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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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more like master of my heart, amirite?! [master of none, season two.]

First things first. In hindsight, the fact that I didn’t name this blog Master of None back when I started it is a great personal failure. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the name Roused to Mediocrity, but Master of None would have been perfect.

What am I if not a jack of all (or at least many) cultural trades, but master of none? What is this blog if not proof that I know more than the average person about a lot of mediums and genres, but never enough to claim mastery, or say, teach a class, or be gainfully employed in the field?

So, as well as I relate to the show’s title, I’m aware that part of what I love about Master of None is that Aziz ticks all the right boxes for me.

The way the show depicts a passion for flavor and adventure is familiar to me. I feel a deep kinship with a character who charges head first down the rabbit hole of any given interest or hobby, or who needs to do internet research to find the best tacos or burgers or ramen or ice cream before choosing where to eat. I see parts of myself in Dev, a character perpetually curious about interesting things and new experiences.

To put it another way, I feel at home in the show’s eccentricities — they’re common eccentricities, no doubt, but they’re eccentricities all the same. If I had the money Dev does, I would live a very similar life, minus all the frustrating dating. I want to live in his apartment, I want to wear his clothes, I want to eat every meal he eats.

That being said, my appreciation for Master of None can’t be summed up in my desire to live the good life. Far more than that, I love that the show is full of sincere personal storytelling from Aziz and co-creator Alan Yang. The details may not be purely autobiographical — although at times they seem to get pretty close — but the themes and overall feeling of the show seem to reveal a part of themselves in a very real way. The show engages themes of identity, family, culture, race, passion, vocation, and relationships, and always with vulnerability, honesty, and tenderness. Add to that a style that is fresh, inventive, and ambitious, and you have a winning formula.

The show is aesthetically and structurally bold, but the bolder moves always work. Like when they spent one of the season’s ten episodes writing a love letter to New York, skipping the show’s primary characters for 10% of the season! [Also, that they spent a chunk of that episode in total silence!] Or when they veer off of Dev’s trajectory for a flashback episode focusing on Denise and the story of her family as they learn to accept that she’s gay — a definite highlight of the season for me. Or kicking off season two with a black and white episode-long homage to Bicycle Thieves (aka The Bicycle Thief, aka Ladri di biciclette), a film you should watch right away if you’ve never seen it.

Those are bold choices, but they fit right in tonally on Master of None. The “New York, I Love You,” episode works because New York has been a character on the show all along. “Thanksgiving” fits, in part, because it’s so tonally consistent with the other episodes. “The Thief” works because, while Dev is taking this deep dive into Italian culture, of course he would start seeing his life as Italian neorealist cinema. And all three work because the episodes fit so well thematically. Master of None is always about how bittersweet it is to be a human, constantly dealing with all the ordinary bullshit and beauty that comes along with being alive.

Master of None is an impressively well-made show. Even more than season one, season two is full of impressive moments of style and craft. Satisfyingly, these moments are used as a tool for storytelling. Any moment where I thought, “Oh, this is a really cool shot,” it was always in service of the story. It’s never empty style.

Anyway, you should definitely watch Master of None if you aren’t yet, even if it turns out we never get a third season.

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kingsman: the golden circle. [trailer park.]

I loved the first Kingsman film. It was playful, energetic, and irreverant, but also visually competent, delivering some really memorable scenes. It joyfully celebrated and roasted all the Bond tropes, but with a bit of an updated sensibility. Also, Firth was at peak Firthiness and Taron Egerton delivered one of my favorite star-making roles in a while, with a pitch-perfect performance full of just the right balance of cocky swagger and sweet vulnerability.

I really hope this sequel doesn’t go the way of Kick Ass 2.

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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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