FORM OF A QUESTION – FIRST SIGNINGS

FormOfAQuestion_OGN_HC_PROMO
So the election’s been won and I’m working on a lot of stuff to pitch in January…but TOMORROW, the momentous day arrives.
FORM OF A QUESTION will be available from your comic book retailer! And it will be everywhere on November 20th! Come get the book Paste calls one to gift for the holidays if you love game shows and extraordinary memoirs – although I wouldn’t go that far on the latter.
We’re going to kick it off with two Chicago events.
Wednesday, 11/14 5-7 pm – First Aid Comics, 1617 E. 55th Street
Saturday, 11/17 1-4 pm – Challengers, 1845 N. Western Avenue
Going to try to be setting up more events for December but for right now, hope to see you there!
Advertisements

A Brief Thought on the 2018 Midterms

I’ll admit it; I’m terrible at writing stuff for my own website. And I’m sorry. (On the other hand, one of my planned essays was going to be an angry couple thousand words on why the movie of Ready Player One screwed up the source material, and I’m happy I didn’t subject you to that!)

But that’s going to change. In case you missed the announcements, Form of a Question will be out NOVEMBER 14th in comic shops and NOVEMBER 20th everywhere. I have events planned for six months down the line, and there will be lots of details here and elsewhere.

I also went to New York for NYCC, which was a total blast full of old and new friends and some extraordinary nights on the town. When you’re up at 1:30 in the morning reading poetry out loud in somebody’s apartment and you feel you’re meant to be there, you can say that life’s going pretty good.

But for right now, and this is what this post is about, I’m NOT writing.

Trust me, I would rather be writing. But we live in unusual times, and that calls for unusual action on my part.

Image result for Donkey v. Elephant

Image obviously via Shutterstock…but I like these big, strong, anthropomorphic individuals.

For the past month AND the next two weeks, I have been knocking on doors, calling, texting. Here in Illinois but also in Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Missouri, North Dakota, Arizona, Texas…shall I go on? All leading up to Election Day.

And I am here to encourage anyone who reads this, and is considering who they will vote for, to cast your ballots with a Democratic ticket as opposed to the Republicans.

That being said, while I’m going to admit upfront I have a left-wing bias (big surprise, I know), my dad taught me to be an independent thinker, and having a D next to your name’s not going to make me automatically vote for you.

Rahm Emanuel, I know you’re reading this, and sorry not sorry.

I also follow my fair share of conservatives on twitter along with liberals, socialists, etc., because I want to know what people are thinking and what value it contributes to the national discourse.

As I’ve said before, true conservatism has a valuable place in the grand scheme of things.

With all of the above in mind, I’m going to tell you that the distinction between the Democrats and Republicans has never been so obviously clear.

 

A lot of my friends have some valid criticisms of the Democratic Party. I myself have valid criticisms of the Democratic Party. But right now there is a golden opportunity for them, and the nation, in that the Dems don’t have a leader.

For good or for ill (and I think it’s both), the two people who dominated the landscape in 2016 are not leading. Hillary Clinton has no leadership position and no influence on things. Bernie Sanders goes his own distinctive way.

While not having a clear figurehead sometimes leads to disorganization, there is also a clear advantage. The Clinton-Sanders primary turned into a debate about ideas, and what I have witnessed since 2018 began is a competition, indeed a rapid-fire competition, among every Democrat younger than, say Chuck Schumer. And the endgame of this competition is simple: the winner is the one who can start making those ideas that caught the popular imagination in 2016 a reality. In this past year, I have seen statements and genuine policy proposals on the following:

– Both protection of the ACA and the steps that will get us to universal health care

– Job guarantees or UBI

– Tax reform that will genuinely benefit the lower and middle classes

– Climate issues

– Codifying civil rights protections into law

– Educational reform

– Electing state governors and attorneys general who will protect voting rights

– Most recently, the baby bonds plan

– Possibly even having a TRUE infrastructure week.

(Dave Weigel’s reporting in the Washington Post, by the way, is where I learned this, since unlike many political reporters, Weigel is on the ground constantly seeing what campaigns across the nation talk about.)

This is what the Democrats are running on: a series of ideas that will revitalize the social framework of the nation. And the people who best personify those ideas are going to be set up as power figures for 2020 and beyond following the increasingly inevitable change of the guard.

Moreover, you know so many of us rediscovered the civic virtue of calling, emailing, and writing to our representatives these past two years? Imagine calling your reps not to say “don’t vote for this” and saying “Vote for this, and possibly make it better” with a Democratic House (and slim chance but possibly Senate) majority? I like imagining that.

And what we end up with is not only a true check and balance in the government, but also a series of legislative positions that whoever ends up running for president in 2020 can campaign on as a great message.

Speaking of positions and messages, let’s turn to the Republicans.

 

Here I have a key question: WHAT are the Republicans running on?

Because when I engage with conservatives on twitter and look at what’s being covered in more right-wing-leaning media, the answer gets murky.

Health care? If they are, they’re doing so in the most confusing way possible. Candidates continually talk about protecting pre-existing conditions AT THE SAME TIME Republican officials are suing to eliminate the pre-existing conditions clause of the ACA, and a Texas judge actually has a ruling that he’s sitting on until after Election Day. And there’s also serious discussion about slashing Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security coming from the Senate Majority Leader himself, which leads me to…

The Economy? It’s actually pretty good according to several indicators right now. However, there’s very little about the economy, and almost nothing about the vaunted tax reform bill from the winter that was supposed to be the cornerstone of the 2018 messaging. Because the GOP realized that the tax bill did nothing for the lower and middle classes and only bankrolled the wealthy…which is why Donald Trump is currently talking about pushing through another tax bill that doesn’t even exist. And the deficit has exploded so much that the party of small government has given us no reason to ever listen to fears about the deficit ever again.

The Judiciary? They’re confirming judges at hyperspeed, and Brett Kavanaugh was supposed to be a galvanizing force for the Republicans…which he was for a week during the hearings. But then the polling and forecasting for everywhere but the Senate returned to numbers as good as they’d ever been or better for the Democrats. Other polling has shown a lot of people couldn’t even tell you if their senators voted for or against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. (Personally, the same way that if Trump had worked on infrastructure and jobs as opposed to health care and taxes, then he would be in a better place right now…if the GOP had either waited until after the elections for the Supreme Court hearings or picked a new nominee, they would have been able to truly capitalize. They did not.)

The truth of the matter is that the Republicans have nothing. No agenda. (You can read this in more detail here.) But it’s somehow worse than having no agenda. For two reasons.

First, right now, beyond Robert Mueller, we have no idea what Donald Trump’s personal and business relationships are with so many entities around the world. The New York Times has created a clear picture of Trump committing tax fraud. His unilateral foreign policy moves are empowering China and Russia, which are not really friends of America, and propping up disastrous governments in Saudi Arabia and Israel. And the Republican Party is decidedly incurious about checking and balancing anything Trump does because he benefits them. The Democrats will actually provide congressional oversight.

Second, I won’t mince words. The Republican Party is the party that attracts the support of the Proud Boys and such. They are a party of “personal responsibility” that is increasingly determined to regulate the bodies of people and possibly deny civil rights. They have children in internment camps who have to represent themselves in court. Their candidates run race-baiting political ads. They are afraid of the opposition so much that they project everything about themselves onto the opposition and ratchet up fear, to the point where baby boomers in Minnesota are convinced Hispanic gang members will occupy their lake houses.

(Seriously, I read that article this week.)

This is to hide the lack of a real agenda. The lack of a pan to fairly govern all and value democracy.

 

The Democrats (especially the rising new generations of Democrats) have something to offer.

The Republicans have nothing to offer.
The choice in my mind is clear. And I hope this makes sense for many of you as well.

A New Book and Going Backwards

Hello, everyone! It’s been a long, long while since I wrote on here; since February 2017, to be exact. Recent events have both made me a) want to get to writing more posts, indeed almost require it, and b) compel me to justify my absence from my own website. In doing so, I found that I had written a post touching on some of these ideas earlier that I hadn’t even remembered. (Winter 2017 was long and tough.) I deleted it and have restated the ideas in a clearer and fuller way.

Let’s get to A first.

A New Book

The key development in my literary career right now is that, after seven years in the making which coincidentally encompassed seven drafts, Form of a Question will be released at the end of 2018. (Read more about it here!) If you can’t believe it, especially if you and I have ever met in person, well I can’t either.

FormOfAQuestion_OGN_HC_PROMO

Knowing this day would one day come and having it be set-in-stone coming upon me were two completely different things. The first write-ups say a lot, but I will tell you that even though this is technically “my” story it would not have come into being, or would be as great as I believe it will be, without a team beyond measure. It’s a broken record by now hearing me talk about Rebecca Taylor, who made me one hundred times the writer I was, but after Tay departed Boom! two other extraordinary editors, Whitney Leopard and Cameron Chittock, shepherded FOAQ through its final stages with brilliant commitment, and Sierra Hahn, our executive editor, became one of the best and staunchest supporters I’ve ever found.

But most of all, I cannot wait for the world to see Kate Kasenow’s art. I will tell you all right now that Kate’s journey to get here was a road long and winding enough for Paul McCartney to write two songs about. She overcame a lot of difficulties. But the final result is art I’ve never seen the likes of before. The cover—one I specifically asked to look like a Criterion Collection design—is a mere taste of what is to come, but Kate’s creations fill every page with complexity and emotion that redefine “magical realism.” I am biased, yes, but I expected greatness from Kate and I got something beyond greatness. Comics will not know what hit them, and Kate’s students at Savannah College of Art and Design are some of the most fortunate people there are to get to learn from her.

And I have to point out the pitch-perfect colors of Laura Langston, the flawless inking of Jenna Ayoub and Ilaria Catalani, and the crystal clear lettering of Deron Bennett. This is a team anyone in comics should want.

And as an aside, about four years ago I pitched a couple ideas to Boom! that are still simmering. One of the main ones was a horror story, a genre Tay had long insisted I could turn my hand to and do it well. I thought of that horror story, which I had structured in four 24-page issues, two months back when I realized I had not written in comics format in a long time. Now, I decided, I had to return and see if I still had it. I don’t know if I’ve ever written anything so fast in my life. The accumulation of lessons I’ve learned from Tay, Whitney, Cam, and Sierra, the experience of working with Kate and Sara Woolley, the wisdom gleaned from the Bogdanoves and Simonsons; it resulted in tight, lean pages packed with story, clever dialogue, and the right kind of spellbinding imagery—including a terseness that’s rare in some of my work. I think I finally know how to give an artist all the room they need, which is every bit of it, while remaining true to my own voice. This is a lesson that only comes with experience.

As to why I had not written in comics format for so long, we turn to B.

I wrote a novel. I’ve written novels before but this is the first one I believe is both readably original and genuinely good. And I did it by working backwards.

This novel, The Wrong Foot, which is all I will say about it for now, began life as a comics project which never got past the outline and some marvelous preliminary art before the collaborative arrangement fell through. The problem was the story was too good to abandon. Among many possibilities, I decided to make it a screenplay, keeping my partners’ names on it (as they will be on the novel should it be published).

I don’t know if the screenplay was any good, but my friends who write themselves had increasing praise for it as we cut the work to the bone. The final draft came in at 109 pages, the shortest project of its kind I’d ever produced, and still one rich in character, story, and theme. Again, I don’t know how good it was, but it worked.

I spent a year entering The Wrong Foot into competitions and met with an independent producer, but nothing came of the latter and the screenplay got nowhere in the former. Since FOAQ was also in a bit of a holding pattern for reasons beyond Kate and I’s control, this was a frustrating time for me for me in terms of stories I did not wish to let go. Then, in the summer of 2016, an idea hit me. I had once brainstormed making The Wrong Foot a novel with illustrations, along the lines of Vanity Fair. What if, I thought, I turned the screenplay into a novel?

marathonbottomquote

Don’t be exactly like him.

There’s a precedent for such a plan that runs backwards to how things usually go. Erich Segal wrote Love Story as a screenplay first, then wrote a novel while he and Paramount worked out production details. Paramount had the idea that a novel might generate buzz for a film. The book became a best-seller, and the film became the #1 hit of 1970 despite being very bad. The whole “film-to-novel” plan, though, was one of the two great things Erich Segal did in his life. (The other was co-writing Yellow Submarine.)

Because I offer this to my fellow writers: if you have an idea for a novel, writing it as a screenplay first is a great idea. It’s time-consuming, yes, but I’ve never written anything worthwhile that didn’t take time and this order has some clear advantages I learned by doing.

First, screenplays, even the most artistic ones, have to be written in a format that demands airtight structure. You only have 120 pages max to write a script producers and distributors will look at, so you need to have a method for hitting all your beats and fast. In transferring the script to prose, you’ll enter your novel with a story in place that will leave little room for digression and fat, and if you want to try anything interesting, such an experiment would succeed due to excellent planning.

To explain “something interesting:” this is the third time I’ve written a novel but the first time I’ve gone beyond a first draft. My earlier works were marked by multiple narrative levels, with the first going out of sequence for no good reason and the second featuring a midway tonal shift from slice-of-life impressionistic ramble to murder mystery with Greek Epic overtones.

I’m a pretentious bastard, sometimes.

With The Wrong Foot, although the story plays with time a bit, the intriguing parts lie in a series of revelations that power the last third. It was laying the careful groundwork for building up to these surprises over a limited authorial space so they didn’t come out of nowhere but felt organic to plot and character, not narrative gimmickry, that gave everything interest. Focusing on how to hit every necessary point gave the story the best structure it needed…

And served the second advantage of keeping it SHORT. Both my first two novels ran well over 150,000 words and were full of digressions and esoteric material. Keeping to a structure and only expanding on the material enough to reveal more of the characters’ inner thoughts, The Wrong Foot clocked in at 85,000 words. This made it much less of a daunting task for my beta readers and much more likely an agent would read it. I also knew exactly what information I wanted to convey that the screenplay sometimes only hinted at, thus keeping me from getting tangential. (If you ever want to hear about embarrassing tangents, I might share a list of some of my worst one time.)

Third and last, when I look back over my previous stories, there was very little in the way of a theme. They were vague maturation plots with nothing too cogent to say about life except taking chances (which FOAQ deals with better) and general dismissiveness about certain modern cultural elements. The Wrong Foot was a story that from the beginning had a clear point I wanted to make—indeed, doing so helped me understand things about myself I’d never come to terms with before—and I wrote the screenplay with an imperative to make every part serve the theme and further the main three characters’ goals. I don’t know if it’s possible for me to write a more meaningful story until I try again, and that came from starting in a way where I could not waste a scene.

lane-adayforhenryjames-882

Don’t be exactly like him.

So that’s what I’ve been up to: four drafts of writing, rewriting, avoiding the curse of having rooms full of Andrew Rostans talking, and stomping out my tendency to be overly literary and sound too much like Henry James. (The last point came from JJ Ranvier, a close friend and a brilliant writer: listen to her The After Disaster Broadcast to hear outstanding and concise storytelling).

That took a long while. So does writing query letters to agents, a process I underwent only after heavy research. And the first round didn’t fully work so it’s time to commence the second, which may be the perfect words to end this post with: tenacity kept me going through the FOAQ development and it’s going to help me find a home for The Wrong Foot, and it’s why I believe one day I will write full-time. Like my sense for storytelling and conciseness, I built up determination over the years and that strength is paying off. Let it pay off for you as well.

UPDATE

I wrote this essay a few weeks ago and in the delay before posting, something happened that drove my point home even more.

While preparing the second round of query letters, I had a conversation with a new acquaintance, the terrific author Whitney Gardner—whose successful query has been shared on many websites. As with comics, I learn from the best. She reminded me that my first ten pages were the sample many agents want to see, and I had not been feeling sure about my first ten pages. Her push was enough for me to make them better.

This was a case of following the screenplay too closely. I’d planned to open the film with a brief, silent, cross-cutting introduction of the three main characters. Initially, I was sure it would work in prose as well, but now, a reader looking at the first ten pages would only be confused as to who two people seemingly popping in at random were.

I shifted the key introductory scenes to later in the novel and rewrote the ten pages so there would be a clear thrust of dramatic action that anyone could understand. Not only is it better, but it served to remind me that adapting the wrong way around has its challenges as well!

(I then sent out the query letters and have two rejections already. Life goes on.)

Next time: I’m going to be a bit critical, praising and blaming, of several films I’ve seen over the past twelve months. It’s going to be a poor imitation of FilmCritHulk, but I’ve got ideas I think are worth sharing on why certain blockbusters are…not good, I’ll be kind.

The Last Oscars Piece You’ll Read

From 2012 to 2015, I wrote about many things at The Addison Recorder (pop culture dispatches from the Midwest) and increasingly I wrote about cinema, the result being that in 2014 and 2015 I saw more movies than ever, including seeing all the Best Picture nominees before the Oscars. Well, last year, thanks to volunteering and the priorities that go with it, I didn’t get to see a lot of movies. This year, I intend to change that with a steadier stream of attendance. For now, though, it meant I had to do a massive amount of catching up in the two months before the Academy has its fun night with little gold naked men.

I ended up seeing six of the nine Best Picture nominees, plus some other films that picked up a few nominations in other categories, so here, before Sunday, are some brief thoughts on what I’ve gotten to see, including my six nominees ranked best to worst (or more accurately, least good)!

In the Best Picture Class

I missed out on Hidden Figures (looked charming and predictable), Hell or High Water (came out in the summer), and Hacksaw Ridge (looked blah and, well, not keen on supporting Mel Gibson too much these days).

moonlight_282016_film29

Moonlight is one of those rare movies that had an extraordinary and moving effect on me. There’s been a lot of talk about how it’s power comes from its being a universal story, and it’s true that anyone can relate to its tale of Chiron’s maturity and journey to self-acceptance, but it is also so specifically rooted in a very particular culture with very particular norms that, by the structural and racial designs of our country, are not universal. The unblinking honesty of the screenplay by director Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney is thus a marvel: it shows us ourselves reflected in people too often ignored or despised, and does so with the revelatory magic of great storytelling that shocks, infuriates, and comforts.

The cast, especially Mahershala Ali as the wise, weary crack dealer Juan, is superb, and the mix of R&B with Nicholas Britell’s score is lovely, but the star is Jenkins, in collaboration with cinematographer James Laxton. This is one of the most confident breakout movies ever, to rank with Citizen Kane and Jaws. Jenkins never makes obvious choices, and his framing, pacing, and beat-by-beat construction heighten the emotional experience to a degree few others could. I firmly believe he can direct any film of any budget and make something special.

Moonlight is a film you simply need to see, but I’ll close this with one of my favorite dialogue exchanges of the year, from near the picture’s end as Trevante Rhodes and Andre Holland muse on growing up, letting go, and moving forward.

“Damn, that’s real shit.”
“Yeah, but it’s a LIFE, you know? I never had that before. Like…I’m tired as hell right now and I ain’t making more than shoe money, but…I got no worries, man. Not them kind what I had before. That’s some real shit, that’s that Bob Marley shit.”

arrival2c_movie_poster

Arrival is also a movie that simply demands to be seen, because Eric Heisserer’s screenplay (adapted from a short story by Ted Chiang) is one of the most carefully-written, dramatically-crackling, profoundly moving screenplays of the decade. It’s a script to teach in courses about how to build to a series of climaxes and twists without giving anything away. The story, about first contact with aliens and the wonders of the human mind in grasping and solving problems, doesn’t break too much new thematic ground, but Heisserer by way of Chiang tackles the tale with imagination and fun, and Denis Villeneuve’s direction maximizes the scant (by design) number of sets and the less-is-more visual effects. Like last year’s The Martian, it is simply an incredibly-well-made film, with the bonus that to say too much will ruin it. I will only add that the movie also makes a strong point for the power of a specifically female intelligence with its ethics of care and understanding, an intelligence so well presented in the movie’s heroine Louise that I ask, as another writer asked of Paul Newman in 1982 after The Verdict, what Amy Adams, not even nominated, has to do to get an Academy Award. (Newman got his four years after that query…Adams hopefully is due as well.)

mv5bmja3njkznjg2mf5bml5banbnxkftztgwmdkymzgzmdi-_v1_uy268_cr00182268_al_

After gushing about Lion on Facebook, my longtime friend and cinematic sparring partner Alex Bean decried the Weinstein Brothers’ productions as “the same movie over and over again.” I was reminded of Dorothy Parker’s line about Ernest Hemingway: “it seems so easy but watch anyone else try to do it.” I appreciate the Weinstein brand of prestige filmmaking the same way I now adore A24 and Annapurna’s New Hollywood aesthetic—very few people make movies this way now such films seem more special. Lion is the most MOVIE of the Best Picture nominees I have seen this year, as first-time director (HOW?!) Garth Davis maximizes every sweeping shot of India and Australia and creates epic vistas of the countryside, crowded urban scenes, and apartments alike. The screenplay by Luke Davies is reminiscent of David Lean’s Great Expectations: a shorthand but deep retelling of a vast life story, every moment carefully selected and symbolic. And Davis gets the best out of his actors. In a perfect world as colorblind as we wish it was, Dev Patel would be a regular leading man: handsome, full of range, capable of carrying any project. Nicole Kidman hasn’t been this good in years. Most surprisingly of all, I have long been a fan of Rooney Mara, who can project iron will and fragility by turns, but has never been what I’d call warm. From a playful Chaplinesque introduction to her loving final scene, Mara is warm, strong, and morally resolute in a surprising performance—which makes me excited to see her play Mary Magdalene for Davis later this year.

fences_28film29

Peter Shaffer is my benchmark for films of plays. Amadeus is a masterpiece of cinema. Equus, while brilliantly acted, is a terrible movie because it never opens up from the stageiness. Denzel Washington’s film of August Wilson’s Fences falls in the middle. There are some well-devised montages and a few inventive moves at the beginning and end that do make it feel filmed, but for the most part Washington keeps to the house and backyard in late fifties Pittsburgh and a static camera. Such a choice doesn’t matter as much when Wilson’s dialogue and plot are so engaging and Washington and Viola Davis are so damn good. Washington pours all his energy into a full-throated, bravado performance that never tips into ham, while Davis, who is never bad, is here extremely good, playing off the cavalcade of men (including the magnificent Stephen Henderson as Washington’s best friend) coming into and out her house and life except for two or three scenes where she takes charge and shines, letting out controlled explosions of emotion. It’s not a great film, but it’s well-done and preserves Wilson’s text in a definitive form.

la_la_land_28film29

Now let’s talk about that beautiful example of diminishing returns, La La Land. Molly Lambert and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have both written and spoken well of this movie’s shortcomings, but I want to add both my praise and my burying.

There are two genuinely thrilling aspects of La La Land. One is how Damien Chazelle draws upon his adoration of the Arthur Freed Unit and Jacques Demy to stage the most thrilling song-and-dance numbers you can imagine. From the eruption of “Another Day of Sun” onwards, you have to be cynical not be in. (Even the mopey “City of Stars,” which has somehow become the big tune, is always rendered with a certain playfulness, while the other, superior songs by Justin Hurwitz and company all pop.) The other is Emma Stone, who throws herself into the role of Mia and simply wins. She brings all she can to her rather simple dialogue and she sings and dances wonderfully (and my friend Deborah Blumenthal, who saw her Sally Bowles, assures me this film does no reveal all that Stone can do). Her climactic “Audition” is one of the sweetest moments in movie musical history.

And yet…everything else falls short. Ryan Gosling is no match for Stone on any front: an even more unlikable Oscar Levant to her Liza Minnelli and with few musical chops to boot. Gosling’s Sebastian, as we all know, loves jazz…so much that he will save it from the “villain,” the immensely charismatic John Legend, whose crime is that he wants to keep the music moving forward while Gosling insists on playing his solo piano in an ultra-traditional way of his own definition. (Similar to how so many progressives I know have their own definitions of “neoliberalism” and all of them are annoying…but I digress.) Chazelle is hung up on the idea of white men playing jazz, and here takes it to a new extreme by pushing the other cultures in L.A. to the sidelines, having his black crowd in a jazz club cheer on the white people, having Gosling use an elderly black couple on Santa Monica Pier as props in his solo number. And worst of all for me, the final theme is a good one: the tension between chasing a dream and building the committed relationships that make life fully worth living. But the screenplay lets the theme down with on-the-nose dialogue, too few supporting characters (barely anyone else is in the movie and they waste Rosemarie Dewitt), and a last fifteen minutes which are just confusing in terms of how people do or don’t get what they want. (I can talk about this more at length if you find me on Facebook or Twitter.)

So La La Land is a disappointment except in what it heralds, the promise that studios can spend medium budgets (this cost $30 million) and produce really well-made musicals, one of the finest genres of all. I do not want this to win Best Picture, but if leads to more and better original musicals, I will stand up and cheer as much as I wanted to during “Start a Fire.” (Why was that not nominated for Original Song?)

manchester_by_the_sea

Manchester by the Sea isn’t bad, but it’s…weird. Kenneth Lonergan, a competent director and outstanding writer, aims for a tone somewhere between high tragedy and darkly black comedy and never quite nails it, mixing shaggy dog humor with dramatic parts set to aggressively overwrought music. The film aims to capture a certain realism, but the fever pitch of the emotions keeps undercutting this aim. Lucas Hedges is very relatable, but Casey Affleck, while very good and giving 100% in all his scenes, never makes the leap where I connect with his troubled protagonist—he’s always a bit flat in voice or removed from the action. Michelle Williams is wonderful but barely in the picture, and the whole story builds to a certain semi-resolution that never fully rounds off. It’s a movie where the parts are less than the sum.

Some other nominees!

20th Century Women is my second-favorite film of the year after Moonlight, as Mike Mills, whose last movie Beginners was my second-favorite film of 2011, uses his singular blend of narration, quick-cutting montage, documentary aspects, and perfectly blended sound and image to recreate the experience of growing up in 1979. The three leads—Anette Bening, Greta Gerwig, and Elle Fanning—are full of humor and love with the right amount of piss and vinegar, and the movie sends one home with a deep affection for the world at large and the women who raised us. How this only got a nod for Original Screenplay is a mystery.

 

Silence is Martin Scorsese’s worst film since Gangs of New York. And it’s still pretty terrific. Scorsese’s problem in his long-gestating Shuashku Endo adaptation is that he doesn’t nail a style or tone down until well into the second act, switching between adventure, meditation, and a cinema of cruelty. Andrew Garfield is also distractingly reminiscent of Barry Gibb. But Liam Neeson and the Japanese cast are outstanding, and the final half hour, when Garfield must come to terms with his life, faith, and mission and make profound choices, is some of the most devastating and moving filmmaking of Scorsese’s career.

 

The Salesman may well end up winning Best Foreign Film, but Toni Erdmann, the German comedy which took things by storm enough to have Jack Nicholson come out of retirement to star in the English language remake, will be no upset. The plot seems thin for a 160-minute comedy: a prankish, well-loved music teacher creates an alternate persona to get closer to his workaholic, globalization consultant daughter. But Marin Ade and her two fantastic leads, Peter Simonischek and Sandra Huller, create an atmosphere where one can never predict what happens next and what happens, including an insane finale, always makes sense, and offers a clever commentary on society.

 

Moana is Walt Disney at its best, and one of their masterpieces of the 21st century and beyond. This is the film that carries through the revisionist promise of Frozen: now there are no love interests, the male characters are clueless or doofuses, and the female characters are the most dynamic in any Disney film. The animation is full of energy and fun, and Lin-Manuel Miranda fully integrates the delightful, catchy songs with the story. It helps that he has the powerhouse Auli’i Cravalho the lead and the wonderful Dwayne Johnson, and to a lesser degree Jemaine Clement, to provide the laughs.

 

Robert Valley of Aeon Flux and Gorillaz renown gives Pixar and the National Film Board of Canada (who have typically wonderful offerings) a run for Best Animated Short with his Pear Cider and Cigarettes. The 35-minute picture, written, animated, and narrated by Valley with no outside help, is a hard-boiled crime story where the crime isn’t important, and Valley’s tale of getting mixed up with a self-destructive friend who needs a liver transplant in China is engrossing to the highest degree.

rogue_one2c_a_star_wars_story_poster

Finally, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the best Star Wars film since Jedi.

Yep.

Gareth Edwards takes the World War II movies that inspired George Lucas and creates an incredible adventure that builds to a thrilling third-act heist/battle that is close enough to perfect, and is recognizably part of the Star Wars mythos. The production values and Michael Giacchino’s score rule. Ben Mendelsohn plays a new kind of villain—a bureaucratic Nazi who is chillingly relatable. Alan Tudyk fails to out Anthony Daniels Anthony Daniels but has fun trying. And Felicity Jones as the woman thrust into heroism and Diego Luna as the honored warrior with something real to prove (his monologue at the end of act two gave me chills) are the best heroes for a world where the Empire seems to be winning…but remind us why we fight. Forget the unfortunate failure of James Earl Jones delivering the most cringeworthy line of dialogue ever (you know the one) and remember now and throughout the year the moving lines between Jones and Luna before Rogue One’s mission starts that I cannot forget.
“I’m not used to people sticking around when things go bad.”

“Welcome home.”

Comics People Should Read: “Sunstone”

I love Kurtis Weibe’s Rat Queens, as any right-thinking comics fan should. When Rat Queens underwent its first artist shift following Roc Upchurch’s rightful dismissal, I started following Upchurch’s replacement, Stejpan Sejic, on twitter. Sejic left after only a few issues due to illness but I kept following him, and I saw that many of his posts related to a giant project called Sunstone. I didn’t know what exactly happened in Sunstone, but the art was beautiful and…intriguing.

Sunstone is now available in five volumes from Image/Top Cow that collect the entire self-contained story and set up new stories focusing on the supporting characters. I can’t recommend these volumes enough. Sunstone is an extraordinary book, both a work of art and a signpost for where comics are going.

sunstone-vol-1-need-to-pee

The Auspicious Beginning…

Continue reading

Goodbye to All That and Hello to 2017

It’s the last day of 2016, which was a year for me of really good professional and personal accomplishment…none of which on a day like today feel worth discussing.

Because, like so many of us I’m sure, I feel like I’m standing with Buffy Summers and her Scooby Gang in the emotional ruins of a song-and-dance-filled Sunnydale, asking “Where do we go from here?”

maxresdefault

I’m still a nerd. My metaphor.

So much seems to have shifted under our feet so fast, and I’ve spent the last two months or close enough trying to think of what to do next, with the one guiding conclusion being that I have to do something. And as 2017 dawns, I feel like sharing what I’ve decided so far. It’s a work in progress—one key bit of language came to me from a random twitter check this morning—but I think it might be worth something. This also may be my final musing relating to politics that I will put on the Internet for a long time (for reasons I will explain below) so I feel compelled to get a lot of this off my chest.

The place that makes the most sense to begin is a thought I shared here in March—I have long believed that the first step towards making actual change happen in the world is to be honest with yourself about the current situation.

And for me, one of the hallmarks of the current situation came from a conversation I had with one of many new friends I made this year, Chris Baugh, whose website The Free Cities became required reading for me. A few days after the election, we had a moment when we said to each other: “we got things wrong.”

I think I got things wrong to the point where for the immediate future, my entire worldview needs some readjusting.

Continue reading

The Ones That Got Away

 

boardman-in-october

My hometown at this time of year.

 

A few weeks ago, my computer disappeared.

I had an entire day of worship and activities in Hyde Park and I left my backpack in the narthex, next to a stroller. After the services, washing the chalices, and such, I walked up to depart and my bag was nowhere to be found. I searched the neighborhood and spent an hour and a half watching security camera footage, but nothing suspicious was found at all.

I still don’t know what happened, but thankfully most of my important files were backed up on the cloud and through the power of GMailing drafts and final copies to my friends, and I was able to recreate the other key documents with a little time and trouble but less than expected. Nothing truly crucial was lost.

I’m a bit more sad that two library books from the CPL got stolen!

But what I do have to say is that the computer, the books, my pro-choice buttons, my work badge…all of those were ultimately replaced. They’re possessions. They get lost and it doesn’t have to be a big deal.

Other parts of your life get lost…that’s another story.

Continue reading