love with it, and it’s easy to see why. This book is funny, endearing, and sexy. It’s got charm for days. Also, as is paramount to any good romantic comedy, the romantic leads are the sort you’ll want to spend more time with after the book is finished. I read this whole book in 24 hrs, 10 hrs of which were a bar shift. With my schedule and brainpower lately, that’s really saying something.

Bonus: the sex scenes are way hotter than they’re allowed to be in most rom-com movies, what with the need to keep majority in the PG13 territory to maximize box office potential. So reading rom-coms has an added perk over always just watching them. Speaking of which, The Hating Game is currently being made into a film, so if you want the version with the sex scenes — and why on earth wouldn’t you?! — check out the book soon.

This isn’t a book that subverts the genre or breaks the mold, it’s a book that achieves the peak of what the rom-com can be when a writer leans all the way in to what we love about these sorts of stories.

And if that isn’t enough to pique your interest, in addition to being a really great rom-com, The Hating Game is also a bit of a reminder that no one is just a character in your story. Always look closer. Always look again.

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5. Semiosis – Sue Burke

Okay, I get it. This book list is weighted heavily toward speculative fiction. Just bear with me for one more, because Semiosis is the real deal.

With her debut, Sue Burke did something really special, and she’s an exciting new voice in science fiction.

It’s tough for anything to be original these days. Yet, every so often, I read a book that is so wonderfully it’s own thing that my mind comes back to it over and over. Semiosis is one of those books.

It reminds me of books like Annihilation, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, China Miéville’s Embassytown and The City and the City and… well, I guess everything by China Miéville, as well as movies like Pontypool and It Follows. Mostly because these stories take a fairly familiar sub-genre and twist the premise or throw in a new perspective, giving the whole thing new life.

In the case of Semiosis, the familiar story is humans attempting to colonize a strange new planet. Burke’s twist on the sub-genre by making the species they need to contend with, and relate to, something unexpected.

Its narrative structure is similar to Asimov’s Foundation, in that it jumps ahead to new characters and generations as it tells a longer story of a civilization.

I wish I could write more to entice you, but I feel like any plots details would be spoilery.

I guess the main thing I can reveal is that Burke is an award winning translator, and that fact isn’t surprising after reading her first novel.

As with most science fiction featuring aliens, it’s actually a story about humans. Semiosis is about engaging difference. It’s about how difficult it is to understand the other in the face of our biological impulse to see the unknown as a threat in our fight for self-preservation. It’s about the maddeningly precarious nature of peace — both in the global and intimate sense.

I can’t wait for Interference, the next book in the duology, to be released in October. Also, I’m really worried about what happens next!

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requiem for a best friend.

“The heart of a dog is a bottomless thing.” – Tilda Swinton

Abby died right before I got married. She was my dog, and a lifeline that got me through the hardest times I’d ever experienced. Just a few weeks out from the biggest event of my life, her health began to rapidly deteriorate. Within days, she died in my arms.

She deserves a post of her own, but her’s is a story for another day. Suffice it to say that Abby was there when important people in my life, those who were supposed to love and protect me, harmed and abandoned me instead. When no one else would choose me, Abby did. It wasn’t a true substitute for what I needed, but it saved me nonetheless.

When she died, I vowed not to instantly replace her. How on earth could I replace her? The context and history of my time with her was unrepeatable. My vow lasted about a week, before Emily and I decided to get a new dog to start our life together. The space Abby left behind, at that point in my life and in the midst of so much change, was simply too large.

We looked into breeds, decided on a Maltese, found a breeder, and picked out Chloe. She’s still with us so far. She is a ninja past her prime, an eater of shit, a cuddle-slut and an all-around lovable asshole. Chloe was too young to leave her mother when we picked her out, so we’d visit her in the mean time to bond and whatnot.

Just after our wedding, but before leaving for the honeymoon, we visited Chloe for the last time before she was ready to come home. The visits were a little chaotic, because the space housed a multitude of dogs. The woman who bred Malteses would get puppies from other breeders to sell, so her place was a wonderland of adorable canines.

As I wandered amongst the pups, I noticed a soft coat wheaten, already tall for her age, terrorizing a small bundle of jet black fur. This tiny little thing, who looked as much like a mythical woodland creature as a dog, was not at all interested in the larger puppy’s desire to play. She was terrified, trying to find somewhere safe to hide.

Feeling sorry for this vulnerable little mogwai, I picked her up and got her out of what she imagined was harm’s way. She immediately snuggled into the crook of my neck. In that moment, a few weeks after losing a dog who had so clearly chosen me, here was a dog who immediately made her affection clear. I knew right away we were leaving there with a dog we hadn’t planned on. I’d saved her from a scary moment, and this was the first step in which she would save me in return.

Her name was Donkey. We didn’t even give her the name. It was already her nickname at the breeder, thanks to a three-year-old boy who would visit the puppies with his mother.

On one visit, the mother pointed at our future dog and asked, “What do you think of this puppy?” To which he proclaimed, “That’s not a puppy, that’s a Donkey!”

It became her name for the rest of her life, and it so clearly fit her. From the fact that she sort of looked like an actual Donkey, to the way her temperament often mimicked Eeyore, she was named well. Anyone who knew her well would agree. On the other hand, when new people would vocalize their dislike or confusion about the name, it took significant restraint to keep myself from saying, “Hey, guess what, you don’t get a fucking vote.”

She also loved pillows, like she thought she was a human. Sometimes, that resulted in her sleeping in the weirdest positions imaginable.

It’s not hyperbolic to say that Donkey was the perfect dog for me. She was as good a friend as anyone could ask for. She was loyal and tender, nurturing and playful, timid and sweet. She was also the best cuddler I have ever met, human, dog, or otherwise.

In my struggle with mental illness, small things can tip the balance between getting through the day and a catastrophic crash and burn. Donkey so often tipped that balance in my favor. She was a totem of wellness. I was able to show her affection and receive her affection in return in entirely uncomplicated and straightforward ways. That often loosened the perpetual knot in my chest just a bit. She made the darkness a little easier to bear.

Like many dogs, she was always there. Her affection never waned, her desire to be near us was constant. Yet, as a lover of many dogs over the years, I can honestly say there was something different about Donkey. I’ve never known a dog like her, and I can’t imagine I ever will again.

I know every dog owner would say this about their dog, but Donkey was genuinely special.

People who didn’t like dogs somehow liked Donkey anyway. People normally indifferent to dogs were fascinated by her and called her their favorite of all the dogs they knew. Our friend Brian — who lived with us for years in Seattle — says she is the first dog he ever loved.

Even at our vet, Donkey was an A-list celebrity. From the doctors to the techs, everyone at our vet is great. They are attentive and thoughtful, and take great care of Chloe, but Donkey elicited a special kind of devotion. When we got to the vet with Donkey it was like Norm walked into Cheers. Waiting in the exam room for the vet, techs would come in to visit just because they heard Donkey was around.

The day we had to put her down, when Donkey was taken upstairs to get her IV catheter put in, the techs made a message on her gauze to say goodbye.

Donkey was loved by so many, even though her attitude toward strangers, and even acquaintances, was reserved at best. Gaining Donkey’s affection was a mark of true approval, but ever afterward she would love you effusively. The few people she came to view as part of her pack received a genuine gift, because it was a position that was never earned lightly.

As a pet owner, you always know this day will come, when the story ends for good. Fuck, as a lover of anyone or anything you know this day will come. Still, there’s that small part of us that doesn’t believe it. It’s hard to imagine life without a person or animal that makes up such a big part of our world. Although we knew this day was coming, even knew it was coming relatively soon, I still find it impossible to wrap my brain around the fact that I’ll never see her again.

She was the best. She was the heart of our family, and the hole she leaves behind is larger even than I imagined. We miss you, Donkey. Love you, forever.

Donkey of House Small; first of her name, carrier of toys, maker of weird noises; she of boundless energy for games and an endless appetite for cuddling.
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roused to mediocrity is back! probably. [five things 5.4.19]

It has been a long time coming, but Roused to Mediocrity has returned.

I’ve miss it too much to let it stay dead. I’m not myself when I’m not nerding out about the things I love. I miss using this medium to tell my friends about the cool shit I’m into right now. I miss diving more deeply into the things that moved me to parse out what impacted me. I’m not entirely sure why I’ve been hiding my passion for things the last few years, but I have been, and it’s stupid, and I need to stop.

Part of my life, part of me has been missing, and while RtM might not account for all of it, I need to be writing again, and this is as good a place as any to start.

I’ve shied away from jumping back in for fear I won’t do it consistently enough, but fuck it. Let’s do this.

What better way to get back into the swing of things than a good old fashioned ‘Five Things’ post. So here they are, five random things I’ve loved recently.

On with the show!

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1.  Avengers: Endgame

Epic is overused these days, but it’s the only word that accurately describes last week’s embarrassment of riches when it comes to long-awaited onscreen battles.

Game of Thrones and the MCU have captured a huge portion of the pop culture consciousness for about a decade (eight and eleven years respectively), and last week included two massive battles royale that were meant to offer some semblance of closure for two devoted fanbases — along with the larger public who’ve been pulled onto the bandwagon.

Within the worlds of each story, both battles had the fate of all (or half of all) life hanging in the balance. Each had wildly overpowered villains. And each had a remarkably high degree of difficulty for the creators.

The difference between the two, in my experience, is that one was a mess, and the other stuck the landing.

Endgame had the same magic that the first Avengers film had in terms of the good kind of fan service — seeing it opening weekend at a 1am showing was not without more than its fair share of roaring cheers. And it offered satisfying conclusions for character arcs that have spanned more than a decade.

The notes all landed in terms of humor, action, acting, and poignancy. These characters we’ve grown to love were given their due at the end of a long road, and some of the more significant moments in the film were — on the other side of the coin from the cheers mentioned above — not without more than their fair share of sniffling throughout the audience.

The theater is often my favorite place to be, heightening the magic and power of cinema. Seeing Endgame with a theater full of strangers all invested enough to start a three hour movie at 1 a.m. was a genuinely communal experience. The quality of the film is the reason that experience was a beautiful one.

Bravo to everyone involved for taking a tough pitch and hitting it out of the park.

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2. Russian Doll

I watched all of Russian Doll twice in a week. The first time because I started an episode to try it out and watched all of it in a day. The second time because I was so taken by it the first time that I got Emily to watch an episode, and we promptly watched the whole thing in an evening.

I love it so much. It’s funny and smart, and manages to be sardonic enough that any tenderness and hopefulness doesn’t feel like bullshit.

Everyone in it is great, especially Natasha Lyonne as our hilarious, irreverent, self-destructive, lovable asshole of a protagonist.

Most importantly, the show is my favorite narrative interaction with mental illness — and how much we all need each other — in a long time.

I should write more about this show, and maybe I will, but for now, suffice it to say that I really loved Russian Doll.

P.S. It also includes what will undoubtedly be my favorite line of dialogue from TV all year. I won’t write what it is, because I think it’s spoilery, but feel free to ask via message or IRL.

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3. Love by Toni Morrison

I’m pretty sure there has never been a writer superior to Toni Morrison. She has peers, but no betters.

Her style is full of quiet power, never relying on overly flowery or ornate language, but instead delivering perfect prose in which every word is a gift.

She shines light through the stories of ordinary but marginalized people, Black Americans struggling for joy, belonging, or respect; for love, sex, or security; for revenge or power; for a way out or a way in; for hope or release; and in the process she reveals the beauty and darkness in every human life.

To quote Oprah — something I can assure you I never thought I would do in the life of this blog — “Toni Morrison’s work shows us through pain all the myriad ways we can come to love.”

Love is a difficult book to put down; not because of some narrative tension where we need to see what happens next, but because it’s such a gift to live with Morrison’s words. Her characters are so full of humanity, each feels like a full, living person, slowly revealing their inner world. The conclusion is moving and beautiful for all its tragedy, and it moved me to tears.

In related news, this:

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4. Bob’s Burgers

Nine seasons in, and Bob’s Burgers is better than ever. At a point when too many shows begin teetering into poor quality, getting more desperate to keep an audience as characters grow stale, Bob’s Burgers just keeps improving. I’d say I don’t get the sense that Bob is planning to strap on any water skis for a daring jump over some sharks, but since that would be an amazing episode of Bob’s Burgers, it would be stupid to rule it out. Yet, the metaphor stands, Bob’s Burgers appears to be in no danger of jumping the shark any time soon.

I get that these characters check all my boxes. Droll weirdos who genuinely love and support each other in spite of all the pot shots is definitely my jam, but those elements alone don’t automatically make me enjoy a show or movie or whatever. More often than not it’s poorly executed, as if the characters were written by aliens who have only a vague approximation of human interaction. Aliens who believe that as long as a line is delivered in a certain tone of voice, with certain musical cues, it’s the same thing as writing genuinely funny and believable moments.

Bob’s Burgers gets it all right, and for my money, the Belchers are the best family on television.

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5. Borderlands 3 

Okay, so this is over a month old, but I wasn’t writing a month ago. Borderlands 3 is officially happening. It has a release date and everything (Sep. 3)!

If you know, you know.

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anthony bourdain, depression, and me.

Being impacted by a celebrity death is an odd phenomenon. How strange to find ourselves grieving the loss of someone we never knew — not in the sense that the loss of a life is tragic, but in a more particular way. Our lives are impacted by a creator’s work or persona, and we feel a deep personal loss when their light goes out.

Anthony Bourdain’s suicide hit me hard last week, much harder than I would have anticipated. It bored into my mind, sunk down into my chest, and rooted itself with a distracting persistence.

I wasn’t a religious follower of his work. I’d read Kitchen Confidential, watched videos of his various appearances and takes on food culture, and caught one of his shows very occasionally, but his presence in my life wasn’t daily or even weekly. Yet, here I was, feeling legitimate shock from his death. As that first day wore on the impact grew, the shadow lengthening.

The truth is that while I didn’t consciously hold him up as a hero, didn’t light candles at his altar as I do for some other artists, I realize now that his presence was significant in how I understand myself and the world. In the mid aughts, as I came into adulthood and was deciding who I would be, he was a trustworthy guide into the pursuit of life and culture as I began to realize that was a priority for me. It’s a sentiment which echoes many who have shared their thoughts about his life and loss over the last few days.

In him, I see so many of the things that make up my idea of a good life — not just good as in pleasurable, but good as in making the world better by living and being. I’d never suggest that traveling enough, or eating well enough, or experiencing enough of the world could ward off depression. Depression is often at its worst in the wake of my best experiences. However, I did hope that living a good life in the other sense would help.

Bourdain was curious, constantly learning, relentlessly searching for connection, was always creating, and most importantly to me, his hospitality was legendary. As a bonus, he also never took any shit or tolerated nonsense, so his hospitality never seemed false or saccharine. He clearly saw the world as it is, not as he wished it would be, and he found it worth exploring even while he railed against the things he saw as unfair toward the marginalized. The stories pouring out from those who only met him once reinforce that this was his way on and off camera.

He had a life filled with so much light and humanity. Yet, there was always that sharp edge. Cynicism and quiet rage were always part of the package. He had a punk rock core that added to his legend. And in part, this made it easier for me to believe that I could perhaps bring light and joy to people. There’s nothing punk rock about me at all, but Bourdain helped me believe that I might be a source of light and life for others, helping people expand their view of the world, even with all the bitterness and rage I carry around and can never truly suppress or hide.

I want to be someone who helps make the world bigger for others. I want to help people discover new things. I want to show people the beauty of what it is to be open and welcoming to new things and ways of seeing. Yet, my mental illness and the weight of my horrible insomnia mean I never have the internal resources I wish I had. I’m never as hospitable as I want to be, never as curious, patient, or kind as I wish I was. I want to be better, I want to make the world better, but I honestly don’t know where to begin.

Bourdain was a good place to start.

When I think of the reasons I’m so depressed and my life is so unfulfilling, the things that come to mind are that I am too closed off, too isolated, too limited, and that I’m not doing good creative work – or any creative work for that matter. So I was inspired by the way that Bourdain was open to the world. He was connected in profound ways to all the variety and diversity the world has to offer, with old friends or people he’d just met. He was always doing good work, telling stories and sharing different ways of seeing and experiencing the world through flavor and culture. He was living proof that we can find ways of seeing each other better if we’ll just sit down and share a meal or a drink.

And still, he decided he had to leave.

I wouldn’t say this makes me feel hopeless, but it removes one of the primary ideals in which I’d invest hope when I found it. I always feel rudderless, like my sail is ripped, the rudder is shattered and the boat is riddled with small cracks, forcing me to constantly bail water. That is the apt metaphor for my life. The better times are simply when I feel more energetic as I keep removing water from my boat one bucket at a time.

Yet, I also believed that there was land just visible in the distance, and that maybe, just maybe, I could eventually find a way to fix my boat just enough to move towards it. What Bourdain’s death makes me feel is that, all this time, what I’d believed was an island on the horizon is just another mirage. Even though my rudder didn’t work and I wasn’t sure how to get moving, I still had a course heading if I could ever figure some shit out.

Now I see that’s not the case. The things I thought might save me never will.

I still believe I need to open back up. I still believe it will help if I start working creatively again. I know there are things that help me feel better when I practice them consistently. But now I also know, more than ever, that even then it will never make things better. Nothing fixes this.

Depression is such a dangerous predator. It adapts to the changes we make. It waits patiently and pounces on every weakness, often attacking viciously in the wake of our best and happiest moments, turning even our triumphs into a mockery. So often, you hear family members and friends say of a loved one who took their own life, “They were so happy last night, we had no idea they were in such a dark place.” That’s because the quiet, lonely moments after we let ourselves be happy are often the darkest and cruelest, when we pause and notice that fetid scent on the air and know what’s waiting in the shadows for the lights to go out.

Depression is an incessant voice in the mind, force-feeding the most poisonous lies again and again until they seem like truth. It is also like the hackneyed murderer from slasher films, always returning for the next installment in the franchise no matter how final the victory seemed the last time around. Chop it up, burn it, sink the ashes to the bottom of the sea, yet still it will return, and when it does, it’s going to be pissed.

It can take away the best of us, and too often has. Even badass tough guys with high emotional IQs and a ceaseless appetite for good food, good company, and amazing experiences.

Goodbye, Chef. The world will be darker without you.

[[Also, let me make it clear that I’m ok. I’m neither suicidal, nor in danger. I just want to be honest about where I am. I’m usually hiding the extent of my troubles. Only Emily sees what my life is really like, the constant struggle and futility. This is appropriate to a degree, but I think I may hide too much at times, and it is stifling. This was simply an honest, mostly stream of consciousness processing of my feelings concerning Anthony Bourdain’s passing, and the surprising depth of feeling it elicited.]]

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my favorite films released in 2017.

Here they are. Of all the 2017 releases I was able to catch, these are my favorites. Also, this is a perfectly sane date to release a list like this.

As always, I never make a claim to pick the best movies of a given year, just my favorite.

In part, this is because there are far too many films I missed — see below — and the gaps in my film knowledge and technical understanding of cinema are far too vast for me to pretend this list is in any way exhaustive or academic. But more, it is because I think “best” and “worst” are words used far, far, far too often by writers and critics and whatnot.

Honorable mentions (I’ll probably decide some of these should have been included after all): Ingrid Goes West, Free Fire, Spiderman: Homecoming, The Meyerwitz Stories (New and Selected), I Am Not Your Negro, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Okja, Colossal, War for the Planet of the Apes, The Red Turtle

The depressingly long list of major omissions from my year’s film-going, in no particular order: The Florida Project, Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, The Post, Phantom Thread, Blade Runner 2049, Personal Shopper, Coco, The Disaster Artist, All the Money in the World, The Killing of the Sacred Deer, The Square, mother!, Good Time, A Ghost Story, Kedi, Brigsby Bear, Lady Macbeth, Detroit, Menashe, Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, Super Dark Times, It Comes at Night. If I didn’t mention one of your favs, please include them in the comments!

On with the list! Here are the favorites, in no particular order: 


Dunkirk

One major thing Dunkirk illustrates is that plot isn’t necessarily… necessary. Throwing out plot because you’re a hack is obviously bad writing. Throwing away plot because you are using a different sort of storytelling can be remarkable, and Dunkirk is remarkable.

The technical precision of this film never detracts from the tension. At a lean and well-earned two hours, the movie is an experience, but without the bombast and melodrama one normally finds front and center in a movie described as such. In spite of its July 21 release date, this is not an experience in the summer blockbuster sense. Instead, the film is harrowing; it is a simultaneously sobering and life-affirming glimpse at the horror and beauty of humanity that never glorifies war.

Not only was the story itself thrilling, but the perfection of the craft Nolan exhibits is equally electrifying. The three overlapping durations of time that weave together into one seamless, moving denouement is some of the most impressive storytelling I’ve ever seen.

This is a visually beautiful war film that I’m really glad I got to see in 70mm. I actually wish I had this one fresher in my mind so I could point out more of the beautiful technical aspects. I guess it’s time to watch it again!


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

On the shortlist of all-time underrated actors, Frances McDormand is in bold letters, and circled twice. At least up until the current awards season.

It’s not that she doesn’t get praise — for example, her performance in Fargo is appropriately revered — it’s just that she hasn’t been the household name she deserves to be.

As dumb as I think most awards are, I’m glad she won the Golden Globe this week. To quote Sam Rockwell, “She’s a badass, she’s a force of nature.” Her turn in Three Billboards is the sort of performance that deserves to be marked in some lasting way. Future generations should look back and take it in.

It’s an impressive win, as this year’s pool of best actress performances looks more like required viewing for the syllabus in a masterclass exploring the power and possibilities of great acting.

McDormand’s performance is obviously no surprise, she’s that kind of actress. For that matter, none of the great performances in this movie come as a surprise. It’s packed to the brim with underrated performers. For instance, I’ve made no secret of my firm belief that Sam Rockwell is a national treasure — another Golden Globe I was actually excited about.

I love that this film is never straightforward, that it is a story about how messy it is to live together. I love the way it engages the destructive and consuming power of anger, even the most righteous and understandable anger. It’s not the clear-cut ‘citizen against the lazy police to get justice’ story, it’s not the ‘blue lives matter, cops are all heroes’ sort of story. To be honest, it’s a Martin McDonagh sort of story — although, it’s really a McDonagh brothers sort of story, because it felt like a bit of a cross between Martin’s work and the work of his brother, John Michael McDonagh.

If you haven’t seen their work, you should definitely take the time to check it out, after Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri, I’d go with In Bruges, then The Guard and Calvary. And don’t forget Seven Psychopaths at the end there.


Baby Driver

I already went into significant detail about my love for Baby Driver with this post.

To quote myself briefly: “This is peak Edgar Wright. While a definite shift in tone and location for the director, like all of his films it is an invitation into a world shaped by his deep love of cinema — this time, set to music! … The well-deserved time has finally come. Edgar Wright will no longer be an underrated genius, just a genius.”

I need cinema that is thoughtful, that explores the emotional landscape of what it means to be human. I also need well-made movies that are first and foremost a great fucking time, made by film-loving geniuses for the pure love and joy of cinema. Nobody is better at that than Edgar Wright, and I’m so glad his time has come to experience broader appreciation.

The only rain on the parade is that it turns out Kevin Spacey is a monster. Fuck.


The Big Sick

The best romantic comedies — which are very few and far between — are the ones that make it impossible not to fall in love with the romantic leads. The Big Sick somehow gets the audience to fall in love not only with the two leads, but two entire families.

Full of charm and warmth, Nanjiani and Gordon delivered a film that made me smile and helped remind me that people are capable of being good to each other, even in the midst of all the bullshit that gets in the way. That’s no small task at the moment.

There are several movies on this list that seem to have come around at exactly the right cultural moment, and this is one of them.


Thor: Ragnarok

Between Edgar Wright, Kumail Nanjiani, and Taika Waititi, this was a good year for personal favorites making good on a massive scale. It would have been difficult for me to keep this movie off of my list even if the only thing to love was that it thrust Waititi into the international limelight. Fortunately, there was so much more to love.

This clusterfuck of a year called for heaping portions of clever silliness, and I knew Taika was just the man for the job. Ragnarok ended up even more bonkers than I’d dared to hope. The movie combined frenetic improvisational energy, an irreverant approach to the characters, and solid filmmaking. The result is a film that rejected and transcended both superhero tropes and stale line-o-rama comedies.

In short, Thor: Ragnarok was as much fun as I had at the theater this year.

After totally blowing it with Edgar Wright, Marvel Studios seems to have course-corrected and now continues to expand the color palette of their films visually, tonally, and emotionally.

Korg for intergalactic president!


Get Out

At the end of the day, this movie wasn’t made for me — but I sure did love it anyway.

We all knew Jordan Peele was talented, but I’m not sure we knew just how immense that talent was until now. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Get Out is a funny, troubling, tense mindfuck that succeeds on every level. It proves that you can find an audience for original and interesting content. This is smart, thoughtful, inventive storytelling that made loads of cash on a tiny budget.

Hey Hollywood, much more innovative storytelling, please!

Most writers and directors given space and resources to tell stories are straight white dudes. Fairness and representation are good enough reasons for everyone else to have the same space and resources to tell their stories, but it’s also a win-win for film lovers. It’s important because it’s justice, it also happens to result in better storytelling and a more interesting film landscape.


I, Tonya

I never would have anticipated having a movie about figure skating anywhere near my list of favorite films, but here you go. Although, I suppose I, Tonya is about as subversive as a sports movie can get. Whatever the genre, there wasn’t a more engaging film released in 2017.

This film speaks directly to some of the darkest parts of our culture, and perhaps even our humanity. The pressure created by our cultural darkness has the power, from time to time, to make something beautiful, but it will then quickly destroy and consume that beauty more often than not. The same suffering that helped transform Harding’s athletic brilliance into a feat no woman had ever accomplished before also contributed to the destruction of her vocation, which was the only thing she truly loved at that point in her life.

While bartending the other night, some customers described the way the film would get them to laugh, after which they would immediately feel guilty for what they had just laughed at. This is entirely by design. I, Tonya pulls the audience in and makes us complicit in her abuse and downfall. Or, more accurately, the film reveals that we have been complicit all along.

Every performance in this movie is great, but Margot Robbie and Allison Janney are the forces that elevate the film to a different level. The writing and direction are fantastic, but it required the work done by these remarkably talented actresses to stick the landing.


The Shape of Water

After being thoroughly disappointed with Crimson Peak, I was really pulling for this to remind me why I roll with Team GDT, and did it ever!

The Shape of Water is the culmination of everything Guillermo del Toro has done to this point. It’s a story about outsiders and beautiful monsters. The lack of a child as the focal point around which all the violence and magic happens was the only common del Toro trope missing. In reality, what del Toro and cowriter Vanessa Taylor did was create a more complex avatar for that childlike innocence in an adult character, played to perfection by Sally Hawkins. It’s one of the unexpected ways this film actually transcends del Toro’s previous work for me.

It takes everything that del Toro is known for to the next level. Most notably, the reversal in which we find a human being the true monster and a monster full of sympathetic humanity is starker than ever, as in escalating to an outright consummated interspecies romance.

GDT also leans all the way into his love of cinema, while fully embracing the beauty and danger of movies. They can be the light in the darkness, a link to humanity, or they can be the thing we use to distract us and drown out what is really happening in the world to the extent that we never try to make it better. There is meaning and beauty to be found, and there are also cartoonish, whitewashed, oversaturated and oversimplified biblical epics. The one side cannot cancel out the other, and there is goodness hidden everywhere.

Side note: Michael Shannon is one of the fucking best. His use of pacing and vocal nuance to pack power and intensity into even his quietest performances — this was not one of those on the quieter side — gets me every time.

 

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my year in shows, 2017.

Here are all the shows I finished for the first time in 2017.

Movies are still my first love, so this list isn’t quite as interesting as my film list. Still, definitely some gems on here; they don’t argue about calling this the golden age of television for nothing.

Italics means I was rewatching seasons I’d seen before in their entirety. I also rewatched episodes of 30 Rock, Sunny, Bob’s Burgers, Parks and Rec, Archer, and Arrested Development all year, just as I do every other year.


Luke Cage – Season One
The Night Of
The X-Files – Seasons One – Seven
Black Mirror – Season Three


It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – Season Twelve
Legion – Season One
Adventure Time – Seasons One – Four
Master of None – Season Two
Fargo – Season Two
American Gods – Season One
Silicon Valley – Season Four
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – Season Three
Archer – Season 8
Game of Thrones – Season 7
Strike: Cuckoo’s Calling
Rick and Morty – Season 3
Stranger Things – Season 2
Last Week Tonight – Season 4
Bob’s Burgers – Season 7
Future Man – Season 1
The Good Place – Season 1

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my year in movies, 2017.

Movies are life.

My fantasy super power has always been to stop time, and part of what I would do with that power is watch movie after movie (after movie after movie after movie).

If every title I watched this year was only an hour and a half long, I would have spent 9 days movie-watching in 2017. Obviously, many of these films are longer — sometimes much longer — so I have probably spent closer to two weeks immersed in cinema. I’m happy with that life choice. Honestly, I really miss the days when I watched upwards of 200 movies a year.

Here are the films I spent nearly 4% of my year watching. Lots of great ones that keep my love for the medium as strong as ever.

The key is mostly the same as always:
(#) Movie I saw in the theater.
[#] Movie I saw for the first time.
E# Movies I watched with Emily.
Title = Favorites (These underlined films cannot be movies I saw this year for the first time, they have to be movies that have been able to stand up after repeated viewing.)
*Title = Best movies I’d never seen before. (It doesn’t matter when these movies came out, I saw them for the first time this year, and they were awesome.)
Halloween Movie Fest.

1. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot [1] E1
*2. Moonlight [2] (1)
3. Rare Exports [3]
4. High-Rise [4]
5. The Magnificent Seven [2016] [5] E2
*6. Repo Man [6]
7. The Royal Tenenbaums (2)
8. Hitchcock/Truffaut [7] E3
9. Pulp Fiction (3)
10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
*11. The Last Picture Show [8]
12. Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel [9]
13. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
14. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping [10]
15. The X-Files: Fight the Future – E4
*16. I Am Not Your Negro [11] (4) E5


17. The Lego Batman Movie [12] (5) E6
18. Pete’s Dragon [13]
*19. Everybody Wants Some!! [14]
*20. Get Out [15] (6)
21. The Neon Demon [16]
22. Raiders of the Lost Ark
23. Hellboy
*24. Don’t Think Twice [17] E7
25. The Wolfpack [18]
*26. Logan [19] (7) E8
27. Gantz: 0 [20]
*28. Hell or High Water [21] E9


29. Guardians of the Galaxy – E10
30. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension [22]
*31. Moonlight – E11
32. Beauty and the Beast (2017) [23] (8) E12
*33. Eyes Wide Shut [24]
34. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
*35. Phenom [25]
36. The Secret Life of Pets [26] E13
37. Allied [27]
38. Mad Max (w/ live original score by Morricone Youth Orchestra) – (9) E14
*39. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance [28]
40. David Brent: Life on the Road [29]
41. MST3K: Reptilicus [30]
*42. Moana [31] E15
43. No-No: A Dockumentary [32]
44. The Love Witch [33]
*45. Free Fire [34] (10) E16


46. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 [35] (11) E17
47. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – E18
48. Winchester ’73 [36]
49. Jackie Brown
*50. Colossal [37] (12) E19
51. Filth [38]
52. A Simple Plan [39]
*53. The Red Turtle [40] E20
54. Mifune: The Last Samurai [41]
*55. A Band Called Death [42]
56. Singin’ in the Rain – E21
57. Wonder Woman [43] (13) E22
*58. John Wick: Chapter 2 [44]
59. La La Land – E23
60. Django Unchained – E24
*61. Baby Driver [45] (14) E25


*62. Boyhood [46]
*63. Split [47]
*64. Okja [48] E26
65. Unbreakable – E27
66. Jaws (15) E28
*67. The Big Sick [49] (16) E29
68. Iron Man – E30
69. Rise of the Planet of the Apes – E31
*70. War for the Planet of the Apes [50] (17)
*71. The Verdict [51]
*72. Spiderman: Homecoming [52] (18) E32
73. Ronin
74. Heat
75. The Nice Guys

76. Collateral – E33
*77. Dunkirk (70mm) [53] (19) E34
78. Inception – E35
79. Nashville [54]
80. How to Steal a Million [55]
81. Train to Busan [56]
82. The Founder [57] E36
*83. Vanishing Point [58]
84. The Incredible Hulk – E37
85. The Girl with All the Gifts [59]
86. Hot Fuzz (20) E38
87. The Battered Bastards of Baseball [60]
88. Kong: Skull Island [61] E39
89. The Breakfast Club – E40
90. The Getaway (1972) [62]
91. The Hot Rock [63]
*92. Ingrid Goes West [64] (21) E41
93. War on Everyone [65]
94. Drive
95. The Ladykillers (1955) [66]
96. Death Note (2017) [67]
97. Out of Sight – E42


98. Stardust
99. Passengers [68]
100. Kingsman: the Golden Circle [69] (22) E43
*101. Chunking Express [70]
102. Housebound
103. The Evil Dead (1981)
104. Evil Dead II
105. Army of Darkness
106. Blade Runner (The Final Cut) – E44
107. The Shining – E45
108. It Follows
109. 28 Days Later
*110. House [71]
111. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre [72]
112. Beetlejuice – E46
113. The Void [73]
*114. It (2017) [74] (23)


115. Room 237 [75] E47
116. Don’t Breathe [76]
117. Tetsuo: The Iron Man [77]
118. XX [78]
119. Coraline – E48
120. Bedknobs and Broomsticks – E49
121. What We Do in the Shadows – E50
122. The Babadook
123. The Haunting – E51
124. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – E52
125. Shaun of the Dead (24) E53
126. The Devil’s Backbone – E54
127. Pet Sematary [79]
*128. Thor: Ragnarok [80] (25) E55


129. Tombstone – E56
130. Gremlins – E57
*131. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (26) [81] E58
*132. The King of Comedy [82]
133. The Room [83] E59
134. Boy – E60
*135. Logan Lucky [84] E61
136. Nocturnal Animals [85]
137. The Nightmare Before Christmas
138. The Bad Batch [86]
*139. The Last Jedi [87] (27) E62
*140. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore [88]
*141. I, Tonya [89] (28) E63
*142. The Shape of Water [90] (29) E64


*143. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) [91]
*144. Atomic Blonde [92] E65

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halloween movie fest 2017, movies 22-26.

Well, well, well. What do we have here? It’s a post about Halloween Movies nearly two weeks into November. Maybe I should just keep HMF going until the world itself isn’t quite so horrible anymore. At least the horrors in a movie end after the credits roll, instead of the waking nightmare in which we find ourselves IRL at the moment.

Enough with the depressing shit, on with the movies about death and stuff! Cheers to another fun year of HMF.

Movie Twenty-Two – The Haunting

“Haven’t you noticed how nothing in this house seems to move until you look away and then you just… catch something out of the corner of your eye?”

The Haunting is one of those films I might never have watched if not for HMF. It’s another debt I owe to my past self for dreaming up this pointless cinematic odyssey.

I said pretty much everything I’d want to say when I wrote about this one previously. This is another film that will make another appearance if I can dream up a fresh way to approach HMF in the future.

I’m currently listening to the book, and it’s even better than this beautifully crafted film. Shirley Jackson is such an underappreciated writer as far as the wider public is concerned.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Definitely. I actually bought it this time around.

Where Can You Watch It? No one is streaming it right now.


Movie Twenty-Three – Pet Sematary

“Dead is better.”

The majority of this movie is… bad. The acting is horrible — with the notable exceptions of a solid performance by Brad Greenquist as the recently deceased Victor Pascow, Miko Hughes as the adorable and terrifying Gage Creed, and some cat as Church the cat. Otherwise, this was 80s TV movie acting of the worst kind, but without the excuse of it being a TV movie.

The story was also mostly nonsense. I’ve never read the book, so I’m assuming it’s better, however the fact that King himself wrote the screenplay makes me wonder. I get that there should be suspension of disbelief, especially in horror, but this is beyond the pale storywise. Can’t there at least be some throwaway line that tells us why the town does nothing about the trucks barreling through at dangerous speeds, or why the parents let their kids play so close to such a dangerous road, or why an otherwise benign old man suggests the magical burial ground knowing full well that anything brought back to life will be an vicious murder monster? Also, was it called Pet Sematary only because “Not So Much the Pet Sematary, but an Ancient Burial Ground Located a Seven Mile Hike and Mountain Climb Away From the Pet Sematary” was too long as a title?

Not to say it was all bad though. Spoilers follow, although, can you really still spoil Pet Sematary at this point in history?

Once Gage comes back as an evil death toddler, the movie is much stronger. The final scenes in Crandall’s house are really creepy and fun. How a film can be this bad throughout the majority of its runtime and still deliver such an amazing movie monster in just a few minutes at the end is hard to understand, but there you go. Gage Creed was one adorably creepy little fucker.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? No, but maybe I’ll watch the ending again.

Where Can You Watch It? Amazon Prime


Movie Twenty-Four – A Girl Walks Home Alone

“If there was a storm coming right now, a big storm, from behind those mountains, would it matter? Would it change anything?”

My love for this film is unambiguous. Exhibit A: At the time of this writing it’s the image on the header of this blog.

It’s interesting, original, visually captivating, and sparse in all the right ways. The first time I saw it I said I could watch it on repeat and it’s still true. I just want to keep looking at it.

Again, I need to come up with a new way to do HMF, and I’ve already written about this one in ways I still wholeheartedly agree with, so if you want to see my take check it out here and here. Seriously though, check those out, and watch this movie!

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Definitely. I am now the proud owner of the Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray.

Where Can You Watch It? Kanopy, if your library partners with them.


Movie Twenty-Five – Shaun of the Dead

“You know what we should do tomorrow? Keep drinking. We’ll have a Bloody Mary first thing, have a bite at the King’s Head, a couple at the Little Princess, stagger back here then BANG, we’re back at the bar for shots. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?”  

To be honest, this is probably the movie that started it all for me HMF-wise. I don’t remember why I was so interested in it when it came out, as I hadn’t seen Spaced yet. But I somehow convinced Emily to go see it with me, and my love for this cinematic experience in some Hudson Valley movie theater played a big part in making me wonder why I’d seen so few horror and horror-related films.

It took five years to fully materialize, but the wonderful boys Pegg and Wright’s love of horror turned out to be contagious for my 22-year-old self.

This year we got to see a screening at Alamo Drafthouse in Brooklyn with a bunch of super-fans, and it breathed even more life into one of my very favorite films of all time. I’ve written about this movie a bunch of times, including a post about revisiting the whole trilogy again and again.

This movie will always have my heart.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? I’ve seen it upwards of 15 times and I’m not planning to stop anytime soon.

Where Can You Watch It? Showtime


Movie Twenty-Six – The Devil’s Backbone

“What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.”

Back in the days when I didn’t really watch horror, I still loved movies about ghosts. Ghost stories captivated me as a child, just as they have captivated civilizations throughout history. When someone would tell me a good ghost story, my spine would tingle, my skin would prickle, my eyes would water in some kind of weird fear response.

Side note: the watery eyes thing is something I’ve never understood — Google led me to discussion boards where lots of people are equally confused because they also experience it, but I haven’t found any real answers.

Anyway, my love for ghost stories makes Guillermo del Toro’s ghost masterpiece the perfect way to end HMF this year. Tragic, romantic, full to the brim with everything that makes GDT great. As with so many of these other films, I’d just be repeating myself to write much about this within the current format, so here is what I wrote for HMF 2010 and here is 2015.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Absolutely. GDT, baby. GDfuckingT.

Where Can You Watch It? No one is streaming it right now.

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halloween movie fest 2017, movies fifteen through twenty-one.

Happy belated Halloween! The good news is that I was able to watch 26(!) movies for HMF17. The bad news is that I never got around to writing about half of them before the actual holiday.

Fortunately, there are no rules on RtM so I can just post Halloween themed content well into November.

Movie Fifteen – Don’t Breathe

“There is nothing a man cannot do once he accepts the fact that there is no god.”

I don’t have much to say about this one. I liked Alvarez’s direction, but not his writing. Aside from the interesting premise and terrific performance by Stephen Lang as the villain, the rest of the story felt weak in the midst of an otherwise well-crafted film.

Mostly I just didn’t care what happened to these characters. In a larger slasher film, that’s beside the point. We actually only need to care about and root for the final girl. Whether or not we care for the more ill-fated characters or instead are meant to enjoy watching them die is up to the filmmakers — both are common. Don’t Breathe is different. If I’m going to spend the majority of the film trapped in a house with two characters trying to survive, I need to give a shit about them in a way that isn’t rooted entirely in cliches.

Unexpected aside: I’m realizing I need to change the format of Halloween Movie Fests and ‘Another Day, Another Movie’ for future installments (if there are any). The whole point of this blog — when I’m actually writing it — is that I don’t waste time on stuff I don’t like or care about. Partly because it’s a waste of energy unless I’m offering some genuine critique in a larger cultural context, but even more because I’d rather learn from someone who loves a movie I didn’t get than shit all over a film someone else really loves, quite possibly for great reasons. This is especially true regarding classics I didn’t like or see the appeal of.

It’s not that I never want to be critical, it’s just that it requires more care and thought than what I have time to offer in this format.

I think I might try to think of a way to lean more heavily into the curation — which is what I actually like doing to begin with — for future HMF’s, instead of boring my friends with uninspired complaints about films.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? No.

Where Can You Watch It? Starz.


Movie Sixteen – Tetsuo: The Iron Man

And here I thought House was bonkers. Tetsuo is fucked up — intentionally so. A gonzo body horror metaphor about the replacement of the natural world with the industrial world, the film is less a well-drawn story and more a series of horrifying moments and images following three characters as a man is mysteriously transformed into a metal monstrosity after a hit-and-run.

Super low budget in the best possible way, this is the perfect example of how wide-ranging the possibilities within film are.

Tetsuo is full of gross out scenes that go way over the top, it’s dark and violent, getting more and more insane with each of its 77 minutes. It definitely draws inspiration from films like Eraserhead. 

This is one of those ones that felt like it nailed everything it was trying to do perfectly, even if personally it’s not the sort of movie I want to rewatch again and again.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Maybe as part of a more in-depth film study, but probably not for fun.

Where Can You Watch It? Kanopy (if your library participates).


Movie Seventeen – XX

“I have made my contribution. I like to believe that I’ve made a difference in all of this. I have been blessed to watch over you all these years, and to watch over Andy, to prepare the world for this glorious day! There’s nothing to be afraid of Cora. It’s his time, is all. Praise, praise his darkness.”

XX is an anthology of four horror shorts, all written and directed by women — including St. Vincent. As is almost always the case with anthologies like this, it was uneven, but solid overall.

What I really want to write about is Karyn Kasuma. Last year I absolutely loved her film The Invitation during HMF, and her segment in XX just confirms to me that she is a filmmaker we should all be really excited about.

Her short, “Her Only Living Son,” brilliantly uses the Rosemary’s Baby concept, in large part wrestling with white male privilege and how it creates and feeds monsters. That sounds like the short is really political or preachy, but it isn’t. It’s just the sort of horror that tackles the horrifying things in ordinary life by exaggerating it with a horror lens.

I have to go rewatch The Invitation now, but I also can’t wait for Kasuma to do more.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Probably just the Karyn Kusama segment.

Where Can You Watch It? Netflix.


Movie Eighteen – Coraline

“Hush and shush, for the Beldam might be listening.”

On their own, Laika animation company’s stop-motion films and Neil Gaiman are among my very favorite things. Combine them, and I’m obviously all over it!

I love dark fare created for kids — not that you need to be a kid to enjoy this film. Kids need stories with fear and darkness in them, especially when the hero prevails. Reading scary stories and watching scary shows and movies can be like an inoculation for the greater fear of life. The world is dark and scary, and it’s far better to practice dealing with those themes in small doses, in a safe environment with clearly established frames for where the story begins and ends.

Stories can teach us to be brave, empathetic and compassionate, resilient, and hopeful. I want all kids to experience as much of that as possible.

Here’s Gaiman himself on writing Coraline:

“When I [started writing] ‘Coraline’, I thought, ‘I am going to make my villain as bad a villain as I can… and I’m not going to give Coraline magic powers, and I’m not going to make her some kind of special Chosen One, and she’s not going to be a secret princess or anything like that — she’s going to be a smart little girl who’s going to be scared and is going to keep doing the right thing anyway, and that’s what brave is. And she is going to triumph by being smarter and braver.’” (transcription credit)

Classic Neil. I love that guy.

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Most definitely.

Where Can You Watch It? Netflix.


Movie Nineteen – Bedknobs and Broomsticks

“Treguna, Makoidees, Trecorum, Sadis Dee.”

When I was a little kid, around the age of ten or eleven, my brother and I did the same thing almost every weekend. When we arrived with our mom in Wallkill, after she would retreat to her room for the majority of the time until Monday, Matt and I would watch Newsies and Bedknobs and Broomsticks almost every Friday night. Over and over, weekend after weekend.

I didn’t think of it much at the time, it’s just what we did.

Looking back, I thought more about what was happening with all of these revisitations. I realized what I was doing was immersing myself in stories about orphans who find a place where they are wanted and celebrated. Both films are about lonely people who become part of a family that isn’t about blood, but belonging. It salving a wound that I couldn’t possibly understand fully at that point.

Watching it as an adult, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is silly, and at least one set piece too long. And still, I’m moved by what the movie meant to me as a child. That realization years later played no small part in the decision to make my entire master’s thesis about the power of fiction in our lives.

This film was a security blanket for me as a child, providing a familiarity and sense of home for two hours at a time.

Also, the scene where all the old armor and weapons fights off the Nazis was my favorite scene from all of collected cinema for a solid two or three years of my life. Remember when Nazi hatred was the least controversial stance possible?

Will I Ever Watch It Again? If I ever have kids, we’re watching this movie. Also, fuck Nazis.

Where Can You Watch It? No one has it streaming for free right now.


Movie Twenty – What We Do in the Shadows

“Wait, let’s kill them.”

Well let’s just see what other safety points they have… and then maybe we’ll kill them.”

I wrote about this one for last year’s fest, and it’s all still true. Here’s a slightly edited rehash:

“What We Do In the Shadows is hilarious, smart, clever, impressively filmed, and never overstretches its premise. That last bit is miraculous, given how quickly this could have either gotten old or gone overboard — especially with the mockumentary format.”

It’s tricky to make a sweet, silly, endearing comedy about the murderous undead, but Clement and Waititi nail it.

I can’t wait for Thor: Ragnarok, when the world at large will finally be aware of how amazing Taika Waititi is. His work is sharp and funny. He revels in the flaws and awkwardness of his characters, which is such a huge part of the joy I find in his movies.

I have a soft spot for stories about the search for belonging and identity, and no one does it better that him.

I am decidedly pro-Taika!

Will I Ever Watch It Again? At least once a year, ad infinitum. This is one of those few movies where when I see it available on a streaming service it takes a conscious choice not to just click on it and watch it again.

Where Can You Watch It? Amazon Prime, or come over to my place because I fucking love this movie.


Movie Twenty-One – The Babadook

“You can’t get rid of the Babadook.
I’ll wager with you
I’ll make you a bet.
The more you deny,
The stronger I get.
You start to change when I get in.
The Babadook growing right under your skin.”

File this one under perfectly executed, creepy ass horror films that make me cry.

This movie hits home for me in a way few films ever have. As I wrote for HMF15, “as someone who struggles with depression, anxiety, and severe insomnia, as well as being someone who grew up as a child with too many parallels to Samuel, this film was both difficult and therapeutic. The last time I felt this much deep internal connection between my own childhood and the thematic territory of a film was Where the Wild Things Are.”  

After a second viewing the film was just as powerful and moving for me. I was even more impressed this time around with Jennifer Kent’s writing and direction. She hit this way out of the park, Aaron Judge-style.

Gorgeous filmmaking, and I can’t wait for her next film, The Nightingale.

I’d love it if you read my thoughts on what The Babadook meant to me when I watched it the first time, HERE, just scroll past Frenzy. 

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Absolutely. It resonates inside my soul and I’d hate to stay away too long.

Where Can You Watch It? Netflix and Showtime.


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