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baby love. [an ode to edgar wright and baby driver.]

Believe the hype, everybody. Baby Driver and The Big Sick really are as good as everyone has been saying — more on The Big Sick another time, but for now, Baby Driver!

I’m about to write a ton about Edgar Wright, so let me first mention that I loved everything in this movie. The cast is so great. Ansel Elgort is getting lots of attention, but lets not forget that Lily James as Debora is impossible not to fall in love with, Jamie Foxx is at his considerable best as an unhinged sociopath, Jon Hamm and Eiza González are a charismatic match made in hell, Kevin Spacey does Kevin Spacey things. It was great.

And of course, I have to join the chorus of fans singing the soundtrack’s praise as well. It’s heartbeat that makes the film go, and I can assure you I’ll continue to listen to it on Spotify regularly for the foreseeable future.

Now, with that important stuff mentioned, on to my boy Edgar.

There’s a good 20 minutes at the start of Baby Driver where I literally couldn’t sit still. As in, I genuinely couldn’t keep myself from fidgeting and squirming in my seat from sheer joy. That first car chase, combined with the loooooong tracking shot, was everything I wanted this movie to be. It was all the technical brilliance and ebullient film geekery I crave from Wright.

As Guillermo del Toro tweeted, Baby Driver is like a Gene Kelly musical, but with cars and gun violence. “An American In Paris on wheels and crack smoke. It’s a movie in love with cinema – the high of cinema and motion. In love with color and light and lenses and film.

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!

He’s a meticulous and methodical director. Everything in an Edgar Wright film is carefully planned and storyboarded. He has a vision in his head, he carefully plans how to collaborate toward its execution, and then he makes it happen — all the while utilizing his encyclopedic knowledge of cinema.

That’s not the only way to make a great movie. Some directors make amazing art by throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks, or by shooting massive amounts of footage and then doing much of the work in the editing room.

But Wright is the opposite of that. It’s all meticulously storyboarded before shooting begins, shot for shot, every frame, angle, and beat. Without that sort of precision, a film like Baby Driver never would have been possible.

It’s not just the massively complicated car and foot chase scenes, everything in this film required Wright’s uncommon level of attention and preparation. Everything had to work together, on rhythm, perfectly choreographed. For example, the actors had earwigs in so they could hear the music, to be certain that each footstep and gunshot was in time to the music, as it was choreographed.

To have one scene where the action plays out in time with the music is fun — like the Queen scene in Shaun of the Dead — but to have the majority of a film work that way is INSANE.

People too often underrate Wright’s technical skill. They’ll mention the Cornetto Trilogy being funny, clever homages to genres that tell meaningful stories about continuing to grow up as an adult, but even that praise too often leaves out how fucking brilliant the actual filmmaking is. Maybe the irony and humility of the films makes it harder for people to take it seriously, but they are missing out. Fortunately, Tony Zhou gets it.

Perhaps part of it is that he makes it look too easy. Wright and his team excel at taking filmmaking with a really high degree of difficulty and doing it so well that it blends in with the larger fabric of the film. Making a fully analog action jukebox musical full of non-CGI car chases is as high as a degree of difficulty is going to get, but this film fits together seamlessly. It’s so visceral and thrilling that it’s easy to miss how impressive the filmmaking is.

Chances are, after the critical and commercial success of Baby Driver, we will get to see what it looks like when this sort of thing is done poorly. We are going to get a bunch of copycat projects in about 18 months, that’s how the business works.

The good news is, we’re also going to get some great films eventually, as some gifted directors will make art that riffs on what Wright does in Baby Driver; much the same way that Edgar Wright takes all of his passions and interests and creates something exciting and new each time out.

It’s always bittersweet — but mostly sweet, because good for them — to see a personally beloved artist graduate from really popular ‘underground’ figure into full-fledged celebrity. His work has been known for a while, with critical raves and a medium sized but massively passionate fanbase. Now he has arrived in earnest as a blockbuster director. We felt like he was ours, but now he belongs to everyone. Yeah, that sounds really creepy, but it’s still true.

We first thought this moment was coming in 2010, after the excited buzz Scott Pilgrim vs. the World got at early screenings, but then that film didn’t perform as well as many predicted at the box office. Then we thought it would happen with Marvel’s Ant-Man, but that ended poorly when Wright left the project soon before filming began over “creative differences,” — something I don’t believe would have happened if production had been set to begin just a year later, and Marvel could have seen how well Guardians of the Galaxy over performed and perhaps allowed more wiggle room for Wright’s vision.

Alas, at long last, the well-deserved time has finally come. Edgar Wright will no longer be an underrated genius, just a genius.

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the triumphant-ish return of five things. [five things, 6.9.17]

These days, there’s just too much media to consume.

Combine the accumulation of all the great things created in human history, and you already have too much to get to in one lifetime. Add to that the fact that amazing stuff is currently being made at a pace that is impossible to keep up with, and you have a recipe for despair.

The last thing you need is some asshole giving you a list of more things you should check out.

In that spirit, here is a list of five things you should check out.

None of these things are obscure, but all of them seem underappreciated based on my limited line of sight.


1. Power Man and Iron Fist by David F. Walker

I haven’t watched it yet, but by most accounts, Netflix’s Iron Fist was underwhelming at best. Many people responded more favorably to Luke Cage, but while I enjoyed the character on Jessica Jones, the standalone show fell really flat for me.

Fortunately, I don’t need Netflix if I want a great ongoing Power Man and Iron Fist story, because David F. Walker has been absolutely killing it since relaunching the title for Marvel early last year.

Power Man and Iron Fist is witty, playful, socially aware, smart, and above all, really fun.

Walker is able to embrace and transcend the blaxploitation roots of the title in ways that work on every level.

Also, did I mention it’s really fun? The style? The art? The characterization? Fun, fun, and fun.

Power Man and Iron Fist does just about everything the Luke Cage series tried — and in my opinion failed — to do as far as social commentary goes, but without ever taking itself very seriously.

I want David F. Walker to write all of the things.

Will the Heroes for Hire ride again? Can Danny and Luke get their old mojo back in order to stop an entertaining rogue’s gallery from tearing Harlem apart? Will someone be able to use the Supersoul Stone, and artifacts like it, to become the darkly powerful Grandmaster of Street Magic? You’ll have to read and find out.


2. A Band Called Death

I finally got around to watching this movie. You should finally get around to watching it, too.

I expected it to be entertaining, appealing to my music and record loving heart. And it was. I had a great time watching the story of Death and the strange series of events that led to the band being discovered 34 years after recording their only album.

What I didn’t expect was the emotional power of the film’s third act as it touches on the beauty of family and the bittersweet nature of hope.

Shut up, I’m not crying. You’re crying.


3. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Obviously, the film isn’t underappreciated. The beauty of Hayao Miyazaki‘s modern classic — one among many — is well-known.

But the book by Diana Wynne Jones? Now, that’s a different story. Literally, actually. It’s a very different story than the one Miyazaki told — his changes were reportedly made, at least in part, to create a film in response to the American war in Iraq.

Obviously I won’t go into detail about specific differences, because that would ruin all the fun for any of you who decide to read it. What I will say is that both stories are great, so it isn’t hard to love each of them.

Jones immediately shot up my list of authors whose work I want to devour entirely, in much the same way that a fire demon eats bacon. Neil Gaiman’s love for Jones already had her on my list of authors to check out, but Howl’s Moving Castle plants her firmly in the ‘Give Me More’ category. Her writing is funny, wise, and layered. Her narrative voice is bright and playful, and the way she limits the reader’s field of vision based on Sophie’s perspective — even though she isn’t the narrator — is done with heaping portions of humor and insight.

This is a quick read, and well worth your time. Just try not to drag the movie into it. Let each stand in conversation with the other, not opposition.


4. Mo’ Meta Blues by ?uestlove

Seeing The Roots live is one of the greatest music experiences currently available in this world. The two Roots shows we’ve seen were infectiously joyful, wildly fun three-hour-long homages to music and life, with Questlove as the mad genius ringleader [[I read they’ve since tragically retired the three-hour-long so-called ‘Springsteen shows.’]] This book felt a lot like the text manifestation of those shows. I loved it.

One of my favorite things is passionate, knowledgable people talking about the things they love most. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more passionate or knowledgable about a given topic than Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson is about music.

I loved learning the story of Questlove, beginning with his parents’ record collection. I loved learning the story of The Roots, beginning with Black Thought’s rivalry with Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men — they all went to the same arts high school in Philly. But most of all, I loved the deep, overflowing love Questo has for music and seeing how that passion has shaped his entire life, and American music along with it.


5. Legion

I tell ya, I thank the gods of television that Noah Hawley is making shows.

David Haller thinks he’s crazy, but it turns out he’s actually just a wildly powerful mutant. Then again, maybe he’s crazy.

You may think a television show adapted from the pages of an X-Men comic won’t be to your liking, but if let that keep you from watching Legion you’ll really be missing out.

This show isn’t what people might expect in their knee-jerk assumptions about a show based on a comic. It’s super trippy and lots of fun… I know, I’ve said almost everything in this post so far is fun, it’s just that these things are fun.

Legion is like if Pushing Daisies and Fargo — the show, obviously, because Noah Hawley — had a baby, and then that baby grew up and had a baby with Charles Xavier.

The show is smart and quirky, with unexpected delight and/or creepiness waiting around every corner.

The cast is especially great, with the performances by Aubrey Plaza, Dan Stevens and Jemaine Clement deserving gold stars in my book.

Seriously, don’t let the comic origins put you off if you don’t like comics. You can hate super hero films and still love this show. The show is designed so someone who has never even heard of comic books can jump right in and enjoy it. I know that might be hard to believe coming from a guy who started this installment of five things with a comic book, but it’s true. I promise!

 

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atomic blonde. [trailer park.]

Apparently, thanks to franchises like The Raid and John Wick, we’re going to get competently made action movies now.

If the first two trailers for Atomic Blonde are any indication, this is going to have some solid fight scenes, where the camera holds enough to let choreography, physicality and acting tell the story and be thrilling. These look like long take fight scenes that skew away from the over-edited bullshit that passes as action these days.

Great filmmaking can come in any genre, and I’m going to watch the fuck out of this movie.

Also, how about that cast! Wee-ow!

I feel like even if the fast majority of this film falls short, the camera work and the choreography should be enough to make it well worth a watch.

As bonus educational content, you should watch check out these:

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neil gaiman. [a month of happy.]

What, like there was some other thing or person I was going to pick for the last day of this month of sharing things that make me happy?

Mr. Neilenberg Ulysses Gaiman IV is a name I just made up. Neil Richard Gaiman, on the other hand, is my favorite author. Actually, that’s not big enough. Neil Gaiman is my favorite storyteller, and if you know me even a little, you know I can’t offer any higher praise. [And for the record, since I hear people mispronounce his name more often than I hear it pronounced correctly, it’s Gay not Guy, or as he explains, “It’s Gaym’n.”]

He isn’t just my favorite storyteller because of the stories he tells — although that alone would certainly be enough — but also because of the way he sees story, the way he talks about what story is, and how it works.

His work was the engine at the heart of my master’s thesis: “Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, & Consolation: Finding Increased Capacity for Desire, Life, Mourning, and Wonder in the Liminal Space of Fiction.”

Here’s the weird thing about that, though. I wondered and researched about how story works, all the while feeling that his stories were the best examples of what I was arguing for. Yet, since the thesis wasn’t actually about Neil Gaiman, it wasn’t until after I had finished the project that I found most of Gaiman’s nonfiction essays about story — which are now all conveniently collected in his book, The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfictionwhich also has all sorts of other essays and articles and forwards and speeches, and you should absolutely read it — and learned that he said everything I was saying in my thesis, he just said it with much more wit and skill.

Not that any of the things he said about story surprised me. After all, so much of his work is comprised of stories about stories, in one way or another. It’s one part of the richness of his work, the symbiotic relationship with so many myths, songs, symbols, folk tales, and legends of the massive human mosaic. They enhance the depth and power of his stories, and in turn his work breathes new life into old mythologies that, though forgotten by most of us, still frame our consciousness.

I love so many things about Gaiman’s work, but most of all, I love that his writing fosters genuine hope in my broken brain. When there is light or hope or warmth in his stories, it’s never achieved without taking seriously how dark and broken and ugly the world can be. And sure, there is always magic in some form or another, but just because magic doesn’t exist doesn’t mean I don’t want magic to exist. As I wrote yesterday, I want to believe.

In late 2015, I flew from Seattle to New York City just to see Gaiman interviewed by Junot Díaz in Brooklyn, where he was doing his only signing of Sandman: Overture. The entire trip took around 40 hours, and I didn’t sleep until the plane ride home.

When I got to the front of the signing line, mostly delirious from the 20-something hours I’d been awake and the 12 or so I’d been wandering the streets of Brooklyn, I nervously thanked Neil Gaiman for writing stories that helped me find hope in the darkness. I don’t think he really heard me, or that it registered with him at all — after all, I was one in a very long line all trying to communicate some deep truth to him in the span of a few seconds, and as far. Also, I was so tired that it’s possible I only thought I said, “Thank you for writing stories that help me find hope in the darkness,” but actually said, “Therm finking messyflormal.” Either way, I’m still glad I got to say it, and honor how important his work is to me.

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the x-files. [a month of happy.]

Popular culture is central to my life. My love of movies, books, music, shows, and the like made me who I am, or at the very least, offered me the language to articulate and navigate my world in powerfully formative ways.

And of all the things that I identified with and was shaped by, the X-Files is second to none.

I’ve forgotten most of my life, a phenomenon that increases in degree as I get older, but many of the memories that have stayed are related to X-Files.

I still have a clear recollection of the time I watched “Squeeze” as an eleven year old. I was terrified and captivated, and the rest of that week I couldn’t be in the dark because I was certain Eugene Victor Tooms was crawling through our heating vents to come and eat my liver. Okay, so maybe I didn’t really think he was coming, but I wasn’t willing to bet my life that he definitely wasn’t coming to eat my liver.

After that, I was hooked. I watched X-Files devotedly from then until the show ended in 2002. My college friends and I rewatched the entire show together, from beginning to end. Which was made easier because that’s when television shows on DVD started to be a thing (actually, the seasons were released on DVD between 2000 and 2004, exactly the years I was in college).

It was our cult, and we delighted in being complete fucking nerds about it. We had Xs taped in our windows, Mitch Pileggi headshots beside our beds, and would often drop whatever other social plans we were involved in when the other three guys came by with an invitation to go ‘X it up.’

My last.fm profile handle is SpookyMulder. My Popularium byline is “I want to believe.”

Now I’m getting to rewatch the show again with Emily as she watches it for the first time.

Most of the popular tv shows today owe part of their DNA to the X-Files, as do I.

There are traces of Scully in my skepticism and wariness, and traces of Mulder in my sarcasm and passion. As evidenced by Emily’s regular exclamations while we watch along the lines of, “Are you sure you’re not Mulder?!” But I actually used to be far more like Mulder than I am now. These days I’m too much like sad sack season five Mulder, when he stopped believing for a while and the animating force went out of him, because he was so driven by his dogged pursuit of truth. I remember those days, and I miss them. I still share too many of his vices and weaknesses. And when I’m my best self, I still share some of his strengths. I mean, minus the brilliance, obviously.

Anywyay, when the X-Files was bad, it was sooooo bad, but when it was good, it was perfect. There are ‘monster of the week’ episodes of the show that will always be on the short list of my favorite tv episodes of all time.

I wish I had more time to write about this, to refine and expand my thoughts — and do even basic editing — alas, this is what happens when a person self-imposes the requirement to post something every single day regardless of busyness.

Suffice it to say that in a month sharing things that make me happy, nothing fits better than the X-Files.

 

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spider-man: homecoming and a ghost story. [a month of happy.]

That’s right, folks, two trailers for the price of one (plus, a bonus video)!

First, Spider-Man: Homecoming has a new trailer, and I’m sharing it, because, obviously.

And second, David Lowery‘s A Ghost Story

Lowery has a style and sensibility I really enjoy. His work directing Pete’s Dragon last year — with that film’s lovely visual competency — made me hopeful that Disney is going to expand on their new tendency to allow talented young directors to actually put their stamp on core Disney films. This trend is further evidenced by the fact that Ava DuVernay is currently directing the studio’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time. Not only does DuVernay check the young talented director box, but the fact that she backed away from Black Panther because she felt like she wasn’t going to get enough creative freedom says to me that her involvement with A Wrinkle in Time means she got assurances that she would be given the stylistic license she rightfully craves.

Anyway, I’ve been excited about this and I’m glad we finally got a trailer!

As a bonus, for anyone who didn’t watch it the first time I shared last year, here’s Lowery’s short film Pioneer. It’s really great, and was the first thing of his I saw (a list that’s still pretty short).

PIONEER from David Lowery on Vimeo.

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saga. [a month of happy.]

You should be reading Saga. 

I don’t care if you don’t like comics or speculative fiction. I don’t care what bullshit preconditions you put on what a good story can be. They don’t matter. You should be reading Saga.

At its core it’s the story of a family, set in a sprawling fantasy space opera… on acid. I was going to make a list of the particular themes you could say Saga is about, but I realized that Saga is about everything. It’s about being alive, about everything that happens along the way, and about knowing you’re eventually going to die, along with everyone you love.

Writer Brian K. Vaughn came up with the idea as a kid, as he says, when he was bored in math class. That seed seemed to grow somewhere in his brain while he built a prolific comics career with creations like Y: The Last Man and RunawaysSaga appears rooted in his life — in being married and having kids and all the ordinary things that are much more compelling if you set them in the midst of a horrifying galactic war.

It’s funny, violent, weird, sweet, perverted, brutal, and tender. It’s also really smart, but more than just smart, it’s got an emotional depth that rings of truth.

The war in Saga doesn’t have good guys and bad guys, although it does often have perpetrators and victims. But everyone loses, everyone pays, nobody wins. All the characters are interesting and well-drawn — both literally and figuratively — and while most are at odds with each other, everyone has a point of view you can understand.

There are scenes in this story that stuck with me well after I’m done reading. The final panels in the most recent issue have haunted me since I read it, for reasons I obviously can’t describe without spoilers.

Part of what makes Saga amazing is how good artist Fiona Staples and Vaughn are together.

Every panel Staples creates is inventive and energetic. There are some really great artists working in comics right now doing original, exciting stuff, and Fiona Staples is their rightful queen.

I have no idea how the collaboration works in practice, but between these two creators the imagination is apparently bottomless. The book is an immense hodgepodge that jumps between genres, inspirations, biologies, and ideas, and brings them all together to create one seamless trippy tapestry.

Anyway, like I said, you should be reading Saga. 

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descender. [a month of happy.]

Did you enjoy Westworld? Firefly? Battlestar Galactica? Logan? Then Descender is right for you. Hell, even if you didn’t enjoy any of those things, you should still check out Descender.

In the distant future, a technologically advanced civilization of humans and aliens relies heavily on the existence of artificially intelligent androids.

Planet sized robots called Harvesters appear mysteriously and launch a devastating attack on humanity before disappearing just as mysteriously.

As humans are wont to do, the response is the attempted and ongoing genocide of all artificial life from the universe.

Nearly a decade later, Tim-21 reawakens. A young companion android, Tim-21 wakes up alone on an abandoned mining colony with no idea what happened. He sets off with his robot dog Bandit and a collection of untrustworthy allies to find his human brother, Andy.

Descender is a story teeming with energy and life, full of aliens, bounty hunters, android rebels, a cult of human-robot hybrids and all sorts of SF fun. A little bit of a western, a large bit of a space opera, and every bit enjoyable.

Like all the best SF, the series touches on big concepts, including the nature of life, social structures, war, prejudice, morality, and self-awareness, just to name a few.

I love everything about this series: the story, the worldbuilding, the way it arranges familiar tropes and conventions in an exciting way.

My absolute favorite thing is Dustin Nguyen’s watercolor illustrations. The book is beautiful, and his style is so singular within the comics and graphic novels I’ve read. As a relative novice to the current comics scene, there aren’t too many comic artists who have captured my attention so strongly that I will start finding their work — regardless of what it is — to read it. Nguyen is immediately one of those artists for me.

Sony bought the rights last year, so look for a film, a series, or both on the horizon.

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simon stålenhag. [a month of happy.]

Yesterday, my friend Josué tipped me off to artist Simon Stålenhag, because that’s what friends do.

Stålenhag’s work is amazing.

He paints beautiful landscapes of 1980’s Sweden, but with science-fiction elements scattered throughout. The result is an epically scaled SF world that feels tangible because of the detail and depth of each piece. Every painting I’ve seen feels like a frozen moment from a real world.

The work is so believable, partly because of how casually the imagined SF elements are combined with the commonplace scenery and familiar 80’s artifacts.

I found myself scrolling through image after image, immersed in these dispatches from a dystopian post-war version of our planet. The work is expansive, sending the imagination running wild. I want to know more, dive deeper into each painting. I wish I could research the history of this world that never was.

You should check out all of his work. Buy it and share it and whatnot: Simon Stålenhag.

Also, apparently they just crowdfunded a book-based RPG set in the world Stålenhag has created, Tales from the Loop.

 

 

 

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