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wet hot american summer.

It was already really exciting Tuesday when this teaser came out revealing that everyone is returning for the eight episode Netflix series. Then news came that Jason Schwartzman, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, and Chris Pine are coming along for the ride!

Is this a dream? Am I going to wake up any minute?


birdman [or, creativity and the unexpected virtue of madness].

After excitedly sharing a trailer the moment it was released, I just now got around to seeing Birdman. Along with so many worthwhile things, it was sucked into the strange black hole which half of last year became. After finally getting to the theater Birdman was everything I’d hoped it would be and more.


Unique, strange, intelligent, heartbreaking, and hilarious. The film deserves all the acclaim being showered on it. The performances are raw, tender, honest, and risky, each actor brilliantly playing humor with a core of rage, terror, and desperation. The camera work, with so many incredibly long shots (the film is simulated to appear as a single shot), is often breathtaking. With a few exceptions where the music was used as part of a character’s delusions, the entire score is composed entirely of drums. Just drums! And still dynamic and appropriate.

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fantastic four. [trailer park.]


They’ve waited for longer than usual to release any images or video, but the first trailer is here. It’s been easy to assume the lack of footage and whatnot shared was a bad sign, but so far so good… or at least, so far not bad.

Director Josh Trank says that the film will have more of a hard sci-fi feel, which could be perfect, especially because of how absurd all previous iterations have been.

This could still be terrible, the trailer is in no way overwhelming evidence to indicated the reboot will be superior to those godawful previous films. But it is enough for me to wonder if this might actually be pretty good.


why i won’t talk about the movie right away.

If you ever go to a movie with me, you’ll be confronted with the irritating (at least some folks find it irritating) practice I have of not talking about the movie immediately after it ends. At the absolute minimum I need ten minutes after the credits before I’m ready to respond, and the more I was impacted by the movie, the longer I’ll need. Give me a little time and I’ll never shut up about a movie I loved, but right off the bat: silentium. 

I suppose this could seem pretentious, mostly because anyone who creates rules or boundaries around the way they enjoy things are labelled with the dreaded P-word. It’s ironic really, because every time you call someone pretentious you’re actually being pretentious, but that’s for another blog post. The common charge around this sort of thing would be that I’m taking myself too seriously. I don’t think I am. On the contrary, it’s actually just because I take movies (and books and movies and music and life and people) seriously. Then, perhaps folks will think I’m taking all of that too seriously. As far from high school as we may get, it’s often still uncool to actually give a shit. I for one feel no need to be sorry for how deeply I dive into the things I love. I don’t expect anyone else to join me, but I’m not going to stop either. And ‘serious’ isn’t really the right word for my approach anyway, which might imply a lack of joy or a sense of humor. It’s more about passion and depth of feeling. Okay, so now that is getting pretentious, but I happen to like the way I see and interact with the world, and if it is pretentious to articulate that, so be it.

I think we should think more about the text we encounter in the world, and I use the word text in this case to mean anything we can read in one form or another. Books, movies, songs, people, situations, the stories people tell us, the news, and on and on. We read and interpret all of these things, and we should take care to do so thoughtfully. Which is why I won’t respond immediately after a movie. Let me better explain.

The ancient mystics used to say that truly mystical experiences cannot be talked about, because the moment we try to describe them we make them mundane. I don’t believe that. Speaking of a thing doesn’t necessarily cheapen it. I think the discussion of beauty has the power to enhance or destroy, depending on how we go about it. However, while I won’t buy the mystics’ argument in its generalizing entirety, I still understand what they were getting at. They were onto something, and it is a central part of why I have my rule.

Film can make us feel so much, it can challenge and move us, inspire and shame us. I want to feel those things, and after a movie I often am feeling quite a bit. Yet, the moment I start talking about it and dissecting it I start to lose a part of that. To rush through the feeling of a thing in order to begin the process of identifying and cataloging and naming is to miss the experience of it. There will be a time for description and analysis, those are good things, but to dissect something you must kill it. We should let the moment live first.

To immediately start nailing down our conclusions and ideas without living in the emotion and non-verbal aspects of what we just experienced is sad because of what we are missing out on, but it is also unwise because whatever conclusions we arrive at immediately will be mostly bullshit. The primary question and answer we will be concerned with in that moment is, “Did you like it?” This is missing the vast majority of the point.

Anyone who knows me or has read my writing for a while knows I’m pretty down on critics and our critical culture, but it isn’t real critics and critical theorists that I have a problem with. It’s popular criticism, which is a different animal. As a consumerist culture, we moved away from actual criticism and into a realm of consumerist criticism, in which the whole point is to advise people on what they should and shouldn’t pay for. We’ve stripped away engagement with ideas, wrestling with metaphors, allowing stories and whatnot to seep into our hearts and souls, trying to understand the decisions and style and craft of a storyteller because of a deep love for a given medium. We have stripped so much of actual critical thought away. All that is left is “I liked it” and “I hated it.” No nuance, no subtlety, and certainly no room for growth or change on our part in response to art that challenges us. All that matters is, would you buy it? Pay for it again? Buy or pay for something similar? How many stars?! 

I fucking hate that. 

And what is the first question most people ask when they want to know about your opinion? “Did you like it?” It’s the most overrated, and sometimes downright toxic, question in all of film history… in all of art history. There are so many reasons it is bad as our primary category for engagement with movies and art, it’s a series of blog posts in itself. An entire book in its own right. In the context of this particular blog post, I’d like to leave you with just one of those numerous reasons: rushing through the moment and distilling our response down to “love it” or “hate it” can kill the process of change and growth that art can inspire.

Your response to a film is not a static thing, and it can be something that changes you. Often, great stories throw off your equilibrium and force you to wrestle your way back, hopefully to a slightly new equilibrium than what you started with. Our immediate response to a movie can be negative because it disrupted us so much, and rushing to a conclusion of “I hated it” because it wasn’t what we expected, or it bothered us in some way, robs us of something good. Alternately, an immediately positive response can turn out to be unsatisfying and empty in the long run, like the high-fructose corn syrup of art. That’s how you get diabetes!  

Instead, we should allow ourselves to feel what we are feeling for a few precious minutes, and then ask better questions than we normally do. We can learn from “I hated it,” but only if we ask the next question. What did we hate? How much of our response has nothing to do with the movie at all? Why do we have the expectations we have? What is revealed in myself in my response to this text? The questions are literally endless, and they are questions I look forward to jumping into with the people who watch movies with me, but first, I’m going to need a minute.


my favorite book quote from 2014.

I didn’t make any lists this year, and who knows, maybe I still will make a book list or two from my 2014 reading. I at least wanted to share my very favorite quote from a book I read this year. Riffing a bit on the line from William Nicholson’s Shadowlands, “We read to know we’re not alone.”

From The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin:

The words you can’t find, you borrow.

We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone.

My life is in these books, he wants to tell her. Read these and know my heart. We are not quite novels. The analogy he is looking for is almost there. We are not quite short stories. At this point, his life is seeming closest to that.

In the end, we are collected works.”

Even more meaningful in context. One of my favorite books from the year.




all we gotta do is be brave and be kind.

On December 31st, Emily and I were talking about our hopes for the new year. Neil Gaiman inevitably found his way into the conversation. It was inevitable because, 1. Emily was talking to me, so I was most likely going to bring up Neil Gaiman, and 2. Neil Gaiman is the undisputed king of New Year’s wishes. Seriously, though… the king. You should look them up.

Emily was the first to say that she wanted to be a better version of herself this year, which meant, seizing on Gaiman’s language, being brave and kind.

“And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.”

And from another year:

“So this is my wish, a wish for me as much as it is a wish for you: in the world to come, let us be brave – let us walk into the dark without fear, and step into the unknown with smiles on our faces, even if we’re faking them. And whatever happens to us, whatever we make, whatever we learn, let us take joy in it. We can find joy in the world if it’s joy we’re looking for, we can take joy in the act of creation.

So that is my wish for you, and for me. Bravery and joy.”

More on joy another time, because I agree that we do most often find what we’re looking for, but for this year, I’m joining in Emily’s desire for 2015 to be a year of bravery and kindness. I’m comfortable stealing it, because she will be happy I did. Not to mention, Emily wouldn’t have been reading Neil Gaiman’s NYE wishes if I wasn’t yammering on about him all the time. Also, my love of The National lyric predates all of this:

/baby, we’ll be fine/all we gotta do is be brave and be kind/

No coincidence that the two most important creative forces in my life agree.

I want to be brave. I know I won’t stop being afraid, but I want to live anyway. Like NG says, I’ll fake my smile, hopefully just until it becomes real. I’m always stuck because I’m worried about taking the big risks and looking like an asshole when I fail. Ironically, the resulting paralysis and self-sabotage leads to failure anyway. I might as well fail in a blaze of glory, because at least that leaves the possibility of something remarkable happening.

And I want to be kind. Not nice, nice is bullshit. I do nice all the time and it is far too rarely out of kindness. My favorite line from Into the Woods was “You’re not good, you’re not bad, you’re just nice.” Being nice is amoral, the falseness we put on to make our social interactions go more smoothly. Kindness is beautiful and true. I want to be kind: doing good, inspiring happiness and pleasure, acting on my sympathy and compassion. Toward others, and with a much higher difficulty setting, toward myself.

So, there you have it, the central hope Emily and I have for 2015.



goodbye, netflix dvd.

Today, I unsubscribed from the dvd/Blu-ray side of Netflix. I’ll keep the streaming side, but gone will be the days of getting that briefly iconic red envelope in the mail. I know I’m one of the dinosaurs, part of a quickly shrinking number of folks who still subscribed. Still, a big part of me is sad to leave.

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the legendary roots crew.

The Roots just came to Seattle, playing two nights at The Showbox at the Market. Fortunately for me, Emily got me tickets for Christmas. It was an amazing three hour show. The encore alone included a 30something minute long medley that featured Roots songs and covers (from Guns & Roses to Led Zeppelin), and during which the band expended more energy than any other band I’ve seen does in their entire set. Here are three impressions I came away with after the show. It’s just the tip of the iceberg, but I imagine no one really wants to read 3000 words of my thoughts about the show.

1. ?uestlove is a genius.

I love The Roots. I think that even with, or perhaps because of, all their popularity as Fallon’s band, they are a wildly under-appreciated and underrated band. During their concerts, they take the whole thing to a new level.

The engine/heart/curator/director/producer/brain behind it all is         ?uestlove. He is a remarkable bandleader, which is why they are such a skilled and contagiously fun live act. Yet, his direction is always subtle. He is constantly creating contexts for other people to shine. He never leads the band by shouting or making big gestures to make sure everyone knows who is in charge, but simply has a second microphone at his kit that only feeds to the rest of the band and to the folks controlling the levels. Through this he refines each moment of the performance, keeping the band on point, and directing the sound board based on the main feed he gets through his headphones.

It’s hard to find anything more fun than a Roots show, and ?uestlove is the primary reason for that.

2. The Roots Are the Happiest Band on Earth Continue Reading →